The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Saturday evening – Jill is in Carievale right now and Gina is in Carnduff, they both posted to the family chat pictures of the rain coming down in each place. For the second time this week rain has fallen unbelievably close to us but stopped short of reaching us. That is not to say that we won’t benefit from some of those rains, we have pasture and hayland that likely caught some of it. However, I said to Russell yesterday, “a person almost feels cursed”, he immediately cautioned me not to think or talk in the direction of cursedness. He is wise. Digging into the hearts doing the ranching around here we are dealing with so much hard stuff right now. A blog that invites the reader to experience life on a Canadian ranch would be misleading if it glossed over these days we are having. I just don’t want to do that. What do I tell you? How do I write about this so that you don’t shut it down and close the page because its depressing? Can I lure you into reading more by promising that I will counter every tough paragraph with something positive, hopeful or possibly funny? I think that is what Russell would want. The problem with thinking along lines of being cursed is that it sucks you in and makes you lose sight of the broader reality, which in our case is that we have true blessings that we experience every day.

So…………the big big deal…………our hay yield sucks. What this means……we do not have the feed we need to make it through the winter and especially if it is a tough winter. We have no way of knowing about that. We are not alone. There are few ranchers within hundreds of miles of here untouched by the drought we are in and some much worse than we are, we can be thankful that we have some hay. Right now that means some lost sleep, lots of mental scrambling to figure out options, and flirting with the awful thought that we might have to sell some of our cows. The hard part of that is that everyone will be selling some and the market will be glutted, which means a low price will be paid. The terrible part is that we sell our cows, our beautiful creatures with names and histories and places in our heart. That sense of connection is hard to explain, they can be mean and threatening, they can be gross and stinky, but we journey with them and we are theirs and they are ours.

This cow is a big part of Russell’s sense of cow history. He remembers milking her grandma, a retired purebred holstein named “Pokey.” After he had broken both his arms in 1979 this milking job was part of his physiotherapy. Mozza Stick is the daughter of Wilbur, who was one of Pokey’s last calves. This makes Russell 3 generations of cows old.

Okay, I guess you have to be careful what you wish for. When I said I would alternate the hard with maybe something funny I wasn’t sure what that funny would be, but it presented itself. Just after I wrote that heartfelt line about our journey with the cows Russ phoned. He said he had a story for me but it really ended up being a job. He could hardly tell me the story for the laughter it caused him. Morgan was checking the calving herd, now down to a dozen, he found a situation which required him to load up a calf in the truck and drive it over to its Mama. The calf pooped, right on the drivers seat, why the calf was in the drivers seat I will never know. Morgan was therefore stranded in the calving pasture. He called Russ to come get him, the way that call started Russ figured he must have totalled the truck or something. Russ was relieved to be able to stay in the hayfield and call me for back-up. Morgan asked for paper towel and garbage bags plural. I thought that must have been one heckuva mess. On my way over I decided that this was not the time to push Morgan’s adult skill building, he has had a rough couple days with helping with repairs in high heat and not much satisfaction of getting work done, so, I was going to do the clean-up. I got Morgan to take my picture as I approached the job decked out with a pail of bleachey water, paper towel, two sizes of garbage bags and disposable gloves. I said, “Morgan, Super Pooper has arrived.” He said, “Mobile Super Pooper”, I have never taken my skills on the road before! (If you don’t count summer camp.) Anyways, for those who don’t know, I have an alter ego, a super hero identity, I am “Super Pooper” because no matter how gross the job I can usually handle it. Life on a ranch and with kids has given me many opportunities to strengthen the skills I began working on when as a 17 year old I was a nurses aide. Morgan has literally no tolerance for this part of life yet. He would have walked home if I had not come. The job was not hard and before too long Morg was rolling. In fact he was done for the day at that point. When he got home he said he would wait to eat, he needed some down time. I said, “do me a favor and wash your face.” He said, “how about you do me a favor and wash it for me.” He sat down on the toilet seat and I got to wash his face, like the good old days, it did this Mama’s heart good.

“Super Pooper” in her new service option….going mobile.

