Monday, August 24, 2015

Couple Time

We thought when Mark got his cast off it would mean he could use his wrist again. Nope, not so lucky. The doctor put on a splint and gave him explicit instructions. “No loading!” I had to ask him,  “What about shoveling? Pushing? Pulling?” Nope, it all counts as loading. Mark looked askance at the doctor and said, “but that’s my life.”

And it gets worse. His other wrist needed a splint too with the same accompanying instructions. The doc thinks it’s a partially torn tendon and may not heal as well as the other fractured wrist, especially if he isn't careful to “not load” it.

Then to top it off, Jesse got bucked off a few days after Mark and broke three ribs! Groan.

So anyway, we’re getting by. The biggee this time of year is flood irrigating. I've been going with Mark on his route every day and am getting pretty good at setting dams and pulling ornery tins. I do exactly what he says. (For a change!) Each ditch has a different character. Some are silt and you can just tuck the edge of the dam in with a dull shovel. Others are flat and wide and pure sand and you need to dig all along the edge and place shovelfuls of sand on top of it. Some are too deep to stand in and you have to straddle them. And to replace the tumbleweeds of this spring, we've now got tumbling mustard that collects in wads that need pitched.     

It’s obvious the job is geared up for a strong man, not a woman. At least not a woman of my bench pressing ability. I'm sure the newly anointed women Rangers could do it without a hitch, but not me. I get it done, though, with some cheaters along the way. I can usually use a lever apparatus of some kind to get the tin headgates open. To haul dams I hoist one end on Mark’s shoulder and put the other end on my shoulder. That works pretty good.

I enjoy most of it. Flood irrigating is such healthy work. It's an obstacle course - jump ditches, climb sidehills, lift with your legs, tug, pitch, shovel - and lots of walking. There's pheasants to flush, deer to spy, weeds to pull and abundant grass to wade through. We took a walk through one of the windbreaks one evening eating buffalo berries. It's a great way to see the ranch.

It’s been an eye-opener for both of us. We depend on Mark’s physical abilities to run this ranch. What would we do if he had been hurt worse? What will we do when age becomes a factor? It makes you feel pretty vulnerable. Of course everyone who gets hurt or has other health issues finds out the same thing. We take our health for granted.

Mark is realizing (I hope) that some things he puts up with need a design change. Maybe he could re-do the concrete checks so that someone of lesser strength could operate them? Maybe a makeshift lever on every sticky headgate would be a good thing. Maybe the dam poles don’t need to be so “dam” heavy!

The other thing that weighs on my mind is the number of hours Mark puts in doing physical labor. He’s got so many gifts to share with the world. Is shoveling for hours a day worth the cost? Is our old-timey method of irrigation still viable? It's lo-input yes - on everything but the operator. These are tough questions we grapple with, then fall comes and the urgency fades until spring.   

I know it’s been hard for Mark. He walks around in a gloomy state, but mostly I’m feeling blessed. He didn’t get hurt worse. His concussion has healed. What if his wrists hadn’t taken part of the brunt of the fall? What then?

We got this.

yes, it held

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Back to School

August is an annual reality check. All those projects you had planned for the summer? Well . . . they probably didn’t get done and by now you know they won’t. Does it really matter?

On the other hand, some things do matter. Mark and I have a goal of “wine at nine” on the terrace. It doesn't happen often, but it’s grand when it does. We look at Higham’s Peak in the distance and watch the willows sway against the breeze. We might hear the squawk of a rooster pheasant or the scree of a hawk. Last night a great horned owl swooped down and gathered herself onto the limb of a cottonwood. And if we stay late enough we'll see bats dart under the eaves.

It’s a monarch butterfly year. And hummingbirds! They love the coneflowers and salvia. The songbirds are dwindling for the season. That makes me sad.   

I’ve been canning green beans. Mark and the kids love them. They’re comfort food in our house and make beef and potatoes a real winter meal.   

Our hired boys - young men I should say – have gone back to college. We hated to see them go. Anna came and went, only spending about a week at home.  

I remember this feeling.

It happened every year after the 4-H fair. We had been super busy helping the kids with their steer and horse projects. They had been leading their steers, grooming and bathing them, feeding them twice daily. They were working their horses regularly. The saddles had been soaped and oiled, the blankets washed. They had gone round and round the arena practicing for the horse show. Then the fair was over and the steers were gone and the horses back in the pasture; their shiny coats and blackened hooves dusty once more. School was just around the corner. A few more days to relish . . . and cherish.

Mark helped Anna change the oil in her car before she left. Someday hopefully a good man will do it for her, but for now she’s learning about self-reliance and the value of maintenance – to secure the drip pan before she loosens the plug, to write down her mileage for future reference.

Then she was off. Headed down the gravel lane once more. 

It's not that August is necessarily melancholic. Bittersweet is a better word. It's abundant and rich with the season's bounty, but poignant in its transition between now and what comes next.  

The next day Mark and I spent the day in the hills, just the two of us. We didn’t have much to talk about, pretty quiet. We brought two bulls home, put out salt and marveled over the amount of feed in front of the cows. We came home to rain.

There’s a line from the movie On Golden Pond that fits August pretty well. Katherine Hepburn is talking to her daughter Cheltzey, played by Jane Fonda. She is scolding her, admonishing her (a woman of about 50 herself) to finally forgive her 80-year-old ailing father played by Henry Fonda. Hepburn makes it clear that she needs to grow up and leave her childish behavior behind. 

Time marches on, Cheltz. I suggest you get on with it.”

Re-reading grandma Mimi's 1958 self-help book 

I love seeing these guys

green bean extravaganza

sans coveralls

it's quiet all right

Thursday, August 6, 2015

July Photo Opp

The weather continues to be unsettled - thundershowers, hail, or like today, sunny, muggy and warm. We’ve had nothing as hot as the first week of July. And of course these lovely Idaho nights are cool and comfortable.

We’ve been focused on Mark for the last week since he got bucked off Jane in the mountains. She touched a hot wire with her nose and went ballistic. Mark couldn’t get a good hold on the reins and scared her further by being in and out of the saddle while she jumped. A concussion and one (maybe two) broken wrists later he is healing little by little. Our hired boys only have a few more days with us so Mark's getting all the good out of them he can.

Before Mark’s wreck we had a quiet day hosting a photographer from our marketing cooperative, Country Natural Beef. Lynn Howlett,, showed up one afternoon while Mark was cutting hay. Not thinking swathing was much of a photo subject, I sent him over anyway, only to have him get some great shots of Mark holding a baby meadowlark that had flown out of the hay. Mark picked up the youngster and tucked him in a windrow a few rows away and under cover from the circling hawks. His mother was chirping nearby.

Then the next morning Lynn accompanied us to move the replacement heifers to a new paddock. We stopped at grandma Bonny’s on the way to get a generation skipping photo. She’s a good sport, even though at 96, not exactly excited to pose for a photograph. 

What we ended up with was a typical ranch day's smattering of images. Cattle and horses, grass, a little wildlife and some simple folk that live on the land. Images made memorable by the hands of a professional. I wasn't so sure to begin with though.  

Mark has taught me (is teaching me still) that good enough is good enough. His favorite line is “things are seldom ideal.” Might as well get on with it. And that’s how it was with the photo shoot. I would have preferred the kids were home as they make such beautiful, youthful figures on horseback. I would have preferred to travel to our range ground to get some spectacular scenery as a backdrop. Of course I would have preferred looking twenty years younger too, but that didn’t happen either. Still, the photos are fun, and in 10 years when the faces of family and our animal helpers have changed, they will be priceless.   

When we finished, I grabbed Lynn’s camera and did a turn-around on him. He called it “a gift” because he’s always on the other side of the lens.