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

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Back Ups


Some of you who've been hanging around this blog for a while have probably noticed that I'm not writing as much as I used to. This is at least in part due to a shift from four to five days a week at my day job starting last spring. Part due to trying to finish a book that refuses to end. And part because of a phenomenon known by writers as 'apple picking'.

See, when you first start writing a blog, you have a lifetime of material to work with. It's easy pickins, like plucking the apples off the lowest branches of the tree. The longer you blog, the more you have to stretch and work for stuff to write about, even when you live on a ranch where the humans and animals sometimes seem to live to provide fodder for humorous stories. At the point where blogging crosses over from fun to work, if you're me you have to start wondering why you're putting quite so much time into something that doesn't pay particularly well. Or, um, at all.

But I also appreciate all of you who do stop by regularly and love to hear from you in the comments, and since I don't expect everyone has read everything I've ever posted, I've decided to do a "Back Up" post once a week, in which I go back to this time last year and see what was happening and share my favorite post from that week.

So here we go. Approximately one year ago, plus a couple of weeks. Imagine my surprise to learn that we were all in a state of Spontaneous Confusion.

Also this week last year:

This year? That field is still green, thanks to late snow storms that delayed planting and a cold, wet summer.

Here's hoping the decent weather will hang on for at least another month, or we're going to have a whole lot of barley hay.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Rammin' Speed


Sometimes, it just has to be done.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Talking Dirty

Heads Up:  You probably have a better internet connection than me. Almost everyone does. Therefore, the videos may not take half a lifetime to load for you. My apologies in advance if they do. 

Know how you can tell what event a cowgirl competes in? Ask her how the rodeo went. If the first words out of her mouth are, "Well, the ground was...", she's a barrel racer.

Ground as in the arena surface. Otherwise known as dirt (usually, but more on that later.) Dirt is very important to barrelracers, as they are competing in a horse race that requires three very tight turns executed at a very high speed. You want it soft enough that the horse's hooves can get a good grip on it, but not so soft that they get bogged down. Damp enough to pack well and keep the dust out of your face, but not muddy and slick. (Don't even get me started on the idiot in the water truck who stops to chat on his cell phone, creating a small man-made lake around the third barrel.)

The best analogy I can give to those who are not rodeo people is downhill skiing. The Olympics in British Columbia were a testimonial to how course conditions can take you out of competition before you even leave the start house. Sunshine softens the surface of the snow, making it slower. Shadows and cold weather make ice, which is faster, but also harder to turn on. And rain or snow on the course before you make your run is a disaster. The farther down you are in the start order, the more chewed up the course gets and the harder it is to ski well.

So it is in the barrel racing. Run order is huge. Barrel racers call it being 'on the top of the ground' or 'on the bottom of the ground'. On top means you're running at the beginning, before the horses have dug trenches around the barrels. On the bottom means you're chugging through everybody else's ruts.

Like skiers, different horses prefer different ground conditions. Big, strong horses can power through deep, sandy ground, while smaller, quicker horses usually handle hard pack better. Which means no matter how hard a rodeo committee tries to make their ground as wonderful as possible, someone will nearly always be unhappy. Which is one of the reasons it can be difficult to find suckers...I mean volunteers to serve on rodeo committees.

And then there's the weather. Rodeos tend to last more than one day. In the case of the Calgary Stampede, more like ten days. Stinks to be up on the day of the rainstorm:

Even indoors you have to deal with the top and bottom of the ground, although many rodeos do their level best to keep it as even as possible. In the video below, notice the men with rakes who rush out behind each cowgirl to fill in her tracks:

And then, of course, there's Pendleton, which is like nowhere else because there's, you know, GRASS. And the pattern is HUGE, because the barrels have to be set clear out on the dirt track where it's safe to make those tight turns. The extra distance, the unfamiliar surface and running square into the blank wall of the bucking chutes on the second barrel can mess with even the best horse's mind. Witness the horse that ducks off before the second and third barrels, which has qualified for the Montana Circuit Finals for the last three years running and is generally dead solid:

Barrelracers are quite, um, passionate when it comes to ground conditions. To the point that more than one rodeo committee member has considered the wisdom of an unlisted number. And a bodyguard. Because hell hath no fury like a barrelracer on a rampage. Worse yet, a whole pack of them.

All of which leads up to the Joke of the Week, which I first heard at Pendleton courtesy of rodeo clown Flint Rasmussen:

"My wife is a barrelracer. When she dies, she will have to be cremated, because there is no ground good enough to bury her in."


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Buckle Bunnies and Back Numbers

Sorry, one more click for this one. Head on over to my group blog at Everybody Needs a Little Romance for today's words of...well, not wisdom, for sure.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Running Off the Hill

Yes, we're back. No, this isn't my happy face. It snowed here at the ranch last night. It was eighty degrees every day in Pendleton. If I hadn't left my kid in Spokane, I may never have dragged myself home.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Pendleton Round Up (and I was one of you until I moved to Oregon) it is a rodeo unlike any other. While I was there, I tried to take some photos and video to demonstrate exactly why this is the case. Keep in mind, though, I am a roper and so are all my family members, so I hope you aren't expecting to see bucking horses and bulls. Also keep in mind I have an inexpensive digital camera, so the video is pretty crummy. But at least you'll get the idea.

So what's so special about Pendleton? Well, there are a lot of very cool traditions surrounding the Round Up, and they start and end with the arena. Let us begin by looking at a normal rodeo arena. This is Ellensburg, Washington, another of the string of big pro rodeos in the Pacific Northwest. Nice facility, grandstands, well-groomed arena surface. Very much a traditional setup.

And this is Pendleton:

Yes, that is grass. With a dirt track around the outside. And yes, roping and riding on a grass surface is a little on the tricky side. On top of which, Pendleton doesn't have regular roping boxes. Or a chute. The calf or steer isn't standing out there in front of you where you can see it.

In Pendleton, you start with your horse's butt cocked up against the wall on the high side of the banked dirt track and run 'off the hill' onto the grass to rope. When you nod your head, the calf comes trotting out of a lane behind you, under the grandstand, and you have to try to time your start on the move. It's almost impossible to describe, so I took video.

Here's the cowboy's eye view of 'running off the hill' in Pendleton:


The reason timing is so important is at the end of that lane, between the white gates, there is a barrier rope shown in the picture below. About twenty feet out from the barrier is a laser-activated electric eye that releases the barrier rope when the calf breaks the laser beam. If the horse hits the barrier rope before the calf trips the rope out of the way, the piece of cotton string just to the left of the orange flag will break and the cowboy receives a ten second penalty. This is called 'breaking the barrier' or 'breaking out'. 

So not only do you have to run off the hill onto a slick grass surface and rope a calf that might go any which way, you have to try to be exactly twenty feet behind the calf when you hit the end of the lane.

Easy peasy, right?

*For those who care, I don't remember who the first roper was, but he caught a hind leg in his loop and wasn't able to tie the calf because it was all tangled up. The second was Tuf Cooper, with his dad Roy helping him with his horse in the roping box. He missed his calf. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The View from Here

Two days of slack and one performance under our belts at the 100th annual Pendleton Round Up. Got a minute to post a few pictures, hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Of Moths and Madness

When the men in the white suits come for me with the strait jacket, tell them it was the moths that finally drove me over the edge.

I understand that country living includes critters. I’ve had a lifetime of grabbing grain cans only to have a mouse zip up my arm. I should have nerves of steel by now. South Dakota alone should have made me into Superwoman. I once crawled under a wooden granary to retrieve a litter of puppies with the full knowledge that the dog flushed rats out of the corn every morning. (I worried they might invade the house. My husband assured me they would much rather stay outside, where there was food.)

Thanks to the high water table and a sump hole inexplicably inserted on the high end of the basement floor, we occasionally had to prop open the window to run a hose out from the low end. One morning, I opened the basement door and came face to face with a possum on the landing. I’d never seen a possum before. I assumed it was a rat the size of a Chihuahua. Luckily, we’d been planning on knocking out that wall between the dining room and kitchen anyway.

And then there was the day I woke from a nap to the sound of skittering feet, and looked over to see a pocket gopher scaling my bedroom curtains.

Even the birds got in on the act. My living room door was two steps up from the ground, at the ideal level for sparrows to swoop into the house when I hit the electric garage door closer and scared them off the rails. I got be a real pro at herding them out the sliding glass doors with a broom and a minimal amount of splatter.

In Oregon, it was spiders. Big spiders, little spiders, white spiders, gray spiders. Black fuzzy jumping spiders that could leap from windowsill to toilet in a single bound. Nickel-sized brown spiders that lurked in my shower. Menacing black widow spiders that hid in the dark corners of my tack room.

But it’s the moths that are going to do me in.

The robins started it by chiseling a hole under the eaves of my kitchen roof. By the time I discovered their handiwork, it was too late to seal it up. They’d already built their nests. Call me soft-hearted. Or allergic to the smell of rotting eggs. I got used to the sound of scratching and cheeping above my table and sort of forgot about the hole.

Until the moths.

We came home after dark from a visit to the neighbors, switched on the living room light, and were engulfed in a blizzard of moths. Fluttering and flapping, smacking into lights and walls and ceilings and me. My son ran screaming to the bedroom and hid under the blankets. My husband and I armed ourselves with rolled up magazines and ran around flailing at the things until the floor was thick with casualties.

That was a week ago. Seven nights of terror. Every evening, as dusk falls, they begin to creep out of the cracks and crevices. They hunker along the top curves of the log beams in the living room, where swatting is nearly impossible. When you try, they hurl themselves at your head, tangle in your hair, dive down your collar. After the third time he watched me strip off my shirt and stomp it to death on the floor, my husband decided we needed a better weapon. Once he stopped laughing, of course.

Enter the ShopVac.

I now have a new bedtime routine. ShopVac wand in one hand, paperback book in the other to fend off frontal attacks, I prowl the house, looking for suspicious, wedge-shaped brown spots. It sucks them right off the ceiling beams with a satisfying thwip! And I’m getting better with practice. I can occasionally snatch one right out of the air. Makes me feel like Luke Skywalker, light saber at ready, saving the universe from Darth Vader’s evil minions.

I also have no cobwebs for the first time in living memory.

But the battle goes on. The enemy seems to have endless reinforcements. No matter how I scour the perimeter, a few slip past. I pick up a book from my nightstand and a moth blasts out in my face. I grab the dish towel from the rack and a moth shoots up my sleeve. Two nights in a row, just as I dozed off to sleep, I’ve been dive-bombed right there on my pillow.

We’re talking shriek and freak. Claw marks on the ceiling.

Now I lie here, barely able to close my eyes, heart leaping into my throat at every sound. I’m exhausted. Frazzled. Seriously considering a buzz cut.

Please, somebody, come and take me away.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

What's in a Name

The Indian wars began centuries before white men arrived in Montana. Assiniboine, Cree, Blackfeet, Crow, Shoshone—all separate nations competing for their chunk of the plains, including control of sacred sites and the migrating herds of buffalo, much like a smaller version of the Middle East. Some tribes formed alliances for mutual benefit. Others were engaged in long-standing, brutal conflict.

In the late 1700's and early 1800's, what is now northcentral Montana was divvied up primarily between two tribes. The Assiniboine controlled the area roughly bordered by the current Interstate 15, north of the Missouri River, into southern Alberta and clear out to North Dakota. The Blackfeet ruled the east slope of the Rockies, from west of present day Calgary all the way south to the headwaters of the Missouri in southern Montana.

The Blackfeet were sworn enemies of the Assiniboine because, as one historian stated, the Blackfeet were sworn enemies of everybody, but also because they butted up against each other constantly, following the buffalo herds across the plains. They couldn’t even agree on how to do business. As white fur traders infiltrated the area in the early 1800’s, the Blackfeet traded exclusively with the Hudson Bay Company of Canada, while the Assiniboine practically owned Fort Union.

In 1847, Fort Benton was established in central Montana as the farthest west trading post on the Missouri River. Sometime in the next few years, a band of Blackfeet was attacked near the fort by what we assume was an Assiniboine war party, although that far south Cree were also a possibility. All of the Blackfeet were slain with the lone exception of a terrified little girl named Under Fox Woman.

She was rescued and taken to Fort Benton where she was adopted by the Pambruns. She remained with them until she married Adolphus Joseph Dubray, otherwise known as Tin Cup Joe because he started out in Butte, selling hardware to the miners.

Under Fox Woman gave birth to a child in 1865, a boy named Aleck. The exact date and circumstances of her death are not known, but Joe moved to Sasketchewan with his son, remarried, and had a daughter in 1868, so we can assume Under Fox Woman died within a year or two of her son’s birth. Joe and his second wife would go on to have fourteen more children.

Yeah, I said fourteen.

In the late 1800’s Joe learned the United States government was allotting parcels of land on the Blackfeet reservation to tribal members. He sent his son Aleck back to Fort Benton to find Mrs. Pambrun, who testified that he was indeed the child of a Blackfeet Indian. The land allotment he received was east of the Rocky Mountains, along the north fork of the Milk River just south of where it crossed the border into Canada.

Aleck's son and namesake would later be allotted a chunk of property north and east of his father's. We still call this portion of our deeded property the ‘Aleck Dubray’.

Yes, there was a point to this whole story.

Last week, my aunt invited us to bring our son to a naming ceremony, where he would receive his Indian name. These names are traditionally passed down through families. The last person in my family tree whose Blackfeet name is known to us is Under Fox Woman, so we chose as a name for our son White Fox, or Iks-Sin-Oh-Pah, to honor my great-great grandmother.

There's a lot in a name.

Much as I would like to brag that I know my family history back to front, it would be a lie. I stole it all from my cousin Rhonda Michael. She kicks butt on this stuff.