We have had multiple snowstorms blow through… some have hit us, some just barely over the top of us, as we can see the snow line just a few hundred feet up the mountain. Today, though, has been a gorgeous day. Fairly warm… just hear that grass grow! Ironically, I spent most of the morning killing weeds around my yard. Vernon also farmed with the roller harrow in the field nearby. But by 3 pm, he was ready for some time off, so we decided to go for a Sunday drive. Loading us and 4 dogs, we hit the highway. We took a gravelled road straight up the mountain. Only a mile and a half later we come across the snowdrift that barricades us from any further progress. But the short drive was worth it. Moments before I had spied a dozen elk that vanished behind a small rise. We abandoned the pickup, determined to hike up the rise and see where the elk went. I opened the door and there they were… they had come to see where we went! Each one had to peek at us, even the one at the back. The short trip was full of elk, dogs, and wildflowers…which I’ll share over the next few days.
Guess I had spring fever, I wanted to be outside, but wanted to do something more fun than yard work, so me and my crew grabbed my metal detector and headed to the hills. About a mile and a half from my house are the remains of a dugout. I’ve wandered around them before, but not with a metal detector! I let the crew out of the back of the Durango, and Lucas went to wandering…Elsa and Dally were shadows. Jees, dogs, I can’t swing my metal detector without bumping you! aaaah. Being quick learners, they’d back off until I knelt down to dig a “hit” and then Dally or Elsa would be right in my face. aaaah. Finally! They followed Lucas and went on their own treasure hunts and I got to exploring. It really must be the archaeologist in me to rejoice over finding a bent spoon, a Prince Albert can, a snap and buckle from broken tack. When I heard the beep-beep dead center in the doorway, I had high hopes that that was where he had buried his gold dollars… It turned out to be a enamelled cup…filled with dirt, not gold. But I felt triumphant, and continued my quest for interesting artifacts. Occasionally I’d check on the crew, hard at work seeking bunnies and mice and other funny-smelling critters among the rocks. Another beep and I find a broken glass bottle with metal cap still intact. It had been broken before it was opened, I’m sure causing grief. But as I dig and find more pieces of the bottle, I find the bottom of the bottle, and imprinted upon it is “Thermopolis, Wyo.” Cool. I didn’t know they bottled drinks in Thermop! Two hours later and my sore shoulder and thirst drive me back to the Durango, where in short order I am joined by my crew, wet from the spring, muddy from digging after some rodent. They’ve had a wonderful time and so have I. Rejeuvenated, we head for home, content with our small moments, and ready once again to take up the work we abandoned earlier.
We stepped over the prickly pear cactus and avoided the tall sagebrush. Every few steps our jeans accidentally brushed against the sage creating a seemingly loud *scrrrrrritch*. We pointed and whispered, our quarry lay ahead in the dim light. We could hear them and see their white patches in the the deepening gloom. Unfortunately the sun had set and darkness was upon us. Too little light was left to take any photographs, so I just enjoyed their show. We paused, listened a while, and then continued on, trying to get as close as we could without disturbing them. Where at first we had seen 6 or 7, there now were 25 visible and we knew more were hidden behind sagebrush or crouched low against the ground. There, look at that one! Low against the rocky ground a handsome guy stretched upward, inhaled in a raspy breath, filled his air sacs, and with a double bob of his chest, sent a unique sound over the prairie. To those that have never witnessed a sage chicken lek, the best approximation of its sound is a rubbery plunger double suction! He puffs his chest out, and the whiteness surrounding the air sacs is very visible. He blurbs again… and again… trying to impress the girls and intimidate his opponents. His tail is fanned out. He turns and dances, strutting for all he is worth! He is an impressive sight. Years ago, I told my kids they couldn’t be real Wyoming natives until they had seen sage chickens strut. To this day, they haven’t seen it in person. We battled bad weather, muddy roads, school days, and the pull of a warm bed. The best time to see chickens strut is at daylight, and, though I made some attempts through the years, I am a failure at being a Wyoming mom and showing my kids a lek in all its glory. At sundown they may repeat the show, with less enthusiasm, but I wanted the full show not a matinee, and as a result, never have my kids witnessed Wyoming’s Broadway musical. The costumes are gaudy and used once a year. Background music is provided by meadowlarks and horned larks and a couple of coyotes. The rhythmic drumming of a lek full of strutting males rivals “Stomp”. Then all light fades, the meadowlarks go still, and the sage chickens launch into their heavy flight, the show now over. It was a good run. See you next spring! Maybe I’ll have my kids with me!
We have turned out virtually all of our cows! Yay! This is our crew that helped Johnny, Vernon, and I push the last big bunch out Wednesday. I had had a big trip to the dentist the day before… a root canal, temporary crown, and a tooth pulled…yeccchhh! So I helped move cows for just half the distance and then Vernon sent me back to bring out the pickup and horsetrailer, so we could have a “ride” back home. That’s how the camera made it out and I could capture some scenery. Shelley, on the left, is a high school senior, good friends with my kids, and very willing to skip school and help move cows! Steve on the paint horse manages a grazing association down the road. Beau is in the big hat… he works with Steve and is the proud papa of a darling little 7 month old girl. Rachel is in the helmet… a single mom who loves her horses and trades work for hay. Since we had a good crew we only took 5.5 hours to get them out there this time! The best part of the day for me… when Vernon sent me back for the pickup. I turned my horse for home and she was ready! Tart put it in a high trot and home we went! I bet she walked maybe 50 feet of the 5 miles we covered. I had to open a few gates that gave her a short breather, but even the time we waited for Elsa, my shadow that day, to get a drink from miniscule Buffalo Creek, Tart was moving, ready to go. We listened for meadowlarks, heard quiet Elsa pant as she trotted alongside, felt the earth warm, and watched the hawks play on the wind. Quiet time. It was great! The next day we received 6″ of wet snow…do we have good timing or what? They’re gone!
This looks like summer downtime… but 5 minutes before we had pushed a bunch of cows 50 feet away and I had told them to stay in the yard and lay down… and this was their reaction. When people doubt that these dogs come with an “off switch” they need to see this photo and know the context. Had they been border collies, I highly doubt they’d be laying down! I could still see and hear the cows and calves when I took this picture, but my crew didn’t care. I was in the yard and relaxed, and so were they!