Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Another Artist

I don’t know how it happened, but this ranch, this family, raised a dancer. Callie learned at 14 what her passion was, and has never wavered, only honed her skill.

She came home on Monday and spent a week with family. She rode horseback gathering cattle in the mountains. She played volleyball with her cousins. She taught yoga one morning to her aunts. She shoveled dykes with Mark. And she danced.

Our family has a treasure in an ancestral home, which provided the perfect backdrop for Callie’s lovely movements. Left untouched, the home stands unchanged for nearly five generations. The plaster crumbles and the walls are stained, the floors dirty. But these imperfections only add to its charm. We took still photos and videos for Callie to take back to Manhattan to gauge interest in a dream project. She wants to recapture, through dance for camera, the artistry of her great grandmother, who was a writer, and her great-great grandmother, who loved to dance. 

We moved from one enchanting vignette to another. The photos have an ethereal quality about them – something about the light coming through the gauze curtains and the weight of time. The antiques, the hardwood floor, the handmade bricks, all provide the perfect setting to show off Callie’s grace. I have always loved the old home, and what a treat it was to create art with my daughter in that sacred space.  

sumptuous back-lighting

 fifty year old pickets
by Mimi's organ

the screened porch

Friday, June 17, 2011

Paradise Found

It’s a bit of a celebration when we reach Paradise Valley each year. It’s always in the evening - following the longest trailing day of the longest trailing week of the year. The cattle fill up and look for their calves while we have a bite to eat and visit - weary but satisfied.

Unbelievable, but the dogs still need called back from the cattle after traveling a million miles controlling the herd. They’ve been going on heart for hours, an anomaly I've never figured out. 

After we unsaddled, Seth lined up the horses for a portrait. They were agreeable only because they were tired.      

Anna’s friend Harli was a real trooper. With little cowboying experience, she hung in there and helped a lot. She and Seth and Anna were bringing up the drag and got into trouble in the timber. I could hear them hollering and knew they needed help. I rushed back to find them in a panic. There were about 50 calves convinced that Mom was in the opposite direction. Harli was urging the calves ahead, leading Anna’s horse as Anna darted back and forth on foot, dodging quakies and jumping the creek. My daughter was red-faced and mad! She thought the rest of the crew had abandoned them. Seth was on a young horse, doing his best to hold things together. They only lost one calf.

We’ve had many similar instances. A time or two we lost the whole bunch and had to start over the next day.

I told Anna later, “You find out what you’re made of up here.”

Some days the challenge is merely physical, often wet and cold, or the opposite - hot, sweaty, and dusty, with a body aching from too many hours straddling a horse. Then there's the emotional challenge. Fear, when crossing boggy creeks or navigating steep terrain on an unsure horse. Frustration, when the herd feels like dead weight with many miles to go. And all the while, finding your own capacity to keep pushing past boredom and exhaustion.

I don’t think young people get that opportunity enough in our world, a chance to gather their physical and mental capabilities, face a challenge and come out the other side with success.  

Mark mothers them up

the remuda at trails' end

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Geology Lesson

We’re making our way to the mountains with the second set of pairs. Being on the trail during the first warm weekend means lots of recreationers driving to and fro. Some folks enjoy seeing the cows and calves. I told one family they could ease through the herd, but they were reluctant to leave and even got out to walk behind the cows for awhile. “No one is in a hurry up here are they?” said the driver. Truth is, many sightseers are annoyed by us and hardly slow down.

Seth schooling Classic

We stopped at White Slides just after noon. Seth and I hiked down into the slides, he with his binoculars and me with my camera. We left Anna and her dog Clyde tending the herd. Some cows keep their calves at their side when trailing, others walk on ahead, so "mothering up" is an important daily activity. They have a strong instinct to go back to where the calf last sucked so they need to be watched until they find each other.

The slides are a geological wonder. The white layered precipices are in stark contrast to the grey lava bluffs just a short distance away. What long ago lake formed these layers? What combo of fire and water created this peaceful scene? I told Seth about my college course in geology, and how it got boring when all we did was I.D. rocks. He wants to take a course too, and I trust it will be better. 

We followed a muddy path which carries runoff and debris down the bottom of the canyon. I’m forever picking up aluminum cans along the road, so wasn’t surprised to see them here too. And no less than three automobile tires were lodged in the mud.

Seth is all about animals and found a few lizards to pursue. He turns twenty tomorrow, but acts like a kid when immersed in nature. For me, it's the plant life I notice. Seeps coming out of the north aspect, and dry conditions on the south, make a paradox of species - moss under fir on the cooler, wetter, north side, and rice grass under juniper on the drier, southern exposure.   

juniper, an old one

 arrowleaf balsamroot 
Cowboy boots aren't the best for hiking, but other than that it was great fun. When we got back to the herd, we found Anna sound asleep. A few cows were having a “graze away;” but no harm done.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Trail

When I was a kid we called it “the cattle drive.” The most anticipated event of the year (except for Christmas, of course). The Pratts, the ranch I married into, make a similar trek each spring. They call it “the Trail,” the 5-6 day walk to summer range. 
The first half of the herd made it to their destination by Saturday. On Wednesday it was a light day, so Seth and I took them by ourselves from Boosies to Cedar Creek, up Womach Hill, and on to White Slides. Every curve and mountain, every creek, every natural marker has a name on the trail. Seth rode Classic, his 4-year-old colt, and I rode lively 14-year-old Birdie. Kate and Cassie went along as well, our border collie dogs.

At Cedar Creek we stopped to water the herd for an hour or so. It’s a special place to me because it’s the site of my Mom’s childhood home. Grandpa homesteaded the ground and made a meager living dry farming. They were forced out eventually, as were all the other homesteaders in the hills. Drought and late frosts doomed the farmers in the end. A fenced marker commemorates the spot where my grandmother served as postmistress of the community of Alridge. All that’s left of the once thriving neighborhood is a rusted combine and a few fallen down cabins.

Several trees still stand at the old homesite. I’ll bet grandma and grandpa planted the silver leaf maple. It provided shade and shelter to their family; now it harbors cavity nesters in its aged trunk. A goldfinch sings from the top of the elm. The creek flows. The breeze rustles the grass. Life continues.

They took their turn and now it is mine.

Grandma's maple

lounging at lunchtime with Kate

done for the day