Monday, September 21, 2009

Last day on horseback

This spring mom delivered Bud the horse, Stella the cow and her bull calf Fuzz Butt. I had the pasture ready from the year before and really expected no problems. When I woke up the next morning to the horse throwing a hissy fit in the field, I knew I was silly to expect anything but trouble. During the night, probably just before dawn, the cow and calf got through the fence and were on the loose. They hadn't been in the field for 24 hours. I'm not even sure they made 12.

In our part of the country there are rolling hills, forests and open fields likely once used for farming but long since left. The cows found them all and called each one home for a night or two. They weren't hungry, or scared, or wild. Just looking for the herd of 80 cows they left behind when they climbed on the trailer. How could they know the herd was a 3 hr drive away? I kept track of them everyday. Every stressful day. But I couldn't catch them no matter how many times the horse and I herded them back to the gate. After 2 weeks on the lam, mom came back and we decided come hell or high water we would catch them Saturday and that would be the end of it. (I must add that Martin wanted to help, but we only had one horse, and the cows were mine, so the responsibility and hardship belonged to me, not him.)

Early in the morning we set off and picked up their trail, finding them fairly quickly. Cattle are predictable creatures, and like I said, they weren't wild, they just wanted no part of us or our company. We walked through brush, up hills, down hills, through rivers, along paths, swamps, fields and back again. If the trees were too thick, I'd tie the horse and follow on foot, letting mom know by walkie talkie where we were. She'd find the horse and catch up.

The whole experience was stressful, hard, tiring, frustrating, and beautiful. We found babbling brooks and wild blueberries patches. Waterfalls dappled with sunlight, all but hidden, nestled between cliffs. We'd struggle through brush and come out into a stand of hardwoods, and couldn't help but think we'd just found some secret place, never before witnessed by human eyes. Bud was amazing. He went places most horses would never go. Trees so thick I had to hug his neck and let him push through. We galloped across a field at full speed, smooth as silk, his feet hardly touching the ground, to cut off the cows from going in the woods. A thoroughbred couldn't have gone faster. I've never rode like that. I've been riding since I was 2 years old and I've never rode like I did in those two weeks, or on that morning. I get butterflies thinking about it. Mom picked up the horse while I tracked through the woods on foot at one point, and she followed along an old 4 wheeler trail. Crackling across the walkie talkie I hear "there's a tree across the path"...."we jumped it!"...."I stayed on!"

We ended up catching the pair by lasso in the woods and brought them back to the field by tying Stella to a tractor and walking home. The calf followed the cow, I followed him on the horse, mom followed me in the truck. After two weeks of freedom and 6 hours of hard walking and riding that morning, we had ourselves a parade down Greenhill rd. I've rode in parades before, but none that special. Definitely none that made me that happy.

Months have gone by since that Saturday morning and Mom still talks about it. About seeing her daughter fly across a field on a horse, about walking all those miles through the woods, about jumping the tree, and riding this horse who couldn't be rode a few short years before. On and on she'd go, telling everyone the stories. She taught me to ride. It's something we've always shared, just the two of us. But I don't think I've ever seen her jump. I thought at the time it was pretty cool, but the stress of the whole thing skewed my perception. She was thrilled though, that we got to do that together. People pay good money to round up cattle on horseback.

Friday I'm bringing mom to the MS clinic to get an official diagnosis. She's been sick a long time, so we're looking forward to hearing what they have to say in a way. In another way the reality of it all becomes clear. Her legs give out now and then. I see why she thinks it was such an amazing day and holds the memory so close. At least if it was the last time, it was great.

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