Horse Canyon, Carbon County • We met up with Jeanie Jensen and her daughter Jennie at the chuckwagon trucks. They were parked at the bottom of a canyon so deep that every sound echoed in Pakistan. The herd was already on the move ahead of us.
It was a pleasant reunion. Sonny and I hadn't seen Jennie since her wedding. She was still beautiful, but now she was 143 months pregnant. We were afraid to hug her for fear she would explode.
A cattle drive is no place to be pregnant, even for cattle. It's rough, filthy and completely devoid of privacy, and the only available stirrups are on a horse. No woman in her right mind wants to have a baby in front of a bunch of cowboys.
Sonny and I have some experience with emergency childbirths. As former police professionals, we formulated a plan in a cool and rational matter that nearly ended in blows.
Me: "I am not delivering this baby."
Him: "It sure as hell isn't my turn."
Me: "Bull[stuff]! I did it last time."
Him: "Well, I'm not doing it this time."
Unfortunately, we were overheard. Friends and family immediately told Jennie not to worry about having her baby on the trail because, and I quote: "Kirby and that other crazy one have did birthings before."
I don't know about Sonny, but I have only "did birthings" twice.
Once was on a porch in the middle of the night for a woman who was so far along, she wouldn't have cared had it been a badge-wearing gorilla who showed up to help. The second time was in the backseat of a car for a young girl hysterically positive that she could have a baby with her pants still on. There was nothing beautiful about either time.
We couldn't very well tell Jennie that she should remain home and close to actual medical help. She's a ranchwoman. Ranchwomen will punch and bite even when they aren't pregnant and mean. So we shut up.
But that didn't mean we skipped being prepared. Driving along in the gear truck, Sonny and I inventoried our emergency medical equipment: two knives, eight guns of various calibers, an old shirt, some aspirin, jalapeÃ±o jerky, a coyote call, five rubber bands, sunflower seeds, a wildlife proclamation that neither of us planned to read and half a quart of something Sonny swore was "severely medicinal."
We were as ready as we could possibly be. Jennie was driving the truck ahead of us. Every time it hit a bump or a crossed a ditch, we whimpered in genuine fear.
Mercifully, the protective nature of motherhood cannot be denied. When the herd stopped in Range Creek for the afternoon meal, Jennie's mother made her go back to town where the doctors were (and Sonny and Kirby weren't).
That didn't make the motherhood situation any less dangerous or more reasonable. Many of the cows we were pushing up the mountain had young calves. The long, steep trail wore them out.
When a calf got tired and couldn't keep up, it was cut out of the herd and placed in a trailer to recover. The mom cow understandably hated this arrangement. A lot.
Sonny and I have no experience birthing cows. That's a cowboy job. And they know exactly what to do in a crisis of cow motherhood. We saw it in action.
Two dozen tired cowboys were eating lunch when a mother longhorn bashed through camp looking for her baby. She had horns 10 feet wide. A coffee pot hung on one, a shirt sleeve on the other.
Recognizing this emergency maternal situation for what it was, the cowboys immediately sprang into action. They sprang under trucks, up trees and into the creek. Finally, one of them opened the trailer door. The calf came out and the mom was happy.
It looked scary, complicated and a little bloody, but I'm pretty sure Sonny and I could have figured it out eventually.