Sunday, June 28, 2015

Fire on the Trail

Water drop on the south end of the Little Basin Fire

When we first heard there was a fire on the river, we were mistakenly told it was on the switchbacks going to Dug Bar. Turns out it had started right across the river from the ranch, and it was headed south toward Log Creek, where we planned to trail our cattle to the Zumwalt Prairie in just two days.

Chopper drawing water at the swimming hole
Several helicopters worked the fire all the next day, drawing water from the big swimming hole downriver. Mike had shut the cows and calves in the river pasture, since we were getting ready to head them to the summer range in a few days.  The helicopter activity spooked the herd and they broke out and headed toward Corral Creek.

Luckily the wind changed direction overnight, driving the fire north away from the trail. So we were able to stay on schedule with the move to the summer range. Mike got the cows gathered and headed back upriver on the first day. Second day he crossed them to the Hall Place, and got them started up the road.
Gathered back up and headed south toward Halls. 
 Day three, Gabe came down and helped Mike start them up Log Creek.  Next morning the two of them left super early to pick the cows back up near the breaks where they had topped out of the canyon. Cammie, the boys and I joined them later, bringing lunch and cold drinks.
Dawson had fun on Chester

After lunch we let Mike and Gabe take a break and Cammie and the boys and I rode. Dawson had fun on Chester and Wes rode with Cammie, until he got too hot and wanted to get in the truck and help Grandpa drive.

When we got to the Elephant Corrals, Gabe went to fix fence and Mike watched the boys, letting them muck about at the pond. 

Weston tells another whopper

It didn't take long for Cammie and I to get the cows the rest of the way to Young's and through the gate. 

Cammie and Sara headed back to Elephant Corrals

Dawson got his driving lesson on the way to meet up with Gabe. He did pretty good...when he watched where he was going! 

Dawson's driving lesson 

By late afternoon, Weston was pooped, but determined to stay with the program and not miss anything interesting. The minute Gabe and Cammie pulled out for the valley, I'm sure his head was nodding, and it wouldn't be long before he was sound asleep.   
Wes and faithful blankee

Mike and Sara - yay the cattle are all at the summer range

It was nice to be able to call it a day and head home to enjoy some rest on Father's Day.

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Milkweed Wedding Day

Some of our good looking steers at the river
We brought the yearling and two-year old steers out to summer pasture last Saturday. The weather cooperated very nicely by cooling down to eighty from the hundred degree temps earlier in the week.

Gathering the cattle at dusk upriver

On Friday evening, Mike rode out to gather the cattle, after the heat had passed. We wanted to overnight the herd near the house so we could get them in the corral to sort in the morning. After Mike left, the boys and I made a fire and cooked dinner. We kept an eye out for Gabe and Cammie who were driving down after work.

Wes and Dawson making dinner

An hour past dark, right about the time I thought I'd have to send out a posse, I heard the first mooing and knew Mike was finally coming in. Dirty and tired, he said the cattle took a rogue trail off the bench down through the rocks and prickly pear, just before it got too dark to see. At the barn he used a flashlight to find cactus spines and pull them out of his horse's legs.

Next morning, we had the cattle in and sorted before Dennis arrived early with his truck and trailer.  Pretty soon Paul and Molly showed up. After a little coffee, and second breakfast for Dennis, we loaded the four trailers of steers and everyone except me headed to the valley.

Gabe and Dennis had to change a flat tire

I stayed behind and hiked upriver to the fishing hole where Dawson had picked some mulberries that morning. When I got to the tree, a fat rattlesnake buzzed in the grass and slithered under a log beneath the tree. I threw rocks to try and run him off, while keeping a hold of our year old pup, Bell. I don't know how much Bell knows about rattlesnakes yet, but I wouldn't trust her not to be curious. Finally, with one eye on the place I last spotted the snake, I picked mulberries as fast as I could. There were lots of berries already on the ground, and many more ripening on the tree. It took me a long time to pick a quart.

Ripening mulberries

Walking back from mulberry picking, I thought about Sarah and Eliot getting married that very same day in Kentucky. A very nice wedding day, I thought. I stopped in the horse pasture to admire the blossoming milkweed and I wondered why there weren't any butterflies. Right then a beautiful big orange Monarch fluttered up in front of me and flitted away across the milkweed patch.

Milkweed patch

Interesting red beetle on this flower

The milkweed blossoms are so intricate and lovely, it's hard to believe that by the end of summer they'll turn into thick scratchy pods filled with cottony-down. As I admired the fleshy petals and the fat bees lilting among them, I thought, Mulberries, milkweed and monarchs, a very nice wedding day indeed.

Soon, I packed up and headed for the valley. As I bumped down the driveway, I could see pairs of cows and calves dotted along the bar, napping in the lush grass.  
Pinky naps with her calf

Sleepy cow

It felt peaceful and restful in a familiar time-of-year kind of way. In a few days, we'll hit the trail with the cows and calves. Headed for the Zumwalt and the summer range. 

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Good Branding Day

Branding day has come and gone again. Saturday Mike gathered upriver and we brought the herd onto the river bar to overnight.
Evening before branding day

Wes gets a ride with Cammie

In the morning Mike, Cammie and Dawson gathered the cattle off the bar and herded them across the bridge to the corrals.

Through the gate toward the corrals

We didn't quite finish sorting off the cows before our awesome crew started arriving.  We were a small bunch this year, as a few folks ended up not being able to make it.

