First rays of light mingled with the purple haze of dawn, the blackness of night interspersed with the remaining visible stars slowly traveled west. Yancy smothered the last embers of fire that had boiled boiled his coffee and warmed a couple of corn tortillas, nourishment for moment until the noon hour. The cows were stirring with lowing as the calves, now older, stood by their mothers nudging the udders for their breakfast. The herd was a small one, little over fine hundred in number, enough for one cowboy and one cowdog to control. “Here Rex, eat your breakfast.” Yancy placed a bowl of dry kibble on the ground and Rex busied himself with its contents. Except for the dog bowl Yancy was busy packing his coffee pot and cup into a satchel on the back of his mule. Once Rex finished his meal the bowl would be packed away and then cowboy and cowdog would begin the synchronous dance of encouraging the cows towards the high meadow. “Come on, Rex, let’s get them moving, we’re burning daylight.”
Yancy had already saddled his quarter horse, a roan with a mane streaked with white and black and who measured sixteen hands. The muscular structure of the horse gave measure to its use as an animal of hard work while its spirit at the approach by Yancy was that of strength of will mingled with compliance for her master. As he placed his left foot in the stirrup and swung his right leg over the saddle he spoke in a gentle tone to the horse. “Come on, old girl, let’s move em out” She responded to the commands of the reins held so confidently by her rider. Horse and rider became as one. “Rex, bring the mule.” The command was anticipated as the dog gently nipped at the heels of the beast of burden, urging it to follow the herd. Slowly man and dog began to move the unwilling towards the high pasture. This pattered would be repeated for the next six days when they would reach the line shack.
The horse responded to the pressure of Yancy’s knees and the gentle coo of his voice. “Hey maude, ho Maude, whoa Maude.” This gentle dance of encouraging the herd to stick together and generally move in the right direction was a dance man and horse knew so well. Then the command, “Back to George.” was given and Maude knew she was to go towards the mule and encourage it to follow along. Meanwhile Yancy gave his commands to Rex through a series of whistles and whops that told Rex what he expected. The herd would move along at a pace of three or four miles a day for the cows would need to eat and water when they could. The high pasture would provide the forage to fatten the youngsters, the heifers and little bulls who would become steers for the market. A steady stream of income for Yancy, half that in a good year would be put away in savings. In bad years there would be no savings and the herd would stand still or decline. So far, it looked to be a good year. Prospect for a few summer rains and both high meadow and valley would thrive. Long days in the saddle would give rise to boredom and then thought about the past, the present, and the future. Forty miles, ten maybe eleven days and the scenery would change, living would change. Yancy was thinking about the next few months, lost contact with the world or his world at least.
Lately Amie had been on his mind. “I don’t know if I love that woman or not. Seems like I get out here and I miss her, seems like she’s a part of me. Yet when we are together I’m almost bored with her. She’s always asking me what she should think. God, what am I suppose to think?” Sun up to sun down gives a man space to think, or at least brood. Of course thinking about other subjects may be possible but Amie tended to crowd them out. Falling in and out of love was constantly on his mind, sort of some kind of big screen projection where he imagined the film would play before his eyes and the end would be revealed as if this were a mystery. Cowboys are not socialized like regular non cowboys in this world of relationships. A cowboy’s relationship with his horse is very intimate. And he must spend years analyzing the mental reasoning of cattle lest he be led astray as to their intentions. No, a cowboy was a devoted student to the ways of horses and cows. If only women were herd animals he might understand them better. Now cows were predictable. They might zag when one expected them to zig but a few paces of the horse would correct that problem. On the other hand women didn’t zig or zag when a cowboy was on his horse. No, the don’t act like cows or horses.
Ten days is a long time to work on a man’s mind, particularly when the woman of his thoughts isn’t there to defend herself. I mean its not like a man doesn’t have feelings for a woman or insist she shouldn’t be treated right. Perhaps it is the loneliness that does damage to a man’e resolve. Absence makes the heart grow fonder or at least forgetful. By the time he reached the high meadow his brain was swollen from too much thought on the problem and he was beginning to think that somehow it would be up to Amie to make the choices. But that was just the problem, wasn’t it. She was off on her own adventure with some friend from town. Yeah, some male was trying to make time with her and for all he knew was stealing his girl.
At last he reached the line shack with all its store of food and comfort that he had brought up by truck before beginning the cattle drive. Yancy still preferred to sleep out under the stars at night, the bright points of lights gave substanance to his world of isolation. Day followed night and the herd grazed on the long spring grass. Most of his time was spent keeping tabs on the herd, rescuing the members from their supposed follies. The cows were free to graze but needed guidance so as to not stray beyond their assigned pasturage. This was the order of the day, let the herd spread out but not too far. Cows are not the smartest animals on God’s green earth and like children must be watched and prodded into safe behaviors. Several weeks of this regimine gives way to the boredom of the cowboy who often dreams of kith and kin.
So the surprize that Amie should drive into the camp in her four wheel drive truck proved Yancy’s undoing. Amie had pack a bed roll and a few dainty morsels of her own, knowing the plain fare of beans, rice, and dried beef that awaited her. “Yancy, I’ve been thinking about us and I just want you to know that I am your girl.” Well, such words were both music to his ears and a knockout punch to the jaw. “I think it’s time we got serious, you know. I know you and what you want and this is the time for us to make it work.”
Well, what was Yancy to think? The past two years and now she was the one making the decisions. What was he to think? “Amie, I’m in love with you and I think I could stay with you for a while, maybe more.” Hardly a declaration of marriage but it would do.