Monday, September 17, 2018


Between ranch work, drill team, mountain trips, and even horse camp, Dylan and Grady's horseback skills have skyrocketed this year.  It's been pretty cool to watch.  Dylan started, as a cocky cowboygirl toddler, with a limited set of skills and an overabundance of confidence.  I was certain I was raising the next horse-whisperer.  On one fateful cattle drive, I put her on Barney, the oldest, steadiest horse on the ranch.  Ol' Barney was perfect for her; she could act like she was in charge and he'd point her in the right direction.  I knew Barney was so reliable, I didn't even have to hold his lead rope while I checked the cinch on my horse.  For some reason, Barney saw his chance to break and bolted like he was running out of Shawshank.  I turned around to see a geriatric horse and a screaming toddler go galloping down the road.  Dylan hung on, barely, and Uncle Tony had to chase them down in his truck.  Adios, confidence.  It took years before Dylan would even break into a trot.

But now, Dylan rides Dad's old horse, Romeo, and the two are a great pair.  She's become a fearless rider again and I love the transformation.  So when I need an extra hand with ranch work, I call on them.  Such was the case last Friday.  I loaded our horses and picked up Dylan from the front of the Jr. High and off we went.  I needed to move a small herd of cattle that had holed up in a meadow we call Paradise Hollow.  It's a place I'd hole up in if I were a cow or a fugitive: good grass, clear creek water, nice scenery.  But the feed was running low and it was time to bring the cows home.  This was normally a job I'd do with at least one of my brothers, but they were busy, or stoved up, or both, so Dylan got the nod.

Dylan and I had a blast.  We crashed through brush and trees, hopped over creeks, and pushed pairs down a steep, dusty trail.  Dylan, as usual, happily chatted the whole time while I just listened.  When we finally got the cattle close enough to the lower meadow, we turned the horses up the hill and followed bear tracks back to the truck.

We made it off the mountain in time for Dylan to make it to yet another horse-activity: 4-H horsemanship.  She traded her ball cap for a helmet and she and Romeo practiced more obstacles in an arena.  "How'd Romeo do?" I asked that evening.  "He was okay," Dylan said, "but he didn't like going over all the obstacles."  Hmmm, I thought.  Poor Romeo was probably a little wiped out from all the down logs, creeks, brambles, and boulders he'd just spent the previous few hours stepping over and around.  I tossed Romeo a little extra hay the next morning and thanked him for being the King of Steady, and cut him a little slack for being lazy on the 4-H obstacle course.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Paintin' the Town

When ranchers really want to go out and paint the town, they do one of two things: they go to a rodeo or find a field day.  Last Saturday we got to do both.  Maybe a little too much town-painting for the family that hits the hay before sunset, but sometimes you have to buckle down and be social.

The field day was hosted by the Siskiyou County Cattlemens Association and the Ag Extension office and is a tour of a local area and highlights how other cattlemen and women operate.  We hit our first feedlot at 8:30 AM and were at our third by 11:30.  Cattle, cattle, everywhere.  The kids mentally checked out when the donuts ran out at 9:00.  But still, I learned a few things.  Any chance I can ask, "How'd you plumb that water trough?" or, "Where'd you get them perty heifers?" is a win.  We cruised through a valley which is, literally, just over the hill from ours, and saw areas that I'd only heard stories about.  We also visited a prominent ranch that I hadn't visited since I was 12 (which was probably the last time they hosted a field day).  I really need to get off the Eastside more.

