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Lisa Foshay
March 3, 2012 | Lisa Foshay

Winter Light and Shadow

We went for a Sunday ramble on the ranch, ostensibly to check on livestock and open a few gates for the cattle. Usually there's a point to the ramble, but even when there is one, the ramble turns out to be much much more than its intended beginnings.

So we headed down the road to the vineyard. The horses in the east pasture looked at us nervously…their little thought bubbles would have read "Um, I'm not really up for a ride today. I'm feeling peaky. My legs are sore. I'm too busy eating." And then there was Honey, in the pasture across the road, looking all perky and interested. Laird gave her a good long pat and a handful of grass from our side of the fence…because the grass is always greener. She would have taken us anywhere we asked. Good horse.

At least 50 band-tail pigeons were scared out of the trees and flew in a great arcing pattern above and around us, settling in a cluster of trees across the road. They were large and greyblue in the light, and flew gracefully with beautiful notched wings.

We entered the vineyard and all the sheep were right by the road, sunning themselves in the winter light. Jack and Mia (the guardian dogs) went crazy barking, since our dog Silver was with us. The sheep were not nervous. They were alert and curious. Do you have a treat for me? They are funny, serious looking. Solid and fat. I am ready for lambs!

I wanted to look at my garden plot so we walked down through block 5. Saw the first bush lupine in bloom! So early. So beautiful. Hard to appreciate the beauty when the nagging worry about rainfall diminishes the color.

At the end of block 5 was the line of demarcation: where the sheep had been, and where they had not been. A perfect mowed line. They are amazing grass consuming machines! There were bits of wool stuck to the lower vineyard wires, looked like flocking décor from Christmas. I put a piece in my pocket. We walked the garden plot and talked about different ways to water. I'm already plotting, plotting. There will be canning this year, yes there will.

We went through the lower vineyard gate by the willow tree. There was a party under the willow, calves and mothers and young steers. They were vocal and funny. Didn't see any new calves, but we are on the hunt, every time we go out. We headed over to the gate to open it and lure the cattle into the Yucca Point pasture. We called for the girls and of course, a (halter-trained) fair cow came running. I wonder what will happen to the herd once the fair cows are all gone. They are the leaders, the gentle ones, unafraid of humans, comfortable with contact. The rest, the ones born on the ranch and now breeding on the ranch, are warier and wilder.

We hiked up the steep ridge above the lake and made our way back down to the flats. Just as we crested the hill I saw a golden eagle on the ground; he took a running start and sailed over the canyon, away towards the neighbor's lake. He had been feasting on the little steer that died a few weeks ago from tetanus. Nathan had dragged the carcass into the canyon and the critters have come to clean up.

We were hoping to get the one wild cow, who'd resisted joining the herd, into the lake pasture. She was by the gate, with a greeting committee on the other side, braying at her. But she ran up the hill into the trees when she saw us coming. Lone cow. Not normal!

At the gate between the lake pasture and the house pasture, we came upon the crusty remains of an aborted calf fetus. The skull was the size of Laird's hand, the hooves not fully formed. Sad to see. We are wondering, what caused this? First time mother? Vaccinations that caused a miscarriage? Nature weeding out the weak? That's two in a couple of weeks, one 6 month old gorgeous steer, one calf not yet born . Soon there will be dozens of calves being born on the grass, licked into life, nudged onto wobbly legs. The next day, frisky and running. Life and death on the ranch. Life and death.

The girls sprinted up the hill to the house; how nice to have young limbs and lungs. The daffodils have started up around our old dog Rufus' grave. No blooms just yet, the stems pushing up towards the sun. If I could pick a spot for my own bones, this would be it.


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