Trail Blazer

She sold her cows today. I heard her whisper, “thank you”, as the trucks pulled away. The young buyers were there and she passed them the torch with a grace that I have only witnessed a few times in this life so far. They were twinkly-eyed and eager, fresh ideas and brand new working gloves.
There may be rumors that she was tired, burnout or broke. They may try and say that the demand for beef was low or the price of hay too high. They might say she gave up, sold out or quit. Of course, they would be wrong.

There is an old hay field near the top of the hill behind ranch headquarters. Her granddad farmed it long ago and the piles of rocks in the corners prove that it must have been quite an effort to get it done. The fence has fallen down around it and for the past few years she has been grazing it as part of the range pasture. She would like put some seed on the ground, dig out the old risers and irrigate. She would like to rebuild that fence and maybe put up some more birdhouses on the tall rockjacks.

There is a bridge across the river that the cows and wildlife won’t cross. If cows would cross it, that reed canary grass on the other side could be managed. It just needs a little work. There is an old round corral on the upper ranch that she helped build. Logged the trees, peeled the bark and secured them into place. It is falling down now and the dirt so perfectly torn up inside might like to be an orchard.

There is a two year filly, a clone to her old roan mare, that needs started. A new rope that needs broken in and garden that will likely be tended. And then there are those fish in the river, she needs to show her grandsons how to catch them. She wants to take adventures and tell them all her grandmother secrets and ways while she still gets to see the world through their brand new eyes.

Sometimes the needs of a cow can keep a cowgirl from getting around to these kinds of things. So that is where you will find her, taking care. Taking care of the land, trees, bugs, birds, fish, grandbabies and all the other wild things.

She is making room, in her own life for this vast list of plans, sure. But really, she is making room for me. Me, her daughter, the fifth generation to take care of our little piece of land, to follow along behind a cow with my own brand on her hip. She could have waited until she was too old for the work, maybe another 40 years or so. She could have sold the whole place and bought a little tiki bar on an island somewhere. But she is a mother and a steward and a cowgirl. So, instead she will be building bird houses and taking care, while she watches her family grow on the same ground where she planted them.

She sold her cows today and all I could say was, “thank you”, as I watched the trucks pull away. Thank you Mom for the trails you blazed.

Adele Schott is a fifth generation rancher in Wallowa County, Oregon. She writes the blog Ranching and Romancing. She was shaped by campfire stories, wild westies, cowboy songs and recipes.