Tuesday, November 30, 2010

another storm coming in

For those of you who have lived in serious WINTER conditions, this is going to get boring and redundant, if it hasn't already. 

I have been out twice with a rake to knock overhangs of snow off the cabin roof.  At one point I had 3 foot long icicles outside the kitchen window.  Then as the snow/ice slowly slides its way down the roof, the snow curls around so that the icicles aim INward toward the window, like some kind of midievil (sp) torture device threatening the inhabitants. 
The Boss and his friend were here about the draft in the stove (it's the air in the pipe, not the stove.  It will get fixed).  Anyway, I said something about we have four more months of this winter.  The Boss laughed and said, "More like six.... into June.  This is a record breaker." 
Oh, goodie.  I have moments of terror at the thought.  No garden, no exercise unless I exercise discipline, which I have never possessed. The exercise bike I bought this summer with big intensions nags louder and louder every hour.   Eeeeeekkkk. 
I'm reorganising trunks and closets already. 
I had been putting Sandalwood oil in the pot of water on the stove.  Two nights ago, I called to ask the Boss and Wife to come over and see if they could smell smoke, as I was stuffed up and caughing and couldn't breathe except through my mouth like a half-wit.  They walked in and said they didn't smell smoke, they smelled perfume.  Apparently I put in more and more sandalwood to kill the smoke smell, and had an allergic reaction.  Headline in local paper:    Damn fool foreigner... first recorded death by sandalwood!
The Boss and Wife and visitors are trying very hard not to laugh and point.  Buster, the border collie just smiles and wants a chewey bone.   He's very tolerant of stupidity.
I will TRY to write about things other than WINTER, but it won't be easy.  Anyone silly enough to read this stuff can help by asking questions.  You may get credit for saving my sanity.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


In other states I've lived in, winter is a lower case word, not capitalized.  With the temperature outside in Northwest Montana, the word is WINTER.  We are closing in on zero degrees, and it's only 3pm.  If you go out to take pictures, it only takes a few minutes for your face to threaten to fall off, for good.  You find a scarf to breathe through, and it forms ice on it from your breath.

Like many here, I got caught with my non-WINTER tires still on the pickup.  Even the guy who owns the hardware store has his snow tires in his shed.  His wife informed him, "YOU drive to Thompson Falls Les Schwab.  I'M not doing it!"  He and I looked at eachother and felt silly together.

So I checked the weather channel on line, through the first week of December.  It never lifts above freezing.  As a matter of fact, today looks like the safest day to drive the 45 miles to get the tires switched.  Oh, goodie.  If your body knows you were born in California, there is an abundance of genes labeled, "Chicken".  The idea of going all that way is terrifying.  What if I hit black ice on my normal tires, and end up in a tree, or worse yet, a frozen river?  There is no cell phone reception, so I don't even own one.  You're on your own girl.  Guts it out.

Once I get out of the ranch, sure enough, the so-called Highway 200 (two narrowing lanes) is ploughed.  Encouraging.  The black ice hides under the most pure and beautiful powder you have ever seen.  It is surely the envy of every skier anywhere.  So I try to avoid the pretty stuff.  Advice is stay under 45mph, and make NO sudden moves with the steering wheel.  This is way different than the polite snow storms that send you just enough to make donuts in the church parking lot.  This stuff isn't kidding.

Big rigs pass me, kicking up mud and slush.  The windshield wipers have thawed out and work, but the winshield washing stuff is asleep for the winter.  There are people who didn't hear the "under 45mph" advice.  I think to myself an uncharitable thought:  "If you crash into something, you better not take me with you, idiot!"  Hitting the brakes suddenly is unwise. 

All the way down, the biggest, most macho wild Tom Turkeys are crossing the road slowly, like pedestrians on a sunny day.  It's the day before Thanksgiving, and they couldn't care less.  I swear they are bigger than I have seen them all year.  Turkeys are supposed to be exceptionally stupid.  These guys just look arrogant.  I hear they are all dark meat.  Yum.  Maybe I can hit one.

I finally reached Thompson Falls and Les Schwab, with a bursting parking lot.  Most of their jobs are no doubt like mine, switching tires for free, because I bought them all there.  I get some hot coffee and sit down with a magazine about bow hunting.  Guaranteed to cure insomnia.  A whiney two year old wakes me after a while, just as the mechanic tells me my pickup is ready. 

So now I'm feeling pretty feisty, with studded snows on the truck.  I think it will be fun to drive with the right side tires in the snow at road edge.  Which it was, until the rear end decided to fishtail and I had to quit it.  Sheesh, can't a girl have any fun?

Now that I'm a little less nervous heading home, I notice that occasionally the sun finds a hole in the clouds to peek through.  The sudden light on the snow covered fields teaches me about snow blindness.  And snow on the evergreens glitters even better than the fake stuff in the supermarket parking lots.  In places the trees only got sprayed with snow on one side, as if the kid God hired to spray on flocking got bored and went skiing.

Little birds that didn't migrate are scrounging for left over berries.  The black crows seem much larger in white powder snow, more important.  They look like they are about to make an announcement.  A group of them takes flight as the truck approaches, with bits of road kill in their talons.  Did you know that the collective noun for crows is "Murder"?  A murder of crows walking through the snow.   I never understood how they got that name until I saw them in command of a field covered in white.  You don't want to mess with them.  I know I'm bigger, but to THEY know it?

The main occupation in this weather is eternal, 24-hour vigilance of the fire in the stove.  I have walked into the log cabin, and the window in the stove is dark.  Time to get to work before I freeze to death.

WINTER is really here, just in time for Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


"A'hunting we will go, a'hunting we will go...." 

Raised by a British mother, hunting meant silly people dressing up in very expensive clothes, riding on more expensive horses while half drunk, chasing some poor fox with hounds baying loudly.

It's a bit different in Montana.  I wouldn't get into the multitude of laws and regulations even if I understood them.  This is about people, more men than women, who can feel happy "taking their guns for a walk", quietly through the woods  doing something they are experts at, and feeling something ancient and essential coursing through their veins.  You can't get the same feeling buying filet mignon at the supermarket.  No way.

The camo clothes have to be free of human scent, including detergents.  The gun sights have to be checked, guns cleaned, and the pickup bed has to be swept and hosed off.  The beloved border collie has to be left home.  He sulks and looks deeply wounded, from pre-dawn to mid day when The Boss comes home for lunch and ranch chores.  Then the dog goes into a funk again when it's time to go out again at dusk.  The look of betrayal on his face is priceless.

The Boss and his friend look more like themselves in camo outfits than I have ever seen them.  Men in camo are really hot! 

After a few days of spotting elk here and there, The Boss went off alone one evening.  I had a feeling that this would be the day.  He was usually home by nine, and this time he wasn't.  The Boss Lady knew he had finally got his one elk for the season.  Sure enough, he finally got  home exhausted.  The elk was a 6X7 buck, large enough that it had to be cut in half just to haul him out.  To keep the meat from spoiling, all internal organs have to be removed immediately.  Then, believe it or not, the meat is left there over night, and remains unmolested by preditors.  Early the next morning, the two men went to retrieve the buck, in pieces, and bring it home. 

I watched a hunter's show on TV last Sunday a.m. during which the hunter bragged that his shot had been 270 yards.  The Boss shot this elk, a clean shot at 540 yards. 

When the truck drove up, I grabbed a camera and ran out to take pictures of the happy hunters with the buck peeking over their shoulders, his huge antlers sticking way up above the pickup cab.  Then it was time to hang the meat in the big barn across from my cabin. 

Unexpected sun beat down on the metal roof the next day, raising the temperature inside.  Suddenly, The Boss realized that the meat had to be cut up and wrapped for the freezer fast, or we would lose it.  My phone rang at 6:30 a.m., catching me in my PJ's.  It was his voice asking, "Do you have a spare cutting board we can borrow?" 

"Sure, I think so," I said half asleep.  "I'll be right over with it."  It's about 50 yards to their back door, so I grabbed the cutting board, put on slippers, and walked over.  There were cutting up a quarter of the buck on a big table in the utility porch.  I walked in, in my turquoise and white PJ's from Walmart and offered to help.  The Boss Lady quickly showed me how to freezer wrap cuts of meat for the freezer.  Steaks, backstrap, roasts, and later ground meat.  The first packages I did were an embarassment, but I got better at it after a couple of hours.  Buster the dog, lay quietly at the end of the room, knowing he would get awesome bones at the end of the process. 

