Just Another Visit to the In-laws….

Last Tuesday morning Richard and I drove to Dubois for a Grazing Association meeting and a Forest Service meeting, with plans to stay the night at the ranch with Mel and Bayard. The East Fork Grazing Association consists of three families: the Foxes, the Finleys and the Lindsays. The association is allowed to have 300 cows and their calves grazing in the Shoshone National Forest each summer, of which we have 200, the Lindsays have 75, and the Finleys have 25. We have a meeting each spring to discuss what fences need to be fixed during the summer, what section of the forest we will graze first and to complain to each other about wolves and bears eating our cattle– all sorts of fun topics! After our Cow Chat, Richard and I met with Hillary, our new Forest Service representative. Since we ride in the national forest during the summer, we have to give the Forest Service an anticipated account of the days we will be riding in the forest in the spring and an actual account in the fall. It is a LOT of paperwork, and I am very glad that filling it out falls on Richard’s desk rather than mine!

After our meetings, we drove straight to the ranch, as we knew Mel’s legendary To-Do List would be long. I love going up to the ranch to visit Mel and Bayard in the winter. I am fortunate to have two parents-in-law with superb senses of humor, so I usually spend my time with them laughing. You can’t beat that! We knew that one of the items on Mel’s agenda was for Richard to get Green Truck running (it had a flat tire) and drag the Crested Wheat field. Our maintenance men and irrigators spread manure on the field in the fall, and now it needed to be dragged to thin out the clumps. While Richard changed the flat tire, I unloaded and covered the many saddles we had fixed this winter at the tack repair shop near our farm. With a new tire and the addition of oil, Green Truck started right up. We then drove toward the field with plans to pick up the drag, the implement we would attach to the back of the truck. Things were ticking along beautifully– we attached the drag and only had to cross the colts’ field to reach our destination. I must say, I am quite proud that I foresaw the problem– you see, it’s been a really, really wet spring at the ranch. We needed to cross Alkali Creek to get to the Crested Wheat pasture gate, and I said, “Wow. The creek looks deep. Do you think we can get through there?” Richard did not even slow down after hearing my question– he was quite (and mistakenly) convinced we would sail right through! Rather than sailing, we kind of ungracefully slid into a muddy stop…the engine revved, the wheels spun. It wasn’t looking good. When he finally decided to abandon the idea of making it across the creek and instead reverse back out of it, Green Truck DIED. He turned the key, and Sick Green Truck made a few pitiful noises before becoming Dead Green Truck.

Oh, man! What a situation! We had Dead Green Truck and the drag lying in the creek, darkness descending and a long walk back to the ranch. We had no choice but to leave Dead Green Truck and the drag in the colts’ pasture over night, which was not ideal. The young horses, being the insatiably curious creatures they are, would likely investigate the new machinery over night. The colts could get caught up in the drag and injured, or they could eat Dead Green Truck to pieces for their own amusement. Neither was an attractive scenario. We could not fix the situation that night because we needed the tractor to move Dead Green Truck and the drag, and the tractor was not working (fixing the tractor was on Mel’s Wednesday Morning To-Do List for Richard!). So, having accomplished absolutely nothing besides endangering our young horses, Richard and I walked from the colts’ pasture up to Mel and Bayard’s house for dinner. Not a successful start to our visit!

After a delicious dinner of a lamb shoulder roast, roasted squash and home-grown potatoes (for those who don’t know, Mel is an excellent cook), we turned in early in preparation for an early morning of fixing the tractor and (hopefully!) hauling machinery out of Alkali Creek. Here is Richard hard at work on the tractor:

Here is Cute Whistle and her Cute Shadow (you see how I spent my time while Richard fixed the tractor….I know nothing about tractors, except for how to drive them…that I can do!:)):

Once Richard had replaced the bad part on the tractor and added oil, we were off and running. I followed him to the colts’ pasture on the four-wheeler, so that I could assist in the Truck Rescue Project by steering Dead Green Truck out of the field while Richard towed us. He then planned to drag the field with the tractor, rather than waste any more time trying to revive Dead Green Truck. While he dragged, I could then take the four-wheeler and get started on my Mel To-Do List. Good plan, right?!

Here, we have come to the rescue of Dead Green Truck and the drag…Notice Freedom in the distance, watching Richard work (Look for her in the background in following photographs too– it’s my new, wild-horse version of Where’s Waldo?!):

Here, Richard has attached the drag to the front loader of the tractor:

The injury-free peanut gallery, watching us work:

The drag is FREE from the clutches of the creek!

But Dead Green Truck is still inconveniently lying in the middle of the creek:

Gupta and Whistle, who love a truck ride more than anybody, are by the front door of the truck saying, “Come on Mama! Hop in! Let’s get out of here!” Okay, girls, we’ll go for a ride, but only because Richard is going to tow us out of the field with the tractor. I hopped in the truck with the dogs to put it in neutral and steer it out of the colts’ pasture. Here is my prison-like view out of the back of the truck, which felt fitting, as I was completely at Richard’s mercy!

Here is my view out the window while I’m being towed, which I love….Richard in a tractor with snow-capped Absaroka mountains in the background:

We made our way out of the pasture and left Dead Green Truck just on the other side of the gate. Here we are on the tractor, pleased as punch that we saved Dead Green Truck from being eaten by the colts:

Richard then picked up the drag attachment with the tractor and started to drag the manure through the far field. Mel had other plans for me though! We accomplished the small things first: I held Bibbi, the semi-feral barn cat, while Mel cut out her dreadlocks. Then I held Bear, the Navajo Churro sheep, while Mel cut out her stitches (she had received them after being nicked during shearing). Clutching a wild, angry cat and tackling sheep were just the start to our adventures. Next up? Burning fields! Yep, you read right: Burning fields. Why burn a field? Good question. Mel likes to burn off the coarse grass, which neither the cows nor horses like to eat, to provide room for the tender, fine grass to grow.

I’ll be perfectly honest: this was my first time burning a field. I generally try to steer clear of starting uncontrolled, outdoor fires, and I certainly didn’t have any interest in starting one on our ranch…on a windy day…in a pasture… near wooden fences and staff cabins. It also didn’t help that when Mel threw an “example” match in one of the fields, the wind picked up immediately and an entire acre burned in about 1.5 seconds. My eyes almost popped out of my head, while Mel provided a chorus of “Jesus! Jesus!” to the raging fire. Luckily, the wind died, and the fire subsided, but the damage was done to my fire-starting confidence level– I was left staring skeptically at a box of matches and a long slicker (for beating out fires), the two tools Mel had given me for my task. Despite my reservations, I set to work starting fires in the small field with plans to take our experiment to a large field, which is currently home to the Highland cows! (Why did I do it despite my concerns? What can I say? Mel is persuasive!) Here is my first fire, burning in the Wrangle Pasture, which is right next to the staff cabins:

In the above photograph, the smoke is blowing directly toward the staff bathhouse… my heart was in my throat for a bit, but it all worked out! Here is my burned patch after I had beaten it into submission:

Mel, pleased both with the size of the burned patch and the fact that the staff cabins were still standing, suggested we move onto the large pasture. We hopped in Archie, put the dogs in the back and set off to the Lower Homestead pasture to feed the cows and burn, baby, burn! Here is the size of the fire when I initially started it:

And within a couple of minutes:

Mel patrols the fire perimeter:

And she ponders the fire:

One thing is for sure– neither the cows, nor Mango were intimidated by the fire– the cows are happily eating, while Mango walks through the smoking, burned grass!

Once we were sure the fire was out, Mel went up to the house to get lunch ready, and I went to find Richard. At this point, we thought the adventures were over. The field was burned, the manure was dragged, Dead Green Truck was safe…. we only had little things left to do, like moving Mel and Bayard’s new sofa set and desk into their house and loading four-wheelers into the horse trailer (they are going to town to get serviced before the summer season). Well, let’s just say that adventure finds a way to sneak its way into even the most mundane activities at the ranch!

Richard and I loaded the sofa set and desk onto the back of Archie, and I drove up the extremely bumpy road to Mel and Bayard’s house with Richard on the back of the truck to make sure we did not lose a loveseat on the way. I was going as slow as possible, but I must say he looked a little pale-faced and tight-lipped back there! Despite his worrywart tendencies, we made it up to the house just fine and unloaded the furniture onto the back porch. After lunch, we moved the old couch onto the back porch in sock-feet, which seemed logical since we did not want to traipse through the house in our dirty boots. As I was carrying one end of their heavy, green couch out to the porch, I heard Mel call, “Watch out for cactus!” Cactus? What on earth? Why would their be cacti on the–


The stars stand for the expletives that ran through my head as I stepped on a piece of cactus in socks while carrying 100 pounds of couch. The couch hit the deck hard while I adopted a one-footed hopping stance and tore desperately at my right sock. After Richard recovered from his fit of laughter, he helped me extract the spindly cactus spears from my foot. Once they were gone I idiotically put the sock back on, not thinking about the fact that there were likely more pricklers in the sock. As soon as I put my foot on the ground, I howled again, Richard laughed again, and we had to go through the cactus-removal process for a second time! The socks were then thrown out, and Mel gave me some slippers to finish the job. It was dicey….moving big couches while dancing around trying to avoid the bits of cactus scattered all over the porch! Now for the Question of the Week: Why do Mel and Bayard have bits of cactus all over their porch? The answer lies in the fact that a pack rat has built a nest in their woodpile. Pack rats are resourceful creatures, creating nests out of all sorts of materials, including cactus. When Bayard goes to get more wood, he drops the bits of cactus that accompany the logs on the porch before going in the house. Bayard unwittingly created the perfect booby trap for his furniture-moving son and daughter-in-law! Here I am in the slippers after the cactus spears were removed for the second time…you can see the green couch lying on its side, dropped in the middle of the move!

Here is the offending piece of cactus resting artistically on the offended foot:

After we finished our furniture-moving expedition, we went to the barnyard to complete our last task before going home, loading three four-wheelers into the horse trailer. We quickly realized that three four-wheelers don’t actually fit in the horse trailer. Minor problem! Here are Mel and Richard with the first four-wheeler in the trailer:

The third four-wheeler was so close to fitting that we were determined to make it work. I came up with the idea of having Four-Wheeler #2 sort of mount Four-Wheeler #1 with the front wheels of #2 resting on the back of #1. It took heroic efforts on all of our parts, but we got #1 and #2 in position, zipped Four-Wheeler #3 onto the trailer behind them and slammed the door! PHEW!

We gave Mel a quick hug with promises to come back for a visit next week and jumped in Robert Redford for the 1.5 hour drive home. We made it back just before dark, both too tired to make an elaborate dinner, but very proud that we had completed the lengthy To-Do List. Can’t wait for next week’s visit!

P.S. For all you Freedom-Lovers out there, here is an up-close shot from our visit: