Amanda Hopper Writes

A writer's tale of living and working in the country.

Month: May 2011

Rent-A-Cowboy

A little over a year ago we got the news.
“You have a week to apply for your Ag exemption or you will loose it for five years.” the bored voice warned.
Andy stayed up all night researching how to build barbed wire fences and I bought the best selling book for raising beef cattle. Andy rounded up anyone willing to help and started the rigorous task of fencing over 10 1/2 acres. I spent all of my spare time scanning Craig’s List for a rancher who would deliver cattle to our place.
The man I found had pregnant cows…with actual babies inside…
I blogged extensively about our cow woes. Turns out, he dropped off Runaway cows. It’s a new breed. You don’t have to look it up, it’s true…really. I mean there is no way we would loose our cows three times the first year unless they were pros…bred to run.
Where was I? Oh yeah, momma cows, babies, mending fences, hay, then BAM! The sweet  baby bulls turned into big’ole bulls. One day while filling the stock tank I began wondering why the fence was always coming loose. A sudden commotion made me spin around as one bull started running full on at the other who met him head on with a resounding crack! Red coats twisted and turned with guttural grunting and flying slobber, slamming into the fence again and again. Eventually the girls ran over and started smacking the boys around until they walked away, no real winner visible.
I went up to the house, still dazed from the knowledge that things had to change…fast. We needed to sell those bulls. But we had no corral to catch them. And no trailer to move them. And even if we did have a corral to catch them, how would we do that…and how do you get a cow to go into a trailer exactly?
Andy had the brilliant idea to call the local livestock sale barn to gather intel on cow removal. The sweet lady on the other line completely understood our predicament.
“You need to get yourself a cowboy.” she offered.
Great, where do I purchase one of those?
She gave Andy the names of a few cattle ranchers who rented out their services to small time ranches, such as ourselves, for extra business. This option had never occurred to us, but it makes perfect sense! When you are sick you call a doctor, when you have a leak you call a plumber, when you have too many cows you call a cowboy!
Our cowboy of choice and his wife came by one afternoon to check over our set-up and meet our cows. They answered thousands of our stupid questions with great patience. They even brought a book filled with pictures of bulls for us to choose from for our females…imagine centerfolds for the bovine community.
Since we have full blood Limousin girls, we were looking for registered Angus bulls to produce Lim-flex offspring, which are all the rage. Our cowboy just so happened to have a gargantuan registered bull named Raven for our girls to “visit”.
A couple of weeks later, the cowboy left word that he was coming for the whole herd. The first truck pulled in with a trailer carrying portable corral panels. The second truck pulled in the drive, towing a livestock trailer with two horses inside. The entourage pulled through our pasture gate and panels were quickly erected in a square corral.
The cowboy walked over to Grant and said, “can you hold these?” as he handed him two ropes. Grant’s eyes became wide with surprise as he followed the ropes to their ends and realized they were attached to two big quarter horses. Grant’s surprise became panic when the horses decided they wanted a drink from our stock tank and they began to tie Grant into a  pretzel to reach the cool water. As I looked down at his white knuckles gripping the reins in such a way that refused to allow blood to flow, I assured him that if the horses wanted to go, he would not be able to stop them. The horses must have sensed an amateur because from that point on they held perfectly still.
The cowboy hauled a bag of cattle cubes into the corral and our cows made haste to meet him. They all gathered in the trap and he backed the trailer into the opening of the corral. Andy and I stood on the outside as the professionals, the cowboy and his wife, went about ushering the females into the trailer. This entire process took about 15 minutes.
Amazing.
Next up? The bulls were to be loaded into the trailer.
Only they weren’t really in the mood to go for a ride that day.
They kicked up the biggest fuss, hootin and hollerin, spittin and cussin. Those huge cows fit into spaces they should never have been able to fit into while running from the experts.
See? Runaway cows.
Eventually the electric cattle prod made it’s debut and the tired guys gave in, grudgingly, while clattering into the trailer. The cowboy wiped the sweat from his brow and came to collect the statuesque horses from Grant. The horses loaded easily, apparently enjoying the Sunday drive much more than my cattle.
Elapsed time for this whole ordeal? Thirty minutes.
If Andy and I had managed to build a corral, trap the cows, and find a trailer, we would either still be trying to load those cows or we would be nursing broken bones while the cows happily munched in our pasture.
The next afternoon I drive the mile up the road to the sale barn. I sheepishly enter the office where the sound of the auction caller is falling all around me. I glance up at the walls to see t.v. screens with cattle running through shoots and numbers flying across the screens. It reminded me of the race track booths where you place your bets for the horse of your choice. I walk up to the window that has the word Sellers painted in red above it and offer our last name when prompted. The smiling woman behind the window immediately hands me a check and as I turn to leave I glance down…
Holy cow!
No kidding, those words actually ran across my mind as I took in the amount of money those two gangly goobers has just made for the Funny Farm. Of course it’s still not a profit when you consider the amount required to start the whole enterprise, but it’s a good beginning…
I think I like this ranching thing…
I think we need more cows…

Load ’em up, move em’ out!

Death by Baseball

My town has been invaded by zombies.
Hollow creatures that wear the faces of familiar townsfolk. The women dawn dark circles under their eyes and frequently go into a frenzied panic screaming about how they have forgotten something. The men walk with a gait hinting at sore muscles and their voices are hoarse to the ears.
There can be only one cause of the epidemic.
Little league baseball season.
Monday marked the mid-point in the chaos, and the symptoms seemed to take a turn for the worse. I believe it must be the realization by the parents that they are only halfway done with the madness.
I have two boys in baseball. My third spends his evenings asking me which town we are in. Like a roadie in a world famous rock band, he buckles into the car seat when instructed, cheers at the right times, then gathers all the gear to head back again to the truck. He lives his life one day and one field at a time.
Weeknights around my town are spent hurriedly searching for the missing baseball socks and belts. The velcro-esque socks can usually be found riding on the sandpaper pants, the real trick is making sure the right kid is wearing the right uniform.
May is go-time for parents, coaches and teachers alike. Games, grades, field trips, awards ceremonies and, the ever-loved by children and most hated by parents, field day. We begin preparing for it in January, promising our significant others that this year will be different.
It never is.
Andy and I communicate via text in May as we are never together in the same room long enough to have a normal conversation. He checks in daily to see where and when he should arrive. Occasionally, he mistakenly asks what is going on the rest of the week. My replying 500 word text frightens him so much, he deletes it and says he had a momentary lapse in judgement.
To handle the onslaught of May, I have calendars. Not a calendar, calendars. Color-coded ones. Each color represents a family member and the punishment for erasing any of the information is death. My laundry room wall resembles a shrine to some unknown god of days. I have a monthly calendar, a weekly calendar, and a daily calendar. Not to mention the specialized ones for baseball, PTO, school, individual classes, lunches, and dinners.
If you are new to baseball, as I am, here are some rules I have picked up along the way:
1.) Always wash the uniforms immediately after the games. They are always the source of the weird smell coming from the laundry room.
2.) Bat bags must remain packed and ready at all times. At least once during your baseball adventure the text will arrive from the coach screaming that there is a make-up game in 30 minutes across the county.
3.) Travel chairs must never be removed from the back of the car. Otherwise you will find yourself sitting on the ground, covered in fire ants, dirt, and some strange sticky goo, or you will have to stand the whole time and will find yourself cursing the man who invented baseball.
4.) Keep a cooler bag packed with snacks and drinks next to the freezer, ready to receive an ice pack at a moments notice, or you will have to declare bankruptcy due to the fast food bills.
5.) Sunglasses are a must. You may be able to control your voice and body language when your child gives away 4 runs to the opposing team after the ball went flying past him because he was playing with a loose tie on his glove, but the eyes always give you away.
6.) And finally, if you spot a yellow post-it riding on the rear of an unknowing mom reminding her of tonight’s game, just remove it and pretend it never happened. She doesn’t need the stress.

Sam waiting for the machine to be set up. We call him “Sam the slammer” because when he does manage to get a piece of the ball, the outfielders better be paying attention.

 Grant warming up.

Old Aliens

Creak. Pop. Creak.
I love the sound of old floorboards. Like an old man trying to rise from a couch after a lazy Sunday afternoon nap, they moan and creak as their joints adjust to the change in pressure.
It’s the sound that greets you when you enter the majestic ex-campus of the Decatur Baptist College. The massive stone building now houses the Wise County Heritage Museum and thousands of items harkening back to the days of old. I am a history geek. I love old things. I love the feel, and especially the smell of things from a different era. I spent many weekends in the old houses of my grandparents and great-grandparents while growing up, and the strange dusty smell of an ancient heater kicking in still sends warm memories swimming to the surface.
Luckily I married someone who might be more of a history geek than me. So what does this married couple do on a day without children? Head to the nearest museum and poke around a bit! The muesum in Decatur holds thousands of treasures for the historyphile. Faded black and white photos, letters hand-written on yellowed paper, crinkled clothes that seem way too small to have ever covered a human body, and furniture made the way it was meant to be made…by hand.
As I walked around gawking at the odds and ends held within the enormous walls, I came upon something…well, just bizarre. My mind comprehended before my body could comply so I ended up whipping around with the most bewildered expression on my face.
On my way from the horse carriage to the early 1900’s exhibit, I had walked past a drawing of an… alien. There, on a piece of jagged rock, the little gray biped gazed up at me from behind big black orbital eyes. Mouth gaping, I read the inscription: Aurora Alien of 1897.
1897?
I am a sci-fi fanatic, but apparently not well versed in alien lore. I had no idea sightings like this were prevelent before the famous Roswell crash of 1947. Apparently, there have been recordings of UFO sightings since 1561!
I must have looked very confused because the museum worker came over and asked if I needed help. I couldn’t seem to get out anything other than a squeaky, “1897?”.
Legend states that an alien aircraft crashed on a farm in Aurora, Texas on April 19, 1897. The farmer was more concerned about the destruction of his windmill than the very dead, little gray man lying at his feet. The man did what any man of 1897 would do, he buried E.T. in the local cemetery with all the Christian rites afforded those with opposable thumbs. Not wanting to cause a scene, the farmer dumped the crumpled wreckage down his water well. 
Even more bizarre is the fact that many media outlets have come to dispel the story as a hoax but left with an unsettling feeling that something definetly crashed in the sleepy little town seven years before the first flight of the Wright Brothers.