Thursday, January 31, 2008

Guess where I've been.....

Click pictures to enlarge....

Friday, January 25, 2008

outside my window......

..... beating out a rhythm and frequenting my feeder......

.......the Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)
The very similar Downy Woodpecker
stops in now and then too.

Who's visiting your bird feeder?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wildflowers in Winter

This week's Wildflowers in Winter challenge is to photograph a winter image of wildflowers. Well, it's definitely winter out here on the northern plains and there's not much in the way of pretty wildflowers to photograph, but I did manage to get the lasting remains of the Curlycup Gumweed that is in the forefront of this picture. To see it in its mature form, click here. It's a pretty yellow wildflower that has a very aromatic smell and is sticky to the touch, whether you're handling the stems, leaves or the flower itself. It didn't get the name "gumweed" for nothing. It is said that plains tribes used it for treating colic, asthma and bronchitis and that early pioneers used the herb as a treatment for whooping cough and as an ingredient for asthma cigarettes (I can't even imagine trying this idea! Whew!)

These aren't flowers yet, but they are the buds of the soon-to-be catkins of the Cottonwood Tree which is a native growing tree here on the plains. It's always fun for me to watch them creep out of their pods like wooly, red caterpillars when the temperatures warm up in May. Click here for a picture of the catkin in "full bloom."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Wildflowers in Winter -- the Gumbo Lily

This photograph may be somewhat familiar to those of you who have been visiting "Gumbo Lily" for awhile. This is a picture of an actual gumbo lily that was growing out on my prairie this past spring. It is one of my favorite flowers which can be found growing in the barren, clay soil that we call gumbo -- super-slippery when wet, hard and cracked when dry. The four-petaled flowers are about 3 inches across and bloom for a single day or two and close up shortly after the first direct sunlight shines down upon them, opening again in the evening. Gumbo lilies are pollinated by night-flying insects. The flowers are white and gradually fade to a light pink as you see in this picture. We find the gumbo lilies around the end of May which is when our northern prairie is beginning to wake up and bloom.

Its official name is Gumbo Evening Primrose and its scientific name is Oenothera caespitosa.

If you'd like to participate in Wildflowers in Winter, I direct you to the blog Wildflower Morning where you will find the details to participate weekly. This week's post is "your favorite wildflower photograph." There will be a special drawing at the end of this series at Wildflower Morning, and I will also be giving away a special gift (yet to be determined) here to a special someone who leaves comments on any of the Wildflower in Winter posts. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A tribute to Flower -- the Old Lady Cat

As I was browsing Artcyclopedia today, I came upon this painting that was bought on Ebay by one of the contributors of the online gallery. As I looked at the enlarged picture by artist, Bernard Safran, it reminded me so much of the barn cats we have here at the ranch --gray-brown stripes, very dull-looking and yet the personalities are unique and varied -- sometimes wild and sometimes friendly, but all of them mostly ordinary and similar in looks since they're all related by birth of the same gene pool. Occasionally there is a stray tomcat that mosies in and makes friends with our pussycats and we come up with a yellow or white fleck in the coats of their kits, but not too often.

Lately one of our old cat ladies has come back home. I thought her dead a few years ago, but no, Flower has come back for the winter and begs me to let her into the chicken coop when I go feed the hens from my scrap bucket. This little ritual has not become a good practice since I've noticed broken eggs and punctured eggs since Flower's return and since I've been so obliging to her requests. I have half a notion to "do her in" but I just can't. She has earned her keep here -- even if it means a few eggs when I'm careless and forget she's still in the coop when I shut the door.

"G." named her Flower when she was just a little girl and she is now a grown woman of 21 years so the cat has been around a long, long time. We have so many memories (not so many of them fond) of Flower. She was an adorable kitty, of course, since all kitties are adorable. She became a Mother Cat as she matured, laying many a kit in the straw -- sometimes two batches a year -- but she did not like to raise her babies much past a few weeks, and it was then that she'd take off and leave her poor kits mewing hopelessly for their mother. Since my children loved visiting daily the new batches of kitties in the barn, they would always find Flower's abandoned children and have to put them in the nests of other Mother Cats who would raise them as their own. This is not the kind of cat one would really want around, but Flower has stayed, deflecting many an unkind word about her mothering abilities and dodging many a rock and stick from an angry child or adult. She chose, later on, to travel the country prairies and hayfields and has returned once again to us, an Old Lady Cat. Today this picture is devoted to our kitten-abandoning, egg-sucking, prairie-roaming, friendly Old Lady Cat -- Flower.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

First we have coffee....

It's snowing and the wind is blowing the snow away as fast as it falls here on the prairie. There is some accumulation starting to stick in the grass now. It was a good afternoon for baking up some molasses cookies and having my favorite drink alongside -- good, hot, strong coffee with a tipple of cream.

While I'm having my cookie break, I wanted to share an excerpt from a favorite book that I am reading again called First We Have Coffee by Margaret Jensen. Margaret was the daughter of immigrant parents from Norway who came to America, following "the call" of God to preach the Gospel to other immigrants in America and Canada during the early 1900's and through the Great Depression. The stories Margaret tells are especially about her Mama's simple hospitality which reflected the love and grace of God to ordinary people who needed His touch through human hands. Mama gladly served everyone who came to her home with what she had -- sometimes only potatoes and gravy, soup, rye bread, apple pie made with apples after the brown spots were cut away, and always, always the Norwegian favorite -- coffee. All were welcomed to her table.

Excerpt from the chapter: Heart Healers.....

Mr. Olsen, a redhead with a faraway look in his eyes, often wandered into Mama's kitchen for some good soup and rye bread. He spoke seldom, but stared into space -- and drank coffee. Mama said he was very sick on the inside. He had left the big woods to work in a factory, trying to save money to bring his wife from Norway.

I had only one complaint of his frequent visits. "But, Mama, his feet smell so bad! Can't you do something?"

Do something, she did.

One cold day she suggested that Mr. Olsen warm his feet in a tub of warm water, to which Mama had added a few drops of Lysol. While he soaked his feet, she washed his stiff socks and dried them over the cookstove. She suggested that he might bring them over again with his soiled clothes -- for washing day.

Mama started a ritual. Every week he came to soak his feet and pick up a clean bundle of clothes in exchange for the dirty batch he left with her. Gradually the dazed look of shock disappeared. As he drank coffee, Mama's guitar music seemed to seep into his thoughts and replace some of his pain. One day he burst into the kitchen, exploding with joy! "My Hilda comes! My Hilda comes!" That ended the foot washing ceremony in Mama's kitchen. Who would ever have thought the way to a man's heart was through his feet? Mama understood.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Saturday Vistors.....and Bud

Yesterday we had pop-in company which was our son, J., and his girlfriend. I was busy that morning vacuuming and clearing out the dining area to scrub when they walked in, "Surprise Mom!" Girlfriend was a bit worried, not knowing that J. hadn't called ahead to tell us of their coming. No worries though.....I hugged them both and sent them downstairs while I finished.

Then there was the company that we knew were coming after lunch. This family consisted of R., a 70-something mother (widowed) and her daughter, M., who I'm sure was my age (unmarried) and a son, J., and his son who would be 8 in February. (I asked) This family has bought bulls from us for the past 10 years or more. They have a small ranch and so their need for bulls is sporadic and they only buy when the old bull(s) they have dies. They missed our sale and so Hubs invited them to come look at the few bulls we had left.

What I loved about this close-knit family of ranchers was their genuine love for what they do. They truly enjoy ranching and love their livestock as "members of the family." I appreciated their simple ways, happy attitudes, and their honesty. The mother, R., in particular, was a ray of sunshine in my day. She was delighted when they came back into the house after looking at the bulls to find a pot of hot coffee and banana bread set on the table. She wasn't shy about saying, "Yes, coffee please, with cream," and "Oh my! Banana bread! I haven't had banana bread in a long time." For us, coffee & banana bread are staples at our house, but it tickled me that it delighted her so. We had the nicest visits about cattle, in particular, Herefords (the best kind, of course), family, veterinarians, and Bud (R's deceased husband). I found it so heartwarming and dear to hear her talk of this man, who has been gone a long, long time, as if he were just away on a short trip. I knew that he had been a rancher/cowboy and she and her daughter had carried on ranching long after he died. R. told me that there was a picture of Bud behind the bar in one of the old-time bars in Miles City, and she asked if we had ever seen it. No, I hadn't. She said they went to Miles to look at it one time, but since they didn't care to go into bars and weren't sure of which bar it was in, they didn't ever see it. I told her that when we go to Miles City next time, we'd look for it (not that I'm much for bars either, but I am a lover of Western art and nostalgia).

R. also reminisced about the last time they had been to our ranch. On the way home they were driving down our gravel road, which at that time was 35 miles of gravel -- long, and winding -- and she said, "I asked God if I might see a cowboy with a black hat and chaps riding an Appaloosy horse. And do you know, I saw one!" I smiled and wondered if our neighbor-cowboy might have reminded her of her beloved Bud. She also spoke of her bout with diabetes recently and of how her family tricked her into going to the doctor by telling her they wanted her to go with them to the pasture to look-over the cows. Many a crusty rancher in this vacinity will not see the doctor unless someone ropes drags him in -- kicking and thrashing all the way. I doubt that R. acted that, but they did have to gather up a posse to get her to town. And now she says, she's grateful they did it. How humble of her to say so in front of me and her grown children seated at the table.

Before the family left, R. asked me if she might take a couple slices of "that good banana bread" along with her. Again, I was delighted. Is there any better compliment than someone who feels she can ask her hostess for a take-along-bag? I happily packed the rest of the bread for them. I wondered if M. would have to ration the sweet treat out to her mother after I so generously sent it along?
I just wanted to share a little bit of my day with you -- a conversation of one ranch wife to another. It warmed and refreshed me.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Horn weights.....

