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Soul of the Desert

Down the Rabbit Hole

So, I’m visiting the parents on the ranch again. Dad and I went to look for cows on the far ranch. You know the place. Fifty miles past the middle of nowhere, no good roads. Dad decided I needed to learn to drive out there (again. You will recall the last time he decided this, he let me drive for about five minutes before declaring I was trying to kill him.) It rained recently, so many of the main dirt “roads” were full of ditches where the water had carved out a rocky path. Just remember, ladies, when you’re asking for equality, it isn’t always a boardroom job. No, we have to be equal when it comes to cows and roads too.

I was doing pretty well, bouncing us along about five miles an hour or so. I switched into high-gear 4 wheel drive when we reached the ranch part. I know the general route and know where the gates are. Hint: If you are on gate duty, the way to tell which way the gate opens is to note where the truck stops. If the truck stops with enough room to open towards the truck, it’s going to open that way. If the truck goes all the way up to the gate, it opens the other direction. There is no other obvious way to tell. If I am driving said truck, I just GUESS.) Dad didn’t complain much about the extra walks to the gates and on the bright side, I didn’t run over Dad or a gate!

When we came to the spot where the earth tank had run across the road, I asked about putting the truck into low-gear 4 wheel drive. “You don’t need it,” Dad said. “But I don’t know why you’re in drive instead of 1st gear. You drive like the neighbor. I think it’s easier in first gear.”

Well, if he’d MENTIONED that, I guess I’d have been in first gear. FINE.

We made it through the running mud puddle. I was pretty pleased.

On the other side, up an incline, we found a set of cows. “STOP!” Dad yelled.

“GAH!” No, we weren’t under attack, but apparently he had determined we were as close as we’d get before they ran off so he wanted to stop to note the ear tag numbers. It hardly seemed like an EMERGENCY stop order to me. We were only piddling along anyway. SHEESH.

We counted cows. Then the cows wandered into the road in front of us. Mind you, some of these cows stand taller than the front hood. Sometimes they stop. In the dirt road track. See, I don’t appreciate this because I like a tiny bit of momentum for the hills. “Just push them with the truck,” was Dad’s advice.

I honked the horn. The cow didn’t like that. She skittered forward three or four steps before glancing back and…stopping. I moved forward and honked. This time she decided to stand her ground and invite her calf to hang out as well. OH FOR THE LOVE OF. I tapped her with the truck grill. So far as I know, the only purpose of a truck grill is to tap cattle to get them moving. But I see a lot of these truck grills in Austin. I know all those trucks don’t have to worry about cows. Yet they all have grills. Why???

Anyway, Cow 19 decided she’d move. She took her calf along with her.

“Stay close, or she’ll stop again,” Dad advised.

BOTHER.

That worked until we came to the bull. The bull was facing us and is larger than the cow. Less pleasant looking too. Big black face. Giant face, in fact. “Get out of the way,” Dad called out the window.

The bull looked at him and gave this kind of nod and a snort and moved aside.

We all know that if I had politely asked that bull to move, he’d still be there blocking the road into next week. Dad is the cow whisperer in this family and I can pretty much guarantee that bull would have just stood there looking at me for a week, maybe two.

This sort of searching for cows and jotting down their tag numbers continued until we arrived at the water tank an hour or so later. There, we checked the water levels and took a short break before Dad said, “You better let me drive. It gets rough from here.”

WHAT??? And those roads were what? Freeways???

If it had been anyone other than Dad, I’d have rolled my eyes and made a smart remark. I also wouldn’t have believed whoever came up with such a ridiculous sounding lie. I kept my mouth shut and got in the passenger side.

The first part wasn’t too bad if you don’t count the spinning wheels, the rocks sliding out from under the wheels and the fact that the road by the river had grass so long, we couldn’t see the actual road. When we had to cross the running creek, boulders had rolled down and there were potholes the size of the tires.

“I’m not sure I’m on the road anymore,” Dad said. “This isn’t in very good shape.”

“I guess it’s the road now,” I said.

“Yeah,” he agreed happily. “If we aren’t stuck, it’s a road.”

That pretty much sums up Dad’s definition of “road.”

We went by the cabin, still looking for more cows. There were none to be found. Past the cabin, there is a fork in the road. You can take the low road or the high road.

“With the rain, I wonder if we can make it up the high road,” Dad said. “We should be okay, but I guess we’ll slide back down if not.”

Ah, words of reassurance. Dad is such a comfort.

We started up the first rock, some sort of gate into the road from hell. The truck was working pretty hard at this road, but we weren’t moving very often. It got steeper and rockier. “I guess I should have let you drive this part so you’d learn.”

“I know how to drive up this road,” I replied through clenched teeth. “You take the low road.”

He snorted at my lack of enthusiasm.

The first time the rocks went out from under the wheels, we didn’t actually slide back. We just pedaled in place and at least one of us prayed. The rocks rolled under the wheels as if we were on some kind of churning balls. They moved, we didn’t. The tires were grinding, but they held.

The second time it happened, the truck slid sideways and then refused to continue climbing. Dad said, “You let it roll back a tiny bit until the tires grip and then you go again.” He demonstrated by easing up on the gas, letting the truck roll backwards as he worked the brakes with the other foot. It would have been more impressive if I’d heard the rest of the instructions, but I was praying too hard to actually catch whatever it was he was yelling against the sound of sliding rocks, grinding tires and revving engine.

Dad kept up this type of survival driving the rest of the way up the cliff. He had the GALL to start WHISTLING. There I was in the middle of the fourth Hail Mary and he seemed to think this was some kind of fun! Whatever, Dad.

We weren’t having much luck finding the cows. We went over a hill, across a valley, back around and to a lower road. I think it’s the other end of the low road that we should have taken instead of the high cliff road, but I’m not positive. “I guess we should take that and see if we can find the rest of the cows,” he said. “We need to brand the last four tomorrow.”

So we started on the low road, only then there was another fork in the road. Yes, of COURSE he took the high road! HMPH.

It wasn’t actually bad though, not compared to the other one. Not until he asked, ‘Is that a road there?”

“No,” I responded without bothering to look. My road philosophy differs from his. Mine is: “If you can’t see it, it isn’t a road.”

“Oh, you’re right. Here it is.”

No, it wasn’t. We just veered off into a bunch of brush that didn’t have an actual tree in the way.

“I haven’t driven down here in a long time so the road is hard to find.”

He meandered along a completely unmarked tiny rabbit trail. I just kept my mouth shut and looked for cows.

“I don’t think they’ll be down here. I don’t see any fresh tracks or cow dung.”

Well, so what? I hadn’t seen a road and that hadn’t stopped him either!!!

We went round and about and then came to a spot that seemed impassable. “I’ll turn around here. Did you see any fresh tracks on that ant mound back there?”

“No, there were no fresh tracks.” This was a true statement. I’d seen the ant mound because it was the only sandy area visible. The rest was covered in grass, weeds, trees and cacti.

“We should probably drive closer and check.”

Well, since roads weren’t a requirement, why not????

He backed up, made a circle, did this and that and we were on our way. We got over to the ant mound by driving over two small oak trees, and taking a tree branch on both windows/mirrors at the same time. Note: While watching for cows, you must also watch for trees that jab inside the window.

There were no fresh tracks and no cows and no cow dung. He drove a bit past the mound so that we could get better visibility up the side of a nearby hill, but no luck. He turned around.

We drove out a few yards and found the ant mound. Dad stopped. “Where did the road go? Is that it?”

“No.” There was a huge rock just past where he was pointing. We hadn’t gone over anything that large because we wouldn’t have made it.

He drove some more.

“Is that it?” I pointed to a small tree. “We went over a small tree or two.”

“I don’t remember that tree.” He drove up to the tree. “Yeah, this could be it, but I don’t remember that tree. Maybe this is it.”

Another few yards and suddenly a huge tree loomed. Rocks jutted out like some kind of wild graveyard. “I don’t think this is it,” Dad said.

“Look there,” I yelled. “It’s a rabbit.”

Dad gave me a surprised glance. “That’s just a jackrabbit. So what?”

“So you took a rabbit track down here. Ask the rabbit. It knows this track.”

Dad snorted. The rabbit hopped away. Dad drove to the right until we hit more trees. “This isn’t it either. There are no truck tracks from us coming down this way. Now we’re lost.”

Technically, we weren’t lost. We knew right where we were. We even knew where we wanted to be: The top of the hill. What we didn’t know was HOW TO GET THERE.

He got the truck turned around and we headed in the general direction of the ant mound. The rabbit appeared again. “Follow that rabbit,” I said. “I’m telling you this is a rabbit track!”

Since the rabbit was in front of us, Dad followed the rabbit. When it veered left into the brush, Dad stopped and looked that way. “Yup, this is right. I see the tracks.” He meant the truck tracks, not the rabbit ones, but really, what’s the difference???

Saved by a rabbit. Unbelievable.

The adventure continued as we hunted cows. At one point, Dad had to back up a very long way because we went down a road that he decided wasn’t going to lead to cows and there was no place to turn around. This didn’t even faze him. CRAP. I can barely drive half those “roads” while looking straight ahead. He backed that truck up like he was still going forward. I’d have ended down the side of the hill even on the best of the “roads.”

Yeah. I learned something all right. FOLLOW THE RABBIT!!!

Posted: September 8, 2017
Filed in New Mexico, Walks in Life
Tags:, , ,