Sow’s Ear: Advice for dudes, tourists and non-rural folk
by Gwen Petersen
Big Timber, Mont.
It’s been a slow spring. The grass is finally here. The hills are showing 40 shades of green. Songbirds have returned for their usual summer romances followed by nesting and hatching of the younguns. Rubber-tired rolling homes away from home are beginning to crowd the Interstate.
Like the birds, vacationers and summer-time residents are returning, several even hoping for romance.
Courting practices are somewhat birdlike as well.
There’s a lot of showing off and swooping from one night spot to another while filling the atmosphere with soprano trills and high-pitched chatter.
In town, sidewalk traffic is on the increase. Tourists in shiny new vacation togs (usually white trousers on the women and khaki shorts on the men and open-toed sandals on both), meander along the walks, stopping at antique shops, drifting into the one and only clothing store, sitting at the soda fountain in the drug store and finally, after an exhausting morning or afternoon, establishing themselves in a local eatery/saloon.
Fishing accesses along the rivers play host to campers and their dogs which are not blue heeler, border collie nor Australian shepherd. County roads become Corps of Discovery trails as zillions of vehicles bearing out-of-state license plates explore the West.
Advice to ranchers, cowboys and sheepherders: If you are moving cows or sheep on a county road, be sure to be freshly shaven or else grease up the mustache and beard. Ride your most colorful high-stepping horse and wear fat-roweled spurs and a tall 10-gallon hat. When you notice an individual pop out of his or her car and she has a camera glued to her eyes, make your horse rear, look at the camera and grin big.
Advice to dudes, tourists and non-rural folk in general: when following a herd of slow-moving cows and you see a cowboy on a rearing horse, don’t get out of your automobile to take pictures. The cowboy is not posing for a photo-opportunity. His danged horse is a 3-year-old and has just been bee-bit.
Further advice to dudes, tourists and non-rural folk: if you feel sure capturing a horse and cowboy on film is your only chance to preserve a piece of your vacation to show your grandkids, look at your feet before you dismount from your car. If you’re wearing open-toed sandals with or without socks, remember that cattle on fresh green grass tend to have loose plumbing, so try to avoid shrieking when you step in something that resembles custard pudding, but isn’t.
More advice to dudes, tourists and non-rural folk: if you are driving on a country road and you come upon a sea of blatting sheep, you may notice two or three herders sauntering along behind the flock. They are carrying tin cans strung on a wire, which from time-to-time, they will shake and rattle. Accompanying the can-carriers may be two or three dogs which move back and forth at the heels of the sheep as if doing the dog version of the Virginia reel. Be advised that the strolling can-carriers are not musicians, the cans are not obscure musical instruments and the canines are not doing tricks.
Refrain from getting out of your SUV to “help” herd. Especially if you’re wearing sandals. Those round brown pellets on the road are not chocolate M&M’s, licorice jelly beans, or raisins.
Additional and super-important advice to dudes, tourists and non-rural folk: when out exploring the back roads of the West and you come upon any sort of herd, flock, gaggle, cluster, crowd or bunch of animal critters blocking your way on the county road, DO NOT HONK!