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Irons in the Fire: Him, her and us

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 June 2018

6:43 a.m.
He cracks the bedroom door open, just an inch or two, and hears her discussing with the 2-year-old the civil rights of the roan horse and the heeler dog, and why they have to sleep outside.

He gives her a half-grin and a nod, which she acknowledges with a bright smile and a twinkle in her eye that belies the lack of sleep she’s endured once again – a natural and accepted byproduct of ranch life and parenthood.


7:49 a.m.
He swings his leg up over the cantle, a simple procedure rendered more complex than usual by the knot-headed nature of the half-idiot 4-year-old buckskin gelding and the extra layer of clothing necessitated by the cold air of an early spring morning in central Idaho’s Lemhi Valley.

By now, though the mountains to the east had not yet yielded to a full sunrise, there was enough daylight to allow him to ride through the cow herd to check cows and tag calves. He cussed out loud, to nobody in particular except maybe the dog and the gelding, because he didn’t get any calves tagged yesterday. Two weeks into calving season, and the routine inconsistency of the calving routine was beginning to wear on him.

8:53 a.m.
Five calves tagged and nothing dead, although the small flock of magpies and crows feasting on a breakfast of frozen afterbirth at the northeast corner of the feeding ground had jump-started his heart and given him cause to momentarily curse Mother Nature and her morbid sense of humor.

9:31 a.m.
He steps back up on his horse after fighting with the gate into the upper field, wintertime home of the older Rafter S cows. He rides through the brush and, just as he approaches the willows in the bottom of the swale, the phone in his shirt pocket, under two layers of coats, screeches out with its obnoxious, factory-installed ringtone. His horse, often prone to erratic and inexplicable equine eccentricities, is not keen to the racket.

His head skyrockets heavenward, and the runaway is underway. As the phone continues to beckon, the agitated steed zips through the draw and up the other side, racing through and over sagebrush and ditches on his way to anywhere but here.

As he tries in vain to pull the head of the buckskin locomotive around with his left hand, the hapless rider somehow is able to reach into his pocket with his right hand and stop the incessant ringing. Finally, he’s able to bring Pegasus back to earth, and they turn back around toward the cows.

9:52 a.m.
He’s tagged two more calves, with three more in his sights. The phone rings again. Again, it’s off to the races. With each second the ringing continues, the level of speed and insanity of the buckskin blur rises exponentially. Horse whispering and low-stress stockmanship are far-distant platitudes.

Only through profanity-laced willpower and the determined brute strength of a 150-pound, seriously ticked-off cowboy is the steed finally slowed down and turned back toward the task at hand. That and a silent phone, of course.

10:38 a.m.
He’s cooled down from boiling mad to simmering. But he’s finally made it through most of the cows and is heading back toward home. The phone starts to ring. Knothead again goes into kamikaze mode. This time, as they take flight, the reluctant pilot is able to reach into his pocket, grab the phone and give it a fling.

10:52 a.m.
He rides by the stackyard and up to the house and meets her at the pickup just as she’s loading the kids into the truck. He hops into the passenger side and respectfully requests her assistance to go find his phone.


7:32 a.m.
Both kids are now wide awake and eager to attack the day. The 4-year-old, his heart equal parts wild and kind, helps his sister into her high chair and requests pancakes and gravy for breakfast.

9:40 a.m.
As she enters calf numbers onto a spreadsheet and listens to the kids as they discuss horses, dogs and dinosaurs, she wonders, though with little worry, why he didn’t answer his phone.

10:01 a.m.
She remembers it’s preschool day for her son today. She has to get him to the schoolhouse by noon. On another front, she’s approaching the verge of worry because the stubborn man didn’t answer his phone again, but she knows the signal is sometimes iffy up the creek.

10:37 a.m.
She should have heard from him by now. She decides she’ll try one more time before she loads the kids up and heads out to look for him.

10:49 a.m.
The never-easy task of bundling up the kids complete, she herds them out the door toward the truck. He must have had some sort of trouble. As she buckles the little one in the car seat, she looks up to see him trot around the corner as their son hollers, “Dad, it looks like you’re riding a T-Rex.”


11 a.m.
She doesn’t let on about the minor anxiety brought on by his absence and unanswered calls. She only listens intently as they bounce across frozen cow turds and he recounts his battle with the flying buckskin gelding –who, by the way, will soon be in the possession of someone, anyone else – and his races with phantom ghost riders.

He wonders out loud why the no-good *%&* kept calling and didn’t just leave a message. As they approach the spot where he discarded his phone, he jumps out, picks up the troublesome device and checks the caller list.

He looks up at her ever-smiling eyes, now wet with tears.

“I love you, Hon,” he says, as he gives her a half-grin and a nod.  end mark

Paul Marchant
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