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

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Very Short Story

Two years ago we finally put a bathtub in our cozy little bunkhouse on the range. I was thrilled. It did, however, require some training on the part of my boy child regarding the sloshing and squishing of water onto the bathroom floor. Apparently the lessons finally took. And I guess I should have considered it a victory the day he called me into the bathroom and said, "Here, Mommy."

And he handed me a fresh turd.

I screeched something like, "Why did you poop in the bathtub when the toilet is right there?"

"I didn't want to get the floor wet."


Around about that same time we went on a day trip to Lake McDonald. For more on that, check out Spontaneous Confusion.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fender Benders

When you live on a ranch certain realities can't be escaped. One of them is the well known fact that barbed wire and horses aren't a great combination. It would be wonderful if we could keep them separated, but no other form of wire is capable of containing cows. Since the horses share the same pastures, they are inevitably exposed.

Honestly, though, I'm not sure it makes that much of a difference. I had a friend in South Dakota who built all pipe and wood fences around her horse pastures. Religiously scouted every inch of every piece of ground for stray wire or other sharp objects. She had the highest vet bills of anyone in town. It's like the harder she worked at keeping them safe, the more determined her horses were to prove it wasn't possible.

Of course colts are the worst, because they're flighty and unpredictable and still learning what things in their environment bite back. After years of raising babies we've developed an attitude much like that of a new car owner. It's not a matter of when you get the first scratch, just how soon and how bad and pray the thing isn't totaled.

Nearly every horse we own has a visible wire cut scar. Ember's is on her left foreleg from when she was three:

Sweetgrass had a few minor encounters in her early years, but the major damage to her left hock was done when she was eight or nine. Usually this kind of injury happens when there are horses on both sides of the fence, a situation we go to great lengths to avoid if the fence in question isn't solid wood or pipe because they tend to bicker and either strike or kick, resulting in a leg over the barbed wire. That wasn't the case where Sweetgrass was pastured. My sister never could fathom why she stuck her back leg through the fence. She did heal, though, despite slicing the whole front of the joint open and exposing tendons.  

The latest casualty is our new colt, Captain, who had an encounter with a fence while we were gone to the lake over the Fourth of July. Because that's the other given with horses. They generally do the stupid stuff when you're not looking. Luckily this was just a flesh wound, not pretty to look at but no damage below the surface. 

One of the worst episodes was when Vegas was a youngster. Something spooked the whole herd and they ran through a fence, tore down fifty yards of wire (my dad guesses it might have been a moose since one had been spotted in the area and horse are scared to death of them). Several suffered major cuts. Vegas laid his neck wide open, two long, parallel gashes. We couldn't imagine him ever healing, and if he did assumed he'd have huge, disfiguring scars. And now? All that's left is a faint crease and a dimple. 

Oh, and that bumper sticker on the rear door of the horse trailer? That's left over from the days when we lived in Oregon and regularly drove through places like Portland and Seattle to get to rodeos. Back when real fender benders were more of a risk than the equine kind. 


Sunday, July 15, 2012


A couple of weeks ago we drove from Whitehall to Townsend by way of Boulder. For those of you not familiar with the area, here's a map.

Which reminds me…a map would be a nice thing to have in my car. As opposed to, say, in the house on the kitchen table. Not that it would have helped, because the thing is, I meant to go through Three Forks. Really. I just sort of forgot as we were pulling out of town. To take the Interstate instead of the Boulder highway, I mean. I didn't forget I needed to go to Townsend to pick up my kid. I haven't forgotten to pick up the kid in months.

Our little detour was par for the weekend. Everything I tried to do was at least twice as hard as it should have been. I spent all of Saturday just trying to take a shower.

We were staying in the camper at a rodeo in Dillon and sometime during the night we ran out of propane. Lucky for us they were having a heat wave in southwest Montana so we didn't wake up with our noses frosted to the zippers in our sleeping bags, but it did mean there was no hot water for a shower.

Oh well. No rush. I didn't have to be presentable until the rodeo on Saturday night. Besides, there were showers over on the other side of the fairgrounds. I'd just use them. We lounged around the camper until after lunch, then my husband loaded the propane tanks in the car and headed downtown to get them filled. I gathered towel, shampoo and clean clothes and trudged over to the facilities.

Much to my astonishment, they were pay showers. I’d never seen such a thing. I trudged back to the camper only to realize that my wallet was in the car, which was still gone with my husband. I only needed fifty cents, though. There must be a quarter or two somewhere in the camper.

There were. A whole handful, in fact. Every single one of them Canadian.

I gave up, crawled into the top bunk and dozed until the car returned. Then I retrieved my wallet, checked to be sure I had a couple of crisp dollar bills for the change machine, and drove over to the showers.

The change machine was broken. I opened my wallet and rifled through my silver. Half a dozen quarters--also all Canadian. I gave up. I obviously was not intended to use those shower facilities. I drove back to the camper, fired up the hot water heater now that the new propane bottles were installed, and took another nap.

Finally, forty five minutes before the rodeo was due to start, the water was hot. I cranked on the taps and lathered up, which was when I realized two things. First, I had forgotten to shake the moths out of the shower curtain and at least two were now bathing with me. And second?

My towel and clean clothes were still in the car. 


Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Human Water Balloon

We gathered up the whole family--sixteen bodies--and went to Holland Lake for a few days of rest and recreation. More of the latter than the former, which my body is now reminding me every time I move. Hiking, canoeing, water skiing, the works.

Montana lakes are not warm in early July, or late August in most cases, so my sister and brother-in-law who recreate regularly own wetsuits, which they brought along for the rest of us to borrow when we water-skiied.     Considering I literally could not breathe the first time I hit the water even with the wetsuit, I shudder to imagine what it would have been like without.

Or maybe that should be shiver to imagine.

I water ski approximately once every twenty years. Oddly enough, my technique doesn't seem to be improving. I did learn one thing, however. When you skip like a rock across the surface of the lake on your butt, water shoots up the legs of your wetsuit and you become a puffy black balloon with stick arms and legs.

Since someone is bound to ask...Holland Lake is east and south of Flathead Lake, just north of Seeley Lake. It does not show up on any map we own. Those are the Mission Mountains you see in the background. Nice place, huh?