Authors: Karen Noland
Published by Karen D. Noland for
Copyright © 2011 by Karen D.
Noland All Rights Reserved
Taking a deep breath, Kate waited
for the contraction to ease before reaching in once more as the cow relaxed.
This time she felt it. The small hoof was there in her grasp at last.
“Take it easy, momma,” she
whispered soothingly. The woman tugged, gently at first, then with ever
increasing force. Just as she was sure that it was lost, the tiny leg popped
into place. With one last loud bellow the cow gave a mighty heave and the
little calf emerged into the light of day.
Kate sat back on the hard red
earth, wiping an arm across her sweaty brow as she sighed deeply. Once again
the miracle of new life was before her. The little thing was already struggling
feebly to find its legs. The big black cow lowed softly and stood up as the
calf gained strength, finally finding a precarious footing. A rough tongue ran
over the calf’s back and he was down again.
A smile spread slowly over Kate’s
tired features. The freshness of new life never ceased to amaze her. “God, you
are so great,” she murmured aloud. “Thank you for allowing this one to live
today, thank you.”
This almost constant dialogue
with her Creator had become a way of life for Kate over the weeks and months
since Will had died. She was alone so often tending to the cattle, the land,
the horses, and the myriad other responsibilities left to her when she became a
widow that talking aloud like this assured her that someone was always with
her, even in this vast land that threatened at times to overwhelm her.
The cow and calf were moving
slowly away from her, the calf swaying unsteadily, trying desperately to keep
up with his large black momma. “He’s a nice one, going to be big and stout,”
Kate thought briefly. “He may make a nice bull someday; after all, old Casey
isn’t getting any younger.”
These thoughts ran aimlessly
through her mind as she watched the pair approaching the rest of the herd a
short distance away. This one made it, but what about the next one? Only last
week she watched helplessly while a cow struggled to give birth to a calf that
was hopelessly too large. She cried tears of loss and frustration as she put
the poor cow out of its misery. She felt every death not only as a personal
loss, but the cattle were the lifeblood of this ranch, and every one she lost
was lost income as well.
Strands of damp brown hair clung
to her temples, while beads of sweat trickled down between her shoulder blades.
It was already so hot, and only April. What would the summer bring? She reached
down running her hand through the rich new grass covering the prairie. Would
the spring rains continue? Would there be enough grass this year? So many of
her cows had calved and still more were coming. How would she get them to
market this fall?
“God, why? Why did you have to
take Will?” the pain was still raw and fresh in her heart though it had been
nine months since his death. The red earth over his grave was already hidden
beneath the green grass, but the pain in her heart was as fresh as newly turned
earth. Tears of frustration and anger welled within her. She turned her face to
the clear sky, took a deep ragged breath searching the heavens for answers, but
there were no answers forthcoming this day, only the wide expanse of the
Finally, seeing her job here was
at an end at least for now, she stood and strode briskly toward the sorrel mare
waiting patiently with reins draped over a branch of a nearby tree. Opening the
leather pack strapped behind the cantle of the saddle, she took out a rough rag
and began to wipe away the blood and the dirt from the recent calving.
Replacing the rag, she rolled her sleeves back down over her arms, grimacing
slightly. Picking up the reins, she stepped up into the stirrup and swung
herself into the old leather saddle.
She looked down and sighed
at the worn trousers covering her legs. Yet another reminder of Will’s passing
and having to adapt to running a cattle ranch alone. She longed for a hot bath
and a fresh pretty dress to wear, but they just weren’t suited to the work she
found herself forced into. She almost laughed out loud remembering the first
time she had tried to round up a herd of old rangy cows wearing her long skirts
and a petticoat, riding the ever so ladylike side saddle that Will had saved
for and surprised her with on her birthday. It wasn’t long before she decided
Will’s breeches, rough cambric shirts and old worn saddle were far more suited
to the job at hand. Besides, who was there to see her out here?
The mare was young and fresh, it
wasn’t hard for Kate to urge her into an easy ground-covering lope toward home.
They steered around the small herd, careful not to disturb the cows and calves
lazing in the warmth of the late-morning sun. A golden glow shone all around
them, highlighting every blade of green prairie grass and each new leaf of the
early budding trees. The tightly curled pink and white blossoms of redbud and
dogwood were beginning to unfurl in a riot of color all around. She relaxed
into the saddle; the mare obediently slowed to a trot, and finally to a fast
“How could anyone doubt your
existence, Lord, with all this life abounding?” The mare snorted and tossed her
head as if in agreement. Kate laughed, the morning’s tension easing, she picked
up the reins and set off at a lope.
As they climbed a grassy rise,
the homestead came into full view. Will had chosen the perfect spot to build
their dream, nestled in a small valley protected on the north and west by small
knolls rising from the prairie. They knew that God had led them to the place
they had dreamed about from the moment they left tragedy behind them in
Missouri. A beautiful grove of trees growing along a spring in the small valley
provided the backdrop for their new life in Oklahoma Territory.
