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Sunday, July 5, 2009

She's Back in the Saddle Again

Sorry for the delay, but it took a week for Mom to recover from her wonderful adventure out West and come to grips with the reality that when she looks out the window, there wouldn't be endless terrain, big blue skies and a cow pony for her to get around on.

In addition to some minor EST time re-adjustment, her heart ached for the open spaces and pure country living paces she experienced in her five days away.
But thank goodness for me, Shuga D and the rest of the Candy's Land crew to remind Mom that there is no place like home, even if it was back to fast-pass business from the moment she set her cowgirl boots off the plane. And finally, after a pedicure, long weekend and a road trip with Shuga through the local country that reminds her that she still has the soul of a Georgia girl, Mom is back in the Candy's Land saddle again.

Although her trip provided her with some much appreciated respite, she was actually there on business. Her assignment that she gladly accepted is to write an article for Houston County Magazine on her experience of the real deal working ranch owned by Warner Robins Supply President Mark Bayer.
So, in a couple of weeks, Candy's Land will give you a preview of the article. But until then, here's a little taste of her personal experience:

Mom's seen some long driveways in her life. In fact, her dad has one of the longest she knows. But to drive through the dust of one that seems to be the road that goes on forever and be surrounded by such beauty that you don't care if it ends, this was Mom and Honey Shot's first glimpse of Dakota Ranch. It was rolling, endless, blue sky country with foothills of the Rockies as its framework. The smell of sage and sandalwood gave the gardenias Mom's known all her life a run for their money. And the deer and the antelope . . . well, they played. And played. Mom had never seen an antelope until Wyoming. And here they were with twin babies, proud papas and fleets of mamas that could run like the wind.

Days were spent bunked at the Bayers' ranch cabin. Breakfast was cooked on an open fire with a literal chuck wagon holding the supplies. Biscuits came into being in a cast iron pot, topped with hot coals and later sopped up with syrup. Mom and Honeyshot spent their evenings staring at stars that seemed so close you could touch them and tracing the silhouette of Squaw Mountain from their sunset scene on the back porch.

The main purpose of the journey was the annual cattle branding. Branding is still the law in Wyoming, and as much as it hurts, it is necessary when your main business products wonder a range the size of a small country.
The day before the branding, Mom saddled up her cow pony, which was then hauled an hour from the main ranch to where the cattle was currently grazing on the uninhabitable Laramie Plains. During the drive, the temperature dropped almost 30 degrees as they climbed into a higher elevation. Three jackets layered, Mom found herself in the saddle, in the sideways rain, searching for cattle and living out her cowgirl dreams. As much as Mom loves describing the ordeal, she still doesn't believe anyone will believe how rough and tough she was required to be . . . and how she still loved every minute of it.

They left the ranch the next day at 4 a.m. Yep, and by 6 a.m. Mom was back in the saddle and in full work mode. This time, they were surrounded by cowboys. And we're not talking the urban variety. Or the spaghetti Westerns. Or the Marlboro men (nobody smoked anyway!). These were the guys who have been lucky enough to grow up under the great skies of Wyoming, mostly where they were now, in Wheatland, about an hour north of Cheyenne. These were the guys whose livelihood depended on every cattle cry. And oftentimes those cows take greater precedent than their own children . . . which is why most of them were still single and hadn't walked that line yet.

Because the cows had been pushed in closer to the pens the day before, the actual drive didn't take too long. But Mom was part of something special that horse lovers like herself have spent an entire lifetime dreaming of. There was no show ring. They was no jump course. There were no judges, satin ribbons and fancy gear. This was the real deal - what horse and rider were meant for all along. And once again, Mom loved every minute as she and her gelding BJ flanked the herd and pushed them toward the pens.

But once the corral was in site, that's when Mom said a whoa and just watched. That's when the loud whooping started. When the lassos began slapping against the sides and the cows bunched up into an organized stampede that seemed to know where it was suppose to go. But the part that got mom? The part that made her shake her head and stream tears? The amazing oneness of those horses and riders. It was like watching an old Western in real life. Except those stunt doubles only wished they could ride like that. What happened well over 100 years ago was happening in front of her right then - cowboys were being cowboys and their horses were nothing less than an extension of their being. In all of her years riding . . . in all of her years showing, training and her daddy shelling out tons of money for her to ride right . . . She's never seen riding this good. She's never seen riding that real.

Out of the saddle and hours of hard labor later, Mom was covered in dust to the point she felt grit in her teeth every time she talked. The group branded well over 300 calves. Mom's job was to chalk them on the face after an injection was administered in their ear. No, it wasn't pretty. And yes, it hurts. But it's the way of life for the cows and the cowboys who love them. And there is no doubt that there is love there when both lives depend on each other.

One of the best meals Mom's ever had - which will go down in the history of fine dining experiences - was after the last calf was branded and made it's way back to the udder of its mama, the chuck wagon opened up and Linda Bayer and her crew served up a pot of mule deer stew, beans and rice, corn and cold beer. On top of that, fresh made pies by a Wheatland local and retired cowboy, were served as dessert, where Mom tasted rhubarb for the first time (and loved it!).

You would think Mom and Honeyshot would have been tuckered out to the extreme after a 3:30 a.m. wake-up call and a full day of rough and tough labor. But not these cowgirls. Poor Patrick, the Dakota Ranch foreman, was tasked to taking them out. And he did so to a dance hall over an hour away in Cheyenne. Mom and Honeyshot may have had a little trouble with the two-step, but the Georgia peaches made their presence known in the honkey-tonk and were grateful to Mr. McGuire for the authentic Cheyenne nightlife experience.

"Uncle" Jack actually let the cowgirls sleep in the next day. But there were still miles and endless miles of the ranch to see, and so they were up and at it again as soon as the black coffee set in. More and more of Mother Nature's beauty was discovered. More sage was smelled. More antelope were spotted. And more and more were the cowgirls feeling at home on the range.
Mom and Uncle Jack went for an evening sunset ride on the main ranch grounds. They clicked their horses to the tops of hills and overlooked the overwhelming natural grace. It just happened to be Sunday. And Mom couldn't have been in a better place of worship.

Even the rattlesnake on the ride home didn't deter Mom's cowgirl fun. In fact, for her, it was a notch on her fear factor belt as she immediately recognized the rattle and her horse Hillbilly neatly side-stepped it as if it was puddle and he didn't want to get his hooves wet.

There are more and more words to write on Mom and Honeyshot's Western Adventure. It's going to take a while for the two of them to quit longing for the range . . . and hopefully, it's in them enough now where they don't have to.

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