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