Family Sayings

Cute sayings and pithy advice are part of any family’s history. Such verbal gems usually cannot be chased back to their origins but may have existed for generations longer than suspected. All too often such family history is lost to posterity. I leave here a few examples from the Family Hutton and from the Family Plunket; however, I’m sure many examples have already disappeared into the fog of history. I encourage the reader to take notice of the unusual and clever sayings they grew up with and document them for future generations.

Adages can at times be easy to identify from where they came, even if unable to identify when they began. One such example is I recall my Dad using when braking his car a bit too quickly. He would call out while tromping down on the brake petal, “Whoa, whoa I say, whoa.” No doubt my Dad had heard his father shouting this command. I suspect this action command dates to when his father or grandfather drove a buckboard or wagon pulled by a a different type of horsepower than powered Dad’s car. Under those earlier circumstances the operator was using specific and direct language while pulling back on the reins and hollering a command at his horse.

Portrait of Howard Hutton

Other sayings derive from life’s experiences. Dad provided two bits of advice to me when using public restrooms. The first bit of wisdom he proffered was that the man entering the restroom ALWAYS has the right of way over the man exiting. Such advice of course demonstrates good manners, realizing that the man entering no doubt is in the greater hurry than the man exiting.

The second piece of advice Dad offered was to never get in line at the urinal behind an old man. The reasoning behind this gem, no doubt, is age-related prostatism that most old men develop. This condition prolongs their time at the urinal. The short line behind the old man suckers the unwary and is like the short line at motor vehicles. Both lines move glacially.

Dad always referred to our collective family as “The Hungry Huttons”,” This one needs no explanation with four growing children seated around the dinner table.

My aunt Grace Schwarz, Nonnie, would often comment that our family “might have lacked the millions but we had the airs.” (unfortunately we did not have the heirs)

My great grandfather, Thaddeus Septimus Hutton, advised to always shake out your boots in the morning before putting them on. I imagine he acquired this sage advice the hard way while being a cowboy in Texas. To those living in Texas, we understand scorpions love to infest warm places such as recently removed boots. Ouch!

Portrait of Great Grandfather Thaddeus Septimus Hutton

My sister, Joan, recalls Dad referring to her as “Spook.” The name apparently came from a WWII era comic strip where only the eyes and nose protruded over the fence or table top. Joan apparently in her early years showed this pose when peering over the table at Dad, thus prompting her nickname.

Paul W. Plunket III (Trudy’s brother) described his grandfather, Hal C. Horton, on finishing a particularly satisfying meal would exclaim, he was “superflopity.” Paul thinks this saying might have been a southern corruption of the adverb “superfluously” which means extravagant.

Portrait of Hal C. Horton

When Paul W. Plunket Jr. (Trudy and Paul’s father) did not want to do something, he would say: “Well, can’t dance, too wet to plow.”

Below portrait of Paul and Sarah Plunket

When Sarah Plunket (Trudy and Paul’s mother) in her role as a professional photographer would tell the subject things that were not exactly true to achieve a particular expression. She called these sayings, “misty white lies.”

Paul W. Plunket III (Trudy’s brother) borrowed some good advice from a mentor that he readily shares. “You would worry less what others think about you, if you realized how seldom they did.”

Trudy grew up with the encouragement to tackle a particular challenging task with the proviso, ” No hill for a stepper.” When asked to dress up, the encouragement would be to “put on your Sunday go-to-meetin’ clothes.”

When disparaging a wannabe cowboy, the saying goes, “he’s all hat and no cattle.” When questioning someone’s honesty, the saying goes, “as crooked as a dog’s hind leg”. Or if expressing uncertainty on a specific claim, the saying goes, “Don’t bet the farm on it.” When commenting on a person’s unwillingness to spend money, the saying goes “he’s as tight as bark on a tree.” All of these sayings, Trudy and I heard while growing up. While these sayings go much further than our immediate families, these are the adages we remember well.

My new book titled, Hitler’s Maladies and Their Impact on World War II will appear by April of this year. This is a behavioral neurologists take on the impact of Adolf Hitler’s poor health on WWII. I hope you will look for it.

Also if you haven’t read by last book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, I hope you will get a copy. In the book I share favorite patient stories that show insights into what is most meaningful when faced with life threatening illnesses. The book has been well received and has a surprising amount of humor. You can contact me for a copy and send $15 and I’ll mail it to you. Also available via Amazon or your local bookstore at full price. My address is 751 Bryant Road, Fredericksburg, Tx 78624

Tom Hutton, January 25, 2023

Blog Contributor’s Essay on Dealing with Dementia in a Loved One

What follows is a personal essay written by Dr. Robert Rietschel on dealing with dementia in his wife. I have not edited the piece, believing it demonstrates well the personal response of a writer/physician to the ravages of dementia in a loved one.

At this time of year, all too often we get together with loved ones only to find that one of our family members or friends has begun “to slip.”  I have had the personal experience of seeing family members slip into the fog of dementia from which they never recovered.

This essay by Dr. Rietschel is shared here with the hope that should any of my blog readers suffer such a loss in their lives, that  understanding how another person and keen observer learned to deal with his personal, tragic loss will provide benefits and perspective.

Wishing everyone wonderful holidays and a loving embrace from your family and friends.

-Tom Hutton, MD

Perspectives on Dementia by Dr. Robert Rietschel

It was suggested that I write something about dementia. I’ve forgotten who threw down that challenge, but I’ve been avoiding it. My first thought was that I don’t have any brilliant insights on the subject and my medical training hasn’t made me an authority on that discipline. Yet here I am at the keyboard trying to let my mind explore places it would rather avoid.
This disease is not a one size fits all condition. First there are many subtypes of dementia. Even with the bulk of cases fitting into the general rubric of Alzheimer’s, the course of the disorder is highly variable. My mother-in-law lived around twenty years in various nursing facilities as her case slow walked from around age 70 to 90. My wife’s case also became manifest around age 70 and now six years later appears to be on a slow downward progression. Progression is the constant that we can agree upon. This is not a disease that suddenly improves, has miraculously twists and turns, or that you can resolve to fight and somehow influence. I’ve always thought that folks who claim they are going to fight a disease, often cancer, are jousting at windmills. What precisely are you squaring off with? It’s inside of you and you don’t have conscious control over any of the processes involved. If you did, you’d never had let it happen in the first place. I get that there are studies that show a benefit to a positive attitude. To the degree that such an attitude removes counterproductive behaviors that might be facilitating a disease process, I can get on board with that effort. But you really aren’t able to engage the enemy on the field of battle and duke it out.
I am writing this from the point of view of a spouse whose mate has been in memory care for three and a half years. I tried to keep us going together for about two years before the switch to full time professional assistance. I am fortunate in that when we were in our mid-fifties, we purchased very good long term care insurance. Were it not for that, I would have needed to return to the workforce to afford this care which runs around $5000 per month. The other option is to turn to Medicaid, which is run by the states and there are varying rules on how to qualify. Usually, you can have no more than around $27,000 of assets and income of no more than around $2500 per month. Then you have to find a facility that has an open Medicaid bed for your loved one. It was a financial planning seminar that we attended that convinced us to seek out and purchase long term care insurance and it is something I whole heartedly endorse. Enough about practical matters. I’ll not make any recommendations on how to finesse the move to assisted living, there are just too many variables.
Time, Place, and Person
If you visit a neurologist and are asked three questions, don’t be surprised. You are being given a mini-mental status test. Common questions are 1) what is today’s date, 2) do you know where we are, or maybe do you know what type of building this is and 3) do you who the current president is. The first question may seem like an easy one to flub up on. When you are old and retired, you don’t really follow the days of the week like you did when you had to work. It just doesn’t matter. But when my wife was asked that question, I was surprised that she missed the day, date, and year. She was off by about 3 or 4 years. This isn’t like forgetting it’s Wednesday and not Monday. If a doctor is asking you where you are, the easy answer would be in a doctor’s office. What happens in a doctor’s office? You wait. There are lots of places a person might find themselves waiting. Post office, bus station, airport. If you answer a clinic or hospital, you are doing better than my wife who said maybe we were in a church of some kind. My kindest take on that would be that she knew it wasn’t a person’s home but a place open to the public. The president my wife selected was correct. The loss in dementia will often start with the time problem. It is easy to dismiss that as just something old people do. I’ve tried to let you know it is more profound that just getting the wrong day of the week. Time just doesn’t get imprinted with the events of the day.
When my wife entered memory care full time, I would visit in the morning and often telephone her later that day. She would ask when I would be coming to see her. I’d say I was there that morning. She would not agree. I would remind her of some of the things we talked about, and she would say that she recalled us speaking of such matters, but she didn’t realize that was just this morning. There was some memory of the event, but no time stamp. We are all helped by those time stamps on our photographs. We associate some things tightly with time and other not so much. Loss of place is not noticed when you remain in familiar surroundings. Of course, things can become lost in that familiar environment. Did you ever forget where you put something? Sure. Where did I put those keys? Again, in my wife’s case, she couldn’t remember where she put her purse. We would be going somewhere and as I headed to the garage, the refrain was always, “I can’t find my purse.” The search was on. Instead of her purse being on the kitchen counter, it might be in a bedside drawer, in the closet, in the chest of drawers, or no telling. I naively tried to solve this problem by suggesting we always put the purse in the same place. If she wanted to keep it in the bedside drawer, let’s just make that the location. Sorry, but that plan won’t work. She is trying to protect her valuables and that is a directive she learned as a child. My instruction to put her valuables in the same spot every time is recent information. Recent information is what is lost early on in dementia. That older directive to find a secure spot is still working and it is making things challenging. The valuables from the purse were removed and put in a secure location of my choosing so they could be found when needed. She didn’t need money, credit cards, or ID to go with me to the grocery store. She really didn’t need the purse at all, but she didn’t feel dressed without it.
I’m lucky enough that my wife still knows who I am. That isn’t true all the time, but a lot of the time. One time when I was visiting her at the memory care facility the attendant told her, “Your husband is here.” Her response was that that was non-sense as she was too young to be married. Age 73 at the time. Sometimes she remembers me as “her Bob.” I don’t ask for what role this guy named Bob plays in her world. There are things you don’t really need to know. It is grand to be a person known and welcomed. There will come a time when that isn’t the case. That will require more adjusting of expectations on my part, but we’ll get to that subject in just a bit.
The dementia patient does not go quietly into that dark night. Things don’t sit well with whatever is going on inside their brain and they are going to respond to what their brain is telling them more than what their senses and the environment are telling them. Conflict will occur and there can be physical altercations. This can be with family members or other residents of a facility. Or even with well trained staff members. There are medications that can help with this part of dementia much more effectively than the drugs used to try to forestall the progress of dementia. Those drugs to date are disappointing. The agents used for agitation are the same ones used to treat schizophrenia. But not in what are called anti-psychotic doses. Rather in low doses that take the edge off the agitation. There are psychiatric nurse practitioners who can help a great deal with managing this and that leads to my next topic.
Dementia is a lot like other mental illnesses
The recent covid pandemic caused a lot of people to lose their sense of smell. Not only were normally welcome aromas like fresh baked bread no longer sensed, but instead a noxious odor replaced the former pleasant one. You pick your most detested odor. Perhaps a garbage dump, maybe a public restroom. No matter, just imagine that every time a pleasant smell came along, it grossed you out. Your behavior would be one that those around you could not make sense of. Here was a beautiful bouquet of roses and you were acting like someone just handed you a time bomb. You are reacting to a repugnant smell and no one else is getting that. Your behavior makes sense to you and you alone. Your outward behavior looks crazy to those around you. That is a specific neurologic circuit screwup. It is covid induced and now very well known. Dementia does that to random areas of the brain and it creates that same exact problem. The dementia patient is responding appropriately to an internal signal that is contrary to the normal signal that everyone around is receiving as their circuits have not been disrupted.
I will use some of my medical training to introduce two features of dementia that I didn’t expect. That’s probably because I hadn’t spent much time delving into the subject, but those are confabulation and schizophrenia-like behavior. Imagine you woke up and found yourself in a room you didn’t recognize. The furnishing didn’t seem to be yours but the clothes in the closet were familiar. You try to piece this together to made sense of what you are taking in. My stuff, but some place I’ve not been before. Oh, I get it. I’m on vacation and this is a hotel room. I must be suffering from jetlag. I’ll just pull on my swimsuit and head to the pool to catch some rays. As you exit the room, a nurse in white uniform asks where you are going, and you tell her the pool. She tells you the hospital doesn’t have a pool and it’s snowing outside, so you need to put something warmer on. You argue with her and insist that you are on vacation, and you are going to enjoy the weather here at the resort. The nurse asks you where you got the idea that you were at a resort and you claim you know that is where you are because…well, because that is where I was going on the flight I took yesterday. The nurse tells you that you’ve been here a week and must have been having a dream about a much more pleasant experience. About this time a couple of doctors in scrubs walk by as the nurse encourages you return to your room.
What just happened? It depends on whether you are the patient or the nurse. The nurse just saw someone dressed totally inappropriately, claiming to be someplace they clearly are not, and who is profoundly disoriented. The patient woke up confused and unable to remember recent events. It is recent memory that goes first in dementia. The dementia patient is not stupid. In fact, that brain is working overtime to piece together something that can make sense of unfamiliar surroundings and this invented narrative is being acted upon. If this patient were recovering from alcohol excess, we would label this confabulation and put it into a syndrome. The medical name isn’t my point. My point is that dementia punches holes in the circuits that create recent memories and when those holes are encountered you can have invented “facts” given to you and you act on what your brain tells you. But when your brain is inventing facts and you are acting on that faulty information, your behavior is no different outwardly from that of a schizophrenic patient who hears voices and acts on them. Both can create inappropriate behavior which the unaffected folks nearby are trying to deal with or make sense of. This may cause behavior that seems ignorant, dare I say, feeble minded. That isn’t what it is. If you are able to sit with the person and ask what has led them to do what they are doing, you may find that they have a perfectly reasonable explanation for what they are trying to do.
In my example, if the nurse had a chance to sit down with the patient who thinks they are in a resort they might find that upon finding their own clothing in the closet but not recognizing the room, the patient figured out that this must be a hotel room. Since they were unable to recall how they came to be in this strange room, the logical explanation was that jetlag was to blame and that would mean a long flight and surely that would be to someplace desirable. So, I was headed for the pool. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. At this point our understanding of dementia needs to allow for two different outcomes. The patient may argue the position they have staked out and become belligerent if the nurse persists that they are in a hospital. Or the dementia patient may have started to reprocess the additional information of a nursing uniform, doctors in scrubs and think that perhaps it was a vivid dream. My teaching point would be to expect both outcomes and be prepared to deal with each. The second teaching point is that you will not be the one who determines how that will sort itself out. No degree of reason or visual evidence will change the dementia patient’s mind if they have locked into their version of reality. This is not a failure on your part. You can’t fight this disease any more than the patient can. Sometimes you just have to make the patient safe and as comfortable as possible and walk away. It won’t be long before the patient is off on some other tangent.
All the books about dementia tell you to remember you are talking to the disease and not the person you used to know. Doctors are encouraged to treat the patient and not the disease. How do you bridge that dichotomy? I would advise that you aren’t going to have every interaction with a dementia patient break your way no matter how skilled you are or how much experience you have with dementia patients. You’ve always been told you can’t win ‘em all. My advice is first to remember that something that looks like totally stupid behavior is not a sign of stupidity. Those holes in the circuitry have been filled in with bad information. Usually, the reasoning has not been messed with and is possibly sound. One common example from my experience with my wife my help make my point. She couldn’t find something that she valued. For example, she may have forgotten where she put her watch. Since she can’t find her watch, she reasons that someone took it. After all, the rooms where she resides in assisted living have no locks on the doors. There are nine other residents in this facility and she’s sure one of them took her watch. She doesn’t know these people well and there may be thieves among them. She hides anything she thinks in valuable now. This creates more things she can’t find. The problem of course is that she just doesn’t remember where she put things. No one was stealing anything. The items were found in her room in odd places. Like in a coat pocket hanging in the closet. That’s an odd place to keep your watch, but it’s a good hiding place for something valuable. Of course, when such an item was found in her room, she was sure the thief had put it back because she was on to them. Does she sound like a paranoid schizophrenic? Kind of. Can you follow the logic from her point of view? Sure. Here you have the problem of knowing the person who would protect things of value and recognizing how that was once a positive trait and now it is causing nothing but trouble. The disease taking over from the person. But doing it by deleting critical information. And that leads to faulty invented pseudo facts. What would you trust? What your own brain is telling you, or what someone you recognize as family is telling you that contradicts your brain? That is the challenge that the dementia patient faces and that is where you get into the dichotomy I alluded to. They may lock down on their own input or surrender to new external information. Suggesting the misinformation was part of a vivid dream sometimes helps move the discussion away from confrontation, but not always. You won’t win ‘em all. See if this helps. It is context that has been lost and that can alter personality as things are dealt with in outwardly unreasonable ways, but personhood is preserved. There is still a person trapped inside that demented mind and their feelings are intact. They can be offended, their feelings can be hurt, they can express joy as well as anger. Granted they may not remember those feelings in an hour or two, but they will emerge if you trample on them.
A rare syndrome
When I was an intern, I took care of a patient with locked-in syndrome on the neurology service. In this rare disorder, the patient cannot communicate with you by doing things like writing notes or squeezing your hand. They can’t move those muscles. They can’t talk. They can hear. They can think. But they can only communicate with you by blinking their eyes. They must know things they want to communicate but can’t. Imagine dementia induced deficits that block your ability to communicate. A more common example would be a stoke patient who has aphasia. They know the word they want to use to communicate, but they can’t pull it up and speak it. It’s just not coming through. Dementia can disrupt circuits that create similar obstacles. But not just words, entire events. Memories. Gone. A good friend of mine, a fellow dermatologist, was a concert pianist. His Alzheimer’s had reduced him to a state where he could barely communicate with his wife, but he could sit at the piano and play beautifully. My wife could play beautifully too, but her dementia has hit those key circuits needed to read and play music. I told you one size does not fit all. The circuits that are disrupted early are of the most recent events and over time that clock winds backward and more of the past is lost.
The key to happiness
I was at an FDA meeting on the approval of Rogaine for women with female pattern hair loss and I was explaining how the woman who had the best results in my study was not as happy with her result as one of my other patients with more modest results. There was a disconnect between the data and the satisfaction. The FDA official said that I had shown that the secret to happiness was low expectations. I can’t argue with that. I think that attitude helps in coping with dementia. You cope. By that I mean that you are constantly resetting your expectations of what the patient with dementia can provide in any interaction. Their performance will vary from day to day on the gradual downward path this disease follows. It has been my experience that mornings are the best time of day for visits, unless the patient has been up all night. Those neural circuits need their rejuvenation for peak performance. Unrested is best untested. It is called sundowning, but the name isn’t what’s important. Don’t expect cooperation from a cranky, tired dementia patient. A lot of normal folks are similar. By coping, I am trying to provide a way to reset the thinking of the family member or provider of care. You need to have flexibility. The trajectory of this disease is a downward slope, but it isn’t a smooth line. It’s a jagged line with fits and starts. Nothing that resembles recovery, but a better day can follow a poorer one. The dementia patient no longer has control over their world view or perspective. They are constantly having to deal with things that don’t make sense to them as they are coming at them absent any context that experience would have normally provided. They can’t change that, but you still can adjust your expectations and doing that will benefit your own mental health.
That brings me to the need for maintain a perspective that allows for your own mental health. My advice is to waste no time on all that has been lost. I know what has been lost is enormous. Let it go. It is perfectly fine to have fond memories and to share cherished memories with your dementia patient. If the memory is from far enough back, there may be accurate recall. Distant memories are lost more slowly than recent memories. Just don’t grieve over what you’ve lost. If you must, have a good cry or several and get over it. That is not helpful to you or your loved one. What lies ahead is the future for both of you. Your challenge is to make the most of what is in your near future. We live in the near future. It is time to find positives going forward. Does that sound impossible? I am not suggesting a Pollyanna type of slapping a happy face on sad events. I am pushing for a perspective that finds positives amid a lot of negatives.
Did you ever hear the story about a boy who was gleefully digging into a huge pile of horse manure? When asked why he was so happy, he said that with all that manure he just knew their had to be a pony in there somewhere. That’s the perspective we are going to need. Maybe an example from real life rather than from humor will help. I know that there will be days when nothing helps. Those days will pop up and you just have to let the negativity stay only a short while. You’ve other things to get on with. When I was between my first and second year of medical school, I joined the Army and was send to San Francisco to Letterman Army Institute of Research for a summer doing a research clerkship. I reported to the commander of that unit, Col. William Akers. He was from Kentucky. Yep, a Kentucky Colonel. He was a kind and gentle man. You may have an image of Army Colonels as hard bitten and intolerant sorts. That was not the case. He could be firm and exert his authority when it was needed, but he was a Southern Baptist and saw himself as a southern gentleman. Polite and self-assure. I mention him because he and his wife had four children, the last being a late in life child with Down’s syndrome. Alan was his name. Children born when the mother is past forty have a much higher risk of Down’s syndrome and that’s what happened. His wife was a nurse. I don’t know how much there combined medical backgrounds played into their attitude, but here’s what happened. When he told me of his son with Down’s, I express sympathy. Col. Akers was quick to correct me right there. He said that wasn’t the way to think about it. He and his wife saw Alan as a blessing. He said you never met a more loving child and sharing that love was an unanticipated blessing that made them grateful for Alan and all the challenges that came with his condition. They were able to see something that might crush others as something to cherish. That was a hard thing for me to digest. I was able to see him interact with Alan on several occasions and what he said was what I saw. A loving child and loving parents. This was a perspective I had not possessed but wished to acquire. It was clearly the moral high ground. It also seemed to be the practical high ground. I would not have understood that it was possible to make that kind of mental adjustment. But seeing is believing. Col. Akers was a dermatologist and I ended up spending that summer working in his lab on a project studying friction blisters. It would prove to be the beginning of my academic career in dermatology.
How to make this mental adjustment and see something positive to dementia overtaking a loved one. It starts with recognizing that this disease comes at the end of lifetime. It is something seen mostly in senior citizens. This is a time in life when introspection is more common. When each day is a blessing. One of them will be your last and if you made it thorough you dodged another bullet. You made that adjustment, didn’t you? Are you not grateful for each and every day? Now you need to find little things like that in those days when you are able to interact in some way with your loved one. There will come a point when you can’t have any meaningful interaction, just as there will come an end to your own timeline. Be grateful for each small positive. There is a period of time in the dementia patient’s condition where they will still know who you are. There will be memories you can share from distant events. There will be days where you may hear that they were glad to see you, even if they are fuzzy on who you are. You don’t need to quiz them to see what they do and do not know. That isn’t helpful information. If they are talking to you, just roll with it. I am certain that sometimes my wife doesn’t recognize me when I first start talking with her, but as we talk it become clear that she is reasonably interacting, and she is glad to see me.
So much of this is dependent on how far into the dementia development things have progressed. That is why you only cope. You reset based on what’s still possible. You cherish the positive visits. The dementia patient still has feelings, and you can elevate those sometimes by just being there and watching tv together. You might say that isn’t meaningful time spent. I would disagree. Did the two of you spend time watching tv together when dementia wasn’t a part of your life. Sure. When you recreate that experience now with dementia being an added factor, you can still conjure up a feeling of something normal happening in the midst of a sea of confusion. That person can experience that normalcy as a positive. Every now and then while watching tv with my wife, a commercial will come on with a familiar jingle and she will start to sing along. I’ll bet you didn’t think that brain was processing what was being watched. I’ll bet you thought that was just a blank stare. I’ll bet you would have missed the mental processing that Alan was doing despite his Down’s, too. That’s OK. That’s where we work on our mental processes. That’s where we reset our perspective. We are doing more that watching tv. We are present and that present makes all the difference. You know the line from Robert Frost’s poem. The one about two road diverged in the woods and I took the one less traveled and that made all the difference. Perspective is hard to maintain. But it makes all the difference. If you are there, you can make an inane comment on a tv commercial that just might summon up a cherished but forgotten memory for both of you. You’ll cherish that moment and then you’ll know what I was getting at. It made all the difference.

