“You’re not worried about getting out of here, are you?” the rancher asks, as I nervously mention the surprise blizzard now obliterating every fence post in sight.
“Well, I’m not sure I can make it up that hill in my little car,” I reply honestly, feeling somewhat trapped at the bottom of this coulee which I’m sure in summer would rank as one of the world’s seven wonders.
“Oh, you’re OK. There’s another way out of here, where the hill isn’t as steep,” he says, pouring me another cup of coffee.
I settle in for the routine two-hour interview, and ignore the rising snow drifts.
It’s high noon when I leave.
I know I’m in trouble when my car bogs down on flat ground.
“Guess there’s a little more snow here than I thought,” the rancher muses, while squishing into the passenger seat of my compact car. “You’ve got winter tires on though, so I’m sure you’ll be fine once you get going.”
“Horse flies,” I think to myself. He knows this dwarfed car isn’t good for much. He’s just being polite.
How did I get into this mess? I ask myself.
This was supposed to be a simple job — a matter-of-fact interview with a quick snapshot. I no longer want the photograph. What good would it be? Just snowflakes blurring a lot of bovine snouts. I want to go home.
“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea. It’s not a great day for picture taking,” the rancher says in a classic understatement.
We round a corner, and for the first time I see his alternative route — a switchbacking ascent. A Mount Everest. I want risk pay, I mumble to myself. I’m a third of the way up. The car chugs to a dead stop. “That’s it,” I say. “She isn’t going any further.”
My interviewee now goes beyond the call of duty.
Using a hefty chain as an umbilical cord, he hooks my wimpy car to his macho tractor.
We reach the summit, and he waves goodbye after I promise to return for that much-needed photo.
That day dawns, but as I emerge from the coulee, I sense a deja vu. I’m sliding backwards on a rink of ice. I curse.
“Guess it’s icier than I thought,” the farmer says, his words sounding familiar as once again I fail to make the grade. Chained to his mule of a half-ton, I begin to hum Connie Kaldor’s ballad entitled Love is a Truck.
Leaving this place of misfortune, it’s hard not to think about the hazards of agricultural reporting.
OK, so it’s not trench warfare, but it’s certainly not your office-tower beat, where the only danger is a bottom-line sink hole.
Farm writers navigate mines of ripe cowflaps, buzzing wasp nests, temperamental mother cows, and grumpy bulls.
And one of the greatest dangers is the overly protective cow dog.
On a recent sojourn, one such canine took a disliking to my flapping note book.
But it wasn’t the teeth marks on my knee that bothered me the most.
Since ranchers believe their dogs to be a good judge of character, I figured the interview was over. I could read what the rancher was thinking from the look on his face.
“My dog doesn’t seem to think you’re going to get the facts right. Maybe you should just head back on down the road.”
Then there are those who believe their horses know it all — yeah right, like they really know the difference between lightning and a camera flash. As I duck to the side, I hear the barely audible words, “That’s funny, he’s never reared up like that before.”
Or how about the horsewoman who believed the best way for me to get a true feeling of her property was to saddle her “tad green” horse and ride across what she described as “extremely complex terrain.”
“But we’ll have to leave soon, since it’ll take about seven hours,” she says.
I make a quick escape in my well-broke commuter car.
If nothing else, ranchers can spot a greenhorn faster than they can a sick calf, just by how you talk. Don’t go mixing up hay with straw, heifers with steers or Holsteins with Herefords.
And definitely don’t mess around with a cattleman’s herd.
I was writing about a cattle drive when I decided to sneak to the front and get a good picture. Everything was going fine until the herd came to a stand-still. I figured they were just pausing for a quick graze.
“Get out of there, you xx?!@#*,” I heard the trail boss yell. But the herd didn’t budge. A rider then approached. “Better move along, you’re spooking the herd,” he said.
“I thought he was hollering at the cow,” I replied. “Nope,” he answered. “Cows are OK. You’re not.”
And here I thought there were no discouraging words on the range.