Jade stares at me for a moment with those Crater Lake eyes
unblinking. Two shaggy-looking reindeer stand behind her
with antlers the size of coat racks, looking like thugs
braced to beat the shit out of me if Jade gives the order.
But she seems to decide something then, and spins on her
heel to walk away. I do not check out her ass because I am
a gentleman. Also because the tail of her plaid flannel
shirt comes down past her hips.
But mostly because Iâ€™m a gentleman.
â€śCome on,â€ť she calls over her shoulder. â€śYou can walk with
me while I check the fence line.â€ť
Iâ€™m not sure what weâ€™re checking it for or why Iâ€™m already
taking orders from her when Iâ€™m not positive I have this
job. But Iâ€™ve got nothing better to do on this cold
November afternoon, so I fall in beside her and try not to
step on any piles of little black berries Iâ€™m ninety
percent sure arenâ€™t berries.
Jadeâ€™s walking fast for a girl almost a foot shorter than
me, but sheâ€™s not breathing hard at all. Sheâ€™s also not
looking at me.
â€śSo weâ€™re the third largest domesticated reindeer herd in
the continental U.S.â€ť She stops and adjusts something on a
surprisingly tall fence, then continues on like the
worldâ€™s least-friendly tour guide. â€śA lot of them came
from abusive homes or neglect situations, so Iâ€™ve been
doing rehab with them and getting them ready to interact
with the public.â€ť
I want to ask what reindeer rehab entails, but I suspect
sheâ€™d think Iâ€™m making fun of her. â€śThey look good to me,â€ť
I offer. â€śNot that I know what healthy reindeer look like,
but I assume they are. Healthy, that is.â€ť
Iâ€™m spewing word salad like itâ€™s on the menu, which isnâ€™t
like me at all. Iâ€™m usually pretty polished around women,
so I donâ€™t know why this oneâ€™s making me blather like a
Jade spares me a glance and continues walking. â€śThey are
healthy. We had four new calves born last spring, which
gives us fourteen steers, sixteen cows, and one bull whoâ€™s
not going to be a bull much longer.â€ť
Iâ€™m almost afraid to ask. â€śWhat do you mean?â€ť
She gives me a pointed look. â€śHaroldâ€”stage name Donnerâ€”is
getting castrated next week.â€ť
Jade shrugs and keeps walking. â€śBulls are impossible to
deal with during rut. Nonstop grunting from August to
December, and theyâ€™re mean as hell. Dangerous, too.â€ť
â€śIâ€™ve known guys like that.â€ť
Jade stops walking again and turns to face me. She narrows
her eyes just a little, and I fight the urge to take a
step back. â€śThey die young,â€ť she says. â€śReindeer bulls do.
You get three or four breeding seasons out of them and
they might live a year or so after that, but not much.
Unless you castrate them, theyâ€™re pretty much goners.â€ť
Iâ€™m not sure weâ€™re still talking about reindeer, but I
donâ€™t love the way she just glanced at my crotch. Or maybe
Iâ€™m imagining things. â€śSo youâ€™re cutting off his balls to
save his life.â€ť
â€śPretty much.â€ť Jade starts walking again.