Monday, November 24, 2014

Same Trail Different Generation

The cows didn’t want to leave, and maybe we should have listened to them. Perhaps it is as they say that animals can read the weather. Mark and I believed the forecast of heavy snow and high winds and so determined to fetch the cows to the valley, but as it turned out the storm didn’t materialize and we could have left them a little longer. And every day matters when you’re counting down to the haystack.

But, still, they were the last holdouts of the neighboring herds, and at the highest mountain pasture, nearly 2000 feet higher than the valley floor. And now they are here, safe and sound, and so are we.

Today was the last day of the trail home and I knew we had enough help so I asked Mark’s 95-yr-old grandmother if she wanted to ride along with me in our little Ranger pickup. I could let Kate keep the tail end of the herd caught up and Bonny would get to see Seth and Anna riding and be part of the day. She tried to talk herself out of going, but couldn’t find a good enough reason to stay home.

Mark and the kids started the herd early and I arranged to pick up Bonny at 10:00. I loaded Kate in the pickup shell and tucked in a blanket for Bonny's lap. We came upon the herd just as it was streaming down the last bench of high ground above the Snake River Plain. Grandma was teary-eyed as she wished out loud that Eldro, Mark’s grandpa now 14 years gone, could see the cattle.

She talked to me about the old days. How she was a town girl uprooted to the country and none too happy about it. She had to learn to like the cows; had to learn to like trailing them back and forth to the mountains. It wasn’t her idea to be a rancher’s wife, but after all the years she spoke with obvious pride in the herd, in the stake that she and Eldro had worked so hard to give us.

She said Eldro was the most determined man she had ever met, determined to build a farm and a cow herd, and how he had never cheated anyone out of a dime for his own benefit. Yes, it was hard for her to play second fiddle to the cows, but there was no regret or bitterness in her tone. She did what she had to do and it was a good life with many happy years.  

Bonny, and Anita, Mark’s Mom, and I are very different. We all married into this place and these cows, but we live this ranching life on our own terms. The details vary but the outlines overlap. Is it the same with other families? Or is it particularly so on a family ranch that the generations seem so close, almost side by side, separated only by the thin thread of time. 

reluctant to leave

trusting the movement

Monday, November 17, 2014

Looking Towards Home

There’s been a sea-change in the weather. Last weekend we were moving cattle through lovely stockpiled grass and enjoying mild temps. By Friday we were fighting a foot and a half of snow in the high country and getting cattle collected to fall back to lower elevation pastures.

We knew they needed to come down part way, and it’s not much fun to drag a horse trailer in deep snow, so we determined we could get the herd started with a 4-wheeler and a couple of dogs. Especially since Callie was home and she’s a force to be reckoned with on foot.

We loaded up and went in to town for gas and sandwich makings at the local Stop’ n Shop. We saw a friend there who inquired about our day’s task. I assured him we had the provisions we’d need to tackle snow country - chains, a shovel, walkie-talkies, hot coffee. He smiled and said, “remember my cell number?  . . . . forget it!”

Things went okay, but it always takes longer than you think it should. It snowed all day, a wet sticky snow that eventually worked through our layers of clothing. Our dogs were troopers, bounding through the snow, taking bites for drinks. 

At one point Callie and I had to wallow up a mountain to retrieve a third of the herd that had decided to follow a side hill full of bitterbrush. They kept climbing and climbing, enjoying their nibbling, and what could we do but follow? And then when Callie and Kate finally got around the highest individuals they were so content they just turned and headed back at the same elevation. After much hollering on our part they finally made it back to the road. We got them into the overnight pasture at dusk.

We have a new catch phrase for days like this. We heard it this summer from a rancher who takes interns on his ranch. On those particularly challenging days when the interns are wondering what they got themselves into, he says to them, “not everyone gets to do this!”

Kate at work 

by day two we had sunshine

Saturday, November 1, 2014


There’s snow in the forecast for later today but it’s mild so far this morning. It was a warm walk with the dogs except for two pockets of cold air sitting quietly on the ground, a harbinger of what’s to come.

It’s the first day of November - and I can believe it. There’s a kind of stillness in the air. Like the water in the canal, just a series of puddles sinking slowly into the aquifer. The dogs dive in like usual, not knowing to relish their last taste of it, but I do.

We didn’t get any trick-or-treaters last night, the usual since trunk-or-treat took over the ritual of driving between neighbors in the country. I realize the advantages of the parking lot celebration, but still . . . And yes, I always buy candy “just in case” and end up eating it myself. 

Callie and I harvested the last of the garden yesterday. She dug all the potatoes while I knelt and rifled through the dirt. She was a godsend, as it’s hard work to do by yourself and I hate to bug Mark; he doesn’t need another job. Cal thought it was fun to turn over a shovel full of dirt and have these beautiful red darlings tumble out. Like finding a fat asparagus spear among the grass in spring or colorful eggs at Easter. We pulled up the last of the beets and purple onions and clipped the parsley and rosemary to dry. 

The last chore at dusk was delivering the potatoes to Grandma Bonny’s pump house, a thick-walled storage building at the end of her sidewalk that keeps vegetables at just the right temperature. It’s a gem. I wish I had one, but she is glad to share hers. She used to have an underground cellar which filled with a foot of sub water every summer. How happy she was to move her wares into a dry, ground level, climate-controlled room of her own. 

Harvesting what the land produces is a particular joy of this way of life. Whether it’s a sturdy calf crop, a stack of alfalfa hay or a bag of herbs in the cupboard. It’s all fun. As Callie said, “nature is so cool!”   

lots of beef

a young strong back