COLUMN: Living on the range with that dreaded blue box of chains

Cowboy poet and veterinarian Baxter Black writes about the ranching life in his column “On the Edge of Common Sense.” (www.baxterblack.com)

I had just finished loading 184 seven-foot steel T-posts, old ones, by the way, in my pickup and was unloading a mere 24 bales of hay from the front section of my gooseneck stock trailer.

 It was a hot, humid afternoon in early fall when the dead branches begin to stick out of the cottonwood greenery, and the garden starts goin’ to heck and no one cares. I could almost smell the cumin from Ramon’s #6 Combination Plate being distilled in my sweat from lunch earlier. 

Then I saw the blue box. The dreaded blue box. It was still in the stock trailer. It needed to be moved.

The blue box is a metal toolbox I have had since I bought my first set of “made in America” sidecutters, thinking they would last longer. I have now realized that all sidecutters have the sharpness longevity of fresh fruit. They should be thrown out about as often as you empty the trash barrel in the shop.

Anyway, over the years, the blue box has become my chain holder. It will hold four or five good log chains. 

I have always said that a hundred pounds of salt weighs more than a hundred pounds of anything else. But a metal tool box full of log chains is harder to carry than a sheet of plywood in a hurricane.

There are other things that can stimulate a similar sinking feeling – the same cow prolapsing for the third time, somebody commenting that my horse seems to be favoring his left front or the phone ringing in the deep of night.

I don’t know exactly what it is about the old blue tool box that I dread. I’ve heaved it, moved it, loaded it, dropped it, pushed it and cussed it through a lifetime succession of jobs and homes, horses, and kids, and ups and downs.

Maybe it’s not because it’s heavier than God’s own anvil, clumsier than an ostrich in a Porta Potty or uglier than a ’58 Buick. No, maybe it’s because I realize it’s gonna outlive me by a long time. By its earthly clock, I’m just a temporary passerby, while it will still be here when men are walking on Pluto.

I have thoughts of storing my chains in a gunny sack, taking the old tool box to the dump and reestablishing the pecking order in my life. But every time I get as far as step one, I see it lyin’ there like a concrete loaf of bread, like a 200-pound rattlesnake, and the dread sweeps over me in a wave.

So, I let it lie or move it if I have to. I’ve come to realize there are some things you just can’t do anything about.


Baxter Black’s syndicated column is a regular feature of the Malheur Enterprise.