Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .



Saturday, October 1, 2011

Never Anger the Ranching God!

Blair. Getting a haircut. And shave.
By Mom, the barber.

The calving field (aka: the tree field), was a quarter of a mile from the ranch buildings.
Not so great a distance if you wanted a good walk, or a short ride.
But a marathon in length when you were pushing sick, weary stock.
Dad came up with plan 'B'.
Metal corral panels that could be instantly set up anywhere.
Genius.
In the corner, next to the road and immediately adjacent (good word) to the main gate, he assembled his new acquisition.
Shiny green panels of tubular, green-painted steel.
They were heavy-duty. Solid.
And could be set up at a moment's notice.
The answer to all of our prayers.
Okay, we hadn't been praying about it, but you get the picture.
Moving on . . .
We rounded up the herd and pushed them into the corrals which had magically appeared in their own field.
I can't tell you how easy it was.
Okay, I probably could, but . . .
Ahem.
All was going well.
Never say that when ranching.
Because Alfred, the God of Ranching, immediately begins to get creative.
And sends all sorts of 'challenges'.
On this particular day, he sent Nature.
Capital 'N'.
Now, ordinarily, I love storms. The bigger and noisier, the better.
I witnessed (and lived through) the great Edmonton Tornado of 1987.
But that is another story.
Today's storm was a bit different.
There wasn't any wind. A miracle where we lived.
Or rain.
There was only lightning.
And we were standing immediately adjacent (that word again) to metal corrals.
I needn't tell you that lightning likes metal.
My Dad, my younger brother, Blair, and I were busily engaged in . . . cattle stuff.
We really didn't notice the approaching storm until it broke, quite literally, over our heads.
The air suddenly turned a sort of greenish colour.
Then a deafening ZZZZZZZZZZST!
There was a transformer on a tall power pole immediately outside the main gate of the field, not 30 feet from where we were working.
It exploded.
No, really.
It was there one moment.
Then gone the next.
A curl of smoke rose from the place it had been.
It was rather hard to ignore.
We all froze in our various positions.
Dad and I outside the corral.
Blair stuck in the middle.
With several head of cattle.
Instinctively, he started towards the corral fence.
“Freeze!” Dad barked.
Blair did.
The cattle weren't as obedient.
Now that I think about it, cattle never are.
Obedient, I mean.
But I digress . . .
Let's just say that they were nervous, shall we?
They immediately began to move around, jostling Blair and each other.
“Blair! Don't move!” Dad said. “The next strike will be close!”
Sometimes I hate it when people are right.
Again, the greenish colour.
Again the loud ZZZZZZZZZZST!
Again the exploding.
But what I can remember most is Blair, staring at me from inside that metal corral.
That green lightning magnet.
Completely helpless.
I know I did do some praying then.
That second strike hit the next power pole, just down the road from the first one.
And then the storm moved away from us.
We started breathing again.
Moving.
Blair lost no time in sprinting across the corral and vaulting the fence.
Let's just say that the Olympics committee would have been impressed.
For several minutes, we just stood there.
Outside the corrals.
Thankful to be alive and safe.
It was sometime before Dad could convince us to get back to work.
Not an unusual challenge.
But this time we had a good excuse.





Thursday, September 29, 2011

It's a Pie Day!

My Mom. Doing what she did best!

Pie.
That king of treats.
The amazing union of lightly browned and flaky crust and yummy filling.
And topped with a delicious scoop of iced or whipped cream . . .
It's like heaven.
In your mouth.
Spilled on the floor and reduced to its sticky, disparate parts, it's not as good.
But we won't go there.
And I just finished cleaning.
So . . . pie.
Today is pie-making day.
Whenever our family celebrates, we do it with pie.
It's a long-standing tradition that spans one generation.
Okay, we started it, but it's still a good tradition!
So, because tomorrow is the launching of my new book, Carving Angels, and every party requires pie, I will spend today making it.
Pie, I mean.
I love making it.
My Mom made fantastic pie. 
Sweet. Flaky. (This is the only place where 'flaky' is a good thing.)
And utterly delicious.
And so, when I make it, using her recipes, it's like spending time with her.
I even have a picture, which I prop up and talk to.
Okay, it's weird, but she's been gone for nearly a decade and I miss her.
And now, in honour of this grand occasion, I am including some of my favourite 'pie' quotes:
  1. "Keep your knives, we're having pie!"  ~My Dad. Just before Mom whacked him.
  2. "Keep your fork, Duke, there's pie."  ~The proprietress of a diner to the Duke of Edinborough.
  3. "A boy doesn't have to go to war to be a hero; he can say he doesn't like pie when he sees there isn't enough to go around."  ~E.W. Howe
  4. "It is utterly insufficient (to eat pie only twice a week), as anyone who knows the secret of our strength as a nation and the foundation of our industrial supremacy must admit. Pie is the American synonym of prosperity, and its varying contents, the calendar of the changing seasons. Pie is the food of the heroic. No pie-eating people can ever be permanently vanquished."  ~EDITORIAL New York Times, 1902
  5. "But I, when I undress me
    Each night, upon my knees
    Will ask the Lord to bless me
    With apple-pie and cheese."
                ~Eugene Field
  6. "Thy breath is like the steame of apple-pyes."  ~Arcadia   Robert Green, 1590
  7. "In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe."  ~ Isaac Asimov
  8. If all the world were Apple pie, And all the seas were ink, And all the trees were bread and cheese, What would we have to drink?  ~ Unknown
I have to go. My Mom is waiting.
Happy pie day!


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Even Cowgirls Love Gentlemen

Me and Golly Gee.
And yes, that is a band aid on my nose.
Sexy!

I learned two things that summer.
1.      Barbed wire gates are tricky.
2.      Some young gentlemen, though they look strong, aren't.
Oh, and . . .
3.      Poor guys.

I was herdsman for my Dad.
A simple job, now that calving season was pretty much over.
My duties consisted of making sure that all four-footed red and white creatures were safe and happy.
Much like a mother hen.
On horseback.
It was the perfect job.
The only difficulty lay in the fact that all summer, there had been gangs of young men between the ranch buildings and the field.
Okay, groups of young men weren't a normal, or unwelcome, sight in our part of the country.
And these were seismic crews  in groups of ten or so who were more-or-less busy laying out lines and setting the charges that would indicate hidden reserves of oil.
So, riding past them wasn't a difficulty, really.
Okay, it was a bonus.
But I did feel like I rather . . . stuck out
Particularly if they weren't busy at the moment and had nothing, other than me, to watch.
On this particular day, feeling distinctly uncomfortable, I slid off my horse and effortlessly opened the gate.
In full view of about ten pairs of eyes.
Sigh.
I smiled, feeling rather . . . exposed, then hurriedly pulled my horse through and closed the gate.
I wasted no time in moving to the far side of the field, hoping that, when I was done, they would have moved a little further down the road.
It didn't happen.
By the time I finished my sweep, they had finished their work and were standing around, just outside the gate, waiting for their data to be collected.
And with nothing to do but watch me.
Perfect.
I dismounted and opened the gate.
Again, the cynosure (real word) of all eyes.
I led my horse through.
“Can I help you with that, Miss?”
I turned.
One of the young men, obviously a gentleman, had stepped forward.
I looked at the gate post in my hand, then back at him.
“Umm . . . sure. Thank you.”
I handed him the post and stepped back.
He stuck the post into the bottom loop, then pushed it upright.
The post, I mean.
It didn't come anywhere near the all-important top loop.
I should point out here that a barbed wire gate is held shut by two loops of wire, one top and one bottom. If the bottom loop isn't high enough on the lead post, the gate is increasingly harder to fasten.
The young man had obviously seen me open the gate.
With the swat of one hand.
His manhood was now on the line.
He pushed, while trying not to appear that he was pushing.
Still no progress.
He began to get red-faced.
He put his shoulder to the post and pushed some more.
Still a gap of two or three inches.
A mile in 'gate' terms.
I suggested that he push the bottom loop a little higher on the post.
He did so.
And was still an inch out.
Oh, man.
He had offered to help me.
And he couldn't.
I couldn't bear to stand there and witness his embarrassment.
I told him, “I have to get to the ranch. I'll just leave you with that. Thank you so much!”
And gave him my biggest smile.
Then I jumped on my horse and made a quick exit.
A short time later, when the crew had moved on, I went back and checked the gate.
It was fastened.
I don't know if the poor man did it himself, or if half the crew had to help him.
At least I wasn't around to witness it.
But I will always be grateful.
He was a true gentlemen.
And even a cowgirl appreciates that.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

