Visual Treats From Medicine Spirit Ranch

I’m overdue for a blog post, although I’ve lately put more words down on paper than is typical for me. This is because Little Jack Kerouac, our Texas Brown Dog, has been dictating his memoir of his first year and a half before adopting us. Acting as Jack’s scribe has taken more time than I anticipated, but answers many questions such as where he came from, why he hates panel trucks, squirrels, and armadillos, and why he feels so at home at Medicine Spirit Ranch.

Jack reclining on his chair, dictating his backstory

I will post Jack’s story in the near future and do so as a series of posts. In the meantime I offer my readers inspiring pictures of nature’s wonders at Medicine Spirit Ranch. Such sights give me a feeling of awe and wonderment. Below are some of my favorites that I hope you too will enjoy.

View of Medicine Spirit Ranch on a misty morn

A large buck standing as if posing in front of our barn

Dandy, our roan gelding

Painted Buntings have been prevalent this year. Their beauty never fails to stop me in my tracks

Ground feeding Cardinals are daily visitors to our bird feeders

Great Blue Herons according to folklore predict good luck. The ducks have proven less successful because of predators

Wildflowers such as the Bluebonnet grace our ranch in the Spring

The waterfall that gives Hidden Falls Ranch its name

The ranch just wouldn’t be the same without Border collies. From bottom to top: Bandit, Molly, and Buddy

Sunset at the ranch

Nature has a healing effect and of this I am certain. I hope these glimpses of life at Medicine Spirit Ranch provide you with a measure of pleasure and awe that I regularly experience.

Oh, and Happy Father’s Day to all you fathers!

Horse Sense

Dandy (on the left) and Fancy (on the right) at an earlier meal

Horse behavior like other animal behavior interests me. Usually the nature of horse behavior is self-protection from injury or threat. Such an example I witnessed today. I’ve always known the term “horse sense” but had not thought much about it until today.

The origin of horse sense is likely ancient but in 1870 the New York magazine The Nation offered the following description of horse sense as it applies to humans: “The new phrase, born in the west we believe, of horse sense which is applied to the intellectual ability of men who exceed others in practical wisdom.”

But how does the term apply to horses? This morning I delayed my ranch work today in order to complete my workout routine. I failed to notice the gathering of dark clouds and the freshening of the breeze. A storm had been predicted but arrived earlier than predicted. When I looked out the window of my house and saw the rain down in the valley, I tore out, jumped in my pickup, and drove to the pens to feed the horses. I struggled with my umbrella, as I made serial trips with scoops of feed from the feed sack in the back of my pickup to the horse trough. My umbrella kept getting turned up in the gusty wind.

Meanwhile I looked up and saw Fancy and Dandy, our two horses, standing together in a nearby pasture under a Post Oak tree. They followed my goings and comings with interest, as both perked up their ears and stared in my direction. Neither, however, moved even a single hoof toward the horse trough. Usually they see my approach at feeding time and come running.

I suspect they sensed that walking around in a thunderstorm was not a very good idea. Is this what is known as horse sense? While both love nothing better than chowing down on their daily meal, I learned in this instance that eating would just have to wait until after the storm.

I consider this an example of horse sense. Maybe the horses proved they have it and their human companion doesn’t. He was foolish enough to get out in the rain and presented a moving but tempting target for the lightning. The horses might have even thought themselves more intelligent than the rancher, something the Border collies at Medicine Spirit Ranch figured it out a long time ago.

Maybe W. C. Fields was right when he described horse sense as the thing a horse has which keeps him from betting on humans.

I sure know enough not to get out in a thunderstorm

So do I but these humans act pretty strange sometimes

Mea Culpa: Seeing Clearly

Okay, I was wrong this time, really wrong. Big time! I’ll admit it. Hear that, my lovely wife? Mea Culpa!

The ever diligent and loving Oma Trudy supervising  grandson Graham while he feeds a bottle calf

For sometime Trudy and I had disagreed on the color of my hair. We’ve even argued in the sort of emotionless way older couples argue. You see, I’ve always had light brown/blonde hair, but in recent years she’s claimed it had all turned gray. Nonplussed and unconvinced by her assertions, I would carefully steal into the bathroom and examine my hair in the mirror, inspecting it as if  examining the mysteries of the Rosetta Stone. I clearly saw blonde locks, perhaps mixed with a few gray hairs. Didn’t gray hair portend frailty, senility, and lack of relevancy? But I had no doubt whatsoever as to my hair colors- brown and blonde. My eyes wouldn’t deceive me.

To settle our long standing difference of opinion once for for all, I asked my hair cutter to decide this troublesome issue. Jennifer, who just happens to also cut Trudy’s hair, heard my lament and agreed to my request.

Well, Jennifer studied my hair slowly and methodically. She poked around on my head, moving aside shocks of hair as if leafy branches obscuring a bird’s nest. I beamed in anticipation, knowing I was about to hear unequivocal support for my blonde hair. I could soon boast a rare win over my always persuasive attorney wife. It was then the roof fell in. Jennifer calmly announced, “Your hair is gray.”

“Gray? You don’t see the blonde?”

“Nope.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yep”

“Not even blonde streaks?”

“Well, it all looks gray to me, but you do have lots of it.” I suppose with that comment Jennifer tried to lessen the heavy blow by pointing out that at least I hadn’t gone bald. At least not yet. Some solace that.

Gray! I was at that very moment staring into the mirror in front of her barber’s chair. I could clearly see  blonde amidst some dismal, dreary gray hair. My spirits sank. How can this be?

But then like the Phoenix of legend my defenses rallied and my resistance grew (some might call it rationalization and denial). Something funny was going on here. Thoughts of an estrogen conspiracy involving Trudy and Jennifer welled up within me. Perhaps Jennifer was part of some evil plot hatched by Trudy to put me in “the home.” Aha! There’s goes your tip Jen! What gives here anyway? Are you blind women?

Resolution to my existential dilemma came not long after. You see, my vision had worsened. Also glare made nighttime driving difficult. For this I sought the attention of my excellent eye doctor, Dr. Ann Plenneke. Several weeks later I underwent extraction of cataracts and lens replacements.

Alas, overnight my hair turned gray. Gray!!! Who would’ve thought the yellow tone to my hair had resulted from my own yellowed lenses? Mea Culpa, Dear wife, I was wrong, you were right. Tonight I’ll do the dishes.

I’ll admit this aging thing can be a bit tricky and is become increasingly challenging to negotiate. How does one do it gracefully? Now if a guy can’t believe what he sees, what’s he to believe?  Can I really trust my vision seen through new, store bought lenses that were almost certainly provided by the lowest bidder? What about my hearing that isn’t all that great either? Does this mean I shouldn’t believe anything I hear either? Ah, the nagging dilemmas that accompany an aging body.

“Well dogs if you won’t loan me your keen sense sense of hearing, then how about your outstanding sense of smell?”

Is it my loss of self-confidence in my own perceptions or merely an awareness that as I age my chances of being correct lessen? This is but one of many conundrums I’ve discovered with getting older. As a result I’ve learned to admit my mistakes and apologize quicker. I’ve found apologies now come with less difficulty, perhaps because I’ve become habituated to giving them.

On a more positive note, my rich stock of lifelong, accumulated experiences helps to lesson my sensory losses. My experiences place everyday challenges into greater perspective and usually diminishes their overall negative impact. This proves an advantage for me and i provides for greater emotional equanimity. Isn’t there something about wisdom growing with age? I sure hope so.

Perception, however, sadly slacks off. Everything diminishes in acuity. You name it- vision, hearing, smell, sensation. Sayanara, adios, auf wiedersehen! Why’s it wasted on my dogs who can hear a truck cross the cattle guard from half a mile away? Why’s their sense of smell denied to this human septuagenarian?

Hope my kids don’t read this. Admitting to flagging perceptual abilities could be a huge mistake. Think about it. My children, Andy and Katie, just wouldn’t get it. Think I’ll hide the car keys before their next visit.

“Bella, don’t worry. We’ll hide the truck keys before the kids come.” Note me wearing glasses before the cataract surgery, something I no longer have to do. Bella’s vision however has remained remarkably good.

 

 

 

A Dandy Addition To Our Ranch

Dandy, newly arrived roan gelding

Recently we had a new horse arrive at Medicine Spirit Ranch. He’s a roan gelding that belongs to my ranch hand, Juan. A friend of Juan’s gave him the horse, but Juan had no land on which the horse could graze. He asked if he could leave it at Medicine Spirit Ranch. I’ll end up feeding and treating the horse, if the latter is needed, but in return Juan will take care of the hooves of both the roan and our Paint horse, Fancy.

I said yes as the big red horse will herd up with Fancy and replace our recently departed Doc. When the papers arrived we learned the horse’s name was Dandy. It’s around eight years old and is said to be rope trained. I assume at one time Dandy was a roping horse as is typical for many quarter horses.

Dandy (on the left) and Fancy (on the right) get along well.

Word is Dandy is a great riding horse but hasn’t been ridden in awhile. Without question Juan who is a skilled horseman will be first up on Dandy. Dandy is friendly and very gentle. He likes to  nuzzle me on the neck and be scratched. He loves carrots but surprisingly won’t eat apples.

Dandy is not afraid of Little Jack and Bella, two of our dogs, who despite our best efforts continue to strafe the horses. Dandy stands his ground, puts down his big head with the white blaze and star, and holds his ground. Like sensible animals, the dogs veer off and instead chase a fleeing Fancy.

Dandy up close and personal

We look forward to getting to know Dandy. No doubt stories will follow as I observe his explorations of his new surroundings.

Let’s all welcome Dandy to Medicine Spirit Ranch.

Dread of Drought

I peer into the northwest sky from where the elusive rain is said to come. The grass beneath my feet crunches as if walking on popcorn. The leaves on trees sag like the craggy faces of older people. Despite a  brave and collective denial of reality, an early drought has set in. The weatherman maintains hope by elevating rain predictions only at the last minute to reduce our chances.

Several years ago Central Texas suffered a drought of historical proportion. Our fields browned out, crops withered, and dust rode the winds like powder before a fan. Ranchers lost crops and failed to produce hay. Stocks of expensive hay had to be trucked in to maintain herds of cattle, sheep, and goats. Some ranchers along with their crops withered under the assault.

This year I maintain two barns full of hay, enough easily to tide me through an average winter. I am capable of one trial learning. Yesterday during one of our typically wettest months, I had to put out hay for my cows. I fear what lays ahead.

Creeks flow slowly or not at all. Stock tanks recede and algae spreads like kudzu. Bluebonnets appear slaked. Our hopeful Spring has given way to a dusty desperation.  We’ve taken to shaking rain sticks, a Caribbean superstition thought to summon rain. Why not engage in superstitions when all else has failed?

The rains may still come and rescue our land from early drought. I obsessively check weather reports. How fickle and cruel is Mother Nature. We remain hopeful as time exists for the skies to open forth with crop restoring, creek flushing, and pond filling rains. Time will tell. We wait.

 

One Day Later: It rained! Just after writing the piece above, the skies opened and half an inch of rain fell- hardly enough to break our drought but might it be the beginning of a much needed rainy season.

Already the fields have begun to green up. Amazing how fast the turnaround can be and how quickly the spirits of ranchers can improve.

Buddy’s Retirement- April 20, 2018

Buddy as a younger dog

It was inevitable, I suppose. Retirement is part of life isn’t it, that is if we live long enough. Buddy about whom you’ve heard much lately (Buddy- The Slacker) retired from his life’s work today. His retirement from herding came suddenly or at least it surprised me.

On request Buddy declined to jump out of the bed of the pickup to help herd the mama cow about which I recently wrote (A Sad Day On The Ranch). This job in the past would have been an easy one for Buddy, merely moving one cow through a couple of gates and into an adjoining pasture where the remainder of the herd grazed.

When I called to Buddy, he merely stared back at me. Has he suddenly gone deaf? What’s wrong with that dog!

After a few moments of reflection on the statue-like, immobile Buddy, I thought perhaps his bad back might be hurting him or else he had judged after twelve and a half years he’d accomplished his limit of herding cattle. Nevertheless, pushing one cow through a couple of gates and into another pasture has previously hardly been work for our Buddy who has lived to herd. But I know twelve and a half years makes for an old dog, especially for a Border collie.

He’s been the best herder I’ve ever had on the ranch. His exploits are legion, as I tried to indicate in the Slacker piece, his first herding experience. Nevertheless, lately he has been less invested and less enthusiastic about this effort. I maintain that in his place today he urged the younger Bella to help me. Surprisingly Bella did a fairly good job but not up to the standards set earlier by Buddy.

Buddy on left and Bella on right. Photo by Ramsey

Buddy has lately spent more time napping on one of his four beds (yes, can you believe it- four beds) that are scattered strategically around our house. He never has to take more than a few steps to find a doggie bed. If a bed is not immediately available, a low chair will do just fine.

While he still enjoys riding around in the pickup, he now seems anxious to return to the house and resume his doggie slumbers.

Perhaps his life’s arc from superb and indefatigable herding dog to his current “just don’t bother me” attitude is an expected part of normal aging thatis sure to affect us all. I’ll admit since retiring, I enjoy naps more.

Years ago when I asked my grandmother Hutton when she was quite elderly what it was like to get old, she replied, “Tom, you just slow up.” This observation must be as true for Border collies as it is for humans.

I hope Buddy reneges on his retirement for at least a brief period of time. What gives me hope is that Francisco, our ranch hand of seventy-five years old has retired at least five times. Each time after his announced retirement he came back to the ranch after having become thoroughly bored with watching TV and missing “his” ranch.

The animals, the beauty of nature, and the opportunity to make the ranch better proves for Francisco an incredibly strong draw. Might Buddy one day feel a spurt of new resolve along with a strong desire to herd- just one more cow? Time will tell.

By the way, what does one give a Border collie as a retirement gift? He has no use for a watch. Your thoughts?

Buddy, the retiree, taking one of his frequent naps

A Sad Day On The Ranch

We are well into Spring calving season but today unfortunately we lost a calf. One of our mama cows was found agitated and having great difficulty delivering a calf. The calf was large and although the cow had previously calved without difficulty, she couldn’t deliver this calf.   We were to learn the calf was hung up at the shoulder (referred to as shoulder dystocia) and was clearly dead when we found the distressed mama.

The vet and her assistant came in an emergency call. We pulled the calf, using what is a essentially a “come along”. Following this the mama was able to get to her feet although clearly exhausted from a night of labor. Currently she’s in the pen where I will be giving her, if needed, shots of oxytocin to assist her in pushing out the placenta.

I’m sad over the loss of the little bull calf. I suppose for me this is therapy via my keyboard. I know occasionally we’ll lose a calf and, rarely, even a mama cow, but it still bothers me greatly. The sensation recalls how i felt during my practice when I would lose a patient to death. While inevitable, it still hurts. I never got used to it while practicing and suspect I will never get used to it ranching.

Ironically I was about to pick up a spreader full of fertilizer (8000 pounds) and begin treating our hay fields. Instead of fertilizer bringing forth new life, we instead lost life in a birthing process. Such is ranch life, I suppose, and tomorrow I’ll return to fertilizing. Meanwhile I will ponder the life that wasn’t. Such is life on the ranch. Happier days will follow.