Monday, April 7, 2014


Yup, we recently celebrated the big 35. When you get married on St. Patrick's day, it's easy to remember your anniversary and it seems like everyone is celebrating with you! We had a wonderful few days, working - of course, but also eating yummy meals, relaxing, sipping champagne and playing music on the deck.
Hors d’oeuvre for two 

Before dinner, we hiked up Spring Gulch to the Rye Bench hoping to spot six heifers AWOL on the neighbor's. We didn't find any sign of them, but I enjoyed the bright green lomatium in full bloom and the delicate pink phlox springing up in the midst of plump patches of prickly pear. 
Packing salt on our anniversary

Mike gets wayward heifers through rims 
Next day we rode and packed salt, checking on the yearlings we turned out last month after weaning. In the afternoon, we drove up Horse Creek looking for the heifers. This time we hit the jackpot and found them a short distance up from the mouth of the creek.

I thought it looked too steep and rimmy, but Mike said if he could get across the creek, he thought he could trail them up the ridge and home. His creek crossing skills are impressive and I watched him balance on a fallen tree and make his way to the other side, slow and catty.

Gabe adjusts while Wes holds the reins

After our anniversary, Gabe and Cammie helped us gather and trail the cow herd down from Pumpkin Creek. We had great weather and everything went pretty smoothly. Cammie and I rode up to the cabin and the guys rode back and trailed, while Cammie and I brought the truck down with the boys.

Gabe, Cammie and boys head for the fishing hole

We even made it home in time to do some fishing and goofing off before devouring a delicious ham dinner cooked in the dutch oven. The long days are sure nice after the early dark of winter.
Concentration might catch a fish

Mike has started another fence project. Fencing, fencing, fencing, it never ends. But I'll be glad to have this new fence. It will enclose the area between the house and barn, including the bunkhouse, shop and other outbuildings, and tie in with the corrals.
Gabe and Mike fence planning at dusk

Is it deep enough for the post? 

In real cold winters, when the high creeks and springs freeze, the cattle come down off the benches to water at the river. And after drinking, they often loaf around between the house and barn, leaving their calling cards.

The new fence will create a little holding pasture that we can use for a few animals at a time, while keeping the herd a bit further from the house. We'll still see them when they come by, just not have them right outside the kitchen window!

Time with Grandpa 

I'm thankful to have a partner who likes the same things I do, family, meaningful work, wild places.

Every day challenges us to learn, to benefit from science, art, and husbandry in our labors. And perhaps most of all, to listen, to observe, to be mindful of what we use to live and what our actions result in.

I'm also thankful to have a partner who accepts me just the way I am. Swing and all.
A little sketching, a little swinging, a good way to celebrate.

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Remembering, the Yukon and wolves.

Bird and Gabe trailing to P Creek
Winter is hanging on. Snow and thaw, snow and thaw, right through February and into March. Mike and Gabe took advantage of a few colder and dryer days to finally gather and trail cattle up to Pumpkin Creek.  Most of the herd will stay at Pumpkin Creek for about a month, but Mike is keeping the yearlings closer to the river for now.

Crossing onto Rye Bench - Mid February

It seems the storms are just rolling in one after another. One night when our water line froze (again), I found myself alone in the dark, up the draw. It had snowed all afternoon and evening and snow was still falling steadily. In the still night air, I could hear the flakes whispering past and rustling where they brushed against my hat and coat. Heavy clouds blotted out the full moon and filled the canyon with thick grey light.  As I waited for Mike to bring the tools, I thought of the wolves now ranging the canyon, what it might be like to look up and see one threading the slope across from me. It made me think of the Yukon and the wolves that lingered nearby in the night, their fluid shapes in the trees, their eyes watching us watching them from inside our cabin.

