Sugar and I stayed at a motel run by the National Park Service, within a national park which I will not identify because of what I am about to write and I don’t want to discourage tourism there.
Apparently, it is illegal to trap mice in the national park, although I don’t understand why. Maybe mice are considered wildlife. Whatever. They are not in danger of extinction.
Our first hint about the presence of mice was a device plugged into almost every electric socket in our motel room. I recognized the device. It emits sounds than cannot be heard by humans but are supposed to be unpleasant to rodents.
The device was not effective.
In the middle of the night, my wife told me that something had, get this, run across her face. I tried to reassure her. I said it was probably my hand as I slept. She wondered if my hand has a tail.
She was not comforted by my theory so I turned on the lights.
Sugar screamed, ever so daintily. “There it is! There is a mouse in my suitcase.”
Her suitcase was open and on a chair by the bed. She was correct. I saw it too.
Now get this. I got two clear plastic cups from the bathroom and, with lightning quickness of hand, covered the mouse with one of the cups. Then I tipped the cup up and at the same instant put the bottom of the other one on top of him by stacking the cups. Don’t try this unless you have extraordinary eye-hand coordination. (See my blog “Me and Pecos Bill.”)
In the morning, I took the evidence into the lobby of the motel. I explained about Sugar being traumatized and showed the mouse in the cup. They told me to let it go outside.
I am familiar with catch and release for fish, but this was my first mouse release.
Guess what! We didn’t have to pay for that night’s lodging.
Next time we go there, provided Miss Sugar ever consents to stay there again, we will bring a mouse along with us just in case we aren’t as lucky as we were that first visit. You know, so the price is right.
Miss Sugar doesn’t cotton to rattlesnakes. She has killed a few, both with a shovel and her .410 shotgun, but she is, after all, a girl. She doesn’t have the flair for it that I have shown over the years, such as described in my post called Me and Pecos Bill.
As a scared little girly girl, she wanted me to cut the grass (and weeds) that are closest to the house so the snakes would have no place to hide in our immediate vicinity.
So I said to Miss Sugar, with indisputable logic, “I would love to cut the grass (and weeds) Sugar, except I can’t start the lawnmower on account of the starting cord does not work right.”
I even showed her the mechanical problem. “See, Sugar, the cord doesn’t re-wind so i can’t get a good pull and, not only that, since you are just a girl, you can’t do it either.”
That was a thoughtless comment. One should not tell Miss Sugar that she can’t do something. Of all people, I should have remembered that. I sure do know it from countless other similar situations.
So, Miss Sugar worked on the mower. Successfully.
“There’s your trouble,” she explained, pointing to something mechanical. “Give it a pull now.”
The dang thing started. Dang it!
So, I just finished mowing. Now I will go have a big glass of Miss Sugar’s good lemonade. I’d fix some myself if I knew how.
In recent years, the word “brand” has been adopted by advertising types to describe an identity for your product or company. That ain’t what this is about.
What this is about is a hot iron being applied to a calf in order to mark it with a symbol identifying which ranch it belongs to by burning the ranch symbol into its hide. The device is called a branding iron.
Here in Colorado, a brand has to be registered with the state brand commission. You submit to them what you would like to be your brand and it is approved, or not. The brand I thought I had invented for Cross Creek Ranch turns out to have been registered to Adolph Coors, the beer guy. So we had to modify it in order to get something similar approved.
At a branding, the mother cows are separated from their baby calves, usually when the calves are a couple months old. So calves born in March are usually branded in May. The longer you wait the more the calves weigh and the harder is the job. A 300 lb. calf is easier to handle than a 500 lb. calf. Well, maybe not for me, but for regular cowboys, I suppose. I have heard smaller cowboys complain about calves that are too big.
The separating is usually done by a team of folks helping at the branding. The mother cows are cut from the milling herd and chased out of a corral one or a few at a time. There has to be someone running the gate who can close it quick before any calves get away.
As you can imagine, after the separating, the cows are outside the corral calling to their babies and the calves are bawling for their mamas. Don’t tell the PETA folks. It is not inhumane, it is just the way we do things out West, and have been for a hundred and fifty years or so. For example, our neighbors on the Roberts Ranch are having their 140th annual 4th of July party. I was not invited for the first 120 years, but for the last twenty, I usually attend.
Once the pen is just full of calves, some ropers rope the calves around their legs and drag them to the fire, one or two at a time. For each calf, a couple fellas or even sometimes husky females, wrestle the calf and hold it down on the ground while it is branded, sometimes vaccinated, and, in the case of baby bulls, subjected to a procedure that results in them becoming baby steers.
Despite my reputation as a talented roper, or more likely because of my impressive size and strength, I am always one of the calf wrestlers.
That is fine with me. For biblical reasons, I don’t want to do to the baby bulls what I would not want done unto me.
After the process for each calf is completed, it is reunited with its mother.
P.S. Not every ranch holds to the tradition of ” ropin’ and draggin’ to the fire.” There are some ranchers who try to be more efficient by pushing the calves through a narrow lane of panels to a squeeze chute at the end, which can be turned so the calf is on a table on its side. There are even electric brands or, propane fires to heat traditional branding irons. Now that kind of thing is fine if your helpers are city boys. But if you want to hold on to tradition and practice cowboy skills, you need horses and ropes and ropers and even wrestlers.
P.P.S. I’ve been to many brandings with a dentist/rancher who always gets the job of castrating. Knowing of his vast experience with bulls, I will never go to his dental office. I’d hate to have him get mixed up about the task for the day.
I have heard that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. I told my horse Woody about it and we agreed to dress him in my roping saddle and hang a lariat on it.
So I went to the branding with Woody and heard, “Hey, Al, I didn’t know you could rope off Woody.” (As if I can’t rope unless I have a specially trained and experienced rope horse when, in actuality, I will have you know that I ain’t a good roper even on a good horse. Makes me no nevermind.)
The fella who said that didn’t know nuthin’ about dressing for success.
Woody looked like a roping horse. He is learning the job to which he aspires. He has the outfit already.
I hear that George Strait not only performs music as a country singer but can actually rope too. I heard from a Texan who attended Texas A&M with George’s son, Bubba Strait. As I recall, they are team ropers, father and son.
What one man can do, another can do. So, I’m thinking of bringing Miss Sugar’s guitar to local gatherings such as the 140th annual 4th of July picnic at Roberts Ranch. I reckon I can get started as a country western musician. I’ve got the hat. I’ve got the boots. And a guitar don’t hurt none either.
If you get an outfit, you can be a cowboy too.
It would be appropriate at this point to insert a photo of the peace pipe which is the subject of this post. Instead, you will have to use your imaginations.
Picture a beaded pipe made of a hollowed stick as the pipe stem and a hollowed piece of antler as the bowl. It was decorated with some rabbit fur and feathers hanging from rawhide skillfully wrapped around the stem. It was purchased by my wife and me at a craft show featuring Native American artisans. We purchased it because our log home has an Old West theme. We put the peace pipe on display in our front room. It fit the decor. As we interior decorators say, it served as an accent piece and conversation piece. Sugar and I bought it as a mutual anniversary present to each other last fall. It thus had sentimental value.
So, you wonder, why not post a picture? Did you catch the word “was” as I described our precious peace pipe in the preceding paragraph?
It has been destroyed. It is on the front porch now, taken from inside the house by someone disrespectful of authentic replicas. The antler bowl is missing. The rabbit fur and feathers and rawhide are missing. The stem has been chewed. The bands of little moccasin-type colored beads are still on it, but are wasting themselves on a chewed stick destined for the trash.
Who would do such a thing?
The usual suspect — Beau, the Yellow Labrador Retriever with the criminal mind.
This means WAR!
Ponce de Leon, in his quest to find the legendary fountain of youth, by all reports did not make it to Wyoming. Unlike him, I have been to Wyoming, the location of the fountain of youth. Is it just a coincidence that Mr. de Leon is dead and I am alive and kicking? I think he might still be around if he had visited Wyoming instead of Florida, or wherever he looked for the elusive fountain of youth.
It is not often that I am the youngest person present at a gathering of the general public, but at the Saratoga Springs, Wyoming hot springs known as Hobo Pool, I was.
As I entered the hot pool area, there were two older men with Santa-like beards, both in length and whiteness. Maybe that is why it is called Hobo Pool. They looked the part.
Shortly after I lowered my lithe, youthful body into the supposedly healing waters, three more men, one bald and two white-haired ones, joined us at the pool. They all knew each other. I was the odd man out. Eventually, however, I made friends with them.
One got out of the pocket of his robe a thermometer and pronounced that the temperature of the pool was 107.9 degrees, which is a good conversation starter. I learned that that they all come almost every day. I learned about the underground hot springs piped into the pool. I learned about the history of the Indians discovering it near the North Platte River. I learned about the source of the name, Hobo Pool, due to the railroad tracks going by, and hobos being aware of the free spa experience in that bend of the river. I learned that these hot natural springs full of minerals and smelling of sulfur seemed to offer health benefits. My bald friend said that he moved to Saratoga eleven years ago and used the pool every day. He said he had not been ill since, whereas previously he had often been sick. It sounded like the biblical Pool of Bethesda. or the pool at Lourdes.
I then witnessed proof of the healing power of the pool. None of the men were wearing glasses, yet when Miss Sugar appeared, they all gave every indication that their vision was clear.
You see, Miss Sugar had forgotten to pack her swimsuit, unlike me. After I paid the admission fee for myself, Miss Sugar explained her predicament to the gatekeeper. He actually waived the admission fee for her and allowed her in for free, which offended my sense of fairness. “Hey, Sugar,” I said, “can’t you read?” “The sign says no nude bathing.”
My new friends turned on me. To a man, they vehemently declared that they did not mind and voted to waive the rule. Rules are made to be broken, according to them.
I, an attorney, disagreed. I strongly felt that she should have paid the fee like the rest of us, so I paid the guy.
What was Miss Sugar trying to pull? A fee is a fee.
P.S. Most of what I write about is totally true. Miss Sugar has asked me to confess that the part I wrote about her, above, is not exactly accurate. The part about her forgetting her suit is true. The part about her coming to the pool anyway is not true. I was just funnin’ about. But, seriously, did you just want to read about me and five other old guys sitting in a hot springs pool?
P.P.S. There is no admission fee. It is open every hour of every day for free. Check it out.
P.P.P.S. There IS a sign that says, “No alcohol. No profanity. No nude swimming.” That about covers it. So, don’t forget your swimsuit, forget the booze though, and watch your mouth.
A woman should not hitchhike alone. It can be dangerous.
I knew that. I hated the thought of Miss Sugar out on the highway in Wyoming’s strong November wind.
It was that wind which diminished the fuel efficiency of our Ford F250 pickup. That and pulling the RV trailer. I should have calculated those factors when deciding to try to make it to Laramie.
There is a 45 mile stretch with no service stations between our northern Colorado ranch and Laramie, Wyoming. In hindsight, I regretted not filling up the truck before we left. Sure they sell diesel less than a mile from our place, but it is cheaper to buy it in Wyoming. Less tax. Plus, it would be inefficient to backtrack nearly 8/10th of a mile out of our way just to fill up for peace of mind. One must have confidence, living without fear.
I thought we could make it, so imagine my alarm when the fuel gauge showed empty while we were still 20 miles from Laramie.
Twenty miles is too far to travel on an empty tank. It is also too far to walk. Fifteen, even ten miles are too far to walk. Going there and back doubles the distance. I doubted she could make it back before nightfall. Not with her bum knee.
I was worried about Sugar’s bum knee. Walking that far wouldn’t help it none. In a bad accident last year, one of her injuries was a torn posterior cruciate ligament. Since then, she has been unable to run. She even walks much slower. Nevertheless, the choice was clear as to which of us should go for fuel. Obviously, I was needed to protect the RV. I have a gun and she does not.
Sugar’s mother, Italian father, and two brothers might not agree with that choice, but we’d all have a good laugh about this at Thanksgiving as long as Sugar was safe. No harm, no foul. Right? As long as she could get back safely….
I would hate it if anything happened to my beloved wife. I imagined that someone would give her a ride. Hopefully, it would be a kind soul and not some badman or badmen. It was a risk, sure, but that diesel engine can’t run without fuel. Surely, someone would give her a ride back too. Even a couple gallons gets heavy after a few miles of carrying it.
Sugar would hate it if anything happened to our new used RV. She has worked so hard to get it ready for the trip. Some of you have read about our prior disappointments when we had to cancel our maiden voyage. She had so looked forward to this weekend.
So, knowing she would hate it if anything happened to the RV, I vowed to protect it. I was thankful that the RV itself has heat and a warm bed because it could take a long time for my wife to return with the fuel. Maybe time enough for a movie since it is equipped with the DVD and TV. It is important to be comfortable while worrying about a loved one.
I am a lucky man to be married to such a trooper. She is quite a gal. I made a mental note to get Sugar some Mace for the future. Like I always say, “Be prepared.”
I love her so much that it hurts me to disappoint her. That is why I was wise to not let her know when I noticed the fuel gauge showed empty while we still had those twenty miles to go. I did not tell her of my worried thoughts above. And that is why I was relieved when, miraculously, we made it to a service station in Laramie. No harm, no foul.
What she don’t know won’t hurt her, or me.
I guess God did not like the idea of Sugar walking along the highway. After all, she is one of his favorites.
Denver’s Got Talent
(click to enlarge and view slideshow)
In her spare time, Miss Sugar, my trophy wife, makes jewelry. We just got back from an event in Denver called 16th Street Fair. It featured various vendors in tents on the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver.
On the 16th Street Mall, there are two or three pianos spaced a block apart, outside so anyone can play them. Our booth was right by one of the pianos.During the day, we were entertained by four pianists — Phillip, Billie, Michael and Franco. Each was very talented. Each had an interesting story. We made friends.
Phillip told us that he is homeless. He smiled a lot. He has a quick wit. For instance, when Billie and Michael were sitting on the bench together and playing a duet, Phillip quipped, “Ebony and Ivory.” Sugar gave him a rattlesnake bracelet. He was very grateful.
They had a plastic cup on top of the painted piano, weighted down with a rock, into which passersby occasionally put in tips. They shared the same tip cup. They did not keep track of who was playing when a particular tip came in. They would wait until there was enough money, then someone would go get cigarettes to share. Other times, they divided the money. Phillip had a good day on Friday. He said he went to McDonald’s three times.
We learned that Billie is from Texas, like Sugar. It turns out that they graduated from the same university, where he got a Masters degree in Jazz Performance. Billie said his cousin wrote “Amarillo By Morning,” a George Strait hit. He played with Chris LeDoux. He also told us that he spent time in prison. He was in prison when his wife died. He too is homeless. He told me he likes to sleep in the woods. He was drinking out of a brown paper bag. He started singing louder and his speech got more slurred as the day progressed.
Franco did not say whether he was homeless, and, of course, we did not ask. (Billie and Phillip had volunteered that information.) Franco told me about his artistic inspirations. He is not just a musician, he said. He also paints, he said. He told me that he is very particular about his appearance. He carries a hand-mirror in his bag. I know that because when Sugar gave him a manly pendant of rough turquoise, although grateful, after looking at it in the mirror, he explained that he could not wear it with the outfit he had on and hoped that would not hurt her feelings. He said he liked it and might hang it on something. Then he asked if she would replace the chain with a leather string, which she did. She had four choices of colors of leather. It was a big decision for Franco.
Michael was a newcomer. He did not know the other guys. His hair was in neat cornrows and he was wearing a nice Hawaiian shirt. He just stopped to listen to them play. Phillip asked Michael whether he played and if he wanted a turn. He did.
Michael played classical music like a concert pianist. He told us he had tried out for X Factor when the show was in Denver recently, but they would not let him play the piano. They wanted him to sing instead. He was disappointed that he did not make it.
Sugar guessed that Michael had been playing from a young age. He told us that when he was born, his hands were deformed. His mother started him on piano lessons when he was only three. She thought it would help straighten out his hands and give him dexterity. It did.
The second day, Saturday, Phillip was the first to arrive. He was happy. It had rained Friday night but he was not sleeping in the rain. He had called a buddy who has a place, told his buddy that he had money from tips and would buy him a couple beers if he could crash at his place.
Billie was not there on Saturday morning but Michael came back. Apparently he had fun the day before because he brought a friend, a young woman, and they were later joined by another young woman who had a guitar and also sang. She had a beautiful alto voice. They had met at X Factor try-outs. They sang some gospel songs. Michael told us that he plays at his church. I don’t think that he is homeless. The woman with the guitar told us that she had moved to Denver just weeks ago. She came from Newport News, Virginia. I commented that Michael Vick is from there. She said, “Yeah, but I don’t like what he did to those dogs.”
Franco did not arrive until late in the afternoon on Saturday. He patiently waited for a turn to play the piano. Billie never showed up on Saturday.
I am glad that Denver has pianos outside on 16th Street. I appreciated the talent of the entertainers. Sugar and I made some new friends. Phillip asked when we might be coming back for another show. Sugar told him there is one in August that we might come to. He shook my hand. Sugar hugged him. It was sad to say goodbye after spending two days together, laughing and joking around.
At the end of the day, Michael told Sugar that he made $30. The lady with the booth next to us said that he earned it. She said the folks who just hold up cardboard signs bother her.
If I was homeless, I would probably have to just hold a sign. I am not a musician. However, I can juggle three tennis balls, a little trick I picked up in my youth as I spent many hours at tennis courts waiting for matches. Sugar, on the other hand, could be a street entertainer. She can sing and play piano — the signs of a misspent youth, and now she is learning guitar. She can do face-painting and make balloon animals too. I would have to depend on her many skills if we needed tips to buy food. We could buy more food by not buying cigarettes and booze.
On our way home, Sugar commented, “I miss Phillip. Also, I hope Billie is okay. I worry that he did not come around today.”
The Lord knows of every sparrow who falls from the nest. We just met some wonderful people who have fallen from their nests.
There, but for the grace of God, go I.