Sunday, April 17, 2016

'Tis Better to Prune

We were gone for two days and came home to find water flowing in the canal and a green haze smudged across the willows. The quakie out my office window has the tiniest, shiniest light green leaves. There is life all around us in a rush to birth, bud, nest, bloom, leaf and grow.

We got several hundred calves branded over three days. Seth and Anna were home to help and Anita brought a yummy lunch every day. It’s a family affair, along with some extra good help. Our friend Alan, a highschool teacher in Boise, drives 4 hours each way to help us. He’s castrated thousands of calves over the years. Let’s see . . . several thousand x 2, since there are two testicles per calf . . . . .    

Besides making steers out of bulls, we give them vaccinations and a hot iron brand for identification. They don’t like it, of course, and lay around for a couple of days, a little shell-shocked that life isn't as carefree as they'd come to believe. Still, by day three they’re up and running in packs across the pasture again. I liken it to immunizing a human infant. Yes, they squall when they get the shots, but in a day or so they’re fine and don’t think about it again.

I took a turn at putting calves in the chute. I like to put my hands on their bodies and feel their thick, luxuriant coats. I make a game out of seeing how gentle I can touch them and how gently they respond. Of course, don't kid yourself about their gentleness; come armed with boots and chaps because they can eat your lunch whenever they want!

Every spring I get the pruning bug. This year I spoiled myself with a new set of pruners and a handy folding saw. I’ve been having a ball cleaning up along our canal. I worked for 4 days, sawing, snipping, hauling, piling - and then Mark arrived with a truck and tractor and took it all away. 

And as I prune, I think of how analogous this activity is to a life well lived. How many of us clutter our lives with endless “stuff” that, frankly, needs hauled away to the burn pile? We’re like the unkempt kid at supper with his shirt sleeves dragging in the soup that needs a comb put through his hair and his shirt tucked in. We need to cut back the dead, whack away the wayward suckers and the cluttered lines, and reveal the graceful and uncluttered arcs of our life. 

tough customers

the '77 Ford can handle it

oh, that our minds were this peaceful

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Spring Signage

Spring is here in a big way. I pruned the chokecherries and cleaned out the front flower bed today. It was 60 degrees in the shade by noon. Mark is still doctoring a few calves and eyeing the ditches to get ready for the irrigation season. The Slough is due to start running water tomorrow. So soon?

We have a strange phenomenon this spring – no tumbleweeds. They usually blow against the fences and into the ditches during spring winds. They’re a real nuisance, clogging waterways, filling open sheds and covering fences. If nothing else the piles are unsightly, so we gather them together and burn every spring. For some strange reason they’re absent this year. What circumstance of weather kept their numbers down? Did weeks of heavy snowpack flatten them? 

About ten years ago we had a particularly bad year that we named, “the year of the tumbleweed.” The weeds filled the alleyway in the corrals and rolled down the lane into the yard blocking the driveway. We manned pitchforks and worked as a family to get them gathered and burned. But tumbleweeds aren’t the worst thing. Bare ground is. And the weeds do a great job of covering bare spots, grow with little moisture and provide seeds for songbirds and cover for all kinds of varmints. 

We’re on the downhill side of calving. Yesterday Mark was surveying the heifers out our picture window with the binoculars. At one point he abruptly put down the glasses and headed out the door. He doesn’t often leave in such a hurry, so I was anxious to hear what had happened. When he returned, he explained that he was watching a heifer calve and saw the calf plop to the ground, just over a rise and out of his view. He saw the cow looking back at her calf and, as he said it, “giving him the hairy eyeball.” A new mother doesn’t stand and look at her baby curiously. Normal behavior is the anxious lowering of her head, sniffing and licking excitedly. Mark knew something was wrong. Sure enough when he arrived on the 4-wheeler, he found the calf folded in half, making snuffling noises. He flopped him upright so he could get a breath and at that moment the mother’s instincts kicked in and she started tending her calf.

It reminds me of the admonishment Mark’s grandpa used to tell us. “Think,” he would say. “The signs are there, you just need to read them.” 

the preemie that was in the barn, still friendly and wanting a scratch