Portraits of the landscape

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The entrance to Coulee Creek Ranch

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I had the immense pleasure of sharing an afternoon hike on the CRP with Mike and Alexis a couple of weeks ago. Earlier in the week we had made plans to spend Thursday afternoon exploring the landscape with them. Rather unexpectedly, we had to move some cows that day, and we threw all our plans out the window. I returned from work at noon, and we headed to the coulee to saddle up. We weren’t too sure if Mike and Alexis would actually make it to Lavina, and in the flurry of activity, we completely forgot to call them. Since our phones only receive service within a few feet of our cell booster, we had no way to reach them. BONOGOFSKY-3010-150129-L

closing the gate

Luckily, my father in law gave them directions to the coulee, and they pulled up our driveway just as we were heading out. Like many a good Montanan, they arrived dressed in boots and jeans, ready to help. Alexis hopped on Bart’s horse while Mike and Bart returned to the shop to get the four wheeler. The ride was easy, and the cows proved to be cooperative. With two horses and Mike on the four wheeler, we had the cows safely in the new calving lot within a couple of hours. Alexis came along with her skills and camera in tow, so we headed out for a late afternoon hike. Her images are featured throughout this entry. You can find more gorgeous landscape and lifestyle photos at her East of Billings Facebook page. Thanks for capturing this special place, Alexis!

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Typical hike – Doc is a blur of white as he runs in circles around me
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The Crazy Mountains
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Pine trees edge the prairie above Coulee Creek
sunset over coulee ck
Sunset over Coulee Creek

Not quite an old fashioned barn-raising

As I walk to work at quarter of eight, the eastern sky is ablaze with colors. But the sun itself yet hides below the horizon, late to rise and early to set these days. To the north, the Snowy Mountains loom darkly on the horizon, their tops frosted with the very snow for which they are named. Above me, a noisy flock of geese forms a V, late migrants to warmer climes. It is mid December, and we are entering the dark heart of winter.

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We experienced one cold snap already, but this week we’ve been hit by a tropical heat wave. With sunshine and daytime temperatures in the fifties, the thin blanket of snow has melted, giving way to moisture and mud. It’s warm enough that Bart is working outdoors, putting tin on our new barn. We started the barn back in August with the help of our friend Brad… and some heavy machinery. Bart used the big yellow machine with an extendable bucket (this is not my area of expertise) to place the corner posts in the ground before Brad arrived.

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The first corner post goes up as Bart masters the post-setting technique
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All ready for the roof

Brad, Bart, and my father-in-law, Dan, then labored under a hot sun, framing the roof and installing the trusses. IMG_3480 Back on the ground, I helped level the posts and handed supplies up to them in their perches on ladders or the tractor bucket IMG_3482   Mid-day, we all took a break in the thin slice of shade made by the pickup truck for lunch – with plenty of water, iced tea, and sandwiches. After cleaning up from the picnic, I laid down in the shade and surprised myself by dozing off, partaking in the ancient art of the siesta. I awoke after a few moments coated in sweat, despite my airy tank top and shorts. Meanwhile the guys, wearing jeans and long-sleeves, were back at it in the sun, determined to finish despite the heat. I watched and tried to learn. Carpentry, like heavy machinery, is not my forte. IMG_3484         Doc spent the day playing in the log pile. He has become quite an accomplished mouser! Brad’s dog, Osa, had more sense and quickly claimed a piece of shade early in the morning. IMG_2883 Soon Doc’s playground will be gone. Bart logged in southeastern Montana where the Rosebud Fires burned in the summerIMG_3446 of 2012. He has already milled several of the logs – making boards for the corrals and barn. Here’s how our corrals and barn looked in mid-September after a couple more weeks of work. More photos showing the progression of the corrals are now posted here: https://couleecreekranch.com/grassfed-beef/ It was a busy summer, but we are glad to be right where we need to be for calving in the spring! IMG_3796

Ranch Camp, Part II

Like many good mothers, Pippi takes lots of photos. She recently shared all these wonderful pictures from her week here with the kids for Ranch Camp. You can find Part I here: https://couleecreekranch.com/2014/10/16/ranch-camp-2014/

It’s such a pleasure to think back to the golden days of autumn now that winter is settling in around us and whisking the last brown leaves off trees with icy fingers. I continue to hope that winter, with its long dark nights, will bring me more time for writing and reminiscing here. For now, here are the last of the fall memories:

Nothing captures the taste of fall as well as fresh-pressed apple cider
Nothing captures the taste of fall as well as fresh-pressed apple cider
Yum!
Lip-smacking good!
Time for French toast!
It’s time for some French toast
Pickin' 'maters before the temperature drops - they arrived on a 90 degree day and were ushered out by 40 degree winds
Picking the last of the ‘maters before the temperature drops. Pippi and family arrived on a 90 degree day, so hot we went swimming. They were ushered out five days later by 30 degree winds and snow
Red Talus meets Red Angus cattle, aka hamburger cows
Red Talus meets Red Angus cattle, aka hamburger cows
Baby Annika's first 4-wheeler ride (with Talus, Doc, and me)
Baby Annika’s first 4-wheeler ride

Ranch Camp 2014

IMG_3646The last weekend of September we began what shall turn into an annual tradition – Ranch Camp with the Graham family from Colorado. My delightful friend Pippi drove north with her kids for a lovely long weekend with us. Talus, four years old, loved helping me and Bart IMG_3641with our chores, from pouring concrete into the new stock tank to breaking up clumps of chicken poop with the hose. His absolute favorite task was collecting the chicken eggs – and taking them straight to the kitchen for french toast. On his first day in town, I returned home from work at noon to find him close to exploding with excitement at the prospect of looking for eggs.  He was full of questions and boundless energy, matched only by that of our English Setter, Doc.

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Moving the coop takes three: Doc, Talus, & me
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Mud bath!
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Miles of muddy beach at Deadman’s Basin

Spending time with Talus reminded me to appreciate the joy of the little moments each day. Forget drudgery! It can be such a grand adventure to drive the 4-wheeler out to move the chicken coop across the yard! Why not run in circles around the hay bales, getting lost and dizzy in a towering maze of sweetly-scented clover?! The muddy shores of Dead Man’s Basin were made for soupy mud baths, right? That last escapade ended in the kids’ first wash basin bath together. I imagine by next year they will have outgrown the tub – but I am already counting down the days and planning grand new adventures for Ranch Camp 2015!

Big brother Talus bathes with Annika
Big brother Talus bathes with his sister Annika