Gwen Peterson: Writer gets close to Western life, learns about the messy side
Cowboy Wade is foreman at a sizeable spread hereabouts. A “yep” and “nope” cowboy, Wade views life and cow activity with a wry eye. His attitude remains unruffled in the face of a snorty mama cow or a rampaging bull. It takes a lot to faze Wade. He can handle it all … or thought he could until Wanda showed up.
Turns out the ranch owner had agreed to host Wanda Wannabe, a writer from an eastern metropolis who had been assigned to pen an in-depth piece on “Western lifestyle” for a magazine. She wanted, she said, “to feel and touch and participate in any and all activities pertaining to ranching.”
Though the ranch employed several hands, the boss assigned the duty of tending Wanda to calm unflappable Wade — which both relieved and amused the other cowhands. Wanda asked about “droving”. She’d watched the film “Lonesome Dove” and read about “drovers.” She wanted to “drove.”
“Well, Ma’am,” said Wade, “you’re in luck.” We’ve got a small herd of cows and calves penned up and me ‘n the boys are fixin’ to “drove” ‘em to pasture tomorrow. That’ll require riding,” he added. “You know how to ride?”
“You mean on a horse?”
“Yes ‘um. We’re short on elephants,” Wade said, straight faced.
“I have only ridden in a horse-drawn hansom cab,” Wanda said, “but I’m a quick learner.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Wadesaid, thinking he’d better wrangle up Old Fumblefoot, the bomb-proof equine who’d hauled many a kid in his time.
“It’ll be thrilling. I’ll photograph everything and take notes. Perhaps my adventures will be made into a movie.”
“Reckon we have to roll out at four o’clock to start this adventure,” drawled Wade.
“Not till 4? How nice. I can sleep in.”
“That’s four in the morning,” said Wade.
Wanda looked a bit shocked, but persevered. At 4 a.m., she showed up at the corrals. It was still gray-dark-coming-dawn, but Wanda’s white denim jeans, creamy cowboy hat and white cowboy boots gleamed through the dimness. She carried a camera.
While Wade saddled up Old Fumblefoot for her, Wanda got into the spirit of “droving.” She stepped within the corral with the cattle. The cows didn’t mind. They stared at her as if puzzling out what this creature might be. One small calf seemed to be lingering at the outer edge of the bunched bovines as if waiting for something. It turned to eyeball her and blinked.
“Oh, aren’t you cute!” Wanda said. “Stand still.”
She slipped closer until she was practically kissing the little guy. Then, she pressed the camera’s flash button. The startled calf, erupting like a bursting geyser, shot a couple of feet straight up and came down running.
The little critter, perhaps confused, tried to flee by taking a short cut — between Wanda’s lower appendages.
With a screech, she found herself participating in an unplanned ranch activity. She rode the little bovine for half a split-second before being dumped to earth, landing in a pile of local color.
Later, when the other cowboys inquired about his day with Wanda the writer, Wade said, “Hard to describe. Reckon y’all will have to wait for the movie.” ❖