Well, here we are again at that magic time of what the Apaches called “Time of Many Fruits”, and which we, less poetically, know as “Fall” – and with it comes the fall round up, starting this coming Monday. We will gather the pastures, bring in the cows and calves, and take all the steers and some of the heifers to the cattle auction. Normally we keep back about 20-30 of the best heifers as herd replacements, but, due to the ongoing drought, it looks as if all the calves will have to go, and the herd be reduced – a very depressing idea. Following the round up, we wait and see what the market will pay for our calves. Truly, there can be no other business in the world where you make a product and then take it to market and ask “what will you give me for it?”! Forget adding up production costs and tacking on a profit margin – in fact, what is a “profit margin”, anyway? Doesn’t exist in ranching!
However, the guests joining us for the round up are happy, and the cows, notwithstanding a miserable dry summer, look good. We had only two significant rains during the whole of the summer, totaling a scant four and a bit inches of rain, but at least these were spaced well enough so that the grass grew and the country looks reasonably good. On the other hand, as there were no downpours to fill the tanks (ponds) with run-off, most of these are dry, making us face the awful possibility that we may have to water the herd at the home corrals from the domestic well – expensive in terms of both electricity and water supply! Ah well – my grandfather was a farmer in the old country, and as a child, I well remember him sitting, with a long face, in front of the radio, listening to livestock and grain prices, grumbling. I used to wonder why – now I know.
During the late summer my step daughter from Australia and her husband visited me, and we took a trip to the local apple orchards, whimsically called “Apple Annie’s”, to pick fruit. It’s been a long time since I picked fruit off the tree. Many years ago there used to be an orchard called Grizzle’s not far from here, and we used to go there to pick peaches and plums. I remember it was very easy to come home with over 100 lbs of peaches, with the problem of what to do with them next! I used to go through the usual tedious business of getting the skin off, cutting them up and freezing them in containers, until an old ranch lady told me of a great trick. You just take the peaches and put them in a paper bag (not plastic, but paper) and throw the whole lot into the freezer. Later, when you want to use them, you just take a peach, stick it under running water, and bingo! The skin slides off! This method made the purchase of mega tons of peaches not only possible, but exciting – until Grizzles’ went out of business due to the high cost of natural gas, with which they ran their heaters when frost threatened the peach trees in early spring. Evidently Apple Annie’s has no such problem, being at a somewhat lower elevation – their peach trees were laden with fruit, so we came home with not only peaches, but bags of apples – and while there, had this interesting photo taken.
And on the dog front, some of you may remember my mentioning book keeper Diane’s dog, Jinx, which came to the ranch as a puppy, to the everlasting annoyance of my dog, Tuffy, who finds any kind of competition for my affection extremely irritable. Well, Jinx has not only survived puppyhood, she actually celebrated her first birthday the other day and her family threw a birthday party for her. Here she is in her party hat, looking suitably somewhat embarrassed, as befits a dog of the mature age of one year, doing silly people things!
Meanwhile, still on the animal front, we are being driven crazy by an invasion of woodpeckers. These little blighters have been with us always, of course, but for some reason this year we are inundated by flocks of males, whose endearing habit of marking their territory consists of pecking at our buildings, leaving holes which are not only unsightly, but which also invite other varmints to take up residence. I have taken to sitting in my office with a stout ruler by my computer, which I wield with a heavy hand on the outside wall, hoping to scare them away. Diane just came in and told me that she hopes I won’t find myself making a bigger hole than the woodpeckers, right through the wall. Maintenance Daniel, meanwhile, has taken to patrolling the place toting a rifle, looking like Davy Crockett, in the hope of winging one. Given their swiftness and size, I am not worried for their safety, but I do hope that they take this in the spirit in which it’s meant, and move on to the neighbors!
Some of you may have talked with our new Guest Services gal, Anne, who has been here for some two months now, but all this talk of the animal kingdom reminded me of when she first arrived, fresh from the suburbs of Chicago. She had never been west before, or at least not in the country, and she wasn’t particularly pleased about the possibility of chance encounters with various wildlife. One of the first evenings when we were in the Cook Shack together in the evening, she peered out in the direction of the pool and asked me if I would give her a lift to her accommodation, some 400 ft away, in case she met the hyenas. It turned out she meant the javelinas – pronounced havelinas, so, not far from hyenas verbally, but it did give me a turn! I don’t care for hyenas – when, as a child, I lived on the outskirts of Lahore during our tenure in India (now Pakistan), we often heard, and sometimes saw, these less then endearing creatures – but javelinas are another thing entirely. They are not pigs, though they look like them somewhat – they are peccaries, and the name javelina was given to them by the early Spanish settlers who thought that the males’ tusks look like javelins, which they do. Javelinas are actually rather charming animals – very near sighted, mostly nocturnal, and family oriented – I often encounter one particular group of parents and babies, rooting around the grounds, moving the rocks that border the paths in an effort to uncover grubs and other edible goodies. They make good pets, too – friends of mine found an orphaned, abandoned baby javelina, and keep it as a pet. Rejoicing in the name of ZsaZsa, she sits on the sofa with them and watches television, goes outside to do her business, then comes in again to snuggle in for the night, a very sociable, bristly little being. She doesn’t particularly care for outside company either, her humans tell me, shoving visitors off her couch if they crowd her space. I think I agree with whoever it was that said “if dogs don’t go to heaven, then I don’t want to go there either” – but make it animals – all animals.
And I don’t think I mentioned this before in these pages, but I have a new fun way to ride. My beloved horse, Comanche, who does all but talk, now comes to accompany me when I ride my other horse, Tequila. It’s a very fun experience – Comanche, loose, hangs back, nibbling a bit of grass here and there – then, head up, he sees we have left him, and are a considerable distance ahead – up he comes, tail in the air, at a gallop, mane flying, to catch up. Then he trudges behind, his head level with my leg, as if to say “here I am, making sure he does his job right!!” – next he sees something interesting, breaks off to investigate – at times he decides that he ought to be in the lead, so pushes past me and takes up the first position, to which he is, actually entitled – we always lead our rides! He generally takes the correct turns, but if not, he’s quite philosophical about changes in plans – oh OK – he seems to say, and turns to catch up with us. I must say that these rides, on one beloved horse, and accompanied by another one, together with dog Tuffy, make for truly lovely days. And it’s good exercise for him – for every mile Tequila and I make, he makes at least two, coming back all sweated up, so I don’t have to feel guilty for not taking him.
I also want to share with you the final completing touch to the Cook Shack building, destroyed by the fire of ’07. The beautiful old oak tree on the patio finally had to go – even I could see that there was no saving it, so a crew of men came and cut it down. It was a sad day for me – that tree had been the first tree, so to speak, to welcome us when we first moved to Grapevine – but, it was gone. And now the question arose – what to put in its place. The Patio without the tree reminded me of a factory yard – the stark walls bordering it, the brick floor, the awful bareness of it all. So we built a Ramada over it – and, planted in three huge pots, we installed a trumpet vine, which quickly took root and made itself at home. It was planted sometime at the beginning of June – and already it’s busily climbing all the way to the top of the Ramada, promising to cover the whole thing with its leafy shade by next summer.
So I will leave you, and promise to make this a more timely entry in the future. My time flies by so fast that one week crowds another, so thanks to several friends who have nudged me and said – where is it!!?? Feel free to nudge!