A Cowboys Brew
I stepped out of my truck into the icy mountain air. My silver spurs clinked as my brown Ariat boots hit the frozen dirt. I stood there for a moment and ran my hand around my belt line and pockets, feeling for the gear I would need for the long day ahead. I assured myself that it was all in its proper place on my belt.
I carried my Ruger Vaquero .45 Colt revolver. It sat mounted in a light leather holster on the left side of my belt buckle for smooth cross-draw access. I ran my fingers along its dark red wood handle and felt the cold steel hammer. It was crucial that the gun stayed in place as it was my emergency weapon in case of an attack from a moose or one of mountain lions that stalked the mountains and would surely be watching us as we rode. On the right side of my belt sat my thick bladed woodsman knife in its black leather sheath. Every mountain man knows to never go anywhere without your knife.
I then reached back into the truck and pulled out my green Stanley thermos that was filled with hot and deathly bitter Canarias mate that I had brewed early that morning before heading out to the ranch. I took the blue tin camping cup from the cup holder and made sure the silver carabiner was secured to my front right belt loop to clip the cup to. That way I could keep the cup on me as I rode my horse through the steep mountain terrain. I opened the thermos and poured a steaming stream of dark-brewed mate into the the tin cup. I only filled the bottom of the cup because it was too bitter and hot to drink more than a few sips. I also did not want to fill the cup too much because the cold morning would quickly cool off the mate and make it even stronger. I brought the tin cup to rest just under my nose. The steam rose in front of my eyes as I looked out toward the horse trailers where the horses were saddled and waiting to be loaded and hauled to the top of the mountains. I sipped the mate. The nearly black liquid filled my senses with a hot, bitter bite. I finished the few sips at the bottom of the cup and let it settle and fill my chest with a deep warmth. I clipped the cup to the carabiner on my belt and stuffed the thermos into my deep brown leather saddle bags. I threw the bags over my shoulder and made my way to the horses where the other cowboys were already loading them into the trailers. Once the horses were in the trailers, I joined the other cowboys in the trucks for the slow, bumpy drive up the mountains.
The trucks slowed to a stop. I poured another few sips of the dark-brewed mate into the tin cup and took a sip. The cold air stung my face as I opened the door of the truck and stepped out into the frozen mountain air. The shallow snow crunched softly under my heavy boots. I held the cup close to my face as I slung the saddle bag over my shoulder and paced to the rear of the trailers where the horses waited impatiently. I took another sip from the cup and felt the warm comfort of the brew fill my chest and stomach. I finished the last sip and clipped the cup to my belt once more.
The cowboys and myself began unloading the horses and lashing them to the bars on the trailers. I took the lead rope of the horse I would be working with for the day and walked it out of the hay and dung filled trailer. The horse’s stomps echoed loudly in the trailer and mixed with the clinks of my icy spurs on the steel floor as we made our way out into the snow. I tied the horse to the trailer and slung my saddle bag on the rear of the saddle and lashed it down. I gave it a tug and made sure it was secure and would not fall or shift during the long days ride.
An Age Old Practice
Once we were all prepared to ride our designated draws and valleys, we mounted our horses. I gripped the leather saddle horn with my left hand, my left foot deep in the stirrup, and threw my right leg high over the saddle. The horse threw its head back and stomped hard at the ground as I settled myself and tightened the reins. I knew the importance of taking control of the horse early on so it knew who was in charge. This would make all the difference for the work ahead of us in the high mountains. It was essential for the horse to work with me as my teammate to pick our way through the steep and wooded mountains in search of the free range cattle. The cows had been living in the mountains and dreams for the past five months and needed to be pushed down the valley for winter. If they stayed in the mountains, they would surely freeze to death or die of starvation in the winter snow that would soon dominate the vast peaks and valleys. This work is an age old practice that is essential for the livelihood and survival of both cowboy and cow.
The plan was set for each rider, assuring that we would cover every ridge and draw in the planned path for the day. There were ten of us that would spread over nearly three miles of thick and steep mountains, and it was critical that we knew our area to ride so we did not miss any cattle pairs in the wild steeps.
I turned my horse to the north and gave him a light kick with my spurs. He lunged forward, eager to get moving and warm in the cold morning snow. I leaned forward over his neck as he stomped up the small hill toward the north ridge line. He snorted hard and slightly bucked in an attempt to get warm. I talked calmly and assuringly to him to let him know he could trust me. We made it to the top of the hill and I looked out over the long ridgeline ahead of us. It ran northward with nearly ten short draws that ran like stringed rivers from the ridge and opened up into a stretching valley below. I trotted my horse through the light snow allowing him to get comfortable.
I pulled back on the reins lightly and my horse stomped to a stop, letting out a deep snort. The steam from his breath rose up over his long face as I spoke softly to him. He looked back at me over his shoulder with faithful, dark eyes. I patted his warm neck and gently encouraged him. I looked out over the vast land before me. Each time I ride these mountains I am stunned and humbled by the wild beauty. The mountains were blanketed in a thick layer of pure snow and mixed in with fall leaves from the aspen groves that spotted the mountainsides. I took a deep breath of the frosty, pure mountain air.
The Bitter Sting of Yerba Mate in the Mountains
I unclipped the tin cup and reached back into the saddlebag, pulling out the thermos. I poured the hot mate into the cup and took a moment to breath in the dark scent of the concentrated brew. I looked back up at the valleys, draws and mountainsides that would be my home for the next few hours. I could see dark spots in the thickets across the valley and the draw below me. They were cows that had already begun to move as they became aware of myself and the other riders in their area. I took a sip. The mate warmed my chest and stomach. I let out a heavy breath at the bitter bite of the brew. I took another deep breath of the dark scent and drank again. I loved the bitter sting of the hot mate high in these mountains. I was engulfed by a moment of perfection; with mate in my hand, overlooking such savage beauty that the mountains concealed. My horse breathing lightly under me, raising the saddle slightly with each breath of his muscular flanks. I finished the last sip in my cup and clipped it back to my belt. I patted the horses neck one last time and secured the thermos in the saddlebag. We pointed down toward the draw just below us where I could see three pairs of cows and calves staring up at us.
“Let’s go,” I said to my horse as I lightly tapped his flanks with my spurs. He jumped forward eagerly. I let out a loud whistle and whoop that echoed throughout the valley. I could hear the distant whistles of the other riders engulfed in the miles of hills in front of me. The cows below jumped at the sound of the whoop and turned down hill, hurrying through the brush toward the valley. I pulled my black stetson hat low over my eyes and trotted down toward them. I smiled at the perfection of the atmosphere and scene that I was naturally a part of. The next five hours would be filled with steep climbs, hard runs, sharp cutting on dashing cattle. I would have bruised knees and thighs from squeezing between thick aspen groves and scrapes on my face from the reaching branches in the thick brush. The sweet smell of horse sweat and dirt on my jeans were a welcomed scent. All of this is garnished by the occasional pause and sip of hot mate. While some cowboys have black coffee, I trusted in my dark, bitter brew to keep my feeling alive through the rugged mountains. The day would be perfect.