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

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Big Apple and Bog Dogs

I intended to use today's post to regale you with all my adventures in New York City, but I regret to say I have nothing of particular interest to report. At least nothing entertaining. I had a spectacularly good time but everything went off without a hitch, which leaves me with not much to write about since there's nothing more boring than being forced to listen to someone ramble on and on about their awesome vacation.

Face it. It's the disasters that make for good reading. Unfortunately for you, my various hosts during the trip herded me from one venue to the next with the single-minded intensity of a pack of border collies. I didn't have a chance to put a toe out of line, and the only time I got robbed was by the guy selling umbrellas in Grand Central Station. Caveat Emptor, or something like that. Anybody who knows they're going to be walking a mile across Manhattan and is still too dumb to check the weather forecast deserves to pay four times the going rate.

Speaking of border collies and herding, have I mentioned lately how nice it is to have a working cow dog on hand again? We've been without for three years, since our old dog retired from active duty. She'd been gradually slowing down over time so we'd gradually gotten used to not having a working dog.

Enter Max. She's a year and a half old now and though still a little rambunctious, it's amazing how much easier and faster we get cattle moved from place to place. Emphasis on the fast, if you let Max have her way. Of all the ways she helps, the absolute best is when it comes to bogs.

We have a lot of coulees on our ranch, and nearly every one has springs along it's length, which means every coulee has a bog in the bottom, like this:

Mixed with water, our soil turns to thick, sticky gumbo mud. When horseback, one has to choose their crossings carefully because spots like the section above are belly deep, hazardous to both horse and rider. Cows, however, have no problem wading out into the middle of them, or cutting across to escape and leaving me fuming on the other side.

Enter my bog dog:

A little mud doesn't slow Max down and now that she's on the job, there's no more riding half a mile up and around the head of a coulee to get to a cow that got across the bog on you. Which is a good thing because given the weather the last few days, there's going to be plenty of muck when we gather the big herd for branding.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Excuse the Interruption....

...I've been out of town, visiting a friend.

Back to my regular blogging schedule once I've recovered from the trip!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day to Me....

And to Sweetgrass, who gave birth to her first foal Saturday morning. It's a boy. It's gray for now, but we're hoping he'll turn out to be a blue roan like his daddy. So rather than breakfast in bed or baskets of flowers, I spent my Sunday enjoying spectacularly gorgeous weather and watching our new little man test out those stilts.

Good times. And his Mama is rightly proud.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

May Day!

As usual, Old Man Winter couldn't let us meander happily into spring without taking at least one more cheap shot. While the rest of you were prancing around in sombreros and sipping margaritas to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, I was wearing the bear and being pelted by the slushballs that pass for snowflakes in spring storms. They're so big and so wet my heavy canvas Carhartt coat was almost soaked through by the time we got back to house and I could wring water out of my snowpants and the hood of my sweatshirt.

We had one newborn calf that got chilled and didn't look like he'd had a good meal, so Greg and I headed out on the four wheeler towing our trusty calf rescue tub, otherwise known as a black plastic water tank. Of all the contraptions we've tried this simple little tank works the best.

The trick is to put the calf in something the cow isn't afraid of, where she can see and smell him. Then she'll follow wherever you take him (theoretically, anyway, barring the occasional fence post stupid cow that hasn't figured out she has a calf or would rather someone just take him off her hands). This is key because a cow that has just calved is near impossible to chase. You have to convince her to come along on her own.

So we dragged the calf down to the corral, put Mama in the squeeze chute, and tried to persuade Junior to have a bite to eat by prying his chattering teeth apart and stuffing a teat inside. He was a lot less cooperative than his mother, possibly because he was so cold and wet his jaws were locked from shivering, or possibly because he already had a bellyful. Either way he was chilled to the bone, so we loaded him in the pickup and hauled him home to warm up.

Then we went back to the house to dry off and warm ourselves and the power promptly went out. Ah, spring. I wish I could say this one was an exception but no, it's pretty much always like this.

Postscript: in case you noticed an excess of heavy breathing on the part of the camera person, you should know that in order to video this I had to jog along BEHIND the cow and four wheeler in Muck boots and full winter gear while being blinded by icy snow bullets. You see what I do for you? 


Wednesday, May 02, 2012

A Rare Privilege

For the past three years of my life the last week of April has been dedicated to an event called the Montana Storytelling Roundup. Although many people are only aware of the weekend event, the true purpose of this organization is to bring artists and entertainers of all kinds into Glacier County schools, a pressing need in these days of budget cuts that have trimmed arts programs to the bare bones.

Within our county there are eighteen schools from elementary through high school. Six of these schools are located on Hutterite colonies.

For most who are unfamiliar with Hutterites it is easiest to begin by imagining the Amish, except with really big tractors. Unlike the Amish, Hutterites are all about mechanization and the latest in agricultural technology. Hutterites live in colonies, all property is community property. They are farmers, dairymen, raise pigs and chickens and huge gardens with which they feed themselves and often sell the excess in their local communities. They also make and sell amazing baked goods.

Hutterites are Anabaptists. The strictness of their beliefs varies by colony and by geographical area. Television and radio are not condoned. The colonies we visit do not, for the most part, formally teach music in their schools, but they do encourage singing. Some colonies do not allow musical instruments, others permit private use of guitars, for example. But across the board, the Hutterites love music.

While visiting one of the colonies this past week with Storytelling performers we had the rare privilege of being treated to a few songs by our hosts. When you click on the video below, please keep three things in mind. It was recorded with a cheap video camera in a lunch hall, so the sound you'll experience isn't even a fraction as powerful as actually being there. Due to privacy, the video has purposely been altered so that the individual singers can't be identified.

And most of all...remember these singers have no music teacher. No sheet music. No piano to demonstrate proper keys. No one taught them these harmonies. They've developed organically, from the individual ranges and pitches of the singers, passed from one generation to the next the way we pass our legends and stories.

So just close your eyes and enjoy: