Sunday, November 23, 2008



Salutations from the sun-baked Texas Plains, (Yes, it is July and I have begun chronicling!)
March: With the warmer days upon us, fighting the rats for the daily-delivered newspaper is less and less of a challenge. During the winter, unless we got out to the road, as soon as the paper hit the dirt, the rats seemed to claim it as free and easy nesting material. I can’t count how many times we’ve found that the paper had been dragged down into the bar-ditch, only to discover huge gnawed holes in the mid-section of a newspaper that is already lacking substance as it is. After several months, we can now finally read entire, uninterrupted articles! The hot wires that encompass the farm have failed to do the job that we are paying them to do. With the ground being harder than a goat’s horn, due to the severe drought conditions, the cattle’s hooves have become “insulators” to the electric jolt they should receive when in contact with the wire; therefore, it is an hourly chore to gather them back where they should be and fix the fence. A pocket-sized pair of binoculars has taken up permanent residence on the window sill by the kitchen sink – easy to grab to get a precise gaze at the far northern pasture in order to determine whether our “precious, sweet” bovines are in or out. As winter – more mild than ever - took its last few gasps, the wheat entered its greenest time. Just beyond the wires, the wheat became prey to the voracious, obsessively addicted appetites of the cattle. Many a’ predawn school morning has been spent on the 4- wheeler, armed with the pellet gun, Birkenstocks, a faded Carhart jacket and flannel pajamas – whoopin’ and hollerin’ to drive the animals back into the confines of the pasture and then rig the escape route to prevent another jailbreak. I learned not to get dressed for school until the last moments before departure, as “my cows” needing tending to (as Dyke put it). Dyke has taken on the cook’s role while I fire up the 4-wheeler and set out across the dimly lit, pre-dawn pasture in hot pursuit. I have had to settle with getting to work later than my usual 7:15. Upon returning each day from school, much to the boys’ dislike, the priority chore has become the searching and gathering of the cows. The boys have even had to resort to the 20-gauge shotgun at times. With Jake at the helm of the 4-wheeler and Zack riding behind - shotgun in hand, they have teamed up and successfully keep the cattle at bay. Eventually, with the help of the 3 dogs and the sound of the 4-wheeler engine, the cattle soon knew what to expect, so the mission became easier and less stressful to complete. Things slowly changed when the few-and-far-between pre-spring showers created a better “ground” for the electricity, plus the investment of a higher voltage fence charger, that the fence miraculously became the stopping point for the tenacious beef-on-the-hoof! Early Spring also brought the weaning of Zack’s bull calf, one of the juveniles responsible for the daily escapes. Mabel, the calf’s mother, learned to get around the pens that kept them separated, parallel-park herself next to the corral where he was kept, and continue to allow him to squeeze his short-horned head through the fence and suck. Wasn’t able to catch them in the act all of the time, but the evidence was apparent from the frothy piles of milky saliva, left next to the fence.
Spring break brought his reproductive future to a screeching halt - a greatly needed castration. Devoid of a fancy squeeze chute, Dyke and Jake roped him and tied him off to the pipe fence that enclosed the corral that he was in. Zack took his perch on the fence to photograph the event. Time was of the essence, as he was being choked down with every struggling flop that he made. With the back legs pulled apart, I quickly opened my pocket knife, stepped closer to make my incision and “fish” the testicles out of the sack. He tried to flop and helplessly moaned while I performed this primitive surgical procedure. The blood came fast, and it crossed my mind that we were doing this in the wrong phase of the moon. Several “old timer” ranchers that I had worked for rely on the moon phases dictated in the Farmer’s Almanac to plan their castration or dehorning. Others think it’s hogwash. I hadn’t checked on where the moon was that day, so I knowingly cast myself into the “hogwashers” category. The first one, lying on top, was easy to get to. I had done this many times before, but not with a13 year old and a husband who just spent the better part of the week laying on the wood floor from an injured disk in his back. I grasped, pulled and severed the slimy white cords that anchored “it” in place, As I loosed “it” from “its” location, “it” filled my entire opened palm and was oval in shape, warm, white and slick. The calf was on the verge of being too old to cut- definitely not the frying size. My taste buds prefer them to be no larger than a Kennedy half dollar and these were like Confederate bills! As I slung the first one over the fence, Cashe quickly gulped it down, with Penny patiently waiting for the next. I noticed that the longhorns and other heifers had gathered at the fence with a look of horror on their faces. Oddly enough, it seemed that the longhorns were reflecting on their own past. I had cut them when they were young, and I couldn’t help thinking that they actually remembered! Before I had a chance to process all that was happening, Dyke yelled, “Hurry up, I think he’s choked down and isn’t breathing!” I moved as quickly as I could, reaching up into the opened sack to feel for the other one that had been sucked up into its warm, moist cavity. Losing my grasp several times, I was finally able to squeeze and pull it into view to do what needed to be done. The instant it was severed, I tossed it, released the loop from his neck and a small trickle of blood drained from his nostrils. He lay motionless. Silent panic set in. It had taken too long. He was gone. Jake fetched a pail of water from the trough and threw it on him as I started CPR, loudly hollerin’, “Come on!” After the fourth or fifth pump to his chest, his eyes rolled back down into proper position and he began to respond. A few dazed moments passed, as we all held our breath. I continued to massage him all over. Blood, black hair, water, sweat and dust coated my hands, arms and clothes as I knelt beside him. He stumbled to his hooves and stood stationary while he collected whatever was left of his bearings. Several attempts to clear his lungs and a step or two forward chased the fear of death away. Racing thoughts of how we were going to butcher him right then and there silently faded and miraculously, he was walking around and even eating some alfalfa by the time the two ropes were coiled and hanging on the fence post. I kept him in the corral overnight just for observation and by the morning, he seemed fit and eager to rejoin the others. The moon must have been in the right phase, as the blood stopped surging after several minutes. For some reason, Dyke and the boys kept their distance from me for most of the day! March also breathed life back into the ol’ henhouse. I didn’t want to deal with baby chicks, and try to outsmart the bobcats and snakes until the fowl were of laying age, so I asked a friend if she needed her flock culled. One night, we all went over to her farm and while shining a flashlight in their eyes on the roost, we were able to easily select the hens that we wanted and pluck them from the roost with little or no struggle. My antique chicken boxes, which have retired as porch end-tables sure did come in handy for the transport! So, as of this day, we have 6 laying hens and 1 rooster. Nothing beats farm fresh eggs! Other animal escapades… Somehow, Hershey, my colt, impaled himself on a steel fencepost in the pasture. I thought it odd that he didn’t come up to eat with the others one evening, but dismissed it to the sweet grasses in the pasture. It was the same story the 2nd evening. Upon searching for him, I discovered that he had spent the night and perhaps a good part of the previous day—in one spot, down at the pond, only able to pivot on his good foot—with a huge puncture wound to the chest (in the shape of a T post), as deep as my longest finger. I still don’t know how he managed that, but after several weeks of flushing it and doctoring it with injections and salve, he healed nicely. Exploration on a 6,000 ac. ranch near the Red River, lead us to a family outing: a buffalo bone hunt extraction. Dyke’s partner had stumbled upon a bone sticking out of a wash during a quail hunt. We were able to uncover many bones from what was perhaps an Indian camp “bone-dump”. Rib bones, leg bones and even a tooth! It was fascinating! We also saw an old wagon road that lead to the Red River where there was an old rock crossing allowing passage into Oklahoma Indian Territory. The road had been protected by a double fence, so the wagon ruts were still easily visible! Amazing! I was in heaven and instantly thrust myself back in time!

