Sunday, July 31, 2011

And the Sparks Flew...

It had been a long day for the 10 year old.

Up in the morning by 6 in near freezing temperatures to take in some breakfast, followed shortly thereafter by grabbing the halter and walking out to the corral to help catch the horses, who didn't want to be caught. With twelve or more people running about chasing horses and trying to corner each one in the morning twilight, you quickly run out of corners.

His horse wasn't too wild though, and you could walk right up to him and put the halter on, but just about the time you got close somebody else would run their herd, breath steaming, right by with a "you miserable sunzabitches!" and screw the whole thing up and he'd have to start all over again.

Eventually, things settled down and all of the horses were caught, saddled, mounted and heading out to make the circle. He did his part, as well as any kid could, getting in behind the now growing herd of cattle and pushing them toward their final destination. Their yearly push to the high country where the summer temps were relatively cool and the grass just perfect for the cattle to thrive on until later that fall when the whole process would repeat, only in reverse. He'd be in school then and the grown-ups would have to fit that bill.

Around 11:30, the end of July air would really start to let you know it was going to be a hot one today. It never ceased to amaze him how you could wake up and shiver to 38 degree temps and when the sun came out begin to roast as it rapidly approached 100. But why today? Today, of all days...

Today was going to be the big climb. This morning they were getting the cattle to the base of the hill and starting them up, so after riding back to the cabin for lunch and an afternoon siesta, they could catch another horse and head back out about 3:30 or 4 to get in behind them and finish the push. It was always a long, hot, and miserable day. Nothing likes a 2000 foot vertical climb at the end of the day, neither man nor beast, but that's what it takes to get up on top, so the move begins again as it did every year.

This year it didn't go well. Nothing wanted to walk on their own so you'd have to get in behind them and force them every step of the way. It wasn't that the path wasn't well defined... over the last 100 years cattle had been making this very same move every summer with the very same cowboys growing up behind them. As youngsters, the boy didn't get to be up on the lead turning the cattle to keep them on the trail, that was for the adults who actually knew where they were going and had more experience. Either that or they remembered how little fun it was being on the tail end in the dust and heat and left that to the kids. "Character building" they called it... he called it something else, but such was his lot in this little endeavor.

The sun had disappeared over the rim a long time ago, even though it was at least a couple of hour from setting, and that brought some much needed relief. After a slight rest, everything got it's second wind and started the last big climb to the top. Around the corner to the state-line fence and then... through the mahoganies. Those thick, nasty, gnarled mahoganies. One single overgrown trail on a better than 45 degree pitch upward. These are the times that try men's souls, and young boys cut their teeth.

After what seemed an eternity, they broke over the rim and started down to the water. Oh no... the job wasn't done when you got the cattle on top, there was still at least a mile to go after that, but it was downhill to the creek and every step took you closer to the end of the day.

The sun was a mere sliver above the horizon as they crossed the road and held a line so that the little calves wouldn't all run back to the bottom in search of their mothers. No... you had to sit there and keep as many as you could from going back so that their mothers could come back and find them. And so the story goes... hurry up and wait. As the evening twilight was fading, the cows began to realize that even though the grass was green there... they were missing something. Oh yeah! My calf! So back they'd come bawling and looking in earnest.

Cattle were pairing up all over and the job of holding the calves got easier and easier, but it was also getting darker and darker. Pretty soon... there would be no sense in staying because you couldn't see something going back. A few minutes later the call went out. Through the fading sunlight he heard, "BOYS!!!" and he could just see one of the grown-ups take off his hat and wave it in a beckoning motion toward them. That was it, and so all of the kids started off toward the adults and the little rocky dirt road that would lead them back to the cabin.

There were no horse trailers then. No easy way back to camp. Just five miles of riding in the soon to be inky darkness, but the question went out, "You kids want to trot back?" "Heck yeah." was the quick reply, and off they went double file up the road. The horses knew it was quitting time too, and it's miraculous how much energy they seemed to have heading back to camp.

He could just faintly make out the road underneath his horse, but hopefully the leaders could and all he had to do was follow along, nose to tail, but something peculiar started to happen.

In the blackness of the night, the horses hooves, shod with metal shoes, began striking against the rocks on the ground, a lot of them flint. As many of you know from watching TV westerns, when flint and steel strike against each other it creates a spark, and as they all trotted up the road, a shower of sparks bedecked their feet.

And so it continued, all the way back to camp where his mother and another of the wives had a big meal waiting for them in dutch ovens back at the cabin. The smell of the potatoes and beef wafted in his direction stirring up the hunger in his belly. And what was that other smell? Fresh scones to be dipped in honey? Tonight's meal was going to be a good one, but the day wasn't over yet. No, first the horses had to be unsaddled, led back to the corral and fed. Only then could he start to think about himself.

It was well past midnight when he finally got into his sleeping bag with a full belly and a weariness that only a day such as this could bring on. The grown-ups would take pity on them tomorrow and not get them up for the morning ride, a courtesy extended throughout the generations. He didn't know that though, but as he closed his eyes and drifted into sleep... his memory drifted back to the jog home, and once again... the sparks flew.

Today's mystery lyric: (Remember the rules folks, no online searching of the lyrics, if you don't know it, you don't have the answer!)

I can't escape this hell
so many times I've tried
But I'm still caged inside
somebody get me through this nightmare
I can't control myself

Answer to last lyric: Bad Boys Running Wild by The Scorpions. NO guesses? I blame Tiff for that.