Santos was born on the La Pampa, where he spent most of his youth with the others meandering in the tall grass bordering the cool Atlantic waters. Like his peers, most of his thoughts encompassed filling his stomach and taking the easiest path to the day’s end. Such was the life of the Santos in his early and uneventful years.
One December morning, with the coming of the warm Argentinian sun, a bulgy eyed bird of silver and gray, landed directly on the young bulls head. The feeling of weight and movement above his eyes seemed foreign, but he quickly acclimated, and rejoined the others, eating the sweet grass and swishing his tail until nightfall.
The gauchos could always pick out Santos, because he was the only one in the herd with a bird on his head. This made them smile and want to keep them around. Perhaps they made the gauchos’ day more pleasant and this explained why year after year, when the others were gathered for market, Santos and his companion were left behind again to feast on the next spring’s succulent offerings.
Seven years from when the bird first arrived, a great wind blew ashore with such strength that the herd panicked and began to run away from the sea for shelter. There were many ravines at the base of the mountains, but to the gauchos’ delight, most all followed each other into the same boxed canyon, making their retrieval very easy.
Santos, however, had lost his vision as his companion’s wings had fanned out over his eyes during the stampede. When finally stopping, they found themselves alone in a narrow canyon, much farther north than the others, somewhere along the eastern base of the great Andes mountain range.
The canyon was so narrow and straight that Santos, plump from eating the tall green grass, could not even turn around. His only option was to move forward westward through the small crevasse in the mountain, with the bird jumping on and off his head, until reaching a sandy Chilean beach on the Pacific side of the Andes.
Gazing at the calm waves, Santos yearned to again eat the green grass of La Pampa, but he had lost his sense of direction. Aimlessly, he began a slow graze northward, past the Tropic of Cancer, eating everything between there and California. The Pacific Ocean, now a constant to his left, became his new internal compass. Absent the laughter of the gauchos and the tall grass of La Pampa, the only link to the past was the bird jumping continuously on and off his head during the long journey north.
This continued for countless sunsets. Each ended with the same insatiable hunger, the bird and the sun disappearing into the darkness over the water to the west, leaving Santos again alone with the cold nightfall.
One day, in the south of California, the bird landed heavily on Santos’s head and began incessantly pecking away. This caused even the Santos to become very annoyed. He swished his tail as fast as he could, to no avail. The pecking continued. He rocked his head up and down, the pecking increased in tempo. In his frustration, Santos ran away from the water toward a low hanging branch on a nearby tree. This finally rid him of the bothersome companion prompting the birds flight high into the air towards the far off peak of the San Jacinto.
The young bull was so relieved to be freed of the pecking, he did not notice his directional change inland. Without the ocean to his left, he would slowly wander into the vast vacuum of the Southern California desert, towards the deceiving mirage of shade and water at the base of the great mountain before him.
Now not having seen the bird for days, Santos was on his own, chewing on the tumbleweed and cacti as he meandered through the hot, barren desert towards the distant landmark. Over time, his legs grew weary, his lips and chin became bloodied from eating the various scrubs. The constant desert sun had now beaten down his body into a frail silhouette of its past. The evening brought only temporary relief, until the predictable bitter cold would sweep in and engulf Santos promoting what felt like forever until dawn. He was now lost and alone. Without the bird on his head, he could easily have been invisible.
Possibly, seeing his last sunrise, too cold to even enjoy the rewarding warmth of the early desert sun, the lost creature’s knees buckled as he slowly caved into the earth beneath him. He looked out of habit to the sky for his winged companion, only to find himself under a large billboard. About to close his eyes, perhaps for the last time, Santos thought he could smell the tall green grass of La Pampa and hear the faint laughter of the gauchos.
His instincts fading into vague memories, Santos prepared for his final nap on the floor of the barren valley surrounding him. Dreaming his last pictures slowing down towards complete darkness Santos was strangely calm and at last content to end his journey, until his demise was interrupted by something gently dragging across his forehead.
Eyes opening, the clouded image of what Santos thought was a gaucho, caressed his head with a damp cloth and then wrung it out providing small droplets of water near the bull’s caked chapped mouth. Not knowing what else to do, he took in the water and slowly gave chance to this new restart.
Time, water and the shade of the giant billboard brought on more clarity. The “gaucho” was a short man wearing glasses so thick that his eyes were blurred beyond recognition of intent. Even though Santos had never peered into the eyes of a human being at such close range, he had no option, but to follow the tugging rope and the man with no eyes to an awaiting trailer, roadside.
The strange fresh flake of compressed grass availed on the ledge at the front of the trailer was so delightful to Santos he hardly noticed being in motion or the palomino traveling in the stall next to him. Together, they both chewed away on their flakes, drank water and swished their tails as the turning wheels below them rolled eastward out of the Coachella Valley, leaving behind his bird companion and the high peak of the San Jacinto, flowing onward into the early evening stars towards the land of enchantment and the small village of Santa Fe.