Content Writing and Safety on the Trail

Several years ago I made a little extra money content writing for the web. The service I wrote for was fairly simple. The content service cruised search engines for user “how to” searches. The writers then picked from a Q of “how to” questions and answered those questions. For example – suppose a number of people Googled “How to split wood.” The service, by use of bots, mined that search request and dumped it in the Q for writers to choose from. Writers then go in and search the various Q’s they have expertise in and answer the question. I wrote content varying from “How to wean a miniature donkey with diarrhea” to “How to export windows event logs to Excel.” Riveting stuff. 

The writers have to follow rules and formats imposed by the content writing service. “No humor.” “No Sarcasm.” “No individuality of voice.” Pretty much tied my hands. Still….I gave it a shot. I’d done some technical writing for my job. While I don’t enjoy it – its writing and I hoped it would help with the technical aspects of my writing…like grammar, spelling and all that nonsense.  

The one saving grace in the process was the free-lance writing. You didn’t have to pull from the “How To” Q. You could make up your own content and write whatever you wanted; the caveat being method of payment. Instead of a set payment for each piece based on length and content – the freelance pieces are paid based on the number of views the article received on its respective “How To” website.  

I tried it for a few months and made a few hundred dollars. It took me longer to write a $7.50 article than it would have to pick up $7.50 worth of cans along the highway. I decided I was too obsessive to hammer out an article in under the fifteen minutes needed to make it worth it. Still…it was kind of fun while it lasted and taught me, if nothing else, that content writing was best left to those free from humor, sarcasm and individuality.

This is one of the freelance articles I wrote that gleaned me the largest financial gain of a whopping .26 cents.

 

Horse Sense

A common-sense guide to safety on the trail

 Denny

You look out the kitchen window and gaze longingly at Old Thunder grazing contently in the green pasture. Shiny as a new copper penny and slick from the summer sun stands a newly shod temptation aching to hit the trail.

Trail riding should be an enjoyable experience for both rider and horse. As with all forms of horsemanship, proper preparation before hitting the trail is essential to a positive and safe experience. Too often in our zest to gallop off into the sunset, we find ourselves in bad situations that could have been prevented with a little pre-trail planning and preparation.

It is essential that both rider and mount are physically and mentally prepared to undertake the conditions of a chosen trail. Neither horse nor rider is likely ready to undertake a 20 mile hike into the backcountry the first trip out of the pasture in spring. Take it easy and pick a nice, quiet trail that meanders gently through the countryside. Match the terrain to your abilities at any given time. Save the death defying, nostril flaring rides for Denny and The Man from Snowy River until you and Old Thunder are better legged up.

Never leave the confines of your pasture without telling at least one person – preferably a responsible one – where you are going and when you plan to be back. This is most vital if you are planning on riding alone, which is not recommended no matter how hard your inner lone-wolf might call upon your independent nature to set out on a journey of solitude.  Lying on the ground in the middle of nowhere with a broken leg, waiting for somebody to notice your horse went home without you does not qualify as an enjoyable trail riding experience. Been there…done that and have the $75,000.00 bionic leg to show for it.

Proper tack for horse and rider is essential for all types of riding. A properly fitting saddle that allows the horse freedom of movement will go a long way in enhancing a positive attitude in your trail partner; the same for bit and bridle. All tack should be in excellent repair to limit the chance of accidents caused by a broken rein or failed cinch. There is a rule of thumb I follow: if it’s metal – it will break. In particular, stay away from metal hooks and attachment points. Full leather tack is a good investment.

The rider should be as well outfitted as her mount. What kind of shirt, pants or hat you wear is of minor significance with the exception of a riding helmet. They might not look pretty, but neither does landing on your head one too many times and sporting a drool cup. However, the buck stops at the boots. Always wear a riding boot with a heel. Anything less and you risk the chance of being drug; again, not an enjoyable riding experience. Consider pull-on boots as opposed to lace-ups. Should you get hung up in the stirrup; a pull on boot will slip off easier than a lace up. If you must wear lace-ups – unlace them when riding. If for some reason you absolutely cannot see fit to put on a pair of proper footwear – sell your horse and buy a four wheeler.

Trail riding would not be complete without a convenient set of trail bags, or saddle bags as they are more commonly referred. What you pack into those trail bags is an important step in preparing for a safe and enjoyable trail experience. Your trail bags should be big enough to include the minimum items: wire cutters, pocket knife, vet wrap, Butte, Banamine, Kotex, bandana, rope, cell phone, emergency poncho,  fire starter, water and a can or two of Beanee Weenees.

Some of the above items warrant further explanation. For example: Kotex. Kotex makes an excellent bandage that is absorbent and sanitary. Vet wrap is like the duct tape of emergency preparedness. Stop a bleeding wound by slapping on a Kotex secured with Vet Wrap should get you back to the trailer and on your way to the vet clinic.

Where there are horses there is wire and they will get hung up in that wire. Always carry wire cutters anytime you are on or around horses. It is not a matter of if you will need them – it’s a matter of when.

The bandana is the multi-tool of the survivalist. Its uses are endless. A bandana keeps the sweat out of your eyes in the heat and cools you when soaked in cold water and draped around your neck. A bandana can be used in first aid as a tourniquet or fashioned into a triangle bandage. Use the bandana to filter water in an emergency. If none of these applications appeal to you, one can always wrap the bandana around the head for a cool Rambo-like appearance.

Rope or twin comes in handy if you missed the section on metal clasps. Cells phones are nice in an emergency, if you have service,  and as a backup camera when that awesome cougar runs across the trail in front of you. Note: See section on being mentally prepared for anything.

Last but not least, the Beanee Weenee. The perfect, on-the-go food, packed with protein and energy in every bean. I never leave home without them.

