Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Bulls and the Bees

Today is Bull Turnout Day.  Non-ranchers might not realize the gravity of this important holiday, or even understand what in the hell BTD is.  It's the day the bulls go from hanging out and fighting with all their other bull-homies to hanging out and Netflix & Chilling with an entire herd of fine bovine mamas.

We drive all the bulls into our corrals and start sorting them by either age or disposition.  The youngbloods hang together, the weathered and worn old fellas get penned up together, and the rest we sort into groups of 4-6.  There's always a jerk.  Or, this year, we had several jerks that needed to be put in timeout.  Before we could sort them out, they turned our corrals into Cornville, Kansas, during tornado season.  They fought through fences, exploding boards and posts, while my brothers and I just stood back and watched.

BTD is the (sort-of) perfect opportunity for discussing the birds and the bees with the kids.  Did I use the day to awkwardly stumble through the finer points of the miracle of life?  No.  We talked about Jumanji.  The other day Regina mentioned getting a book for them as a modern way of having "the talk."  I scoffed.  I never had "the talk."  I had a stollen stash of my brothers' Playboy magazines and got to tag along on Bull Turnout Day.  Which, in hindsight, didn't answer any questions that I probably had.  Yeah, maybe she ought to get that book, now that I think of it.
I have no idea what I'm looking for.
I just hope I don't get poop on my mustache.

Dylan already has a head start though.  She's had Artificial Insemination lessons, been in the corrals while we've pulled calves, witnessed several live births, and has helped us during both preg-checking and bull semen-testing days.  She's in a 4-H Vet Science class where she'll dissect the reproductive tract of a heifer.  I know, it's not the same, but she's been around a lot of bovine baby-making.  The seeds of information for mammal existence have been planted, and I just hope they'll sprout before she needs "the talk," or, worse yet, I have to read her "the book."

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Bribing Baja Jesus

We just returned from our annual Baja extravaganza and I wanted to write about Fishing With Jesus, because it makes for such a great title.  But here's the thing about fishing:  I suck at it and Regina, on the other hand, is great.  To prove this point, we hired a kid named Jesus, and his ponga, to take us fishing for a day.  Jesus rigged up our fishing poles and we started trolling.  We had exactly the same lure on our poles, although mine was green and hers was hot pink.  Two lures, side by side, and guess who caught all the fish?  Yeah, not me.  Regina filled the boat with Yellowtail and Sea Bass while I watched.  When I finally caught a fish, a Grouper no less, I didn't even really "catch" it.  I accidentally snagged the hook through his little brain.  Mr. Grouper was probably trying to make his way to that sweet hot pink lure when my dumb ass green one hooked his head.

So, instead of lying about all the fish I caught, I thought I'd really get to more exciting business and write about the roads.  Sounds dumb, and it might be, but I'm a sentimental creature, and driving through Baja's desert always brings back memories.  I pull over at every single pit stop and cantina, just so I can show the kids where I once bought an Orange Fanta when I was five.  Or if someone's selling burritos from the back of a van, then I'm just obligated to stop.  But I also stop so I can catch my breath and relax a second before we hit the roads again.  As beautiful as the Baja desert is, it doesn't always make for relaxing driving.

Much of our route on this trip followed the same trail that the Baja 1000 was just on, meaning it's a road best served for jacked-up desert rigs with oversized tires.  My truck handled the roads fine, just at much slower speeds.  Our first stretch of pavement, south of San Felipe, fools me every time.  The road looks perfectly smooth, but every quarter mile or so there's a vado.  Vados are just dips in the road where rainwater can run on the off chance that it rains.  Normally, they're roller-coaster fun to hit.  On this road, Baja-legend says that tourists die every year from hitting them too fast.  I believe it.  I may have had all four tires leave the hardtop on more than one occasion, and I'm surprised our cooler stayed put in the back.  Gringos have even spray-painted names on some of the really bad ones.  There's "Oh Shit Dip!" which is followed by "Oh Shit Dip II."  Then there's "Oh Dip Shit!" and then they either ran out of ideas or paint because the next hundred or so vados aren't named, but are equally suspension-crunching.

After we cleared that section and we got back on Highway 1, the real driving challenge began.   Highway 1 has more potholes than Hussein Drive in Baghdad, and the locals who drive it all seem like they're auditioning for driving jobs in next year's Baja 1000.  There is absolutely no shoulder, and I'm a notorious gawker, which is a bad combination.  It's definitely a two hands on the wheel, two eyes on the road kind of driving.  My strategy is to make little micro-adjustments to avoid the really deep potholes and haul-ass over the rest.  That's probably the norm, but we passed a lot of folks who tried to swerve around every pothole, and consequently were driving like it was a Saturday night after the rodeo dance.

The rest of the roads were just dirt.  This was fine by me because I'm pretty used to both driving on dirt and driving on dirt in Mexico.  I drove a little slower, turned up the tunes, and I finally got a chance to gawk at every Cardon cactus and Boojum tree that we passed.

This trip took us a little farther into Baja then our previous drives, and it brought back a lot of memories.  We stayed at a place that I hadn't been to since I was Dylan's age and the kids did the exact same thing I probably did when I got there: plopped down in the sand and started playing.  I'm already excited about going back and I've got a few tricks up my sleeve for our next fishing trip.  I'm going to slip Jesus a few extra pesos, and maybe he'll give me that hot pink lure.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Less You Know

Two years ago I coached soccer for the first time.  The Green Dragons finished 2nd (in a league of 3 teams) and never in history has there been a 2nd place coach who knew so little about the sport in which he/she was coaching.  Until this year.  That's right, I was asked (out of desperation, I assume) to coach again.

This is what first place looks like
I certainly haven't gotten any smarter in the last couple years, and I absolutely haven't studied up on the sport, so I was pretty confident that my knowledge of soccer had significantly decreased.  The good news?  This season our league consisted of only 2 teams.  Worst I could do was lead them to a silver.  The bad news?  Last time I coached I had an assistant who actually knew a lot about soccer, but not this round.  It was just me and my White Sharks.  Not a team name I chose, but I got outvoted.  We played the Black Panthers every Wednesday.  White Sharks vs. Black Panthers sounds more like a free speech rally that ends in tear gas and rubber bullets, so we didn't announce our team names too loudly.  Thankfully, our matches were more civil.

Grady's team.  Cooler colors, better coaches
Etna soccer is a fluid sport.  Not in the Brasilian sense that it's beautiful to watch, but in the sense that the rules, the length of the matches, hell, even the size of the field are all fluid and change on a weekly basis.  We tried to add time to the matches every week as the players got in better shape, then subtracted time when it got too dark to play.  The coaches doubled as refs, so I obviously relied heavily on the other coach to call just about everything except out of bounds; I was pretty good at that.  And "hands," I called that one correctly at least 50% of the time.

But it was, once again, fun.  I had Dylan on my team and she really took off as a team player this season.  The Sharks had a blast (probably because I gave candy bars as rewards), and I learned nothing more about soccer.  Our finally record?  3 - 3.  That's right, 1st place, baby.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Same Santa, Second Verse

It's no coincidence that I've written about Callahan Christmas nearly every year since I started writing Dispatches From the Ranch; it might be my favorite December outing.  The setting is in an old historic Grange building with walls as thick as Fort Knox's.  The cast of characters who attend represent what I love about this valley: hippies, cowboys, loggers, commune dwellers, and everyone in-between, all together, chatting and breaking bread.  The food is always a big traditional turkey and, even though I recently wrote about my normally unenthusiastic response to giant-chicken, this bird is the exception.  Plus, it's paired with potluck food, which is my favorite style of eating (food + surprises, what could be better?).  Send me to a restaurant with "family-style" seating and I'll probably stab you with my fork, but in Callahan, sitting at the long picnic tables is just part of the fun.

And then there's Santa.  Previous Saint Nicks have included a 25-year old dude, tiny frail men, cousins, and the super-legit reining Santa Champion, who had been there the last several years.  Sadly, that one passed away last year (pour a little egg nog out for Callahan Santa).  And even though the new Santa's beard and silver hair were clearly fake (the old Santa walked the walk year round), he did all the required holiday things: he was cheerful, inquisitive, and posed well for pictures.

Once the stockings get dolled out and the kids start terrorizing the Grange Hall, the adults retire to the upstairs to hang out by the wood stove.  Bottles of wine and beer emerge and stories about the past hunting season are told.  We duck the nerf footballs that the kids huck around and when the first rugrat collides with the wood pile, we gather up our salads and desserts and say our goodbyes.

Best of all, we're home before 9:00.  It's the perfect holiday tradition.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Comin' in Hot

The month of December rockets in like a couple of bogeys hot on Goose's tail.  Just when I feel like I finally digested the last piece of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, Freddy Fender starts yelling that he Wants To Wish Me A Merry Christmas, and I start getting pumped up (because that's the best holiday song ever).  Mostly, because I need all 24 days prior to Christmas to get prepared.  Admittedly, I gave myself a Christmas head start this year and went out on Black Friday.  What a mistake.  Twenty minutes in, and after my third lap around Cabela's, I put everything in my basket back on the shelves and curled up in a ball somewhere between the ammo and archery aisles and muttered, Why? Why? until Regina found me.  People.  Shopping.  Hunting Gear.  All things that, in theory, I think I like, but in practice, nope.

With the Thanksgiving buzz finally worn off, we were ready for Christmas, so we spent last weekend in full holiday spirit.  We hit Etna's Christmas Party, where Main Street gets blocked off to traffic and the downtown stores open up for holiday goodies.  Santa's at the hair salon, some dude (Greg) is giving holiday tattoos at the hardware store, and so on.  It's all the crowds and anxiety of Black Friday shopping, but with more candy and beer.

On Sunday, we went full Christmas.  We drove up the mountain until we hit snow, and then hiked a mile to find a tree.  We lunched in an abandoned barn and drank hot chocolate and caroled.  Ok, we didn't sing, but Regina and I did drink wine while the kids filled up on cocoa and checked for bear tracks down at the creek.  When we got home, we decorated the house.  Dylan was in charge of setting out our 57 nativity scenes while I dragged/squeezed a 12 foot tree in through the front door.  Grady hung the cat-proof ornaments on the low lying branches.  Regina mostly swept up forest chaff.  Stockings were hung.

We are as decorated as we are going to get, and we're still three weeks away from Christmas.  I guess I'll have plenty of time to hit those late season sales at the mall ... or I'll just stay put with an egg nog. That's probably better for everyone.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Thankful for Button

Sunny Eugene
We spent our Thanksgiving in Eugene, or, more specifically, Crow, with the in-laws.  What can I say about giving thanks on a year that's been pretty rough?  I'm not sure, but I'm an optimist, so I can at least name a few things, generic as they may sound.  It's the usual suspects, the family-friends-health that everyone mentions before they dive into a twenty pound bird.  Enough said.

What I love about hanging with Peter and Vovo is the blend of traditional and non- that comes together during the holidays.  And let's face it, Thanksgiving is pretty blah on the holiday scale.  There's pie, sure, but no one comes to your door begging for candy and there aren't any cool decorations (don't count your lame cornucopia, Nancy).  No lights are strewn and no one goes wassailing.  The highlights are a bird no one eats 364 days a year and a day of fistfightshopping the day after.  So Lucy mixes the day up with Brasilian dishes (Pudim de Leite), American dishes, and straight up country dishes (goat).

My Dad -- forgive the digression -- was notorious for buying horses.  Good, bad, ugly, he bought them all.  He gave a second (or third) chance to a lot of ponies that were destined for the dog food factory.  One was named Chicken, because he was saved from becoming chicken food (he didn't last).  One broke his hand, another his ankle.  A few tore apart the hitching post until he had a steel one built, then they just broke lead ropes and halters.  But more often they were great.  Boy and Cody.  Mars and Pete.  So-so was paid for with his first Social Security check and was a good one.  Dylan now rides a gentle paint named Romeo, Dad's last horse.  The list of good ones goes on.

So the highlight of Thanksgiving break, for me, was we bought a horse.  Specifically, we got a little cream colored gelding from my in-laws that I've liked since they picked him up at an auction a couple of years ago.  His name is Button and I've only been on him for less than a half hour, and that was over a year ago.  But I liked him then, so we bought him now.

And I know Dad would have been thrilled that I was horse trading over the holidays.  My gut tells me he's a good one.  I've had my teeth kicked in when my gut's been wrong, but hey, I'm an optimist.  I think this one will work out fine.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Yard Friends

Dylan's terrified.  Grady grabbed his BB gun.
Dylan, who usually doesn't get frantic, was frantic.  "Dad, there's a snake outside.  I think it's a rattlesnake."
"Hold on a second, Sean," I said to my buddy on the other end of the line.
"Sounds serious," he said.
"I doubt it," I replied.
"It's a rattler, Dad," she repeated.  So doubtful I was of her claims -- I mean, come on, we've lived here nearly 18 years with hardly a Garter snake in the petunias -- that I went outside in my bare feet.

And there it was.  A genuine rattler.  In the yard.  And a big one, too, mad and buzzing away.  "Oh, shit," I thought.  Our pets are so unfamiliar with venomous snakes that the cat crouched on one side of it, ready to pounce, and the dumb dog lay on the other, ready to ... who knows.  Bite the dog, I whispered.  "Huh?" asked Grady.  "Nothing," I mumbled and went inside for the shotgun.

This bastard was big.  His belly was lime green and he was as big around as a beer can from stem to stern.  His rattles were broken off so it was hard to guess his age, but after I dispatched it with a 12-gauge, I flopped him over the yard fence and it touched the ground on both sides.  The shotgun did quite a number on it.  I never did find the head and I later wished I'd just killed it with a shovel so I could have skinned him out for an awesome, I don't know, sash (?) for Regina.  Plus, I've been on an Eat-Whatever-I-Shoot kick (minus ground squirrels), but there wasn't enough left in terms of edible meat.  But then again, there was no way in hell I was getting close enough to kill it with a shovel, so really the shotgun was a good choice.

It's not uncommon to have rattlesnakes on Hartstrand.  Hell, my brother has found them curled up in the shoes he left on the porch, but just not at our house. So, for the rest of the summer we played outside with our shoes on and always let the dumb dog take a lap around the yard first, before we ventured out.