Seeing Black and White

When the puppies were first born, it was impossible to really distinguish one from the other, at least as far as four of them were concerned. Bessie was named pretty quickly, because of her milk cow markings, and there was an all black male that was quickly identifiable, but for some reason hadn’t earned a name.

They are now coming up on 7 weeks old and are a riot of activity, eager for attention, friendly, boisterous, and just a bundle of fun. We’ve got the sweet and sleepy one, the go-getter, the playful and clumsy one, the smart one, and a couple that haven’t really distinguished themselves but are plenty adorable with more energy than should fit in a body that size. It doesn’t get much more fun than going down to the barn and yelling, “Puppies!” and have six puppies and sometimes their mother come pouring out of the barn or out from under the trailers.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have let them start to explore outside and it is hilarious to watch the fat little pandas barreling full-tilt across the yard in protection of their pinecones, tumble down remnants of snow drifts, and learn the about the delicacy of horse manure.

They also enjoy terrorizing the cats, many of which actually invite the terrorizing and enjoy a playful romp with the pups. Polly in particular. It is only since the puppies have significantly outweighed her that the novelty of them is wearing a little thin. One pup is generally tolerable, but four or more is less so. But she still comes back and invites another mauling.

It doesn’t get much cuter.

The Banshees

When Brad brought me that crate full of feral cats in exchange for my beautiful Amelia who laid blue eggs and whom Pearl ruthlessly beheaded, inwardly I scoffed at what was so obviously not a fair trade. They were beautiful cats. Absolutely beautiful. But wild. Completely wild. And then I got to work taming them down. I definitely had my doubts a time or two, especially when those blue-eyed banshees still weren’t even letting me see, much less touch, them a week later, and then more than a week. If I happened to catch one, they trembled pitifully and got all small and pathetic.

But then, finally, after many cans of cat food, Amelia (so named in honor of the deceased) actually approached my hand, and then – wonder of wonders! – she actually let me pet her. And purred. Once a cat purrs, you have her hooked. It was all clear sailing from there, and yesterday Amelia and Madeline had their first little taste of freedom when I let them outside. Today, it was hilarious watching them flit through the snow like delicate white wraiths, pouncing one another, climbing trees, scattering the snow under their tiny paws. Their clear blue stare is mesmerizing, even though Amelia is a little cross-eyed and it is hard to take her completely seriously.

I really expected these girls to tame down to no more than a passively amiable barn cat, one that wouldn’t run away but that wouldn’t be truly friendly. Well, they are two of the sweetest cats, and maybe the prettiest I’ve ever seen. So no, they won’t ever lay blue eggs but I’d say it was a more than fair trade.

Snow Globe

We woke up to a snow globe outside our windows. An almost-windless, beautifully quiet, comfortable wintry day made chores pleasant and I couldn’t resist lugging my 15 pounds of camera and lens with me as I trudged around to the various critters. The chickens were extremely unimpressed, the chicks were even less so, the cats were divided, and the snow was lovely.

They called for a coating to an inch, but it hasn’t stopped snowing. And we are so thankful. This dry ground is so thirsty.

There is nothing quite like the transformation brought by a fresh snow. The delicate, mesmerizing whirlwind of white so exquisitely transforms the most drab, dreariest landscape, drought-parched though it may be, and turns the whole world outside into a thing of wondrous beauty. The trees are finally catching enough snow to be letting it go now and then in puffs of sparkling white. Footprints are getting made and filled in. Critters are hunkered down, and the world outside is peaceful and almost silent. Every dead flower head wears a funny little white hat, fence posts are capped in snow, and every once in awhile a gust sweeps the snow and the snowfall gets heavier, like someone shook the snow globe.

I am so glad to live where there is such a thing as snow.

Ranch Wife Musings | Cold

All summer long, we race against the clock to beat the heat of the day in whatever project it is we are working on. We freeze old apple juice bottles full of water to take with us when we head out in the morning, and drink greedily from them as the day heats up, wearily wishing for the heat to lessen. It doesn’t. Until the autumn months begin to slip by, and then that first real cold snap does it. You wake up in the morning and see 7 degrees plain as plain on the thermometer and start shivering sympathetically.

The cold sets in and complicates the simplest of tasks. Whether it is snow, or a particularly heavy frost, or just bitter, biting cold and the requisite South Dakota winds, impending winter is a force to be reckoned with. And when I say it complicates the simplest of tasks, I truly mean that. In warm weather, we can bounce out the door in the morning as quickly as it takes to put on a pair of boots and grab a hat. The colder it gets, the longer it takes. It gets a little brisk, and now you’re finding a jacket and a scarf. Then it’s a jacket under a heavier coat. Then coveralls. Then a warmer hat, maybe even a ski-mask type hood under the hat. Then it’s remembering to put on long underwear first thing, and nice, thick wool socks. Then, at that point, it honestly feels like you’re wearing the entire coat closet plus some after 15 minutes of buttoning and wrapping and layering, and the inevitable strip down for that irritating search for a forgotten or misplaced item that you only remembered after buttoning the final button on your coat, or the sudden need to “get rid of some coffee” as some might say.

Now, finally, you’re out shuffling the door feeling rather like a spring-loaded marshmallow and can stumble through the seasonal comedy of chores, encumbered by the entire coat closet, fumbling with gate chains and lids and dropping stuff from mittened fingers, snagging gloves and coat and hat on this, that, and the other thing, remembering – oh so fondly – when these little tasks were simple, you know, just two weeks ago, but which have by degrees become more difficult. Pun intended.

And this is now the new normal for the next several months and it isn’t even technically winter yet.

Every water source freezes up, causing the animals to walk out onto ice in the dams looking for a drink, risking a deadly fall through the ice. On stock tanks, floats can be used during the day if the temps creep up sufficiently, but have to be taken off at night so as to not freeze the entire hydrant. Jugs of hot water get hauled down to the chickens and the cats, multiple times a day unless there’s enough sun to warm the water tubs. Fingers and toes get cold and stop cooperating, in spite of efforts to keep them warm. I carelessly left my vet kit in the chicken coop and obviously everything turned to a block of ice, including what I needed right then. The mud room in the back of our house truly earns its name, in spite of good faith efforts to keep it tidy. Boy, I’m thankful for a mud room! The cats come up to the back door looking miffed or something a little more potentially violent than just miffed, and I honestly don’t blame the chickens for kind of going on strike.

And so we settle in for the coming winter and adjust to the seasonal changes of shorter days, colder temperatures, and literally everything that can turn to a block of ice turning to a block of ice, and I thank God for all of his blessings.

Instead of rushing out the door to beat the heat, we linger pleasantly over that cup of coffee, or maybe a second, letting the sun take the edge off the cold a bit, and get to work on the overnight ice. It is hard to beat the pleasure of warming up cold fingers on a hot mug of coffee or tea mid-morning or at dinner time. That blast of warm air when first coming in from outside is delightful. Hot showers even the evening never feel so good as when you’ve been borderline chilled all day long. There’s nothing quite like filling the house with the warmth and the aromas of baking, and as things out of necessity slow down outside as the days get shorter, I honestly enjoy having the time for some of those projects that get neglected during nicer weather. And having someone to spend long winter evenings with makes me actually look forward to them. And then there are those inevitable warm days or afternoons, like this afternoon, generously sprinkled through our Black Hills winters, little breaths of springtime reminding us that winter, too, will pass.

But golly, I’m pretty thankful for a good pair of insulated coveralls. And sturdy muck boots. And a warm coat. And scarves and mittens and hats, and whatever blessed person it was who invented hand warmers. And long underwear.

Little Calf Faces

There is something so winsome in the faces of young animals that haven’t yet learned fear, and will stare boldly back, a little timidly, but overcome by their innocent curiosity.

As much as I love the Angus mamas and babies, I love the sweet little Char faces with their light lashes and dark eyes and noses. I could look at them for hours.

Bittersweet, But Wonderful

As summer fades into autumn, I ponder springtime. Autumn and spring are so similar, but with a mood and a flavor and a savor completely alien to one another. Both are an anticipated change from the previous seasons and both are transitions of one thing to another. Spring doesn’t come to bring spring. Spring comes to bring summer. Autumn doesn’t come to bring autumn, it comes to bring winter. And that right there, I think, is why their flavor is so different.

Spring means a warming up, and a bursting forth of new life, growing things, greening up, and the hope of what is coming. Hopeful optimism is spring’s emotion.

Fall’s coolness and moisture are a welcome relief, but with the bittersweetness of bracing for winter. Fall is a coming to fruition of summer, a completion, a finishing. Wistful contentment is fall’s emotion.

And there is wistfulness. The beautiful colors don’t last very long, the warm days will be short lived, and refreshingly cool will become bitingly cold. All the work anticipated in the spring and taking place in the summer is competed in the fall.

As rewarding as it is to be putting up my garden harvest, there’s a wistful regret to see ripen the last of the pumpkins and the last of the tomatoes, and it is a little sad to be clearing everything out of the garden, little by little. My flower garden is still beautiful but all it will take is one frost for that to be done for the year.

My little bum calf, Charlie, finally flew the coop and stopped coming in every morning for her feed, and joined two cow-calf pairs down in the hayfield. It is delightful to see her playing with the other calves, rough-housing and no longer lonely, but I miss her silly little calf personality every morning down at the barn.

The calves born in the spring are big and fat and sleek, a producer’s pride, but there’s a puzzling regret when they are sold.

The antelope family we watched all summer along our driveway seems to have joined up with another small herd, so we don’t see them anymore, but now we hear elk bugling on the ridgetop behind our house. I wish I could describe the haunting, chilling, beautiful song that those elk make.

The fall cow work with the best of neighbors from all along Spring Creek is just winding up, and is possibly the best part of the fall. It really doesn’t get much better than getting to spend long days doing hard work and then fellowshipping over a meal when the work is done. But as that burst of activity winds up and then winds down over the next couple of weeks, we’ll look ahead to a long and sometimes lonely winter season. But after winter comes spring, and those same neighbors will be gathering folks for work days and coming to ours.

The days are shortening from both ends, the shadows are long and getting longer. The madcap, productive days spent outdoors, trying to beat the heat with a sunrise start, sweating and getting sunburnt and filthy and finally tumbling inside tireder than tired will be a thing of the past and a thing of the future, and attentions will be turned to other kinds of work. It will be a quieter sort of work, as the outside world starts to slumber. Projects that get sidelined during summer’s busyness will be brought out, and planning for the next year will really begin.

Autumn is indeed bittersweet. Bittersweet, but wonderful.