Just in the nick of time all the cows are home. As I sit to start writing the words that go with the pictures I have received and assembled, the snow is flying, the wind is blowing, it is so wintery feeling. Down in the south east corner of the province we are the last to get hit with winters blow. We are thankful we had the time we did to get our fall work done up as much as possible. The biggest piece of that is getting our cows and their calves home from their fall and summer pastures.
Now that the cows are home we turn a definite corner. The work shifts towards ensuring the cows are fed and have access to water, and we start strategizing for the marketing part of our work. The season ahead holds more evening hours in the house, usually, we are definitely ready for that.
The last part of our cow chase work took place over this past Friday and Saturday. There are some nice pictures that tell the stories of the days.
Russ wasn’t sure how it would go to juggle two different moves in the same day. Both herds moved more quickly then he thought, the crew did great and both lunch and supper were served an hour before Russ had estimated. I’ll be honest, as the cook, I struggled with the changing details, it was good in the long haul, but I didn’t find the flexing too easy to do.
Following the break things got hard. Rain began and never quit until the ride was over. Tenley told Gina she has never been so cold on a Bayliss cow chase, which is saying quite a lot. The rain soaked through and challenged everyone. I got lunch set up for everyone in the house and left just as the crew was drawing near. I came across these cowboys coming home after getting the cows into the pasture. I was on my way into town to sing at a funeral. By the time I returned home everyone had eaten and most had gone home to find warm showers. It was hard to miss out on the meal, the chatter, and the words that might celebrate that the cows are all home, however the deceased was a friend of ours and I wanted to be there representing our family. Listening to the stories that came from lunch I sense that everyone was in survival mode and the celebratory mood would need to wait for another time.
Its November 7th, a few hours ago I reduced the table back down so it seats just six. Jill and I did up the last of the dishes lingering from the weekend. We watched two movies last night. The cows are home. We had a safe and successful season of moving them. The best thing, we had time with people we love so much, we met new people, we experienced teamwork and the sense that others have our back. I have been encouraged through the readers and comments with the blog. With a little rest in our bodies, and the sound of the wind just whistling around our house, our sense of gratitude rises to the surface in a very big way. We heard that one of our cowgirls cries for a half hour every year when everything is over. Russell says, “we know how she feels.”
I have been away from the blog for about a month. I never expected that to happen! However, day by day, things have stolen any time I had for writing and also I start posts and only get half done. I think I have 7 drafts going. Hopefully I can get publishing them soon. I have really missed the whole process, evidence of that is that in my head I am writing something almost every day.
Getting back into the swing of things I have a few pictures to share. Liz came and photographed a couple of summer sessions, we are now pretty sure we have all the pictures we need for the coffee table book we are creating about ranching. The first of these summer sessions Liz delivered a few weeks ago. Here are some favorites from that evening (July 15th) when we moved 120 pairs and six bulls from one pasture to another. The main water source in the starting pasture had gone dry and grass was getting to be a concern. We usually move these cows once in the summer but with these drought conditions this needed to happen two weeks early.
I know these pictures betray a sense of drought, the spot where Liz met up with the crew was at a coulee fed by lots of springs, it is green. The dugout we moved them away from was essentially dry, days after we got the cows out we had machinery in to clean it out and hopefully reactivate any springs that feed it. The trackhoe removed 8 feet of mud from the bottom of the dugout. That statistic alarmed Russell, cows left there to scrounge for water could easily have been mired in mud and soon dead. The day after the cleanout was done Russ had a picnic lunch on the dry and almost dusty bottom of the dugout. There was no replenishment to be had.
Looking at this postcard and the seven pictures that go with it I can tell that I was in a hurry when I wrote it. I have tried to reproduce it exactly as the original postcard looked. There is no date, no greeting, no sign off, several abbreviations and its basically in point form. That in itself tells a tale. I remember it was at a time when I knew if I wanted Mom to see these pictures I didn’t have the time to send them one by one.
The first picture was taken in December 2020, the next six were all November 2020. Liz has a zillion more colourful and varied pictures of Russ since this time, but this is what I had chosen to have developed for Mom. They look good in this format but some of these will be best shown, perhaps you could even say, “AMAZING” in the coffee table book we are working on creating with Liz.
This set of pictures comprises the 20th of 22 posts of this series “Postcards from the Heart”. The entire series contains photos taken by Liz Griffin Photography, used as a way to share my life and my thoughts with my mom while she dealt with her cancer reality.
SEVEN PICTURES – ONE CARD
Caption: “YOUR SON-IN-LAW IS A COWBOY!”
-its core to his identity
-I think being a mother is core to your identity and I wonder if seeing that in you has allowed me to embrace that for myself. I believe my call in life is not primarily ministry, but to create a family…. to be “Mom”. I ❤ it!!
The pics 1. Morgan, cousin Laurie + Russ in the morning sun.
2. Russ + Clarence at the back of the herd.
3. 4 hooves off the ground! Dirt flying!
4. Russ – pleased by something🙂!
5. Maddie, David Powell, Knightwing, Russ + Bingo – rounding cows out of the bushes in our rented “River Pasture”.
6. The snow that made for epic pictures.
7. Russ, hot on the trail + 65 lbs heavier than he is now.
We had a call this morning that a neighbor’s herd of heifer cows had broken in with one of our herds. We know this could cause trouble because if our big bull breeds his heifers (young and inexperienced cows) he will have calving troubles next spring. So, Russ has been assembling a cowboy crew to head down there and fix the troubles by sorting out Corey’s heifers from our cows and bulls. Without the benefit of a gate/corral system it is extra tricky to sort cows on the open range. Russ wants me to come with them and act like a human gate. I am not very interested. I am in a super homebody mode these days. I am soon going to be changing into my work clothes though and heading out. Its 4:32pm. I have to go clean out my vehicle. I will have passengers because the crew Russ gathered is large and that bodes well for our success, but the truck is in an embarrassing state.
5:58pm We are at the pasture and all the cowboys and girls have saddled up and headed off. Here is what some of that action looked like.
In the end I didn’t have to drive, instead another truck and trailer went to accommodate all the horses and I got to be a passenger with Jackie. That gave us time to talk about how it is that I became a minister and she became a nurse. Now I am waiting for the crew to go round up the herd. We have set up trucks and trailers to act as wings in a corner of the pasture and with those cowboys hope to hold the herd while we sort out those heifers and the bull they are meant to be hanging out with. Russ figures it will take them 45 minutes or more to get the herd and move them back to this corner. The pasture is absolutely beautiful, rolling hills, coulees, trees, wild flowers and just out of sight the Souris river. There is a good breeze and it has started to cool down. I am not hard done by sitting here with my laptop.
I had a little Kathy victory moment before we left the yard. I noticed a low tire, by the time Russ came around to see what was up I had found the air hose, attached it to the outside air spigot, found the airchuk inside the shop, got it attached and was getting the tire aired up. For many that would be no big deal, but that represents a bit of competence that I didn’t used to have and I was glad for Russ to find me taking care of business.
Tuesday, 10:09am Not long after I wrote that last bit I could hear mooing in the distance, the crew was closer than I thought so I shut my laptop and hopped out of the truck. In fact they had yet to get across a coulee before they topped a hill, so I took time for some selfies, had a real portrait session of it actually, burned up alot of power on my low power phone and never did capture a sharp one. Anyways……..the thing about being a ranch wife is that you get to save all your old favorite clothes for work days. You have an excuse to hang on to stuff that normally should have been pitched. This is a bonus for sentimental people like me. For the work of this day I was happily wearing jeans that I remember first wearing on a family vacation in Cody, Wyoming in 2008, my t-shirt is a souvenir of my year in Up With People (1991).
Once the cows got near it didn’t take long for the real action to begin. At first, standing in the gate watching things I wondered if it could be done. The large group of cowboys and cowgirls was very much needed. We had many at the back holding the cow herd into the corner and then several in and around the front of the herd to sort out the heifers. Luckily they were a different breed than most of ours and easy to keep sight of once contact was made. It was a good feeling to see the crew get the first heifer out, I did my job at the gate to get it to leave our pasture and enter Corey’s. Part of my job was to be still as a statue to not frighten the heifer away as it approached. At one point when it seemed I had done that quite well and the critical moment had passed David shouted over “hey is that the Mona Lisa over there?!?” I appreciated the recognition, David got his message across by comparing me to a beautiful painting when my job was to be a statue, as far as I’m concerned its all art and through that first piece of art that came to mind he gave me the message, “I see you over there trying hard!” I appreciated it. Once the heifer advanced past where sight of me was a problem I became a human fence with my shepherds crook held wide and moving up quickly from behind. It was pretty impressive to see the crew and watch their bravery, the sorters had to be up close and personal and give the heifers a sense of space and permission to move towards the gate while keeping our cows back.
We had to find, sort out and move away 17 heifers and one bull from our herd of 120 cow calf pairs and 6 big Simmental bulls. One of those bulls created an exciting and memorable moment. He started to charge the gate, Russ said, “stop that bull!”, whether I was stupid, obedient or brave I don’t know but I just became warrior Kathy, ran straight at him with that powerful crook in both my hands and I roared, “Noooooooooo!!!!!!.” That 2200 pound bull skidded to a stop right at the gate and turned back to the herd. I found out later that I yelled so loud that I frightened most of the cowboys. Morgan said he was watching the whole thing and knew why I was yelling but still got scared. Russ says he was very proud of me.
Russ was crew chief, we certainly count on his incredible cowboy skills and his people skills.
