Photo via. Farm intern Shizue Roche-Adachi ‘15 on horses, cattle, and finding yourself by figuring out what to do next:
I held the reigns tentatively as my weight settled into the saddle. The horse was larger then I remembered horses being and I felt precarious as I sat perched upon his back, my legs splayed awkwardly. Boot was restless and I could feel him fidget beneath me. He stomped hard, frustrated, and my eyes went wide. We had lied, saying I was comfortably proficient in horseback riding; my friend wanted me to see this desert of his and the cowboy seemed to trust me enough to fib a little to the others. Truthfully, I hadn’t ridden a horse since elementary school, when a teenage girl had lead me around in circles at one of those roadside farm attractions you find in places that have little else to offer in the way of entertainment. But here it was just open desert: no circles, no trails. We set off, the three of us, my back arching uncomfortably with Boot’s stride. My friend split away in search of a rogue cow who had found its way west and the cowboy and I continued on. I could feel his eyes watching me as I tried my best to fake my commands.
By the time we came to the cattle, Boot’s patience with me was waning. The cows freckled the mountain top, a scattering of brown bodies that stood like statues, their weight sinking into their hips as if they had been promised permanence. “Alright, I guess I’ll take up here and you move down there.” I looked at the cowboy and realized this was not time for faltering confidence—I didn’t understand exactly what I was “taking” but I watched him as he galloped west, wrapping around the cattle, pushing them towards me. I gave Boot a hard kick and he started off with a jolt, nearly throwing me, doing my best to mimic the cowboy as I struggled to reign Boot in.
By the time my friend rejoined us, the cowboy had managed to edge the cattle north, beginning their reluctant migration towards the path that would eventually lead them down to the valley. I, however, was in a battle with Boot. He wasn’t listening, breaking into a gallop in the opposite direction I lead him in as if to mock me. I pulled at the reigns, silently hoping he would forgive me for pulling so sharply at the bit, and yelled “woah”s, but he was stubborn, unamused. My friend chuckled but offered little advice; there was work to be done and so I would have to figure it out by myself.
It took a good two hours before the cattle were rounded up, trailing single file down the mountain. When the valley finally opened up, I caught my breath; it was the most majestic and unforgiving landscape I had ever encountered. The sun was dipping low, now, and the light was colored in honey. “Pretty great, isn’t it?!” my friend shouted from behind me. Despite the vastness of the place there was an undeniable warmth to it.
I can’t be sure what changed his mind but suddenly Boot seemed to hear me— suddenly, he trusted me. We moved together; my body rose and fell in a steady rhythm as I cantered behind the mass of cattle. Sweat dripped down Boot’s back and I gave him a reassuring pat. He followed my lead as I yelled “hey, cow, cow” and chased the cattle towards the green oasis that was our goal, the cowboy’s trailer marking its boundary.
By the time we arrived at the trailer we could only make it out by silhouette, the moon casting shadows as we quietly dismounted. I wore an almost embarrassingly wide smile, the kind that only comes with the sort of self-satisfaction you can’t quite describe in concrete accomplishments. When the cowboy finally came to lead Boot away to tie him up for the night, I gave up his lead rope reluctantly.
Sometimes, on Fridays at the Yale Farm, I find myself overwhelmed with the never-ending harvest list. As pounds of salad greens make their way into the prophaus to be washed and bagged I start to finger the list’s pages tentatively. But there is work to be done, no time for wavering morale, and so you walk forward with blind faith, hoping that somehow the carrots yield to the hands of unsure volunteers and the aphids ignore the Brussels sprouts. There is something familiar in the feeling, in that trust. I’ve worked on farms for many years, now, but I still only know what I’m doing 60% of the time. I just have to trust that that other 40% will work itself out.
By the time the light is fading, the KoolBot is full with crates of produce and bags of greens. Somehow it happens, every week, without fail. By the end of a Friday harvest, a grin spread across my face, the music turned up a bit too loudly not to be noticed by the occasional passersby, I find myself reluctant to leave, hoping that the light might linger.
I never thought I’d end up farming, and I definitely never thought I’d help drive a herd of cattle into a desert valley, but somehow I ended up doing both. I’m never quite sure of my steps as I’m taking them, but I seem to have learned to trust myself at least enough for even Boot to believe.