Saturday, April 27, 2013

Spring Winds

It’s April. We shouldn’t be surprised. It snows and then the sun shines. And always (it seems like anyway) the wind blows. It froze hard enough to flatten the few daffodils I had coming up. But April chores need tended no matter the weather.

We’ve been sorting steers and shipping them off the ranch. Some will go to Colorado for the last finishing phase and then sold in the Denver area through Country Natural Beef. A couple of loads went to a local feedlot.  It’s a very full-up feeling to run them across the scales on shipping day. A year’s work in review. They’re beautiful. They run and buck past me in the alley, healthy and vigorous.

There are three baby horned owls in one of the pastures. We saw them huddled on the ground enduring a cold north wind. They were camped on an old homestead which is surrounded by tall elms. The mother owl stands sentry in the branches and barks at us when we come around. I was concerned one morning when the wind had changed direction and crowded the cattle around the house – standing room only. I was sure the babies had been stepped on. We pulled the cattle away with the feed truck that morning, and the next day the owls were still there!

We’re busy burning ditches to turn the irrigation water on. This country grows tumbleweeds and, yes, they tumble when the wind blows. They pile up against the fences and lodge in the ditches. Even the large lateral canals get clogged and burning is used to clear the largest piles. Someone else might cuss the tumbleweeds, but they have their niche in our ecosystem. They cover any disturbed site, provide a microclimate under their canopy, grow on zero water and stabilize the sand. Birds flit among them in the winter feeding on their seeds. So we tolerate them. Someday I hope we all manage in ways that establish perennials and we don't need them anymore.  

Lots of species call our ranch home, some more desirable than others. All part of God’s plan.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Splitting Hairs

The State FFA leadership conference was a family affair. Seth and Anna, past state officers, were back stage coordinating the behind the scenes activities (not-so-controlled chaos according to Anna), Mark was involved with FFA alumni activities, and I had the honor of serving on the officer nominating committee.

Twenty-five brave kids interviewed over two days vying for six positions on the next state officer team. The first round was a one-on-one talk with each of the eleven nominating committee members. “How has FFA influenced you personally?” I asked. And time after time I heard similar stories. “FFA changed my life.” They repeatedly told me about the shy awkward freshman who signed up for their first ag class, not really knowing what was in store. And how over time as they made friends, developed projects and learned the spirit of competition, they came out of their shell and found a place to fit in.

One bubbly candidate said the rest of her family were athletes, but not her. Her, run? Not hardly! And how FFA had provided the home she needed to excel and find her best self. Another candidate told me the story of how an older FFA student had coached him into the warm and outgoing young man he is today. Another member said his “book smarts” came easy, but that FFA taught him to relate to people. They all said that even though they had given several years to the FFA, they weren’t yet ready to set aside the blue jacket. They want to give back. They want to be that individual to inspire younger members to do and be all they can be.   

In the end we could only choose six; such a heartbreaking decision to tell the rest of the kids no. I just hope the ones who didn’t make it learned from the experience and will go on from here to greater accomplishments. They deserve it. They all shine in my mind - passionate, determined, and inspiring.     

the new team
Kyle, McKenzie, Daniel, Brett, Alyssa, Erin
(photo from the FFA Foundation)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Moving On

I spoke too soon - about spring I mean. We’ve endured a bitter north wind for two days. Mark got back into his wool coveralls and has a hang-headed look on his face. Not for him so much, but for the calves and their precarious health situation. When it blows like this they lay for too long between nursings and are more susceptible to infections. He watches the herd closely, stepping in with supplemental fluids if needed. So far just a few have needed his  help.

We lay in bed last night listening to the dull roar in the trees and the dogwood rattling against the house. It’s hard to sleep when you know your animals are having to tough it out while you lay in a warm bed.

Anna and Seth both got accepted as interns in Washington D.C. Seth will help at a lobbying firm that works on the Farm Bill. Anna will work for Idaho’s own Senator Risch. Of course I’m thrilled for them to experience our nation’s capital for a whole summer - and together even! Still, this will be our first summer without a kid around. Sobering.

I organized the basement this week. I went through lots of kid stuff that has hung around for a long time - long enough for me to be able to part with them: Seth's first guitar, Callie's high school volleyball jacket with her name on the shoulder, a few old halloween costumes (Anna was Pippi Longstockings for sixth grade). I filled the backseat of my Honda with boxes and dropped them off at the Youth Ranch Thrift Store. I wasn't even too sad, just happy that someone else will put our “has beens” to good use.

Mark often quotes lines from On Golden Pond, one of his all-time favorite movies. One line comes to mind as I accept that our kids have lives of their own. Katherine Hepburn is scolding her daughter Cheltzey, played by Jane Fonda, for holding on to past hurts. “Time marches by, Cheltz. I suggest you get on with it.”

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Spring for Keeps

It happens every year, but it’s a thrill all the same. God sits on his throne in the sky, observing from the heavens, watching and waiting. And one day the birdsong reaches skyward, the green builds in intensity across the landscape . . . until . . . yup, it’s time. He touches the tip of his finger to his lips and reaches to turn a page on his book of seasons. Spring!
And with that turning, everything changes on the ranch. Our world comes alive with a whole new set of chores to attend to. Cattle walk the fencelines, pushing their necks through to the outside for a bite of green grass. Our friend Terry roams the community with his backhoe, readying the canals for the first flush of river water. Jesse has a “harrowing experience” every afternoon, running up and down the fields breaking up cowpies. And today the farmers next door started planting.  

Without long johns and snow boots I feel 15 pounds lighter. Of course the calves love it too. They run and buck together in packs, their tails high in the air. 

The birds are pairing off with frenzy. A couple of geese have been checking out the pasture in front of our house, mulling the decision to start nest preparation. We laugh about their conversation.  He says, “this is perfect! Grass, trees, a canal - what more do you want?” She replies, “Oh dear, I'm not sure,  . . . let’s keep looking.”  

We spent a few hours with family on Easter Sunday, hiding eggs for our nephew and enjoying a perfect ham dinner. That was good enough, but to top it off Mark brought me manure for the garden! He showed up with the tractor just as the day was ending. It’s one of the perks of a rancher’s wife - manure - all we want and more. Gotta love spring.