Monday, July 25, 2011

Bouquets to Share

Mark and I are getting an early taste of the empty nest this week.  Anna is representing Idaho as a state FFA officer in Washington D.C., and Seth is in Des Moines at the New Century Farmer conference. FFA sponsors are footing the bill for our two kids who have a passion for agriculture advocacy. Not bad from a certified home-body mom. I wish they would text!

And so it is quiet around here.

My “cottage garden” front flower bed is pretty right now, though chaotic as usual. I’m never quite sure how it will look from year to year.  It is full of gifts from family and friends, whose transplants seem to do a lot better than flowers I spend big money for at the nursery.

My friend Gaye, who has since moved away, gave me starts from echinacea (purple cone-flower) and blanket flower just after we moved into the new house. They were the first fledgling flowers to take root here.

From Mom, who has been gone for almost a year now, came the soft lamb’s ear and the cat mint that cheers us on in the spring. I love the two quakies that Dad dug up. They anchor the front entry way and remind me of the aspen groves in the hills where the cattle summer.

The tiger lilies and feverfew came from Mark’s Mom, Anita, whose lovely yard shows a true artist’s hand. These two species have been doing their darndest to take over the place since! They're pretty, they just need a strong hand to keep them in check.

Seth found the two moose antlers that lean against the aspen trunks. Dennis and Theresa helped us gather the pink veined rocks the day Dennis cut down the logs that secure the front porch.   

The black-eyed susans came from uncle Doug’s unkempt, almost raucous garden. He and my uncle Vin showed up one day for a surprise visit with a box full of susans. Such a cherished memory, for Vin is gone now too. 

And so I think of them, designers all, when I check each day to see what is blooming. These plants, living on from garden to garden, make me happy. What better way to share our lives, our creative energy, than the seeds and tissues that live in our respective spaces.

Next spring I simply must find a spot for the hollyhock seeds I got from Aunt Marlene.

welcome to our home

Anna raiding the pea patch

Monday, July 18, 2011

Keeping it July

Hay harvesting, cutting weeds, and irrigating are the constant chores of July. And, of course, still tending cows.

We can’t seem to keep the old swathers running for more than a couple of days before a breakdown. Then it’s a trip to the parts store in Idaho Falls and a session in the shop. I bought two large bolts yesterday, not so big you couldn’t hold them in the palm of your hand, and wrote out the check for $110.

My twin weed nemeses are houndstongue and burdock. They are especially antagonistic because they produce burrs that stick to the hides of the cattle and dogs and make a mess of the horses’ mane. We're racing nature to get the plants cut before the burrs are viable. I had an early morning session with first Anna and then Seth tramping around the woods with our sharpened shovels.

The heifers, the two-year-olds that will have their first calf next spring, are summering in the valley on irrigated pastures. Seth and I moved them to a new paddock on Tuesday. The landlord is a prodigious irrigator and the sward is beautiful, full of clover and a diversity of grasses. Seth called me a “grass nerd” when I knelt to show him the regrowth since the herd left this field 40 days ago. 

Seth and Mark have been doctoring calves in the hills. With plenty of green grass, mother’s milk, and moderate temperatures, sickness is a mystery.

I wish July would last forever. Seth and Anna are both home and seem okay with ranch work being front and center. In August everything changes. They’ll take off for college, one to Boise and one to Moscow - and leave Mom behind. I’m trying to enjoy each day with them and not dwell on their leaving, but celebrate their upcoming adventures instead. 

40 day recovery from last bite

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hauling from the Res

I should go to bed, it’s 10:30 pm., but scenes from the day roll through my mind.

We hauled hay from the reservation again. Three of us were driving the eight miles there and back while Mark loaded from the field. The venture began badly when a hose broke beneath the Ford tractor and started a fire that totaled the machine. I saw the black column of smoke before I could see what was causing it. I had to drive my truck around the bend and across the field - so glad to see Mark standing away from the blaze. After the excitement was over, my nephew brought his tractor over and we continued.

Hauling hay is hot, sticky work. Hay leaves blow in the windows, which must be open to avert suffocation. The vinyl seats fuse to your clothes. At about 2:00 pm with lunch in your belly, staying awake is the challenge. Today I caught myself in a near-doze state tooling down the pavement.

Our fleet of trucks have character, impressive only to the aficionado of old things.  The ’67 Ford runs pretty well, never mind the springs coming through the seat. The ’73 International is cherry. It hums when it’s empty and handles more like a pickup than a 2-ton truck. But the passenger door was torn out and the replacement is none too good; the window is broke and the rear view mirror is loose. The new truck, the ’77 Ford, is a workhorse and feels stable and secure. It has deluxe recovered seats, and since the handle got fixed, we can now open the passenger side door.

Just as the hay hauling day gets to be total drudgery with no end in sight, the sun droops toward the horizon and long shadows cross the road. My mood changes. I get my speed up, and as the wind courses through the cab, I lean forward to feel the coolness of sweat drying on my back. The spud fields are in bloom, white blossoms on green in geometric rows. An unnamed fragrance fills the cab and is gone. A pivot sprays near the road and sends a light mist my way, along with the musty smell of wet earth.

As the heat abates, the community stirs. Rone mows circles in his lawn, and there’s Joanie on her bike. Susan is watering her petunias. I should call her and invite myself over to sit on that white wicker chair - preferably on some hot day when shade bathes her porch.

The haystack at ranch headquarters swells. We've found our rhythm and one thinks we could haul all night. 

Ranching is like that. Life is like that – for me anyway. There’s beauty in the minutiae and that's my lesson, for I tend to focus on what’s wrong, not right, my worst trait. I want to be like those people who pick out the joyous details, for those are the ones who live happy lives.  

Dang, now Mark will be asleep and I won’t get any cuddles – speaking of joyous details. 

the Shoshone-Bannock Reservation - good country

another load

Monday, July 4, 2011

Tending Water

It’s the Fourth of July and we’re spending it as usual, putting up hay. I remember one holiday where we actually took a picnic to the mountains, but mostly it's a work day. There’s truth behind the phrase, make hay when the sun shines.

Irrigation season is in full swing. We live and die by surface water on our ranch, the delivery of which occupies every morning and evening from May thru September. In Pratt Ranch vernacular it’s called “changing water.” When I first heard that expression I thought it quite amusing, a bit like changing your underwear. On Reid Ranch where I grew up, it is simply called “irrigating.” Mark sometimes uses a deviation of that; he says he’s going “puddlegating.” Whatever you call it, it is a necessary, constant, never-ending chore in southeastern Idaho.

We’re old timey here on our ranch. While the neighbors flip a switch on a pivot, or start a motor on a wheel line to sprinkle their crops, Mark runs a shovel. From a series of ditches diverted first from the Snake or the Blackfoot River down to a small stream that borders our fields, a shovel does the trick. Yesterday our insurance agent was sitting at our kitchen table and asked about irrigation equipment protection. Mark answered, "it’s hard to cover a shovel."

Flood irrigating is kid-friendly work. My job when I was little was to stand on a corner of the dam as it was filling to keep it from slipping back into the ditch. I can see my Dad expertly placing shovelfuls of sod to keep the dam in place, or to stop and start “cuts” in the ditch for the water to flow through. When he was finished, he would carefully clean his shovel of any soil to keep it sharp and free from rust.

Mark has a different technique. He likes his shovel dull so that he can tamp the dam into the sand all along its edge to keep it in place. And he doesn’t worry about cleaning the shovel, as sand falls readily from the blade and keeps the metal shiny. Both men handle a shovel like an extension of their arm, fluid and efficient. 

Callie earned the nickname "Gator" following Mark around in her little black knee boots. One day she came home from elementary school where her class had planted a tree. She was surprised that she could work a shovel better than the boys.    

Someone once asked my father-in-law, “If you could only have one tool what would it be?” His answer: “a shovel.” It can dig post holes or cut weeds; a good one can be used in place of a hammer or pry bar. Mark says it can even be used to defend your water rights from a greedy neighbor! A shovel is, as my Dad would say, “a man needer.”    

Seth in gum boots, shovel-ready