One Second to Live

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A cowboy friend invited me to come with him to the mountain and help spread salt and cut trail for his cows. He wants to move them, and the trail needs the brush and logs cut so the cows could move through.

He gave me the coordinates to a campsite which was near a stream. A profusion of wildflowers covered the area, each one boasting its distinctive color: Purple, yellow, pink, and white.

The first day we poured a bag of salt and another bag of minerals into rubber containers for the cows. The next day he brought horses. The terrain consisted of slopes of loose rocks, trees and brush, some open areas of grass, streams, and boggy areas. Our task was to cut the logs that had fallen over the trail. My friend had a colt. I rode Tigger and led a pack horse with a chain saw, oil, and fuel in his saddle bags.

I trotted Tigger down a road. Tigger is fast. On the upbeat of my post, he made two strides. This worked well. I heard my friend’s whistle.  I thought he was close behind me. However, I got too far down the road and had to turn back. My friend waited for me, but I didn't want to delay the project, so I dallied the lead rope to the pack horse and loped Tigger part of the way back. I didn't want to lose the chainsaw, so I checked Tigger back to a trot.

A few hours later, my friend took the pack horse.

We were in trees and brush with a sharp drop-off in front of us. “Which way?” I asked.

“Forward.” He replied. “Don’t you remember? We crossed the stream here on our way in.”

He led the pack horse over the edge and down a steep grade of loose rock. I guided Tigger over the edge and along a parallel route down the slope. I gave him his head. I was on a brave horse. At the bottom of the slope was a shallow stream; fast moving water flowed over rocks.

When Tigger reached the stream, he stopped. In an abrupt movement, he pivoted to the left. This front feet where on the upslope. He stepped his right rear foot backward. I felt his front lighten. “His center of gravity is too low,” I concluded. In my mind I pictured him flipping over backwards.

I pushed my feet into the stirrups and leaned forward. I pulled his head to the right. He turned downhill and again faced the flowing water. I pressed my heels into his side. He walked into the water and crossed the stream.

One second of hesitation would have resulted with me in the stream, on rocks, with a one-thousand, one-hundred-pound horse on top of me.

My friend said, “Good cowboy work.” Later, he told me he also pictured Tigger flipping over onto his back.

While I give myself some credit for getting out of a dangerous situation, I also knew that, somehow, it was my fault that we were in that situation.

A few days later I told this story to an eleven-year-old cowboy. He smiled and said, “Yeah, ya’ gotta’ keep pedalin’ all the way.”



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