Keep Going

by Amy on July 1, 2015

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This column was originally published October 9, 2013

One of the most important virtues of ranching is having contortionist-like flexibility (metaphorically, but physical flexibility does come in handy at times). Flexibility is required when a major part of one’s life involves managing numerous animals. They can get out, knock important water tank parts loose or break stuff off that’s needed to ensure they have water, which all has to be taken care of immediately.

When it comes to a lifestyle that revolves around animals, scheduling in extra time helps in the prevention of cancelling plans because cows are just animals doing what animals do: mess up plans. Whether arrangements are made for leisure and enjoyment, appointments are scheduled, meetings are set, or kids’ sporting events are anticipated, it does not matter, animals—especially in large numbers—have a way of sensing plans that don’t pertain to them. We may think we’ve experienced every kind of cow-related setback, but they continue to show us new ways to tamper with our plans. Cows get possessive or jealous of us similar to the way dogs get mad and make a mess of things when left alone too long. The only difference is that cows do their thing right before we carry out our plans so we run late or have to cancel.

For families like us who have a cow herd and no extended family or friends close by or hired help to oversee things when we’re gone, the smart thing to do is to schedule activities with a wide margin for extra time beforehand. Remembering is the problem. Expecting setbacks and the possibility of encountering problems has always been helpful in making any plans. Many of ours have had to be canceled completely on account of getting waylaid by cows, but other times we’ve been lucky and just showed up late.

If I had a dollar for every plan, meeting, appointment, fun event, or date with girlfriends I’ve had to scratch or attend late on account of problems regarding livestock, I would have enough money for a new place with good fences, top of the line equipment and a hired man. More than once we’ve had to skip church or go to the late service. I have probably missed more meetings than I’ve attended and have showed up late to pick up kids from practice so much that scheduling setback time is becoming habit-forming. I definitely don’t plan anything for the first six weeks of calving season and after that I check with my husband first before making any committments.

Just to verify, I am not the only ranch woman who experiences such lifestyle problems. Other ranch wives and I have jokingly exchanged different plans we’ve had to cancel or show up late for because of cows. We’ve found ourselves gathering cows out of someone’s yard instead of attending a wedding ceremony, fixing fences and asking friends or family to pick up our kids from school, or pushing cows home spur of the moment and missing a class we paid money to participate in, and the list goes on.

I have spotlighted the negative aspects of having to cancel plans on account of cows, but their antics have come in handy when I would rather be messing with cows than go to a meeting or appointment I wasn’t excited about to begin with.

© Amy Kirk 2013

 

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Today…

by Amy on June 24, 2015

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My Divine Intervention Moment

by Amy on June 18, 2015

This column was originally published July 2, 2014

The day after our son’s graduation I needed to decompress stresses I’d overcome and sort out all the recent events that happened. After getting through a couple of week’s worth of anxieties, pressing to-dos, and worries I needed a long walk to quiet my mind, replenish my inner peace, and hash out all that I’d survived.

It was a pleasant Sunday evening and I started out walking around our place then hiked along the ridge all the way out to my favorite knob which is an ideal thinking spot that overlooks our home and the valley below. I sat down on my pile of rocks for sitting on and absorbed the view below me.

I spent about five minutes or so just brain dumping and taking great pleasure in knowing that a lot of my worries were now behind me. Once I was satisfied that I’d cleared my mind enough I stood up to head down the hill when I heard a distinctive buzz sound. I looked down at the ground and all I saw was a snake’s body in the shape of an S. I was too freaked out to look for its tail but assumed it was a rattlesnake. An important plot point here—I did notice that the snake was less than a foot from my feet.

I propelled about five feet down the hill to avoid getting struck, then—and don’t ask me why—I turned around to see if what I heard really was a rattlesnake or if I was catapulting to conclusions prematurely. I admit, it was a dumb time to practice facing my fear of all snakes since I didn’t bring a shovel and the only convenient rattler-killing sized rocks available were the big flat ones stacked up that the snake now claimed.

