At Home Off the Grid
by Terry Allen
May 16, 2016
Dan McClure is a deputy at the Sublette County Sheriffís Office. A few years ago I asked him why he became a deputy. "Itís so I can afford my horse and cow habit, why donít you come out and visit some time," heíd said.
"Well, if you head 8.6 miles due west from the junction and make a right turn and go for about a mile youíll be right there," Tawana McClure said. "You canít miss it."
With directions like that, any self-respecting cowboy ought to be able to find the McClure ranch. Unfortunately, she was giving directions to a photographer who some years back had started off for Sacramento and woke up doing donuts in a corn field outside of Chico.
Due to this probable genetic weakness, the trip meter in my dashboard read 57 miles by the time I drove down a deeply rutted dirt road and got myself surrounded by a herd of sheep and goats and a sniffer dog named Zina, who all wanted to take a look at the stranger and maybe take a bite if an arm was resting too far out the window.
The homestead itself looked pretty sleepy. There wasnít any wind so the windmill wasnít turning. The bank of solar cells absorbed the Wyoming sun and silently pushed the energy into 16 storage batteries located in a shed.
A couple raps with my knuckles brought Dan, Tawana and daughter Sylvee to the door. They grabbed their hats and gave me a tour.
Escorted by an entourage of goats, dogs and a stray cat, we visited ten drop calves. "These are all hand fed by bottle," said Dan. "Last year we paid $500 each but this year we only paid $300 each. Itís a college fund project for the girls, but itís a lot of work."
About then Zina ran into the yard on the tail of the previously mentioned sheep and goats, and they ran into a random collection of bales of hay to make it harder for Zina to herd them. Dan and Zina worked together and drove them back out of the hay and back into the pasture.
A big Billy goat ran down out of the pasture to see what was going on, and a herd of horses raised their heads and watched our forward progress as Dan made his way to where the grain bucket was kept. That was the signal they all knew and they came running from the far pasture to the near pasture and Dan led them into the barnyard.
As I leaned my arms on the corral rails and looked in, Dan poured the grain into a kind of hay and grain trough and the horses buried their faces in it. The momma nanny goat of the twins stood up on her hind legs right beside me and looked at the grain and then at me and gave me a nudge with her horns. She did this several times, getting more impatient each time. Finally, she stomped away. Itís only now after Iíve had time to reflect on it that I think maybe she was trying to talk to me and I was supposed to pick her up and throw her into the trough. Iím guessing she stomped off in disgust at how stupid I was. There is a big space between a cowboy and a photographer, so some of this is just a theory.
I told Sylvee Iíd like to get a shot of her on her horse so she ran off. I thought she ran off to hide like city girls do so I couldnít take her picture; but that wasnít it. She came back on her horse in boots and spurs, coiling up her rope as she rode and asked if that would do. "Bunny is my go to horse," she said. "Sheís like the energizer bunny, she just wonít quit. When Iíve got work to do or plan to work all day, this is the horse I choose." I took a few regular shots and then asked if the flash would bother Bunny.
Dan was there and said nothing would bother Bunny. "No, the flash wonít spook her," he said. "Thatís a good honest horse. I wouldnít have a horse that wasnít honest."
Winding down the visit we leaned against an old red truck. Dan patted it like an old friend and said it had a pedigree of owners from ranchers, adventurers, bronc busters, cowboy poets, to some international cutting horse guy that Dan got it from.
He got behind the wheel and Sid jumped into the shotgun position. "Sid likes this truck and Zina likes my patrol car." Dan pushed the starter button and the truck started immediately. "Itís a good running truck," he said. "It goes straight down the road at about 45 without any shimmy at all. Like everything else around here, itís just smooth."