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A few ‘Stay at Home Sundays” back, Jan and I headed out to enjoy a beautiful, socially responsible afternoon. Our plan, we agreed, would be a visit to the Elephant Seal rookery. 

We headed out and immediately noticed the heavy traffic flowing in both directions. Moonstone Beach Drive was packed with cars, vans, campers, and bodies. We continued up the road to San Simeon, where the narrow road leading to the pier sat clotted with vehicles parked on every inch of the roadside. 

Okay, new plan. We turned around and headed back towards town, deciding to mosey up Santa Rosa Creek Road.

To those readers not familiar with beautiful Cambria, Santa Rosa Creek Road is about nine hundred and seventy-two miles long, goes pretty much straight up, and at its widest is maybe thirty-seven inches. Cars pass so tightly that they are required to wear masks. My math might be a bit off; perhaps Mike Broadhurst can sharpen up the numbers for me.

The road takes you past Coast Union High School – go Broncos! – and ascends past farms, ranches, vineyards, and homesteads. Farm machinery and farm animals share the soundscape with the call of birds, the rustle of swaying trees, and the gurgle of water from the namesake Santa Rosa Creek that winds alongside the roadway, feeding the farms and fields and nourishing the wildlife as it makes its way to the ocean. It is stunning, beautiful, and for those of us who seldom make the drive, it can be white-knuckle inducing. (Full disclosure – I am a terrible driver, even under the best of conditions. I am the chagrined recipient of numerous “STOP TALKING AND FOCUS ON THE ROAD” awards.)

As we motored along, we encountered a few cars, a motorcycle or two, and several bicyclists laboring up and gliding down the road. I maintained a forward speed of at least thirteen miles per hour as a courtesy to those who had the misfortune of following behind. I assume the confident and occasionally impatient drivers were residents who know every twist, bump, and divot along the route.

The sound of a vocalizing cow cut through the air. As a city boy, this sound was not something I’d often heard in person. Rather than the gentle mooing of a TV cow, or the more enthusiastic proclamations from the animatronic cow at Stew Leonard’s, this sound had both a volume and sharpness that got my attention. The surrounding rocks, trees, and hills amplified the tone as it bounced around, making it hard to locate where it originated. A nearby herd soon joined in, creating a bovine dialog that filled the early summer air.

As we reached the upper section of the road, a beautiful scene unfolded in front of us. Headed downhill came three massive black cows being gently managed by a young man of perhaps thirty, who guided the herd with a quiet voice and a small stick. The trio headed toward a pasture where a cluster of fellow cud chewers grazed, lolled, and lowed. And that is the extent of my cow terminology. Standing beside the open gate that led to the pasture was a young boy of about six or seven. His job, which he was taking very seriously, was to control traffic, and then steer the cattle through the open gate. He waved us to a stop, then turned to his next task.

Now, this may seem like a “so what?” moment to those familiar with cows and such. For me, it was inspiring. 

Here is this young boy, facing several thousand pounds of animals headed right towards him. He didn’t even have a stick! Yet he stood his post, ready to turn the herd when they reached him. He held a little too close to the gate, so the man (his father? his brother?) quietly directed him to take a few steps back to give the cows all the room they required. The boy never took his eyes off the animals as he repositioned himself. The cows made the turn through the open gate and into the pasture. Their arrival set off another round of mooing, like a bovine version of Norm entering Cheers. The boy closed the gate and received a measured “good job” from his mentor.

So, a young boy facing and controlling three beasts hundreds of sizes bigger than him. A calm, focused adult giving quiet, confident directions to both the animals and the youngster waiting for the hand-off. No fear, no yelling, no big deal. Just two generations who were working together to accomplish what looked to be an intimidating and challenging task to the uneducated. As we resumed our drive, we offered our own “good job” to the two cowboys, who nodded their acceptance and went on with their work.

For those of us struggling through these unsettling times, perhaps there is a lesson to be found up on Santa Rosa Creek Road.