Birds of Dry Creek

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Mourning Dove

Over a period of years I have attempted to capture the birds that we see at the feeders, in the meadows, perched in trees and flying overhead.  It is a tough assignment as anyone who attempts to photograph birds can attest.  Rarely do they sit still or pose for you with the possible exception of owls.  I had to comb my photo files dating back to 2012 when I received my first digital camera and dared to keep snapping away knowing I could just delete my wasted shots and retain a few (very few) good ones.

I do not believe we see the volume of birds that I recall from my childhood.  Early mornings then would be filled with a cacophony of melodious bird song coming from the cotton wood trees that could literally awaken the household with the clamor of competing birds.  The cotton wood trees remain, but the roar of birdsong has subsided.  This is not a scientific appraisal, just my personal testimony to the state of birds along Dry Creek.

I chose my favorite bird to begin this series–one which my mother favored–the Mourning Dove.  A “hollow, mournful coah, cooo, cooo, coo” could be heard high in the cottonwoods above the old ranch house and used to be quite soothing as we lay down to nap on a hot summer day.  (My mother did the napping, I would sneak outside and find something interesting to do.)  These birds will always remind me of Mother.

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Crested Blue Jay

We don’t see many of these showy, noisy jays.  The white spots on wings and tail, and the black necklace differentiate it from Stellar’s Jay.  They are widespread throughout eastern Rockies and according to my bird book, expanding northwestward and hybridizing with Stellar’s Jay.  Whatever brought him to the old elm stump in the yard only he knows for sure.  We would love to see more of them.

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Blue Grouse

Locally known as “fool hens,” these gentle, trusting birds show no signs of fear and can be easily approached.  I photographed this female at my brother’s cabin in the Big Horns and included her in my collection because I admired her so.

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Turkey Vulture

The Rodney Dangerfield of birds, vultures clean up the remains of dead animals and for this they get no respect.  They have a wing span nearly as large as an eagle (6 feet) and roost up high in the cottonwood trees.  Their small red head, somewhat similar to a turkey, must be how they earned their name.

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Turkey Vultures

This gathering of vultures overhead one evening was quite unusual.  Typically we have two to three roosting on a continual basis over the summer and the congregation of these big birds was startling.  What did they know?  Was there a massive die-off somewhere nearby?  It remains a mystery.

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Pyrrhuloxia?

Another mystery is this bird sitting above the feeder one day.  It sent us to the bird book and we still haven’t figured out precisely what it is.  Our best guess is the Pyrrhuloxia.  The grey back, buff breast and touch of red in the wings and crest separate it from the female Cardinal which has a black patch at the base of its bill and around the eyes.

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Pyrrhuloxia vs. Northern Cardinal??

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Rough Legged Hawk

We were walking and came upon this hawk in the grass.  He seemed stunned and uncoordinated, as though he had struck a branch overhead and fallen to the ground.  He is very similar to a Ferruginous Hawk and may very well be one.  We left him and when we came back to check on him, he was gone.  Whatever his ailment, he apparently overcame it and was back in flight. We see many hawks sitting atop fence posts and power line poles.  Their habitat is prairie and plains.

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Yellow Warbler

More yellow than other warblers, this female has olive coloring across her back and lacks the rusty  breast streaks of the male.  Her song is a bright, cheerful tsee-tsee-tsee-tsee-titi-wee and caught my attention.  I finally located her and she remained still for a few moments, long enough for me to catch a so-so photo of her.

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Black-Headed Grosbeak

My brother’s old camping skillets laid around for years until we decided they would make a nice perch for the birds.  Seeds drop from the feeders above and the skillets make a great place to open sunflower seeds or catch a nap.  These two male Grosbeaks appear to be juvenile birds just out for a good time.  Their breast, collar and rump are dull orange and they can be recognized by their prominent broad bill.

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Rufous-Sided Towhee

Easily confused with a grosbeak, this towhee’s head and tail are black, sides Robin-red, belly white, back heavily spotted with white and eyes fiery red.  Arriving in early spring, the towhee rummages in dead leaves and hangs around the feeders.

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Ring-Necked Pheasant

These handsome gamecock-like birds get all the breaks.  The females are mottled brown and have none of the splendor of color or exotic markings these guys enjoy.  I know, I know, it is to camouflage them from predators while nesting and caring for their young but the ladies like to have fun too!

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American Gold Finch

Typically seen in groups on the lawn (they like dandelions) they gather in the spring and are a colorful sight.  They are distinguished from Warblers by their short, conical bills.  They frequent the feeders and entertain us with their song and bright color.

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American Gold Finch

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American Gold Finch

Perched in the grass, on the fence or at the feeders, these pretty little birds arrive in spring to brighten our day.

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Lazuli Bunting

Prettier than its cousin the Indigo Bunting, this little turquoise-colored finch visits us in the spring and can be seen at the feeders or in the meadow.  The two white wing bars distinguish it from a Bluebird.  It migrates to Mexico for the winter.

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Prairie Falcon

Similar to a Peregrine Falcon, this handsome bird was sitting on a post overlooking the vegetable garden and appeared to be taking its time to survey the grounds.  I ran for the camera expecting it to take flight before I could capture it, but it just sat quite still for me.  I have never seen another hawk or falcon perch in the yard, and this was a special treat.  Prairie Falcons range in the western U.S., Canada and Mexico and are found in mountainous grasslands, open hills, plains and prairies.

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Baby Great Horned Owls

Each spring we have been delighted by the arrival of baby owls.  Nests usually have two babies, but one year there were three, which did not end well.  One of the babies fell from the nest (or was pushed?) and languished on the ground for a couple of days.  It was heartbreaking for us to watch and we knew we could not interfere.  We prayed that the parents would care for it and help it back into the nest, but we saw no indication that they attempted to come to its aid.

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Sad little owl baby

The little owl stayed close to where he fell, huddled up in his downy feathered coat and awaited his fate.  I did a search for a bird rescue facility but came up with nothing within a day’s drive.  We could do nothing to save the little creature.

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Time to fly

On this occasion, we watched as the mother owl leads the fledgling to a perch for its first flight.  She seems to be saying “watch me, you can do this.”  They would do touch and go flights over to a nearby hill where they would rest, explore, and then fly back to the nest.  This goes on for a couple weeks, and then the family moves on to a greater range of tree tops nearby.  We spent many evenings listening to the juvenile owls call out to the parents from the tree tops.

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Female Downy Woodpecker

The male Downy Woodpecker has a red patch on the back of his head, which this female lacks.

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Downy Woodpecker

It is a delight to capture these colorful little birds, which do not visit that often.  Their range extends  from Alaska and the western U. S.  Quite similar to the Hairy Woodpecker.

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Meadowlark

Wyoming’s state bird, the Meadowlark, is my other favorite of all the birds we experience here on Dry Creek.  Their melodious song of 7-10 flutelike notes is a welcome to springtime.  They can usually be seen sitting on fence posts as they sing, typically in the morning or evening and what a wonder it is to listen!

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Blue Heron

This is a rare sighting of a Blue Heron on our pond.  We occasionally see them on the North Fork of Powder River a couple of miles south of us, but it is unusual to catch them here.  They stand about 4 feet tall, so it is hard to miss them!  We have tried adding minnows and even goldfish to the pond and likely that would bring a few more of our feathered friends to stop in for lunch.

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Black Bird Babies

About six babies were in this hole in a Cottonwood tree, all vying for attention and tumbling over each other.  The adults appeared to be common, or Brewer’s Blackbirds and are tireless parents.  Feeding this hungry group is a full-time job!

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Black Birds

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Unknown?

About six of these little roley-poleys landed in the snow underneath the feeders one recent winter day.  They were puffed up against the cold, but appear to be broad-chested naturally.  We have searched the bird reference guide to no avail.  I have not observed them again and perhaps they were just blown off course in a storm.  Maybe they will return for more sunflower seeds one day.

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Bald Eagle

America’s national bird, the Bald Eagle migrates from Canada and Alaska to winter in our area.  They can be spotted throughout the year, but their numbers increase during winter.  They are a massive bird, with a wing span of 7-8 feet.  The mature Bald Eagles have a white head and tail.  We see them along the highway, usually with a cluster of ravens, lunching on road kill deer, rabbit or other unfortunate animal.  They perch high in the bare branches of  trees for a vantage point to spot prairie dogs, rabbits, voles and whatever else they can make a meal of, including spring lambs which make them unpopular with local sheep ranchers.

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Golden Eagle

Try as I might, I can never get these giant birds to sit still for a photo.  Taken while we were doing the eagle survey for the Bureau of Land Management, he saw our Jeep arrive and soon took flight from his perch on a power pole.  Oh well, next time!

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Wild Turkeys

I seem to recall Ben Franklin thought the Wild Turkey should become the national bird, but the turkeys lost out to the Bald Eagle.  We used to get seasonal visits from a flock of wild turkeys who would roost high up in the cottonwood trees.  Dad kept a sack of corn around to feed them and made pets of them.  For some unexplained reason they stopped coming, perhaps due to predators.  They do still thrive in the area and I photographed these recently while we were conducting our eagle survey.

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Pygmy Nuthatch

These little birds climb down the tree headfirst and scamper around searching for bugs in the tree bark.  They are entertaining to watch as they circle around and climb up and down the tree.

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European Starling

Considered a garrulous creature, this unfortunate Starling flew down our chimney and raised a ruckus in the fireplace.  It took some time to sort out where the noise was emanating from or what was the cause.  Fortunately for this bird, there was no fire when it decided to make an entrance in our living room.  It created a considerable amount of chaos before we were able to capture it in a plastic bag and set it free outdoors.

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Starling Songfest

The heated birdbath seems just right for this gathering of Starlings and they appear to be having a good time drinking, bathing and singing.

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Prairie Sage Grouse

Somewhat reclusive, sage grouse live in sagebrush country and Wyoming has the largest concentration of them in the western U.S.  Not long ago one flew into the yard, barely missing Michael’s head, and landed in the grass.  A hawk was in pursuit of the grouse but soared up and away once its prey escaped. The grouse was stunned and disoriented, so Michael gathered it up and set it free on the hill above the house.  We hope it made it home before the hawk returned.  In spring, the sage grouse gather at leks to mate and the males display fine plumage and make a “booming” courtship call to the females.

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Immature Bald Eagle

This immature eagle hasn’t reached the age for his head and tale to become white.  A keen hunter, he will wait patiently for an opportunity to materialize.

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Rufous Hummingbird

We hang feeders around the end of June and have quite a few little Hummingbirds pay us a visit.  I am always amazed at how many we see in the mountains early in spring when there is nothing blooming and we have so few down below with flowers and fruit trees covered in blossoms.  They migrate to Mexico in winter and for such a tiny bird to cover so great a distance is one of nature’s miracles.

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White Crowned Sparrow

A little undecided on this identification, but this is our best guess.  There are many types of sparrows and we get a variety at the feeders.

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Cassin’s Finch

Very similar to the Purple Finch but less red on chest and back.  We see these fairly often at the feeders.

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Northern Flicker

Wearing his black bib, this “Red Shafted” Flicker is a beautiful bird with a red patch under his bill and at the tip of its tail.  Brown spots along a white chest, and black stripes across a brown back lend a richness to its coat. They make their homes in tree trunks or wherever they can use their long beak to drill a hole – sometimes in the siding on a barn or house.

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Killdeer

Named for its loud, noisy kill-deeah song, this leggy bird can be found near reservoirs, streams and, in this case, our pond.  They nest on the ground and will go to great lengths to divert any disturbance from their young, prancing down the road or path to capture your attention.  Wide ranging, they can be found  in So. Alaska, Canada, Mexico, W. Indies, also coastal Peru and, of course, Wyoming.

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American Robin

Known for its brick-red breast, the American Robin is also a favorite.  They are the first to arrive in spring, and some winters we have sighted them as early as February.  The last bird song at the end of the day, I often walk down the creek bottom in summer to listen to their clear caroling at dusk. They signal their goodnight with sharp, staccato chirps and then it grows quiet until the owls begin their conversation.

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American Robin

Robins love to bathe and will frequently jump in for a splash.

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Western Tanager

The first Tanager we have sighted, it was an exciting discovery underneath the feeders in July, 2019. The males are most colorful, with red heads.  My bird reference book says the red disappears in autumn and winter.  This is the only U.S. tanager with strong wing bars.

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Wren

Small in size, these little wrens dart quickly from branch to branch, making it hard to photograph them.  We usually hear them singing before we see them.  It is our hope they will nest in some of the bird houses we hung designed for small birds.

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Peacock

Whoa, what’s this?  Not the usual fowl found along Dry Creek.  This fine fellow is a visitor from next door who has not found his way home.  He has been managing to survive in the tall grasses and cover provided by Russian Olive trees.  He enjoys a snack of seeds and will allow me to come fairly close if he is truly hungry, but otherwise he is very elusive and impossible to catch without a major effort on the part of maybe half a dozen determined bird catchers.  He has survived the cold, snow and wind without shelter and refuses to go in with the chickens and guineas at night.  Hard to predict how this story will end.

There are many more birds to add to this story, and hopefully I will be able to add better photographs of some of these and find new subjects to include.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeep Journal – Jackson Hole, Yellowstone II

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A wintry visit . . . .

Each autumn we load up Willy, our jeep and head for the high country.  We have traveled mostly in Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Montana, and our love of the Rocky Mountains draws us back time and again.  This year we headed for Yellowstone and the Tetons the first week of October, which was a little later in the season than our previous visits.  Our plan initially was to include Chico Hot Springs, Livingston and Bozeman, Montana, but a major snow storm prevented any travel north, as well as in Yellowstone National Park.

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wintry scene . . . .

We flipped our travel itinerary and headed for Jackson Hole and the Tetons via Dubois, hoping that the weather would clear enough for us to enter Yellowstone after the roads had been cleared of snow later in the week. It took several hours of wrangling with hotel reservation desks, but we were able to patch together some accommodations.  In this photo, the Tetons are cloaked in snow, but down below in the “hole” there was little snow.  We were able to start our trip in pleasant, fairly mild weather in Jackson, and a newly discovered bed and breakfast was just the ticket.

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Riverfront accommodations . . . .

Since acquiring our wonderful Aussie, Maud, our requirements for lodging are pretty straight-forward: “pet friendly.”  Imagine my surprise when I discovered this delightful bed and breakfast.   Situated a stone’s throw from the banks of Flat Creek, the Inn provided the beauty of a natural setting as well as convenience to shopping, dining and sight-seeing.  We were able to walk everywhere we needed to go, which was a blessing as parking is always tight in downtown Jackson.

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Anybody for a swim? . . . .

Maud was excited to see Canadian geese floating along outside the door to our suite, but upon closer inspection the geese decided to depart.

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Up the creek . . .

A bridge crossing Flat Creek was a good vantage point to capture some scenery.

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Down the creek . . . .

Our suite was on the ground floor with double glass doors and large windows opening on to the creek.  I cannot think of many places we have stayed that had so much ambience, both outdoors and indoors (fireplace, full kitchen, living area, bedroom and bath).

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Bird watching by the creek . . . .

Enjoyed the autumn sun along with a variety of birds who were working the feeders strung up along the yard.  Hard to believe on this pleasant afternoon that we were leaving to drive north through the snow soon.

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Cavalcade . . .

First Lady Melania Trump arrived for a visit to the Tetons and Yellowstone just ahead of our arrival.  We were unaware of her presence and missed the celebration for her in the town square.  She was riding in a caravan (above) of eight black SUV’s and was returning from a planned visit to Yellowstone, which had been cut short due to snow and icy roads.   Cannot help but wonder what her impression was of her visit to Wyoming.

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North bound at last . . . .

I was unable to get a good photograph of the Presidential Air Force plane which was parked at the airport awaiting the First Lady.  The giant plane stood out alongside the tiny airport that serves Jackson and it must have been a pretty dizzying sight to land by jumbo jet there.  My own experience flying into Jackson in a University of Wyoming plane (6 – seater) was pretty incredible back in the day.

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Autumn . . . .

We missed the peak of fall color in Teton National Park by a week to 10 days.  Added to the difficulty of being snowed out of Yellowstone, we have decided to move back future visits to September.  That is no guarantee, but the odds are better than in October.  The other good alternative that we have yet to explore is Yellowstone in winter, which requires arriving via snow coach and touring on cross-country skis, which we both would love to try.

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Aspen . . . .

Pockets of Aspen trees had not shed their leaves and were a reminder of how glorious autumn is in the Tetons.

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Norris Falls . . . .

The snow in Yellowstone made everything look dramatically different from our memory of previous visits.  It makes one want to push back and observe the wildlife and scenery as it appears in the quiet of deep winter.

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Kepler Cascade . . . .

It is difficult to capture the grandeur of most of the sights in Yellowstone.  What the eye can see the camera cannot quite capture.  We keep trying.

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Old Faithful, again . . . .

We could not resist taking yet another photograph of Old Faithful.  We stood on the outside upper deck of Old Faithful Lodge and nearly froze awaiting the arrival of this steamy wonder.  As with much of Yellowstone, little changes from year to year and that is good.

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Willy and Tug . . . .

We have found traveling in a jeep pretty confined with Maud as she takes up the entire back seat! So Tug, our little trailer was added and worked so well we vow to take it on all our driving vacations.  It pulls like a champ and holds an amazing amount of gear, groceries, and equipment.

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Yellowstone Lake Lodge . . . .

For a different perspective of the lodge, we walked onto a point out in the lake and captured the length and breadth of it.  It is one of my favorite places to stay and we had a grand time.  Few of the grand old hotels in the national parks still offer formal dining rooms replete with linens, glass, tableware and menus for fine dining.  It was a high-point of our day – reservations required!

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“Do not disturb!” . . . .

Each morning and late evening, this huge bull elk bugled from his vantage in a grassy pasture near a Yellowstone Lake Lodge service building, and in the timber just north of the lodge.  His shrill, ear-splitting call brought forth an abundance of cows who could not resist his attraction.  Taking Maud for her daily morning and evening stroll meant we had to avoid the chance of her barking at them, God forbid.  I am afraid we would have had to tangle with this big boy.

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“Lend me a leg” . . . .

A gathering of old bulls alongside the road was a poignant reminder of how they come to end their lives, isolated form the herd and fending off the elements.  This old guy has a lame leg that unless it heals will leave him vulnerable to wolves and other predators.  It is the cycle of life, and in nature it is simple and direct.

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Upper Falls . . . .

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Lower Falls . . . .

I run out of words to describe the power and glory of the waterfalls in Yellowstone.  The rushing water commands our attention and, like the wonders of Old Faithful and all the geysers, the water falls continue on their path carving out canyons and passage through this amazing place.

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Maud keeps an eye on things . . . .

Maud is a good traveler, but the limitations on bringing pets into a national park are stringent.  She seemed patient to ride along, watching out the window at the passing scenery and wildlife.  Occasionally she would bark and become aroused, but fortunately she didn’t incite any riots with the wild critters along the road.

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Brunch with a grizzly bear . . . .

This was our trophy photo of the trip.  The grizzly bear was foraging on the opposite side of a ravine from us and thanks to a powerful lens, seems almost close enough to touch.  They are reclusive and not as easily sighted as the smaller black bears that used to create a nuisance along the highway, begging for snacks.  Since the removal of garbage dumps and secure closures on trash cans, even the black bears keep their distance.  Tourists are discouraged from rolling down car windows, feeding the bears or exiting cars in their presence.  More than a few encounters over the years have met with seriously injured tourists and euthanized bears.

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Wiley coyote . . . .

We watched a coyote hunting and he seems not to have noticed us as he went about the business of searching out a rabbit, vole, insects or whatever he could find for lunch.  Early in our journey we were unable to photograph a magnificent young bull moose who was wandering through a meadow.  The traffic jam he caused left us with no recourse but to drive on but I still see him in my mind’s eye.

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Shoreline, Yellowstone Lake . . . .

I revisited my blog of “Jeep Trip – Yellowstone, Tetons and Big Horns” of September 29, 2012 to compare what we saw on that trip that differed from our journey in October 2019.  We took different routes and while some of the iconic sites were the same, such as Old Faithful, we covered some new ground and new wildlife experiences.  I believe we left thinking “until next time” and trust we will discover new vistas and experiences in Wyoming’s magnificent Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

 

 

Watermelon Summer

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Summer day with watermelon . . . .

What can be more fun than a visit to the Big Horn Mountains and a couple days at a cabin with a stream nearby.  Add to the experience a pal to run around with and a big slice of watermelon on a hot summer day.  My memory of those childhood days had grown somewhat hazy,  but it was brought back suddenly with the recent death of my pal Donald whom I had not seen in person since we were still in high school.

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cabin by the creek . . . .

The cabin belonged to Donald’s aunt and uncle, Toots and Domingo Goyhenex.  They had a ranch near ours down in the foothills and were good friends as well as good neighbors.  Donald came to live with them in second grade.  He was one of only two boys near in age to me in the area and became a playmate.  Even at that age he was a complete gear-head who spent his waking hours driving trucks, flying airplanes, and fast cars.  He would run up and down, shouting out gear changes, (whatever is “compound anyway?”) in a frenzy of driving his imagined machines.

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And a collie named Judy . . . .

Judy, a giant golden collie was our constant companion.  She would follow us on our rounds, her tail swishing back and forth.  She is pictured here with Donald, my brother Jimmy and me.  Dad’s 1953 Cadillac is in the background and once again, we are enjoying a visit to the cabin in the Big Horns.

My favorite pastime was to run down the creek, leaping from one rock to another, attempting to stay dry.  The water was cold and icy, coming straight from banks of snow in the high peaks. Getting soaked would leave you shivering and blue with cold.  Invariably, we would end up wet and forced to climb up the hillside to some  rocks to warm up.  We wasted endless hours trying to catch rock chucks whose burrows were in the crevasses in the rock, to no avail.  I don’t think we ever wondered what we would do with one if we did catch it, and I found the dens to be stinky and pretty disgusting.  I can still hear the shrill chirp of the rock chucks early in the morning as they were the first up to greet the sun.

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Branding day on Nine Mile . . . .

Ranch neighbors gathered to help brand cattle and sheep and this day the fence sitters had no immediate jobs to do.  Left to right, my mother, me, Jimmy, Donald and Edna.  The men are down in the corral dogging the calves for branding, vaccinating, and castrating.  The round-up and branding usually takes place late May to early June and my summer wardrobe consisted of sun suits my mother made from flour sacks.   I am wearing one of her ensembles here and I remember being very comfortable and cool. We usually got to have a sip from somebody’s cold beer after the branding was done.

I could not wait until I was old enough to go on the early morning roundup to gather the cattle.  It meant getting up when the birds had just begun to sing and the air was crisp and cool.  As the morning wore on, the heat would build and it seemed like we would never get finished driving the cattle into holding pens to sort calves from their mothers.  By then I was ready for a shady spot to catch a nap but the real work had just begun.

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Dad wields the brand . . . .

Domingo, far right, looks on as the brand is placed on the calf’s hip.  Toots is above on the corral post.   After many hours of branding calves, my mother would serve a meal to all who came to help.  It was a long day, but everyone seemed to enjoy the camaraderie.

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Domingo catching breakfast! . . . .

Actually, this little fish wouldn’t be enough to feed the crowd that gathered at Domingo’s cabin.  So he fed us pancakes–the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten!  They would fill the plate, were light and fluffy and drowning in syrup.  Domingo was a great cook and his mulligan stew and rice pudding were our favorites (after his pancakes, of course.)

In winter the North Fork of Powder River would freeze over in the sloughs and backwater ponds below Domingo’s house.  Donald and I would take our skates and cruise up and down the creek, leaping a few strands of barbed wire in one spot, and trying to avoid falling in the openings in the ice.  The creek wasn’t very deep in most of the areas we skated, but a slip under the ice could have been fatal.  We didn’t dream of having adult supervision for this free-range frenzy on the ice and they didn’t seem to feel a need to watch over us.  The duels we fought with cattails torn from along the edge of the creek would leave the ice so cluttered with fuzz our skates stuck to it. When we were thoroughly cold, we would head to the house for a warm drink.  We polished our skates with mutton tallow, at Domingo’s instruction, to keep them water proof.

Dinner time at Domingo’s house usually meant the kids drank wine with the adults.  The Basque culture of the Pyrenees was liberally laced with wine and I can still taste the stuff Domingo would pour from a jug of dry red (I seem to recall Mogan David or Marco Petri?) into a metal glass (easier to take on the sheep camp trail – they always served from metal glasses) and in no time the kids would be asleep.

My memories of Donald are closely embedded with my memories of his aunt and uncle.  A couple summers I was invited along to trail their sheep to summer pasture in the Big Horns.  I loved being outdoors in the mountains, and as the sheep grazed and ambled along, we had time to wander and explore.  It was a special time.

Donald left for Viet Nam after highschool and settled in other parts of the country.  But he never forgot his old home town and old friends.  One summer he pulled into town riding a big motorcycle.  He captured my brother for a ride, which my brother later described as the most frightening experience of his life.  I did not witness the event, but my imagination runs amok when I envision Donald, at 6 ft. tall, and my brother, a giant at 6 ft. 5 inches aboard a motorcycle, screaming up and down the roadways near Kaycee.  A little off-road bump and grind added to the experience and convinced Jimmy never, ever to crawl aboard another motorcycle.  A few years later Donald arrived back home in a helicopter.  He landed it at the Sussex ranch where Jimmy resides and appeared out of a dust storm to invite Jimmy for a ride in his “chopper.”  Jimmy politely declined, recalling his trip aboard a motorcycle with a maniac.  Good thing Donald didn’t land at the home ranch north of town, he would have been tangled up in the cottonwoods and scared my grandmother’s chickens into the next county.

I had not connected with Donald until a friend request turned up on Facebook a little over a year ago.  We shared some experiences, filled in some of the gaps in our lives,  and I learned that he was suffering from health problems.  He didn’t let on that he was nearing the end, however.  I remarked to my husband over breakfast a couple weeks ago that I hadn’t received a post from Donald in about a month, and that very day I received word that he had died.  I feel like a chunk of my childhood died with him.

RIP, Donald

 

A Horse, Of Course

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Three days old . . . .

My dream of once again owning a paint horse came true with the birth of Tru Tahlequah Miss, born Mothers’ Day, 2012.  What a life-changing event this has been!  My love of horses, and my fuzzy memory of how it was to catch and ride one of our horses here on the ranch, led me down the primrose path, so to speak.  Here we are, once again living on what was the old ranch headquarters, with enough acres to support a few head of livestock.  What we needed was a horse, of course!

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On her feet and ready for action! . . . .

JBS Terrific Miss, the dam we rented from my niece Sue,  is a solid with just enough color to qualify as a registered paint.  Sugs Tru Luck, a magnificent black and white tobiano, was the sire.  Our little filly, soon nicknamed Tilly, took her colors from her maternal grandfather JB Classic, a sorrel overo.  With two blue eyes, she made a pretty picture when she arrived.  I soon forgot my dream of a blue-eyed black and white paint like the one I rode as a girl.  Tilly would have to fill the bill.

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The journey to Wyoming . . .

Tilly faced a dramatic event when she was weaned from her mother and loaded to travel from Colorado to Wyoming.  Her best friend Sue would soon depart and leave her in the land of strangers, without the care of her dam and other horses she had known.  What was a filly to do?

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A pair to draw to . . . .

As it turned out, Tilly wasn’t alone.  We placed her in a corral and barn with a six-month old steer who was in the same predicament, bawling for his mama and miserable.  The steer was baptized Abraham, but his nickname immediately became Feed Lot.  Born on the place to a longhorn cow, he was such a pretty calf I couldn’t part with him.  So began a tempestuous relationship.

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“Hey, get moving – we’re going up the lane!” . . . .

Feed Lot likes to bully and snort, pawing at the ground and shaking his head, but he acquiesces when Tilly pushes hard.  She was particularly feisty on this day and insisted they go up the road.  She came at him from several directions and he eventually found it hard to ignore her.

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“Oh alright!” . . . .

The first couple of years with Tilly were a learning curve I was unprepared for.  First, she seemed prone to allergic reactions, minor infections, major infections, minor injuries, major injuries, the vet was on speed dial–and still is.  Overall, she is in good health, in between crises.  Her personality and attitude range from sweet and docile to ornery and pushy.  I have to keep reminding myself she is after all female, and very much like dealing with a 5-year-old child.

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“I bet if I lean under the fence I can get those flowers” . . . .

As a three-year old her spring training was postponed due to lameness, a major infection in her gutteral pouches (similar to our sinus cavities) and missing the window of opportunity with the potential trainer–a crusty cowboy who gets busy in the summer months.  One more year as a pasture pet will do no harm, right?  I read the history  of the famed Lipizzaner stallions and learned their training did not begin in earnest until they were 4-years of age.  Besides, half the fun of owning a horse is the daily interaction of trying to figure out what they will do next.

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“If I hold my breath” . . . .

After countless hours of round pen exercises, desensitizing routines and grooming, it was time to try something new.  A bareback riding pad seemed like a harmless addition and she had no reaction to it.  Moving right along.

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“I think I can eat this!” . . . .

A new halter with her name on it came from Santa, but she is more interested in eating the wreath I hung on her barn.  Can’t believe that would taste good!

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“they think I’m going in–ha!” . . . .

Trailer training became an ordeal.  All the coaxing in the world would not do the job.  It took a cotton rope strung across her butt and pulled tight to convince her there was no way out.  In the meantime we lost a few battles, tore up some equipment, raised a few blisters, wasted a lot of horse cakes and bribes and thought we would never overcome her stubborn resistance to taking a ride to town.  It may have had something to do with all those trips to the vet for some pretty terrifying procedures, but we did some rides just for fun and she never seemed to remember those.

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“This is what I think of that trailer!” . . . .

After a lengthy experiment with the trailer opened up to her corral, loaded with a sack of hay, a bucket with her apple and some supplement feed, this was her reaction.

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“I’m not done yet!” . . . .

Tillie reacts with displeasure by bucking, kicking and letting me know she isn’t happy.  It’s not hard to figure that out.

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I think this is a horse laugh . . . .

We borrowed a junior saddle from a neighbor to add more weight and substance to see how Tillie would react.  After getting her all cinched up, I longed her around the corral and she crow hopped a little but didn’t really have much of a reaction.  So it goes.

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“We are really thirsty!”

Cannot believe this pair needed a drink so badly they drained the bird bath!  Feed Lot is letting her get the better part of a tiny drink and she didn’t leave any for him.

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“How can I get rid of this thing?” . . . .

Her first bridle has a snaffle bit and she was resistant to having it in her mouth.  I left her tied up for a period of time and she wiggled and maneuvered to try to get it off.  No surprise here.

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friends . . . .

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unfriended . . . .

 

Feed Lot has grown into a 2,000 pound critter to be reckoned with.  He occasionally acts up and everybody runs for cover or a fence to climb, but most of the time he is docile and just likes to eat.  He is very protective of Tilly, however, and that can lead to problems.

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“I have my own ideas” . . . .

 

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True love . . . .

Tillie’s last training session ended up a mixed bag.  After three months with a renowned horse rowdy, she came home and we went for a few rides around the place.  The one that became memorable was a day we encountered Feed Lot near the barn yard and he pitched a fit of some sort.  I guess he didn’t like Tilly to be ridden and leaving him behind, who really knows what goes through a steer’s brain??  He started making a nuisance of himself and Ord grabbed Tillie’s reins to lead us out of harm’s way.  We made it about half a mile away and Tillie caught me completely off guard, lowered her head between her front legs and pitched me up and then down.  I landed with a kerthud on the ground–never even touched the saddle horn to hang on–never pulled the reins to lift her head–just took flight so suddenly it left me shaken, breathless and dazed.

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This is how it starts . . . .

As near as I can recall, this was kind of how Tilly approached off-loading me.  Ord was riding in front and when he turned around all he saw was  her hind legs in the air and I was somewhere in between.  I made it back to the barn and climbed up on the corral while he mounted her and rode her back the same route we had been taking.  She did not give him any trouble.  She never gives HIM any trouble!  We decided to call it a day and I made it back to the house, back straight, shoulders erect, head upright, all the while  holding in a silent scream for a pain killer.  The following week the orthopedic doctor shook his head when I explained the reason for my lower back pain.  He was trying to imagine a woman my age being thrown from a horse.

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When she’s good . . .

I am struggling with a number of choices.  Get on and try riding her.  Hire somebody else to work with her for a period of time.  Consider breeding her for a foal, which would be big fun, more hay, more work, and more expense (two horses on vet panic button).  Tilly turned seven on Mother’s Day and to date is what is derisively referred to as a “pasture pet” by horse people.  I have to consider what she has cost, not just in terms of money, but pain (broken finger when she pulled a knotted lead rope through my hand; smashed big toe that she accidentally stepped on that has taken two years to grow a normal toenail; and my lower back pain which Tilly is partly to blame for.)  But then, there have been a variety of assaults over the years in this area!

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No shelter . . . .

This painting of Tilly and I got away from me.  The artist, Luke Anderson, offered it to me and I waited a bit and it sold from the gallery where it was hanging.  So, I begged him to paint me another one and here it is.

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At home on the range . . . .

Whatever choice I make with Tilly, we are in it together ’til the end.  She is a magnificent animal and I believe she trusts me to make the right decisions for her.Now if only I can learn to trust her and take another ride!

 

Granny’s Button Jar

IMG_0023.JPGAn old Ball canning jar, turned blue with age, contains a collection that my grandmother stashed over the years.  I found it among her things and saved it in tact.  Being the family collector, there was no way I was going to part with it.  It has resided in an antique book case, along with many other family artifacts. Inside the jar, a sewing kit called  the “Happy Mender” contains a variety of thread and a needle.  Frank A. Barrett, Republican for Congress, added a slogan to the kit that reads “Let’s sew up the re-election of Frank A. Barrett.”  The flip side of the kit lists his qualifications:  Able; Efficient; Experienced; Served World War 1.”

IMG_0015.JPGBeyond the sewing kit is a wide variety of incidental items that would have been picked at random for the jar:  three shotgun shells; two thimbles, (one with an inscription “Butternut, the Coffee Delicious” and the other with “Natrona Motor Company, Housley Ford);” USO and Red Cross pins; zipper pull; dress hook;  red plastic die; safety pins in various sizes; hair pins; straight pins; pencil with red lead; brittle rubber bands; key to open tins of meat; curtain rod bracket; and an assortment of buttons of all sizes and colors.  A slender, 4-inch brass tool was included – we have no idea what it was used for.

The assortment of items my grandmother collected gave me a peek into her life. I see her going through her daily routine as a wife and mother on the homestead at Nine Mile during the 1920’s and 1930’s. I do not believe she ever fired a gun, so the addition of three shotgun shells is a puzzlement.  I cannot know whether she was really fond of the sewing kit or the political candidate who gave it to her, but she kept it for 40 years.  Our family didn’t have a lot of discussions about politics–it was usually cattle prices and commodities.  I always believed Granny was a solid Democrat because I remember her fussing and stewing in the kitchen at the Telephone Store, worrying that Adlai Stevenson would not get elected for president.  But a woman has the right to vote her heart, not the party!

I decided to take a look at the Honorable Frank Aloysius Barrett.  Of Irish descent, he served in the Wyoming Senate from 1933 until 1935.  He stood for Congress in 1942 and was elected to the House of Representatives until 1950.  I cannot determine which of his campaigns for re-election to the House would have generated a “Happy Mender” sewing kit.   In 1951 Barrett became the 21st governor of  Wyoming and resigned in 1953 after he was elected to the U. S. Senate where he served one term.

Nella, Jim and Clara Ullery circa 1938

Nella, Jim and Clara Ullery circa 1938

Granny Ullery standing (right) beneath the wind mill on the homestead at Nine Mile.  She moved to Kaycee in the late 1940’s when she and my grandfather acquired the Telephone Store.  Her button jar went along, then moved back to the ranch with her in the early 1960’s when she and Grandaddy retired.  I will leave her button jar in the old book case for the next generation to poke around in.

Cattle Drive

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The lonesome prairie . . . .

June, 1977 and it is time for the annual cattle drive into the Big Horn Mountains.  Trailing the herd of Hereford cattle into the high country for the summer meant the grass on the range down below would grow, cure and be forage for the winter months ahead.  The sheep wagon hauled provisions and provided sleeping quarters, along with a small camper trailer which served as the cook shack.

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“Who is going to lead the hike?” . . . .

The old sheep wagon also afforded a place to nap, rest or just heckle your little brother.  Their first cattle drive, Royce and Eric are like most little boys who are experiencing something for the first time–they can’t get enough and don’t know what to do next! Two of the cowgirls, Lisa and Sue would like to be rid of them.

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“Where’d all these sheep come from?” . . . .

The stock trail is open to all ranches and timing of herds moving up the trail requires a little choreography.  Cattle and sheep are easy to sort, as this herder is doing.  Cows mixed in with cows can be difficult and time consuming, relying upon brands and ear tags to sort it out. Our destination is about 65 miles from home range to the summer cow camp.  Some of the distance is covered hauling livestock in trucks to the base of the mountain and then trailing on from there with riders on horseback.  That is when the fun begins.

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“The last guy who left the gates open!” . . . .

A memorial shrine to the unfortunate traveler who failed to close the gate and allowed livestock to wander away from their designated pasture.  A fitting reminder that gates are serious business!  Nobody wants to spend the summer and early autumn trying to locate lost cows and sheep once they are turned out to pasture.

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Willard springs cabin . . . .

After a few days on the trail, destination is reached.  One of the finest springs on the south end of the Big Horns is adjacent to this old cabin, which became headquarters for summer camp.  The cows are tired and thirsty, the crew is dusty and hungry and it is time for a little relaxation and a cold beer.

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Rosie, the camp cook and straw boss . . .

I drove the pickup which hauled the camp trailer up the mountain.  Mom rode alongside of me and helped guide me and calm my nerves, which were clearly frayed due to the steep inclines and rough, rocky road that would jar the fillings from your teeth!  Once we were parked for the day, she baked the best biscuits and fed us wonderful meals from a tiny kitchen that you could barely turn around in.  Most of us laughed at my two boys, ages 6 and 8 who were forever into mischief.  I say MOST of us.  Dad left a six-pack of beer submerged in a pool of  water rushing out of the spring, and the boys decided to haul it up and have a look.  Unfortunately the cardboard carton disintegrated and the glass bottles of beer crashed on the rocks and broke.  It’s a long hard drive down mountain for more beer! In deference to his grandsons, Dad showed considerable restraint–if it had been me or my siblings who dumped his beer he would have roared like a bear and gone for his belt.

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“Look mom, I can ride!” . . . .

Royce gets his first ride on a horse, thanks to a forgiving grandpa.  It was a highlight of the trip for the boys to be able to say they had actually ridden a horse.  City boys are pretty easy to please, and these are city boys.

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Eric takes a spin . . . .

Mama is not a city girl.  She grew up riding any horse that could be caught with a bucket of oats and a halter.  She still has not outgrown her love of horses.

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“This water is too cold!” . . . .

The trail dust was too much for me to cope with and I made the boys get in the mountain stream for a bath along the way.  The water was melting right out of snow banks so little wonder they were turning blue from the cold.  Mom thought I was being ridiculous, making little boys wash on the trail, but they survived it and still like to brag about how cold it was!

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Eric has his turn . . . .

Eric has his turn at a bath and complained that the slippery rocks were too hard to stand on.  Much easier to stay dirty!

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Time for some adventure–bringing in fire wood . . . .

The following school year, Royce decided to enter a competition and write a story about his experience on the cattle drive.  To improve his chances of winning, he convinced me to type it for him.  The following is his tale.

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The End . . . .

 

A Christmas Tail

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“I love this bird bath!” . . . .

Maud came into our lives late in 2017 and anybody who has elected to cope with an energetic, rambunctious puppy will know what ensued.  Life became puppy-centered chaos!  The tragic loss of our former dog Rosie led us to become very protective of Maud.  She is confined to the yard, walked on a leash and is billeted at night in her crate in the house.  She has a large, covered outdoor kennel where she stays when we make day trips to town in hot weather and she cannot be left in the car or pickup.  Nor can she be left in the house, for a variety of reasons (she chases our two cats, Katya and Bleu; she chews on everything; she empties the waste baskets, etc. etc. etc. )>

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“What’s this white stuff?” . . . .

It has taken all of 2018 to learn the lessons of Maud.  Her first long trip was to our cabin at Red Feather Lakes, Colorado.  We made several “comfort” stops for her along the way but she was having none of it.  She chooses where and when.  She loves life at Red Feather, with endless walks around the lakes, barking at the squirrels and chipmunks who seem to be everywhere, diving into snow banks to unearth voles and critters hiding below and chasing her frisbee, off-leash at last!

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“This stuff gets in my eyes!” . . . .

In February she made her first overnight trip to Denver.  She thought life at the Marriott was dandy.  She was able to identify our room after a couple of passes, enjoyed long walks through the adjacent office park and neighborhood, and barked at our selection of TV programs.  We had to turn that off or be evicted.  She became very excited riding around in Denver’s non-stop traffic.  We had to confine her to the back seat for safety and sanity.  She prefers to ride between us on the console in the pickup where she can choose the radio programs, crank up the heater and mess with everything on the dashboard.

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“I got it, I got it, throw it again!” . . . .

In March our challenge was what to do with Maud for our date at the Wyoming Symphony in Casper.  We had season tickets and missed the January performance due to a blizzard.  It meant leaving her in the cold car, in the dark, for several hours.  We packed her dinner, her bowls, a blanket and she managed fine.  Michael volunteered to walk her during intermission and missed out on the traditional cookie and coffee break.  What we sacrifice for a dog!

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“You’re not getting me in that thing!” . . . .

Maud is an Australian Shepherd.  We have been told this breed ranks in the top ten for “separation anxiety.”  In July we had to confront the problem of driving to Omaha for son Royce’s wedding.  This was not a trip for Maud.  Not only does she bark at trucks (I-80 is a truck train), but we couldn’t leave her in the hotel or a hot car while we made the rounds of pre-and- post nuptial events.  Departure was traumatic.  Michael was anxious, I was crying, and our caregiver was grimly determined.  Maud was not be comforted and roamed every room in the house looking for us.  I phoned home and cried.

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“That’s my frisbee, Gus!” . . . .

Maud’s best friend lives nearby and comes to visit frequently.  He always seems to get ahead of her to retrieve the ball or frisbee and she gets pretty annoyed.  The expression in her eyes says it all.  She is bigger and stronger than Gus, but he out-maneuvers her.  Isn’t that like a guy?

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“Come down out of that tree and I’ll have you!” . . . .

We took a jeep trip to the Big Horn Mountains later in July to attend a memorial service for a dear friend.  We usually take the doors off the jeep, swathe our heads in a bandana and hope the dust doesn’t overtake us before we reach the top.  Maud is supposed to ride in the back of the jeep, however she prefers to stick her head out and smell the air and look for varmints.  Before I know it, I have a 40-plus pound dog sitting in my lap trying to hang out the door opening for whatever adventure might be discovered.  One rabbit and we’ll never see her again!  By the time we reached our destination and the ensuing service, we were barely presentable.  Maud only barked once or twice during the speeches and I was able to keep her at a distance so she wouldn’t jump up and lick everybody’s face.

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“Want to play ball?” . . . .

We planned a getaway to Taos, New Mexico in September.  We were determined that Maud would make a real road trip with us and were delighted to learn our favorite bed and breakfast had one pet-friendly suite.  We were a little nervous, as the Hacienda Del Sol is pretty cushy and wraps around a walled courtyard which is beautifully landscaped.  We rose early to walk Maud off premises and sorted out where we could take “comfort” breaks.  By this time, Maud was more accommodating and accepted our choices, for the most part.  Her only faux pas was peeing in the courtyard in the presence of the proprietor as we returned from shopping one afternoon.  Bad form, indeed!  They did not evict us.  I hope we can go back.

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“I’m waiting” . . . .

We have been busy all of December shopping, baking and making the usual round of holiday gatherings.  Michael’s black-tie event in Sheridan posed yet another challenge.  The Holiday Inn was very accommodating.  Maud took her first elevator ride with grace and aplomb, remained calm in the presence of children roaming the corridors (she loves children and wants to hug and kiss them!) and was perfectly well behaved until we reached our room.  Then she became agitated, whining and finally barking at us with commands.  In years past we would have taken the time for a glass of wine in the cocktail lounge and relaxed before dressing for dinner.  Not so this year.  We put on our coats and with Maud on her leash, walked to the PetSmart store just a block away.  Maud was so excited to finally be invited in to shop, and what an array of dog treats, bones, toys and other dogs!  We settled on a lime green ball, fed her a complimentary cookie and headed back to our hotel where we spent the next hour bouncing her new ball around the room while she raced madly around retrieving it.  She had to wait for us in the pickup while we tried to enjoy the rest of the evening.

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“You mean I wasn’t supposed to?” . . . .

Barring a blizzard, we will be at Red Feather for Christmas and Maud, Michael and I send our best wishes for the holiday season.  We look forward to the New Year and the next chapter of life with Maud.  It truly is a dog’s life!