Petersen: The Greenhorn’s guide to the wooly west

Visitors from non-agricultural backgrounds sometimes wonder about livestock. That’s somewhat understandable as many city folks have never seen a live cow, sheep, hog, goat, turkey or chicken — not to mention gopher, rabbit, magpie, turkey vulture or prairie dog.

Recently a couple from a Florida metropolis graced our town. They expressed disappointment as they hadn’t seen any cattle!

“Where are they?” the Floridians inquired.

With as much courtesy as I could muster, I tried to explain that cattle were grazing on pastures which didn’t necessarily mean on land bordering freeways and byways.

To provide visitors with a “real west” experience, our chamber — in the interest of luring more tourists to pull off the interstate and visit the town — has hired cowpunchers to ride herd on specially trained groups of bovines (mostly Black Angus with a few Herefords and Charolais sprinkled in for highlights).

The punchers’ daily job is to herd the cows up to a fence bordering interstate and frontage roads. The bovines have been trained to line up side by side, while staring at passing traffic as they gently chew cuds (The cows chew cuds, what passersby chew is unknown at this time.). At intervals, the cows moo and bawl harmoniously. This summer tourist activity has been so popular, highway managers have created a cow-viewing pull-off area. It is a bit like a rest-stop but without the bathrooms.

One needs to be friendly with greenhorns. They can’t help it if the only bit of actual earth is what has appeared between the cracks in a city sidewalk. To assist the befuddled and bewildered traveler, here are some question/answer tidbits of — hopefully — useful advice culled from The Greenhorn’s Guide to the Woolly West.

Q. What is a sheepdog?

A. A four-footed, medium-sized canine who spends time herding sheep and cattle or rounding up horses.

Q. How and when do you, the greenhorn, offer advice to a Westerner?

A. Never. It is considered a rude intrusion and none of your business to offer unsolicited advice no matter how apt or beneficial you think it will be to the person you’re addressing. The Westerner will listen, possibly nod politely and then may solemnly respond with, “Thanks for the advice.” Do not consider those four words an expression of gratitude.

Q. As a greenhorn, eager to learn, when and how can you ask questions of a Westerner?

A. Never while someone is in the midst of chores — both outside or inside chores. It is considered rude to fire questions while someone is busy. Basically, the best method a greenhorn should employ for absorbing local culture is to watch and learn. But it’s okay to ask questions while having coffee in the ranch kitchen or while enjoying a cup of java at the local coffee shop with some of the good old boys. (You may or may not get the exact truth in answer to your inquiry).

Should a Westerner see fit to advise you on an activity or task you’re engaged in, the Westerner might offer a third person directive such as: maybe a guy could try it. … followed by a brief instruction. Or, he/she might say: If it was me doin’ it, I might … followed by further elucidation.

There’s no point in attempting to seek clarification by debating what you’ve been told. The instruction won’t be repeated.

Other useful edifying tidbits are salted throughout The Greenhorn’s Guide. Hopefully, the few morsels mentioned above will be helpful to a traveler, tourist, greenhorn to the West.

No need to thank me for the advice.❖