Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.

Ashley Smith

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Horse Love

Best Friends
Sometimes.  Other times, ears fly back, necks stick out and teeth are bared as my sweet little paint horse chases off this big Belgian gelding.  

My favorite parts of the day are the morning chores and the evening chores.  Even when the weather sucks (which lately is more often than not) or I'm tired or grumpy or whatever, going out and taking care of our animals always makes me feel better.

We had big plans to travel to Wyoming this weekend and do our "second annual elk antler hunt" (similar to an Easter egg hunt, but located in the sage brush and there aren't any bright colors to help you out!) We went last year and it was a blast- we found 6 big antlers and $404 cash (no joke- it was weathered and mouse chewed and under a sage bush), so needless to say I was geared up to "hunt" again!  This year however, the Bridger-Teton forest is keeping the critical winter elk habitat closed an additional 2 weeks, due to... you guessed it SNOW! I guess we aren't the only ones suffering from the winter that won't end.

Well, since we have the time off, the new trailer is all ready to go on its first trip (and I can not believe I don't have one photo of it) and we are emotionally all geared up to ride, we will be going somewhere locally where there is rumor of sun and springtime glory (I am keeping the actual whereabouts confidential, to protect the innocent) to ride and camp.  I am so excited, I can barely stand it!!

One of the biggest deals about traveling is finding someone to care for our stock while we are gone.  I hazard to say that there are not very many people who enjoy slogging around in the mud, hucking hay and hauling water as much as I do.

But this guy here:
I love camping!
 Insists it is time to go camping!  So off we will go.

The five of us, one year when we actually had summer...
I have two things I want to share with you:

1. Shelly at Butternut Woolens wrote a blurb on her blog about my snow curl photo and Brian's snow roller. (Thanks Shelly!)  Go visit her blog she has the most awesome hand-dyed yarns there!!!

2. I read about something called a Fibershed today on this blog: What's a Fibershed? Very interesting idea.  Local food is currently all the rage (for good reason), so local clothing seems like the logical next step.  go read about it and tell me what you think!!

And if you happen to see the sun, can you give it a message?  Northwestern Montana misses you and wishes you were here! 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Shearing day extraordinaire!

Finally, finally, finally!

SkyLines snowy driveway to the sheep barn

I have been wanting to write about our most spectacular experience at SkyLines Farms down in Harvard, Idaho. My first excuse was that I didn't have any photos (yes, it's true I forgot my camera and my darling husband is still using a 35 mm, and when he got his photos developed he didn't get a photo CD!!) then dear Melissa, owner and shepherdess at  SkyLines emailed me some, and then work got the best of me and then the dog ate my homework... oh wait, that's an excuse for a different time.  So here it is, at last.

As you can see it was still snowy, snowy when we ventured down.  In fact, we almost canceled as we had blizzard conditions the week before.  Our original plan was for me to take Friday off of work so that we could drive down and spend the night and be up bright and early for Saturday's shearing.  Well, the only part of the plan that didn't change was that I took Friday off of work...  Instead of spending a leisurely day driving, we spent the entire day pulling 24 inches (that's 2 feet!) of fresh wet snow off our less snow-worthy outbuildings.  I called and told Melissa not to expect us that night and then we both passed out on the couch, with big plans of getting up early to drive down (you know like in school where you tell yourself, I'll just go to bed now and get up extra early tomorrow and finish that report). Well to be there at 8am for the start of shearing, we had to leave about 4:30 am, which we did (I know, I know you are all shocked, yet impressed).

It's 4 am, the alarm goes off.  We wander outside with flashlights and blurry eyes, throwing hay at confused animals who are wondering why their crazy humans are out there in the middle of the night.

Driving commenced.  In the dark.  and little snow flakes started to fall. and then more, and more.  Suffice it to say we got about 25 miles from home to a cool little place called Hope, (honest it is called Hope) and we were, well, beyond hope. It was snowing so hard that Brian could barely see the road and when we stopped and opened the door to look out, ours were the only tracks.  It seemed ridiculous to drive 4 hours in a blizzard, work hard outside all day, and then turn around and drive 4 hours back home. We waited.  We conferred.  We decided to turn back and go home.  yes, we did.  We drove about 21 of the 25 miles back home and the snow stopped.  Completely. Well, guess what?  yes, we did, again.  We turned around and drove the 4 hours and boy am I glad we did!!  Super fun day with super fun people.  okay, okay!! here are some more photos:

The "men-folk" working hard

The "women folk" actually working :)!
 Although I poke fun at the men here, shearing is hard, hard work.  Melissa has a great set up, indoors with a small pen to section off the current group of sheep waiting to be sheared and then a big covered area where we did the skirting (taking undesirable, unmentionables off the otherwise beautiful fleece- as Melissa told us, the lady in uptown Manhattan, opening the box containing her long awaited fleece does NOT want to pull out a clump of sticky, wet sheep poop!)  If you have never been to a shearing, I highly recommend it.  The only thing I can compare the actual shearing to is a magic show.  

The fuzzy, unshorn sheep mill around baaahing and looking nervous.  One of the helpers grabs up the next candidate and escorts them to the shearing platform (aka a plywood sheet). Martin, the shearer (or Magician, depending on your perspective), deftly takes control of the sheep which instantly relaxes.  Using a tool that looks like something you could easily use to cut off your toe, Martin whisks off a year's worth of beautiful, luxurious wool.

The fleece, miraculously still all in one piece, is then carefully picked up and brought to the skirting table.  Melissa made the coolest skirting tables out of 2 x 4s and PVC- portable, so she can use them wherever they are needed.

Yes, Hartsong Ranch will be having one of these soon!
The fleece is then tossed onto the table, shorn side down, and the meticulous picking, pulling and general inspection begins.
Here Melissa is giving direction to one of the skirters.
Second cuts (the teeny short bits of fleece produced when a section of sheep is clipped twice) generally fall through the slats as the fleece is picked up, shook and dropped down. As skirters, we attempted to find the neck and corresponding butt ends, so that when we folded and rolled them we could do it in the proper order.  Then all the "icky" bits (dirty, matted, full of VM- a.k.a. vegetable matter) were pulled off and put in the scrap pile under the table.  Melissa composts the dirty wool- which is quite a pile because she wants her fleeces to go out to her customers as clean as possible!

Dixie with the skirting pile
The skirted fleeces are then folded, rolled and bagged.  The responsible sheep's name is put on the bag and the bag is piled in the truck bed with all the other bags!  Martin sheared and we skirted and bagged 47 sheep fleeces!  The bags are then transported to Melissa's wool shed, where they are weighed and then sent to their lucky new owners.  

We had a fantastic lunch and awesome conversation all day.  Such a fun, interesting, worthwhile day.  And, to top it off, there was this:

Rainbow! a perfect end to a perfect day.
So, it took me a while to post this story, but it was worth the wait, wasn't it?  Just like participating in shearing day was worth braving the snow storm and making the drive!  The best things in life aren't always the easiest things in life.