Ranch life in the Big Sky state through the eyes of one who has lived through it...so far.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Be My Guest

No new post here this weekend because I'm branching out, guest blogging for fellow writer Ramon Ballard. Click on over to his site to see my contribution: http://www.raballard-mymind.blogspot.com/.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's About Time

Yep, we're finally harvesting the barley.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Doggone it Anyway

Last week my mother and I took a trip to Denver. The route across central Montana and eastern Wyoming isn’t one of the more exciting drives in the world. Lots of farm fields. Lots of shadowy blue-gray mountains off in the distance. Lots of rocky bluffs that scream ‘rattlesnake crossing’. But just when things would start to get really dull, my mother would remember a story about a ranch we were passing by, or whatever little town we were passing through.

Like Lavina.

Lavina, MT is just north of Billings. One of those towns where any Copenhagen cowboy worth his salt can spit a wad of tobacco from one side of the city limits to the other. As we rolled past the bar/café/post office/gas station, Mom said, “That’s where the dog trapped your sister in the phone booth.”

Now this I had to hear.

The year was 1986. Our oldest sister had packed up one horse trailer and horses and moved to Augusta to teach grade school. I had nabbed the Circle J two horse trailer to drag my steed to college at Montana State. Which left Gina with the old single axle.

We still own the single axle. Considering my parents got it five years before they got me and every member of the family has rodeoed with it at some point in time, no one has the heart to sell it. But it’s not pretty.

The axle runs above the floor, meaning the horse has to step over it with his front feet when loading and unloading. After years of being spoiled by our newer trailers, I’m not sure any of the prima donnas we own now would even get in the thing. The white paint is scratched and faded, and the cloudy plastic window in the front has a crack down the middle. The tack room door sags and has warped to the point that there’s always a gap at the top, even when it’s shut. If it rains, water pools around your saddle blankets. Our gravel roads have scoured and dented the fenders, leaving them free to rust. And in order to protect the front of the trailer from the same fate, my dad wrapped it in all weather carpet.

Brown and black and white striped carpet.

Not that she was too cool for the single axle or anything, but Gina decided to take matters into her own hands. She happened to notice that the state high school rodeo queen got use of a brand new horse trailer for the duration of her reign, and the option to buy it cheap afterward. How cool was that? She decided to run for queen.

The plan worked perfectly. She won the district queen contest, and then the state title. And they presented her with a really nice…saddle.

But she did get to go on to Rapid City, South Dakota to represent the great state of Montana at the national high school finals. We even let her take the newest horse trailer, figuring it was only right for royalty and all. She also arranged to call in rodeo results to the local radio station all through the week.

Which was how she ended up in a phone booth in Lavina. They were on their way home from Rapid City on the morning after the national finals ended, and she had to stop and call the radio station. Spotting a phone booth, they pulled into the dusty parking lot next to the bar/café/post office/gas station. She grabbed her notes and proceeded to make her call.

As she rattled off the placings for all twelve events, a dog hoisted itself up out of the shade of a nearby tree, wandered across the parking lot and ambled toward her. Which was when she realized that the phone booth had no door. But no worries. The dog seemed friendly. It strolled up, wagging its tail. Just checking to see who was passing through town.

Maybe it didn’t like the way she smelled. Maybe it had something against the monarchy. Whatever the reason, it curled its lip. And growled. She smashed up against the back corner of the phone booth. The dog slunk closer. And growled some more. She rushed through the last of the rodeo results and slammed down the receiver.

The dog attacked.

Its teeth grazed her shin through her jeans. She vaulted out of the phone booth, hurdled the dog, and outsprinted it to the motorhome.

Pretty slick moves for a queen.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Warriors Remembered

This is one of the most amazing veterans' memorials I've ever seen. You'll find it along Interstate 84 in Crow Agency, Montana, within view of the Little Bighorn Battlefield. The statue alone is worth the trip, along with this plaque that tells the legend of the Mystic Warrior. (click on the picutre to read the legend).
The tipis and shields are made of metal. One tipi is constructed of hundreds of metal buffalo, the other is made of horses.
The plaques on the brick wall list the members of the Crow tribe who lost their lives in every conflict on record, beginning with the Battle of the Little Bighorn--also known as Custer's Last Stand. Have you ever visited a veterans' memorial on US soil dedicated to those who fought against the US army? The tributes continue through the Spanish-American War, both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, clear through the current conflict in Iraq. All of the tribes have sent large numbers of their young men and more recently women into combat, the military being one of the most accessible ways to escape the pervasive poverty on the reservations. And because they are warriors.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Spontaneous Confusion


I’ve heard it said that overplanning is the death of spontaneity. If that’s the case, spontaneity will never expire at the hands of my family.

Yesterday we met my sister and her husband at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. Our original plan (yes, we did have one) was relatively simple. Meet at a campground, have a picnic lunch, then we—me, my husband, son and parents—would lounge and play on the beach while they—sis and husband—went scuba diving in an underwater forest. Then maybe we’d go for a hike.

 It rained. It always rains when I go to Lake McDonald. My most vivid memory of the place is ruining a brand new pair of leather moccasins when I was a kid because it rained the whole time we were there and I hadn’t thought to bring along any other shoes. We had our picnic, huddled around the table with one eye on the clouds and the other on the increasingly aggressive waves. Just as we polished off the last of the chicken, the clouds let loose.

We grabbed up our stuff and ran for the cars. So much for Plan A. We wandered down to Lake McDonald Lodge and chased the boy child out of the gift shop and away from the piano and out of the huge fireplace and away from the electric organ and out of the restaurant and off of the balcony and down the guest hallways and out of the flower planters and away from the pop machine. Just at the point where we were debating whether to give up and go home or drive clear to Columbia Falls to toss the kid in the motel pool, the rain stopped. Time to go hiking.

 I grabbed a map. Later, it was suggested that it might have been a good idea to grab several maps. Being the grabber, I was mostly concerned that I knew where I was. The rest were on their own.

 We studied the nearby trails and determined that the one most suited to our varied ages and levels of enthusiasm was one called John’s Lake Loop. In addition to the tiny lake, the trail skirted McDonald Creek and dipped past two waterfalls, all in a short three miles. Perfect. The loop was down the road from the lodge. A couple of minutes in a car, or a short hike, according to my map. My sister and I opted for the hike. The others piled in the cars.

 And here’s where it all started to fall apart.

 My husband pointed out—after the fact, of course—that is it generally advisable to consult the little scale thing in the corner of the map that indicates miles per inch (or in this case, half inch) to determine the actual distance. We went with ‘it doesn’t look far’. We hiked. And we hiked. And we hiked some more. Just at the point where we decided we had somehow zipped right past the stupid loop and the stupid parking lot and even the stupid lake, we finally came to the intersection of the trails. Straight ahead led to the lake. Left and down the hill to the parking lot. We went down.

Approximately three minutes, it turned out, after my parents took the other fork.

We found my brother in law asleep in one car, my husband chasing the boy child up and down the hillside to keep him out of traffic, and my parents nowhere in sight. “They got tired of waiting and went ahead to the lake,” my husband said. “How did you miss them?” I should probably reiterate that I was still the only person with a map.

 My sister went to wake up her husband. My little family decided to head around the loop in the opposite direction from the lake, toward the downstream waterfall, because we figured that was the outer limit of how far the boy would hike before insisting on ‘a ride’, despite the fact that he is capable of running non-stop for forty-five minutes inside the house and does so nightly.

So off we went—husband plus child plus me plus map. Perhaps it would have been a good idea to ask my sister where she planned to go before we left.

We took our time, strolling along, stopping to watch a woodpecker that was incredibly fascinating to a four year old and almost as fascinating to his mother, figuring there was no rush because my parents were going around the loop the other way and we’d have to meet eventually. When my sister didn’t catch up, we assumed they’d gone after my parents. We reached the waterfall. Admired it, took pictures of it, repeatedly snatched the boy back from the twenty foot cliff above it. No sign of parents or sister.

When our nerves had had all they could take of the waterfall, we herded the boy back down the nice trail that ran well back from the edge of the creek. At the bridge, we stopped to admire the view, enjoy the sun that was now shining, and drag the boy down from the railing half a dozen times.

After twenty minutes or so, my sister and her husband came strolling along. Yes, they’d reached the lake. No, they hadn’t caught up with our parents. Lacking a map, they’d been uncertain which trail went on around the loop to the waterfalls, so they turned back. “No problem,” I said. “It’s a loop. They have to come by here eventually.”

 After another fifteen minutes of watching the boy whack his uncle with the stick they’d rigged up for a fishing pole and attempt to throw large rocks and himself into the water, we decided it was probably time to revert to the tried and true rodeo family failsafe plan. The one that had gotten all six of us home from every one of the hundreds of rodeos we went to when we were all young enough to still travel with Mom and Dad. Namely, go back to the truck and wait until everyone shows up.

 Which was where we found our parents. Who had gone around the loop. Just not the same loop we were on because it turns out John’s Lake Loop is divided down the middle by a trail that cuts back to the parking lot and bypasses the waterfall and the bridge where we were waiting. They’d gone to the upper waterfall, then turned back because, yes, you guessed it, they didn’t have a map and weren’t sure where that other trail went.

 As far as we could tell, at one point in time my sister and her husband were waiting at the lake while my parents waited at the upper falls and we waited at the lower falls. I’d say we managed to blanket the area pretty well. Imagine what we could have accomplished if the other two thirds of the family had been there.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Ranch Rodeo

For those who aren't familiar, a ranch rodeo is a competition between teams of riders, in events that mimic the type of work traditionally done on ranches. Stuff like team doctoring, team branding, and trailer loading (according to our friend Scotty, this last event gave his team an unfair advantage, as they not only have more practice at roping random cattle and throwing them in trailers than most people, but are generally doing it in the dark). There were no bucking horses--at least, not intentionally. Unfortunately, my cheap digital camera isn't much use for action shots, but here are a few other things I saw.
Pretty easy to tell that this is true family entertainment.
Captain of the Cramer team, 2019
Our version of training wheels.
The lineup.

A little cowboy romancin' between events?

This is the grandstand. Note the number of people. Note that
yes, you can see right through the bleachers to the area under
the grandstand. Which means every one of those people who
happened to look down had an excellent view of the child who
dropped his Wranglers and pooped right there.
Yes, we were proud.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Coming Soon to a Beer Bottle Near You...

The majority of the barley we grow is sold for malt to brew beer. The cooler climate at our high elevation and northern latitude results in grain that is low in protein and plumper than average, both of which are necessary traits for malting barley. Next time you crack a cold one remember--it's not just the water that's Rocky Mountain fresh.