Sunday, December 22, 2013


It looks like a Christmas card around here.

We’ve been moving cows around. The main herd is within ten minutes of the house. They’re grazing stockpiled feed saved since July. Seems nice not having to haul hay to them over the kids’ Christmas break, though that seems like a waste of young, strong backs. The calves, however, are on full feed. Seems like there’s always chores on a ranch at Christmas time.  

Someone in a card we received called this the “season of reflection.” I like that. We’re giving thanks for a year that’s closing, reviewing our blessings and thinking about those around us who could use a hand. We’ve hunkered down, living in close quarters, keeping the fire going.

Merry Christmas!   

Friday, December 13, 2013

Bah Humbug?

We’ve been in a deep freeze for the last couple of weeks since the cattle got home. Mark, Jesse and Gary have been busy chopping ice in the river and various water troughs to make sure the cattle get a good drink. Animals can take extreme weather if they have plenty to drink and eat. Still, I feel bad for them when we’re snuggled in bed at night.

I finally clued in and got the flannel sheets and down comforter off the top shelf to make up our bed. Mark waxed eloquent over the results when he climbed in last night.

We’ve been enjoying winter vegetables - sweet potatoes from the store, and red potatoes and squash from the garden. I figured out to turn squash over and put the cut side down while baking - lovely and moist.   

I can be a Scrooge this time of year. I love the decorations and the music, but the gift giving and high expectations put on mothers can be mind-numbing.

Every year I gather cedar boughs from Gary and Anita’s windbreak to make a wreath for the front door. It is a bittersweet task. The windbreak was planted when Mark and I were dating and I always marvel that the trees are so big. It brings the passage of time front and center.

I had found the pruners and dressed warmly. I got in the pickup to drive to the trees and on the radio comes Eartha Kitt, singing Santa Baby, about sables and convertibles (love that one). Then Nat King Cole’s, The Christmas Song. And finally old Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra, with The Christmas Waltz.

It’s that time of year when the world falls in love
Ev'ry song you hear, seems to say, “Merry Christmas,
May your New Year dreams come true."  

Those old 50’s/60’s tunes can melt the heart of any naysayer.  

So, I put up the nativity in the little cardboard shed, picked out a lodge pole pine at Stop ‘n Shop for $28 (what a bargain!) and am dancing to holiday albums at breakfast. Even Mark is puzzled.  

23 years old

heifer calves looking good

nature's quite a hand at creating beauty

this morning at one above zero

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Meals on Wheels

When I was a kid the best part of any day handling cattle was when the lunch wagon arrived. Mom was a great, from scratch, cook. Chili on cold days with homemade bread and butter. Fried spuds over the campfire - one cast iron skillet with onions for the adults, and one without for the kids. Homemade bread sticks from Aunt Gwen, perfect for carrying on a horse. Freshly fried melt-in-your-mouth doughnuts. And always cake and campfire coffee at day’s end while waiting for the herd to mother up.  

But wait a minute . . . the arrival of the lunch wagon is still the best part of the day while handling cattle. Thank goodness Anita is a stay-at-home grandma and brings us sustenance on a regular basis. She always brings along a few border collies to trade off herding cows, but manages to tuck in a cooler or two of goodies and hot thermoses to save the day.

Working cattle at “Lorin’s corral” last week was no exception. The wind was howling so we took refuge in her horse trailer complete with manure spattered walls. We joked about the ambience; Gary said he had strung the trailer with lights for a festive feel, but the extension cord wouldn’t reach. Hot taco soup to adorn with chips, sour cream, cheese, and chopped onions, along with Basque bread for dipping really hit the spot. And no matter where we are, Anita brings chairs and a small table to cover with a checkered cloth.   

At mealtimes like these we can joke and tease and forget for a few minutes that a few hundred cows still need processed and dark comes early this time of year.

            Mark turned his ankle in a stirrup and tore a tendon. He's been wearing a boot for two months.
 Duct tape keeps the mess of ranching out. Red Green would approve.  (photo by Anita)

Getting the cows home:

Anna on Mater with Clyde up for a pet

heading home for the holidays

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Anna's Break

I’ve had a tough time coming up with a blog post. I was going to write something profound about this season of gratitude. But every start I made sounded trite and rehearsed and lame. I kept rolling it over in my mind. Thanksgiving came and went. Finally in desperation, I asked Anna if she had any good photos from her week at home. Maybe I would be inspired. She thumbed through her i-phone images and emailed me a few. What fun they are - so original, so different from the scenes I record.

