by Hal Walter
It’s all about the animals, and maybe it’s about people, as well.
Animals were a big part of the decision to live out here, to follow this path. And animals, both domesticated and wild, continue to be a big part of the magic of this existence.
Afternoons linger into evening this time of year, and we decided to take our son Harrison for a ride on one of our saddle donkeys, Ace. About a half mile from the house I was leading Ace, and Mary was walking behind. I felt some minor calamity on the lead rope and turned to see my son falling. It really wasn’t much of a rodeo, but Harrison took a tumble anyway. Suddenly the evening became a blur of a screaming child who suddenly became very cooperative. A call to the clinic, and a drive to town. X-rays. A fractured arm. Splint. On the way home we stopped to watch two young foxes play along the road in Silver Cliff. Harrison acknowledged the foxes and I knew everything would be OK.
There’s a video that plays over and over in your head after incidents like this. I give it bad reviews. A call to Doc Hamilton in Wetmore got the X-rays read, and resulted in a quick referral to an orthopedic specialist and a purple long-arm cast. That same call also provided some counseling: “You’ll look back on this as a huge growth experience.” And truly the accident propelled Harrison, who has autism, to another level in his development that continues to amaze all who are around him.
The call also resulted in the arrival of two of Doc Hamilton’s mares here for breeding to Ace.
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Punky the cow has been jumping fences. Why? Does the grass taste better on the other side of the fence? Is there more of it? Is it more nutritious? The answer is something only cows know. This would not be noteworthy except in doing so Punky managed to cut her foot on some wire and required veterinary attention.
We’re doing “natural beef” here but the vet said antibiotics might keep me from having to put a bullet in Punky. I could feed her powdered antibiotics on grain but what she really needed was a big injection. I saddled up one of my saddle donkeys, Redbo, and went to round up the injured cow. Since my team of cowhands consists of just myself, I generally round up the entire herd and then separate them in the corral. Usually if I can get them moving along a fenceline I can get them corralled. This day Punky and two calves, one of them hers, separated from the herd and started toward the corral. I just went with the flow. Redbo was biting at the bit over the calves, and I had to rein him back a couple times. When we reached the corral I realized I needed to dismount to close a gate. I figured Redbo would put his head into the grass and hold the cows at the corral opening.
What he did was take off after the calves. He got on the trail of one of them and ran it up the hill at high speed, then back down through the creekbed and the brush. Stirrups and saddlebags flapping. Calf bawling. Dust flying.
Redbo ran the calf along the old wooden corral and I saw one chance to keep him from stomping it. I jumped between them as the calf flew by and threw my hat at the donkey. He stopped on a dime and the calf ran away with the injured cow. The day’s work was lost
• • •
On the night of the Solstice my dogs mixed it up with some coyotes near our house. Ted the rat terrier was bitten badly. Anti-inflammatories. Antibiotics. Rabies booster. Ten days of pills and ointments. The vet bill was about twice what I get paid for writing this column, illustrating the possible error of choosing journalism school over veterinary school.
• • •
Powdered antibiotics on grain are a real hassle. You have to guard the bucket from the other cows. Inevitably some of it gets scattered. What I really needed was to get Punky in a corral and call the vet. It was a hot day when I saddled Ace and went after the cows again. I found them in the shade of some timber, and we pushed them down to the fenceline and into the corral.
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Next morning, driving out of my place to meet the vet, something caught my eye. Could I be hallucinating? It had been just a week since the mares arrived. But there, standing in the pasture next to one of them, was a foal — a coal-black molly mule. Surprise. Nobody knew she was pregnant.
• • •
At the cow corral, there are a couple of empty mineral tubs I’ve filled with baling twine and old wire that I’ve picked up around the corrals over the years. While waiting for the vet I loaded this into my truck to take it to the dumpster, and decided to drive to the main ranch to check on horses and dump the tub.
As I was dumping the tub into the dumpster I saw something moving and jumped back, thinking it could be a rattlesnake or a nest of mice. A closer look revealed two nearly fledged bluebirds tangled in the baling twine. I carefully untangled the little birds and put them into another empty tub. I stuffed some of the twine back into the first tub, then rushed back to the corral. I put the tub where it had been and placed the two little birds nearby. On the way back I decided to check the dumpster for more birds. Sure enough, I found another baby bluebird, so I drove it back over to the corral. Would the parents take them back?
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If it weren’t for animals, my life would be . . . easy? Predictable? Boring?
• • •
An emergency call had made the vet late, he explained as he used huge syringes to pump the sedated Punky with tetracycline. Our cow should be OK within a few days. Probably will never have acne, either.
• • •
The mom and dad bluebirds flitted about on the fence posts with insects in their beaks. I watched to see where they landed. The baby bluebirds, rescued from the dumpster, were spread out in the brush. And their folks were hard at work feeding them.
Animals have their stories, too.
A longer version of this piece of is available is on Hal’s website: www.hardscrabbletimes.com