Thanksgiving At The Ranch

Twenty-one years ago, Trudy and I changed our lives by leaving our professions and the city behind and moving on to becoming rural dwellers and ranchers. We felt strongly about developing our ranch as a future touchstone for family and friends. We hoped ,and time has confirmed, that our ranch has become a place for family and friends to gather, especially at our favorite time of year- Thanksgiving.

Trudy begins Thanksgiving planning by making the invitations, figuring out sleeping arrangements including borrowed bedrooms at our neighbor’s ranch, decorating the house and courtyard, and seeking help from family members and friends regarding not only the Thanksgiving meal but other meals over the long weekend. These contributions reduce the prospect of utter exhaustion for Trudy. We also have a custom of decorating “Stump Spirit” for Thanksgiving.

Stump Spirit is a stump beside our entry road, Blue Jay Way, and well known locally, and leads to our and several other ranches. The custom began modestly with a fake snake on the bare stump and has expanded to more elaborate decorations especially at Thanksgiving. Customarily people often under the cover of darkness steal down to the stump and provide decorations appropriate for the upcoming holiday. At other times we have had neighborhood gatherings and pot lucks at the stump, as it has become a site for occasional community gatherings.

Typical Ranch Thanksgivings consist of twenty-plus guests. The number may vary but always includes immediate family, extended family, and friends. Trudy’s family had the tradition of inviting additional folks who had no family of their own or had no other Thanksgiving plans, affectionately known within the family as “strays.” We have adopted this tradition of inviting strays to our Thanksgiving dinner as well.

The large number of people attending requires that we remove the furniture from the living room and set up rented long tables or place large pieces of plywood over saw horses. With tablecloths the rectangular table once decorated appears homey, stable, and welcoming.

The smells that exude from the kitchen tantalize our nostrils, the nostalgic soft music evokes memories of years past, and the yammer of background conversations before a crackling fire never fails to warm my heart. This for me is what Thanksgiving is all about.

Most people attending have particular tasks. Their jobs vary but include preparing a special dish, peeling potatoes and turning them into mashed potatoes and making the gravy (my task), making the cranberry sauce, preparing several types of turkey dressing (each family has its favorite), making the creamed peas or other savory vegetables, carving the turkeys, preparing salads and desserts, or clean up. Ample wine and champagne are consumed to wash down the feast. It is always a culinary bacchanalia.

Following the feast and with toasts completed, the tables are cleared, furniture returned, and Thanksgiving TV football begins. Other available activities include swimming or hot tub if the weather allows, yard games, hikes, hayrides, bird and deer watching, feeding of the horses and cattle, working collectively on a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, scrabble, and most frequently post-Thanksgiving meal naps. It is a time to forget about work, kick back, and enjoy the outdoors, games and loved ones.

Below Granddaughter Ramsey working on her apple turkey and below that on her hotdog.

For me even more important than the food are the stories and conversations that crop up. Bringing people together for caring and sharing is what it is all about. Thanksgiving allows for the full expression of familial love. The importance of family bonding has become increasingly important I’ve gotten older. While the bonds have at times been tested, they have held firm throughout disagreements, divorces, illness, and political differences.

Love is really what life is all about. I ask my family, some of whom I may never know that are still in the future, to seriously consider continuing this family tradition. Life is really all about the love.

As an aside, years ago during a tornado warning and under a threatening sky, I herded Trudy, Katie, and the dogs inside an interior closet for safety while I went outside to further inspect the sky. (it’s a guy thing) After sitting awhile on the closet floor, Katie in all seriousness asked her Mother, “You don’t think this is another one of Dad’s famous family bonding exercises, do you?”

No Katie, the tornado warning and retreat to the safety of the closet was not a family bonding exercise staged by your father. Nevertheless, I am guilty as charged along with your Mother for having made the Thanksgiving Holiday the greatest a bonding experience we are capable of organizing.

Ranch Thanksgivings are my favorite holiday and my favorite time of year. At this time the ranch has been tucked in for winter, the hay has been stacked high in the barn, and the heavy ranch work has been completed. The daily work has been left behind by our family members and friends, as they wind their way to our ranch. This is truly a time for giving thanks for the amazing bounties received throughout the year. Greatest among those bounties are the love we share for our family members and good friends.

So as we say in our German community of Fredericksburg during our toasts at Thanksgiving, “Prosit!” May you forever enjoy your Thanksgivings with family and good friends. Wishing you great enjoyment on your Thanksgiving.

Brief Observations on Turtles

Over the years I have written about many different types of animals on the ranch. Never before have I written about turtles. Recent observations that proved surprising to me compel me to share two observations about red eared sliders.

During my morning feeding rounds that include stops to feed fish at the stocked tanks, I’ve noticed an increasing number of turtles. The increase in the number of turtles may relate to the drought we are currently suffering. As the fish diminish, the Red-eared sliders increase in number.

This is what one looks like (not my picture, taken from internet)

I’ve noticed the turtles hear my approach and a large number of them begin paddling toward the shore. Surprisingly, they lately have always had mud on their backs. I assume the turtles are burrowing down into the mud as a survival tactic during the drought. In any event they sense my approach and have learned that I am there to spread fish food. They aggressively compete for the fish food.

The more surprising aspect has been that the turtles, at least the most adventuresome among them, have begun to crawl out onto the bank and literally next to my feet. I throw or drop fish food that they readily devour. Now who would have ever guessed that turtles would chase toward a person with a food bucket? They feed aggressively and seem to recognize me on my approach.

Below you can see my shadow with camera at the ready, snapping pictures of the approaching Red-eared sliders. A curious Survivor Duck stands by observing.

Even more surprising the other day I came upon one turtle that was upended. The turtle lay on its back struggling to right itself. I watched for several minutes and could tell the turtle was having no success in righting itself. What happened next truly surprised me. Now Red-eared turtles are not supposed to be social. They largely ignore one another.

In this case of the upended turtle another Red-eared slider crawled up next to the upended turtle and began to pressure upward with its snout against the upended turtle’s shell in an attempt to right it. Imagine, a turtle coming to the assistance of another turtle?

After several unsuccessful attempts I approached and righted the upended turtle. It quickly scampered back into the pond.

To my surprise I learned that these Red-eared sliders sensed my approach with food and came begging. Even more surprising was when I observed one turtle come to the rescue of the upended turtle. I suppose animals of the same species will sometimes assist another. And of course examples exist where animals of different species will come to the assistance of an animal not of their own species. These observations I thought sufficient to add to this blog.

Memories of Funny Sibling Stories

Two funny stories come to mind that involve my brothers. I dearly love my brothers and share these stories with the best of intentions, hoping they will provide humor for all. The first anecdote involves David. On occasion when growing up David showed oppositional behavior, especially when it came to arriving home by his curfew.

David, no doubt suspecting a late night and with forethought, cracked open his bedroom window so that after hours he could climb back into the house. Mother felt a draft and discovered the open window. She suspected David’s plan, and she shut and locked the window. At curfew and not finding David home and tucked into bed, Mother locked the entry doors to the house. On returning home a perplexed David methodically made the rounds of the doors and windows and to his chagrin found all were securely locked. He’d been busted!

One can only imagine David sitting outside on the step, fretting over being unable to gain entrance, and knowing full well it was well past the time he was supposed to be home. No doubt my intelligent brother considered all his options before finally concluding that he had no other choice but to ring the doorbell.

Below is brother David

A stern faced Mother arrived at the door and let a sheepish David into the house. David braced himself expecting a verbal barrage. David instead received the cold shoulder treatment from Mom. She said absolutely nothing. Her silence likely ramped up further concerns in David, not knowing if in the following morning he would receive additional punishment.

Needless to say, the other siblings enjoyed hearing the story, feeling guilty and knowing but for the grace of God go I. Years later the story was told during a family convocation and even Mother had a big laugh from this, that being for her a memorable child rearing experience.

The second humorous anecdote involves brother Jim. This story was related later as by then I was off to college. Jim received a science project as a school assignment. He decided to study the effects of calcium (too much or too little, I am unaware). Jim determined to test his hypothesis by experimenting on white mice. Being a nutritional study, considerable time had to pass in order to reasonably expect a clear outcome from his experiment.

