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.