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Life on a Ranch

After a full day of gathering and hauling cows, I not only thought about our day, I also wrote my last column about it. The day just went smooth- the horses all did their jobs; our kids got along all day - Buck and I never raised our voices… at the kids or each other. We even ended the day watching a majestic lightning storm before we stood in the dark, listening to the idyllic sounds of the feed-ground turned bird-sanctuary. It was a feel-good-about-life kind of day. We went to bed with plans to leave the next morning for Tri-Cities so Buck could see a dentist for a root canal. But before we went to bed, we went through the cow-calf count one more time and Buck was perplexed, “Wait a minute. There should be two more calves!” I countered his concern (because that’s what I do), “You know, our count in the field was probably just off.” Buck wasn’t convinced and suggested we get up extra early to double check and make sure there weren’t any calves hanging out on the feed ground. We got up a little before daylight and I had everything prepped for the kids to get themselves off to school. Buck hadn’t been outside of Union County in quite a long time and, even though it was for a root canal, he was really looking forward to getting away for the day. I didn’t realize how much he was looking forward to it until he was dressed for the day- he wasn’t wearing just any ol’ snap shirt- he had on a short-sleeved snap shirt. The only time Buck wears short sleeve snap shirts is on vacation! We grabbed our coffee cups to go and headed outside. Interestingly, we heard a couple of cows bawling. We looked at each other. “They’re probably just unsettled?” I questioned/hoped/wondered. As we drove out to the feed ground, we first took note of how glad we were that we’d moved the cows the day before because the water came up significantly overnight. The feed ground was now a lake with a few small islands scattered throughout. Buck looked ahead, “Do you see that?” I did! It was a big beautiful bald eagle standing proud on one of the islands! And right next to him…. were two calves, lying on an island, in the middle of a lake. We stopped and gave ourselves a minute to let that feeling of cows ruining our plans settle in, “Dang it,” Buck said, “Not in my vacation shirt!!” We made a quick new game plan to go grab horses and come back with the trailer. I went ahead and called the not yet-open dentist office to let them know we might be a little late because we had ourselves a predicament. We grabbed our trustiest horses and threw ropes on our saddles. Once we were back, and ready to go after the calves, I really wanted to bring my phone with me. I felt like this had the potential to be an exceptional picture opportunity! But we really didn’t know how wet we might get on this adventure and with two calves, two horses and two of us, I wasn't sure I'd have an opportunity to play photographer. We set out into the water and in several places the water was deep- it was deep enough to come up to our horses’ bellies and get my feet wet. The calves were way out there! I’d say their island was at least a football field length away, maybe a little farther. I was thankful we had the ride out to the island to get settled in because not only did we have water to get through, but there were a bunch of Carp swimming around?! My horse didn’t love that. Thankfully, we had the ride to the island so he could get used to the idea of having fish underfoot. Once we were on the island, we pulled down our ropes and Buck, being the gentleman that he is, let me rope first. Actually, he really wanted a front leg in with the neck shot so we didn’t risk choking the calves on the swim back. Since I could give no guarantees of throwing that perfect shot or doing my own groundwork, I roped first. I caught my calf and Buck quickly got off his horse and resituated the rope. By then, his calf was alarmed and decided to head out. It barreled into the water and, back in the saddle, Buck and his horse barreled in after it, roping it at a swim. (At which point, I really wished I had my camera!) Anyway, they all made it to land together, his horse splashing close behind the swimming calf. My calf wasn’t as willing to head for the water, so we started off the island, pulling the calf into the water behind us. It took us a minute to find our groove, but eventually Bert was pulling and the calf was swimming behind. I can honestly tell you that’s the first and only time I’ve ever swam a calf behind my horse and the novelty was not lost on me. And as usual, I was extra proud of my trusty boy, Bert. I kept a careful watch to make sure the calf didn’t go under, but in one shallow spot it tried to jump up out of the water and tripped and fell. I hurried to un-dally and helped lift its head up. By then it had no choice but to head for land. Bert and I followed, patiently giving it time to swim at its own pace. It was handy that I was quite a ways behind with the slow calf because that gave Buck time to get his calf loaded in the trailer and he was waiting for us. Once there, we got through the gate and pulled up next to the open trailer. Buck hazed it close and pushed the wet calf up and in. We had our horses ready to throw in the back of the trailer just as our friend, Mark, happened to drive up. He rolled his window down, looking at the lake and back to the trailer “What are you guys doin’?” he asked. “Well… you see that island out there?” we explained. And with that, we dropped the calves off with two very relieved mama-cows and unsaddled our horses. We quickly changed into dry pants and shoes and grabbed some hot coffee. Thankfully, we didn’t get too wet, and even though he had to do some cowboy work in it, Buck didn’t even have to change out of his vacation shirt! The dentist office called and could get him in a little later than we originally planned. We arrived to find the coziest waiting room I’ve ever been in. I brought a book to read, but found myself distracted by the cozy corner of a couch where I closed my eyes for one of those drift-off-to-sleep naps that feels like vacation. Buck didn’t have the same vacation experience as me, but did come out feeling equal parts relief and numb discomfort. He tried to explain the numb feeling to me, but I've never even had a cavity and have no idea what that feels like. But I did know he wanted soft food, so we found a frozen yogurt shop. We dished him up a big bowl of frozen yogurt to go with a dose of pain medication, then enjoyed the rest of our “vacation day” on a gorgeous drive home to Union County. ~Chelsea

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