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.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Dylan, suddenly, hates having her photo taken.
It seems odd to me that only around 2% of the American population are farmers or ranchers.  Probably because 50% of the people I know are in those professions.  But I do realize that there's quite a bit that I do, because of my vocation, that most folks don't do.  For instance, I regularly stick my arm up cows' asses.  Seems weird, right?  It is, but it's one of the best and easiest ways to check if a cow is pregnant.  Getting them to pee on that little stick is nearly impossible, so, the long gloves it is.  I also get to take my kids to work with me whenever they're not in school.  I take it for granted, but I realize that most professions frown on bringing kids into the office whenever the mood strikes.  If I can cram them in the cab of a tractor, stick them on a horse, or pile them on a 4-wheeler, then they can tag along.  Besides, the extra set of hands is, well, handy.

They were home, and a little cooped up over spring break, so I had them as my cow feeding helpers.  I can count on Dylan to drive for me while I climb up on the back of a pickup that's loaded down with hay.  She likes to stay up front and play with the dogs while I holler left and right instructions, but generally, I don't have to pay too much attention to her driving.  She knows where to go and what to avoid.  I already know how much smarter she is than me because at her age, when I drove to feed for dad, he had to write a big "L" and "R" on my left and right hands to keep me from crashing into fences, trees, or bull wallows.  Dylan just puts smiley faces on her own hands.  

Grady, on the other hand (no pun intended), hates being left alone in the truck and I often have to push or pull him up to the top of four or five layers of hay -- while the truck's moving -- and then shimmy myself up super-gracefully to the top to feed.  He kicks off flakes of hay for me and sits, frozen and clinging to a twine on a bale.  Apparently, he hates heights only a tiny bit less than driving.

We got tired of trying to navigate our way to the horse pen in the dark after Drill Team practices, so on Saturday I put in a gate with closer (and semi-lighted) access.  Dylan and Grady were my brace building helpers which, mostly, worked well.  Dylan's good at measurements, so she ran the tape measure and Grady's good with tools, so he ran the chainsaw (no, he didn't).  They gathered rocks for the post holes and Dylan took a crack at hammering in fencing staples.  There's a little room for improvement in her hammer swinging skills, but it'll come.  And we completed a little project that looks pretty good with a new (to us) gate (Repurposed?  Up-cycled?  Some piece of shit that I used because I'm too cheap to buy a new one?  Take your pick).

They're back in school and I'm back to feeding solo, with a big ol' L and R written on my leather gloves.  You know, just in case.  And when the weekend comes, they'll be tagging along with their dear old dad, hanging out with a 2%-er.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Eastside Easter

To this day, if you ask me what's my favorite holiday, I'll tell you, hands down, it's St. Paddy's.  But let's be honest, I haven't celebrated National Irish Drinking Day properly in ten years.  This year, St. Patrick's Day fell on a Saturday, AND our friend and barkeep at Denny Bar whipped up some amazing festive cocktails and invited us in for a try.  Guess what Regina and I did?  We got all gussied up, but I didn't even have my boots on before someone turned on Stranger Things, and next thing we knew, it was nearly 10:00 PM (! -- way past our bedtime), and we were sound asleep.

But there's been another holiday that's snuck up on me and I'm really starting to warm up to it.  Yep, Easter.  It really has it all: church, tradition, food, beer, and candy.  We hosted Easter at our house this year and had a sizable and rambunctious crew.  We served both traditional (ham) and non- (Moroccan goat) for dinner and had not one, but two coolers full of Sierra Nevada and Coors.  There were only four kiddos (and one baby) for the egg hunt and we recruited a fifth sort-of-kiddo (Ollie) for the traditional Easter piƱata.  Grady sold his non-candy egg treats to his sister for $1 a pop, and now has a wallet stuffed with singles.  It was, according to us, a success.

It's easy for me to cling to a tradition I once loved -- but did I ever really love green beer and leprechauns?  Yes, probably.  But the older, wiser me is starting to come around to this Easter thing.  And I think it just might be big enough to catch on.  We'll see.