So, which calf are we looking for?” Jennifer turned in the saddle as she spoke, looking back along the fenceline she and Andrew were riding. Andrew kept his eyes up ahead to where the trees began a few hundred feet ahead, growing right up to the fence.
“We’re looking for the little fellow with the white circle just above the right eye,” he said.
“You don’t really think it was a cougar do you? There’s not supposed to be cougars around here.” Jennifer sounded uncertain.
“It’s pretty rare,” said Andrew. “Only twice that I’ve heard of in my lifetime and only one was proven. So I’m thinking it’s some other reason the calf is missing. Whoa, boy,” he said as reined his horse to a stop and stared at the grass. A second later he shook his head and urged his horse forward. “Thought I saw a footprint,” he said.
“I feel like Mantracker,” said Jennifer, studying the ground. “Always looking for tracks.”
“Mantracker?” said Andrew. “Who’s Mantracker?”
“He’s on TV,” said Jennifer. “He goes out into the wilderness on horseback and tracks people who are on foot, who are trying to make it to the finish line before he catches them. He always catches them though,” she added. “Well, almost always.”
They had reached the trees and both pulled their horse up and looked around. “The ones who get away,” said Andrew, “How do they do it?”
“Mostly they figure out how to stay in places where the horses can’t go,” said Jennifer. “Otherwise, he always picks up their trail somehow. He uses his head to figure out where they’re likely to go, and he’s almost always right.”
“Well,” said Andrew, “what do you think? Can we use Mantracker’s technique on a calf?”
Jennifer laughed. “I don’t know if I can think like a calf,” she said. “But we could try to think like Mantracker. So we should decide if we’re looking for a calf that got dragged off by something or a calf that got on the wrong side of the fence and got lost. What do you think?”
“I think it got on the wrong side of the fence and got lost,” said Andrew.
“OK,” said Jennifer. “So, for the calf to get on the wrong side of the fence, the fence would have to be broken.”
“Or there’d have to be a spot where the bottom wire is too high,” said Andrew.
“Or that.” Jennifer thought about that for a second. “Remember when we came out here once,” she said suddenly, “and you found a broken fence post, and instead of putting in a new post you just fastened the barbed wire to a tree? Remember?”
“Yeah,” said Andrew. “I’m surprised you remember that. That must be 10 years ago.”
“I always remember things we do together,” said Jennifer. “But the point is after 10 years that tree must have grown, which means the wires must be higher now than they were then. So if the calf got out of the pasture that would be the first place we should look.”
“Can’t be more than a few hundred feet ahead,” said Andrew, dismounting and tethering his horse to a nearby sapling. “Let’s go take a look.” Jennifer dismounted and the two of them climbed over the fence and walked along the trees.
“There it is!” Jennifer pointed to a tree up ahead that had three strands of barbed wire running right through it, an inch or so into the wood. Sure enough the growth of the tree had raised the wires a good eight or 10 inches over the years.
Andrew studied the ground on both sides of the fence. “Bingo,” he said suddenly pointing at a spot in the grass a few feet into the trees. “Tracks.”
“I see it!” said Jennifer excitedly, then was suddenly silent. “Listen,” she said. Andrew stood still.
“I hear it,” he said. “Over that way,” he added, pointing. The faint sound of a bleating calf could be heard from somewhere in the trees.
“It sounds hungry,” said Jennifer. “Let’s go find it and get it back to mama.” She got down and crawled under the fence.
“Well that’s a relief,” said Andrew. “I hate losing calves.” He glanced at his daughter walking beside him through the trees. “Funny,” he said.
“What’s funny?” Jennifer wanted to know. Andrew grinned. “Two sons and a daughter,” he
said, “but only my daughter is a real cowboy.” Jennifer smiled happily. “Thanks,” she said. The two of them headed toward the sound of
the bleating calf. “No,” said Andrew. “Thank you.” Order your advance copy of Rollin Penner and
the Traveling Medicine Show’s new CD at www.thetravelingmedicineshow.com.