In the corrals before sorting off the cows

Off to a good start

Before long things got rolling with Dave and Gabe roping. Mike, John, Mike S, Andi and Cammie were the ground crew.

Dawson with his calf 'trap'

Dawson caught a couple calves with his snare (and back-up from mom).

Gabe with the head catch

Dave moves in for the heels

It's always inspiring to see people work with skill and grace. And even when everyone starts getting hot and tired, they pull together and get the job done. Great teamwork. No wrecks.

Trusty ground crew

Dave builds a loop

Dave and Andi have worked on neighboring ranches for years. But this was the first time they made it to one of our brandings, so we really enjoyed their company.

Andi runs the branding pot

Andi helped hold it all together, keeping the tally straight, the iron hot, and the bander handy.
'Steer' 'Heifer' 'Steer' - the tally book

I ran the kitchen and rode herd on Weston, who made the rounds with me between the house and the corrals.
Wes and Sara up in a box elder above the corrals

As the crew finished up the last few calves, I laid a homemade local feast out to refuel and reward everyone's hard work. Roasted beef, ham, rolls, potato salad, pasta salad, veggies and dip, watermelon, asparagus, strawberry/sour cherry pie and rhubarb custard pie. Delicious!  

Mike S, Andi, John, Mike and Dave relax and refuel

Post lunch, a few naps were taken, a little fishing, a little refreshing of bare feet in the river.
Dawson and Weston - hand puppets in hammock

Gabe, Wes, Dawson and Cammie

Before folks headed home, we had the pleasure of a few tunes played by John, Mike and Mike.

Thank you everyone, for a very good branding day. 

John on the mando

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Bridge Building

We've been building a lot of bridges lately.  I was glad Zeke could take time away from his business to help Mike make repairs to our bridge across the Imnaha river. We will have to replace the entire bridge deck before long, but the new treads will get us through for now. 
Zeke planking on the new planks

Some of our bridge building has been social. Mike was able to spend a few days helping Marcy and Dennis trail cattle while their kids were on vacation. A few friends pitched in to make up for the 2 adults and 4 grandkids who were off looking at castles in Ireland and learning family history. Dennis and Mike have worked together in Mongolia and Dennis has helped us on the ranch many times over the years, so it was nice to reciprocate.
End of the day at Dennis & Marcy's

I'm still pinching myself that my Mom and her sister, Vera, now in their 90s, were able to come stay with us again in April. Last year we had a great visit and this year was even better!
First night's walk on the bar

Race for the bathroom, Vera wins!
We played a lot of Scrabble, Aunt Vera read about a book a day, and Mom went rock hunting and admired the fauna and flora. Since having her cataracts removed, Mom loves seeing everything clearly again. 

Mom writes in the ranch journal

Dawson and Wes in the ash bank
The two of them also had a fine time with the grandboys. Weston calls them Great Grandma and Great Vera.

Vera, Prairie, Mom

Prairie was able to come home for a short visit. She ferried the 'oldsters' on the next leg of their journey. It was wonderful for all of us to get to spend time together.

After the oldsters, our next guests were the lucky winners of a Magpie Ranch stay from the Zenger Farm fundraising auctionZenger is the educational farm where Prairie works in outer SE Portland. 
Matt, Kerry, Sara & Mike

It was fun to team up with guests, Matt and Kerry, to support construction of Zenger's new classroom and commercial kitchen. Before they arrived I warned them that rain was in the forecast. I also said that after a horribly dry spring, we were looking forward to some precipitation. 

A hike downriver with ranch-stay guests
Matt and Kerry did indeed bring the rain from Portland. We celebrated the moisture together, enjoying the downpours and sun breaks over several days of hiking, cooking, storytelling, and admiring our healthy longhorn cattle. 

It was another kind of bridge building, so necessary to understanding our differences and recognizing our similarities. 
Multi-aged herd, two year old steer, calf and mama cow

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Evening light

We've had a lot of grey lately. Fog and low clouds hemming in the canyon like an old blanket thrown over top of us. So we're extra glad to see blue sky, to glass for our cattle, to enjoy the changing shadows and colors of light moving through our world. 

The grandboys stayed with Mike and I for a long weekend and helped us take a break from fencing. The romp and wrangle of meals, snacks, forts, trains, stories, drawing, singing, and sword fights wore us all out in a good way.

Pastels, snacks and races

Feeder fort

Every morning at the feeder, the boys 'tamed' the calves. Slowly getting close enough to touch their horns or their wet noses. Dawson comes into the house for breakfast after feeding with Mike, "Grandma, I touched FIVE calves!"

2014 calves in the weaning pen

We finished weaning the calves and turned the steers back into the herd.  The heifers came out to the valley where we'll pick some to keep and some to sell for breeding stock. 
Sun bathing and cud chewing

Downriver, our new fence is up, cutting off steep norths where a few cattle liked to trail down to the river, and across Horse Creek to the neighbors' range. Parts of the fence were tough to build and Mike used more steel than usual, hoping to make it last through our frequent wildfire cycle.
Gate support

The pounding of building fence takes its toll. Lugging heavy fence material and wire across the steep slopes, and working while balancing on a greasy north make it more challenging and tiring.

View downriver from the fence

Finishing that fence was a relief. I enjoyed the reward of sitting back in the tall grass, gazing north at the ridges and benches beyond our current range, thinking of people and places downriver, and the many cow camps where we've lived and worked during our lifetime.

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef.