Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sequences Suck

Patrick McManus* wrote a story about sequences that solved one of the great mysteries of my life: He explained why we never seem to get anything done around here. According to Mr. McManus, “…on a farm you simply don’t go out and do a piece of work. No, the first thing you do is determine the lengthy sequence of activities necessary even to begin the job.” Amen, and double for ranchers. At lunch on Thursday, my dad said, “Could you saddle a horse and get that lame bull in so we can doctor his footrot?” No problem. Except I haven’t been on a horse since the last equinox. I found my boots in the third place I looked. I started to pull on the right one and dumped the barley an industrious mouse had stockpiled inside onto the floor. Knowing my son would track it all through the house, I grabbed the vacuum to clean it up, but the bag was full. I trekked clear down to the trash barrel to dump it. Then, after a fruitless search of the cupboards, I trekked over to my mother’s house to borrow a new bag. Finally, floor vacuumed, boots on, I headed for the barn. Tack has a weird way of becoming dismembered when not used regularly. I blame the mice. There are enough of them in the oat bin to pack off an intact roping saddle, let alone a tie down. The first two bridles had no reins. The third was missing a chin strap. The headstall was broken on the fourth, and my life isn’t worth as much as the silver on the fifth. I set it gently aside. I sifted through tangles and piles until I located all the requisite parts and attached them to a bit with enough whoa to keep my spring-fresh steed from doing either of us bodily harm. My saddle still had both cinches--a small miracle--but no breast collar. With this particular horse, no breast collar equals back cinch sliding into flank, equals my head driven into mud. Luckily, I had a spare stashed in the horse trailer. I trotted outside, only to find the tack room door guarded by a six inch deep puddle. I hot-footed it to the camper, found my overshoes, and forded the small lake to retrieve the breast collar…which was several inches too long. The leather punch was on the top shelf, exactly where it was supposed to be. Right under the leak in the roof. I jogged over to the shop, searched work benches, tool chests and shelves, and eventually located a can of WD-40 in the John Deere tractor. Leather punch lubricated, hole punched, breast collar properly fitted, horse saddled and bridled, I left the barn a mere fifty-five minutes after embarking upon my simple chore. It took fifteen minutes to ride to the pasture, sort off the bull, and put him in the corral. I planned to wait until the bull was doctored, then chase him back to the pasture. He strolled into the chute like a perfect gentleman. Which was when we realized that the headgate and the squeeze mechanism were embedded in three inches of solid ice. “We’ll need the crowbar to chip it loose,” my dad said. “It’s over at the calving shed.” “Not anymore,” my husband said. “I used it to brace that corner post the yearlings broke off last week. We’ll have to swing by the shop and cut a piece of pipe to replace it until the ground thaws and we can set a new post.” “The blade is shot on the cut off saw,” my dad reminded him. “I picked up a new one in town, we’ll just have to switch….hey, where are you going?” “Home,” I said. “It looks like you’re gonna be a while.” And I kicked my horse into a lope before this new sequence could suck me in. *Note to readers: If you’ve never read Patrick McManus, you are missing some of the best stories ever written about country life, hunting, fishing, and being a kid. You'll find Patrick at You’ll find ‘Sequences’ in a book titled The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw. Buy it, read it, and expect the people around you to spend a lot of time asking, “What the heck is so funny?”


Kari Lynn Dell said...

Believe it or not, I edited this story pretty heavily. I left out the twenty minutes I spent getting my son settled before I left, including two trips to the bathroom, chocolate milk, graham crackers, and computer game repair.

I also left out the part of the ordeal that involved wool socks, saddle blankets, tie downs, and muddy horse bellies. And having to go back to the house twice to lure the dog out of the porch because she got tired of waiting for me.

Tiffany Schmidt said...

Smart lady, Kari, to duck out of what could've turned into and endless succession of tasks. (Although, I've no doubt that you returned home only to get sucked into another loop - life's like that!)

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm an old friend of your mother's. We were room mates at MSU back in 1958. That spring I went with her to the ranch to pick up her horse for a rodeo in Dillon. She took me out riding (maybe for the second time in my life)to show me her cattle. I was in awe. When we got back to the ranch your grandmother came out to tell us the bull was in with the heifers(?), would we get him out. Well, I have never seen such a huge animal, and from the top of a horse. I was quite frightened. That bull was unhappy and growling. I was hanging on for dear life and your mom just easily guided that bull to where he belonged. Visiting the ranch was a wonderful experience, as was hanging out with the cowboys in Bozeman. Your parents were married that summer and I've only seen your mom a few times since, but we keep in touch. Love your writing.
Judi Bunker