Rites of Spring

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Firewood . . . .

Each spring during March and April we gather dead-fall from 100 or so cottonwood trees along the creek bottom.  This year is far worse due to a deadly storm last July that brought hurricane-force winds and amazing destruction.  We have been cleaning up since that storm, but the tall grasses that grow in summer inhibit a very concentrated approach.  We decided to wait until winter and try again once the snow had subsided.

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Not full yet . . . .

Many of the larger branches and stumps had to be cut with the chain saw to make them manageable.  We concentrate on those first, and then gather up the smaller branches and twigs.  It is tedious, scratchy work.  We dump each load into a burn pile and dispose of them in that manner, keeping the larger chunks for the wood pile and the fireplace we burn in the cold months.  Smaller branches are cut to a shorter length for our outdoor patio stove which we burn in late spring and early autumn when we can avoid the mosquitoes.

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Aching backs . . . .

We attempt to mow these grassy meadows in summer and my ambitious plan for a private nine-hole golf course is still a dream in the distant future, however the cleanup has to occur first.  Even the brush hog pulled behind the tractor cannot deal with this kind of mess.  It is cut, bend and stoop, load on the trailer and haul away to be burned.  Like it or not.

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Sir Winston and Maud . . . .

We have lots of helpers who want to get in on the fun.  Maud attempts to grab onto the end of the limbs while we are carrying them, and Sir Winston gets tangled up in our feet while he tries to give us a friendly rub.  We couldn’t do it without them.

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Dry Creek? . . . .

The Not So Dry Creek has been running since mid-February.  Flood stage had subsided and most of the snow had melted one week ago, but this week we have had another 8-10 inches of snowfall and bitter cold.  Trying to get tractor, trailer and other equipment in to some areas is a challenge that will not go away soon.  And when this latest snow melts, we will be back up to some level of flooding again.  Ethel will be in heaven.

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A goose’s favorite pastime . . . .

Ethel, our one remaining goose has been waiting in a dusty, dry poultry house all winter for a bath and a good meal of roots and mud.  She is in her element and spends the entire day fishing and bathing in the water.  The chickens like to pick along the creek bank although it is a mystery what they are after – still too cold for bugs and worms!

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A creek runs through it . . . .

My fondest dream as a child was for Dry Creek to run again all year long.  I spent the spring flood season splashing around in the water up and down the creek.  My bum lambs would join me for a nibble of green grass.  Alas, by July the water was gone and I was back to being a dry-lander.  Underground springs are found for several miles along the creek bottom and we have a nice pond that is spring fed.  In the early part of the last century, homesteaders built dug-outs in the creek banks and utilized water from seeps.

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Not so deep . . . .

The water makes its way downstream to eventually join the North Fork of Powder River.  Reservoirs that hinder its progress have been overflowing and the underground water still makes its way to join the river, which flows into the Middle Fork of the Powder.  Who knows, perhaps climate change will bring my dream into reality and Dry Creek will run once more!  I’m not buying a fishing pole any time soon.

 

A Winter’s Tail

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Pete the Wandering Peacock

A male peacock which belongs to a neighbor is perched up in the cottonwood tree and on this particular day, we are having a winter storm complete with wind, drifting snow and all around misery for our feathered friends.  I was headed to the barn to care for Tilly, our mare and Feed Lot, our Long Horn steer when I got a tug from Maud’s leash.

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Maud, Wonder Dog

At 50+ pounds, when Maud decides on a direction she is hard to resist.  More often than not, she drags me along or worse yet, pulls me off my feet in a mad dash for a deer, rabbit or some other imagined chase.  On this day, she sighted the peacock up in the tree and wanted to investigate. We have been watching and caring for the peacock for about a month in the hopes he will head home on his own volition.  He evades capture so we are left with few options.  It seemed odd he would be up high in a tree in a storm.  A feeding bowl at the base of the tree had blown full of drifting snow.  I planned to check on it when I came back from the barn, but with Maud’s insistence, decided to dig it out and re-fill it in case a frozen bird needed a bite of sustenance and could not wait.

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Still snowing . . .

We walked back to the garden shed where the bird feed is kept, filled a small bucket with seed for the peacock, and before I could open the gate to leave , there was another tug on the leash.  Since we were still in the yard, I let go to see what Maud was so interested in.  She raced to the fence nearest the chicken house and barked ferociously.  The snow was blowing and swirling so hard I would have overlooked two of my favorite Welsummer chickens huddled and half frozen by the chicken house door.  These hens wander up and down the creek bottom foraging until the other chickens have gone in for the day.  I had overlooked them and locked up leaving them out in the storm all night.  Poor girls, I had to pick them up and carry them inside to warm up.

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Maud knows best . . .

Meanwhile, there is still a very hungry peacock perched high up in a cottonwood with the wind and snow swirling around him.  I dumped the bucket of seed in the bowl where I have been feeding him and kicked the snow back in the hope it would not drift over before the peacock decided to come down and have a bite.  I have been feeding him at two locations, but the snow is badly drifted up along the grove of Russian Olive trees that he travels back and forth between.  I doubt he’ll be doing much travel today and my worry is that he will suffer frostbite if he doesn’t come down soon.

Day II – Minus 3 degrees last night, storm and winds died down and today it is sunny.  Pete the peacock is still in the tree where we believe he has been ensconced for about 36 hours now.  He is still alive, perhaps he can no longer fly down?  I expected to see a frozen, dead bird on the ground this morning, but he is still hanging on.

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“Where’s lunch?” . . . .

An update is in order.  Pete’s travails are no less than temperatures that have dipped to -21 degrees, combined with several additional snow storms, and he is still managing to stay alive.  Taken Feb. 22, this photo captured him near one of his feeding stations at the base of some Russian Olive trees.  We were traveling for several days and wondered how he would manage without his daily rations.  Fortunately for Pete, our animal caregiver took pity on him and dumped some wild bird seed for him.

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“Where’s lunch?” . . . .

As if Pete didn’t have enough trouble, a herd of deer that hang around all winter have discovered his feeding bowl and scooped up most of the cracked corn and sunflower seeds, leaving Pete with the crumbs.  What is a guy to do?

Branding Time

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“Who said this was gonna be fun?” .

Springtime means branding time.  Wyoming cowboys and cowgirls gather and travel from ranch to ranch to help get a job done that takes lots of hands.  They can always count on a cold beer, a hot lunch and lots of hard work as hundreds of calves are branded, castrated, vaccinated, ear tagged and returned to their anxious mother cows for sympathy and a little something to eat.

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Gridlock in the barnyard . . . .

The day starts early with lots of riders to gather cattle from the range and herd them into corrals or holding pens.  Calves are separated into separate pens and the fun begins.

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Who’s going to be first? . . . .

The wranglers drop a loop and try to catch a heel, then drag the calves to the open arms of a vast array of helpers, each with a specific task.  The dust flies, the sun climbs in the sky, and the work goes on.

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Hold ’em . . . .

Calves are sometimes branded with different brands, reflecting ownership and tagged as to male and female.  In this instance, the guys get the bad breaks and are castrated to become steers to be fattened and sent to market to become burgers and steaks.

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These gals can handle the job . . . .

Ranching has no clearly defined roles.  Women build fence, ride horseback, gather cattle, brand calves, irrigate meadows, help with cutting and baling hay, run combines and tractors, tend baby calves and lambs in their laundry rooms to keep them alive in a blizzard, raise poultry, plant vegetable gardens, and at summer’s end, preserve fruit and vegetables for the winter.  That is in addition to running a household and being wife and mother.

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“Oh, no – my turn” . . . .

These black Angus calves are the lifeblood of a ranch.  Some of the females, or heifers, will be held back to add to the herd–and some are sold to other ranchers who are building their herds.   Without the revenue raised from these cattle, ranches would not exist.  Nobody gets rich, but the lucky ones who can maintain the lifestyle of ranching are rich indeed.  (Dad always said the best way for a rancher to get rich was to have an oil well or two!)

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Man and horse – partners . . . .

In spite of all the buggies on four wheels that seem to proliferate on every country road, nothing gets the job done like a horse.  I don’t think they will be replaced any time soon.

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Start ’em young! . . . .

Kids love branding time.  I can remember sneaking my first cold beer from a tub of ice in the back of a pickup and I couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9. All the adults were too busy to notice. Getting old enough to ride on the roundup, even though it meant getting up at 5:00 a.m. and shivering in the cool morning air on horseback, was a thrill and an honor.

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“Don’t let those calves go this way!” . . . .

As the calves are released from the trauma of the branding, they are diverted to another pen.  These young cowpokes make sure they don’t head off in the wrong direction.

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“I want my mama!” . . . .

Cannot help but love these babies.  Their antics as playful calves aren’t any different from puppies, kittens, foals or any other of God’s creatures.  I can remember loving my 4-H lambs so much we brought them home from the fair rather than sell them at the livestock auction.  Dad thought I might forget about them once they were turned out to pasture, but I still remember searching through the herd for their familiar faces.

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“Hey, that’s not my mom!” . . . .

A little chaos makes for a good day’s fun.  Hardest part of the day was grabbing all the action on a camera.  Maybe a videotape would have been easier??

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Ladies in waiting . . . .

Relative calm in this direction, as some of the calves have begun to find their mothers.

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Putting on the brand . . . .

Branding is not for the faint of heart.  The calf bellows and tries to escape and it takes several pairs of hands (and feet) to get the job done.  It is over in a matter of seconds and the brand mark will sting for awhile and heal like any wire cut or scratch from a tree limb.  But at the moment, it is hard not to feel sorry for the calves.

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Boots and red Barnum dirt . . . .

Some say the ranching way of life is threatened and going the way of small farmers. Certainly rising land costs, uncertain cattle markets, inheritance taxes, generational disputes and one-thousand other things can all add up to make things difficult.  But the ranching families with grit and determination will hold on.

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Hang in there, Ethan! . . . .

 

Horse Fence

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Tools of the trade . . . .

We decided to test whether or not frost in the ground had abated enough to dig some post holes.  Plans are to build a paddock where our horse Tilly can have a small pasture to romp in when we are away.  She hates being confined in the small corral attached to her loafing shed and has begun to gnaw on the poles when we don’t turn her out.  Our first step was to plant two ancient cedar posts for a man gate where we will re-use an old gate and some ancient technology.

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Gate anchor–of sorts . . . .

This old aluminum milk pail filled with rocks served the previous gate for as long as I can remember.  The pail was chained on the downside of the gate and the gravitational pull kept the gate closed, even in Wyoming winds!  Since the old path from the barn to the house drops down a steep bank to the creek bottom, the milk pail anchor swung freely whenever the gate was opened, banging the gate shut after you had passed through it.

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Post hole digging made easy . . . .

We have tried digging post holes in our barnyard by hand and learned that beneath a foot of topsoil is a plate of hard-pan gumbo that will cause your shovel to bounce and your arms to tremble.  We cannot even penetrate it with the tractor-driven post hole digger without filling the hole with water, letting it soak overnight and drilling it out next day.  At this rate, Tilly has a long wait for a paddock fence!

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Progress, at last . . . .

The plan is to re-use the old wooden gate leaning against the fence post.  It is fairly sturdy for a 50-year-old gate, give or take ten to a dozen years, and fits the personality of the old cedar posts, that are likely as old.  The part I don’t remember is how the milk pail gate anchor is chained to the gate, and what was used as a “stop” lever so the pull of the anchor doesn’t drag the gate open on the downside.  This part will require some heavy thinking. Another problem is how to remove the bent rusty nails that hold the hinges onto an old post that needs to be detached.

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If old posts could talk . . . .

The beautiful patina, ancient scars and timeless character of the old cedar posts salvaged from piles of Dad’s abandoned poles and lumber scraps have a story to tell.  It seemed fitting to mount them where the former gate once stood, and swing another old salvaged gate between them.  Now if we can sort out the milk pail anchor technology, we’ll be back in business.

Mother must be looking down on us, remembering how many times she walked that steep path to the barn to milk Nancy and Doodle, our milk cows.  I loved walking to the barn with her and can clearly remember one day after a torrential rain we had to sit on the bank, watching the water rush by and fretting over the bawling of anxious cows waiting to be milked.  All these old memories come to mind as we build Tilly’s fence.

More Fences

Deer proof . . . .

Deer proof . . . . 

It has taken ten years to arrive at this.  Ten years of planting fruit trees only to see them die from freeze and thaw, drought, bugs, hungry deer and finally, a voracious longhorn steer. We built fences around individual trees only to see the deer climb over and the steer climb through, breaking branches and stripping the leaves.  We decided on strong livestock panels below (to stop the steer) and welded wire strung above (to stop the deer).

The east gate . . . .

The east gate . . . .

It took us two summers of digging post holes, installing panels and then rolls of wire.  A few weeks ago we finally finished the project.  Feeling quite triumphant that we had at last banished the deer and the steer forevermore, we took a break from the final installment and went to the house for coffee.  Thirty minutes later we returned to clean up tools and found a doe deer and her fawn inside our deer-proof fence!  We were both slack-jawed with disbelief. After many failed attempts to leap over the fence, the doe and fawn both escaped in a panic by crawling in between the pre-existing old woven wire boundary fence on the north side and the new fence strung above it.  The only thing left for us to do was unroll all the old snow fence we had used previously around a grove of caragana trees and wire it up to cover the 8″ gap between the old fence and the new along the north side of the orchard.  That seemed to do the trick.

Deer lunch? . . . .

Deer lunch? . . . .

I potted 20 lilac trees from bare root twigs and after two years of growth in the garden, they are now tucked into the ground in our orchard.  They will create a grove all along the north side (hopefully they’ll cover the old snow fence) and will provide lots of fragrant blooms for the bees.

Once more, with feeling . . . .

Once more, with feeling . . . .

Two new apple trees will provide cross pollination for our one lonely standard apple tree that has managed to survive through all the trials and tribulation.  In the spring, we will add more apple and plum trees, and then begin the long wait for our very own fruit.  I suppose the deer and the steer will be waiting too, but they’ll be outside the fence.  Now if only Mother Nature will cut us a break!

Who Has Seen The Wind?

looks like a few twigs fell . . . .

looks like a few twigs fell . . . .

“Who has seen the wind? Neither I nor you, but when the leaves hang trembling, the wind is passing through.  Who has seen the wind?  Neither you nor I.  But when the trees bow down their heads, the wind is passing by.”  Poem by Christina Rosetti.

New addition? . . . .

New addition? . . . .

Not to belabor weather-related disasters of late, but we recently had wind gusts that lifted the tin roof off Neighbor Tom’s shed and blew down huge limbs from our cottonwoods. Our road was effectively blocked causing some minor disruption, and limbs were down and strewn across the ground in every direction.

looking like wind . . . .

looking like wind . . . .

It took two big burly guys most of a morning with chain saws to clear the road and we will be weeks cleaning up the rest of the mess.  Oh aching backs!  Wyoming is known for its wind and it was estimated gusts up to 80 mph blew across the area.

too big to rake, too small to drag . . . .

too big to rake, too small to drag . . . .

Wonder how many semi truck trailers were left along the Interstate?

Garden Grouch Afflicted With Global Warming!

frost in August? . . . .

frozen green beans, anyone? . . . .

A clear sign of global warming, we just had our first frost August 22nd,  at least 2-3 weeks early!  I awoke early in the a.m. cold and grabbed a wool shawl, muttering to nobody in particular (Michael is at the cabin for a few days) that it certainly seemed cold in the house.  Bleu, the house cat, seemed to agree as he was snugged up next to me in the shawl.  A glance at the thermometer revealed 31 degrees.

end of cucumbers . . . .

end of cucumbers . . . .

A hasty trip to the garden was enough to make this gardener grouchy.  Fortunately, I had picked a great deal the night before this disaster and had I any warning of frost, would have done much more.  The vines are toast, but the cucumbers, green beans and summer squash were not harmed, thank goodness!

fried green tomatoes? . . . .

fried green tomatoes? . . . .

The question mark is how will the tomatoes fare?  The vines were about 50% destroyed and I am hoping enough of the vines close to the ground remain to see them through to ripening.  The kale, beets and carrots will be even better after frost, and the lettuce didn’t seem to be affected.  I guess we should be thankful we didn’t lose everything.  Perhaps my woman’s intuition told me to stay home from a trip to the cabin, or I would have been in a pickle, so to speak.  Speaking of pickles . . . .

dill pickles galore . . . .

dill pickles galore . . . .

The frost didn’t get all my cucumbers!!!