April: The guys were able to put 4 wild turkeys in the freezer this year. Zack shot his first one! It was a big one with about a 9 inch beard. Also, Dyke helped fill the freezer by providing some fresh buffalo. A local rancher needed help with herd management, so Dyke kindly helped out.

I don’t know how those Indian women fleshed and tanned hides with stone tools, but my respect and awe now run very deep! I fleshed 2 heads and 3 hides with several different steel knives and it took basically all day! The hides were smelly and VERY greasy! The flies had already started laying eggs on the raw flesh and after a couple of days…voila –there were handfuls of maggots dripping off the hides and wiggling throughout the brain cavities!

Jake turned 14 in April! I surprised him with my own rendition of the show The Amazing Race. It was: Vernon’s Amazing Race. The 4 teams were driven (by a parent) all over Vernon to complete 14 challenge tasks within one hour. What a time they had! In order to get started on their challenge, one person from each team had to eat and completely swallow a cooked calf testicle! We were astounded as to how fast and painless they met that challenge! To top it off, we wrapped up a big snake that Dyke had found… yes, alive, but non-venomous. When Jake opened that “present” the place cleared out! It was hysterical and Dyke, the King of Pranks, was LOVING it! To us, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but the guests were all from town and even the mothers who were drivers for the challenges were there to witness it! They had petrified looks on their faces and blood-curdling screams reverberated from the walls as Zack snatched it up and dangled it in front of everyone! The party was a huge success and his friends still talk about it!

By the end of April, Zack decided that he was willing to sell his bull calf at the auction. The boys and I hauled him to the sale, and said our last goodbyes while a cowboy slapped a sticky number on his hip and released him into a white pipe holding pen. After the auction, we picked up the check for the sale. Zack had become $600.00 richer and quickly decided that he wanted to continue his commitment to the cattle market. By the time spring was waning into summer, we made the plunge and bought Toro, the borrowed longhorn bull that you read about in the last chronicle. I recently loaned him out to a neighboring rancher for his first year heifers. He’s sired 3 more calves for us this year so far. It’s not a herd to call home about yet, but maybe someday. Penny and Cash are as exuberant as ever, but on a sad note, Bud, the young, down-on-his-luck bird dog, (from the last chronicle) took his last breath during this season. Dyke was trying to get the cows in with the use of the pick-up and Bud somehow slipped under the wheels and was killed. Zack’s world came crashing down around him. But, soon after that, we rescued an infant coon—eyes still closed, the size of your palm.-the youngest one we’ve ever rehabbed. Bottle feedings occurred every 2-3 hours around the clock. Zack and Budreaux (French for Bud), instantly became inseparable. They’d lay on the couch together to watch TV, wrestle in the grass, crawdad hunt in the creek and they became each other’s shadow. Cooner (as I call him), LOVES his daily bowls of Kix cereal and milk! It’s a riot to watch! He’s also taken a hankerin’ to Fritos and grapes!

May: At Jake’s 8th grade send-off dance, he was crowned King of the 8th grade. Apparently, during the school day, all of the 8th graders cast their votes and it was announced that night at the dance. He and the queen had to “slow dance” in front of the entire 8th grade! I didn’t even know he knew how to do that! Oh, I feel there is SO much I don’t know! YIPES! He stands just about 6’ now and is excited to play football at high school this coming school year. He has been undefeated in pole vaulting and has held the district championship title for 2 years straight! Zack will also be playing football (4th grade) for the first time and is so excited that he has been sleeping with his football EVERY night since the sign-up! He is still passionate about Indians and even made his own leather loincloth! Both boys love muddin’ on the 4 wheeler, wakeboarding at the lake and are still somewhat good about working on the farm without much resistance. During chores, Zack quickly switches into his opera rendition of, “Nobody Knows The Troubles I’ve Seen”. You can’t help but crack up at him. Jake is definitely more serious and exhibits more and more of his dad’s traits! This school year was a good one for me, and VERY FAST! I was grateful that summer had arrived! We all worked on landscaping the front of the house with indigenous Texas plants. We all agreed that it’s exactly what was needed and with the addition of an old freight wagon from the local auction, it certainly has that Texas farmhouse feel! The wheat claimed an untimely death just prior to harvest (end of May). It never grew tall enough to even reach the combine teeth, therefore it couldn’t be cut and after the visit by the insurance adjuster, we learned that it was claimed as a total loss. Our wheat crew traveled all the way from Alberta, Canada and with the crops in such poor condition, they were not happy campers. The cotton was planted soon after that, in hopes that the rains will come. We did not plant alfalfa this year. With the drought, no one is able to cut any hay and those that are able to, are charging a phenomenal amount! We’ll see what happens. We may have to buy some bales from OK.
June: For me, summer always brings the time to sit back and drop the reins a bit. The cool mornings and evenings are catalysts to relax, ruminate and reflect on the blessed life that God has placed before us. Following the morning chores, while the rest of the household snoozes, a good cup of coffee on the porch has become quite a pensive, spiritual experience for me. Gazing across the parched, flat, dusty fields, hearing the echoes of the coal trains traversing the vast expanse of the land and watching the earth awaken, there is such a powerful and almost tactile connection to life around me. As the day gets underway, we are blasted with 105+ degree temps with furnace-like winds that consumingly suck all moisture from everything that it breathes on. The tornadic storms that usually sweep through here at this time of year, have split around us every time, leaving us with only a spitting of rainfall; however, we did find ourselves in the cellar a couple of times as funnel clouds swirled only a few miles away. While the east coast is flooding, we are more than 10 inches behind. We really haven’t had any rain to speak of for 8 months! My best hen hatched 3 babies, but within 3 weeks, they had disappeared, along with the daily 3-4 eggs that I had been collecting. Dyke said it was due to a snake, so at various times of night and day, I crept out there to apprehend the criminal –but to no avail. When I noticed that the coon was not utilizing the hollow tree at the end of the porch, I peered down into the cavernous trunk and a very healthy coiled chicken snake glared back at me. No wonder! With the trunk being hollow, it took 3 days to finally catch it. As Zack flashed a light into the dark recesses of the trunk, Jake stuck his hand in and was able to grab its tail. Instantly it headed down a hole into the root system and although Jake pulled with everything he had, he could not pull the snake out. Finally, the 8 minute battle exhausted the snake and a 5 foot snake was extracted! The boys put it in a Wal-Mart sack, hopped on the 4 wheeler and relocated it down the road. As I later learned, the snake had somehow escaped from the sack as they drove and upon stopping to recapture it, it hurriedly slithered up into the engine! By the time the sun sank into the western sky, it once again occupied the Wal-Mart sack and the mission was underway! Since the apprehension of the offender, I am able to now collect eggs daily, until the next one makes its presence known. The boys continue to perfect their snake catching talents. With it being so dry, we are anticipating more and more of them coming around the house to find water. Our pond is completely dry now, so the cows have to come clear up to the barn to drink. Our neighbor to the north has to haul water in big tanks from town, since their well went completely dry at the beginning of the summer. I have heard that some wells are actually pumping sand because there is just no water! I thank God daily that we are not on a well. The courthouse steps have witnessed many prayer rallies for rain and it is a daily reminder in news- paper columns. As heard across the nation, the scorched expanse of land that we exist upon out here has been enslaved by the raging wildfires that have claimed life and property. With the extreme temperatures and shortage of rainfall, incredibly, the earth continues its long-suffering trauma. The farm is now home to 9 baby kitties! Dyke’s threats to use them as catfish bait don’t fall on deaf ears, that’s for sure. (I guess you can catch some whoppers on rat-sized cats!) The five that were born in the hay barn turned up MIA just a couple of days after they were born. We never found them, but assume that the large rat snake that we put in the trash compartment of the barn (to eat the rats), must have also snacked on the kitties. The 4 that were born on the porch survived and were donated to a friend. July found us in the 122 degree Phoenix heat picking up a 4wd Toyota truck that we were the highest Ebay bidders on! We drove out to Arizona, picked up the truck and spent the next 3 days making our way back to Texas by way of the Grand Canyon, Four Corners, Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings, Durango and finally Vernon. It was fantastic and WHAT A BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY WE LIVE IN! WOW! Fall: Cooler temperatures weren’t felt until the last days of September. This is also when Budreaux, the Coon began his weekly sabbaticals from the farm. Just as the others have done, the drop of the mercury and their hormonal changes, bring about more independence, which IS the whole idea behind rehabbing them, but it’s certainly difficult after they have become an integral part of the family. Within the space of 2 weeks, The crop’s lifeblood rains came and the gauge was filled to the 7 inch mark! The watering hole filled up, and the cotton bathed in the blessing! Both boys earned starting quarterback positions on their teams with successful seasons! We are so proud of them! My class is quite possibly the most challenging class in 15 years. Fantasies of being a stay-at-home mom/artist/B & B owner have begun to occupy my spirit more and more these days! When the time is right, Hershey will be sold along with the longhorns. We will add some heavy bred Angus cows and a bull to the herd—leasing the adjacent 40 acres, to try to make a go with a modest cattle operation. Fences/pens will be built, and the addition of “The Bunkhouse” for guests/horse hotel occupants will soon start—as soon as Dyke finishes with his rental property renovation. It’s slow, but steady in that department! With deer/duck season well underway at this point, Dyke’s “home time” is spread thin, like mid- spring ice. Looks like the cotton will be a total loss. The wheat has been slow in maturing, and is now yellowing due to the snows that have immobilized the plains. Many of the coyotes have disbanded in search of food and sieges of cranes and skeins of geese now cloud the airspace as they make the journey to better feeding grounds.

We continue to traipse across the prairie amidst the daily flurry of excitement; exuberant, giddy and at times reckless! May your dreams stay big and your worries stay small. The gate is always open—jus’ saddle up and git-on out here. We’re only two whoops and a holler away! Merry Christmas Y’all!
Dyke, Su, Jake and Zack

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