Bull Shift

John Rice

A favorite thing for me regarding the time I spend in Tuscarora is what seems to be an endless opportunity for something new to do to keep me from doing what I ought to do.  Earlier this summer, a neighbor’s cattle were a fixture in our community. For a few of those days, a large Angus bull took a shine to the shade and the cool grass in our yard. We forged a special relationship.

Now first, yes, I know, as anyone who lives in rural Nevada must know (and accept) that Nevada is a “fence out” state. If you don’t want cows in your yard, then build a good fence. Building fences isn’t a strong suit for me, and the Angus bull made himself at home.

I called my ranching friend and let them know of my problem, and they reminded me that it truly was my problem, not theirs, and I fully understood that. But, still, I’m no wrangler, and thought they might like to assist. And they said they would.

Not much later, we were visited by cowboys who did their best to send the beasts to the north and west. They did their job, and well. And, and boy, did they look the part. A pair, an older and a younger, perched on handsome horses.

The younger as I remember wore a darker hat, and I could see more of him. He wasn’t as lean, but he smiled and he laughed when I made a joke about our toy poodle as a cow dog.  He wore a heavy, long sleeved cotton shirt, buttoned at the wrists, and jeans, of course, and boots manured. The elder laughed at the poodle too, but he was greyer in every respect than the younger, his shirt was supposed to be white, and had, I thought, puffier sleeves.

He was slim, and even atop his saddle it was evident he had never had anything resembling a belly.  His mustache was as big and spread as sage brush, and it was hard to see him behind it. He might have been wearing glasses.

He was as on a tintype: an odd gaze established during a long exposure… looking into another world… or from another… but he was with us. I tried so hard to see him. I couldn’t; nearly a phantom of a cowboy.  Possibly the most attractive person I’d ever seen, or not, on his high horse. He carried a side arm. I was impressed.

I could never carry that off.

Next morning though I heard again the now familiar bray of the bulls. They sound like mules. I can’t imagine the cows find it attractive. This time, there were two. And though the first, as my neighbor had earlier and quite correctly observed, was the size of her Subaru, the second was the size of my Toyota Tacoma. And they were headed straight towards our southern neighbor’s yard from which they might access my own.

I had very crudely woven chicken wire, a few old lawn chairs and some sticks into my limp fence. The gate, busted by the bull at an earlier time, now had an old bicycle wired to the posts. Bulls are clever, and if this one could speak, I know he would have said, “What the hell is this?” But, there it was.

Now I had a project!

But first, my regalia: In nearly twenty years as a rural Nevadan I have always failed to pull off the cowboy look. I am definitely, as they say, “all hat and no cattle.” So, I don’t even try any more. But I understand the practicality of chaps and chinks and tall boots.

For that reason I own and keep a pair of black, rubber irrigation boots. These fit oddly. It matters not which foot I put them on, they always feel and look as though they are on the wrong foot. I swear each time I look down at them that the toes are swinging towards the outside. I’m fascinated by them every time I put them on. I usually switch them thinking they’ll fit, but they don’t. And they still look backwards, one pointing that-a-way, the other the other.

It was about 5:25 in the morning and I was in the boxer shorts I’d slept in and I’d found a tee shirt and my glasses and put them on in time enough to see the two sons of bitches trotting past my sorry gate. So, I pulled on the irrigation boots, grabbed a cup of coffee and a wonderfully worn pair of work gloves (which give me at least a pinch of range-cred) and went out the back door to meet them.

I grabbed a switch of sorts, a branch I’d trimmed from a poplar tree the night before, and went to the wilting wire that represents a fence between my yard and the neighbor’s to the south.

I have seen The Horse Whisperer. I have spent time with Temple Grandin.  I have chaired a college faculty senate. I am properly credentialed for driving two bulls from my yard.

So, I crossed the fence, got their attention with a firm “Go on, git,” and swished the switch. It was the last that brought their heads up. Another swish and they turned towards the opening they had used to enter. Another, and they began to exit.

I was on to something. So I followed, and swished the switch and firmly “go on gitted” them and we walked north for one block and then two.

The coffee was great.

Then, by the end of the second block, the larger of the two turned around abruptly and looked at me with a look that said, “OK champ, you’ve had your fun, now leave us the fuck alone.”

So, I did. And I went home.

Today, when you look at our yard you will still see the flaccid wire. But, you will also see our lawn chairs lined up as a second line of defense, and another few bicycles woven in here and there; stark reminders to my bovine friends that I am to be reckoned with.