For my generous friends and their families that have been kind enough to share their way of life with me… Thank you…
I haven’t written much about the hi-line of Montana since moving here. Mostly, because I was fairly certain that nothing about Havre could compare to the spring beauty of my home in the mountains, but I’ve been proven wrong. And as much as I love the receding of the snow-line on the mountains, and birth of the wildflowers and watching the ice retreat from it’s alpine lakes, spring on the prairies of central Montana are truly awesome. The foothills of the Bears Paw Mountains are beautiful in their balsam root bloom, the fresh scent of sage, the greening up of winter wheat and alfalfa fields, and pastures full of newborn calves and new mamas that speckle the landscape.
But as picturesque as the landscape is, the ranching and agriculture families of the hi-line are the heart of the country. That becomes so evident during the spring and branding season. Ranchers are a proud, hard-working lot that carve their livelihood out of the formidable landscapes of the west. Raising cattle ain’t for the faint of heart.
By the graciousness of my friend and co-worker, I was allowed to spend the weekend riding and to help out with their branding. I didn’t grow up working cattle; the mountain horses and mules from our dude ranch were my exposure to livestock. And I thought I had somewhat of a handle on that cowgirl lifestyle…until now. I’ve ridden rugged mountain terrain all of my life, and the prairie handed me my hind parts on a worn leather platter. Those hawthorn-covered coulees are steeper than they look when you’re at run downhill after a wiley little calf. We pushed cows and calves where cows and calves didn’t want to go. And my horse worked harder than he’s probably ever worked since I’ve owned him. I swear we covered 20 miles in 10, and the majority of it at trot or run. That grass wasn’t growing under anyone’s feet.
Eventually all the cattle were penned and separated, and once the branding started, it was all hands on deck. There were family members, neighbors, strangers and friends all working to get the same job done. There were calves making men outta young boys bucking and kicking all the way to the fire. There were no gender roles, girls roping, and handling stock just the same as the next. Fathers helping daughters, husbands working with wives, and kids working with kids, and the older generation helped guide and coach the younger along. I let my eyes take it all in and felt a lump rise in my throat. These moments are exactly what life is all about.
At the end of the day, the cattle were branded, cold beers were drank , good food was eaten, and stories about back in the day were shared around the table. With pride for a job well done, and feeling lucky to have been part of this tradition, I threw my leg back over my ol’ roan horse and we headed out to push the cattle back out. What a sight watching mamas join back up with babies as the bawled and called their way back up over the hillsides.
The smiles in the eyes, the ‘thank yous’ and the ‘good jobs’ were generously passed around. It was an honor to be part of something so worthwhile, with people I am proud to call my friends. And the best part was being asked back to do it all over again the next day…
I will forever be grateful for these opportunities that the generous families around here have been kind enough to ask me to be a part of. Life is good on the ‘ol hi-line, and it’s even better in the brandin’ pen.