Thursday, August 11, 2016

Adventures with Vehicles

Bell, Ruby and Punch tied in
Our truck has been in the shop quite a bit recently, so I borrowed Gabe and Cammie's truck to head for the prairie and check on the cows. The dogs are used to being in their travelling kennel on our flat bed and I had to improvise a cross tie so they wouldn't fall out or jump out of Gabe's truck and get squashed. 

Dawson organizes snacks for Wes

Dawson and Wes were good company. They have had to put up with several vehicle episodes lately.  Their reward for long waits at the mechanic was extra-long swimming at the lake with friends, many many library books, and fun snacks from M Crow and Co.
Cows happy on the summer range

The cows, calves and bulls were doing good with plenty of grass and plenty of water in the ponds. The boys and I got to see the effects of a late spring cloudburst and gully washer. Along the two-track access road, there were a few big holes that were interesting to navigate, but nothing four-low couldn't handle.

Four bucket picker - don't spill! 

Blackberries have come and gone and I'm glad I made it to the river for some excellent picking with Cheryl. We also tried out a few of our favorite swimming holes after getting super hot in the hundred degree weather.

Swimming hole at old bridge abutment

Unfortunately, on the way out of the canyon, my car overheated and my brakes and automatic transmission both stopped working right. (And that was after we had to change a flat tire.) Luckily we made it through the last few hairpin turns on the steep dirt road and I got the car stopped at the pavement by using the emergency brake. After a cool down, it was driveable again, but now is headed for the shop. 

Cows near the lower pond

Since the truck was still out-of-service with an electrical problem, Patricia drove me out to the Zumwalt to see the cows again. We had a storm on our heels and saw some fantastic lighting bolts and rain curtains on the way home.

Storm behind us

I'm so glad I have friends who know what a cheater bar is, know how to kill a rattler, love hyperactive working dogs, aren't afraid of hairy roads, like to keep an eye on cows, are willing to help lug irrigation pipe, check on a colicky horse, fix plumbing problems and drive me back and forth to the mechanic. 

It's a good thing Mike is coming home soon. I'm half a partnership and barely holding up my end. 

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Off to Montana to Throw the Hoolihan

Many hours of this view - Dennis driving
The lyrics to this old time cowboy song come to mind when I think of our recent road trip across Montana and into Saskatchewan . Believe it or not the hoolihan is one throw I actually got okay at. It's a loopy overhand throw, and I've used it on horses. I don't know what kind of roping was going on in the song, but on our road trip we weren't off to do any kind of cowboying. 

North Central Montana
Dennis and Marcy and Mike and I were headed to Saskatoon to the International Rangeland Congress, where Mike and Dennis were presenting. Mike gave an oral presentation in the ecosite descriptions and ecoregion classification session. His paper was titled, Developing Ecological Site Descriptions on Mongolian Rangelands to Enhance Monitoring Condition and Trend. Dennis and colleague Dal presented a poster session on the results of their condition and trend monitoring in Mongolia. 

Marcy - girl power accomplice

It was four days of driving and we had a lot of fun getting lost (briefly but regularly), stalling the truck at the border crossing (half in US half in Canada), Dennis getting across the border with his expired passport (grabbed the wrong one), and having a marble-sized chunk of something smash a bullseye in the windshield at 60 mpg (passenger side). I especially enjoyed getting to spend more time with Marcy, telling stories and seeing new country, across the plains and then home through the Canadian rockies. 

Mike preps for his presentation
There were about four hundred delegates at the congress, which lasted a week and is held every four years. I think 2020 will be held in Africa. 
Fort Carlton, restored Hudson Bay post
Mike did an excellent job with his presentation and had some great questions from the audience. He presented on the morning of the first day, so after that we were both able to relax and enjoy seeing some old friends and meeting new ones. I especially liked the sessions with a social component, such as the work of Maria Fernandez-Gimenez, the Colorado State University professor who recently won Mongolia's highest civilian honor - the Order of the Polar Star. 
Mongolian delegates and a few US colleagues

Mongolian colleague, Dal, now working at the University of Saskatchewan, hosted a barbeque one evening. There were many many toasts in Mongolian and English, including a nice one by Mike where he concluded by honoring all the women in the world! I think he learned that toast from the Armenians! 

On the banks of the Saskatchewan river

Spending the week with people from countries around the world was a wonderful reminder of our commonalities and our ability to communicate in spite of language barriers and cultural differences. It was a good segue to Mike's departure for Kyrgyzstan (flying through Istanbul just after the coup attempt), reminding me of the good in the world.  

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Friday, July 15, 2016

Out of the Canyon and off to Kyrgyzstan

We're out of the canyon now. We topped out with the cattle in early June, trailing the cow herd up to the Zumwalt Prairie from the Imnaha Canyon. Everything went smoothly and the cows were happy to be on the summer range. Cammie, Dawson, Wes and I helped trail on the last day.  

Day two of the cattle drive

Day three, not much farther to go

Sara and Weston with Chester

While Prairie was home for a visit, Harlan, now eight months, got to spend time with the cows. Like the horses, he was very interested and happy to be with them, but didn't want to get up close and personal. They are big animals!

Happy to be on the prairie

Picnic with the cows

Once all the cattle were on the summer range, we made a trip back to the river for salmon season ,  Gabe caught several nice salmon. Dawson got up at the crack of dawn to fish everyday and caught several trout, but no salmon this time.

Early riser

A keeper

We had a tremendous mulberry harvest this year.  There are a few trees scattered along the riparian area and the fruit was perfect for picking while we were there. We ate as many berries as we could and froze some for Prairie to take back to Portland. 

