Once again, the south slopes fade, begging for moisture. We’ve been following yesterday’s forecast rain for well over a week, watched it vacillate from 3/4s to ¼-inch daily, while hoping to get Kenny and Virginia McKee’s calves branded in Woolley Canyon at the same time—a four-day gather in wild country. On cue, a light shower began as we finished up, but unfortunately the trailing storm evaporated by late afternoon. But it was a delightful branding, an efficient dance of ropers and ground crew that was almost mechanical, yet seasoned with quips and joviality, reminding me that the center of our culture and community has always been the branding pen.
Two years of Covid and the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has upset the equilibrium of the planet, injected fear with the hopeless horrors of war into nearly every soul. The meatpackers’ conspiracy that has defrauded both producers and consumers has added to the instability along with our ‘megadrought’, new terminology from the scientists denoting two decades of drought not seen since 800 AD—all in all, the impacts of which have created an overwhelming mess.
Kids—recounting the branding at home, Robbin and I tallied at least 10 little kids in and around the corrals, another generation exposed to this lifestyle, caring families who treasure the opportunity to teach their children how to get the work done. We are not helpless, it is a luxury to still have a place to ignore the outside world where we can pour our attention to what’s important, to the things we can do something about.
Despite January rains and El Nino prognostications, we’ve hit a typical winter dry stretch. Instead of 2 weeks warm and 2 weeks cold sometime in February,
the month has been warm, half the days thus far over 70 degrees. Relative perhaps, the trend is dry with expectations of an early and short spring. Stock water resources have nearly recovered, with more grass than cattle after four years dry, we should survive the coming summer and fall well, a familiar concern more normal than not for spring. Our country looks good, wildflowers spreading like wildfire upon the green, snow in the Sierras 1,000-1,500’ higher than we’d like to see. It will change quickly if the mid-70s, without rain for the next ten days, come to pass.
Garnered from branding photos, my ‘looking spry’ has connotations reserved for the old, the aging and antique that startle me, yet somewhat gratified that I can
still rope and ride. I was the old man in the branding pen yesterday with Brent Huntington’s uniformly big calves. Once untracked, I roped well, probably better than when I was younger worrying about how my horse and I would perform in the corral. Nowadays, the challenge is to be some help. On the way off the hill looking down on Three Rivers, Robbin and Terri compared my ‘style’ to that of the old timers, the generation before me, a compliment. To have an effective ‘style’ is beyond any expectations of the last forty-five years of branding calves, what has become more of a mindset apart from just catching that favors first the horse and calf.
Now sorted-off with the elders in this business, what did I have to impart over steak sandwiches and beer instead of politics yesterday? Be grateful that you don’t have to punch someone’s time clock in town, or commute to work, or have to listen to the noise of human neighbors, sirens, traffic. How much of the politics of the world actually touch us here in these hills, change how we have lived and worked over the years? This is another world, a forgotten world we adapt to, and no matter what the majority decides, what laws it passes, it has to eat.
So yes, I have been granted a little luck, to ‘look pretty spry whether tossing a loop or wielding an iron’.