A Story Worth Tellin’

The following post is dedicated to and written for the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame.

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“The idea is not to live forever. It is to create something that will.” ~Andy Worhol

As I was driving home yesterday, we passed our neighbor’s teams of black percherons standing together in the corral.  It was said to me, “that is something I could never get into or find the fun in.”  And I thought about that, and it hit me hard how much the world has changed into a fast and so-called improved pace of life.  And I slowed down, and I smiled to myself thinking, “I could.”

I hear it often. The “I don’t get it. I don’t understand why you hitch a team to feed cows when you have a perfectly good motorized vehicle at your disposal?  Why don’t you use a 4-wheeler instead of that cold-backed colt to night check those heifers? Who cares about seeing the Bob Marshall Wilderness from the back of a horse leading a string of mules?  What is the point of climbing on that bronc just to hit the dirt short of eight seconds?  I don’t get your ways.”

Here’s my answer to that…

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I say iron sharpens iron.  Sociologists may label the cowboy’s choices a lifestyle.  Psychologists may see it as obsessive to worry over critters and hay crops and good horses.  Economists just say it’s damn pointless to throw your money and effort after foolishness.  But as for the cowboy, well, he just calls it living.

What you get out of life is just what you put into it.  And the benefits of being a cowboy, well, words don’t suffice.  It’s a life well lived and even harder earned, but it’s tradition and knowledge and heritage. It’s a legacy made of generations of hard living, hard working men and women before that carved a life out of the coulees and mountains and sagebrush seas.  It’s fixing old, worn saddles and harness, not buying new.  It’s the satisfaction of a well-aimed heel loop on a wily calf to drag them to the branding fire. It’s knowing that young colt is gonna test your mettle, but if you gentle him right, you’ve got a good dancing partner. It’s knowing nothing is going to be handed down to you on a silver platter, and you wouldn’t want it to be anyway.  Because the grit in your gut and the try in your soul is what makes the man.

It’s honoring traditions, and taking time to listen to the old men that talk about the days of long ago.  It’s considering yourself lucky to look out over a herd of well-matched and bred angus in the heat of summer grazing. It’s blazing new backcountry trails on a fine mountain pony.  It’s helping your neighbor come branding time whether the cooking is any good or not.  It’s teaching the younger generation the meaning of a little hard work while getting dirt under their fingernails; it’s responsibility and knowing their roots. It’s about having a story worth telling at the end of the day.  It’s a legacy.

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So, I believe in the old cowboy ways.  The things a cowboy has are simple. It’s work ethic, appreciation for land, good stock, a hard-working partner, and good neighbors.  These traditions deserve to be preserved and honored.  Take the time to visit with an old cowboy or cowgirl. Look around at this Big Sky country with its Charlie Russell sunsets, and be grateful for the cowboy, the Native American, and the land that made them. Is your story worth tellin’?



Happy Trails,

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Heather

 

 

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Raise ‘Em Up

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This is how kids should spend every day…learning to work, learning their worth, learning to contribute positively to society, learning how strong they can be, learning the physicality of the elements, learning to push themselves beyond their comfort zones, learning teamwork, learning compassion, learning to use common sense, learning that life doesn’t involve a screen and being entertained endlessly, learning to smile and joke and to have a sense of humor, learning to cuss and thank God in the same breath, learning that this is real life, learning a job well done doesn’t necessarily reward you monetarily, but emotionally, and learning to feel good at the end of the day about your accomplishments and to be grateful for the opportunity offered. So, raise them up strong…raise them to know right from wrong. Raise ’em up.

Brandin’

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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.

Happy Trails,

Heather