Wednesday, June 6, 2018

AR, a million

She can shoot
This post's title might be the name of a hot new Bon Iver single (hipsters chuckle), or the newest knockoff assault rifle out of China (hipsters scowl), but in fact, it's neither.  Actually, it's an excuse for me to brag about my daughter a little.  The AR stands for Accelerated Reader.  I imagine if your kid goes to public school, you're familiar.  The "Million" part is the number of pints Dylan racked up this year.  Of course, I'm being hyperbolic, but judging from the amount of time she has her nose in a book, I'm sure I'm not too far off.

She can quilt
Dylan is constantly reading --- in the car, on the way to school, on the bus ride home -- sometimes I tell her to go outside and play and she brings a book.  She reads pretty much whatever she can get her hands on.  When she's out of books, she re-reads old ones.  It's interesting to watch, this little bookworm, plow through book after book after book.  I'm amazed she does anything else, really.  But, she still manages to care for a fair heifer, ride her horse, play with the dogs and kittens, shoot her bow, and, occasionally kick a soccer ball around.  But then it's always back to the books.

She can kitten
This year, I told her I'd give her $100 bill if she broke the school's AR point record.  I think I paid that out by March.  She asked for a Kuiu shirt if she reached the next 100 point increment, and 2 weeks later we were online, checking out youth shirts on their website.  I suspected she was going to keep reading regardless, so I quit offering payouts, and I was right.  As I'm writing this, there are 2 days of school left and she just told me she was going to take the tests for 5 more books tomorrow.  I haven't read 5 books in the past 2 years, and I was an English major.

Regina and I are both impressed and proud.  Someday her AR point record will probably be broken.  I joke that it'll probably be by some boy (or girl)-in-a-bubble, but I hope it's by another little jr. badass.  But that kid probably won't be decked out in camo, quietly bobbing his or her head to the falsetto tones of Bon Iver.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018


Memorial Day Weekend goes one of two ways: 1) we're starting to cut hay and are up to our ears in alfalfa and irrigating or, 2) it rains and our responsibilities on the ranch are reduced to feeding a few horses and checking the purebred herd for new babies.  This year we hit door number 2, which was great because our friends, Paul, Amy, and Malcolm, from Oakland made their annual pilgrimage north and I got to join in on all the debauchery fun.

We try to fit in all the ranch and valley activities we think they might enjoy and not otherwise get to do in the city.  Sometimes, admittedly, we go a little overboard.  Paul and Amy are very busy folks and probably wish for a quiet country weekend, full of Rest, Rose´, and Rounds (of ammunition).  Instead, as soon as they arrive, we hammer them with a 20 minute Powerpoint presentation on all the activities we hope to accomplish, have them do eleven shots, then *release the hounds* the weekend may officially begin.

After ranch chores (2 new purebred calves!) we loaded the coolers, the dog, and the kids into the truck and headed to the Russian Wilderness to hike into a lake.  Our day began inauspiciously when I led the group straight from the trailhead directly to the wrong trail.  We hiked about 100 yards and the trail suddenly quit.  I pressed on through burned fir pilings and I could feed the group losing confidence in my trailblazing technique.  Suddenly, I heard Paul yell, "Hey, here's the trail."  The rest of the group looked at me like I was General Custer and they'd just caught their first arrow.  Some leader I was.  I had to regain their confidence by finding the unmarked path to the lake, which I did, thank you very much.

By the time we made it home, we only had about ten minutes to shine up so we could make our dinner reservations.  The ladies showered, the gentlemen spit shined the wine and beer stains from our shirts and we made it with a minute to spare.  We spent the next day resting our legs by cruising around in the Ranger and shooting stuff.  By stuff, I mean ground squirrels, fence posts, and beer cans.  Everyone got a crack at marksmanship and we shot the shit out of a few dead Coors cans.

By the time they left on Monday morning, our recycling bins were full of wine bottles and our ammo boxes were empty, which is the first real indication that summer has started.  Soon, I'll  be sitting on the swather and Regina will have a little time off from principal duties, and we'll have a little time to relax and think, just long enough to start planning and preparing for next Memorial Day.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Dropping Science

The call was a little unexpected.  "Hi, Judd, this is Dr. Amy.  I have a favor ..."  If that call is from a neighbor, it might be to borrow a bottle of cattle wormer or a tractor part, but from the vet, anything's possible.  "So, Luke butchered today and has a cow's stomach and a bag of bile for 4-H tomorrow.  Could you pick it up and bring it over?"

Dylan signed up for a Veterinary Science program through her 4-H club.  Grady was too young to sign up, but since meetings fall on the same night as Regina's school board meetings, he got to tag along.  Kids learned, first hand, about all the gushy and messy parts of animals.  Day 1 kicked off with a heart dissection and a study of an enlarged cow's liver.  These kids -- mostly girls -- sliced and diced through every bit of soft tissue they could find inside dead mammals.  Roadkilled deer?  Cut 'er open.  Mummified fetus?  Of course.  Old gall bladder?  Why not.

Early on in the class, Dr. Amy asked me to save a reproductive tract from a heifer we butchered.  I diligently kept it in the freezer until I needed room for hamburger.  I completely forgot about it and swore that the unmarked ziplock bag was full of sweetbreads (neither sweet, nor bread) that had turned bad.  I was a little embarrassed to tell the class that I tossed their dissection project for the evening, but really I was just grateful I didn't try to cook up a cervix and uterus for dinner, thinking it was an unusual shape for a thymus gland.

One evening was spent looking at x-rays and old bones.  Images from car smashed cats and crippled horses fascinated the kids, but the real treat that night was the smell.  There wasn't one.  I spent most classes trying to pretend I wasn't gagging from the odor emanating from the pile o' innards laid out on the table.  Gut night was, predictably, the worst.  Many parents opted to stay outside.  Since I brought in the garbage can full of insides, I felt a little obligated to stay.

Dylan always asked a ton of good questions and one night the 4-H leader looked at me and said, "Wow, I think your daughter is going to be a vet!"  I smiled with pride and thought of all the free vet care my cattle and horses would receive.  Just then, Dylan came around the corner holding her nose.  "Dad," she said, "I definitely do NOT want to be a vet."  Well, at least we know now.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


This year's Mothers' Day was so much fun that I'd be satisfied if we just lumped it with the upcoming Fathers' Day and called it good.  There were, of course, the usual Mothers' Day shenanigans: dinner out, breakfast in, flowers, breakfast wine, etc., but the highlight, absolutely, was our hike to Log Lake.

Log Lake is, quite possibly, the least impressive lake in the Marble Mountain Wilderness.  It's a small, brackish, puddle filled with deadfall and void of fish.  We'd never been there though and we knew the trail was open, so Log Lake it was.  Our friends, Lizz and Arnoud, and their two boys came along.  Dogs were loaded up, coolers were filled, and we headed out.

The day began with a flat tire less than a mile from the trailhead.  We put on the donut spare, left the car on the side of the road, and loaded everyone in my truck.  At the trailhead there were a few folks who were getting ready for their hike and I felt obligated to give them a heads up on our plans.  Lucky for them, they were all headed to different lakes, so our motley crew wouldn't disrupt their wilderness experience.  So, four dogs, four kids, and four adults hit the trail.  On the hike in, we encountered just one rattlesnake, which Dylan nearly sat on and Welly, the fat lab, tried to befriend.  Otherwise, the hike was calm and beautiful -- lush meadows, waterfalls everywhere, wind in the firs -- you get the picture.

Yep, that's a wine bottle and a pistola 
Arnoud got a little unwanted attention from a mountain lion a couple deer hunting seasons back, so he now wisely packs a pistol when he's in the mountains.  I rely on my Leatherman tool and the fact that I can probably outrun my kids for a defense mechanism.  Arnoud was quite the sight with a pistol on his hip and bottles of rose´sticking out from his pack.  Lewis and Clark would have been jealous.