I asked the Boss how much this elk had cost him this season.  "Well, there's the cost of the Tag from the government, then the gas to and from the land... about $10 each way, each day.  If you're a decent shot, the rounds expense is negligible.  One year I blew a tire, had to buy four new tires, so that buck was pretty expensive."  Basically, it's about the quality of elk meat.  There's nothing like it.  You'll see.  You would give up the finest beef in favor of elk if you had your choice.  And whatever the cost, we eat all year on it; on our limited budget, it's a bargain."

The cutting got to the neck muscles.  The Boss said, "Damn, this meat is going off already.  I smelled it, and it seemed fine.  I've smelled worse coming out of the packages at the supermarket.  But some of the meat went into the trimmings bucket.  I asked what happens to the trimmings.  "We haul them, and the bones, out to another piece of property, and dump it out at the edge of the woods.  It's a party for coyotes and wolves that night.  That way, the whole food chain is happy." 

"May I watch you take it all out there?"  I was wrapping burger, still in slippers and PJ's after four hours.

"Sure, I'll take you." 

I continued to work on burger wrapping, grabbing big handfulls out of a  five gallon bucket.  I was almost down to the bottom, when The Boss told me I better come now, he was ready to dump bones.  So I washed my hands off, and climbed into his Dodge Ram in my dirty PJ's and slippers.

We went across the river to their other acreage, up dirt roads, into some hay fields surrounded by pines and firs.  He pointed out different trees he had refrained from cutting because they were unusual or beautiful and he was fond of them. 

We finally reached the edge of a clearing, from which thick forest rose up toward the mountains.  We got out and hauled big bones and trimmings off the truck bed onto the dry grass.  He told me that in a day or so there would be no evidence that the meat had ever been there. 

I imagined the predators peeking out of the woods, planning the biggest party ever, on their cell phones telling relatives to fly in quick before it was all gone. 

I'm a product of suburbia.  This life in Montana is as alien to me as if I had gone to Siberia.  I carried with me pre-concieved notions and prejudices when I arrived, and of course was sure I was right in my beliefs.  Well, I have a lot to learn, and my landlords are kind, patient, and willing to share their lives with me. 

When they go out on an annual hunt for food for the freezer, it means they survive the rotten economy a bit better.  There is no waste.  Even the ranch dog gets small bones to bury.  Yes he digs them up later.  Ugh!

I come from civilised people who think the words "hunter and hunting" are obscene.  They shop at Costco meat department, thank you very much.  Kill nice furry animals?!  Appalling!  I remind myself that "dominion over all" means stewardship and responsible management, which the hunters here all do.  Human beings have been hunting for millions of years.  It's what we do if we are to survive.  Let us not forget as we walk down the market aisles that we are all hunters of one sort or another. Remember these animals lived as they were meant to, no factories, no cement floors, no hormones.  They were happy as long as they lived. 


Weather news this a.m. said, "We won't see the '50's again."  It's in the 40's, but very damp and feels freezing, like a very cold San Francisco fog.  This is Montana Fall, which feels like the dead of winter to me.  There is a dusting of snow at about 4000 feet, up high on the mountain I see out the front window.
I still have trouble telling the pines apart.  Ponderosa, Lodgepole, etc.  But I have grown to love a fir that was just a name to me before.  The larch.  It's deciduous.  So last spring it was lime green with the softest, needles like a Hemlock, only they felt so gentle.  Now you can spot them on the mountains scattered in rows along cliffs among the firs and pines...needles. yellow turning to orange  Larch don't like shade, so they grow where they can see the sun and are not shaded by the tall pines.  And when they die, one is allowed to cut them down for firewood.  The Boss has put a pile of it on my porch.  Pine wood is soft and white (or blue where the fungus hit... blue pine is highly prized), but larch is hardwood and when it's cut is kind of peach color. Pine tends to leave creosote on the stove windows.  Larch or other hardwood burns it off.   I have watched The Boss with an axe, skilled as a surgeon.  He can aim so perfectly that he can stand a log on end, and slice off kindling, by the half inch precisely. 
I can't imagine how depressing it must be for all those who were loggers.  They still are.  They watch lumber shipping in from Canada, like beef.  The local mills are closed, out of business.  The loggers have lost their profession.  Those I have talked to are true stewards of the forest.  They know what to cut and what to leave alone.  It's the giant corporations that are ruthless, not the individuals who live in and love the forest.  Between the corporations and the "tree huggers", forest management has gone down the toilet.  I did a walk through a friend’s 20 acres with a university forester, and the logger who came in to manage their forest.  The forest was in good hands with the individual loggers.  Instead of driving spikes into trees and injuring the loggers, the tree huggers should have been picketing the paper mills, etc, who are so far removed from the forest that they have no conscience, no regrets. 
It's like the controversy over the wolves.  The herds of elk have gone from 50 in five years down to 5 on this land.  The wolves breed like any canine, big litters, and they hunt in packs, for food, but also for fun and practice.  The elk are being decimated by them.  Wolves are NOT endangered here.  It won't be until they decimate cattle herds or kill some children that people will wake up.  I view protesters and activists with a different eye now.  They need to do their research before they start making all their noise.  Every group has their narrow-viewed agenda.  There seems to be little even handed approach.  If the Sierra Club, etc., really care about the wildlife, why are they not educating people about the problem with overbreeding wolves
The natives are ready for snow.  To me, it's kind of sad, seeing the garden season die, not knowing what it will be like not to play outside.  I just sent for silk underwear on the Boss Lady’s instructions.  She went to church in sandals yesterday, temperature in the 40's.  I was conspicuous bundled up like a bear in layers. 



I retired at 73 to a log cabin, part of which is over 100 years old.  It sits on a dairy cattle ranch, in a valley carved out of the NW Montana mountains by a river that dumps into Pend Orielle Lake.  The mountains are fuzzy with many varieties of fir, pine, spruce, and cedar, mixed with aspen shimmering in the breeze.  There are strip clearings bare of trees, caused by destructive avalanches.  The most wonderful tree is the larch, fuzzy green needles in the spring, and golden orange in the fall before they drop for the winter.

The sky is a more intense shade of blue than it is in civilization; there is no pollution.  There are no poisonous snakes or spiders here.  The water comes off the mountain, from a spring, to a waterfall, to a stream, to a pond. It is naturally filtered, and it has cured my lifetime of indigestion and intestinal issues. 

I decided to take my daughter Daphne and her husband Joel up to see the waterfall in the woods, the source of all the pure mountain spring water that feeds the cattle ranch.  We walked across a pasture, ducked under a 6000 volt “fence” and walked into the woods.  Off in the distance we could see a dozen or so cattle chowing down on the spring grass.

It was a still, quiet day, a few clouds here and there casting shadows as they moved above us.

Daphne is in her forties.  She has dark brown hair streaked with a little grey, hazel eyes, and a gentle and sweet spirit that shines to anyone meeting her.  She is creative and intuitive.  She has been married for seven years to a Preacher’s kid, a calm red-headed man of intellect… analytical, and able to see through the mud of our family’s relationships.  He detaches very well.  Daphne is wearing a parka against the breeze coming up the valley and carrying a glass of pino grigio wine; Joel has on a black t-shirt that advertises a game he doesn’t own, drinking a bottle of Moose Drool beer.  I’m drinking a Coors.  It’s the 4th of July weekend. They have come from eastern Vancouver, Washington, on the Columbia gorge to a different world from anything either has ever experienced. 

We were just hanging out under the fir trees, watching the waterfall, when we turned around and a whole gang of cattle were calmly walking up the trail toward us.   It looked so pretty seeing this group of beautiful Jerseys looking up at us sweetly, from lower down the trail… it was a real Kodak moment, and Daphne snapped some pictures.  At the time, we didn’t realize that a bull was among them until he made his presence known, stepping up ahead of his girls.  He arrived with an attitude, wanting to make sure we knew that he had the biggest ones. 

Everyone reacts to danger in a different way.  It’s programmed into our neurons at an early age.  Daphne sees reality immediately, no nonsense.  Fear is appropriate.  I go into “function now, cry later mode,” especially when my child is threatened.  Joel goes into cool detachment.  He called over to us, “I could offer him some beef jerky, but somehow that seems wrong.”

It only took a couple of minutes for the bull to calm down and decide he wanted to get to know Joel.  He kept nudging Joel, following him wherever he went to escape.  He seemed to think that Joel was the guy who would give him food, or at least play with him.
Joel was pretty tolerant and unflappable in his first encounter with a real bull.  This was a magnificent animal of several hundred pounds, medium brown face and head, fading back to lighter shiny beige fur.  Free range cattle, grazing at will, sleeping on hay or grass anywhere they wanted are a dying phenomenon.  The corporation milk farms do not really have happy cows, despite the ad campaigns.  This was a very happy bull. 

This bull was determined that someone was going to play with him.  It’s hard to argue with an animal weighing that much.  Really hard. When he would come toward me, I would reach out and scratch his forehead.  He liked it.  Too much.  But it was Joel he was fixated on.  This was a toy, if he could only figure out how to play with it.  I began to laugh.  This giant thing was in play mode.  Daphne kept telling me, “MOM!  This is not funny!”  Laughter still seemed a viable mode of operation at the moment.  I could not afford to view this through Daphne’s logic.

Daphne was in deep reality of the moment; she was scared spitless.  This thing was dangerous, and he was pursuing her husband.  Some action was required to defend him.  “Honey, are you all right?” She could not come up with a practical way to assist, except to express fear.  Joel was in no mood to have a conversation.  He would get a tree trunk between him and the bull, and the bull thought, “Oh, goodie, he’s playing hide and seek.”  Joel hopped from tree to tree, keeping sometimes inadequate trunks between him and the huge animal chasing him, around trees.  If we hadn’t been in a forest, there would have been hell to pay, with nothing to hide behind.  The bull thought peeking around the trunk was great fun, and kept on.  He showed no interest in quitting.

Meanwhile his harem of females watched placidly, with the exception of one very large black angus lady, who wanted to be petted.  By me.  Now.  Don’t stop.  She was beautiful, but her size was also intimidating. 

The bull circulated among Joel, Daphne, and me.  Whenever he was distracted by someone, one of us could move downhill and hide behind another tree.  Again, if there had been no trees, or if one of us had been alone, the playful giant would probably have broken something essential.  I said, to nobody in particular, “That huge thing is NOT CHUCK!  I don’t know who he is.”

We worked our way downhill, as the bull nudged us, gently for him, but his size was such that we were in danger of dropping to our knees.  He was playing, but we knew that there was little protection from the sheer weight of him, as he bumped.into us.   When he ran happily after us, he was faster than you would imagine something that huge could be.  After choosing to pursue Daphne for the third or fourth time, she lost all semblance of cool and screamed at him with a combination of terror and indignation, “Stop it!  Go away.  Leave me alone.”  Hysteria did not deter him in the slightest. He bumped her on the hip, she screamed, and soon discovered the empty wine glass in her jacket pocket had shattered.   Polite to the end, she said, “Mom, I’m sorry, your wine glass is broken,” as she ducked behind another tree.

It finally occurred to me to get a stick, and I yelled, “Get big sticks.  Remember who has dominion!”  We picked up sticks from the forest floor, and began to work our way down, but away from the path they used.  He seemed reluctant to step over fallen logs, which was our advantage.  But he never took his eyes off Joel.  This was his favorite, his wonderful new toy.

Joel and I hit the edge of the forest, and the end of our protection.  Daphne, after some protest, “I’m not leaving these trees!” followed.  Joel said, “Split up, so if he knocks one of us down, the other can wail on him with a stick.”  OK.  We headed along the edge of the pasture, filled with two-foot high grass.  The bull was in no mood to quit.  In fact, he leapt in the air, kicking his legs out behind him twice, like a young heifer, he was feeling such glee.

Joel and I began our campaign of driving the bull ahead of us, with Daphne trailing along behind.  Leaving the cover of the trees was truly frightening.  The bull was in no mood to lose the best game he had ever found, other than his harem, that is.

Joel and I began to use our sticks to swat him and push him ahead of us.  Joel’s stick broke on him.  Joel bent over in front of the bull to pick up the stick while the bull watched intently.  The bull came toward me and I slapped him on each cheek, trying to avoid his eyes.  Why I gave a damn about his eyes, I can’t tell you.  There is such as thing as being too nice when under attack by a mindless bull.  As we pushed toward the ranch corrals, the females broke into a run, and we wondered why, but gratefully ran behind them toward the electric fence.  The bull saw his females escaping and gave up the game to chase after them.

They must have thought we had food in the corral.  Joel ran up and slammed the open gate closed, just before the bull was about to come back out to play some more.  I yelled over to Daphne behind me somewhere, “Get under that electric fence NOW and keep your ass down.”  It’s just a thin little ribbon of plastic, with 6000 volts flowing through it, but it gave us the first moments of safety we had felt for almost an hour. 

Despite the fear, I will never forget the amazing sight of a huge Jersey bull playing in such unrestrained joy.  I found out later who the bull was.  His owner says his name is Dale.  I maintain his name is Chuck.   Who ever heard of a bull named Dale, anyway?  He grew from a ratty looking teenager into the most magnificent bull ever.  Whatever we humans call him, I’m sure that his ladies think he is quite wonderful.  He is playful.  An essential quality in a bull or a man.


Springtime in northwest Montana

There are three jersey milk cows.  Number one in cow pecking order is a beautiful cream color lady with huge soft eyes.  Her name is Precious.  Precious knows no anxiety or fear.  She gives around 12 quarts of milk a day all by herself.  She lets me pet her forehead while she’s being milked.  The girls line up, always in the same order.  Next comes Serenity, so named by the boss lady to mellow her out and make her a nicer person.  Didn’t work.  She has a nasty temper and kicks Bob when she feels like it.  This is a big animal.  Kicks, if properly placed, can break bones. 

I walked out to say hello to the girls.  There's a new one Bob named Shorty, which I promptly said was inappropriate for a lady.  Her name is Violet.  She has the most beautiful eyes of any of them, including the famous Precious.  Well after I had started  talking to them, I heard Chuck, isolated in his own pen, with access to virgins.  He was bellowing when he heard my voice.  I think being a stud is not a bed of roses, the poor thing.  Chuck was named by me.  He came as a teenager and only seemed to want to lie next to Precious and take naps.  If he ever turns into a real bull, I will be amazed.

Violet may have been mistreated.  The Boss  rescues cows, and they soon find out they have landed in heaven.  Her coat looks like old winter fur that has not been brushed off.  She let me brush her today.  It is the sweetest thing the way the girls line up to be milked twice a day.  Violet knows that she is number three in line because she is new.  There are some others that will be in the line up eventually.  Bob is busy feeding them and turning their health around.  Some of them really don't like lightning and thunder, which we had two days ago.  These ladies make the most devine milk and cream I have ever tasted.  They are obviously happy.

Anyway, Violet reminds me of Shirley McLaine in Steel Magnolias, when she delivered one of the greatest lines ever written.  "..... I've just been in a very bad mood for 40 years."  But she doesn't look like a Shirley, she looks like a Violet.  You know... she does embroidery in the evening when no one is looking.

But that takes me to the good news.  Chuck, who loved to nap with Precious as if she were his mommy, has knocked up four young ladies!  Really!  He saw his duty, and he did it!  His equipment may not be much to write home about, but I guess it works. 

I'm going to put on my mud boots this week and take him some lilac blossoms, and scratch the top of his head.  He's the sweetest little bull you ever met.  Reminds me of Ferdinand in the kids' story.  He doesn’t want the grass I hand him as much as he wants to be petted.  He still looks like a teenager, and not very pretty.  But I love him.

We have wild daisys, and blue, purple, and yellow lupine up.  Spring is finally showing its face in northwest Montana after summer has officially begun everywhere else.  Up on the mountain trail behind my cabin are wild forget-me-nots and violets.

cattle heaven

Cattle Heaven

My landlord has been to the big thousands-acres dairy cow ranches, where they sell commercially.  It's not a happy sounding place. 

They are on cement most of the time, probably no where to lie down if they want to.  When milking time comes, they go on a gigantic lazy susan that turns slowly.  What they get fed is done by computer while they are being milked by a machine.  Then the thing turns, they're done, and they get scooted off.  It's assemply line, and not a happy place for them.

A lot of these mega ranches are funded by oil money, as they have to invest it somewhere.  The gigantic milking apparatus, etc, costs over $3 mill.  They never make the money back.  It's just somewhere to dump the oil money, and get an endless writeoff.

The Boss hunts for Jerseys on the internet, and goes and rescues them.  They come in thin and not used to human kindness and touch.  Like Violet (aka Shirley McLaine), they have been in a bad mood.  Violet is mellowing out.  She hangs out with Precious and Serenity, and grazes on fresh spring grass, plus they get grain with vitamins, etc. 

