An Unusual Sunday

Three quarters of an inch had fallen by the time we checked the rain gauge at seven AM on July 10th. Over the next four hours bursts of heavy rain followed by steady slow showers brought the total for the day up to one and three quarters of an inch. Unbelievable for July on the prairie of central Montana! After weeks of continual work (gardening, fencing, tending to the cows, chickens, and much more), I thoroughly enjoyed lounging on the couch while reading a book and listening to the rain cleanse the world outdoors.

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Muddy pools of water now dot the brown landscape, dry and parched from the last few weeks of intense heat. In the afternoon, the sun peeks out for a few hours and we take the horses up to the CRP pasture to check on the cows. We find the herd in the southwest corner, farthest from the creek where the grass hasn’t been grazed as heavily. Huge puddles on the side of the road allow them to linger there eating and drinking all afternoon. My horse rides well. He is recovering from a sprained tendon that I’ve been treating with ice and leg wraps since we moved the bulls to pasture with the cows in May. I am relieved at his smooth gait and apparent lack of pain. We take it easy, walking leisurely across the wide rolling plain. That evening when we head to town for dinner, I am surprised at how quickly the puddles on the driveway have disappeared. The thirsty ground absorbed the rain in a hurry!

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The next morning we wake to the sound of more rain on the roof, another tenth of an inch has fallen overnight. The air is cool, mid 50s, and moist. I feel like I am back in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, which can be damp and chilly even in the summer. I emerge from our cabin wearing pants, a sweater and down vest. It’s as though I’ve landed in a different world than where I stood just four days ago, sweltering in shorts and a tank top. The garden is vibrant green and thick with mud. Last week I replanted the cover crop in the fallow portion, having determined that the mammoth red clover just wasn’t getting ahead of the weeds. Now the ryegrass will get a jumpstart on life following the storm. The rain wraps the world in cool, comforting moisture as it soothes my mind and body. I’ve been cranky from the incessant dry heat of late. One storm like this every week or two would do the earth and me a world of good!

April in Photos

IMG_5056During calving season, Buddy and Whiskey sometimes get shut out of the corrals. Most mornings, they come in to take a nap in the sunshine and generally be part of the barnyard crowd. But with twins on our hands, we needed the extra space for the cow to be with her heifer calves. It was during a three AM check that I discovered the twins. Both were already on the ground, heads up and breathing well. But, being a novice at this whole business, I didn’t know if there was something we needed to do – so I woke Bart to tell him we had twins. He asked if they were standing yet, and if the cow was cleaning them. He then assured me it was okay, we could wait until dawn to check on them again. But after about 10 minutes lying in the dark, I heard his clear, alert voice ask, “how am I supposed to go back to sleep now?” By the next morning, the cow was licking one calf clean while the other suckled. A truly impressive and dedicated mother.

We are so grateful to our first branding crew – several newbies (including myself), but with plenty of determination and desire to learn, we had a smooth, easy morning of branding.

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Thanks to Mary Peters for capturing the crew on film – more photos from the morning are on her website Photography by Mary PetersIMG_5072

I am the pied piper of chickens. They follow me wherever I go, sometimes so eager for kitchen scraps that they swarm me and literally get underfoot. Their egg output is impressive for 3-year olds; We still get about a half dozen a day. In the nine months that we’ve lived out in the coulee they have learned to follow the horses and cows – pecking through their paddies for insects and seeds. Its great to have a clean-up crew around!

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We’ve spent over a week fencing along the highway – a pasture we are leasing from the neighbor in order to have a separate space for our heifers and a bull this spring. We’ve worked feverishly to get the pasture in working order. This little dip in the landscape had to be totally re-wired with new posts installed. It took about a half day of up and down, up and down to finish the job. Doc, the project boss, had to remain in the truck because of our proximity to the highway. He alternated between wistfully looking out the window and napping on the shovel handle.

At least the views while fencing provided some relief! To our northwest, the low, slumped profile of the Snowy Mountains.

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And more distant, directly to the west, the ragged white crests of the Crazy Mountains.

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Plenty of wildlife viewing too…

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The hot days have brought out the snakes. In one day we saw garter snakes, bull snakes, racers, and rattlers. Bart even saw a rattler and a racer peeking out of a hole, side-by-side, where earlier he had seen a garter. A communal hibernaculum, perhaps? The photo above is of a bull snake, the friendly relative of the prairie rattlesnake. Apparently, where there are bull snakes, there are no rattlesnakes. We welcome the presence of the bulls!

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We woke during the night on Thursday to fierce northern winds. I scrambled downstairs to shut the windows, which were left open in order to cool the cabin following a sunny, dry, and very hot day. The next morning we awoke to the acrid smell and dense smoke of wildfire. We couldn’t even see the familiar outline of the Snowy Mountains while fencing. To the north close to a half million acres in Alberta is engulfed in flames and over 80,000 people have been evacuated; a strange occurrence for early May. With a drought and temperatures already in the 80’s, it feels more like August here on the northern prairie. Gratefully, today brought ample rain, clearing the air of smoke and providing much needed moisture to us and our neighbors to the north.

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The first evening primrose of spring! It is impressive; such a large and delicate flower emerging from the rocky soil. Most of our prairie wildflowers are a fraction of the primrose’s size, beautiful and colorful in their own diminutive way. There are splashes of purple, blue, yellow, and pink everywhere lately. Today’s heavy rains will surely bring more color to the prairie. Thankfully, the forecast calls for even more tonight and tomorrow.

Here a blog, there a blog

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. There were many moments when I was inspired to write, but just couldn’t find time for it. The holidays bring a flurry of activity – gatherings with friends & family, winter travel and its inherent unpredictabilty, rich & plentiful meals complete with luxurious deserts, hand-crafting gifts & cards – all packed into a couple of weeks during a special time of the year, the winter solstice. Although there is now a thick blanket of snow on the ground, I captured the following in my journal back in mid-December when the ground was mostly brown:

I’ve been taking sunset hikes in the late afternoon up on the high piece of prairie we call the CRP*. I set out from the corrals and head north towards the Snowy Mountains, which are capped in clouds tinted pink with the setting sun’s rays. A flock of ravens flies low overhead en route to their evening roost. One raven breaks off from the group and swoops down over Doc’s head – curious about this odd interloper. He circles once and with a flap, satisfied that there is no meal here, he rises towards the clouds to join the rest of the group on their path south. Doc runs off to the edge of the sky, becoming small as a grain of rice. His creamy white fur catches the suns’ rays, illuminating his outline momentarily in a flash of gold.

We circle south along the edge of the property and soon see the Crazy Mountains, a jagged high range, in the distance. Our friends live at the doorstep of these mountains, a 90-minute drive away, but with much the same view we have from here. Such is the landscape of central Montana, endless sky and long stretches of rolling prairie broken up by mountain ranges and small towns. The corrals – and soon, our home – are located on Belmont Rd. I didn’t think much of this until my mother, who studied French in high school, pointed out that belle mont is French for beautiful mountain. “But of course!” I said with my best French accent. From here we can see five different mountain ranges, which are most certainly beautiful if not occasionally mind-blowing for this easterner accustomed to densely wooded spaces. As I head back on the last leg of my loop hike, the moon launches into the sky over the Bull Mountains and the darkening horizon; now soft blue then deep purple before dimming to the enveloping darkness of a rural night.

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Obligatory cute photo: Doc finds a resting place on our chopping block and enjoys a sun bath on the morning of the solstice

* The CRP land was formerly part of the federal crop reserve program