A Moment on Coulee Creek

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Ice crystals on Coulee Creek

While caught up in daily chores, listening to the endless chatter of my mind, I am stopped in my tracks. I wake from the trance of “getting things done” and become acutely aware of the moment. Usually it is nature that provides the reason to pause, admire, and be inspired. I live in close proximity to the natural world – the small inconveniences of poor cell service, inconsistent internet, and a grocery store over 45 miles away all become insignificant in comparison to the wonder of nature.

Earlier this morning, Bart and I walked to the cliff edge to look down on Coulee Creek. Seemingly from out of nowhere a golden eagle floated beneath us, soaring west toward the horizon. Moments later, a second eagle appeared, gliding effortlessly away from the sandstone cliffs a hundred feet above the earth.

Later, while taking Doc on his daily duck-hunting hike, I came upon a coyote. The coyote stood partly hidden behind sagebrush, stoic and alert. Doc’s soft curves and floppy ears appeared cartoonish in comparison to the sharp lines of the coyote’s muzzle and ears. When Doc caught scent of the coyote, he followed the trail towards the sagebrush. Doc, with nose to the ground, was oblivious to the wild dog that he was rapidly approaching. Doc came within twenty feet, before the coyote took off in a flash, retreating to a small knoll only fifty feet away. The coyote’s sudden movement finally got Doc’s attention. Doc stopped and watched the coyote, apparently mystified by this creature that he had surely smelled before and never came so close to touching. Doc hesitated, unsure of his next move. I called him back to me, and he seemed all too eager to get away from the mystery animal that was now barking in alarm at us. Its yips echoed in waves off the cliffs behind me. I stood frozen in place as the sound washed over me.

After a moment or two, the chill of five-degree air began to penetrate my jacket and gloves. Time to move on. Doc trotted on down the frozen creek, in pursuit of his usual pal, the duck. I followed Doc toward our cabin in the coulee. I was eager to get to my destination, and my mind began chattering with plans again. I would feed the horses, then stoke the fire and finish turning last summer’s tomatoes into spaghetti sauce. But before I could get too far ahead of myself, I lifted my head toward the cliff where earlier we had seen the eagle, and which now resonated with the call of the coyote. All around me were tangible reminders that where I was right now in this moment was the only place in this world to be.

 

Feeding the old fashioned way

Why not take the team out to feed the cows when it is 1 degree above zero? At least the air is still, even if clouds are completely blocking the sun and a gentle mist of snow is falling from above. We’ve only fed with the team once, and that was before we had the new harnesses, refurbished by a generous man from the Montana Draft Horse and Mule Association. The team has been away; we are borrowing them after all, and their owner requested their presence for a few days. The wagon was gone too, for holiday rides with Santa, and only came back to the ranch yesterday. With everything finally back in one place, we can’t not feed with the team this morning. It is positive one degree after all, not negative.

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On go the layers: long johns, canvas pants, and wool pants on the bottom with two long john tops, a sweater, down vest, wool shirt and canvas work coat on top. Then a unique neck/head tube from my friend Pippi, a silk scarf and an alpaca wool hat made in Bozeman to top it all off. We are ready to roll!

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I give the dogs a boost onto the loaded hay wagon and grab the reins while Bart hitches up the horses. It is a quiet, smooth, and beautiful ride down the county road.

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When the cows see us approaching, they run and a few even buck with excitement. Maverick whines and quivers, eager to work the cows. Doc quivers too, but his shakes are from the cold. This twelve-year-old bird dog is not too impressed with the whole affair. I pile some loose hay in a corner of the wagon to make a bed for him out of the wind. Then I climb on top of the hay, eager to move a bit and pitch bales to get my blood moving.

 

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Bart moves the team a little way at a time so I can spread the hay out. I break the small squares roughly into thirds and toss them left, right, back. Move forward. Left, right, back again. I am toasty warm, and slow my pace to avoid getting sweaty, a sure way to get chilled to the bone in this cold. Bart’s beard has become iced over, creating a frosty face mask.

 

We circle the wagon around and stop by the creek to open the ice for the cows. On the way home, we walk the horses, careful not to let them get too sweaty and chilled either. The drive back seems to take five times as long as the way out, with the chill setting into my toes and fingers. I move my limbs vigorously back and forth to shake blood out to the extremities. The snowflakes become fatter as they drift down, beginning to coat Doc’s back as he lays curled in his hay bed. It was a beautiful and thrilling journey, and I am glad to return home to the warmth of the cabin, where I put on a pot of tea immediately. What a great way to start the day!