It's a kind of heaven for cows here. And if they want to take a nap in the tall grass, they can, anytime.  It's so nice out there, they didn't want to come in tonight.  So Bob had to drive the quad  out to round them up, with Buster, the border collie, riding on the front.  Buster just adores the quad.

 When it's time to milk them, at 5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. they line up in cow pecking order.  No one would ever try to squeeze ahead.  First Prescious  (tends to lie down in her own cow poop), then Serenity (blonde and dumb, but always very clean), and last the biggest but the newcomer, Violet.  They get talked to, and petted; if they kick Bob or Barbara, they get swatted.  When Voilet first came, she was grumpy, and Barbara had to hold her tail up, which made her behave.  In a week and a half, Violet has decided she's found heaven.

The cream they produce is like Devonshire, at least.  You just want to eat it by the spoonful. 

I go out in the evening often to watch the routine.  There is something so peaceful about cows getting milked.  It's impossible to be tense or worried about anything.  I think cows are God's most favorite critter. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

ranch domestic animals

There are two domestic animals, aka pets.  First, there is Buster, a beautiful border collie.  He is a herding animal, but he hasn't been trained, so his instinct is satisfied by herding around his master, "The Boss".  He especially loves riding around on the back of the quad while chores are being done.  Riding saves him more energy for chasing squirrels up trees and barking at them to come down (they don't).

Buster never barks at people.  He trots up the driveway to welcome everyone and gets petted by all visitors.  I give him little dog biscuits out on the cabin front porch.  Sometimes this ritual happens two or three times a day, as I must always observe it when I return from town or the dump.  Border collies are supposed to be the most intelligent breed of dog.  I didn't think he had much upstairs for quite a while, but we will see how wrong I was in a minute,.

Buster has a friend, a cat that sort of came with the ranch.  The cat is a black and white, holstein type named KitKat.  She and Buster hang out together, sleep together when they are outside and it's cold.  For several months, KitKat would allow me to pet her, but not pick her up.  Above all, she would NOT come into the cabin.  I tried every kind of cat food to lure her in, but she just turned her nose in the air and walked away.  I have had cats all my life.  Or they have had me.  Never before has a cat snubbed me.  She always seems very busy, a hard working ranch cat,

One day I was down the road about 40 miles at a small town which has a nursery, with real plants.  I had bought some shrubs and a couple of trees and was paying for them when I noticed huge hip joints from a steer, oven baked, wrapped in plastic wrap.  I was enough besotted by Buster to blow $4+ on one for Buster to gnaw on forever. 

Even before I unloaded the plants, I tore off the wrapping on the big bone, with Buster watching, tailing wagging frantically.  He knew that this big thing was his, and his alone.  He took it off to the lawn, and no one heard a peep out of him for hours while he worked on it.  I went about planting trees and shrubs around the cabin, then went inside to make dinner and watch Criminal Minds.  I love serial killers.

In the morning, I came out to see what the cows were up to.  They had been looking in my bedroom window, so I figured out it was fair to go out and stare back at them.  They win that contest due to their huge warm, gentle eyes.  You just know that things are going to be fine when one of them stares at you. 

When I opened the front door, surprise!  Both Buster AND KitKat were sitting out  on my porch.  This had never happened before.  I gave Buster a cookie, and he went off to eat it, while the most amazing thing happened.  KitKat walked up to me, and spoke, "Meep."  She had never talked to me before.  Then she rubbed up against my jeans-covered legs, weaving in and out as if I were a very old and dear friend.  I opened the door, and in she walked to explore for the first time. 

A couple of weeks after the grand acceptance scene, I asked if I could borrow KitKat.  I had a cute little taupe colored mouse running around.  It loved it in the cabin, and all efforts to enourage it to leave had failed.  So I brought KitKat inside and sat down with her on my lap to wait for the mouse to emerge.  After a few minutes, sure enough, out he came.  She sat in the folded up meatloaf position cats get into when they want to doze but pay attention at the same time.  Her ears perked up, pointed foreward, as she watched the mouse casually walk across the living room rug, in no hurry at all.  This is going to be an easy catch for her, I thought. 

But she sat there, on my nice warm lap, and I watched her head turn slowly, following the mouse across the floor and down the hall.  She was fascinated, transfixed.  As he disappeared into the other room, she put her head down and went back to sleep.  She may be a hard working ranch cat, but her job is clearly not to bother with little mice.

So it's now a few months later, earlly November.  I took something to leave at the ranch house.  Both animals wanted me to let them in.  I know this was not allowed when everyone is gone.  So I went back to my cabin and called both animals to come with me so they could hang out in my place until Mom and Dad got home. 

At the moment, Buster is sleeping on rug, and KitKat is on the Sleep Number Bed.  One side is set at 50, one side set at 25.  She prefers the 25 setting.  She especially prefers this if there is clean laundry on the bed.  She really loves clean laundry.

It is my belief, when I came home with that spectacular bone for Buster the day before she spoke to me, that somehow he spoke dog language to KitKat, who somehow understood him.  I think he told her about the bone and that I was definitely someone she should consider befriending on a long term basis.  She had ignored me for so long until after that episode,  it is clear they can talk to eachother.  I would love to know how that works. 

I wonder if Buster and KitKat realize that there are pets who are homeless, or trapped in tiny suburban yards, menaced by cars and other civilised perils.  I wonder if they know that they live in paradise and are the luckiest "working" pets in the world.  I hope they know.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Montana Politics, 2010


When you go to the firehouse to vote on the first Tuesday of November, there is a row of mostly grey-haired ladies behind long tables, checking off names and addresses on lists.  It must be a long day for them.  I arrived in t-shirt and jeans covered in different colors of house paint, too tired to clean up and be presentable.  It amused them.

It was a time warp back to my earliest voting experience.  You go behind a red, white and blue curtain in a booth with a shelf and a pencil.  They give you a kind of clip board and a two sided ballot, and you actually mark your choice with a #2 pencil, just as your grandparents did.  There is a kind of intimacy in this ritual that the voting machines have taken away from us.  Your pencil marks help determine what will happen to these people’s lives.  It gives one pause.

Much too early that evening, it became clear from CNN’s exit polls that it was a massive voter reaction against incumbents for the mess of the so-called economy, for the wildly expensive wars that will be debated in history books for generations.  Mostly, the voters are angry, that their jobs they carried on from previous generations are gone, their cattle don’t bring a decent price, that forest stewardship here mostly means that wood comes in from Canada, that they are in danger of losing their ranches cherished and passed down from great grandparents.  How do you see the log cabin built over 100 years ago hit the auction block and ever see the world the same again.  It’s just an old building to be torn down by the foreclosing bank.  No pain, no gain.

So the voters are angry, with damned good reason.  The helpless feeling fills the clear, clean air of northwestern Montana.  The giant corporations and government of “public servants” who are supposed to be on your side are mostly looking out for their own. 
Their salaries may not be huge, but the medical plans, fringe benefits, and retirement courtesy of the tax payers are well worth the trouble of running for office.  Their houses are warmer than those of citizens in northwest Montana.

Now, while the polls are still open in the west, a leading Republican politician is moved to tears at the overwhelming victory of his party.  It’s a new day, and they will now proceed to save the nation and the world.  They will save us all from the incompetent opposition, which has in two short years nearly brought about the end of the world, single handed.  The tanned GOP gentleman, like many of the voters, has a short memory.  Think back to the billions given by your President to venal corporations on Wall Street, without any requirement to account for where those billions went, or guarantee that it would be paid back. 

And on the other side of the aisle, the party of the current President lament that the country is doomed, now that the terrible opposition, aka lunatic fringe, are in charge.  Now those of us who voted for the “losers” will now begin our period of grieving for the loss.  And we will predict the most dire consequences from this landslide.  They’ll be sorry, they’ll see.  It will be their fault.  When we came into office two years ago, we should have stopped the gushing of money we couldn’t afford, but we added to it.  Does anyone have the honesty to stand up and say we are all guilty, so stop pointing fingers?

There is an old jewish saying about how a man is judged by his enemies.  And when an enemy dies, he grieves more than when he loses a friend.  Why did the creator plant this pathetic cell in our brains?  Is it part of Free Will to clutch our enemies to our breasts, to feed and nurture them so that we know whom we hate when we wake up every morning?  Does anyone pause and say to himself, “I am better than that.”

Does anyone pause and declare that he will put principles before personalities… that he will put this country above pettiness… that he will leave the poison of hating his enemies out of our government?  It begins with putting destructive hate out of our own souls.