Remember when? Big black ski gloves!

Cowcamp #4

 

I was 21 years old when I wrote the story below.  Beau and I were newlyweds living at another camp here on the PV.  I was finishing college and interning at Agri-News and contributed a column to the paper called “Tales From Cow Camp.”  Our friend, cowboy artist Aubry Smith, drew the artwork for the logo shown and (as far as I was concerned) my career was off and running.

This story here, about roping in the cold, is one of my best-remembered from those days, and I thought it would be fun to share it again.  I had fun reading through this tale as I edited it today, but will admit I was surprised by the poorer quality of my writing… turns out I wasn’t such hot stuff back then as I thought I was!  Hopefully 12 years from now I’ll look back at what I’m writing these days and notice as big an improvement between ages 33 and 45.

This story sure brings back warm (no pun intended) memories for me.  Hope you enjoy it too.

 

 

February 2004

I have a fantasy that one day as I am riding gracefully along – my horse doing something spectacular and my dog behaving faultlessly – a van marked “Western Horseman” will appear and skid to a stop. A photographer will jump out and capture me on film. Later, my photo will appear in Western Horseman’s yearly calendar heralding real-life cowboys and cowgirls.

In reality, if Western Horseman ever did come across my photograph (likely because I finally broke down and mailed it in), I would be a shame to cowboy tradition.

You see, when I ride, I don’t exactly wear traditional costume. First of all, my spurs are a mismatched pair. Furthermore, I’ve never grown accustomed to wearing a hat; I prefer a baseball cap.  And in winter I like to wear a very cozy hot pink stocking cap I’ve had since fifth grade. It looks great coupled with my yellow hooded sweatshirt, a remnant from one unsuccessful try at junior high track. No matter the season, I wear my hood tied securely over whatever other headgear I have on.

Let’s just say I don’t look as handy as I really am.

This summer I added another element to my riding gear, because my dear Beau is teaching me how to rope.

Yes, I am ranch-raised, but not an experienced roper. I’ve played with a rope countless hours while trailing cows. But I’ve never had the passion, patience, or interest to seriously practice roping.

Beau is a different story, though. He remembers his college team-roping days fondly. And he works on his technique every night by the roping dummy near our yard light, regardless of below-zero weather. And, good wife that I am, I have watched many hours of roping videos with him.

It’s to the point that I either have to get on and ride or be left in the dust. So, I am learning to rope… as quickly as one can when she refuses to practice.

I recently had the chance to put my roping skills to the test. Beau came inside and peered at me as I sat at the computer.  “I’ve got a heifer with foot rot,” he said. “You want to help me doctor her?”

Although the temperature wavered around 10 degrees, it was a beautiful day. What would it hurt to take a break?

As I dressed for our ride and realized that I hadn’t roped an animate object in months, I sacrificed my bib overalls in favor of agility. But there was no way I was going to give up my Big Black Ski Gloves. I have enough trouble keeping my fingers warm!

When Beau – who never seems to get cold, despite being a bred-and-born Southerner – saw me slide into my treasured ski gloves, he suggested I wear lighter gloves for roping. (He worries about foreign articles of clothing ending up in my dallies.)  Not a problem, I assured him; I would wear liners underneath and take the big gloves off before I roped.

After a few practice shots at the barn, I mounted Rummy, a horse experienced in the roping department. We briskly trotted to the pasture and had no trouble finding the lame heifer. Beau handily got a head loop on her. I waited until she was good and choked down before I shucked my Big Black Ski Gloves and stuffed them in my left coat pocket. Then I moved in to rope the back feet.

Of all the loops I threw, there was just one good one. And Beau made me try again because he thought I’d only get one foot! My left fingers were starting to get cold, so when he wasn’t watching I retrieved my left glove and pulled it back on.

On the next try I snagged a foot and got my dallies. Beau tailed the heifer down and gave me both back feet. Rummy held her like a champ as I laboriously put on my right glove while holding the reins and the dallies and the coils.

Beau must have given the heifer at least 2,000 cc’s of medicine. He was using a 12-cc syringe, so you can bet it was a very slow go. Meanwhile, the cold was seeping into my numb and swollen fingers.  Of course it didn’t help that in all the excitement I was gripping my dallied rope as though I, not Rummy, was holding the heifer down.

By the time Beau got her doctored and took off his rope, I was unable to think warm thoughts any longer.  It’s difficult to describe the pain of extreme cold. Words that come to mind are sharp, shooting, loss of all feeling, bulging, puffy, and (surprisingly) red-hot.

When the heifer stood up, I fisted my rope into something that resembled coils and propped it over my saddle horn. I tied my reins together, pulled my fingers into the palms of my gloves, and headed Rummy for the house at a trot.  (It’s the ultimate snub in cowboying:  to ride away before the other rider is ready.)

Beau caught up to me. “What’s wrong? Did you get hurt?”

“No… my fingers are just really, really cold,” I responded with measure. As we trotted along and feeling started to return to my extremities — which is arguably the most painful part of getting really cold — I had to stifle a sob or two, which made Beau uncomfortable.

“Don’t scream!” he pleaded. “It’s going to be okay.”

“I’m fine!” I screamed. “Just … don’t talk to me.”

He couldn’t stand it, though. “Do you want me to build you a fire?”

I like to think of myself as tough, but in some situations my imagination gets the best of me. “IT FEELS LIKE SOMEBODY IS TRYING TO CUT OFF MY FINGERS WITH A DULL KNIFE!”  That shut him up.

I don’t know if it was the screaming or the trotting, but I started feeling better (and warmer) as we continued toward home. Pretty soon we were replaying our roping performance in detail as we rode side by side. After I could feel all my limbs again, I was better able to convey how excited I was that I was actually able to help Beau by roping.

We got to the top of a hill, and far below sat our peaceful little house in the fading light. Snow blanketed the whole of Muggins Creek, and our horses whickered to those standing by the barn.  My fingers would be sore for a few days to come, but all in all, it was another good day at cow camp.

P.S.:  Had a good day, Western Horseman, if you’re out there. Too bad you missed another great photo op.

© Tami Blake

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