If You Want to Be Clean, Stay out of the Corral!

Oh sure, she looks clean now . . .

I've decided that ranching is not 'clean' work.

I had been herdsman for my Dad for several months.
This combined my favourite activity, riding, with various other responsibilities.
Like checking the herd every day for cows that were calving.
Cows that looked like they were about to start calving.
Or cows that looked like they were thinking about starting to calve.
Ranching takes a lot of head work.
Also helping them when it became necessary.
And hauling feed.
Cleaning pens.
And grubbing around the barnyard doing whatever Dad came up with.
Yep. Not clean work at all.
This day, though, I was determined to stay . . . unsoiled.
My new boyfriend was stopping by and I wanted him to see me as the picture-perfect cowgirl. 
Sun in her hair and smelling of the outdoors - grass, sage, and fresh air.
Things started well.
I buckled the riding pad on my horse.
Thus eliminating the possibility of being covered with hair when he arrived.
I rode out to the calving pasture.
It was a bright, fresh morning with just a bit of a breeze.
Perfect.
I finished my initial sweep.
The easy, treeless part of the field.
No cows inconveniently doing messy things.
I started back, this time through the brush and small trees.
Still nothing.
Everyone was grazing happily, or contentedly lying down, chewing their cud.
It was a peaceful scene.
A clean scene.
I rode into the last copse (real word, I looked it up) of trees.
And there she was.
That one cow determined to undermine my perfectly planned morning.
Obviously calving.
And just as obviously having trouble.
Rats.
I rode over.
Yep. Trouble.
The calf's head and feet had emerged, but the little creature was obviously caught at the shoulders.
Poor thing.
Thoughts of my pristine wardrobe disappeared as I considered my next move.
The cow had to be herded to the ranch buildings.
And quickly.
We made it in record time, considering she was in heavy labour.
Finally, she was enclosed in the nearest empty corral.
I slid off my horse and quickly erected a 'pen' of plank walls around her, further hemming her in.
Then I reached for the calf's little white feet.
But this cow didn't want my help.
And certainly wasn't disabled by any discomfort she might be feeling.
I should have realized that a cow who had made the trip from the field to the ranch building at the speed she had, while in labour, was actually Supercow.
As my hands closed firmly over her calf's feet, she made a leap, flattening my hastily-erected fence and pulling me through the rubble.
Now a normal person probably would have let go at that point.
I guess I'm not normal.
Because I didn't.
Let go, that is.
Instead, I desperately hung on to those feet as the cow pulled me around the corral.
Through the dust.
And a couple of icky pools.
And that's when the calf . . . fell out.
Soon, mother and baby were happily together.
And I was headed to the ranch house.
I needn't tell you how I looked.
From head to foot.
My boyfriend's truck and I reached the front gate together.
It's all about timing.

