I participated in an art event in June up at Wolf Creek Pass. “Art for the Endangered Landscape: Honoring Wolf Creek”. I hiked. I photographed. I set up and painted. In the end I realized being ‘in’ the mountains I couldn’t ‘see’ the mountains. I couldn’t feel the vastness of the Great Divide. Feel what it took to labor over Wolf Creek Pass to get from the Front Range to the Western Slope. I wanted to step back and feel what it meant to look at a mountain range and then travel its passes. Up in the mountains I was having a true ‘I couldn’t see the forest for the trees moment’. Or rather, ‘I couldn’t see the mountains for the trees’. I drove back down the pass and looked back. This is what I wanted to paint. I could see the ‘big picture’. Life is like that. Sometimes we just need to step back and take the long view and everything feels right with the world again.
I painted my first longhorn because I find them beautiful. I painted these because I also find them inspiring. The longhorn today are descendants of domestic Iberian cattle that survived the ocean journey in the holds of Spanish ships in the 1500’s. They are one of the few species to have been domesticated twice. The feral animals that were lost or escaped returned to the wild, multiplied and moved north through Mexico and into Texas surviving in the harsh environment for nearly 300 years before we again intervened and nearly drove them to extinction. Their incredible ability to adapt and survive is a lesson. Their history is fascinating. The amazing horn length came about over their centuries in the wild since the cows most able to fight and defend their calves were the ones with the longer horns.
My favorite story is from Frank Dobie’s ‘The Longhorns’. I came across it while reading a bit of history on the Longhorn Alliance website. I’ve edited it to make it a bit more readable. The following episode occurred about 1850 on Noah Smithwick’s property near Bushy Creek in Texas.
“Two of the longhorned bulls took up with Smithwick’s cattle and became quite domesticated. About the same time, wolves began to prey upon the herd. When the milk cows and other gentle stock were attacked, they would try to get to the house. The longhorns, on the other hand, would form a ring around their calves and, presenting a line of horns, would fight the wolves off.”