Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Old Dog & Me

So the old dog and I decided to hike to the back valley.  Not the creek near us but the far creek.
The hike round trip can average about 3 miles give or take.

It doesn't sound like much but the constant elevation changes can make it tough especially on a very hot day or a very cold and snowy day.

Today was pleasant under the green canopy of leaves.  
Morris promptly walked into the deeper portion of the creek and lazily swam around.  The water was so clear I could watch his paws do the work.

I climbed down through thick ferns and over logs into the creek's bottom.  This creek is wider and deeper in most places than the one in the other valley.
But it is also harder to get around because the land is no longer grazed and this valley is not only overgrown but choked with trees that have washed into it during flash floods.

I used to explore this valley quite often when there were cattle trails running through it.  It has been nearly ten years since cattle have been on the land and in some ways it is a shame.
The cattle did help keep some of the undergrowth down and made it rather pleasant to hike through.

Now the old trails are filled with thorny briers and multiflora rose bushes.
In some places it is even too thick and thorny for the wild life.

Morris enjoyed the water and I lamented not hiking in my knee high boots.  I probably would have explored longer along the creek's bottom despite the brush.

I made a mental note to visit this area in the fall and again in the winter.

This spot hasn't changed much since I was last down here in the winter months.
A few from almost the same spot:

So Morris and I continued on our way.  We hiked up past the 'cave' and out into the open field.

This year someone has again rented the old wide pasture and has planted soybeans in it.

I feel badly for the soybeans.  Even though it has been a good year, the beans are small and struggling.

The crop has been drilled in but with the weeds being so bad, it has stunted their growth.

Huge piles of thistles lay toppeled in between rows, tall enough to shade the plants and tall enough so that Morris can barely pick his way through them without getting 'bit' by the sharp thistle thorns.

I didn't bother taking any photos of the area.  It looks bleak and is in my farmer's mind, a disaster area not a crop.

I pick up Morris and he takes up his position with his back feet on my pistol butt, and the front perched on my left forearm.

He rides comfortably while panting in the hot sun.

Please don't tell him that he is getting old, because he will not believe you.

I let him go when we get to the edge of the field.
At times he follows on my heels through the tall grasses, at other times he surges ahead and runs to smell things.

When we finally get home we are both tired.

Morris immediately gets a drink of water and heads to 'his' spot on the couch.  He pull my sweatshirt into a nest and with a huge sigh, shuts his eyes.

If life could be as simple as that, I would be happy.

I grab a blanket and lay down on the couch with him.
Old dog and me.

We earned a small nap.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hot & Humid Day at the Farm

The Dexter cattle were sleepy and content in the meadow.

Thor was ever the alert Jack.  He always keeps an eye on movement around the farm.

Morris, the supervisor watches the guys wrap bales of oat hay.  

He is a great supervisor.  Yes he is tied up, machinery is too tempting for him, he'd try and hitch a ride on the skid steer or help out with the operation of the bale wrapper.

Just before sunset, I went out to check on the mares in the back meadow.
Belle, our farm hound who is a people 'shadower', followed along.

The boys in their pasture where doing the 'fly' swishing thing.
Funny how they lined up.

Chores were done late to avoid the high heat from the sun.

Our skies have been orange nearly every night.  I don't know if that has something to do with the wildfires out west and the smoke in the atmosphere or not.

But last night the colors conveyed the heat quite well.

And then darkness fell and the crickets began their night song.  The Robins chirped their songs and fell silent.
Off in the distance young coyotes ran and yipped.
Thor and Bob brayed their challenge.

And our small farm went to sleep for the night.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Gardening with neighbors

Of course last year when I was helping my neighbor weed her garden and she was handing me some zucchini to take home along with some tomatoes...

When she mentioned wishing that she had a better place to make a bigger garden.

Her yard is sloped.  Their house in on a hillside that slopes steeply down towards us.

We share the driveway and the well.  And since we get along together so well I just blurted out.

"Well, why don't we do a big garden at my house next year?  I have plenty of room but just no motivation."

And so we agreed to do a garden together.

The nearer it came to planting time, we chatted about what they wanted to grow and what I wanted to grow.  Our lists were similar and we prepared the ground.

We planted both seeds and plants around the start of June.

June 7th.
A monsoon of a rain poured down 2 1/2 inches of rain in 40 minutes.

I watched as the rain created a small flash flood through the garden.  I was pretty sure that nothing would survive. 
But as the photo shows, my neighbors had made 'mounds' for all of the rows.

The spiral was to become a Sunflower Spiral with runner beans climbing them.

To our surprise the garden did not wash away.  Some rows did have seeds wash into other rows and as the plants sprouted, we re-planted.

By July 2nd things started to look like a garden.

Even with another few storms and cool weather things finally started to get underway.

We began to eat lettuce and radishes, the green beans didn't sprout so we replanted them.

The carrots started to poke up in the rows with radishes.  My neighbor planted them together and said that the carrots would start coming on when the radishes were done.
I was a skeptic.
But not any more.

The squash was planted on the edges of the garden so that they could creep into the yard.

The neighbors were afraid that the mules would eat the squash if it crept into the pasture.  
I assured them they would not.

They were skeptics.
Not anymore!
The mules leave the squash plants alone and let them grow into their pasture.

The sunflower spiral is nearly as tall as me on the East side.  This was the side that was not put under water 3 times since we planted the garden.

A word about weeding.  I was skeptical when my neighbor said that we should leave certain weeds.  Now I used to call it 'creeping jenny' and they called it Purslane.
And you can eat it!

Anyway, apparently you can eat many weeds.  Of course I knew that. I've dined on Lamb's Quarters and had Nettle greens and Nettle Tea.

I've even found uses for plantain that grows in the yard but has some wonderful qualities.

I have found also, that purslane helps keep the moisture in the ground so that the veggies can grow when it is dry.

When I try some to eat, I'll let you know if it is any good.

So tonight we dine on some of our wonderful goodies from the garden.
I must say that raising our own little beef and having a garden has its real advantages.

There is something very satisfying when you sit down to a meal and know that not only did you grow all the vegetables in the meal, but you've raised the meat too.

Tonight we are having a fresh salad with cucumbers and the last of the radishes.  Along with  a couple baby carrots that I thinned out of the carrot row.
Beet greens, young red beets and a 'golden' beet, zucchini and summer squash mixed up with some green beans from another neighbor.

I must say that I may have been skeptical at my neighbor's un-traditional way of gardening, but I'm not any longer.

In fact I like the Sunflower Spiral, and the fact that everywhere I turn in the garden, I am looking at fresh food.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

I have found Siera and she has found me...

Hubby was set up to haul round bales of hay for the day.  I'd gone to the recycling center and grocery shopping...  so I decided to grab a mule ...

I saddled up Siera and decided to go exploring on mule back.
You have to understand.  4 years ago, Badger took me everywhere and anywhere, safely and quietly.  Badger got ill, very ill.  He died of equine COPD 2 yrs ago and ever since I have been searching for an equine I could ride solo out in the woods...all 2,000 acres of it that surrounds me plus the roads safely.

Siera picked me.  Hubby bought her and SHE picked me.  I bought her from Hubby so he could never sell her.

Siera and I have had our training issues.  There has been times when I decided that Siera was NOT it.
That she would not fulfill my needs...

But since last week, it has all started to fall into place.
We've been training together for 5 yrs.  IF anyone ever says they can train a horse or mule in 30 days...okay ... who are they kidding!

Somehow... today... Siera and I hit the 'button'.

WE have figured each other out.  And let me tell you, no two animals are the same.

She and I have finally hit the point where we 'get' each other.  She understands what I want and I understand what she really will do for me.

I rode her twice.
Once in the woods and along trails.
Then I brought her home, but was so enthralled with her that I saddled her up again with an English Saddle and took her out to visit neighbors and check out things that in the past freaked her out.

Today she was the Miracle Mule.  That very same mule who came to me 2 yrs ago when I was so sad.  The very same mule who stood guard over me for a night while I sat in the meadow and cried.

So yes.  This Siera mule will never BE Badger.  But she has taught me that I have a place in my heart for another 'kind' of mule love.
Siera's mule love.

Siera is intense about her people relationships
She will not even acknowledge my husband.  She sees me and no other human.

Tonight when I introduced her to some of the ridge-top neighbors who knew Badger ~~ Siera bowed her head to the kids ~~ then leaned her head into me as if to say.
I can love all of you.

And let me tell you.
Siera made me cry and sing at the same time.

Thank you Siera.  You entered my life when I didn't want you, but loved me unconditionally and helped me overcome the loss of Badger.  [Badger was a mule who only had eyes for me and always was good to the grand kids.  He was something so extra-ordinary that I was sure I'd never find another equine like him.]

Now Siera is showing me how special she can be.
Sure some say it that it is my training.
But I think not.
It is our 'connection'.

If you can connect like I have with Badger and Siera.  Then you will have a once in a life time experience.

Bully Bully!

Well I couldn't help myself with this shot.  It was taken just before we moved the Dexters to their next pasture which is a fairly large meadow.

They will eat most things that the equine won't eat so we like to refer to them as the 'clean up crew'.

They do an excellent job at eating weeds and brush.  If we cut the burdock and thistles, they gobble them up also.

Not only are they great pasture cleaners, they are very tasty for home raised beef.

Here the herd is moving through the electric gate and out into their next pasture to work on.

We have had to add extra lines much lower to the ground for these cattle but it has proven to be well worth it.

We are trying to practice good rotational grazing with them.
Next project, fencing the woods?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Unintentional Photographer

Well, that is sort of what I am.  I am not knocking those who study hard and spend time setting up and composing and recomposing.

Seriously, I don't believe I'll ever be a pro or even make money at my 'hobby'.

But I do enjoy 'seeing' things through the lens and trying to capture beauty.

This morning I left the house at 4:45 and drove to the ridge.
[You cannot see the break of dawn in my hollow.  It can take up to 2 hrs for sunlight to come down here after dawn.]

But there is something magical about watching the sky turn different shades of color and trying to adjust the camera as the light changes rapidly.

This morning was very cold for July.  It was 49 degrees at the time the sun began its appearance.

I enjoyed a nice hot cup of coffee that I put on my hood and watched. The birds singing grew in volume as the sun rose.
Far off a rooster began to crow.

I'd decided to make this trip this morning because the weather surface had warned of valley fog.
I was hoping to see some just below me, but alas, it didn't happen!

However, the moment that the sun did decide to make its entrance, it was breathtaking.

The weeds on the side of the road were full of beautiful dew drops and I was lucky enough to catch the morning reds on a white Ox Eye Daisy.

I know the shot doesn't follow the rule of thirds, or some of the other 'rules' but the light was dim and I balanced the camera as best as possible and grabbed the shot.

Getting up early and using the morning light was worth it.
I think this will be my favorite shot of the morning.

As I started home I did find some fog drifting in.
The shot didn't turn out quite perfect so I edited it to look as though I painted it.

And now it is time to go out and do chores.

I'm not sure what can top my morning, but I'm sure the day will be full of opportunities and some sort of farming adventures.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Gone to the Dogs

I asked Morris if he wanted to go for a walk.
Such a silly question!  Of course!

He ran circles around me while I put my camera bag over my shoulder and my hiking boots on.

It was a bit warm and humid so being near the creek and getting into the rocky ravine was nice and cool.

Of course the water was nice and clear for a good drink.

Morris enjoys his 'rocky' kingdom and will spend time just nosing around or sitting with me on a rock.

I was actually pretty surprised that the bugs were not bad at all in the 'dry run'.  It was nice enough to sit on a mossy rock and enjoy the sounds of the woods.
Which we did of course.

We also ate black caps and listened to a warbler.  The breeze above sighed through the trees.

It was a great hike.

When we got back, I had to give Morris a bath.  He also had 'spa' day. I trimmed his nails and groomed him.  He loves being brushed with an equine curry comb.  I must say, it does a great job too.

I decided to give Dixie an outdoor bath.  First we trimmed toe nails and she was very good about it.
Then came the bath.
I got wet, she got wet.  But being the happy hound dog that she is, she took it all in stride and acted happy about it.

I brushed her until she was dry then decided it would be nice to take a walk with her and let her run in the hay field on the ridge.

I thought I'd need a 'choke' collar as it had been a while since we practiced on a leash.
But I was wrong, she never pulled or got silly.

Belle, the spooky dog, followed us to the ridge so when I let Dixie off leash and told her to run and play.

She did.
Belle didn't know what to make of it at first.
But I think she enjoyed it.

After a proper amount of play time, we headed back home and Belle followed close on our heels...just out of human touch.

I feel badly for her knowing someone must have really beat the heck out of her for her to have such a fear of people, yet she is getting closer and closer.

She is my shadow most of the time.

After supper I went out and waited at the mule gate.  Siera came trotting up along with Fred.

I put Fred in an area with nice grass and took Siera out for a 'spin' bareback while hubby did chores.

Then I spent some time with her, letting her graze while I groomed the sun set.

My day really had been complete.  Hikes, dogs, grooming, baths ... all fun with animals.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Can this shot be Saved?

