Friday, September 10, 2010

A Day at the Ranch

Every now and then I’m asked what I do. And every now and then I wonder what to say. So, this morning when the neighbor called and said we had a heifer covered in porcupine quills over half of her face, I decided to grab my camera and record the day.

The day actually began before the phone call. This morning I answered five emails to friends and family; and to individuals with whom I’m working on my book. I finished gathering more photographs I’ll be including in my book and later in the day delivered them to a photographic print maker, who formats them for black and white and in some cases, also scans historic photos.

Then mid-morning, as I walked out to the barn, Pete and Dawn, our hired-hand, were bringing in a small group of heifers from across the road. The one with the porcupine quills was included, and the rest were used later in the morning by our son, Andy, who trains horses for cow work in our arena.

Before Andy arrived, Pete, Dawn, and I walked the quilled heifer into the alley way in the corrals behind the barn and put her in the chute. With a pair of needle-nosed pliers, Pete began to take out approximately a hundred quills. The heifer seemed to be in as much pain as she was feeling some relief after each pull of the pliers. Intermittently bawling and protesting, Pete had to be careful not to get clocked as she threw her head from side to side.

Just as we finished up Andy and his assistant trainer, Beth, rolled in. They’d brought just three horses to train today. They usually haul six. Andy, Beth, and Pete are all preparing for the Colorado State Fair horse events: Andy and Pete will be competing in the reined cow horse event and Beth will be competing in the reining events. So, today they did some light work on the cows and also reining practice, concentrating on spins and stops or run-downs.

As we saddled up, I watched Hercules, Cassidy’s goat, who joined the mares and babies at the barn well. Hercules came from Texas with Cassidy when she moved back to Steamboat. He’s been out at Andy’s training barn, but he’s been kept stalled with an injured and recuperating horse. Cassidy thought he might be depressed, so last time she came out to ride her barrel horse she brought him and he stayed. He seems to be in heaven, pairing up with the horses and sticking close to the barn.

With horses saddled and at the ready, we all help put up panels to create a cutting pen. Once the cattle are released into the pen we’ve created, Andy took advantage of the opportunity to work his cow dog, Pearl, on the cattle for a few minutes. Pearl’s a talented working dog and she and Andy have made great progress in working together.

Next, the horses are up. Andy works first on Annabelle, the family show horse. Today, he wasn’t very happy with the cows. They’ve been used all summer and they’re familiar with the activity and were slow to move. But, it’s what he had to work with and he made do. Pete, Dawn, and I took a turn working our horses and as we do, the others assist the rider by keeping the cow away from the herd and contained in a small space.

After this session, I headed to the house for a little lunch and to check my email. I was waiting for a reply from a woman whose family used to own our ranch. I had asked her to read an essay from my manuscript to check it for historical accuracy. Her reply was in my email. She shared homesteading abstracts and personal stories of buildings and the development of the ranch over the twenty-four years her family owned it. I also contacted a woman who’s the director of the Yampa Valley Land Trust. I knew she would have an historic photograph of a well-known ranch here in the valley called, the Warren Ranch, of which I’ve also written an essay. In our conversation I learned about new developments in structuring conservation easements and the preservation of agricultural lands.

I spent the rest of the afternoon working on the photographs with the photographic printmaker in town and also once again at home. The disc I used to store many of the photographs wouldn’t work on his computer or mine. So, I went through the whole process of transferring the originals now to a flash drive.

About 5:30 or 6:00 PM I checked in again out at the barn. Pete just finished schooling Bob in the roping box. Bob reportedly had a “Hi-O-Silver” moment, rearing up and bucking with all four feet in the air. He’d also put Timmy, a client’s horse, in the round pen with a saddle on for the first time. Pete said, “Boy, did he buck! Straight up in the air and around and around. Then he just stopped. He has a good mind. He realized it (the saddle) wasn’t going to hurt him.”

I told Pete I’d see him for dinner and decided to sit down and write about this day on the ranch. So, here is where I’ll leave the reader: dinner still ahead, a bit of laundry, and an hour or so of still and quiet. Perhaps, the best reply to the question of “What do you do?” is, “While much of what I do is the same, no one day is ever quite the same. And with a little of this and little of that, the mixture makes for on occasion, a fragmented day, and on other occasions, a rich, stimulating life."