May 9 – first day of banding!

All 4 of us banded at Willow Wind today with Bob. I opened nets 3 and 4 and was by far the last one done because it took me a minute to find the poles at 4 and the poles at 3 were missing! So I was all stressed out to start. And then I got no birds on my first two net runs. I was so sad. Everyone else had birds! The first two birds in my hand were both recaps (recaptures = birds that already have a band) – a song sparrow and a bushtit. The bushtit was so small I could hardly hold it! Like a cottonball! And then the first bird I got to extract was a female Bullock’s oriole! And I extracted a male too! And then I got to see a freaking male western tanager in the hand!! And blackbirds, mourning dove, bewick’s wren, scrub jay, flicker. It was so exciting! I of course have a lot to learn, but things are making sense, so I’m not worried.

April 24

Today Connie and Claude and I worked in the yard. I mowed the lawn, trimmed the bushes, planted some flowers. We burned the brush pile and I drove the tractor! And I planted my poor succulents here. Poor Missin’ Petals is really missing some petals. They did so good coming on the plane, recovering from cold nights in my car on the coast, survived Fizzy and Fuzzy clamoring around on the windowsill. And then after a day back in the car – poop – they suddenly wilted! And we prepped containers for me to plant cherry tomatoes in. Then we took Joe (the army Jeep) out for another spin. Yesterday on our morning ride we rounded a curve to find a turkey with about a dozen chicks in the middle of the road. Those babies hunkered right down and mom was running circles around them like mad! Boy as we got closer it looked like someone already ran over half of em, but thankfully they were just laying down. Well I got out to urge ‘em along and scooped up the stragglers. I put ‘em on the side of the road atop a little slope and watched each tumble and flop down into a leaf pile. They were so little they could hardly pick their heads up to walk, let alone make it down that slope gracefully. Mom was screaming like crazy at me while I saved her children. Once I plopped the last on one the hill she calmed down. What a neat freaking thing.

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Then we went over to that ranch – Nat and Augie’s daughter. It sure feels like a whole different place in the spring compared to the dead of late summer when I was here last. Everything is so green and the creeks flowing and birds chattering. A pair of kingfishers. A handful of kingbirds. Low flying red-tailed.

March 6, day 27 – on floating teeth and living the dream

Yesterday we floated everyone’s teeth. So I’m a dentist now. And it sure is annoying when the patient bites down on your tool. In order to have them keep their mouth open you reach in and pull out their tongue, which is a whole thing in itself – trying to grab a slippery slimy squishy thing that won’t stop flailing around… while being absolutely sure not to get your fingers between the teeth. They all fussed some but did alright. Except Sugar. She would rear up and kick when Eric tried grabbing her tongue, so he went to get the lassos to tie her down. Meanwhile I had a talk with her and we tried again… and this time we got half her teeth done. But then she wouldn’t let us finish. So Eric tried tying her up but she got away and ran all around the corral with her lead rope dragging and the lasso on her foot, it was embarrassing. Eric got her tied up again and left her that way while we finished the others. Then we tried Sugar again but she hadn’t changed her mind, so he made her run circles and tried again. Well this happened about 5 times so he got the lasso back out. She was quite shaken about this. After more flailing around he finally got her legs tied up and had me see if she had changed her mind yet. She did let me get in there this time, but it was tough work. I was both holding her tongue and floating her teeth at the same time! And she was so stressed out, her knees wobbling, sweat dripping from her face down my arms, and a trickle of blood down her forehead from an injury obtained while fighting. Eric was annoyed but I felt very bad for her, maybe because of the dentist anxiety I had all my life. She still seemed shaken later and today even. And I notice now that she hurt her left hind leg while fighting us.

The cottonwoods in the creek behind the house are flowing neon green. Tiny sliver of a moon these days out in the morning when I feed the horses. First vermilion flycatcher of the season beside the corral today.

Got to shoot a .22 rifle today, and hit the target about 18 times! But don’t ask how many times I missed. Then we shot a bb gun at the beer cans we stole from Dink the other night. Then we all had dinner together with Keith, Chrissy and the kids.

It hit me today, and I don’t know why it didn’t earlier in this same capacity…. I am living the life I have always wanted. Feeding horses every morning, shooting beer cans on Sunday afternoon, eating fresh eggs and the meat of a bull who I chased through a canyon on horseback in the desert. I don’t want to become numb to these things just because I’ve experienced so much beauty and unreal moments… I don’t ever want to take any of this for granted! I am giving up my Chevy pickup dream. Owning a truck is not what makes you a cowboy. What makes you a cowboy is getting your foot crushed by a horse and a gate in the same week, awakening to a scorpion stinging your wrist in the middle of the night, going to bed with raw burning fingers from where you rasped your own knuckles, jumping off a teetering horse, eating yellow bull for dinner, kneeling on cactus needles, or barbed wire, or both, etc, etc, etc…

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March 4, day 25

Woke up early today because we were leaving for Double Check at 6. So I fed the horses in the dark which was different. Smokey was suspicious about his nose bag and had to sniff it quite a few times before deciding it was okay. It was easier in the dark though because I could leave the gate open between trips to the feeder because they couldn’t see it! Double Check is beautiful and it was exciting to see the packing house! We brought home and ate the meat of the yellow bull that Emma Grace and I found that day. He was so damn tasty.

Anyway, we went over there for a meeting with Land & Water Trust which Eric thought would include about 6 people. Well a bus pulled up and I had a hunch that a bunch of birders would get off because tour buses are for old people (or Asians) and old people are birders in this part of the country. And sure enough! It was fun having all these visitors and many of them wanted to talk to me. I obtained 2 business cards and went on the bird walk. What a lovely place in the unfortunate town of Dudleyville. While I watched a vermilion flycatcher dance and gleam above a lush green pasture a group of meadowlarks flew in and perched on a branch and fence post screaming yellow against the green… and a rock wren twitched around in a wood pile and a yellow-rumped hopped about overhead.

When we got back we gave the horses sponge baths with the lice solution. They accepted it much better than expected, especially Popcorn. I think Sugar and I are buds again – I walked half way across the corral toward her and she came the rest of the way. I get such enjoyment from interacting with and observing them each day; I might look forward to Happy Hour more than Dink does!

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Feb 27, day 19

Today I lugged some juniper stays up a huge slope and across a mesa and placed ‘em where needed on the fence. Cheyenne stayed nearby. Lovely walking down Blackjack and Cold Creek. Buncha cows hanging out down there. Funny to see such large creatures get nervous and run away. My hands are all messed up and painful all over. I can hardly bend my left thumb. The third time I hit it this morning with the handsaw was the zinger – right on the knuckle, bled all over. And my arms burn from catclaw.

Yesterday Jean sent me out to check Sola tank. She always gives me these simple instructions of how to do things that I am completely ignorant to. Like knowing how to get to Sola. I’ve been there before, sure, because my horse took me there, from a different direction. Yeah, it was on that one mesa next to that one prickly pear, you know – the one with needles. Okay. I went up and down and up and down on the hills on foot, having only a slight idea which direction to head. I finally climbed up to the top of a big ridge in hopes that it was up there. Well from the top I could see a big silver tank on the adjacent ridge. Sooo back down and up, up, up a steep rocky face. Hope it’s the right tank. Hope my estimate of the water level is somewhat accurate. When I got back to the house, my to do list said “big silver tank” – phew!

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Feb 25, day 17

The fence line along Badlands Pasture has led me to where I sit now – perched on a rock in the depths of Blackjack Canyon. I am enclosed by towering jagged walls that look as though they could crumble from a touch. Beside me water slides down a mossy strip into a triangular turquoise pool about 5 feet below. How fortunate I am to be here during this season while flowing water can still be found. It won’t last. The pool seeps into the ground and resurfaces again about 20 meters down the creekbed where another pool rests among fallen sycamore leaves. Sycamore isn’t budding yet like cottonwood. Live oak spreads green into this canyon. Up on the cliffs are stool, prickly pear, a few juniper, and blooming Manzanita. I may dare an upward scramble to breathe in that delicate scent. Now and then the wind howls past and a canyon wren sings that unmistakable tune. I cannot get over the way the vegetation drapes over the creek. It’s like a scene from a fairytale… and I’m the princess waiting for… a cougar to arrive.

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Feb 24, day 16 – fight with Sugar

Was excited to finally ride Sugar today. She came to me in the corral yesterday and let me pet her nose. So we’re best friends. We were packing with Polly today and I was to pull her on Sugar, so that was flustering to me. There’s a lot to think about with an extra rope in your hand that you don’t want to get caught in anyone’s foot or under Sugar’s tail and that I hold in a way so my thumb doesn’t get smashed if the rope is pulled. I was also to call “COMEEE ONNN” to the cows constantly as we rode. So I’m doing 3 things at once when I’m still a new rider and I wanted this day to be about just me and Sugar! Wah! And I think she did too because I couldn’t control her. She wouldn’t move. Jean was off gathering cows and I was becoming so frustrated, yelling at Sugar in between yelling for the cows. I got off and lead Sugar and Polly which was tough because neither were willing to move and I was getting tired of yanking and walking and yelling for the stupid cows. So I got on again. And off again. And on. And off. Sugar would not move and I didn’t know what to do. So I left her. I left Sugar standing there like a fool and marched on with Polly. Yeah, I know I was the fool to give up like that. I was so outraged and wished Jean would come help me because I had no idea what else to do.

It wasn’t easy going with Polly either, especially because I was already mad. But at least we were moving. Finally got to our spot and laid out the blocks. Then I got stung by a scorpion. And I also tore my own skin apart because my knuckles started itching again. Got back to where I left Sugar, got back on, and she was moving this time since we were heading home. I tied up Polly at the water and we lead some cows up the hill. I used the lead rope to hit Sugar and that got her going. I completely forgot that that was what I should have done before. I can only remember so many goddamn things when I’m in a panicking rage. When we got back Polly was gone. Another fail! When we returned Sugar and I took some trips to the creek and back so I could regain my authority. That was a struggle too. Finally we were done and the horses put away and Dink done with her slowest Happy Hour in the world. I was opening the gate where we moved the horses this morning and the whole thing fell on my big toe. Hurt more than Emma Grace stepping on me. That was the final straw. I hunched over against the gate, so defeated by the day’s events, and I look up to see Popcorn staring at me, saying “why’d you drop that gate on your foot, dumbass?” I couldn’t even look the horses in the eye as I walked out. No one offered to comfort me, not even Donk.

Feb 18, day 10 – catching cows

I took a picture of myself today, smiling into the sun and you wouldn’t know from the looks of it that my butt was bruised, my ankle was so sore I could hardly put weight on it to trot, and at that point we were only half-way into a 5 hour day on horseback. We split up to sweep a few washes, looking for those 3 dang weaners. I was on Emma Grace, which made me nervous for half the morning, and you know she doesn’t like being separated from the others, so it was quite a struggle to get her down that crickbed. But we did it… slowly but surely, and wouldn’t you know we stumble upon a cow! I become so thrilled and EG seems to notice that we’re now part of this kind of cow moving sport. We had a brief stare-off with the creature while I tried to determine if it was angry or just bitch-faced. I decided EG could take care of her and myself, so we moved forward causing the thing to turn around and move in the right direction. Here we go traipsing through the wash, pushing this buddy toward the gate. Little did I know, Paul was above me on the ridge watching (and laughing about) the whole thing… and he informed me that it was a BULL, not a cow. THE bull!

