I got a little sidelined……

Hello again……

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. 

Jill and I were in charge of traffic control on foot at the gates. We had some free time to hang out with Liz while the cowboys brought the cows near to the gates. I like the “mother is shelter” feel to this picture.
The cows had come from across the pasture and arrived at the coulee. Russ on the left and Dawson on the right were with the herd while Morgan and Kent were just off camera in strategic spots.
I love how this picture showcases our cousin Dawson. A couple years ago he was just getting started with much riding. In this picture, pictured at the very top, he is looking so relaxed and almost in charge.
This picture looks like it was pulled from an old western. That’s my boy Morgan in the back.
I see teamwork at its finest in this picture. The cows were being given a chance to drink and the cowboys each had their spot and were on guard to keep the cows in place. Can you spot all four cowboys?
A great closeup of cowboy Kent.
Jill and I in the far back, prepared to keep the cows from going down the road behind us. They did well, they came out their gate and took our cue to advance through the open gate waiting for them into this next pasture.
Dawson, Jill and I (Morgan too) ensuring the last calves get through.
Job done, the cowboy is off his horse. Russ really likes kissing and Liz is used to our antics by now.
When I see this picture I ponder “what is Bingo thinking?” She looks like she is assessing something, I do believe it might be something like, “do you need me in there Dad? (pant, pant) I can help you Dad! (pant, pant) If anything hurts you I will bark for you Dad! I can do it! (pant, pant)
It turns out what Bingo was watching was Russ getting this calf out of the trailer. We had roped it and put it in the trailer before the chase started. At birth it was premature and had weak knees, they never did strengthen up like they should. It could not tolerate the action of this night. Here Russ is getting it back with its Mama after the move. This is one of my favorite pictures because of its sense of animal husbandry.
This picture got me thinking about the unspoken communication between Maddie and Russ. I think maybe they were having a post chase debrief, possibly discussing who got cowboy of the day and who got dog of the day. Maddie is a bit of a diva, she might have, in this instant, been putting her name forward for dog of the day.
What do you learn about Bingo by looking at this picture Liz captured? She has a long tongue, thats the obvious thing, but her bigger reality is that she puts her heart and soul into working alongside Russ, she is never afraid to push herself, and will not quit, until its time to rest, the moment captured here.
Getting the trailer loaded in the background and in the foreground an incredibly proud moment for me. My growing son is now taller than me and I enjoy him so much.
Maddie takes her post chase rest, and right in the middle of the road!

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.

A picture that Russ took from the bottom of the dugout. That is Maddie dog in the back.

Day 20 – Postcards from the Heart

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.

Morgan, cousin Laurie + Russ in the morning sun.

Russ + Clarence at the back of the herd.

4 hooves off the ground! Dirt flying!

Russ – pleased by something!

Maddie, David Powell, Knightwing, Russ + Bingo – rounding cows out of the bushes in our rented “River Pasture”.

The snow that made for epic pictures.

Russ, hot on the trail + 65 lbs heavier than he is now.

Diary of a Ranch Wife – July 12, 2021

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.

Cowboy David riding his horse Sadie
Cowboy Dawson riding Spirit
Cowboy Evan riding Dick
Cowboy Kent riding Lady Penelope
Cowgirl Briella getting ready to jump onto Jane.
Cowgirl Marisol riding Thunderbird
Cowgirl Jackie on her horse Roscoe.
The crew pulls away.
Morgan, Russ and Bingo at the head of the group.
As woman on the ground, I was needed to hold horses while things got sorted out. This selfie kind’ve cracks me up. It looks like I am having a decent hair day, but Sundance, not so much!!!

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).

Russ let me use his shepherd’s crook, its kindv’e mysterious, holds alot of power. I tried to do right by it. (We build it up like that to bolster our confidence….its maybe just a long cane….maybe.)

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.

Corey, David and Laurie wading through a small sea of cows.
Russ, Corey, David, Morgan and Laurie running that red heifer up the fence. The tricky part here was to keep our calves back. It was quite a feat to get to get the heifer this far up and away from the rest of the herd.
The entrance back into Corey’s pasture. It was a 90 degree angle from the gate out of our pasture. Early on I had to keep one eye on it to make sure these girls didn’t come wandering back out. Once the bull joined them they were all off and gone like a party had been called!

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.

A good picture of Russell with his pal Evan just behind.

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.

Corey handing out drinks on the break.

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.

An example of the challenge….cows, calves and a heifer all together coming up the fence…we need to work some cowboy magic to get the heifer alone.

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.

Evan always has a good story for Russell.
One of our neighbors came down the road in time to enjoy this part of the evening. Charlie enjoyed Evan’s jokes as much as we did I think.
It’s the hang loose cowpokes in the back and the setting sun that make this pic seem a bit epic to me.
Before the day was over Russ took the chance to show Marisol how to bridle a horse with a sore ear.
All loaded back up…..that’s a wrap!

Coffee Break Time

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.

Russell and Gina had been out working with a small group of cows, moving them from one pasture to another, just across a road was the goal. It should have been straightforward and easy but it wasn’t. The cows in this group are ones that we are not breeding again, mostly because they are so aggressive and we don’t want them around, they will do best in the world when they become part of the food chain. There are three that are just terrible, their motherly instinct is fierce and it doesn’t subside as things get established, they have proven themselves to be dangerous pretty much year round.
This picture that Liz Griffin took this calving season is a good illustration of how much the dogs are part of the action and that it can get intense.
This is another recent Liz Griffin picture, this is one of our permanently aggressive cows. Just like in this picture, on Saturday afternoon it was coming for Russell’s horse, so the horse moved fast to get out of the way and Coffee was in the wrong spot for that motion and got underfoot. The fact that Coffee got injured seems to be further proof we need to get rid of the mean cows.
Russ figured out a way that he could end the cattle move right then, sent Gina home with the horses and came to the vet with Coffee and I. I cannot lift more than 20 pounds so this turned out to be a blessing because Coffee needed to be carried. She was also overheated, it was one of our super hot days and she was stress breathing. In this picture she has ice packs on to cool her down and is having a break during the xray process.
Bingo came with us to the vet. She insisted and it made things simpler for Gina but right before we pulled away she found cool water/mud somewhere, which in our focus on Coffee we did not realize. Bingo spent time alone in the vehicle while I grabbed some quick groceries and Russ was with Coffee at the clinic. Bingo was able to get mud all over the passenger parts of my SUV. This is where I imagine someone saying, “Kathy, why don’t you set more limits? Why do you let all this chaos into your world?” To that I answer, there is constantly a triage process happening in my brain, sorting through what is important (which is no simple question), what is urgent, what can be dealt with later. In these moments I could not get worried about my seats which will wipe clean, Bingo needed us and honestly I think I needed Bingo. I spent time with her out in the yard at the clinic while Russ did 98% of the time inside with Dr. Dawn and Coffee. I liked it that way. I am finding I don’t do well in moments like that. I had paper recycling in the back and a water bottle and with these I got the seats that Russ, Coffee and I needed cleaned off and ready for the trip home. Bingo got to keep her muddy seat. (Both Bingo and the seat were dried here and much less threatening looking than they initially were!)
Back home with sedative to sleep off Coffee was an easy patient, Jill was near and happy to comfort her. Morgan was away all weekend helping friends with their cows. We elected to not tell him about Coffee’s mishap until he got home. That was a good decision.
This picture was taken back in early January, the night we picked up Coffee from her owners. What I didn’t realize in this moment was the kind of bond that Morgan was ready to establish with this dog. He and Jill have spent so much time with her and just loved her into her best self. Therefore the news of injury was very tough. As he got used to things Morgan began doing some problem solving, what would make this heal best? He texted Dr. Dawn with the question, “should I be giving a calcium supplement to Coffee?” She answered back, “nope, just lots of cuddles and kisses.” That is an easy presciption to make work.
We took Coffee to the vet for a check-up yesterday. Russell and Megan were able to restrain Coffee for the removal of her splint and for the assessment. I was needed for a bit to restrain while getting the new splint applied. We were able to avoid sedative this way. Dawn was great. She said that everything looked very good underneath and we are good to go for another week.
Those are arms of love but for Coffee I am sure they didn’t feel like it in the moment. Coffee is very resilient, she was acting like herself within a minute of being done.

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.

Postcards to my Dad

Dear Dad,

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.

Horsing Around

We had a long full day on the ranch yesterday.  Some pictures will tell bits of the tale.

I took this photo while we were working at the chute.  Morgan and Russell had shared a really scary moment with a cow outside the shed.  When they came back in afterward they were laughing hard.  Apparently after the danger had passed Morgan said to Russell, “do you want to trade underwear?”
This is our cousin Dawson.  He gave each animal an injectable dose of Vitamin A&D.  He is fantastic help.
Russ running the hydraulics to control the gates.
Later on I joined the guys when they headed to the pasture.  I got some pictures.   Then I took the truck and trailer home, they came back with 80 pairs.
Cousin Laurie saddling up.
Laurie is ready to roll.
Getting horses out of the trailer.
Dawson is ready.
Gates,  tying and untying, a constant part of ranching.
Russ and Bingo ready to roll.
Morgan with the dogs. Knightwing in the back, Bingo in the middle, Maddie up front. Knightwing is meant to simply be our guard dog. However she has a desire to be working with Russ and has been improving as a cattle dog. This day she earned the “dog of the day” award.
The trip home started off well for this herd but got frustrating. By this moment when the herd finally decided to turn off the road and into the yard we knew frustration. Animal behaviour is tough. Frustration was a theme yesterday, arising in casual conversation at lunch(which we ate in the garage), in connections I made in my own brain about my own behaviour, the experience of very vivid frustration for the whole crew together and then in a phone call with Gina in the evening she talked about it. I think it will be the subject of a future blog.
Getting everyone into the corral took time.
Here you can see Jill. She came out of quarantine to help in these moments and had been checking the cow and heifer herds all day for calving troubles. Its 6:59am now, on Sunday and she is out doing the morning check.
Dawson shared this adorable photo of the barn cats with me.