Incident in San Francisco (Chapter 5, page 1 of 8)

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Chapter 5

Monty was within sight of the point where the boundary fence snaked down out of the brush and ended in a solidly-built corner, meeting the side fence which followed the edge of the road. He knew that he could check that fence quickly from his truck on the road, so he shifted his weight and the reins slightly and Buck instantly swung around and headed back toward the ranch headquarters in the valley. Although it had been a long day, Buck pretended to interpret a slight squeeze of Monty's legs to be the signal to break into a slow, easy canter. Monty grinned, knowing that a scoop of oats and several flakes of rich alfalfa hay back at the barn were the stimulus behind this change of gait. The big buckskin had a trot which was sometimes a little jarring, but his canter was so smooth that Monty settled into the saddle and prepared to enjoy a relaxing ride home.

Some of the ranchers had begun to use trail bikes and pickup trucks for much of their ranch work, except in the very steepest terrain. But Monty still preferred a good horse, and one advantage that he saw was the ability at a time like this to allow the horse to take care of the driving, giving himself complete freedom to look around. It was fortunate that he was not operating a vehicle, or he might have missed the problem at one of his haystacks.

Using the land only for grazing gave this area a carrying capacity of about one cow per 20 acres. Rainfall averaged a little over 12" annually, and it was vitally important to cattle ranchers. They all tracked rainfall amounts, using the wedge-shaped gauges which let them record hundredths of an inch from even brief showers. Monty had run into one old-timer after a little storm system had passed through, and asked "How much rain did you get over at your place?".

"Well," replied the neighbor, "We got three one-hundredths, but I don't think we'd even have gotten that much if there hadn't been a couple of drowned bugs in the bottom of the gauge." Monty never tired of the dry humor with which country people met adversity.

In order to run more cattle, and to provide a buffer for drought years, Monty always grew some barley hay. As had his ancestors before, he worked up part of the flat valley land which had been fenced off, planted barley in the fall, and hoped for enough rain at the right time through the winter to ensure a decent crop. In May, when the stalks were waist-high, the heads plump with seed, and the leaves just starting to turn color, Monty wheeled the big swather into the fields, and watched from the high cab as the waving field of greenish-yellow stalks in front became a 14-foot-wide carpet of manicured stubble behind, the hay now lying in a neat swath, curing on the sun.

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