Fall Gathering, or Sagebrush Meditations

Sam and Monica still do lots of things the old way, using horses to gather to gather up the cattle. Sam may own a four-wheeler, but he is much more at home on a horse. Dad once described him as a “pretty fancy calf roper,” and I think he still is. But last weekend, Sam and Monica called in some help to gather up their cows. Fortunately for us, they’ve got lots of friends, and some of those friends even carry cameras.

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Last year, the valley had so little rain that no one thought the grass would come back. What a difference a year–and a lot of heavy winter snow and spring rain–makes. Good thing Doug was happy to share his photos.

When I was up at the end of June, Monica and I took a quick drive a bit further up the Bluewater Road so that I could see some of the old places. The Thiels lived the furthest out. Bob and Gloria had three children: Mark, Bruce, and Michelle. They had a small lake, locally referred to as “Thiel’s Pond,” and Gloria drove the school bus for years. Once a year, Michelle would ride her horse into school. Raglands were next in, and they bought the old Alderson house in the late ’70s. They also had three kids: Randy, Rhonda, and Ryan. I think my brother spent as much time out at Raglands’ house as a kid as he did ours. Once you went past the Bluewater Fish Hatchery (which is now a booming operation, replete with new house and covered fish pens) and rounded the corner, that is where Sam and Monica raised Travis and Heather. If you followed that road in a winding, westerly direction, that was kind of it until you hit the old Hill place, where you could turn north for the Fromberg backroads or wind your way into Bridger. Thiels still have their place, but Raglands moved over near Columbus some time in the ’80s. Monica and Sam still have their place as well, but Travis and Heather are long grown and have families of their own.

“There aren’t any kids on the creek,” Monica said. “No one living up here has any kids.” Sadly, she’s right. All of us have grown up and moved on to lives on our own. We may come up on occasion to help gather or to vaccinate or to brand or for a holiday, but we our lives are elsewhere.

The old ways aren’t always the best ways, but there are times that they clearly are. At the very least, Sam and Monica’s way is sure a lot kinder and a lot more scenic. They may have gathered cattle, but I find myself wondering if that was really the point of last weekend’s work. Perhaps the work was an excuse for people to spend some time together, to breathe deeply of air that tastes of sage, to appreciate what is right in front of them. Perhaps we all need a bit of gathering.

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