Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Summer 2006

In mid-May 2006 Lynn and I helped Michael and Carolyn round up their cows and calves (100 pairs) from the field below our lane, to haul them to rented pasture on a ranch/range 10 miles up the valley. Some of their friends came to help. With 6 stock trailers, they only had to make 2 trips.
The next day Lynn and I went to town to join Andrea and young Emily on the annual MS Walk to raise money for multiple sclerosis research. We’d lost several good friends to MS in the last few years, so this is a cause we always support. While we were in town we bought more grain and milk replacer for the 5 bottle babies.
Michael and Carolyn had grafted several "spare" calves onto cows that lost theirs that spring (calves lost at birth or to coyotes). But after having 5 sets of twins and a few other orphans (a couple heifers didn't want to be mamas and no one wanted to take the time and effort right then to make them change their minds) and some other freak things, we still had spare calves. In early May one of their young cows died eating poison plants, so that left another orphan. So we had some pets that summer. Andrea's kids always enjoyed coming out to the ranch and helping feed the bottle babies.
In late May Michael and Carolyn turned more cows out onto our range, from our upper pastures. Later we put 17-year-old Rhiney (our baby-sitter cow) and her calf with all the orphan calves in a small pasture. We put up an electric wire to keep Rhiney from eating the calves’ grain. The calves were small enough to walk under the wire and come to their grain tubs. Eight-year-old Emily stayed with us several times and helped feed the calves their bottles and grain.

I finally got Andrea out here a couple times to ride, that summer. Emily had been learning to ride Veggie (a 20-year-old grandson of the old mare my kids learned to ride on, more than 30 years earlier).

Emily started going with me on some fairly long rides to check and fix water troughs on the range.

In late June Andrea came out to ride with us. I'd been telling Emily how her mom used to ride range with me all day when she was little, and how we'd take our lunch and a canteen full of frozen lemon-aid. It would thaw out but still be cold by late afternoon after riding in the hot sun. Emily wanted to have a "picnic" ride, so we did. Andrea got a babysitter for her 3 younger kids and rode with us. This was Emily’s longest ride so far, and only her third ride solo on Veggie, without me leading him from my own horse.
For me, having Andrea out here riding again was a joyous "milestone" in our journey since her accident 6 years before. This was the first time Andrea had REALLY ridden range with me since her burns. She made a few short rides with me the spring and summer of 2001 (the year after her injury), just to prove to herself that she could still do it, but she was still very, very fragile and impaired. And since then, she'd been so busy with all those little kids that kept arriving. She only rode her horse once in 2003, for some family photos when a photographer was here taking pictures for an article about our ranch for SUCCESSFUL FARMING magazine.
So, that summer's ride in early July was a special occasion--3 generations of us, riding together.
We were able to give Emily her "picnic" up in the mountains, with our horses grazing in the grassy, shady meadow while we ate our peanut butter sandwiches beside a stream. It was great to see Andrea back up to strength again, riding her fractious mare Breezy, who hadn't been ridden for 3 years (and was snorty and silly after such a long "vacation”). It was gratifying to see Andrea riding again with all her former confidence and skill, and getting on and off to open and shut all the difficult gates. She also cleaned out one of the springboxes where the pipe had quit running and one of the water troughs was empty. It was almost like old times.
I realized that the last time she rode with me doing routine range work was on July 4, 2000, the day before she was burned. On that ride she helped me round up several pairs to bring home (bull calves and their mothers) to wean the calves. Those cows gave us a real challenge and we were glad for good horses--to outrun and outmaneuver those devious cows as they tried to run down the steep hills or into the brush to get away from us. Our cows love their mountain pasture and hate to come home!
We had a really good ride that day rounding up the young bulls, with great teamwork, great companionship. I always loved riding with my daughter because we were such a good team, whether training young horses or gathering or sorting cattle. We shared many thoughts and feelings on those daily range rides--while we were checking cattle, fences, gates, water troughs, making repairs to fences or water sources, or bringing home an occasional animal to doctor for some problem or another, or the young bulls to wean. But that wild, good roundup ride on July 4, 2000 was our last one; it was the very next evening that she was burned. So, riding with her again, 6 years later, was like a special gift.
We 3 rode again a few weeks later--an even longer ride--to check water troughs, and we spent time fixing several problems. We found 4 little frogs at one spring, which Emily wanted to catch, so we brought them home in a plastic bag. We'd taken our lunch along, in a plastic bread sack tied in my coat behind my saddle. When we found the frogs, Em just HAD to have them, so we emptied our lunch sack (by eating the last muffin) and put the frogs in it, along with some water from the spring. Emily had wanted to find some frogs all summer. Andrea carried the frog bag home on her horse (5 miles) for Emily. So it was a fun, wonderful day.

Life is certainly different now (after the burn) but oh, so sweet, in ways I never envisioned before. Early on, I grieved for the loss of what we'd had before, and the fact that our lives were changed and I might never be able to ride range and train horses again with my daughter. Then I finally resigned myself to never having it again. I was just so utterly GRATEFUL that Andrea survived and could have a LIFE, and kids, and pursue some of the dreams that had kept her fighting for life when she so nearly died. She told us later that she couldn't give up, because there were still so many, many things she wanted to do.
So, a tiny gift like being able to ride again with her, was almost like old times, but even more special because we had Emily along with us and we were doing it for Emily. It was a wonderful thing--one of those special milestones that I will always keep close to my heart. It will lift my spirits and serve to remind me (in future) when I need to remember that all the plusses outweigh the tough challenges that come along on some of the turns in the road. I keep thanking God for his many gifts along the way.
Meanwhile, we got our haying finished that summer while the weather was hot and dry. The creek was low and our irrigation water very limited. Afternoon storms often brought lightning, but very little rain. The lightning started several fires, including one at Twelve Mile, close to Andrea’s and Mark’s house and the fire department worked for 2 days to protect the homes along the river. BLM crews dumped water on the fire with several helicopters scooping water from the river.

During July we had extremely hot weather, up to 100 degrees, lasting longer than usual. We can usually cool our house off a little at night by opening windows, but several nights were too hot or smoky to do that. There were several big forest fires in eastern Idaho and the smoke drifted into our valley.
In early August Michael was still busy doing custom haying so I helped Carolyn and their kids for several days gathering cattle off the middle range pasture, to move to the high range. It was great to be able to ride with those grandkids, too. They were becoming excellent cowboys!

All through that summer I was busy writing articles and books and then signed a contract to do two more cattle books for Storey Publishing--a calving handbook and a cattle health care handbook. I started first on the calving book, working at it every morning in the wee hours before chores. But it was a fun one to write, since this is a topic dear to my heart. That summer I tried to do at least 5 to 8 pages on it a day, sandwiched in amongst working on articles for various horse and cattle magazines. With fewer cattle, Lynn and I depend more on my writing to help make ends meet, so my writing became become a full-time job.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Spring 2006

The final week of March 2006 was cold, so we had to put calving cows in the barn.
Rodennia calved out in the maternity pen at 2 a.m. one morning so we brought that calf to the barn. He was too big to carry so we put him in the wheelbarrow—since the sled was over by the kid’s trailer house on the other side of the creek and we didn’t take time to go find it. It was a challenge getting the wheelbarrow over the frozen manure piles with the calf trying to flop out.
Zimbobbee calved later that morning, but by then the sun was up and it wasn’t so cold. We put that cow in one of the small side pens to calve and she didn’t have to go in the barn. It was an exciting day, however, as one of Michael’s cows, Alvira, was having a backward calf down in the field. In order to save the calf they would have to pull it, but the cow didn’t want to come to the gate. She ran past 13-year-old Nick and nearly ran over Carolyn (driving the 4-wheeler). Then Alvira ran out the wrong gate and up the driveway instead of going to the barn. She headed up the horse trail, but Nick (who loves to run, and was on the 8th grade track team) ran up the main road and got ahead of the cow. He slid down the steep bank to the horse trail and cut her off, then chased her back down to the barnyard. They finally got Alvira to the corral by the barn, where they restrained her in the head-catch and pulled the calf. He was still alive, but barely.
A few days later we put Buffalo Girl (Emily’s cow) and her young calf up in the swamp pasture with the other first-calf heifers and their calves. Emily named Buffalo Girl’s calf Curlie Sue because the calf loved to run with her tail straight up in the air and curled over her back.
Eight-year-old Emily came out to the ranch to stay overnight and went with Lynn and me to feed the cows. She enjoyed seeing Buffalo Girl again. Even though this young cow (2-year-old) with her first baby hadn’t seen Emily for half a year, she remembered her friendship/bond with the child, and allowed Emily to pet her. Emily also enjoyed seeing all the cows and calves, and the yearling heifers—and several cottontail rabbits that lived in our barnyard.

By April the weather had warmed up and we had rain. The snow disappeared from the low hills and grass started to grow. The corrals were very muddy and we had to put chains on the feed truck to get around in the boggy fields without getting stuck. Fifteen-year-old granddaughter Heather got stuck on one of our upper fields while taking salt and mineral to that group of cows, and Lynn pulled her pickup out of the mud with our feed truck.
Our last heifer calved. We put her in the barn to calve because it was raining so hard that morning. She calved without help, but soon afterward we heard some loud bellowing, so I went back outside to make sure the heifer wasn’t pushing the new calf around—as some confused first-time mamas will do at first.
I realized the bellowing wasn’t coming from the barn, but from the little corral where Michael and Carolyn’s last 3 heifers were penned. I ran over there and saw one heifer standing by the fence, but no calf. She’d calved next to the fence and the newborn calf had slid underneath the poles, and was sliding down toward the creek. With every wiggle it was moving farther down the bank toward the rushing water. I climbed over the fence and pulled the calf back up the hill to where I could stick its hind legs back under the fence—where I could reach them from the proper side and pull the calf back into the pen. I pulled him to safety in the middle of the pen where the new mama could lick him. We called Michael and Carolyn and they drove down from their house to put that pair in the barn, out of the rain.
Our white cow, Lilly, calved in late April.
Zimmeric calved the next day while we were branding and vaccinating, and Cubby, the last cow to calve, had her calf on May 1st. We had a belated birthday dinner for Michael and Carolyn and their kids; they all have birthdays in April but it’s such a busy time of year that we usually just have one big celebration.
With all the snow we had that winter, and the spring rain, the creek was higher than usual and flooding its banks. There was water over most of the lower fields and very few dry places to drive the feed truck to feed the cows. Michael and Carolyn had been doctoring a lot of calves for scours and a few for pneumonia; many were sick because of the wet conditions. The creek was dangerously high, and whenever the calves had to cross it they’d go clear under water. Due to the risk to the calves for drowning, Michael and Carolyn moved that herd, putting them in the field below our lane where it was drier an only one small access to the creek for drinking. Then the cows wouldn’t be continually crossing the creek and putting their calves in danger.
Two cows couldn’t find their calves on the day the cattle were gathered and moved, and we suspected those calves had drowned. Michael left those two cows there, in hopes they might find their calves, but they didn’t, so 5 days later they rounded them up and sold them. Ironically, the day after Michael hauled the 2 cows to the sale, one of the calves showed up in the lower field. He’d been sick, hiding deep in the brush, and his mother had not found him. He had not responded to her bawling because he was so sick. Carolyn found him when she drove the tractor down to that field to get our harrow (to start brushing the fields); the calf had staggered out of the thick bushes and was lying along the edge of the trees, in the shade.
She and Michael brought the calf up to the barn and put him with their bottle orphans. They treated him with antibiotics and fed him by stomach tube--and gave him castor oil to get his gut moving gain. He was weak and wobbly from the intestinal infection and ulcers, but he eventually recovered and was raised with their other orphans.

Meanwhile, as we finished calving season and prepared for taking the cattle to summer pasture, we struggled with a few family problems, such as the declining health of my parents and the rift that could not seem to be mended with my sister. She kept shutting out the rest of us, and hindering any relationship we might have with my parents. I kept praying for resolution to that challenge.
But with heartache come blessings to counterbalance the pain. I realized I was very blessed by the friendship of many people who had crossed our path since our daughter’s burn accident 6 years previous. I was discovering that God's blessings are all around us.
We only need to open our eyes and our hearts to His love, His forgiveness. And if He can forgive us, surely we can forgive one another. This is what I constantly prayed for, as we humans so often act like selfish children and can't seem to get past the me-first or you-did-me-wrong or I'm-better-than-you phase of growing up, like a bunch of 3-year-old kids throwing sand at one another in the sandbox.
How we must amuse and exasperate our Father at times! I am certain God must have a sense of humor--which seems to be a necessity for loving parenthood--and He probably smiles as He gathers His wayward children into his arms, scolding and forgiving and loving us. If HE can love us, with all our imperfections and mistakes, we surely can strive to love one another, and be more tolerant, understanding and compassionate.
We all have our own timeline, and enter into a broader understanding of our life's purpose at different spots along our journey. I wish I had been more open (and less timid and afraid) earlier in my life, but we can only go on from here-- from where "we're at". Each day is the first actual day of our lives. God can use us wherever and whenever He finds us (or to be more accurate, whenever we open the shutters and "see", and let Him into our lives).
We are all learning and becoming—all in the process of trying to make a little progress toward what we are supposed to be. I am grateful whenever I encounter those loving people who are farther along on the path, reaching out to give me a hand and help me along in my own journey.
It's so awe-inspiring, how we all can help one another, to make the journey easier and so full of joy! Loving others is such a strange mix of sorrow/compassion for the trials they go through (empathizing with the hurts and tragic losses they suffer) yet also filled with the joy/gratitude for God's love and comfort that can bring us all through whatever tragedies we have to face. Life is such a paradox, but oh, so wonderful. I am ever grateful for the people that God continues to put in my path.

For anyone interested in reading more about our “adventures” on the ranch and with our animals, check out my bi-weekly column “Notes from Sky Range Ranch” at http://insidestorey.blogspot.com This is the publisher who does my horse and cattle books.