Another snow storm.  
Yay, we can finally see the ridge top! 
Love the new Valentine's Day Stove! 
Valentine's Day brought the long-awaited arrival of our new wood stove. The four 'Valentinos', Zeke, Tommy, Gabe and Mike worked their magic on the stove delivery, (450 pounds of cast iron). Dawson and Weston provided the entertainment. Dawson by reporting on diagrams from the very large,  Encyclopedia of the World of Animals,  "Guys! Guys! See first it was like this, and then like this, and then like this! Guys! Guys, look..."  And Weston, by finding paper and sticks, trying to lay a fire in the new stove before we even had it off the pallet.

When warm days melt the snow between storms, we welcome the signs of spring, green annuals, swelling tree buds, birds returning. Mike and I drove up Horse Creek to check on the cows and I admired the remains of the Honeymoon Cabin, where Sam and Laura Loftus once lived. 

Honeymoon cabin up Horse Creek

Laura said she cried every day for a week after arriving on horseback as a newlywed. A Texas belle, she shared meals with the cowboys whose cabin stood a few feet from hers, linked by a dog trot. Not a lot of privacy. Today, the wide hewn logs of one cabin are still mostly standing, while the other collapses gently into the soil. In another decade, I wonder who will look for the Honeymoon cabin, or remember the people who once lived there.

Two cabins, dog trot in the middle

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How it Goes

Freeze and thaw. Freeze and thaw. A faint plumping in the catkins. A few green sprouts of annuals, and the bluebunch wheatgrass stirring every time the temperature hits thirty-nine degrees.

 Gabe, Wes, Dawson, James and Luke go fishing

The weather in the canyon finally improved to where the ground is drying out some and the animals are better able to travel. The wet and frigid conditions in December also took a toll on the main road, undermining it near Fall Creek, with a dangerous and spooky undercut that sprawled beneath the downhill edge.

Thankfully, the County road crew is working on it this week and has closed the road for repairs. Mike was likely the last one down as he got a late start last night, leaving the valley after truck maintenance that took too long.
Herders, looking at birds, after crossing cattle upriver, Mike, Wes, Dawson

Weston in Mike's back pack

Earlier this month, we had the boys for three days while their parents whooped it up in Seattle at the Seahawks play-offs. Wes enjoyed worming his way into our bed both nights, reminding us of just how squirmy a sleeping one-year old can be.

Fisherman Jon R helps between holes
We finally got the new alley, holding box and gates in so we could use the corrals for weaning. Mike and Gabe gathered and sorted, with a couple really long days. For the next month, Mike will be at the river, tending the calves until we turn them back in with the herd.
New alley and holding box, calves gathered and sorted

Guests arrived the last weekend of January, winners of the ranch stay auction item at the Zenger Farm fundraising dinner in Portland. Prairie works at Zenger Farm and encouraged us to help in raising funds to build their Urban Grange. Zenger Farm provides a ton of food education opportunities in the Lents area. Prairie enjoys working with families in the neighborhood, and coordinating outreach to involve schools, families and volunteers in the Farm.

Justin teases a few fish out of a hole

It turned out we had a lot in common with our guests, with many lively exchanges and conversations during their stay. Justin is a fisherman, and Alivia an avid outdoors person, so they were right at home in the canyon. We all stayed up too late, Justin and Alivia slept in, and we enjoyed sharing stories of children,  travels, and our questions about the world.

Alivia and Sara hike the bar
The calves are healthy and it's good to be part-way through weaning, another sign that spring is inching toward us. We know we've got a lot of freezing weather ahead, that the norths won't really thaw until March, but the birds, the little patches of green, and even the first caterpillar, remind us of warmer days to come.

Dawson finds the first caterpillar of the year

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Changes and Passages

I've tried to savor every day, every moment, of the holidays this year. Each visit, each walk of reflection, each romp with the grandboys, each evening of candles, the lit tree, the joyful music.

