So here we are, the whole family gathered up at the ranch for Thanksgiving with the exception of my brother's family because he's still deployed in Khandahar, Afghanistan. He may be home by the time this turkey is done. Mom got it fresh from the Hutterite colony and they grow 'em big. Dang near thirty pounds of bird. In the meantime, we're tiding ourselves over with the cheese curds my sister brought from Washington. Yay for squeaky cheese!
Given that we've had two consecutive days of wind hitting 80-100 mph, we're pretty thankful that it finally died down and most everything we own is still here and not somewhere in Minnesota, but more on that later. A couple weeks back a friend invited me to contribute a post to her blog about what I'm thankful for. Rather than repeating it here, I'll send you on over to Shawna Thomas's place to check it out. And while you're there, take a look at her book, Altered Destiny. My husband says it's the best thing he's read all year.
What does a writer write about when they can't think of anything to say? Well, if you're me, you write about coming up with stuff to write about when there's nothing to write about. Which is what I did HERE. Which is the link I'm giving you because I"m too lazy to even come up with excuses not to write about anything tonight.
Random photo inserted because studies show you people like that sort of thing.
A single cow, in contrast to my normal cow-induced insanity, inflicted by whole herds. I prefer to exist in a world governed by common sense and cow behavior defies most attempts at logic. For example, if you’re standing in a pasture full of knee high grass and clear, cool running creeks, why would you jog a mile to rush through a hole in the fence to get to the neighbor’s already combined barley field, which is dry as a bone?
(And thank you, Anonymous Hunter, for that full afternoon’s extra work courtesy of the wires you cut. Your hunter friends can all thank you too, the next time a rancher blocks a road or nails up No Trespassing signs and says “No way” when they call to ask if they can hunt there. Oh, and here’s those beer cans you dropped, too.)
It is even more difficult to grasp why a dozen cows would stroll across an oat field ripe with heads too short to be picked up by the combine, ford a lovely little brook, scour the fenceline until they find that one wire flattened by the snow, hidden in three foot high timothy grass and second growth alfalfa, and hoist their big fat butts over it to get to the neighbor’s already combined wheat field. Cows don’t even like wheat.
But Lord knows, they’ll eat plenty of other things. Three hundred acres of grass, but the yearlings find it absolutely mandatory to chew up any chunk of rope or twine you leave hanging on a gate. And bones. They go after them like a dog on a…well, bone. Which is sort of creepy since the majority scattered around our pastures are cow skeletons and I prefer not to contemplate cannibalism and cows in the same sentence. Plus they usually manage to get the stupid bone stuck in their throat and then they die, but only after working up a good vet bill.
Still, the bones at least make some sense. They are made of calcium, and so is milk, so it’s sort of like a supplement. Which means they eat chunks of rusty barbed wire for the iron, right? And the electrical wiring off the hay swather for the…okay, I’m stumped on that one. I can’t think of a single dietary benefit to plastic, copper and battery acid.
So yeah, Cow Madness is not an unusual state for any rancher (as opposed to Mad Cow, which at our place is usually that high-headed brockle-face with the bad attitude). This particular cow is a special case in that she is not my cow. Or my problem. Which apparently doesn’t matter to the compulsive part of my brain that insists all cows must be kept—as much as humanly possible—in their proper place, which is not the barrow ditch.
This cow has been standing alongside the highway for two weeks straight. All by herself. Hasn’t moved more than fifty yards in either direction the whole time. Every morning and every night I drive past, sure by now either the owner has seen her or someone else has given them a call. But no. She’s still there. Every single morning. Every single night. Right across the fence from a herd of cows that appears to include her calf, since it was having breakfast through the barbed wire when I drove by on Tuesday morning.
There’s a gate right there. Wouldn’t take more than five minutes to chase her through it, even on foot. So if you know who runs cows out on the Chalk Butte highway and has blue ear and brisket tags and they don’t find their black white face cow on the side of the road, they can thank me.
The end of October signifies a lot more than Halloween around here (although if you've ever wondered what it's like to Trick or Treat in ranch country, you can read about it in Thar She Blows). Mid-October to mid-November is shipping time for ranchers. Most of the calves around here are sold on contract to buyers in Nebraska or Iowa for a specified delivery date.
We were scheduled for today, November 6, but shipping is really a three to five day process at minimum, because we can't do it by ourselves. We need a crew, and our crew consists of my cousins who have ranches east and west of us. Which means, in return, we go and help on their scheduled shipping day (and this is me using the royal We, since I am generally required to be at the evil day job for all except our own).
So today we gathered and weaned. Sold all but the lightest of the steer calves. Brought all of the heifers home to feed for the winter. It was sunny, chilly, but no wind, no snow, no mud and no dust. You can't get much better.
I took some videos that I'll hopefully get edited and posted before the cows in question die of old age. In the meantime, here's how the rest of the week looked:
Keep your eyes wide open. Fall turnout time on the fields along my highway.
A sunset swim.
Fire in the sky behind Many Glacier mountains.
Southbound from Calgary.
A lot of wide open space between here and the Sweetgrass Hills.
A few of the neighbors are hanging out in our summer pasture.
Once upon a time I lived in a magical kingdom called South Dakota, where the corn grew ten feet tall and the sunflowers were bigger than a dinner plate and the pavement ran clear to my front door. Well, within twenty yards, which is close enough. It was a mind-boggling experience for a dirt road girl. I washed my pickup and it stayed like that, all clean and shiny, and I didn’t walk around with streaks of mud on the inside of my left pantleg all spring and fall from rubbing up against the door frame. Amazing.
My husband had never lived more than half a mile off the highway, so he didn’t really grasp the sheer wonder of it all. This difference in our upbringings became apparent the first time we went to a rodeo together. I told him I was entering Bismarck and he asked if he could go along. I said sure, although there might have been a condition or two. Something about a haircut and a new pair of jeans. I bought him a new shirt myself, quite sure he would come home with one just like every other shirt he owned at the time. A bachelor should be more careful about telling his mother and four aunts that red plaid is his lucky color.
It was two hundred miles to Bismarck. The rodeo started at seven. I proposed that we leave at one-thirty, which meant I’d actually get myself into the pickup and ready to go by two.
“That’ll get us there awfully early,” he said. “It only takes three hours to drive that far.”
“Plus an hour for changing tires and fixing the trailer lights,” I said.
He gave me a blank stare. “Why would I have to fix the trailer lights? They work fine.”
“Well, sure, they do now. But by the time you get to the end of the gravel—“
And then I remembered the gravel was only twenty yards long. I may have done something like the touchdown shuffle that one guy used to do before the NFL got all cranky about showing off. Only with a lot less rhythm.
Gravel roads are brutal on trailer lights. Wires get beaten in two by rocks and yanked loose by mud clods. Plugs get packed with dust. Right up until I was in college, if asked how a weekend on the rodeo trail went I might smile and chirp, “Didn’t win a dime, but the trailer lights worked the whole way.” Any trip that didn’t include sprawling flat on your back on the side of the road with a flashlight in your teeth and dirt falling in your eyes while you wiggled wires was considered a success.
I am reminded of this because in August I hauled my sister and her broke down car home to Bozeman, then circled back through Big Timber to pick up a couple of horses. A round trip of around eight hundred miles…seven hundred and fifty of them without trailer lights.
Three helpful hints to anyone heading that direction in a similar situation:
1. A Mini Cooper will fit in a stock trailer.
2. Thanks to the road construction around Townsend, it is actually faster to travel from Cut Bank to Bozeman via Big Timber.
3. If all else fails, spit on the light plug. It probably won’t fix the problem, but you’ll feel better.