She was really ready for a break from school. She likes her sorority, has plenty of friends and does fine in her classes. But she’s not convinced her major is right for her and with all the questions swirling in her mind, home sounded awfully good. We talked two times a day as vacation loomed.

She stuck pretty close to home this week. She helped Mark fence and tend cattle, cowboyed with Seth, went on a date with a hometown boy, and made us an evergreen Christmas centerpiece. She and I had a fun day shopping together. I helped her buy a classy pair of leather boots, all the rage for today’s trendy women. I tried some on, but couldn't make myself be quite that trendy for the money. 

We had a lovely holiday at Aunt Mona’s with family ranging in age from 7 to 94. It was warm enough for games on the lawn and family photos in the garden.  Word games (yes, the girls beat the boys) and 4 kinds of dessert rounded out the day.

I hate to see the kids go back to college tomorrow. Seems like they leave way more than they come. How does that work? 

Seth on Jane, moving steers

Sly and Jane, good hands

a "selfey?"

Sunday, November 17, 2013

What if We Could . . .?

We’ve been attending roundtable discussions around the state to address the future of Agricultural Education in Idaho. To spur "out of the box" thinking, we're encouraged to answer the question, What if we could . . . ?

We start each gathering of concerned parents, teachers, business owners and student leaders with a discussion of the strengths of the current program. So many great things come up: gives hands-on kids a place to succeed, provides public speaking opportunities, teaches financial record keeping, mentors individual profit-making projects, teaches life skills and work ethic, exposes kids to the wide world of careers in food production, etc.

We then go on to discuss needs of the program: more trained ag teachers, a program in every school, administrative support, a vo-ag advocate on every school board, funding to update machine shop technology, competitive salaries, liaisons with local businesses and industry, etc.

Without exception, the discussion comes around to the need to educate the public that what was once “Future Farmers” now encompasses a whole range of study. From natural resource education (forestry, environmental science, etc.), to machine shop technology (small engines, welding, etc.), and leadership training (public speaking, parliamentary procedure, etc.), kids get real world application on a host of subjects. Even agriculture curriculum has expanded to include subject matter like greenhouse experience and landscape design in addition to plant and animal science.

To wrap up the meetings, we talk about current efforts to obtain more funding from the state legislature and how each of us can help forward that effort. And in every case, with six meetings to date under our belt, the “needs” of the local community line up with goals of the Agricultural Education Initiative. Mentoring for new teachers, a full time FFA coordinator, incentive grants for programs that meet quality standards, start-up monies for new programs, and additional funding to cover costs of running a program are all covered with the initiative effort.

I had the pleasure of sharing a roundtable with a school board member from a neighboring district. He said that vocational-agriculture classes drive higher education. What? Turns out that some kids, especially those that do better with hands-on activities and never thought they would attend any schooling beyond graduation, get in an ag class and find out they like school after all. Their interest is peaked by learning to weld or learning about careers in farming, or like our kids, compelled by the leadership opportunities provided by FFA.

At a different roundtable on another evening, I listened to a first-year female teacher tell the story of one student, considered a lost cause by the other teachers, who got enthused when the class dissected hearts from deer they had harvested during hunting season. She is now talking to him about careers in wildlife management or biological sciences. He found out he was interested in learning after all. Stories like these abound in ag education.

What if we could . . .? 

What if I could . . .? 

It’s a great exercise to look at our own lives with the same mind set.  What if I could - read to the kids every night . . . turn off the tv . . . clean out the basement . . . land my dream job . . . start a business . . . rebuild my marriage . . . get published!

For more information and ways to help, refer to: 

or “like” and stay tuned to the Initiative's facebook page: 

photo courtesy of Sara Schmidt

Sunday, November 10, 2013

An FFA Goodbye

We got home from the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, just in time to move cows. It was a great trip. Anna was running for a spot on the six-member national officer team and Seth was there hosting donors. In the end they didn’t choose Anna, but she had a wonderful experience and loved her time with the other candidates from all over the U.S. We were proud and pleased to have her compete in this very demanding preparation and interview process, and know that it will pay dividends in her future. 

Mark and I judged proficiency awards in the beef entrepreneurship and home and community development areas. We visited with another judge, an elderly woman from Chicago who works for an energy company which donates to the FFA Foundation. She had never been to an FFA event and was unfamiliar with the organization until she walked into the convention center and was surrounded by kids in blue jackets, black skirts or slacks, complete with white shirts and blue and gold ties. She said she had been worried about today’s youth, but after talking with students, seeing their enthusiasm and professionalism, her faith was renewed. She could go home now and feel that our future was in good hands.

We hear similar stories a lot. You just can’t be around these kids and not be impressed. And whenever people get on a kick about how poorly kids behave these days, I can’t relate.

Mark wore his cowboy hat to the city of course. He’s like my dad and his dad; a cowboy hat is just part of their everyday dress. And everywhere we go he gets noticed. Of course part of it is his friendly nature and kind face, but he gets all kinds of greetings and friendly smiles from folks. I guess people still like cowboys.

We headed to the hills the day after we got home. I thought about the Kentucky trip all afternoon as we gathered the cattle and headed them towards the Brush Creek field. I was walking with my dog Kate and we had to go clear back to bring up a straggler. We were far behind the herd when dusk fell. There were 3 inches of snow on the ground with more piling up on my jacket. I got concerned that I might not make it back to the road before dark and Mark wouldn’t have any idea where to find me.

It was so quiet, so lovely. I stopped periodically to listen and let it sink in - so far from the city streets of Louisville and the bustling Atlanta airport where we were yesterday at this time. I heard a jet go by overhead. Just then I saw Mark’s headlights bumping towards me through the brush and rocks. What a welcome sight.

I thought of the line Anna posted on Facebook just days before the convention. “It’s pretty exciting, this life we get to lead.” So true.  

last day for her blue jacket

a long way from Louisville

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sorting Treasures

Mom has been gone for three years and Dad left us in April. We sisters finally got together to sort through their household belongings. Yes, there were garbage bags lined up outside and plenty of boxes for the thrift store, but the special items would find new homes with us seven kids. We know how the ranch assets were distributed, now to tackle the other treasures from a lifetime.

Neither of our folks were into collecting stuff. Dad’s life was the ranch and he had few other belongings. But there were his worn saddle, batwing chaps and silver bit. Mom was an artist, writer and homemaker extraordinaire. Who would take the quilts and paintings? And what about the ceramics created with mountain clay by our grandma’s hands?

In the end we divided up the “medium good” from the “extra special,” drew for order of choosing, and then took turns. Donna got the coveted “grandma putty jar” with the arrow heads and old coins. Janene took the little old man and woman busts that grandma made. Our ranching brother fittingly has the bit, and Kit the antique Navajo rug. Many of the items have no monetary value, but have inestimable worth to each of us.

We sat there in Mom and Dad’s living room that night, laughing and celebrating. Wondering how each of us would show off the items we took from that cherished space, all the while knowing the greatest gifts from Mom and Dad are those we carry around with us every day.

Our folks’ selflessness and their love for each other. A love of the land and family. Mom’s creativity, Dad’s work ethic. All of these are firmly ensconced, albeit imperfectly, in our characters. These heirlooms don’t need dusted or insured, mounted or displayed. They’re the ultimate hand-me-down that can’t be broke or stolen. And there’s enough to go around to all the grandkids in starter homes, dorm rooms and city apartments from Idaho Falls, to Houston, to New York City. A rich inheritance indeed.  

picking paintings for the grandkids
after the sort we're still best friends
Sister Retreat 2013

Monday, October 21, 2013

Indian Summer

I didn’t think I’d get to write about Indian Summer as we’ve had a cold wet fall. But this week the sun is out and we’re back to shirtsleeves at midday. The colors are spectacular this year, and now flooded with sunshine, even better.   

The term Indian Summer has been around for centuries and is believed to have originated in New England. The why of the title is much debated. To be a true Indian Summer it must be in late fall, calm, warm and dry, following cold weather and a hard frost. One claim is that it’s the season when American Indians would burn grasslands to attract game, and the haze common this time of year was attributed to those fires. Another opinion is that the derogative term “Indian Giver” meaning a falsehood, spawned the term, as this is after all, a “false” summer. Another interesting view, and one that seems plausible to me, is that White vs. Indian conflicts subsided as cold weather moved in, but were revived if warm temperatures returned for a block of days before winter set in for good.

Or maybe it's as simple as this. Our native peoples, nomadic in nature would have settled in for the winter, their lodging set and food stores secure. Then comes the return of summer. How welcome that would be to them. A few more days of hunting and preparation for winter.  

We're making the most of it as well. We took the calves off and trucked them home in good fashion.

As words do, the term has morphed to describe not just a weather pattern, but any last brilliance before a final decline. As if fall in its fleeting beauty isn’t melancholy enough.

where the Blackfoot River dumps into the valley
photo by Becky Davis

good weaning weather
calves on one side, cows on the other
photo by Anita Pratt

day 2 weaning
finally, solar energy to help charge the fence!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Higher Still

We took the cattle to our highest elevation pasture. It’s above 6000 feet, the one we may get snowed out of. 
We knew the move would take all day. We had to gather the herd first and then push them up and over a mountain, down the other side, over a couple of rock bluffs and through an 8’ gate into the Meadow Creek field.  Prior years had been nightmarish, but the cattle were becoming accustomed to the route and if it stayed cold we should be alright.

Because of the time element, when we unloaded the horses Mark trotted off before I was ready. I’m sure it’s in the gentleman rancher’s handbook:  Always wait until your feminine companion is safely mounted on her horse before leaving for the day’s work. And Mark usually remembers, but not this day. I hollered at him to come back, as my horse (any horse) doesn’t like being left behind and won’t stand still while his rider mounts.

“We’re not going to the same place so what does it matter!” he said with irritation. 

I responded back with equal irritation, “It’ll just take a minute and believe me, it will be well worth your time!”

I hurriedly strapped on my spurs and adjusted my chaps and before I knew it, he had dismounted, exchanged Mater’s halter for a riding bridle and was handing me the reins. He kissed me and said he was sorry.

At that moment I felt a palpable physical response in my core. He’s probably forgotten all about it and has no idea (until he reads this) what that meant to me and how much mileage he gained in my estimation of his character by that simple act. It would set the stage for a day of work for me. Now I could jog off alone and be at opposite ends of the herd all day without complaint.

Women are simple creatures really. Why do men make it so complicated?

Mark brings up the rear

photo by Anita Pratt

Sunday, September 29, 2013

September Notes

Ahhh, September, harvest time.

I'm not a hard core food preserver. My Mormon neighbors can “can” me under the table. Still, I’m pretty proud of the produce I put away for the winter: an assortment of pickles, beets, pears, beans and apple pie filling, frozen corn and raspberry jam, spaghetti and butternut squash for keeping and red potatoes to stash in the cold room.

Why don’t people grow gardens? How much chemical, mowing, and irrigation do we put into our lawns with only a view to show for it? Seems nuts to me. And, sorry, but I see acres and acres of lawn with nothing more going on. No volleyball net or Frisbee lying around. No kids playing, no tents set up, no lawn chairs. To me a lawn is for using. If you can’t use it, might as well put a goat on it.

I went to change water today and came home with an armful of apples from an old tree in the pasture and a bunch of sumac branches in full color. I came in the house, showed Callie my treasures, and said “this . . . is autumn!”

Mark has been pumping water every day for the cow herd. I was with him one day and it rained so hard the cattle hardly came to water. We turned on the generator, had our cookies and coffee and took a nap. Tough stuff.  

A banker once told me (he’s not our banker anymore!) that he envied the life of a rancher, “sitting on a horse watching the sun set over the mountains.” Yeah, right. More like:  guarding the float in a water trough while cattle fight to get a drink, getting soaked with wet snow, getting home after dark in time to gulp down some Campbell’s soup, fall into bed and do it all again the next day.  

Still, ranching has its perks. As we waited for the storage tanks to fill, the rain quit and we did some fencing. There was a mob of bluebirds, fifty or so, flitting from sagebrush to fence post and back again, flashing their brilliant blue on the fly. 

I was a bank employee in my other life. I liked the work. I liked dressing up, the paycheck and working in a clean and comfortable office. I’d do it again most of the year, but I’ll take the ranching life in September. 

Thanksgiving pies?

old timey

portable water system will go home when the cows do

rainy weather means gorgeous skies

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Grazing St. Ignatius Style

We’re back from a two-day grazing workshop in St. Ignatius, Montana.  We were in need of a grazing fix and this did the trick. But even without the education opportunity, our visit to a diverse community on the Montana map was a treat. 

The venue was spectacular. The town is located in the middle of the Flathead Indian Reservation between Missoula and Glacier National Park, at the foot of the Mission Mountains, where a dusting of snow had just graced the topmost peaks. Emerald green irrigated fields surrounded by rain soaked mature grasses lay out in every direction.  

I called ahead to the Sunset Motel so we got one of the remodeled rooms on the ground floor. No, there’s no in-room hair dryer or coffee maker, but Mike, the proprietor, has an espresso shop just off the motel office. That is, if you can wait until he opens at 8:00 a.m.

We had breakfast across the street at the “Old Timer Café.” You bet the morning coffee crew was there! Overhearing bits of their conversation, I thought how the scene and the banter was being repeated all over America. “Did you ever get your hitch fixed?”

The town’s main attraction is the Roman Catholic Mission, an imposing structure built in 1891 by Flathead Indians and Jesuit missionaries. It's open to visitors and we took our turn gazing up at the multitude of frescoes painted by the church handyman and cook.  

The workshop was held at the warm and welcoming Amish Community Center, a spacious building of hardwood floors and propane light fixtures with little hand manipulated mantles. The ladies room, complete with a real towel for washing up, adjoins a furnished nursery. Reverence for family and tradition permeates the space.    
The Amish women served us fresh homemade doughnuts both mornings. Not the air-filled, super-sweet, store bought kind, but dense bready pastries like my Mom made. This was followed by meat loaf and ham for lunch, homemade rolls and berry jam, pies - you get the idea. I felt spoiled. It was my vacation ideal – good food and "change the world" conversation, grass education and pasture walks.

Sometimes we come home discouraged from events like this. We feel like the sideboards we operate within make excellent grass management impossible. Okay, so we belong to a grazing cooperative where change comes slowly if at all. Yes, we’re surrounded by farmers that don’t like cattle hooves on their soil. We live 45 miles from our summer pasture, etc. The roadblocks are many. We've been through all that and have the bruises to show for our efforts. But for some reason we got past that this time. We can talk now about what we can implement without convincing anyone else to change. And as long as we keep learning, that’s good enough.        

beautiful Mission Valley

breakfast with the locals

ready for a new pasture break
note "wasted" grass left behind to feed soil microbes

changing paddocks

Thursday, September 12, 2013


It’s raining again. Listening to it outside my darkened office window is like getting a deep massage.

We’re settling into a pleasant September routine that includes Callie, our oldest daughter who’s been home for a month now. She rode Sly, the veteran, as we moved the main herd into an adjacent pasture last week. She was alone for much of the day, gathering cattle across Paradise Valley. Alone, but so unlike the alone she feels negotiating the crowds in New York City, where people look at the ground instead of making eye contact.    

When we were done for the day, she said for the first time in a long time she didn't consciously need to calm her brain and try NOT to think; she was naturally at peace. She spent the day moving her horse in tune with the cattle from muscle memory, from her “animal brain not her analytical brain.” For a young woman who’s been struggling to get control of her mind and emotions for years, it’s a welcome relief.

Callie is beautiful and talented . . . and clinically depressed. Finally, after years of trying to deal with it on her own and chasing a “positive attitude,” she reached out for help. She talked to nutritionists and counselors, doctors, family and friends. She researched and discovered undiagnosed hormonal issues. And from this holistic knowledge base, she is addressing her health from all angles including diet, nutritional supplements, a Zoloft prescription, greater focus on relationships, yoga, meditation, and most of all self-care.

Part of her treatment is taking a break from New York City. She’s been doing ranch work, hanging with family, eating from the garden, diving into a painting project, and letting go of expectations. After a couple of weeks of adjustment, she seems back to the Callie we know. Of course there are challenges ahead, but we know she’s turned a corner in her healing.   

Far from the sirens of the city, the quiet of the ranch has been good therapy. She described her ride on Sly as a “deep, deep familiarity,” which comes from her own history being raised on the land with horses and cattle. But perhaps it goes deeper still. To a time when we as a species lived in concert with nature. It’s in her DNA after all. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Closing Up Shop

We got him from a local breeder. He was a good one - fleshy and thick, with a moderate frame, solid feet and a docile temperament. He was only five years old, but a bull's productive life is short. Older bulls can carry a venereal disease, trichomoniasis, which causes spontaneous abortions and is impossible to detect 100%, so we had to let him go. Our grazing cooperative only allows bulls four and younger, so this season he stayed home with his own group of cows.  

He’s the kind you can load in a trailer out in the open - responsive to handling and eager to do what you ask. He knows it’s less work that way. Honest; that’s what he’s been. He cycled grass and fathered plenty of good beef. His contribution to the herd will live on in his progeny.

We know it’s a business – all about debits and credits, but that doesn’t mean we go about it without compassion. This fellow has had a good life. Summers spent with adoring females. Winters spent in agreeable companionship with hand delivered feed. And finally, he’ll make lots of meals of high quality protein.

We dropped him off at the auction yards in town. The end of the line. We watch him go with respect and thanks for his good work.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Equanimous Mind

The cucumbers are winning. I’ve given some away, made pickles, served them fresh at every meal, and still they’ve outrun me. I’m glad I didn’t plant zucchini!   

I love rummaging around in the garden and coming upon a wayward dill plant with its lovely fragrance.  I cut some heads to go in a bouquet with volunteer celosia and sunflowers. I planted these three plants a few years ago from seed and now they come up wherever they like. They create a random arrangement each year. Vegetable gardens are a thing of beauty, some with manicured rows and crisp edges, others, like mine, with overgrown abandon.  

The goldfinches have the airwaves to themselves lately. There are still a few kingbirds around, but they're silent. And even the owls have quieted their nighttime screeching. The slide toward fall has begun.

Seth and Anna are back at school. I hate to see them go, but this is life as we know it. We had such fun while they were home. They helped us move cattle and work on the cabin and spent quality time with the whole family. Their Washington DC experience was grand, but neither one plans a career in the east.  

I have a new word, equanimity. I read about within a Buddhist framework, but all the major religions teach it. Equanimity means an evenness of mind. It acknowledges that good times and bad times, neither one, last very long. Better to cultivate a calm contentment.

And lest you think it means to be detached or apathetic, Wikipedia says it is rather a “mature radiance” and “warmth of being.”  

This philosophy fits me and Mark this hot, dry, summer of 2013. Good for parenting children who are now adults. Good for finding new passions and growing up. Good for the ups and downs of ranching. Good, even, for quietly letting some of the cucumbers turn into mulch. 

the crew
time out for women's work

all is well

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

It's about Water

All three kids are home and we’ve had some good conversations. Callie likes to ask roundtable questions whenever we’re together: Who was your favorite teacher and why? Who inspires you the most? What is your favorite form of water? (now, that’s original!)

Someone answered, “rain on a tin roof.” Another, “a slow moving river.” Still another, “ocean waves.” Callie contributed, “hot water in a tea cup.” For me it was easy, “a drink from the spring on Meadow Creek.” The best drink of water you’ll ever taste.  

It rises up out of a rocky side hill, making tiny pools as it meanders down through rocks. Watercress grows here. If you ride by you just have to stop. You can cup your hands and scoop it to your lips (always losing some of the precious stuff on the way up), or you can lie flat on your belly and stick your face down to the water. Neither approach works very good. So this summer I took up a tin cup to leave at the site. The cup is bright blue; you can’t miss it. It’s nestled under a sagebrush just northwest of the spring.

Sounds romantic doesn’t it? And romanticizing water is easy to do if you’re a rancher during this hot, dry summer. Our irrigation water is running short. One stream has officially been cut by 30%, and the others are weakening.

Wildfire is another concern. South and Central Idaho are burning as I write. The news reports talk of people evacuated and homes lost, but what they don’t say is the numbers of livestock at risk or the harrowing work of ranchers moving cattle out of harm’s way.

And if you save the cattle, what are they supposed to eat? The thought makes me shudder.

We had one scare during a lightning storm last week. Mark caught a horse and hustled to the hills just as the BLM was arriving with their rigs. Then a rain storm let loose and it was all over.

Water. Life. same, same.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Good Stuff

Harvest is on in Southeast Idaho and grain dust hangs in the air. Clouds of the stuff rise slowly, pointing out combines working in the distance. We’re not grain farmers, but the straw that’s left behind is great for lowering the cost of hay over the winter. We hauled all day yesterday and the banana yellow stack is safe and secure for another year.

Between loads I snuck in some reading - Marion Roach Smith’s The Memoir Project. I’m trying to practice her admonition to answer the question with everything you write (even an informal blog entry): “What is this piece about?” It shouldn’t be so hard, but I wrestle with the task every time I go to the keyboard.

The images of even one week are hard to narrow down. It started with the youth rodeo, a family and community tradition since Mark’s grandpa helped start it 48 years ago. It began as a project to “give kids something to do in the summertime,” and turned into a two-day event that’s the center of family reunions and home comings, and my hometown’s claim to fame. The sign on main street reads: “Welcome to Firth, Home of the Little Buckaroo Rodeo.”   

Then on the following day my three local sisters and I took a road trip to Soda Springs Pride Days to revisit our history, eat wild salmon for lunch, and stop at an important site on the Oregon Trail where the route splits south to California and north to Oregon. Mom, who loved western history, was with us that day in spirit.

The week finished up with our annual Just Reunion. It was a big deal this year because our family association acquired the deed to the old ancestral home upon the death of my uncle last year. The house was built in 1887. It’s a beauty of handmade brick fired on-site and full of the original antiques. I grew up next door, so returning to the house, mopping the floors, sorting treasures, is a labor of love. The note that once hung on the door, “I am home, come in” is gone, but my grandma’s love holds me tight each time I enter.  

Dang, I’ve done it again, tried to cover way too much and got lost in the details. So what is this blog post about? 

Clancey gets a ribbon


Doing a Tom Sawyer at the old house
All photos by Becky Davis

Friday, August 2, 2013

Home Again

I welcome August with its burden of productivity. Everything is reaching up and out to collect sunshine, and down deep into the earth to set seed and store reserves for the winter. The nights have been dipping into the 50's. I wear a sweater to fix breakfast in the morning and it feels divine. 

We’re finally getting garden produce. Mark explains it this way: vegetables out of a home-grown garden taste like they’re supposed to. A carrot tastes like a carrot. 

Callie arrived home yesterday to stay a couple of months - to rethink her options and detox from the city. She flew from JFK in New York City (with its 8 terminals), to Salt Lake International, and then on to Pocatello Regional. This little airport is a great place to start detoxing, as they roll the staircase to you on the tarmac to deplane into our gloriously dry, Idaho air. She walked into the building and around the corner to get her baggage, then out the front door to the car parked just a few feet away. There's not even a stop arm at the exit. Sweet.

When we got home she headed straight to her old bedroom for a long nap and then went to the Reservation to check alfalfa with Mark. Then we picked beets, beans and cucumbers from the garden - all the while sampling peas straight from the pod. We paired the bounty with grass-fed steaks for supper on the terrace and listened to the owls in the trees. We discussed topics ranging from the aggressive nature of the great horned beauties to life lessons from Alan Watts.

This morning she and Mark headed to the hills to gather strays. And tonight she’ll get in on the little kids’ rodeo that Mark announces, now in its 48th year. The rodeo grounds are down by the Snake River, across from the high school track where she won medals as a teenager. Detox, yes.

welcome home

fresh  (very)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Spreading Water the Old Way

In New Mexico they call them acequias (ə-ˈsā-kē-əs), ditches that carry water from a river to farm ground. They hearken back to the ancients in the southwest. Our ditches (not nearly as romantic sounding as acequias) are only 130 or so years old, but they bring life to us just as they did for the pioneers when Europeans first came to this area.

I fancy the ditch out our front door as my very own acequia. It diverts from the Blackfoot Slough, a canal which follows an original high-water channel for much of its length. Our ditch then runs through a grove of cottonwoods and across the front lawn of the house. From there it sidles a giant black willow, goes under a footbridge and waters the horse pasture.

Flood irrigation is not the most efficient method of water delivery, but in the regenerative and sustainable agriculture world, it’s a star. It is powered by gravity alone, so opening headgates, installing dams or “checks” in the stream are all that’s needed to irrigate the ground. Heavy equipment is used at times to clean and repair the channel, but the system is largely dependent on hand labor once it’s up and running.  

Our ranch is surrounded by large center-pivot irrigation systems. Efficient, productive, modern, they’ve got it all - and the power bill to go with it. I would never say that flood irrigation trumps pivots; the “circles” feed a lot of people. But the canal system is valuable historically and culturally, if not for the ecosystem it maintains. It provides a summertime riparian extension of the river. Where pivots homogenize the land with monocultures from pavement to pavement, ditches help retain some of the naturally diverse landscape. Often lined with willow and cottonwoods, our acequias are beautiful and provide habitat for all kinds of creatures.

Another benefit of flood irrigation is that while underground pumping pulls water to the surface, the ditches recharge the aquifer, an attribute that becomes more important all the time. It must work economically too because we're still here. Five generations and counting.   

a four-way concrete "check"

water makes it way down a "land" at dawn

for the birds

dogs love to "change water" almost as much as they love herding