Ranching from the heart………..I hate haying season. With three tractors and three implements in the field every day the possibility of mechanical issues seems high. We have newer implements but two very old tractors, our newer tractor doesn’t seem too hardy. I am always so relieved when I pick up the phone to find Russ sounding chipper on the other end, he usually is, but sometimes he is just exasperated. He has a gift for staying up when the conditions are trying but the way things mount up is getting to even him. Having said that we can see our blessings. For some reason last night the monitor in the baler was completely wonky. Russ thought it through and this morning realized this was a tractor battery issue. Our local shops are closed on Saturday but that didn’t stop Erin from coming in from her farm, opening up her shop and selling us a battery. Russ got up and running feeling infinitely grateful for Erin’s generosity of spirit. However, then the fan on the air conditioner went. By shortly after lunch Brock was in the field doing mobile service on that problem. I had delivered Russ a stellar lunch. So shortly after Brock left, with the ac running, I got a text from Russ that said, “U R married to the happiest man in the world.” See what I mean? He finds every reason to claim the good. My afternoon included delivering buns for my bakery project and when I got back Jim Lee from Lee’s Service was in the yard trying to fix a very weird hydraulic problem we are having with the hay rake and a weird glitchy thing on the PTO shaft on the tractor. So…………after a first week of haying with no breakdown delays, today was the mother of all service days, and I guess I topped it off with my mobile super pooper call to the calving pasture!!!

Something positive………….Serious excitement is brewing around here about the fact that we are officially in book writing mode. All those times that Liz Griffin came to take pictures at our place were part of personal need for documenting our life just before Gina graduated and moved but also were research…..did we have the material to create a book about ranch life? We had a creative meeting this week and decided that yes, we are moving on to the next step. There are beautiful images that Liz has taken that are just too good to not offer in large format. However, we are short on summer scenes and summer work. So…………Liz came and documented our work moving cows to alternate pasture on Thursday night. Afterwards she shared 2 sneaks peeks on Facebook. They are here. She captured beauty and joy, for me these pictures are like a mirror that reflects back that alongside the struggles of today we are immersed in beauty and we feel joy.

A little more about the shape of this drought. Our hay is poor but our pasture is decent. Our water is low but not gone yet. The poor hay can be explained by the dry summer, fall and then winter that we had, no water in place to get the hay started in a meaningful way. The fact that we have any yield is due to the rains that I commented on previously in the blog. Thats how I understand this. So when you look at pictures you might see green grass, you see water in a dugout, it doesn’t look like a drought, you might think I am not being accurate, and for truth, it could be much worse. That is a very scary thought. The signs of vitality you see are a result of timely rains in certain spots, we continue to hold our breath. In my dark moments I wonder, “am I going to be holding my breath for the rest of my life?”

Something positive………Gina got a call from one of our local superheros. Her name is Jean and she runs an ice cream shop in town, out of a structure she had built onto her house. She was going on a holiday and rather than shut the ice cream shop down she wondered if Gina would come and run it. She went for training and then took over. Our girl is having quite the experience and it is fun to hear her stories and who she gets to see. I think she is doing a good job and mostly its pretty fun for her. I call Jean a superhero because her creative approach to offering this business has meant a great drop in spot in Carnduff for awesome ice cream, she is a special person in alot of people’s eyes, for those of us who love ice cream her work is heroic! However, we are missing Gina on the ranch crew and Morgan and Jill are picking up the slack. I think Gina has plumped up their cones when we have gone in for a “visit” with her.

Gina serving Grandma Shirley on her 1st day on the job.
After our cow move Thursday night Kent picked up his kids and the whole crew went for a visit with Gina.

Ranching from the heart………I didn’t have it in me this year to plant flowers. My planters are empty. That probably sounds depressing to some but to me it represents freedom. For some reason the work of keeping myself and Russ, three kids, four dogs, five cats, for a time a bottle fed calf, 17 horses and hundreds of cows and calves alive is just enough for me. (Only a fraction of this is my responsibility but I am involved in every issue at some level.) I can’t muster an ounce of interest in watering and fertilizing flowers. I truly hope I don’t need that freedom next year and I will be back to it.

In the meantime, Russ has been picking me bouquets from the pastures. The wildflowers are beautiful.

Another thing positive……….my kids all got their second vaccine this week. Gina had to shut down the ice cream shop for a day afterwards due to a rapid series of symptoms, fever, headache, exhaustion, but she bounced back and is doing great.

Another thing positive…..our province felt it was timely to remove all Covid restrictions. Life is feeling more normal again. I cannot imagine what would be unfolding if the vaccines were not working to protect us as pretty nasty variants make their way around. So, so, so, thankful!!!

Another thing positive……….Coffee dog is doing great with her broken leg and getting great care from the vets. This week she needed some extra TLC at her splint check. Jenna had her just about purring.

Another thing positive……..I am married to the best friend I ever had. As hard as a day gets I know it is a privilege to get to lie beside him every night and talk over anything and everything that I am thinking about.

The drought is horrible and we have had some pretty searching conversations about prayer around here this week. Way too deep to work on in this already lengthy post. Maybe another time. In the meantime I had a grace this week, I had a day when I had this recurring thought and feeling come bubbling up, “everything is going to be okay.” It felt like a total blessing.