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

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Confessions of a Nameaphobic

   Confession time: I am terrible at names. And especially at putting names together with faces. I’m not sure why this is. I can remember the chart number of a worker’s compensation patient from the orthopedic surgeon’s office where I worked three years ago. The phone number at my apartment in Texas where I lived for only ten months during my first job out of college (let’s not talk about how many years ago that was). But let one of my mother’s cousins say hello at the local cafe and I’m toast.

    It would be less embarrassing if I didn’t even try to remember names. But I work at it. At large social gatherings I plant myself next to one of Those Who Know Everyone and quiz them about any familiar face that wanders past. Play little word games with myself. You know, like I should remember Joe Tallman because he isn’t tall, he’s short.

    Nothing helps.

    It’s not as simple as a memory problem. It’s more like stage fright. Sitting here right now, I can think of a person’s name and picture their face clear as day. Plop me down in front of the concession stand at the Tal Michael Memorial Rodeo, though, and I’m like the National Anthem singer who forgets the words they’ve sung a thousand times. Froze up. Totally blank.

   Uh-oh. That woman is looking at me like she knows me. Oh, crud, she’s saying hello. Come on, come on brain…give me something.

   At which point I blurt out the first name that pops into my head, which is always a sister or a cousin or a next door neighbor but NEVER the person standing in front of me. Or I go with a big dumb smile and, “Well, it’s good to see YOU, too.” And the woman gives me the look that says, “Wow, what a moron” and walks away. And then I remember exactly who she is and that time at the Birch Creek arena when we persuaded her little brother to go snipe hunting and what color her barrel horse was back in 1983. 

   Family reunions and other social gatherings that attract large numbers of relatives and acquaintances are a nightmare. The more I screw up, the more I panic, until I start second-guessing myself on even the no-brainers.

   Wait. Are you sure? Don’t say the name until you’re sure. Okay, yes, I’m pretty sure that’s the guy in my wedding photos.  

   Don’t even bother looking for me at the big Lewis and Clark Days Festival and all school reunion. I can’t take the pressure. It does not help that I moved away for a couple of decades and let’s face it, we all don’t look quite like we did back in high school. I’m pretty sure I’m taller now, which would account for why some people don’t seem to recognize me right off. Or they’re suffering from the same nameaphobia that sends me ducking down an alternate aisle in the grocery store when I have one of my attacks.

   Please don’t take it personally. It’s not that I’m trying to avoid you. I’m just giving myself a few moments to recall whether we shared the same Algebra teacher or the same grandparents. Feel free to walk over, whack me upside the head and say, “Hey, dummy, I’m Mike, remember?”

   Until then, I will stick with Mr. Tatsey, just to be safe. Or “Hey, you.”

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Weekend from Hell

Two years ago, my best rope horse went lame. I have no idea how she injured herself, or the exact nature of the injury, but she came up short on her left hind leg. It didn’t get better. Not that summer, or that fall, or the next summer. Then miraculously, in March of this year, I went out to check the horses in the pasture and she was running sound.


I sat down and plotted out a dozen rodeos I wanted to enter, mostly approved by the United Indian Rodeo Association, mostly within an hour’s drive of my house. At the first one, in Standoff, Alberta in March, I was so excited to be roping on Ember again I could barely see straight (yeah, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).

I missed the second rodeo due to a rather large snowstorm. And in mid-May, before I even started practicing for my summer run, our three year old kicked Ember and took her out of commission again. Possibly for good. I should have taken the hint and quit then.

To say that the remainder of the rodeos did not go well would be something of an understatement. I can’t blame it on the horse. Nico did his part. I roped bad when I drew good and drew bad more often than not. But as ugly as it’s been, it cannot compare to the Weekend from Hell.

It was early in my marriage, when we were still living in South Dakota, and it started, as most disasters do, with a Plan. After perusing the mid-July rodeo schedules, we figured out we could enter five rodeos in three days, beginning on the east end of South Dakota, circling up to central North Dakota, then back down to central South Dakota.

The first glitch in the plan came when we called back to the Central Entry offices to see how we’d drawn up. Yes, we could still make all five rodeos. But we would be roping in the timed event slack after the rodeo on Friday night in Webster, a hop and skip from the Minnesota border, then I was up the next morning in White Shield, a fair hike north of Bismarck.

I gathered up clothes for both of us. Spent approximately half a day ironing shirts. Packed a cooler full of sandwich makings and Pepsi. Put on my favorite black shirt, a little on the heavier side because it was going to be chilly in Webster. We were set.

I nodded for my calf in Webster at just after eleven p.m., slack being slightly delayed by the bucking bull that hurdled the arena fence and went for a stroll through the contestant parking lot, right between our trailer and the one parked next to it. Anybody who says white men can’t jump didn’t see our friend Jeff hop flat-footed into the back of a four wheel drive pickup. I have noticed that athletic ability is greatly enhanced by a ton and half of snot-blowing motivation.

I missed my calf. Greg broke the barrier. Money won: zilch.

Slack in White Shield was scheduled to start at eight a.m. Which meant I needed to be up by seven, minimum, to be dressed, saddled, caffeinated and ready to rope. We left Webster at eleven-thirty. There are three hundred and forty five miles of mostly narrow, two-lane, deer-infested highways between the two. Go ahead, do the math. Yes. You got it. An hour and a half of fully horizontal, non-mobile sleep. That’s not even a better than average nap.

When the alarm went off, I dragged myself out of bed, dug clean socks and underwear out of the duffle bag, pulled on last night's jeans and stuffed contact lenses into a pair of bleary eyeballs. Times like this, it would have been good to own a decent pair of glasses, but I hated mine and hadn’t updated the frames or lenses in years.

I reached for a clean shirt. Something a little more lucky than old black had turned out to be. My hand came up empty. I blinked a few times, forcing the gritty contacts into focus. But the spot where the shirts were supposed to be hanging was still bare.

Which was when I realized I’d left the garment bags with all the clean shirts and jeans hanging on the back of the bedroom door.

I fished old black out of the laundry bag, shook out the wrinkles, and got myself ready to rope what turned out to be one of the fastest Longhorn calves in existence. Well, I think it was a calf. All I really saw was a narrow white blur somewhere in the distance.

We had four hours to kill between slack and the afternoon performance, when Greg would rope. Had we been anywhere near civilization, this would have been a prime opportunity to find a store and remedy our shirtless situation. But I’ve been to White Shield, North Dakota three times and have yet to locate an actual town.

Also, the temperature had climbed considerably from the day before. Those heavy cotton shirts we’d worn to the night rodeo in Webster were beginning to display their thermal properties. Thank the Lord we packed the deodorant in the duffle bag.

Greg roped, we threw the horses in the trailer, and peeled out. Normally, evening rodeos don’t start until around seven o’clock, but Turtle Lake doesn’t have any lights so they were rodeoing at five. We rolled in with ten minutes to spare. I don’t recall exactly what transpired in the roping. I do know it did not involve winning money.

The minute we were done, we jumped the horses back in the trailer and hauled butt for Bismarck. It was our one and only chance at replacement shirts, given that it was the only town on our route with a population of more than two thousand. Probably, things have changed by now. But back in those days, Bismarck locked up tight at nine on Saturday evening. Their mall didn’t even open on Sundays.

We rolled into the WalMart parking lot at nine o’clock straight up. Greg refused to let me pound on the doors and beg for mercy.

Rumpled, smelly and dejected, we meandered the remaining three hours south to Lemmon, where we didn’t have to rope until the next afternoon, when the temperature was expected to climb into the nineties. I wondered if anyone in town might be having a yard sale. Greg told me to suck it up, ol' black was a perfectly good shirt.

We slept until the morning sun turned our mobile bedroom into an extra large oven. My eyeballs felt like they’d been rolled in river silt, so I didn’t bother to put on my contacts while I stumbled around feeding and watering horses and dousing them in fly spray. Then we decided to wander into town to find some breakfast.

The temperature inside the pickup was approximately two hundred and ten degrees. I settled into the passenger seat, still groggy, and started scrubbing two days worth of rodeo dust off my right contact lens. Greg fired up the ol’ diesel and rolled down the windows. I ran half a bottle of contact solution over the lens, propped it on the end of my finger, and lifted it toward my eyeball, just as Greg turned onto the highway.

A breeze whipped through the cab, plucked the lens off my finger and flung it out the window.

I stared after it, stunned. Greg slammed on the brakes. But there was no way we were going to find a contact lens somewhere in a ten yard stretch of waist high grass. I had no spares along. Hadn’t bothered to even pack my out-dated glasses.

Thus began a mad scramble to find a replacement lens on a Sunday morining with three hours to go before rodeo time. In a town barely large enough to support two gas stations. The optometrist’s office was closed, of course, but God bless small towns, because the lady behind the counter in the convenience store happened to know the woman who worked for the eye doctor and called her at home and explained our predicament. And I—yes, the same person who yesterday did not recognize the guy who works at the auto body shop across the street from my office and whose Pepsi machine I regularly pump quarters into—I knew my contact lens prescription from memory. And they had one in stock.

One hour before rodeo time I was once again able to see out of both eyes. Not that it made me rope any better, but at least I felt like I had a fighting chance if I could actually locate the calf. Greg made an awesome run. Seven point eight seconds. Plus ten for the broken barrier. Sigh.

We, along with everyone else competing, blasted out of the parking lot for Dupree, ninety miles south. If we could maintain an average land speed of seventy miles an hour over the rolling hills, we’d make it with a minute or two to spare. The temperature had blown past ninety and was closing in on a hundred. Ol’ black was beginning to smell like a locker room full of sweaty hockey players. But at least there was air conditioning in the pickup.

“Oh, crap,” Greg said. Or something along those lines.


“The pickup is overheating. I either have to slow down or turn off the air conditioner.”

Dupree is nothing but a hazy, sweat-logged blur. I think I may have caught my calf. I know I didn’t win anything. But finally, the Weekend from Hell was over. I peeled off old black, tossed it in a corner, and put on my short-sleeved pajama top. We pointed the pickup for home, but only as fast as we could go and still have air conditioning.

Two and a half days, five rodeos, nine hundred and fifty two miles. Zero dollars won. But hey, at least I didn’t have a big pile of laundry to wash the next day.. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rain is a Good Thing

"Rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey. Whiskey makes my baby, feel a little frisky."  Or so the song goes. Click on this link if you'd like some musical accompaniment to today's blog post: (Rain is Good Thing- Luke Bryan)

Growing corn at our altitude and latitude is impossible, but the thirteen inches of rain we've had since the first of June will definitely make hay and grass and wildflowers. Now if it would only quit long enough for the hay to cure.

For my farming and ranching friends: this is dryland alfalfa/brome grass hay. All irrigation supplied by Mother Nature.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Hand that Holds the Wheel

A couple of weeks ago I posted some photos of me and my boys paddling around on Lake McDonald. Some of my online friends were very amused to see that I was rowing while my husband kicked back and enjoyed the ride. Well, first of all, that's the only way I got him to agreed to go. Mostly because he gets a big kick out of watching me try to get two oars going in the same direction at the same time. Second, I'd just inhaled a two pound barbecued pork sandwich. I needed the workout. And third-I like to be at the helm.

For some reason, driving seems to be seen as a traditionally male thing. I like to drive. Unless I have a good book to read, or I’m in dire need of a nap, or—as is the case at this very moment—I have a column due and can’t seem to get around to it any other time, I would just as soon be in the driver’s seat. I’m not alone. I have a friend who does all of the driving in her marriage, probably because dozing off with her husband at the wheel could result in traveling to Bozeman by way of Pocatello, Idaho.

Given the number of miles the average rodeo couple puts on in a summer, everybody has to take a turn at the wheel. But aside from the fatigue factor, rodeo wives learn the value of driving early on. Here’s why:

1. She who drives can putter along as slow as she wants on the gravel road. Not that my husband and I have had, um, discussions about this recently. Or that my gravel road is so rough and rutted I either have to wait until I reach the highway to drink my morning coffee or take along a change of clothes to work. And no, going faster does not make it feel smoother, honey.

2. She who drives decides what will play on the radio. Whether it’s the Best of Eighties Rock four disc set or thirteen hours of a Stieg Larsson book on tape. Translated from Swedish, of course.

3. She who drives decides where and when you will stop. Including rest areas, Dairy Queen, and the outlet mall in Wilsonville, Oregon. But don’t tell my husband. He still thinks I was just being a good wife, volunteering to take on the Portland traffic every time we went that direction. Banana Republic was totally worth trading hand gestures with a few yuppies.

