November and the 60 head of beeves were the last to be moved from the far pasture to one closer to the ranch house. It was a short jerk, less than ten miles across the valley, but Mom Nature sure wasn’t going to make it an easy haul.
The five of us had just turned the herd onto the trail when a cold wind began to blowing into our faces. With it soon came the rain, which turned sleet and was followed by a stinging snow.
Soon each man-jack crowding the herd homeward was chilled to the bone; fingers, noses and ears aching along with the watery sting of eyes that could find no relief. Before long even the cattle felt the effects as they tailed up, turning their backsides to the elements and lowering their heads.
The drive’s jefe, a stoic rancher named Carl, watched as we struggled against the weather and the nature of the beasts as they bunched together. Three times we attempted to break them up and get them to turn back onto the trail.
Each attempt was met with failure. Finally Carl directed Tiny to head the lead cow and ‘if need be, drag her onto the trail and head for home.’
Without a word, I helped cut the leader out of the herd as Tiny loosened the loop of his rope and dropped it over her head with precision. Twice he worked her up the trail and away from the herd, with the hope that they’d follow, which is their nature.
That to was met with failure. Carl could see we were soaked to the skin, half-frozen and acting defeated as the beeves continued to tail-up against the winter-blow.
Since it was a small herd, we were all fairly well within ear-shot, when out of the blue we heard Carl’s booming voice:
Sitting on a pole,
Wiggle-waggle went his tail
And PFFFT went his hole.”
With no smile, simply his standard stone-faced self, he sat there looking at the situation. We looked at one another in surprise and possibly a little terror, before one of us began to laugh.
It didn’t take long for the laughter to infect us all, including Carl, whom none of us had ever seen laugh before. That minute of laughter was all that we needed as we returned to work, breaking our stalemate with the herd and driving them out on the trail once again.
Within a few minutes, which normally happens with Nevada weather, the squall broke and beams of sunlight filled the valley as we push on through to the ranch house and that nearby pasture.