Feb 25, day 17

The fence line along Badlands Pasture has led me to where I sit now – perched on a rock in the depths of Blackjack Canyon. I am enclosed by towering jagged walls that look as though they could crumble from a touch. Beside me water slides down a mossy strip into a triangular turquoise pool about 5 feet below. How fortunate I am to be here during this season while flowing water can still be found. It won’t last. The pool seeps into the ground and resurfaces again about 20 meters down the creekbed where another pool rests among fallen sycamore leaves. Sycamore isn’t budding yet like cottonwood. Live oak spreads green into this canyon. Up on the cliffs are stool, prickly pear, a few juniper, and blooming Manzanita. I may dare an upward scramble to breathe in that delicate scent. Now and then the wind howls past and a canyon wren sings that unmistakable tune. I cannot get over the way the vegetation drapes over the creek. It’s like a scene from a fairytale… and I’m the princess waiting for… a cougar to arrive.

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Feb 24, day 16 – fight with Sugar

Was excited to finally ride Sugar today. She came to me in the corral yesterday and let me pet her nose. So we’re best friends. We were packing with Polly today and I was to pull her on Sugar, so that was flustering to me. There’s a lot to think about with an extra rope in your hand that you don’t want to get caught in anyone’s foot or under Sugar’s tail and that I hold in a way so my thumb doesn’t get smashed if the rope is pulled. I was also to call “COMEEE ONNN” to the cows constantly as we rode. So I’m doing 3 things at once when I’m still a new rider and I wanted this day to be about just me and Sugar! Wah! And I think she did too because I couldn’t control her. She wouldn’t move. Jean was off gathering cows and I was becoming so frustrated, yelling at Sugar in between yelling for the cows. I got off and lead Sugar and Polly which was tough because neither were willing to move and I was getting tired of yanking and walking and yelling for the stupid cows. So I got on again. And off again. And on. And off. Sugar would not move and I didn’t know what to do. So I left her. I left Sugar standing there like a fool and marched on with Polly. Yeah, I know I was the fool to give up like that. I was so outraged and wished Jean would come help me because I had no idea what else to do.

It wasn’t easy going with Polly either, especially because I was already mad. But at least we were moving. Finally got to our spot and laid out the blocks. Then I got stung by a scorpion. And I also tore my own skin apart because my knuckles started itching again. Got back to where I left Sugar, got back on, and she was moving this time since we were heading home. I tied up Polly at the water and we lead some cows up the hill. I used the lead rope to hit Sugar and that got her going. I completely forgot that that was what I should have done before. I can only remember so many goddamn things when I’m in a panicking rage. When we got back Polly was gone. Another fail! When we returned Sugar and I took some trips to the creek and back so I could regain my authority. That was a struggle too. Finally we were done and the horses put away and Dink done with her slowest Happy Hour in the world. I was opening the gate where we moved the horses this morning and the whole thing fell on my big toe. Hurt more than Emma Grace stepping on me. That was the final straw. I hunched over against the gate, so defeated by the day’s events, and I look up to see Popcorn staring at me, saying “why’d you drop that gate on your foot, dumbass?” I couldn’t even look the horses in the eye as I walked out. No one offered to comfort me, not even Donk.

Feb 22, day 14

We ascended the ridge behind the corral to begin our search for 3 missing weaners in Blackjack Pasture. I hadn’t ridden for 2 days, but I was on Seago, so I knew I was in good hooves. I was riding alongside Keith, so I knew this wouldn’t be some tame, leisurely ride, but before I could think twice about it, we were off! Cantering up and down slopes, crashing through live oak, dodging prickly pear, ducking under juniper branches, with catclaw snagging my shirt and mesquite scratching my hands. I dare to lift my head when I think we’re clear of vegetation. Birds are shooting out of the shrubs before us, a cottontail zips across the path, the wind is thrashing against us – what chaos! This took place during maybe a 20 second time span. Cactus needles are sticking out of the toes of my boots. I can feel Seago’s heart pounding, moving my entire body. But she’s constantly ready to go again. We were walking up the creek at one point on the big flat rocks of the creekbed. Stepping down into a small pool she slipped and wiggled and splashed, and in hopes to avoid her falling on me, I jumped/slid/fell off while pushing off of her shoulder. A moment later all was quiet and we stood, staring at each other, on opposite sides of the pool, wondering how the other got there. You can’t think too hard about these things or imagine what to do in a situation – it just works out, instinct’s got your back.

Cantering today for the first time was liberating. We were trotting up the mesa early on and Seago being Seago was trying to catch up to Smokey and the trot briefly turned into something else. Something smooth. But fast. And I was scared and confused. I think it was a brief canter! But I wasn’t ready, so I slowed her. And I still wasn’t ready when Keith and Smokey galloped up and down a few hills through the trees. But Seago was.

Later we cantered on the driveway too. I smiled… even laughed! Because I was on the back of a (probably slowly) running horse. In Arizona. Under the sun. In February. 2,000 miles away from Domino, the first horse I sat on in 3rd grade, anxious as hell, never wanting to touch those animals again. I love to watch Seago’s ears swing around as she hears things. She seems to understand that I’m not afraid to run anymore… she never tried it the previous days, but today she did it quite a bit. I’m starting to get to the point where I’m actually useful on horseback, whereas before everyone else would be looking for cows and I would be looking straight ahead, concentrating on where my 4 extra feet were taking me. My first few rides I couldn’t stand when Jean would talk to me, let alone point out things that I was supposed to look at. I will FALL OFF this horse and DIE if I break my concentration to listen to a word about some missing cows! That’s funny to think about now.

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We rode for 5 hours today and painstakingly brought back 2 weaners. The time flew by. I love the feeling when I’m sitting next to Dink during happy hour after a day like today – my thighs are sore, knees ache, my brow is damp and I feel the weight of that desert sun on my shoulders… these beautiful aches and fatigued limbs make me acknowledge how full and rich every day is here. We didn’t only bring in 2 cows, Seago nd I spent the day together engaging in a conversation that I was not even fully aware of at times, but it’s there. My understanding of these creatures has deepened today. If we could have such relationships with our other modes of transportation there’d be a lot less car crashes I reckon. Side note – driving a car is a really weird concept after only moving by horseback… vehicle does not respond to “whoa.”

Feb 20, day 12

We went to the Cattle Growers meeting today. I sat in the backseat in my blue jeans and cowboy boots, holding a tamale pie, watching the landscape fly by, with Jean in front in her denim skirt holding a cobbler, and Eric steering us down the highway eating cheetos in his cowboy hat. We bumped over the washboard of Black Hills Backcountry Byway, past the campground where I slept one year ago, and over the bridge that I stood on then with tears in my eyes because I didn’t know when I would smell creosote again or see a desert moonrise or have coyotes serenade me to sleep under a studded sky. Well, here I am, back in that very enchanted desert. Who woulda thunk I’d be back in Gila Box on Menges Ranch within a crowd of folks in blue jeans, boots, hats, and button down shirts, among them some of the best cowboys in the west like Joe Cannon. There was not a single person in there without denim on. I don’t want to leave this environment. I don’t want to go back to places where this is unusual, where people would look at something like this with a smirk or disbelief. Puppies outside, announcements about burros for sale, auctioning off jellies and applesauce. I’m starting to worry how I can get along in the world after this. I can’t go back. I am interested to see where I end up next, especially since the spring job situation is getting a little dicey.

Feb 18, day 10 – catching cows

I took a picture of myself today, smiling into the sun and you wouldn’t know from the looks of it that my butt was bruised, my ankle was so sore I could hardly put weight on it to trot, and at that point we were only half-way into a 5 hour day on horseback. We split up to sweep a few washes, looking for those 3 dang weaners. I was on Emma Grace, which made me nervous for half the morning, and you know she doesn’t like being separated from the others, so it was quite a struggle to get her down that crickbed. But we did it… slowly but surely, and wouldn’t you know we stumble upon a cow! I become so thrilled and EG seems to notice that we’re now part of this kind of cow moving sport. We had a brief stare-off with the creature while I tried to determine if it was angry or just bitch-faced. I decided EG could take care of her and myself, so we moved forward causing the thing to turn around and move in the right direction. Here we go traipsing through the wash, pushing this buddy toward the gate. Little did I know, Paul was above me on the ridge watching (and laughing about) the whole thing… and he informed me that it was a BULL, not a cow. THE bull!

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Anyway, bull got away because I’m a rookie… but that lead us to finding the 3 missing cows! We were moving all over those desert hills and EG and I were going up and down slopes I never imagined myself daring to take on on a horse! Even going through brush and under (some) branches! We got the elder cow through the gate but were freaking outsmarted by the 2 little ones – all 5 of us and the 2 dogs, goddamnit. And who knows where the bull went!

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Well, it was getting late so we gave up on the cows and went on to push the older cow over to Murder Camp. Turns out the bull went through the gate on his own and so we took him too! Eric met us there with the horse trailer and we rode back in the bed of the Ford, watching that Arizona landscape fly by in our blue jeans, cowboy boots and hats, with dirty nails, bruised butts and sore legs… and smiles of satisfaction and a day well spent. Your worries and such change in a lifestyle like this. My largest concern is somewhere along the lines of falling off this horse onto a cactus or getting clotheslined by (another) juniper. Inhibitions are gone, my face might have dirt on it, I don’t smell a whole lot better than EG, and there isn’t a whole lot that matters more to me than finding those 3 cows. This is the way life should be… instead of us worrying about so many stupid things. What a great day when I can say that my only “disappointments” were not being able to see the moon rise due to the clouds, and not getting closer to the birds and cottontails running across the desert.

Feb 17, day 9

I called cows for 6 hours today and was supposed to be watching Emma Grace too, but she got away within a half hour. After stepping on my damn foot. Cowboy problems.

Feb 16, day 8 – about cow calling

Today Jean said the words “good enough” and I thought I was imagining it. Though, this was after FIVE hours of cattle calling. I realize there are certain mental stages you go through while calling cows.

The first hour flies by – you’re confident the cows are on their way, you’ve got energy, excited to be out in the sun, watching birds, lifting rocks.

Hour 2 isn’t bad, it’s a lovely day even if there are no cows or birds. The cows must be close now. Any minute Jean and Smokey will appear on the ridge. Sun is nice. Mind is wandering. I have snacks, yay.

By hour 3 you’re sure the cows will show up at any moment, any moment. Throat and head are getting sore and energy is decreasing. Might sit down on that rock for just a minute. More snacks. I could lift more rocks. Or not. Mind wandering all over the place.

Hour 4 – I’m forgetting what to yell, even though I’ve said it about 500 times in a row. Wondering when to decide that something bad must have happened, hop on Seago, and go home. I’m not getting up from this rock until I see some dang cows. I don’t care about scorpions. I don’t know how to entertain myself. I’m probably getting sunburned. Where could these cows possibly be? This is the most ridiculous thing in the world to have a person screaming her face off at cacti. I hate this. My head hurts. I ate all my snacks. It wouldn’t even help if I saved some. Dried cherries won’t make the cows come. Did they forget about me and the cows? Where could they be? How do Seago and Emma Grace feel about my voice? Do they think this is as silly as I do?

Hour 5 – I hear a moo. I must be imagining. No, there’s more. And now cows descending from the ridge! Hooray, the day is saved! Wait, there’s only 10. And I don’t see horses. We’re not done. And none of those 10 care that I’m singing to them. No birds. No cows in my yard. No patience. This is absolutely absurd. I am outraged. At least I’m outside. In Arizona. At least I’m not a stupid fucking cow. WAIT I hear moos. From the ridge. A herd! 63 cows followed by 3 horses! Slow motion, but real. Now they’re in the wash at the drinker. No way will they come up here. The horses and their riders try pushing them toward me. This is absolutely comical now. At their expense. Well, mine too… I am still screaming at cows from a hill in the desert. Can’t they use a recording for this? I can’t wait to get back on that horse. My voice is hoarse. Haha. I’m losing it. I really don’t want to go for a run now. What’s for dinner? Jean is still riding around rounding up cows. I can’t stand this. Some have finally made it up and are eating the dang protein blocks. Those with the white on their face are neat looking. Dave is now calling too like an absolute fool. Wait, who am I to talk? This is ridiculous. Jean, can we stop this nonsense?? “Alright, that’s good enough,” I hear her say. “BYEEEE COWWWWS”

