The Gathering






A soft, but steady snow falls as I listen to Lucinda crying about ‘A World Without Tears,’ on the radio. Outside, a stiff north wind keeps the whirling snow from amounting to anything more than a temporary nuisance. Still, I choose to remain in the warmth of the car while I wait to meet Ned Hermanson at the junction on Hay Draw road.

Within a few minutes Ned rolls up – we exchange greetings, load my gear into his horse trailer and I jump in the truck. Today, friends will haul their rigs from all over McKenzie County to help the Crighton ranch bring in this years payday. Hermanson himself has driven some 30 plus miles with horses in tow to help out his old friends. Out west one discovers . . . neighbors are measured in square miles instead of city blocks.

Ned and I chat about the day’s work and in short order we arrive at the Crighton’s corral. Horses are quietly unloaded from trailers already saddled up and I realize these cowboys are all about the work at hand, no wasted time here.

The snow and wind have subsided as we make our way up the draws of the Badlands. Diane, my riding partner laughs as she watches the cattle and cowpokes play out their version of hide and seek in this rugged terrain. With each step the aroma of silver sage fills up the crisp morning air. Off in the distance I hear the yelps of cowboys rounding up the wayward cattle. Soon a long procession of momma cows with calves in tow, begin navigating the steep pitches of the snow crested buttes. It’s a routine so polished I sense that horse and rider could almost complete their mission blindfolded.

In a few hours the first part of the day’s work will be completed, but plenty of it remains as separating and shipping the weanling calves off to market will continue on throughout the day. Like a long lived Broadway play every part is perfectly choreographed through time and repetition of work. Each phase of the day is marked with well timed breaks for home cooked meals, washed down with a beer or two and perhaps a schnapps chaser for good measure.

The efforts of today will make the ultimate mark in the yearly finances of the Crighton ranch. Of equal importance is the underlying sense of community apparent in every facet of the day. There is an unspoken thirst for contact with friends not often seen, that is fittingly fulfilled during the Fall gatherings. And so yet another season of passage is complete for this generation of ranchers, who withstand the solitude of seemingly endless days and unrepentant weather to call this land home.

Crighton Ranch – McKenzie County, North Dakota

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