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

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lucky Seven

The latest thing amongst my writer friends on the Internet is a little game called Lucky Seven. Once tagged you're required to go to Line 7 of Page 77 of your manuscript and share the next seven lines. So, here's mine:

“How’s Frank?” Joe asked.
His mother heaved a gloomy sigh. “Oh, you know. Busy. Working. As always.”
“That is what makes it possible for him to support you in the style you deserve.” A horn beeped and Joe started. The car beside him couldn’t back out of its slot without flattening him where he stood. He raised a hand in apology and moved on toward the mall entrance. “Tell me you’re not thinking of leaving him again.”
“Of course not!” But she sounded more defensive than certain. 

Hmm. An odd little snippet, but I guess it does tell you something about my hero. And his mother. And if all else fails, blame it on your mother, right? If my kid doesn't I haven't been trying hard enough.

Now for the next part. I have to 'tag' seven other people. So here are the lucky seven, chosen mostly at random from among those I encounter on Twitter:

Teresa L Watts

Terri L Coop

Emily Page 

Kairee Taylor

Deryn Collier - Go check out her new book!

Melissa C Alexander

And just so I don't seem sexist.... Charley Pearson

Okay people. You have your mission. Let's see those lines.



Sunday, March 25, 2012

Points of Persuasion


There comes a point in every relationship when one partner wants something more. I don't mean attention or romance, or even that silly tingly feeling when you're first dating. I’m talking concrete stuff. A thing I want to do or acquire that holds no value whatsoever to my mate. Worse, it will cost him either time, money, or a stint of eating his own cooking. 

This week the something I wanted hit on all three cylinders.

Obviously this called for extreme measures. As a softening up method I’ve had considerable success with blueberry pie, but alas…no blueberries on hand. Ditto for the coconut required to whip up a German chocolate cake and gooey cooked frosting. Meatloaf topped with my own special sauce comes a close third but darned if I hadn’t already wasted that one on Tuesday night dinner.

So, food was out. The man hasn’t gone and done anything thoughtless, expensive or frivolous in months, which meant guilt was off the table. Only one option left.

“You need any help with chores?” I asked.

“Actually, yes. I’m headed up to clean out the calving stall. I could use a hand.”

Oh, ugh.

I'm not exactly the delicate type. We raised pigs when I was a kid; I can handle stench. But the calving stall? It has other stuff. Namely...afterbirth. So you’re not just scooping poop here. There are unexpected slimy bits and you have to fend off the dog, who considers them a delicacy, and I will not have afterbirth breath in my face at six o'clock in the morning. And yes, I am aware that she trotted outside and found another pile of identical grossness to chew on but I abide by my seven year old’s number one rule of life:

If Mommy didn’t see it, it didn’t happen. 

(He has yet to comprehend why this rule fails him utterly when my digital camera is involved, but that’s another story.)

I waited until we were almost done with the stall before I said, oh-so-casually, “There are really cheap fares to New York in May and that’s right when I’ll be finishing up my book so it would be awesome to sit down face to face with my agent to go over the final edits, but I need to buy my ticket right away before the price goes up…”

What was he gonna do, turn me down flat when I was standing knee deep in cow manure and slime, sweating on a twenty degree day? Besides, through pure luck I had happened upon one of those irrefutable truths of the universe.

It’s hard to say no to a woman holding a pitchfork.


For those of you who have nothing better to do at 9:05 am MDT on Thursday, March 29th, I will be doing a guest spot on KSEN radio with Mark Daniels. I believe it will be streaming live on ksenam.com if you're out of our area and would like to listen in. 

One caveat: I can't get the stream to work via Internet Explorer, I have to use Google Chrome, but if you haven't tried Chrome I highly recommend it anyway as our issues with viruses and such have dropped to almost nothing since we switched.  

Now, off to practice the piece above for the thirty-seventh time in rehearsal while I try to figure out why every time I read aloud I start to sound like I was born in Dallas. 


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How 'Bout a Closer Look?

You know how I busted my rear all over the countryside Sunday to try to get a picture of the bald eagle? Yep, tonight he decided to take up residence in the back yard and stare in the living room window. And I gotta tell you, I'm not sure I like how he's looking at my mother's Shitzu.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

First Feathered, Now Tarred

This post is sort of disjointed because my morning writing session was interrupted by a hike over the hill and across the barley fields and through a couple of fences, a stop to commune with the horse herd and a stroll across the hayfield, all for this:

That's as close as I got, at the far range of my camera's zoom, despite a couple miles of stalking. Cagey old bird, he was. For reference, though, that post he's sitting on is about five feet tall. This is also a big bird, folks. 

Bald eagles and golden eagles aren't all that rare around here, especially in spring when the gophers start emerging from their winter burrows all fat and sleepy and slow. Because of the damage they do to pastures and livestock (lost one of our best heifers to a broken leg this week) we shoot as many as possible, plus Max has been on a roll, nabbing two or three a day. All in all, a virtual smorgasbord for those who consider gophers a delicacy. Speaking of which, my feathered friend wasn't hunting alone this morning, but the furred one was much more cooperative about stopping to pose (coyote, by the way, not wolf):

Then we took off just before one o'clock to head fifteen miles down the road to my cousin's place for a birthday party. They are also our third closest neighbor and the end of their driveway is the school bus stop. There are many things I love about my family, hauling the horses along to sneak in a quick roping practice session after the birthday party being right up there on the list. 

All total we were gone maybe four hours. So of course it started to snow, and of course three cows immediately popped out their calves, bless their simple little minds. All three had to be wrestled into a plastic tub one at a time and dragged in under the shed that I then bedded down a good foot deep. Between a generous coating of amniotic fluid and the finely chopped straw, I emerged looking like I'd been dipped in egg whites and rolled in feathers. And that was just the beginning of the chores. 

We're finally in the house and if not exactly feathered, I am definitely tarred. (Say it with a southern accent. You'll see what I mean.) 

Also check the songs and stories page, where I'm explaining why the best book Louis L'Amour ever wrote isn't a western


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Another Special Appearance


Yes, I'm back mid week again, this time with an even rarer bird. Last Thursday we had the privilege of making a quick foray into Canada to see one of the men who made cowboy poetry and humor the thriving genre that it is today. Baxter Black made an appearance in Pincher Creek, Alberta, two hours from here at the ranch counting the time it takes to clear customs (and we slid through with a mere five minutes to spare before they locked the gates for the night on the way home).

I am not good with walking up and talking to anyone--including members of my own family let alone someone to whom I give credit for helping me develop my own comedic style. I was hoping at best to maybe shake his hand and get a book signed after the show.

We walked in at a little after seven only to find that we were apparently the only two out of approximately three hundred people who didn't arrive at six for dinner. Everybody else was already seated and there was a local talent revue happening on stage. Yeah. Awkward.

So we were standing there wondering what to do and where to sit and a man walked up, stuck out his hand and said, "Hi, I'm Baxter. Glad you could come. You look a little lost. Just sit up there in the chairs to the left of the stage and when we get started I'll have you slide to the middle so you can be front row center. Where are you from? Are you sure you don't want dinner, looks like they've got enough left over to feed half the town."

So much for having to work up the nerve to introduce ourselves. And look. I have proof.

Isn't he cute? And Baxter's not bad, either. 

For more on Baxter Black go to BaxterBlack.com. And for a sample of what I learned from him, I've got a post over on the group blog: Killin' Me with Wellness


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ruffling our Feathers


After three straight years of snow up to our rears and at times over our heads, we have had one of the warmest winters on record this year. We are definitely not complaining about the lack of subzero temperatures, and only slightly concerned that this could be the harbinger of a drought to come (hey, we're ranchers, we have to worry about something or what we do with all that spare time?) The one down side to all these balmy days has been the wind.

If you live on the east slope of the Rockies, you know wind. The Continental Divide is a very large upheaval in the earth and weather systems from the Pacific are pushed up the west side like skiers on a lift. Then they hit the top, crest over and WHHEEEEEEE!!!! Down they come and we're sittin' at the bottom of the run.

For reasons I'm to lazy to look up or explain, this is magnified when it gets abnormally toasty in the fall, winter or spring, which is why are our local slogan is "Be a pretty nice day if it weren't for the wind". So, yes, we're used to the breeze. No one even comments on it much until it tops fifty miles an hour. When the gusts start blasting over a hundred though, even here where everything is either securely nailed down or already gone, damage happens.

The granary in the foreground has been in the bottom of this little coulee longer than I can remember, but the one in the back has stood on the hill behind it my whole life, until December. As damage goes, though, this is fairly minimal. Our bigger concern in these windstorms is the roofs on the big steel  buildings: the roping arena and calving barns. So far, they've been up to the test.

Unfortunately, there's a second downside to no snow. Thousands and thousands of acres of dry prairie. In January, another wind storm hit and this one knocked down power lines and started this:

Photo taken Wednesday Jan.4,2011 showing smoke and fire rising over Browning Mt. (AP Photo/Angelika Harden-Norman)

Photo courtesy of the Great Falls Tribune

It's estimated nearly 18,000 acres of grassland burned, but only one house, which tells you how widely spaced the houses are around here. Also, though, with the wind whipping the flames along at over fifty miles an hour, a rural firefighter told me it was actually moving too fast in most places to catch on heavier fuel like wooden structures.

So now it's March, traditionally one of our windiest months, we have almost no snow left and the temperatures have been in the fifties. Mostly we're enjoying the warmth, but yes, some days that wind can really ruffle your feathers.

Addendum: This great horned owl likes to spend his days in the huge spruce tree in our back yard. Unfortunately for photographic purposes, he prefers the higher branches. And unfortunately for your viewing purposes there is no video of me clambering up onto my parents' icy metal roof in a windstorm, dragging myself up and over the peak and skidding down the other side to take this video, then turning around and realizing the trip back might not actually be possible. THAT video probably would have gone viral on the Internet. Too bad. You have to settle for the owl. 

I've also updated the Songs and Stories page. Pop over and meet the Bills: Billy Talent and Bill Cameron. 

Saturday, March 03, 2012

The Brat Pack


This video was actually taken last weekend so the oldest of these calves is ten days and the youngest of them were born within twenty four hours of filming, hence a certain lack of maneuvering ability. But hey, why let that slow you down?

You can also see one of the simpler methods of feeding round bales. This particular day the temperature topped out at fifteen degrees so we fed grain hay (no, that's not plain straw) because it has more calories which helps the cows generate more body heat. When these bales are made the windrows of hay are rolled up like a sleeping bag. This handy dandy clamp on the back of the tractor lets you grab it at the center of rotation and roll it right back out again. Bingo. Cow buffet.

Don't go blaming me if you just died from the cuteness. While you're recovering look at the Pages menu on the right. I've added something new, the Songs and Stories list. Check it out. Now. Because I said so and I'm the boss of this blog, except on the days when Blogger sticks out its tongue says I'm not.


Friday, March 02, 2012

Special Appearance


Yes, I'm popping in on a weekday because we have special guests this winter and I was finally able to capture one on camera, which isn't easy considering they are night creatures.

This is a snowy owl, also known as the prototype for Hedwig if you're a Harry Potter fan. Their normal range is farther north but every once in a while we get an influx. I'm told this year they've been seen as far south as Kentucky. This one stands about knee high and I'd guess his wing span is five or six feet at least. He's shy so I had the camera on full zoom which makes it hard to get a really clear photo, and of course when it was in perfect focus he was looking away. But still. Wow.