They were bringing the heifers down from the high ranges today. I knew it as soon as I began to run the backside of the Jeep road. Deep hoof mud cups covered the entire width leaving a million sharp sundried ridges like a honeycomb. No cattle anywhere.
The weather has been skittish lately. Cold enough for snow in the high Sierras with wind events daily. Today the clouds were dark bottomed and scudded. I guess they’re bringing them down for protection. They seem younger this year, less afraid of me, more vulnerable. Babies.
I ran off the loop and up the connector and turned off the Jeep road near the springs. Cattle love the oaks here. Not today.
I ran the single track path toward Red Rock Spring, just to the high mesa saddle to catch a glimpse of the Santa Ynez Range, wondering if maybe they had a little snow. The saddle brought cold wind so I turned back.
I heard the ATV before I saw it, buzzing along somewhere. At the tadpole pond he came up behind me slow, stopped just short and killed the engine. He had two working dogs on the platform behind him. The Sheltie jumped off and came to sniff to see if I was important. I wasn’t, so he went back jumped on again.
“Seen any cattle today?”
The man wore mud coated leather work boots and his flannel shirt was thick. The sun cooked a man to sweat up here then next thing you know ducked behind a cloud to let you chill.
“Not a one.”
“Where’ve you been?”
“I just ran out toward Red Rock, turned back about halfway.”
“Glad you did. I can’t go there with this. See any sign?”
“Nothing.” I paused, seeing concern on his face. “Missing a heifer?”
He grinned. “About a hundred.”
Wow. I asked him about a couple of dells and hollows I knew the cattle liked. He’d been to all those places. His phone rang. He listened, put it away.
“Found some,” he said, waved, and roared off.
I got back to my running, down the connector and back on the Jeep loop. I kept hearing the chainsaw sound of the ATV from time to time. A half mile from the trailhead he came lickety-split down a steep heifer trail slowing as he passed me. The dogs were missing. “Got ’em now,” he said with a thumb’s up.
The last time I saw him I was approaching a sharp turn in the road and heard him coming back toward me. I stood wide at the turn and let him pass. He was flying. I guess he’d left the dogs holding the heifers. A pit bull mix came running after him. I put out the back of my hand for him to sniff but he hardly paused. A rider in a cowboy hat on horseback came after the dog. The horse came opposite me on the turn at a gallop when suddenly threw out it’s forelegs and stopped, its eye rolling toward me.
The woman riding it said “Whoa!” then gave voice to what her mount was thinking. “What’s he doing here without a horse?” She grinned and rode on.
The corral is near where I park my car. It was full of cattle today. I’ve never seen that before. I don’t know if it was the weather caused the ranchers to bring the herds down, or if it was just time to move them on to the next pasturage. I guess I’ll find out on my next run up there.