This is not a great photo, but it is a fair one that I literally snapped because of Siera's reaction to the baby stroller I was pushing when the grand kids were visiting.

Getting a mule to 'pose' with their ears up and pointed is not an easy task when you are actually trying to do a portrait.

So I thought I'd occupy myself while the rain came down outside and try a different technique.  I thought I'd mix the shot up with some textures and see what happened.
Most of the time I end up totally making a mess.

First off I can do this in either PSPX6 or Photoshop...a person can almost any version that uses layers including Elements.

You can 'cut out' your image with any sort of selection tool.  I use Topaz ReMask because it just is so much easier for me.  Quick draw the line click the red bucket and compute.

Next I grabbed a 'texture' from Jerry Jone's site called Attic Treasures at Shadow House Creations.

Notice that I haven't done anything but drop the texture on top of the poor mule.  Before I get too involved I want to experiment with layer opacity and first.  If it looks half way decent, I might just use it.

Well it does look nice with her colors but I'll swap layers again and try some things to get rid of the green that is hanging on her face from the original ...
and perhaps crop it also.

After a bit of playing around with the layers, I found one that seems to work well.

I get rid of the green by using a mask tool.  Older Elements users can just carefully erase around the animal.

I wasn't quite satisfied with the look I was getting.  True enough, it does look like a funky old framed photo that one could find in the attic.

But I wanted something more.

So I dug around in my files and found a fall photo which matched the colors I was using.

I dropped it into the layers and began to move it around a bit.

Notice that I have made it so you cannot see the bottom layer which is the original photo.

I decided that I like the way the trees frame the mule within the frame.

This will be where I should save the file as PSD so I can work on it later, then I crop it and flatten it.

I added a black border and my name at the bottom to finish it off.

I think it is a keeper.
It went from a so-so crappy point at the mule and snap shot to something I wouldn't mind having on my screensaver or on my calendar next year.

Color me happy.

It was worth trying out something different on a day where it is raining and I can't be out hiking or riding.

Sitting back and looking at this ... I realize that I could have moved the mule a bit to more to the right.

And since I did not save the PSD file I would have to go through these steps again.
Lesson learned!  Save your work!

Here is something else I did with editing.
I used Topaz Simplify, Clean, and then overlayed the photo of a sunset on top of the 'creation'.
It was fairly well received and someone even may have called it artistic.

I'm not sure I'd go that far, but keeping your editing skills up to par with new things is always a good plan.

Learning to ride.

I had a request by a reader to write something about learning to ride and riding safety which are both very good topics to write about.

This entry will be a bit about what my impressions are about 'learning to ride.'

Let me say first off that although I do ride quite a bit, I am no expert at teaching riding.

However for 4 years I was involved in a 4H program where I was a leader for our group for the Horseless Horse Group.

Children who did not own a horse, got to 'borrow one' and use that horse to show at the County Fair at the end of the year.

The children spent all spring and summer preparing for their 15 minutes of walking and trotting in front of a judge.
They also learned showmanship as it was mandatory for all horse showing.

The learning was done in an enclosed area.  I didn't have a riding arena, so we had a section of pasture that was roped off.

The first part to learning to ride is getting to know the animal.  I usually started with body parts and grooming.

Next came all the saddle parts and tack uses.  
In riding, one uses the tack, the saddle, and their entire body to communicate to the equine they are riding.

It is not a process that is learned immediately.
It takes time and practice.  

It is amazing at how well certain animals will behave around children.
In my life I have been blessed with some incredible equine.  

There was Red, an ugly quarter-mix gelding who was probably Mr. Bombproof.  He was in the Horseless Horse Program for 4 years.

I had Cheyanne, who was not a 'child' horse, but worked with kids very well in an arena setting.  She took many older-young riders to blue ribbons in the fairs.

There was Badger the mule.
Big and Gentle.  

There is Fred.  Old and wise.  He is always willing to work quietly with youngsters.

There is no trick to learning to ride.
It takes time and patience to learn to balance on a moving, living, breathing animal.

My uncle taught us to ride bareback.  In the 60's there were no safety helmets.  We learned by eventually getting a sense of balance.
Each summer we'd ride for hours and hours.  Sometimes so long that our legs would be incredibly sore the next day.

The photo above is of me on the pony when I was about 15 years old.

Note the bare feet and the twine string reins.  My sister is on the horse next to me.  She was riding Charlie Brown and I was riding Thunder.