Monday, May 29, 2017

A Dog's Life

The cattle are delivered to the mountains. Now it's hours of beating the road up and down, back and forth, tending them. By winter we’ll be sick of that and ready to have them home again, but for now it feels good to have them out from underfoot and in the high country. 

I still thrill at the green grass in the mountains. Against a crystalline blue sky, it’s the prettiest thing you ever saw.  

My dog Kate was a trooper going up the Trail. She’s showing some age and that makes me sad, but she hung tough and herded with her familiar intensity. And on the last day I still had to call her back from the herd as they settled in for the summer. Having her with me is like having a great big arm that extends way out, first to the right and then to the left, sweeping in a big arc moving cattle. Rocks, fences, creeks, trees - grain fields - she's got them covered. A border collie’s work ethic is a thing of beauty and enviable to anyone with a lick of sense. Anita says I need to break down and start another pup while Kate can still teach her the ropes. If I do, that will make four new dogs on the crew next year. I guess the veterans could use some help.

It seems like an accident that my dog and I do as well as we do. I don’t really train. We just start working cattle together and somehow figure it out. Gary says you just need to spend time with a dog and they’ll start to understand you, all your verbal and non-verbal ways of communication. The best advice Anita gives is to get your dog hooked on you as a first step. Then they’ll stay with you and figure out how to please you. I can ride by myself for long periods and I never feel alone, because I’m not alone.  

They’re so loyal. I remember the day we were coming back from taking cattle to a far-off pasture. The memory has faded and was during the lifetime of my only other dog, Beauty. I must have left my horse with the cattle, because I was riding double with Mark for some reason. Beauty, who was accustomed to staying with my horse, hadn't realized I had switched mounts. As soon as I noticed she wasn’t with us, I called and called and was quite worried that I had lost her. Then she showed up. That tugged at my heart. And I don’t deserve it. It’s not as if my dog sleeps at the foot of our bed. She’s my working companion and I don’t do a lot of fussing over her. But I let her work, and what fun we have - her most favorite thing in the world. 

Martha, Clyde, Kate and Jill, pros all

Seth and Cassie holding herd

lead cows in the distance
Katie tucking them in

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Passing Grade

We’ve been starting irrigation water and staging the cows to leave for the mountains. We group them in two herds and put them on fresh grass so their bellies are full of green feed before we turn them out on the road and walk them by people’s lawns and farmers’ fields. No one likes to fence anymore, so we spend the first two days convincing the cows they can walk right by succulent green grain.  

Before the cows arrive in the high country we have to get the fence put up, so we spent a day in the mountains. It was lovely and we rode the 4-wheeler along a ridgeline with a majestic view. I took my little saw and pruners to cut back the quakies that crowd the line. I overdid it in the heat, and at the end of the day was completely used up. And as I thought about the work ahead of us getting the cattle to the hills . . . I just flat didn’t feel up to any of it!

I moped around for the rest of the day, which is hard on Mark. I really am “all in” when it comes to the ranch, but dang, this part is hard. Getting the cattle to the mountains is the classic love/hate affair. I love the land and the stock and working my dog with the herd. But the overload of stimuli, cows and calves milling and bawling and trying to go back, horses and riders and dogs of every skill level, a constant stream of vehicles trying to get by us - not to mention trying to protect my neighbor’s flowers and trees! It's hard for a self-diagnosed HSP (highly sensitive person). 

By the next day I was feeling better. We had moved another herd, and as I was walking back through the woods near our home, I ran across an apple tree in full glorious bloom. It was growing next to a cottonwood, and its trunk ran up the side of the larger tree, making it long and leggy, not like a fruit tree at all. It was so lovely and unexpected - a tender mercy to cheer me up. A line which is totally made up; the mercy part is all in my head, the rest is just the wonder of nature.

Two more things helped. I went to pick wild asparagus before the late frost that was forecasted bent their heads, and found an armload. I told Mark, "I found the mother lode!” Then I had a fun text conversation with Anna as I was waiting behind one more herd of cows. I had told her I was feeling overwhelmed about making the cattle drive this year without her, and that I knew I needed to relax, and not get anxious and push myself too hard. She responded in her university mindset: “We all try so hard to get an “A+” in AG 515 (moving cattle to the mountains), but a “C” is still a good grade.

Wise words. 

nature's way

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A Sheltering Place

It continues to be cool and damp. I planted peas, onions, kale and beets in the garden. To my surprise, I ran into some potatoes I hadn’t found last fall and they were perfect. I just rubbed off the new sprouts and gathered them up for supper. And to top it off, the kale and collard greens left from last summer started growing again and we had yummy greens on the first of May. Who knew?

I cleaned our little rental home one more time to house extra summer-time help. It’s not fit for full-time living, but works for young guys learning the ranching trade for a few months during the heavy workload of summer. Before it was a “bunkhouse,” it sheltered a lot of families, including ours.  

I still get nostalgic working there by myself. It’s where we spent the first 10 years of our marriage, so the memories are close by.

There was the morning Callie locked herself in the bathroom after we informed her that her 4-H steer wasn’t coming home from the State Fair after all. “But I loved that steer!”

And the phase, years really, where Seth always had the piano bench pulled out because it provided a flat surface at just the right height to set up his farm. Often a stuffed animal was lassoed with his little lariat and hitched to the leg of the bench.  

It’s where I found a swollen tick in Anna’s hair and called Mark in a panic to come home from school to help me deal with it. And where she cried at the stranger in the bathroom after he’d shaved off his mustache to dress-up as a woman on Halloween. 

The house was small enough that if the kids woke up at night, they only had a short ways to go to get to our bedroom. I always felt like I was awake a minute or two before they were. They would stir quietly, then walk in for a hug before being escorted back to bed.

Oh and there was lots of “dog piling.” Mark would lie on one kid, and the other two would leap on top of him, with much tickling, laughing and squealing. I always thought someone would get a bloody nose or get squished. I needn’t have worried.    

The house was safe and cozy even though it was right on a busy paved road. The kids learned to be careful of the road on one side and the canal on the other. And most of all, they learned to get along with each other sharing one bedroom, to make do, and to put off a purchase until they could afford it.

As much as we love our new home, we all have a soft spot for the small quarters where we got to know each other and thereby know ourselves. Those first tender years that went by in a flash. 

the living room is just big enough for a "dog pile"