As the wind turns colder and days grow shorter, nature’s growing season comes to a close. Prairie grasses, once tall, vibrant and full of nutrients, retract their energy into their root systems to conserve for the winter to come. It approaches quickly. This week’s temperatures drifted below freezing, and the cholla and sage glistened with a layer of frost in the morning light. Like the grasses in our pastures, we will retreat into a warmer haven during the slow season. We’ll make the best of it by catching up on projects and remembering bygone summer months. In particular, memories from the branding season will sustain us through the winter and fix our eyes to the east in excitement for the spring to come.
Ask anyone with ranch experience about their favorite time of year, and the majority will answer: branding season. The sense of community, camaraderie, and coming together for a common goal embodies the branding season. At Ranchlands, we completed six brandings of our own and lent hands and horses at many more.
We logged hundreds of miles on horseback and highways. We slept in tents, hammocks, horse trailers, and bedrolls.
We rose long before the sun to gather the herds,
built fires of cedar, and pressed iron to rawhide.
We emerged from each day covered in sweat and dust.
We cooked on the coals used to brand our calves, and ate, half crazed with hunger under the shade of cottonwood trees while the horses did the same.
We smiled at each other with faces caked in prairie dust,
caught up with old friends, and shook hands with new ones.
We retreated to our sleeping arrangements exhausted and sore but with full stomachs and hearts. After all, out of the dust cloud and chaos came the clarity that we were part of something larger than ourselves.