I shifted my weight to my left foot and stood on tiptoe. Well, as much of “tiptoe” as you can get in a stirrup. The dun below me adjusted for my shifted position but continued to rip green grass. Though I squinted in the morning sun, I still couldn’t see anything. I sat back down into my saddle, listened to its leathery squeaks, and sighed.
The sun was getting higher. I was getting warmer and a tad bored.
An insect buzzed with a high pitched whine and I tried to see what kind it was. It was below my horse in the tall grass and I pressed my right calf into his side asking for a shift. He responded with a step to the left. I leaned over sideways, peering into the green, but couldn’t see it. I didn’t exactly have my Guide to Rocky Mountain Insects with me anyway.
I turned my attention to the blue sky scanning for activity. A jet’s contrails were visible flying east to west. Down below me, 6 turkey vultures formed a diamond pattern in their tilted flyover. My vantage point put me halfway up the mountainside, leaving the entire Big Horn Basin spread out before me, a pallet of yellows, reds, greys, and browns splattered with the blue grey sagebrush. I could see plenty: miles of country barely broken by the tracks of civilization, the dense dark green of junipers, concrete colored rimrocks and rusty chugwaters, the brilliant green of irrigated fields in the distance. I didn’t want any of it. I was waiting impatiently for something else.
A cow raised her head and took determined steps up the trail, her calf bobbing along behind. “Not yet, you ol’ black hide, get back!” I raised my reins, lifting Panama’s head from his grazing, and we trotted to the front of her, stopping her progress, pressuring her head until she turned back the way she had come.
I tapped Panama’s neck, and released my reins… meaning… “you can eat now”. We assumed our previous position, me straining to see signs of activity, Panama unconcerned with anything but the tall grass at his feet.
I judged the cows around me. Twenty of the would-be leaders were held up where the trail ran close to the canyon’s edge, a narrow spot easy for one person to control. Each had their calves close by, and every few minutes one would challenge me, trying to pass and continue on the well known journey. If I rode over to that little rise and stood in my stirrups to see over the hilltop behind me, would it be enough elevation to see anything? If I did that, would the cows take my exit as a signal to leave and would I have enough time to run back and block their progress once again?
I tried to be patient. My “saddle” was going numb. Okay. That was an exaggeration. But I had been waiting a good hour. Panama was a fairly bomb-proof horse. Was I brave enough to stand in the saddle like my boys would have? Yeah, right. I was klutz enough I’d fall and hurt myself instead and then waiting in pain would be my reward. I decided on moving my horse to a higher elevation instead.
I gathered the reins once again and tapped the gelding’s sides. He chewed twice and then stepped out, ears perked forward. The slight rise was barely perceptible, but as we stopped in the patch of blue buffalo grass, I rose in my stirrups and I could see! There they were.
And excellent timing. I heard a whoop and a yell. The five cowboys were heading the back of the herd up my way. I saw a loop swing, another “Ho!, cow!”, and a dog’s bark drifted my way. We were on the trail again.
I turned Panama back to the leaders. “Alright, ladies, let’s go!” I whacked my hand on my jeans, the popping sound stirring the cows to movement. “Ho! Ho! Hey, cow, c’mon!” A whistle. Panama stepped beside the cows. They moved away from the shade of the junipers and headed up the trail. “Hey, hey… “
Time to be a cowboy again.