Friday, June 28, 2013

The Parts Store

They prop the door wide open at 8:00 am sharp. The air is fresh, and the guys behind the counter in t-shirts and rumpled jeans look as fresh as they’ll get all day.

It’s haying season, and up and down the Snake River Valley folks are in the field, many of them dealing with equipment breakdowns – like us. This store is our lifeline this time of year.

Miscellaneous farmer “must haves” fill the area from the door to the counter – grease cartridges, gloves, oil jugs, swather sections, slow moving vehicle signs, and a bolt and washer bin. Behind the counter things get serious. Blown apart diagrams of brake drums, PTO assemblies, carburetors and drive chains fill the computer screens, which sit under a layer of dust.

Every part has a number. Every farmer has a question. Mark’s question, which I was to try and explain to the parts guy, was whether a lock washer would be better than a flat washer when replacing the flange on a bearing at the end of the auger on an 1118 New Holland swather. 

“Flat,” Kirk replied.

They can tell you how to fix anything. And If they don’t have the part they’ll get it in a day or two.

Besides the guys working the computers and the boss who occasionally hurries through in his crisp collared shirt, two women work in the store. Gina's behind a window, shielded from the greasy, dirty, farmers that come and go. She dresses nice. Lynn’s back with the parts. She wears a polo with the dealership insignia on the shoulder. I can tell they’ve been at this job for a while, conserving energy as they methodically go about their tasks. They’re friendly, but you wouldn’t know it on your first visit. They could both use a new color job. But then so could I.   

Four stainless steel stools face the counter. A sign overhead reads, "This is a classy place. Act respectable.”

Yesterday an older gentleman came in carrying a shredded belt and a busted housing.

 “How are you?" They asked.

“Terrible,” he replied
“Of course he is,” I said. “He’s broke down!”

'tis the season

Saturday, June 22, 2013

For you, Dad

June is sprinting by. A month that breaks your heart with its beauty.

I’ve had this feeling lately – a rich, full up feeling. Gratitude I guess. I have this vision in my mind of a trough brimming with water about to spill over the side. That’s what it feels like – abundance. Hold that thought.

I think my Dad is sending me monarch butterflies. I used to tell him each time I spotted one because he was sure they were all gone. I’ve seen more this spring than ever. I wonder why the change. The only thing different in my world is that Dad isn’t here to tell anymore. So I tell Mark.

I keep milkweeds along the edge of the lawn for the butterflies. Not that they really need another patch because milkweeds are all over the ranch. Still, I do it to prove a point. We don’t have to annihilate everything natural, every “weed,” every imposter in our propagated world. We can let some ruffians grow and provide habitat for wild things. I get annoyed with folks in the country who think they need to burn, spray, or mow everything.

We’ve started cutting hay. I was swathing a grass/alfalfa mix field and jumped up a spotted fawn that was lying in the sward. He wobbled off to other cover and his Mom showed up a little later to fetch him. That was entertaining enough, but then I noticed a family of foxes on a nearby ditchbank watching me. The four kits would run and play - wary, and when I got close they would duck down the other side with just their pointed ears sticking over the bank. The parents were more bold, hunting mice and taking them to their brood as I worked.

We’ve been having fun bird watching. There were five cedar waxwings checking out the green chokecherries. Nope not ready. Goldfinches flit by in a rush, as do the Orioles. I think it was a hairy woodpecker I saw this morning climbing the locust trunk. And how can a little wren make such beautiful music? Not so the kingbirds. Mark and I take turns shutting the windows at 4:30 a.m. to quiet their clatter. 

I texted the kids in their east coast cities about the animals I had seen while swathing. Seth responded, “sounds wonderful. I miss home.” 

Check out this site for the movie Flight of the Butterflies and how to help conserve habitat:                       (thanks Seth)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Taking Leopold Along

We spent the last two days in the hills tending fences and cattle. Every fall the electric fences are loosened so the wires relax instead of break under the snow load. And every spring the tightening spools need adjusted to pull the wires tight again. It’s a good way to check the range - and watch for wildflowers. It’s dry, and the usually boggy meadows are more like late summer instead of springtime, but still a diversity of plant life abounds.

When Mark had to ford the creek, I took the 4-wheeler around the long way to pick him up in another meadow. Somehow along the way I dropped his coat, a nice oilskin jacket with supplies in the pocket. I was feeling bad of course and called myself “absentminded.” He just patted my leg. Actually I wasn’t absent, just thinking more about taking photos of wildflowers (to I.D. later) instead of where I was going or what I was carrying.  

I just finished Aldo Leopold’s famous A Sand County Almanac. His monthly essays about the wild plants and animals on his Wisconsin property, published in 1949, resonate with me. As he mourned the cost of development to the native landscape, I too mourn the loss of species richness in my western world. I also acknowledge the role cattle and sheep have played in that loss. But I’m a born and bred rancher, and know that grazing livestock fit within this ecosystem. It’s through education, willingness to change, and dialogue with other interests that will keep grazing livestock a part of it.

We saw 4 sage grouse as we left the field just at dusk. Oh, and we found the jacket.

camas blooms among a forest of California false-hellebore

any ideas?


Friday, June 7, 2013

An Aussie Visit

We’ve had visitors from down under. Rodney and Therese and family first came in 2007 and stayed on the ranch for nine months to give their New South Wales cattle farm a rest from grazing during severe drought conditions. This return trip is just for fun.

They’re taking a whirlwind tour of the western U.S. including Yosemite and Sequoia in California, the Grand Canyon, Vegas, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone Park, and Disneyland. They rode a cable car in San Francisco and toured the rugged island of Alcatraz. And they came to rural Idaho.

It was remarkable to find them and their beautiful Australian voices so familiar. I decided six years wasn’t a very long time indeed. I was wondering how we would compare to the tourist hot spots of the West, but the whole family seemed to enjoy just relaxing and taking part in our ranch activities. 

We had a perfect day delivering replacement heifers to summer pasture in the Blackfoot River Mountains. Anna, 13, Kate, 11, and Sophie, almost 9, had fun moving the cattle on horseback. The girls learned to lope Sly and Mater around the pasture, with big smiles all around. We picnicked in the quakies and Rodney helped us pull up the electric fences.

Over their three day visit we had great conversations about raising kids and raising clover, the attributes of vegemite and Paw Paw cream, and the commonalities – and differences – of our two countries.

We share a love of the land and a love of family, values that don’t change no matter what side of the planet you call home.

The family went on their way this morning. We promised to visit their home in Cowra in the future, and we expect the girls may turn up when they’re ready for their walk-about. We hope so.

photos by Therese:

Sophie riding double with Mark - tucking them in 

Kate on Mater, Sophie on Sly, Anna on Jane, and Mark on Gent