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

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Wearing the Bear


As I mentioned in my blog from New Year’s weekend, we recently went skiing at Bridger Bowl in Bozeman. On average, I ski once every two years. I’m always amazed my body can remember how to manage skis, poles, etcetera, especially when last week, after decades of riding horses, it suddenly forgot how to walk in spurs. Ouch.

Since I ski so infrequently I don’t have state of the art jackets and pants and stuff, but my sister has spares so I generally don’t look like a complete dork, and last spring she went to Utah on vacation and picked up a cozy new winter hat for me so I was set, except for the part where none of my family members wanted to be seen with me. Or as one of them put it, “Please try not to do anything memorable in that thing.”

My sister bought it down by Park City in serious skiing country, so I assumed this was what all the cool people were wearing these days. Turns out, not so much. Children pointed  People turned to take a second look. Yelled Nice hat! from ski lifts as I schussed down runs. There was no blending into the crowd while wearing the bear. All of which would have been fine if it weren’t for the Magic Carpet.

Bridger Bowl is very proud of this fancy schmancy new upgrade to their quad chair. It is basically a huge conveyor belt that eliminates the need to shuffle frantically forward when it’s your turn to catch the lift chair. You just step onto the belt and glide forward, the motion timed to deposit your butt on the chair as it swings around. The belt is cool. Getting to the belt, however…

You know how at the Olympics the downhill racers are behind those gates that swing open as the timer beeps? That’s what the gates to the Magic Carpet are like. You lean your thighs against them and they release you onto the belt in perfect coordination with the oncoming chair.

Here’s the twist: the gate swings forward. Which is where my ski poles usually are. Which meant when the little gate slapped open, it pinned my ski pole against the divider at the very moment the magic belt was dragging the rest of me forward. I think you can imagine how this ended. Sure glad those lift operators are quick on the kill switch.

The next time around, I was prepared. I stepped boldly into place at the gate, tucked my poles under my arms, racer-style…and nearly poked an eye out on the person behind me. He yelped and I turned to apologize, jerking my poles down from under his chin as the gate opened. My skis went forward, my pole got pinned and the entire lift ground to a halt. Again.

So I gave up on the quad and headed over to the Virginia City lift. 

Simple. No belts. No gates. Except Virginia City has center pole chairs and out of habit I turned to grab the outside arm like on the quad and the pole whacked me in the butt and knocked me off my skiis and yep, you know the rest. Another lift stopped dead.

I’m quite certain by the end of the afternoon every lift operator on the hill knew me by sight and was radioing ahead as I fumbled onto the lift.

“Heads up at the top. Bear lady on board.”   

This is why when you wear the bear, you shove it deep into your backpack before going in the lodge for a beer apr├Ęs ski. And make sure you’re also wearing goggles.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

On My Toes


A long, long time ago writer friend Cynthia D'Alba asked me to do a post about cowboy boots. So long ago that she gave up waiting, wrote her own cowboy book, got published and is due for release next month (and you can go here to preorder!).

But I am finally getting around to doing that post she wanted, mostly on account of CountryOutfitter.com, who stopped by the ol' blog and liked it enough to offer me a pair of Ariat boots in exchange for chatting about them. Couldn't have come at a better time since I'm due for a new pair, although my husband seems to think I have plenty.

Look close though and you can see they're all getting pretty run down at the heels and scuffed at the toes, with the exception of the spanky new Ariat Terrain hikers on the far left. I got those for Christmas and wow, do I love them. Lightweight, warm, very comfortable. Wore them to work all week then on the way home last night I took them out for an impromptu mile hike through six inches of snow on the trail of an escaped calf (come back next week for that story) and they were awesome for both. The price is nice, too, and there are other colors like these deeper brown ones:

What's cool about these boots is the heel. Look close. Even though they're great for hiking, they're also designed for riding, with the sharply squared heel that won't slip through your stirrup like a regular snow boot. Win all around for calving season, when you never know if you'll end up on foot shoving a new baby through snow drifts with your horse trailing along behind.

In fact, those in the know might be able to look at the photo of my boot line up and realize that except for the pair with the spurs, they're ALL Ariats. The pair with the red tops and the beat up hikers next to them were my first two pairs and I was an instant convert. I have very high arches and these are the only boots I've owned that don't require an additional insert for support. Plus, they last. Those two pairs are seven years and a thousand miles old.

Even my Fat Babies on the far right have some scars, although I consider them my 'dress shoes' and don't wear them for riding. The dog chewed the top tab off the left one and I have a bad habit of tucking my foot under my desk chair which scuffs up the toe on the right. Despite the thick sole and bulkier shape, it is amazing how light these boots are. If I'm in the mood for comfort I reach for my Fat Babies instead of running shoes, and that rounded toe? Perfect for when you trip over the kid's step stool and bust that toe next to your pinky toe and it swells to the point that you can't wear any other shoes for a month. Or so I've heard.

So yeah, right when I decided it was time for new boots along came Country Outfitter. Here's the problem. I have choices, which meant I had to go poking around in their catalog to pick out what I wanted. That was a month ago and I'm just now re-emerging.

I have, however, managed to narrow it down to three options. Okay, maybe four. Or wait, there were those Fat Baby's with the funky zipper top....ouch! (that's me slapping my own hand before I lose another half a day to browsing).

If I go with utility, thinking in terms of something I can wear at the rodeos, there's this:

These are a departure from my normal style. I've never owned anything with the square toe and I generally stick with the wider, flatter roper-style heel, so named because they are preferred by calf ropers who have to bail out of their stirrup and run down the rope. Since my event doesn't require me to get off my horse, I don't have to worry about the type of heel and I think these look cool, more like what the saddle bronc riders wear, suitable given my knack for making horses buck.

Plus, I'm loving the color of the tops and I prefer the thinner, traditional sole for roping. That old pair up top with the spurs? I have to let my stirrups down a notch to account for the thick crepe sole and they tend to hang up as I step down from my horse. Since I'm a short-legged gal who has somehow become the owner of a lot of tall horses, this can make for some very awkward moments.

If I wanted to go with something dressier to replace my Fat Babies, there's this:

I know, right? Does it get any prettier, plus you've got all that comfort. Tell me again why women wear stilettos? Then again, as I mentioned I am slightly under-endowed in the leg department so I do enjoy some props once in a while, which led me here:

But then I thought, "If you're gonna get fancy, you might as well be serious about it" and I thought maybe these:

Then my husband wandered past, busted out laughing and asked if I was just trying to get struck by lightning the first time I stepped outside what with all those crosses and my somewhat shaky attendance record at church. 

You see my dilemma. I could go on like this all day. So feel free to chime in and tell me what you like best. Square toes, round toes, pointy or fat? Slanted heels, ropers, something with a little height? Or go to Country Outfitters, pick out your favorites and post a link in the comments. Can't wait to see what you choose.

As for me, check back next week and I'll show you what I decided to put on my toes. 

To keep the FTC happy and in case I haven't already mentioned it a dozen times, here's the official disclaimer:  A retailer of Ariat boots for women, Country Outfitter sent me these Ariat women's legend boots to review.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Wave to Me


So yeah, I know your dog is cool. Sit, roll-over, play dead. Very nice. But can it do this?

Haystack climbing aside, our dog Max is almost a year old and starting to earn her keep as a cow dog, despite our substantial deficits as trainers. She was raised by my cousin Wayne on the ranch next door and he takes his dogs seriously, so we didn't exactly start with a mutt. He's been trying to give us pointers, including the proper commands to be used with a working dog.

I had foolishly assumed shouting things like "Go left", "Go right", "Go fast" and "Stop, dammit!" would suffice. I was informed I was mistaken. Real dogs prefer something a bit more genteel. An entire vocabulary of commands passed down since the beginning of time back in England or Ireland or someplace where they had no choice but to herd sheep for sustenance (for those of you who weren't around in the early days of this blog, my contempt of sheep is thoroughly explored in The Will to Die).

The main four commands are as follows:

Come bye: Go around the herd in a clockwise direction.

Away to me: Go around the herd in a counter-clockwise direction.

Walk up: Move straight up to the herd in a slow, steady manner.

Down: I'm gonna assume this one is self explanatory.

Now let's talk about me. I have issues with left and right. Didn't really get them straight until I was in the fifth grade and a horse pulled back and rope-burned my left hand so bad it left a scar, which then gave me a permanent marker. Scar = left. Awesome. All these years later the scar has faded, but I've mostly got the left and right thing under control, although I occasionally have to stop and think, "Right. The hand you rope with." And now they expect me to remember "Come bye" and "Away to me"?

Yeah. Sure.

So the dog and I are usually in muddle. Me, seeing a cow taking off to the right, yells, "Come bye!" The dog goes left. I yell, "No, the other come bye!" Then the dog throws up her paws and just chases whatever's closest. (And yes, the first time I wrote this paragraph I had the lefts and rights completely backwards and had to start over.)

On top of all that, I just plain feel stupid yelling this stuff. It makes no sense. And I'm not the only one who gets confused. During shipping one fall my husband Greg, cousin Wayne and the dogs were in the big corral with two hundred head of cows and calves bawling their lungs out, making it nearly impossible to hear. Greg started a bunch of cattle toward the alley when he heard Wayne yell, "Wait!"

So he stopped. The cows and calves scattered, dodging back into the herd. Wayne gave Greg a puzzled look and gestured that they needed to bring more cattle up. Greg headed back into the herd, started a bunch toward the alley, only to hear Wayne yell, "Wait!" He stopped. The cattle scattered. Wayne marched over to where he was standing.

"Why do you keep stopping?"

"Because you yelled Wait!"

Wayne stared at him, confounded. "No, I didn't."

"Yes, you did. I heard you."

Wayne rolled his eyes, pointed at the dogs. "Not Wait. Away to me."

Oh. Whoops.

Then there was the day we were moving a bunch of uncooperative cows. Wayne had all three of his dogs along and he was sending them right, then left, then right, then left again to thwart attempted escapes. My son, riding with my mother on the four wheeler, finally turned to her, looking perplexed.

"Grandma, why does he keep yelling at those dogs to wave to him?"


Sunday, January 08, 2012

There are no "Hips" in "Blackfeet"


So yeah, it's the New Year and all that, and while I don't make resolutions per say, I do find it generally necessary to recommit myself to exercise after six weeks of excessive stuffing of my face over the holidays. Since the clinic where I work has purchased a staff membership at the fitness center right down the street, I don't have a whole lot of excuses this winter. While I was at it, I decided to try something new. It's called Zumba, and when done correctly, it looks like this:

Note that I said "when done correctly". Because here's the thing: I wasn't a cheerleader, or a twirler, or even one of the popular girls who got asked to dance a lot. Plus I grew up out here on the reservation where dancing looks like this:

As you can see, Zumba is all about something called 'power hips', while Native American dancing is all about the feet, which makes sense especially for us being Blackfeet and all. Toss in my complete inability to mirror the movements of a dance instructor and I'm telling you, it ain't pretty.

So far, though, the injuries have been minor. A couple of dislocated ribs and a sprained muffin top on my part from doing that shimmy thing. And a busted gut on the part of my classmate from watching me try.

PS: Yes, I know the second video takes a while to get to the dancing, but that is 'my' Chief Mountain at the opening, from a slightly more northerly angle than our view here at the ranch.