Reluctant Cowgirl


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Rites of Spring

This morning is quintessentially spring in Oregon: grey and raw and rainy and damp all over the place. I wake up early, prompted by the starling who had entered the chimney and was flailing around in the pipe unable to reach the stove because I had the damper closed. This distresses the dog with good hearing, because she does not like things encroaching on our domicile and doesn’t particularly like starlings, just like the rest of the household. She climbs in bed and places herself atop my prone body, curling into a ball for reassurance and warmth. Had I lit the wood stove the night before, this entire unpleasant circumstance could have been avoided, I think, burying my face further in the pillow.

The bird continues to thrash intermittently and the dog’s weight presses on my full bladder. She nose-pokes my face when I peek out of the covers. “You’re in there, right? Are you hearing this?” She doesn’t want me to get up, necessarily, because we are if nothing else a family of animals who like to sleep in. She just wants to be reassured that she is not alone in her awareness of our abode and the creatures coming at it from all angles. She stares out the window now, twitching and wondering if the squirrel she spotted yesterday is up yet, and then gets further distracted and begins chasing a fly against the glass pane, stepping beside my head on the pillow.

I get up, eventually, as well all must, and do my chores to avoid dealing with the starling. I ignore it for several hours, only vaguely thinking that perhaps it is a bluebird and I should get to saving it’s dumb, feathery ass. Finally the rawness of the day seeps sufficiently into my bones, and I know I have to deal with the bird in the fire-making machine or complain how cold I am all day, so I fetch the net, open the flue, and do my best to block the door with the net as I open it, so I can catch the animal before it hurtles itself out into freedom, covered in soot and hell-bent on pooping as much as it can during the time it is free in my house. Unfortunately this never works, no matter how careful I am, and so the bird flies out past my net as soon as I reposition to try to reach in and grab it; followed, of course, by its mate, because after being stuck in there for a few hours he or she knew that he or she should be followed or loneliness and the search for a new mate would ensue.

One bird goes to one window and flaps incessantly; the second finds another window which happens to have a piece of plywood leaning up against it which traps that bird in a relatively small space (great job, absent partner). I net the first bird that flew out rather easily, but start to worry about what comes next because I a) don’t want to touch these gross things, and b) don’t particularly like the gruesome job of smacking them against the cement sidewalk to break their stupid little dirty necks.

Senior brown dog to the rescue. She comes across the house like a predator in hot pursuit, bouncing on her old arthritic toes with ears pricked, entire body thrumming with eagerness. She gets stuck behind the drying rack temporarily, but once I move it aside she is right there, ready for whatever is asked. I pinch the bird by the leg through the netting and hold it out for her, and she chomps it dead with one crushing blow of her decrepit, rotting old lady jaws. The second bird meets the same fate, and then she chews on one until I take it away because it is masticated and disgusting and she is repeatedly hacking it back up because her masticators don’t work as well as they used to. All in a day’s work. Now she’s lying by a fresh, roaring fire, and more starlings are welcome to meet the same fate as soon as it goes out. I dare them.

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Sorry/not sorry.

 


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I’ll Show You Doldrums

A post on Horse Nation caught my eye today. It was called “The Doldrums” and written by some woman in Virginia who had big plans for her winter after a productive January and a good attitude about the new year. The photo posted with her complaints about how “winter, frankly, sucks” shows a photo of a regal warmblood wearing a sheet in the rain. The ground is wide open, the grass even a little green. I rolled my eyes hella hard because girlfriend, you have no idea what winter is.

Winter is March 9th being 7 degrees with all of February’s snow still piled up around you, either frozen solid, filthy from where you’ve futilely tried to shovel or snow blow, or crumbling underfoot making it impossible to walk comfortably or safely anywhere. The hay is running low and grass of any sort is a farce. In the paddocks here? Piles of mucky poop, half frozen, half swampy, with little rivulets of brown poo water running through when the sun shines. We have a tractor on order; that’s how bad this winter has been.

The days it’s not snowing have been brutally cold and windy, and sure, like you Horse Nation writer girl, I have a covered arena but I promise mine is colder. I haven’t taken a single ridden step outside that stupid building in months, other than riding on our dirt road where I am constantly terrified Johnny Snowmobile is going to come flying around the corner driving too fast for the conditions and giving zero effs about who else might want to use the road. Not exactly a relaxing ride.

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What could possibly go wrong

I keep going up there once or twice a week, pretending we’re making progress, forcing a smile on my face, playing music, pretending to enjoy those four walls and neglected surface. Turns out the worst way to have fun is to try to force yourself to do it. Who knew.

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Pretending to do the things

So while March marches on (daylight savings time is here!) in its frigid, snowy state, I’m bottle-feeding my friend’s lambs and saying goodbye to the latest foster dog, buying a new propane refrigerator (ours has been broken since January and we are surviving on the “cold box” which will not be cold once the weather warms…the weather will warm eventually, right?), buying a tractor, trying to plan for spring projects, and immersing myself in reading and writing. It could be worse, but it’s still winter.

 


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Ranch Diary ~ May 2018

I think May is my favorite month in eastern Oregon. This year has been particularly wet, which makes things particularly green, and colorful. My walks are very slow this time of year because I must. photograph. all. the. wildflowers.

I’m still learning the names. There are so many varieties out now it makes my head spin.

Henry is particularly fond of the balsamroot (top left in ‘Yellows’, top right in ‘Smorgasbord’) and buckwheat (not pictured). He likes lupine once it gets all dry and seed pod-dy. Lupine is supposedly toxic to livestock but whatever, he lived 7 years in the wild and didn’t kill himself so I’m not going to micromanage his plant intake.


We stayed home over Memorial Day weekend to work on projects and avoid the crowds. It was our last full weekend with the current foster dog, Jimmy Dean, and he spent some time as foreman on the garden fencing operations.

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“Y’all are doing a great …zzzzzz”

One highlight of the weekend including an episode of snake rustling. I am a biologist by trade and love snakes, so if you don’t feel similar or at least have a tolerance you might stop reading here. (i.e. TRIGGER WARNING.)

We live in rattlesnake country. We have one species, the Northern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganus), a subspecies of the Western rattlesnake. It is, lucky for us, much less likely to do any big-time damage than some other species (mortality rates for untreated bites are 10-20%, and who the heck is going to not get treated?), but is still venomous and no one likes getting bitten by wildlife – not people, not horses, not dogs. Still, they belong here and play a vital role of the ecology of the shrub-steppe, so killing them is not an option for us. (Plenty of our neighbors do enough of that, and I find it to be loathsome, repulsive, ignorant, cowardly behavior. I will not judge a person for being afraid of snakes, but I will for being hateful toward them. But I digress.)

Anyway there was a snake in my covered arena, likely dining on ground squirrels making a living in a pile of old fencing we’ve yet to remove. RCowboy’s first response was “get the dogs! teaching moment!” to which I was like, ugh, really? because I’m pretty sure the dogs already want nothing to do with snakes. We leashed them and brought them over anyway, and they both said “NO THANK YOU PLEASE” just as suspected.

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Sir, this is not an acceptable place for you to be, sir. 

We discussed what was next and both agreed the arena was not rattlesnake habitat. We decided to move it to where I’d seen a snake last year, up on the northwestern corner of the property which has a very snake- and rodent-friendly rock pile and is easily avoidable by humans, dogs, and horses during snake season. RCowboy began poking at it with a broom and a long pipe, eventually picking it up and carrying it between the two objects quite precipitously.  I said, “is that really the best we can do? Should I go get a sled?” We have a couple black plastic sleds around for moving brush and wood and other objects, and I thought with it in there we could pull it the quarter-mile or so up to the rock pile. He mostly ignored me and kept on snake charming and I went to get the sled.

By the time I got to where the sled was he was already approaching the rock pile with his snake chopsticks. I left the sled and went back up there with my camera in tow. The snake very thankfully backed him- or herself into the rock pile and I got some nice shots (with a long lens).

[Please note: everything about the snake’s behavior during this encounter was defensive. It never moved toward us. It threat-struck maybe once or twice, and considering all the manhandling it received, that was really quite justified. These animals want nothing to do with large mammals of any sort. If anyone tells you they are aggressive, those people are big, fat liars or completely ignorant.]

RCowboy walked around the back side of the pile while I was snapping away and immediately found a second snake. We agreed that this landmark shall heretofore be known as “Rattlesnake Point.”

And I’m not going up there again until October. Have fun, kids. Eat all the rodents you like. Stay out of my arena.

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Hiya, gorgeous.


May was a good month around here with decent weather, my and Henry’s first endurance ride campout/volunteer/trail ride experience, some very good riding lessons, and a fun, if not high maintenance foster dog. Looking forward to what June brings.

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Here’s a handsome male mountain bluebird to cleanse your palate after the snakes

April Showers

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We’ve had a week of weather here in the inland Northwest. It hasn’t gotten out of the 40s and most days included quiet bouts of sunshine interrupted by random bursts of wind, rain, snow, hail, and graupel. Today has been a constant steady drizzle. I’m off for a few days of camping and hiking in Arizona tomorrow, and I couldn’t be happier about it unless I was taking the mustang with me.

I did ride a couple times during breaks in the weather and followed through on my promise to do stirrupless and bareback work. I have the sore muscles to prove it. I’ve also been focusing on hip opening yoga moves at night in front of the TV. When I did ride in the saddle I lengthened my stirrups and while it didn’t quite feel natural it wasn’t full-blown OHMYGOD IMMAFALLOFF either. Progress.

I got the fancy camera out for a bit during the ugliest weather day and caught Sam and Henry in full-blown stir-crazy mode. They have been taking their frustrations with the weather out on each other and both (mostly Sam) are covered in cuts and dings.

(Please note the final frame of old man Rube, thankful that he is no longer Henry’s whipping boy.)

I’ve been trying like hell to not turn these animals out on grass this spring. It’s hard when I know how much they enjoy big acreage and the variety and movement that comes with it, but Henry’s weight has been out of control for a long time and I’m finally making headway. Rube does get let out by himself because he’s thirty-something years old and allowed to eat as much as he wants, and Henry gets snacks after working, but Sam is just SOL and tells us how he feels about it regularly.

Hopefully the weather will start taking a turn for the better after I return. We are currently one month out from the endurance ride weekend I plan to attend and trail ride/volunteer at, and I still have no idea how I will contain my animal there. It has been a long and frustrating search for panels that don’t weigh a hundred pounds or cost a thousand dollars, and at this point I’m considering throwing my hands in the air and using the battery-powered electric set-up I bought last year.

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Winter Water Woes No More

The winter of 2016-2017 was brutal here in northeast Oregon. From late November to early March the temperature got above 32 degrees F maybe as many times as I can count on one hand. Probably fewer. I did not keep accurate records. But it was cold. The average temperature for December and January was probably about 10 F. I could be exaggerating but probably not. I take being cold very seriously.

We had just moved to the little off-grid ranch we now own, and at the time had no idea what we were in for. The only frost-free hydrant near the barn was busted from cows itching themselves on it for the few years that this place sat unoccupied by humans. The other frost-free was far enough away that if you walked a 5 gallon bucket from there to the barn the water might freeze in the time it took you. We wound up hoisting buckets of warm water from the kitchen sink. I’ve complained about this before, probably on this blog, so I apologize if it’s getting repetitive but believe me it was terrible and I can’t forget about it.

Enter winter 2017-2018. “Winter” here is a thing that starts in November definitely, maybe sometimes as early as September so it’s best to be ready by August. We didn’t close on the place until mid-September, and then because we had shoveled so much money into the actual home-buying process it took me a month or two to dig deep and buy the non-electric horse waterer of my off-grid dreams. Then it took a few more weeks to find the free time (and more money) to rent a little mini excavator and buy the other supplies needed to install said dream waterer. We were cutting it close, folks.

BUT! I am happy to report that on the second weekend of November we still had cooperative weather and capable human hands and enough money in the bank to rent that digging machine and make dreams a reality.

This is how we did it.
Step 1. Get to know your excavator.

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Step 2. Employ a very serious supervisor (or two).

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Supervisor No. 1

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Supervisor No. 2

Step 3. A bunch of technical stuff that I didn’t pay much attention to because plumbing is scary and I am not qualified.

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Toward the end of the technical stuff

Step 4. Demonstrate and hope your animals are smart/thirsty enough to figure it out.

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Ta da! (Please also note all the chew marks on his face from play fighting with his brother)

The old horse is persistent/belligerent and has very little fear of anything and therefore was the first to learn. The mustang is probably the most intelligent, but a little more wary, so he was next. The mule, who is supposed to be very smart, was also very nervous about the New Thing in his paddock and therefore waited a couple weeks to catch on completely. I saw him drinking from puddles and generally acting very put-out until he finally decided that since the others were doing it the thing must be safe enough to approach. We don’t have the greatest water pressure so if it’s not filling fast enough he tries to put his hoof in there to show us all how frustrated he is. The waterer was available with an optional chew-guard which we did not elect to purchase. I may suggest they also offer a hoof-guard.

We’ve had some wicked cold nights already, and the waterer is reliably providing above-freezing (taking the temperature of the water coming up is on my to-do list) water on demand to our three equines. When the snow really flies we’ll have to make sure it stays cleared, but otherwise it’s pretty low-maintenance. I was a little worried about the cold metal paddle being brutal to touch with a muzzle in frigid temperatures, but so far no one seems to care. I only have to water the chickens and ducks each day now, and I could not be happier about that. Bring it on, winter.


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We Bought a Ranch

This sounds like a big deal, but we’ve already lived in the place for almost a year, so it’s less of a big deal than you would imagine. All the really physically hard stuff (the moving, the driving around trying to figure out where you might want to live) has been done a long time. The mentally and financially hard stuff (I would not suggest buying a 156-acre off-grid property from an overseas buyer as a first real estate transaction) is just barely in the rear-view mirror. Okay, yes, you’re right, the financially hard stuff doesn’t really stop when you’re a homeowner, especially one with equines.

The as-yet-unnamed ranch is 156 acres and not on the modern electric grid. We use solar power generated from panels that are almost as old as I am. There’s a back-up generator that we must run on what I consider too regular a basis; roughly every other day when the sun does not shine 100%. But the solar upgrade is not a first year priority because I already lived through one winter with outdoor animals and no ability to keep water from freezing – the system was not made to heat water buckets. So our first big project as ranch owners is buying and installing a Bar-Bar-A waterer. Is this overkill? You might think so. The things are not cheap, and the installation is a bear. But let me tell you about last winter. Sometime around Thanksgiving the temperatures dipped below freezing and they did not get above freezing again until February. Also around Thanksgiving the first snow fell, which was followed by the second, third, fourth…I lost track somewhere around tenth snow. We had a lot of snow. We had brutally cold temperatures. (The lowest I saw was -26 F, and the average for December through January was probably around 10F.) It was freeze-your-water-trough-through-and-through-then-cover-it-in-two-feet-of-snow cold. I carried 5-gallon buckets (3/4 full let’s be honest) from the kitchen sink out to the (then two) equines multiple times daily. We now have twice as many equines. It is something I do not wish to re-live.

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This much ice was in the water trough on September 16th. 😦

The other big pre-winter chore is buying hay, which we find challenging owning only a pickup and stock trailer (i.e. no flat bed, no tractor, so large/round bales are out of the question at this point). Last week we got 2.72 tons of grass hay (22 bales in the pick-up bed and 38 in the trailer) and need to make a second trip to get at least that much again.

There are other chores/projects that would make winter easier on us and the equines, including

  • improving the flooring in the run-in portion of the barn and adding bedding,
  • creating a doorway from the run-in into the barn,
  • building/installing a covered hay feeder,
  • enlarging the windows from the run-in into the barn, and
  • putting up temporary walls on the run-in to keep the snow from piling up inside and creating a frozen/muddy mess.
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Yes, mustang, I too feel like the windows are small and useless.

However the structure of the run-in is warped from several years of cattle poo piling up inside and other abuse/neglect, so it’s a larger project than just the . If we rent an excavator for the waterer installation we may make some headway there.

We’re off to a clinic with the mustang’s OG trainer this weekend, and hoo boy, before you know it it will be Thanksgiving again and I sure hope some of these items are checked off the list before the snow flies.