Thursday, February 23, 2012

Through the Storm

The sky is painted in shades of silver, grey and cream, and the shadows of the clouds throw a purple cast upon the mountains which lay on the far side of the valley. The top of the large fault block to the west shimmers white with new snow and deep blue crevasses, the peak pushing up out of the clouds at 10,000 ft while the rest of the mountain is cloaked beneath the haze.

A drizzle falls slowly on the ranch as EmmaLou lays sleepily cudding in the straw under her little shelter. The sheep are out in the back 20 acres nibbling at the young grasses that dare to push their way up out of the soil under the straw colored forage of last season. I pick my way through the downed thistle, following Cletus along the small cattle trail leading down to the grove of trees where the sheep were grazing.
The weather has been taking its toll on me, as well as a wicked chest cold that I can’t seem to get over, so as soon as we reach a spot out of the heavier wind I lay down in the grass to soak up what little sun peeks through the clouds as they scud across the landscape. Cletus comes to make sure I am all right, sticking his great cold nose in my face. I laugh as his lips hang in floppy wrinkles and his big white head hangs down, eyes disappearing and resembling a giant, white Sharpei. His huge fangs are brilliant white, probably from working on the bones and antlers he and Bruno lug home from their nightly patrols, his lips falling away in a grin. He gives me an affectionate nose touch and then goes to check each individual sheep. The lambs follow him around as if he is their hero, which, indeed, he is. 
My nephew and a young lady visiting the ranch are up by the barn in my round pen, working colts. One jumped out of it the other day, crushing one of my panels. I hear their voices on the wind and a wave of sadness rushes over me. I contemplate how many horses I myself, broke and started in that pen before my condition rendered me unable to do what I had spent my whole life loving and doing. I miss it terribly, some days more than others and watching and listening to other people enjoy a life that is lost to me is hard...especially when they are doing it in my space. I wipe a selfish tear from my eye and look back towards Cletus. He seems to sense my sadness and comes to lay down next to me. Burying my face and hands in his fur, I thank God for the life He has preserved for me. If I did not have the animals to keep me company while Randyman is working, I think it would be unbearable. I chide myself for having a bad attitude. I no longer use the roundpen for riding horses, but I could break it down and make smaller pens out of it for my sheep and goats. I decide to see if the boss wants it and if so, maybe we can work something out. At least if its no longer my own, it won’t hurt so much to see it damaged. There was sentimental attachment to it, as it was a gift from someone very important and very dear to me, but that someone is somebody I won’t get to see again. Some memories are better left behind, or they become toxic and eat a hole in your heart like a cancer.
Cider came over with a ‘hand-picked’ cowpie and sets it down next to me, expecting me to throw it. I roll my eyes at him and find a bone, and substitute it instead. He runs and picks it up, then heads off through the grass exploring. He comes back, offering a stick. I throw it and he returns, his body covered in mud. 
I finally pull myself to my feet and head back up the hill to the corral. The sheep and dogs walk slowly with me and we eventually arrive. I leave them behind as I head through the gate with Cider and go back in the house. Still feeling a little desolate and foggy headed, I tell him to stay outside and dry off.
I stumble to the couch to check my email on the laptop,and find that I scored a butterchurn on ebay. That makes me smile, as I have been wanting and needing one for a couple of years. Making butter 3x a week in the Kitchenaid hasn’t been all that bad, but its a good bit of work cleaning up and I also have to use my hands and wrists a lot to wash the butter. I should be able to do a lot more of that in the churn now, so I am excited for it to get here.

I look up and notice Cider is not outside, but laying on my newly cleaned carpet. I jump up and open the back door and tell him he has to go out. He sneaks around the other side of the kitchen table and heads for the bedroom. I growl at him and he stops, turns around and heads for the service porch, sighing dejectedly as he slumps down on the dog bed. 

I can't help but laugh at him, then I think about my new butter churn again.
Even the most lowly days have their high points.

This is the second day in a row of this strange stormy weather. That said, the weather is always a bit strange in this valley anyway. It can be sunny at our house and snowing at the bottom of the pasture. The dark clouds still cover the sky, but today there is a huge rainbow over the range. Bruno accompanies us as Cider and I go out to visit Cletus and the sheep. Cletus is beside himself to have Bruno there to play with again. I sit on the grass and the pups surround me, clowning around and teasing me unmercifully.