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Save and Happy trails

 

Don’t toss out that baby wipe, it could save your life!

Fire_Feet

I feel it safe to say that most of the really cool discoveries happen quite by accident. One such discovery presented itself during a four day pack trip into the Eagle Caps.

One of the items I like to carry in my saddlebags is a packet of baby wipes. They come in handy for washing up before lunch on the trail or as a bedtime sponge bath when you can’t quite make yourself jump in that cold mountain stream for a much needed bath.

The problem I’ve found with baby wipes is they dry out between trips. You might use a dozen or so out of a pack and the rest dry up like a popcorn fart, wasting product and money. Not anymore…

I pulled a dried up wipe out of the package and frowned; an almost full pack…useless. Cold frigid creek, here I come! I tossed the dried out sheet into the campfire on my way to the creek. I figured with as dry as it was, the wipe would spontaneously combust into a pile of ash. Not so. The wipe caught fire immediately and began to burn like a slow burning candle. Instead of ash, the wipe turned into a tar like substance that continued to burn. I picked up a twig and twirled the burning “tar” around the twig like a torch. Wow…that’s pretty cool. The now black goop clung to the twig and continued to burn for several minutes.

I used the dried up baby wipes to start the campfire the rest of the weekend. It never took more than one wipe and one match to get a fire going.

Upon arriving home, I had an idea. I wonder how easy it would be to start a fire using a baby wipe and flint and steel. I’m no Bear Grills. Starting a fire with flint and steel can be challenging. I’ve used all sorts of material from dryer lint to brittle pine needles soaked in pitch. Eventually I manage to get a flame going – but am often left staring longingly at the box of matches and can of lighter fluid nearby.

I sat cross legged in front of a baby wipe shredded into small squares – flint and steel in hand. One strike of flint on steel sent a spray of sparks over the pile of baby wipe and…instant combustion! The wipes immediately ignited and proceeded to burn into a flaming black goop akin to tar. I twirled the ooze around a twig and carried it to the burn barrel containing a week worth of personal documents and junk mail…because yes, I am that paranoid.

Bear would be proud, however, I’m left to ponder another question: What the heck are we putting on our baby’s bottoms?

 

25 miles and 12 steps to Heaven

 

Preface – A Fear is Born

The edge of the pasture loomed in the distance. Angry hot breath splattered the backs of my calves with cow snot.  The harder I ran, the farther the barbed wire separating the cow pasture from the cherry orchard appeared. All I had tried to do was save a helpless calf.

When I arrived at the bovine test center outside of Oakdale California I was not prepared for wrangling cattle. I stepped out of my silver Celica Supra wearing a blue denim mini-skirt and heels.  The only other person on the facility at the time was Karen, the ranch foreman’s newly implanted girlfriend from Germany. Who, had she chosen, spoke English well enough to have warned me before I entered the pasture of a caustic cow with an attitude.

Lodge pole fencing encompassed three sides of the large, oval pasture. Barbed wire separated the pasture from a cherry orchard on the far end.  A large pond lay directly in the center of the enclosure. A calf, no more than 30 minutes old, lay partly in the water at the edge of the pond.  A want-to-be hero battle cry rang from my lips:”Don’t worry baby calf… I’ll save you!”

Fearing there was no time to change into suitable attire for calf rescue –I kicked off my heels, crawled through the fence and darted toward the calf. Karen watched in silence from the balcony. I was less than 20 feet from the calf when she charged; twelve hundred pounds of bald-faced, yellow furry hurtling straight toward me.

Perhaps I could have dove into the pond and swam to safety but at that time in my life I was more afraid of water than cows.  With no other option, I took flight for the nearest exit. Unfortunately the nearest exit happened to be 14 inches of clearance under a strand of barbed wire 100 yards away. I was built for distance, not speed. I still had a good half pasture head start on the slobbering mass of rage when I turned to run. I could hear her pounding hooves gaining with every stride. I could feel the hot breath and snot on the backs of my legs. The fence still 20 yards in the distance.  Feet, don’t fail me now.

I dove under the wire strand without touching a barb. I got to my feet, dusted off my bare legs and grass-stained skirt and ran a quick self-assessment. Not a single broken bone and my heart still beat in my chest; pounding actually.  I had expected the cow to come through the fence after me. Instead, she turned and was well on her way back to her calf. Who by the way, had gotten to its feet and was perfectly fine. Suddenly veal had a certain appeal it lacked earlier.

In the days following the great cow chase of 1987, Karen became remarkably proficient at speaking English. She managed to articulate perfectly how a crazy American girl from Idaho nearly got herself mauled trying to save a not-so-helpless baby calf.

Henceforth, my fear of cattle was born. Over the following years, similar negative experiences involving cattle would occur. I have been chased out of pastures from California to Montana. If there are cows, I will be chased. I am a mad-cow magnet. Most recently the Little Eagle Meadows stampede of 2008 lies fresh in my mind. The kids and I narrowly escaped being trampled by a herd of angry, stampeding momma cows protecting their young.  That one still brings forth a nervous twitch every time I think about it.

Needless to say I am petrified of cows. I don’t like cows. I don’t want to associate with cows and I don’t like it when people call me a cowgirl. Just because you ride a horse and live in the country does not make you a cowgirl. I am the daughter of a meat cutter. Cows are to be ground in to hamburger and neatly wrapped in one pound packages.

***

12 Steps to a better you

Twenty Five years of living in fear was enough. Fears are to be conquered. It was high time I faced my cow phobia and moved forward. I would develop a 12 step program designed to overcome bovine hysteria. I do not know exactly what those twelve steps are just yet, but since most self-help programs seem to entail 12 steps, so be it. Step one: I bought a cow. Her name is Isabella and she is expected to calf in May of 2012. I bought Bella at the Vale Sale Yard. I am very excited to be a cattle baroness and look forward to modeling my herd management style after Victoria Barkley of The Big Valley. Not, however, after the actress Barbara Stanwyk who portrays Victoria. The woman scares me.

I hope that Bella has a heifer calf so that I can increase the number of my herd. Heifers, they tell me, are your future. Bull calves are your profit. I don’t care either way really. I bought Bella for two reasons: One, to help face my fears and two, as an investment. I do not see us becoming pals.

Steps two thru twelve: The cattle drive. Due to the complexity and magnitude involved in participating in my first cattle drive, this event is worth multiple steps. It is my program – I can adjust the rules as I see fit.

The Drive

Jessica made arrangements for us to help her cousin’s move cattle to spring pasture on the Palmer ranch in Harper, Oregon. I wanted to be as excited as Jess, but I was uneasy. The only one more terrified of cows than I am is my horse, Jack.  I realize that Jack is merely feeding off of my anxiety and if I could just relax, so could he. I was not only worried about being bucked off in front of a large group of seasoned cow-hands, but also worried that I would be in the way. I’d never moved cattle. I’d never done anything with cattle short of running from them. I did try my hand at roping years ago, but that was different somehow. I was riding a well-trained roping horse that knew more about cows than I’d learn in a lifetime. “Old Red” took care of me – he knew when to dodge in and out of the hole, how to perfectly turn a cow for the healer, and even when to come to an abrupt and arm saving stop when I accidently roped the chute behind me…twice.

I groomed, saddled and loaded Jack early Saturday morning before sunup. Jess was ready to go by the time I swung by her farm outside of Payette. She could barely contain her excitement as. We loaded her big paint, Blaze, a cooler full of food and a heart full of anticipation. We were Harper bound.

We parked alongside several large stacks of hay. Narrow alleyways separated skyscrapers of yellow towering mounds of feed. The cattle were being gathered in a large pasture a half-mile away. I intended to use that half-mile to warm up my horse. I would not get the chance. I’d barely stuck my foot in the stirrup when Mr. Palmer, cattleman and owner, materialized on a four-wheeler. “The bulls are heading your way. Keep them lined out on the road and don’t let ‘em in this hay!” He was gone in a roar of dust and smoke as quickly as he arrived. I looked around for anybody who looked more fitting to be the recipient of his orders.  What? Was he talking to us?  Wait!… did he say, Bulls? Again I scanned the immediate vicinity in hopes of spotting “the real cowboys” riding seasoned ranch horses. Surely he must have been addressing them. The only other person there beside me was Jessica – grinning from ear to ear.

Jessica kept the bulls lined out as instructed with the help of a few riders who rode in behind the bulls. Jack danced around nervously trying to keep each bull in site as they filtered by. My attempts at remaining calm were off to a bad start. The dozen or so bulls were brought to the far corner of a large field where 200 plus cattle waited for the drive.

The cattle formed a sea of swirling black bovine dotted with an occasional flash of red. Cows vocalized a throaty bellow in answer to bawling calves. Had I been able to take my hands off the reins, it would have made an awesome photo op.

Two massive bulls faced off in a dance of domination. Jessica turned to me and offered up a tip that I assume was meant in the best of intentions for my safety. “If you see the bulls fighting like that, just stay away from them. (No problem there Jess) If one of them charges after you, turn your horses butt toward them. Don’t let them come at you broadside – they will try to ram your horse and get underneath them and flip you.” Charge us? Flip us? Really, that’s one scenario I had not thought of. Thanks Jess. Good hell, what was I doing out here.

Jack sensed my increased anxiety and took his nervousness to a whole new level. It was all I could do to keep Jack from exploding. I kept his feet busy by moving him in circles and figure eights. I tried turning away from the sea of cattle in hopes it would help to calm us both. It did not. We faced away from the cattle just in time to confront a mob of riders running toward us. In all fairness, they were not really running toward us – we just happened to be between them and their job. A charging posse of colorful wild rags and billowing chaps blew by. Jack tensed as if to brace himself from impending impact. Anticipating his flight instinct, I pulled his head around to disengage his powerful hind-quarters. 180 degrees brought us face to face with the swirling whirlpool of beef.  Not a split second later and Jack would face his second demon; shooting out from the eye of the storm and heading straight for us charged a big black heifer with four tires of spinning rubber and metal on her heels. I swear I saw air under those tires as Palmer cut the red-tagged heifer from the herd. Jack snorted and gathered himself up in a ball of vibrant power waiting to blow. He jumped straight up into the air and performed a perfectly executed Soubresaut that would have made Mikhail Baryshnikov envious. Back on all four hooves, I caught a fleeting glimpse of Palmers face.  I detected an almost apologetic look on the face of the cattleman. This is what I did not want.  I did not want to interfere with the job at hand. If the rest of the crew were worried about my ability to control my horse, I would be in the way. I wanted to help if I could and stay the hell out of the way if I couldn’t. I wanted to blend in. I wanted to relax. I wanted my damn horse to stop freaking out.

Jack and I paced back and forth the full length of the swirling cattle. Cowboys sorted and removed several more red-tagged cows. I don’t know the reason why those cattle would be culled and I didn’t particularly care. I wanted to get this show on the road and start moving. My wish was answered when the herd was released and the large body of bovine began to filter out the gate toward an unknown destination.  The drive was on.

We pushed the cattle down a gravel road, along the canal bank, through a farmers implement lot and over a bridge that crossed highway 20. Traffic was held off in both directions as the herd poured down the pavement and into the open desert. I relaxed ever so slightly the moment Jack’s unshod feet left the pavement and came down on the soft, dry sands of the sage. This was familiar terrain. What Jack and I lacked in cow sense – we would make up on the trail.

The herd was moved slowly to save the smaller calves. Jack discovered earlier in the spring that his long legs were pretty good at walking. Previous to this, our rides consisted of him dragging his feet at a dull plod. Now it was all I could do to keep him from running into the back of a slow moving cows butt. I tried everything from circles and stops – to backups and leg-yields. The leg yields were the most successful. I moved him on the diagonal along the back line of cows from one side to the other. One of the hands rode up beside us and commented, “Nice looking buckskin.” I said thanks, and added a disclaimer I hoped would justify our earlier performance in the field: “This is the first time he’s seen a cow – he’s only three.”The cowboy smiled and nodded his head, “By the time this day is over, he will be a different horse.” I loved my horse, but I sure hoped that cowboy was right.

I assumed Jack would wear down after the first six or seven miles through rolling hills and rock covered creek beds. He did not. My arms ached from holding him in and the reins rubbed a blister on the back edge of my pinky finger.  I think we covered as much extra ground as the numerous cow dogs working the herd; weaving from one side of the herd to the next. I noticed that not everyone drove the cattle from the rear. Some of them were up front and others rode along the sides. I switched positions, riding to the front – back to the rear and along both sides for miles. Jack never missed an unshod step. Concerns that he would come up lame or stone bruised never came to light. Nothing seemed to wear him down. Jack continued to chomp at the bit and toss his head in a nervous fit of energy. It was starting to piss me off.

From across the creek bed I saw one of the riders cut from the herd and take off at a run. YES! This is just what the Marshal ordered! I reined Jack toward the rider and gave him his head. Jess warned as we passed, “Be careful, that’s Ben your following! He will take his horse up and down all sorts of crazy stuff!”  We followed Ben at a distance.  He raced down a trail that disappeared behind the hills one draw over from the river bed. I came to the realization that the solo rider might not know we were behind him. Why did he come this way? What if he rode off this way for some privacy? What if he had to PEE!? I thought it best to let our presence known and queued Jack to catch him.

I didn’t quite know how to put it tactfully. I rode alongside Ben and got right to the point. “So..Ben, you didn’t come out here to pee did you? Chuckling, Ben explained that he was riding to get ahead of the herd. The cattle had split into two groups. The largest group trailed the smaller group by a considerable distance. We would hold the small group at a designated resting spot and wait for the others. Lunch would be had at this spot while the cows “mothered up” before heading out again. Did you catch the cow-hand lingo there? If I weren’t careful, I would soon be saying things like, “get a move on little doggy” while spit’in tabackie!

The break for lunch was the first opportunity to catch a good look at the entire group of hands that had come along to help drive the cattle. The youngest rider looked no more than five or six years old. He rode a fine-bone little sorrel that seemed to take extra care of the young passenger. The little guy showed equal concern for his horse, “Are we there yet, cuz my horse is hungry.” I tied Jack alongside the boys’ horse and joined the others for a bite to eat. Jessica had packed sandwiches, apples, string cheese and berry granola bars. Jess makes the best sandwiches ever. We ate our lunch while the horses and cattle rested.

The cowboys and cowgirls came in all sizes, shapes, and ages spanning from the youngest being the five year old boy and the oldest being…well…very likely myself. They were as varied as the fringed chaps and colorful wild rags that adorned them. A pretty girl in a pink wild rag, rhinestone studded belt and a thick braid of red hair, held the hand of a cowboy in a simple white button-up shirt, buckskin chaps, blue wranglers and a white felt ranch hat. Each a unique individual presenting their own style, yet possessing a single commonality shared by all – the love of the drive.

It wasn’t until I reached for a bottle of water from my saddle bags that I noticed the bags had flipped over to one side of the saddle. I rummaged around in the bag to find the water had fallen out as well as…OMG! My Beanie Weenies! My can of Beanie Weenies were gone! How could I be expected to go on!? I felt naked – a vital part of me was missing. Somewhere in twelve miles of desert lay a bottle of water and a beloved can of Beanie Weenies.

By the second half of the drive, the cattle had lined out and appeared to know their own way. Jack, yet brimming with energy, had stopped his nervous head tossing and bit chomping. The wind was our constant companion, blowing dust from beneath the trampled ground into our faces. At times I could see no farther than my own saddle horn.

Jessica and I followed Ben who again loped ahead to get in front of the cattle. We had left the creek bed and met back up with an old dirt road. The road intersected a fence line equipped with a cattle guard. Ben instructed Jessica and me to ride up the fence line and block the cattle from turning up the draws. A large fenced area on the other side of the cattle guard called “the rabbit pen,” would hold the cattle for the night. The calves had traveled far enough for one day. As Jess and I took our positions on the draw, Ben turned back toward the herd.

From our vantage point high on the edge of the draw, we watched as cowhands pushed the long string of cattle toward the fence line. Mr. Palmer manned the gate from his four-wheeler. He did not want the cattle pressured. They would filter into the pen at their own pace. First in was a large, black, older cow with a small calf. Then another pair, and another; one by one – then two by two –small groups of cattle funneled into the enclosure. Palmer secured the gate on his herd when the last cow found her way into the rabbit pen.

Jess and I mingled with the rest of the group gathered around the cattle guard to discuss a job well done. The sky was beginning to cloud over and the wind had picked up a notch. Jess needed to get back home to her little girls. The others only had to ride back to the spot we stopped for lunch where trailers waited to haul them out. There was no room for Jack and Blaze without making two trips. At nearly $5.00 per gallon for diesel, we would ride out the way we came.

