Thursday, November 19, 2020

It Could Happen!

I had a blog all started about the mild November we were having in the mountains. How I had walked a tributary of Meadow Creek looking for brook trout spawners and, not finding any, had decided it had been too warm and sunny yet. And how, at the spring, the water bubbled up sending concentric circles out in a delicately repeated pattern. Then it all ended abruptly with snow and high winds. We've been in the hills every day since, gathering stragglers, breaking water, convincing cattle that there was indeed grass under the snow and to go eat it already!

Yesterday we trailed the herd to a lower pasture and will get another couple of weeks before walking them down to the home ranch. I checked the cabin before we left and discovered someone had broken a window out and put a big hole in the card table. Luckily the window was a slider so I brought it home to get fixed. It takes two weeks to get a replacement and I doubt if the roads will be passable by then. I hate to think of the window being out all winter. We have a saying for this kind of disappointment in our fellow humans: “people are the worst.”

I’m loving it at home as the days get shorter. This time of year a homemaker’s thoughts turn to tending the wood stove, comfort cooking, and wading through all the domestic jobs we neglected while the weather took us outdoors. But the outdoors still beckon. I took the dogs for a walk tonight and smelled the sweet fragrance of damp cottonwood leaves and tromped through lots of sumptuous stockpiled grass. The buckskin and browns of the horses mirror the now muted colors perfectly.  

I keep thinking about a CD that Mark and I listened to as we traveled back and forth to the mountains. It’s a book called Outwitting the Devil by Napolean Hill, which was written in 1938, post WWI and in the midst of the Great Depression, and while Hitler was gathering power in Germany. The author is interviewing the Devil. It was chilling to listen to the Devil explain that the ability to think for ourselves is his greatest enemy and how through propaganda the public is manipulated thereby creating a perfect void for his influence.

As a counterweight, I just finished the book, From What Is to What If, by Rob Hopkins. It’s a hopeful book, so fitting for today with a pandemic upon us and an election under threat. The author admonishes us to cultivate our sense of imagination, and that it is, in fact, the only way to find solutions to complex, nagging, seemingly insurmountable problems.

It applies to our world, our local communities, and right here at home on the ranch. How does it look and feel if, as Hopkins describes, “it all turns out OK?” Well, for the ranch it looks like a great quality of life for us and our kids AND the work getting done. For our community it looks like neighbors protecting neighbors by using Covid spread prevention practices without a fuss. For our world it plays out with a united front against climate change which reduces fossil fuel use AND leads to better land management that cycles carbon in healthy ways.  

I wrote a quote from the book that encapsulates this crazy notion that what we can imagine, we can create. I wrote it on our whiteboard in the kitchen, “I bet it can be done, though.” 

November colors

good grazing on fresh feed

This grass fills me up

Sunday, November 1, 2020

2020 Friends

Yes, I feel apprehension before the election. And I’m concerned and feel compassion for those who will be affected by the outcome more than me. But meanwhile the sun is pouring in our south-facing windows, I just dug some gorgeous carrots out of the garden, and the calves are home on green grass and staying healthy. Today I'm content. 

We weaned the calves in a two-stage process. Mark set up corrals and a chute in the mountains and put a crew together for Sunday. First we separated the calves from the cows, then one-by-one worked the calves through the chute to give them a vaccination and a multi-vitamin shot, and put a plastic flap in their nose to keep them from sucking. We let them back out with their Moms to stay together but get weaned off milk for four days. Then we went back and hauled the calves home in time to get the flaps taken out by dusk. They were put straight out on pastures with abundant drinking water nearby. 

Using nose flaps is rare in our area. It’s our third year of trying it. Most ranchers wean cold turkey like we did for many years. It's really dependent on each ranch's set up and what works for them. Remaining curious and willing to learn new things is always a good idea and we like the results so far.

We couldn't have done it without an army of friends, our faithful employees, and lots of family. The kids came home to help and Anita prepared beef soup for lunch. I heated the soup in a cabin nearby so we could get out of the wind to eat. And wind there was. At the end of the day we looked horrible. Our eyes were gummy and part of the crew still had a long drive ahead of them before starting their work week on Monday. I made a note to round up some goggles for next time.    

We say thank you to our helpers, but it always seems so inadequate. Our friends give up their free time to essentially do slave labor for fun. Good grief.  

I had "none jobs" (a kid saying) after lunch, so I cleaned the cabin with a squirt bottle of cleaner someone had left behind and a couple of random paper towels. Lots of sweeping of flies from the carpet. I could watch the crew working cattle, but be inside where it was quiet and warmed by the wood stove. 

I usually worry a lot before big cattle days like this, but managed to stop myself this time. I just put my trust in my husband and went with the flow. After nigh on 30 years of marriage and working together on the ranch, I’m sure Mark just shakes his head. What he doesn’t know is how many crises I've averted by worrying ahead of time!

Trust, faith, calm - such good attributes to keep in mind as we enter a winter with a pandemic raging, civil unrest simmering, and an election where 70% of people think that if their guy loses doomsday will ensue. If you’re worried, my best idea is to do something that fills you up today. Contribute to your community. Get outdoors and revel in autumn. Think hard about your principles, write that letter to the editor, attend your next zoom call with a smile, and get on with it.   

our dream team

a dirty windy day

Friday, October 16, 2020

Walking through History

The wind is blowing again, three days in a row. It always does this just when you want the colorful leaves of autumn to stay suspended in the trees - but no - they fall to the ground one after another. 

It’s a lovely time of year on the ranch for lots of reasons. One the beauty . . . and the silence. Another is that it’s transition time. The work flow has a gap in it so that we can do something special – something that isn’t routine maintenance of a cow herd. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s still about cows! It’s always about cows. 

Mark and Jesse hauled several loads of gravel for odds and ends work in the mountains. Fall is the only time you can drive through the seeps without getting stuck. They shored up some creek crossings to funnel the cattle to an easy crossing which helps protect the stream banks. 

Mark and I had a couple of “date night” pasture walks. I campaign for these times because for the rest of the year we go to the fields to work – to feed cows in the winter, to irrigate or hunt weeds in the summer - anything but walk and talk and listen and learn. Mark needs a nudge to go because I don’t think he likes the probing questions I ask. I get it. Questions with answers that look like work aren’t helpful. But I still think we can make progress without causing more work if we think big enough. It could happen! 

I tell Mark that finding the right questions to ponder is my forte. I’m not going to rebuild the irrigation dykes or reconfigure a headgate by myself. I’ll help him repair fence, but won’t build one on my own. The role of a ranch wife is her own creation. Some women do build that fence - and others are so removed they couldn’t even show you where the fence is. 

We spent a day in the hills loosening fences for winter and I took photos of how the creeks and pastures look before winter. We discussed the existence of old roads, barely visible, that seem to lead to nowhere, and were surely put there by sheepherders pulling their camps and tending thousands of sheep in the early days of white settlement, long before fences divided the land by ownership. The ruts are grassed in; a rusted tin can lies in the grass, left to tell the story. 

We often look at a piece of land and try to imagine its historical potential. How did this look before modern humans came on the scene? It’s a good exercise for ranchers, and for everyone else that cares about our future.


pasture walking

wild range that was farmed
then planted back into grass 

How did this stream look in the days of the buffalo? 

rock wall built by my great grandfather
to generate hydro power
but abandoned in the early 1900's 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

September Vows

Cole and Anna were married the first week of September, when summer was at her most brilliant. What a beautiful time for a wedding, if the weather holds that is. And hold it did. In fact, we had cool weather right up until the week of the wedding. Then as the forecast unfolded it got warmer and warmer to peak on the Saturday of the wedding. We were sweating after dark on the dance floor.

Two days later it all came crashing down – literally - with rain and high winds that felled mighty limbs on the site of the ceremony.

Turns out the ranch fixes up pretty good. Our cow pasture was glammed up by lights strung between poles in Cole’s carefully set out arrangement. Linen was draped over straw bales, a dance floor leveled on the grass. Being a grazing enthusiast, I have to say the pasture, which had been harvested once and allowed to regrow, was gorgeous and emerald green, the perfect backdrop to Anna’s color scheme of cinnamon and navy. Our native cottonwoods shaded, sheltered and cozied us all in their steadfast manner. Even the strawberry clover, which the photographer called wildflowers, were featured as foreground in the sunset photos.  

As a writer I love words. The word that comes to mind is providence, but what does it mean exactly? God or nature as providing protective or spiritual care.  Ah yes. It felt like that. Like nature held off as long as it could to bless a couple of kids, then let loose just to show us her power. It was humbling, just as it was humbling to witness these young people pledge their futures to one another while basking in the warm embrace (covid friendly mind you) of their family and friends as they embark on what they know will be, at times, rocky seas.

Because of the pending festivities, Mark finally took the time to finish the steps and retaining walls off the back of the house. Now that he’s done the heavy lifting, I can fret and fuss over the plants that live there for the rest of my days. As you read this, Mark, consider being told again how much I appreciate it.  

My vegetable garden was part of the decor. There was a row of sunflowers on one side and random flowers throughout. I planted the cosmos one year and now they voluntarily come up wherever they want. This year I gave the seedlings a little more leeway and they were scattered around the cucumbers and beets with their pink and white blooms. Even the carrots and swiss chard knew to be pretty this year. A wedding was just the push I needed to get the dripline done as well.  

It was a precious experience, from the girl trip to Boise where we found the perfect gown in an out-of-the-way dress shop, to the last minute clasping of great-great grandma True’s pearls around her neck.

As I write this, Mark is in the kitchen putting some words together for his aunt’s funeral. She died the day before the wedding. My Mom died in September too. Actually, considering it all, September is a good month to pass over to the other side - and a good month to marry. As we put the finishing touches on summer, we celebrate another growing season’s production and store up for the future. One part is finishing up, maturing and cycling back into the soil. The other part is seed dispersal and the storing of energy in roots or pollen for food in the faith of chapters yet to come.

I have a line I use this time of year, “September breaks your heart.” And so it did again. Death always does, but a wedding does it as well. It breaks your heart wide open with all the love you can hold. It leaves bare the hopes and humility we always feel as parents. I know I speak for Cole's Mom and Dad as well, that as our children leave us and commit to a new partnership, the heaviness we feel is good and right, and only proves our rock solid support for their lives ahead. 

above photos by thistleandpinecreative

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Taking our Turn

We spent a day in the hills checking the herd and putting out salt. I was the salt guy (gal?) and in my travels found what was left of an old homesteading cabin. The four walls were lying on the ground and in the middle was a dilapidated cookstove. The lettering on the stove said it was manufactured in St Louis, Missouri. That’s a long haul even before it got to the mountains of Idaho.

I had taken my wildflower ID book so I was able to identify a flower I hadn’t noticed before. It grows alongside yarrow, a ubiquitous white flower this time of year, and they look a lot alike. It never registered with me that it was a different species. My book said the new flower was yampah, and that the Native Americans had eaten the root tubers. I had my trusty shovel with me so I dug up some plants. The tubers tasted like carrots just like the book said. Mark said they were right tasty. 

How would anyone have survived living in a log cabin up here? And for the natives, how did they get the tubers without a shovel and for such little reward? We love this range and its many wonders. I have to keep in mind that we’re just taking our turn.

I stayed mostly inside today to avoid the heat. I went out for short spells and then back in to do housework, which is always waiting. I felt a little discombobulated until it occurred to me to bake a favorite of Mark’s, zucchini bread. If you like to bake, you’re probably making the recipe for two loaves which calls for 3 cups of flour and 2 cups of zucchini. Here’s a tip, use 3 cups of squash instead. The bread is more moist, healthier, and best of all it uses up more zucchini and that’s really the point, right?  

We're sleeping in the basement under a window and noticing the moonlight. I found a neat internet site called that shows the times of the sun and moon rising and setting, and lots of other good information about day length, etc. What interests me most are the phases of the moon. It tells the exact illumination of the moon on the current day. Today is the new moon, but only 1.4% is visible, so we won’t be able to see it for another couple of days. Then it will be more correct to call it a young moon.  

My grandmother and great-grandmother both left behind diaries. They were very aware and appreciative of the natural world. Of course in those days, living off the land, they were absolutely dependent upon it, more so than us even though we derive our livelihood there as well. They listened for the first killdeer and meadowlark in the spring. They recorded the weather and the pulse of irrigating and harvesting on the farm. And they competed to be the first to see the new moon every month. I know to watch as the moon waxes to full, but know very little about the new moon. My ancestors didn’t have a website, they lived it. But I’ll take the help and try to catch up with them. 

yampah, so delicate and lovely

they often have a double tuber

a tough way to live

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Covid Gardening

I’ve been practicing - learning to change the things I can, and to accept the things I can’t. I’m also reminding myself that other people get to choose how they spend their days. I get to choose how I spend mine. We all need to practice personal responsibility of course and work in teams, especially a marriage, but there’s plenty of margin around the edges to choose.

Why that particular thought belongs with covid gardening, I’m not sure. I’ve always had a garden, but in a pandemic it’s stylish again. Oh, so that’s why I ought to learn how to grow my own food! It's one of the silver linings to our current situation. Apparently covid gardens can go by other names more like the victory gardens of WWI and II - hope gardens, good news gardens. I like the term solace garden.

Planting and tending a vegetable garden, then harvesting and preparing food for the table is as real as real gets. I’m lucky that Mark appreciates my home-grown produce. He tells me he can eat all the swiss chard I can grow. He also loves beet greens with little beets attached to the end. We eat it all, right down to the roots. Bitter on top, then almost sweet at the end. Summer itself.

I like to include flowers with the vegies as well. This season it’s a row of sunflowers. They were doing wonderfully until yesterday when one stout, glorious fellow just fell over. When I investigated, I found insects had bored through the stem right at ground level. Now my perfect row has a hole in the middle of it. Mark said what he always says, “things are seldom ideal.”

