Animals have their stories, too

It’s all about the animals, and maybe it’s about the people, as well.

Animals were a big part of the decision to live out here, to follow this path. And animals, both domesticated and wild, continue to be a big part of the magic of this existence.

Afternoons linger into evening this time of year, and one Friday we decided to take our son Harrison for a ride on one of our saddle donkeys, Ace. We’re still not exactly sure what happened. About a half mile from the house I was leading Ace, and Mary was walking behind. I felt some minor calamity behind me on the lead rope and turned to see my son falling off the donkey. Maybe Ace stumbled. Maybe he startled. It wasn’t much of a rodeo, but Harrison took a tumble all the same. Suddenly the surreal evening became a blur of a screaming child who suddenly became very cooperative. A call to the clinic, and a drive to town. X-rays. A fractured arm. Splint. On the way home we stopped to watch two young foxes play near the roadside in Silver Cliff. Harrison acknowledged the foxes and I knew everything would be OK.

There’s a video that plays over and over in your head after incidents like this. I give this film bad reviews. A call to Doc Hamilton in Wetmore got the X-rays read, and resulted in a quick referral to an orthopedic specialist, and a purple long-arm cast.

That same call to Doc Hamilton also provided some counseling: “You’ll look back on this as a huge growth experience.” I realized as soon as I heard those words that it already had been. And truly the accident propelled Harrison, who has autism, to another level in his development that in recent weeks continues to amaze all who are around him.

The call about the X-rays also resulted in the arrival of two of Doc Hamilton’s mares here for breeding to Ace. One, Fancy, is a Tennessee Walker, and the other, Dolly, is a really nicely conformed quarter horse.

• • •

Three bull elk, antlers fuzzy as the early morning light. They walk slowly uphill into the trees as I run by on the road. Out and back, 90 minutes. On my return I see they have bedded down, there in the trees.

• • •

I train my donkeys, or burros, for the Colorado Pack-Burro Racing circuit. This year I’ll be entering my fourth decade at the sport. We run these burros distances of 14 to 30 miles up and down mountain passes, and are not allowed to ride in these events. On a long training run on the Adobe Peak roads near here my burro Laredo sidestepped abruptly when we spooked a small black bear snoozing in the shade of some aspen trees along the road. I turned to see the little bear angling away downhill, maybe 10 to 15 yards away. Laredo and I just kept on running.

• • •

As Harrison and I walked up the grassy hillside, I stopped to watch red ants work on their mound of sand. Harrison was not exactly speed-hiking. A few steps later I froze in my tracks and a chill shot through me. A fat rattlesnake lay sunning, camouflaged on a mound of gopher holes. I pointed out the viper to Harrison. “We don’t touch snakes.”

• • •

Punky the cow has been jumping fences. The grass is always greener, and all that.  Why? Does the grass taste better on the other side of the fence? Is there more of it? Is it more nutritious? The answer is something only cows know. This would not be noteworthy except in doing so Punky managed to cut her foot in some wire and required veterinary attention.

• • •

Generally, mares come into heat every 21 days. Pasture-breeding is iffy. Gestation is about 11 months.

• • •

We’re doing “natural beef” here but the vet said antibiotics might keep me from having to put a bullet in Punky. I could feed her powdered antibiotics on grain but what she really needed was a big injection. I saddled up one of my saddle donkeys, Redbo, and went to round up the injured cow. There aren’t many cowboys around here who ride donkeys to round up cattle. Since my team of cowhands consists of just myself, I generally round up the entire herd and then separate them in the corral. Usually if I can get them moving along a fenceline I can get them corralled. This day Punky and two calves, one of them hers, separated from the herd and started toward the corral. I just went with the flow. Redbo was biting at the bit over the calves, and I had to rein him back a couple times. When we reached the corral I realized I needed to dismount to close a gate. I figured Redbo would put his head into the grass and hold the cows at the corral opening.

What he did was take off after the calves. He got on the trail of one of them and ran it up the hill at high speed, then back down through the creekbed and the brush. Stirrups and saddlebags flapping. Calf bawling. Dust flying.

Redbo ran the calf along the old wooden corral and I saw one chance to keep him from stomping it. I jumped between them as the calf flew by and threw my hat at the donkey. He stopped on a dime and the calf ran away with the injured cow. The day’s work was lost.

• • •

Perhaps the social event of the century was the Amy Finger-Gary Ziegler wedding at Bear Basin Ranch on June 20, the Summer Solstice and also Father’s Day. After the wedding my dogs mixed it up with some coyotes near our house. Ted the rat terrier was bitten badly. Anti-inflammatories. Antibiotics. Rabies booster. Ten days of pills and ointments. The vet bill was about twice what I get paid for writing this column, illustrating the possible error of choosing journalism school over veterinary school. If you’re a coyote it’s probably advisable to stay away from here from now on.

• • •

Powdered antibiotics are a real hassle. First you have to hunt the cow down with a bucket. Then you have to guard the bucket from the other cows while she eats. Or doesn’t. Some of it gets scattered. Some of it is carried away with the wind. What I really needed was to get Punky in a corral and call the vet. It was a hot day when I saddled Ace and went after the cows again. I found them in the shade of some dark timber, and we pushed them down to the fenceline. We stopped at the stock tank to let the cattle drink. Then it was on to the corral.

• • •

Next morning, driving out of my place to meet the vet at the corral, something caught my eye and seemed out of context. Could I be hallucinating? It had been just a week since the mares arrived. But there, standing in the pasture next to Fancy, was a foal. Further investigation revealed it was a mule — a coal-black molly with brown points. Nobody knew she was pregnant.

• • •

At the corral, waiting. There are a couple of empty mineral tubs I’ve been using as garbage cans for years. One of them I’ve filled with baling twine and old wire that I’ve picked up around the corrals. I decided to load this into my truck and take it to the dumpster. More waiting for the vet. After some while I decided to drive over to the main ranch to check on horses and dump the tub.

As I was dumping the tub into the dumpster I saw something moving and jumped back, thinking it could be a rattlesnake or a nest of mice. A closer look revealed two nearly fledged bluebirds tangled in the baling twine. I carefully untangled the little birds and put them into another empty tub. I stuffed some of the twine back into the first tub, then rushed back to the corral. I put the tub back where it had been and placed the two little birds nearby. On the way back I decided to check the dumpster for more birds. Sure enough, I found another live baby bluebird, so I drove it back over to the corral as well. Would the parents take them back?

• • •

If it weren’t for animals, my life would be easy? Predictable? Boring?

• • •

An emergency call had made the vet late, he explained as used huge syringes to pump the sedated Punky with tetracycline. The emergency — a $15,000 horse had been cut up in barbed wire. Our cow should be OK within a few days. Probably will never have acne, either.

• • •

The mom and dad bluebirds flitted about on the fence posts with insects in their beaks. I watched to see where they landed and went to check it out. The baby bluebirds, rescued from the dumpster, were spread out in the brush. And the folks were hard at work feeding them.

Animals have their stories, too.

2 thoughts on “Animals have their stories, too

  1. I thought that i had problems with donks, cows, horses, wire, coyotes, dogs etc. I guess this is what city “folk” call the easy life. I wouldn’t give it up to take care of a house plant and a cat in a house on a cul de sac.

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