I would have to rely on Jessica to find the way back to our trailer. I could get us there eventually, but I had been more focused on my horse than on the route. I was not comfortable setting out without water, and more importantly, without my can of Beanee Weanees! I made an embarrassed plea to the group…”Did anyone happen to come across a bottle of water and a ….well….a can of…” A quiet girl on a big bay produced a can of Van Camp Beanee Weanees from the front pocket of her yellow hoodie.  “I’m sorry, I drank the water, but are these yours?”  Who cares about the water! It didn’t matter if Jess got us lost in the desert for three days – we would survive. We had the ranch hands staple food of choice, a whole can of Beanee Weanees!

Blaze and Jack carried Jess and I at a steady gallop across 12.5 miles of rolling sand and sage. Unaffected by the terrain, you would never know that Jack was barefoot. I did not care how hard the wind blew, how much rain poured or how dark it might get – I would not push him beyond what he volunteered. Despite the long hours of hard riding and relentless wind, the twelve and a half mile dash across the desert toward home was pure heaven.

We made our way across the pavement and over the bridge next to the implement lot. Large sheets of metal threatened to rip loose under the powerful force of gusting winds. Sand and dust stung our faces and burned our eyes. The horses were finally starting to show signs of tiring. We dismounted to give them a break and stretch our legs. As soon as my feet hit the ground I knew that stretching anything was not going to happen anytime soon. Both knees seized up in throbbing pain. I couldn’t stand upright let alone stretch. Despite the advantage of youth, Jessica was in no better shape than me. We resembled the old cowboys portrayed in movies that walk hunched over and bow legged, appearing to forever sit a horse.

We reached the edge of the pasture where the cattle were first held. The heavy, three panel gate leaned 45 degrees with the wind. It was all I could do to hold the gate upright so Jess could loosen the wires that held it closed. Shutting it proved equally as difficult.

A quick sprint across the pasture brought us in sight of the truck and trailer. Jack tucked his head and leaned into the wind, paying no attention to the tumbleweeds, plastic, tarps, ribbons, and various other horse-eating objects that blew wild in the wind. He was indeed a different horse than the skittish bundle of nerves that crossed the same pasture hours ago.

Jess looked as if the sheer force of the wind had blown her into the passenger seat. The truck door slammed shut behind her. I laughed at her smiling face beneath layers of dust and sand. Blood-shot eyes reflected my own wind burned face streaked with dust and sweat. “THAT WAS SO MUCH FUN!”

***

I slid the halter from Jack’s head before releasing him into the green pasture. He bent his beautiful long head toward mine. Forehead to forehead, I stroked the sides of his elegant neck. “Thank you my friend. Thank you for bringing us home safe. Thank you for not bucking me off in front of God and everyone. Thank you for keeping your feet always under you. Thank you for your unwavering, tireless heart. Most of all – thank you for being the greatest horse a “cowgirl” could hope for.

 

 

 

 

 

Fourteen War Horses and a Goose – A movie review

I wrote this goofy little “review” after watching War Horse a few years ago.

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14 War Horse’s and a goose

I wanted to like this movie, I really did. What could be more endearing than a story about a boy and his horse, torn apart by war? Set in the early 1900’s against the backdrop of the sixth deadliest conflict in history and directed by Steven Spielberg – it was bound to be an epic experience. It was not. At least it was not for me.

“The Movies 3” theatre in Rawlins Wyoming was not showing War Horse over the holiday’s like most of the larger theatres. I would wait to see it a week later when I returned home. It sounded like an excellent way to ring in the New Year. With a pocket full of Kleenex and a hefty amount of expectation, I purchased a ticket and strolled into theatre #1, now showing “War Horse.”

The theatre was virtually empty. I laid my coat at the end of an empty row and went up front for a three dollar box of chocolate covered almonds and a four dollar root-beer. The price of a ticket and concessions might explain the large number of empty seats.

With concession items in hand, I walked back into the dimly lit theatre to find the entire row next to my coat occupied. Looking around the theatre, I could not help notice that except for a few scattered movie goers, my row had suddenly become very popular. Not wanting to appear rude, I chose not to pick up my coat and move to a less popular row. I picked up my coat and stared at the row-invaders who in turn, stared back. I pretended to shake out my coat blatantly in the faces of the invaders, intending to dispel any doubt as to who was here first.  I sat next to a gentleman who smelled like nicotine and stale gym socks and made weird, guttural noises.

There is something about witnessing a person attending functions alone that makes some nervous. I personally enjoy going to the movies by myself. I can enjoy an entire movie without listening to another’s narrative. I can focus wholly on the movie and not worry about what the other person may or may not be thinking and if they smell bad or make weird noises, I can take comfort in knowing they won’t be going home with me.

The man setting to my right was obviously very uncomfortable that I chose to come back to my designated seat. I would not yield. I was here first. I scooted as far to the left as I could, sat at an almost 45º angle to the big screen, and tried not to breathe too deeply. The man shot several sideways glances in my direction throughout the movie, presumably looking around for the “other person” who surely accompanied this lone movie-goer. I’m telling you – it freaks people out to see someone go to the movies without a date. You can get the same reaction standing with your back to the door and facing everyone in an elevator full of people. Try it sometime, it’s a kick.

The movie opens with a minimum of four different foals/colts portraying Joey, the equine actor. I just don’t get it. With today’s technology in CG – can they not find two doubles portraying the same horse to look at least believable? I understand the need to utilize multiple horses in a move that encompass the lifespan of the horse. I understand the need for stunt doubles. I get it, really. I read they used 14 doubles to portray Joey from foal to adult horse. I have little doubt that if given the time, any horse enthusiast worth their salt could point out every 14 of those horses. From markings to confirmation – none of them matched; even the gates of the different horses were off. Granted, I suffer from a healthy dose of OCD and probably notice such things more than the normal person would. I might expect such a thing in pre-CG  and spaghetti westerns, but in today’s computer generated graphics and special effect technology…come on…slap a little air-brushing on the horse and at least make it somewhat convincing.

