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

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Opening Day

Well, not exactly. But close. It has become a tradition in my family that we must drive over Going to the Sun Highway in Glacier National Park as soon as possible after it opens for the season. Preferably tailgating the last snowplow. This year it opened on a Thursday, so we were a couple of days late.

I'm fresh out of wit and humor this morning, so I'll let you just enjoy the sights.

Indian Paintbrush

Upper St. Mary's Lake

No zoom required. He was standing on the road. And the road ain't very wide. If you look close, you'll see that beyond the curb there is nothing for about a hundred feet down.

Bronze statue by Robert Scriver, outside the Babb Elementary School.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Writing for Real

Most of my blog readers are probably aware by now that I also write novels. For those who have asked, and those who have just wondered, no, I don't put real people into my books. First, because fake people are more fun. And second, I bruise easily. 
I do, however, put real horses in. Some are an amalgamation of several horses I've known. Some are pretty much straight from the pasture to the page. 
Those of you who saw the last post have already met Roo. (Um, yeah, sorry about those pictures. Guess I should've had some kind of Hurk Alert.) One of these days, I'll share the story of how he came to be the only horse I actually, legally own. Tonight I'm too lazy. Suffice to say that Roo is really fast, really athletic, and really fragile between the ears. He suffers from performance anxiety, separation anxiety and a serious case of low self esteem. If Roo were human, he would be that geeky kid on the playground who is dying to hang with the cool crowd but has no idea how to interact with other human beings and compensates by trying to act cocky which gets him beat up a lot. 
Pretty much everything I've posted on this blog up until now has been true. Or a reasonable facsimile of actual events. The excerpt below is fiction, a scene from a novel in progress. It will probably help explain how Roo ended up looking like he does in those pictures. 

Excerpt - Heading for Trouble (working title)

Jillian untied Badger and led him down the arena to cool off. Roo whinnied in protest at their departure, high and shrill, pawing frantically. Before she could turn around, he threw himself to the end of the halter rope, struggled against it, leapt forward, and reared. For a heart-stopping moment he was vertical.
Then he flopped over onto his back.   
He stuck there like an upended beetle, feet flailing. Then he twisted to one side and jammed all four legs through the metal rails of the fence. He kicked, whacking his shin against the vertical crossbar, then went still, head suspended a foot off the ground by the halter rope.   
Jillian dropped Badger’s reins and took three running steps. Roo’s eyes rolled back toward her. He squirmed, banging his hock against unforgiving metal. Jillian stopped dead.
What the hell did she do now? If she tried to pull him loose he might spook and thrash around and snap off a leg. Or kick her in the head. If she didn’t do anything, he might start fighting to get loose and bust a leg anyway. She eased forward a step. If she could get the halter loose, it would help. Dammit. A pocketknife would come in handy.
The back door opened. Thank God. Clint. He started toward the fence, saw Jillian frozen in the middle of the arena, and frowned.
“What’s wrong?”
She pointed at Roo. Clint tilted his head to get a better view.
“Aw, shit. Not again.” He planted his hands on his hips and glared through the fence at the upended horse. “You dumb bastard.”
“All I did was move Badger,” Jillian said.
Clint sighed. “I should have warned you. He has separation issues.”
“No kidding.” She looked down the arena at the buckskin mare. “How come he didn’t do this when you took Hotrod?”
“She kicks the crap out of him if he even looks at her sideways.”
Clint didn’t seem particularly concerned about the situation. He also didn’t seem to be in any hurry to fix it. Roo squirmed and gave him a pitiful, help me look.
“Are you going to get him out?” Jillian asked.
Clint gave another sigh. “I guess I’ll have to. It’s the only way I can get my saddle off him.”
He stepped up to the fence, grabbed the loose end of the halter rope and gave it a hard yank. The slipknot came free. Roo’s head plopped in the dirt.  
“Grab your rope,” Clint said.
Jillian did. He waved her over.
“When I get his back leg loose, put your rope around his ankle.”
Roo’s eyes rolled toward Jillian as she approached, but he didn’t move or flinch. Clint got hold of the top rear leg and pushed it through the fence. Jillian hooked the loop around it, then stepped back, keeping the rope snug so Roo couldn’t stick the foot right back where it came from. Clint moved to the front and pushed both forelegs free. Then he went to the final rear leg.
“As soon as I get this one through, pull.”
Clint shoved the foot through the fence. Jillian reared back on the end of the rope with all her weight, trying to roll the horse away from the fence. Roo’s legs peddled in mid-air for an instant. Then he flopped over. He heaved to his feet with a grunt, staggered a few steps, gave a full body shake, whinnied and trotted over to where Badger stood.
Badger pinned his ears, showing teeth.
“Don’t be cranky,” Jillian said.
       “He’s probably afraid some of the stupid will rub off,” Clint said.
He caught Roo, wrestled a bridle onto him, and grabbed the reins and saddle horn to swing aboard. The horse took off running…backwards. Clint jogged alongside until Roo’s butt hit the fence, then vaulted into the saddle before the horse could decide which direction to go next.
Clint picked up his rope and squared his shoulders. “In case the ambulance driver asks…I’m allergic to penicillin, but I’ve got nothing against morphine.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