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Feb 14, day 6

My favorite phrase of Eric’s yesterday was, “Ed and I disagreed about pretty much everything.” Ed as in Edward Abbey. Yeah, I know. They worked together at U of A. I about died upon hearing this and Eric could not fathom why. He said the Monkey Wrench Gang was his worst book, totally overplayed and fantastical and his fixation with Glen Canyon Dam had no basis or context. I don’t completely disagree… but I still love him and that book.

Another phrase I liked was something along the lines of “wow, someone more curmudgeony than me… this is great!” as I sat there in disbelief and skepticism as we talked about these newfangled 3D printers. What in hell. Don’t ask me.

Yesterday morning I finished rasping Sugar’s hooves and shaping them and leveling them for the shoes. She wouldn’t let me get a hold of the hind legs until Eric got there. We danced until then which is quite frustrating. I’m so slow at rasping that we had to give her a break before doing the new shoes. So we went over to the cabin where Keith and Chrissy stay. I ended up on the trampoline with Emily and Elijah, playing tag. And then back to the shoes! Scary to have a horse’s hoof with nails sticking out of it in your hand, hoping she makes no sudden movements that are stronger than your grip, causing the nail to rip through whatever part of you gets in the way. But that didn’t happen and I felt good about my resulting work, even with the 3 crooked nails. Sucks for whoever has to take that left shoe off later. Could be me! Then the ranch guests showed up, though we weren’t expecting them til today so we had a long chatty dinner, where the 3D printer nonsense came up. Eric has added two more books to my pile which is becoming heavy to carry. Jean was gone today taking Kay to the airport; she didn’t return until 2am and was up at 6 cleaning and cooking, how admirable.

Today we rode around trying to find 3 cows. I was on Emma Grace this time which displeased me slightly because of Sugar’s new shoes. All was fairly well until EG took off running and kicked her hind legs, sending me and the saddle flying a foot in the air. I was clinging to her mane yelling “whoa whoa!” That shook me more than falling off Sugar did and I stayed pretty tense for the rest of the ride. This landscape is treacherous. I can’t say I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s ride.

Joe Cannon came over for dinner tonight and he’s a pretty nifty cowboy. 80 years old and still rides everyday.

Feb 12, day 4- my first ride

Yesterday morn Eric told me I’d probably be bleeding from 8 different places by the end of the day. I was bleeding from only 7, so I want my money back. I learned how to remove Sugar’s horseshoes and rasp her front hooves. How incredible to have worked half way under a horse all day, and comfortably too! I have always been leery of horses ever since riding one in a circle once at Girl Scout camp, so this was a big step. Sugar sticks her tongue out all the time. I don’t have the words to describe what her tongue feels like but I like to poke it. It’s really quite something for me to have such physical contact with an animal when even just a year ago I still wasn’t even fond of petting dogs.

My favorite phrase of Eric’s today was “saddle up!” I worked on rasping Sugar’s hind hooves which is scary and tough. It’s not only difficult to break the hard surface of the hoof, but to do so while holding her incredibly strong hind leg out against bruised thighs with sore arms! But we made progress (slowly). Enough progress that I could ride her for impact* today! I got her saddle and bridle all put on and I was adorned with cowboy boots, chaps, and a hat! Because they all serve a function, they aren’t for looks. I was a little nervous but I had to trust her. We put out the protein blocks and then I got to call in the cattle by screaming “HEYYY COWWWS” at the top of my lungs from the hillside. Meanwhile, Jean and Keith went off on their horses to round up the cows. One group came right away and a few came right up to me! With snot dripping from their nose. Jean said they might be gone for 40 minutes, just keep on calling. Well, 3 hours later I’m still screaming at an empty hillside. That was exhausting. I screamed at least 3x per minute for 170 minutes, so over 500 times! Finally they came back and I got on Sugar and headed home, woo! Bout half way there we were coming up to a low juniper branch. I slowed Sugar down and prepared to power through it, but that did not happen – it powered through me. I rolled off Sugar’s hip, hit the ground, and tumbled down the slope about 10 feet. Once I came to a stop I sat up, pulled grass out of my mouth and said “I thought that was going to be a lot worse!” Jean barely blinked, held out a handful of Arnica, said to take this every few hours, and then she rode off. I picked up my hat, got back on, and thought how lucky I was to not have landed on a cactus! All these desert plants are suddenly a little more intimidating when you’re 4 feet above them knowing you could land on them with a lot of force if something goes wrong!

