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

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Very Happy New Year!


This is a special edition of the old blog, brought to you from Bozeman.

That's the view looking southwest from the top of the Bridger mountains. We're here for a family ski trip, enhanced by the fact that my brother in law is on the ski patrol at Bridger Bowl, which means we get to park in the employee parking lot and get personalized care when we slam into trees. Win-win, I'm telling you. And tonight we'll be ushering in the New Year from a steaming pool at Bozeman Hot Springs, after which I may almost be able to walk again.

New Year's isn't usually much of an event for us. At least, not intentionally. For ten years we lived in Oregon, on a rented acreage outside of Hermiston, in a single wide mobile home. By this point in our marriage the New Year merited no more than, at most, a second beer and a rented movie. Any suggestion of staying up until midnight was met with mockery from both parties. Thus it was that the end of our first year in Oregon found us snuggled cozy in our bed, sleeping the sleep of the righteous. Or maybe just clueless.

Then the clock struck midnight.

We were completely unprepared when the apocalypse erupted outside our door. BANG! BLAM! BOOM! I shot out of bed like I'd been blasted from a cannon and hit the front deck still half awake, in nothing but barefeet and a t-shirt.


The sky lit up. Volleys of artillery exploded around me. Turns out our neighbors hoarded fireworks for months, just for this purpose. They supplemented their show by firing 9mm pistols into the air. And shotguns. And possibly a few hand grenades, from the sound of it.

At this point, a normal person could have yelled out a few curse words--okay, muttered, because after all these people were armed--then toddled back to bed. I am not normal. I own horses. Three of which had been dozing contentedly in the two acre pasture below the house only minutes before.

Lord only knew what they were doing now.

I grabbed a pair of sweatpants, shoved my bare feet into boots and yanked on my husband's flannel shirt. Forget finding a flashlight. I stumbled out in the dark, sure the horses would have panicked and stampeded through the fence and into the desert, straight to the nearest highway. I was already debating their most likely route when I blew through the gate and into the pasture.

All three of them blinked at me from the corner by the corral, sleepy and puzzled. What the heck are you doing out here? Don't you know it's the middle of the night?

I muttered another bad word. Or five. Then I leaned on the fence and enjoyed the rest of the fireworks display, as long as I was up and all. When it finally ended, I shuffled back into the house, kicked off boots and sweats and coat and burrowed into my bed. My husband grumbled when I put my feet on his leg to warm up.

"Why are your feet so cold? It feels like you've been walking around outside."

I stared at him, astounded. "Well, yeah. I had to check on the horses in case they were scared."

"Of what?"

And then I kicked him.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hippie Christmas


Every year I dream up great ideas to get all crafty and homemade for Christmas. Ornaments! Stockings! Handmade necklaces for my sisters! A gingerbread replica of Many Glacier Lodge! In my head, they all turn out elegant and dreamy with a minimum of fuss.

Reality goes pretty much like this year. I hadn't bought a Christmas present until Monday, when I ordered one online. Then I hit the hardware store here in town for a toboggan and happened across a popcorn popper at the grocery store. I was on a roll.

We decided to take care of the rest in one big blast. I left work early yesterday and we drove the two hours to Great Falls and spent three hours engaged in aerobic Christmas shopping. Now we are DONE. Until approximately eleven o'clock on Christmas Eve when I will be madly shoving things into gift bags and scratching out last year's names on the tags because I forgot to buy new ones.

The kid and I have propped up our usual scrawny Christmas tree in the corner of the living room, slapped on a couple strings of lights and our hodge podge of cheesy ornaments that shrinks every year thanks to the unforgiving nature of a concrete living room floor.

Ah, holiday traditions.

However, I am proud to say that I did manage to pull off one of my planned Christmas projects, with a little help from my mother. For whatever climatological reason, this year we had a bumper crop of rose hips, so we made rose hip jelly.

First, a little about the roses. They grow wild in our pastures, in quantities large enough that right across the border from us southern Alberta is officially known as Wild Rose Country, as you can see from the logo above. They range in color from pale pink to fuschia and have a typical rose scent. And thorns. In September, after the roses are long gone, the blooms are replaced by brilliant red hips:

The hips are edible, consumed by everything from gophers to birds to coyotes. As you can imagine, on a prairie as devoid of shrubbery as ours is, they also attracted the attention of the indigenous tribes, and were used for medicinal and ceremonial purposes. Turns out rose hips have ten times more Vitamin C than oranges, which is why there is Rose Hip Vitamin C at your drugstore.

Here's the thing: they do not taste good. They are bitter and leave a pasty aftertaste on your tongue, which is why I had never considered harvesting them before. But we had so many this year and they were so big and bright, and I'd seen rose hip jelly in one of the Glacier National Park stores, so I decided to give it a try. 

First, I dragged the kid out to the bull pasture with me and we scavenged the fence line for a nice bucket of rose hips. It was almost worth it just to see them all in the bowl. Pretty, yes? 

Cleaning them took the length of an entire Montana State Bobcats football game, but it was a good way to keep from chewing off my fingernails (four freaking turnovers!) so that worked out well. I found a recipe for beach rose hips from Simply Recipes, cooked up the berries as instructed, then turned the juice over to my mom, who added all the good stuff and put it in jars. Voila!

With the addition of sugar and lemon the rose hips are transformed into a very tasty jelly indeed, with a bit of a tang and a tea-like undertone. Plus, it's very pretty. We like it best on warm crepes with cream cheese. And if you believe the medicine men, it can cure the common cold, blindness and diarrhea and ward off ghosts and evil spirits. That's a lot to ask from your morning English muffin. 

And of course, the best part about the hips that we harvested from right here in our pasture. One hundred percent organically fertilized. 


Saturday, December 10, 2011

This Blog Temporarily Interrupted....

....by the National Finals Rodeo. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the so-called World Series of rodeo is ten days long, held in Las Vegas, and televised nightly on the Great American Country channel. After the nine days of staying up at least an hour past my regular bedtime I am sleep-deprived and brain dead, so you're not missing much in the way of blog posts during this hiatus. For those of you who want to play along but aren't rabid enough to sit up until all hours watching the performances live, there are next day replays during civilized times.

Also this week, and an even greater source of sleep loss, was our son's very first school Christmas program. It is never good when the teacher calls you in a week ahead of time to come up with a plan to minimize the probability of disaster. But may I just say, as the mother of That Kid, our home videos are never boring. And since the program concluded without complete disruption or smacking the kid in front of him on the head with his jingle bells and only partial nudity, we consider the whole affair a rousing success.

As for the rodeo, tonight is the big final night, the crowning of this year's world champions. Then I may sleep until Monday morning. While I'm catching up on my rest, here's a little local scenery for your viewing pleasure:

Coyotes at daybreak. We've got hordes of 'em this year.

The road through the Hole in the Wall.

Winter insulation. 



Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Elders


Some of the posts on our ranch were set by my grandfather and his partner, Alec Knox, as early as the 1950's. With our relatively dry climate and rocky soil, some are still standing, like this one. You can see the grooves on the right side where the wood has been worn down by wires that were worked loose and whipped by the wind. This old guy has been around almost as long as the road that runs beside him, originally a wagon track that runs between our house and my cousin's place to the west.

In places the ruts are worn so deep the axles drag on our four wheel drive pickups. It's definitely not the interstate, but I'll take it anyway. 

Today's my day over at the other blog, so if you'd like to know why my husband has that black eye, tune in here:  For Worse...or Maybe Better