Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas 2012 Newsletter

Christmas 2012 & Happy New Year 2013
P.O Box 215
Salmon, Idaho 83467

Dear friends,

We are thankful for blessings we celebrate at Christmas, and grateful for God’s love that gives us Hope, Peace and Joy–and strength to continue or complete our journeys. We are especially thankful for the many friendships that enrich our lives.

Last winter we accomplished several projects before we started calving in April. With the help of our son Michael we rebuilt several ditches, fences and pens. We didn’t have much snow; our cattle grazed until mid-February before we had to start feeding hay.

It’s been nice having Andrea and kids here on the ranch in their new house. Young Dani (just turned 8) loves the cattle, and her favorite thing is helping Grandma do chores and feed cows. She “adopted” a gentle old cow named Maggie as her special friend, because Maggie lets Dani walk up to her and feed her a bite of hay or grass.

Dani had never seen a calf born, so she made us promise we’d let her be present when Maggie calved—even if it meant getting her out of school, or getting her up in the middle of the night. She had her clothes handy in a pile by her bed, ready to jump into and come to our place.

Maggie calved Easter Sunday morning (April 8) at 5 a.m. and we got Dani down here in time to witness the birth. It was a cold, snowy day so we had Maggie in the barn. Dani and I sat quietly in the next stall, and Maggie wasn’t a bit nervous having extra people around—she just lay there peacefully and calved. Later that day (before we put Maggie and calf in the field with the other cows and calves) Dani spent a lot of time in Maggie’s pen petting the calf and the old cow didn’t mind at all. She is very tolerant of that little girl.

We spent many days repairing and cleaning most of our ditches (hiring Michael to help us rework the ditch heads with our backhoe, and hauling countless loads of rock from our upper place to rebuild ditch heads and put in headgates and weirs). Michael also finished the new road to Andrea’s house, down through our field and barnyard, and hauled many dump truck loads of rock to finish it. It now has a better slant and surface. No one will get stuck in the mud or go shooting out over the field when it’s icy in winter.

Summer was busy with riding and haying. Granddaughter Heather was home from Carroll College in Helena, Montana and trained horses all summer. Her brother Nick helped his folks on the ranch and also worked at University ranch north of town Now they are both back at school, Nick in his second year at William Penn University in Oskaloosa, Iowa on a running/track scholarship, and Heather in her senior year at Carroll majoring in the Human Animal Bond (psychology department).

Andrea’s kids enjoyed the summer, riding around in the tractor with her while she was baling hay, and riding. Samantha rides 26-year-old Veggie, Charlie and Dani ride a 20-year-old mare named Ed. We bought a 6-year-old mare nicknamed Sprout that turned out to need a lot more training before the younger kids can ride her, but she is making a good horse for Emily.

On July 5, the 12th anniversary of Andrea’s burn accident, and start of “the rest of her life”, we all went on a ride (6 miles up into the mountains behind the ranch) for a picnic. A friend came along and brought an extra horse, so we had enough horses for all the kids. Lynn and Andrea’s friend Rick drove the jeep up there to meet us at a meadow in the timber, brought all the food, and we had a great picnic. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the fact we still have a daughter, and 4 wonderful grandkids (3 of which would never have been born if she’d perished in the fire).

Late summer ended up hot and dry, with many fires. Andrea worked on a fire camp pressure-washing crew (weed-washing vehicles coming and going from the fire) at Big Piney, Wyoming and at the Halstead fire near Stanley, Idaho. It was almost as smoky in our valley as it was 12 years ago. The Mustang fire north of town threatened homes along highway 93 north toward Montana and burned more than 340,000 acres.

Andrea left the fire camp at Stanley early, and she and Emily went to the annual World Burn Congress Sept 11-16 held this year in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The WBC was such a wonderful experience when Andrea and I attended 4 years ago; we always hoped to attend another one. This summer we felt Andrea and Emily should go. Em was now old enough (mentally and emotionally) to benefit from this--possibly helpful for her in dealing with issues that stem from that summer her mom disappeared and was gone for 2 months. It was also a great chance for her and her mom to do something together.

They came home exhausted and inspired, with many new friends. Emily (who is normally shy) came out of her shell and made friends among the young burn survivors. She realized they were more insecure and shy than she is, and she bonded with several of them that she plans to keep in touch with.

Now the kids are all back in school: Em 9th grade, Charlie 5th, Sam 4th and Dani 2nd grade. The youngest girls are busy with dance and gymnastics. Em, Charlie and Dani are playing hockey. This fall I got two young Morgan fillies—a weanling and a 2-year old—and the grandkids are helping Andrea and me work with them. A fun project!

Carolyn works at a local veterinary clinic and Michael has been driving truck in North Dakota (near Crosby and Williston) in the oil fields since October and came home for a short break at Christmas. Weather and roads were bad. On his way home his car slid off the icy road near Livingston MT, but fortunately just tore a tire off and didn’t roll.

While he was home he tried to get caught up on all his cattle work—hauling hay, bringing cattle home from rented pasture, hauling yearlings to the sale at Butte, Montana and preg-checking, vaccinating cows and calves.

Snow and bad weather created a challenge bringing cattle from the leased pasture to corrals for hauling—one cow slipped off the road, rolled down a 20 foot bank, upside down against the fence. They got her pulled back up to the road but she’d broken her hip and had to be butchered. Hauling hay was also a challenge but we got it safely hauled, until Michael went back to get our tractor and loader. Again, it was snowing and horribly slick roads. The truck couldn’t make it up the grade and spun out, sliding backward. The trailer with tractor slid off the road, down over a bank, landing upside down. Fortunately the twist in the tongue popped the hitch loose and the truck (with Michael and young Heather in it) stayed on the road and wasn’t dragged down off the bank, too. We are SO thankful that it was just vehicles and equipment damaged/totaled and nobody was hurt. We hold our family close to our hearts, in gratitude.

Life is full of setbacks and struggles, but we rejoice in the Love of One who continually cares for us, and leads us through the tough times as well as the good ones.

[for updates on our lives see and to read some of my “critter” stories, see my posts on ] With love and best wishes from Withington Creek, Lynn & Heather Thomas

Thursday, December 20, 2012


JULY 24, 2012 – Two weeks ago Andrea went to help our neighbor Bob Minor on a forest fire at Big Piney Wyoming. They are pressure washing all vehicles and heavy equipment that come and go from the fire. This is a Forest Service regulation to prevent spread of weed seeds.

She was gone for 9 days. While she was gone, Lynn and I helped Rick take care of her kids, and Emily rode with me several times to check fences and fix a couple water troughs.

Em has also been earning a little money this summer helping me sort and file articles, trim the brush around my stackyard, and other odd jobs indoors and out. For a few days she helped me flush the old abscess on Sprout’s right hind heel. That mare bruised her heel in the rocks and has been lame for 2 weeks and we haven’t been able to ride her.

Michael and Carolyn and kids chopped larkspur in the 320 in Baker Creek, so it won’t be a danger when they move their cows in there. We also need to fix the fence so the range cows won’t get in there when they get moved to the high range.

The weather has turned hot and dry. Last week we finally started haying. This was about 3 weeks later than planned, because we needed to keep irrigating some of the fields a little longer, due to shortage of water in our creek this summer. On Saturday Rick helped me move the rest of my hay out of the hay shed (and we made a little stack by the horse pens) so we can put new hay in the shed. Andrea started baling and Lynn stacked, and we got my hay shed filled again.

Lynn put the rest of the hay in the main stackyard across the creek. Yesterday Dani rode Veggie for a short ride around the hayfields while Lynn was stacking hay.

When we got done haying Andrea rode with Dani, Sam and me. Today I rode with young Heather and Carolyn while they led and rode a couple of the green horses Heather is training this summer.

I also made plane and hotel reservations for Andrea and Emily to fly to the World Burn Congress in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in September. Emily is old enough now to benefit from this experience. It will help her to better understand all the things that happened when her mom was burned 12 years ago—when her mom disappeared from young Emily’s life for the rest of that summer. Andrea and I have wanted to attend another WBC ever since our first one in 2008, but this time its best that Andrea and Em do it together. We are scrambling to find the money to send them this year.

AUGUST 5 – Friday a week ago our neighbor Alfonzo told us he saw a big red steer out on the low range. Michael was missing a steer from our mountain pasture, so the next morning Andrea and I rode Breezy and Ed and checked the low range. We saw the steer’s tracks near the far corner, and found him in some brush next to the middle range fence. He tried to go through the fence and join some range cows but we were able to get him away from the fence and around the hill. We took him 2 miles back to the 160 acre pasture where he belonged.

That evening Lynn and I went to my 50th high school class reunion dinner. We went to another get-together picnic on Saturday—and a brunch on Sunday.

Andrea helped Alfonzo and Lowell move their range cows from the middle range to the high range Sunday morning. That afternoon she and I rode again to gather more cattle the neighbors missed. Breezy worked 12 hours that day. We rode again the next day to move a few more cattle that got missed.

Michael and Carolyn moved their cows and calves into the Baker Creek side of the 320, now that the range cows and bulls are not pressing that side (they are on the high range instead). They had to take one cow home that lost her calf the night before—drowned in the new water trough. Her calf probably got knocked into the trough when the bulls were fighting, and couldn’t get out. They grafted their spare twin calf onto her. This is the calf named Opie that Michael rescued and stitched its belly back together again after the mother abandoned it and magpies ate the calf’s navel and belly skin.

Weather continues hot and very dry. More forest fires are cropping up nearby. Andrea left last week to help Bob on another fire near Stanley, Idaho (the Halstead fire). Rick has been going to the woods nearly every day to cut firewood to sell, and we’re hoping the Forest Service doesn’t close the forests to vehicles because of high fire danger. While Andrea was been gone, Em rode with Sam, Dani and me a few times.

Veggie had a close call last week. During the night the 26-year-old gelding got on his back in the ditch by the barn—in the little pen where he’s been grazing. He must have struggled awhile to get out, bruising his back and ribs, and neck. He probably lay too close to the ditch and rolled. Fortunately he was able to get out, or he would have died, stuck on his back. I gave him bute for several days (dissolved the pills and mixed them with water and molasses). This helped ease the pain, swellings and inflammation. He was feeling better enough that Sam was able to ride him again yesterday and today, on short rides. She loves that old horse and I’m glad he survived!

AUGUST 17 – Sprout got over being lame and Em started riding her, but the mare still gimps on that foot once in awhile in the rocks. We may have to give her more time off to completely recover from the stone bruise.

We loaned Michael and Carolyn our big flatbed truck to haul hay for their horses, but yellow jackets had built a nest in the driver’s door—which made an interesting challenge getting in and out of the truck without getting stung! Michael had to spray the nest.

Nick drove back to Iowa last week to start his second year of college at William Penn University. He has a running scholarship, and went a couple weeks early for cross-country practice with their team.

Andrea drove home late one night after working on the fire at Stanley, to see the kids briefly, then left at 4 a.m. the next morning to drive back to work. She hopes to do that again tomorrow night; she’s been on that fire now for 18 days and is really missing the kids, and they miss her.

On Saturday Michael helped me put new shoes on Breezy and Ed. We’ll wait on Sprout to see if she gets over her foot problem—before we put new shoes on her. Yesterday and today Michael helped Lynn and Rick set posts for a new fence.

Granddaughter Heather left for college yesterday—her final year at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. She and 2 friends are renting a small place not far from town where they can keep their horses. Michael and Carolyn will haul Heather’s horses over there tomorrow.

Yesterday Sam and Dani rode with me in the morning before the smoke from the fires got too thick, and today Emily rode with us also. We try to ride in the mornings before it gets so hot and smoky—we hope to do a few more rides before school starts next week. Where did the summer go?

AUGUST 26 – Andrea is still working on the Halstead fire near Stanley. It’s still burning out of control (approaching 100,000 acres) and the firefighters are trying to contain the portion that’s threatening people’s homes along the highway and the river. While Andrea’s gone, Lynn and I have been taking care of her kids. The girls have been riding with me, and helped move the cows to a new pasture. Lynn took 11-year-old Charlie to his hunter safety field day and he passed all his tests. A friend took Emily and another young hockey player to hockey camp for a week in Portland Oregon. Emily enjoyed that experience and placed 2nd in the speed-skating.

Last Saturday a week ago Andrea drove home from Stanley (a 3 hour drive) late in the evening—to have a chance to see the kids—and drove back again in the early morning after only 2 hours sleep. We were afraid she might be too tired to drive, so Rick went with her. On Sunday Lynn and Charlie drove to Stanley to get Rick, and Charlie got to see the fire camp where his mom does the power washing, and he got to ride in a pumper truck. Dani and Sam helped me wrap birthday presents for Charlie.

On Tuesday we moved the cows again—up to heifer hill—after taking them to the corral to sort out the bull and leave him in the corral. Sam and Dani enjoyed riding Veggie and Ed to help move cows.

Sam and Dani helped me bake a birthday cake for Charlie. Andrea drove home Thursday night, to surprise Charlie for his birthday. We had a late dinner and invited Jane Minor to come for cake and ice cream. It was wonderful having Andrea here briefly again, and she left at 4:30 the next morning to drive back to Stanley.

The girls rode with me to check the cows in their new pasture, but it’s been so smoky these past few days that we didn’t ride again. It’s hard on their lungs to be out in the smoke, especially with their asthma and breathing problems.

Emily got back from hockey camp yesterday, after stopping at the fire camp at Stanley on their way home. She visited briefly with her mom in between truck washings. We had a thunderstorm this evening but it wasn’t much moisture. The lightning started a few more fires.

SEPTEMBER 4 – The kids started school last week. With Andrea still gone, working on the fire, Lynn went to the kids’ teacher meetings and orientation and got the information packets for Andrea to fill out. Emily helped us get their school supplies.

Emily went for one more ride with me the day before school started—since it was less smoky that day. She rode Breezy, since Sprout is still lame. I cleaned out Sprout’s feet that day and discovered that she’s starting to shed the frog on the lame foot.

Lynn has been using oxygen at night and this past week he started using a C-PAP machine (that keeps the airways open when a person with sleep apnea stops breathing while snoring). It may help keep his oxygen level from dropping so low at night.

Emily has been helping get the kids to bed early, and up early for Lynn to take them to the school bus. Andrea drove home Wednesday evening, and the road was closed right after she went through—due to smoke and no visibility. She spent a couple hours searching through her papers to find Emily’s birth certificate, which she needs in order to get a photo ID for the airplane flight later this month to the World Burn Congress in Wisconsin.

The next morning Andrea signed the necessary forms for Emily’s ID, and went to school to meet with all the kids’ teachers. She left at noon to drive back to fire camp at Stanley. The road was still closed but they let her through because of her job there.

Meanwhile, the Mustang fire the other side of Salmon has been steadily growing, threatening some of the homes and ranches along highway 93 north. Our valley is filled with smoke from that fire.,br>

On Saturday we took shoes off Sprout and cleaned her sore foot again, and found it’s oozing serum from the area under the point of the frog. We thought we got the earlier abscess cleared up (that broke out the back of her heel) but there must still be some infection. We scrubbed up the foot and put another poultice on it, and wrapped it—and put a protective boot over the wrap.

Our range neighbors who have cattle on the Forest Service above our BLM allotment have been rounding up their cattle early—to get them out of harm’s way in case of fire. Their range burned after a lightning strike in July 2003 and they lost some cattle in that fire. They want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Yesterday evening when we did chores, we heard a calf bawling down below our field across the creek. Lynn drove out there with his 4-wheeler and discovered that one of our calves had gone through the fence out to the range, to join some of the neighbor’s range cattle drifting homeward. So we called our cows up the hill toward the fence, and their bawling attracted the calf back up the fence to our herd. Lynn cut a couple wires and let the calf back through, then put the wires back together. We’re glad our cows and calves are gentle and easy to handle. We took them to a different field until the range cattle are no longer going back and forth along our fence.

SEPTEMBER 11 – This past week the smoke has been so thick we can’t see the hills around us; it’s like heavy fog. The Mustang fire north of town continues to grow—now up to 281,000 acres burned. It’s the largest fire in the U.S. right now, and larger than the Clear Creek fire that burned here 12 years ago. Most of the people living along highway 93 north have been evacuated, and firemen are trying to protect the buildings.

Last Thursday we changed the poultice and boot on Sprout’s foot, and again on Sunday—and by then we were able to see part of a wood sliver sticking out from under the frog area, and pulled it out. It was a greasewood thorn about 1 ½ inch long, jammed into the bottom of her foot at an angle. That’s probably why the infection never did clear up. Now that we have it out of there, her foot can get better. We put a new poultice and bandage on it.,br>
Andrea came home from the Halstead fire on Sunday to get ready to leave for the World Burn Congress. Michael and Carolyn branded the last of their late calves, and borrowed our other bull to put with a dozen late-calving cows on the upper place. They hauled him up there Sunday afternoon in their trailer.

Andrea and Emily left Sunday night to drive to the fire camp at Stanley, where a fellow from north Idaho wanted to do a video about Emily the next morning—with interviews before and after her experience at the World Burn Congress.

After filming the first segment at fire camp, Andrea and Em travelled to Boise yesterday evening, stayed with my brother overnight, and this morning he drove them to the airport at 5 a.m. They are off on an exciting new adventure!