Monday, May 26, 2014

To Grass

We made it to the range with the cows. Seth and Anna have been helping and Anita brought lunch every day. It’s an “all hands on deck” event.

We had two herds on the Trail at once. It took five days to go 30 miles with the baby calves, and four days with the older ones. Smaller bunches mean the cows and calves stay paired so they don't go back. If they can't find one another they'll return to where they last nursed. This trait is so strong that tending the back end of the herd requires much due diligence. Doing that job is Anna’s strong suit. She calls it quality assurance. Yes, the lead guys are important. They watch for obstacles up ahead like gates left open or stray animals and keep the lead cows from jogging away from the slower travelers. But don’t stick your most tenacious help up there; she (or he) is needed on the drag. Home grown help is irreplaceable. My prayer is that wherever the kids are in life’s adventuring, they make it home for the cattle drive.

Memorial Day festivities are in full swing on the range we share with the recreationists. We dumped the herd in the Brush Creek field which is adjacent to a popular camping area. As we pulled out on Friday evening, the campers pulled in.

The trail drive is the most love-hate event I can think of on the ranch. The first ride of the morning is sublime. Your horse is eager, the cattle walk out, the only sounds are sage sparrows and meadowlarks and the occasional beller as the cows pick up their calves. As the day wears on everyone gets more sluggish, water sources are scarce, it's dusty, and by mid-afternoon I’m sore and ready to call it a day.  

It's a mini life-lesson in five days: 

Be alert - well tended details create successful outcomes. Having to go back for a calf that was lost because of not paying attention is a make-work project.  

Be respectful – of vehicle traffic, of other people’s property as you “graze” by, and of your help-mate animals, the horses and dogs who give so much. 

Do your part – everyone has a role. If yours is guarding a gate, making lunch, saddling the horses, or riding flank, you play a vital role in the whole. 

And finally, get up early – cattle travel better in the coolness of early morning, you’ll get to your destination that much quicker. And as Gary will tell you, "people die in bed." 

Anna on drag

the crew

Monday, May 12, 2014

What May Brings

The irrigation water is flowing across the ranch. Starting it is always a big chore. And then once it’s on, the tending is constant.  It’s a good feeling knowing the ground is getting wet. It’s been trying to rain but all we’ve gotten is damp.

We've been pummeled by high winds day after day this spring. It blew from the north yesterday, which meant the tumbleweeds that had lodged from the usual southerly winds became unlodged and traveled in the opposite direction. They like to roll into our ditches and cause havoc by clogging the pipes and headgates. Mark and I spent part of yesterday pitching weeds to avert disaster.

On the rare calm evening we like to sit on the terrace and listen to the birds. Their call is constant with all the trees on our place.

I had fun one morning when I stopped to listen to a common starling in a willow along the drive. A sound I’ve heard many, many times, but finally took the time to look up and locate the singer. What I thought was coming from a tree full of birds was coming from a single individual. What a fuss he made! He was ruffling his wings, pumping his breast, croaking like a frog, grunting like a puppy, “screeing” like a hawk, and in general making a royal fuss. And to think he comes up with that whether any human is around to enjoy it or not.

We keep the binoculars on the kitchen island with the bird book handy. We counted 25 cedar waxwings in one bunch and they’ve hung around for a few days. I hope they stay, but I’m guessing they’re only stopping over. During a stiff wind they were hunkered on the lilac right outside our dining room window. Their little top knots stood straight up if they turned towards us with the wind to their back. What creamy feathers they have - and so dignified with their masked features and unruffled demeanor.

We identified a few yellow-rumped warblers making use of the chokecherry blossoms. They would fly out periodically to catch insects mid-flight. I thought the behavior would help to identify them. Sure enough, when I went to the website, allabout, the text said, “you’ll often see them sally out to catch insects in midair.” Sally? I haven't heard that for awhile. I looked it up - “to rush out suddenly.” I think I’ll sally out to tend the dogs from now on.

just past "the hornet's nest," site of water wars

cedar waxwings in the locust

Monday, May 5, 2014

An Evening Burn

Mark and I had a ditch burning date last evening. He worked on one side of the pasture and I worked on the other. The dogs went with him digging for gophers along the way. 
The mourning doves and robins kept me company. I swear the robins get louder as dusk approaches; or maybe it’s just that the world gets quieter.   
I’m glad to burn with Mark. Not so much by myself. With him close by I never have to worry about the fire getting away from me. It’s satisfying when there is enough weeds or dead grass to carry the flame along so that each waterway gets a buzz cut before the first stream enters. And as we appreciate what fire can do, we’re careful to extinguish the flames just as they clear the embankment. Plant material, old and new, protects the structure. Our sand ditches can be fragile if left naked.

One spring when we were newlyweds, I got adventurous. Mark was teaching at the nearby high school and I decided to burn ditch over at the “Bartausky Place.” I was doing fine until the fire got into the willows along the large adjoining canal. I panicked. I had a thermos along that I dunked into the canal to throw on the flames, but the vegetation kept popping. I figured Mark’s last class was almost over so I drove into town for his help. He knew I was in trouble just looking at my red face and near tears expression. He followed me back, assured me the willows would fill back in and saved the day. It wasn’t the last time. 

Why do humans love fire? The flames are beautiful for sure. And their power is breathtaking. There’s no tool to compare with fire for many purposes. What makes me cranky is when country dwellers think they need to burn weeds and old grass along fences, edges, etc. to create a clean slate for new growth.  What they don’t realize is the shelter and concealment for birds and other small creatures they’re eliminating. Old organic matter feeds soil life, moderates soil temperatures and holds moisture in. Nature isn’t tidy for a reason. 

you'll need a pitchfork