Gwen Petersen: In a Sow’s Ear 6-6-11 |

Gwen Petersen: In a Sow’s Ear 6-6-11

Gwen Petersen
Big Timber, Mont.

The creek flowing past Hetty and Hank’s place is called Dry Fork. That appellation came about because generally, it holds water for about 10 seconds each spring, then goes dry as the proverbial bone. It’s shallow and not at all wide. You can cross the waterless bed at any point. This year, it’s a raging angry torrent of muddy water chewing its way downhill at freight-train speed.

Hank and Hetty run about 40 head of steers across the creek in a pasture over that-a-way.

After three days of downpour, Hank felt obliged to “check on the steers.” He fired up the four-wheeler, the usual outfit he employs for quick trips to monitor livestock.

“But it’s still raining,” Hetty pointed out.

“It’s slackened off a little,” replied Hank. “You want to ride along?”

(I wasn’t there but I think Hetty rolled her eyes).

“Oh, that’s okay,” she said, “I’ll just watch from the deck.”

Off tooled Hank, a cowboy knight off on a reconnaissance mission. He drew near the creek bank. Hetty, watching, could hear the put-putt of the four-wheeler. Then with the suddenness of punching the mute button on a TV, the noise quit. Hank sank till only the top of his hat showed – and it was tilted sideways. Hetty hobbled down the steps. (Did I mention that she was recovering from a broken leg?)

She’d only traveled a few yards when, like that Greek feller rising from the sea, Hank emerged, dripping. He sloshed back to the house and explained to Hetty that the creek bank had washed away and that the four-wheeler was now mired underwater. Hetty tried – unsuccessfully – not to laugh.

Hank applied himself to a solution. He fired up the tractor, the one that had bale spears mounted on it, and rumbled off to the rescue. He had a plan. Stationing the tractor (not too close to the creek’s edge), he dismounted and stepped into the stream (he couldn’t get any wetter) and cozied up to the four-wheeler in order to attach tow ropes from it to the tractor bale spear. Then he climbed back aboard and put ‘er in hoist gear.

Slowly the four-wheeler rose from the muck. Hank drove toward the barn with the four-wheeler dangling like a prize retrieved from a candy machine. He lowered that which dangled, unhooked the tow straps and sighing, took his sodden self back to the house.

Hetty retreated indoors for a few moments, then reappeared as Hank reached the bottom step of the porch. He was wet to his eyeballs; the brim of his hat sagged down around his ears; water, so muddy it looked like brown gravy, filled his boots; he squished as he walked. As he started to climb the stairs, he heard a click. He looked up.

“Smile,” said Hetty. “You’re on Candid Camera.” Click!

Then she broke into song:

“When it’s flood time in the Rockies

And the creek is high, my dear

Do not drive into the water

With your bonnie wheeler, dear!

Do not go to check the cattle

While it’s raining all the day.

Cuz it’s flood time in the Rockies

In the Rockies far away-y-y-y!”

Click! Click! Click!