Kate caught her breath at the
sight of her beloved home. She checked the mare, slowing her to a walk, then
she sat deeper in the seat. Tossing her head impatiently, the big sorrel mare
reluctantly stopped. “I know you’re ready to get home to your oats, but just
look there, Gypsy, isn’t it perfect?”
Smoke drifted lazily from
the chimney of the stone fireplace she and Will had built together, stone by
heavy stone. He had insisted on a proper hearth for their home, and it was the
first thing they built after settling on their claim. A snug frame home soon
took shape around it, surrounded by a wide porch, and real glass windows with wooden
shutters. That first spring, she had transplanted a number of Redbud and
Dogwood saplings to the front of the house. Over the eight years that marked
their short life together there, the trees had matured and other buildings
added. There was a large barn with a small bunkhouse attached for the cowboys
they employed off and on over the years. Corrals and ketch pens held the
ranch’s horses, milch cows, a sow and her piglets. Will had built the
smokehouse, spring house, a few small storage sheds and the blacksmith shop,
now sadly neglected. Towering above all, a windmill turning lazily in the
morning breeze completed the idyllic scene.
As they sat watching, Kate began
to run a critical eye over the place. Fences needed mending; a new hole
appeared in the smokehouse roof, probably the result of the hail storm a few
weeks ago. She sighed and said a small prayer for strength to face the
challenges ahead. Suddenly, the front door of the main house flew open and a
small red-haired figure darted out across the yard and into the poultry yard
sending feathers flying as the hens scurried out of her way and the large white
geese honked in protest. Kate’s heart filled immediately with love for her
small irrepressible daughter. Jolene was so like her father, full of life and
filled with mischief. Jo was followed shortly by a small graying woman carrying
a basket and brandishing a bonnet. Though Kate was too far away to hear the
woman’s words, she knew Mrs. Insley was berating the little girl for being out
in the hot sun without it.
Forgetting for now the chores
that lay ahead and the cows behind, Kate and Gypsy set off down the hill for
“Momma’s coming, momma’s coming!”
shrieked Jo. Mrs. Insley looked up to see a red mare and a very tired, dirty
woman heading down the slope from the west. Shaking her head, she went to fetch
water and towels for Kate.
“What has my little Irish
rose been doing this morning?” Kate called to the small spitfire running toward
her. She swung her leg over the back of the saddle, stepping easily to the
ground. Looping the reins over the corral fence, she turned just in time to
avoid being tackled and swooped the girl up into her arms.
“Where have you been, momma?
We’ve got breakfast waiting for you. I found six whole eggs this morning and
Nana let me knead the biscuits. Later we’re going to churn butter, and if I’m
good Nana said that I can help her dip candles.” Kate placed a finger over her
daughter’s mouth to stem the endless flow of words.
“It sounds like you’ve a busy day
planned then! I’ve been out checking the herd in the west pastures. Would you
like to hear about it?”
“Oh, yes, momma! Nana said that
Jonathan should be home today with Papa Insley. I’ve missed them. Do you really
think they’ll be home today? Maybe Jon will play with me.” Jo paused for a
breath, and Kate set her down as Mrs. Insley appeared on the back porch with a
basin of water and a clean towel.
“Thought you looked as though you
be needin’ these.” She set the basin on a bench near the kitchen door, draping
the towel over a rail above the bench.
“Thank you, I do, Mrs.
Insley.” She gave the older woman a grateful look and a quick peck on the cheek
as she climbed the porch steps, followed by her constant red-haired shadow. “Jo
tells me you expect the men back today.”
“Humph, that I do, two days to
city, a day to load the provisions, and two days back. They best be rollin’ in
here by this afternoon, no less!” She stated, standing at the open kitchen door
wiping her hand on her apron.
“Well, that’s one thing to look
forward to. I’ve sorely missed them these last few days.”
Kate took off the soiled hat she
wore handing it to Jo, and pulled loose the ribbon that held her hair up. A
mass of dusty brown curls cascaded over her shoulders. Dipping both hands into
the warm water, she let it fall down over her wrists and arms, splashing it up
over her tired dirty face. The feeling of being somewhat clean again was
exquisite. Kate lingered briefly hoping the water would wash away more than
just the dust -- wash away the scars, the fear and anger, the loneliness and
the frustration of the last few months. She breathed in deeply and let the
relaxing feeling flow through her entire body.
“Look at me, momma, I’m a cowgirl!”
The little girl’s voice cut through her reverie, bringing her back to a full
realization of time and place. Jo was wearing the old beat up felt hat and
riding the porch rail, one hand holding on, the other flung high in the air.
“Jo, stop that! Get down
from there this instant!” Kate snapped at the girl.
“But, Momma, I just....”
“I don’t care what you just! Get
down now! Do you hear me?” Kate’s voice was sharp.