Sunday, May 15, 2011

Summer Of 2007

By mid-May 2007, our cattle were finally all out on pasture for summer grazing. Michael and Carolyn turned some of their cows and calves out on our range, and hauled the rest to rented pasture 10 miles up the valley, and to another range about 20 miles away where they are renting another ranch on Sandy Creek. They were very busy patching fences and getting the irrigation water started on the Sandy Creek place. Most of the fences on that place were falling down, and they had to keep working on them all summer to keep the range cattle out.
Our cows went to pasture on our upper place and were glad to be out on green grass—and we were glad, too, since we were running out of hay.

We were also thankful for the rain that month, and the storm that put down 4 inches of snow in late May, because we were late getting some of our ditches cleaned so we could start the irrigation water. Michael fixed a few of the worst ditches with the backhoe, and pulled Lynn (on our tractor with blade) through the boggy ditch on the Wild Meadow. All through the summer Nick and Heather (age 14 and 16) helped Michael irrigate the Sandy Creek ranch. Heather got her drivers license that spring, so she and Nick could drive over there themselves.
In early June I put shoes on two of our horses and Emily (9 years old) came out several times to ride with me, riding 21-year-old Veggie. We had to lengthen the stirrups on her little saddle; she’d grown a lot since the previous Fall when she rode last. On one ride she helped me check all the cows on the upper place and we rode around the Cheney Creek pasture fence on our way home, patching places where the staples were missing.

I helped Carolyn and young Heather gather their herd of heifers from one of our pastures and we took them up the road to our upper place, gathered our cows out of the fields and took the whole group to our mountain pasture next to the range. Emily and I made several rides up there during the following weeks, to check on the cattle.

Later, when we moved the cattle down to the Cheney Creek pasture, we discovered several bulls right outside the fence, on the neighbors’ range. They had moved all their cattle to a different range pasture, but apparently missed these bulls. So Carolyn, young Heather and I herded them away from our fence and took them to their proper pasture. One of the bulls was mellow and manageable, but the other two were a challenge. One of them kept threatening to charge at us. Two of them were always trying to fight and kept running up the canyon the wrong way, and we did a lot of galloping through treacherous terrain to keep all 3 of them headed the proper direction. We finally got them to the next range pasture and put them in with the cows they were supposed to be with. During wild chases like that, we are grateful for fast, athletic horses that can safely gallop around in bad footing and rocks without falling down.
With 3 leased places, Michael, Carolyn and kids stayed very busy that summer. Young Heather and Nick irrigated their fields on our creek, using 4-wheelers, and changed sprinkler pipe daily on Sandy Creek. With cattle on 2 range allotments they did a lot of riding, as well.
Lynn and I hauled water tanks up to our hill pasture above our house, and put a pipe through the culvert under the road, to pump water from the field ditch into the tanks for our heifers. That pasture has no water, but we are able to use it by pumping from the ditch across the road. With several water tanks, we only had to pump every 6 days for that small group.

Michael and Carolyn traded in their swather for a newer model and started custom hay cutting in early July. The new swather runs faster and takes less fuel than the old one. They hoped to save time that year; Carolyn could run the swather most of the time while Michael did a lot of the irrigating on all their rented places. The unforeseen challenge, however, was that the new swather kept breaking down and Michael had to spend a lot of time and money fixing it.

In between writing articles for horse and cattle magazines that summer, I was working on another cattle book for Storey Publishing (The Cattle Health Handbook), and also the page proofs for my Essential Guide to Calving, which they would be publishing that fall.
Emily spent a week at Girl Scout camp, where she enjoyed riding and learning to shoot a bow and arrow. Heather spent a week at basketball camp in Washington; her knee healed nicely after the surgery to replace the ligament she tore the year before playing basketball.
In early July Michael and Carolyn hauled their horses to the range on Sandy Creek and brought home one of their 3-year-old bulls that had gone into a neighbor’s pasture. The next day we rounded up the cows in Cheney Creek, sorted off the yearling heifers and young bull to bring down to the main ranch, and hauled their 3-year-old bull to put with our cows on the upper place. We put Michael and Carolyn’s heifers with ours—on the hill pasture—with our 2-year-old bull.
The next morning we pumped again for the heifers, very early in the morning while it was still cool, so the pump wouldn’t overheat. With twice as many heifers on that hill pasture, we had to pump every third day.
Michael and Carolyn ran out of hay for their horses, so I gave them some of mine. Nick and Heather came down with their feed truck and loaded a dozen bales every 3 days. They also planned to do our chores (feeding the horses and a bull in the corral) when we went to a family reunion near Seattle.
I finished getting some last minute articles done before our trip. Lynn put a big jar of cat food under the porch for the kids to feed to the cats while we were gone, and it disappeared! Raccoons, who come sneaking around to eat any leftover cat food, probably took it, and were probably trying to figure out how to get the lid off.

Lynn and I actually left the ranch for a few days that summer (an unusual event, for us hermits) for a fast trip to the Seattle/Tacoma area. My mom's family had a reunion on Fox Island to celebrate my aunt's 96th birthday (she was mom's only surviving sibling) and also to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the family property on Fox Island where my mom and Aunt Marj grew up. It had been 40 years since Lynn and I were over there, so we went, knowing this would be the last time we'd see some members of the family.
We left on a Friday, after getting up at 4 a.m. to do chores and drive out to Andrea’s place, where we transferred our things to her van. We went with Andrea and her 4 kids in her van, and drove straight through to Seattle, making it in 12 hours in spite of numerous "potty stops" for all the little kids. I was glad Andrea was driving; she's bolder in city traffic and has better reflexes and endurance than us old hermits!
The kids had fun on the beach at Fox Island finding seashells and crabs, and enjoyed going out on the water in a rowboat. They had a lot of fun with some cousins their age (actually 3rd cousins; they share great-great grandparents).

We enjoyed reconnecting with family, some we had not seen for many years. It was good to get back home, however, and back into our work groove. We spent Saturday and Sunday at the reunion, and drove back the next Monday. The trip was fun but totally exhausting and it took several days to catch up!
Our hay was overdue to be cut, so Michael brought his swather home and cut part of our hay before going on to his next custom cutting job. A week later Lynn baled the hay, then welded a broken tie rod end on Michael’s tractor. He’d barely finished when a lightning storm hit, and our power went off for 2 hours. I was trying to type an article, but couldn’t finish it until the power came back on (the disadvantage of modern technology! I never had this problem with my good old antique typewriters!).
I took the last few bales of horse hay out of my hay shed and hauled some to the corral for Michael and Carolyn’s horses that are living at our place. I was letting two of our horses, Breezie and Snickers, graze the tall grass by my hay shed, so it wouldn’t be a fire hazard, and to get it cleaned up before we drove in there with the stackwagon to stack the new hay.
Weather was hot and dry, and some of the water troughs on the range quit working. I rode with Michael and kids to check the cattle and troughs and helped them fix one of the troughs that needed a new pipe.

We had another thunderstorm, with lots of lightning that started several new fires. That summer was one of the worst fire seasons in Idaho. A terrible fire in southern Idaho burned nearly 700,000 acres, destroying many range allotments and killing cattle. We had a brief, hard rain July 20 that helped keep lightning from starting more fires during that storm. It also dampened the baled hay we hadn’t hauled; it took a couple more days to dry enough to stack. Most days, however, the weather continued hot—up to 105 degrees--and we were immersed in thick, heavy smoke from all the fires.
One of our neighbors called to say there were 30 range cows in his place, so Michael, Carolyn and kids rode all evening to gather and take them back to the range—and then fixed the fence that had been knocked down. They took the cattle back to our middle range pasture, clear up to the Bear Trough, to make sure they’d have water. Some of the other water sources were drying up.
While crossing the brushy draw below the Bear Trough, Michael’s horse ran into a stout branch (hidden in the thick brush). The branch caught under the saddle horn and lifted the horse’s front end off the ground. When the branch snapped up off the saddle horn it hit Michael in the stomach and flung him backward off the horse about 10 feet. He landed on his neck and back, between two huge sharp rocks. If he’d landed on either of those rocks he would have broken his back, so he was very lucky. He was stiff and sore for several days, but basically uninjured.
On another day, Michael, Carolyn and kids found 4 range cows in their lower field that had come home through the low range; someone left one of the middle range gates open. So they took them back to the range, only to have a worse problem when they got home; a friend called to say there were 180 pairs of stray cattle in their leased pasture on Sandy Creek—the pasture they were saving for fall feed. So they grabbed their trailer and fresh horses and rushed off to deal with that problem.

On August 2 Michael brought his swather home and cut the rest of the hay on our creek. That same day, one of the neighbor’s bulls from the range on the east side of our place was wandering up and down the fence bellowing and trying to get in. He was all by himself because the rest of those cattle had been moved to a different range pasture, and we hoped he wouldn’t crawl through the fence. The neighbor warned us to not go near that bull on foot, since he was very mean and aggressive.
For a couple weeks I was going to town every afternoon to stay with my mom awhile and fix her supper; she was in failing health and needed someone with her most of the time. My sister was gone for 2 weeks so friends and family members were taking shifts being with mom. We needed someone with her during the nights however, since she had fallen a few times and was unable get up. My sister got her a life alert button to wear around her neck. This notified a central office whenever she pressed it, and someone would call us, and we’d drive to town to help mom. One morning we went in at 3:30 a.m. to take her to the emergency room at the hospital because she was having severe abdominal pain.
One evening on our way home from town (after helping mom with supper and getting her ready for bed) we discovered 3 cows and their calves coming down a new lane (which had been created for a subdivision on one of the ranches near us). The cattle were almost to the highway. Lynn slammed on the brakes and we backed up and stopped the cows just before they got out on the highway. One pair was Michael and Carolyn’s. We called Carolyn on our cell phone and she and the kids came and helped us herd the 3 pairs back up toward the range. Riders had left a gate open, and the cattle had come down through the neighboring ranch where none of the fences are functional anymore because the owners were subdividing it.
There was nothing to keep the cows from coming clear to the highway! We drove home and Lynn got the 4-wheeler and went out there to try to bring the cattle up through the range gate; it was getting dark and there wasn’t time to get horses. We herded the cattle on foot and by 4-wheeler and finally got part of them into a field by our road. One calf was too wild and didn’t see the gate--and ran back over the hill in the dark. But we left the gate open, and he came back the next day and got back with his mama.
By mid-August the fire situation was getting worse. I interviewed several ranchers in Nevada and southern Idaho who were seriously impacted by the range fires. The fires in our area were also becoming more serious. Many nights the air was so smoky we could hardly breathe and we weren’t able to open our windows to cool the house.
Michael and Carolyn rode all day on August 15th to gather range cows on their Sandy Creek allotment, but were short 20 pair. They had to ride several more days to try to find them. They also needed to move their cattle on our range to the high pasture, but hadn’t had time to do it. I wished I could help them, but there hadn’t been time to tear loose from all my commitments!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Remembering My Father

It’s been 4 years since my dad passed away—on April 26, 2007, on his and mom’s wedding anniversary. For this particular blog installment I want to honor him and repeat the words I spoke at his memorial service (May 4, 2007). Following those memories, I am adding the tribute I wrote about him for one of our local farm newspapers.
A Few Thoughts About My Father..
Growing up as a preacher's daughter was a unique though sometimes challenging blessing. A preacher's family in a sense includes his whole parish, and Dad was a very caring and busy shepherd for his flock. Yet I don't think that any of us kids felt deprived or that he didn't have time for us. We always knew that we were loved.

Love is the greatest gift that my dad gave me. It wasn't always spoken, but I always knew it was there. I knew that he loved me, encouraged me, wanted the best for me, and this helped me through the awkward years of growing up and beyond.
Dad touched the lives of many people, and he certainly touched mine and made a huge difference in my life. I could always count on his wisdom and fairness, his love and understanding. He was patient and kind, and a great teacher. He always took time to answer questions, or to help a struggling young person come up with his or her own answers to the toughest questions of life. He always had advice, for anyone who sought it, and he also encouraged us kids to sort things out and come to good decisions. My family will probably always remember some of his little sayings, like "Do the wise thing.” “Do your best and leave the rest." He gave us many snippets of wisdom to live by.

When I went to college I was timid and shy, and still struggling with some of the major questions of life and faith--and very, very homesick for the ranch, my horses, my family. Long distance phone calls were expensive, so we wrote lots of letters. His letters of advice and encouragement had so much wit and wisdom that I often shared them with my roommates. I still have those letters. After college he and I considered collaborating on a book we were going to call "Dear Daughter, Dear Dad". But that was one of countless projects and great ideas that we never quite got around to doing.
A wonderful gift my father gave me was the example he set, in his own life--an example that helped me as I began my own journey. His faith and trust in a heavenly Father who loves us all, and loves us unconditionally, has made the most difference in my life. Dad's preaching and teaching always pointed out that Jesus came into this world to tell people about God's love for us--to open our hearts and lives to that Love. Jesus' parables portraying God as a loving, forgiving father was something I could easily relate to, thanks to my wonderful Dad, in whose love I was confident.
This concept, of God as a loving father, made sense to me. If God was anything like a father, who always wants the best for his children, then God must indeed love us very much. Dad was a wonderful example of the wisdom and love a father can have, and since I could always trust my own father, I early on developed a trust and an awesome respect for the One who loves us most. In my early struggles to learn about God and to try to figure out what I believed--about life, love, death and all the big unknowns in this world--Dad's simple faith and common-sense theology helped shape the direction my steps took in that early part of my journey. Indeed, this was the most precious gift my dad gave me, and I am ever grateful.
Dad had a long and fruitful life, a beautiful life--doing a wide variety of things and touching people in all kinds of situations. He was a very unique and special person. And even though I miss him greatly, I am comforted by the faith he had, and by my own.
The life of someone we love always seems to end too soon; we want to keep them with us forever. There are lots more things I'd like to have said to Dad, or done with my Dad, that I'll never get to say or do. But because of that love and faith he nurtured in me, I know that this is not the end of our very special relationship. He still loves me. Our father-daughter bond and friendship is not over. He still knows I love him.
Love is always there, even when everything else in this life fades away. There is nothing stronger than love. This is God's greatest gift to ALL his children. Dad, you showed me this by your own faith, your own examples, and now, even though I'll miss you horribly--and grieve very deeply for my loss--I am also confident and joyful, and at peace with the fact that you are now enjoying the full warmth of our Father's love... and probably swapping stories and jokes with a lot of old friends and all the angels.

Tribute to my Dad (a remembrance written in May 2007)
Most of the stories, articles and columns that I write are about horses or cattle—a spin-off from my lifelong love of these animals. This interest and love began early, when I was a small child. This interest grew into a desire to be a rancher and spend the rest of my life working with horses and cattle. Much of the credit for the direction my life has taken must go to my father, Don Ian Smith. Dad passed away April 26, at age 88. I will miss him greatly, but I will always be grateful for the influences he had on my life.
Dad grew up on a farm near Rupert, Idaho, where he drove teams of horses to help his father in the fields. He started farm work at a young age, coming home after school and giving his father a break by harrowing the ground his father had spent all day plowing with a 3-horse hitch. By then the horses were tired and easy for a small child to handle. He was proud to be able to help his father, and he enjoyed working with the horses.
Growing up during the Depression, he learned the value of hard work and innovation. He did many kinds of jobs to work his way through college (Willamette University at Salem, Oregon). He and a friend spent one summer in the East as tree surgeons, making enough money to pay for their next year's tuition.
He met the love of his life, Betty Moser, at Willamette, and they were married in a little church near Seattle, Washington. Dad did his graduate work in Evanston, Illinois--to become a Methodist minister. I was born in February 1944 while Dad was serving a student church in Winthrop Harbor, Illinois.

My folks moved back to Idaho when I was 4 months old; Dad served as pastor of the federated Methodist-Presbyterian church in Salmon for a couple years, and then served a Methodist church in Burley, Idaho. During those years at Burley, he took care of the family farm at Rupert and I often went out there with him (when I was 3 and 4 years old) to check on the steers he'd bought to graze the ditch-banks. I clearly remember the steers--and the electric fence I was warned not to touch. Those 6 steers summered well, and when Dad sold them he made enough profit on that venture to buy mom her first automatic washing machine.
[photo – me at age 4 on fence, on Rupert farm]

My fascination with cattle began in those years; I loved to go with my Dad to check on his steers. Also, my little brother and I stayed with a farm family on several occasions when our folks went to church conferences, and I loved to sit in the hay manger feeding the milk cows.
Dad came back to Salmon in 1950 to build a Methodist church, and I started first grade. I'd wanted a horse from the time I could walk, toddling around with a stick horse. My favorite toy was a little stuffed horse named Shorshay (my baby word for "horsie"). That little cloth horse soon became threadbare from being loved and lugged around everywhere I went.
When I was in third grade my dream came true. We got a horse, and Dad bought a small acreage up Withington Creek--where we lived for 2 summers--and we had a place to keep the horse. Then he started buying the adjoining ranch. Unlike most Methodist ministers who move every few years to serve different churches, Dad put down roots and spent 18 years at Salmon. I was grateful for this--being able to have my own horses, and starting my own small herd of cows (for college money) by working on the ranch. Irrigating, digging post-holes, riding range--these were tasks I thoroughly enjoyed. I wanted to spend the rest of my life involved with livestock.

Dad was also instrumental in my becoming a writer. As a child I was shy--often at a loss for words when talking to people. I had trouble expressing myself vocally, but I could put the words on paper. Because I loved horses, I often wrote long, rambling stories about them. When I was 12, Dad suggested I write a shorter story, and he helped me send it to Trails for Juniors, the Methodist Sunday School paper. It was accepted and published, and I received $10 for it. After realizing I could actually earn money for something I loved to do, I wrote more stories--first for children's magazines and then for horse and cattle publications. By the time I went to college I'd sold dozens of articles, and my writing helped pay my way through college.
I went to University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, and graduated in 1966, but during those years I was terribly homesick for the ranch. I didn't want to live in a city. When Lynn and I were married we spent our first summer on a dairy farm at Gooding, Idaho, then came back to Salmon--where we'd both grown up--to start ranching in 1967. We eventually purchased my parents’ small ranch and the adjoining one.

Dad's love of the land (and of horses and cattle) was a big factor in shaping my life, and his understanding and appreciation for rural people helped shape his ministry. Though he later served several other churches and built a very large church in Boise where he served for 14 years, a part of him was always rooted in the land. The simple wisdom and practicality of his faith shone through in all of his sermons and writings; his inspirational books (By the River of No Return, Wild Rivers and Mountain Trails, Sagebrush Seed, The Open Gate) have been very popular because they are very down-to-earth and many people can relate to the stories he tells and the message within them. When he finally retired for the third time, after serving several small churches that had no pastor, he and mom came back to Salmon in 2001 to spend the rest of their years among old friends and the mountains they loved.

Dad, you'll be greatly missed. But I want to say thank you for your wisdom, advice, and for providing an opportunity for me to travel a path that I have truly loved. I couldn't have done it without you.