April 23, 2017
Spring is my favorite time of year, especially this year. I had a tough winter. Everything in my life halted. Actually, my life came to a screeching halt. But, by the time I pulled myself back upright spring arrived. A time of beauty that lifted my spirits. A time of freshness that pulled me out of darkness. A time of new beginnings that once again opened my eyes to new opportunities.
So, I blew the dust off my computer, cleared the cobwebs from my head (or most of them), wiped the tears from my eyes (or most of them), and put my fingers back on the keyboard. There is, however, an old saying that says, ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it.’ I’m finding this to be true. My words are stuck. The stream is clogged with old enemies. Self-doubt. Fear. Frustration. Large boulders block my progress. ‘I can’t do this.’ I don’t know where I’m going.’ ‘I can’t think.’
I want to hear the beauty of my words rippling over my enemies making them smooth pebbles and sliding like silk ribbons of water around the boulders that threaten to block the song my words sing to me.
Then spring’s beauty settled over me like a warm blanket. A road I travel often greeted me with beauty and freshness as I went about my business. My heart whispered a little tune and smiled again.
I looked for things to reset my filters. To provide me the mindset I needed in order settle back in the time and place where Will and Buck live. I realized how much I had missed them. I had shut the door to their space.
So, I looked out the back door and there was the key. My space! And Will’s and Buck’s space, patiently waiting for me.
The elements I needed were all around me. All I had to do was look. The elements of Will’s and Buck’s lives are everywhere, even today, long after their time has past. The soft lowing of a momma cow for her calf, the little fellow’s tail swishing like a flag as he downs his supper, the curious bunch of heifers that come to the fence to see what I’m doing as I hang clothes on the line, a neighbor’s herd of Longhorns grazing among the wildflowers, all these things speak to me of a long ago time when boys like Will and Two Feathers lived on this land.
Now, it is up to me to listen for their words, to listen for the song they sing to me. I hope I’m worthy.
December 1, 2016
I stepped out the front door to get a picture of the vibrant sunset that spread its deep blood red and dark rusty burnt orange over the treetops across the road. While I stood there admiring the fading colors in the sky there must have been a train approaching because all of a sudden coyotes in the woods south of me set up a wild chorus of yipping, barking, and howling. Each voice was different and there were several in the pack because the chorus rose in a swell as the volume and pitch increased. Then I heard the train blow its long deep whistle and the coyote song faded with the color in the sky. Only the sound of the train whistle remained as the train rattled and clacked past the house.
November 7, 2016
All my life I’ve heard tell of how women would greet friends and spend time visiting and enjoying a little gossip over their backyard fence as they hung out their wash. Surprisingly, hanging out my wash on the clothesline is something I truly enjoy. I like to hear the birds singing and I really like to watch the buzzards circling overhead. It is amazing to me how long they can go without any wing beats.
Anyway, I seem to be drifting, like those big birds, from my topic of the ladies and their clotheslines. This afternoon I went to the backyard with my wash and the “ladies” of the “four-foot” variety, being the curious creatures they are, came to see what juicy tidbit of gossip I had. I informed them that the wayward few that had managed to wander into the next pasture would soon be back in their midst. They just stared at me with their doe-like eyes and switched their tales and soon ambled off to the water trough. I guess my gossip isn’t very interesting.
October 16, 2016
In the last two excerpts from The River of Cattle I have introduced you to Will and Two Feathers. Launch day is coming soon, November 1st, so I decided to give you a taste of the first day on a cattle drive. This drive begins with plenty of dust, heat, and confusion.
First Day of the Cattle Drive
The hot sun beat down. The back of Will’s neck itched from the dust that worked its way down his collar. He wondered if they were ever going to stop. His backside hurt. His stomach growled continuously. Breakfast seemed like a long time ago. The water in his canteen tasted awful and was hot. He wiped sweat and dirt from his face with his bandana. A cool drink of water would sure be good. He licked his dry lips.
At lunch, the men changed weary horses for fresh ones. Will turned Buck over to Naldo. The buckskin lay down and rolled in the dry grass. His legs waved in the air as he squirmed to clean the sweat from his back. When he stood, he shook himself, throwing grass and dust off his coat.
Will walked over to a group of drovers standing around a horse apart from the others. When he got close, he saw a deep cut in the horse’s hip. Goodnight held the horse’s head, and Cookie spread thick salve on the cut.
“What happened?” Will asked Curtis.
“One of the swing riders didn’t get out of the way quick enough. An ol’ mossy-horned steer raked that bay.”
Will walked with Curtis to the cook fire. They filled their plates with beef stew and leaned against the wagon wheel to eat. They ate in silence for several minutes.
“You be careful out there, Will-boy.” Curtis mopped up the last of his stew with a biscuit. “These old steers that have been wild all their lives can turn quick and will gut you if they get a chance.”
Suddenly, Will wasn’t hungry. He didn’t want Buck to end up like that bay.
“Will,” Pa called. “Mount up. Let’s go.”
The long hot hours of the afternoon passed slowly. Will’s new respect for the sharp horns of these brush cattle kept his attention focused on his job. He decided if Buck was going to be safe he’d better learn how to be a good drover.
“Pa, don’t you think Buck’s rested enough? I don’t like this horse,” Will said after a few hours on the strange mount.
“I guess so. See the remuda off to the right?”
Will nodded and spurred the horse in his eagerness to find Buck.
The sun hung low in the western sky before Pa and Goodnight turned the herd toward the spot Smokey had picked for the night camp. A good-sized creek wound its way through scattered clusters of cottonwood trees. Buck bent his head to drink. Will’s throat was dry, but he didn’t like the look of the muddy water along the bank and decided to wait till he returned to camp.
He looked down the trail at the line of cattle stretched as far as he could see. Pa rode up and stopped to let his horse drink. Will and Pa sat in their saddles as the sky turned gold, then purple and pink. “Pa,” Will said pointing back the way they’d come. “It looks like a river of cattle.”
“A river of cattle?” Pa wiped sweat from his face. “A good name for what we’re pushing. A river that behaves as smooth as well water through a trough, but can scatter like a waterfall exploding down a rocky cliff.”
In honor of National 4-H Week I’m posting a story about a brother’s and sister’s experiences with their 4-H fair projects –show pigs. Today’s post is Part 1 and each day of the rest of this week I’ll repeat the previous parts and post the next segment. There will be four parts in all. By Saturday you will have the entire story. I hope you enjoy it.
Pigs Are People Too
By Alice V. Brock
Sarah and Ryan baled out of the truck and ran for Mr. Kirkpatrick’s show pig barn. Kirkpartick Hog Farm had supplied pigs for their 4-H club for several years.
“Hurry, Dad. I get first pick for the fair.” Sarah, her brown pony tail bouncing behind her, burst into the barn and ran to a pen full of squealing piglets. She squatted on her knees and stretched her hand through the wire squares toward the little pigs running helter-skelter around the pen.
“I like the one with blue spots.” Ryan climbed onto the railing beside his younger sister. Though his twelve years was two more than his sister, they looked enough alike to be twins, brown hair, brown eyes, sun-browned faces with deep dimples.
“You can’t pick first.” Sarah jumped up and stomped her foot. “You got the best pig last year. I get first pick.”
Dad walked up. “Sarah, let’s pick your pig.”
She crinkled her nose at Ryan.
“Dad, see the black one with the white band around her middle.” The pig walked up and sniffed Sarah’s outstretched hand. “She likes me. I want her.” Sarah scratched behind the pert black ears. The pig leaned into her hand as if to say, ‘That feels good.’
“That’s a great way to pick a pig.” Mocking Sarah, Ryan stuck his arm through the wire and waggled his fingers, “She likes me.”
“That’s enough, Ryan,” said Dad. “Sarah, are you sure you want that pig? She’s pretty small. Don’t you want to look at the others?”
“No, I want this one. She turned to her brother, “My pig will beat any pig you choose.”
National 4-H Week—Second Insallment
Part Two – Pigs Are People Too
By Alice V. Brock
Ryan pointed to the spotted one he had first seen. “Look, Dad. See that cross bred pig with the blue spots. I like the way he’s muscled.”
“Looks like a good pig to me. You kids sure made quick choices. Are you sure?”
Both heads nodded vigorously.
Mr. Kirkpatrick scooped up Sarah’s pig and put her in the crate in the back of the truck.
“See, Ryan. She’s a good pig.” Sarah climbed onto the tailgate and looked through the crate bars. “She didn’t wiggle or squeal. She’s a lady.”
Mr. Kirkpatrick went back to get Ryan’s pig. He grabbed at it, but it darted away.
“Come on, Ryan.” Dad climbed into the pen. The three of them trapped the pig in a corner. Mr. Kirkpatrick caught it. The pig climbed over his shoulder and jumped to the barn floor.
“Don’t let him out,” Mr. Kirkpatrick roared, “or we’ll never catch him.”
Ryan slammed the barn door, lunged for the pig, missed, and landed in the dirt. Sarah opened an empty pen. In it went and she slammed the gate. Dad caught the squealing, wiggling bundle and carried it to the truck.
“You sure picked a lively one.” Dad latched the crate. “Have you thought of a name?”
“It’s Blue because he has blue spots on his rump.” Ryan wiped smelly mud off his hands onto his not-to-clean jeans.
“Mine is Lady because she knows how to behave.” Sarah’s ponytail flipped from side to side as she skipped to the truck.
On the way home, Sarah watched the pigs out the back window. Lady’s black and white coat gleamed. Blue’s spots were covered in mud. “Doesn’t Lady look pretty? She has better manners than Blue.” Sarah’s voice was as sweet as dripping syrup.
“Judges aren’t interested in manners. That’s for people,” Ryan answered with an older brother tone.
National 4-H Week—Third Installment
Pigs Are People Too—Part 3
By Alice V. Brock
The gray of winter became sunny spring. Ryan and Sarah worked daily with their pigs. Sarah fed and watered Lady. She washed and brushed until the black hair shined and the white band around her middle glowed.
“Look at Lady, Ryan. See how fine she is and how she’s growing,” Sarah’s pride beamed.
“She may be pretty, but she can’t beat Blue.”
Long walks and running away to the pond for a swim made Blue’s muscles ripple under his spots. Ryan measured exactly the right amount of feed for each meal. “Remember, Blue, we want a good balance between muscle and fat,” Ryan told him when the pig flopped the lid on his empty feeder. “You don’t need to overeat.”
County fair time moved closer. Sarah and Ryan worked the pigs in the practice ring Dad built next to the barn.
“It’s important for Lady and Blue to behave in the show ring,” said Dad. “I’ll act as judge and you work your pigs.”
Both kids followed their pigs, eyeing each other to see who could reach Dad first.
“Sarah, hold your show stick up. Keep your eyes on the judge. Watch Lady out of the corner of your eye.”
“Ryan!” yelled Sarah. “Don’t let Blue bump Lady. He’s muddy.” She poked at Blue with her show stick.
“Sarah!” Dad took her stick. “There’ll be lots of pigs in the ring that will bump Lady.” He rumpled her hair. “Your job is to see the judge gets plenty of good looks at Lady.”
In a corner of the ring, Blue rolled in the dirt.
“Ryan, keep Blue out of the corners. You have to control him in the center of the ring. A tap on the shoulder will turn him. A tap on the snout will slow him.”
National 4-H Week—Fourth Installment
Pigs Are People Too—Part 4
By Alice V. Brock
Finally, the morning of the pig show arrived. Sarah washed Lady and brushed her until she sparkled.
“You know what to do, Lady. Smile pretty for the judge,” she whispered as the announcer called the lightweight class. They entered the show ring. Lady held her head up as she walked. Sarah tapped her shoulder. Lady turned to the judge. Sarah tapped again. Lady moved gracefully across the ring.
“Heavyweight class, bring your pigs to the holding pen,” called the announcer.
Entering the show ring at a fast trot, Ryan gave Blue a tap on his snout slowing him to a walk. His eye on the judge, Ryan headed Blue in his direction.
Pigs moved around the show ring like ants in a sugar bowl. When the judge pointed to a pig, the ring-men coaxed it out of the ring until there were only two pigs left, Lady and Blue.
Sarah tapped Lady under her chin. Lady’s head lifted. Sarah tapped her on the shoulder. Lady turned to the judge.
When Ryan moved him toward the judge, Blue squealed and ran across the ring. The judge smiled at Ryan and handed him a red ribbon.
He gave Sarah a big blue one.
With both pigs safely in their pens, Dad held up the ribbons. “First and second place.” Pride radiated from his big grin.
“Oh, Blue.” Ryan dropped to his knees and held up the wayward pigs head. “You would’ve won if you hadn’t run across the ring.”
“See, Ryan.” Sarah held up her ribbon. “Manners do count. Pigs are people too, you know.”