Friday, February 26, 2010

Living History

For Caryl Coppin, 1917-2010

It's nearly March and the first buttercups speckle the canyon slopes. Like shiny gold buttons on tiny stems, they tremble in the stiff breeze, resolutely facing south as if determined to absorb every possible ray of sun.

I lean over in the saddle and marvel at how many cups of gold there are today when just yesterday I counted only seven. We are riding after cattle and I'm glad. There are few jobs better than the ones that find us horseback in the canyon on the cusp of green-up, on a blue-sky day.

But a part of me wishes I were out in town, at the old stone church where I know people will be gathered. I could tell this story, of the buttercups, of alders trailing their ruddy catkins, and wild geese returned to nest in the tall grass. I could tell about the fisherman I didn't see, who swathed in waders, lost his footing and stumbled like a drunk across the cobble, how he set my horse leaping sideways up the bank and me flopping in the saddle with half a brain saying--what the heck, while the other half reminded me to reach down and grab a rein.

And there was more. The gather and turn of the cattle with shouts of "come by" and "away to me", the dogs circling and holding the herd. The splash across the river, our horses' legs inside the ripple, the deeply colored stones awash below. The nod of horns and the climb of haunches trailing upslope to benches spread in winter bunchgrass, golden with a hint of green. The long trot toward home and afterward the oily glow of kerosene at the dinner table and the home-cooked meal, last year's beef, some cellared spuds and squash.

Of all the people who would have told me to stay away from town, there's only one I listened to today. I can hear her plain as I can see her, the nod of silver hair as she waves her hand between us. Go on, I hear her saying. You've got work to do. And your husband, why I'm sure he's waiting.

And it's this love of living, in every chore and season, in labor and invention, in showing and learning how, in celebration and in passing, that keeps me here, among the cattle.

Yes, I could be in town. But here, she's riding with me, just behind the cantle with her slender arms around my waist, her story in my ear about how it used to be, and still is.

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef