Friday, September 30, 2011

New team of Shires

Thunderheads were boiling when I walked out in the pasture to halter the new team. They were turned out alone in a big field, and were unconvinced they should come to me. With horse cookies at hand, they relented. We got in just as the lightning and rain fell.

Their feet are horribly overgrown. They have about four inches of extra toe curling and splitting away. One walks with a big of a limp, and I can't tell right now if it's arthritis or its just from needing a trim so badly. I am so far away from a farrier, I'll just have to bute them for a week or two until someone can come get them into shape.

Their names are Jim and Jake-- one has two blue eyes. They are both black with a little bit of roaning, and lots of chrome. When I hitched them up the first time and spoke their names: "Jim, Jake"-- each one flicked his ears back to confirm to me which was Jim and which was Jake. Jake has the blue eyes, if you're wondering. I thought I vaguely remembered being told Jake was on the left, so I hooked them up on the ground. They immediately bumbled into one another, awkwardly bouncing off each others' shoulders and unable to coordinate their steps. It was pretty clear that Jim was actually on the left. Once I switched them up, I had no trouble. They are quiet under harness, at least while ground driving, and responded easily to my commands. With luck, they'll be the quiet, gentle team I need for the ranch.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The ranch photographer was here again. He said, "This DVD is going to be all about you. Are you single? Because then we could put on the screen, 'Come to the ranch and meet this girl!'" In the morning I fly fished for the cameras-- we landed three and missed three more. The largest was an 18" rainbow, missing one eye and half his tail. A blind fish-- must've been why I was able to catch him. In the afternoon, Levi and I saddled up and rode them around for the cameras. We crossed the river a thousand times, and then I took Howdy into the field behind the barn and galloped flat out, hell bent for leather, back and forth while the cameras rolled. I thought, 'surely I'm not going to be able to run towards home for long before Howdy gets annoyed and bucks me off.' My horse was perfect, and each time flew faster across the ground. He loved it. He totally knew those cameras were rolling.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Thunder Booms

A thunderstorm rolled in again this afternoon. Since that horse of mine was struck a month ago, I am feeling cautious. The lightning dropped all around us, and I made my riders walk their horses across the flats, though we were just a minute from the barn. When we got home, Scotch and I sat in the window and watched the lightning fall. It struck a tree on the riverbank right across the road from the window. The tree was way down in the river bottom-- it was not a high point at all! It was a profound, humbling sight. I do love living in a place where the earth reminds you that she will kill you, should you be foolish enough to ignore her. It's not personal, but you'd best watch your step...

One of the guides was driving home from Steamboat on the jeep trail some days ago when lightning struck the road in front of his truck. It rippled across the wet mud and under his vehicle. The steering went solid in his hands, and he pressed on the brake with both feet. His ears were ringing and dull all at once from the boom! of the strike, and he couldn't tell if the engine was still running. He clicked the key on and off-- the truck did nothing. He gathered his wits and caught his breath. Some minutes later, as the storm rolled off over the canyon, he turned the key on the truck again. It started right up, and off he drove!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Getting the horses helicopter-broke

Levi and I rode my horses, Howdy and Cleo, up the mountain to where the ridgeline meets the sky. About thirty minutes later the helicopter arrived, lifting from the valley beneath us, rising to our level, then soaring over to the lodge down below. They gave us plenty of distance on the first pass, and Howdy and Cleo hardly flicked their ears. On the second run, he swooped in and Howdy considered leaping off the mountainside, but then thought better of it. After the third and fourth times going over with the videocameras going, the pilot asked if he could come in closer for some stills. We stood on an outcropping of rock, one horse slightly forward of the other, looking off into the distance while the helicopter hung in the air only 50' from us. Howdy and Cleo posed perfectly-- neither moved a muscle, just focused with ears pricked. It was awesome. The pilot and photographer were so impressed with my amazing horses, of course. So was I!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Read the one below this, first.

BLUBABALU: Stiff pose: Victorian Postmortem photography

I'm not lying about Sarvisberries and death.

"They came by South Pass and that country up there by Lander, and came down there and then of course he died when he was about 38 years old, and they were down at Tin Cup, down at the placer mines at Tin Cup when he died. My grandmother, I knew her, she died years later, I remember they kept her in cold storage, she died around Christmas time and they kept her and took her down there next spring and buried her at Tin Cup. " (From my interview with homesteader Andy Hornbeck, 8/2011)

You know how I tell everyone about how serviceberries (colloquial: sarvisberries) are named because they are the first bush to bloom, in spring, indicating the ground is thawed enough to dig graves and hold services for the winter dead? I wasn't lying about the pioneers keeping their relatives in cold storage all winter.

(I borrowed this photo from the Blubabalu blog, which tells me this really interesting fact that I am now going to start including with my stories about sarvisberries:
-The official practice of post-mortem photography was very common through the Victorian era as a way to remember dead loved ones. With children, it was usually the only photograph of the child the family would ever have. This practice faded in the early 20th century, as advances in health and medical care extended our lifespan, and Kodak introduced the Brownie camera, making photographs more readily available to the public and less of an art form. Death became less common in daily life, and society began to shun it. Previous to the turn of the nineteenth century, funerals were commonly held at home in the parlor, or "death room." With the advent of "funeral parlors," funerals started taking place outside the home, and the home parlor began being called the "living room." I hope that is as interesting to you as it is to me! For more post-mortem or "Memento Mori" photographs, please visit this link:)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It could always be worse...

A reminder from our pioneer ancestors after my particularly trying day, that it could always be worse:

"A timber fire was burning, not very far from where they lived. Erasmus saw the smoke and fire while he was Ward [Colorado]. He hurried home as quickly as he could and found that the fire was getting very close to the house. He knew where there was a potato patch of about two acres that was plowed up, where he felt that they would be safe as the fire would be burned out when it reached the clearing.

"Anna and Erasmus talked of where to go, one place was a cave, not too far away, Anna left first, as the cave was farther away than the potato patch. There seemed to have been some sort of misuderstanding as to where to go, causing them to get separated. While Erasmus didn't find Anna and the children at the potato patch, he felt sure that she had gone to the cave. He left the children and went looking for her. He knew that he couldn't get back to the children so he told them what to do. It wasn't long before the fire was all aoround them. Lee Baxter said, 'I can still see those pine trees explode, when the fire got close to them. That was, barring none, the worst night I ever put in. I was afraid that our folks were burned and imagine how they felt. In the morning about daylight, we saw them coming towards us through the smoke. It was indeed quite a reuinion there on that burned flat. When we went back to where our house used to be, we were positively astounded to see that it was still standing.'"

-From The Snake River From Three Forks to Columbine, by Anna Mae Fleming Adams

Friday, September 9, 2011

City Slickers

(Photo does not depict the dude discussed below, but another city slicker showing off. And really, I shouldn't make fun. I'm sure we all look like this at times in our lives.)

Risky cattle drive today with a man grandly named Duke-- a Jewish New Yorker who idolizes our head cowboy. "You know the movie City Slickers? That's me." (I can't make this stuff up.) Wears special deerskin gloves to maintain his smooth lawyer handshake, and English-style full-zip suede schooling chaps. Tells me he made his own major in college, studying the communication between wild animals, "so I pick up a lot of horse behavior that other people miss out on."

Rushed cows through the brush above the dump road. When we came out, all the cowboys were complaining, "That was some jungle!" "Hellauva country to ride through!" etc. I had the feeling I was supposed to be impressed; I said nothing. A ride through scrub oak at SFR was tougher than that nonsense. While riding home, once we'd lapsed into easy silence, a cowboy complimented the machete I carry in a leather sheath on my back cinch billet. I replied, "I came from brushy country." As if that could explain the half of it...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Scrub oak always equals danger

Took my horses on an exploratory mission over the Wyoming border today. We followed fencelines and cattle trails to attempt to top out on the ridge-- and found scrub oak! The one place on the ranch that has scrub oak, and I've found it. Great. I hopped off to create a pathway for us, and pulled out my trusty machete.

Swish, hack! Crash-- another tree sacrificed to the trail. Howdy and Cleo were tied off to my belt. With the next Swish, hack! we heard a new sound: hmmmmmmmmmmmmMMMMMMMMMMMBBBZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!! We all three recognized the sound and leapt a startled 180 degrees to reverse course for some distance. It seems my hacked-off branch landed on a paperwasp nest that had been destroyed by a cow or bear. It was lying on the ground, torn apart, the wasps stumbling over it trying to find some order when I threw a branch on top and made angry bees angrier. We escaped alive.

The semi-tame fox was in the field on our way out-- watched us, and then came closer.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Loading the wagons and heading west

Pioneers tend to uproot every few years. It must be in our blood. Levi and I pulled up stakes and left Crawford to wander up into an even less-inhabited country north of Steamboat Springs. This valley is true west-- millions of acres of public land, and one huge dude ranch of 200,000 acres. We find ourselves amidst plains of sage, tumbling tumbleweeds, and vast stands of aspen among the world's finest elk territory. It feels like Yellowstone.