Monday, June 14, 2010

A Real Cowboy

Sleep is priceless, and the sound sleep that I can get in a dry cabin is the best. I woke up kind of late to the sound of a text message. I turned on the TV, just because I could, and got up slowly. My boss would be stressed out if he knew I wasn’t working today, but sometimes I just need a break from this exhausting job. The boundaries between working and free time are so blurred, and there is never a full day off that I can enjoy. I am always driving to the next point, setting up camp, calling landowners to access their land, work never ends. There isn’t a house I can go to escape work.

The people in the cabin next to mine were fighting. He later introduced himself as being from New York, it was around 7:30 and he had a beer in his hand as him and his son walked around the RV park. The kid loved my dog, and my dog loved them, cuddling up to them and getting as much attention as she could. Their van broke down and they couldn’t go back to New York yet after their week long vacation at Yellowstone.

I put my wet laundry back in the dryer, because I still have wet clothes in my trunk from last week when they didn’t dry all the way. Took the dog for a walk and fed her while I packed up. Ayla was on my front porch eating when the owner drove by in her golf cart, she couldn’t help but stop and pet my dog again. We talked for a while and I learned that she lived in Saudi Arabia for a long time while her parents worked as teachers for the oil company. She also had a cabin near Sunlite on the very street that I struggled with to find a way to my point the day before. She was going to take the day off and head to Yellowstone, she had never been. I said I would join her, but my boss would freak if I took another day off from work.

Ayla and I got in the car and headed to Meeteetse, WY. I put my cowboy boots on, it was time to drive out to the ranch and talk to the rancher in person to see if I could do my bird points on his land. I drove forever down his road, through cattle standing around on his land. His property was nicely marked with his name, and I was nervous when I walked up to the beautiful log cabin mansion at the end of his road. I rang the doorbell, and almost gave up until he came out of the garage. He was one of the nicest guys I’ve meet and we talked awhile about what I was doing, and where he has seen bears on his property. He warned me of a few down by the river, and I went on my way.

I camped at the Oasis campground right in town. I set up my tent in the back by some shady trees, then left Ayla in my car while I walked down to the local bar to have a beer. There were a few old crusty cowboys sitting alone in different corners of the Cowboy Saloon, a historic place that has been there since the late 1800s. I ordered a beer and looked around for someone to talk to, and eventually started talking to a 37 year old cowboy a few seats down the bar from me. He just moved to town a few weeks ago and was working out at the largest ranch in Wyoming he told me. He said he had been a cowboy his whole life since he was 14, and has worked in all the cow states of Kansas, Texas, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. He was wearing a pair of wranglers covered in mud or cow shit, a cowboy vest that looked like gray felt, a beat up black cowboy hat, and a pair of boots that have seen a lot of miles riding horses and tending cows. I told him I was a bird biologist and just like everyone else, he asked me about a bird he saw. This was black and white; it looked like a skunk and had orange on top. He saw it on a fence post near a creek with cottonwood trees in Montana a few weeks ago. I thought maybe a black-throated gray warbler, from the size he indicated from his hands, but wasn’t sure.

His phone rang out a country song from his pocket, I was too tipsy to remember which one. He picked it up and started talking about his new job to an old buddy, mentioning the other cowboys that he had to bunk with only during calving season, and how he liked Wyoming. He hung it up, and said he hated cell phones and didn’t know why he had one. He ordered another beer offering me one, but two is enough so I declined. I ordered water, and proving how tipsy I was off my two beers I accidentally spilled it all over the counter trying to pick it up. I got a chuckle from the cowboy on my left who started talking to me soon after, and the older cowboy in the corner laughed silently to himself again, he kept doing that.

The one next to me agreed that two beers was enough for me as he chugged what must have been number four or five for himself. I could see he was starting to fall for me, I’m sure he doesn’t talk to many ladies, and I did shower the night before and my hair was pretty and styled instead of in my usual pony tail. I told him I should call it a night, because my dog was still in my car. I was at the door when the older cowboy in the corner said to me, “It was a flicker.”

“The bird he saw?” I asked.
“Yep, he saw a flicker.” Meaning a northern flicker, yellow-shafted variety most likely.

The three of us talked about the bird, and from what he described now, it was blue jay sized, but he was sure about that white strip down the back, not a flicker but Hairy Woodpecker maybe. The older cowboy was a teacher for many years of history, and was really smart, we talked a while, the cell phone cowboy ordered another beer. He then walked me outside and talked to me more as the sun was low in the sky. He was reluctant for me to go, but I had told him all about my cattle rancher in Canada, he knew he couldn’t change my mind. I went back to my car and got my dog, then walked her down to the bar to met him. He was talking to a guy at a table, probably because they were the only two left in the bar. He petted Ayla and she loved his attention, rubbing her body against his leg with dog joy. He said she looked like she was eight from her teeth, and walked me back to my campground. He said he could get me a job with the BLM in Montana if I ever changed my mind about Canada and we parted ways.

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