Sunday, August 22, 2010

Old Bonnie's Last Winter

Six years into retirement, old Bonnie dog sleeps most of the day. Often deep in dreams, legs twitching,she sleeps so hard you can raise her foot off the ground and drop it, and she doesn’t notice a thing.

To wake her, you have to poke her or stomp on the floor in front of her face. When she does wake up, it’s as if a shot has gone off and she lunges up off the ground a couple inches.

In my mind I see her when she was younger, when she never stopped moving and seemed to flow over the ground. All of her fit together and worked together. She had speed, agility, stamina.

For most of her life, she never missed a day’s work. Always a header, she would swing in a continuous arc alongside the herd, up and back, up and back. Sometimes she'd circle clear around and I wouldn't notice her slipping in front until the whole herd stopped. Squinting to see what was going on, I'd catch a glimpse of her slender form, quiet and focused, gliding back and forth, holding the lead.

During her last winter at age 18, she would get up every morning, unfold her stiff bones from her canvas bed under the bench and totter to the the back porch screen door. The night is likely to have been close to zero and inside the porch it’s not much warmer. If the door is propped open, she wobbles briefly at the top of the four cement stairs and executes a controlled fall to the wooden deck below.

Her momentum carries her into the frozen yard where she aims towards the pasture. It’s been a long night and she really needs to pee. She reaches the yard fence and relieves herself and slowly begins her laps around the house. First she navigates east along the north-side past the garden, then turns south past the lilacs along the ditch, then turns west under the overgrown honeysuckle, past the pumphouse and then north again.

As her stiff hind legs warm up, she breaks into a loose jog, remembering the stride that followed the cattle across the prairies and canyons. She rounds the house again and again and I see her pass by the kitchen window every few minutes for the next half hour.

Soon she will wobble up the back porch steps again and fold herself onto her worn bed under the bench. As she drifts into slumber, her body relaxes, her legs extend, her chest rises and falls--her lips opening with a little puff of breath. Her toes begin to twitch. Where is she now I wonder. Is she deep in the canyon climbing a rocky trail and dodging prickly pear? Or is she high on a ridge, threading the tall pines, following the scent of the herd?

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Monday, August 2, 2010

Dog Days with Great Grandma

I'm not sure exactly why they call them dog days, but I think they have arrived. In spite of the heat, my eighty-five year old mother was determined to make the trip to the canyon to overnight at the ranch.

This time of year, the main cow herd is up on the Zumwalt prairie enjoying the summer pasture so we don't make many trips to the canyon, unless there is fruit to harvest in the orchard. An early bloom, followed by a late frost did in the apricot crop and the apples and plums and pears aren't ready yet, so the trip to the river was mostly about Mom getting another chance to enjoy the river and sky and beautiful canyon rock formations.

She hates the road because she is afraid of heights. One advantage of old age and failing eyesight is that she was not as petrified because she could not see the drop offs so well anymore. She had also forgotten about the road, and when we got there, she announced that she now remembered it and the fact that she always likes the trip out better as she would be on the uphill side!

Ninety degrees in the shade when we pulled in and almost immediately an enormous thunderstorm came crashing down, thunder and lightning with hailstones the size of Mom's thumbnail, followed by a torrential downpour. The temperature dropped twenty degrees to a comfortable 70, perfect for enjoying an evening hike.

While Mom stretched her legs, I hacked and collected thistle heads and pulled goat-head plants. The dogs should thank me for removing the goat-heads from the corrals and driveway. This ground hugging plant gets its name from its nasty seeds, about the size of a pea, with two incredibly hard, sharp spines that pierce the pads of the dogs feet. After the thunderstorm, I had a good opportunity to pull plants from the moist ground.

Mom loves being outdoors and just watching the storms and the sunsets provides hours of entertainment. She also enjoyed the new electric lights in the ranch house - via solar power that Mike installed. This was very handy on her many nighttime trips to the bathroom - as she puts it - "At 85, I'm a frequent flyer."

We finished up our visit with a hike up the river bar to pick a few of the early blackberries. Mom put her feet in the river, while I took a swim. The first river swim of the summer. Languid, refreshing, perfect.

We celebrated the end of Mom's visit with dinner at Gabe, Cammie and Dawson's house. Mom had a blast with her two-year old great grandson (one of seven "greats"). I made a luscious blackberry-blueberry cobbler using that weird and delicious recipe that calls for berries, topped with a layer of batter and then sprinkled with sugar and cornstarch and - the weird part - with some boiling water poured over top. I'm sure Mom will polish off the leftover cobbler today as she tries to implement my father's motto of "eat dessert first." At eighty-five, that's probably a good idea.

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef