Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Late Fall And Early Winter 2007

Andrea didn’t make it to Salt Lake for her appointments on November 14. She cancelled them because she had too many urgent things to do, working on the divorce problem and getting her life organized again. We hoped she wouldn’t wait too long to have her health issues checked on, however. We didn’t know how serious they might be.
My sister put Mom into the local nursing home (Discovery Care Centre), in mid-November. We knew she would find some plusses there, having more contact with people. Several of her old friends were there and even though Mom was often very confused, she still knew who we were, and knew her friends, and enjoyed visiting with people.
That winter we were trying to help Andrea get through her personal crisis and financial problems. She and Mark had a lot of debts and we set up a plan to help pay those. I worked as many hours a day as possible (doing articles and book projects) and still tried to find some time for those grandkids. I prayed that the good Lord would help me keep going a while longer.
In November I got the final page proofs checked over for my new book ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO CALVING, which was then published by Storey (the publisher who’s done most of my other cattle and horse books). I could then concentrate on getting the next book finished (on cattle health care), which had an extended deadline at Christmastime. I worked on it for nearly a year and planned have it finished sooner, but there were too many major interruptions!
It was a stressful year, with my father’s death, mom’s declining health and mental status, Andrea’s marriage ending (she and Mark divorcing and both of them going through a tough time dealing with it). All the normal ranching challenges and crises seemed somewhat incidental that year. It’s a good thing we don’t know what’s around the next corner, in life, or we’d lose courage. But the Good Lord gives us strength when we need it, so we keep going—and we sometimes find unexpected blessings amidst the trauma and heartache. One good thing about our life as ranchers—we are always optimistic. We have to be, in this business. There’s always promise of a new day, a new year, a better season. Indeed, we are eternal optimists. Like an old rancher once told me, he’d had 2 good years in the cattle business—1980-something, and next year. Yes! There’s always next year!
Lynn worked a few days cleaning up branches in the yard that he sawed off our big elm tree earlier—pruning the tree before branches crashed through the house roof. He used duct tape to attach a small bow saw to a long piece of PVC pipe, so he could safely aw the branches off from the ground or standing on our roof, rather than trying to use a ladder and chain saw.

Michael and Carolyn spent several days helping friends and neighbors work cattle. We often fed their horses (the 2 they kept here) a few hours before daylight so they could come with their trailer and get them and be at another ranch by dawn to help gather cows. They vaccinated their own cows a few days later.

Our weather warmed up briefly and rained off and on for 3 days, then froze and created a lot of ice. Lynn helped Michael haul hay for several days. Michael purchased 100 tons from a rancher at Leadore (50 miles up the valley) and he and Lynn made 2 trips a day with a couple flatbed trailers and got it all hauled. After one late trip (unloading after dark) Michael had to go home and euthanize old Mr. K (Nick’s gelding). Nick loved that old horse; they’d spent many hours riding range and in 4-H horse classes—including roping classes--but Mr. K had become old and stiff and had been retired for about a year. He had been losing weight, then developed swelling in his legs and was very weak and could hardly get up.

Michael took the backhoe up there the next day to bury the old horse, and thanks to a few days of warm weather the ground wasn’t frozen yet. In fact, it was so muddy in our corrals that Michael also had to haul gravel to the waterhole approach where the 84 weaned calves are trying to drink; they were bogging down.
Weather got cold again before December and Michael and Carolyn had to bring the last of their upper cows (on the 320) down to the fields and feed hay. Our friend Bob Minor brought his tractor and wood splitter over to our place and helped Lynn for 2 days splitting firewood—that big woodpile that Dan Watson (our friend from Manitoba) helped Lynn cut and haul.
Michael spent a few days helping his friend Don Hatch build fence, trying to get brace posts set before the weather got too bad; the ground is solidly frozen now after a week of sub-zero weather. Lynn helped them one day, so they could get finished sooner. The cold weather and ice created an ice flow across our lower fields where some of Michael’s cows are, so he took the backhoe down there and fixed the place where it was leaking out of the creek.
We had new snow on December 1, and the roads were very slippery and icy. An oncoming car slid into Andrea’s car at an intersection in town and knocked the back end of her car about 10 feet, but didn’t do much damage—just knocked the tire off its rim and it went flat, but the car and kids were ok.
We started feeding our cows hay. Their pasture was nearly gone and the new snow covered what was left. Michael and Carolyn brought their horses down to one of the lower pastures to spend the winter there. There was still some rough feed there and the horses were able to paw through the snow to grass.

Michael and Carolyn drove to Arco to watch one of little Heather’s basketball “away from home” games and we took Nick to his game here—and enjoyed watching him play. Both kids were doing very well in basketball.
In early December Michael and Carolyn deloused/dewormed their 84 calves and put them in the field below our lane where they have more room--and a lot cleaner than the corral where they were weaned. Something spooked those calves a few nights later. They knocked over 2 of their feeders and ran through the fence, breaking off 6 wood posts and knocking it flat. We hoped the wolves weren’t back again. Wolves were becoming a bigger problem everywhere in the West. One of our friends in Montana lost a 2-year-old cow, killed by a pack of wolves.
The next week, we had 3 inches of wet, heavy snow. Roads were slippery again. The fellow who hauls cattle to the sale at Blackfoot, in southern Idaho, came to pick up a bull Michael and Carolyn were sending to the sale and we helped load the bull (it was a full load with other cattle already in the trailer). Our lane was so slick the truck couldn’t get up enough speed to make it to the top when he left our corral. It spun out and slid backward down the lane and into our fence. It bent the trailer fender and tore up the fence, but that was better than sliding farther down the driveway and hitting our house.
The truck and trailer were stuck there, completely blocking our lane. Luckily we have gates in the adjacent maternity pen both top and bottom, and Michael was able to drive through it to get around the blocked lane to go get our big tractor up at his place, and Lynn was able to take the little tractor (with blade on it) that same route and get above the stuck truck--to blade through the ice to dirt and gravel. By the time Michael got the big tractor, Lynn had plowed most of the ice off the driveway. The big tractor, with chains on, and a big round bale on the back for traction, was able to pull the stranded truck and loaded trailer up the lane.
It was very slippery here for several days. Walking down the lane, Lynn slipped and fell, catching himself with one arm, tearing some of the muscle and attachments in his shoulder. It was very painful for several days, but we put DMSO on it morning and evening and his shoulder was soon doing much better. He was able to feed the hay, and also got a load of dirt on the pickup to shovel into our ditch above the house where water was leaking around the headgate and creating an ice flow down across the field where we were feeding our cows. Never a dull moment!
A couple weeks later the ditch was still leaking and creating more ice across the field, so Lynn took our flatbed feed truck down the road a mile to where the County crew was widening the road, and they put a loader dump of dirt on his truck. He took the dirt to our ditch head and hauled it in buckets (since he couldn’t back up to the headgate) to put around the leaking area and finally sealed it off.
One of Michael’s cows got injured and couldn’t get up, so they made a “house” for her with big straw bales, to keep the other cows away from her and give her shelter. They put big bales around her, a tarp over the top, and a gate panel in front. She was eating and drinking very well and seemed to be recovering—until one morning after dogs or coyotes got in there with her during the night and chewed her up pretty badly. Michael decided to put her out of her misery.

In December Michael and Carolyn finalized their lease on the Maurer ranch, just around the hill from our place. They also planned to buy Maurer’s cows and expand their own herd.
Andrea moved a lot of her things to Challis (70 miles away), where she was staying with a friend. Emily and Charlie spent several nights here with us so they could continue to go to school here and so Emily could go to hockey practice; Lynn took them to the bus in the mornings and picked them up in the evening. On occasion we had the 2 little girls here, too, and they enjoyed drawing and painting pictures for Grandma while I was busy working on my book (Cattle Health Handbook, a companion volume for my Essential Guide to Calving). I got the manuscript finished just before Christmas.

The day before Christmas we had 4 inches of new snow, blowing and drifting, and roads were slick. Lynn put some small bales of hay in the back of our pickup, for traction. I went to town several times that week to visit my mother at Discovery Care Center (which provides assisted living for elderly people). We drove to Challis to have Christmas dinner with Andrea and kids and her friend—a slow trip on slippery roads.
Michael had a semi-load of straw (big bales) hauled here in late December. He was getting ready for calving, since some of the cows he bought from Maurers would start calving early. Lynn hauled a few of the left-over small straw bales from last year (stacked on the upper place) to give our heifer calves bedding in the sub-zero weather.
After finishing my book project I finally had time to sort and put away a lot of things that piled up, and Lynn helped me make room for another cabinet in our dining room, so we can store more things out of the way. He also made more bookshelves in the living-room, for stacks of books. We actually got all our couches and counters cleaned off for the first time in several years!
My sister and brother cleaned out Mom’s old apartment and gave me a few boxes of things, including the drawings and paintings I did for my folks while I was in college. We hung some on our walls and I saved some to give to our children and grandchildren.
In early January it was 10 below zero and we fed our cows extra hay. We were hoping none of Michael and Carolyn’s cows would calve in the cold weather. Some of the cows they bought were getting big udders and ready to calve.
Charlie and Emily stayed with us again for 2 nights and Lynn took them to the school bus. Nick and Heather also stopped by on their way to school to borrow crutches. Nick hurt his foot and ankle and it was too painful to walk on.
Lynn took Emily to her year-end Girl Scout awards meeting, where she received her special awards for the year.

On January 3 Michael, Carolyn, and a neighbor trailed their cows home from Sandy Creek (more than 10 miles, along the back road). Lynn drove the feed truck to lead the herd, and the rest of the crew herded the cows on 4-wheelers. They did pretty well except when the cows had trouble going through the small gates by the cattle guards. One cow bogged down in a muddy gateway and several cows walked over the top of her. The 4 men couldn’t get the cow out of the bog, but fortunately Michael had a nylon rope on his 4-wheeler and was able to pull her out of the mud with that. Once the herd made it across the highway and headed up our creek road (with only 2 miles left to go) Carolyn drove the feed truck while Lynn came on home—since we had company visiting here from Canada. We’d been corresponding with Pete and Bev Weibe since 2000 when Andrea had her burn accident (Pete was severely burned a couple years earlier, in an electrical accident), but this was the first chance we’d had to actually meet them. Andrea drove from Challis to meet them, also.
The next week we had more wind and snow, drifting across fields and roads. Lynn used our tractor and blade to plow our driveway and several of the neighbors’. We started feeding our cows twice a day. We would be reducing our herd again before calving season. Michael needed more cows (to get up to the total his banker thought he needed) so we were selling him 22 of ours, cutting our small herd down again. He also went to a sale in Butte, Montana and bought 33 more cows, bringing their herd to 550 cows--to satisfy his banker.
Andrea changed schools with Emily and Charlie; it was easier for them to go to school in Challis than try to finish the year here. Em stayed with us on the nights before a hockey tournament however, so we could take her to town early in the morning to get a ride with friends. The 2-day tournaments were in various towns in Montana—often a very long drive.
Michael and Carolyn’s first calf arrived early one morning, up in the field. Fortunately the weather warmed up (20 degrees) so the calf didn’t freeze. They had 2 more babies the next day, and a total of 4 by January 12. Then they brought all the cows down to our field below the lane, where they could watch them better and have access to a barn if needed. They were preparing to camp here again in the old trailer house during calving season—where they could warm and dry any cold calves by the wood stove.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Fall 2007

We finally got the cattle moved to the high range August 18 –22, the latest ever. Carolyn was still swathing on the custom haying jobs, so I helped Michael and Nick for several days, gathering cattle. After 4 days of hard riding, my old mare Rubbie was very sore (at age 20 her stifle joints have arthritis) so I put DMSO on her stifles to reduce the inflammation. It helped her immensely, reducing the pain.

Michael’s new swather broke down again, just before finishing the last custom hay job, so instead of spending a couple days fixing it, he borrowed our old pull-type swather to finish the job.
This had been a long, hot dry summer, and the longest fire season ever, partly because we had so much grass that year. Every lightning storm set new fires. We were still suffering from dense smoke, from all the fires.
The abundant grass was a blessing, however. Even though it was dry, the cattle were doing well. Michael and Carolyn got an extension on their grazing period for our range. We usually bring the cattle home Sept. 16 but that year they didn’t fill the permit (with cattle on 2 other leased places) and the BLM gave them an extension since there was so much grass—and they didn’t have to round up their cows till October. They hauled several tons of protein supplement out on the range to augment the very dry grass.
Then it rained for 2 days, and cleared the smoke out. Our fire season was finally over. Michael, Carolyn and kids pregnancy-checked and vaccinated their cows on the place at 17 mile and Sandy Creek (they brought them all to a neighbor’s corral early that morning) and it rained all day. Even though they took several coats and jackets and kept changing to dry ones, they got miserably cold before the day was over.
After the rain we had a hard frost. Michael and Carolyn started rounding up cattle on the Baker Creek side of our range, putting them into our 320-acre high pasture. They were also gathering cattle for our range neighbor, Grant Maurer, who was paralyzed the year before in a 4-wheeler roll-over accident. Grant’s hired man quit, so Michael and Carolyn volunteered to gather the cattle and to help preg-check and vaccinate them.

At 4 a.m. one morning in early October our cows and calves in the field below the house were running and bellowing. Lynn and I went out with flashlights but didn’t see anything, but later Michael told us he’d seen a big wolf in our lower fields the day before.
The next day, I rode Rubbie to help Michael and Carolyn look for cattle in Mulkey Creek—the neighboring Forest Service allotment. Our range neighbors round up this time of year and generally drive their cattle through part of our range to take a shortcut, since our cattle are usually out of there by then; we generally round ours up a couple weeks earlier. But with our permit extension, Michael and Carolyn still had cattle in that pasture. When the neighbors went through with their cattle they were probably surprised to run into Michael’s cows. Instead of sorting them, they took those cattle along with theirs into the Forest Service allotment and then left the extras along the way as they took theirs home down Mulkey Creek. At least they were kind enough to call Michael and mention he had about 50 pair on the wrong range. So the next morning we rode to try to find them.
We rode through our middle range on the way over to Mulkey Creek, checking for any cattle that may have strayed back into that pasture, since hunting season for elk had started and gates were left open. It was raining when we got to Mulkey Creek, and we found about 30 pair on the rim of the canyon along the boundary fence, trying to come back to our range. We got them through the adjacent pasture and into our own range then went back to Mulkey Creek, dropping down into the canyon to search through scattered groups of neighbor’s cows that were still there.
It started to snow and visibility became poor and the footing treacherous on those steep mountainsides—with 2 inches of new snow on top of the mud. We found 2 more pair of Michael’s and Carolyn’s in the upper canyon and had a challenge getting them through the timber and over the mountain since they wanted to run back down the canyon. But we got them, and none of our horses fell down chasing cattle on the steep slippery terrain. We picked up 8 more pair when we got to the Withington Creek side. By then we were soaked and cold and it was too late in the day to go back to gather the 30 pairs we’d put into our high range pasture on the far side of our allotment. It was past chore time when we got home. I put DMSO on Rubbie’s stifle joints, fed the horses, and then tried to warm up.
My feet and legs were so cold, the only way I could think of to warm up fast (since our bathtub wasn’t functional at that time) was to sit on the bathroom counter with my feet in the sink in hot water, putting hot wet washcloths on my cold knees. Even though I was miserably cold, I’m always glad for a chance to get out and ride range again. We no longer run our cows on the range; we’ve been letting Michael and Carolyn use our range permit, so I’m not riding out there all the time like I did in the past—so I enjoy every time I can ride and help them move cattle or bring the cows home.

Michael and Carolyn rode again the next day and found a few more cattle in Mulkey Creek and gathered the ones we stuck in our high range, along with some that were already there. I would have ridden with them again, but my mom had another bad episode (falling down) and was in the hospital, so I went to see her.
The next few weeks, Michael and Carolyn helped some of their friends work cattle (preg-checking, vaccinating, shipping calves) and often loaded their horses in the trailer before daylight to go spend all day at these gatherings. We moved our cows and calves to the field above the house so they’d have good pasture until we sold our calves.

Michael hauled our calves to the sale at Blackfoot (a 3 hour drive) in mid-October. We put our cattle in a pen near the house the night before. We sorted the calves off into a different pen, in the dark on Friday morning, by flashlight, since our yardlight wasn’t working. Lynn had unhooked the wire to our yardlight earlier that fall, when he was sawing branches off the elm tree by our house. Part of the tree was threatening to crash down on the roof, so he sawed some big branches off, and took down the electric wire so it wouldn’t get wiped out by falling branches. We managed to get the calves sorted and loaded in the dark and Michael made it to the sale on time, in spite of a flat tire on the trailer that had to be changed along the way.
The next week I rode with Michael and Carolyn for 2 days to round up the last of their range cattle, and then helped gather their cattle and Maurers from our upper pastures (and Andrea rode with us when we brought the cattle home to the corrals). We sorted out Maurers’ cattle and took them home for him.

Friends from Manitoba came to visit for several days that fall. They were making a trip through part of the U.S. and were living in a pickup and camper on their trip. They camped in our back yard. While they were here, Dan helped Lynn get 5 pickup loads of firewood, sawing up some of the dead trees on our high range.
Dan had been reading one of my columns in Grainews (a Canadian farm newspaper) for more than 30 years; we got acquainted about 20 years ago when he called on the phone to ask advice about treating a calf with diphtheria, a calf his vet had told him to shoot since he would not be able to save it. We told Dan how we treat our cases of diphtheria (using DMSO to shrink the swelling in the throat so the calf can breathe) and he saved that calf—and several other cases since then. That was the beginning of a long-distance friendship and it was nice to finally meet him in person.
We had corresponded by letter and e-mail, and agonized with Dan as he went through the ordeal of losing his wife to cancer a few years earlier. That fall, he had a lady friend who had just gone through her own challenge of cancer and chemo. She lost her husband to cancer 14 years earlier. We enjoyed meeting the both of them. Since that time, Dan has written a book, Hitchhike to Heaven, about his experiences, and losing his wife, and it was recently published. Life is never easy, but it has its wonderful moments, and for these we are grateful. Friends and family are the best blessings.

October and November were very hectic, that fall. I was trying to get a couple books finished, and keep up a full schedule of writing articles. My editors kept giving me more assignments and at this point in our lives I’m not yet in a position to turn down any work, so I kept slogging along. I felt like I was on a treadmill, going faster and faster and I couldn’t keep up anymore, even on important things. I've always let the little things slide and I was YEARS behind on a lot of stuff, but was now getting behind on the important things, too.
My hectic pace seemed to have escalated since Dad that April. Mom was failing rapidly and confused most of the time, in a dream world—with no real line between reality and make-believe. Whenever I spent time with her, the things she talked about were like hallucinations, and I humored her as best I could. We were still trying to care for her in her own home (with people spending time with her periodically through the day and night, though she actually needed someone with her all the time). She missed Dad, and wasn’t very happy, and confused a lot of the time.
We were also facing another challenge; Andrea and Mark were splitting up. They nearly ended their marriage a few years earlier when he became hard to live with because of his drinking--and she left him for awhile. She gave it another try, but their relationship hadn't gotten better. She finally decided it was too hard on her and the kids to stay with him. His drinking was only one of a number of issues (another was financial--they were about to lose their home because they were so deep in debt) and there were many other issues and complexities involved in the failure of their relationship, as is usually the case with a failed marriage. At that point we were just trying to help them both through this a traumatic time.
We spent a week moving her things out, and getting her and the kids settled back into the little mobile home here on our ranch where she and Jim lived for 6 years. Lynn and Michael and Carolyn (with their stock trailer) and Bob Minor (the good friend who helped us during that traumatic summer after Andrea’s burn accident) made numerous trips, throwing stuff in boxes and bags and hauling it 25 miles over here (and some to a storage unit), while I took care of the kids. Lynn and I were trying to help ease the trauma on those 4 kids. The past several years had been tough on them and this new crisis was even more traumatic. So, we were hoping to get back to some sense of security and normalcy for those kids, giving them a lot of love.
One day we went for a drive in the mountains with Andrea and the kids, for a change of scene. We drive up over the Continental Divide and into Montana and back, stopping along the ridge in the forest, for a winter picnic—by an abandoned log cabin. The kids had fun and it took our minds off our problems.

On top of the trauma of trying to wade through the minefield of a bitter divorce, Andrea was having more health problems. She had a painful lump under one arm, under her grafted skin, with pain shooting down her arm and also into her chest. She had a doctor look at it, finally (she ignored it until the pain got really bad) and the doctor set up an appointment for her in Salt Lake for November 14. She would be going down there early that morning and coming back the next day. She also had a severe pain in her abdomen one night and went to the ER, where the doctor thought it might possibly be her gall bladder but wasn't sure. They gave her pain medicine via IV and it didn't phase the pain, so they had to give her a shot of morphine. They never figured out what caused that pain but it finally eased off so she was just going to wait and have that checked out, too, when she went to Salt Lake.
It seems like we go from one crisis to another, but with the grace of God we get through it—yet it's hard to relax and let go of the worry mode when it’s our kids we are concerned about. We never stop agonizing over whatever problems they may have. I have a little more trust than I did before the summer of 2000, knowing that underneath it all is a Love greater than I can imagine. I was reminded of this, one day that hectic Fall, when out of the blue I got 2 letters from people who had no clue what we were going through with the marathon move of Andrea and the kids and all the emotional trauma that accompanied it (Mark was drunk and making it more difficult and there were other complicating factors). I got those 2 letters from friends who felt compelled to let us know they were thinking of us and praying for us, asking for the "covering grace of God, and strength for your every movement." Yes, we needed that.
As I get farther along this wondrous detour from "normal" life (whatever that is), a detour that began in July 2000, I continually marvel at God's grace and Love. Life does not get easier, but the journey seems to polish us and knock more sharp edges and stickers off us. I am grateful for the Love that gives me strength and courage and keeps me going, and for friends who walk with me. The comfort and encouragement we give one another is priceless and precious. Our loving friends help carry me through the hard spots. Knowing their empathy and their own courage (facing their own challenges) gives me comfort and peace and also the strength of will to get up and face it all again every new morning. In spite of all the challenges, every new day is a gift and I am renewed, with strength from outside myself.