I took Grace out to the corner of the Airport Field where the cowboy crew was branding calves out of a rodear* the other day. I threw my camera and extra batteries in the diaper bag, but once I got there I decided to not take it out. I wanted to just be in the moment and enjoy the experience.
The Alvord Ranch crew and a few neighbors rodeared the cattle in a fence corner, roping out slick calves to brand, vaccinate and earmark. I had debated bringing a horse, but wasn’t sure who could watch Grace while I roped, and the weather was stormy, so I kept it simple and just brought myself and my girl. We sat in the bed of the pickup the crew was using for a kitchen* and cheered on the ropers. “Woo hoo, two feet!” was my standard cheer, while Grace went with “Ahhhhh!!!!” and sometimes a shrill “Eeeeeeekkkkkkkk!!!!” accompanied by spastic arm-waving. What she lacked in coordination she made up for in enthusiasm.
These Oregon buckaroos were sure pretty to watch work. They all had tall horses, pretty tack with lots of silver, traditional head stalls, bits and reins, and colorful wild rags fluttering in the wind. There was green grass all around us on four sides, the towering blue and white Steens Mountains behind us and an old wooden gateway framing the valley in front of us. It was prettier than the prettiest picture you’ve ever seen, because there was another dimension to it.
There were Mike’s jokes about worrying the branding would be cancelled due to the impending storm, because he knew there wouldn’t be any branding food if there wasn’t a branding. There was the challenge of keeping Grace out of the nut bucket just in front of us. There was the fun of watching Cody ride a cow that he had roped. There was the collective “Oh, shit” moment when Mia’s horse bucked her down.
There was the knowledge that we are the lucky ones who get to experience this lifestyle. The spring storms, the delicious branding feasts, the roughstock rides on assorted species, the pretty heel loops – we absorb them and they become part of who we are. It’s nice to capture the memories on camera and share them with others, but it’s also nice to not worry about getting the right angle and background scene and just live.
It was a beautiful day with beautiful scenery and beautiful subjects, a photographer’s dream. Mary Williams Hyde would probably kick me right in the Levi’s for not taking pictures of such a day. But, I enjoyed taking a break from recording contemporary history for posterity and just capturing the images in my heart.
*Rodear (n): A group of cattle held together by cowboys on horseback with no corrals or panels. Sometimes, a rodear is held in a fence corner to give support to the herd on two sides and help make the cowboys’ jobs a little easier. Can also be used as a verb, as in “We rodeared cattle and sorted the neighbor’s yearlings off from ours.”
*Kitchen: The branding fire and surrounding area, where the vaccines and all other equipment is kept. Ropers strive to bring calves right next to the kitchen, but they will be fined at least one case of beer for dragging calves through that area, aka “mucking out the kitchen.”
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