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

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Good Dogs and Brain Mush


In the past three days I have revised approximately three hundred pages of my manuscript-in-progress. If you took an MRI of my brain right now it would look like a big lump of cold oatmeal. I'm pretty sure none of you want to read the kind of blog post conjured up by brain mush.

Worse, you might not notice the difference from my usual posts.

Anyway, the other day I was poking around on a couple of old thumb drives and ran across some short stories I'd completely forgotten about. The kind of thing I used to write for fun before I started a blog and a newspaper column and the Never Ending Novel. Which, by the way, did finally end, and is currently the subject of the revisions mentioned above. Which brings us back to the brain mush and today's post. So instead of rambling on any longer, I'm going to share one of those short stories.

I might even give some kind of a prize to the first person who identifies the story from a previous post that inspired this little nugget of fiction.

Hope you enjoy. The brain mush and I are going to bed now.

Good Dog

Two dollars and seventy-seven cents. That and a crumpled gas station receipt were all Joe Buckley had in his pockets to buy dinner. He’d used the last check blank in his wallet to pay his entry fees at tonight’s rodeo, and he seriously doubted the little wood-framed concession stand was set up to take credit cards.

If he were back home in Minnesota, there’d be a dozen guys who would lend him five bucks for a double burger and fries. But if he were back home, he wouldn’t have this problem, because he wouldn’t have been the new guy who got stuck working overtime on a Saturday afternoon, wouldn’t have had to rush back to his rented apartment to throw on clean clothes and haul butt in order to get to tonight’s performance on time. None of which had left time for a stop at an ATM for cash.

You knew it wouldn’t be easy, moving halfway across the country to Oregon, starting fresh. 

All his life he’d dreamed of living in a place where cowboys weren’t an oddity; where rodeo was a proud tradition. When his boss had announced that he was closing up shop in favor of retirement, Joe had figured it was a sign. He was almost thirty years old. All but a handful of his friends were married. The time would never be better to make his dream come true.

The trouble with dreams, though, was reality hardly ever measured up.

He’d expected it would take time to get to know people. But he hadn’t expected there to be so many of them. Back home, a good rodeo might draw thirty contestants in each event. Out here, in the heart of cowboy country, it was eighty or a hundred, each one tougher than the next. Joe felt intimidated, doubted his own ability. Was he good enough to compete with these guys?

Not if tonight’s performance was anything to judge by, he brooded, still stinging from his failure to take advantage of a good draw.

He rounded the corner of the arena intent on joining the hungry patrons clustered in front of the concession stand. A woman crossed his path a few yards ahead, sending Joe’s pulse tripping over itself at the sight of sun-streaked brown hair and long legs just made for blue jeans.

Katie Kasper.

 Now there was a face Joe wouldn’t mind getting a lot more familiar with. Him and every other single-minded cowboy east of the Cascades. If there were such a thing as a blue blood in rodeo, Katie Kasper would qualify. Both her father and brother were world champions in Joe’s chosen event—steer wrestling. Her mother had made multiple appearances at the National Finals Rodeo in the barrel racing. And Katie had made a splash in her late teens and early twenties, winning national rookie of the year honors and qualifying for the Finals.

All of which was a long-winded way of saying she was out of plain old Joe Buckley’s league. Even at his cockiest, Joe would’ve been hard-pressed to muster up the courage to try his charm on Katie. With his self-esteem bumping along in the lowest rut it’d ever stumbled into…well…forget about it.

But it wasn’t easy to forget considering he saw her at least once a week when he picked up supplies at the lumberyard her mother’s family had owned for generations. According to one of Joe’s work mates, Katie had been the only one who offered to give up the professional rodeo circuit when her grandfather’s health went downhill a few years back.

Joe admired her loyalty. Almost as much as he admired those brown eyes and the warm smile she flashed whenever she happened to be the one who signed off on his purchase orders. Which had become more and more often lately, the one real stroke of luck he’d had since coming west. Too bad Joe’s admiration was so intense it invariably turned to glue on his tongue, making him incapable of anything besides a nod and a goofy grin. Lord, what a moron.

