Saturday, November 26, 2016

Windy Hell

I trudge north along the Zumwalt road trailing cattle in an unrelenting wind that brings the chill to single digits.  It's day one of four days winding our way north and down into the canyon to the winter range. In my mind I hear the name Windy Hell scattered in the talk of three tired men huddled around the stove in cow camp. Their jeans are slick at the knees, their necks wrapped in stained silk scarves. Coats heavy and stiff in canvas, buckskin, wool. Hats cinched on with stampede strings. Above the stove, sodden gloves and mittens steam. The stink of wet gear fills the room. 
First day, Sara ruminates on the windy walk north

The cow camp is in the bottom of a canyon. Cow Creek?  Pumpkin? The men have come in out of the weather after hunting cattle off the ridges, bringing them down to safer ground. The snow has arrived quicker and fallen deeper than expected, the springs and seeps have frozen solid, the trails packed to ice chutes in the rims. 

                                     Day two, headed east toward the breaks

I am awed by their going out in the dark and their coming in again in the dark, alive. I love the horses who manage to stay on their feet, sharp shod and still sliding. I love the cattle who struggle to safely pick and wade their way down. I crave leaving the cabin and the small children asleep in the attic.

Dropping off the top with Andi

I'm not sure where Windy Hell is, because I've never been there. But that doesn't stop me from naming it in my mind as I trudge north inside the furry warmth of my winter hat, flaps down, fuzzy neck warmer pulled over the tip of my nose, collar up on my parka. 

                                                     Into Log Creek

Any place with a hell of a wind can take me there, invoking the relief of shelter, the offering of a warm fire, a hot meal, fresh water. And I hear cowboy voices recalling the bad spots, the sting and bite of driven snow, the slide and crash of a fall, the incredulity of a finding new calf waiting out the storm with its mother in a high sheltered basin. I hear the naming of Windy Hell and conjure a landmark lurking far above me in the stormy dark. 

Headed to the bench

I used to think I needed to go to all these places, Windy Hell, Rheumatiz, Jakey, Sleepy. In case I needed to know the way. In case I had to go out looking for someone who did not come back.

Day four, nearly to the Hall Place

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef