Longing for Art and Creativity

I'm a wanna-be artist and a longing for days of nothing but creativity and drawing always brews within me during the winter months.

A few weeks ago I was playing with photographing a couple of the drawings I did last year.
The photos of the art worked out better than I thought so here they are. They are of course, about dogs and sheep. 

Sadly I haven't done any new pieces yet this year.  Maybe by sharing these it will encourage me to pick up my pencil. 

My Cold Limit

Minus thirty on the thermometer is finally cold enough to make me grumble a bit about having to work outside for part of my living.

When temperatures hit minus 30 I don't take the herding dogs with me in the AM because they can't last as long as I need to stay out for. I'm on foot and when it's this cold, I don't relish making an extra quarter mile trip back to the house to bring dogs home when they freeze.

So the herding dogs have to make do with a brief walk when I'm through with AM chores. They do get to come out with me for PM round up which is quicker.

The sheep did not seem eager to get up to greet the day either. No ewes got up when I came out to feed the guard dogs. They were up an hour or so later when I came back to let them out to pasture but it was the cows who led the way this morning which is opposite of most mornings.

The guard dogs were slow to leave their heated comfort amongst the woollies, even for breakfast.  The ewe lambs get checked on last and even some of them were still laying down.

Indeed it's one of those days for getting cozy inside and praying all is well outside because you're not going out unless you have to.

Buried in Numbers

The last few days I have had my nose buried deep in numbers, doing cost of production and economics for the ranch and looking into funding programs.

I feel a bit like I've just come up for air.  And discovered it is four days later and I've written no new blog post.  Funny how time passes whether you pay attention to it or not. Amazing how a habit can slip from your grasp in such short order.

I always approach numbers with caution. I don't like them. Working with numbers has a way of completely absorbing my time. