As my memoir, Nothing Left to Prove grew beyond 108,000 words, there were parts that had to be cut. For a writer, this is akin to choosing which child to give away at birth. But a general rule to writing is that if it doesn’t move the story forward, slay it.
Cut from Nothing Left to Prove
The following was cut from Chapter 24, which is titled A New Beginning. In that section, I tell about how—after retiring, moving to Idaho, and eventually recovering from my two neck surgeries—I developed a love for horses, horsemanship, and cowboying. That revelation necessarily caused me to mention the hazards of my newfound hobbies, and to point out that my guardian angel hadn’t yet turned her back on me.
Some of those things remained in the book, but the following part did not.
I’ve had a few other close calls. I have a cow named Crazy Cindy who, when she has a baby at her side, routinely tries to kill any human who comes near her.
Each year during calving season, my wife and I give the calves a shot of Bo-Se within 24 hours of their being born. Bo-Se is selenium and Vitamin E, and it is used to prevent or treat white muscle disease. We usually do this at feeding time, and with all the cows other than Cindy, it usually goes well. But when it’s time to give Cindy’s calf a shot, we literally put our lives at risk. She snorts, she paws at the ground, and sometimes she charges, trying to kill us. Yet somehow we manage to get it done.
Then, a couple of months later, we rope, brand, vaccinate—and in the case of the bulls, castrate—the calves. On many occasions I’ve had Cindy sniffing my ear while I’m down on a knee finishing with her baby, likely deciding whether I live or die. These moments bring back to me the thrill of stopping a car full of wanted felons.
The horses have sent me to the ER twice, and on many other occasions, I’ve been left licking my wounds after hard days. Since all other aspects of cowboying and horsemanship apparently weren’t dangerous enough, I decided I also wanted to learn to break colts.
I successfully broke a tough three-year-old gelding I called Stoney. (Firestone deputies were often called Stoney Boys, and this horse was tough and independent, like most of them.)
When I got him as a three-year-old, he had never been touched by a human other than the one time he was roped and castrated—not a great introduction to our species. It took me a solid week of daily work just to get him halter broke. But within two weeks, I had swung my leg over that horse and put the first ride on him. The next day, I put his second ride on him, and so on. Over the following two months I put the first forty rides on Stoney, first in the round corral, then the arena, and finally out on the trails and down the roads and in the mountains. I cannot sufficiently describe to you the gratification and exhilaration of being the first to ride a horse, and to take him through that progression into being broke to ride.
On my 41st ride, Stoney bucked me off as I warmed him up in the round pen. A training flag on the ground suddenly startled him, and he pitched me off with no effort at all. I hit the ground but wasn’t hurt too badly other than my dignity, and I got right back on him.
A few days later, on my 42nd ride on Stoney, I was helping a cowboy friend move cattle on the high desert when Stoney came apart again. Something had bothered him, and I could feel the nervous energy building in him as he lifted his head high, pointed his ears forward, and began snorting and prancing. I got ahold of his head, meaning I pulled one rein around to keep him from running off bucking and kicking, but it only made him circle in a frenzy. I lost a stirrup and ended up coming off of him, getting hung up in the process and ending up beneath him. Before it was over, the big gelding had stepped on me several times. That little mishap landed me in the hospital.
Another Close Call
It’s not only bad guys and horses that have tried to kill me; ranch equipment has tried nearly as hard.
Recently I had a set of bale forks come off of my tractor’s front loader while it was lifted all the way to the top of a haystack, all because I had failed to properly secure it with a safety pin. I had rushed to get a job done, and knowing I’d be switching back to the bucket that normally goes on the front of the tractor, I had taken a shortcut.
The bale forks implement came off the frame of the loader as I had it raised to the very top, and it slid down the frame directly at me as I sat in the driver’s seat working the controls. For a long moment—it was actually a split-second, but as in other stressful situations, everything slowed to where I could process what was happening and even see my destiny—I was sure I was going to die.
I had no time to jump off the tractor and escape the implement’s path, so it was destined to land on me, crushing me or even impaling me. The long, heavy steel forks, sharpened on the ends, now faced me as the implement had flipped over upside-down before coming off the tractor. The forks came to a stop just a few feet from my face as the frame of the implement crashed against the frame of the tractor and miraculously came to rest.
I hadn’t been that frightened since the man pulled his trigger on me that night in the alley. Once again, I had escaped death but not by any direct action of my own. In fact, I had survived in spite of myself.
A Wild Adventure
Finally, if it’s not the bad guys, the horses, the cows, or the ranch equipment trying to kill me, it can be the local wildlife. One year while hunting elk in the rugged mountains near Riggins, Idaho, I was nearly eaten by a mountain lion. The cat had come up behind me as I was “cow calling” for elk. I must’ve been doing a great job because I had fooled the hungry cougar into thinking she’d be having elk backstraps for dinner, and she came looking to me for her meal.
Those instincts that had kept me alive on the streets, or that guardian angel—whichever the case may be—told me to stop what I was doing and look behind me.
There she was, ready to pounce, just twenty feet away. From that distance, a cat can be upon its prey in an instant, ripping it apart with its razor-sharp teeth and knifelike claws.
I stayed calm as we stood staring at one another, each with our own agenda: she wanted something to eat; I wanted to be somewhere else and anything other than her next meal. I slowly raised my rifle, and I shot her before she charged. It was honestly the most surreal incident I have ever experienced.
My Guardian Angel Drinks
I’ve wondered whether the potentially deadly encounters will ever end.
One thing for certain, my guardian angel—who likely takes more than just the occasional nip of sherry at Christmastime—had better keep her coffee breaks to a minimum, because there’s still plenty of work to be done.
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