Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Thank Ewe

Thank Ewe…to the judges and handlers who were so generous with their time and information, to the awesome dogs (and the not-yet-so-awesome ones who are trying their best to get there), and to the wooly ewes who gave both handlers and dogs a hard time.  I had a great time last weekend at the Texas Sheep Dog Association herding trial on Brent Swindell’s lovely ranch outside Gatesville.  Rue and I aren’t quite ready for prime time yet, so she stayed home with John while I helped out by scribing (keeping score) for the judges on the Open Ranch and Nursery courses.  

I had some time to watch runs on the Open course where the most experienced dogs and handlers were working.  There was a long outrun where the dogs looked like speeding black dots circling to approach the sheep.

Then, after bringing each set of sheep through a series of panels, dog and handler worked to perform a “shed” where the sheep (which usually stick close together for safety) must be separated.   

After a successful shed like this one by Allen Mills and his dog, the sheep must be penned, and that’s a whole other story.  I can almost hear these ewes saying “It’s a trap, Gladys; we'd better run for it!”  

Or like this one, who seems to be asking the dog, “You want me to do what?!  I don’t think so!”

Or, “What do you think, Ethel; can we take him?”

There was applause from the gallery when the pen was successful.

I had a better vantage point for the Open Ranch and Nursery classes.  It was sometimes excruciating to watch the less-experienced dogs trying to move those big ewes.  They would circle, walk in, and use their best ”eye” to get the sheep to move.  Sometimes it worked, and sometimes the sheep just stamped their feet and stood like statues, or ignored the dog and ate grass.

These courses did not require a shed, but each dog and handler were expected to pen their sheep.  There were valient efforts, and for some of the teams, success. 

It was great fun to watch these beautiful animals.  Dodge, owned by Susan Harris, was nice enough to let me take his picture while he scanned the pasture for sheep.

So did Nighinn, with Handler David.  David was younger than most by several decades, but that didn't stop him from entering and turning in a good performance.  I wish there were more young handlers like him working dogs. 

It was a good time to connect with friends and to enjoy the teamwork between handlers and dogs.  Hopefully Rue and I will be back on the trial field before too long. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Right Prescription

After 2 1/2 years of cutting, shearing, pushing and piling cedar, not to mention breathlessly waiting for the weather conditions to be just right, the BIG DAY finally arrived.  Our prescribed burn of some 70 acres of our property at the farm was really happening.

We have been watching the weather for a week, hoping conditions would hold.  Early this morning we got the go-ahead from Burn Boss Jim Kenton of the Cross Timbers Prescribed Burn Association.  Winds were expected to be from the south-southwest at 10 mph or less; humidity would be less than 50%, and those conditions were expected to hold for 8 hours or so, beginning mid-morning.  This was very important, because if the conditions do not meet the "prescription" for a safe and effective burn, it will not be held.  We were fortunate, though, and weather conditions met the requirements.  Members of the Burn Association had been notified; equipment and people arrived on schedule; lunches and other provisions were prepared, and we were ready!

On Wednesday, with the dogs as company I had walked the perimeter of the 70 or so acres we planned to burn and documented that the fire lines had been mowed or bulldozed to protect adjacent landowners and other parts of our property (including the houses and barns)!

This morning, Jim assembled the volunteers and handed out assignments.  JT would drive the water truck; Tom, Calvin, Chase, Marco, John and others would man the propane “pear burners” and drip torches; Eric would provide regular weather updates on changes in wind speed, direction and relative humidity; Sheron would hand out water and ferry volunteers to where they were needed; and Carolyn, Donna, Allan, Jef, Bobby, Larry, Bill and others would do whatever was required.

At 11:00, Jim gave the word and the first fires were set in the pasture adjacent to Allan and Jef’s house along CR 313.

After those several acres were burned, providing  a reliable “black line” to protect adjacent pastures and landowners, the big brush piles on top of the hill were set.  

As the huge piles of cut cedar on top of the hill burned, Jim gave the go-ahead to "drop fire" in the pasture below our house.  The flames raced across the flats south of the house and up the hill, where they joined the fires on top with a roar.

Allan, Jef and JT protected the yard fence as the fire crawled nearer and nearer to the house.

While Kaia supervised, Eric and Jef manned the hoses to keep the grass around the propane tank wet to prevent the fire from coming too close.  

At every juncture, volunteers reported progress on their radios and received instructions from the burn boss, moving to where they were needed.  We are so grateful for their able assistance and look forward to helping when a prescribed burn is scheduled on their property.

By 4:00 p.m. our prescribed burn had accomplished its mission and the volunteers had headed home, ready to report for duty on the next burn.  We took a tour of the perimeter, marveling at the changed landscape that now looked more like the plains of Hades.  However, we know that in a few weeks the new growth will emerge, turning the hillsides green with new grass as the trees burst into bud.

As we sat on the porch this evening, we watched fires in the few remaining piles of brush flicker and glow.  

Fire is scary, and can be a very destructive force.  In the hands of knowledgeable, committed volunteers, however, it can transform a landscape of invasive cedar and scrub into a habitat for lush grasses and hardwoods.  We can hardly wait for spring!

Happy Valentine's Day

John and I had a wonderful Valentine's Day.  We are here at the farm, and he made me a lovely Thai curry for dinner.  I planned to surprise him with his favorite cheesecake for dessert.  While he was out and about preparing for the prescribed burn we have planned for Thursday (more on this later), I whipped up a scrumptious dessert as a surprise.  The cheesecake had strawberry frosting, with a lovely artistic heart of strawberry preserves in the center.

I stashed the cheesecake in another room while we were having dinner.  Afterwards, I cleaned up the kitchen while he retired to the back porch with a glass of wine and a cigar.

Dishes done, I went to retrieve the cheesecake....  It was just where I had left it, but half of it was missing!  I couldn't blame Colt; he was asleep in the bedroom.  Kota and Rue, however, wouldn't look at the mangled dessert.  They were, however, licking their lips in a most suspicious manner.  

Thank goodness they left us almost half of it for Valentine's.  But it was certainly a surprise for me as well as for John.  I guess a dog's life isn't so bad.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Hole in our Hearts

Early this morning our family suffered a terrible loss.  John’s stepfather, Robert Victor Johnston of Lake Jackson, lost his valiant battle with COPD and heart complications.  Vic was the epitome of the often overused phrase, “a gentleman and a scholar.”  With his dry wit and infectious smile, he was unfailingly courteous, gracious and generous.  He reached out to neighbors in need and for many years was the person who showed up early before church to make sure the coffee was ready for the between-Sunday school-and-church crowd.

 Vic was one of the smartest people I have ever known.  He spent his career as a research veterinarian with Dow Chemical, and was an avid reader of technical publications as well as Scientific American and other journals.  John and I benefitted often from his knowledge and expertise.  He was never too busy to answer our questions about diseases and difficulties with our cattle, not to mention the seemingly endless canine issues that arose with our several dogs.  Most of the time he knew the answer immediately, but if he didn’t, he researched it and called with a solution.

Vic came into our lives in 1993 when he married John’s mom, Maxine Bagley.  Both Vic and Maxine had lost their respective spouses several years before.  Vic’s wife, Jane, had succumbed to cancer, and John’s dad, Manning, had died suddenly of a heart attack.  When they met and fell in love, Vic explained that he had previously had heart bypass surgery, and that he was not expected to live more than five years or so.  However, he wanted to share his remaining time with Maxine.  Those five stretched to more than twenty wonderful years they shared together, traveling, going dancing and enjoying life.  What a blessing they were to each other, and to their families.  His passing leaves a hole in our hearts.  We will miss him terribly.