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This is part two of a two-part investigative humor series on a tax-deductible trip my family and I took out West, during which, as we shall see, I was very nearly killed by a possible bear.

While in Montana we spent a couple of peaceful days in a cabin on the Bench Ranch, which is owned by Jack and Susan Hyneman, veteran ranchers who know what a heifer is and are not afraid to walk right up and touch a live horse.

The Bench Ranch is just up the road a piece from the town of Fishtail, which is not far from Roscoe. The major industry in the Fishtail-Roscoe metroplex is cows. Cows do not have what you would call a varied lifestyle. Every morning they wake up and have a group planning meeting. They go: "Well, what does everybody want to do today?" "I know! Let's stand around eating and pooping!" "Sounds good!"

I generally don't go near cows, because they, like horses, fall into the category of Large Animals With Unnecessarily Hard Feet. But my son, Robby, wanted to see them up close, and finally, by accusing me of being a coward, which I am, he got me to climb with him over the fence, so that we were inside with the actual cows. There were maybe 50 of them, and they all looked up at us and started moving around in a suspicious manner, suggesting to me that they had just that morning decided to quit eating grass and become carnivorous. Also they were making sounds in Secret Cow Code.

"Let's pretend to be harmless herbivores," they were saying, "then use our unnecessarily hard feet to squash them like jelly doughnuts!"

So I climbed back out of there pronto. But the next day I went back, this time protected by a real cowperson named Jeff Guckenberger, and his dog, L. C. (for "Last Chance"). L. C. is a hard-working, very strict, 40-pound dog who does not approve of the cow lifestyle. At the slightest signal from Jeff, she'd leap off the truck and charge into a group of 800-pound cows, barking orders.

"You morons!" she'd bark. "How many times do I have to tell you? You're not supposed to stand here! You're supposed to stand there!"

And the cows, whose tongues are bigger than L. C., would move.

Everybody should have a dog like this. You know how, when you throw a party, all the guests gather in the kitchen, and you can't get them to move into the living room? You could just give the signal, and L. C. would come charging into the kitchen, barking and nipping at your guests' heels, and in no time they'd be in the living room.

Our big excitement at the Bench Ranch was watching a calf get born. One of the cows just lay down on her side, and a little while later she emitted a baby cow about the size of John Sununu. It looked painful, but the other cows paid no attention. They just chewed and watched us.

"They don't have a strong support group," said Jeff.

Meanwhile, the bull who fathered this calf was off with the other bulls, drinking beer and playing cards. Life can be tough, for a cow.

After we left the Bench Ranch we drove down the road several hundred pieces to Cody, Wyo., which is even less populous than Billings. We stayed in the mountains outside of town in a cabin owned by Ted and Kate Williams, who, like so many couples with small children, are concerned about the issue of: bears. Yes. There are real bears running around out there, unsupervised, without licenses or collars or anything.

I became concerned about this issue myself soon after we

arrived, when I walked up the hill from the main house to the cabin at dusk to get a frozen pizza out of the refrigerator for the kids. As I walked back down the hill, alone, in the gathering darkness, it occurred to me that I was a natural target for bears. Pretty soon I was walking fast, then actually sprinting down the hillside, whirling my head around looking for large, dark shapes, ready to fling the pizza at them if necessary.

You may laugh, but that night it snowed, and the next morning Robby found big round tracks outside the cabin, and Kate said she thought maybe they were bear tracks. So do I. When you've been out West as long as I have, roughly six days, you get a feel for these things, and those tracks definitely belonged to a bear, probably violent. It might even have been a heifer.

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