Jon and Prairie pick mulberries


As part of our conservation and restoration projects, Mike did some annual monitoring in the canyon. Measuring the type and quantity of plants in certain rangeland sites helps us get a sense of how well we are doing at managing our use of the range. Some of our goals are encouraging healthy native ecosystems and nudging historically degraded areas toward an improving trend.

Monitoring plot

Mike says rangeland management is just "gardening on a very large scale." As a rangeland ecologist, he enjoys studying the natural world, especially the canyons and prairies that have been our home for over thirty years. I love how he can explain things and I drive him crazy with questions sometimes.

Canyon dinner, my favorite way to cook

Mike will be headed to Kyrgyzstan soon to consult on a community-based pasture management livestock project. It will be his first trip to Kyrgyzstan. I have some fears about him travelling so far away to people he's never met. But I know he will share his best science and his practical experience raising livestock to help the Krygyz herders answer questions and think about new management tools. He will learn a lot. I hope he makes a few good friends.

I'm going to miss him while he's gone. 


From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Merry Month of May

Licorice vanilla is how the locust blossoms smell, at least that is how someone once described them to me. I agree. But they also smell like something else I recognize, something ephemeral at the edges of memory, from my childhood in Germany perhaps, something that was not a locust blossom. And I find myself wanting to compare them to that evanescent fragrance, a smell with velvet texture, like these sprays of locust blooms jostling the wind.

Black locusts
Lushness has invaded the river bars. We let the cows and calves come down to the river to graze after several months spent mostly on the benches. 

Mike shared some of the results of his recent utilization monitoring. He said the quantity of plants consumed by the cattle was less than he expected. The monitoring is part of our conservation efforts and helps us tell if our management decisions are accomplishing our goals.

My favorite rangeland ecologist
Monitoring quadrat

There is a reason this story has a picture of an onion, well, three onions to be exact.  The reason is that here it is May and these onions have been hanging in the basement waiting to be eaten for eight months and they are still beautiful and delicious. The last of the onions.  

Amazing Spanish red onions

It's easier to understand why there is a rattlesnake in this story. I uncovered the first snake of the year while mowing the yard. Heath stopped by soon after I found the snake (by mowing over top of him) and did me the favor of pitching him in the river to swim away. Encounters like these motivate me to mow the yard frequently.

Snake uncovered by mower
Great weather for the branding
We branded the last Sunday of May and had a great crew of helpers.  Mike's dad and step-mom came for a visit and it was their first time ever at a branding.

Pete ready to keep the cows on the road.
Gabe bringing in the last of the cows

Nice bull calf
Amalesh, Mike, Mike, Paul and Luke
Back with mom

The branding went smoothly and it was nice to get in a lot of visiting before most folks made the trek back to the valley. We had plenty of time for feasting, water fights and laying in the hammock. 

Mike, Paul, Justin, Annie

Wes, Cammie avoiding the water fight
Water fight! 
Barb relaxes at the fishing hole

Dawson talked us into letting James spend the night. They spent the evening fishing at the bridge abutment, swinging in the hammock, roasting marshmallows and threatening various accidents involving flaming sticks, followed by baths to remove numerous layers of stickiness and filth before going to bed.

James, Dawson and Wes, three peas in a pod 

All in all, a very good and mostly merry month of May. 

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Stronger and Better with Music

Mike, Mike and Ashley at Lone Pine Saddle

In early April, we hosted Zenger Farm supporters, Ashley Sherrick and Mike Terepka for a ranch stay.  We donate a weekend at the ranch as part of the fundraising auction for Zenger Farm in Portland. Ashley and Mike won the bid and we had a great weekend together, swapping stories of far-away travels and sharing yummy meals, including my favorite experiment of the weekend -- mushroom-laden gravy on slow-grilled polenta.
Another Mike of many songs

With two Mike's who love music, we were treated to singing, and banjo/guitar playing into the wee hours (long after I went to bed). We also had a lovely night-walk downriver along the old driveway trail, each of us hanging onto our partner and bumping into an occasional boulder in the pitch black. The stars in the moonless sky were spectacular. We stood on the edge of a rim above the rushing river and looked for familiar constellations overhead. Ashley knew the most, naming off possibilities I'd never heard of.
"You are here"

I love the relief map we have on the living room wall. It gives a sense of the vastness of the canyons and is a great way to orient visitors to the lay of the land.  I like to use it to point out the many special places we have lived and worked over the years.

Palisades picnic

We lucked out on the weather and picked a sunny day to drive to Cactus Mountain and hike part of the Ni Mi Poo trail. The barrel cactus weren't blooming yet, but the canyon was starting to green up and we saw pink phlox, yellow sunflowers, purple penstemon and white yarrow.

Looking south, towards Magpie Ranch
After Ashley and Mike left for home, we got back to fencing.  Well, I shouldn't say we - because even though my arm is getting stronger and better all the time, I still can't do hard labor. I did help lug material up the steep part of the fence line, but I can't quite hold a stay and pound in staples yet. 

Fence around old sheep ground 


Mike and Ben finished the fence around the historic sheep bed ground above the barn, so it's ready for restoration seeding and rehab. It will be interesting to see what kind of results Mike will get with the restoration. He has collected baseline data on it for a while, but now he'll start experimenting with ways to get more diversity of plants growing on this degraded area. 

Chester at the mouth of spring draw

Ben and Mike also fenced the area around the spring box. Chester had his first experience packing fence material. Mike said Chester didn't like the loading process, but once it was all on there, he did okay. It was a challenging fence to build in the steep narrow draw and I was glad Ben was there to help. 

Rock jack at spring draw

When I think of all the projects on the ranch over the years, I see the faces of the people who helped us do that work. Luke with his bobcat digging out the back of the barn. Zeke running a chain saw prepping for prescribed burning. Pete dismantling rotten corrals. Prairie peeling poles for the new corrals. Julia digging thistles. And so many many many others. Thank you. 

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef