Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Box 215, Salmon, ID 83467

December 2013
Blessed Christmas! 
We humbly thank God for His gift of Love to us, and express our gratitude for that Love in sharing it with others. We are grateful for friends remembered at Christmas.
It’s been a good year. Lynn and I are both getting older and slower, and more forgetful, but we have a lot of things to be thankful for, here on Withington Creek.
During January—and through most of the year with only a few short periods home--our son Michael stayed safe driving big trucks in horrendous weather on bad roads in North Dakota. His wife Carolyn, with help some days from my husband Lynn and daughter Andrea managed to get their cows fed, and save a calf born unexpectedly in sub-zero weather. Carolyn and Andrea found it nearly dead, hauled it to the house in the tractor, and thawed it out in our kitchen by the wood stove.
In February we got our tractor and flatbed trailer repaired after their rollover wreck, and got Lynn’s heart repaired, on Valentines’ day. He went to a heart doctor in Missoula, Montana for a “look”at his heart, after shortness of breath and chest pain. He ended up having several stents put in his heart to open some blocked arteries. They kept him there a couple days because of complications, and we had help feeding our cows for a couple weeks (including young grandkids driving the feed truck while Andrea and I threw off the hay) but he’s doing much better now.
During March Andrea and I led our two young fillies on long walks, and started riding the ranch horses again to get them back in shape. Our cows calved in April. GranddaughtersDani and Samantha (age 8 and 10) had fun naming calves—with names like Thunder Bull, Lightning Strike, Twinkle, Merrynina,Buffalope and Silver Belle. We built a house here on the creek for Andrea and her kids a couple years ago, and it’s been fun having grandkids here helping and enjoying the animals. Dani insisted on coming down to the sick barn with her mom one night, to hold the flashlight for us while we gave fluids to a calf we were treating for scours.
Michael and Carolyn’s kids came home from college in May. Nick finished his second year at William Penn University in Iowa where he has a track scholarship. Our oldest granddaughter, Heather Carrie, graduated in May from Carroll College in Helena, Montana with a 4.00 grade point for all four years. Lynn and I didn’t make it to her graduation; we stayed home to do everyone’s chores. Andrea was in Utah with her kids, where 10-year-old Samantha was at the national dance competition with her clogging class. We also did Michael and Carolyn’s chores for 2 days, including taking care of Peabody—a newborn twin calf abandoned by his mother.
Michael was home for a little while from his North Dakota job and helped Lynn clean some ditches, and shod our horses. His kids helped brand and vaccinate their calves, and helped us do ours.
Andrea and I rode nearly every day all summer, putting miles on horses we were training, taking her kids for rides, fixing fences and water troughs on the range, helping our new range neighbors’ cattle learn the range. Young Heather was busy training several groups of Rocky Mountain gaited horses for people in Montana, but managed to ride with us occasionally. She also had a job helping neighbors on their range allotment whenever they had to move cattle. She started my 3-year-old filly Spotty Dottie and did a nice job getting her accustomed to being ridden so grandma could start riding her. At my age I don’t mind having a little help starting our young horses!
Lynn got our haying accomplished, in spite of several frustrating days with tractor and baler problems, and Andrea helped with baling. For awhile we were treating a cow named Freddy who had a high fever from some mysterious illness. Our vet couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her, but she stopped eating and drinking and we kept her alive feeding her gallons of water and“mush” (alfalfa pellets soaked in water and run through the blender) twice a day by stomach tube. She recovered and slowly regained all the weight she lost.
We had some bad fires again this year. In August and September Andrea spent several weeks working at the fire camp at Challis, as part of a weed-wash crew, washing trucks coming and going from the fire area. While she was gone young Danirode range with me numerous times and was proud to be able to help grandma move cattle. 
I continued writing numerous articles for horse and cattle magazines, and contributed a chapter to the new book The Real Wolf, which is coming out in January.
Nick went back to college in Iowa for his third year. Young Heather continued training horses through the fall, and is helping Carolyn with their cattle this winter. I’ve been riding Spotty Dottie for 5 months now, often riding with Andrea and/or young Heather on her training rides. We quit riding for awhile in December when temperatures dropped well below zero.
Michael was home briefly in early October and while he was here he helped us put down 2 of Andrea’s old horses. Snickers was 29 and going blind. Fozzy was only 23 but had malignant growths and was very thin. Michael also put down Molly (age 31) and Chance (age 30 and very thin) for Carolyn and Heather. It was time to say good-bye.
Andrea and Emily flew to Rhode Island to attend the World Burn Congress again, with scholarships to help pay their way. It’s a wonderful, amazing experience, this time with more than 1000 burn survivors, families, and caregivers. Both Andrea and Emily have found blessings in being able to help other burn survivors and family members who struggle with various challenges. Emily (nearly 16 now) wants to help start a support group for children of burn survivors, since they have their own unique needs.
November was busy, with Andrea’s kids starting hockey practice, Charlie singing and placing third in the junior Salmon Idol, Lynn and Andrea tracking an elk herd and Lynn managing to get his cow elk. At age 70 he was pleased to be able to do this again; he and Andrea haven’t hunted elk since before her burn accident 13 ½ years ago. 
Then for two weeks Andrea helped friends put a new roof on one of the local churches. It was a great team effort, finishing the day before Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving day we had a lot to be thankful for; we had all of our family around our table—the ones who were home. Nick couldn’t make it home from college in Iowa and Michael was driving truck in North Dakota, but they were with us in spirit and will be home for Christmas. Family, and the love we share, is truly the greatest blessing on this earth. Looking back, the best of the best times spent this past year for Lynn and me have been the times we spent doing things with our family.
[forupdates on our lives see www.heathersmiththomas.blogspot.comand to read some of my “critter” stories, see my posts on http://insidestorey.blogspot.com ]
With love and best wishes from Withington Creek, Heather and Lynn Thomas

Sunday, December 8, 2013

September 2013 Diary from the Ranch

AUGUST 27, 2013 – Andrea had a tough time for awhile after losing the fragile skin on the sides of her knees; the pain was excruciating—like being burned all over again.  She has been to the doctor several times and was put on antibiotics because her legs became so hot and swollen.  They are doing a little better by now and it looks like the raw areas are starting to fill in some skin around the edges.

Young Heather and I are coming along with Dottie’s training.  This past week we got her used to wearing a breeching (to hold the saddle in place because she doesn’t have enough withers to keep it from going up onto her neck when she’s going downhill).  The first day we put it on her and started to walk her around she spooked and tried to run, making speedy circles around Heather at the end of the lead rope.  At least she didn’t try to pull away—she was just running as hard as she could go in a tight circle.  When she finally calmed down she realized it wasn’t hurting her, and from then on she was ok with it.  We gave her one lesson in the corral and now we’re riding her with it and no longer have to get off and reset the saddle several times when going downhill!
Freddy (the cow that almost died) is doing better now but still very thin.  She’s been covered with horn flies lately, so last Friday I put some delousing pour-on along her back when I fed her some alfalfa hay, since it will also kill flies.  By the next morning there were NO flies on her.  We’re still keeping her separate from the other cows so they won’t beat up on her as she continues to recover and regain lost weight.        

On Saturday we moved the herd from heifer hill to the swamp pasture, then Dani rode with me for 4 hours up through the 320 and high range to check gates, troughs and Michael’s cattle.  That night we had a birthday dinner for Charlie (12 years old!) at Andrea’s house.
Sunday afternoon Andrea, the girls and I went for a very short ride—Andrea’s first ride in over a month (since before she went to work at the fire camp).  She bandaged her raw knees but they were still so painful that we only rode for about 30 minutes.
Today the kids went back to school.  I rode Dottie on a short ride on the low range, with young Heather riding Ed as my “baby sitter horse”.  Afterward, while she waited for old Chance to eat his mush of watered alfalfa pellets and senior feed, Heather worked with Sprout (the 7-year-old spoiled mare we bought last year), teaching her better ground manners.  The first time she worked with Sprout, a few days ago, the mare—who is very stubborn and independent—didn’t want to trot in a circle and reared up and tried to strike at her, so Heather got after her with the popper on the end of the halter rope and made her work, trotting in circles, stopping and turning the other direction, etc. on command.  By the end of the session Sprout had a lot more respect for her handler.


We’ve been pasturing Chance and Molly here for Heather this summer.  They’ve been eating the grass in the hay stack yard, grazing the tall grass behind the barn, etc. and currently they’re grazing along the ditch bank above the little pasture where Freddy and her calf are living.  Chance has bad teeth and can’t chew his food.  Heather feeds him a big tub of “mush” once a day and it takes him an hour to eat it.  So while she waits for him to eat, she does ground work with Sprout and Willow (the yearling filly).  Both of them are coming along nicely in their training program.

Molly finishes her grain/pellets much quicker than Chance, and then tries to eat his, so Heather brings Chance through the gate into the pasture so he can finish his mush without help.  But today Freddy realized Chance had something good and she marched up there and started eating with him.  I wish I’d taken a photo of them eating together—the skinniest old horse and the skinny cow sharing a tub of mush together!  I hurried up there to chase Freddy away from Chance’s feed, and locked her and her calf in the orchard until Chance could finish his meal.

SEPTEMBER 7 – Andrea had a big abscess on her leg last week (staph infection from the raw areas) and went to the doctor to have it lanced and drained.  She is on antibiotics again.  The raw areas are healing now, and getting smaller.  She also had to go to the dentist for emergency repair/covering of two molars that broke—and will eventually need crowns.  By this week the pain in her legs and her mouth is more tolerable!  She is riding Sprout again, with thin bandages over the raw area on her knees, and managing ok. 

Heather and I have been riding Dottie every morning, making longer rides on the low range.  Some days Andrea rides with us.

Last Friday I rode Dottie and Heather rode Ed, then later that day Andrea, Dani and I rode Sprout, Ed and Breezy 4 hours to check on the range cows and gates, and moved some cattle around the mountain to better grass.  

When we headed out through the sagebrush from the big salt ground, Breezy got caught in a snarl of old wire and it scared her; she jumped and bucked and tried to bolt, and nearly fell down.  Fortunately the wire broke and she kicked out of it before we had a bad wreck.  This is some of the wire the BLM left out there after they made a temporary fence to keep the cattle out of the area that burned up in 2003.  The wire has been a serious hazard, being dragged around by wildlife and cattle.  Michael and Carolyn rolled up a pick-up load of it a few years ago, along the ridge above our 320 after getting their horses in it, but there was still some left out there.

It was strung all through the sagebrush where we were riding that day.  A couple minutes after Breezy tore loose from one tangle of wire, Dani spotted another big wad of wire just ahead of her horse, and was able to stop in time and didn’t get into it.  Moments later Andrea’s horse got her hind feet in some wire, but stopped and Andrea got off and picked up Sprout’s feet and got the wire off her hind legs.

Last Sunday Lynn, Andrea, Charlie and a friend took 2 4-wheelers up on the high range and spent the afternoon rolling up as much wire as they could carry home on the 4-wheelers, after fixing one of the water troughs that was leaking.  Charlie enjoyed helping. The next day they went back up there and rolled up more wire. 

While they were doing the wire, Heather, Dani and I rode through the middle range to give Dottie another training ride.  We’ve been riding her every day and she’s coming along very well.

Thursday afternoon a big storm went over the mountain (and missed us—we only got a little bit of rain) and knocked out the power line into our valley.  The power was off for 17 hours.  We didn’t want to use much water in the house because the pump couldn’t run, so Friday morning we carried water from the creek for flushing the toilet and got several gallons of drinking water from my brother’s spring above the upper place.  We took some of the horses to the creek to drink.  We were about to haul water from the creek to the rest of the horses—after our short training ride with Dottie—when the power came back on that afternoon.  Our phone still doesn’t work, however.  Something happened during the power outage to mess up some of the phones and computer lines and the phone company is working round the clock to try to get everything fixed.  

Today Andrea and I rode Sprout and Ed 5 ½ hours to check troughs and cattle on the high range.  It was a hot day and Andrea stopped at a water trough to fill her water bottles.

We spent most of the afternoon rolling up more of the old fence wire.  Actually Andrea rolled up the wire and I held her horse.

We had 3 rolls—one tied on my saddle, one on Andrea’s and she was carrying another.  She got off Sprout to lead her down the very steep hill going down to Peach Pit trough from the ridge between Baker Creek and Withington Creek and put the loop she was carrying over the saddle horn.  Going down the mountain Sprout tripped, and the loop of wire sailed off the saddle horn, over her head, and bounced.  The mountain is so steep at that point that by the next bounce the roll was several hundred feet down the slope.  It bounced again, right over the top of an old dead tree!  It bounced a few more times down the draw, gaining momentum at every bounce, and finally came to rest half a mile from us, where the draw makes a bend.  Our horses just stood there entranced, watching the spectacle.

SEPTEMBER 17 – Our phone finally started working again last Sunday afternoon and I was able to do the 3 interviews early Monday morning that I was supposed to do the Friday before.  Afterward, Andrea and I rode Breezy and Dottie up the ridge to the 320 to check the fence—because Carolyn had mentioned that a cow was hiking down the mountain behind their house just before dark the evening before.  When we rode up toward our fence we encountered 5 pairs, but they were range cows that had come down from the high range.  As we got closer to the 320 we saw the gate was wide open.  Someone had cut all 6 wires and taken the gate out!  The range cows had come clear through our place, so we knew there must be a gate open at the top of the 320 as well.

Michael and Carolyn and young Heather were riding that day on the range across the canyon, helping those ranchers round up, and we could see them bringing a bunch of cattle out of Cheney creek, above our fence corner on that side.  Andrea called Michael on his cell phone (fortunately we had cell service up on our ridge and he did, too) and told him what we’d discovered.  We had tied up the gate temporarily with baling twine (which I always carry in the jacket tied to my saddle) and were heading home to switch horses—since Dottie was too inexperienced to do any cow sorting--and come back to check their cows.

Michael, Carolyn and Heather cut short their help for the neighbors and hurried back across the canyon to their corrals to grab some wire and come fix the gate.  We got home with Dottie and Breezy, grabbed Ed and Sprout, and trotted back up the ridge to the 320.  Almost all of Michael and Carolyn’s cows were down in the northeast corner, which was strange.  None of them had come out the cut gate on the ridge.  We hurried on up Baker Creek and found 4 more pair and a calf, and the gate in Baker Creek was ok.  So we knew the leak had to be the top ridge gate.  We hurried up through the timber to the ridge and met up with Michael, Carolyn and Heather heading up to check that gate.  With the cattle we’d seen in Baker Creek all of their cows and calves were accounted for, which was a relief.  None had gone out the open gates.
The top ridge gate had also been cut and thrown open—with cattle tracks, horse tracks and 4-wheeler tracks coming through.  Someone had taken cattle from the high range and pushed them through our 320 acre pasture to the low range!  We rebuilt the cut gate, then rode back down Baker Creek and checked the 2 side gates (both ok) and rebuilt the bottom ridge gate.  There were 4-wheeler tracks coming down through that gate and on down the ridge—which Andrea and I hadn’t noticed earlier.

So it’s still a mystery.  Did hunters cut the gates to come through on 4-wheelers?  Did a rider bring the range cows down through and cut the gates or do it after the gates were already cut?  We’re not sure exactly what happened, but we are glad none of Michael’s cattle got out and no range cows stayed in the 320.

The next day Andrea and I rode Dottie and Breezy up through the 320 to check on things, and on up into the high range, coming home through the middle range.  It was Dottie’s longest ride so far (nearly 4 hours). 
Andrea has been riding with me on Breezy or Sprout nearly every day, and Dottie is coming along nicely in her training.  Michael, Carolyn and Heather have been riding for more than a week helping round up cattle on the other range.  There are some fences down and some of the cattle have scattered into other allotments and will take awhile to find them all.

On Thursday we put a temporary electric fence (3 strands) across Willow’s pen to split it, and put Dottie in this end of it.  We had to get her out of the pen next to the house and elm tree before the elm starts shedding its leaves this fall.  Dottie loves to eat the leaves and this spring ate so many (before we trimmed the low-hanging branches she was reaching up to nibble on) that it made her a little sick.  I trimmed Willow’s feet while we were keeping her at the far end of the pen as the fence was being built.

Friday Dani rode with Andrea and me on Dottie’s training ride.  We met some hunters on horseback, and then another group that had just shot 2 elk as the herd came up out of our neighbor’s fields in the early morning.  The man we talked to was a volunteer for a Wounded Warriors program, taking handicapped war veterans on various hunts.

On Saturday Alfonzo and the Amish rounded up their cows off our range.  They had 15 riders and took the cattle the longest way home.  Instead of bringing them home the short way through the middle range like Galen Kossler (our old range neighbor) used to do, they took them clear up over the mountain at the head of Baker Creek and down into Withington Creek—then all the way down the creek.  They sorted them above our upper place, and broke the fences in several places, then brought them down in two groups.  They dumped Alfonzo’s cows into the old Gooch place and brought Miller’s cattle on down the road and over to their place.  They are still short some cattle and will probably be riding several more days to try to find them.

Saturday afternoon my cousin Ned and his wife Pam came to visit and stayed a few days.  They are on their way to Fox Island (in Puget Sound, near Seattle Washington) from Texas.  Pam is making some really nice curtains for Andrea’s house—for all the kids’ bedrooms and living room.

Yesterday Michael and Carolyn rounded up their yearlings and brought down to our corral for overnight.  We got in our small herd and sorted off the pairs with calves we are going to sell, and put them in the orchard.  This morning at daylight we sorted off the calves and sent them with Michael’s yearlings to the sale at Butte, Montana.  The calves are only 5 months old and not very big, but hopefully they will bring a good price.

Later we weaned the rest of our calves—the heifers we are keeping, and 2 bull calves, and put them in the little pen below the barn, next to their mothers in the adjacent field.  There’s good grass in that pen so they won’t need to be fed hay.  Freddy’s bull calf is already weaned (5 days ago) and out in my horse pasture, so in a few days we’ll put the other 2 bull calves with him.  The heifers can live with Freddy in the little field above the house; we saved that grass for them.  Hopefully Freddy can gain back her lost weight.