There are things in life that are so magical to one, but to others it might be just an ordinary part of life. For me, one of those things is cowbells in the autumn. Now, that might seem like a very random thing, especially if you live in the city, but one, it isn’t random, and two, I don’t live in the city.
I happen to live in a very rural valley in NorCal that is very rancher-esque. Cowbells this time of year signal that it’s truly fall, and they also are the sign of something that I think is truly amazing.
Every year when the nights get cold, and frosts or freezes become the norm, one family’s herd of cows comes down from the mountain pastures. All on their own, they walk down, leading their calves and heading for home. They go the same path every year, and they can do it all on their own without someone leading them. You will be out working one day and there will be five or so cows plodding along, quite sedately, down the pavement, towards the highway, across the highway and down the road to their farm. They know right where to go, oh, and they always walk on the right side of the road. They may stop to graze a bit. Check out the lavender plants outside our gate, or meander into our neighbor’s open yard. But they continue on, crossing the highway at their own leisurely pace. Yep, leisurely is generally the speed. Maybe if it’s late afternoon they might speed it up a bit, but generally not.
Most of them are wearing gloriously pealing bells around their neck. Jangling as they walk, they are a melodious tune to the fall air. Their calves, who are not small, as they were born in the early summer, follow along behind, sometimes braying.
As the season gets later, the majority of the herd comes down and you will fall asleep to quite a lot of bells jingling in the night. Sometimes waking in the morn to a field of cows waiting. Depending on whether or not they were locked. Sometimes the rancher knows they are coming and there is one large ‘drive’ with the rancher’s wife up on a horse calling out ‘Hiyah’s’ and other cowboy sounds herding them down the road to where a makeshift blockade is set up by two trucks or SUV’s and the ranch hands. Following behind, guiding the herd will be the wife, and sometimes the daughter, not really hurrying them, but making sure they stay on the road. It’s common to see the herd decide to take a side trek into our neighbor’s ‘yard’ (more of a small field) for some inopportune grazing.
Every year my family rushes out with camera’s in hand to watch this magnificent display of western life.
The real magic though is this. Years and years ago, the rancher’s ancestors, (parents or grandparents, I’m not sure which) took the cows to the mountains that first time, and that fall guided them down again. The next year, they put bells on the necks of the calves from the first year, and those calves, now cows, remembered the way home, so they guided their own calves down. Every year the calves come cows guide the next generation down, without any help from us humans. They teach their children how to go, the bells a sound system to ‘call’ the rest as a guide.
Every year I see the magic in this small display of animal intelligence. One could look at it as a guide to parents on raising up your children right, because they will raise their own children right as well. I guess anyone could look at it that way. I just look at the magic of it, and the essence of everything about this time of year.
Tonight there are bells jangling in the field just up the road. The moon is full and the night is crisp pure fall. There’s magic in the air.