Glimpse of History

There is something haunting about the beauty of these creatures. It is strange to see animals so muscled and powerful bedded down quietly in the tall grass, blinking sleepily in the bright sunlight, staring curiously at the intruders then losing interest, their massive horns spread broadly beyond the width of their shoulders. Only their horns are visible when they hunker down in the warm grass. IMG_4069IMG_3982IMG_3957IMG_3978Perhaps what is haunting is the feeling that even a barbed wire fence is no match for their strength. Or, perhaps it is the feeling that I’m staring into their eyes and getting a glimpse of history. Perhaps both.

Laura Elizabeth

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Relics of the West

It is impossible to study the history of the American West without being impressed with two things: barbed wire and the Texas longhorn.
IMG_3631The longhorn is a breed of Spanish origin that was widespread in the American south. During the Civil War, ranches in Texas were shorthanded and consequently the herds of cattle on the open ranges were unmanaged and essentially went wild. The cattle reproduced prolifically for years. After the war, then, these wild, unbranded cattle were free for the taking, and were rounded up by gutsy cowboys and driven north, to the goldfields and boom towns in the West, along well-worn, legendary cattle trails, and were also sold in eastern markets. IMG_3534The invention of barbed wire in the 1860s and the widespread use of it in the 1880s changed the landscape of ranching, putting an end to the days of the open range. Violent feuds and range wars raged throughout the West as a result, and a series of conflicts known as the Fence Cutting Wars were a last-ditch effort to preserve the open range. IMG_3626The barbed wire has stayed and has become a necessary part of ranching, though the longhorns haven’t. There are a number of ranchers out here who keep small herds of these beautiful creatures, and it is always a delight to see them. Such magnificent animals.

Laura Elizabeth

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It’s Rodeo Time

Once again, the Custer County Fair comes rolling in, and with it the wild fun of a ranch rodeo and the adrenaline rush of bull riding. The phrase “nothin’ more fun on dirt” still stands true, of course. Clean, wild, country fun.
Custer County Fair Ranch Rodeo 2016Ranch rodeos are practicality with a heavy dose of humor – You can’t go to an event with wild cow milking and steer trailering and range doctoring, and not expect a good amount of laughter. Because the cows don’t want to be milked, the steers don’t want to be trailered, and the animals don’t want to be doctored. The steers get into the game, giving the teams the runaround, racing like mad around the arena, nimbly dodging the ropes and the charging horses. Hats are flying, steers are hurtling themselves over 5-foot-tall fences, cowboys are wrestling with steers that somehow won’t go down, and really it is just plain fun.
Custer County Classic Bull Riding 2016Played out, though, are the real situations cowboys and ranchers face on a daily basis. Their stamina and strength are challenged, their precision and their patience are tested, and their hard-earned skills are on full display. Trailering a steer isn’t as easy as it might sound. Branding calves is a true team sport – in real life, as well as in the arena. Roping a steer while riding horseback full-tilt is an impressive precision skill. Sportsmanship is expected – from crowd and competitor alike. Nothin’ more fun on dirt.
Custer County Classic Bull Riding 2016And then there’s bull riding. A little less practical than a ranch rodeo. A little crazier. It’s an adrenaline rush. I sat myself down in the dirt right up by the fence – An excellent vantage point. Custer County Classic Bull Riding 2016If you’ve never seen bull riding, you’re missing out. I have a hard time understanding why people get worked up about baseball or football. But rodeo and bull riding? I get it. Mean bulls, bred to buck, with names like “Dreambreaker,” “Cigarettes and Alcohol,” and “Rattler.” Crazy cowboys, crazy enough to try to sit on a 2000 pound bull for eight seconds. Bullfighters, dipping and dodging and taunting the bull away from a bucked-off cowboy. Courage and crazy, guts and gumption, all in one. Custer County Classic Bull Riding 2016The cowboy gets himself situated in the bucking shoot, settling down on a bull that is already ready to buck but doesn’t have the room. Once the rider is ready, the gate is pulled open and those cowboys in the vicinity scatter, jumping up on the gates, getting out of the way as the bull explodes like hot shot from the bucking shoot. Whether the cowboy stays on for the full eight seconds or falls off in half a second, he is met with hoops and hollers from the crowd. He tried. That alone is crazy. Custer County Classic Bull Riding 2016Custer County Classic Bull Riding 2016One thing I particularly love about the sport of rodeo is that it starts in the right place – Love of country, love of fellow man, and (if the announcer is a Christian) unashamed love of Jesus, and a humbly eloquent cowboy prayer. Custer County Classic Bull Riding 2016That’s my kind of a sport.

Laura Elizabeth

 

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Cows and Coneflowers

After abusing my ankle yesterday, I was back to crutches and limited activity again today and honestly, I wasn’t too happy about that, even though it was my own fault. I had just started indulging in a pity-party when Mom came into the house. “Are the cows supposed to be out?” she asked. I looked outside, and of course the answer was “no.” The cows weren’t just “out.” They were out just about in our front yard! The pity-party didn’t last too much longer, and I hobbled outside with my camera to take pictures of the cattle, and to call my uncle to give him the head’s up.
IMG_7794The cows had found a hole in the fence, and the green grass and water in the dam were irresistible, I guess. They were pretty content, and I think we could have left them and they’d still be there tomorrow. Uncle Stuart was out fencing, and when he drove up in the beat-up ranch Toyota, he, Dad, and I moved them back into the pasture they’re supposed to be in.
IMG_7845Cows are beautiful creatures. They’re in a further pasture now, but I love when they are close enough to hear them lowing, and to smell their warm scent.
IMG_7847As I snapped pictures of the cows and the wildflowers, and tromped through the waist-high grass with my dad and my uncle, my frustration melted. Pity-parties really are a waste of time, and are so entirely uncalled-for.
IMG_7801Life is good. God is good. Cows and coneflowers reminded me of that.

Laura Elizabeth

Happiness is…

To each his own, of course. Some prefer the bustle (chaos) of city living, or even the quiet bustle of town life. Some prefer the opportunities that come with living in the city, the close grocery stores, coffee shops, entertainment, the arts, etc. Some would be bored by what I consider to be the perfect pace of living. I recently had someone ask me what I do for fun. I kind of realized that just about all I do for fun is hiking. That, and photography and writing. I suppose some would be extremely bored by this.
Chives in the GardenThe Hills are in a state of perfection at sunset. Kashka followed me around as I snapped pictures of the cattle that Jack brought out for the summer, of the glowing poppies finally blooming in the overgrown garden, and of the chives which were neglected and left to head out. We’ve had a busy spring, and the garden unfortunately doesn’t weed or plant or prune itself.
Bully BoyThe cows contentedly grazed and watched me back as I watched them, and one of the cows headed straight towards me, like she wanted to say hello.  The little bull calves, like this one, were skittish but curious. The cows are in the pasture closest to the cabin, so we can hear them calling to each other, and can smell the warm, sweet odor, which I love.
Poppies at SunsetThe Kashka-Cat is a darling. She loves to be underfoot, in the way, and around “her people.” She and Luna make themselves scarce when we have company, but she and her brother are quite the life of the party when it is just the family. I worked on my Bible reading in the Miner’s Cabin before I went to get Anna from work and, true to form, Kashka roamed around the cabin for a good little while, finally ending up on the sofa with me. There is nothing quite like the company of a cat.
IMG_4153Happiness is a cabin, a camera, and the company of a cat. Perfection.

Laura Elizabeth

Back in the saddle

DSCN0968.1 Got back yesterday afternoon from a four-day trip to vaccinate calves and pregnancy check cattle. In total, we worked nearly 1000 cattle between Friday morning and yesterday evening, and we covered a lot of ground! I drove out to the permit west of Custer with Penny (Jack’s wife) on Thursday night to join the rest of the crew, and we were in the saddle by 7:30 the next morning.

DSCN0964.1It took a good couple of hours to round up the cattle, with a crew of about ten on horseback, a plane, and a Jeep, and once we had them in the corrals, sorting took another hour, and then four of us had to move about 50 yearlings to another part of the permit. Pretty sure I didn’t climb down off that horse until about 1:30 that afternoon. I haven’t ridden much at all lately, so I rediscovered some muscle groups I’d forgotten that I had…

DSCN0950.1Everything went quicker than expected Friday, so Saturday was a pretty easy day, packing up camp and heading to Wyoming, where Jack leases from a rancher over there. The heifer group (cows with heifer calves) were all out in Wyoming, 226 pair, and to get things going for Sunday, we brought in the herd Saturday afternoon. It was hot, dry, dusty, and we were ready to be done when we finished, let me tell you. It was a little stormy on the horizon, and we could see smoke from a couple of fires in the distance, from lightning strikes we assumed. But the cattle came in without incident, sorted nicely the next morning, and we were able to finish up another small group of cattle yesterday in the early afternoon. A good weekend’s work.

DSCN0960.1Working with ranchers and cowboys, I appreciate the gentleness with which they treat God’s creatures. We may just be getting steers ready for the meat market, or getting heifers ready to be bred, or preg checking a bunch of cows, but there is a gentleness and respect for the animals, and a desire to cause them the least trauma or discomfort. Rounding them up, running them through a chute, sticking them with needles, all that causes some level of stress to the animals, but the job is done quickly and efficiently. There is visible distress in the voices and on the faces of the crew when there is an animal suffering–A calf died at the permit, a “respiratory calf” that had a form of pneumonia, and the sober attitude had nothing to do with money lost on the calf, but everything to do with the little creature’s suffering. It is refreshing to see such gentleness towards God’s creatures–That gentleness is, I think, a sign of real strength.

DSCN0973.1The visit to Wyoming was eye-opening. I’d never been to Wyoming before, and it is some beautiful, desolate country. Green this year, but just so big–So much of it! And so open. The things that seemed to thrive were sunflowers, rattlesnakes, horned toads, and rabbits–Lots and lots of rabbits.

Being on horseback isn’t conducive to taking pictures, but I managed to sneak just a few. I missed one really fantastic photo opportunity, with the sun coming up over the corrals, and the dust rising like mist around the cattle, sifting through the fences, and partially obscuring the cowboys sorting the herd. It was really beautiful. But the dust was really awful.

I leave tomorrow morning around 5:30 to head to Nebraska for more vaccinating and preg checking, and I’ll get back on Thursday evening. Good to be back in the saddle, even if only for a week and a half.

Laura Elizabeth