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Anyway, bull got away because I’m a rookie… but that lead us to finding the 3 missing cows! We were moving all over those desert hills and EG and I were going up and down slopes I never imagined myself daring to take on on a horse! Even going through brush and under (some) branches! We got the elder cow through the gate but were freaking outsmarted by the 2 little ones – all 5 of us and the 2 dogs, goddamnit. And who knows where the bull went!

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Well, it was getting late so we gave up on the cows and went on to push the older cow over to Murder Camp. Turns out the bull went through the gate on his own and so we took him too! Eric met us there with the horse trailer and we rode back in the bed of the Ford, watching that Arizona landscape fly by in our blue jeans, cowboy boots and hats, with dirty nails, bruised butts and sore legs… and smiles of satisfaction and a day well spent. Your worries and such change in a lifestyle like this. My largest concern is somewhere along the lines of falling off this horse onto a cactus or getting clotheslined by (another) juniper. Inhibitions are gone, my face might have dirt on it, I don’t smell a whole lot better than EG, and there isn’t a whole lot that matters more to me than finding those 3 cows. This is the way life should be… instead of us worrying about so many stupid things. What a great day when I can say that my only “disappointments” were not being able to see the moon rise due to the clouds, and not getting closer to the birds and cottontails running across the desert.

Feb 17, day 9

I called cows for 6 hours today and was supposed to be watching Emma Grace too, but she got away within a half hour. After stepping on my damn foot. Cowboy problems.

Feb 16, day 8 – about cow calling

Today Jean said the words “good enough” and I thought I was imagining it. Though, this was after FIVE hours of cattle calling. I realize there are certain mental stages you go through while calling cows.

The first hour flies by – you’re confident the cows are on their way, you’ve got energy, excited to be out in the sun, watching birds, lifting rocks.

Hour 2 isn’t bad, it’s a lovely day even if there are no cows or birds. The cows must be close now. Any minute Jean and Smokey will appear on the ridge. Sun is nice. Mind is wandering. I have snacks, yay.

By hour 3 you’re sure the cows will show up at any moment, any moment. Throat and head are getting sore and energy is decreasing. Might sit down on that rock for just a minute. More snacks. I could lift more rocks. Or not. Mind wandering all over the place.

Hour 4 – I’m forgetting what to yell, even though I’ve said it about 500 times in a row. Wondering when to decide that something bad must have happened, hop on Seago, and go home. I’m not getting up from this rock until I see some dang cows. I don’t care about scorpions. I don’t know how to entertain myself. I’m probably getting sunburned. Where could these cows possibly be? This is the most ridiculous thing in the world to have a person screaming her face off at cacti. I hate this. My head hurts. I ate all my snacks. It wouldn’t even help if I saved some. Dried cherries won’t make the cows come. Did they forget about me and the cows? Where could they be? How do Seago and Emma Grace feel about my voice? Do they think this is as silly as I do?

Hour 5 – I hear a moo. I must be imagining. No, there’s more. And now cows descending from the ridge! Hooray, the day is saved! Wait, there’s only 10. And I don’t see horses. We’re not done. And none of those 10 care that I’m singing to them. No birds. No cows in my yard. No patience. This is absolutely absurd. I am outraged. At least I’m outside. In Arizona. At least I’m not a stupid fucking cow. WAIT I hear moos. From the ridge. A herd! 63 cows followed by 3 horses! Slow motion, but real. Now they’re in the wash at the drinker. No way will they come up here. The horses and their riders try pushing them toward me. This is absolutely comical now. At their expense. Well, mine too… I am still screaming at cows from a hill in the desert. Can’t they use a recording for this? I can’t wait to get back on that horse. My voice is hoarse. Haha. I’m losing it. I really don’t want to go for a run now. What’s for dinner? Jean is still riding around rounding up cows. I can’t stand this. Some have finally made it up and are eating the dang protein blocks. Those with the white on their face are neat looking. Dave is now calling too like an absolute fool. Wait, who am I to talk? This is ridiculous. Jean, can we stop this nonsense?? “Alright, that’s good enough,” I hear her say. “BYEEEE COWWWWS”

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