Wednesday, October 26, 2011

An FFA Opportunity

We just returned from a week-long getaway to Indianapolis, Indiana, to attend the National FFA Convention. At the culmination of the event the new officers were announced. Seth was named Western Region Vice President! It’s a huge honor and commitment, giving a year of service to the FFA and agriculture advocacy across the nation. He is one of six officers, the others hailing from New Mexico, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, and Georgia.

With over 500,000 FFA members, Seth’s most important job will be as a role model to high school kids, giving leadership seminars and urging them to think big and believe in themselves. He'll also meet with agriculture industry folks, being the “spirit and face” of FFA. 

Callie flew in from Manhattan, and Anna flew in from Boise as part of her state FFA officer team. I had to pinch myself to realize it all came together. We stayed downtown at convention central, so were available early or late, whenever our busy kids had a spare moment. One evening was pure magic as we sat over dinner listening to Seth recount his recent trip to Brazil. He had waited to tell us about it until we were all together. Another afternoon we gathered in Seth’s hotel room and heard about Callie’s latest dance performance, rich in detail and vulnerability. Another night we walked the streets after dark, ducking into a chocolate/coffee shop for more deep conversation. We so enjoy our kids.

It’s a great experience to walk the streets of downtown Indy during FFA convention. In their trademark blue corduroy jackets, they crowd every hotel lobby, mob the mall, and line the skywalks to and from each convention venue, all 50,000 of them! The kids like to call “heyyyyyyyyyyyyyy” to each other as they pass in the escalators and hallways. Even from our 3rd floor hotel room we could hear waves of greeting as they crossed the street below.

The waitress at the local burger joint “Steak n Shake,” and the manager of our hotel, both enthusiastically praised the impressive kids that descend on the city in October of each year. To be excited about youth, now that’s noteworthy!

We stayed an extra day to be part of parent orientation. After breakfast with the officer team, Seth was whisked away by FFA staff. Then Anna left to catch her flight back to Boise. That left Callie and Mark and I. We walked around the now deserted city, no more blue jackets and excited faces, then took a bus across town to see more of Indy. Callie found us a great bookstore with $2.00 used books, perfect for reading on the airplane. They also had magazines for 50 cents. We bought one called Ode - for Intelligent Optimists. After a week of being with the most optimistic youth (or adult) organization in the world, it was very fitting. Mark read it all the way home. 

Anna, Seth, and friend Casey

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Retreat with the Sheep

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in her 1955 book, Gift from the Sea, retreats to the beach for two weeks, living simply, in a shore cottage with open-air windows and bare walls, to write and contemplate her busy life as a wife and mother. Since I first read the book (and my grandma's notes in the margin), I have romanticized the notion of taking off by myself. To find out if I was any fun to be with. To look at hours ahead and know there was only me to fill them. To write, to read. When I turned 50 two years ago, and then when our last kid left home in August, it became uppermost in my mind. I finally made it happen last week when I headed to Idaho's famous Sun Valley resort community to the Trailing of the Sheep festival.

On the first day I attended a writer’s workshop, Women Writing and Living the West. I got to meet some of my favorite women authors, and heard stories from ranch women just like me who are brave enough to stand in a crowd and share those stories.

I went hiking/walking all three days, once into the Sawtooths under perfect skies. One morning my hike was in the forest adjacent to the city, so close in fact, that within in a minute or two of returning, I ordered a perfect mocha at the local coffee house. How “Sun Valleyesque” is that? 

On Sunday the culminating event is the parade, where thousands of onlookers line the short main street in Ketchum to witness the ancient art of herding sheep. First are dancers and musicians representing Peru and the Basque region of Spain, whose sheep raising cultures spawned the local industry. Next are a couple of horse-drawn sheep wagons. Then a dull roar rises from the crowd, and folks step into the street, craning their necks as the sheep come into view. The 1500 head flood by, the local priest at their lead, striding out in his black cloak.

From the perspective of a rangeland cattle rancher who appreciates the efforts of the solitary herder and his band of sheep in the mountains, this is genius. My hat is off to the sheep industry and the ranchers who had the foresight to turn conflict, sheep trailing to lower elevation pastures through a trophy home community, into a celebration!

As for my personal retreat, there were no great insights; Mark recognized me when I got home. I am emboldened enough to believe I can keep carving on my life through daily practice. I do feel a bit of "grace," as Lindbergh would say, that life is precious - even and especially when experienced alone.

 A day hike

stars of the parade

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fencing at Brush Creek

I fired up the wood stove tonight to warm up from a damp day of fencing in the hills.  

The neighbor’s cows had discovered a weak spot in our fence, so we took up the 4-wheeler, a roll of barbed wire, staples, bulldogs (fencing pliers), a shovel and tamping bar, and some extra posts to repair the fence in the Brush Creek field.

Kate and I went around the strays and headed them out the gate while Mark started replacing posts.

Fencing is satisfying work. Start with quality materials, dig the post holes deep and tamp them solid at the bottom. The last step, attaching wire to the posts with u-shaped staples, requires restraint. Only the novice buries the staple into the wood. Experience teaches one to leave a small air gap so that the wire can be snugged up later, as time and snow sag the once-tight line. When a fence is complete and well maintained, it's a source of pride to a rancher.

It reminds me of when Grandma Bonnie talks of being proud of her whites hanging on the clothesline. Her tools are timeless - bleach and sunshine - and the results are kitchen drawers lined with snow white tablecloths and dishtowels. I have always envied them.  

October is fine fencing weather. We ranchers have the hills to ourselves post-camping season and pre-hunting season. The grasses are a soft buttery yellow, heavy with seedheads. The quakies are golden, the sagebrush is in bloom, and all seems quiet, patiently awaiting the change of season. It is so beautiful as to break your heart.  

We stopped for a lunch of chicken salad sandwiches and pumpkin bread - with coffee of course. It was breezy, so we found a sidehill with giant sagebrush to block the wind.

I told Mark there was much to blog about on this day. I could talk about fencing and how technology hasn't changed the world of ranching very much in the last 50 years. Barbed wire and cedar posts still fit the bill. Or, I could blog about end-of-season plants, and how the leaves of the river birch dot the beaver ponds with color.  Or how a cow’s layer of fat acquired over the summer helps her ward off winter storms. I might talk about husbands and wives working together or how setting posts is like raising children, get a good start and the rest follows.

Blogging for the past year has been a real joy. It helps me to sift the lovely vignette out of the common every day, and with that done, I have renewed tolerance and gratitude for this life we lead.         


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Denver and Back

We flew a quick trip to Denver this week. Mark is out of flying practice and forgot to leave his pocket knife in the car before going through security! It reminded us of the LA Laker game we attended in 2010 where, spying the security in place at the door, Mark stashed his knife in a potted plant at the stadium. Yes, it was still there after the game. I ask you, what good is a man without a pocket knife? My Dad always carried one and it’s very handy, from opening Christmas packages, to cutting baling twine, to scraping dried manure from your jeans. 

We visited a few Whole Foods stores in Denver that sell our co-op's meat. One meat cutter took us behind the counter and sliced fresh samples of roast he had just taken out of the smoker. Oh, perfection!  It’s always fun to see our beef lined up in the meat case, ready for families to take home and make a terrific meal. 

We also visited a lot in Sterling where we have yearlings on feed. The cattle were doing well and looked content. The owner drove us around the lot. A curious feature were the dozens of bison on feed. They looked as docile as any hereford.

We returned to perfect weather. Anna and I helped Mark load a two-ton truck with firewood this afternoon. Mark tossed the split silver leaf maple on the bed and Anna and I stacked. They bantered back and forth, Anna telling college tales. With all of Mark’s other work, I have to wonder why he takes on more, but the resource is there, and harvesting and selling is in his nature. Our efforts didn't make much of a dent in the large pile constructed last winter.

As Anna and Mark finished the load, I walked through the woods sidestepping Mark’s irrigation water. A few leaves are starting to turn and I fancy these trees as regal as any in a New England hardwood forest. For the old timers and the un-fit, keeping families warm is a dignified end.