“Of course I’d like to come,” I answered,
When I got the foreman’s call.
I like to help the neighbors when I can.
My irrigation water wouldn’t
Miss me much at all,
And there’s not a better thing to do than brand.
Bright and early the next morning,
I went quickly out the door,
When the little stars were starting to go out
And I rattled ‘cross the cattle guard
Contented to the core,
‘Cuz brandings are what this life’s all about.
Though I didn’t know this outfit,
I’d know most the fellers there.
The ranching world is really kind of small.
Then I had no way of knowing
When the ropers were all paired,
I’d be roping with the master of them all.
He was clearly pushing eighty
When we all shook hands around.
Never met before but I sure knew his name.
And before the day was over
I was certain that I’d found
Several pieces of this puzzling living game.
Swinging overhand reata,
Reg’lar as a metronome,
On a black colt poised and ready every beat,
He would sail it towards the target
And it always found a home
On an unsuspecting calf’s head or two feet.
Not an ounce of wasted energy,
The big black colt moved out
In a confident, slow way that I admired.
Never hurried, never hustled,
We just turned each horse about
And another calf was stretched right by the fire.
When we broke for lunch I noted
On his colt tied by the fence
With the faded saddle fenders in the sun,
That he’d won it as a trophy
In a bridle horse event.
It said, “Santa Barbara, 1941.”
I admired it for its beauty
Nearly hidden by its age.
It was finely crafted, rigging to the horn.
Every scar on it was history.
I could read it page by page,
And he won it seven years ‘fore I was born.
As the branding was concluded,
One young roper that I’d met,
Who’d been running his poor pony from the start,
Gave his horse one final jerking,
Covered up with foam as sweat,
Up and asked me, “Where’d you dig up this old fart?”
Every nerve I have said, “Hit him!”
But instead I let it pass.
His arena broke ideas are common stuff.
His mind was wrapped with inner tube.
Equating ‘good’ with ‘fast’.
I think ignorance is punishment enough.
reprinted from Dry Crik Review, Spring 1993