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Hello and welcome to the Trail’s End Ranch news page. I am finally learning my way around the computer enough to share the beauty and happenings of the ranch online. We are working on adding a "comments" area for your feedback, but until we get it figured out, please feel free to email us your thoughts: firstname.lastname@example.org Always glad to hear from you, thanks for tuning in, and here’s what’s been going on:
A Green, Wet Spring
Moisture…if there’s a sweeter word in ranch vocabulary, I can’t think of it. And this year we actually got our share and then some—from heavy October snows to slow, steady April rains. All of which makes for a May filled with creeks and birds singing, wildflowers exploding with color, alfalfa fields a lush, kelly green, the surrounding Beartooth and Crazy Mountains shimmering with snow…Nothing to do but enjoy it while it lasts!
Tillie enjoys a dip in the stock tank Belle Starr enjoys a dip in Daggett Creek, Daggett homestead in background CountrymanCreek
Oh, The Things We Do For Our Fans
Yes, that’s me, harvesting some of our famous genuine Trail’s End Ranch organic, free-range, Montana CD openers (porcupine quills), which we are offering as a premium to the first 5,000,000 folks who order one of my new cds, Western Bling and Western Bliss. If anyone is wondering, the porcupine in the photo IS deceased. He might have been hit by a car, as he was lying dead in the road right in front of the house. That, or he was DYING for a career in show business! Oh, I am so clever I amaze myself sometimes. By the way, these quills are sharp, so please don’t use them to get your child to do her homework, and please don’t sue us if you do…
Packrat Wars, Chapter One
Well, as the pictures show, we have been waging packrat wars here at Trail’s End Ranch. One little varmint is especially fond of my car, in which he has built countless nests under the hood, chewed hoses, even broke into the glove compartment and devoured the registration—how can such a cute, fuzzy creature wreak such havoc!…Gotta begrudgingly give him props on the nest-building, though, for perseverance, creativity and using available materials. The nest in the top photo is made entirely from deer hair (a hide the dogs drug into the yard), complete with pine cone accents. A veritable work of art that I actually felt a twinge of guilt removing. The nest in the lower photo was made of cedar boughs and the lining of my car hood. Guilt on that removal: not so much! Other nests have included pieces from a black sparkly dress I had hung overnight in the garage, and even the Bounce dryer sheets that my mechanic told me to put under the hood as a deterrent. It’s gotten to the point that I look under the hood before I start the car…today I was thrilled to find no new nest, but my joy was short-lived when the dogs started sniffing and whining under the spare tire in the back of the car. Let’s just say there are now children involved…stay tuned…
A Runner Is Born…
Miles of car-free cow trails, three hyperactive Australian shepherds, and the desire to get in great physical shape have turned me into a runner. Not breaking any speed records, mind you, but enjoying it and having some grand adventures, from getting chased by a neighbor’s llama to hearing a mountain lion’s roar one morning (set a new personal record getting home on that run!), to leaping over coiled rattlers. Even came upon a black bear’s fresh tracks (see photo).
Summertime and the Gardening Is Easy
After years of tears and toil with outside gardening, I am enjoying the heck out of five-gallon bucket, living room gardening. So far, peppers, lettuce, spinach, basil, and tomatoes are thriving…highly recommended!
Springtime = Wildlife at Trail’s End
Lots of spring wildlife sightings around here lately, including three cow elk moseying across the pasture last evening. Spotting them on the ranch is a sure sign of spring, as they typically descend from higher elevations in May or so to calve and browse the alfalfa fields. One morning last May, as I was drinking coffee and staring out the window (with no camera nearby, of course), 24 cow elk stood milling around the mailbox. It was almost as if they were waiting for the mail. I can see the caption of that photo now: "Gee, I Hope The New 'Lawrence Elk' CD I Ordered Arrived"...
Speaking of missed photo ops, last week, while sitting at my desk and gazing out the window, a young bobcat strolled within a few feet of the cabin and, for a good two hours, proceeded to put on a marvelous show—pouncing, preening, lying on his back and waving all four paws in the air, strolling back and forth across a downed cottonwood that crosses the creek. I believe he was simply enjoying the first warm spring day of the year, and his joy was contagious. I laughed out loud when he launched into a Pink Panther-like mime: ears back, bobtail flicking, gingerly lifting each paw high in a slow, stealthy glide through the tall grass. As far as I could tell, he was stalking absolutely nothing. Then he froze, sheepishly glancing around, and, assuming a more dignified persona, began vigorously sharpening his claws on a dead cottonwood tree. When finished, he yawned, arched his back into a leisurely stretch, and, as the credits rolled, turned and sauntered off into the juniper. Still grinning, I set down my pen, grabbed a ball cap, and headed outside for a little goofing off myself. Here's to spring!
New birds are coming to the feeders every day...here's a male evening grosbeak (thanks to all of you birders who quickly set me straight on this.) His lovely song is, as a friend of mine says, "like a robin who's been to singing school."
Bullock's Oriole A Trail’s End chipmunk hits the chuck wagon...
Lazuli buntings Rose-breasted grosbeak Goldfinch
Now that's courage! Downy woodpecker Spotted Towhee
Eastern Kingbird House Wren Cassin's Finch Red-Winged Black Bird
Cedar Waxwing Black Headed Grosbeak Sandhill Crane Mountain Bluebird
Winter Robin Meadowlark Meeting of the Waxwings
On Fencing and Fencing Gloves…
Well, fence-fixing season is upon us here at Trail’s End. That means loading up the fencing pliers, posts, post pounder, goldenrod, staples, hooks, wire, hatchet, sandwiches, Gatorade, and of course, fencing gloves, and heading out to try to remedy the damage that wind, weather, and wildlife have done to the fences over the long winter. Depending on the terrain and the job, this is done by foot, horseback, or four-wheeler. It is one of the ranch jobs that our cranky foreman, Rick, admits to actually enjoying, especially if he is out with the dogs in the middle of nowhere on a blue-sky day. If Rick is particular about fencing gloves in general (“They have to have a reinforced palm, and not be so tough you can’t fold your hand, a soft leather, but something that will hold up”), he is downright fanatical about his broken-in gloves. The Holy Grail had less supervision, and don’t even THINK about asking to borrow them. He says a glove is at its best when it’s on its last leg, when it’s coated in sweat and oil and blood and the fingers are dang near poking through. Which takes forever. Which means the air turns indigo when he misplaces one or the dog runs off with it. Which happens at least hourly during fence-fixing season. Here’s wishing all you post pounders and wire stretchers soft ground, good weather, and a sense of humor to get you through the season. May your gloves always be where you last left them, and may you always remember where that is.
"Suzi" the Suzuki, our hard working fencing rig... Rick's ALMOST broken-in fencing gloves... Tillie guards Rick’s pert-near perfectly broken in gloves…
A good day for checking fence...Granite Peak (Montana's highest) and Beartooth Mts. in background.
A "deadman"...it's a weight (in this case, rocks) which counteracts the pull of the fence.
Some, like this one our friend Slim Campbell built on the ranch, can be downright artistic.
Slim Campbell, ace fencer and deadman builder…
Root Cellar Dreams…
One of the many things I love about the ranch is the root cellar. It is a little masterpiece of stone masonry, built by the man who homesteaded the place in the 1920s. His name was Fred Poston, supposedly a stone mason from Iowa. I think of all the muscle, sweat, hopes, and dreams he put into each carefully placed stone, and how ironic that, soon after building it, he would “starve out”, as a neighbor put it, and return to Iowa. The root cellar is still remarkably cool and air-tight today. We joke about turning it into a wine cellar, but for now it serves as a testament to craftsmanship, hard work, and big dreams.
The root cellar, winter Inside root cellar
The Gustavson Place
Another favorite part of the ranch is the old Gustavson place. This charming homestead was built in 1910 or so by the Gustavson family, some of whose relatives still live in the area. It was later sold to the Daggetts, who held the ranch for 93 years before selling it to me. But for centuries before all that, due to its lower elevation, mild winters, and plentiful game, the area was a winter camp for the Crow Indians. In fact, it was the last place the Crow camped before they moved in 1909 to their current reservation. The camp is even mentioned in Andrew Garcia’s wonderful book, “Tough Trip Through Paradise.”
Walking along the creek, you can almost see the rows of teepees, smell the campfire smoke, hear the Crow children at play. It is startling to think that just a short hundred years ago, this ordinary looking alfalfa field was a village. Although my own searches for evidence of the camp haven’t yielded much, Bob Daggett, one of the original Daggett sons, found plenty. On a visit to the ranch a couple years ago, he spoke of plowing the field as a boy with his mule team. It got to the point, he said, that he came to dread the sound of the plow scraping rock, as this usually meant having to stop and hand excavate yet another teepee ring--the round, heavy circle of stones that held a teepee in place. When asked about finding arrowheads, he again ruefully smiled and shook his head. Apparently they were so plentiful that his mother got tired of storing them and tossed out a large bucket full somewhere on the place. How I’d love to stumble across that bucket!
Summertime At Last!
Saunders' cattle contentedly grazing the Daggett Place...
It’s mid-June, and we are finally stringing together a few days’ warm weather after weeks of cool temps, rain, and even a dusting of snow. Amazing how quickly the grass greens up and the flowers bloom once the thermometer breaks 70 degrees. My neighbors, Dave and Doreen Saunders, are running their cows on the ranch this summer. While there is still plenty of work around here, it’s a huge relief to have sold my little herd awhile back. I am now much freer to write, travel, play music, even climb on a horse for fun, now that I'm no longer battling cows breaking out onto the county road and trotting toward the freeway at midnight, yearlings bloating in the alfalfa fields at 3 a.m., and a host of other adrenaline-inducing drama that the cheap, wily, half-wild sale barn cows that constituted most of my little herd were capable of. And, not to whine, but these little incidents had an uncanny way of occurring the night before I had an hour-and-a-half drive to the airport for a 6 a.m. flight! The truth is, I have come to discover that I like the idea of cows much more than cows themselves. Horses and dogs I can't get enough of, but when it comes to cows, you're either a cow person, or you're not. (Highly recommended book on this subject: J. Frank Dobie's "Cow People.") Anyway, it's a calling, an addiction, a passion that I clearly do not possess, and, of course, cows can spot this a mile away. It's no accident, I believe, that the Saunders, who are quintessential cow people, have cows that actually stay where they are supposed to, are downright docile, and virtually ooze contentment as they graze and laze on the very hillsides that my own cows regularly escaped. I’m sure the Saunders would modestly deny this assessment, but it is both true and absolutely maddening. Just once, I'd love to phone them around midnight to inform them that their cows are hell-bent for the freeway, their yearlings are bloating in the alfalfa fields, and their prize bull is down by the river, up to his eyeballs in quicksand. How I'd secretly relish holding the receiver out for their suddenly-wide-awake "WHATs?, before calmly setting down the receiver, yawning, stretching, and turning out the light...
On Horseshoeing and Westerns…
Peder keeps his hoof nails handy...
Got the horses rounded up and brought to the corrals this week for trimming and shoeing by my favorite farrier, Peder Fenelon. Peder is everything a great farrier should be: gentle with the horses, does excellent work, quick, honest, fair, on time, and best of all, a wonderful storyteller. I always enjoy his visits, and this time was no exception. He brought along his brother, Charlie, and the conversation ranged from Major Differences Between Men and Women (highly enlightening), to a spirited debate of Best All-Time favorite TV Westerns ("Gunsmoke," "Have Gun Will Travel", and "Rawhide", to name a few.)
Of course, the dogs also enjoy Peder's visits for the hoof trimmings they net. Judging from the way each dog eagerly watches and waits for a chance to slip in and grab some, hoof trimmings must be the dog equivalent of Godiva chocolate. And speaking of watching, below is a picture of a beautiful male western tanager, who studied the entire proceedings intently from his perch on the hogwire corral fence.
Peder and Charlie share a laugh... Western tanager tunes in to the conversation... Ted moves in for a snack...
Summer in the Rearview Mirror
Summer has flown by here at Trail’s End. It was a wonderfully cool, green summer—neither fan nor air conditioner even once put into use—a summer filled with adventures, crises, and surprises at every turn. Here is a rundown of a few of the highlights:
Tillie Gets Snakebit
One June morning, as Tillie was bounding through some heavy brush just yards from the house, she let out a pitiful cry and then hobbled back to the yard. Judging by the multiple fang marks on her hind feet and legs, she must have surprised (no warning rattles) at least two, possibly three rattlers emerging from their den. After an adrenaline-fueled (mine) trip to the vet’s, she spent several days in the house, hiding under the bed and licking her bruised, swollen and now-hairless legs. Gradually she began painfully inching herself across the floor to her water dish. Horrible as it must have been for her, the whole experience was surely harder on me, my friend and ranch manager, Rick, and the other dogs, Ted and Belle. Tillie’s nickname is “The Black Bullet.” Most days she can be found zipping around the ranch, herding and directing everything from cows to hawks, and especially Ted and Belle. They hardly scratch their fleas without her permission, and all of us felt downright lost without her saucy, bossy presence. The glorious morning she finally resumed her characteristic swivel-headed Linda-Blair-in-The-Exorcist “THIS IS MY FOOD BOWL” growl, followed by repeated majorette-like tossings of her favorite stuffed rabbit in front of Ted, daring him to even glance at it, Rick and I high-fived each other and shouted simultaneously, “She’s baaaaaaaack!” Interesting side note: the vet says it is actually rare for dogs to die of snakebites, and he has only lost one dog to them in 23 years--a miniature dachshund that was bitten multiple times on the tongue. Of course, I was about to ask exactly HOW a miniature dachshund manages to get bitten numerous times on the tongue, but just then the vet was paged on an emergency. Just as well--I get enough fodder for nightmares around here as it is.
The Dove And The 'Daire
This summer the old 70s-yellow spare refrigerator in the garage began making a pitiful, rhythmic wheezing sound. Apparently it is saying something in “mourning dove,” because for weeks, night and day, a lone dove has been faithfully cooing in response. Their “relationship” is such a perfect combination of pathos, comedy, tragedy, and unrequited love, that I am thinking of writing an opera…possible titles: “My ‘Daire Lady”… “Freon Giovanni” …”Le Fridgerables”… I may even use artistic license and change the dove to a pigeon, so as to present (drum roll:) “The Pidge and The Fridge.” But seriously, I AM considering unplugging the fridge long to encourage the poor dove to assume the worst, take his lumps, and fly south for the winter, lest I end up nursing a lovesick dove AND a wheezing fridge through the winter. However, the weighty responsibility of breaking a heart, even a seriously deluded one, has so far stayed my hand. On the other hand, wouldn’t a little up-front pain be preferable to a lifetime of denial? What would Dr. Phil say?
August: It was a banner chokecherry year here at the ranch—glistening purplish-black berries dangling like clusters of jewels from the countless chokecherry bushes lining the creeks and roads. Over a weeklong period during the early evenings, I managed to pick eight gallons of berries before the birds and dogs beat me to them. Yes, dogs. The lower branches on these expeditions were virtually stripped bare by my three Australian shepherds. This is both puzzling and disturbing; puzzling, as raw chokecherries are downright bitter (thus, the “choke” part of their name) to the human tongue, yet the dogs, especially Ted, gobble them as if they were coated in bacon grease; disturbing, as Ted sleeps by my bed at night, and the audible and highly pungent results of his gluttony whipped me, suddenly wide awake and gasping, into a sitting position more times than I care to remember. Smelling salts have nothing on Ted Davis.
Chokecherry syrup...great on everything from pancakes to ice cream...
Some Things I Learned This Summer:
---Cows can all but pole vault over cattle guards. This is especially true if they happen to be casually standing beside one when a runner and her dog (which shall remain nameless) round a corner and the dog barks, even once. Odds of this happening go up considerably when the cows belong to a neighbor, the neighbor is out of town, a storm is rolling in, and the runner has company coming for a dinner she has yet to begin cooking.
--- If panicked cows have a choice between trotting harmlessly down the county road for a few feet and stopping, or making a ninety degree turn, tearing out a new section of fence, and scattering over several sections, they will choose the latter.