Speaking of less than ideal circumstances, I took a drink from Mark’s water jug he had left in the front seat of the pickup. I felt something slide in my mouth and swallowed it; thought I was imagining things and took another swig only to have more slip down my throat. When I tipped the jug back an earwig was crawling by the mouthpiece. Yuck. The neighbor lady overheard me calling Mark to complain and suggested I call a nurse because the earwigs might burrow into my intestines. Not likely. I’m still alive and feeling fine. So - lesson learned. A word comes to mind when speaking of earwigs – interminable – and they are, so I’m sure many people have ingested them in their drinking water by mistake and lived to tell about it. When I went to bed last night I envisioned them crawling up my throat in my prone position.

Other July adventures included camping with my extended family. We reserved a large campground and arrived with a variety of tents (pup and family), campers (rented, old, new, deluxe), and a repurposed school bus (take away the s and h and it reads cool bus). We do like most families I suppose. Young adults bike and hike and tend kids, little kids explore and play in the dirt. Oldsters, of which I’m a member, prepare food and sit around the campfire telling stories. I broke ranks by going on a mountain bike ride with Seth, but I do love the campfire conversations. My niece said that’s why she goes camping with the family – for the stories. Bless her.

Like I said, I'm practicing - practicing gratitude most of all. And though the swallows are staging a good fight to use the porch for nesting, bugs are crawling and chewing, the heat has slowed grass regrowth to a crawl and the weeds are calling my name, I still walk around in awe of the headiness of mid-summer. We all know it won't last. I have a Buddhist saying near my keyboard, the trouble is you think you have time. July is like that. 

my solace garden

its been a great year for wild primrose 

Thinnings for supper

I counted a dozen ladybugs feasting on ragweed aphid

climbing cucumber tendrils,
 so delicate yet so strong

Callie enjoying Rich's cowboy coffee

this cow pasture is pollinator paradise

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Classifying July 2020

We have a pair of cedar waxwings nesting in the quakie outside our office window. They were building the nest one day while we watched. The male, we assume, held on to his beakfull of cotton from the cottonwood trees while the female got hers safely secured in the nest. Then they put beaks together as he transferred his bundle to her for proper placement. We’ve always loved waxwings - so velvety, so creamy - and to have them nest right under our nose is a treat. 

After a cold spell it’s turned off hot again for Independence Day. It’s been wet, and all around us plant life is exploding. We live in the middle of chaos. There’s a willow-lined canal on one end, a cottonwood forest on the other, brushy dry sandhills, irrigated pastures, and lots of weeds and grasses. In simplified terms, with a variety and abundance of plant life (flora which get their energy from the sun) comes a variety and abundance of animals (fauna which breathe and forage for nutrition). In the middle of manicured farms, cattle fill the big animal niche and birds and insects thrive. On our end table is a grass book, a bird book, one on wildflowers, and a well-worn one on weeds.

Cotton is floating on the air again today. I’m pretty tired of it getting in my nose. As we walk around the ranch, putting up and taking down temporary fence, changing water and moving yearlings, different fragrances waft in and out of our awareness. The perfume from the tiny yellow blooms of the Russian Olive trees is especially pungent right now. The mountains have their own plethora of scents. When Mark got home from the range last night he said it smelled like an Avon commercial.   

We’ve been grazing the yearlings around the house. It’s one of my favorite times of the year - two weeks of watching them forage for nutrition from wherever I am around the house, the porch, the deck, or the kitchen with my morning coffee. They’re tromping around the perimeter of my vegetable garden right now, kept out by a single strand of electrified string - nerve wracking!

When the cattle change paddocks they eat the forbs first, those weedy/wildflower-like plants. They also like tree leaves, and of course grass, of which we have a multitude of varieties, quack, orchard, brome, timothy, etc. Fred Provenza, author of Nourishment, What Animals Can Teach Us About Rediscovering Our Nutritional Wisdom, talks about the value of diversity in our diet and in the diet of grazing animals. Animals are hard wired to pick and choose a diet that is healthiest for them. We have the same ability, but it has mostly been lost in our hyper processed/over analyzed food culture.

We celebrated the 4th by sitting on the deck and watching the full moon rise above the cattle at work. Out of the blue Mark asked me, "what pleases you about your life right now?" I enjoyed exploring that one, and then asked him the same question. His response: "times like these."  

Sometimes I get comments from readers about our way of life. They're very nice and complementary, as if what we do is something to cherish - and I suppose it is. But, truly, it is just life – with all its beauty and all its imperfections. The pandemic has brought this fact front and center - if one has enough to eat, health, and a home with a dose of freedom and security, we’re all in the same boat. I can be as unhappy (or happy) as anyone. 

Mark reminded me about Willie's song, Good Times. The last verse goes like this:

Here I sit with a drink and a memory,
But I'm not cold, I'm not wet, and I'm not hungry,
So, classify these as good times.
Good times.

a string protects my butterfly garden

. . . . and my vegetables

build it (let it grow) and they will come