The crackling of dried branches underfoot is startling, a sharp counterpoint to the soft mist laying low across the Flats and the muted birdsong greeting the first rays of the fall sunrise. I quiet my feet, waiting patiently.My job is small in the grand scheme of things but will require attention and good timing. A flock of meadowlarks sweeps overhead, and behind them come the sounds I am listening for: Leslie’s clear voice calling from across the fields “Hey girls! Come on!”
A brief pause, then another call: “Heyyyy girls!” and the cattle respond with deep voices and the deceptively swift progress of a healthy herd on the move. Voices that echo 200 years of ranching history on this land. The morning sun strengthens and within moments, it seems, the mist clears and the air is filled with dust, the warm smell of sunlit grass, and the voices of more riders calling to the cows, the dogs and each other. “Hep. Hep! Come on there!” The cattle rush toward me, and it’s time to lend a hand by leading the cattle into the corral. With a faint sense of surprise, I hear my own voice, ringing clearly across the field. “Heyyy cows! Cooome onnn!” I call as I walk into the corral, trailing alfalfa behind me and trying not to look back at the jostling, excited animals at my heels. “Heyyy girls!”
The gate clangs shut behind me and I slip through the slats at the far side of the corral as the cattle charge forward to feast on alfalfa, giving me not a second look. The grazing team and our partners from the Dorrance Ranches view the herd with quiet pride. San Francisquito Flats seem to glow with health and beauty around us, and together we move forward with a day filled with caring for the herd, so the herd can help us care for the land.