Storm Movin’ In

This was such an awe-inspiring storm that moved through last night. It was a light show that made me catch my breath and involuntarily breathe Wow every few seconds; definitely a reminder of how small me and my l’il world really are.

setting sun, wheat field, hills, palouse

storm, sunset, wheat field, palouse, sky

storm, sunset, palouse, sky, wheat field

sunset, storm, sky, palouse, wheat field

Ok, boys! Ok!

8 seconds, lane frost, buckingThis whole weekend I’ve felt like Lane Frost in 8 Seconds when he’s in the bucking chute and hollers out “Ok, boys! Ok!” before they pull the gate. There’s a tangled ball of nerves chasing themselves around in your stomach right before the gate swings open. Then the nerves line out, pack it in and marshal all your efforts together to get the job done.

However, in that fractionated second before the gate opens to daylight, there’s a line. It’s simple: Up to that line, you can turn back – once you’re over the line, you can’t. As soon as you yell, “Ok, boys! Ok!” you’re committed to trying to ride that bull or that horse for the eternity that is eight seconds. You’re in. You can’t let go. You can’t change your mind. You can’t do anything but try your hardest, and hope it is good enough.

I’ve always wondered, what goes through their minds as they get settled in the bucking chutes? Would they bail if it weren’t for stubbornness and pride? I wonder if, at the first jump out of the chute, they’re wondering what in heck they’re doing on top of a bucking, twisting passel of angry animal flesh. I wonder if they’re ever truly ready for that gate to be pulled.

Because I know I’m not. I’m hardly ever ready for the gate to be pulled. I think it’s alright to admit that, because here’s the other thing: it hardly ever stops me from saying “Ok, boys! Ok!” anyway.

The “Oh Truck” Adventure

This story is a little too good to let it stay buried in the old days.

It was a Saturday. And gall dang was it ever a hot day, hotter than Moses I’d say. But despite the heat, my exuberance over the start of harvest eclipsed everything else. And that’s why I was riding shotgun in a semi headed for Spangle with a load of peas on a Saturday afternoon. Exuberance: it’s so overrated.

The trip started so well, but isn’t that the truth about most things in life? We – M, Kenny and I – were only two hills into our journey when I commented to M that I was certainly glad he was driving Kenny. Yes, we were still in the field and one good roll away from a tumble down the breaks of the Snake River canyons. What can I say? I know very little about driving trucks like Kenny.

I breathed a little easier once Kenny was rolling down the blacktop. And other than a minor hiccup to fix the turn signals – and saying to heck with it when we couldn’t find the problem – it was a “let them truckers roll” type of drive. We counted cops. We talked. We laughed. We were silent. We drove – he drove, I rode. It was nice. I mean, my Taylor County Pork Queen t-shirt was sticking to my back and my feet felt like I’d stuck ‘em in a fire for a couple hours…but it was nice.

And then, it wasn’t nice. Kenny was pulling up a hill. I was staring out the window thinking…some deep thought I am sure. M was driving…and then M said something close to, “Oh truck!!” And I looked in one of Kenny’s eight side mirrors and said something close to, “Oh truck!”

Smoke streaming out behind us, obscuring vision, not good. My second thought behind “oh truck” was “oh truck, we’re on fire.” And then “the peas are going to burn.” And then “WE are going to burn.”

This was in the space of – oh – three seconds. And then my brain registered something else – or the lack of something else. The roar of Kenny’s engine? Gone. Nada. Zip. Zero. DEAD. In the next three seconds I thought: ditch, crash, big fire. And then I wondered if we’d have enough money to pay off a lawsuit if we crashed in a wheat field and burned someone’s 100-bushel wheat crop to the ground. Hey, I’ve never been in a many-ton vehicle when the smoke rolls and the engine stops – I didn’t know how these type of things worked.

M, however, was obviously not thinking about lawsuits and I’m glad. He did a rather excellent job of rolling Kenny to a stop on the side of the road. If I’d been the cheery, hoo-rah sort, I may have yelped out a “Yay!” or “Super-duper job there!” Instead, I’m sure I said something completely useless and inane like “Well.” Or “That probably wasn’t supposed to happen, huh?” Of course it wasn’t, Erica.

And there we sat. Cars and trucks whooshing past. M and I on the side of the road, the mercury pushing 100+ degrees, 70 miles from home and a dead truck. M, being much more knowledgeable about such matters, pulled the hood and looked at stuff. I looked too. I crossed my arms and nodded my head and did all the stuff I see every guy do in situations like these.

Considering all, M thought maybe Kenny had just overheated. And so we waited for it to unheat – a rather slow process on a hotter-than-Moses day. We talked a little. Not much. I figured M was tussling with how to get us out of this fix – I didn’t want to interrupt that, no sir, no way. At least we were in cell service and I could while away the time with texting and phone calls…but then my phone died.

And so, after setting up some little bright orange triangles for the idiots who couldn’t see Kenny’s huge butt on the side of the highway, I plopped my own butt into the rocks of the roadside ditch to wait. And I waited. I watched M wait. He watched me wait. We both watched Kenny wait. For – oh – an hour-ish, and then we decided to give ‘er a go. Kenny started right up. Idled. Did everything a truck is supposed to do, I think, until M caught sight of the oil leaking out of the something into the something around the turbo. I didn’t have to ask what this meant, because M raced around the front of Kenny to turn him off. Even in redhead-ese, that means “less than stellar”.

Anyway, a short story made long, M started Kenny up and we limped our way the last five miles to Spangle. Nearly 45 minutes later, we landed Kenny and his peas. We left the field around…three in the afternoon? And we got back to the farm around 9:30 that night. Now I have no idea how long that trip is supposed to take on a normal day, but I’m guessing it’s not six and a half hours.

In all honesty, though, I can’t say that I minded all that much. I mean, I’m sure I could have been somewhere else, doing something else in a less heated environment. But I wasn’t. I was on the side of a road with a dead truck, and I’ve always been the type of girl to take life as it happens. Not the lemons-into-lemonade type of crap; just a good, old-fashioned, deal-with-it attitude seems to work for me.

And you know what the really ridiculous thing is? I still really like harvest – not so much “exuberant” anymore – but I still really like harvest and if I was headed into the truck ride knowing Kenny would die? I still woulda hauled myself up in the seat and said, “Let’s roll.”

Wordless Wednesday – “Simplicity”

Wheat, blue skies, farming, agriculture

In the end, God created jobs.

I was struck by a realization during church this morning: God has sure given humanity a whooole lotta jobs.

The pastor was talking about creation and the beginning of this whole crazy mess we call life. How the earth was created. How the sun was made to be just absolutely right to provide warmth and growing power without burning us up or freezing us out. The way rain falls miles out of the sky without drilling holes through everything it hits. The amazing interactions between plants, animals and the environment.

But then I thought So. God put all these really intricate masterpieces here. Everything from the complexity of what constitutes the planet beneath our feet to the galaxies above us. And humans have been trying their darnedest to figure out how all this stuff works ever since.

Like I said, that’s a whooole lotta jobs.

That’s one reason I like ranching so much. Sure, you work on genetics and building your herd. You make decisions about forage, vaccination programs and where to put the fence line. But, ultimately? Ranchers are just working with what God has put here.

Photo Friday: It’s the Way

It’s the way a horse smells and the scent of the pines drifting in on an east-bound breeze. It’s the way a saddle creaks, the tattoo of hooves on the trail, the jangle of a hackamore. It’s the way a mama cow lifts her head and looks for her baby. It’s the way the sun sets behind foothills, the swiveling attention of a horse’s ears, the rhythm a body falls into in the saddle.

It’s the way a person’s shoulders relax, breathing mellows out deep and calm, thoughts quiet to silence. It’s the way it feels when you realize everything is gonna be just alright.

* Check out more photos from this ride on Facebook!

Buster, the cow horse's nose

Buster, the cowhorse, with saddle and fence

Cow pond, reflection, country

Child Labor in Agriculture

When I think of child labor, I think of kids in sweatshops making Nike shoes or little homeless kids forced into being drug couriers on the street. I don’t think of agriculture – and I certainly don’t think of the way I grew up – when I hear the term child labor, but that is the way some people are headed.

In a recent Huffington Post article Child Labor Rules Stalled At White House As Farm Accidents Continue:

Last week, two 17 year olds were critically injured in Oklahoma when they were pulled into a grain augur while on the job. Responders had to cut the augur to free the boys, who were flown to a hospital with severe leg injuries.

Yet the White House continues to sit on new child labor rules proposed last year by the Department of Labor that some safety advocates say could have prevented that accident.

Although the rules proposed by the Labor Department have not yet been made public, sources familiar with them say they would deem certain work activities on farms too dangerous for minors to perform, potentially strengthening laws that haven’t been updated in 40 years.

I grew up on a cattle ranch. I started helping dad feed cows at 5 years old, learned to drive tractor in the hayfield, moved up to raking and then baling. I was shoving calves five times my size up the chute, working long days, bucking bales, riding horses and chasing cows. Was this child labor?

Ranching and farming accidents make my heart fall just as much as the next person’s, but legislation isn’t the answer to reducing the number of agricultural accidents. It is, and always will be, about proper agricultural safety training. Age has nothing to do with it. Throwing a 40-year-old man out on a combine who has never driven it before is a much higher risk than a 17-year-old who has been taught how to operate the equipment. As one of the comments said on the Huffington Post article, “What law do they think they can write that prevents accidents?”

I didn’t start driving a tractor in the hayfield to pick up bales until dad showed me how to run it. The speed wasn’t much more than a sedated snail’s pace, and dad was able to jump on if I got in trouble. Complete mastery at that meant moving up to raking hay – a much higher-paced job. And then baling with all types of moving pieces, power take-off shafts and potential for fire.

Working with livestock can be dangerous, no matter who you are. Even though I’ve worked with cattle my whole life, I still get kicked, hit, bruised and stomped. So has everyone else who’s been ranching for decades.

How can revisions to child labor laws impact that? Will it change the way children of ranchers and farmers grow up learning at their families’ sides?

Instead of safety advocates focusing on child labor legislation, the focus needs to be on proper agricultural safety training. Offer agricultural safety courses. Implement agriculture and safety classes into rural school districts. Get articles into farm and ranch publications providing safety tips and reminders of the dangers of working in agriculture.

Waiting on the White House to do something (that probably won’t help anyway and could negatively impact family operations) is a proven waste of time. Do something that matters today. Do something that can have an impact – even if it’s just one person – right now.

North Idaho Staredown

I snapped this photo a few days ago. We were out riding, and Doc turned around to see what was taking so long. (Ironic since Jason walks faster than any horse I’ve ever ridden.) (Also, just for the record, I didn’t name Jason. I don’t think I could ever name a horse ‘Jason’.)

Horse and border collie have a staredown

Riding is good for the soul.

I don’t like starting my Sundays off trying to catch horses who won’t be caught. They get out on grass, and they get snappy attitudes. It makes me downright grumpy. But pairs are moved, and I pulled a wet saddle blanket off the paint yesterday. Riding is good for the soul, I think. If accomplishing something on the ranch doesn’t make a person smile, then I don’t know what will.

Moving beef cattle pairs to a new pasture on horseback

Pairs lined out for the gate

Patches, a paint horse who works on the ranch in north Idaho

Patches on the way home. He's a smart bugger but hard as pudding falling off a table to catch.