I did not care for the casting of the lead role for Albert, played by actor Jeremy Irvine. I kept waiting for the type of on-screen connection between human and horse l saw in The Black Stallion, starring Kelly Reno as Alec. Nope. Flat. I felt the movie could have relied entirely on the interaction of the supporting actors and horses.

There were a few scenes, while hard to watch, almost brought me to the edge of my seat…almost, but not quite; just when I thought it was about to happen, my butt would slide back into the seat with disappointment as cold as the theatre seating itself.

The scene where Joey runs through the battlefield and becomes entangled in barbed wire would have been more dramatic had it been believable. Anybody who’s been around horses knows that a horse can cut his leg clean-off in 2 feet of a single strand wire. Had that scene actually occurred, it would be unlikely the horse’s body would have remained attached to his head.

The movie was predictable. I felt like I was watching a remake of Black Beauty; especially when Topthorn entered the scene. Everyone knows the equine side-kick in any movie is as doomed as a Cartwright boy’s fiancé. Topthorn’s fate, although sad, was no surprise. The most unnecessary scene of the movie enters here. Did they have to show the tank ominously rolling toward Topthorn’s dead body? I had to look away, even though I was assured later they didn’t actually show the dead horse being squashed under the tracks, I could not watch it. I understand the conflict Spielberg and Michael Morpurgo, author of the original book of the same name, was trying to portray; the impending coming of advanced heavy artillery and military warfare that rapidly rendered the horse in battle obsolete. I felt the same effect was better portrayed in the scene where Joey jumps over the tank and into the trenches; much less disturbing, for sure.

The scene where Tommy and Fritz free Joey from the barbed wire was the one redeeming scene in the whole movie for me. Might it have happened? Unlikely. I suppose in real wartime, someone would have shot the horse and continued on with the killing of each other. Regardless, when a dozen or more wire-cutters flew out of the enemy trenches, I actually smiled for the first time during the movie. Other than a goose making an occasional appearance throughout the film, it would be the last.

To sum up a rather long critique (and my first ever) – I found War Horse predictable, unbelievable and the characters lacking charisma. If the horse could actually have survived such a Calvary charge or the barbed-wire episode, being forced to watch his own premier of War Horse, “Joey,” I fear, would have died from boredom. gooseend

Annie’s Story

Annie1yr (2013_09_10 03_28_45 UTC)Annie found a new home last summer. No, that is not right. She didn’t “find” a new home, I sold her. Yes, I feel guilty about it, too.

Annie now lives across the tracks from me with 14 other mules. I felt I was not using her enough and I do not believe in turning a healthy animal into a pasture pet. The young man that took her is a “mule person” that prefers to ride a mule over a horse and plans to turn her into a riding mule.

I was conflicted deeply on whether to sell her or not. I tried to take the emotion out of the decision as best I could. I could not use two horses and a mule. I seldom took them all at the same time which left one out more than not. I felt I needed to keep the most versatile. König, my little mustang, is an awesome pack animal and anyone can ride him. Annie could be ridden by experienced riders only and was not good with most strangers.

Then there is the financial responsibility of owning a horse. Dedicating financial resources across three equines is a burden. They all need shots, vet bills and alfalfa in the winter. Something had to give.

I think it takes a special person to co-exist with a mule; a mule person, perhaps. I don’t believe I am a true mule person. I connect with horses. My bond with my horse Jack is indisputable. I never bonded with Annie beyond appreciating her for the character and unique animal she is. Frankly, I prefer to handle a horse over a mule. It could be I am not smart enough to deal with them. One of the many things Annie taught me is a mule is smarter than a horse any day of the week.

I made sure Annie went to a good home. I overpriced her and told her new owners outright that she was not worth what I was asking. If they wanted her bad enough, they would pay the price. If it didn’t work out for them, I would buy her back at any time. I have not heard from them since.

I realize as I type this that I will always harbor the guilt of not giving Annie a forever home. I can justify it a dozen different ways but it comes down to a few simple facts. I feel less guilty (or so I keep telling myself) knowing she is being utilized and less guilty pulling out of the driveway with my horse trailer knowing I will not be leaving her behind, again. I feel better knowing I can fully dedicate time and resources on Jack. I am left with my conscience and prayers that Annie is happier in her new home.

I have converted the six chapters of Annie’s Story to a single .PDF document to republish into my new blog. Annie’s story received more hits than any of my other blog pieces. I think that says it all.

Click here for Annies Story

GUNSMOKE and GETAWAYS

They said I couldn't ride a horse - there was no mention of a four wheeler. Note the walker strapped to the back.
They said I couldn’t ride a horse – there was no mention of a four wheeler. Note the walker strapped to the back.

I have reached that point in my recovery where I am bored out of my ever loving mind. I don’t understand the meaning of the phrase “ever loving mind,” but if I did, I’d be bored of that, too.

Knowing I’d get bored fairly quickly, I opted to return to work a few days after my surgery. Fortunately, I have the option to work from my home office. Although, working from home for an extended period is not all it’s cracked up to be. I would like to share a few observations I’ve experienced during my house arrest.

    1. Hours spent vacuuming is in direct correlation with the amount of time spent at home. Especially when your dog insists on following you to every room in the house just in case you fall in a well and she has to go for help. I believe my dog has watched too many episodes of Lassie. I also believe she may be disappointed we don’t have an open well.
    2. You can only watch so many episodes of “GUNSMOKE” before you start talking like Festus and, worse yet, understanding every word he says.
    3. You know you are getting lonely when you anxiously watch your MS Lync for somebody on the helpdesk to log in on a Tuesday morning so you can chat. Even if they aren’t terribly interested in hearing about how your incision is healing.
    4. You realize it’s time to go grocery shopping when dinner is a choice between a can of garbanzo beans or the last corn-dog you chipped out of the back of the freezer.
    5. You have invented a variation of the game Jenga using empty prescription bottles.
    6. Friends and neighbors phone’s suddenly stop working after a month of asking for “this or that little favor.” I started worrying about my neighbor after he suddenly disappeared two weeks ago. The police have assured me they will issue an APB once they get around to it.
    7. You stop squashing the earwigs making their way across your kitchen floor and start giving them names like, “Little Joe,” and “Hoss.” You would name one “Miss Kitty” but your tractor already bares that name.
    8. You are positive it’s time to recycle that walker you hope you never have to use again. I’m thinking a pair of runners and some leather harness and I’ve got myself a skijoring setup.

 ~ 

 The first cold snap combined with this new leg thing has me somewhat house bound. The major accomplishment each day has been the 100 yard trek to the mailbox and back. I figure I’m ready to don my long-johns and go for a real walk. The Weiser River trail is always nice this time of year and it’s one of my dogs’ favorite areas to chase rock chuck.

Before heading out, I decided to move my truck and trailer from the pasture to my driveway before it gets snowed in. I like being prepared in the event I need to make a getaway. One can never be too prepared. Anyhow, the truck/trailer is parked twenty feet from the metal gate separating the pasture from my driveway. I awkwardly climb in the truck, taking extra care not to slip and fall on the iced over running boards. I’m still not supposed to “fall.” I can’t wait to get the OK from the doctor releasing me from that annoying restriction. Who doesn’t fall down several times during the icy winter months? I digress.

 

I fired up the truck to let it warm up and defrost the windows while I crawl down out of the jacked up truck with oversized tires and a lift kit. This doesn’t feel right. Both feet are planting in the snow but it feels like I’m still moving. It takes me a split second to realize that I’m not moving my truck is! SHIT! I have less than 20 feet to jump back in and hit the brake before truck and trailer bust through the gate and end up in the neighbors hay field. Hopefully it stops before rolling onto County 70.

Instead of my life flashing before me, I heard my doctors’ voice: “Don’t jog, jump or fall.” I would have to ask forgiveness for 2 out of 3.  Two good strides and a flying leap deposited me behind the steering wheel. I mashed on the brakes with 3 feet to spare between the hood of my dodge and the gate.

I back into the spot reserved for a quick getaway and shut off the diesel engine. To hell with the Weiser River Trail – GUNSMOKE starts in 20 minutes.

Mountain Santa

I am still refilling my blog with content from my old site – thus the reposts – which will continue for some time.

I wrote Mountain Santa for 2013’s Christmas Story. My grandson Emmett is the lead character along with my version of what a real Santa ought to be. I hope you enjoy!

click to read: Mountain Santa

 

A Christmas in Silver City Past

I don’t normally write pure fiction – sure, as my friend Lou Ann will attest, I might embellish a bit – but rarely do I write pure fiction. This story is based in historical Silver City Idaho. The buildings and many of the characters are real. My friend, Janine Townsend, has ancestral roots in Silver City. Janine took me to the historical ghost town late this fall and gave me a tour of the homes once owned by her family. The Townsend House was built by Janine’s Great Grandfather, Hank Townsend. Janine’s Grandfather, Harry Townsend, was born in the house. The Townsend House is amongst the buildings still standing and in use today. Janine and I (and a reluctant Lou Ann whether she likes it or not) are planning to pack in to Silver City in the spring as soon as the snow melts.  

The character “Sadie Cattlebuyer” in this story is based on a poem I wrote when I was fairly young. So, while Sadie may not be real – she has always lived in my heart.

 This story is dedicated to the Sadie “Joe” Cattlebuyer’s in all of us.

Click the link below to read:

 

A Christmas in Silver City Past – 6×9

Cheating and a Desert Pause

Posting old blog pieces instead of writing new ones sort of feels like cheating. Call it what you will, it is what I plan to do. Not only do I need to repopulate my new blog, I don’t have a whole lot of interesting adventures to blog about since being laid up with knee surgery.

Speaking of surgery –I seem to be recovering well. My knee feels better every day and other than some stiffness, feels better than it has in twenty years. Moving around is awkward due to muscle weakness. Exercise and climbing my gnarly staircase 20 times a day ought to remedy that soon enough.

Fall and early winter is my favorite time of year. Today would normally find me riding and/or camping in the high desert of the Owyhee’s if not for this whole leg thing. Yesterday – you would have found me hiking and chukar hunting with my faithful companion of 13 years…Spud.

I came across this blog piece in my archives. Living vicariously through my past writings will have to do for now.

Chilling in the desert
Chilling in the desert

 

A Desert Pause

Writers block. I’ve heard of it, but never gave it much thought until I wondered why I had not posted anything to my blog in awhile. I thought it was because of time constraints – busy at work – busy at home…basically busy with life in general. Time was not the issue. When I feel like writing – time is never the issue. Writing is as compelling to an author as sunlight to the sunflower; both driven by natural forces to act upon the creators plan. A sunflower follows the path of the sun because it must, the very same reason I write.

I thought I might stumble on a little motivation by going through some old photographs. While doing so, I came across this picture of Spud and my feet, with the Owyhee’s in the background. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one picture will forever speak volumes to me.

The picture was taken in 2005 or 2006. Not long before Spud was killed. The photograph means more to me than simply a photo of my dog. It is a snapshot of memories that encompass all that was right in my world at the time. I was doing what I loved, in the country I cherished, with the best dog ever to walk beside me.

