Open Range

Back when we were in high school, there were lots of places you could go that, as far as I know, nobody cared if you went there. I’m talking about the desert and hills around Buckeye, Arizona. It seemed to me the land belonged to no one, and we were free to roam as we pleased. We could pick up rocks, arrowheads, firewood, you name it; it was ours if we found it first.

One of the money-making schemes me and my buddy Greg decided to give a whirl, was selling firewood. You would think firewood would not be a very desirable commodity in the dessert, but it does get cold—relatively speaking—in the winter, and some folks had fireplaces.

We didn’t have a chainsaw—just a big axe—and we’d drive Greg’s dad’s jeep, pulling a small open trailer out to the desert. One time, we decided it would be fun to camp overnight in the desert, so we threw a couple of sleeping bags in the jeep, and off we went.

The wood we would “cut”—gather would be a better word—was dry mesquite. Most of it was so dry we could smack it on the ground and break it into fireplace-size chunks. If the “logs” were bigger than three inches in diameter, we would use the axe to break them. We hardly ever messed with anything larger than four inches.

We had a pretty good load of wood on the trailer by evening, so we found us a nice shady spot under some mesquite trees. When it rained—which was not often—the dry washes would run full for awhile, and thus the mesquite bushes beside them were able to grow into trees, although normally not too tall. We put our sleeping bags down, built a little campfire then had some dinner. Having worked pretty hard during the day, we were both asleep fairly early. I awoke the next morning to a warm breeze wafting across my face.

It was a rather odd breeze, I remember thinking as I lay there trying to move out of that state where you are between being asleep and being awake. It was an off again/on again breeze, and seemed much too moist for the desert. The other thing about it was it seemed entirely too regular in its rhythm. It was almost as though something large was breathing on me. That thought brought me to full-awake status in a split second, and my eyes shot open!

Have you ever seen a cow’s face two inches from your own? Have you ever awakened to that sight? It’s horrifying! Especially when you have no idea what it is you’re looking at. Fortunately, I had not zipped my sleeping bag.

I screamed (yes, probably like a little girl), and rolled out of the sleeping bag. I was on my feet and running one direction, and could hear the cow galloping off in the opposite direction. Greg was rolling on the desert floor, laughing his fool head off.

Turns out, Greg had been awake when the cow wandered into our camp. He said he just stayed still, and watched it walk fearfully over to where I was sleeping. He said the cow had only been breathing on me for about a minute before I woke up. Actually, it probably wasn’t breathing on me; more likely, it was smelling me, trying to figure out what this kid in the green sack was doing out there in the middle of his grazing spot. Back in those days, there was lots of open range; not only could we roam freely, but so could the cattle that belonged to nearby ranchers.

One thing for sure: I was wide awake after that little incident!

2 Comments »

  1. Sherry Mashburn said

    Poor cow

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