By Wendy R. Pratt
We’re staging the cows to leave for the hills, putting groups back together since calving and branding, and moving them to green grass on pastures around the home ranch. We’ll open the gates and start walking towards our mountain range next week.
Staging is not to be confused with “shaping them up,” which is the term my Mom used to describe going through the cows and sorting off those that weren’t trail ready. The herd will walk fifty miles before they reach the high country. We will walk or ride with them and it’s not for the unfit.
But unfit I am. The older I get the more pain is endured when spending hours on a horse when one has been too long out of the saddle. Yesterday I wore biking shorts under my jeans to go with the rough-out leather pad on my saddle, wore my chaps for extra protection, took two ibuprofen, and I’m still bruised and sore this morning. It was a beautiful day though and so good for my well-being to see luscious grass instead of tightly grazed feed ground.
Mark put an electric string around the house and let the pairs in to graze areas that they usually don’t get to. I had a hard time getting any work done because I wanted to simply sit on the terrace and watch cows eat. Andre Voisin, author of the classic Grass Productivity called the process, poetically, “the cow at grass.”
The birds are back! How I love the familiar two-note song of the chickadee and the flash of an oriole in his pumpkin-colored plumage. I got in trouble with Mark because I took the good binoculars out of his calving pickup and moved them to the kitchen for bird watching. But not too much trouble because we both enjoy the birds so much.
I planted the early garden veggies, kale, lettuce, swiss chard, carrots and beets. And we’re getting asparagus! Our humble sandhill ranch grows wild asparagus by the armful. Only a few choice individuals know where my asparagus “gardens” are. My favorite way to prepare the little darlings is browned in butter on the stove, with garlic.
I helped Mark start water at our farm we bought when the kids were little. The ditch originates at “the Hornet’s Nest,” so named because of the arguments over water rights conducted by two or more farmers at the three-way split. Starting water requires burning the ditch first and then frenzied pitching when the water is first turned in. The canal company has helped Mark for a few years with a bucket on a backhoe. We trade labor. We burn the ditch and they provide the equipment when it’s flushed. How did we ever do it with just a pitchfork?
The glory of spring never pales. Or rather, it only strengthens as we age and learn what glory really means. The work never ends, but there is loveliness all around. The fragrance of the plum tree blossoms in the windbreak, the nest of duck eggs saved from the fire along the ditch bank, the munching of cows gathering grass – and let’s not forget asparagus – are balm for the soul.