“Isn’t that beautiful?”
“Yes, it is,” my brother Keith said.
We were looking across the bottoms at Crossroads near my hometown.
It was just coming on daylight. The pasture kelly green with mist hanging over the treetops. Black cows grazing with little calves by side.
The pasture joins a cemetery where many of my family are buried. Generations in fact. What a nice place to rest.
We were on our way to daywork for James Starkey. He has been in the Charolais bull selling business for 30 years.
The thing about gathering cows in Arkansas is there’s brush, giant ponds everywhere for them to split around and gates in the center of fences.
The first set was a little trotty and had been to the gate many times before. I was pushing them and Keith was hanging back thinking James had it covered in the sook truck.
It was just Keith, me and a sweet little guy who I soon figured out was not only not mounted but also had no clue where a cow was going to go.
Cows in knee deep weedless grass who are wise to where they are going don’t care much about the sook truck. Like so many sets who have been together so long, there’s a lead cow. If you can hold her up with the bunch you can get them. If she gets away, so does the herd.
Well we lost them the first time. The good thing about your brother being the strawboss is you can yell at him.
“OK, me and you are gonna get these cows. James is more help in the truck than your boy. The fence is the best cowboy we’ve got so I’ll push and you be the wing.”
“No,” Keith said, “I’ll push and you be my wing.”
Damn lead cow. I managed to hold that gal, but I confess, she was going if I had to rope her.
We had lost a few stragglers. We got them all on another pass except a baby that crawled into a heifer pasture and a cow who went through another fence – into brush I couldn’t see through.
The calf was not a problem. When we gathered the pasture with him in it, we got him back with his mama.
At the end of the day we went to look for the cow. The brush she went into was on a bluff.
“You go down right here and I’ll go on up where it’s worse,” Keith said.
Worse? Straight down in brush and trees with blackberries and grapevines to get hung up in.
Down I went. I came out on a beautiful bottom suitable for cutting hay. I thought that was good. ..if we had to rope and load her that was a good place. On the other side Crooked Creek was running along clear as a piece of Baccarat.
No cow. No cow sign. I rode my part of the ground, which went back up hill and into the brush. No cow. No cow sign.
When I met Keith I said I didn’t think she was in there.
James said he wanted to go check some tag numbers in a bunch we had taken to a new pasture.
Turns out the cow -and her baby- were somehow back together in that bunch. Now that was where we left the baby, but the cow had been through two or three fences depending on her route, to get there.
The cow went out through an obvious hole, but the rest of James’ fences are five or six strand red barb and tight as a fiddle string. The cow didn’t have a mark on her.
“Well we don’t have to find her,” I said.
“Nope,” James said, “but somebody’s gotta fix fence and it ain’t gonna be me.”
Job security for my brother.
“Isn’t that beautiful?”