Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pythons... but not at the ranch

Yesterday in the local newspaper, the Miles City Star, there was a short boxed announcement that caught my eyes. It read: "Search on for loose pythons, call police if sighted." Pythons!? Yep, the police are still looking for two of them that were reported missing on the 18th. The article said: "Both snakes are 4-1/2 to 5-1/2 feet long. One is a pregnant female and she will be looking for a warm place to lay her eggs." Unbelievable. I'm afraid I did not sleep peacefully.

Well... let me tell you about going to the ranch on Monday. We almost didn't go because ominous clouds threatened rain, and when that happens the dirt roads become thick glue that swallow wheels in even huge trucks. Scotty drove. It takes over an hour to get from Miles City, past Forsyth, to the ranch. I enjoy going to the rach; I like seeing Scotty revel in his 91 years of memories: he knows the place as intimately as he knows every tiny fold and crevice on his own face. He loves the land, and the small house his father and mother built with their own hands way back in the early 1900s. (What a privilege it was for me to edit his book, I'm 'a-tellin' you: Homesteading the Little Porcupine, about growing up in this expansive ranch.)
I enjoy the wide endless sky, and the seeming emptyness. But when you look closely, this landscape is far from empty. There's sage brush everywhere, and showy weather resistant flowers peeking every time a drop of water falls, and cacti, and all sorts of bugs and creepy crawlies. And of course, there are deer and antelope roaming, and bushy tailed rabbits, skuns, and what's the name of that animal that burrows everywhere? Yeah, and snakes (but no pythons!). It's a demanding land, a land that doesn't yield much that's edible, but it's exquisitely striking nonetheless, breathtaking. It's a land that forges fortitude, interdependence, resourcefulness and honor, since without those character traits I can't imagine anyone surviving on it.

Scotty and George headed toward the cows.

When Scotty's parents homesteaded this ranch, they built an outhouse. (Can you imagine having to leave your cozy cabin in 50 below zero weather just to go to the bathroom?) About 90 years later that outhouse is still standing.

The outhouse doorknob... rustic, weathered, hitorical--imagine the hands that have touched that knob during all those years.
I've visited the ranch numerous times, but this was the first time I've seen the cattle cemetery--yes, the "resting" place for ranch animals, the place where bulls and cows (and whatever else dies) are dumped and desiccate. We saw a cow and a calf dead, skin and hair still there, but bodies definitely stiff and given the smell (if you stood downwind), surely dead for at least a week. The remains of one bull still had tough leather around its face, but the rest of the body was gone; only stark white bones (scattered by the wind, birds and itinerant animals) were left.
Ranch people are used to this life-death in-your-face co-existence. Death is part of life.
That attitude helps me to understand (maybe) why some people decorate their living room walls with bulls' skulls. Hmmm... not my cup of tea, despite possibly understanding, and admiring, that hearty attitude.

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