Saturday, December 23, 2017

Growing Old(er) Together

My faraway sisters visited at Christmas time this year. Four of the six of us live close by, but the other two travelled from Montana and Maryland. We get together every year on what we’ve come to call “sister retreat.” This was the first time we tried a winter trip and the weather cooperated as we took turns visiting each other’s homes. One day we sorted boxes from an ancestor’s attic; one day we did crafts which involved a sewing machine, old buttons and a frog pattern. We cooked and ate, worked on puzzles, reminisced, laughed, and laughed some more. We stopped at Mom and Dad’s grave, brushed the snow aside and resituated the evergreen wreath Merle had made to grace the site.

One day Mark and I took the visiting sisters to cut Christmas trees. We wandered around in what must surely be a conifer encroachment area and found the perfect tree, cone shaped and loaded with gray/green berries. The site is home to our family’s cattle in the fall of the year and where we spent many happy days tending the herd and picnicking as kids. It was a perfect evening above the Blackfoot River, the iconic backdrop to Mom and Dad’s lives and Mom’s love of her life, next to Dad of course. The trip turned out to be the last possible day to navigate the high country without chains.

One evening we attended the annual small town production of A Christmas Carol. Donna suggested we sit on the front row of the Virginia Theatre, the oldest operating venue of its kind in Idaho. Being up close and personal means cheering on the cast and celebrating intimately with them when Ebenezer overcomes his Scroogeness.

As we get older, time together as siblings is more cherished and poignant than ever. The twelve years separating me, the youngest, from Janene, the oldest, is a hair’s width difference now and one of the best parts of growing older, sharing a past in different timelines, but being comrades as adults. Their visit was the best Christmas gift I can think of.  

Donna helped select Seth and Leah's first Christmas tree

that's me and my comrade, Janene

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Then Winter Came

The first snow with cold, cold temperatures is a sea change on the ranch. We were busy doing something . . . and now we switch gears and do something entirely different.  

The change in weather means the cows had to come home. We always think we might get a few more days of grazing in the mountains, but old man winter has his way. Our fall pasture is on the other side of steep mountain grades, so when the weather turns, we go for the cows. Mark’s tripping back and forth to the mountains is over until spring. Time to hunker down and tend things close to home.

We worked cows yesterday. They needed their annual shots so each one had to be put through the working facility. We had a wood stove blazing near the chute, but it was still bitter cold. This particular set of corrals hadn’t been used in a while so we had to iron out a few kinks as the day progressed. Ten head escaped out the back of the corral and another cow jumped out and bent a steel section. We gathered up a couple of panels, a long pole and a broken wooden gate and jimmied up a temporary fix. On top of that, the cows didn’t want to load in the crowding pen nor leave through the working chute. We coaxed every one through and finished just at dusk. I was so ready to be done!   

Despite the difficulties, everyone stayed agreeable and we eventually (as Gary likes to say) “wore them out.” It’s one characteristic of many I appreciate about our ranch. We don't argue while working cattle because we know we need each other's help. We may disagree on some business elements, but we’re diligent about keeping a positive working environment and for that I thank the previous generations. It’s one tradition we’re determined to keep.

Before the snow came, I took a photo of Anna and Mark catching horses and planned on using it in my blog. It’s a good one of a father and daughter starting the day. Then November got away from me and now the scene has changed so much it doesn’t seem to fit anymore. Mark assured me it didn't matter. I could write about the changing seasons he said. I guess a last, longing look-back is okay.

As we wrap up another production year, we take stock. We add up inventories, divvy expenses, balance the accounts and count our blessings. Among our blessings has been Seth and Leah living close by and helping us on the weekends.  

Leah, California raised, is spending her first Christmas in Idaho. She has a sense of joy and wonder about the snow. I found her a pair of gently used overalls on the high shelf in the mudroom. They were just her size and kept her warm working cattle. When I said she could take them home, she smiled and said, “a Christmas miracle!” Kind of sheds a whole new light on winter.   

Jane, Anna, Sis, Mark

the crew

a good calf crop on processing day

Kate bringing them home while I drive the (warm) pickup

waiting their turn
(photo by Seth)

one more to go
(photo by Seth)