There’s much more I want to write about but I can hardly stay awake. Feels like I fell off a horse today or somethin’.

 

*Impact is where we place protein blocks out in the pasture for the cows. Since cows are matriarchal they respond better to female voices, so I stand on a hillside and call them in, while Jean and Keith go out on horseback and push them toward me. The main purpose of this is to bring the cows to certain areas of the pasture that need grazing, or “impact.” Such as steep hillsides that they prefer to avoid when they have the choice. The blocks also provide extra protein for the cows because sometimes not enough is provided by their natural diet. Lately they show little interest in the blocks, which is good – it implies their natural diet is adequate.

Feb 10, day 2 on Cold Creek Ranch

DSCN2630.JPG_.JPGThe first words Eric shouted to me from the corral when I arrived were “go on in.” And the first thing I noticed when the house came into view were the 4 trucks outside. Reckon this is a place I might like to be!

Eric used to play the banjo before he got bit by that rattlesnake; now his fingers don’t move the same. He is so interesting and knowledgeable, I don’t think I’ll ever run out of things to learn from him. He explained to me very simply what grazing and sustainable land management are. Well, they’re simple concepts when you define them in terms of science and not personal interest. Grazing is the removal of tissue from a living plant. Overgrazing is the removal of tissue from a living perennial plant so that the amount removed cannot be replaced in a growing season. So based on the seasons and times of germination and whatnot, the cows are moved between (the 8) pastures often enough to avoid overgrazing. We’ve been made, as environmentalists and conservationists, to believe that grazing is bad. A human picking a flower is grazing, and we’re told not to do that. But picking a flower is like trimming a fingernail – it’ll grow back. Cows and horses eating grass is the same as mowing the lawn. Oy, this is mind-bogglingly simple.

Today I learned that horses have 2 legs. Duh. They can hear your heartbeat, so you have to be calm. I met Sugar, the horse I’ll be riding. All work here is done on horseback because there are no roads on the property because roads lead to erosion, especially in a landscape like this. I learnt how to pick up a horses foot. And how to make a tasty oat and beer mixture for Dink the mule. Can’t wait to start working with the horses tomorrow.

Jean is tough and a hard-worker with a very beautiful and organized home full of homemade concoctions like kombucha and prickly pear sorbet. She is not the kind I ever expect to hear the words “good enough” from. I, on the other hand, probably say those words too much! So this will be good for me.

This county we’re in, Greenlee, is really small, I noticed when looking at the map, and I wondered how many people could possibly live in this place. Eric answered that question today without me asking… 3,000. In the whole county! He said this is a unique place and the attitude (you’re on your own) is more similar to New Mexico than Arizona (let’s build highways!). How interesting and wonderful that I have once again placed myself exactly where I want to be without even knowing it. You know, I noticed that being in AZ this time around, my perception of it has changed. When I first came here a year and a half ago it was my favorite thing ever – perfect in every way (except Phoenix) – the landscape, native influence, cowboy-esque places, and even places like Tucson aren’t so bad for a bigger city. But after being in Trinity and all, I don’t feel the same about AZ. The landscape is still priceless but the people – eh. Lots of snowbirds and implants, tourists, and the entire state is basically geared toward tourism, and Tucson isn’t all that different than a place like Phoenix or Redding. It’s kind of a sad thing to realize, but not completely, because it sounds like I’ve landed in one of the exceptions. It’s mystifying really how that’s worked out. I’m feeling very good about this.

I am concerned I won’t meet people in town and such, though. But Eric even addressed that too without me asking. He said the people will come to you in time, you can’t go looking for them. I’s really eerie how he says these things that are so relevant.