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

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Tail End of Summer

Here we go toward Autumn. Waking up and thinking, "Has the weather changed?" Then realizing the day just hasn't risen yet. Coming home after my job in town and it's dark already. Already.

Peeling transparent apples for drying

But the days still lull with their golden light and their heat. The white moths flitting lustily among the cabbages and broccoli plants, laying eggs of green destruction. The first Vs of geese. The last of the transparents falling from the tree in the yard when I tell myself again, to get the ladder and pick them, soon.

We harvested steers this week. A bitter-sweet time. Such good animals. Such good food. I spend many thankful moments throughout the week. Now for the good steers, loading gracefully into the trailer. Now for the butcher and his swift respectful kill.
Dawson helps Grandpa on the fence
Now for the husband. For his husbandry, his witnessing of the end of life.

Now for the consumers, taking a share of the harvest, giving back to the ranch what feels like more than money, becoming in their own way, a part of our story.

Now for the land. For having a chance to know a particular place, for a chance to share it. With our children, our grandchildren, our community, our visitors.

Prairie and Wes at the fence 

They made it! Lake Legore

We were fortunate to have Jon and Prairie home to help. From trimming and freezing oxtails and beef cheeks, to fencing, sorting cattle, making meals, and lugging Wes around, it was all a big help and way more fun with them here.

Prairie and Jon decided to stay an extra day, to go hiking by themselves. So they went to Legore Lake. Highest lake in Oregon. Straight up and straight down. Not exactly relaxing, but still great.

Wes, Mike and Dawson at Wallowa Lake

Even Mike agreed to take the afternoon off on Friday. Probably one of our last days of swimming at Wallowa Lake.

The shadows of the passing clouds made it almost too cold to swim. But when the sun came out again, we plunged in, the luscious chill briefly taking our breath away, and afterward, floating, our bodies cradled in the still-warm waters of summer.

Wes enjoys his picnic lunch

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

River Swimming and Blackberry Picking

Mike and I went to the canyon to pick blackberries last weekend.  It was about 95 degrees in the shade when we arrived. I picked the first batch of berries, while Mike started to pull some puncture vine that he saw on the river bar. Then I made dinner while Mike mowed the yard (fire protection). We had yummy Bunchgrass Beef burgers with turnip and beet greens for dinner and sat out on the porch in the balmy evening, watching the smoky sunset and being lulled by the river rushing by. 
"I'll help pick berries if you help pull puncture vine..."
Early the next morning, while it was still cool and before the yellow-jackets got busy in the berry bushes, we picked four more gallons of blackberries. 
Early morning berry picking
After that it was more weed pulling. The low-growing puncture vine sends out long runners covered in yellow flowers that mature into hard sharp-thorned seeds, 'goat heads'that can poke right through the bottom of your shoe, your dog's foot, etc.  We're hoping to get some weevils that act as biocontrols on this aggressive plant by eating the seeds, stems and leaves. In the mean time it's pull and bag, pull and bag....

That's a lot of puncture vine we pulled....
Maturing 'goat head' seeds
 I think Mike would have kept digging weeds all day, but I mutinied, insisting that we allow sufficient time to wallow, dive, float, and splash in the river. River swimming at the Magpie Ranch is some of the best there is. Deep eddies you can jump into off rock cliffs. Rowdy rapids that spit you out into long channels where you float lazily downstream. The water is the perfect temperature and when you lay in the shallows, the current feels like a natural jacuzzi bubbling and rushing over you. Oh how I love that lovely lively water.
Sara doesn't want to get out of the river

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Summer Surprizes

The "Old Brindle" is one of the first cows we bought when we started Magpie Ranch. She was old when we bought her and that was nearly ten years ago. Mike quickly discovered that she does not like to be cornered. She wants a lot of space and will waggle her impressive horns to remind us she is equipped for a fight. 

As it turned out, the Old Brindle is also a great mother and a great lead cow. When she came up 'dry' or unbred a couple years ago we were disappointed, but kept her with the herd and she continued to lead the cattle out of the canyons to the summer range. This year, after two seasons without a calf, we trailered her to the valley to fatten up on irrigated pasture and reach her eventual demise. A week later, as if to say, "forget that idea", she surprised us with a sweet bull calf. I guess the Old Brindle gets one more year. 
Old Brindle and her 'surprise' calf
With summer comes fire season and we always have 'fire protection' to do, which means mowing, scything, weed-whacking and machete work to create defensible space around the ranch structures. Last week, we headed up the six miles of two-track to the Pumpkin Creek cabin and were met by an enormous cotton wood tree blocking the road. 
Cottonwood blocking the Pumpkin Creek driveway
By driving halfway up the bank and tipping sideways, Mike squeezed the stock truck underneath the massive trunk and we were able to continue on to the cabin. Needless to say, I was outside the truck letting him know that he had two inches to spare. I hate steep sidehill driving. 

Mike fixes the weedeater - again

Pumpkin creek cabin after fire protection

 It was beastly hot, over 100 degrees by mid-day and several dips in the creek and a siesta were required to complete the job.
A lot of mowing....

Luckily summer has its rewards, like river swimming and being greeted by a beautiful valley sunset on our way home from the canyon.
River swimming pals
Dawson with his "fishing" pole

Nice way to end the day
From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Back on Summer Range

We've made the move to the summer range again. Gathered the cows and calves on the east side of the Imnaha canyon, crossed the river and trailed two more days to the Zumwalt Prairie.
East side bench, looking north. Sara, Bird, Newt, Ruby, Punch.
A few weeks earlier, as we branded and got the herd ready to go, we had excellent help from the kids, old friends and a few newcomers.  Gabe and Jordan roped. Mike, Zeke, Mark, Jaci and Cammie were ground crew. 

Jordan roped off Chester

Rest of the crew for branding 
It was Zeke's 26th birthday. Dawson paid close attention to the trick candles as they magically 'relit' themselves on the cocoa fudge cake with ganache filling and peanut butter frosting.

On day three, we trailed up the Lower Imnaha road. Dawson rode with me a ways and we got a little goofy at times. We met up with Gabe, Cammie and Wes and had picnic lunch after we got the cows turned up Log Creek.
Weston carrot gnawer

Cammie, Wes, Dawson hiking down Log Creek

On Sunday we topped out and made it all the way to Alder Creek in one long day.  Prairie took a great picture of Mike and and Gabe above Log Creek on the last day. As she put it, "I got to spend Fathers Day with two great fathers." 
Good job, everyone. 

Punch, ready for the last day trailing to summer range

Meeting McClaran's horses on the Zumwalt Prairie

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef