Just over the hills from the rush of Silicon Valley life the old ranch sits in a little valley between three hills — weather-beaten, deserted, silent. The long-forgotten road to town divides the ranch yard and is still barely discernable as it disappears into a hill slide to the north and into a modern-day fire road to the south. Lined with fieldstone fences, the road once was saddle horse and buggy-width but over the last 100 years the stones have fallen and cattle have broken the neatly stacked rock fences into jumbled piles of jig-saw pieces.
On the west side of the road, the old ranch house once snuggled against the hillside. Its two-story wooden structure shaded by the three huge cottonwood trees. The house windows once were softened by lace curtains and row upon row of ‘gingerbread’ woodwork ornamented the front and sides of the huge wrap-around porch which welcomed strangers and friends alike to the coolness of lemonade and a warm chat. Today, only a few pieces of charred wood and a broken foundation can be found under the towering cottonwoods to attest to the once proud structure.
Across the road from the house site and slightly to the south is the ranch barn. The huge corrals around the barn are fenced and cross-fenced into large and small holding pens where thousands of head of cattle were branded, wormed and dehorned in the life of the ranch. The barn boards are chalk white with the wood grain raised where the softer parts of wood have been worn away by time and weather. Rafters hold bird nests since man has long departed. Giant barn doors, large enough to drive a diesel truck through, swing on rusty, squeaking hinges. Only birds and a few stray cattle wander in and out of the barn to find retreat in the cool darkness on summer days or dryness from winter rains and snow. The huge wall studs are worn round from the constant rubbing of cattle. And a section of the north wall overlooking the loading chutes is charred with dozens of brands placed there by ranchers over the years while sorting and counting cattle.
Directly across from the barn sits the storage shed — open-fronted with three closed sides. An old wagon sits inside with its strange collection of baling wire, broken iron pieces and rotten harness as if waiting for someone to replace its one rimless wheel and once again be hitched behind a team of horses. With the wagon sit other pieces of discarded and forgotten ranch equipment around which ground squirrels scatter into burrows under corner walls. Sparrows nest in the hooks and notches of wooden wall pegs where bridles, lanterns, saddles and harness once hung.
Up the road from the storage shed and across a little creek is another smaller house. Its four rooms contain a combined sitting, parlor and living room with an old assortment of torn magazines, newspapers and furnishings dating from the early 1900s. The kitchen has the remains of oilcloth on two pantry shelves and the old iron wood-burning stove has nests of mice in its lower recesses. The one-legged table leans precariously against the wall opposite the stove and the old wicker and ‘barroom’ chairs groan as they are set upon their legs after so many years of lying in a corner undisturbed.
The door to the bedroom hangs on one hinge and the floor is missing — vandals had long ago removed it for their own use. The other bedroom contains a small closet with a stack of burlap bags and their tags telling what was in the sack and how much it sold for in 1930. An old bed frame and springs lie like bare bones as rodents have long since stripped it of its ticking and stuffing.
The ranch is quiet and still as if guarding its memories and secrets of bygone days and life accumulated over the years. The only sounds are the clip-clop of my horse’s hooves on the dirt and the sharp chirp of ground squirrels as we plod down the almost-forgotten road we had discovered. The small house seems to watch us through glassless window eyes as we intrude upon its silent secrets and splash across the little stream into the barnyard.
The gate to the main corral stands open. And the green grass inside seems to invite Sig in for a few minutes of grazing as if to once again feel the press of horse hooves on its surface while listening to the gentle chewing of a grazing horse.
I unsaddle Sig and turn him loose into the main corral. I toss the saddle onto a fence rail, worn round on the top from other saddles from other times as other horses grazed where Sig now does.
Climbing onto the top fence rail, I sit quietly. One can hear the sounds of the ranch slowly begin to return. The leaves of the cottonwoods rustle in a light breeze. Water drips from the oak storage tank into a moss-covered wooden water trough. A bird darts out of one of the huge barn doors as it swings partially open — just far enough before the rust-covered hinge stops it.
And if one listens carefully and breathes softly, you can also hear some of the sounds of yesterday — the jingle of harness and the clopping of an approaching team coming up the road. The barking of the ranch dog as it races down the road to greet team and wagon. The cackling of chickens around the old wagon in the storage shed. The whinny of horses in their tie stalls in the barn. The mooing of cows and calves in the corrals. And the slamming of a screen door and footsteps along the wide porch from the ghost of the white house snuggled under the cottonwood trees.