The other day, while finishing up my project of staining the railings of our wheelchair ramp in front (it's amazing what you can get done when you do it 15 minutes a day, truly!), I needed a rope or string to tie back some vines that were laced all over part of the railing, revealing the wooden handrail underneath that was sorely in need of stain and protective coating.
I went into our shop and my eyes landed immediately on an old McCarty. A skillfully braided rope of brown and white that once served as reins for one of my bosals or snaffle bits. Alas, some forgotten horse somehow broke it in two and rendered it a poor excuse for a rope.
But old cowboys never throw away a rope, even if it's been tied less than gracefully back together with an ugly, overhand knot or two. We never have enough ropes around the place and nothing is discarded.
We are akin to sailors upon the sea with our ropes, lines and knots. We have knots we use to tie a McCarty, knots to tie up our horses, Stockmen's knots and Quick Release knots. A certain sort of knot works perfectly for latching a calf's legs together in a snappy fashion.
Individual types of ropes are only good for specific jobs. A nice silk-braided rope is perfect for tying up a hind foot if necessary because it will not rope-burn the fetlocks on a recalcitrant cow rejecting her calf. The lariat you use for catching the newborn Angus-cross to tag it and give it the vital, first vaccinations is hardly good for anything else, being too twisted and stiff.
Some folks like a big, ol' cotton rope for reins, detesting the horsehair treasured by buckaroos. And none of these ropes are appropriate for pulling the truck out of the mudbog by the windmill!
Thus, I took the old McCarty down and as I walked toward the railings and vines, I played out the bite of the line, shaking the loops out of it, even flipping it overhand a time or two to work those twists out. The braids played through my fingers and across my curled palm like the bow of a violin balancing in the hand of the fiddler.
Muscle memory instinctively took control and seemed to say: "I know how to handle this. Let me do my job!" And it was then that I became aware of how much of my life was spent with ropes in my hands. Lunging a broncy colt....feather-light feel on the lead rope of a trusted partner...using just the right kind of "twine" to do just about any job on the ranch.
We never use the word "lasso" or "lassoo" like you hear on TV. We even hardly ever said "lariat." The all-encompassing word, ROPE, worked for every occasion, that is IF the listener had the same learnin.'
If Pete told me to go get a rope from the barn when he had to lash down bales of hay on the back of the flatbed ranch truck, I knew just which rope he wanted. I didn't have to ask. After all, we'd worked together for 34 years.
The old McCarty did the job fine the other day, holding the vines back while I brushed on Thomspson's Waterseal. Savoring the sensation of the rough twists in my hands, memories poured back of the leather-tassled end of the rein tucked through a belt loop as I stepped down from the saddle at a barbed-wire gate. Reaching back for the lead, knowing that it's just plain smart to hold onto your horse when you're ten miles from home and you're struggling with a too-tight gate.
With the frayed knots in the middle of the span, it's a poor excuse for a rope. There's no arguing that I'm a poor excuse for a cowboy anymore. But there's still chores we can do...and once in awhile, I imagine the old McCarty and my paths will still cross. We don't throw away ropes on our place, remember?