As an aside, looking back Jim is somewhat embarrassed by the “science” he utilized. But in his defense, who among us in the medical or scientific field is not embarrassed by his/her first scientific study or paper. I certainly was as my initial efforts were scientifically lacking. My esteemed mentor in Neurology, A. B. Baker, expressed embarrassment over his first scientific paper that wasn’t even on a neurological topic, but instead was a regrettable gynecologic study.

Below is Brother Jim

In any event the length of time required to observe Jim’s experiment also allowed for substantial multiplication of the number of white mice. Apparently further delays occurred following the conclusion of the project due to Jim’s busy schedule and this passage of time gave rise to further serial replications. The number of white mice grew and grew over the months and with the increase in the number of mice came increasing questions as to what ultimately to do with all of the small rodents. There really are very few acceptable options available for disposing of no longer needed white mice.

Apparently the odor from the mice cages grew progressively with each passing day and their need for more and more space in the house caused Mother to beseech Dad to solve the problem. After all, Mother barely had room in her laundry room to do the family’s laundry due to the many racks of cages. As a result of Mom’s complaining, Dad became progressively desperate. His wife was becoming irate with him and was threatening unstated recriminations if he did not rid the house of the mice.

Finally Dad and Jim carried out an uncharacteristic action for them that must have proved a boon to neighborhood cats but a colossal concern for our neighbors. Dad and Jim sneaked out under the cover of darkness one evening, carrying the mouse cages. Dad and Jim skulked around the neighborhood and salted it thoroughly with little white mice. In the alleys, under bushes, in vacant fields, and anywhere else not in direct line of sight received an offering of the little red nosed rodents.

Mice were seen crawling about everywhere. For days afterward shrieks of startled neighborhood women could be heard prompted by their finding the little critters in their houses and gardens. Men also found them in their garages and under the hoods of their cars. No doubt local vets were confounded by an unexpected epidemic of feline obesity.

One can only imagine the neighbors’ bewilderment and concern at the inexplicable infestation of white mice. It was downright biblical. Of course, our Family Hutton had been sworn to secrecy and to my knowledge no one has owned up to the neighbors regarding the origin of the little white critters. After all, no family member wanted to bring shame to our family- our own little family conspiracy, you might say, (cue music from The Godfather)

This semi-veiled anecdote demonstrates the unanticipated results that can occur from science projects. It also reveals our strong family bonds or at least our fear of being deemed less than respectable as a family. The story of the “Great White Mice Infestation” has grown until it has now entered the realm of family lore and continues to provide guffaws whenever the story is retold.

Beware The Rooster

While living in the country and raising large animals, I have experienced many ways to become injured. For example I’ve sustained a broken arm after being pitched from a horse and received serious whole body bruising after being run over several times by a mad mama cow and firmly planted in a barbed wire fence. Nevertheless, a friend from Lubbock recently visited with what I thought was a novel animal-inflicted injury.

To back up a bit, our friend Judy Wilkins decided to raise chickens in her backyard in Lubbock. Truly fresh eggs taste much better than store bought ones, making her desire to raise backyard chickens understandable. However with the passage of time, one of the baby chicks that she had bought turned out to be a rooster rather than a hen. I’m sure mistakes can easily be made when sexing baby chicks.

Speedy the Rooster all grown up

The rooster had a pleasing crowing sound during the morning, and Judy decided to keep him for its local color and audio value. What else would a nice civilized lady like Judy do after all, certainly not do away with the animal by making him into a chicken dinner. She named the rooster, Speedy and kept him with her egg laying hens. And a handsome but scheming rooster he had become.

Apparently Speedy as he became larger became increasingly aggressive. Various efforts were made to socialize the bird such as petting and scolding it. But all efforts by the nice and patient Judy and her friends met with very limited success. The rooster proved incorrigible but hope sprung eternal. Speedy became aggressive in “protecting” his hens, flapping and squawking when people entered the chicken coup.

Speedy adopting his aggressive stance

One lovely summer morning Judy entered her chicken coop to retrieve several farm fresh eggs to make into a tasty breakfast dish. In as quick as a wink, Speedy came out of nowhere and attacked Judy’s exposed leg. Like a sewing machine, Speedy left a series of vertical, triangular wounds down her calf as precise and as straight as a seam in a fine garment and for a distance of over half a foot. The blitzkrieg attack lasted brief moments but the damage had been done and proved the aptness of the rooster’s name. Soon blood gushed from Judy’s multiple rooster-inspired wounds and flowed down her leg. I suspect about this time, Judy had lost her inkling for an egg breakfast, although I wonder if a rooster dinner might at some point have crossed her mind.

Regrettably, due to my poor photographic skills the picture I made of Judy’s heavily pecked leg has been lost. Perhaps this omission is just as well. Needless to say, the rooster’s grizzly revenge was not a pretty sight. Judy’s patience proved exhausted following the rooster attack and Speedy was, ahem, re-homed.

I mention this surprising incident and injury in case you might be considering raising chickens to enjoy the delights of farm fresh eggs. While the eggs are tasty and tempting- Beware the rooster!

A Memorable Object At Our Ranch


Hanging above the fireplace at Medicine Spirit Ranch is an object with special meaning for me- a Winchester Model 1873 Carbine. It is not that this model gun that is said to have won the West is so rare or valuable, but rather because it represents a tangible connection to my great grandfather, Thaddeus Septimis Hutton. The carbine is one of the few connections I have to this relative about whom I wish I knew more. The Winchester pictured below is better polished but otherwise looks like the Hutton Family rifle.

Thad Hutton, or Pappy as he was called later in life, bought the carbine for his use as a cowboy in Texas. The Hutton Family rifle was made in 1881 and is the second model of the 1873 Winchester. It weighs 7 3/8 pounds, has a short overall barrel length that is perfect for a saddle gun, and has a magazine that holds twelve rounds. This model of Winchester 1873 was manufactured in New Haven, Connecticut from 1879 to 1884. According to family lore, this Hutton carbine was one of the earliest of its type to enter the State of Texas.

This model 1873 was the rifle that put Winchester on the map of the West, trotting along with the equally formidable Colt revolver tucked into the belt of the frontiersman. The Winchester carbine is said to have killed more game, more Native Americans, and when the Native Americans awoke to its virtues, more US Soldiers than any other type of rifle. The development of powerful repeating rifles in the 1860s and 1870s of which the Winchester 1873 was the most popular, meant that hardy young Americans could penetrate the West, provide food, and exist in a hostile environment.

Thad Hutton left the Kansas City area around 1874 and struck out for Texas. He married Elizabeth Ragan in Palo Pinto County, Texas on November 1, 1876. Thad was a tall, affable cowboy while Betty was a diminutive Irish lass who reportedly possessed a sharp tongue. The wedding was performed by an itinerant preacher who came through the small town of Gordon near where they lived. Their first son, Thaddeus Leslie Hutton, was born two to three miles north of Gordon on May 11, 1878. Thad’s occupation on the birth certificate was listed as “cowboy.” He was at the time 29 years old and Betty was 24. The picture below was taken years after their marriage.

Not long after Leslie’s birth, Thad and Betty moved further west, relocating near Seymour, Texas. The reason for the move is  unknown, but a strong hint exists in that the Great Western Trail traversed Seymour, leading to Dodge City, Kansas. Dodge City was the major railroad terminus for Texas cattle and this booming western cow town developed quite a reputation. Did Thad ride the trail to Kansas as a drover, pushing large herds of Texas Longhorn cattle up the trail? Did he interact with any famous lawmen and gunfighters of the era including Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Wild Bill Hickok? What were his recollections, if any, of Dodge City, called the wickedest city in the country and home to the Long Branch Saloon and China Doll brothel? Unfortunately this possible family history has all been lost to history. What is certain is that had Thad Hutton ridden the Great Western Trail, his 1873 Winchester carbine would have accompanied him on his long and arduous journey.

What is known for certain is that while in Seymour Thad worked on the P8 Ranch. Apparently this ranch no longer exists as no record of it can be found. While in Seymour three children were born to Thad and Betty including Emma Jane Hutton on March 9, 1880, Margaret Mary Hutton on October 5, 1881, and George Earl Hutton on August 30, 1885. My grandfather John Francis Hutton was not born until 1887 when by then Thad and Betty had left Texas and settled in Garden City, Missouri. Below are pictured Thad and his three sons.

One day while hunting wild cattle in Texas, Thad had a memorable experience. Thad and his friend, a Mr. Reid, found four head of wild cattle in a thicket. The hunters managed to separate one young bull from the remaining cattle. Thad at the time was carrying only an old shotgun but had exhausted his ammunition by shooting into the thicket in an attempt to scare the wild cattle out into the open. The men had gotten off their horses and the young bull, seeing the men on foot, got his fighting blood up. Thad reached into his pocket but found he had exhausted his supply of ammunition. By this time the bull had decided to charge Thad. Mr. Reid gave Thad some rifle balls that Thad put down the barrel of his shotgun following a load of gunpowder. He did not know if the shotgun would even fire loaded this way or would fire with any degree of accuracy. The infuriated beast snorting and galloping with head down drew near. Thad raised his gun and squeezed the trigger. The bull had drawn within ten yards of Thad when the shotgun fired, driving a rifle ball into the forehead of the bull. It fell mortally wounded. The meat from that wild bull fed the hunter’s families for a long time thereafter.

Another incident occurred in 1887 involving the Hutton 1873 Winchester when Thad and Betty had moved back to Missouri. The .44/40 saddle gun was loaned to a neighbor who needed a gun to kill a beef. Several days later the neighbor came to return the rifle and was asked how it had worked. The neighbor replied, “Sure it killed the beef all right, but that gun’s too dangerous to have around this country. The bullet went through his head and whistled on out across country. I’m wondering if I killed anything else besides the beef.”

Perhaps on hearing this story and learning of the power of the carbine Adele Hutton demanded of her husband, Howard, that the gun could only remain in the household if it were disabled. Apparently the firing pin was removed or damaged in such a way as to satisfy Mother as the gun remained in the house. Great Grandfather Thad’s gun was later passed on to me.

This 1873 Winchester saddle gun currently is encased above a fireplace at Medicine Spirit Ranch. It returned to our Texas ranch well over 100 years after it had departed Texas. It is a tangible tie to my great grandfather, Thad Hutton about whom I wish I knew more. I am proud to own this rifle of his and one day look forward to passing it on to my offspring.

How To Become A Rancher

One of the questions I am frequently asked is why did I decide in retirement to buy and move to a Texas cattle ranch. Obviously, I’ve enjoyed the experience enough to devote this blog to writing about it. Below is a story I’ve written describing my early interests in Texas and ranching that may have planted the seeds early on.

A family trip taken when I was ten years old remains one of my fondest childhood memories. It also had a surprising impact on my life. Mom and Dad pitched the idea in 1956 of our family tripping to the Circle R Ranch near Bandera, Texas. Being from Kansas City, I had never heard of Bandera, but being the wannabe cowboy that I was, I had certainly heard of Texas. The chance to ride horses, meet cowboys, visit a dude ranch, attend Bar BQ’s, swim in spring fed rivers, and feel the Texas experience was extremely appealing for me.

To get to Bandera, Texas our family flew on passes via Braniff Airways from Kansas City to San Antonio. In those days flying was by far the most affordable way for us to travel given the perk of nearly free air travel. As I recall, my family was picked up at the S.A. airport and driven by van to the Circle R Ranch. The sprawling ranch lay west of San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country and probably took about one and a half to two hours to reach.

To my great enjoyment, we found a working ranch that also accepted families for a week at a time and showed them how a Texas ranch worked- a real Ranch that also served as a dude ranch. The Circle R had a swimming pool, bunkhouse, and dining area. Working cowboys roamed the premises, took guests on trail rides, provided swimming in the chilly waters of the Frio River, organized fishing opportunities, led hikes and demonstrated cowboy skills such as roping, bronc riding, shoeing horses, and herding cattle. This boy was in cowboy heaven.

One of the first activities after our arrival at the ranch was having a horse assigned to each of us for the week. My Dad received John, as I recall. My mother appropriately had Mother as her horse. My horse’s name was Sluggo. He was about as gentle as my old pet dog. Joan became quite attached to her horse, but I am unable to recall its name. I believe Dave was too young to ride a horse, as he was only five at the time.

The picture below was taken four years later at the Wiley Dude Ranch located not far from Richardson. If you look closely you may be able to see my siblings, David, Joan, and Jim in the front of the wagon.

Other families from distant places enjoyed the dude ranch activities that week as well. Given the informality and casualness, we became friends with the other kids and learned about their lives. In the evenings after hearty dinners, music was played, and once during the week a Texas live band played music. The music was all Country and Western tunes, and we had to learn how to dance to it. Joan was rather awe struck, as I recall, by the slender, good looking, Stetson wearing cowboys. The cowboys put on a rodeo during the week with cowboys from nearby ranches. I saw these cowboys as real men and fearless.

During that week I sensed a feeling of freedom and adventure that differed from the scheduled drudgery of school and the endless tick-tock of our clocks always reminding me of some task that needed to be performed. Texas had a different vibe that excited and intrigued me. It was a feeling of independence. This freedom loving, adventure seeking feeling about Texas has never left me.

We kids in my family knew nothing of the inner workings of Braniff Airways, my Dad’s new employer following its merger with Mid-Continent Airlines. We did not know that for my Dad to advance up the seniority list, he would need to relocate from Kansas City to Dallas, Texas.

This discussion of hidden motive never came up in conversation in later years, but I continue to wonder if our trip to the dude ranch wasn’t a prelude to a physical move of our family and an elaborate introduction for us to the State of Texas. If it was, then my folks had a stroke of genius. It was the following year (1957) that we departed Prairie Village, Kansas and relocated our family to Richardson, Texas.

I was so enthused about moving to Texas that according to my parents I boarded the airplane in Kansas City wearing chaps, cowboy hat, boots, and a brace of cap pistols. Perhaps, I thought we might have to fight Indians on our way out of the Dallas airport. The folks had no difficulty moving this young wannabee cowboy to Texas.

Now retired and living on a cattle ranch in the Texas Hill Country, I reminisce about my adventures at the Circle R Ranch so many years ago. Did our time at the dude ranch plant the seeds for my love of animals and ranching? Was I destined after that single week at the Circle R to retire to a ranch? Did feeling that Texas vibe early on set me up to long for the friendliness and openness that is so prevalent in Texas. And did my parents really have it all planned out and introduced the move in such an exciting and memorable way that it had a lasting impact? I rather believe the folks did and that the Texas spirit prevailed upon me as well.

Good Morning From Medicine Spirit Ranch

If the ranch calendar were compared to a single day, then early Spring at Medicine Spirit Ranch is like that sleepy part of the early morning when we groggily awaken but are far from alert or fully functioning. Finally it appears that the icy fingers of Winter have passed us by, but the fields and hills remain brown, dormant, and thirsty.

For the next several weeks and until the grass greens and grows, we will continue to haul giant bales of hay for the cattle and horses to eat. I’m often asked when do we discontinue feeding hay to our animals. The answer is easy, its when the animals stop eating the hay, as they always prefer green grass and will suddenly begin to ignore the hay.

Those of us living in central Texas remain in drought conditions. Until meaningful rain occurs, the brown grass will remain. So far no rain has crept into our forecast. As the wise, old owner of the feed store I frequent says when asked about expected rain, “Today we are one day closer to a good rain.”

Regrettably, tending my blog has flagged of late. This lack of attention results from two sources. First, my new book on Hitler’s health and its impact on World War II has been accepted and is finally in press. Covid greatly delayed the process of reviewing and publishing the work, as it has just about everything else in our lives. Still considerable works exists for me to redo small portions of the book, chase down print ready copies of photos, and laboriously provide an index. All of these items takes time and effort. Also discussions are ongoing with the publisher over the title. Whether or not my working title, Hitler: Prescription for Defeat, is descriptive enough remains under study.

My second distraction from my blog relates to weekly assignments received via my daughter and son. They have contracted with to email Trudy and me questions dealing with our growing up and our family recollections. Admittedly, I’ve found writing these stories enjoyable, time consuming, and have found that the effort prompts surprising recall.

I suppose Trudy and I are at that stage in life when we begin to sum up our lives. Now this is not to say that we don’t have plenty of kick left, just that we wish to leave a written legacy for those who will follow. Re-enforcement of our commitment to the project comes from the difficulty I’ve had discovering much about my great grandparents. Going back three generations in the family history exhausts our paltry memory banks. We hope the subsequent book published at the conclusion of this writing year will provide substantially more information for our offspring than we currently have about ours.

Great grandparents Thad Hutton and his wife Betty. He was a cowboy living on the Great Western Trail near Seymour, TX that led to Dodge City, Kansas. How we wished to know his adventures in the 1870s and 1880s and his possible interaction with such historical figures of the time as Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Wild Bill Hickok

So the good news is that another book for a popular audience of uncertain title should appear at the end of the year. The title may be different from the working title, but the information should prove novel and a different take on  Hitler and his actions. The book despite his poor health describes Hitler as totally culpable for his terrible misdeeds and demonstrates how his poor health impacted his prosecution of the war but not the cause of his immorality.

In the meantime, if you haven’t had a chance to read my prior book, Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, I hope you will pick up a copy. The book has been well reviewed and provides humorous and poignant descriptions of people dealing with challenging health issues. All of us are likely to find ourselves in similar straits one day, and the book provides insights as to how to negotiate these inevitable occurrences while still maintaining self-dignity and feelings of worth.

Winter At The Ranch

Winter at Medicine Spirit Ranch moves at a slower pace than  the rest of the year. The fields no longer require fertilizing, cutting grass, baling, and hauling hay. Likewise major repairs of the barns, major fencing changes, and replacing gates or cattle guards await better weather.

A few jobs increase during the winter. The feeding of the stock requires range cubes be fed daily to the cattle rather than  only a couple of days a week when the grass is green. We also provide large bales of hay typically three times a week via a tractor that requires a little time.

Two Black Baldy cows with their calves

Otherwise cedar chopping increases during the winter as the green cedar is easier to spot among the brown grass, and fences always need a bit of mending.

Otherwise winter tasks are largely determined by what most needs to be addressed. Some items simply are stumbled upon during morning rounds. For example today I stumbled across the carcass of a dead Black Baldy cow located at an infrequently traveled portion of my ranch. I had missed her late last year but never found evidence of her. I have no idea how or why she died but am especially perplexed because of losing two other cows last year. Only once before have I lost a cow and that was when her hind legs became paralyzed while attempting to give birth to a particularly large calf. She unfortunately failed to respond to the passage of time and treatment. Three cows dying in a year made for a very bad year indeed.

Last year also saw dreaded ice storm Uri from which we are still recovering. It was amazing the number of downed limbs and trees that resulted and that continue to litter parts of my ranch. I had hoped we would have the freakish mess cleaned up within a year, but my hope will go unrealized. There simply remains too much damage for us to clean up anytime soon.

Ice storm Uri left downed trees and limbs across our ranch

I remain hopeful that 2022 will prove better than last year. Surely the problems encountered in 2021 won’t recur. Reasons for hope are abundant. I have some outstanding calves ready to go to market and prices are good. We also are making good progress clearing the new land purchased last May. Hopefully, we will replace the previous bad fence along the county road, will have re-seeded the land, and have sufficient rain to grow a nice stand of grass. I also remain hopeful that we may finally see Covid-19 in the rear view mirror. Here’s hoping for a better future!

In addition the Great Blue Heron greets me almost daily. As previously noted in several blog pieces, the Great Blue Heron promises good fortune, and its presence adds to my optimism about the coming year.

A Great Blue Heron. Not my heron but representative

I wish you a wonderful 2022