Thursday, January 19, 2017

What a Winter . . .

It warmed up enough to snow again. We woke to three more inches and it’s been coming down all morning. Mark will be piling it up with the tractor once more and putting chains back on the feed truck. It’s getting old.

Oh, but wait, we need the moisture, so scratch that.

We had a lot of rain this fall which soaked into the hay and straw stacks. Now, any exposed bales are frozen solid and it makes for miserable feeding conditions. Each ton bale has six strings that have to be yanked off through a couple inches of ice. Then they're chopped into hunks with an axe or a pry bar. It’s bicep jarring work.

Once they’re to this stage they still have to be kicked off the trailer. I’ve been feeding one load and one is enough. I keep telling myself it’s great - a total body workout! But it’s also a total mind workout – stay calm, don’t fight the bale. 

Mid-winter can be a lovely time of year on the ranch. Feeding cows has a methodical rhythm to it, and we usually do some much needed hibernating during this phase of the ranching year. Not so this winter. The extreme temperatures, deep snow and icy conditions are taking a toll on Mark and Jesse who bear the brunt of it. They bow their necks, brace themselves under a pile of winter “laundry,” (as Gary calls it) and doggedly care for the cattle every day.

To make matters worse, the subzero temperatures mean that watering facilities are at risk. Tanks have to be chopped daily and are susceptible to freezing underground. The pump at "Frank's," where the older cows live, went out this week and Mark and the hired electrician worked all afternoon to get it going again. That meant thirsty cows pushing their way to the water. Mark had to stand guard 'til after dark to make sure they didn't damage the trough and the float.    

We try to do office work in the evenings, but there’s a special kind of tired when you’ve been out in the cold all day and finally get warm. Instead, we indulge in West Wing reruns on Netflix and soak up the woodstove heat.

This morning I caught a fun photo of Mark scratching a gentle bull as we were feeding. I made a short video and sent it to the kids via text message. They're scattered to the winds, but like getting ranch updates. Thank goodness for interludes that put a bit of fun back in the mix. 

Working together, practicing patience and resolve, accepting factors we can’t control and staying calm. It’s good karma on a ranch. And as we change the guard in Washington, it's good karma for a nation. Happy New Year!

a gentle fellow

yes, it's that slick

spreading hay as best we can

 heifers taking their daily bread

ice build up outside the trough

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Gone Far and Grazin'

Grandma Bonnie left us as 2016 was winding down. She got what she wanted for Christmas so we’re feeling blessed. The empty house at ranch headquarters will take some getting used to because she was the one constant in a changeable world.   

She grew up in the Depression with a selfless Mother and an absent Father. That combination meant service to others and a desire to make those around her feel loved was her mantra. Her homemaking skills were top notch, her work ethic unmatchable, and her warm, welcoming nature ever present.   

She was really good at giving, but found it difficult to receive. She got better at it in the end, but was as feisty as ever with her good humor in full display. We lucky ones on the caregiving crew laughed a lot. 

I am her grandson’s wife, but I was also her neighbor and friend. We shared a ranch wife’s view of the world. That doesn’t sound very modern does it? She knew what it meant to compete with cows for a husband’s attention. There are no better men than the Pratt men, but it’s easier for them to figure out a cow than it is to figure out their wives.  

She tried not to ask what was happening on the ranch, but we knew how much she cared and that she was always thinking about us and wondering if we were safe. Trips to the mountains had her wringing her hands until we called to let her know we were home. The standing joke was none of us needed to worry because Grandma was doing it for us!     

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting facing her, her hands in mine. I was comparing my nails, hastily cut short with fingernail clippers, to hers which she kept carefully filed in a graceful arc. I never knew that about her. We were alike but different in many ways. I asked her if I could take a picture of her hands because I thought them beautiful. “No,” she said, to her they were old and wrinkled.

In the month preceding her death, as I spent more time at her house, I learned to open the curtains first thing in the morning. It was her habit to rise early and pull the curtains. She not only wanted to let the first light in, but wanted to reassure Gary, or whoever would be driving through ranch headquarters, that she was fine and had arisen as usual. At dusk the curtains were snugly closed. It was part of her ordered world.

The night before she died, Anna and Seth had a good visit with her. She sat in her chair under a lamp opposite Anna. Seth stretched on the floor at her side. She talked about her mother working for the Works Project Administration and how her Mom had to be convinced that it was “not a handout!” We looked at her 1918 Book of Knowledge encyclopedia set. She told us how thrilled she was when she got them and didn’t have to go down the street to the library to do school reports. 

That our kids grew up next door to her is the rarest of gifts. When they left that night and I was helping her to bed, she said what a lovely evening it had been. She was using a walker and took a spin around the living room for good measure.

I went back to her empty home to do some laundry this week and sat in her favorite mauve chair for a while. It’s a surreal feeling. The recent memories of her decline are fading fast and those of the last 26 years since I came to the ranch coming to the surface. I opened the curtains when I arrived and closed them at dusk when I left.

Eldro and Bonnie