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

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Flat on My Face Tired

The past five days have been spent with the amazing artists and musicians of the Montana Storytelling Roundup, and I have enjoyed myself almost into a coma. I topped it off with a day of sightseeing with Trinity Faegen before packing her onto an airplane for home, so in lieu of sparkling wit, you get photos from our tour of Waterton Park and the Many Glacier area.

Prince of Wales Hotel

Horning in on the road

Still icebound at Many Glacier

I'll be back later in the week to share more photos and videos from Storytelling and our sightseeing tour. For now.....faceplant.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Flat Tired

The other day a friend was bragging that she'd changed her first flat tire. She was rightly proud. It's good to be self sufficient even if, like her, you're a city dweller who has access to AAA and a reliable cell phone signal.

Living where we live changing your own tires is a survival skill. You could sit for hours waiting for the next stray car to pass. Growing up my sisters and I had plenty of opportunities to learn thanks to single axle horse trailers with under-sized rims and four ply tires…and a brother who was selfish enough to be the baby of the family.

We started off as observers, invariably on the side of a highway, one of us holding a pair of horses and the other keeping track of the lug nuts while Dad tried to make like a race track pit crew so we wouldn't be late for the rodeo. In addition to developing our mechanical skills this was an excellent opportunity to expand our vocabularies, although none of my new words ever showed up on a spelling test at school, more's the pity, since they were mostly four letters and easy to sound out.

I've had two flat tires since I moved back to Montana, both on my way to work. It's one of those Murphy's Law addendums that tires only go flat when you have a specific place to be at a specific time. Double the odds if you happen to be wearing white pants on a rainy day, but if that's the case you were asking for it anyway.

The white pants were toast by the time I wrestled the dirt-caked spare from under the back bumper of the Jeep. Then I set up the little crank jack and attempted to lift the car. The jack sank into the soggy gravel road. I employed a few of my dad's favorite tire-changing words, cranked the jack down, repositioned it and cranked again. The jack sank again.

Of course I had nothing in my car to put under it to create a wider base of support, and who knew there was a place in Glacier County that doesn't have a decent-sized rock? I was sitting on the spare tire in my ruined pants practicing creative phrases of my own when a nice man pulled over to help.

I appreciate the assistance. Honest I do. Except for the part where the man in question always assumes the real problem is that I'm a girl and therefore lacking in brute strength and an inherent understanding of basic mechanical principles.

"I need a board to put under the jack so it won't sink," I said. 

"Got it covered." He whipped out a slightly larger version of the same jack, shoved it under the car and cranked it up. It sank. "Need to put it on a board," he declared.

Wow. Why didn't I think of that?

The next tire was at least considerate enough to go flat on pavement and on a day I was wearing jeans. I dragged out the spare and the tools and employed my patented lug nut removal technique, which begins by positioning the wrench in such a manner that the handle is parallel to the ground. Then I jump on it. The nut didn't budge.

I tried again. Nothing. I tried the next lug nut. Then the next. It was like they were welded on. I dragged the spare tire closer and used it for a launch pad so I could jump higher. Crack! The wrench and I hit the ground. I gathered us both up and inspected the damage. The lug nut had held firm but its cute aluminum cover had split open and was now wedged inside the wrench.
I was sitting on the spare contemplating how to pry out the mangled scrap of aluminum in the absence of a pair of needle-nosed pliers when the next helpful man came along.

"The lug nuts are stuck," I said. "I broke one of the covers trying to get them off."

"No problem." He whipped out a wrench exactly like mine and gave one of the nuts a twist.

Nothing. He cranked harder. Still nothing. He reared back and put all of his weight into it. Crack! He stared at the aluminum shell wedged inside the end of his wrench. "Lug nuts are on a little tight," he declared.  

Well, golly. You'd think even a girl could've figured that out.


This week over on the Songs and Stories page, a couple of tunes from my private stash. Come and meet Doc Walker and Dylan Leblanc.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

On the Rodeo Trail

Yep, it's April, which means calving, mud, and the High River, Alberta rodeo. Every year I swear I'm not gonna enter a rodeo before Memorial Day, and every year April rolls around, the days get longer and I start getting antsy and the next thing I know we're towing the pickup and trailer out of yard with a tractor. True story. Happened last year. Then we jack-knifed the trailer on a hill on the main gravel road in the foot of fresh snow that fell while we were gone and had to be dragged back in again. Good times.

So of course we entered again this year. And I'm happy to say no towing required, only a couple of encounters requiring jumper cables but that's a long story involving our non-rodeo-loving child, a mis-wired inverter in the camper and Super Mario so you'd probably rather we not go there.

The rodeo started at noon on Friday. High River is two and half hours north of the Canadian border and our local port of entry doesn't open until nine o'clock in the winter, so at ten minutes before nine, this was us, waiting for the gate to open:

Being the first big outing of the year, High River draws a big crowd. And of course it's indoors, which means things get kind of cozy behind the chutes.

And yes, High River is part of the Canadian Senior Pro tour, which means all of the contestants are forty years or older. In some cases much older since in some events there's a sixty eight plus division. Yep, it's the Viagra Vaqueros. The Fearsome Fossils. The only rodeos where a sizeable percentage of the contestants can legally park here:

Hey, word is on the curmedgeon circuit the newer models of those titanium hips work just great for roping. 

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Getting Malled

A couple of weeks ago one of my co-workers went to Atlanta for a conference. On the day of her arrival we got a phone call at the office. "I need help. I'm lost in the mall." Resourceful soul that she is, she had our other office mate pull up the mall map on the internet and guide her out store by store.

When it comes to getting lost, malls are their own special brand of Hades. Like casinos, they are designed to trap you like a rat in a retail maze, running you around in circles until you've lost all sense of direction and monetary discretion. On a recent trip to Spokane we ventured into a tri-level monstrosity with an open floor plan specially constructed so a person on the ground level can hear every whimper and screech of a tantrum thrown by a toddler up in the third level food court, compounded by approximately ten thousand patrons.

Within five minutes of entering our party had scattered, confident of our ability to stay connected via cell phone. Except--oops!--there's no signal in large sections of the place, assuming you could actually hear the ring if a call did go through. The guys had to make three trips to the ice cream stand before we got everyone gathered up again.    

The daddy of 'em all, of course, is the Mall of America in Minneapolis. I went there soon after it opened, purely by chance. My husband was roping in the rodeo held right next door in the hockey coliseum and we arrived a couple of hours early. Hello. Mall time.

There really should be warning signs at the door because if you're like me you walk in, look around and say, "Note to self…your exit is right next to Payless Shoes." And off you go, diving headfirst into the depths of sensory and budget overload. An hour later I had logged approximately ten miles, half of it up and down escalators. My eyes were spinning in my head from trying to look at too much too fast, but voila! There I was. Back at Payless Shoes. I hustled out the exit, worried I was cutting it a little close to rodeo start time, and emerged into a parking lot with no coliseum in sight.

But it was right there. And it was a coliseum, for crying out loud. How could I have misplaced it?

Easy. The Mall of America is so stinking big they have multiple versions of popular franchises. So just because you started at Payless Shoes and ended at Payless Shoes doesn't mean you're even in the same zip code as where you began.

I did manage to return to my original point of entry and to the coliseum before the calf roping started, albeit winded and sweaty. Afterward we made a beeline back to South Dakota and home, a straight shot on Highway 12. Or so we thought until we hit Ortonville.

Ortonville isn't a particularly well lit town, especially at midnight on a Sunday. We rolled down a hill and turned just after the sign that said "Milbank, South Dakota" with an arrow pointing left. The road curved sharply, narrowed, and wandered into the pitch dark to the side of the lake.

"This isn't right," my husband the native South Dakotan said. "I've never driven along the lake before."

We got pickup and horse trailer turned around and went back into town, somehow arriving via a slightly different route down Main Street. At the eastern city limits we U-turned and retraced our route, this time being much more careful. Turned left at the Milbank sign. Ended up at the lake again.

After our third loop we pulled into the parking lot of a closed convenience store and discussed our theory that this was how people ended up living in Minnesota, something I'd always wondered. Now we knew. They stayed because they couldn't get out.

Then a cop car pulled up next to us and rolled down his window. "Problem?"

Great. Now we were going to get arrested for trespassing or loitering or something and then we'd have to stay for weeks to work off our fine and next thing you know we'd be watching hockey and talking like the people in that Fargo movie.

"I've seen you drive past three times," the cop said. "Are you looking for something?"

"The road to South Dakota?"

The cop gave us one of those You're kidding, right? looks and pointed. "It's right there. By the sign."

Of course. How could we have missed it? Um, possibly because the stupid road went left twenty yards before the stupid sign? Ah, well. It seemed to make perfect sense to the Minnesotans. Then again, these are the same people who put four versions of the same store in one mall.

Lucky we got out when we did.  


Friday, April 06, 2012

A Mother Knows

As you might recall, last week I shared a photo of the heifer calf we have designated as Logan's future cow. Among the comments on that post was this one from my esteemed literary agent:

Janet Reid said...
What's Logan naming his calf? My nieces had pigs for 4H and it always cracked me up cause they named them for my sister and her husband. (I think it cracked up the kids too!)

And I replied: 
Name pending. Logan does these things in his own time and his own way and naming a cow is not on his agenda yet. When he does it will probably be something like George, since he's named our two female dogs Max and Sam.
Well, it turns out Mom here isn't as smart as she thought, because I was totally off base. He named the cow Frank. 

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Just a Tiny Bit of Difference


Six years ago we came home to the ranch from Oregon for Christmas. There was almost no snow. The temperatures were in the forties. I went hiking across the pastures and down the coulees and thought, "Wow, this global warming thing is kind of awesome." So we decided to move back to Montana.

Fast forward to March of 2008. For the first time in years, it snowed all the way through calving. We had drifts clear into April. Same thing in 2009, only worse. I didn't start this blog until March of that year, but here's a photo from that month:

Then came 2010. It got ugly. We had two major blizzards in April that scattered cattle all over the countryside and some of our neighbors had big death losses with their new calves. We were very lucky, only two of our smallest and already feeble ones came up missing and were never found. Everything else survived, even though it snowed and blew for three days straight and when we tunneled out of our house the yard looked like this. And yes, that is our chore pickup just barely peeking out of the drift in front of the barn.

Then came last year. It started snowing at Thanksgiving--cancelling my planned trip to South Dakota, thank you very much--and never stopped. By the time it was done we'd broken all kinds of records and the snowpack in Glacier National Park was so deep they didn't get the Going to the Sun highway opened up until mid July, one of the latest dates ever. Here at home, the yard looked like this in March:

By the end of calving season last year I was ready to pack it up and move south. This was not what we'd been promised during those balmy Christmas visits that lured us home. Well, I'm happy to say good old Mother Nature must have decided we were due for a break, because this winter has been wonderful. We've had snow but nothing like the last four years, and intermingled with warm sunny days that melted most of it away between storms. The yard this year on April 1st?

Ahh. Better. There's even a little green grass starting to show. Plus it's been great for calving, which is good because things have been a bit unpredictable this year. Calves started popping out a couple of weeks ahead of schedule. We're quite sure we have a clandestine visit from my Aunt Lorraine's Charolais bulls to blame. Given that we have nearly all black Angus cows and only black Angus bulls, the evidence is pretty hard to hide:

Gotta admit, though. They are danged cute. 

When we were kids we each had a cow of our own. When the calf sold in the fall the money went into our savings account. We got to take our little red passbook into the bank and have the lady write the deposit in it and then the new total. I thought I was so grown up and important. I thought it was even cooler when it came time to go to college and all of those calf checks were waiting to help me buy books. 

My parents gave us cows with distinctive markings so we could easily pick them out of the herd. Mine was part Holstein and had a couple of white spots. I named her Spotty Blue. When she got old we kept one of her calves, then the next, so all of my cows were her descendants and being part milk cow, they always had big fat calves. I wouldn't be surprised if some of our current cows don't have a little of old Spotty Blue in them. 

Out of our crop of surprise Charolais, this is the most special of all. She's out of my husband's favorite of our  herd, and she will be Logan's cow. When we sell her first calf we'll take Logan to the bank, open his savings account and deposit that first check and write it in a passbook that he'll keep in the fireproof safe under our bed, just like my parents did. 

And so it goes on. 


New this week over at Songs and Stories, it's all about the romance. And eye candy. Come and see. And listen, of course. Day-oh.