WALKING S RANCH, MT. — Many years have passed since I met Val Lush while helping on a cattle roundup on the E lazy H Ranch in Montana. After sorting and branding the herd was completed, we’d loaded up a string of pack mules for a hunt in the Sapphire Mountains. Val gave me an old well-worn saddle then, and after many hard years of use, I showed it to the Ravalli County Museum curator, Bill Johnson, this year. He reported the ancient saddle had been sold by Montgomery Ward between 1880’s and 1910. Time to hang it up.
September translates as the shifting from summer into autumn, county fairs, with carnival rides, rodeos and side shows display their wares. Farmers brag of the summer’s harvest; display grains, fruit and vegetables. From our “Walking S” ranch came the blue ribbon for a 13-inch stalk of corn, a sunflower standing at 15 inches.
September also suggests forest fire season is easing off in the west and hurricane weather is peaking along the southeast coast. First snows are whitening the mountain tops in the high country and early hunting season is opening. The awakening from summer’s doldrums is confirmed by the roll of political drum beating and the multitudes of yellow school buses rounding up tender cargos.
Earlier this year the rear sight of my pistol was damaged. Hunting season is nearing, so I had a covetous gun dealer check into repairing it. After looking it over, he decided he wanted to buy it. Another potential buyer wanted to look over the weapon, revealing he’d carried a similar one while serving with the Marine Corps Special Forces.
Presently, as a professional bull rider, he was following the rodeos through the west. As we conversed, he proudly told of his Native American ancestors being lost at the Alamo when Davy Crocket and all its defenders were killed during the Mexican army’s onslaught. He spoke of his love of horses. When the Spanish brought horses back to the Americas, Native Americans learned to regard them very highly; developing the “war horse,” forerunner of our saddle breeds. It took skill to teach a horse to mingle with a herd of stampeding buffalo. Having watched buffalo roundups at the National Bison range in Moiese, Mt., I marveled at the skilled Indian riders with their well trained horses, amid great clouds of dust, stampeding herds of wild buffalo into sorting corrals.
Maybe there is in all of us some envy that comes with living free, close friends around evening campfires, savoring fresh caught trout, followed by exchanging yarns, strumming a guitar, recalling a song of old before turning in. The night air grows chilly as stars begin their evening parade across the heavens. There’s the lonesome yap of a coyote calling to the moon, the soft voice of the wind rippling the canvas shelter, rustling amidst the leaves, singing creek waters, hurrying on their endless voyage to distant places, the call of an owl, the distant answer echoing in the moonlight. We hear the rumble of thunder, raindrops spattering against the canvas shelter and enjoy the deep sleep that comes with warm sleeping bags on frosty nights. These are the things that set one’s soul free.