Do you remember this mystery picture? Two of you thought they were pipe clamps and one of you from this blog, thought it was a chicken torturing instrument to tighten upon a chicken leg when you were angry. Hmmmm (raising eyebrows).

Well, these were wrong guesses, but my daughter (whom I don't think comes to visit my blog very often) chose to blab it outright, "Mom, it's a horn weight," as if I didn't know! Ahem!

This is the time of year that we begin horn weighting bull calves. Horn weights are used to draw the horns downward as they grow. When a Hereford bull's horns grow naturally, they point upward, and it makes them more dangerous to other bulls as well as to humans using their horns as weapons (think bayonet). We pride ourselves in having very docile cattle that are easy to manage, but we take every precaution to sell bulls that are not only safe, but beautiful as well. Horns that are weighted properly and for the right length of time, can give a mature bull a most stunning and majestic look.

What do you think?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

A Sunday book review....

Do you like to browse the shelves of your library, pretending to be shopping in a book store? I do. Book stores are a good two hours away from me, although there is now a new used book store only an hour and 20 minutes away now. I'll have to go sometime. Well......upon "shopping" in my local library one day, my hands ran across this little gem, Golden Fleece by Hughie Call.
Hughie Call was born and raised a city girl in Texas and married a western Montana sheep rancher back in the 1920's. The story begins when Hughie, a new bride, arrives in the Madison River Valley of Montana to her new home. There she finds no running water, no electricity, wood heat and and she's a long, long way from civilization as she once knew it. She knew absolutely nothing of ranching, but she just plunged in, willing to learn.

Hughie beautifully and articulately walks us through a life that very few people know anything about these days. Life on a sheep ranch has not changed too very much today and so her knowledge of it seems just as pertinent today as it was back then. Sheep are sheep and they still need to be fed, watered, sheared, bred and lambed, however back 70 years or so ago, it was a little bit different when sheep herders lived alone with their dogs and were housed in sheep wagons with wood heat and enough groceries to last out the week. A herder's only job was to herd the sheep, in this case, approximately 1500 ewes per man. His job was to keep the sheep moving to fresh pastures and water, to keep a watchful eye over them, protecting them from coyotes, bear and even magpies. He had to pay attention to the weather to prevent the sheep from drifting off in high winds or snow when they might pile up and die.

Sheep wagon, a compact house on wheels, 1952. A good sheep herder moved his flock to new grazing every four to six weeks. One herder with a good dog could handle 2,500 sheep.

Hughie learned how to live as a ranch wife -- hiring cooks to keep her hired men well-fed and contented; driving supply trucks out to the herders; she learned to lamb the ewes; to tent a nervous, young ewe and her lamb to keep them together; she used a party-line telephone, listening in when necessary; she was a supportive wife to her husband amidst sickness, falling sheep prices and a depression; she brought a little class to a rough lifestyle by planting a lawn and flowers and by encouraging her neighbors to do the same (to many a husband's dismay); she learned to ride horseback despite her bouncing technique; she raised a family where schools were distant, roads were rutted and the weather so unpredictable that she had to take on the job of "teacher" herself for several years. She learned to truly love the life of a wool grower.

If you have any desire to learn about the way of life on a large sheep ranch, you will glean aplenty with Hughie's book, Golden Fleece, in hand. As a transplant into a sheep and cattle ranch myself, I could relate completely and sympathetically with Hughie and felt a deep kindred spirit with her. Just a note.....her books are hard to find.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

He's home......

Even though our son, "J" is only 2 hours away from home attending the vo-tech, we hardly ever see him. He goes to school from 8:00 til 3:00 and then goes to work from 5 until 10, then goes to his apartment, eats, calls his girlfriend, and goes to bed and does it all over again the next day. His "Christmas Vacation" has been filled with working, visiting friends, snowboarding, seeing his girlfriend, and coming home on and off in between. This past four days......he's been home! He even cancelled a road trip to see a friend. Why? He wants to be home -- with us. Yay! I'm enjoying him so much. He's been playing the guitars....... Keith Urban, Howie Day, Fall Out Boy, Jack Johnson and guitar licks from Sweet Home Alabama.

I'm feeding him.....make that......STufFing him with as much good food as I can...... bacon and eggs, pancakes, BBQ'd pork ribs, burgers and fries, potato soup and biscuits, beef Lo Mein, and tonight there is bread dough rising on the counter for morning cinnamon rolls. He tells me that he doesn't really know how he survives with no one to cook for him, but somehow........he does. I say he's thin, he says he's not. I'll continue to stuff him for as long as I can and then I'll send back a big box full of food for his frig and freezer.

It's good when the kids come home.......
and stay awhile
and play guitar
and eat my food
and play guitar some more.
It's a Happy New Year!


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