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

Sunday, October 30, 2011



A couple of bonus pictures from my afternoon walk. Max and I went down the coulee and up across the flat picking rose hips to make jelly (more on that later). On the way back, we started up the road to the corral and encountered a road block:

Ninety five percent of my brain was thinking, "No big deal, just old roping steers. They're harmless." But the other five percent was screaming, "OH MY GOD THEY WEIGH A THOUSAND POUNDS AND THEY'RE ARMED AND THEY'RE BETWEEN YOU AND THE FENCE."

I am happy to report that the majority was correct, in this case.

This is Timber and Doc as the sun sets.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Gathering the North Forty

Gathering day, bringing the registered cows and Longhorns in from the far north pasture in preparation for weaning and shipping next Sunday. How far north? That barbed wire fence IS the Canadian border. 

Steep climb up the side of big coulee. 

 All the cowhands I need to get my part of the job done. 

Time to wean when you can hardly tell the calves from the cows anymore. 

Max says, "I'll get you, you wascelly wabbit."


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Giving it Up


There comes a time, assuming you’re lucky enough to live that long, when you are forced to admit you may not be one of the young guns anymore. For me, that moment smacked me upside the head like a Louisville Slugger when I was still an athletic trainer. Upon being introduced to the incoming class of baseball players at Blue Mountain Community College, it occurred to me this was the first time in my career no one made the stupid joke about having a groin injury and needing a massage.

Wow. Right there on the third base line, I realized I was too old to warrant sexual harassment. Not that I missed the tired jokes, but still…it ranks right up there with when the construction workers stop whistling.

After a suitable period of grieving for my lost girlhood—which may have included an aborted and very painful attempt at taking up jogging—I came to terms with my new status as a non-chick. With acceptance came freedom. After all, if no one was checking me out, did it really matter how I looked?

Ah, glory days, those. At the rodeos, I no longer had to wonder if anyone but me would notice that this year’s jeans were a smidge wider between the back pockets. They were too busy eyeing the twenty-somethings. Makeup? Totally optional 

Sweet, sweet freedom.

Then this year, I went and joined the Senior Pro Rodeo Association. The masters division for cowboys in the over forty crowd, with the majority of contestants in the fifty plus range. Suddenly, I’m the incoming freshman all over again, stumbling into Senior Study Hall by mistake while all the other girls know exactly how to get through gym and on to English looking like they’ve never broken a sweat.

And the peer pressure. Sheesh. The quest to be the coolest girl in school was nothing compared to the effort some of these women put into being the hottest thing on the old circuit. Emphasis on the ‘old’.

Lucky for me, the senior rodeo season is fairly brief. I only have to diet and dye a few weeks out of the year to avoid being labeled a total loser and relegated to the table at the back corner of the concession area. Although it is nice and quiet there, an excellent place to observe my classmates and consider at what age I will once again be too old to worry about such stuff. Also to memorize the instructions on the box mounted on the wall that holds the emergency defibrillator because, well, at our age one should pay attention to those things, too.

I’ve decided seventy is my next give up the fight mark. And if someone tells me there’s a Homecoming Dance and a prom queen at the nursing home, I may just throw in the towel now.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

The World's Greatest Mouse Trap


Out here in the sticks, all of our water comes from wells. We have four, two at the barns and one for each house. Our pumphouse is a little wooden building shaped like a miniature barn. With all the record rains we've had in the past two years, we have discovered that a pumphouse with a dirt floor is not the optimum in design,  usually after a downpour when we turn on the kitchen faucet and mud runs out. So while we've got a concrete truck coming to pour the foundation for our new porch (this is me doing a very happy dance), we're going to put a slab under the pumphouse, too.

The pumphouse doubles as the garden storage shed, and was jammed with dead lawnmowers, kayak oars, broken rakes and hoes, a fertilizer spreader, a rusted out table top grill, a dismantled plastic pipe roping steer, three bundles of asphalt shingles (oh my freaking back those things are heavy!), two mangled extension cords, several sections of hose less than six feet long, three horse leg wraps (for all those three-legged horses I own) and a variety of abandoned yard ornaments, amongst other things. I backed one of the horse trailers up to the door and loaded up the whole mess. (Sign ups next week for the betting pool on which day next spring we will finally drag all that stuff out of that trailer, regardless of when the pumphouse is actually finished).

In the very back corner, likely undisturbed since the shed was installed about ten years ago, I found these:

They are ceramic, with walls over an inch thick. I believe they're also called stoneware. I can't even lift the larger one. We call them butter crocks, but they were also used for storing salted meat or curing sauerkraut back in the days before refrigeration. When we raised pigs and did our own butchering and smoking, Dad used them for brining bacons and hams. At some point, they were shoved into the back corner of the pumphouse and left there, uncovered. 

The uncovered part is the key. 

The pumphouse always smells bad. Not surprising, considering it is damp and freely accessible to varmints of all kinds. I never really thought much about it until I grabbed the smaller of the crocks and hauled it out into the daylight. 

Oh. My. God. 

You see, a mouse can easily fall into one of these things, but there is absolutely no way it can get back out. Apparently, this has happened quite often over the months and months those crocks have been sitting in that pumphouse, because the inside looked like this:

  Yes, those are mouse carcasses. Nothing but mouse carcasses. And skeletons. And skulls. Little tiny vertebraes. Hundreds and hundreds of them, in varying states of decay, a layer over an inch deep in the bottom of that crock. They were stuck in there, requiring that I chisel them out with the broken hoe. 

And they crunched.

Thank God the wind was blowing, to lessen the stench. Now if you'll excuse me I'll just be over here hurking in the bushes.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

No Brain, No Pain


Last week my mother ran over my dog.

No need for sympathy cards, Max is fine. Mom was on the four-wheeler and only going about five miles an hour when a cow tried to hook the dog, who dodged around the front of the four wheeler. Then the cow went after the four wheeler and when Mom gassed it to escape the cow she hit the dog. Max gave one big yelp and ran all the way home, no sign of physical damage. Any emotional scarring appears to be solely on the part of my mother, because Max was right out there in front of the four wheeler again the next day.

Which leads me to wonder…does she have a very high tolerance for pain, or a very short memory? Either of which could easily be mistaken for inability to get a clue.

I’m leaning toward high pain tolerance, since the day after we got her spayed she took herself for a three mile rehab jaunt at her usual breakneck pace with no sign of discomfort. Maybe those spare parts were just slowing her down.

Weighing in on the other side of the argument, though, is a recent Saturday when I was packing the camper, requiring approximately eighty-seven trips in and out of the house in order to properly equip a family of three for a twenty four hour excursion. If we ever left for a whole week I’d have to start packing a month ahead of time. (Cue howls of laughter from my family as they contemplate the chances of me ever planning that far ahead). The dog was right on my heels every single step, even though I forgot and slammed her head in the door three times.

Which puts us firmly back in ‘too dumb to feel pain’ territory.

There was also the night we went for a walk up the gravel road. Max likes to run. Even better, she likes to chase things: birds, rabbits, gophers, imaginary beasties only she can see. Creatures that, despite her better than average speed, she doesn’t have a hope in Hades of catching. That night she took off after a grouse, making a big loop through the hay field, running flat out. She circled back, still flying when she hit the shoulder of the road.

Unfortunately, she misjudged the height of the gravel berm on the edge. It buckled her knees, took out her front legs. She skidded face first all the way across the road, looking up at me with an expression of utter What the heck? on her face. I swear she still thinks I tripped her.

When she finally stopped sliding she laid there for a moment, stunned. Then she jumped up, shook off the dust and bits of rock and bailed off the other side of the road in hot pursuit of a low-flying sparrow.

Last week, she and Greg headed out south to gather cows out of the neighbor's barley field because that knee deep alfalfa they were standing in was apparently getting boring. Halfway home, they jumped a coyote up out of the buck brush. 

And Max was off. 

Finally! Something she could catch! Which left Greg no choice but to floor the four wheeler on the off chance the coyote decided to stop, turn around and catch Max. He figures they were doing around twenty miles an hour when Max hit a badger hole and rolled end over end at least three times. He wasn't sure she was going to get up. When she finally got her air back, she staggered to her feet, looking a little embarrassed. She hopped on the back of the four wheeler and rode the rest of the way home. This time, he thought, she learned her lesson. 

Then they popped over the hill above the house and she spotted the whitetail doe and fawn that live in the trees behind the house. She launched off the back of the moving four wheeler and hit the ground running. 

The evidence doesn’t lie. We’re going to have to settle for the No Brain, No Pain theory.


Saturday, October 08, 2011

Chief's New Coat


Last weekend we wallowed in one last blast of summer. Sunshine. Temperatures in the eighties. Almost too hot for this time of year, because when the cold weather hits the change tends to be dramatic and the horses and cattle aren't acclimated. Sure enough, Tuesday night the clouds started to roll in, which made for some great photo ops at sunset.

As pretty as the views were, when the clouds start to pile up behind the mountains we know we're in for a change in the weather. 

The rain hit Wednesday afternoon right as our crew finished gathering the cows to pregnancy test, which gave them a solid three hours of working out in the cold fall rain. The rain was nearly continuous from then until late last night, a total of over three inches, temperatures in the forties and fifties. I expect we'll have a few sick calves, going from hot to cold and wet so fast, but most of them are big enough now to take the stress. 

First thing this morning the sun cracked through and as expected, Chief Mountain has his first shiny new coat of snow. Pretty, yes, but all I can think is "Here we go again." 

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Gate Crashers


Imagine you were walking into the mall and just as you reached for the handle on the front door a pair of linebackers slammed into it from the other side and the edge of the door caught you square in the middle of the forehead, hard enough to send you flying into the nearby trash can.

Now imagine that the linebackers are1000 pound cows and the door is a sixteen foot steel gate, and you'll have a pretty good idea what happened to my mother today while they were running cows through the corral for pregnancy testing.

I got home from work and found my son watching cartoons on our living room couch. "Did grandma pick you up from the school bus?" I asked. "Yep," he said, never taking his eyes off Dora. "But she had to go to her own house because her head was bleeding too much."

I made haste to my Mom's, found her sitting at the kitchen table with a bloody towel pressed to her face. She has a two inch gash on her forehead, a big scrape and bruise on the bridge of her nose, and a swollen right calf from getting slam-dunked over the top of a steel barrel. Concerned with concussion, I asked if it knocked her out.

"Oh, no. I got right up. It was time to get Logan from the school bus."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why none of us has ever talked back to my mother.


Saturday, October 01, 2011

September Scenes


Yes, I know September is over. In case I had any doubt, the weather made sure and reminded me with a cold, damp wind this morning in place of the balmy sunshine we've had lately. But here are a few shots from the last month.

Didn't even have to Photoshop this self-portrait to make myself look petite. 

Thanks to all that snow and rain last spring our creeks are still running clear and fresh, a real luxury this late in the year. 

What, there aren't stock trailers full of cows in your kindergarten drop off lane?

The neighbor's field, otherwise known as where your canola oil comes from.

We did a six week stint as soccer parents. Our last, unless the boy has an extreme change of heart. He looked good in a uniform (and excuse me, that is WATERMELON, not pink), but he seems to have an issue with running until your sides ache. Can't say I blame him, same reason I never much liked the game. 

Grain harvest is in full swing, this is the neighbors combining barley with the mountains of Waterton Park in the background. 

The View from a cowgirl's perspective. And that's all I'm sayin' about that.