After the 4th ranch on the tour, it was time to load up and hit the Jefferson State Stampede Rodeo.  The kids ate kettle korn and snow cones and the adults found the Etna Beer booth.  We watched my little nephew ride his first sheep and cheered on friends and neighbors.  We got home waaaaay past our bedtime (9:30), fell asleep and was awakened 3 hours later by the entire purebred Angus herd grazing on our front lawn.  Regina and I spent the next hour gathering them in the dark.  I guess I didn't have to leave the Eastside after all, sometimes field days and rodeos just find their way to you.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

A Tale of Two Towns

Guess who didn't want her dad making a big
deal about her 1st day of middle school?
School is back in session and for the first time, Dylan and Grady are not only going to different schools, but are going to different schools in different towns.  Grady is still an Etna Elementary Mustang, but Dylan has graduated on to become a Middle School Panther in Ft. Jones.  It's another step up in logistics prep for us, but we're 5 days in and no one's been forgotten at home or late for school, so our confidence is soaring.

Super stoked for 4th grade!
I was, back in the dark ages, the last class to complete jr. high at the high school in Etna before the old Ft. Jones high school opened up as the middle school.  I've only watched my nieces and nephew go through 8th grade graduation there, so the school is as new to me as it is to Dylan.  This is a fact that, while completely uninteresting, I chose to share with a parent of one of Dylan's friends not once, but twice at our back-to-school orientation.  She gave me a look like I'd just told her I was going to be President of the World someday and then quickly moved on.

So, while Dylan is navigating rotating classes, new classmates, and a PE program with uniforms, Grady is rockin' it in the 4th grade Boys' Academy (there are only 5 girls in his class).  It's basically the same ol' routine for him, aside from having a new teacher and a stricter hat policy.

We're excited for the challenges the year will bring us, and if you catch us at the bakery on Friday mornings, I might even tell you about the time I narrowly missed going to the jr. high in Ft. Jones.  If you're extra lucky, I'll tell you twice.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Pre-Fair, Post-Fair

I was talking to a buddy today about the fair and he said that it's a lot like running a marathon.  He's right.  But it's a little more like doing a few 100-yard windsprints during a marathon, while chugging keg beer and eating a corndog.  It is, obviously, the greatest and most challenging 5 days of summer.

For 4-H and FFA kids, fair preparation is year-round.  Last year, Dylan picked out Dolores the day after the fair.  This year, we're waiting a whole week.  Dylan and Grady have been working with their fair animals all summer long.  Dylan caught her heifer, Dolores, twice a day and brushed, washed, groomed, and walked her.  Dolores had her hair professionally clipped and her hooves trimmed.  Her showbox looked like a Jersey Shore bathroom counter.  Turkeys, of course, are a lot easier and daily baths would probably kill them, but Grady was pretty good at keeping them well fed and watered.  Robot and Batman even got a good scrubbing and bath just before the fair.  You ever have to wash a turkey?  It was an all-hands on deck kind of job.

And then, voila, fair time.  Dolores had to be there a day early to get weighed and preg-checked.  When Dr. Amy pregged Dolores, her eyes widened and she said, "Any day."  So a 1528 pound, very pregnant heifer was led to her soft bed of shavings, where she'd spend the next 5 days getting washed, fed, groomed, and coddled.  Robot arrived Wednesday morning for poultry inspection (apparently, birds carry a lot of bugs).  He passed his mite test and sat on the scales at 45.8 pounds.  A tad heavy, but since Grady is still in PeeWee Showmanship and can't sell, Robot could've weighted 100 pounds and it wouldn't have mattered.

I'll skim though the next 5 days, mostly because they're a blur.  Grady showed Robot as the only PeeWee turkey showman.  And while the judge was impressed with his turkey knowledge, he was really impressed with his beast of a bird.  Dylan showed Dolores and finished a very respectable 3rd in her class, and, the following day, finished well in her market class.  Since Grady was the only kid showing a turkey, he automatically made it to the PeeWee finals on Saturday.  There, in the big showring, he marched Robot back and forth, shook the hands of random bystanders, and pointed out all the weird parts of his bird.  Dylan got back in the ring on Sunday for her final day with Dolores.  Thankfully, our awesome neighbor, Bob, bought her and promised he'd let Dylan come visit Dolores and her new baby.  That was a huge weight off Dylan's shoulders and made her goodbye a thousand times easier.

Demobilizing our fair set up made me understand why the army just dumps its tanks and helicopters into the ocean whenever it leaves a foreign war.  I wanted to do that with all our crap, but Yreka creek is dry, so I had to cart it all to the truck.  We are, still, in a bit of post-fair hangover mode.  But things are looking up.  I'm starting to miss fried pickles and 4-wheeler crashes and we're already talking about picking out next year's fair heifer.  By August 2019, we're bound to be ready.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Long, Long Gulch

We recently got back from Horse Camp.  Not to be confused with "horse camp," which Dylan also attended this summer and is an official camp, with counselors and sing-songs and cabins.  No, Horse Camp is a 4 day camp out for the drill team kids and their families.  I lost count of how many folks came this year, but I know it was a huge uptick from last year, in which exactly 2 families showed up with 0 horses.  This year, the Forest Service corrals were completely full, and some ponies had to get tied to random trailers and trees around camp.  On one ride in particular, I counted 25 horses and mules, and there were still more left behind.

We arrived on the first day and while we set up camp, Clara, the Drill Leader, and a couple of adults rallied the older kids for a ride into Trail Gulch Lake.  It's about 6 miles round trip and Dylan came back one horseshoe lighter and grinning.  I broke out my seldom used ferrier kit and reattached the shoe.  My shoeing skills are dodgy at best, and I honestly considered a few wraps of duct tape to reinforce the shoe.  That shoe lasted exactly half a day, and then I just stuck a boot on Romeo and called it good.

Irish looks pissed, because he is
For day 2, we decided on a lake that is just a little farther.  Everyone in camp filled up on a big breakfast and hit the trail, excited for the adventure.  Most kids and parents were horseback, but some (including me) were afoot.  One dad led a string of pack mules which carried food, beer, and floaties. With the long line of kids and horses headed down the trail, we looked like an orphanage had a collision with a rodeo.  The hike in is really a 2 part affair.  If you ride from camp, the trailhead is still a couple miles away.  That is, if you take the correct trail.  Somehow, we veered right when we should've hooked left, then hit the dirt road which leads to the trailhead, and, again, made the same navigational error.  The group started thinning out along the road.  We'd gone from a jolly group of campers to the last days of the Donner Party in just a few short hours.  We finally realized our mistake and had to turn around.  Children wept.  Adults sighed.

But, the 5 extra miles didn't stop us and Long Gulch Lake (now named Long, Long Gulch Lake), was worth it.  We tied up in a meadow, unpacked the mules, and I, for one, promptly fell asleep.  Kids swam, a couple horses went in for a dip, a few fish were caught, and cold beers helped ease the pains in my sore legs.  I daydreamed about a helicopter carrying me out.  Instead, I hopped on Irish with Grady and rode double most the way out.  I'm not sure which hurt worse, my blisters from walking or my ass from riding in a kids' saddle.

For our last day at camp the entire crew gave Trail Gulch one more shot.  I did a few quick stretches, hiked up my big boy pants (and laced up my "real" hiking boots) and led Grady, still on Irish, in.  The only excitement was the bees on the trail, which we all, except for Pancho, my pup
, maneuvered around.  We snacked and snoozed, Dylan and some buddies found a great rock to jump off into the lake, and one of the dads inflated a giant unicorn raft and drifted out into the lake, sound asleep.

The day ended with the 2nd ever Camp Chopped: S'Mores Edition Competition.  We left that night with a trailer load of tired horses, damp gear, dirty kids, and empty coolers.  We already have made plans for Horse Camp 2019, and next year we'll be sure to bring a map.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Porky's the 13th

Nope, not me in there
Last week, we sent Dylan to her first overnight camp.  Admittedly, all I know about camp is what I learned from watching either Friday the 13th or Porky's (and Porky's II, and Porky's Revenge) movies when I was 12, so I was a little nervous.  But, this was horse camp, with a strong religious lean, and had a 9:1 girl to boy ratio of campers, and no one there was named "Jason" who was avenging the death of his mother,  so I didn't have a lot to worry about.

We decided to send Dylan to camp good and tired, so we spent the day before hiking into a lake into the Trinity Wilderness.  It was a lake we'd never been to, and had heard little about, but it fit into our "hiking with kids" parameters (day hike, under 4 miles in, trailhead within 90 minutes).   It did not disappoint.  It's a huge lake without a lot of traffic, and the water was so clear it looked man-made.  I even brought my brand-spankin-new hammock in the high hopes of getting in a nap.  I set it up as soon as we arrived and it was promptly commandeered by my kids.  I drank a beer and napped in the dirt.

And so, with Dylan gone, we decided to try another lake.  Regina and I packed in to the Sky High Lakes when we were first married.  It rained on us the whole time and we spent a soggy night hunkered down in the fir trees.  We thought we'd give it another shot, so we continued our 4th of July lake tradition and I led Grady on Romeo and we hiked in.  Again, I packed my new hammock with visions of a peaceful lakeside nap.  It wasn't small children or rain than squashed those dreams; it was flies.  Deer flies and horse flies, to be specific.  One bites and sucks blood, the other bites and hurts like hell.  They went after Romeo with a fury, and when they filled up with horse blood, the vicious little pricks turned to Regina, Grady, and me.  But, the hike in is a beautiful one, and the wildflowers were in full bloom, so, despite the fly bites and 14 miles of trail, the day was a success.

Dylan's camp culminated in a "showdeo" where she demonstrated her horsemanship skills.  She and Sally, her flea-bitten grey mare, were a good team and her confidence horseback improves every time she rides.  Of course, we celebrated her return with, yep, a hike into a lake.  Regina and I even admitted that we missed our little fartknocker.  She's already talking about going back to camp next summer.  Maybe a Friday the 13th marathon will cure her of that.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Poultry Whisperer

While Dylan's heart has landed squarely on raising heifers for fair projects, Grady has bounced around between species like a coyote in a petting zoo.

First, he tried cattle -- it seemed obvious because we have a never ending supply of bottle calves, and, while they were never much of a problem for him, it just wasn't the right fit.  Goats! I thought, They're smaller than steers and easier to manage.  I was only 50% right.  It is true that goats are smaller than steers, but, as we learned with Snowball, they are far less manageable than cattle.  Dwarf goats! I thought, They're smaller than real goats and easier to manage.  Again, 50% right.  All goats are unmanageable, regardless of size, and they tend to jump on the hoods of cars, eat vegetable gardens down to the dirt, and prefer to poop, well, just everywhere.  They're funny, sure, but at the same time, they're belligerent.  I call them "asshole dogs."

The whole time, the answer to Grady's fair-quandary lay right in front of us.  Literally.  He's always been our go-to guy on all things chickens.  I can spend an hour trying to herd them back into their coop.  I look like Rocky Balboa in his "catch the chicken" training scene.  Grady casually walks over and scoops them up, one by one, until they're all put away.  Sometimes we catch him just sitting in the coop, hanging with his homegirls.

While chickens are fun to raise, we thought we'd up the poultry ante and go with turkeys.  Turks are amazing -- they grow exponentially, their heads change from blue to red to white like a mood ring, they have crazy body parts with names like snood and wattle, and you can trick them into gobbling simply by scaring them with your own sudden call.  It's a fun game.

Grady has two.  He hasn't named them because we're unsure if they're hens or toms (although one will definitely be named "Robot," we're just not sure which one).  And, just like their smaller chicken cousins, they're completely unafraid of Grady.  He pets them, walks them around, and keeps them well fed.

Grady's still too young to sell at the fair, so this year is just a turkey trial run, but we may have found his niche.  Find him at the fair and he'll show you two of the oddest animals you've ever seen.  He definitely is the boy who talks to turkeys.