“I had to live in the desert before I could understand the full value of grass in a green ditch.” Ella Maillart, Forbidden Journey
That’s When the Fun Really Began…
When I was just out of high school I was working on a cattle ranch in the Mojave Desert. It was a 110 degrees. The cows were hot, the horses were hot, the iced tea was hot, and I was hot. My thoughts went to wondering why I had ever taken a job chasing cows in the desert. There was 157,000 acres of desert on this ranch alone; where everything tried to stick you, bite you, stampede you, buck you off or dry you up and blow you away…What was I thinking? There was no lack of solitude or time to think in the desert. I pondered that question a great deal as I traversed the rocky, unforgiving terrain.
As a child I loved playing “Cowboys & Indians” with all the other lads. We were pretending to be some cool cowboy like Clint Eastwood or an Indian Chief like Sitting Bull. We’d shoot bow and arrows or out-draw each other. We were cool!! Somehow the dust, the heat and the 18 hour days didn’t factor into those games and dreams back then. I still think back to those thoughts of riding hard and fast across open country without a clue of what it was really like.
Guns, Horses and The Mojave
One day I was riding along in my contemplative mood in an area we called “6 Mile”. (It was about 6 miles from headquarters – go figure) I happened across a few coyotes that had cornered a fairly small calf. The mother cow must have been hurt, gotten separated or abandoned the poor thing. Without thinking (much) I drew my pistol and tried to shoot the nearest coyote. That’s when the fun really began… Not having thought about it and just reacting – I failed to realize the affect this would have on my horse. He was not pleased with the explosion occurring above him and he chose to relocate himself, rather suddenly – somewhere down country! That meant that the horse went one direction and I stayed where I was – at least until I crashed to the ground.
No one else seemed to like the sound of my gun either. The coyotes took off (my aim wasn’t so good then obviously) and the calf thought it best to depart the area as well. No horse, no rope, no calf…no good. I really don’t mind hiking – in fact, I used to do a lot of it – just not much in the desert; in the heat…where everything tried to stick you or bite you or…you get the picture.
First order of business was to recover my horse. It wasn’t too hard to track the poor scared animal and eventually convince him I wasn’t going to shoot off his back anytime soon again. Once back in the saddle, it was time to track down and take care of the calf. He was fairly easy to find too but he was not used to people or horses. Scared without his mother or the rest of the herd he ended up allowing me to move him in the direction of the right direction. Soon he was back to another group of cows not too far off. Back in the herd he was much happier and paired up with a cow that seemed happy to see him.
I started thinking about how the day had played out and some lessons learned for the future that I still try to think about:
Rule #1: Think before you shoot – especially when you’re ahorseback.
Rule #2: There is probably more than one way to deal with a situation if you give yourself a moment to think it through.
Rule #3: No one; cattle, horses, people (or even coyotes) likes to be scared. So before you pull the trigger on a plan, be sure you’re ready for the consequences.
Rule #4: When you find yourself daydreaming about what you want in life – just remember that dreams do come true. There are just all kinds of details like heat, cactus & dirt to deal with…
The reality of it all set in as I and my horse made our way back to headquarters…Clint Eastwood was much cooler than I was ever going to be!