Friday, May 22, 2015

That's a Wrap

We had a lovely weekend in Moscow to celebrate Seth’s graduation from the University of Idaho. The northern panhandle of our state is breathtakingly beautiful. The rolling farm ground of peas, lentils, grain and alfalfa is bathed in shades of green this time of year. And interspersed here and there are standing pines and meticulously kept farmsteads. The “breaks” of the Clearwater River provide the backdrop.  

We stayed in a luscious bed and breakfast I found on Airbnb just outside of neighboring Genesee. Airbnb is a great travel tool if you're into a bit of adventuring. Our host, Gayle, is a farm blogger/advocate like me so we had lots to visit about.

Seth had a hard time leaving his university life behind. He squeezed every drop out of his college experience. From fishing the St. Joe and recruiting a bunch of great guys to his fraternity, to working for the College of Agriculture and supervising a team of interns  his senior year, he did it all. He even got to wear the homecoming king crown and emcee a few university events. He made the most of adult mentors and did some mentoring himself to underclassmen, and he got a great education along the way. He’s the type of kid that the opportunities a university provides are used to their best advantage and worth every penny.  

After we loaded his four year accumulation of stuff into Anita’s truck and Seth’s 23-yr-old Toyota pickup, I rode with him out of town. He was in a pensive mood, not unlike other transition days in his life. I well remember the day he left home 4 years ago in that same Toyota to head to Moscow. After stalling most of the morning and still facing a 9-hr drive, I finally had to guide him behind the wheel and out the driveway, assuring him we’d still be here to come home to. He has never liked change. But even so, he immerses himself in the moment, saying his farewells and taking a long last look back.

We came home to rain and more rain and the annual switching of gears that our kids go through. They’re busy riding horses and working dogs and trying to keep dry as we follow another herd to the hills. They’re both steeling themselves for their next move, Anna to D.C. to work for the summer for the National FFA Organization and Seth to South Carolina to start a new job with an ag consulting firm. They use the word “dread” to describe the feeling of leaving home and the West again.

And as for me, the mom, I’m trying to concentrate on words like gratitude, equanimity and faith. Gratitude for all the blessings I enjoy every day - health, wealth, a warm bed, a solid companion. Equanimity, which is my catch-all word and works in all situations. And faith, that the kids will have safe and rewarding adventures and that they’ll find their way back home again.

looking over the university feedlot pen of cattle

last campus walk

blessed rain

Cassie doesn't mind the wet while Seth takes refuge


Saturday, May 9, 2015

A May Album

After trying and failing to write a blog, I decided to let the images tell the story for me.  

I've been on a spring cleaning mission. This old barbed wire was gathered off the mountain last fall to make way for a new line. Oh, if these rolls could talk! 

A76 made the cut and is now a member of the herd. Each replacement heifer is weighed and vaccinated and her number is tattooed into her ear in case she loses her tag. 

We left home with the first herd and encountered a plethora of obstacles along the way.

The crew that makes it happen.

I walked to change a stream of water this morning and flushed a pheasant off her nest! 

Pulling up fence in God's country to get ready for the cows. A second crew kept the herd going.

We made it to the first pasture. The greenest of greens. Bless the rain!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Sharing Our Story

Spring piles on top of itself on a ranch. There are so many jobs to choose from one can get dizzy.

In the midst of it all I made a quick trip to Boise to speak to a group of biology graduate students. The class is called Science and Society and features a different speaker each week. As the semester went along I was privy to the list of presenters and noticed that they all had initials behind their name! I puzzled about what exactly I could share with the students and decided to simply tell the story of a ranch. Maybe if I told our story, I thought, the class might have a better understanding of landowners in general.  

The students are budding scientists involved in research projects of one kind or another, and so I started my talk with a bit about another scientist, Andre Voisin, a French biochemist who wrote the classic Grass Productivity in 1959. It was said of Voisin, “he realized more than most that the unknowns in science are far greater than the knowns and that simple observation of the cow at grass could teach us more about ecological relationships than the most sophisticated research yet developed.”

This idea of the cow at grass being research hits a chord with me. Mark and I have been “researching” for over twenty years, and unlike these students who are able to get rid of annoying variables and search out a clear cause and effect relationship, we do our research with the variables intact. We make stabs at cause and effect. We try to be comfortable with always more questions than answers. We keep in mind that success is measured by the health of the three legs of managing wholes - people, land and money. If one leg falters the other two follow. Real life in other words.   

I showed slides of a year on the ranch, our search for feed and water every day, the relationship between the cow and her calf, herd health and low stress stockmanship and how we strive to do our best within the many constraints we find ourselves. I told them about working with government agencies and some good and not-so-good case studies for them to ponder.

I think the students got it. What fun to hear their questions and learn a little bit about their own stories. I told them to keep their stories close because our stories keep us honest and are our best contribution to the world around us.  

I closed with a quote from Charles Dana, a journalist who lived in the 1800’s. I doubt very much he was talking about natural resource concerns, but it seems fitting. “Fight for your opinions, but do not believe that they contain the whole truth or the only truth.”

I have a vision of good ecosystem management. It is of a scientist and a rancher/farmer with heads bent together over the land in full appreciation of the knowledge they both contribute. Thanks Jen for fostering that same vision!   

one ranch story