Early September in snow
ranchers are driving their calves
and a few sickly cows
off the national forest allotment
to truck them down the mountain.
Healthy cows bawl and crowd
the downslope fences, knowing winter
is close, but they’ll stay a few more weeks
to eat that government grass.

Real work of ranching but still
the riders make a show
for tourists and the seasonal rangers,
college kids from back East.
Straight in the saddle, stone-faced,
hats tilted for the snow,
one cowhand even carries
a long-barreled pistol on his hip
in case they meet a bear.

When her spotted gelding throws
the rancher’s daughter, she and her cousin
sit in the trailhead visitor shack,
whispering together, drinking cocoa
by the heater. Dragged out of bed
to herd cows in the snow
the last Saturday of summer
when they could be watching TV
or laying out at the lake, waterskiing
with all their friends from town.