Snow Lady below Maggie Beecher

In the canyon we've had temperatures from single digit frozen days to fifty degrees above zero. The wet weather has made the norths even more treacherous, with thawed ground on top of frozen ground, and ice lingering in the draws. We marvel that the animals can get around at all. Thank goodness it finally did warm up because our water line froze between the spring and the house and turned our cistern into a 550 gallon ice cube. 
My 'birthday present' to Mike

Our two goals the last few weeks were to thaw and repair waterline and rebuild the corrals. Everybody who came to the river put in a lick on one of these projects. Cheryl. Jon and Prairie. Zeke and Gabe. Bashar.  
Prairie cleans up weeds 

Jon hangs a gate
We're getting ready to wean and the corrals need to be done before we can bring the calves in. The improvements to the corrals will make working cattle a lot nicer. 
Some of our new posts

Bashar gears up to go to work 

Bashar, the Palestinian exchange student living in Joseph, came down for few days and it rained and blew. He got muddy and wet, but he marveled at the cowboy gear that kept him relatively comfortable. I am thankful Bashar traveled all the way from Gaza to spend a year learning about another way of life in another country. We are learning from him too.

Hiking back from closing gates upriver, I was thinking of Jack McClaran who passed away this week. When I first met Jack, Mike and I were living at Tulley Creek working for Warren Glaus. Gabe and Prairie were just babies. Later when we worked for Jack, putting up hay along Lightning Creek in summer and wintering at Cow Creek, I got to hear his stories. Stories of growing up, of growing the McClaran ranch, stories that became part of my education on how to work and live in the canyons.

Bashar and Newt - heading back to the house

Now Mike and I are watching our parents' generation pass on as we step into some of their roles.  We have another generation coming on. Marriages, new babies. And we see ourselves trying to find out what our children want to make of the places we've cultivated, the animals we've raised, the opportunities they see. 
Weston tries out snow boots

During the many years we neighbored McClarans, wintering at Dug Bar and summering at the Steen Place, I'd bump into Jack in town and he was always ready with a smile and a hug. He always took time to ask about the children, our jobs, what we were learning, and later, on about the ranch, our cattle and our operation. 

As man who meant a lot to a lot of people, Jack will be sorely missed. 

I will miss him as a man who understood a life in the canyon, a life of neighborliness, of creeks and draws and benches, of high rims and slick norths, of horses sharp-shod and cattle balanced on an icy trail, of a hot cup of coffee on a wet day, of a stop-and-chat along a muddy road and a reminder that life is right here, right now.  

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Back at the River

It feels good to be settled in at the winter range.  Prairie and Jon came home for a few days at the beginning of November. Prairie helped me paint the last bedroom and put the furniture back. Jon and Mike hiked upriver to work on the water gap at the new fence. Now that the river has gone down, they needed to move the water gap out farther.

Jon at the water gap

We had some great meals and visiting while they were here. It was kind of like an early Thanksgiving.

Mike, Sara, Zeke, Jacinda, Jon, Prairie, Dawson, Gabe, Cammie, Wes, Tyko


Gabe and Jordan helped Mike work on the Pumpkin Creek fences, but Mike decided not to take cattle to up there until after weaning. We'll stay put on the river for a while.
Cold but sunny

I caught a ride to Seattle at the beginning of December. Gabe and Cammie had Seahawks tickets so we all drove up for the game. While they were at the stadium contributing to the 'twelfth man,' the boys and I spent the evening visiting Mike's dad.   

Weston getting into everything at Grandad and Nana B's 

Walk with Mom in Seattle.

Gabe and Cammie soon headed back to Wallowa County, while I spent the week with my mom. She's 87 now and enjoying much improved vision after her eye surgery. She remarked on seeing birds, the details of paintings, photographs, and her ability to read signs.  

It was hard to be away from home so long, but I treasured my time with mom.  I arrived back in Joseph for the end of the prolonged cold spell that hit hard in NE Oregon. Ice covered the Imnaha River and highs in the canyon were in the single digits. The cattle have weathered fine so far. I'm thankful for our winter range at the lower elevation. Up near the mountains, night time temperatures hit twenty below zero. 

