“Longhorns are the joy of my life.”
What does a father do when his 10-year-old daughter comes home from school with a poem that begins this way? Jim prints the poem on a photo of one of the ranch longhorns, frames it, and presents it as a present to Alexandra.
What does a grandfather do when he sees a framed poem written by his granddaughter proudly displayed on her dresser? Grandpa Jim generates a line of posters and notecards stocked for sale at the University Coop, the bookstore for the University of Texas Longhorns.
Alexandra wrote her poem for a class assignment on concrete poetry — poetry that has a visual appearance matching the subject of the poem. Here is the poem:
Longhorns are the joy of my life. They run, skip and play with their tails in the air.
They are very smart and they are also clumsy.
Their tongues are as rough as a cupboard of knives.
When they want food, they are like a hurricane.
Their hooves are as flat as newly baked pancakes.
I watch my friends and see their freedom.
I realize that they are still very wild.
As wild as they are I love them.
They might be dangerous.
They might be silly.
But I love them.
Innocent. Playful. Optimistic.
But, no offense Alexandra, you were no Maya Angelou.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” (Maya Angelou).
Did a 10-year-old capture this concept through her relationship with her pet longhorns?
They were not supposed to be pets.
Our original land purchase was the adjoining property to the ranch we own today, bought in partnership with our best family friends, the Fisher family — Eric, Lauren, Jack, Kate, and Andrew. Stories from the shared ranch could fill several books, and the Fisher and Greenwood kids are ranch siblings forever. The Fishers will be part of my stories.
Jim and Eric purchased the longhorns and set out strict rules. #1: no naming the longhorns — if we named them they would be pets.
I will never forget driving up to the ranch the day the longhorns were delivered. The Fishers arrived first. As soon as we jumped out of the car, Kate, gushing with excitement, announced Sparkles was the one with the spots!
We had pets.
The kids named the original six steers of our herd — Sparkles (later changed to Speckles, due to the spots), Fudge, Brownie, Buddy, Ringo, and 44 (named for his brand).
Do you remember the day you first brought home your pet?
The imprinting is immediate — for us and for them — in our behaviors and in our hearts.
Digression. Before our longhorn pets, there was Ranger. For 15 wonderful years, Ranger owned our hearts. We lost him over a year ago, but his paw prints cover the ranch — on every road he loved to run, on the porch where he rested, and with us in our ranch memories. We loved him a lot.
“Longhorns are the joy of my life.”
What is required for a child’s senses to open, observe, and create poetry that makes us feel? I believe it begins with them feeling. What is their setting? Where do they engage? How do they not only see but imagine?
“They run, skip and play with their tails in the air. They are very smart and they are also clumsy. Their tongues are as rough as a cupboard of knives.”
Like when you bring home any new pet, the moment the longhorns left the trailer they were ours to love and care for.
At the beginning we were cautious.
Assessing their dispositions while watching them play, we learned the boundaries — soon understanding the difference between approaching them when hungry and loving them on a full stomach.
We introduced them to friends and family.
We played with and around them.
And we loved them.
Over time, we added friends to the original herd of six.
Today, they number eleven total, each with individual personalities — (clockwise starting at the top left) 44 (leader), Speckles (lucky), Spurs (mysterious), Fudge (sociable), Ferdinand (smart), Cowboy (pushy), Buddy (gentle), Rampage (crazy), Brownie (spoiled), Ringo (invisible), and Brindle (timid).
Future stories will spotlight the longhorns individually, all deserving of their own biography. For now, a quick story of how they approach a round bale of hay summarizes their personalities and their relationships.
44 (leader) arrives first, followed by Brownie (spoiled), who comes to the ring whenever he wants. Buddy (gentle) mosey’s over in an easy manner until Cowboy (pushy) shows up and shoves him away. Meanwhile, Brindle (timid) lies in the grass nearby and waits for the others to finish, while no telling why Spurs (mysterious) is circling. Fudge (sociable) moves back and forth, between the heads of the herd who are eating and those waiting their turn. Rampage (crazy) is nuts, but not too crazy to challenge the herd hierarchy, so he keeps a good distance from the hay bale ring. Ferdinand (smart) sizes up the situation and stays the furthest away, knowing Jim will walk over and slip him alfalfa. No one sees where Ringo (invisible) stands, and Speckles (lucky) is just blessed to be there.
Stay tuned for stories on these eleven memorable personalities.
“When they want food, they are like a hurricane.”
If you care for a pet, you know they are comfort driven. For the longhorns this means food. If you want to witness a stampede, show up on a chilly winter day, after two weeks away, in Jim’s car, pulling a trailer of hay and alfalfa, when the native grasses are not growing.
Jim parks far enough away to pour a line of cattle cubes on the ground before the stampede storms in to assert their individual places. The herd order is on full display as they push and wrangle for a position.
Longhorns are legend for their stamina and survival instinct, eating grasses other breeds will not touch. Even on our rocky land, most months of the year, they can find food on their own. But what’s the fun in that? There is joy in spoiling your pet with treats, forging a relationship that brings comfort to each other.
“Their hooves are as flat as newly baked pancakes.”
For years I did not understand this line in Alexandra’s poem. I wondered, did she have pancakes for breakfast the morning she wrote this poem in class? Longhorn hooves may be flat on the bottom, but I could not imagine a child would look at them and call up the image of pancakes?
Then one day I was walking along the road and — PANCAKES! I recognized them, an entire griddle full! Now, when I walk a steer path and spot hoof prints, I am hungry for pancakes! Thanks a lot, Alexandra.
“I watch my friends and see their freedom.”
How do we measure freedom? How does freedom look? The longhorns are not free; the ranch fence confines them — other than the time our neighbor, huddled in his home not knowing the eleven personalities, called us for a rescue.
But to a child’s eye, the fence is far in the distance and out of view. A child sees a herd walking across a ridge, free to choose where they want to go, absent obligations of home or school. What else does she imagine about freedom as she watches her friends?
“I realize that they are still very wild.”
Perimeter fencing around the house signals the wildness of the longhorns outside the fencing ring. A one time breach rang the bell loud. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
“As wild as they are I love them.”
Yep. Despite this, we still love them.
“They might be dangerous. They might be silly. But I love them.”
Unconditional love — our pets, our kids, our parents, each other.
I use my father’s copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, a classic English language writing manual. Argued by some to be out of date, I agree with co-author E.B. White, who says in the introduction, “I still find the Strunkian wisdom a comfort…”
Rule #16, under Elementary Principles of Composition: Use definite, specific, concrete language.
An editor or English teacher might ask for more tangible details to describe how much Alexandra loves her longhorns. “A lot” is precise and clear to me.
Thanks a lot, Alexandra, for making me feel.