“I’m not a cowboy, but I play one at RMBL,” Dave said, and that was sort of the theme for the week, as a not-insignificant amount of time was spent chasing cattle from the mostly-ungrazed meadows and research plots of Gothic, lest 40-years of escaping the cowbombing most of the valley has endured disappear overnight. It became a recurring joke: we’d retire to our cabins, and just as we were beginning to relax there would be a loud mooing somewhere close enough that it had to be coming from inside a fence and our hearts would sink and we’d wait about five minutes and head back outside, usually at the same time.
The herd would be in the meadows by the townsite, or worse, encroaching on someone’s long-term field experiment, and we’d sneak up the perimeter of the field along the aspens and try and flank them, streaking down the hill with its frosted tussocks and uneven footing, hollering at full volume, driving them towards the gate or gates we had opened so they ran in terror out to the road and away from the station. (I suppose we were playing border collie more than cowboy.) It was somewhat exhilarating to have such massive animals fleeing from us en masse, I must admit, even if it soon became tedious in repetition.
Of course, a few would always get confused and run in the opposite direction and would require another 30 minutes to extricate from some tangled aspen grove. They are profoundly dumb animals, cows. Except when it came to figuring out how to get in to those tasty native-plan rich meadows — then, they would summon surprising collective intelligence and lean as a group against our meagre wooden fencing until it buckled and let them in.
Ranching on public lands evoked mixed opinions. I emphatically begrudge no one their livelihood, but think the debate is worth being aware of. On the one hand, a good portion of ranched lands across the west are missing their historical assemblage of ungulates, and having exotic ones fills that vacant niche, at least in the abstract. There are certainly examples of foreward-thinking ranchers rotating livestock (cattle, bison, or otherwise) across properties in a way that approximates natural grazing patterns. There’s a cultural argument to be made as well, and even if “ranches or condos!” is a false dichotomy (see the link below), it’s certainly a part of the heritage of the American west.
On the other hand, the fuckers can really destroy native vegetation, drive erosion, introduce native species, and motivate people to shoot wolves. Here’s a polemic, unhelpful, and probably mostly correct reading of their downsides. I’ll go far enough to say that except where it was a necessary compromise to earn the status, cattle in designated wilderness areas sort of defeats the purpose of the thing.
Beyond the cows, more stacking wood and stars and sunsets. For now, I’m taking a brief break in Denver, as the third major storm of the fall hits the high country (it even spat snow in the city for a bit). I’ve chickened out on my plan to grow hairy and bearded and crazy in the eyes and went to a barber shop, but I suppose there’s still time. And I’ll be racing at the Blue Sky Trail Marathon in Fort Collins on Sunday, to close out the season.