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Spiffing Things Up at the Winter Range

We've been painting the bedroom floors at the river. Two blue floors and one 'peanut shell' tan.  One more bedroom to go and we'll be done. The ceiling in the living room is next, but I won't let Mike paint it until we replace the old wood stove that smokes every time you open the door, which thankfully, isn't too often.

The blue is called Lake Havasu. I picked it out because it makes me think of Aunt Darlene who passed away this summer. She loved the southwest.
Before - old vinyl tile is gone 

After - Lake Havasu Blue
I started the floor painting when we hauled our first cattle from the Southwick place to the river. It was a beautiful day. I was a little sad to leave the Southwick place with its incredible views in every direction. But I was ever so glad to be headed down river.

View of Finley Buttes from Southwick's

  Gabe and Cammie and the boys pulled one load and Mike and I pulled the other.  We unloaded the cows at the Hall place and enjoyed the sun for a while before Gabe and Cammie had to go home.
Cammie and Wes above the Hall place.

Walkie-talkie wackiness

 Dawson was making hillarious noises on the radio to his dad.  "Hey!" I said, "Somebody else might be on there!"

Two-way radio practice

After Gabe and Cammie left, Mike and I dropped our trailer at the Hall place and drove on down to the house so we could paint. I was so happy to have my first night of sleep at the winter range. I miss it. 

Heading down river

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Tribulations and Neighborliness

We came off the Zumwalt early this year. Back in June when we turned out, Mike noted that the summer pasture had not recovered from the fall drought and had produced a lot less feed.
Early start at the 400 Acres, Dawson, Gabe, Sara and Wes

Mike had been looking for fall grass for a while before he finally found the Southwick place. This beautiful old homestead is located on the toe slopes of the Wallowa Mountains, too far to trail, which meant we had to haul the cattle in from the summer range, asking for help from friends and neighbors.

Mike and Gabe almost to the corrals

We started our fall gather early in the morning after unloading the horses at McClaran's corrals in the 400 Acres.  At the bottom of the draw, Dawson got off his horse and joined Wes and I at Young's cabin. Wes crawled around the porch while Dawson made friends with some chipmunks.
Dawson and Cammie

Mike located the cows just above us on the ridge and pretty quickly the herd was streaming past the cabin. "There's Betsy!" Dawson yelled, pointing out his big black and white cow. "Hi Betsy!"  


We had the cows to McClaran's corrals in good time, arriving just as the first pick-up and trailer pulled in. Dawson and Wes were happy to see their friends waiting for them.
Cammie, Wes, Callie and Addie
It was great to see the Royes family and Dennis too, and we were thankful for the neighborliness. Buck and Chelsea had planned to help out, but something came up in Troy and they didn't make it to town. One less trailer, meant an extra trip to haul horses in at the end of the day. No big deal.

Gabe and Dennis 

We loaded Dennis' trailer up with cattle and he pulled onto the road. As we began loading the next trailer we noticed Dennis rolling backwards past the corral, his truck making a strange grinding noise. The transmission had locked up. He wasn't going anywhere.

Dawson and James with their "keys and locks"
Luckily, Jill and Tom happened by and offered to help out. Tom turned around and backed up to tow Dennis' broke down truck out of the way. That's when we noticed Tom's truck had a flat.
Dennis, Tom fixing the flat while Jill, Callie and Luke commiserate.

Soon we had Dennis' truck out of the road and Tom hooked up to the trailer. That's when we saw that Dennis' trailer had a cracked hitch. Carefully, carefully, Tom backed the loaded trailer over to the corral and we let the cattle out. Jill and Tom took Dennis and the empty trailer back to Wallowa.

Now we had two trailers less than we planned. Gabe made an extra trip out and back. Mike and I had two extra trips out and back, and we had another flat tire, this one on our trailer. We made our last trip in just as the sun was setting over the Wallowas. We finally rolled into the barnyard about nine and unloaded the horses in the dark. It had turned out to be a very long day.  

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef