Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Road Rage

The county road department came out a week or so ago and put up a road sign. I have several problems with this, the most prominent of which is the cost to county taxpayers (including myself) for such a ridiculous, unnecessary and time-wasting effort.
I've described the approach to our place before. It begins at the nearest major road -- which isn't major at all, though once a part of the original highway here, and which now serves as an alternative to the summer tourist path. It then stretches for two nearly-straight gravel miles past only a handful of houses; this is the "gauntlet" of my winter woes.
At that point, it crosses a cattle guard at one of the corners of our ranch and then meanders in a horizontal and vertical serpentine fashion through another mile to the lower cattle guard and our homestead. In the middle of this last hill-and-dale journey is a small wye -- directions always include a turn in either direction for each of the two households out here. Two. A total of less than ten people if the neighbor kids are home from college.
This wye is the location of the new road sign. One green bar points to the neighbors (let's call it Road A) and the other to us (Road B -- and extension of the road out here). Or, at least they do now. When we came home after meeting the company trucks out at the main road, we found them pointing the wrong way -- Road A toward us, and Road B toward a point between the two roads. Where do they find these idiots?! It's as if they'd never signed a wye before! After a polite call to tell them a quarter-turn of the post would fix it all, someone came out the next day, moved the green bars, and added little white arrows. So count in the multiple trips out here this winter to repaint the pink location stripe on top of each successive snow dump, and this was a very expensive little sign.
We've never worried about the lack of signage; anyone coming out here (UPS and FedEx included) knows which way to go, and the occasional lookey-loo soon doesn't care after being met with a stern piece of steel ("yeah right, you can't find town -- like you thought it would be three miles down a gravel road that said 'No Outlet'"). But the county in its infinite wisdom decided after multiple decades that we needed clarification. And this after years of throwing fits that its not a county road because Hillbilly and one of his brothers built it over their apparent lack of motivation to do so.
So, of course, it wasn't a surprise to see the confusion ensue the next day. The county power company showed up in a boom truck instead of their usual pickup, got out of it instead of checking the meter with binoculars, and wandered around the homestead like they were looking for code violations. When he left, I called the road department and asked if this guy was legit (idiot that I am -- watching from the windows instead of walking out with my steel guard-dog and just asking); he was, and was looking for an address I've never heard of that turned out to be the neighbor's stock pond.
It's still taking a little getting used to. Driving over the many hills and dales late at night, suddenly a glowing green bar pops up in front of you. It's disturbing, but it least it doesn't run into you like the deer. Now I want to decorate the wye with flowers and cute little signs about guard animals and hunting restrictions. Do you think the county would approve?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Photo--Welcome! Will You Be Staying A While?

My grandmother was not native to the area. Her parents were born and raised in Norway. They came to the USA seeking a better life for themselves and took up a homestead on what was once part of the Mandan Indian Reservation in North Dakota. After years of backbreaking work on rocky ground and raising a bunch of kids, they moved to Greenacres, WA. With a name like that, why not give up your rocky ground?

Anyway, Grandmother answered an ad placed in the Spokesman-Review in the late 1930s for a housekeeper in our area. She bought a ticket on the train and headed west.

I've yet to fully discover why there was a need for a housekeeper. I know Hillbilly had one of the last actual homesteads placed in the county. Perhaps he needed someone to help keep the house up.

Grandmother turned out to be a newspaper ad bride, as she and Hillbilly were married in 1941.

This picture shows her in 1969. This is how I remember her. I don't recall her having a Norwegian accent, though that is how others describe her. Her passing is, I believe, the biggest cause of the family friction in the years after she was gone.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Scales and Fangs and Rattles, Oh My!

One of the most troublesome -- to me, anyway -- features of desert ranching is the constant threat of rattlesnakes. We've made accommodations for this -- I carry a 9mm loaded with birdshot on my hip daily during warm weather, we take ski poles as "beat-the-bush" sticks everywhere we go, and when the summer bugs start "tick-tick-ticking," we don't go out into the fields because it's hard to distinguish the sound from a rattle and it sends the blood pressure sky-high instantly.
The first summer we were out cleaning, we ran into about six rattlers. I killed five. The One That Got Away was about ten years old, and we saw him two more times over the next two years. I hear they only have a life span of about 15 years, so I'm hoping he's deceased now. But he was a smart one.
One time, he slithered across the driveway, headed for the garden zone. Dude called me away from another project to take him out, but he hid behind a tire on the farm truck and Dude didn't want to risk blowing it out. TOTGA climbed up into the wheel well and disappeared. Dude brought hot water from the house and we poured it over the wheel, hoping to force it out of hiding. After about 20 minutes, we dared to look closer and discovered a lack of snake. He had apparently traveled through the undercarriage of the truck and escaped out the front. Argh. Safety sometimes gets in the way.
But I've been known to avoid safety too. Once, Munchkin went out to the car -- just outside the front door, mind you -- to get her schoolwork. She came running back in, claiming there was a rattler under the car. I went out, banged on the car with a ski pole, and waited. Nothing. I pushed the car a bit, which was rewarded with what sounded like a slow leak out of the back tire. I got in on the other side and backed up the car a few feet. Sure enough, there was a rattlesnake coiled under the middle of the frame on the passenger side.
I didn't think much of it. I turned the gun sideways and shot it. I forgot that I had loaded it with birdshot for the first time that morning. We now have a pretty half-moon pattern on the edge of the frame. Dude wasn't too happy. I see it as a positive -- the snake is dead and our daughter isn't in the hospital. All good.
Unc raised pigs up until his death, and regularly brought out dumped grain from the railroad tracks in town and dead produce from the grocery store. When he began to weaken, this stuff just piled up and the mice moved in to feast on the treats. Then the snakes moved in to feast on the mice. By the time we got there, it was a full-blown infestation.
Remember the mention that the blacksmith's shop was held up by garbage? It was all the boxes and wrappers from the grocery store. In the couple of months it took me to clean up that mess, I came across two rattlers hiding amongst the plastic milk jugs and broken-down boxes. Those ski poles saved my life.
As we've destroyed the many ancient tarps and piles of plastic buckets, we've found so many cast-off skins. We have an idea of where the den is, and there's talk of blowing it up, but we clearly didn't do it this winter. Maybe next year. Hopefully we're removing all their hidey holes.
This will be an interesting year. We missed so much last summer due to my surgery and to desperately trying to get the house ready to move in. This time, we'll be more engaged in outdoor work and we'll find out if we've managed to scare them off or if we just missed them last year. Hoping we've staked our claim sufficiently.
Here, snakey snakey. Let's play Russian Roulette. I promise you'll lose.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


This photo is of the last few moments that my great grandfather had above ground before burial in Hartline. He's been gone 60 years this year.

He seems to have been a hard worker over the years, finding ways to support his large family. But, the last years of his life were not as good. A cousin related the following to me recently. " Grampa had another old metal car, but it tipped over and he knocked his head on a rock pretty hard. He never spoke much after that and he was really slow. He died when I was nine so I never got to know him much. He was always quiet and staring somewhere." I was told he had what we would consider to be Alzheimer's disease today, and was kept locked up in the house where an eye could be kept on him. 

I know he is in heaven today, as I've been told he was a born-again Christian.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Almost... Nope.

The snow was finally gone off the garden as of Sunday. I was so excited! Time to burn off the salt grasses and start amending the soil.

I woke up to snow this morning. Argh.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Photo--Mid 1980s Hillbilly

Here is a photo I took of my grandfather sometime in the mid 1980s with my old Kodak 126 film camera. The details of the day are lost to time. This is how I best remember him. Near his old 1960 GMC flatbed truck, missing front teeth, dirty ballcap, khaki shirt, blue jeans, and boots. I never saw him wear anything different. He always had a bit of Days Work chewing tobacco in his pocket and mouth. This particular day he may have been down at the barn watching his cows.

This truck was last licensed through 1992, though it had been parked before it expired. The hillbilly "retired" due to Alzheimers and was placed in a home in Moses Lake shortly thereafter. He passed away in 1995. That truck has sat in its same spot since he parked it in 1992, near this spot, waiting for the day its fate was decided. Unc never touched it, claiming it belonged to the heirs of the hillbilly, which meant he did not have full control over it. About a year ago, I got the title cleared up in my name, though I've yet to decide what to do with it. It can sit a bit more.