Ranch TeamWritten by Jennifer Womack
Ranch wives, we’ve all been there…. contemplating one of life’s most important questions. I recently found myself in this sticky situation, mentally wrestling with, “tow?” or “be towed?”
“Can I have a third option?” I asked Chris. Some days, like this day and many others, he doesn’t think I’m funny. There are no third choices. My options – both of them – are clearly before me. And no, I can’t have a day or two to think it over. I think he needs more friends, people more willing to help him with these sorts of tasks.
Driving the lead truck as we took the ranch pickup to the mechanic would mean more responsibility – keeping us safe on the interstate, going the correct speed and so on and so forth. I’m equally sure, however, that even if I’m the one being towed, finding myself with very little control over speed, destination and more, a certain amount of what happens will still be my fault. I was right.
And we’re off, in search of a new injector and a skilled mechanic for the ranch pickup. Clearing three miles without hand signals or stopping, I note this as a new record. Then began the hand signals. My standard answer to hand signals is to smile and wave. The more Chris sends unclear messages flying through the air, the more I smile and wave. About the time my smile and my wave ran out of growth opportunity, we pulled over for the first time. Smiling over.
“If you would brake a little when we crest the hills, I wouldn’t have to speed up so much,” reminded Chris.
“If you wouldn’t drive like my Great Aunt Bertha, I might not need to brake quite so much,” I replied. Today, I’m still not funny. The remainder of the trip is uneventful as I concentrate on not hitting Chris’s bumper, not running over the towrope and not in any way complicating the situation. I manage to maintain this routine for the next 80 miles, setting yet another new record and keeping his hand signals to a minimum.
I’d barely made it a month, however, before he posed yet another weighty question….
“Would you like to push the four-wheeler or walk and get the pickup?” A little weed work just turned into a lengthy hike across a deep draw.
“Romeo, Romeo…. I’ll push the four-wheeler,” I replied, realizing that if I could just get it rolling my chore might not be all that bad.
Rolling I was. I rolled right past the rendezvous point (news of this location must have been communicated using hand signals). While I was making progress, Chris was crossing my trail a ways up the canyon, just out of eyesight and earshot. Pleased with my rapid progress, I took a little snooze in the meadow and wondered what was taking him so long. Meanwhile back in the woods, Chris was on yet another hike wondering just where I’d gone pushing one fairly large machine.
It’s these reasons and others that cause us to only nod and smile when friends in town make the observation, “If you really want to test your marriage, try building a house together.”
“Yes, we can imagine that must be tough,” I say. “Just keep it all in perspective. And, when necessary, seek out the tallest grass in the meadow and lay low until things blow over.”
The ‘Duke’Written by Jennifer Womack
That effort began just a few evenings back. “Let him soak a little under the saddle while you do your other chores,” I suggested. One’s desire to do this must be gained, not engrained; 15 minutes later we were corral bound with the normal sibling heckling underway.
“Think he’ll buck?” asked Joshua. Speaking from experience, I know it’s a little unnerving when your sibling starts asking these questions. It’s not the question itself, but the tone that conveys, “It’s been a little quiet around here and I’m wondering if you could put on a bit of a rodeo? I could use a good story to tell on the school bus in the morning and you make a great star character in these tales.”
We’re short on bronc riders, so I explained to Joshua that we do try to avoid the rodeo scenario from the get-go. Eight-year-old boys find this news particularly disappointing.
Bryce and Duke’s first ride went off without a hitch. A few days later they saddled up again and Joshua, sitting atop Cotton, joined them to head to the pasture to gather heifers. I watched from a distance as Joshua left the barn at a high lope. He still looked hopeful that the new colt wasn’t so easy to ride. He circled back around to join Bryce and Duke, departing at a trot.
“Bring heifer 21 in,” I told them as they passed by.
By dinnertime, Duke earned status as the smartest, fastest, prettiest, most athletic horse in history. Rumor is he even knows his name. And, having just watched War Horse, the boys are bound and determined to teach him to come to a whistle. I think he’s coming to a grain can, but they’re probably headed the right direction.
Regardless of whether or not Duke becomes the next superhorse, he’ll deliver countless lessons to two young boys. Joshua doesn’t yet realize it, but in just a few years they’ll again be leaving the barn on a first ride. Only this time he’ll be on the colt and Bryce will be setting astride a more seasoned Duke. And I’m sure the question will be returned….
“Think he’ll buck?” And I’ll be watching closely, because I can see our youngest son responding….
“I don’t know, let’s see if he can!”
Reason for HopeWritten by Jennifer Womack
The day marked the public unveiling of They Served With Honor: Stories from Wyoming World War II Veterans. Writers for the Casper Journal and the Casper Star Tribune spent the last few years compiling the stories and did an outstanding job. As most of you probably know, the individual tales of World War II history appeared in the newspaper. Most recently they were printed in a very nice book complete with the stories, old photos, new photos and a wonderful tribute to America’s “Greatest Generation.”
Unbeknownst to me, I should have packed a box of Kleenex with me to the airport. There were some extremely touching stories and tributes, both in the book and around the room at the book signing. The widow of one of the veterans who passed away during the project took his place at the table. She signed books on his behalf, noting the years he lived. Another gentlemen didn’t miss the opportunity to remember his two brothers who didn’t come home from World War II. Newspaper clippings detailing their stories, or what was known of their stories, were placed on the table before him.
My mother accompanied me on the trip, and driving away we discussed how they all dressed up for the gathering and the class they displayed. I found myself wondering if there will ever be another generation like this. I’m not only thinking of the sacrifices they made, but the ingenuity, innovation and ambition they brought to America. I’m sure the answer is no, but there’s still reason for hope.
Two days later I was in Cheyenne for the opening session of the 2012 Wyoming FFA Convention. As I looked around the room packed with blue corduroy jackets, I couldn’t help but feel optimistic about America’s future. Before me I saw students who zip up their blue corduroy jackets, learning the beginnings of business attire. I saw students who are excellent public speakers, young people who’ve started their own businesses and ambitious youth with big plans for the future. As one attendee put it, “I’m okay with this group of young people making our country’s decisions as I get older.”
They have manners, grace and good sense, and that’s only the beginning. When asked to develop a theme for the 2012 Wyoming FFA Convention, this year’s officer team grasped “Cultivating Character.” I, among others, was quite impressed. Wyoming’s state officer team is a group of young people whom 2,000-plus other FFA members across Wyoming look up to. They used their selected theme to bring thought to character traits, make a challenge for improvement and inspire their fellow members. They inspired more than their fellow members; they also caught the attention of many adults attending convention.
While we many never have another generation quite like the Greatest Generation, I still find reason for hope among our young people. It’s a good time to celebrate what’s right in our country in hopes they’ll too be inspired and overcome the list of what’s wrong. I know some young people who are up for the challenge.
TreesWritten by Jennifer Womack
With a variety of trees available, we’ll bring home the junipers and cottonwoods most likely to grow in our neck of the woods. We’ll throw in a couple of rolls of landscape fabric, a product that’s really improved in quality over the years. And, if history repeats itself, I’ll bring home more trees than we have the time or energy to plant and give some away around the neighborhood.
I come from a long line of people who appreciate trees. During my maternal grandfather’s younger years he worked for the U.S. Forest Service. A portion of his career there was spent planting trees. Our frequent treks into the Black Hills and the Bearlodge Mountains often included stops at the area’s largest tree, a look at tall trees and sometimes a stop at a tree he remembered planting. One such tree had flint underneath it, something he thought I should know if I ever needed to start a fire while in the woods. I hope I never find myself in that position, as I’m not confident in my ability to start a fire with a rock. We peeled paper from the birch trees, cut Christmas trees and dug seedlings to add to our yard.
When my mother and her sisters were youngsters my grandfather would often take them to the timber to gather pinecones. The pinecones, collected in bushel baskets, were sent to a nursery in Nebraska for rearing into little pine trees. A portion of those trees likely came back to the Black Hills in regeneration efforts after timber was harvested.
In the early 1980s in northeast Wyoming, our National Forest provided jobs for many during economic hard times. All one had to do to see its impact was drive through town. From men who smelled of sawdust to pickups carrying firewood, the evidence was abundant. Beyond the folks who worked for the Forest Service caring for the important resource, the timber industry was important to many and continues to be today. Some worked as lumberjacks, some ran equipment and so on and so forth. I remember a neighbor who literally spent his summer cutting firewood and making piles to sell in the fall.
Beetle killed trees, due to my grandfather’s lessons, aren’t a new concept for us, but we never saw them in the quantities they appear today. He’d point out a patch of orange trees here or there and relate the cause. It was further explained in the blued lumber he liked to use in building projects, a product of the affected trees. Many of the beetle-killed trees he saw became firewood to heat his home. As a kid who didn’t much care for packing, stacking and splitting firewood, I never could quite grasp my grandfather’s love for gathering the stuff.
My grandfather planted almost as many trees in his own yard as he did in the National Forest. In addition to his shelterbelt and yard, he kept small seedlings at the edge of a garden, ready and waiting for someone in need of a tree. One time we planted a peach pit to see if it would sprout. It made a start, but didn’t survive the winter. I was fairly disappointed. I also watched him plant the acorn off a burr oak just to see if it would grow outside of its native territory. When he ran out of room in his yard he started planting trees in my folks’ yard. My mom inherited grandpa’s love for trees and I don’t know that a year has gone by that she hasn’t added a tree to her yard.
Some of my grandfather’s trees came from the local conservation district. They provided the shelterbelt surrounding his house and the one at the house where I grew up. Step one around here is to build the house. Step two is to surround it with trees. As the old saying goes, the best time to plant a tree is yesterday. I’m reminded of this each time I drive by the neighbors’ place. While I don’t know them, I’m a little jealous of the small forest they’ve started here in our sagebrush sea. But, I think they got about a 40 year head start on us.
If you missed this year’s seedling tree order at your local conservation district, be sure to get on the list for next year. Be sure to thank them for offering this great service in our communities, making trees an affordable addition for many of us. If you just can’t wait until Spring 2013, swing by and I’ll give you a cottonwood, a juniper or dig up a lilac from back by the clothesline.
Ranch LessonsWritten by Jennifer Womack
Dad’s rule about CAN’T resulted in two scenarios. Before seeking his help we exhausted all other options. I wonder sometimes if he watched from a distance as we wrestled with the scenario or, in some cases, the critter. Second, if we had to get his help we were fairly creative in our alternative presentations…. “We have a challenge…” or “Can you help me?” At times it became fairly dramatic or straight to the point… ”If the pickup is going to have a clutch at this time tomorrow, you might want to come check this out.” I suspect this approach is a multi-generational thing, but I’ll have to ask my grandparents that question.
As a youngster I didn’t realize my dad was teaching life lessons. With two growing boys of my own, I’m starting to understand the scenario a little more clearly. Those of us in agriculture have a unique means by which to teach our kids try, responsibility, commitment, work ethic and so much more. For us the challenge lies with balancing the push to do more with their safety and our sanity. Quite often the boys provide the push when they say they’re ready to try something they haven’t yet mastered.
Joshua recently provided this push when he declared he was ready to start tagging calves. He took the saddlebags off of my saddle and moved them to his own. Since he only outweighs the average calf hitting the ground around here by about seven pounds, we felt the need for a middle ground. Despite our cows’ overall good dispositions, at only slightly larger than the calves, it’s hard to look threatening.
Our middle ground came in the form of delegation of duties. It’s now Joshua’s job, when he’s not at school, to make the eartag and, with supervision, fill the syringe with vaccine. White tags with black marker lettering result in our tags looking like a lot of others across the region. I’d wager, however, that we’re one of few outfits with an eight-year-old making ear tags and carrying his own calving book. It’s Bryce’s job to administer the vaccine and tag the calf. Joshua is responsible for tagging those calves born in the barn, which are fortunately few.
For both boys the spring’s work provides a sense of accomplishment. They’re both quick to point out calves they tagged, the calf they helped pull or other contributions. They’re learning to try something they haven’t done before and tackle jobs with a commitment to finish them.
We all have our own approaches, and I see kids learning similar lessons through other outlets. In some ways, it’s a cultural thing. For my family, the lessons are passed from one generation to the next through agriculture. At certain times of the year, they’re bolstered on the football field, in the arena and on the wrestling mat. Long-term it may not matter if the boys can tag a calf, but the associated life lessons will be called upon daily regardless of the course they travel through life.
I’ve made an effort to keep this column light-hearted, but I’m going to break that rule for one single paragraph. It’s important on many levels that the federal government steers clear of regulating youth involvement in our farms and ranchers. Kudos to Senator Barrasso (3-24-2012 edition of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup) for seeing the bigger picture on this subject and current Department of Labor efforts to intervene where help isn’t needed. Our country needs critical thinkers, hard workers, entrepreneurs and people with so many of the traits learned on Wyoming and the nation’s farm and ranches. It’s my opinion that people with many of these traits are one of the key ingredients needed to steer our country back toward a healthier economy. We’d be remiss to regulate one of our best tools away.