 I move down by the big 'octopus tree'. It's a huge tree with several thick trunks growing like tentacles along the ground. It makes for a handy seat to watch the goings ons and the antics of the 'polar bears'. They play chase and tumble and knock one another over at breakneck speeds, flipping and grabbing throats, legs, or whatever it takes to win the battle. The sheep graze on contentedly, not the least bit worried as the two dogs blaze a trail between them.

They finally wear themselves out and take up stations on opposite sides of the sheep. Bruno is watching from above, close to my observation post and Cletus has gone several hundred yards further down the pasture, beyond the sheep. They both sit quietly, eyes scanning the surrounding area. It has been drizzling for awhile and now it has stopped, so I gather up my things and head back up the hill to the house. 

Rosemary sees me and comes running from way down where the sheep are grazing. She continues to follow on my heels all the way to the corral, across the back yard, up on the porch and into the kitchen. She stands at my side and DEMANDS  a bottle. It's not time for her evening bottle yet, but I can't resist her so I heat up her bottle and allow her to have 1/3 of it early. I hear a vehicle race past the front of the house and as I look out I see both Maremma's racing past. They think I have left. I call their names and they stop, spinning around in surprise to see me behind them. We return to the pasture and resume our places in the grass.

As we lay in the gentle drizzle, I could hear a roaring coming from far away. Living in this valley, under the 10,000 ft. faultblock, our weather can become very turbulent, very quickly. The wind blows often, and blows strongly, but every now and then, it tunnels up the valley, contained by the mountains and charges through like a freight train, and that is exactly what it sounded like.
Cider and I made it to the house just before the first strong gust hit. I could hear it whistling around the little rock house we live in, through the gaps in the doorways and past the rock wall as dirt, tumbleweeds, tin from a building and other things went whirling past. I saw Emma’s shelter begin to heave as if breathing heavily as she stood at her feeder and watched. The wind continued to build and blow. The sheep ran into the corral with the dogs, but I didn’t see Stewie and his mother Madge. I ran out to find them, dirt blinding me temporarily as it blew and scratched its way into my eyes and my long hair whipped about painfully. I fought my way through the dead orchard but didn’t find them. Returning to the corral, I found she had already taken Stewie to shelter under the big cattle panels. EmmaLouMoo continued standing at her feeder, watching her own shelter blowing chaotically in the wind. Normally she takes cover in there every time it rains or snows, or anything disagreeable is taking place.  I drug out what hay I could find and stuffed it down deep into feeders, hoping it would stay long enough for the animals to get some sustenance from it. When I was finished, Emma’s shelter was gone. She was standing in the ruins of it, with her eyes agog, and her tongue hanging out. She was making awful noises, as though she was gagging or choking, and was breathing heavily. The heavy gate panel doorway to the milking shed was bending towards us, the wind beating against the backside of it unrelentingly. I made my way to Em with a halter, and once getting it on her, I realized she wasn’t choking at all, but was just terrified. The tarp which had once protected her was wrapped around her legs, whipping her madly and she had no sanctuary left to turn to. Bruno accompanied me as I led her through the large corrals and out to the old orchard where she and Dolly used to take cover. She ran to the back corner, seeming to find solace there. There is no longer any fence down the side of the orchard but I didn’t think she would be going anyplace, anytime soon. I cried a little for her, knowing how scared and lonesome she felt without Dolly here. As I returned, Randyman had shown up and together we tried to brace up the heavy panels that threatened to blow down and crush anything in their path. It took two of us to close the door after opening it to see if it would let off some of the pressure. It didn’t. We came back to the house, bringing the dogs in with us, as there was nothing they could do out there and having more animals in danger of being hit with flying debris just didn’t make much sense. Surprisingly, we never lost power. Randyman said it was gusting 70-80 mph.
I prayed for Emma and the animals and we settled down for the night, with popcorn, 4 big dogs in the house, and the wind howling outside.
I woke up at midnite to a sudden stillness. The wind had finally spent its fury. I let the dogs out and donning a sweatshirt and flashlight went to the orchard to find Em. I moved her into the big hay corral where she could safely spend the rest of the night, and let the dogs patrol. All the sheep seemed fine, as did the goats. Grateful for no injuries and minimum damage I headed back to the house.

The sun rose high and the air was crisp with a blue sky. After milking EmmaLou, I put the calves in the hay corral and set about to rebuilding and repairing her little tent shelter. I sandwiched the big tarp between cattle panels which I then wired together so the next time the wind blows, there is nowhere for the tarps to go. Of course, the likely scenerio is that everything will flip over but in a wind as strong as last night's there just isn’t a defense. This will do for normal weather.
I let the goats in with the sheep but Peebody the buck and Ray the Ram got into a terrible tussle and as Peebody has horns, he was not just butting, but hooking. I got ahold of his horns and front legs and with his front legs on either side of me, I towed him back to the goat pen alone. Ray felt the two doe goats were intruders and has been valiantly defending his little flock from them. They are fairly evenly matched weight wise, all weighing about 150 lb each so I let them be. As they butted heads at the top of the pasture, the pups were down with the ewes and lambs by the Octopus tree. I looked up and saw one of the visitor’s dogs in the pasture by the corral. Bruno and Cletus saw it too. They took off running and stopped, about 100 ft apart and 100 ft short of it. There was no way it was going to be able to get past them to the sheep. The dog paid little attention to them, so they advanced again, this time with a warning bark. This time the dog looked at them. Not seeming to be of a disposition to leave, they charged the dog a third time and the dog turned tail and ran, taking the shortest route back into the horse corral. The pups stopped where they were, satisfied that justice had been served and after checking the area where the dog had been thoroughly, they went back to the sheep. I hugged them and told them how proud I was of them, as they not only removed the intruder, but they didn’t  use anymore force than was necessary. They ramped it up each time they had to, but they used good discretion. I laid down in the sun, with my arms around Bruno, and I thought I felt Cletus laying on the other side of me. Now and then he would nuzzle me, but I was too weary to roll over yet. Finally, I turned my head and saw that it wasn’t Cletus at all, but Rosemary. She had snuggled up with us and stretched her neck out in ecstasy as I scratched her under the chin.
I looked up to see Randyman at the fence. He was laughing at the antics of Ray and the goats. Prissy, the evil doe, bit Ray and came up with a mouth full of wool. That’s what she gets for biting a hair sheep, it comes out!!
We headed back to the house with Rosemary at our heels and I made her a bottle while Randyman made lunch.

Afterwards, Rosemary followed us back out to the corral and Randy put all the huge gates back where they had been before the wind. He left and I went to check on Emma, who was laying down, sunning herself. She’s been very itchy lately, so I found a stiff brush, and laying with her, scratched her neck and chin for her. She lolled her head with her eyes closed and then wrapped her neck back around me as if to show her appreciation.
It was really my pleasure.
It always seems so serene after a storm. 

I think the rest of the day, we will all just rest in the quiet warmth of the sun, under the watchful eye of our Protector.


  1. Your animals are truly the stuff of legends. I know you are mourning the loss of your horse training/riding, but imagine how much harder it would be to accept if you were stuck in suburbia. Ferocious winds aside, you live in as close to paradise as anyone could find here on earth. Thank you for showing us your pictures, both the ones you create with a camera and the ones you paint with your words.

    1. That is true BSM, I could never live in town. And thank you!

  2. I agree, you have painted some beautiful pictures.

    I'm impressed with how well the Maremmas judge the appropriate level of insistence that other dogs leave the area. If I'm ever lucky enough to need livestock guardians....

    1. They amaze me, almost daily, with their intelligence!

    2. Life on a ranch can be very difficult and then add that you are not feeling well. Between the weather and the losses lately and the missing of something that can't be done by you anymore(the horse work) I can see how the tears must flow sometimes.
      You seem to be a very strong woman. Your life is something that you love and wouldn't have any other way. Like you said, "I could never live in town."
      I understand this. God has put us down where we need to be and no "storm" will ever make us think otherwise.
      This was a great post. Loved the photos. I loved seeing a storm coming across the landscape like a "freight train". The sound of it was so real in your words. The photo was wonderful.
      I'm glad that you survived the storm and hope that you don't lay down in too many "drizzles" too often. Try to take care of yourself. These chest colds can turn on you just like storms. Be safe.

    3. Thanks farm lady, and God bless you

  3. Thank you Petey for the honest baring of your heart. It can be so lonely when your body aches and your heart is aching too. Praying for your cold to heal and your heartache over a lost part of your life to ease.

  4. Beautiful, beautiful post. Both the discriptive words and fabulous photos.(Especially love the raibow!) I often find myself feeling melancholy and achy in the approach of a storm. Sunny days always follow. God is Good. (You do live in possibly the most stunning place in all of North America.) Hugs...