Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Shades of Gray

It’s been cool for mid-June. The hot weather garden plants have stalled out temporarily. 

We’ve had some rain, but not enough to give us much relief. A lightning storm blew through and spawned a fire in the lower elevation mountains along the Blackfoot River. I hate to see that, not that fire is necessarily bad. This one may have a positive effect, but I don’t want anything to encourage the march of cheat grass to the higher country. Parts of our nearby range is starting to burn regularly which encourages more of this annual grass to get a toehold. And with an extremely short green season, hence the name "cheat," it creates a tinder box of fuel. In southwest Idaho this combo has created a vicious cycle that threatens more and more native rangeland.  

We spent a few days in Central Oregon meeting with other ranchers throughout the West, taking a peek into each other’s businesses. We stayed at and toured a ranch where juniper trees are their major invasive problem. In their case, fire suppression is part of the scenario that creates a backlog of trees and the resulting simplification of the ecosystem. Seems every place has its nemesis. It was a beautiful operation with a respectful three-generation family that is addressing their challenges and making sure it works for everyone.

Mark and I went to check on the cows when we got home. We gambled on not needing a horse, so just took 4-wheelers to put out salt. What we found were a couple of very sick calves. Not to be deterred, Mark had me drive slowly alongside the calves while he sat sideways on the back of the machine with his lariat poised. At the right moment he hopped off and tossed the loop over the calf’s head and wrapped the rope around the rack of the 4-wheeler. I held the rope while he carefully gave them a shot of antibiotic and put two pills down their throat with a long handled “gun.” He said when there are sick calves there’s no need to be a cowboy. He's gotten really good at sneaking up on them. The procedure won't make the cover of a magazine but it works.

The older I get the more gray I see, not only in my hair but in all the situations of life. I know the answer to most questions is, "it depends." Whether it's grazing, fire, stockmanship - whatever, tell me how it's done, what other factors are at work, what's your objective? It's hardly black and white. 

a beautiful storm from this vantage