Saturday, September 6, 2014

About this Time

About this time of year, a long time ago, before Zeke was born, we moved into Hattie Freudenburg's house on Dobbin Road.  The day after we moved in, I woke up to the first real sunrise I'd seen in six years. We'd been living mostly in the canyon and it was hours past daybreak by the time the winter sun would finally clear the canyon rim. During summers, we usually lived in the timber at the edge of the prairie, at the Steen Place, or in a camp along a creek and didn't see the sun until it was high overhead.

Long shadows heading into fall

That first morning on Hattie's farm, I looked out my kitchen window and saw the shadows of the house and barns stretching far out across the grain fields in a light so early, flat and bright it felt like magic. Now every fall, when light arrives in the morning, with certain smells of ripening, of harvest and putting away, I remember my first morning on my first day on this beloved farm.

Over Labor Day weekend, Jon and Prairie came home to help move yearlings and put up food.  Gabe was finally getting a day off from the Somer's fire and we had a long list of jobs we wanted done, fencing, herding, and canning the bounty from Prairie's garden.  I added swimming, hiking and music to the list so we didn't lose sight of our other goals.

Pairs on the summer range

We divided and conquered.  Our first day together, Mike went to the Zumwalt to check on cows and calves and work on fence.
Jon and Prairie and I pickled beans and roasted tomatoes and took the boys to the lake.


Gathering ingredients for stone soup

This is how you make it

Next day, we got together with Gabe and Cammie and moved the yearlings. We had to fix some corrals first and the bees were not happy to be disturbed in their nesting in gates and brush piles.

Reinforcing corrals

What's the plan? (Will we ever know?)

As usual, we figured out what we were doing while we were doing it. As Jon says, too many cooks in the kitchen.

Tacking up sheep wire
Grandpa's truck always has books

The boys wandered the corrals, then helped gather the steers, and finally they took up residence in Grandpa's truck with the books and snacks.

Weston counts

Aunt Prairie reads

After that it was home to lunch, and the makings for apple and peach pies.

Mike and Sara at McCully Creek

On Jon and Prairie's last day, we took a hike up by McCully Creek. All too soon, they were headed back to Portland, wishing they had a few more days, time enough for a trip to the canyon and some of the last river swimming of the year. 
Prairie saw this cool caterpillar

Prairie and Jon, wishing they could stay another day

I'm happy to say, Mike and I did just that. We hightailed it for the Imnaha and got there in time to work up a sweat picking fruit and pulling weeds. As the moon came up, we floated in the cool river, barely warm enough for an evening swim. 

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Wedding Beef Cheeks

Arrowhead ranch barn
Yesterday Steve and Joella got married at Arrowhead Ranch. Audrey read the hillarious Book of Love poem by Stephin Merritt. And Rose read the serious Pablo Neruda love Sonnett #17. Great herds of clouds lumbered over the mountains and across the prairie, churning up drenching bouts of rain and dripping trees. And in between the towering white shouldered beasts with their dark flanks, blue autumn filled the sky as still and patient as paint on canvas. And I thought, well Steve and Joella got the rain, but they got the clouds too. 

For the wedding supper, I braised a dutch oven of beef cheeks. It's a special dish we usually only have at harvest time. The bittersweet harvest of our beautiful steers. I'm thankful for the skill and compassion of the mobile harvest service. I'm thankful for the healthy animals we raise that feed so many families. And I try to show respect by using as much as we can, like the beef cheeks. Which I had never cooked until a few years ago.

Dales Mobile Harvest 
One of my heroes

Trimmed beef cheeks browning
Ready for veggie roux and wine braise

First I trim the cheeks, brown them and then braise them in wine, with roux of cooked down veggies. Hours of slow, patient cooking rewards us with a rich and tender dish fit for a celebration.  A long marriage is kind of like a braising cut of meat, that complicated web of muscle, tendon and fat that takes patience and time to meld into something worth savoring.

The vegetables at the wedding were no less delicious. I tasted Mary's first slaw of the summer from her own beautiful and perfect cabbage (grown under netting), with her first green pepper so fresh it seemed to burst when she sliced it. And tiny yellow tomatoes that you could eat by the handful, and fat red tomato slices lolling in fresh basil leaves.  
Morning harvest
This morning I waded into the garden, searching under the sprawling squash plants to find the cucumbers. I was rewarded with enough for another batch of honey curry pickles.

I first learned to make these with Linda Donnelly, from the Old Fashioned Recipe books our husbands gave us for Mother's Day. The husbands had gone to town for supplies. When one of them saw the books on sale at the merc, they had the brilliant idea of purchasing us each one. It was my first Mother's Day gift.

Honey curry pickles

These pickles are zippy, crunchy and perfect on sandwiches. I hope to make enough this year to give some away, maybe for a wedding gift.

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Paradox of Summer

 When I started grad school I left Mike and the three kids back in Wallowa County and headed to the U of Iowa in Iowa City. I rented a room in house with three other adults, and soon after my arrival something happened that told me, "You're not in Oregon any more..."
The beginning of one of many fires
My roommates had watched a movie that included a scene with firefighters eating a meal at a large camp. They asked me,"Why were those people all wearing yellow shirts and green pants, like some kind of uniform?" "Because they are firefighters, it's nomex, fire retardant clothing."  "Firefighters? You mean firemen?" "No, firefighters, you know like for wild fires..." No they didn't know.
Sara mowing toward the Pumpkin Creek Cabin

The concept of wildland fires was outside their experience. No waking up to smoke so thick you can't see more than a half mile. No worries that fire will race over the ridgetop to consume the winter range you depend on for your cattle, destroy your pain-stakingly constructed fences, burn up your home, threaten your cattle, or threaten the lives of people working to fight the fires.
Mike is really fast with his scythe

It's a paradox, one of the most beautiful and fun times of the year with blissful river swimming in rushing rapids and deep pools, the harvest of berries, fruits and yummy vegetables. The wonderful feedback from customers ordering more delicious Bunchgrass Beef shares.

