Friday, April 26, 2013

Photo--Grandmother In North Dakota

This image shows my grandmother's family before they moved west. I'm not exactly certain of the date.

From the left is my grandmother's mom, grandmother, her older sister, her father, her twin brother, unknown, spouse of older sister.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Horsing Around

I was supposed to be working on politics, health issues and some artwork today, when my life got in the way. My to-do list is never empty, but today was really important as a catch-up opportunity.

First, Dude was having a very long, very difficult day in his seasonal job. I used to leave Munchkin home -- one mile from her daddy's base of operation -- and go help him for a few hours. Now we're 30 minutes from that base, and helping really isn't an option. This time, though, it just so happened he needed help at his two local stops, so I got the barely-out-of-bed call. Never mind it was around 10am. I helped for two hours, picked up lunch for both of us, and sent him on his busy way with the intention of getting home to my list.

Munchkin then reminded me  of the walk I promised her, since the temp was over 50 degrees. I have my limits, this one being some level of heat. We walked out to the Big Spring (maybe a mile?) with two dogs and a cat, photographing flowers and burning a few calories. We pushed a little further so I could check on the progress of the wild onions, but was disappointed to see no blooms and to lose the roots to the dry, rocky soil. We hiked back, feeling the muscle burn and looking forward to sitting down for a bit.

I managed about an hour of internet work time, when I got the call. Dude was on his way home when he found a jittery horse stuck in the Gauntlet above the upper cattle guard. We quickly devised a plan: while he drove east to one set of neighbors, I'd drive the other way with Munchkin and a lead rope. By the time I got the mile to the cattle guard, there was no sign of any horse. Further up the road we found her, excited and taunting us; she wanted to run and apparently was willing to greet us as long as we'd follow her. Just a few inches from grabbing her halter, she turned and ran again. As Dude drove by, she chased him, tail and head high, hooves all a-blur.

I tried to catch her again, but this time she really leveled a challenge. Munchkin was behind the wheel this time (still on our gravel road, mind you), and matched the flying horse at 35mph. It was clear she was racing us, and that she'd hadn't yet opened the engine. Suddenly she took a sharp turn down a field road and disappeared into the winter wheat.

Ultimately, Dude drove us two miles to the north side of the field, came back a mile through a new neighbor's field, crossed the fence line, and managed to attach the lead rope. By now, the poor horse was sweaty and thirsty, halting and searching for any sign of water. I towed her along for a hundred yards or so, but the ground between the furrows was far too uneven for my ankles. Munchkin took over, and with treats and lots of sweet words, walked the race horse the rest of the route home.

The owner, another neighbor, met us near the Gauntlet, and took over. Dude met us nearby to shuttle us back to the car. The field owner met us to make sure all was well. The sheriff was gone before we returned, and the other neighbors had all gone home in small-town-"I-can't-believe-the-stupidity" huffs over this particular neighbor.

We've always operated under the philosophy that we'd want someone to round up our animals if they got beyond our reach, and in this case, a race horse challenging cars can end in the animal's death -- not something we wanted to see. It led to not only meeting two more neighbors, but two subsequent visits by those neighbors. One wanted to know if we were willing to sell some of our property (no) and one to bring me bell peppers and tomatoes as a thank-you while getting the name of my farrier.

So, now I'm back in front of the computer, getting my work done. Still far behind, but enjoying the adventures of the day -- unexpected, but not unwelcome.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Great Llama Migration

The Llama Gang has been dissolved. A local shepherdess and weaver agreed to take the two troublemakers, leaving us the ancient one and the more-approachable one.

Nearly Wild, Wild, Friendly, Nearly Friendly
That was an adventure in itself. Llama wrangling is not for the faint of heart; neither is it for unbroken bones, apparently -- I still have two broken fingers a month later. We caught all four, but after a great deal of chasing, penning, cordoning, and prodding. Llamas may cush (lay down), but they do it out of some passive-aggressive trickery in the hopes of breaking free while you're relaxed and panting for air. It took five of us and two hours to get the male and the young wild one into the trailer. Talk about a rodeo.

In the aftermath, our two remaining girls seemed to calm down. They haven't tried to escape anymore, though they're not real eager to be handled. It seems they're having a long debate about which one gets to be lead llama; I only know because they spend an inordinate amount of time spitting at each other, ears back and heads pointed to the sky. Not a discussion in which I want to interfere.

Dude and I spent a warm afternoon -- Easter Sunday, in fact -- refencing the pasture below the house. Well, not really fencing, per se... more like re-twining. These creatures jump 6-foot fences, so it's rather expensive to redo the entire field. Instead, we filled in low spots and between buildings with twine cut from bales of hay. It worked pretty well. Just a visual barrier, but enough to keep them migrating from the salt flats.

Mama Llama, Freckle watching our every move
Getting them across the driveway and into the salt flats had us more worried, though. It's a wide driveway, protected only by three of us puny humans. We came up with a plan, or rather an idea that didn't really flesh out the way we imagined. We un-wired the 6' fence into the chicken pen in a convenient, but previously unexpected gate location. We then lined the path with wire panels, barbed wire, buckets, rocks, wood, and our own breakable bodies. Then our daughter sacrificed herself, leading them with a scoop of grain as they nearly trampled her. Only the ancient one looked back to see if she could get around us. In less than a minute, we had two very bewildered llamas in a very large pen, and were off to introduce them to water. Took us thirty times as long to set up and tear down the pathway fence!

They've settled in now. They live on the hill overlooking the Mammoth Pond, where they cush and hide in the sagebrush. They wander down into the back yard and watch us in very close proximity and intent curiosity when we work in the yard. I have yet to actually see them at the pond by the old well, but I have to assume they've had a drink by now. And we haven't seen any coyotes, but we know they're allowing the deer to visit. Maybe their only real benefit to the ranch is in eating down the overgrown fields. That's worth it, as far as I'm concerned.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ducking Away

Dodge and Lucki out for a stroll
We learned earlier this spring to investigate when the smaller animals begin running for no apparent reason. There usually is a reason, and it's rarely indicative of anything good.
Passing by a window one recent morning, I saw Dodge, our mallard drake, running frantically uphill from the water trough toward the driveway. Since there was no shetland pony on his heels, I ran to another window to see where he was headed.
He stopped suddenly in the center of the driveway and began calling for his mate. He turned in circles several times, still calling. After about five minutes, he stopped calling, but continued to turn in place. After another five, he stood there forlornly, only turning his head.
My heart broke for him. Lucki and Dodge are never apart. If ducks have hips, they were attached there. Only two scenarios presented themselves: either she was nesting and he missed the memo, or Daring the Coyote had done away with her. I was leaning toward the latter. A few hours later, though, I saw them reunited in the yard and breathed a sigh of relief -- there's nothing worse than waterfowl in mourning.
Lucki was scarfing down grass like she hadn't eaten in months, and Dodge sat near her, seemingly at peace. As she wandered about ten feet from him, he suddenly jumped up, ran to her side, and laid down again. A minute later, she was again too far from his side and he bustled to join her, again laying down in the grass. This happened several more times. How sweet! Separation anxiety!
Lucki hidden in the brambles
Lucki is now tucked away in her nest, presumably there to stay until the ducklings hatch. She made a very quick trip to the water trough, running off at a high rate of speed and ignoring Dodge's calls. He had seen her from the back yard, but couldn't move fast enough to join her. I'm not entirely convinced he knows where the nest is.
Soon, though, we heard splashing in the trough. Dodge was happily splashing and ducking under his own waves. It seems that all anxiety is gone, as is all memory of dear little Lucki!
We can't wait to see how he responds to a little brood of babies. Here's hoping he's a good daddy!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Wide Open Spaces

Status quo two weeks ago.
Big open space now... what to do with it?
The demolition continued today, mostly because momentum took over and it seemed a waste of time to change goals. Curmudgeon came out to help and the four of us completely erased two whole buildings. Well, one and a half ... one of them looked like it could have been the top part of a covered wagon, it was so small.
The east edge of the homestead used to have a small garage (falling down), a small storage shed (or wagon top, falling over), the bunkhouse (might survive), the pig-butchering building (and place of last meal for the porcine victims, falling in), the ancient chicken coop (falling in), and a grain bin (in decent condition). It now has the garage, an open space, the bunkhouse, another larger open space, the not-for-much-longer coop, and the grain bin. It sounds like a minor change, but with the absence of a woodshed, the whole homestead seems so big and open!

Shed coming down.
Pig barn coming down.
All told -- demolition, materials removal, site cleanup and rock removal -- it took us about four hours. Add in grilled gourmet burgers (twice), and it was a fabulous day!

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Dude has been on vacation this week, so we've had the opportunity to get a great deal of work done. Poor guy! Off work just to work even more! But it's been worth it to see the progress around here.

That fire we started? It's still burning... Just kidding. But really -- it burned for three days, and was still hot when we finally put it out. Turns out, what looked like 18 inches of dirt under the wood shed was really 18 inches of composted wood. As that began to burn, it created a deep, very hot fire that burned even when there was no sign of flame. We found melted glass bottles, metal turned to ash, and even a melted marble. But we now have a lovely pile of ash mixed with soil that hasn't been touched in over 100 years -- perfect for a kitchen garden! And with all the mammoth rocks removed, it should be an easy job.

The trench is all filled in, and a spring rain soaked it all down, so we filled in the low spots and seeded some wildflowers on the hillside and in the front yard. No reason to give the weeds a chance to get established.

With virtually no wind earlier in the day, we did a little burning. We had plenty of roots dug up from the trench, as well as old dead sagebrush pulled down from the hillsides around the buildings. That added a lovely smoky, spring-cleaning kind of feel to the workday!
Nearly done with the lower yard.   

While that was going, we gathered more metal from all over the homestead, cleaned up more of the yard, and cleaned out the lower yard by the back door. What a job! When we moved in, not only were there remaining weeds from last summer, but most of our outdoor stuff was left there because we were out of room inside. Now all that remains are the grill, smoker and a few pieces of lawn furniture. It was great to sit near our nearly-cooked meal and chat about what else we want to accomplish!

Earlier in the day, we brought the stacks of gathered bedsteads from around the homestead to the lower yard. These will become the fence around the kitchen garden, once they're painted. I knew there was another set next door in Grandma's House, so we donned masks and gloves and braved the ancient building to find them. Upstairs we found two sets, one easily removed and one still set up under a moldy and mouse-ridden bed. One of the more disgusting jobs we've done out here -- worthy of a hot shower and a load of laundry when done! But ultimately, I have 16 headboards and footboards and two cribs, plus a couple of old racks that will create a lovely mixed-design border for my veggies and herbs. Yay!

Cans in the big barn.
Munchkin dug up the weak tulips and repotted them in planters. We picked up all the remaining wood chunks from the woodshed project and shuttled them by backhoe up to the storage yard on the hill. And that was all just today!

Earlier in the week, we refenced the lower pasture for the two remaining llamas (that's a post for another day) -- just with twine, mind you, but it's only a visual barrier since they'll jump any fence if they choose. We've cleared out the big barn, bagging up seven leaf-bags of beer cans, pulling all the harnesses and tools, and risking our lives to get the old family brands. It's ready to knock down now, if only to do it on our own timeline instead of the weather's.

And, finally, we put in the hallway closet shelves. This may have been the highlight of my week. We have been tripping over and side-stepping around the boxes of bathroom stuff for months now. It's so nice to have everything accessible again!
An unpacked closet!
Munchkin on the paint job.

Other than that, Dude has been posting old media pics to Facebook (to everyone's chagrin), Munchkin has been lost on the Internet herself or in a book, and I spent an entire day searching for ideas. I haven't made this many design pins in nearly a year!

Dude needs a whole month of vacation next spring. Just think of what we could accomplish!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Hunka Hunka Burning Junk

It's taken weeks to tear down the woodshed and coalshed, the 2-sided outbuilding that until recently sat in the middle of the driveway. We've spent afternoons with prybars, pulling pieces off one-by-one in case the barnwood can be salvaged. We've knocked the remainder down with the backhoe, cheering as the last vertical piece fell. We've extracted the remaining coal (once used to heat Hattie's house) and the huge structural beams hidden inside the woodshed.

Today, we burnt the rest to the ground.

It was so delightful to see warm licks of flame eating up all the ancient, rotten wood and creating lovely wood ash for my potager. It was slightly rainy out, but the fire kept us warm even while soaked to the bone. Except while on the backhoe, mind you -- I need to install a personal heater in that thing!

At this point, there are only a few hot coals peeking at me through the front door. I'll sleep on the couch tonight and check on it periodically, but the fire is basically out. (Frankly, I'm watching for the fire-stomping rhinos from The Gods Must Be Crazy.) Tomorrow, we'll pull the remaining wood pieces to the side for later burning, dig down with the Big Toy and upturn the giant rocks underneath, and then begin working the soil.

So exciting! Maybe I'll get a garden in yet this year.

The woodshed as we started demo
The coalshed, Dude pulling out windows

And the walls came down
Breaking up the foundation
Burn, Baby, Burn

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Recently, I woke up to a bright sunny sky and warm temperatures ... and the constant sound of a smaller-size plane. I assumed it was the beginning of crop-dusting season. This is what I found...
Seriously... were the Blue Angels practicing over my ranch?

We have military jets buzzing through here all the time, zipping through the fjords and scaring recreationalists. I'm not sure that's the case here. Puzzling. If they could just schedule it for after my morning coffee...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Internet Download Complete

The Ranch is now in the 21st century!

We have now had internet for 34 hours. We have spent time on Facebook, email, YouTube, the boss' training video site, homeschool websites, political websites, and so much more. The munchkin has looked up on the internet details on the game of curling while watching a game of curling. Unbelievable! Fabulous! Such a relief!

Now there will be more time to work on the cleanup and construction, since we won't be going into town every day and getting caught in conversation with our neighbors instead of getting internet stuff done. Not that we don't like our neighbors -- we just had so much to do and no time to do it! Now we can go to the coffee shop to just have coffee and visit! Plus, we won't need to spend gas money to answer the myriad of research questions that pop up out here. Things like: can WD-40 stun a rattlesnake? what are the dimensions of a typical round pen for training horses? what is the average lifespan of a llama? how do you change the dimensions of a window in poured concrete walls? what is sound-dampening compound? what happened in last week's Dr. Who episode? what is the carbohydrate count on half a pineapple? All very important questions and necessary for life. Well, our life anyway.

Hopefully it also means more consistent posts here too!

Dude trenching out to the pinnacle for the cat-5 cable from the receiver. The backhoe comes in handy yet again!