Thursday, May 20, 2010

Open Range!

It’s been a long time—last August, actually—since I last recounted some tales of country life here in the Idaho hinterlands; I was aimlessly looking thru old scans & saw the pic used in this post & I said to myself, “Self, it’s time you wrote about your open range experiences.”

These days, "free range" is a term in common parlance. Many folks are buying free range meats—& a good thing, I say. But “open range” has a somewhat different, tho related meaning. When I first started visiting Idaho back in 1997, I was struck by all the signs saying “Watch for Stock”—what was this “stock” we were supposed to be watching for? Eberle informed me that “stock” equals “livestock,” & that many parts of Idaho are legally “open range areas.” Wikipedia offers a pithy quote about this:
In open range, it becomes the responsibility of the land owner to keep unwanted livestock off their land and the livestock owner is not liable for any damage caused by the livestock.

That in a nutshell is the Idaho law, tho questions of liability aren’t as clearcut as this might suggest. For instance, if you plow into an angus “beef” (in local parlance) on U.S. Highway 95, you likely won’t be found liable for the cost of the animal—or more accurately, your heirs wouldn’t be liable for the beef, because odds are both you & the beef will have gone where the good folks & good beeves go. To quote poet John Berryman, “this did actual happen” (almost) to Eberle & me; we came around a curve on Highway 95 to see two angus beef cattle standing placidly in the midst of our lane. Obviously, I wasn’t going too fast, or I wouldn’t be here to tell you about it. We swerved & the cattle stood by unfazed. But my favorite free range story goes as follows.

Eberle & I have never finished fencing the entire perimeter of our property—there are a couple of lawns on the dirt road next to our house that are wide open, & as such, they would constitute “open range” both legally & literally (when the cattle drives wend past our place). It was a few years back now, when we had four llamas & an alpaca. It was the fall of the year &, under a very large silver tarp that neither of us could ever quite master, we had our winter’s supply of grass hay stashed away for our Andean beasties.

Someone—probably Eberle—noticed that the tarp was winding up more askew than usual in the mornings & it quickly became clear that there was some form of persuasion involved. In fact, some beef cattle from down the road had found a bad spot in their pasture fence & had sauntered down Indian Valley Road in the middle of the autumn night to have a midnight snack at our place. The next night Eberle & I decided we would do something about this—not sure what, but something!

I don’t recall who woke up at 3:00 in the morning in our old bedroom convinced that our bovine friends had again come calling for a late night snack—or very early breakfast—but I sprang into action. I became the Subaru cowboy.

Yes, I pulled our Legacy down the driveway & somehow managed to use it to “drive” the cattle home—not that they were sitting in the backseat, mind you, but that the took off at a nice bovine lope down the paved road when they saw the infernal machine & its headlights creeping down the driveway. Once they were back in their pasture (admittedly, with a total dysfunctional fence) I turned to the other great cowboy occupation: fence-building. Now, you might ask—how would I build a fence at 3:00 a.m. on a chilly October night. I had my plan!

At the time we had two pick-up trucks—a 1990s Dodge Ram & a 1980s Chevy. I parked the Subaru in its usual spot & back the Dodge Ram down onto the lawn to the east of the hay; then I backed the Chevy down to the west, & finally “parallel parked” the Subaru in the gap—et voilà—I had erected a massive metal fence that probably was of only limited utility, but made me feel a whole sight better about the situation.

The upshot? The rancher fixed his fence & I disassembled mine the next day. More joys of country living (on the open range).

Pic shows cattle grazing on a range allotment in the Payette National Forest, summer 1997


  1. "Subaru Cowboy" has the makings of a good,new, Country&Western Toon!

  2. move 'em on, head 'em up,
    head 'em up, move 'em out,
    move 'em on, head 'em out rawhide!

    good thing you don't have a subaru outback otherwise you might be out there rounding up cattle all the time!


  3. I'm with Tony; "Subaru Cowboy" has a certain ring to it. Git along little dogies!

    BTW, here in the East we may not have an open range problem on the roads, but we do have deer, and farther north there's moose. Moose are probably more like Angus beef in destructive potential in case of collision, but a deer coming through your windshield in the dark of night can be pretty traumatic, and frequently as fatal.

  4. Do you know how much I love cows? I think I would have been chuffed to find a few sauntering around my property.

    Great story and thanks for explaining open range and free range. :-)

  5. Subaru Cowboy is the best. It would make a super blog name. Maybe a new song? Fun post. A man's gotta do, what a man's gotta do!

  6. We have similar laws here in some of the forests where deer, for example, have right of way and it's the motorist's responsibility to miss them.

  7. That's very amusing! Speaking of amusing, I wonder if you saw this cartoon from the May 3 New Yorker. As an accordion player, I took umbrage. As a banjo player, you should take some umbrage too:

  8. Hi Tony, Mouse, Roy, Raquelle, Willow, Dave & Christine!

    Tony: Would that be a toon or a "carToon"?

    Mouse: We do have an Outback these days, but I've been able to restrain myself from further cattle wrangling!

    Roy: Ah yes, we have those critters on the road, too, & you're right about deer. We also have elk occasionally on the highway, which wouldn't be quite like hitting a moose, but close. I believe Eberle & I had the worst "near miss" when a black bear ran (sort of like a linebacker on all fours) in front of our car one night. Fortunately, he could really move!

    Raquelle: You'd love the rangeland of Idaho then!

    Willow: It would make a good blog name. Thanks!

    Dave: We definitely try to miss everything--deer, bear, elk, cattle, porcupines, mountain lions, etc.

    Christine: Thanks! The cartoon reminds me of a banjo joke told by our old band's violin player while I was shouldering a banjo onstage: "What's the definition of perfect pitch? When you throw a banjo in the dumpster & hit an accordion." We get no respect!

  9. Parking two vehicles in a hole in a fence would be a little obvious that someone needs to fix their fence. It is a good story.

  10. I think you should feature in a new Subaru commercial depicting this tale! As I was reading your story I imagined at first that you were going to say that you found your subaru gored by a bull the next morning!

    Here, it is moose we have to watch out for on our local roads.

  11. Hi Nana Jo: If a bull were out in our yard, I'd be cowering in the house! Yes, do avoid those moose--I've seen them in the wild; they are very big.


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