I roll out of the comfort of my blanket lined sleeping bag laid atop a cot. I pull my clothes on in the dark tipi and make my way over to the guys’ tent where I find myself a coffee cup and cookie. The sun is barely beginning to reveal its light, allowing my horses and the surrounding pines to be seen as black outlines against the faint pink and teal sky. I sit alone on a log inside the flashlight lit canvas tent, sipping on instant coffee and reading a book. Marty lays in the tied open doorway, the crackling wood burning stove just on the other side. The red glow of the hot fire peers through the cracks of its door. The sound of the boiling water fills the dark morning air. I take the few steps outside to warm my coffee. Here, I listen to the clanking of the hobbles on my pack horse as he grazes amidst the darkness.
The camp jack, Edwis, appears through the pines with his horse in behind. I catch and saddle my tall, gray gelding and we ride north along the base of the huge rock covered mountain. The air is cool on my face with the coming of fall.
German, our short round herder of 25 years, is already with the ewes and lambs since before light. He has them gathered together moving towards an opening in the trees when Edwis and I ride upon them by following the sounds of their blats. We each tie our horse to a sagebrush and walk over to the herd. We go to the downhill side of them, the direction in which they will head to water and graze for the day. German makes his way to the front of the herd as well, using his dogs to keep them bunched tightly. Edwis and I cut off a small bunch of about 20 to get them started. After this, we create a human and dog alley.
Edwis stands across from me, using the small bunch in front of us as a lure to attract ewes and lambs from the main herd to run between us and towards them. German stands closely behind me so that nothing can sneak out of my view. Edwis has his dog close by to deter ewes or lambs from escaping behind him, and my dog, Villa, is in behind the herd keeping them all together and moving in the right direction.
I count by twos as the 2,119 ewes and lambs run and jump through the narrow opening. I only count to 100, 21 times, tallying each one on my small metal tally machine to keep track. After the last of them funnel through, German meets me at my horse to tell me of all the deaths he's had since the last time his herd was counted. 4 ewes ate poison, 7 lambs got sick, and 5 lambs were killed by coyotes. He climbs on his favorite bay and white pinto mare as we shake hands and say our Spanish goodbyes. This is the last time we'll see each other until he makes it out of the mountains and to the corral with his herd at the end of the month. Edwis and I ride back to camp. The excitement and nervousness of getting to count our wildest herd still pulsing through my veins. I love counting sheep. Once at camp, I begin tearing down my cot and tipi while Edwis cooks us each a fish for breakfast and a bigger meal which he will deliver to German at the herd. The ewes get antsy to leave this time of year, although I am the opposite and dread leaving my favorite place on earth, so one guy never leaves their sight. I pick through the tiny bones on my crispy little trout while Edwis and I visit about anything and everything, all in Spanish. He helps me load my 3-year-old pack horse when we finish up and sends me on my way. I tell him good luck on the trail and see you at the corrals! I ride away through the pines and sage with a great feeling of nostalgia, knowing this will be my last herd to count in the mountains this year.