Sow’s Ear: I know it’s spring …
by Gwen Petersen
Big Timber, Mont.
It’s May and in spite of last week’s 10-inch snowfall, I’m pretty sure spring has finally decided to stick around.
I know it’s spring because on the island in the Yellowstone River across from my place, a crowd of tall cottonwoods are about five minutes from bursting into full bloom. The treetops look fluffy as if each tree forgot to comb its hair. Nests of blue herons appear as dark spots in the fluff. It won’t be long before there will be a whole lot of blue-heron chatter going on.
I know it’s spring because the ravens and bald eagles take turns cruising the airways above the river. On the gravel bar below, six pelicans converse about fishing techniques. To catch and release or to keep and eat, that is the question.
I know it’s spring because when I drove around a bend in the county road, a red-tailed hawk lifted off from his lunch of road-killed deer.
I know it’s spring because jack rabbits are jumping like miniature kangaroos across the prairie and the dogs are going crazy trying to catch them.
I know it’s spring because the antelope herds have thinned out. Soon I may catch glimpses of mama antelope with fawns tagging closely.
I know it’s spring because the deer’s winter hair is shedding off in clumps, making their hides look as raggedy as worn-out chore coats.
I know it’s spring because everybody has branded, is branding or is about to brand their cattle. Last weekend, at Iris’ branding, a rider provided some entertainment when his rope became entangled beneath his horse’s tail. The horse, a 3-year-old, took offense. The roper found himself on the ground looking up at the belly of the beast. Except for strong feelings of chagrin, the dislodged buckaroo was unhurt. The horse calmed down. The audience laughed.
I know it’s spring because last week, three friends ” newcomers to the country ” volunteered to “help” work cattle. I accepted graciously and set a time for them to arrive, then I started proceedings an hour in advance. (Sometimes, it’s best to get things done before the “help” arrives.)
For gathering and encouraging the cows into my small corral, I employed the widow-woman method. First, I placed bales of hay inside the pen. Then I strolled out in the pasture, circled casually around and behind the group of bovines. It took time, but what’s time to a cow. Slowly they drifted toward the open corral gate. At this point, my newcomers-to-the-country friends showed up ” two of ’em on horseback. They entered the pasture, chattering and waving their hands happily. All 10 head of previously relaxed bovines went on red alert. The riders guided their mounts directly towards the middle of the bunch while calling, “Come on, girls.”
First cow’s thought: “Egad, what the devil is that?”
Second cow’s thought: “I dunno, but I’m gettin’ the heck out of here!”
All cows’ thoughts: “We’re with you! Let’s split!”
After another hour of gathering (on shank’s mare ” I insisted), the cows were finally penned. What needed doing was de-lousing, worming, vaccinating, and castrating of one 9-month bull. For those actions, I utilized the talents of my local veterinarian, a staunch fellow, and kind to widows, especially in spring.
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