We rode out to muster the cattle (or round ’em up, as they say in Texas) the other day. This time I opted to ride in the truck with Bill instead of on the ATV (bike) since it makes me too cold. The back deck of the bike isn’t padded and I have to hang on to what looks like a tail pipe sticking out of the side in order to not fall off. The ride is bouncy and we blaze through mud puddles and precariously close to edges of cliffs, but rest assured, she is a good driver.
We drive in the truck until we can go no further. We all pile onto the bike, close yet another gate behind us and go to a section where the cattle should be. The sun is out and the day looks clear. You can see for miles over the hills and the snow is slowly starting to melt off of the top of the mountain range. She lets Bill off to go find cattle on the Dark Side. I like the name of that section. It’s funny to hear them talk about it. “There’s a mob of sheep on the Dark Side.” I wonder just how evil those sheep are out there. There is also Butt Cheek Hill, the Solar Panel and Volcano Ridge to name a few.
Bill takes a long handled flat head axe with him. I wonder why, but don’t ask. Rosa and I ride up the track a bit and she says she will go muster the cattle down below and that I can wait up here. I’m happy to hear that, as I now have some alone time and can sit in the sun and warm up. As I look up the hill in back of me, the sky is once again an impossible blue. A few cows near the top slowly meander toward the rest of the herd, as if bothered by the fact they have to move at all. The tan color of the tussock and the dark scrub brush on the hill contrast beautifully with the sky. The clouds are breaking up into patches and it reminds me very much of the wool on a sheep’s back.
I take this opportunity to walk up the track a bit to see if I can find some photo ops. The curve in the road seems to promise more beyond it. I think about how barren this area looks and remember Rosa saying this place hasn’t changed at all in 100 years. I feel very alone, but quite content to be. I feel like I’m the only creature that has walked this ground. Yet, as I look around me, it appears that absolutely no part of this land has gone untouched. I can’t walk without seeing droppings from the sheep or cattle. No matter how far up or down the hillside I go, it is there. There are bones scattered in spots and later in the day, we came across a sheep carcass on the track which hadn’t been there a couple days ago.
It is quiet except for the many birds I hear singing. They sound happy…maybe it’s the chill wearing off or it is coming into mating season. The sun is getting warm and I decide the tussocks look to be a pretty comfortable seat while sporting a gorgeous view in front of me. I take off the heavy coat and sling it on top of the tall grass and lean back into it. There is another small tussock right in front of me for my feet. I look up at the sky and the sun warms my lips. The black top I have on soaks in the heat. It’s a good day to be alive. I look beside me and am again reminded that I was not the only one to be in this spot. A twig is poking up out of the ground with a bit of wool stuck to the end of it gently waving in the breeze.
I hear the bike in the distance coming back for me and I stand up to take notice of the herd. They are far off in the distance all standing together for once. There might be about 50 of them. It seems to me they are much harder to muster than sheep, but I’m told it’s the other way around. It feels we have been out for a long time and covered a lot of ground to only have rounded up 50 cattle.
Rosa asks if I had seen where Bill walked, which I hadn’t. She pointed to the Dark Side and moved her finger across the land all the way to where I saw the herd of cattle. It probably took him a couple of hours or more. We all met up and mustered them into different paddocks. Bill leans on his axe while he and Rosa talk about where to put the cattle and try to determine the total count. Experience shows on their faces and clothes. They’ve been farming practically all their lives. It’s a dying business, I’m told. Their concerns about growing older and wondering if their son will take over the farm lingers on their minds. Their income is mostly obtained from selling lambs and wool. They sometimes contract people to do work on the farm which comes at a steep price. I often wonder how they get by.
Even with all of the work that must be done during the day, I’m amazed at what good parents they are. They have two boys and a daughter in boarding school in Dunedin, who comes home on the weekends. They are caring and concerned, teaching the boys manners and encouraging them to do their best in school and sports. They never appeared bothered when one of the boys interrupts them with a question and they always take the time to answer thoroughly. They maintain a sense of humor along with the discipline young kids seem to always need. They are a stellar example of what parents should be. I am happy to be here with them all and able to experience this unique, yet dying lifestyle.