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Spring is really here

Tom Clyde, Park Record columnist

It may be brash, given the forecast for this weekend, but I’m beginning to think it’s safe to take the snow tires off now.

A week of 80-degree weather in the middle of May is not to be trusted. It’s the kind of thing that suckers you into planting a garden, turning the irrigation on, and putting the patio furniture out. Despite decades of living here, I did all of that, and will be reminded once again that May is still winter around these parts. May will entice you outside with the most wonderful weather imaginable, and then crush your ebullience with a cold, wet slap of snow. Last year, the hay froze in mid-June.

Things are frantic on the ranch. There are fences to fix, ditches to clean, broken gates to re-hang, and who knows what else will hit in the process. Machinery that hasn’t moved in nine months is brought back to life, with the usual problems of dead batteries and flat tires in the shed. What my uncle still refers to as "that new tractor," despite it being 30 years old, has had a problem with a neutral safety switch for at least 20 years. I’ve pulled the switch out and tested it. It always seems fine. There is a relay hidden someplace deep under the dash that clicks. The parts guy said they don’t make them any more, but it probably wasn’t the source of the problem anyway.

Sometimes the tractor will start, and other times it will give a lame "click" and nothing else. My uncle has a special incantation that he utters while jiggling the gearshift. That often does the trick. It’s nothing like the string of profanity my grandfather used to let loose on things. His Scottish blessings could recharge batteries. Apparently I don’t have the knack, and no matter what oaths I swear at the tractor, it won’t reliably start.

So in a flash of frustration, after walking a couple of miles home with the tractor dead in the field, I decided to "fix" it. I wired around the whole pile of OSHA-mandated electrical failure and it now starts with a new pushbutton on the dash. Very much like my brother’s Audi, if you ask me. It was a nice installation and looks like it came from the factory that way. Works great. The odd thing is that every time I’ve tried to start it with the old, proper circuitry now, it fires right up. Some things defy explanation.

We started up the irrigation system earlier than usual because it was actually getting dusty. There are a lot of things that happen in May, but dust isn’t supposed to be one of them. So we’re irrigating while awaiting the next frost, and assuming that the river will run dry very early in the year. Get it while you can is the rule when it comes to irrigating the farm.

The critter count this year seems different from usual. The sandhill cranes are back in their normal spots, and the hummingbirds were here a little early. For some reason, there have been more Canada geese around than usual. One pair was trying to settle in on an island in the river in front of the house. The dogs thought that was alarming, and had to go out and bark at the geese first thing in the morning. The geese didn’t care, and would honk back mockingly. The standoff lasted most of a month. In the end, the rising river won. The island is underwater now. The geese have moved on, hopefully finding a safer place to nest.

There have been more ducks around this spring, too. As soon as the irrigation came on, they were happy to land on the little reservoir we fill overnight. I doubt they will stay there. There’s too much activity around the farm to have the ducks feeling secure, not to mention the daily draining of their pond.

The moose population is way down really since the last big winter three years ago. I don’t know if it was that hard winter, or the mountain lions, or increased hunting. They had become something of a neighborhood attraction/problem, and the DWR guys were pretty sure they wanted to move them out of the backyards. I’ve seen a couple from the highway, and some tracks, but no moose in the yard.

It’s pretty common to see a bear this time of year. That’s something to watch out for when I’m out there working on the irrigation system.

There’s something pretty nice about having the workday interrupted by flocks of geese, or the sound of breaking brush that could mean a moose or bear coming over to help.

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.


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