Joe’s mood sunk a notch lower as he watched Katie disappear into the parking lot. No doubt she had places to go, people to see, just like everyone except Joe.

Give it time, he told himself as he pointed his feet toward the concession stand. That was his mantra these days, muttered a hundred times between daybreak and dark. Eventually, he would get to know some folks. But every weekend it seemed like he ran into a fresh batch of strange faces and they were all hurrying off to the next rodeo the minute they finished competing at this one.

He’d give anything to hear someone call out “Hey, Joe Buck!” the way his old friends had, slap him on the shoulder and urge him to join them for a beer after the rodeo.

He fought off a suffocating wave of loneliness while he studied the menu scribbled on a chunk of cardboard and tacked to the wall of the concession stand. “Give me a hot dog and a Coke, please,” he told a skinny, freckle-faced boy who could barely see over the counter.

“We’re out of hot dogs,” the boy said. “Would you like a hamburger instead?”

Would he ever, but three dollars was over his budget. There was only one thing on the menu he could afford besides a candy bar. He sighed. “Nachos, then.”

The boy scurried off and was back almost immediately, proudly presenting Joe with a can of Coke and a paper tray of tortilla chips swimming in gluey orange cheese sauce. Joe stuffed his last seven cents into his pocket and carried his feast to a wooden picnic table a dozen yards away. He’d barely sat down when he realized he’d forgotten napkins. With a disgusted grunt, he stood and stalked back to the concession stand. He grabbed a fistful of napkins, turned…and froze.

Right before his horrified eyes, a sleek black and white dog picked up his tray of nachos, eased to the ground, and trotted off under the bleachers without dropping so much as a single chip.

Joe wanted to shout, but the only words that came to mind would have had mothers slapping hands over their babies’ ears. He stared after the dog for several long seconds before allowing himself one heartfelt, whispered curse. The long, frustrating day at work, the weeks of loneliness and one disappointment after another all boiled up inside him, set off by this last, ridiculous insult to his pride. A lump swelled in his throat, threatening to choke him. He was sorely tempted to sit down, fold his arms on the table, bury his head and bawl like a baby.

But every kid who’d ever watched John Wayne knew cowboys didn’t cry, so Joe swallowed hard and slumped at the table to stare glumly into the Coke can that had become the sum total of his dinner. He’d always considered himself a positive, upbeat kind of guy, tried not to whine and pout and complain. Right this minute, though, he was having a real hard time picking out the silver lining in the gloom.

For the first time, he was unable to silence the doubt demons, those shrill little voices in the dark corners of his mind, mocking him, insisting he’d made a mistake, he should head back to the Minnesota boondocks where he belonged. Where he was the baddest shark in the local rodeo pool.

He clenched his teeth and stiffened his spine. Not yet. I’m not giving up until I’ve given it everything I’ve got.
As he toasted his new resolve with his Coke can, a female voice called out, “Excuse me? Did someone lose their nachos?”

Joe’s head snapped up and his heart jumped into double time. Halfway between him and the concession stand, Katie Kasper stood holding his empty paper tray. The dog beside her looked as guilty as a dog could, head hanging, ears drooping…and a telltale smear of orange cheese across her nose.

Joe cleared his throat. “Those were…um…mine.”

Katie turned, spotted him, brown eyes widening. Her lips curved into a tentative smile as she stepped closer. “I’m so sorry. I’ve never been able to convince Stella that just because she can reach it, doesn’t mean it’s hers. She didn’t take it right out of your hand, did she?”

“Would she?” Joe asked, surprised out of his usual tongue-tied state.

“Usually only from small children.” Katie took another step nearer. “You wouldn’t believe how many hot dogs and ice cream cones I’ve had to replace.”

“I’ll bet.” Somehow, Joe found himself standing, holding out a hand. “I’m Joe.”

Katie started to accept the handshake, only she was still holding the nacho tray. She fumbled, gave a giggle that sounded almost nervous, then switched the tray to her other hand so her fingers could close around his. “I’m Katie Kasper. And you’re the guy from Three Rivers Construction—Joe Buckley. I’ll bet your friends call you Joe Buck.”

Joe could only nod, nearly fainting from sheer joy. She remembered him! But he regained his senses quick enough to keep from grinning like an idiot. Of course she remembered.  Three Rivers spent a lot of money at the lumberyard and Joe volunteered to fetch supplies every time he got the chance. Any good businesswoman knew her best clients.

And this client had forgotten to let go of her hand.

Joe felt his cheeks go hot as he turned loose and stuffed his fingers in his front pockets to keep them from embarrassing him any more.

Katie waved the paper tray. “So, I guess I owe you some nachos.”

To his absolute mortification, Joe heard himself blurt, “Dinner.”

“Excuse me?”

Oh, Lord. Was he really going to have to explain that he couldn’t afford a hamburger? His face went a deeper shade of red. “That was dinner,” he muttered.

“Really?” She wrinkled her nose at the congealed cheese left in the tray, then gifted Joe with one of her heart-stopping smiles. “Then I guess I owe you dinner.”

“No.” When her eyebrows shot up, Joe stumbled on, words tripping out before he could catch them. “I mean, I’ll buy my own dinner. And yours, if you know a good steak house around here that takes credit cards.”

The air backed up in his lungs as she blinked, stared at him for an endless moment. Then she smiled again. “I’d like that, Joe Buck.”

A grin welled up from way down deep inside his chest and broke out all over his face. “Me too, Katie Kasper.”

They turned together toward the parking lot, walking side by side with Stella trotting happily at their heels. Katie stopped, crouched down to scrub at the cheese on Stella’s nose and scratch behind one speckled ear. Joe’s grin widened another notch when he heard her whisper, “Good dog, Stella.”


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's a Jungle


A while back I took votes on what you'd all like to see on video here. The Snow Saucer of Doom won, but Haystack Jungle Gym came in a tight second, so here you go.

A couple of words of explanation. We've been going through a bunch of snow/melt/freeze cycles that have turned large patches of what is normally earth into solid ice. You could literally skate down our driveway in the mornings. Plus, we've had winds pushing the eighty mile an hour mark, which have whipped up enough dust to turn some of our snow into mudbanks.

The day we took this video it was in the high thirties, which meant it melted just enough to put a nice glaze of moisture on top of the ice. Then the wind blew. Which is why our action hero is having so much trouble making headway in the opening clips.

Watch it through to the end. I'm sure there's a moral in here somewhere about never giving up, thinking outside the box, yada yada. I'll let you come up with your own. Me, I just giggled.

Now for the good part. If you come here often, you've probably noticed a trend with my background music. The first week in December we went to a dance in the big city...also known as Del Bonita. We were lucky enough to be entertained by Trevor Panczak, whose music you've been hearing. I am generally not a real fangirl, but wow, was that a show. I was content to just sit and listen all night. (Also, it's been so long since my husband and I went dancing we've literally forgotten how, so we took pity on the others and stayed seated).

And of course, I got my hot little hands on his latest CD. Autographed, too.

And yep, I'm giving it away.

Two ways to win. Or you can do both and double your chances. First, the usual, post a comment here about how much you love country music, or snowdrifts, or haystacks. Or really put yourself in contention by admiring the obvious superiority of my genetics. Second, pop back over to Twitter if you're one of those people, and tweet the supersecret hashtag.... #trevortown. (No, I'm not going to force you to spell Panczak correctly. Or even say it.) As is happens, that's also his website, which you'll find here. Trevortown

Entries close this coming Saturday night at midnight. I'll draw the winners whenever I get around to it on Sunday. One person will get the autographed CD. Two more will get a free download of the CD from Amazon.com. Since shipping is nominal, I encourage any of my international readers to enter.

So, without further chitchat...The Haystack Jungle Gym.

Stuff you might like to know:

Each of the bales in that stack weighs around fifteen hundred pounds, and are mostly alfalfa. They are stacked three rows high--three across the bottom, then two, then one on the top. And no, we don't let the kid run around up there without supervision. Or, my husband informed me after watching this video, ever.

Guess I better go take that ladder down now.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

In Transit


Yesterday, during my lunch hour, I had to run to the drug store. And by run, of course I mean jump in my car and drive, although on days when the wind isn’t over thirty miles an hour and the sidewalks don’t resemble Alaskan ice fields, I can actually run my errands. Oh, okay, walk. From my office in the center of town, there is no location within the city limits that I can’t walk to and from in the length of a lunch hour, if I keep up a brisk pace.

But yesterday there was both wind and glaciated sidewalks, so I drove. I was a little annoyed when I had to park three spaces down from Drug Mart, instead of my usual spot ten feet from the door. And there was someone at the counter ahead of me, so I had to wait at least three or four minutes for my prescription. That’s what I get for shopping at the busiest time of day, but I was still back at the office with most of my lunch hour to spare.

I just spent four days along the Tennessee-Kentucky border, visiting my brother at Fort Campbell. Now I realize for some of you, Nashville is a mere village, but my experience there pretty much mirrored what I’ve encountered in any of the metropolitan areas I’ve visited. The larger the city, and the more surrounded a person is by all of the modern conveniences, the more inconvenient it is to access them.

First off, you have to get there. This requires, depending on the size of your city, either navigating a maze of streets and highways that seem to have been designed to be anything but convenient, or adjusting your schedule to that of a train or bus. In either case, you must take into account the seething masses of other people who are also attempting to travel to and from the same or similar locations, which means adjusting your schedule yet again to account for traffic or crowds. The larger the city, the more your actions become controlled by the mob and the transit authority.

In Nashville, we did the usual tourist thing…the Opryland hotel, then a stroll around downtown, with all of its kitschy shops and restaurants and bars. I could have spent hours wandering from one to another, soaking up the music. That’s the sort of thing you just don’t get in a small town very often. In both cases, though, we had to park farther from our destination than if I walked from my office to the far end of Main Street. And it cost money.

Same for the grocery stores and malls, with the added benefit of also having to remember which of the two hundred white SUV’s in the parking lot was ours. Between that and the lines at the checkout, a quick dash to pick up a gallon of milk was a minimum of forty five minutes.

And the post office? Suffice to say I bribed a soldier behind me to mail my priority envelope so I didn’t have to spend half of one day of my vacation memorizing wanted posters.

I suppose you get used to it, and you get more efficient at juggling bus schedules and dodging rush hour. In the biggest cities, you can find a neighborhood where most of what you need is available within walking distance, so you don’t have to fight the transit wars every time you want a cup of coffee.

I think I’ll stick with all the inconveniences of small town life, like parking across the street instead of at the curb directly in front of the door to my bank.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Hey, y'all!

That's me, practicing my southern-speak, because I'm currently south of the Mason-Dixon line at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. My brother will be deploying from here next week, headed to Khandahar. That's in Afghanistan, for those of you who are allergic to the screaming and self-important pontificating we call news reporting these days.

I'm not a huge fan of traveling via airplane. Not because I'm afraid, or even because I dread the whole security screening thing, although for future reference, sending a carry on packed with frozen Montana beef through the x-ray machine in Bozeman a does raise a few eyebrows. I can only imagine the reaction if I tried that in Atlanta. Thank the lord it didn't thaw out and start dripping from the overhead bin...although that certainly would have livened up what was an otherwise pretty dull flight from Denver to Nashville.

 Mostly I don't like flying because I feel like I'm missing so much in between where I started and where I ended up, and I always feel sort of displaced when I get plunked down at an airport instead of working my way into a place like you do when you drive.

Also, I forgot my camera, so no pictures for you unless I mooch them from one of my sisters.

So far, the most striking thing I've seen down here is the evidence of last year's floods. Those of you who've been hanging out here for a while may remember when we auctioned off the ranch for flood relief. You have no idea how good it feels to know we contributed in any way to the amazing job these folks have done rebuilding. But still, so many businesses stand abandoned, or have been demolished to leave an empty lot where people once earned their living. And we haven't even ventured into any of the affected residential areas.

Anyway, thanks to the trip and working a couple of Saturdays to make up for time off, my January is pretty well shot. I doubt you've missed my whining about the cold, right? But by the time I get home and get caught up, we'll be starting to keep on eye on the 'heavies', in case anybody decides to pop out a calf ahead of schedule.

Yep, already that time again. Amazing, how fast the years cycle through. For now, I'm off to check out Opryland and find me some real southern barbecue.


Friday, January 07, 2011

Ayo Ihtsipaitapiyoop - Dear Creator


(Blackfeet Language - audio below)


Ayo Ihtsipaitapiyoop
(Dear Creator)

Ispoommookinnan anohk ksistskio
(Help us this day)

Nitahkayistsisinnan, nitahkayiikakimahsinnan,
(to listen, to try hard)

Nitahkaikimmotsiisinnan ki nitahkawatoyiitaksinnan.
(to be kind to one another and to be spiritual)

Ay ispoommoos nitsitapiiminnaniksi; ninnaniksi,
(Help our relatives; our fathers,)

niksistsinnaniksi ki naahsinnaniksi.
(our mothers and our grandparents.)

Ispoommookinnan nitahkaitapaiksikkysinnan
(Help us to walk toward)

Ikkinapi, iitamapi ki kanaisookapi,
(gentleness, happiness and all that is good)

Ayo nitahkaitsiyikskatosinnan
(to avoid)

(Bad things.)

Tahkastitaam-atsikaa-sinnaan manatsiwa.
(Let us walk on the new green grass.)


(don't look at the fuzzy picture, follow along with the prayer above)

Vocals/Prayer by Megan Lunak    Music by Charles Littleleaf


Saturday, January 01, 2011

Del Bonita Rules


The whole New Year's thing seems to beg for words of wisdom, especially with this being the end of the first decade of a shiny new century, though we seem to have managed to smudge and dent it up pretty good and it's lost the new millennium smell already. Still, if I must impart sage advice, let it be this: Do not let 2011 pass without eating fry bread and Indian tacos at least once. You'll be a better person. Or at least happier.

Which explains why I'm having a very happy New Year's Day. *burp*

Although technically I am from Cut Bank, I actually live in Del Bonita, a name given to our general area as a nod to both the local port of entry and the gathering of houses just on the other side of the border in Canada, which gets to call itself a town because it has a post office as opposed to our rack of mailboxes at the border crossing. Though we are scattered over a ten mile radius, we Del Bonitans have a strong sense of community, developed through decades of having our own country school (now closed)…and because the majority of us are descendants of or related by marriage to one of two families. Or both.

The community as a whole usually gathers at least twice a year—a summer barbecue and a Christmas party. Plus sometimes there’s a harvest dinner. And weather permitting, someone usually throws a New Year’s Eve party.

People think I live in the back of beyond, but compared to where we went last night, I’m practically an urbanite. In honor of our hardy little group, I developed the following checklist:

How to tell you’re from Del Bonita 

1. New Year’s Eve party invitations are not issued until at least noon on December 31st, as the host must determine how bad the road is drifting before inviting a large number of people out to get stuck in his driveway.

2. Party preparations include making sure the block heater on the tractor is plugged in, in case you misjudge #1.

3. The invitation includes, “And don’t forget, right before the first cattle guard, take the track to the right that swings out across the hayfield. It’s a little rough but the snow’s not as deep out there.”

4. The only vehicle you encounter on the way to the party is a border patrol truck and he waves because he knows only a local would be on this road in this weather.

5. During the party, attendees periodically wander outside. Not to smoke, but to check and see if the wind is coming up, which is the cue for everyone to scatter or risk becoming long term houseguests.

6. Conversation during the party will include at least one observation that bears seem to be powerfully attracted to dog food.

7. Instead of party favors, the host offers charcoal-activated handwarmers to departing guests.

8. You have no fear of being picked up for driving impaired on the way home, but be sure and hide those contraband Mandarin oranges you snuck down from Lethbridge in case the border patrolman is bored to the point of wanting to stop and chat.

Happy New Year all, here’s hoping it’s a safe trip.