I have often loved November. It's a muted month, kind of like me. I like wearing neutral colors and blending into the background - tastefully I hope. November is resolute. It's a no-frills, take me for what I am month.
November is also the month we get the cattle ready for winter. We just finished four straight days of working the herd. Day 1 thru 3 was collecting and moving the herd to a new pasture at a lower elevation. Day 4 was separating the cows from the calves and vaccinating the calves. Then we put them back with their mothers for a couple of weeks before weaning.
My job on day 4 was loading the calves, five at a time, in the chute to receive their shots. It's an enjoyable task, but a young man who we've watched grow up the last ten years needed a job, so after awhile I gave him mine. I gladly got my camera and hiked up the mountain. As high as I went, I could still hear the cows and calves calling to each other from across the corrals.
I hiked up past the old homesteader’s cabin. It is always picturesque, but even more so today, nestled quietly in a grove of bare quaking aspens that mimic the gray of its weathered logs.
As I went further I happened across a surveyor’s marker dated 1910. “Penalty $250 for removal” was plainly stamped on the cap. Who were the men that tromped over these hills a hundred years ago?
Ever the grass enthusiast, I made mental notes about the quantity and quality of forage; ever the naturalist, I greeted the bare chokecherries, the fragrant sage, and the spent blue flax with its wheatberry tops. Finally I laid down near a thicket, put my hat over my eyes, and sunk into the earth.
This land has a history. A history of man, yes, of the surveyors, the homesteaders, the trappers and cowboys. Of grandpa Eldro who purchased the property, of my friend Brenda, who prior to that with her folks took their turn at irrigating and loving this bit of range. Man’s most recent history includes me and my kids picking wildflowers and herding cows here.
But the real history of this land is of the plants and animals that evolved here. In a graceful dance, their symbiotic relationships compel me - sagebrush and grouse, willows and beaver, elk and bunch grass. I respect them and understand my temporary place here.
Enjoying my respite from cattle work, I got a wild hair and tried a self-portrait like my teenage daughter does with her friends, hold the camera out at arms length and click the shutter.
When I walked back down to the corrals, there was only one more draft of calves to process. We got done before dark, which was better than the day before. In 10 days we’ll return to walk the herd home and leave the field to the mule deer, the bitterbrush . . the snowfall.