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