Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Damp Finish

The cows are happy in their new digs. The last leg of the journey was good for them - cold and wet - but hard on the cowboys. It rained the last half of the day, and with a cold wind we all got chilled. When we dumped them through the gate, I told Sandy, Jesse’s Mom who had taken a day off to ride with us, “Let’s use our age and sex as excuses to take cover!”  Might as well; pride is overrated. Mark and his friend Greg, our banker, stayed out in the rain to keep the un-mothered pairs from going back.

After waiting a long time for Mark’s parents to arrive with a horse trailer, we got word they had slipped on a sidehill and had gone to the valley for tire chains. In the end we still got home before dark, safe and sound.

When Mark went back yesterday, only one calf had crawled through the fence and returned to our starting place. Mark loaded him up and his mother was waiting for him at the gate. Not bad.

We had puzzled over this last day's move. Brush Creek is a stubborn place to get out of. It’s down in a hole, split by a creek with rugged sidehills on either side. Because the herd is so large, we strategized to let the first draft out and then gather what was left to make two herds out of them. Mark worked with the first crew and came back in an hour or so to find me and three good cowboys trying to get the last of the calves across Brush Creek. The last two crossed when he got there and he took credit of course!

I was sure missing Seth and Anna, but I found out we could do it without them. They had their first day of work in D.C. while we were mauling cattle through the mud. When I got to talk to Anna she said they were suffering from culture shock. After spending a week on horseback, then getting off a plane and on to the metro, they looked at each other and said “what are we doing here?”

They didn’t want to leave and I suppose that's good in a way. I told them they were going on a grand adventure. I told them, as I always do, that the ranch will still be here. Waiting.

the last long climb

mist on the camera lens/
that ring is his coffee mug!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Wet Trail

Rain, glorious rain.

We left home with the first bunch of cows and calves this morning. We got wet doing it and loved every drop.

I had this silly feeling that the rain was for me alone. I am calmed. Of course the grass will come now, but it also means our trail to the hills will be dust free. And the cooler temperatures are heaven sent to help the cattle travel better. Kate drank from puddles all day today. It was glorious, and so green as to break your heart.

The first herd has the youngest calves. They are flighty, which is a mild way to put it. They came out of the gate, hit the wet grain fields, got scared and ran in bunches ahead of the herd. Katie, a skilled lead dog, did her best to contain them. She likes to get in front and check the movement, giving ground all the while to keep the movement coming ahead. It worked reasonably well, but you might have questioned that had you seen it. One calf turned back, but Mark and Anna were able to get around him and send him back to the herd.

We stopped twice to give them a chance to mother up, but these youngsters are confused and unwillingly to do much hunting for Mom. It all ended well though. We had a good crew rounded out by our own homegrown help. I even got a chance to give my little great nephew a ride on Sly.  

The cattle will spend the night in a grassy “jumping off” pasture at the foot of Pullin Hill, the first ascent toward the Blackfoot River Mountains.

Wish us luck. I hope we get drenched!  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

May Challenges

Let’s just say a dry spring is no fun. Mark is run ragged trying to get the water started, changing streams on the fields being irrigated, sorting yearlings, feeding cows, branding, moving cattle around, and still monitoring a few sick babies. We put two bunches on grass today. That feels great, but with each job we finish, fifteen more vie for attention.

I’m trying to help, but I’ve caught a mean virus and three days of burning ditch, pitching weeds, then branding has me pretty “gentle” as Mark calls it. I've coughed and coughed, but I'll do it all night if I have to; I just don’t want Mark to catch it.  

Seth and Anna made it home from college. We’ll have them for a couple of weeks before they’re off again on their summer adventures. Mark said they were coming home “to dig me out.” They’ll certainly help, but the hole we’re in is pretty deep at the moment. Mark and I are trying to keep our spirits up, but it's difficult with such a laundry list of concerns.

We had a good branding day on Saturday. The best part was our friends Dick and Lonna Jean, who spoiled us with dutch oven stew when we finished. They rounded out the meal with homemade rolls and two kinds of desserts, strawberry-rhubarb cobbler and pineapple upside down cake (we determined that in Idaho it was legal to have some of each). Nothing like good friends and good food to remind us of what really matters.

After dinner we took a photo of the youngsters of the crew. Such great kids; such good help. Any parent would be proud to claim any one of them.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

One Less Cowboy

We said goodbye to my Dad last week. He was doing pretty good, had a bad night, and was gone by 2:00 pm the next day. He died in his button up Levis, in his own home, on the ranch he loved. When we visited the mortuary the undertaker brought us his pocket knife. We put it back in his pocket on the day of the funeral.

Dad taught me many things. How to set a post, ride horses, use a shovel, and swath hay. To do what you say you will and finish a job to the end. Ride after dark if you need to. Whistle while you work, honor your spouse, and never get angry with your kids.  

I slept in a crib in my folks’ room way past my toddler years. Dad slept next to me and we would hold hands through the bars each night. I was sad when he had to pull his arm back to go to sleep. In the morning I would get up and crawl into bed with him, my bent knees making a little mountain under the covers, his knees making a big mountain. And as Mom fixed breakfast, Dad would sort through my dresses in the closet, helping me select the one I wanted to wear that day. I can see him there in the darkened bedroom, standing to the side, illuminated by the closet light.

One morning I got dressed with Dad’s help and Mom made me go back and change because the dress was too little. What! But Dad thought it was okay!

When I was a kid, whenever he saw me he would put his hand on my shoulder and ask, “How’s me youngest friend?” He was funny, gentle and kind. He “itched” my back for me and rubbed my feet (his miracle cure) when I was sick.

He worked long hours and was totally dedicated to the cattle business. He shrank from judging others, but had firm convictions of right and wrong. We didn’t go to him for advice as he was reticent to offer his opinion. He knew we would make good choices.     

On the day of his passing, a bobwhite sang to us outside his bedroom window. Bob-bob-white! Over and over, and I was comforted. 

He has worked long and hard and misses Mom. He needs to rest and has only withdrawn his hand from me ‘til morning.

That's me on Dad's lap