Sunday, September 23, 2018

Feeding You

Back in July, our customer Alivia mailed us a sweet note along with the deposit check for her order of Bunchgrass Beef.

Dear Mike and Sara, We hope this finds you enjoying summer with family and friends. May we relish the cooler seasons coming soon.  We look forward to crossing paths, Cheers Alivia and Justin

Gathering the cow herd at the summer range

We met Alivia and Justin when they won the bid on a ranch stay that we donated for Zenger Farm. Our daughter Prairie works at Zenger in SE Portland. She helped start their Community Chefs program to 'support women food leaders who nourish and strengthen communities through food, knowledge and solidarity.' I've had a chance to be at the farm a few times when these women shared their food traditions. It gave me a powerful and rejuvenating feeling of connection, with stories and laughter and questions in different languages while we cooked and ate together.

Not all the Zenger ranch stay folks have become beef customers, but they have all helped us learn, exchanging knowledge and friendship across differences. We are thankful for their support of Zenger Farm and they remind me of the life goals Mike wrote down twenty years ago. As pastoralists, an important part of our vision is sharing educational opportunities, along with involving our children, feeding people, and providing a place of refuge.

Looking southeast, upriver last spring

We never know what will speak to our guests during their visit or what they will teach us. This year we hosted Paul and Laura. I loved learning about Paul's long career in China and seeing Laura connect with the horses and dogs that work on the ranch.  Laura also sent us a sweet note.

I remain deeply touched by the time we spent with you and Mike at Magpie Ranch.  We delighted in all that we learned and found it so refreshing to be pulled out of our “city” existence. And I had a BLAST with the dogs and horses. We loved learning about your ranch and the deeply informed and unique approach you take to raising cattle.  The time spent with you really refreshed my soul.  I’m so grateful!

Laura  and her admirers Ruby, Opuntia (Punch) and Bell

This year I'm paying extra attention to the little notes.  At the beginning of the new millennium, in early 2000, I was on an airplane and my seatmate was a Pakistani man from Idaho who was returning home after hearing the Dalai Lama speak. The man seemed reserved, but I could tell he was deeply moved. His Holiness had said this century would be one of unprecedented cooperation. The man and I talked about this possibility, how at the turn of the century technology offered us information about virtually every place on our shared planet. We wondered, would we be able to move beyond technology to human connections that could influence our decisions, and distribute power in less selfish ways? Would we survive the next century?

My idea of a real cowboy, trims 93 year-old mother-in-law's fingernails

These days that cooperation feels both like it's coming closer, maybe just around the corner, and like it is disintegrating and running through our fingers. I find myself looking for it. Studying small actions. What we do for each other. What we do for strangers. And last spring when I realized there were people that I avoided looking at, I started making eye contact, opening myself to the stranger in this tiny way. It is changing me, even if I'm not sure how.

Pat helps Gabe load post and pole material from Pat's thinning job

The simplest notes are still encouraging, like the one from Andrew written on the memo line of his check. 1/2 beef deposit, can't wait! And there are ones like Richard's that seem to invite me to peek into his kitchen. Sara and Mike we are very much looking forward to this year's order! Just in time, we have 3 pieces left in the freezer. 

Abby's heifer with first calf. Two years old, just like Abby.

For a brief time our planet holds us tilted neither toward nor away from the sun.  Harvest days are warm as summer and tucked between a nightly chill.  I can almost feel the planet shifting on its axis, listing toward the dark. And I am humbled and encouraged by people I rarely see and the little messages that reflect back to us their view of our work, our family, the animals we raise and eat.

Hello Sara and Mike---we are quite happy with the order. Thanks so much for your passion in these endeavors. It's so nice to count on your quality beef. Enjoy the sweetness of autumn. 
Dennis and Carrie

And I move on into the coming year, in the last century of my life, a little braver than before. 

Looking south from Cactus Mountain

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Sprung into Summer, New Mongolian Friends

We sprang into a green green world sometime back in April when the rains started. And it seemed like it just kept raining. It was beautiful. All that rain, soaking into the ground. I even let the horses in the yard a few times just to help me keep up with the mowing.
Chester and Theo in the yard

With all the rain, the river was high and muddy. Luckily the only flash flooding that occurred was in a side canyon fifteen miles away, on the road to town. The state highway crews jumped in and cleared away tons of debris so the road could reopen after a day. 
High and muddy Imnaha

We had some welcome help from family and friends as we rounded the corner toward summer. Branding, repairing fences, and getting ready to trail cattle out of the canyon to the prairie. 
Harlan on the horse swing with Jon

The boys slept in their tent on the porch. They figured the rattlesnakes probably wouldn't come up there. Abby slept in the house, but joined the party the next day so she could read up on sharks...

Tent nest on the porch
Dawson, Abby and Weston

As it often does in spring, the weather seemed to suddenly turn off hot, hot, hot. I got overheated brushing out blackberry and poison oak on the Log Creek trail in preparation for trailing cattle. I was very happy to have my itchy sweaty labors rewarded by finding a hummingbird nest amongst the blackberry vines. 
Baby hummingbirds

It was an easy trail to the summer range at the beginning of June. We enjoyed a couple days of cooler weather, a little rain, but not so much to make for muddy trails. I remember one year when the temperature dropped into the forties with a cold driving rain. We had been on the trail two days and we were nearly there. Gabe said, "I think we can make it all the way if we keep going for a couple more hours." Through chattering teeth I responded, "I cccccan't ffffffffeel my ffffffingers. I hhhhave to ggggget in the ttttttruck and wwwwarm up." 
Harlan ready with walkie-talkie and tools

Gabe and Prairie and Cammie did most of the riding this year. Moms and kids took over on the last day.  Prairie on Chester with Harlan in front, Dawson on Buddy, and Cammie on Bird with Weston on the back. Little did we know this would be Bird's last trip out of the canyon. After a brief illness, we had to put him down in July. RIP bird, you were a wonderful horse and we miss you. 
Moms and kids on the last day

June also brought special guests when Mike hosted a study exchange of pastoralists from Mongolia for the Nature Conservancy. I was grateful to be included in several days of activities as the group met with local people involved in ranching, range management, conservation and community development. 

Welcoming the Mongolian delegation with cowboy scarves

It was a big surprize and a lot of fun when Mike and I and Bayar (Science Director, TNC Mongolia) figured out that Bayar was the person who years ago lent a car to our Mongolian friends Ene and Aza so they could drive from San Francisco to Joseph to visit us. What a connection! 
Study tour stop on the Zumwalt Prairie

I love it when pastoralists from different countries have a chance to meet each other. There is always a lot to learn and even with language barriers (those translators are kept BUSY) we seem to understand each other. Whether checking out fencing tools or horse tack, discussing our marketing or production methods, or talking about the serious challenges to rangelands around the world, we relate to each other in a special way. 
Visit to USFS range allotment with rancher and scientist Dennis Sheehy

Mongolians have a robust culture of horsemanship and are enthusiastic about horse races. At Buckhorn overlook, we made a stop to learn about Nez Perce fisheries, tribal rights and practices, ranching in the canyons, and research applying remote sensing and weather data to predict forage conditions on vast rangeland areas. During lunch, a Mongolian delegate got out his phone and we gathered round to watch a tiny video of his horse winning an important race back home. I made a joke about how in Wallowa County our horse races are to see who can go downhill the fastest...that got a reaction as they looked over the edge into the canyon. 
Looking into the canyon from Buckhorn


There were many emotional moments. I especially enjoyed visiting with the women delegates and was reminded how women have many leadership opportunities in Mongolia, more so than in the United States. And we had a lovely evening near the end of their stay hosted by Mike and Nikki Beachy and their boys for a potluck, s'mores, a traditional Mongolian-style toasting circle, and wonderful singing in several languages. 
Joe receives his special gift.

One of the most moving interactions during the study exchange was a presentation of a special amulet to Joe McCormack.  The man making the presentation said that as a child he dreamed of making a journey to the other side of the world and meeting other native peoples. Now to his amazement, his dream had come true. We all felt a tenderness in our hearts as we watched Joe accept this gift with grace on behalf of the Nez Perce people. 

Qe’ciyéw’yew’ Joe. 
Thank you Joe.

Tá’c kîiye pîihekin. 
It is good to see each other. 

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Those People Who Can't Afford

Sometimes I wish this second-class, we-are-not-them qualifier wasn't part of our thinking and dividing of community.
 Restoration project, Sara pitchforking burning kochia

As in, "Isn't it great that we bought bike helmets for the poor kids whose families can't afford them?" Or, "Isn't it great that even kids whose families can't afford other fun stuff --like skiing or boating---can enjoy this nice park we just built?" Or, "Isn't it awesome that we volunteer to grow vegetables for families who can't afford fresh food for their kids?"
First calf, I'm glad he was born before the storm

I seem to hear this comparison more and more in my community. I've been part of one of those families and I don't remember people talking to me that way.
Hay for the horses on a windy day in the canyon

Punch, Ruby and Bell, the faithful ranch crew in travel mode

It's like an invisible sword where people don't know they just stabbed the heart of the mom they are chatting with. She is one of those people who can't afford, but she hadn't been thinking of herself that way.
Still few people, but feels more fragmented and less connected

She was thinking of herself as a person who was part of community, making a contribution, of equal value.
Bike helmets for all. Parks for all. Gardens for all.
Heading out for the day's gather upriver

I want to be on a journey toward change. Which trail will lead me away from division and fear and toward association and sharing?

You get the ones down low and I'll get the ones up high

I'm very thankful for all the ways and all the people and all the places and all the times that are helping me find the trail, stay on the trail and have the stamina and hope to get over the ridge and see what is ahead. And that includes my partner of nearly 40 years!

Happy St Patrick's Day and 39th Anniversary Pard! 

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, Home of Bunchgrass Beef

Friday, February 16, 2018

I Am An Old Woman

Named after my mother. My old man's another, child that's grown old.  So goes the words and I realize I've never really thought about why this song has stuck with us for so many years.

Gabe and Bird headed to Pumpkin Creek

Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery. I want the angel. But Montgomery seems like a specific place. A specific story that I know little about.

Bell, youngest of the crew, a bit on the wild side

And which Montgomery? Surely there is more than one. So I just make it my own Montgomery, the place my angel harkens from, the place I want to be.

Punch (Opuntia), sweetie pie, works well to the left

My mother is a very old woman. These days her stories create startling connections between eras and locales. Ownership is fluid.  My brother's house may as well be the house her father built. She knows he built one and it is hers, where she lives.

Coffeetime, thankful for Andrew's help this winter

As old as she is, my mother knows she isn't home anymore. She knows she's not with family. No matter how well it worked before --- agreeing that she was where she belonged, asserting ownership of my brother's assets at times, and going so far as to suggest some of us 'visitors' could be asked to leave --- all that has changed.

Now, the distance home is inconceivable. She doesn't want to recognize where she is; she doesn't want to live there. But she tries. "It's not easy, such a change, when you're as old as I am."

Glad someone besides me draws in the ranch journal!

Her lap is still available in a big chair with padded arms, wide enough to support a small child. And children come to see her. Babies and toddlers, boys with legos. Even college boys.

Warm up, have a cup

We tell her our names, and most of us get a pass into her world. The others have learned to create a chain from their lives to hers, describing the links a few times until she recognizes her own lineage.

And our names are longer now. PrairieRoseYourGranddaughter. The little ones call her Great, and she is. If they are lucky, they are old enough to remember playing together, with the sound of her voice encouraging them to go on and on in their imagining.

And we bring her things. Small things to hold on to, pictures held together in small books, our faces labeled, the places we come from labeled.

Greening in the bottoms!

We might be the angels now, arriving at the door of her room, painting and repainting the picture of her life.

Make me an angel 
that flies from Montgomery.
Paint me a picture 
of an old rodeo.
Just give me one thing 
that I can hold on to. 
To believe in this livin' 
is just a hard way to go. 

Mom, Harlan, Prairie

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Thursday, February 1, 2018

A Different Winter

This winter is about as different as it could be from last winterLast year at this time we were slogging through two months of chaining up on treacherous roads, battling storm after storm that kept winter feed buried in snow and trails too slick to ride. Our weaning pen and haystack were flooded with snowmelt, then frozen into an ice rink. Even the elk seemed miserable, crowding into the canyon in unprecedented numbers seeking relief from the deep snow of higher elevations.
Looking north from the horse pasture
This January, we've had mostly open weather, with trails decent enough to pack out salt and herd cattle, and only one episode of chaining up to get out to town.We've had our fingers crossed, not wanting to jinx it, but meeting our few neighbors coming and going on the downriver road, we chat about what a difference it is, how relieved we are. And the conversation always wraps up with, 'Well, it's not over yet, so let's hope it keeps up this way.' 

Mike loading salt on Theo
We took salt out to the cattle, packing Theo for the first time, the big mustang lent to us by friend Paul. Theo did pretty good, and Bird too, in spite of Theo losing his footing on a greasy north, where Mike was leading them through a draw above the barn. I was riding behind and saw Theo start to slide backward and then sideways off the trail. He was dallied to Bird and pulled Bird off with him, the two horses plunging down slope in a scrambling tangle. Somehow they made it to the bottom without hurting themselves and ended up still tied and breathing hard across the draw, looking around as if to say, 'What the heck happened?'  They could have run off in a wild spook, but Bird stood quietly ground-tied until Mike got off the hill to gather them back up again. 

Theo, relieved of half his load
After that, Mike led Theo to the top of the ridge and I rode Bird and led Chester.  We unloaded half the salt and supplement at the first salt ground and the rest of the ride was uneventful. I was glad it was early enough in the day that most of the norths were still frozen. It felt good to be up on the bench horseback and nice to check a task off the list: pack salt. 

Cattle coming in for salt
The day before I had worked a long day teaching non-profit management in town and having time in the saddle allowed me to reflect. I love teaching and I learn so much from the participants, in this case, volunteers with projects ranging from youth programs to the cemetery.  I was mostly thinking about our journey toward improving inclusivity and equity in our organizations and programs, something that can't be done without personal growth and challenge. 
Sara and Chester packing salt

When we got back to the house we worked on setting up the temporary electric fence outside the corral. We've been weaning, with the calves in the corral on hay for a few weeks already. Now Mike will use the temporary pen to train the calves to electric fence. They get a bit more space outside the corral and can discover the electric fence.  We don't use much electric fence in our operation, but when we do, it's helpful that all the cattle have been trained to it at some point in their lives.

A few of our good looking calves in the corral

I think my favorite time during the holidays was having three of the grandkids at the river while Gabe and Cammie took a trip to Seattle. In spite of some mid-night sleep disruptions, we had a pretty relaxed few days. Mike made a deal with the boys to help rake wild turkey poop out of the yard in trade for truck driving practice and a jaunt upriver to the fishing hole. The fishing was a bust, but the exploration of hide-outs in the massive debris piles from the 97' flood was super fun.
Put them to work! 

When we recorded our highlights in the ranch journal, wild rumpus dancing was at the top of the list, followed by the bonfire and food. The top dance tunes were: Ring Around the Rosie Rag and the Motorcycle song (I don't wan't a pickle...).
Abby loves anything she can climb on, stand on or sit on

Compared to last winter, it feels amazing to have down time for any kind goofing off, or even just resting up. It's funny how a few little traditions can settle us and bring space into our thoughts giving us respite from the craziness of the world's changes, giving us courage and strength to be part of what is to come. A winter crossword left out for anyone to puzzle on, finding my way through a new song on the concertina, a walk downriver to visit the hundred year old graves of Tinie Stubblefield (3 years old) and Effie Mae Lydell (3 months), where I sit on a rock and draw the ridgeline rising above me like the spires of a cathedral, only better.

 Haas Ridge - morning, watercolor pencil

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef