I was taught to love my earth from my cowboy grandfather. He looked older than his actual age due to the rough life he chose. He was the color of a worn saddle and smelled of dirt, sweat and leather. Wrinkles lined his face heavily around his eyes as well as on his strong, dry, brown hands. He wore cowboy boots or went barefoot, a challenge for me on our unpaved rocky dirt road. He carried a slight accent in his speech and spoke so slow that it drove some people to boredom. His laughs were followed by a deep, painful cough. He loved his horses and the work he did on his ranch. He taught me how to ride a horse, though, to this day fear of falling off a horse still consumes me. His old spirit along with his young heart full of adventure captured my every curiosity.
The ranch was comparable to heaven. Serpentine roads lay in between endless hills belonging to cattle, horses, sheep, goats, plump wild turkeys, and mighty boars. A dirt pass off the main road lined by black oak trees curved up to the ranch. One oak tree occasionally adorned with streamers, prayers on colored poster board, and crosses marked deaths of teens living life on the edge in their fast cars. I learned to look for the mailbox instead of the many memorials that marked the dirt pass to his ranch. Beautiful brown horses were always to the left of the pass grazing and waiting. The drive up the pass created such noise which alerted his cattle dogs, that if they did not recognize a car, it would be advised to reverse, immediately. One day the mail carrier made the mistake and ended up with a flat tire, punctured by the teeth of his cattle dogs. A dirt lot would surface in between three rustic and quaint homes. This was my happiness.
He would to take me across vast golden hills behind the Sierra Reserve to herd cattle with his crew of rugged white and mexican men. They would share their lunches and sugary orange juice with me and always provided me with a seat in the shade. Those days these men put in work, which could strain muscles and create aches in every square inch of a body, would accomplish their tasks. On one occasion a bull was to be moved to a different locale and in doing so a first of many slight heart attacks a young girl may have triggered. An angry bull is not something to mess with, despite the many men on horses ready to help capture this animal. My grandpa advised I stay inside his truck as it was in close proximity to the bull. He was black, strong, angry, and difficult. He was cursed at in English and Spanish as the men could not contain him. Eventually the bull became so frustrated that he jumped over the gray fence in the opposite direction the men were luring him. The sad part about his poor decision to jump resulted in his back legs getting caught in between wooden planks of the fence. The scream he let out as well as the sight of it all is something absolutely mind blowing for a seven year old girl. I thought about how my teacher was going to have fucking field day reading this journal entry; I couldn’t wait for it to be Monday morning. The cowboy that my grandfathered was, as well as the nine lives he used up, would outslick the bull that day. My mother was pissed when I told her how astonishing it all really was.
His kingdom, away from the city, away from suburbs, away from all the pain I endured as a girl at my other household, was my sanctuary. On the Fridays that my mother planned to pick me up for a weekend visit, I would spend my playtime at school sitting on the grassy field, away from my friends, staring into the east foothills aching for it to be that time. I miss him, miss him dearly and wished while he was still here I’d gone on more adventures with him until his last days. The last I saw him, he was in hospital bed holding my hand as to not let go until he fell asleep. He died a few days later in his sleep. Sometimes I take the drive up to the ranch to regain my chi, smell the oak trees, and to listen for the crunch of his dusty cowboy boots walking up to my porch ready to take me on another adventure.