October 20, 2012
We helped our neighbors, the Badures, trail a bunch of their cattle the remaining 8 -10 miles back from summer pasture. It is funny how certain yearly work can make the time seem to fly, reverse or stand still - I can't decide which. As I ride along I can imagine the photographs I took of the same work last year and the year before that and etc .... The scene switches from past to present in my mind and from black and white to color and appears as if from a movie I have watched or 'acted' in a few times.
We left the Badure home place with a pickup full of cowboys and trailered, with the horses, several miles to where the cattle had overnighted from the previous day's partial journey. And it seems, it is never too early for cowboys to be telling their jokes and stories. We got to our starting point - unloaded the seven horses - cinched up and headed to the back of the pasture. As I rode along with Baxter, Cole and Wade - the sun was about halfway up on the horizon in front of us - we chatted and joked as we rode along then split up and spread out to gather the herd along with Lyle, Al and Charlie. When we got to the gate, we funneled the pairs through and counted them out the gate. Down the road we headed - for several miles and Colter and Joe joined us on horseback. We went through an underpass with traffic whizzing by overhead ... if ever the past met the present ... this was a pretty obvious spot. Just as the cows went under, a truck with a giant load of hay drove overtop - a reminder of the ongoing drought. It is always a relief to get the cows through an underpass, but one cow hung back and didn't want to cross the black top - she must have thought she was going to drop into a big black hole - who knows what goes through a cow's mind - but even the thought of her calf up ahead didn't lure her across. So, three cowboys rode back and roped her and 'led' her across the road. Two guys each had a rope around her neck and rode on each side of her urging her along and that got her across. Then they 'tripped' her to get her slowly down so another guy could walk up and get the two ropes off the neck while the other two stayed on horseback. I rode back and got a quick snapshot of the old timey looking cattle work - it made me think of an Erwin E. Smith photograph of traditional cowboy work - timeless. I was glad one of the guys suggested going back and he would cover for me - I sometimes really put my photography on the back burner. And it all worked out - they got the cow away from the road and back with her calf and happily trailing along.
After crossing some old defunct railroad tracks - tracks that used to carry the cattle cars full of stock to market - we headed across Lyle O'Bryan's pasture. Here, the image switched to color - like the colors of a WillIam Albert Allard photograph on the cover of his book "Vanishing Breed". The mixed color herd strung out - appeared to be heading up a golden hill into the big grand turquoise and partly cloudy sky above. I had a gorgeous view from the back of the herd from the back of my horse, Cody.
Meanwhile, Lyle and Al rode ahead to push Lyle and my cows out of the way so we could bring the herd through and a few miles across to a gravel road. Once on the road, we trailed a few miles more to the bridge crossing the White River. You have to pour it on at the bridge to get them focused and in a trot so they won't turn back or baulk - sometimes a horse will baulk when he sees the change in color and texture of the concrete on the bridge. I am always happier to be NOT riding on pavement. We got across the bridge and as I rode along looking at the crew I felt lucky I landed in a ranching neighborhood where the cowboys work traditionally and also dress traditionally - offering endless visual splendor like a perfectly art directed Western movie.
We trailed down the road a bit farther - letting an occasional truck or car by now and then - yes this isn't 1880, even though I sometimes forget, and we are not on the Chisholm trail. Even though I can go there mentally so often. We turned right at the mailbox and trailed them the last stretch up the long driveway to a pasture by the house. The cows had gotten the grand tour and were ready for a cool breeze.
As we worked some of the larger steer pairs off, I would catch a glimpse of one of the cowboys out of the corner of my eye and the way his hat was shaped and the way sitting on his horse took me back in time again to black and white and a C.D. Kirkland or Charles E. Morris photograph. Then I looked the other way and a cowboy in woolies reminded me of a L.A. Huffman photograph. I do so love blurring the focus in and out of reality and fantasy - in between now and then - riding in a photograph come to life surrounded by characters appearing to be from another time.
We trailed part of the herd to water and I stopped Baxter to take a shot against the gorgeous sky sitting atop his white horse. We ran the rest of the herd through and gave them their fall shots to keep them healthy and weened them - so it will be noisy around the ranch until the mother cows decide it is a relief to not have a calf hanging around and they will get back to grazing and think nothing of it.
Just a few notes about a Fall ranching day's picturesque work and just a few of the photographers who inspire my daydreams and reality.