Category Archives: Animals on the ranch

Spring- How Lovely You Are

Bluebonnets & Paints

Spring is my favorite season. How can it not be? It’s is a colorful rebirth following the grayness of winter. New fawns and calves on wobbly legs appear, baby birds fly tentatively from their nests, calves wear milky mustaches, bushes blossom, multicolored wild flowers including the locally favorite bluebonnets suddenly erupt, and the trees leaf out in spring green. All signal the yearly, joyous rebirth and infuses us with new found energy, hope, and ambition.

Along with such beauty comes a need to prepare the ranch for the season. In past weeks we’ve taken to whacking down thistle plants (weeds) choosing to grow in my pastures and crowding out grass my stock so greatly needs. The spring calves have needed working and the horses show new found friskiness.

Our paint horse Fancy and Doc’s nose

A foggy day at the ranch

Fences require mending and cedar needs lopping. The physical work feels good but also fatigues me now more than it used to.

Life seems more vivid, more intense, and hopeful in the springtime. It’s also busier and wearing. Gosh, I love it so and hope i can keep up with it all. A joyous spring to all!

Smart And Protective Mama Cows

We are well into spring calving season with four new, adorable calves. Part of their welcome to the ranch is receiving a vaccination to ward off “black leg”, a particularly serious bacterial infection that kills calves. While our intentions are good, they are usually misunderstood by our always protective mama cows.

Such was the case recently when we roped, held, and tried to vaccinate a new calf. Mama cow took serious exception to our treatment her calf this way. While I attempted to give the subcutaneous injection, mama cow suddenly appeared and forcibly head butted me in the face. The syringe went one way, my glasses flew off in another, and I was pitched backwards unceremoniously. With a sore and bruised face and without glasses, I was virtually worthless. I also was quite vulnerable should she have chosen to take out her animus still further. Fortunately for me, she did not.

Somehow Trudy and Juan found both glasses and syringe, and we finished giving the vaccination to the calf without further incident.

I’ve been asked if I get upset with mama cows when such this happens, as this is not the first time something like this has transpired. My answer is no, as the mama cows are only protecting their offspring.

"You think you are going to do what to my calf?"

“You think you are going to do what to my calf?”

Whenever possible we sequester a calf needing a vaccination, an ear tag, or needing castration from the mother cow. We usually use the pens for these tasks and to great benefit .

On occasion we are not able to move a mama cow and her calf,  for example from the new ranch (Hidden Falls) across and down the county road  “a piece” into our other property (Medicine Spirit Ranch) where are located our only pens .  In such instances we are sorely tempted to try the quick and dirty method of lassoing, holding, and giving a vaccination in the pasture. Sometimes this works and in others I end up on my caboose or more commonly seeing the south end of a calf heading rapidly north.

Such was our ill-fated mission this morning accompanied by Trudy, Juan, and visiting “ranch hands”, LaNelle Etheridge and Madeline Douglas from Lubbock.

Madeline and La Nelle wearing T-shirts that read Tom's Ranch Hands

Madeline and La Nelle wearing T-shirts that read Tom’s Ranch Hands

As soon as the mama cow spotted Juan creeping up on her calf with his lasso, she took off with her calf  behind her. To vaccinate this calf, we will need to drive the herd down the county road to Medicine Spirit Ranch and to the protection of our pens. This will have to wait until next week.

Such are the joys of ranching. And to think when I was a doctor never once was I injured. Since becoming a rancher, I’ve broken an arm, blew a disc in my low back, sustained bruises, cuts,
and contusions, and received numerous injuries to my male ego. Oh, but my wonderful outdoor existence along with Mother Nature showing off her wonders more than makes up for any challenges faced.

What a Goose Can Teach Us About Change

Look closely for the goose among the goat herd

Look closely for the goose among the goat herd

Some time ago, I posted a story of a goose joining a goat herd and how it had  become accepted and integrated within it. The goose has now been part of the goat herd for over a year and continues to waddle along inline with the goats as the herd parades single file across the pasture. No doubt the burro and llama also protect the goose from predators, just as they do the goats.
I began wondering why the goose remains in this unusual situation. This is, after all, unnatural as geese flock with other geese. Wouldn’t it prefer to be among a gaggle of its own kind? Flocks of geese have flown overhead the goose and a large flock of geese resides in Lady Bird Park, not more than five miles away as the goose flies. Despite these opportunities to be more goose-like, this goat-loving goose seems perfectly contented to stay a member of its mixed herd. I am aware that if a burro or llama is raised within a goat herd that it develops protective tendencies for the herd and perhaps in a similar way a young goose becomes comfortable with a herd of goats or cattle. I have also seen an example of the latter when two baby geese were raised on a cattle ranch and later joined the cattle herd..

Recently I was visiting with a friend who has his doctorate in counseling psychology and who did his dissertation on the difficulty in making life changes. I shared this unusual goat story with him. He reminded me that we grow up in our specific environments and tend to accept in a unquestioning manner the opinions of our parents and other significant individuals in our lives. As youth we accept these opinions as absolute truths. Later in life when confronted with facts to the contrary, most folks cannot fully embrace the new information enough to change their long held opinions. Instead they often do mental gymnastics in order to cling to their own outmoded views. Change is hard and its threatening.

Why is this? Well according to my friend, Doctor Jim Spruiell who has 50 years of psychotherapy experience, when we venture too far from our traditional comfort zones, we lose the feeling of  safety. We might wish to change, say quit smoking or change our attitudes or ideas, or favorite sports team, religion, or even political party but such things are foreign to our natures and end up threatening our comfort zone. The subconscious has a major impact on our rational behavior even when change may be the logical course of action.

How does this relate to our one unusual goose? While I have no idea how the goose came to find itself among the herd of goats, it apparently has adapted and the herd has fully accepted it. This has become the expected norm for this goose. The inability to break this pattern would call for a leap of faith on the part of the goose and would take it away from its current protected state.

To a degree aren’t we all tribal in this way? We are comfortable within our belief systems, social crowd, political party, fan club, and interest groups. To break out from these comfortable norms creates apprehension and anxiety. These long held emotional roots run deep. While a few people are confident enough or adaptable enough to change their lives based on new facts perhaps gained through advanced education and deep thought, most of us are not. Oftentimes elaborate rationalizations develop for maintaining old beliefs despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Maybe this lone goose is not so unusual after all.

"Hey, you seen that member of the herd that waddles?"

“Hey, you seen that member of the herd that waddles?”

To end on a wistful note, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we humans could learn to accept the differences of others. What if we entered a period in our lives which was foreign to us but did so with love and compassion for others, ignoring the differences. This would give rise to overall justice for us and others in our world.

Heron Folklore

Great Blue Heron in flight

Great Blue Heron in flight

I recall the shiver of excitement coming over me like a blanket of wonderment the first time a Great Blue Heron flew just over me and landed nearby. Given its majesty, not too surprisingly a mythology has grown up around these impressive birds. Several weeks ago I posted “Chumming for Heron,” a piece describing daily visits to our ranch by a Great Blue Heron. Unwittingly I was aiding the heron by luring fish near to the bank and improving its prospects for fishing. This experience with the heron got me to wondering what myths might exist about these striking birds that are such incredibly good fish hunters, so I did a little research.
The Greeks believed the heron was a messenger from the gods. The heron was thought to have been sent by Athena and Aphrodite, the goddesses of wisdom and love. Athena, for example, once sent a heron to Odysseus during his odyssey as a sign that she was watching him. Celtic mythology had herons as messengers of the gods as well and thought the herons were imbued with superior intelligence.

Our ranch is named Medicine Spirit Ranch in honor of the original Native American inhabitants and their belief  the land was “strong medicine.” One myth from Native Americans is about the heron and the hummingbird who raced for possession of all the fish in the rivers and lakes. The birds had a long race with the heron flying slowly but never stopping while the hummingbird zipped ahead but slept each night. Because of this, the hummingbird lost the race and now has to eat nectar while the heron dines on fish.

Wolves and herons are the subject of another Native American myth. The story goes that a Blue Heron helped two weasels cross a river because they had asked it nicely. Along comes a rude wolf, demanding to be taken like the weasels across the river. The heron proceeded to fly the wolf halfway across the river and then dumped the wolf into the river to drown.

The symbolism of the heron varies by culture. It represents strength, purity and long life in China. In Native American tradition the heron symbolizes wisdom and good judgment. In ancient Egypt the heron was a symbol  of creation while in Africa and Greece the heron was a messenger of the gods.

Watching a heron fish also instructs us in patience. This is particularly a good lesson for our busy, rushed lifestyles these days. They watch and wait for long periods of time, remaining alert to the presence of fish. Ultimately the heron strikes with lightning like speed and precision.

Herons are also believed to be symbols of good luck, particularly when they land on your home or even shed a feather on your property. Not a bad way at all to start out a new year!greatblueheronusfwfrankmiles

2016: A Backward Glance

As we close out 2016, it’s worth spending some time for a backward glance. For Medicine Spirit Ranch and this blog, it’s been a great year. Today is a milestone for Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch, as this is our 100th post!! Since the inception of the blog, each year has shown increased readership. I thank you for your interest and your terrific responses. Please keep them coming.

On occasion we’ve  written about important and meaningful topics such as personal aspects of the civil rights struggles. In fact our most read blog piece has been Reflections on Greenville, Texas: The Blackest Land and the Whitest People. More frequently we’ve dealt with  ranch and retirement topics, for example the birth of cattle twins on our ranch, the bottle feeding of the rejected twin, a series of posts about Norman during his calf development and adolescence, and the birth of a freemartin.

Betty giving Norman his evening bottle while Cecil drinks his own libation

Betty giving Norman his evening bottle while Cecil enjoys his own libation

We’ve written about stocking our tanks with fish and the discovery that I was unwittingly  chumming for the hunting benefit of a Great Blue Heron! Also pictures of various landscapes and sunsets have appeared from time to time with the hope of sharing our little piece of heaven.

Looking off the hill of Medicine Spirit Ranch

Looking off the hill of Medicine Spirit Ranch

A waterfall at Hidden Falls Ranch, November 2016

A waterfall at Hidden Falls Ranch, November 2016

We’ve had great friends and our wonderful family spend time this year on the ranch including Betty and Cecil Selness from Minneapolis, La Nelle Etheridge and Madeline Douglas from Lubbock, Judy Wilkins from Lubbock, Katrina Jansky and son Chance, from San Marcos, Will and Claire Plunket from Austin, Dave and Amy Riley and their family from Dripping Springs, Roger and Marilyn Johnson from Horse Shoe Bay, Greg and Nancy Hocevar soon to be of Fredericksburg, along with lots of family including grandchildren Ramsey and Graham, and Katie’s fiance, Kevin, and his wonderful family from the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Madeline and La Nelle wearing T-shirts thatread Tom's Ranch Hands

Madeline and La Nelle wearing T-shirts that read Tom’s Ranch Hands. You didn’t think the room and board was without strings did you?

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It has also been a great year for magnificent Texas sunsets, for breaking the drought with a bumper crop of hay, for the Super Moon rising over our barn in spectacular fashion, for fat cattle, for two lazy horses, for three always ready-to-travel dogs, and too numerous to count white tailed deer and other welcome animals e.g. painted buntings along with unwelcome ones e.g. skunks and porcupines that take considerable exception to our dogs.

A Texas sunset

A Texas sunset

Hay is (mostly) in the Barn

Hay is in the Barn

Also my book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales was published this year. What a treat not only to see it in print, but also to experience many gratifying reviews. I’ve had a blast speaking at libraries, book clubs, service clubs especially Rotary and Lion’s Clubs, and private book events. I welcome speaking invitations. My thanks to all of you who have helped me in this never ending crusade to have the book appear, succeed, and obtain visibility.Carrying the Black Bag book

Of one thing, I am certain. We’re blessed to enjoy the love of family and friends, and the ambience of Medicine Spirit Ranch, and the readership of this blog.

The dogs and reflecting on 2016 and pondering what might come about in 2017

The dogs and I reflecting on 2016 and pondering what might come about in 2017

Chumming For Heron

Almost every morning lately I’ve spotted a Great Blue Heron majestically fly in to our stock tank while I’m feeding our ducks.

Great Blue Heron in flight

Great Blue Heron in flight

With its long wings beating slowly and deeply and its legs trailing behind, it swoops in and lands 50 yards or so away from me. There it watches my actions closely. It’s a magnificent bird and the largest of the North American herons. The images here were taken from the internet, as our heron appears to be camera shy.great_blue_heron_page_image
The Great Blue Heron is highly adaptive and lives throughout North America. It is abundant throughout Texas, especially along the coastline.

After completing my feeding tasks and retreating back to the pickup, I see the heron on its long, stork-like legs stride to where I’d stood only minutes before. I’d initially assumed the heron was competing with the ducks for the food I’d left on the bank. Later I realized the heron’s real intent.
The Great Blue Heron slowly stalks to the edge of the water, crouches its four and a half foot tall, lanky body down into a compact position with its belly touching the ground. At this point it stands no more than a foot high. It folds its neck back onto its body and waits, and waits, and waits…. It reminds me of a coiled spring. It crouches obscured in part behind tufts of tall native grasses and next to the pond. As I observe its hunting pose, I feel the tension steadily rise within me. After watching motionless and with only a rare flickering of a feather, the Great Blue Heron, like lightning, unleashes itself forward. In less than a blink of the eye, it snatches a fish from our stock tank.

The heron then struts away from the water, drops the fish on the bank, rearranges it, grabs it up and downs the fish in one big, satisfied gulp. It seemed to give a nod in my direction, though I might have imagined this.greatblueheronusfwfrankmiles
Imagine my surprise. I’d never dreamed I was chumming for the benefit of a Great Blue Heron!

A Very Mooo-ry Christmas

From all the critters, stock, and folks at Medicine Spirit Ranch, we wish you wonderful holidays.

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