I generally only observe rattlers that are dead and rattleless, so I wasn’t 100% sure that I’d had a close encounter with a rattlesnake since I’ve avoided a live one this long. During my heightened sense of paranoia, I reasoned with myself (mostly to ease my mind) that maybe I was mistaking the buzz for a bull snake mimicking a rattler (or so I’ve been told bull snakes will do). By the time I’d long-jumped downhill and turned around I couldn’t see the snake but could still hear it buzzing, so I decided I probably didn’t need to hang out to verify my hypothesis and concluded that the good Lord had been protecting me and I shouldn’t push my luck. I determined it would be in my best interest to distance myself from the buzz regardless of my curiosity and high-tailed it downhill.

It may sound like I was lingering, but everything actually happened very quickly and it just felt like it unfolded in slow motion. My heart was triple-beating, my hands were shaking, and I was now hypersensitive to what was on the ground and under every rock outcropping.

I tried scanning the ground for other rattlers on my way to the house but I scurried downhill so carelessly that when I felt something round-shaped under my shoe I wasn’t expecting to be snake bit on the back of my left thigh—by a big fat stick. The smack of the tree branch on the back of my leg sent me into rattlesnake striking hypersensitivity orbit.

I’ve always believed in divine intervention, but now I’m a firm believer in the Lord’s sense of humor.

© Amy Kirk 2014

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The Things I Prize

by Amy on June 17, 2015

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Hand Signals: Synonym for “Confuse”

by Amy on June 12, 2015

This column was originally published February 26, 2014

Whenever Art and I are dealing with cows, machinery, or trailers, he’ll suddenly switch to his native tongue to communicate with me. It’s the language cavemen invented—communicating with hand gestures and sometimes accompanied by loud grunts. Thousands of years later farmers and ranchers still use this language when they get keyed up during critical man moments.

Males understand this native language easily but the opposite sex, not so much. Fortunately, man’s language has evolved to include sounds, vowels, and words —the verbal communication women have adopted as their first language which is universally used today and that most people understand. The unfortunate part is that nowadays man’s hand signal communication leaves too much room for misinterpretation because he also invented homonyms for his hand gestures.

My husband’s hand signals have too many interpretations for me to decipher quickly under pressure when there’s a sudden change in his instructions via a hand signal. An outstretched arm waving across his chest could mean “get out of the way,” “get over here,” “get over there,” or “get away from the gate,” but I’m not sure. I have to adapt to the situation and figure out which meaning he’s referring to.

The main reason men and women in agriculture have trouble understanding each other while working outside together is that they’re trying to communicate using two different languages. I call this “Spouses in Translation.” Instances where this occurs include, livestock handling, backing up machinery, vehicles, and/or trailers, or instructions indicating when to “start it” (equipment or vehicles) during a guy’s mechanical problem assessment.

One language involves hand gestures and/or occasional hollering (interpreted as loud grunts), and the other includes speaking rhetorical statements and questions in English. Regardless of the distance a farmer or rancher is from his wife, he always seems to want to use his centuries-old native language to communicate: the hand signal.

This column was originally published February 26, 2014

I am fairly certain using hand signals is due to the fact that men are hard of hearing, meaning they’ve taught their brain that listening to their wife is not necessary if her conversations are irrelevant to his thoughts, plans, and ideas; therefore rendered worthy of ignoring.  Thus, men have trained themselves to tune out their wives’ voice much of the time, causing men to be misdiagnosed as “hard of hearing.”

Problems stem from men preferring to use hand signals to communicate and women preferring to talking about it. Talking is in a woman’s nature, similarly to the way it’s in men’s nature to hand-signal what he’s trying to convey.  Talking is how a woman processes information. She likes to talk it out, discuss it, rephrase it, recap it, analyze it, confirm it, question it, and ask lots and lots of (in a man’s opinion, annoying) questions about it, or bring it up later. Men and women perceive, interpret, and process information differently, and any woman who’s been married to a farmer or rancher long enough knows the importance of making sure she’s covered every angle of his instructions for her before the task is carried out to avoid being at fault should the plan fail.  Talking helps her establish confidence in understanding what’s expected of her or what her instructions are.

Wives may not be fluent in communicating using hand signals but they do a fair job talking about what their husband’s hand signals are supposed mean.

© Amy Kirk 2014

 

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The Loathesome Gate Job

by Amy on March 20, 2015

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This column was originally published May 21, 2014

I’ve never viewed any job involving a gate as being a coveted one. Stubborn gates always seem to require more muscle, squeezing, and grunting to shut than to open. I do not enjoy being watched while straining to get a tight wire gate open or getting perfectly good, intact clothes ripped, but getting gates is not as troublesome as being one.

Sufficing as a gate means risking getting run over and not appearing intimidating enough to keep cattle from getting past. During church service, I gained a new appreciation for being the gate person, which refers mostly to being the stand-in gate wherein animals are not supposed to pass through unless the human “gate” allows it, but it includes opening and shutting the gate also.

I have read the gospel of John before, but I didn’t remember chapter 10 verse 9:“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” As the text was read then talked about in the sermon, that verse spoke to me and it said, “Stop grumbling about being the gate person.” I couldn’t help but notice that Jesus and I have something in common—we’ve both been considered a human barricade. If Jesus views being a gate a duty of great value, maybe being the gate gal is not so lowly after all.

Jesus talks about being a gate person, as in THE gate, much like the way I am designated sometimes. Opening, closing, getting, or being the gate, it does not matter—it’s all the same job to me. Granted, I am by no means categorized as the same kind of gate as Jesus the Gate, but I was reassured that as God’s CEO, Jesus regards being The Gate as a prestigious position. It made me feel better to consider that maybe this has something to do with the reason why women are oftentimes chosen to be the gate, especially since there’s usually no one else around.

Husbands don’t realize how much pressure we sometimes feel when they holler nonchalantly with high expectation, “DON’T LET ‘EM GET THROUGH THAT HOLE!” but at the same time expect us not to spook anything away from the desired destination. (A hole is referred here as any size of open space the wife is expected to block with her body between permanent barricades.)

I know what the proper interpretation of the verse that says, “Whoever goes through Him will be saved,” but since Bible scripture can be interpreted differently to everyone and at different times in our lives, I plan to take advantage of that. When I am asked to go to block a hole, I will definitely interpret the text as “saved from being run over” because that’ll be my prayer if necessary.

Although Jesus’ job as The Gate is way more important than mine, it is reassuring that a job I’ve accepted begrudgingly and always worried about not succeeding at is a job Jesus embraces with high regard.

I think I know now why women are naturally picked to be the “gate.” It’s likely because we’re more apt to pray before taking our stance to block a hole: “God, PLEASE don’t let (fill in the quantity and gender of cattle here) get past me when he (husband) brings them in.”

I don’t mind being a gate now that I know someone in a position much higher than myself is also. I just don’t want to be standing there if any animal decides to jump over or blast through me. I’ve seen the damage of some of our metal gates and they usually aren’t worth saving.

© Amy Kirk 2014

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What A Ranch Woman Wants to Hear

by Amy on January 26, 2015

This column was originally published December 11, 2013

After the first year as husband and wife and every day thereafter, a ranch wife loves to hear certain words from her husband. Words that renew her romantic notions about the man she married.

Whether husbands realize it or not, there are certain things a wife never tires of hearing repeatedly. For me, it’s when my husband says, “I’ll get the gate.” Anytime I’m dreading getting out of the pickup because I’m unmotivated, it’s freezing out, or Art and I approach a notoriously tight gate, such words can highlight my whole day.

I get up between 4 and 5 a.m.  so I’m usually the first person to make the coffee. Normally I wake up my spouse and bring him a cup, but occasionally I’ll hear the bedroom floor creak from my husband’s footsteps followed by his voice speaking words as sweet as honey: “You ready for some coffee?” I immediately open my eyes to him holding out a welcomed cup of coffee, and I’m in love all over again.

Hearing my husband say “I got (horse I’m going to be riding) saddled up for ya,” is serendipitous.  As the mom, I’m always the last one out the door with all the snacks and drinks that no one else bothered to grab but everybody craves during a long cow-moving ride. Although I can saddle my own horse, it’s a treat when my husband has my ride ready for me so nobody is waiting on me to get my horse saddled.

Suppertime can be a drag because of all the shirking regarding the clean up. The most overused excuses are homework, needing to take a shower, or needing to use the bathroom. One of my husband’s most romantic gestures is sticking around and saying, “I’ll sweep the floor.” To ranch a wife, floor-sweeping is the stuff aphrodisiacs are made of.

I also hate it when I can’t think of anything to make for supper and the whole family is hungry. My hero saves the day when he says, “How ‘bout a cheat night?” I’m fully aware that he only says that because he doesn’t want to wait 45 minutes to eat something, but he still saves the day. Cheat nights are when everybody has a bowl of cereal for supper.

There’s nothing more appealing about my husband when we go to feed the heifer calves than when he says, “If you feed the calves, I’ll push up the hay.” Since he created a much handier, safer, more efficient system for filling feed buckets, I prefer feeding the calves, but especially when the hay that has to be pushed up is covered with a heavy layer snow.

I don’t transition well from toasty warm to freezing cold very well, so when my husband tells me, “I got your car warmin’ up,” I go from cringing at the thought of a cold car to feeling warm and fuzzy toward my husband.

“Wanna trade foot rubs?” is one of the most romantic things my spouse says to me—but only when he’s not engrossed in watching a Netflix. Movies distract him, creating frequent stops and delays in my foot massage.

Probably the best thing my husband says to me is, “Here’s your cut.” When somebody buys scrap items out of our junkyard they usually pay in cash and I love these deals because to a ranch wife, nothing says love more than being handed cold hard cash when I didn’t even have to do any labor to get it.

© Amy Kirk 2013

 

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One of the many shop projects I’ve witnessed over the years: converting my old family car (Ford Explorer) into a “ranch pickup”…on Mother’s Day.

This column was originally published September 25, 2013

It’s a good idea for wives to show genuine interest in their husband’s projects, but discretion is advised.

Supporting my spouse’s projects demonstrates that I’m interested in and appreciate what he does around here. Being his project cheerleader is also good practice when I need his help and man skills/tools on my own projects.

Even if I don’t understand his shop and welding language, he’ll talk about and show me what he’s done. Most of his projects pertain to useful ranch upgrades, whether they enhance equipment, make systems for chores easier, or diversify the use of an old trailer.

Gathering information about the project before he leaves the house allows me to inquire about it later and show my interest in his work from afar—when he comes into the house for something, like food and water. Pre-project interest prevents premature shop visiting and gives me an idea when I can enter the shop without fear of getting sucked into grunt work or dirtying up my clean clothes and shoes. During the planning and building stages I run the risk of getting sucked into doing tasks to not suited to my impatient nature.

When I go out to the shop to show my interest and pride in his project I end up doing things I don’t enjoy. It all starts with an innocent request like handing him a grease rag. Before long I’m holding the treble light at a specific angle that I can’t rest on something while holding it. Gradually, the requests get bigger, and I’m asked to hold an end of a chunk of metal or wood in the air and not move it once he’s set it in place, but while he goes after some tool or pencil, my arms get tired and I accidently move it. The worst is being asked to watch the ground when he’s working outside of the shop doors. I’m supposed to scan the ground for sparks igniting surrounding grass while he’s welding. This can kill a restless person. Pretty soon I’m fetching a glove, rag, hammer, wing nut, tool I’m not familiar with,—and my personal favorite—any size wrench. The thing about wrenches is that I have to look at the size stamped on each one to determine if it’s the right one. Reading so many different fractions causes me to forget which one he wanted.

Assuming I can venture out there to look over the progress of a shop project, praise and marvel at his talents briefly, and slip back out is just asking to get waylaid. Good clothes or at minimum clean clothes don’t fair well when asked to handle objects that are dust or grease-covered and lying on the grungy shop floor. Many times I’ve mistakenly thought my husband would notice my neat and clean attire or didn’t expect to be there long enough to get dirty. That mindset is what has gotten my clothes smudged; myself put to work, or both. No man is going to notice a woman’s garments because all he sees is that some flunky just waltzed in who can hold stuff or fetch things for him now.

I enjoy seeing my spouse’s handiwork, but I should know better than to go to the shop while a project is developing. As a kid I was a victim of this luring-bystanders-into-fetching-and-holding-things man trait in my dad’s shop.

My secret to praising and viewing my husband’s projects without having to fetch things and get dirty is to tell my husband I’ll have lemonade made and his favorite meal ready at noon.

© Amy Kirk 2013

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My Annual Lucille Ball Moment in Twine

by Amy on November 30, 2014

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A couple of ideal-looking baling twine balls. Examples courtesy of my Hubs.

This column was originally published December 26, 2013

Cutting twine on a round bale and gathering it into a wad may seem like a task any idiot can do, but at the start of a new winter cow-feeding season I have all sorts of problems removing twine.

Twine removal is a skill similar to an artist getting back into watercolor painting after a long hiatus—if I don’t use it I lose it. My twine cutting, extracting, and wadding skills apparently get rusty over the summer and fall. For some reason I can’t seem to get my twine together. Until I get back into managing twine with high efficiency, the first few times I feed round bales by myself I end up in a Lucille Ball moment with twine.

I recently carried out the annual tradition on my first solo cow-feeding day for this winter when my husband had a morning appointment in town. I did such an excellent job of honking the horn to call our cows to feed that when I got out of the pickup to cut the twine I had to wade through a sea of black fur to get to the back of the pickup. Cutting the twine took awhile as cows jostled me around worse than an overcrowded rowdy rock concert.

I tussled with the mob in getting the twine strings cut while they mauled the tightly bound hay with their heads to loosen it for a bite. This caused the bale to rock back and forth on the bale grapples while I attempted to cut the twine. Strings were cut at different heights and I couldn’t gather them all easily from one side.

Next, I tugged and pulled and yanked on the strings to get them to come off. Some were frozen to thick layers of hay and I had to follow one hard-pulling string that lead to a cow’s mouth. She and I had a little tug-of-war over the twine and I had to follow her around briefly until I could pull it all out of her mouth.

I also had to back the mob away from strings that ended up on the ground and had to quickly wrap them into a ball after one cow stepped on some knotted twine and got it tangled around her dewclaws—a development that occurred while I was trying to pull twine from the other cow’s mouth. While walking around wrapping loose twine strings as fast as I could before another cow stepped on or ate it, I tangled my own feet in snarled twine not yet part of my badly misshapen twine ball. Out of impatience and aggravation I went to yanking and winding twine hard and fast until my foot jerked like a puppet’s foot on strings, and I nearly face-planted myself in snow.

Once I was confident I’d gotten every twine string away from all mouths and feet and into a twine wad, I hastily headed to the pickup door to proceed with my original task of unrolling the bale. This is when I discovered that I couldn’t open the door or get my hand out of my glove because I’d managed to wrap my gloved hand into a twine club so tight that I couldn’t get my glove or my hand out. By now I was getting mad and spent another five minutes retrieving my hand and glove out of the twine club I’d crafted before I was finally able to get the bale unrolled.

It’s usually after having a Lucille Ball moment like this in which I’m reminded that in order to avoid making things worse I shouldn’t get all wadded up about it.

© Amy Kirk 2013

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