Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Last night was a sleepless one--or at least sleep only in short bursts. Since we moved the camper to be closer to the bath-house, there are more sounds from the nearby pastures and hills. Between the coyotes howling, the dogs barking at the coyotes, and then the dogs howling with the coyotes, last night's sleep was fitful at best. I woke three times that I recall to a canine symphony starting with yipping and howling coyotes in the not too far away distance, joined by barking dogs in three pitches: Tucker, Cash, and Gus, building to a cacophony of barking and howling dogs and coyotes. We looked out the camper window to see Cash with his nose pointed high in the air singing, "aaaawwwwwooooooooooo!"

And somewhere in between was this sleepy conversation:

--unidentified animal noise--

--barking dogs--

Jon: "What was that?"
Me: "It was a cow."
Jon: "That was NOT a cow."
Me: "No? I thought it sounded like a cow."
Jon: "It sounded like a mountain lion."
Me: "I didn't think we had mountain lions down here."
Jon: "Me neither. Maybe it was a bobcat."
Me: "Okay, now I am totally freaked out and I have to go to the bathroom."

All of this makes me nervous because tomorrow our neighbor is putting 20 ewes and their lambs in our orchard and corral areas to eat down the grass. It is a mutually beneficial agreement: our grass needs to be eaten and the sheep are hungry.

But, I am worried about the coyotes preying on the sheep. Our neighbor says as long as our dogs are around the sheep should be fine. I am worried about the dogs chasing the sheep, or worse, because our dogs aren't accustomed to livestock. Our neighbor says his sheep are used to dogs, but still, I worry.

Really, I couldn't sleep last night worrying about it. Then again, maybe it was the coyotes...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cascade Fire

Once again, most news agencies are reporting about the California wildfires, but other areas are burning as well. The Cascade fire in southwestern Montana is pretty close to the ranch--about 15 miles as the crow flies. This is basically the view that greeted us on Saturday afternoon as we returned from Cody, Wyoming:

Photo: LARRY MAYER/Billings Gazette Staff

Our ranch is not in any imminent danger, but our quaint little haven of Red Lodge is indeed.

Cascade Fire Map Courtesy of Tom Kohley for (amended with place names)

The fire has continued to burn unabated (it is 0% contained after four days), consuming 5800 acres so far. We can see the fire's smoke from the ranch and yesterday while in Red Lodge for pizza, we saw and heard C130 planes and Sikorsky helicopters flying above town.

High winds of 20 - 40 mph are expected tonight which could push the fire into the town. I'm really hoping that doesn't happen. Click here for more pictures of the fire activity.

Monday, July 28, 2008


We’ve been mighty busy over the last several weeks working on the ranch out here in Montana. We’ve hauled nine loads of refuse to either the dump or the recycling company; the loads have ranged from 2200 pounds up to 4000 pounds. We’re down to a fewer number of small piles that still need to be hauled into the Billings. I wasn’t sure we’d ever find the end of the trash piles and I’m sure that when the tall grass is gone we’ll find more garbage hiding, waiting for us to load and haul.

The little house we are planning to renovate is finally cleaned out! Sadly, we came to the realization that we would not be able to do very much construction work on it this year. We emptied and sorted all of the stuff that had been stored inside: furniture, paperwork, bottles, jars, and other household accessories. We then removed all of the drywall, the floors, the doors, and the trim. We had a structural engineer who specializes in historic homes come out and evaluate it and to our delight, he said it was in unusually good structural condition, particularly given it's age of probably 100 years or more. It doesn't look like much, I know, but it will!

As an interim solution to our current “camp living” situation, we had the idea of converting an old lambing barn into a bath house. It’s only 12’x16’ but it will have all the amenities of a small home: toilet, vanity, shower, washing machine, bed, and refrigerator. The major stuff such as roofing, electrical, and plumbing are complete and the toilet, sink, shower, and floor are in as well. It’s amazing how special it feels to have a toilet that flushes. The shower is nice as well, not only for me, but also for everyone that spends any time around me!

We even made time to throw in a flagstone patio out front, made from slate collected around the property.

One of the summer's big projects was to upgrade all of the electrical services on the ranch. Everything was brought to current code requirements and the service was expanded to several new areas. Our houses and outbuildings are no longer unsafe.

The main shop also got a shiny new roof! I liked the aesthetics of the cedar shingles that we had to cover up, however the rain and sunshine that could be seen or felt from the inside were not so desirable.

In our efforts to practice sustainable grazing, we decided to lease our pasture to some neighbors that need a place for 28 pairs (cows with their calves) of Charolais cattle . This decision meant I had to do a bit of fencing, so I spend about four hours today working on the fence that forms the boundary around our 80 acres of paradise.

Earlier in the summer, the plan was to mow the four or so acres around our outbuildings, orchard, and corrals, but the grass grew so fast we didn’t have time to pick up the junk and tree limbs. As I drove home one night, I noticed our neighbor tossing hay to his sheep because he had run out of grass for them to eat in his pasture. Perhaps I didn't need to mow it, but could lease it to our neighbor for his sheep--sheep make great lawnmowers! The neighbors came down to check it out and agreed that there was a lot of good grazing to be had. So now I’ve also got to fix that section of fence. It seems like no matter how much we get done, there’s always more to do out here in Big Sky Country. Sorry for posting so few pictures, more to come! I've got to get out and move some water!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


The search is over, the vigil and memorial in North Carolina have passed. Nancy's family has returned to Canada for a few days and I guess this is the time when many of us will try to create a degree of normalcy in our lives.

Sunday was the first day that I didn't think about Nancy, her death, and her family incessantly. Monday, yesterday, was the first day that I didn't wake up thinking about Nancy. For days, I would wake in the morning and realize that I had already been thinking about
her before I even realized I was awake. At times my grief was paralyzing and at times it felt distant because of my geography.

Life and death roll on.

Our friend Mike, who we met in Boise and who later moved to San Francisco, visited us in Bridger for a long weekend. We explored the reaches of nearby natural wonders in Yellowstone National Park and the Beartooth Pass.

Our Montana neighbors lost one of their dogs; Kathleen went to check water near the highway and her deaf dog wandered into the road.

Our work on the ranch continues with the realization that we will not finish the little house this summer and the conversion of an old lambing barn into a new bath-house.

Tucker supervises the electrical work on the bath-house (if only he had thumbs).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


To my great surprise,
Although a shining light was lost,
The sun still rose today.

I suppose, too,
The stars will twinkle and the moon will rise tonight.
But nothing, nothing, nothing,
Will seem as bright.

For my friend Nancy Cooper: August 25, 1973 - July 12, 2008.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

She's Gone

The Cary Police announced today that the body they found was indeed Nancy--and she was murdered.

To my friends and family that have consoled me with calls and support, you have my deepest gratitude. I'm not sure where my grief will go from here. To Nancy's family and her other friends that also grieve for the loss of her, I send my love and my heartfelt and heart-full memories of Nancy.

My dear Nan, I can only send my love for you out into the universe and hope that you find it. I mourn the loss of your friendship and I will miss you terribly.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Missing: Nancy Cooper

My dear friend Nancy Cooper went for a run on Saturday morning in Cary, NC, and never returned. If you are local, please pass this information along to everyone you know and anyone who might be willing and able to help in the search efforts. Please print and post the flyer if you can. Below is a blog that is being used to track the search areas. If you have a blog or other media resources, please link to it.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Log Cabin

This is the original log cabin that was built on the property. At one time, a friend of Jon's father had plans to deconstruct it and rebuild it on his property. His numbering system didn't work and he wasn't able to keep track of the pieces, thus the pile of logs we eventually used to build a makeshift enclosure for the dogs.

The dogs quickly learned to jump over our little fence, so in part that was a wasted effort although the logs needed to be moved anyway. Good thing there is a larger fenced area of several acres to keep the dogs somewhat contained.

The log cabin is small, and in later years was re-purposed as a pig sty. Literally. Nowadays, the roof needs alot of work and there are inches, perhaps feet, of old manure inside. There are no plans to do anything with it; for now it is just a historic novelty.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Random Shots Around the Ranch

Our little homesite on the ranch property.

The wash station, where we do dishes and laundry by hand. The flagstone "patio" was built with rocks collected around the property. The enameled washbasin and tin bucket were found inside the little house, plastic bucket and hose are circa 2008. We recently had almost 400 feet of plumbing run from the well and pump over to the area of the little house (after Jon spent three days excavating a six foot deep trench). We have a relatively unlimited supply of fresh water.

The yard hydrant and well above ground; the pump house is under the big metal cover that Jon built.

Friday, July 04, 2008

People Are Strange

I took a walk on the ranch property this morning before heading to work and thought it strange what our former renters decided to take with them and what they left behind.

Gone: the basketball hoop that was mounted on the wood shop.

Left behind: the dog house (but not the dog, thankfully) painted to match the Keiths' trailer.

Left behind: a sturdy tire swing. No telling how much of the Keith girls' time was spent swinging in it during their 15 years on the property.

Left behind: thousands of pounds of garbage, literally, for us to clean up.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Mountain Pornography

Posting some more pictures of the Sawtooths because they were so breathtaking. These shots were taken while riding down Fourth of July Road outside of Stanley, Idaho.

Shepherd Camp with Hobbled Horses

Fire Damage from 2007

More Fire Damage from 2007

Stole this solo-bike-in-photograph staging from Jill Homer.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Times, They Are a Changin'

You know things are different when you have the following conversation with your husband:

Jon: "Sweetie, can you make a list of things to buy when we go to town?"
Me: "Sure, what should I put on it?"
Jon: "Ummm, irrigating boots for you, a pair of fencing pliers, a big magnet for cleaning out the burn pit, sawzall blades, dust masks, an auger bit, and Advil. Can you think of anything else?"
Me: "I think that about covers it. Oh, I'm gonna stop at the antique store to see if I can find a manual clothes wringer, a washboard, and a cast iron skillet."

Kickin' it pioneer style, I tell ya.