Monday, September 26, 2011

7X7 Links Challenge


Delores of The Feathered Nest has chosen me for the 7X7 Links.
This is so exciting!
Here's how it works . . .
You go through your past posts and find one that fits each of the following criteria (good word!):

1.  Most beautiful. Never thought of any of my posts as beautiful, but that was the word most used to describe this one!
My River


2.  Most popular. Way ahead of all the others for sheer number of views.
Naked-ing the Clothed


3.  Most Controversial. A tie here. Disgusting frog dissection. Or disgusting Dog digestion. Take your pick.
Students and Froggies
Dining with Dogs

4.  Most Helpful. A little travel advice. From the experts.
The Terrible, Awful No Good, Very Bad Trip

5.  Surprisingly Successful. Who knew that The Simpsons could be so educational?
Important Lessons From the Unlikeliest Places

6.  Most Underrated. One of my favourites. From the early days of my blog.
The Root Cellar

7.  Most Pride Worthy. This blog helped me connect with the wonderful descendants of the world's best teacher.
World's Best Teacher

And now seven blogs that I most enjoy. Visit them. You'll be glad you did!
Jen at Bless this Mess
Ginger at inSERIOUSLYsane
Laura at Living A Big Story
Mama Zen at The Zen of Motherhood
Red at Amazing Australian Adventures
Bella at Bella's Place, Bella's Space
Jamie Brooke Thompson at Jamie Brooke Thompson

And a special mention to Pearl. A real treat!
Pearl at Pearl, Why You Little

The Golden Rule

Me. Far right, second row. Renee, directly behind me.
One of us was perfectly dressed.
It wasn't me.

I'm a horrible person.
I mocked/made-fun-of someone.
I have repented.

It was my first day of school.
I was breathlessly, happily, finally in grade one.
I had just enjoyed my first bus ride.
It was bumpy and dusty.
But magical.
I had been duly delivered to the sidewalk outside my brand new school.
Where I stood in indecision.
Okay. The other kids were lining up at the doors.
I followed.
A tall, slender woman was calling for all of the "Grade Ones!"
I saw several kids about my size line up beside her.
I followed.
The bell rang and Miss Warnoski turned and went into the school.
We all followed.
In Miss Warnoski's room, we toted our book bags (mine was homemade by my Mom) to our first desk.
I was in the second row.
Second seat back.
It had my name pasted onto it.
D-i-a-n-e S-t-r-i-n-g-a-m. I spelled it out by tracing with a finger.
Yep. That's me!
I watched to see what the other kids were doing.
Unpacking.
Okay. I could do that.
I began to pull out thick, red pencils and half-lined scribblers.
Cool. There was a cubbyhole under the desktop that could hold a mountain of stuff.
Soon it was home to my stuff.
I hung my bag over the seat back, sat down at my desk, folded my hands together on top, and let my legs swing.
School was a breeze.
Miss Warnoski began to teach.
Okay, not such a breeze.
Then, it was time to line up for Recess.
Capital 'R'.
The great unknown.
I followed.
We filed back outside. And kids began to run and play.
This was Recess?
Pffff. What was I worried about?
This was just like playing with kids at home.
In fact, I recognized some of the kids from playing at home.
Suddenly I was in my element.
And that's when the trouble started.
I should point out, here, that I didn't always get into trouble during recess.
It just seems like it.
Moving on . . .
There was a tall, very slender girl in my new class.
Renee.
She had long, silky, platinum-blond hair, perfectly groomed.
And she was dressed in the very pinnacle of fashion.
Something that would remain a trademark with her throughout our school years.
And something that would pass me by throughout . . . you get the picture.
Today, she had on a poofy pink dress.
Which I secretly thought was very pretty.
And of which two or three of the other kids were making fun.
They called out jeers and snide remarks.
A five-year-old's version of insulting.
And none of which I can remember.
Probably a good thing.
But it looked like fun!
I would join in.
"Renee, you look like a big, poofy candy floss!"
Renee just smiled. As she had been doing all along.
And suddenly, I didn't feel all that clever.
In fact, I felt stupid.
I had made fun of someone.
And I didn't like it.
I handled my new feelings of embarrassment and chagrin with aplomb and maturity.
I went and hid.
Till the bell rang and Miss Warnoski came to gather all of us.
I've forgotten much of what I was taught in grade one, I'm sure, but one thing stayed with me.
Don't say anything you wouldn't want said to you.
Okay, I never had to worry about anyone teasing me about my 'candy floss' dress. Or any dress for that matter.
But you get the point.



Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ranch Cats

The ranch house. Warm. Comfortable. A little too welcoming.

It was night.
And my dog, Cheetah, was barking.
Something she did a lot. At night.
We had tried to train her out of it, but had never quite succeeded.
It was annoying.
Finally, I got up to see what could be bothering her.
Coyotes howling in the foothills nearby.
A cow bawling.
Water running in the canal.
Crickets.
Dumb dog.
I should explain, here, that the Stringam ranch house had a large carport.
It had two walls, one on the west, formed by a wall of the house and one on the north. The south and east sides were open.
The carport joined the overhang over the front door in a narrow strip right next to the house.
It was possible to walk from a vehicle into the house without seeing the sky, but it was tricky and involved negotiating car hoods and garden paraphernalia (good word).
Now, normally, when one exited the house, one would walk straight to the front gate and avoid the carport entirely.
Something I usually did.
Tonight I . . . didn't.
I don't know why.
I glanced out the door into the inky blackness.
There is nothing quite so dark as as a night on the prairies, with no moon.
And the mercury vapour light in the yard not quite reaching the house.
My dog was over in that yard, at the business end of the carport.
Still barking.
Stupid dog.
I sighed and pushed the screen door open.
I hesitated.
Then did something I had never done before.
I turned and made my way, carefully, to the carport, avoiding shovels and other garden tools.
Then I walked between the cars towards my frantic dog.
I paused at the edge of the carport.
Cheetah was just feet away and her barking, if it could be believed, had increased.
I started forward again, but just as I lifted my foot, a sound shattered the darkness.
And I do mean shattered.
It was the scream of a cougar.
Now, I'm sure I don't have to tell you what the sound of a cougar does to one when you hear it ringing across the prairie.
It's . . . scary.
This scream was five feet away.
Above me.
At the very edge of the carport roof.
See? Shattered.
I froze instantly.
Then started to back up, one step at a time.
Finally, I turned and sprinted towards the front door, careful to keep roof between me and our unwanted visitor and heedless of whatever might be in my path.
I called my dog and she came running.
Still barking.
The two of us ducked inside, and I banged the heavy outer door shut and locked it.
Now, I should point out that the main door of the ranch house was never closed, let alone locked.
Except when I was out on my first date with my husby and my Dad didn't want me back.
But that is another story.
Moving on . . .
Mom's voice, “What's the matter, dear?”
I was staring out the window.
Cheetah was now standing behind me.
She continued to bark.
“We have a visitor, Mom!” I said over the noise.
“Oh?” Mom appeared in the kitchen doorway.
“Yeah. A cougar is sitting on the carport roof.”
“Are you sure?”
I turned to look at her, thinking about the horrendous (Ooo, great word!) sound. “Fairly sure.”
“Oh, dear!” she disappeared.
I stayed by the window, but could see nothing in the blackness.
My dad appeared. Calm as always.
“Where?”
“Well it was on the carport a few minutes ago.”
“It'll leave.”
I stared at him.
“You're not going to go out after it?”
“Not while it's on the roof.”
Good point.
Dad got a flashlight and pointed it out the window towards the carport roof.
Empty.
I cautiously opened the door.
Cheetah shot through the opening and into the night.
Her barking moved slowly away from the ranch buildings and towards the foothills.
Our visitor was obviously headed home.
The first and only time I can remember a living creature receiving a less-than-exemplary welcome at the ranch.
Or being offered a warm meal.
Oh. Wait.
I guess that's a good thing.

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Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .

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