Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Riders of the Purple Sage

The Ranch Hand’s Diary:
Riders of the Purple Sage

I join my sister at Ishawooa Mesa Ranch just miles outside of Cody, Wyoming. While I've been cooking for various and sundry crews, she's been laboring as a ranch hand.

My first day on the job, I follow Jesse around and learn how to feed and water the broiler chickens, the layers, and the turkeys. Learn how to manage the garden weeds, pull grass, and tend the greenhouse. We clean up one of the houses and several other bathrooms around the ranch. Then we inventory about 600 pounds out of 800 pounds of beef.

In passing, Karen asks us, "I've been meaning to ask, do you ride?"

We both do, although it's been a while since we have.

By the end of the day I'm exhausted. I'm not sure if I'll be able to do this type of work six days a week for three months. I wonder what I've gotten myself in for.

I sleep like the dead.

The next morning, Greg has the horses saddled up. We adjust stirrups and with Karen's help I remember how to put on a bridle, how to convince a horse to take a bit.

"Only your second day of work and you get to ride," Jesse says. It's her first time since she got here.

"I realize why cowboys got in so much trouble all the time," I say. "Cowboy boots make you swagger." I've borrowed a pair of boots out of the room with spare things. They’re a size too big, but they work enough for riding. I've also borrowed a hat I found in a basket with spare hats. Jesse looks like a natural in a flannel shirt and cowboy hat. I look like a goof.

We ride across the field and with the cowdog Boss’s help we collect the cattle into a group and herd them into the corral. A small group escapes and crosses the creek, but we get most of them. Greg says it's not bad and that Jesse and I handled ourselves like naturals. It feels like if we didn't we wouldn't be much for Texas girls.

"The variety of work keeps you from getting bored," Jesse says later. The variety also works to keep me from feeling the same kind of exhaustion as yesterday.

I go to the cabin with a different type of weariness covering me like a cloak and sleep like the undead.

Day three, we’re all saddled up and ready to ride. Greg drives us and the horses up to the entrance to the lease land. We'll hang out until he returns with the cows. We’ll hold the cattle until all of them have been brought over and then we’ll herd them up the draw to the lease area where they'll graze for the summer.

The morning is spent waiting for cows. I sit up on Gatsby, the horse I was paired with, and look out at the Wyoming mountains while he grazes. I think once again how lucky I am, what a life I live.

When the cows arrive we, Karen, Morgan, Michael, Jesse, and I, keep them bunched together best we can and turn them occasionally to point them back the way we will want them to go.

A while later, Greg and Tom ride up over a hill and then we begin the trail drive. Michael takes the lead, Jesse and I cover the left flank, Greg and Morgan cover the right, Tom and Karen have the rear.

We have about 65 head. We get them up to the tank so they’ll know how to get water. We leave them there and ride off into the proverbial sunset.

"We were like the Riders of the Purple Sage," I tell Jesse in the truck on the way back to the ranch. Sage brush lines the land beside us to either side. Mountains loom around. The sky is scattered with clouds that threaten rain.

"I always liked Zane Grey," Jesse says.

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