Partway through the process he said, “I think wer’e starting to feel grouchy, lets take a break!” Corey had brought all manner of cold refreshments and lots of them and we did get a benefit from stopping to rest. Russ and a few others stayed at the back and held the herd, others of us were able to visit.
After that we had more challenging moments, I think a few swear words were heard, several times a heifer would get so close to the gate and then change its mind and turn 180 degrees at high speed, a wee bit of rodeo was part of these moments.
It was a great feeling when we were down to one to go and then we were done! Corey pulled out delicious snacks and another round of cold drinks, we had a more relaxed visit now.
Last Saturday I was sorting through a drawer and found prescription stuff for our dog Eowyn, who was a puppy last year at this time. I looked at the date and thought, “oh we are doing well, Coffee is exactly the same age and she has not been to the vet for anything serious.” Eowyn had been quite a mischevious dog and had two head injuries as a young pup. Hence the reminders of medicine and treatments. We lost Eowyn on the first day of school this past year, when she was stepped on by a bull. It was then a hard decision to get another pup when we had the chance. We did and Coffee has been a real light in our life. It was therefore like a bit of a wee nightmare when Russell phoned me Saturday afternoon (only hours after I had decided we were off to a great start with Coffee) and said, “Coffee got stepped on, can you come pick her up and take her to the vet?” He shared his theory that she had a broken leg, due to the sound he heard. I dropped what I was doing and got out the door. These are the phone calls I hate for obvious reasons, but they also contribute to a databank of anecdotes that all scream at me, “Life is risky! Your heart is not secure! Your life is not controllable!” Those things are all true, but they are darn hard to reckon with very much.
Prior to marrying Russell I had only one experience with a pet, a cat we got when I was already a high school graduate. I didn’t grow up like my kids are growing up, surrounded by 4 legged creatures, some that sleep with them. The word that comes to mind this morning is “privilege.” It is a privilege to have these lives join ours and journey together. Isn’t it funny how the same thing that I call a privilege is also the thing that causes me to say “this is chaos!” Its so true. At 2am I was awakened by Coffee barking (but teen boy Morgan wasn’t woken!), I went downstairs and let her out of Morgan’s room, I let her have a drink and tucked her back in. Before I was back in bed she was barking again. I brought her up to the dog room tucked her in there and thankfully never heard from her again. In these middle of the night moments of wakefulness I am tempted to feel hard done by. Sometimes I totally do and I get a bit stormy. Last night, perhaps mindful of how blessed I feel that Coffee is on the mend, I was at peace and went back to bed and went to sleep. There is alot of deep stuff at play here……the power of relationship between creature and human, the possibility of and evidence of healing, so much gratitude for skilled caregivers like our veterinarians and gratitude to the Creator of all who has designed a world where healing, relationship and helping are forces like gravity, always having a say in what we need and how we act, for better or worse. Coffee is a joy, both the dog and for me the beverage. Thanks for taking a break a reading about our coffee.
As I write this postcard you have been gone from my life for a long time. It makes me happy to think that heaven is a realm of wholeness and dementia no longer has a grip on you. I don’t know how anything works in the realm beyond earthly life but I believe that love shapes everything. Is it possible for you to know whats up here in my world? I have no way of knowing. I write this for myself. When you were well if someone had shown you and I this picture and said, “here is a glimpse of the story in the future” I would have been stunned and disbelieving. I had preconceptions about cowboy life, about what it means to ranch and about what I needed. I wonder what you would have thought. I think your exposure to the humans and the action in this scene would stir pride in you. Dad, that is your grandson and he is a gem. That is the man with the courage necessary to take on, love and nurture your quite complicated daughter. That is a dog who owns a huge chunk of my heart. This picture is all about teamwork. Do I value teamwork so much because of how we did things at home? I am not sure. Thank you for everything you did to prepare me to love these men, the land, the creatures and God.
This picture could be very old, it has a timeless quality to it. It is not. It gets me thinking about what is timeless in life, what are the pieces that endure despite the rapid changes around us? A man, his horse and his dog are timeless, so is the power of kindness, humor, loyalty and compassion. You and Russell have in common the intention to practice these things. It sure has made a difference in my life and in the lives of our children. It seems to me to be the ingredients of excellent fatherhood.
Dad, Liz got this action shot of Morgan last month. He reminds me of you. Not that I EVER saw you on a horse but there is a lilt to his walk that puts me in mind of you…………how odd…..I have not seen you on your feet in 20 years. There is no doubt that genetics that stem from your being are unfolding in his life and it is exciting. You would enjoy him so much. He never knew the thrill of feeling your pride in him but I do my best to pass on and use what you taught me about how to treat people. He is catching it. You would be proud.
These pictures were taken by Liz Griffin about a month ago. We wanted to capture some of the work of calving season. Liz got some cute and pretty epic pictures that day. It is a joy to be able to share these great images and use them to process some of the thoughts I work through as life unfolds.