Can you believe it’s almost Christmas!! This last Halloween, and of course, all the other holidays upcoming, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, are the first in thirty years that I am spending without guests and Grapevine, and it is a very strange feeling. I really miss the decorating, the hustle and bustle of the special days, the guests coming in, so many of you returning year after year, so that it hardly seems a holiday without you – and of course, I miss the wonderful meals that just appeared out of nowhere, with such attention to detail, such deliciousness! I think my stomach will be lucky if it gets a bit of chicken! (The plus side of all this personal housekeeping is that I have lost some weight, all to the good.)
The things I don’t miss are the rising food prices and, you won’t believe this, the sky rocketing hay prices! Hay, which used to be $80 a ton when we began the ranch, and which was, at the time of closing, about $290 a ton, is now $320, and there are expectations that it will reach $400 a ton before long. Obviously, such escalating prices can’t be borne by any business, and I wonder how other ranches are getting by – you can hardly keep raising your own prices, and yet, how to sustain such costs! This, as you can imagine, is an excellent reason why I am not missing “Grapevine, the business”, though I miss “Grapevine, the guests and friends”. And it makes me very sad for horses. I can just imagine so many more of them will be turned out to starve, and in the winter, too. Not a very nice world.
Some of you have been asking how I spend my time. First of all, I am the happy person responsible for all the Cobre Loma books and still for the Grapevine books, and that keeps me busy enough. Then I have been doing more riding, and also more of an important job I had neglected for many years, i.e. the book management of the cattle. There are a lot of tiresome things that come up in the course of a ranching year, such as, for instance, cows not settling – not being bred – and so having to be sold at a loss. There are many possible reasons for it, and I have been delving into my old Animal Husbandry course books looking for them; then, our numbering system, with the large blue tags hanging off the cows’ ears, so prone to being pulled off and lost, and thereby completely nixing any permanent meaningful records, has got to go. I have been looking into electronic tags, and, as much as the idea of standing at the chute with an electronic chip reader in hand is hateful, it look as if that’s the best way to go. The advantage of this system is that the chip number is tied to the cows’ records in the computer, so you can tell at a glance how she did in past years, and it will make the fall pregnancy testing and record keeping much more meaningful. Gerry would have hated this – not the Old West, as he knew it!!
Along with this, I have also taken to visiting the Willcox cattle sale on most Thursdays with view to honing my weight guessing skills. It used to be that I could guess the weight of a cow or a calf to within 10 lbs, but with years of misuse, that skill has gone the way of many other skills. However, unlike some of those (like being able to jump up and catch the stirrup) which will never return, the weight guessing thing is just a matter of diligence, and to this end I have taken to going to the sale and practicing. It’s rather fun – the cattle are run in, in groups of up to 30 or so, more or less the same weight. They are sold and then – and only then – are they run out at the other end onto the scale, which weighs the group, and the weight is posted above the auctioneer’s head, as a total and as a per head average. You can see that if you are a cattle buyer, you have to be pretty slick with guessing weights, so you are not embarrassed when your total bills is presented – a couple of weeks back I was watching a guy who was buying for several purchasers, and at the time his total bill was up to over $40,000. You can’t afford to make mistakes at that rate! Anyway, I was happy to see that at times I was right on with the weight, other times within 20-30 lbs and at times horribly off. The cattle are fuzzy and hairy at this time of year, and of course, some breeds have heavier bones than others and the weight changes with their conformation. Anyway, thus are my Thursdays gainfully spent – certainly better than sitting in a dingy office!
And then I have begun riding more. I may have told you that after GCR closed I came down with a horrible attack of arthritis so that I could hardly walk – in fact, I was hobbling along on a crutch for some time. However, this seems to be improving, and I find that horseback riding actually helps the pain, once you can get past the first 15 minutes or so. As both Comanche and Tequila are now retired, I have been riding Waylon here and there, and then switched off onto Chikala, my big black and white pinto, the rescue horse from Canada, and I have got tell you that the change from one to the other is almost comic. Waylon is maybe 14.5 hands and, as Gerry would say, fiddle-footed. He hustles along in a lively fashion and you get the feeling that you’re really getting somewhere. Chikala, not so much – he has grown some more, so he is probably about 16.5 or maybe even 17 hands – he has also grown sideways quite a bit with all this leisure, and he is the opposite of handy. I was almost out of my mind – he ponders situations before acting, and his idea of neck reining certainly isn’t mine. So we have had to go back to the round pen, and things are improving somewhat. He also has taken a hate against the farrier and resolutely refuses to be shod. Finally Butch, who is a great horse communicator, was able to persuade Chikala to let Butch shoe him and so, after quite a lay off, I am able to ride him again. Too bad you can’t talk sense to horses …. but why am I surprised!! You can’t talk sense to people, and we supposedly share the same language!
And we have had the most wonderful rainy summer!! Rain was always such a problem for me – on the one hand, we need the rain for the grass, and on the other hand, the guests didn’t want to hear about it, so, whenever it rained, we had a sort of guilty feeling for being happy, knowing that it was possibly messing up someone’s vacation time. However, this summer, no such problem – and it rained! We have had, to date, almost 20 inches of rain which is pretty good for this part of the country. One of the more recent storms produced about 3.5 inches within about 40 minutes up in the Noonan Canyon, and those of you who had ridden what we call Ben’s Wash, would not recognize it. That is the trail that you would take when you went through the Rock Gate at the end of the Lake Pasture. Then you went down a little hill and took the first trail to the left, through the trees and the brush, eventually coming up alongside the fence dividing the East Noonan from the West Noonan pastures. That whole fence is no more – most of it is buried under tons of sand and rocks that washed down that creek bed; the bushes and small trees were torn up and buried, the trail is nonexistent, and the wash has quadrupled in width. We estimated that the water was some 70 ft. across and about 8 ft. high, judging by the twigs and flotsam left up high on the trees alongside. It would have been awesome to have been there – but high on the hill!! – seeing all that water rush down. But the end result is that this year’s spring gather will be more work than usual, as the cattle inevitably will be scattered throughout that whole huge Noonan Canyon, instead of being tidily on the east side of the fence, so I guess we’re in for a long gather. Needless to say, the Lake is full and backed up way up the canyon, and the Spooky and South Fork Tanks are overflowing still. A nice summer.
And, with all the rain and lack of use, the trails are slowly disappearing. If it were not for the awesome memory that horses have for following a trail, I would not be able to find my way. The trail up Grapevine Canyon is completely and totally filled with rocks so that it’s a hazard to even take a horse up it, and when we took the cattle over to the other side of it in September, even they had a difficult time scrambling up it.
And what else is new – apart from the cattle exercise, I took a good look at the buildings at the Cobre Loma and decided that the Cowboy House and the Bunk House opposite needed painting, as did my house – so the painters came, and the place looks great. While they were at it I also asked them to paint the Feed Room which has not seen a coat of paint for at least 30 years, I would guess – and I must say I am proud of the place. Danny also completed the railing fence to the horse run alongside the gate to the cattle arena, and I am planning, when it gets warmer, to get busy and paint all the railings white again – some of them are beginning to fade a bit and it strikes me as the kind of job that I can do without too much physical effort. I think Gerry would be proud of the place!
Finally, there was a movie company interested in using Grapevine to make a short children’s movie. The main thing they required was the barn, but eventually it came to be that they also wanted to stay at the ranch with a crew which grew from an original 24 people to over 50, so I had to say thanks, but no thanks. Fifty people would have been a problem when the place was fully staffed, never mind now! All in all, I’m glad – Grapevine is nice and tidy, sleeping and dreaming of the busy past, and, hopefully, of another, perhaps a quite different, future.
So I will end this now with wishing you a very happy and safe Thanksgiving, and I’ll catch this up again before Christmas!