When Stupid and Barbed Wire Mix

Tonight was one of those nights that tested my cowgirl constitution. Roo has never been the brightest bulb in our horse herd, but he outdid himself this time. We're not sure how or why he would stick a back leg through the fence when there was nothing but a grain swather on the other side to kick at, but somehow he got the wire wrapped all the way around.

My parents and husband bandaged it up last night to stop the bleeding. Tonight we had to unbandage and try to figure out what to do next. The end result involved Banamine (oral painkiller), a garden hose, iodine, hydrogen peroxide, Lidocaine, sinew, a large sewing needle, and some tightly gritted teeth. Mine. Given my background in sportsmedicine, I am the designated treater of wounds and inserter of sutures.

That white spot in the middle of the cut is bone. I had to try to pull the skin and muscle together over it, but still leave it open enough to drain. Unfortunately, my camera battery went dead so there are no after photos, but it wasn't all that pretty anyway. We bandaged it up with cloth diapers and a leg wrap. Hopefully, if he keeps his leg fairly straight, the stitches will hold and it'll do the trick.

A while back, one of my fellow online ranch women invited me to chime in on her blog. Tonight was just one example of What It Takes to Be a Cowgirl.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Time Out

One of the great joys of living where we do is the ability to be in Glacier National Park in an hour, which allows us to do what we just did....take a twenty four hour holiday. Which is about as much as a soul can tolerate when dragging my child along. I'll be back tomorrow with more details. For now, enjoy the spectacular view of Lake McDonald, and hop over to my alternate blog for a quick ditty about being a country school kid that I posted earlier this week:  

My Day Will Come

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sly Dogs

There is no dog quite like a rodeo dog. And there’s never been a rodeo dog quite like Stein.

He was some random conglomeration of breeds, with the slick hair, long legs and squared-off head of a hunting hound, and the classic black and white markings of a Border Collie, which was where he got his name (Short for Holstein. Get it?). Technically, Stein belonged to John, but he considered himself a family dog, and was more than happy to jump in with Will or Jennifer if they invited him. Or left the pickup door open for a heartbeat.

Any mutt can be loaded in the rig, but true rodeo doggery is an art. No rodeo dog worth the name would be caught dead in a leash. They are quite capable of fending for themselves, thank you very much, and would never be so gauche as to wander off and require finding. Upon arrival at the fairgrounds, they immediately stake out their turf—otherwise known as the space beneath the truck and trailer. Our dog remains ensconced in that space for the duration of the rodeo, emerging only to vigorously defend said turf against canine interlopers via sneak attacks from behind the tires. Which can be a tad startling for any person who might be walking beside the interloper.

Did you know a steer wrestler can jump flat-footed from the ground to the hood of a pickup?

Stein was a more free-wheeling kind of dog. He would hop out of the truck, make careful note of where it was parked, then set off on his rounds. First a swing through the contestant parking lot to greet his favorite cowboys and cowgirls and collect the requisite ear scratchings. A leisurely examination of the underside of the bleachers, in search of half eaten hamburgers and stray popcorn dropped from above. Finally, a loop around the concession stand, always with one ear on the action in the arena so he could hightail it back to the truck as soon as the roping was done.

A good rodeo dog is always waiting at the truck when it’s time to leave.

Stein was a very polite dog, other than his penchant for rolling in foul-smelling substances, most of which were organic in nature. He didn’t pick fights or sniff crotches, and never set foot inside the arena (a major rodeo dog faux paw). He had only one real flaw—he considered any item of food held within his reach to be an offer to share.

The parents of the children whose ice cream and hot dogs he filched were of a different opinion.

One March, we went to an indoor rodeo in Lewiston, Idaho. The concession area was at the end of the bleachers, surrounded by a sizeable space that held a few picnic tables. I was seated at one, sipping a Pepsi and contemplating the half-finished cardboard carton of nachos someone had left on the next table. Can a human body really digest that glutenous yellow glob of cheese? My childhood affection for dog food seemed mild by comparison.

And speaking of dogs…

Stein ambled past, in full scavenger mode. He stopped dead, eyeing the leftover nachos. Looked right, then left, then right, wondering if perhaps the owner had only stepped away for a moment. No one in sight. Stein sidled up to the table, reeking of canine innocence, and propped both front feet on the picnic bench.

At this point, a normal dog would have started wolfing down nachos and been nabbed by the ladies manning the concession stand. Not Stein. He grabbed the edge of the paper tray in his teeth, slid it off the table, and trotted away with his prize, straight out the back door where he could savor them at his leisure.

I polished off my Pepsi and headed for the roping chutes. I met Will along the way, wallet in hand and a gloomy look on his face.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

“I assume I owe someone money,” he said. “Stein has cheese in his whiskers again.”

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Ten Things

There is a blog chain going around the internet in which someone 'tags' you and you're supposed to post ten things that make you happy. I suppose I could go with the flow, but where's the fun in that? Besides, today is my birthday and these personal landmarks are supposed to trigger deep introspective thoughts when one gets past the age where your only concern on your birthday is "Cake! Presents!". Or the years when you shift to "Beer! Presents!".

Now I look at the cake and calculate how many miles I'll have to walk to persuade my slumping metabolism to suck that many calories off my butt, and the thought of beer is directly followed by wondering how many times I'll have to get up during the night to go to the bathroom after I drink it.

But there's still "Presents!".

Anyway, upon this momentous occasion, I have been thinking about the things I haven't done. Not in a 'bucket list' sort of way, although there are some I intend to get to sooner or later. This is more of a list of things I haven't done that, when I mention I haven't done them, people look at me and say, "Seriously? How can you be who you are and live where you live (i.e. in Montana, the U.S, or on the Planet Earth) for this many years and never do that?"

So here goes:

Ten Very Common and Unexceptional Things I've Never Done

1. Karaoke - Nope. Never. This particular craze came along after I'd been forced to go out and get a real job as an athletic trainer that entailed spending most of my evenings and weekends watching high school kids play games and hoping none of them went and hurt themselves and forced me to put down my hotdog. I did sing once with a band in a bar, but I don't think that counts. Heartaches by the Numbers, in case you're curious.

2. Ridden a Full-Sized Roller Coaster - Which I would be happy to do, if roller coasters were built underground. They are not. They are built from the ground UP. I hate up. Up makes me queasy and sweaty and I can't bring myself to pay good money to inflict flu symptoms on myself. Ditto for Ferris Wheels, which I have experienced but will never experience again. Ever. 

3. Seen Titanic, Lord of the Rings, Avatar or the most recent Star Wars movies. Mostly because my couch sucks me up and refuses to let me go after I get off work. And in the case of Titanic, because I have a pretty good idea how it ends, and it's not good, and if I'm going to shell out half a day's pay for entertainment I want at least the main characters to live happily ever after. Which is also the reason I've never...

4. Read a Nicholas Sparks book. See #3. I've also learned to avoid Larry McMurtry, who takes perverse pleasure in offing my favorite characters for no particular reason except that's how life was back in the old days in the West. Reality. Bah. Who needs it?

5. Watched an episode of 'Lost', '24' or most any other current TV show. I have one television and a five year old child. It's very hard to hear witty dialogue or even loud explosions over the high-pitched whining noise. (But I want to watch my 'tooonnnnsss'!) And if the kid is otherwise occupied, my husband usually has control of the remote, which means watching Jeremiah Johnson or something based on a book by Larry McMurtry. Yeah, we're back to #3 and #4 again. 

6. Gone Down a Waterslide. This I'm gonna fix. Soon. My kid is big enough now, I have an excuse. But I will probably have to be really uncool and plug my nose, because I've never figured out how to plunge into water feet first without ending up with a gallon or two in my sinuses. 

7. Swam in the Ocean. I've been to the beach on several occasions. Mostly in Oregon and Washington where the average water temperature in July is slightly lower than this iced Pepsi I'm sucking down as I type. On the two occasions I found myself on a warm beach, I had no swimming attire with me. The people of Galveston, TX are thankful I chose to abstain, under the circumstances. I really want to fix this one, too. Preferably while taking surfing lessons on Maui. 