Spud and I were chukar hunting in the Owyhee’s in early October. If you have never Chukar hunted before, then you cannot appreciate the amount of rough terrain a person must cover in search of the ever elusive bird. Chukar are literally everywhere until you purchase a bird stamp and pick up a shotgun; when suddenly, they become as scarce as truth in an political campaign. Oh, you know they are still there – you can hear them… laughing at you. Laughing and mocking from atop the rim-rock, mere inches out of range for a .20 gauge.

We had been hunting since sunrise up a long draw above our camp. Spud had done his part. He’d gotten up several covey’s, affording me plenty of opportunity to shoot. However, opportunity only knocks once while bird hunting and if you don’t answer the door on the first knock…forget it. I suppose I am not a very dedicated bird hunter. Frankly, I don’t care if I never get off a shot, as long as I have the opportunity to shoot, I’m good. I get more enjoyment wandering around in the desert, exploring the nooks and crannies of massive rock formations looking for arrow-heads, than I do blasting a bird out of the air. This day was no different.  Spud would flush up a nice covey of chukar and I would inevitably have my eyes on my feet, kicking up dust looking for something, anything…that might resemble a Native American artifact.

Spud was patient with me. He would flush a handful of birds and turn to look at me. I’d look up from my feet at him and shamefully apologize for failing to hold up my end of the bargain. I could read Spud’s thoughts as easily as he could mine. He would forgive me.

We reached the top of the draw and Spud flushed a covey of birds from the bottom of a steep ravine. They were probably the same Chukar we had driven up the draw in front of us since we left camp. It was getting late in the afternoon and we would need to turn back. If I were going to redeem myself in the eyes of a soul searching German Wirehaired, I had better do it now. A line of Chukar ran up the ravine and broadside as I pulled up to shoot. I clicked off my safety and waited. The Chukar hunkered close to the ground, running parallel along the rim. I just needed one of the damn birds to lift both feet off the ground to count as an “in-flight” legal shot. Spud turned to look at me – there was that look again, masked in patience and understanding. Crap. I did what any red-blooded, all American great white hunter would do – I blasted two rounds of 6 shot into the bottom of the ravine, scattering chukar to the four winds and still, not one of the foul game took flight. “Wait…I think I see one with both feet off the ground. Yes! Look at that…both feet just left the ground. I believe it’s hopping. Does hopping count as flying?” I could not disappoint that dog again. Today, a hopping Chukar was a dead Chukar.

We agreed on an extravagant tale of expert marksmanship in the event we crossed paths with the local Fish and Game and headed back down the draw toward camp. Halfway down the draw we sat next to a large sagebrush to rest and split a can of Beanee Weanees. I didn’t care much for the Weanees and Spud felt likewise about the Beanees. It was a perfect compromise.

My backpack lay between Spud and I as we looked out over the golden grass and sage of the Owyhee desert. An ink-blue sky met a sprawling horizon of rim-rock and sandstone painted in ever-changing shadow by the artistic brush of the setting sun.

Once at home, I downloaded the week’s pictures to my computer. There were a lot of pictures of sand, sage, massive rock formations and interesting draws. None of them struck me more than this one. Framed, it looks like Spud and I are sitting in front of the television screen watching a movie about the beautiful panoramic desert.  Every time I look at this picture I imagine that we are still there, enjoying the beauty and solitude of the desert. I can imagine that I reach over and place a hand on the head of a dog that will forever be by my side. I imagine that I can reach out and hit pause.

 

From Babies Butts to Bonfires

Don’t toss out that baby wipe, it could save your life!

I feel it safe to say that most of the really cool discoveries happen quite by accident. One such discovery presented itself during a four day pack trip into the Eagle Caps.

One of the items I like to carry in my saddlebags is a packet of baby wipes. They come in handy for washing up before lunch on the trail or as a bedtime sponge bath when you can’t quite make yourself jump in that cold mountain stream for a much needed bath.

The problem I’ve found with baby wipes is they dry out between trips. You might use a dozen or so out of a pack and the rest dry up like a popcorn fart, wasting product and money. Not anymore…

I pulled a dried up wipe out of the package and frowned; an almost full pack…useless. Cold frigid creek, here I come! I tossed the dried out sheet into the campfire on my way to the creek. I figured with as dry as it was, the wipe would spontaneously combust into a pile of ash. Not so. The wipe caught fire immediately and began to burn like a slow burning candle. Instead of ash, the wipe turned into a tar like substance that continued to burn. I picked up a twig and twirled the burning “tar” around the twig like a torch. Wow…that’s pretty cool. The now black goop clung to the twig and continued to burn for several minutes.campfire

I used the dried up baby wipes to start the campfire the rest of the weekend. It never took more than one wipe and one match to get a fire going.

Upon arriving home, I had an idea. I wonder how easy it would be to start a fire using a baby wipe and flint and steel. I’m no Bear Grills. Starting a fire with flint and steel can be challenging. I’ve used all sorts of material from dryer lint to brittle pine needles soaked in pitch. Eventually I manage to get a flame going – but am often left staring longingly at the box of matches and can of lighter fluid nearby.

I sat cross legged in front of a baby wipe shredded into small squares – flint and steel in hand. One strike of flint on steel sent a spray of sparks over the pile of baby wipe and…instant combustion! The wipes immediately ignited and proceeded to burn into a flaming black goop akin to tar. I twirled the ooze around a twig and carried it to the burn barrel containing a week worth of personal documents and junk mail…because yes, I am that paranoid.

Bear would be proud, however, I’m left to ponder another question: What the heck are we putting on our baby’s bottoms?