MEEKER | The county fair held in a neighboring community in my youth was an end-of-the summer tradition; and although the animal barns and educational exhibits lent it some appeal, the cotton candy, candy apples, and plethora of carnival booths were the main event. It was enough to follow my horse-loving friends from stall to stall for an hour or two and feel as if I had experienced a little bit of the country experience.
One of my first invitations here led me to experience a hands-on experience with livestock when local ranchers invited my husband and I to come out and take part in their spring ritual of branding calves. While these ranchers continued to depend on family and neighbors, it has changed a bit with the branding crews including a motley assortment of friends, as well as many who are new to the area who have never been part of this annual tradition.
Following the herd, no matter how small, has never been a habit of mine, critter or human. One Sunday morning as I was walking home from church I suddenly found myself facing a local family’s 4-H project on the loose, I almost turned tail myself. While the family appeared to be gone, the metal gate on the animal’s pen was ajar, and the cattle trio skedaddled across the street to graze on the neighbor’s lush green grass.
Never tempted to sign up for the dude-for-the-day vacation trips, I was a little hesitant to round up the strays. Yet, I felt compelled to try and move them back across the street, as I watched the biggest one attempt to push down the pesky pickets of the neat white fence. Soon another erstwhile wannabe cow herder appeared. The two of us got on either side of the trio thinking that they would go back to the safety of their pen easily. It appeared to be a correct assumption, as this encouraged them to increase their pace and trot back across the street toward their pen.
A few yards away from the gate, however, the leader of the bovine bandits bolted. While the other two kept trotting toward the open gate, he headed toward the front of the house. He munched on a few clumps of grass, before leaning forward and licking one of the front window sills. He was awfully close to giving the glass a sloppy once-over with his big pink tongue, when he was surprised to find two women in their Sunday clothes closing in.
Jerking his head up and putting his bulky body into reverse, he backed up a few yards then stopped to survey the situation. Dolefully chewing on some clumps of grass, he watched as the two of us corralled his companions. He inched his way forward, veering to the left a bit so he could reach the bales of hay stacked outside the pen. It was lucky that neither one of us fancied ourselves as true women of the west, as he simply wasn’t budging.
Searching around for something with which to urge him forward, we each picked up the handiest tool possible. My friend flicked his flanks with a red switch and I waved a leaf rake behind his backside. He humored us by moving toward the direction of the gate, but would stand stock still every few minutes to let us know who was in charge of this impromptu cattle drive. There is no doubt we would have lost the cowgirl of the day award if there had been one.
I considered moseying down the trail without driving the stubborn steer back into his pen. The thought of the girl’s disappointment at fair time banished those thoughts, so I decided to let him have his freedom a little bit longer. No sooner had I given up control of his progress, than he trotted back into his pen where the other two were waiting.
As I walked away, I heard a voice calling, “Tinkerbell. Tinkerbell. Get away from there.” Looking up to see if Wendy or Peter Pan had appeared, I saw a man heading toward the fenced corral to fetch his dog. These stray days of summer could be made into a great western version of the old tale.
By Dolly Viscardi | Special to the Herald Times