And so our afternoon was spent lounging in the sun, eating salami and cheese, and drinking rose´.  Except for me, I can't stomach the pink stuff, so I fueled up on IPAs.  The kids caught salamanders and the dogs swam.  It was so relaxing I didn't want to leave.

Sun's out, guns out
We finally mustered the strength to pack up our empty bottles and head out.  Depending on whose iPhone you believe, we hiked anywhere between five and forty-seven miles.  Arnoud and Lizz made it out safely on their donut tire, the dogs all slept for two days, and we already have our sights set on the next lake we can easily pack bottles of wine into.  We'll just make sure Arnoud is in the lead with his sidearm.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

1st Sunday in May

It's rodeo season, y'all.  And even though they no longer close off Main St. for the Saturday night rodeo dance, there isn't even a queen to crown anymore, and Corrigan's is slowly sinking into the earth (figuratively, and probably literally), it's still one of the best weekends of the year.

Dotty's, for one, has picked up the slack for the dance and has added a BBQ.  We took the kids in and, to really prove how old we are, not only arrived early, but may have arrived first.  The grub was great, the beer was cold, and the live band kicked ass.  If I closed my eyes, I could have been 30 years younger, sneaking in through the back door of Corrigan's and shuffling across the sawdust floor to hide from Rusty, the owner.

Sunday kicked off with the annual parade.  Dylan and Grady bookended the Drill Team entry: Dylan led with the California flag and Grady brought up the rear on his reliable, yet slow, horse, Button.  They waved, people cheered.  We did the Etna loop and the kids looked great.  They got pumped up on leftover parade candy and were ready to rock at the rodeo.  We loaded up the horses and took them down to the Pleasure Park arena to get ready for their grand entrance.

Things pretty much fell apart from then on.  A kid fell off her horse during warm ups, and another kid's horse tried to roll in the soft arena sand.  Some of the younger riders got a little rattled and a few parents spent the rest of the pre-rodeo time convincing their shaken or crying children that getting back on their horse would be a good idea.  And, when they were called, God bless 'em, they all cowboyed up and rode in.

Their pattern fell apart immediately.  Two horses peeled off and started making circles in the middle of the arena.  It looked cool, but it wasn't part of the routine.  Two other kids learned that their horses don't like loud PA systems, and every time they passed a speaker their horses went sideways and broke off into a dead run.  Parents looked on in terror, but these kids are a tough group and they kept at it.  Their planned ride was shot to hell, but they made the most of their arena time.  Dylan looked like an old pro carrying the Drill Team flag, and unshakeable Romeo motored right along.  After several laps, the leader decided they'd had enough and the kids rode out.

Immediately after the Drill Team's entrance Dylan and and her buddy Pey-pey opted to gallop back in with all the other cowboys and cowgirls for the Grand Entry.  After their Drill Team fiasco, they deserved a little redemption.  They looked like champs, the cutest of champs, sure, but little junior badasses nonetheless.  They lined up for the opening prayer and the Star Spangled Banner and sat their horses like they'd been there 100 times before.

We spent the rest of the afternoon selling snow cones and making sure the kids counted change correctly in the Drill Team Snack Shack so we missed most of the rodeo.  I heard it was a good one, but I'd already seen all I needed to see.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Friday Night Lights

Friday nights mean only one thing: Drill Team.  Regina and I get home from work, catch and saddle Romeo and Button, and haul them, and the kids, into town.  Dylan and Grady ride around the rodeo arena with the rest of their Drill buddies, the parents all stand around, a few folks come in to watch, and Jimmy grills burgers and dogs in the snack shack.  Friday nights at the Pleasure Park have suddenly become the hottest hangout in Scott Valley.

Drill Team and youth baseball often overlap, and several of the kids do both.  Some even leave their games early, throw some jeans over their baseball pants, and catch the last half of drill practice.  We might be doing the same, had we let our kids know that baseball was a sport that lots of kids do.  Instead, we took them to an Oakland A's game on an especially hot day.  The sweat, the concrete, the pace of a professional game all mixed together to leave a pretty distasteful smear on their memories.  They haven't asked to join Little League since.

I have a buddy who has two boys in baseball.  Last Saturday, we compared notes on our previous evenings.  I told him Drill Team parents all bring coolers full of beer and there's a BBQ after every practice.  He sighed.  Apparently, cracking open a buckskin at the Little League field is frowned upon and all he got for dinner was Big League Chew and red vines.

May Rodeo is this Sunday and the kids have been working hard on their riding patterns and timing.  Clara, the awesome lady who volunteered to organize the monkeys, is getting them into top form.  They're improving steadily, but it's a young crew.  I think Dylan may be the oldest kid there.  When Clara tells them to go left at the end of the arena, there's only a 50% guarantee they'll go in the right direction.  And that estimate is high.  Sometimes the horses get snotty and buck (usually a pony is the culprit -- go figure), sometimes the kids get frustrated and whine, but they're all getting better on horseback, they're usually having fun, and their parents are certainly having a blast.  And somewhere in town, beneath the lights of a Little League field, there's a dad hiding out by his truck, pouring a Coors Light into a Nalgene bottle, and looking wistfully at the bright, bright lights coming from the Pleasure Park, thinking, Man, that looks like fun.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Hillbilly Golf

The Disney movie Brave changed my life.  No, not in the way No Country For Old Men did, but, I could argue, for a movie I only half-watched, Brave had a much bigger impact.  No Country just made me paranoid of cattle-killing bolt guns and get a really sweet bob haircut, while Brave, dammit, made me a bowhunter.

The Cliff's Notes version is this: Dylan watched Brave, then wanted a bow.  Then she wanted a nicer bow.  I stood around while she shot targets, handing her arrows and mumbling, "Nice shot," until my cousin Brett gave me his really nice bow.  We practiced, we watched bow shooting videos on YouTube, Dylan won a contest, I arrowed a buck.  We were hooked.  Then Grady wanted a bow.  And around we go, the circle stays unbroken.

So now we do things like worry about our laundry detergent's scent (for sneaky hunting) and spend Sunday afternoons at 3-D shoots.  You're probably thinking, 3-D shoots, that sounds awesome!  Are there lasers involved?  Cosplay?  Furries?  No.  It's even more awesome.  Think hillbilly mini-golf with weapons.  You hike around, usually up and down hills, and take shots at 3-D targets.  Some shots are difficult (Ashland has a bison out at 100 yards, Siskiyou has an iron hog with a very small soft center to hit.  There's a pile of busted arrows beneath it).  Some are easy.  Some are surrounded by poison oak, or blackberry brambles, or creeks.  Some targets are beneath cliffs and some are in caves.   Still not convinced that it's fun?  I wasn't either, until the first time I went.  The kids and I had a blast.  We flung arrows until my eyes got fuzzy and came home and started practicing for the next shoot.

Which is also something archery is great for -- discipline.  There's a concentrated focus in shooting a bow properly that very few activities offer.  Kids have to be calm, still, focused, and patient.  In archery, there's a hundred things that can go wrong before one thing goes right, and shooters have to sort all those things out in their heads before they shoot.  Plus, the sound of an arrow hitting a target is deeply satisfying.  It's something our cool-ass caveman forefathers and mothers did for survival, and that thwack of an arrow finding its mark is embedded in our DNA.

So now, we mark our calendars every year for the local shoots.  I keep googling more places to hillbilly-golf bow shoot to expand our territory.  Dylan's getting better, I'm holding steady, and now Grady is ready for his next bow.  He'll have to watch Brave first.  Maybe we'll all sit down as a family and watch No Country For Old Men, and see how freaked out the kids get, friend-o.