Monday, June 18, 2012

Camping at Dad's

Our family’s annual camp-out was held on the lawn at my childhood home. My Dad still lives in the house so he could venture outside to sit around the campfire with us. He’s 93, walks with a cane and doesn’t say much, but retains his sense of humor. He still carries a pocket knife, opening letters or the occasional gift instead of castrating calves and cutting baling twine. He still puts on his cowboy hat whenever he steps outside; still uses two hands to tilt it slightly to the side in his signature style.

One evening as we were cleaning up supper, Anna had a good visit with Dad. Later as we snuggled in our tent, she told me about their conversation. She had asked him about his Mom and Dad. He told her that his parents didn’t really discipline, but were very kind and so he and his brothers did right because they didn’t want to disappoint them. I loved hearing that, because that’s how I describe the parenting style of my folks and how I’ve tried to raise my own kids.

We fell asleep to the sound of the Blackfoot River rushing over the old rock dam at the end of the pasture. It’s such a comforting, familiar sound; one I remember well from my childhood. My great grandfather built the dam to source an irrigation ditch so the melody ties me to my ancestors in a way nothing else can - except for the frogs croaking and the crickets chirping - these do not change.

When we were kids we’d sleep out on the lawn most every night, our faces firmly coated with mosquito repellant. My sisters and I would stare up at the stars, locate the big dipper, and drift off to the sound of the river.

We lost Mom two years ago in September. There’s only a few flowers left in her yard, but, oh, how we enjoyed the large oriental poppies in bloom at the front gate catching the evening sun with their translucent petals. Mom was a master of design, so good in fact, that the “bones” of the yard, the view, the large trees, the patio placement, make it majestic long after Mom’s skilled hands have ceased to maintain the flower beds. We felt Mom everywhere at the camp-out, frying burgers on her outdoor griddle, laying out each meal’s fare on her dad’s picnic tables, entertaining grandkids, and pruning cedars by committee just the way she would have wanted. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

All in for June

October has my heart, but June is the purest, the sweetest month. All things seem possible in June. When the heat of August rolls around, our good intentions will lie in disarray at our feet, but for now the world looks full of potential. The temperature is perfect, the April and May winds have subsided, and the grass is, oh, so green, which to a cowman (or woman) is sweet indeed.

We have supper on the terrace each night, soaking up these lovely evenings free from mosquitoes and pollen. No wonder brides pick June! 

Mark and I spent a couple of days in the hills, checking cows, putting out salt, and fencing. Ranching is pretty much about fencing, in case you didn’t know.

We made the lap around our current pasture which is an old dry farm that was converted to conservation reserve program (CRP) ground and then used for grazing for the last 15 years or so. It was planted with a single grass species when it was turned into CRP ground, but it’s gaining a variety of plants as time goes by.

Diversity in pastures is a good thing. Just like a community benefits from a variety of job opportunities, so does an ecosystem depend on a diversity of plants and animals. If the lumber mill closes down, it’s a good thing if there are dairies, farms, and a fabrication shop to keep people employed. So true on the range as well. Spring is cool and wet, summer is hot and dry and each year is different, so a variety of plants means there's always something green and growing to keep the range productive for cows as well as other wildlife - songbirds, badgers, or soil organisms.  

I’m always on the lookout for different species showing up on the dry farm. It’s easy to spot them now - wild roses, dandelions, yarrow, sagebrush, bluegrass, and timothy. A range scientist told me once it would take some thirty years before native species would return to a previously farmed area on the range and it’s proving to be true. Thirty years is a long time to a human, but not so much to an ecosystem. We believe the cows add much needed diversity themselves and speed up the process.

It’s Seth’s birthday tomorrow. He’ll turn twenty-one with some Kentucky FFA kids. Happy birthday son! God speed and safe travels.

Mark repairing fence

it's been spliced before

a perfect day in June

Monday, June 4, 2012

Summer Visitors

We’re settling into summer. The last load of cows and calves was trucked to the range this week. A few stragglers that will stay in the valley are camped on nearby pastures. The weather is warm and dry, but we had a glorious two day rain that made things look a lot brighter on the ranch.

I’m still trying to get the last of the vegetable garden in. The cool weather plants - peas, onions, radishes, and lettuce are up. “Cotton” from our cottonwoods covers the ground and it looks like we’ve had a light snowfall that refuses to melt. The two robin’s nests, one on a ladder leaning against the house, and one in the nook of the barn eve, have fledged their young.

We had visitors this week, friends of Seth he’s met on his FFA travels. Brian is an Arizona farm boy and Alicia is a city girl from Wisconsin. They rode horses, branded calves, helped doctor Birdie (our dun mare), haltered a Hereford bull, herded cattle, and toured our mountain range ground. They both liked the outdoor work and Alicia didn’t even mind the sunburn.

We took Brian to move cattle in the hills yesterday. We forgot the dogs, and thought we needed room in the trailer for a bull, so only took two horses. That left three of us, Brian, Anna, and I on foot. The herd got stymied by a bog for an hour or so, which meant some of the unmatched pairs went back to where we started. We got them moved to their destination with a little creative herding. We had lunch watching them settle on the greenest of green pastures in front of a cloud studded sky.

On the way home Brian said he had been trying to think of a similar experience that could be had by a family in the city and hadn’t come up with anything. We take it for granted I guess. Seth said, “we live with each other, we’re coworkers.” It’s the best part of our business. 

The young people are scattered out again, but we’re enjoying their photos of Idaho on Facebook.