8. Ridden a Horse on the Beach. I know, I live in Montana. But I did live in Oregon, and we did go to rodeos out on the coast at least a couple of times every summer, and we always had horses conveniently located in the trailer hitched to our bumper. Once, when we had time to kill in Long Beach, Washington, I tried to talk my husband into taking them for a spin on the beach. He pointed out that Ember was terrified of our pasture sprinklers and went to great lengths to avoid stepping in the puddle they left in front of the gate. He seemed to think this meant she would not enjoy the pounding surf. Go figure.

9. Drank a Martini. Mostly because beer is cheaper and just as effective. However, I've been informed by the writing community that I could be ousted for this oversight, so the next time I'm hanging out with literary types in a tony bar, I'll be ordering one. Which ought to give me a good two or three years to save up the money to pay for it. 

10. Seen Live Chuckwagon Races. This might not be what you consider common, but I grew up with the brisk Alberta breezes whipping across the border and ruffling my hair. Chuckwagons are a dime a dozen on the Canadian plains. I also have not been to the Calgary Stampede, which is just pathetic, given that it's only three hours from my house. And unfortunately, I won't be going this year, either. But chuckwagon races, I can do. The pro tour is hitting Lethbridge next weekend. I intend to be there. 

I wonder if they serve martinis?


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Flipping Out

Today someone on Twitter came up with the bright idea of posting your most embarrassing moment on your blog so we could all revel in our mutual humiliation.

Oh, wait, that was me. But Tawna Fenske started it. And Susan Adrian chimed in. And I couldn’t let them suffer alone, right?

Anyway, I have so many choices it’s pretty tough to narrow it down, but since the college rodeo season is just wrapping up and it’s been cold and windy and spitting rain and snow for most of week, I naturally thought of Cody, Wyoming.

Seems like everyone has rodeos that ‘like’ them, where they always draw a good calf, always get the top of the ground in the barrel racing, everything just seems to click. My younger sister's horse Desi absolutely loved the Choteau arena. For my husband, that rodeo was Dupree, South Dakota. Springdale, Washington was always really good to me. 

Cody, Wyoming was not.

The first time I barrel raced there, my big sorrel horse was knocking out a pretty darn good run. First and second barrel were smooth and tight. We were hauling butt going into the third barrel. I checked him. And he went fwapp! Flat on his side. All four legs zipped out from under him. He went down so fast and so hard, in fact, that it gave me whiplash and I had to walk around campus for most of the next week in one of those stupid foam neck collars that people wear when they’re trying to fake an auto injury.

Yeah, stylish.

The last time I went to Cody it was, as usual, cold and windy and rainy. We loaded up to leave on Thursday night in the dark, in a downpour. My horse and I caught a ride with the Gleason brothers, Brad and Shawn. When they swung by to pick me up, we tossed everything into the topper on the back of their truck. I set my straw cowboy hat on the top of the pile.

We got into Cody late, grabbed what we needed for the night and went off to our respective motel rooms. The next day I saddled up and went to get my hat out of the pickup. Brad and Shawn were standing at the open topper door. When they saw me coming, they exchanged one of those guilty looks that makes you go, “Uh-oh”.

“Need something?” Brad asked.

“Just my hat,” I said.

They did another of those looks. Then Shawn pulled something from behind his back that looked like a piece of grubby white construction paper crumpled up into a ball.

“Uh, this hat?” he asked.

Oh, boy. Seems in all the rummaging around the night before, my hat had gone from the top of the pile of gear to the bottom. There wasn’t much I could do except flatten it out as much as possible and be glad the grandstand is a looonnng way from the roping chutes in Cody.

As it happened, it was the first year I roped on the buckskin mare we all called Nicki, except my husband, who affectionately referred to her as ‘the hellbitch’. And he didn’t even meet her until she was old and mellow. The day I roped on her in Cody she was not old and definitely not mellow, but I must say hauling her was good for my reflexes. She hadn’t managed to bite me in over a month.

I backed into the roping box, eyed my calf. The mare cranked her head around and tried to grab the toe of my boot with her teeth. I yanked on the reins. She lunged, flung her head up and almost smacked me in the face. I managed to regain control, reset, and nod my head.

I missed, of course. I generally did back in those days. But no worse than I usually missed, and usually people weren’t rolling on the ground laughing as I rode out of the arena. 

“What’s going on?” I asked Shawn.

He could only gasp for air and point. A pair of team ropers were howling so hard, one of them fell off his horse. I took a look at myself in the rearview mirror of the closest pickup.

Oh. My. God.

Between the mangling in the truck and getting whacked by the mare’s head, my hat had flipped out. Literally. Both the front and the back were sticking straight up like I’d smacked face first into a door, then keeled straight over backwards and hit the floor.

Have I mentioned how glad I am that I grew up in the days before camera phones?