On June 5, as we were crossing a stream in a cienega, Rosalio said to me: “This is it.” At my questioning, he elaborated: “We here. The home ranch. She begins here.” We continued on, as though nothing had happened.
To me, I had visioned entering the home ranch as a major climax; in fact, the apex, the successful conclusion of one of the hardest journeys and one of the greatest adventures of my life.
To Rosalio, it was just another day. Throughout the summer, the sheep would have to be moved regularly from one forage area to another of this vast acreage. Throughout the summer there would be cold nights and rainy days. All summer, Rosalio and Pablo would be up at 4:30 or 5:00 A.M. and, in Rosalio’s case, often during the night as well, to protect the herd from wild beasts. Then, with approaching winter and snowfall, it would be nearly a two month’s trek back through those torturous canyons, forests, and deserts to winter pastures in the Salt River Valley. The bucks — the rams — are introduced into the herd during the summer months and the return trip would be even harder, for the ewes would be heavy with lambs.
The pampered bucks escape the hardships of the trail. They are trucked several hundred miles to reach summer and winter pastures. (See Chapter 4.)
In some pine needles at the edge of the cienega, I found a weatherworn ram’s horn, obviously several years old. Bucks are found only at the home ranch; this was a sign which even I could read that we were nearing the end of our journey. I put the ram’s horn in my pack as a memento of the trek.
A mile or so farther on, in another enormous cienega, we came upon the owner, Gunnar Thude, awaiting our arrival. “Damn good we’re here,” remarked Pablo, as he picked a suitable campsite.
Gunnar had brought large sacks of salt, which Pablo and Rosalio spread out in tiny piles throughout the meadow. The sheep were some distance away in the forest, but as Rosalio gave his familiar call of the salting, “Sheepie, Sheepie, Sheepie,” they came running almost frantically. He and Pablo both voiced the even more potent call “Ba-a-a-a-, ” and the sheep crowded and surged about the salt piles. The animals responded with “baas” of their own, which saturated the camp and filled the air. It was a different quality of sound than they made when running to water; the herd seems to have special language for special occasions.
It was impossible to distribute the salt so that every animal could get an equal share. A few of the less fortunate were not able to get any. The animals crowded about the small piles, there was some pushing — but not excessive — and no fighting. Sheep, even in critical situations, are gentle.
With the salting completed, Rosalio, Pablo, and Gunnar made the official count of the herd. Only four were missing — the little lamb which had fallen behind after leaving the sheep bridge, and the lame animals which had purposely been butchered to put them out of their pain.
Rosalio had actually picked up seven strays since the count at the Mule Springs Corral below Heber. He had done what perhaps no other person could have accomplished — brought all his “children” safely through the ordeal of this roughest of sheep trails.
As the final count was announced he smiled, but said nothing. I broke out into gooseflesh, a measure of the depth of my emotions. I was thinking of the simple courage which Rosalio and Pablo had displayed; of the hardships which they had endured in contributing their bit toward the things which made American life comfortable and good. I was breathing a “thank you” that they —and the sheep — and yes, I also — had concluded the journey safely.
My thoughts were carrying back not only along the trail itself, but back through time. Once more, in this cienega, I was pushing back to the very beginning of things.
That counting of the sheep, the results of which had just been announced; it was the necessity for figuring the sheep count, at the beginnings of civilization, that had stirred the first need for mathematics. The ancestors of these sheep in this cienega before me had helped give birth to one of our most lofty sciences.
That ram’s horn, which I had found back at the edge of the woods; it was a veritable trumpet of history. It was the blowing of the rams’ horns, seven times, by which Joshua signaled the fall of the walls of Jericho. Before that, it was the sounding of the ram’s horn — the biblical trumpet — that heralded Moses’ ascent of Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments. The sounding of the ram’s horn summoned warriors to battle and worshippers to the temple. The ram’s horn was among the first instruments of music. Literally, the ancestors of these sheep helped give birth to the symphony orchestra. Tubas, horns, trombones — all are amplifications of the horn of the ram.
At night, over this cienega, the constellation of Aries, the Ram, would be riding high in the sky. Aries is the first of the twelve signs of the Zodiac. Sheep were at the very beginnings of things.
Sheep contributed to the making of light with the use of mutton tallow for early candles. Ancient folklore, such as the Legend of the Golden Fleece, has sprung from the herd. The earliest clothes, blankets, simple beds, tents — even the ceilings of the sacred temples — were made of sheepskins.
As these thoughts came to me, as I mentally reviewed the fifty-two days which lay behind me, I seemed to be clothed in antiquity.
I was realizing that this sheep business as it is carried on in Arizona had not changed greatly since Bible times. I was realizing once again that Rosalio, an unassuming Mexican- American herder, had characteristics similar in many ways to the shepherd David. This trail was an Arizona reenactment of David’s Twenty-third Psalm
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. ” These words evoked a picture of Rosalio’s struggles to provide forage and water in the desert.
“He restoreth my soul,” summarized the trail’s solitude and grandeur and its spiritual effects.
“He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. ” Only Rosalio’s leadership had brought his charges through the shadows.
“Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. ” Rosalio with his crooked staff was the very picture of an Old Testament character.
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. ” I visioned the salting of the sheep.
“Thou anointest my head with oil. ” Often I had seen Rosalio salve wounded sheep with ointment.
“My cup runneth over. ” The cup was Rosalio’s battered hat, holding water for his dogs. Or those overflowing forest-fringed pools of precious water for the sheep.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. ” Peace and plenty at journey’s end was the herd’s reward for fifty-two exacting days.
Sheep are unchanging symbols of humanity’s arduous trek across the world. If David could return, he would find that he and Rosalio had common bonds of interest and concern.