4. She who drives decides where to park. This is especially important to those of us who will be staying overnight at the rodeo grounds and do not have the luxury of restroom facilities in our campers, or of just stepping around back of the horse trailer when we have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Want to see a total marital meltdown? Watch closely the next time you’re in Sam’s Club parking lot. I’m surprised there isn’t a one stop divorce kiosk between the snow tires and the hotdog stand.

5. She who drives does not have to tend the children. Forget the rest. This one trumps them all.

So…are we there yet?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Breakfast Date

I walked into my kitchen this morning, looked out my living room window, and saw a butt. A mule deer butt, to be specific. Its owner was standing in my garden, right next to my house. These photos were taken through the window on my front door, with my camera phone. No zoom involved.

Every summer we get several young bucks dropping by our yard. Our big shelterbelt of poplars, alders and karaganas are the only real trees for about five miles in any direction, and it's a veritable jungle in there. And right below the house is a slough where they can get water.

These were a two point and a three point, their horns still in the velvet. As summer goes on they'll rub off the soft covering and by fall the antlers will be hard. Come winter, they'll shed them and grow a new set, starting the whole process over. Each year they grow another point, so the more points the older and bigger the buck.

Yes, he was watching me watching him. I expect I'll be seeing more of these boys. They seem to prefer to make their foray into the yard early in the morning. Can't think of anyone I'd rather share my breakfast with.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

On the Mend

To those of you who have been following along and wondered how Roo is doing, the answer is better than I expected. When I get done running around to rodeos I will have photos and in depth descriptions of how I've been treating the wound for some of the horse folks who might be interested. Anyone with a queasy stomach might want to skip that post. For today, though, here's a little video clip so you can see for yourself how he's getting around.

Roo is the one with the wrap on his leg. The other nose in my face belongs to Julie.

In the time not spent doctoring wounds, I did my very first online book review and author interview. Pop on over to Everybody Needs a Little Romance to meet one of my favorite writers...the talented and generally wonderful Karen Templeton.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Indian Days

After two very long days of rodeo, I'm whupped, and too lazy to write a real blog post. Since a lot of my readers are also writers who ask questions about horse and rodeo stuff, I took a bunch of pictures that might help fill in the details when you're writing a western scene. Plus, I like to post pictures of as many family members and friends as possible, just for the embarrassment factor. And a few strangers who were just in the wrong place at the right time.

In my dreams.

TV crew interviewing our esteemed rodeo judge/singer of ceremonial Blackfeet songs

Everybody loves a pickup man. 

Some serious BS-ing.

Begging candy money from Grandpa.

Won't be taking home a trophy saddle this year.

Bulldoggers in waiting. Don't mess with the guy in the brown hat. Dang, is he strong.

Not usually a big fan of Paint horses, but this one was nice. And fast.

Cowgirl style: yellow tutu, black boots, and dad wrapped around your finger.

Where all those tough Indian ropers come from. 

A little bling for the barrel horse. 

What rodeo people mean when they say 'booted up'.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Eye in the Big Sky

Two weeks ago, on our twenty four hour vacation, we rented a rowboat and went out and paddled around Lake McDonald. In my opinion, this view across the lake from Apgar Village has to be one of the most gorgeous on the planet. But that's not the only reason this picture fascinates me. You see, it was taken by a friend of mine.

Who was in Alabama at the time.

Welcome to the age of webcams. Some people think it's creepy to know someone might be watching them at any time (come to think of it, my husband still doesn't know he was on camera). Me, I think it's sort of cool that I could tap out a text message, zip it off across the country, and wave hello to someone I've only met in online writers' discussions. This particular camera takes a shot every thirty seconds. All she had to do was save the image and email it to me.

Voila! We finally got a picture with all three of us in it for a change!

There are a lot of awesome webcams around Montana, and they provide some incredible scenery. You can even watch Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone Park erupt. See an occasional elk. Check the road conditions down by Alzada. The best collection of Montana and surrounding webcam links I've found is at the Big Sky Fishing website. And out of that list here are my two favorites:

Glacier National Park (Including the Lake McDonald cam that produced the picture above).

Montana State University  (User Controlled! I love these. If it weren't for the football stadium getting in the way, I could zoom this sucker right in on my sister when she has playground duty at her elementary school.)

So kick back and take a virtual tour of our wonderful Big Sky state on your holiday weekend!