Thursday, November 29, 2018

Friendly Persuasion

Mark and I made an afternoon drive to the cows. Sometimes they need to be reminded where the grass is. They’re still in the mountains and there’s a few inches of snow on the ground. That’s enough to make them look towards home. Seems crazy that they stand at the gate waiting for us. They're just SURE that today is the day, even though deep grass is just a short walk away. This day especially they needed us. We crossed a bridge and persuaded them to climb the mountain where the grazing was superb.  

Mark led them and I brought up the rear on foot. After the movement was started they traveled nicely, crowding each other across the bridge because they thought it was such a good idea. They trust us that we’re doing this for a reason. We left them at dusk, climbing up through the bitterbrush and seemingly content.

We’re getting fall chores behind us one by one. We tested the bulls for trichomoniasis, a venereal disease that causes abortions in the cows and can wreak havoc if left undiscovered. The bulls are home and had to be gathered off a nearby pasture and taken to the corrals for their annual meeting with our local veterinarian. Herding bulls is a totally different dynamic than handling cows. To pick them up and ask them to move seems to tell them it’s time to challenge each other and fight. It’s the strangest thing. They will be contentedly grazing, the picture of comradery, and when my dogs and I enter the picture, all hell breaks loose. Running and bellering, side swiping, facing off. It can be exciting and dangerous if you get too close. They move quicker than their size suggests, especially if they’re making a quick get away.

The quiet of November has set in. Mature and steady, no-nonsense and nuanced, November is the perfect illustration of Leonardo DaVinci’s words: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Last night when I let the dogs loose for their evening run, we walked out to the bare cottonwoods where the starlings were massing before their nightly roost. What a racket! They clatter and squawk, and then in one huge swoop they cease talking and the sound changes to the flutter of thousands of wings as they shift to a new location. Not one bird was left behind in that one grand swell. What a thrill, and pretty darned sophisticated for a bunch of scraggly commoners. 


Thursday, November 8, 2018

Not Exactly Fishing

Mark and Seth and I spent a day letting down and loosening the fences in the mountains. It’s the last thing we do before winter so the snow doesn't break the wires. Seth took his fly rod because we knew there were brook trout spawners (adults laying and fertilizing eggs) in the creek this time of year. Seth is usually working at his day job, so this was a rare opportunity to combine ranch work and his first love, fly fishing.  

When we had loosened the fences for a while, we made it to the creek. I held the dogs back as Seth crawled along the bank, strategizing. He selected a lure that would look like a little minnow under the water. He snagged three trout in short order, one a big one as brookies go. I have only gone fishing with him once and that day he didn’t catch any fish, so I was happy to get in on the fun and witness his expert handling of the line. Then, with more fence to tend, Seth packed up his gear for the day. 

But before we left the creek, we walked a tiny tributary which lead to a spring nearby. The closer we got to the spring, the larger the spawners got. Seth ran back for his net and stood straddle of the creek and scooped up several copper hued beauties for us to examine up close. The creek had good flow and a clean gravel bottom with lots of weeds and bank to hide under. They’re so quick, just a flash in the water. What fun!    

Brook trout are native to the Eastern U.S. and have proliferated here in the West since they were transplanted in the mid 1800’s. They can be quite competitive with our native cutthroat and rainbow trout. However, they spawn in the fall while the other two natives spawn in the high melt water of spring, so they don’t compete for the same spawning sites. Brookies may live all their lives in the creek, spawning in habitats that are suitable, like our spring, and living the rest of the time in deeper waters. Interestingly, their numbers are in trouble in the East because of habitat destruction and competition from introduced brown trout.   

When we got back to the pickup and were eating our soup, I told Seth about the time when he was a little guy and brought his fishing pole along when we we went to the hills. He was just learning to fish and had never caught one, but he was confident enough to say, “Mom, you don’t need to bring lunch because we can eat fish.” I brought one just in case!

Mark and I have lived and worked in this country all our lives. We love seeing wildlife of all kinds, but we have never fully appreciated the fish story happening all around us. It took our cowboy-naturalist son to educate us. We now work towards protecting habitat along the streams in our pastures. We promised ourselves to head to the tiny creek early next spring to look for cutthroat.

On the way home, we stopped at another property to work on a crowding alley that Mark and Jesse had started. We planted some stout railroad ties and hung a gate to the Bud Box which is at a right angle to the alley leading up to the headcatch designed to hold individual animals. Before we were done, we were treated to a lovely sunset and Seth made good use of his headlamp.

Days like these are precious. I loved the company and the views - and the fish.  

nice brookie

Seth and Elsa

my guys