Stories from the Yampa Valley – The Cow, Fixing Fence

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf I were to be asked what stories I’ve written are my favorites, I would not hesitate to firstly name “The Cow,” and “Fixing Fence.”

I wrote these stories several years ago, after visiting the Yampa Valley in South Routt County, northwestern Colorado.  More specifically, I visited a friend’s family’s ranch in order to see exactly what went into the task of fixing fence, something that my friend knew a bit about. While there, we traveled the ranch in an SUV, and saw the particular images that I later placed within these two stories.

I’ve self-published these stories at Amazon, the link is here.

Let me give you a taste of both:

THE COW

The forever wind huffed from the north and west, goosing a response from lodgepole pine, fir, spruce and newly leafed aspens that surrounded the bone yard. Brought with it an odor of the land, of spring, the aromas of pine and horse and cow shit.

Jack turned his head and once again studied the old cow. He’d known this cow. Passed into manhood knowing this cow. She’d dropped some fine calves, fat and sassy. But there was something else about her, something since he was eighteen that had caught his eye, his interest. She was independent, usually kept herself and her calves apart from the herd. Went her own way, he thought. She’d never bawl when they took her calves from her for branding and tagging, castrating if needed. She’d just stand off by herself, listen to her calf scream for her proximity, watch the process as though such a thing was an inevitability she could do nothing about.

He never had to check her ear tag to know who she was. She was known.

Jack finished his smoke, snubbed the thing out on the sole of his boot and breathed deep of the land, sighed, and turned to the cow.

After untying the rope he’d secured around the cow’s head and forelegs, he threw the rope in the back of the pickup, turned, stepped to her body, sat to his haunches and took off his glove. He placed his hand on her white face, gently stroked her. “You were a good ol’ cow,” he said. He pulled his hat back down on his forehead, stood up and drove the Dodge back to the home place.

FIXING FENCE

“Fence ain’t gonna fix itself.” Gus pulled the pickup alongside the sagged fence, cut the ignition, and let the truck glide to a stop. He waited for a response from his grandson, Joe. When none came, he turned, saw Joe’s chin resting on his chest, deep breaths, even a little snore. Kid would sleep through a train wreck. He studied the boy for a moment. Joe’s black hair, eyes the color of almonds behind the now closed lids, the slightly brown skin, all of it coming from the boy’s mother, a Greek beauty, the daughter of a sheep rancher from Craig who’d captured his son’s heart. The first instance of a Klynkee not marrying into a German line, Gus now, as he’d done a thousand times, looked for some little hint of his son in the boy’s face. Maybe his nose, Gus thought. He shook his head. Maybe his heart. Gus stepped out of the truck, paused a moment and turned his eyes, hard and gray as iced-over river water, toward the sunrise, his squint defining his face as crinkled paper, deep set lines earned from sixty years of worry about the lives and deaths of cows since he was ten. He took off his hat, ran his fingers through his still full head of purely white hair. Put his hat back on, coughed, spit. Saw blood on the ground. Pulled his red hankie from his back pocket and wiped his mouth. He nodded his head, knew the prognosis.

“No sir, fences just don’t up and fix themselves!”

After he said the words again, Gus slammed the door. The sound jerked Joe halfway out of the few winks he was catching since climbing in and slumping down into the passenger side of the battered pickup. Coming awake now, the jolt of the door slamming sounded like a rifle shot, fired close. Too close. Joe slid up, kept his eyes closed and remembered the orthodontist.

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