Tom Clyde: Spring on the ranch
May 8, 2015
Despite the early spring and very warm weather, the spring work on the ranch has already gotten ahead of me. I tried to be responsible back on those 70 degree days. I had the best intentions of getting a head start on stuff so it wouldn’t be so overwhelming when spring really came. But my best intentions got shoved aside for several early season road bike rides. The plan had been to get out for a good ride, then come home and get to work. That usually turned into a good post-ride nap, then the dogs demanded a walk. One thing led to another, and while I finally got the ditching done, it’s no more than a couple of days ahead of schedule.
There is an urgency about water this year. I watch the river flow increase. It’s rising too fast, too early. The runoff will be over before it quits freezing at night. Then when it really matters to have some irrigation water on the farm, the river will be down to a dribble and it’s too late. There’s quite a debate about how best to approach it. A lot of people are already in full irrigation mode on the assumption that any water too soon is better than no water later. I’m certain enough that it will snow again that I can’t get too excited about encouraging the hay to get up high enough to freeze.
Normally the irrigation starts about Memorial Day. That’s about three weeks away. But who knows what normal is anymore. The rain has maybe resolved the dilemma. The fields are wet and muddy. It’s not quite a full water turn on it, but close enough. I may regret it later, but somehow irrigating the hay this early feels like taking extra-long showers now so I will be clean in August if the well goes dry.
I’m into the annual fencing-mending project. Even a light winter takes a toll — trees blow over on the fences, wires break in the cold, and there is a spot where the elk just walk through it every winter. The light winter is making it a little easier. The weight of the snow really pulls on the fences in a big winter. I’ve got a crew made up of my sister’s grandson and a few of his friends. They are 20 years old and serious athletes. After a full day of it, climbing up steep hills, dragging spools of wire and bundles of posts around, I was ready to collapse on the couch in front of the TV, and not too choosey about what was on if it required reaching for the remote.
They all had dinner and went out for a hike. They had made big plans to float the river, but concluded it was too cold. I think the water temperature is about 35 degrees, and the evening air was not a lot warmer. So they climbed a mountain instead. I reached for the ibuprofen.
Some of the posts we’ve replaced are older than me. I’d guess some are pushing 100 years, old craggy cedar posts that were obviously cut with an axe. Difficult as it is to drive a steel fence post into my rocky, river-bottom ground, it sure beats hand-digging postholes. The old guys set them in deep, too.
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My cousin recently shared a picture of our grandfather, who would have set some of those posts. Grandpa looked ancient, hunched and leaning on a cane. I would have guessed he was 90, except that he didn’t live that long. Based on things in the background of the picture, I was able to fix the date within a year or two. I did the math — he was younger than I am now, and died a couple of years later. I don’t feel guilty about those bike rides.
My work detail was dive-bombed by hummingbirds. We all had brightly colored hats on. It was the first time I had seen them around all year. A little later the sandhill cranes were out in the field, noisily checking us out. Several pair of geese flew over, honking up a storm. There are nests on a couple of the ponds this year. There are more osprey this year than usual. There is a pair nesting somewhere near my house. They cruise through the yard at about shoulder height every now and then, terrifying the dogs. Down the road, another pair has been giving the power company fits, trying to build a nest on top of a power pole where it will start a fire, fry the birds, or both.
Early spring or late snow, the cycles go on. You certainly wouldn’t turn the irrigation on before the geese have hatched.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.