Never "Just a Dog..."

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I am deviating from the title of this blog . . . or maybe not. I guess it could come under the "writin'" category. Every Monday, I write about what has been most on my mind during the week and this time is no different. Dogs have been uppermost in my thoughts, specifically dogs that have been a part of my life. There's a reason for that. My Samoyed, Kirby, is not getting around well and I know I will have to make that tough decision soon. That fact has brought up memories of some very special canine friends.

1. Chummy. I don't remember Chummy very well - only vague memories of my brother and I playing with her. What made a big impact was her death. My brother and I found her lying on the grass very still and, of course, ran to Mom. There was no explanation for why she died. This is Chummy lying beside Dad holding me on Tex.

2. Duke. This golden cocker spanial male was our childhood buddy. Wherever we were, Duke was not far away. Mom could always find us that way! I remember most him playing hide and seek with us. He would wait until we hid, then come and find us. Oddly enough, I do not know how he died, but he was with us a long time. Photo below (Why am I scowling?) was in Saskatchewan, the next is in BC.

3. Tuffy. This little black terrier cross was a bundle of energy. The story I remember most is how he learned to "Go to the house." Apparently, Mom and Dad had rounded up a bunch of yearlings and were trying to get them through a gate into the barn yard. As yearlings usually are, they were plenty spooky and it was all Mom and Dad could do to hold them together at the gate to start pushing them through. That's when Tuffy appeared . . . and would not "go to the house" as Mom ordered him to do. Of course, they lost the yearlings who scattered. Furious, Mom chased Tuffy on horseback (with Dad telling her to stop or she was going to fall on the slippery, icy ground) until Tuffy didn't know where else to go BUT the house. After that, anyone could tell him to "go to the house" and he tucked his tail between his legs and left.

Mom taught Tuffy mutiple tricks and I taught him one - to "sing" Doggie in the Window with me. I played guitar and sang the lyrics; at the appropriate time, Tuffy barked. Really cute. I thought I had a picture of this somewhere, but I can't find it. We had Tuffy many, many years - until he was old and grey. I believe he was killed by a car after I left home.

4. Hind. I inherited this border collie with the strange name when I married. Hind was my husband's cattle dog, but we very quickly became attached. My very favourite story about Hind is the time he disappeared from my parents' ranch where my husband and I lived for the winter months in 1964-65. When my husband could not find him anywhere, he started thinking about the last time he had seen him.

"I was checking a cow with a new calf on the other side of the lake yesterday," he said, "I told him to lie down and stay..." And that's where Hind was - still lying down in the grass where he had been told to "stay".

At two years old, Hind was already a great cattle dog. He was going to be fantastic, but his life was cut short when he chased a rabbit into the path of a car. When I was told, my mind could not take it in. Another dog lived on the ranch and I think I thought that was the one who was killed. Only when I repeated the news to my husband, did I comprehend. Photo below is Hind with our young son. It is the only photo I could find of this wonderful, kind, intelligent and gentle dog.

Losing Hind devastated me and I did not get another dog for a few years. When I did, I bought a Samoyed puppy. I have had Samoyeds ever since.

To be continued next week - Samoyeds in my life.

Fall Roundups

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October. Clear air, frosty nights and roundups. Especially roundups. Living in the land of massive cattle ranches as I do, with friends and neighbours in the business of ranching, it's pretty hard to miss the fact that weaning, preg testing and fall roundups are in progress. Facebook posts talk of such things; as I drive to Williams Lake, I pass riders behind cows and calves in the bush beside the highway, then a few kilometers of more and more cows strung out along the fence - and heading for home, I suppose. But today it is not the Chilcotin roundups I am thinking about. I am remembering many, many fall roundups in Saskatchewan.

From 1964 to 1971, my husband was manager of the Beechy Community Pasture. In the fall, after the bulls were taken out, the 1500 head (plus calves) that the pasture grassed for the summer must be rounded up and cut into separate herds for each farmer to pick up. Since the breeding and the dry herds ran only in two fields, the first step of the process was to roundup the herds and separate them into four main bunches according to the locale of the owners. We did that in the latter part of September. Then, in October, we rounded up each field of "grouped" cattle, brought them to the main corral and, one by one (or pair by pair), we cut them out and penned them for pickup the next day. It was a big job. The weather for the September roundups usually was warm and we would have enjoyed the rides had we had enough riders, which we usually did not. Five good riders with experience could cover 12 sections of rolling hills and start the cows homeward, but often, when they bunched up at gates, the calves got pushed back and started running back to the last place they had sucked - three or four miles back. Pandimonium reigned as first one, then another, then another rider tried to bring the calves back to the herd and through the gate . . . and our horses were already tired. I remember best the worst case of this, when five of us chased calves back to the herd until our horses had nothing left. I was riding Concho, my son's horse. I knew if she could give no more, no horse could. My husband, on an out-of-shape gelding (we saved our best horses for cutting from the herd) is best remembered for sitting in the prairie wool on the side of a hill beside the dun (who had long ago quit!), flatly stating, "I hate cows." One rider rode to the corrals and returned with fresh horses in the trailer, but we had to ride the field again to pick up cattle scattered all the way to the back of the field.

In 1971, my husband was transferred to Crooked River pasture, and we learned something about a roundup in the bush - that we didn't like it much! Doesn't take long for cattle - especially bulls! - to learn they can "hide" in the bush! Then we had to tie our horse, cut ourselves a club, and go in on foot. Sometimes rounding up a field took several rides, each one bringing back a couple more of the "bushed" cattle, until the last few were either roped and tied to trees to bring in with the trailer or straggled out after winter arrived.

When we left Beechy pasture, my brother, Harold, took over as manager. The first year, I decided I would help him put out the cattle in the fall. I'm sure this was not necessary, but I thought it would help him out. So, with a horse in the back of the truck, two in the trailer and a six-month old baby, I headed out from my new home in Crooked River for Beechy - about 300 miles. What was I thinking? A u-joint in the truck caused a major delay (one end of the drive shaft fell down and jammed stuff back), but eventually, I arrived. Mom looked after Lana in the day; I rode all day, then returned to Mom's house at night. 5:00 A.M. to 10:00 PM. I must have really loved those Beechy Community Pasture roundups!

Harold managed the pasture until retirement - but he retired only from the Community Pasture. For all those years he also ran his own operation - the Diamond Dot Ranch where we were raised - and still does. He, his wife Linda, son Troy and daughter Amber, still know what it is bundle up, slap a saddle on the cold back of their best horse, step in the stirrup and head across the hills to the far corner of a field - the long circle - and round up a bunch of bossy bovines.

"I won't be there to wean the calves," Harold said to me on the phone from his hospital bed last night. He had just been hospitalized in Saskatoon for heart problems. I guess he'll miss one roundup this year, but there'll be others.

Speedy recovery, Harold! You're in the right place at this time. The Diamond Dot - and those roundups - will be waiting for you when you return .

Everything Happens for a Reason

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Since it's Thanksgiving, I would remiss if I did not remember what I have to be thankful for. Having just returned from a less-than-stellar weekend at the Canadian Supreme, where my financial plan went up in flames at the horse sale and Wolf's only run in the Derby did not place, it could be easy to wallow a little in my disappointment. I admit watching everyone pull away on Sunday night while I camped alone by the barn, discovering the next morning that I had driven away from a box containing four wool saddle blankets when I re-parked my outfit for the night (the blankets were gone the next morning) and driving 1100 kilometers home with only my thoughts for company, snuffed out any euphoric thoughts I might have had but I "dug deeper" and started driving . Monday evening I stopped at Jim and Lorene's in Clearwater to break the trip up.

"I gave one filly away and brought the other one back," I told him. We unloaded Wolf and Mistral (the gorgeous filly I didn't sell) and it was then that Jim said something that I have reminded myself of ever since.

"Everything happens for a reason," he said. "There's a reason you still have Mistral."

The next day I, as I drove the last 350 kilometers home, I felt better. I thought how glad I was that I did not have mechanical issues for the entire trip; I re-lived dinner with my children and grandchildren in Red Deer (definitely a high-point!); I day-dreamed about the trail rides I would take in 2011... And I thought about the fall work waiting for me. I tried not to think about the lost saddle blankets.

I am thankful - thankful that I can still see my way to feed my four-legged friends for another year; thankful that, though I can't work the long days I used to and I "sore up", I can still manage the strenuous physical tasks (like cutting firewood, putting in posts, and cleaning pens); thankful for family, friends and neighours; and thankful for the honest Albertan who picked up my box of saddle blankets!

I didn't stuff myself with turkey or even see anyone yesterday, but I ate roast beef and garden fresh veggies in front of the fire and talked to my daughter on the phone. At the end of the day, more posts were in the ground, more potatoes and carrots were out of the ground, more pens were cleaned and Sapphire (my two year old) was back under saddle. Now that is something to be thankful for!

As far as Mistral goes - I'm still waiting for the reason I still own her, but I know there is one!