Motherhood, Photography, Ranch Life

The Photo Shoot

Last month was school picture time. We can all remember school picture day… my sisters and I seemed to have a knack for picking the trendiest, least timeless outfit from our closets (think puffy paint sweatshirts, Hypercolor, Garth Brooks style western wear with lime green Roper jeans that served as a bra in addition to their function as jeans, and the list goes on).  The Little Cowboy didn’t really get all that excited about “Picture Day”…it was just another day where it just so happens your likeness will be preserved for all entirety only to re-appear in a high school graduation slide show. He picked his outfit and we tried to make sure his hair wasn’t sticking up.

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One of his little classmates brought pictures of herself to share with the class. He quickly declared that he wanted to share pictures too… great… we can cut up this little 1×2″ school pictures where he was positioned just so, with his shoulders off-center to the camera and his smile as awkward as can be. But no, those photos would not do.

In more of a senior photo shoot style, he had plans to share photographs that expressed who he was and what he loved. The instructions were laid out… he needed his pony for these photos. Every good cowboy needs to showcase their horse. He would borrow a toy gun with sound (even though it was a still photo and not videography) from his Grandpa. He had his rope, saddle, chaps, cowboy hat, and vest. He was a cowboy not of the Country Music Signer era with rhinestoned back pockets but of the Old West, where grit not glitter defined a cowboy.

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I learned this summer when we visited the Range Rider’s Museum in Montana (this kid’s Disney Land) and I had asked for a photo that “cowboy’s didn’t have smiles back in that day”. So the Little Cowboy with his infectious giggle and round, rosy cheeks will cross his arms, tilt his hat, and straighten his mouth like the weathered, worn cowboys that rode the range.

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I snuck a smile. 

While the Little Cowboy may be tough in spirit he is still my 5 year old baby boy, apparent when giant tears rolled down his face has he mounted his pony. He remembered his tumble off her when she had put her head down to eat and he was afraid.  His Dad is more patient and knows just what to say to calm his nerves… he asked him to sing one of his favorite songs…

“Sit tall in the saddle. Hold your head up high. Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky and live like you ain’t afraid to die. And don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride.”

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His Dad seemed to know that this Little Cowboy needed a job to distract his fearful mind. So off he went to push heifers out the corral.  As it turned out the photo from this moment was his favorite….the “ONE” that would be shared with his entire classroom. “I need nine of this picture Mom!”

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The ‘ONE”

So don’t expect that traditional school picture. Instead you will be getting a photo that truly captures who he sees himself as…a working cowboy mounted on his trusty little pony tending to his stock. It is a picture that could have been taken one hundred years ago and told the same story.

 

“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever…It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.  

– Aaron Siskind

 

Photography, Ranch Life

Winter has Arrived…Ready or Not!

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North Dakotans know well after mid October that each checked calendar date box is much is like turning the crank of a Jack in the Box…Jack Frost is just ready and waiting to pop out but unlike the fun childhood game it seems once he is released there is no shoving this Jack back in the box until well into spring.

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No matter how surely winter will come I can guarantee we will not be ready. It is always seems a surprise whether snow flies in October or December. There is always a to-do list of projects we hope to complete before ice, snow, and cold arrive. Since our winter is long and weather so irregular in the fall and spring we rarely ever completely pack up all the winter gear in the spring and slowly unpack into the fall. So it was a quick scramble to find coveralls, thicker hats and gloves, and long underwear to layer below.

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On a farm and ranch winter brings inherent challenges…waterers freeze, equipment grumbles at the thought of having to start in subzero temps, and chores that were a breeze in warmer weather take longer. In summer, our kiddos run half feral, with boots and underwear the only guaranteed apparel. In winter, the simple task of readying to go outside takes sooo much longer with boots, hats, mittens, layers and more layers.

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The kiddos love to be outside no matter the weather. Rosy cheeks chapped by harsh winter winds and tearing eyes are a hallmark of our winters.

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The snowflakes falling are gorgeous when viewed from our warm and cozy home but winter came in full force, compete with gusty winds and icy roads and though the thought of hibernating at home seems lovely it isn’t a reality. It was a scramble to find the windshield scraper and remember how to drive on slick roads once again.

The ones most prepared for winter are the animals with their thick, fluffy hair and wool coats.  Dropping temps, shorter days, and hormonal changes prepare have prepared them for the winter ahead.  They seem most content and accepting of the reality of our seasons.

Winter may brings its challenges, but it also brings its own beauty, a reflection inwards, and a time for togetherness.

“Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”

Yoko

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Life Lessons, Ranch Life

Following the Cow Paths

The height of summer when pastures are supposed to be green and lush, instead brought brown and stunted. The growing season was marked by drought. Day after day went by without a cloud in the sky until August. The pasture grasses are shorter than usually this fall, as cows were shifted and moved, moved and shifted from one smaller pasture to another in an effort to best utilize the grass available.

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Highlighted across the short grass pastures are trails, meandering dirt paths taking cows from one desired location to another. From shelter behind the trees to the water tank. From one gait to the next. It got me thinking….why is the path in this location? Our main pastures are fairly level with little terrain to re-route a developing trail. Why does every single cow and calf follow this exact path enough to wear it down to dirt and then a rut, forming a narrow foot wide path?  Why do they meandor like they do? Is not the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B to follow a straight line?

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Turns out a lot of other people have spent some time thinking about cow paths. In fact there is a myth that the aimlessly meandoring streets of Boston were simply paved cowpaths. This myth has been debunked and shifted more towards the failure of human’s in their city’s planning. But interesting none the less to think of cow paths forming our major transport system.

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Researchers (Ganskopp, Oregon State University) have used GPS and GIS to investigate cow paths even further. They found that in areas of concentration, say around a water source, the paths actually braided together. Two or three intersecting trails with a common destination would occur within yards of each other as groups of cattle moved to and from. Cattle prefer to follow major drainages within a pasture. It makes sense they would parallel them but not travel the lowest point where the ground may be rockier and more rugged. They preferred lower elevations and just like us, most didn’t like to hoof it straight up and down a hill but would transverse at an angle across it. Cattle may take a steeper, more rugged approach to a desired destination but prefer a gentler incline and path away. Turns out is rarely the same path to and from the desired destination.

When you see a horse lope or run across a pasture it is this awe-inspiring marvel at nature’s grandeur. When you see a cow or sheep run across a pasture it is a much more utilitarian image. Sheep and cows are prey animals so flight seems a nature response so while utilitarian in appearance it is quite effective. If the need arises, it is amazing how quickly and athletically a cow can transverse rough terrain. Without threat or encouragement they are more content to put their head down and follow.

In business, there is the “Cow Path Theory”. The idea that one cow has created this path and each and every cow thereafter follows mindlessly, without thought of threats or the potential for a more efficient pathway. There is no challenge of the winding path as the cow plods along with its head down.  The idea translates to the business where the original management creates a pathway for business efficiency and management and employers to follow mindlessly follow with failure to evolve.

Sam Walter Foss paints a picture of pastoral life but challenges us to move off the path of repitition and familiarity. Do we accept our path without challenge because it was set forth for us? Do we do things “that way” because “that is always how it has been done”. Do we problem-solve, question, challenge, find new solutions to old problems or challenge our every day hum-drum, the head down “cow path” of our every day.

For men are prone to go blind

Along the cow paths of the mind.

~Sam Walter Foss

The Calf-Path

One day, through the primeval wood,
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail, as all calves do.

Since then three hundred years have fled,
And, I infer, the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.

The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bellwether sheep
Pursued the trail o’er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bellwethers always do.

And from that day, o’er hill and glade,
Through those old woods a path was made,
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged and turned and bent about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath
Because ’twas such a crooked path;
But still they followed — do not laugh —
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked
Because he wobbled when he walked.

This forest path became a lane,
That bent, and turned, and turned again.
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet.
The road became a village street,
And this, before men were aware,
A city’s crowded thoroughfare,
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.

Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed that zigzag calf about,
And o’er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They follow still his crooked way,
And lose one hundred years a day,
For thus such reverence is lent
To well-established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.

They keep the path a sacred groove,
Along which all their lives they move;
But how the wise old wood-gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf!
Ah, many things this tale might teach —
But I am not ordained to preach.

Ranch Life

Sale Day

Sale Day is the cumulation of nearly an entire year’s worth of work. Some of those cute little calves born this spring are as big as their mammas. Every decision along that calve’s existence, from the selection of his sire to the nutrition of his mamma while he was gestating was all to bring him to this purpose, this moment.

Most of us are used to our regular every 2 week pay check but for many producers sale day is a major pay day that happens just once a year.  The spring’s steer calves are weaned and move on to the feeder, preparing for their entrance into the food chain. It is the reality for those animals born to become food. Calves are sold for X dollars per hundred weight so there is anxiety about whether they will weigh up (weigh what is anticipated and planned for) and be of high enough quality to be worth the upper end of what the market is paying.

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Pricing can be a gamble. My hubby watches the prices and trends daily, following the movement of the market, hoping it won’t be on a down turn the week we sell. This year we purchased livestock risk protection insurance, paying X amount per head to guarantee a price that would enough to pay the bills of producing those calves.

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The cattle market is cyclical, with ups and downs, that with smart planning will result in a steady and stainable subsistence in this profession. Record high prices of 2014 are still fresh in our minds. Though prices today are 2/3 to 1/2 of those record prices it is hard to not compare. The inputs didn’t declined by 1/2 so the margins are tighter yet. The plan is a long one…for the good years to carry you thru the not so great….and it the end for it to all have been worth it, either financially or in a value of the lifestyle.

The summer brought a drought so resources are limited. Good cattle still seem to be demanding a decent price but any misfit or blemished calf will be heavily discounted. The gate cut was deep this year… uniformity of the calves is desired so any oddity, watery eye, or those that just don’t fit are left at home.

The sale barn hasn’t changed much over the years. At the door’s entrance a steep staircase stands to either side. The staircase is tricky for little legs as we head up to the seating area, looking down on the calves selling today. The buyers, those here to fill the requests of the feeders, sit front and center, with a phone in one hand and pen and paper in another each group of cattle gets a look and decision. Smart phones and a rare computer are the technology of choice.

The air is stuffy and still. The fall morning had brought a chill but the day soon warmed to summer temperatures. So we sit and wait and watch for our load. The goal is to sell in just 1-2 cuts, suggesting a uniformity of weight and style that will catch the buyer’s eye.

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The bottom of the ring floor is a scale and as the doors close, the calve’s information becomes available on what looks like a scoreboard. Number in the lot, average weight, total weight, price per hundred weight, total price per calf.

The littles got a bit antsy so we headed down the Sale Barn cafe to find some food. We order a cheeseburger, fries, strawberry milkshake, and a Coke…pretty standard diner fare. There is nothing fancy about this restaurant… the stools and counter top probably the same that were originally installed. The floor is tracked with manure. Any other restaurant and that would have made a customer turn around and run but these aren’t folks that mind a little a little manure on the floor or under their finger nails. These are working folks. A mix of ages sits at the counter, older persons with dusty hats and soft worn jean. This isn’t the place to find $400 cowboy boots or jeans with rhinestoned pockets. The sale barn cafe is filled with working folks in a sea of plaid shirts of muted colors…. tans, blues, and grays….maybe a red.  Some have grandkids in tow, with fancy little boots, shiny belt buckles, stiff new jeans, and soft rounded faces. A stark contrast to their worn and rugged elders.

Our cattle sold and we had a mini celebration with beer and burgers of one stress over and done.  Just as their arrival guaranteed nights without sleep and worry, so did their preparation for their departure from our ranch.  Sale day… the day of much anticipation and a sigh of relief when it is over.

 

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Photography, Ranch Life

Weekend Wrap-Up

 

DSC_5529 copyWinter gets a little pushy this time of year so it was no surprise we woke to a dusting of snow on Tuesday morning. But this weekend, fall was given its time.  Though it is hard to not think of each fall weekend as one step closer to our long and cold Dakota winter.

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I decided to drag my regular camera around a little more on our weekend happenings. The resident animals are winter prepping and looking all furry or fluffy.

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Motherhood, Ranch Life

Date Mornings

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Fall is officially here. The morning sun is slow to rise and quick to bed and there is a briskness in the air that warns of the impending winter. The alarm went off before the chickens crowed, the house still quiet and sleepy. We dressed the kiddos half asleep and started our day, ready for our date morning.

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We have seemingly abandoned the idea of date nights where it seemed the exhaustion of the day meant just the idea of sitting in a restaurant stuffing our faces  seemed too much to bear. We have embraced “date mornings” that start before the sunrise and end with breakfast and coffee. The morning is fresh and without the irritations and annoyances that build up thru the day otherwise.

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The horses were saddled and in the trailer. The rules for the “date” were pretty simple. Take as many pictures as you want (but don’t expect to stop) but try to be quiet and don’t talk. That would be hard for me but quiet time together is better than no time together. Without the need for forced dialogue, perhaps I could just enjoy my company.

My meteorologist hubby suggested I wear a T-shirt and sweatshirt as it was “warm” this morning but the wind was bitter and fierce so I was forced to dig out an oversized jacket from the backseat. I figured it wouldn’t only provide warmth but perhaps act as cushioned airbag should I hit the ground.  We headed across the National Forest Service Lands in search of deer (preferably a large mule deer buck).

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The morning was almost meditative as the steps of my horse caused a rhythmic rocking and the morning sun cast a golden glow on the fall foliage. My horse huffed and puffed up and down the hillsides in protest of my lacking athleticism and weight, but in truth was more likely a reflection of his own fitness. The peak of color has passed and the hillsides are darkened with bear branches awaiting their snowy winter highlights.

We rode the ridges with no protection of the wind as it swirled and swooshed, acting as an annoying near constant shove against our bodies, determined in its efforts. The juniper stands offered a welcome relief from the wind and a comforting fall smell as my jeans brushed past.

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We saw no deer aboard the horses but the young horse and I gained some much needed confidence and miles under our belts. The conversation was sparse but the memories many.

Times have sure changed since our young love “official dates”.  We don’t frequent fancy restaurants and am not sure the last time we went to the movie theater or bowled together. But I value working along side my hubby and cherish our quiet moments together, no matter the time of day or location. Life is chaotic and messy most days but sometimes it just seems important to carve out a little time together.

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Community, Life Lessons, Motherhood, Ranch Life

I Go To Nature

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“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order”.
~John Burroughs

I love sensory bins and experiences…I have Pinterest boards full of bins with beans and rice or water beads…I follow Instagram slime enthusiasts! I do what today’s modern good mother does and sensitize my kiddos!

Yet, the ultimate sensory experience though remains out our front door…in nature!  A couple of weeks ago on a Sunday morning, our little family dressed and hit the dirt road before the sun rose in search of deer sightings.

 

The fall brings warm days but brisk nights. The moon was still in the sky and the air cool as we drove thru neighborhood. The dawn is a perfect time to spot wildlife as they are busy feeding and moving before the heat of the day and bright sun drives them to their beds.

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While Hubby and the oldest headed out to scout and glass along the horizon of the Badlands, the Little One and I headed out on a nature walk.

Sharing nature with a child, allows me to see what my eyes and senses have been blinded to.

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The Little One is always searching for birds in the sky or bugs on the ground. Finding the littlest of ants is cause for the biggest of celebrations.  While the eyes are searching, the feet are exploring the terrain. I have seen the uneven plastic stepping stones to encourage balance offered for sale on Amazon. In the cow pasture, dried cow pies serve a similar purpose as the Little One jumped from one to the next as he balanced on top of the irregular circle of undigested fiber.

 

Sticks, moss, and bark stimilate the developing nervous system as we touch and feel. My favorite grass is Little Bluestem and the hill sides come alive in its vibrant red this time of year. As we walk by and rub the sage with our pant legs, our noses are filled with the pungent earthy odor.

We crawl under and over and thru branches and brush. The Little One tests his strength and balance as he finds his limits.

Being in nature truly engages all one’s senses as we listen to birds sing and the hum of the oil pumper melodically pumping up and down, up and down.

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We went to a new location to scout and as we rounded the road tens of butterflies were disturbed from their feeding on golden rod. As we walked amongst them it was like being in our own private butterfly conservatory.

There is so much nature all around us to enjoy. Here are some things we have cultivated amongst our kids.

1) Encourage quiet observation. In our busy world, slow those little minds and have them truly observe their surroundings. Do you see wildlife? How many rocks are on that hillside?

2) Touch it… why not! Unless it is poisonous or going to bite feel the textures of nature.

3) Don’t forget the sounds… animal calls are big in our house. Beyond “what does a cow say?”  we do turkeys, moose, squirrels, etc.

4) Be careful but not too careful! Explore! Test limits but don’t fall down the ravine.

5) Fresh air is good for the body and mind! Get that heart rate up climbing hills or hiking those trails!

“The senses are a kind of reason. Taste, touch and smell, hearing and seeing, are not merely a means to sensation, enjoyable or otherwise, but they are also a means to knowledge – and are, indeed, your only actual means to knowledge.” 
~St. Thomas Aquinas

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