and Fog stories
In 1995, when I was 50, I found that I had colon cancer. For various reasons, the doctors decided to wait a week to operate. It was September and we were shipping McCormick the next Saturday. They needed my help; so, I welcomed the distraction and went with the cowboys. We rode out along the ridge on the north side of the pasture, Jason dropping us off. From this ridge you can normally look north toward the Whitefish Creek valley and south into McCormick Creek's valley. A fog had settled in and we knew we had a good wait before Jason hollered off. You can not gather in the fog.
I was one of the first folks dropped off and I rode to a high spot. It was clear where I stood. To the east, I could see the two first dropped cowboys silhouetted against the sunrise. To the west, Jason and the rest of the crew trotted. As I sat there, I could see cowboys waiting. It was cool, humid and beautiful. The green was deep in hue along the top of the ridge and points; beyond the points, the valleys were filled with fog. In the distance, you could see a few trees peaking up through the fog. On the horizon, the other side of the valleys caught the sun floating above the fog.
The beauty had a spiritual feel. During the hour and a half that we waited on top of the clouds, waiting for the fog to lift, I realized that there was no place I would have rather been. I felt near the land and near God. I had been asking myself what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. How did I want to spend whatever time I was given. That morning, looking out from my point, I realized that I wanted to do what I had been doing. I had been given a miraculous life...blessed. I had no interest in changing.
This sense that I was leading my life deliberately (as Thoreau would say) was a wonderful gift that the disease gave me. I may have been in a fog, but I could see very clearly.
My first experience with fog was at the ranch in New Mexico, where it was seldom foggy. I was about ten and was jingling the horses in the horse pasture. A fog sat in and I got completely lost. I followed the horses around until the fog lifted and found that I had been pushing them away from the house.
My next experience was north of Amarillo when we were gathering a three section pasture I ran with Buddy Seewald. It was L shaped and Buddy, two of his hands and I went to the north side. Four day workers from town went to the west side. The pens were in the southwest corner. A fog sat in and we waited for over an hour before it lifted. We started south.
I was on the east side and when I got to where the fence went back east, I could see cattle to the east. We had found no cattle on the north section. I assumed that the cowboys on the east had waited longer than we had; so, I stopped. The cowboys to the west of me stopped as well. I waited and no cowboys showed up. I trotted back to the east and saw more cattle. The cowboy next to me to the west, trotted a few hundred yards behind me, backing me up. I pushed the cattle back to him and rode on east, finding more cattle. The two of us found two hundred cattle in the east section and we took our time and pushed them toward the pen.
When the four of us arrived at the pens with our cattle, the other four cowboys were already there with about forty cattle. As we penned the cattle, they were laughing and asking us, "What kept you." They would never get it.
Sam Hermesmeyer, Billy Lewis, Jason Sargent, Jay O'Brien, Elwyn McCleskey and Willie McCleskey wait out the fog. This photograph was taken one year to the day before Billy's untimely death.
There are numerous other fog stories. Once, at the JA, the fog set in while we were gathering the 880 acre Walsh pasture. Some cowboys stopped, understanding that one could lose direction in the fog, others kept gathering. The cowboys who gathered hit the south fence and thought they were on the east fence. One of these cowboys was a man who knew the ranch better than anyone else and he argued when he was told that it was the east fence. More than half of the cattle had been missed and the pasture had to be regathered.
At the Swamp, the cowboys left from Whitefish Camp one morning in the fog. Riding through the shipping pasture, they realized they were lost when they crossed Whitefish Creek the second time.
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