Who do we owe?

Have you ever gone on vacation, looked forward to it for months, paid for most of it with a credit card, had a great time, hated to come back and then you still have to pay off the credit card bill?...

Have you ever gone on vacation, looked forward to it for months, paid for most of it with a credit card, had a great time, hated to come back and then you still have to pay off the credit card bill?

That's the way I feel about this past weekend: It was 80 degrees with no wind (in March). We were riding horses in the majesty of the Badlands and now I feel like I owe someone for that little trip to paradise, but there's no bill forthcoming, thanks to God and our hosts.

The Little Missouri Cattle Ranch, where we visited, is 25 miles north of Medora and sits in a valley right on the Little Missouri River, surrounded by Badlands beauty with black cattle spotting the hillsides and featuring, this time of year, new bright-eyed calves being born as frequently as McDonald's sells a burger.

Getting there can be a little rough, literally, if you approach it from the east, going north from Belfield and shooting west at a nine-mile marker north of there, with the scoria roads pockmarked and piteous from petroleum-related passaging.

Still, it's more than worth it and I frequently go there to help with branding, roundups and other things. But this weekend was a little different because it seemed like we were borrowing days from summer, as if there are a limited number and we might be using them up on the backend, when summer meets fall. Or doesn't it work that way? I hope not.


At any rate, I and my girlfriend, a little son, dog and two horses drove there in a leisurely manner Saturday enjoying the antelope, deer, sunshine, sage, buttes, brush and birds. Then saddled up upon arrival, rode the hills, had beverages on the porch at sunset, dined, sat around the fire and got up early the next morning.

Back in the saddle, we flushed momma cows with new calves out of the nearby hills to tag the newborns, which is basically like giving them a birth certificate, roped a couple of feisty older calves and one momma too, and leisurely rode the rugged terrain once again.

While in the valley, riding amongst trees perhaps as old as you, me and our three great-uncle's combined, we spotted a golden eagle perched high atop one of them, as though on a throne, surveying the scene and his kingdom with one small bird on call nearby, like an assistant, aide, attendant, helper or minion awaiting instructions, orders, counsel or encouragement.

I admired the eagle's elegance, confidence, fierceness and poise, thankful that the little less than four-pound-pup who'd made the trek with us was not nearby to quickly become his majesty's lunch.

Because you see, eagles can have a wingspan of up to 8 feet, weigh as much as 15 pounds and lift as much as 4 pounds. They soar to altitudes as high as 10,000 feet, and then dive for prey at up to 200 mph; able to spot a little under 4-pound puppy from up to one and a half miles away.

In fact, there are 59 species of eagles that sport about 7,000 feathers and can live from 25 to 40 years, with a talon's strike that is so powerful it hits with twice the force of a rifle bullet.

They remain faithful to their mate until death, reach sexual maturity from between 4 and 6 years of age, fly when they are only 3 months old, can be found in every state except Hawaii, love to steal food from other birds, lay one to three eggs annually (which take 35 days to incubate) and more frequently die from fatal gunshot wounds, electrocution, poisoning, collisions with vehicles, and starvation than from old age.

Of course, the bald eagle became the national emblem in 1782 when the great seal of the United States was adopted, even though Benjamin Franklin recommended that the wild turkey be our national symbol instead of the Bald Eagle during an apparent episode of non-brilliance.


Fortunately he lost out and the world's greatest national symbol reigns, certainly over the Badland's Little Missouri Cattle Ranch.

I am most appreciative that he once again allowed up to frolic in his kingdom and enjoy a weekend like nearly no other, ending with a drive through Theodore Roosevelt National Park and a herd of bison, that could easily have occupied the role of national symbol -- had they a better public relations man.

Holten is a freelance columnist and cartoonist from Dickinson.

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