Golden plums at Magpie Ranch

And then the worry, hundred degree temperatures, forecasts for wind gusts up to 50 mph, thick smoke in every direction, the reality of climate change that increases our fire frequencies, challenges our actions and decisions, and brings people we love into dangerous situations.
Hoses and sprinklers

Fire pumps
Sigh. We do what we can for fire protection at the ranch. We enjoy each moment of summer fun. We give thanks for the hard work of fire fighters and we pray for a change in the weather, for no wind, for cooler temperatures, for rain.

Sara cools off on 100 degree day

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, Home of Bunchgrass Beef 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Happy Bulls, Baby Elk, Bounty of Apricots

Mike took the bulls out to the Zumwalt to reunite with the cow herd in June. We winter all our animals together on the Imnaha, but we separate the bulls from the cows in the spring time. That way the cows will be bred to calve to when the grass is abundant.
"I'm back ladies!"

Blade bellers and Tank befriends a heifer

The bulls were also eager for a good scratch and rub on the pine bark.
Tank and Blade getting a rub

We saw a lot of cow elk when we returned to the canyon to pick up the last of the horses. Their adorable long legged calves bounced alongside as they moved up the ridge from the river. One cow and her calf took up residence in the box elder grove, visiting the orchard daily and cleaning up the windfall apricots. 
Elk cows and calves at the river

The apricots came on with a vengeance in the hundred degree weather. The fruit went from green to falling off the trees in three days! Luckily the hot weather also made for good river swimming, although the water was still too high and fast to really embrace the current. 
A few of the hundreds of pounds of apricots

Dawson and Cammie water fight

Even with the heat, the water was cold enough that the warm rocks felt good. 
Dawson warms up after his swim

Wes practices rock throwing

Dried, canned and jammed, apricots

We only get a big apricot crop about every four years as frost often nips the buds in spring. Between marketing beef, herding steers, and my day job, the apricot bounty was jammed, canned and dried. We're looking forward to the sunny taste of this beautiful fruit all winter long.

Last evening, we headed out to the steer pasture, hoping to get in a wayward steer who had fallen in love with the neighbor's cow herd.
Mike and Chester, off to bring in the awol steer
 It turned into an adventure, with the steer covering most of the 300 acre pasture. I watched Mike and Chester exhibiting their skills, jumping irrigation ditches, cutting and sprinting to head the steer, riding quietly behind the herd, gently nudging through and poking a small bunch toward the gate. At the last minute, the big steer and a bull charged for the open gate, I swung my bullwhip as Mike surged forward cutting between the two animals. Crack! The bull turned back. Crack! The steer, trying to bolt past me, turned into the next gate and the pasture where he belonged. I was impressed. We got him in, that stubborn steer.

Ten minutes later, with Chester in the trailer, we headed for home, only to see the steer jump a fence and trot back toward the cows. Sigh, we'll be back another day....

The end of my bull whip

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, Home of Bunchgrass Beef

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Branding, Trailing and Family Meeting

No wonder the past month is a bit of a blur. We gathered, sorted, branded, trailed the cows to the summer range, hauled steers to mountain valley pasture, planted the garden, and started on the fruit harvest!
Jordan sorts cattle on branding day

The day  before branding, Mike and I gathered the cattle after I drove down from town. We rode to the southern end of the ranch and down to the riverbar, where the yearlings and two-year olds practiced their shenanigans while we got the herd pointed uphill. Once they climed to the bench they settled into an easy trail down river.
Steers sorted and waiting to head for mountain pasture

Almost home, dusk began to creep in and we saw Gabe and Cammie's headlights coming down the canyon and knew they'd have dinner waiting. Then right above the house, the yearlings and two-year olds staged a mutiny, running everywhere but down the trail, testing the patience of dogs and herders, before they finally climbed off the bench to the river and through the gate.

Jacinda and Zeke, ready to work

Next morning,  Zeke and Jacinda came down and Jordan came and brought a horse. And Jerry and Liz showed up from Flora. And Paul and Molly and 'the doc' in residence from the clinic in Enterprise where Molly works.

Jordan with calmest calf 

It was  hot, but not too hot. We had a good crew and all went smoothly, other than one near-disaster at the end when Mike's horse got a rope under his tail, and set off bucking and tying himself up in knots.
Jerry, 'Doc', Liz, Molly

Luckily, Chester stayed upright and Mike stayed on. The doc didn't have to practice his medicine (he confessed he had no kit with him) and we all got to retire to the shade for a well deserved meal.

Gabe and Bird, Jerry, Zeke and Mike on ground crew

We feasted on pork from Amaranta Farm, salads, cold watermelon and cobbler.
Jacinda and Zeke - after

Weston rides the chow line 

A few days later the cows were topping out. 

Above Log Creek

Prairie and Gabe spent Fathers Day with Mike, trailing to the head of Alder Creek. The temperatures were blessedly cool and the cattle traveled easily.
'Mound scabland' ecological site  

That night we gathered for a family barbecue, the gift of a new wheelbarrow to Mike, and a meeting about the future of the ranch.

Mike and Chester, head of Alder Creek

It felt good to be together, to have accomplished another move from winter range to summer and to enjoy the delicious beef we raise.

Family meeting at Cammie and Gabe's

It felt good to share what is important to each of us, to hear about what the ranch gives to each of us, and what we each give to the ranch.

Wes contributes to the discussion

We listened to each other and we made a few decisions. It was good.  

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef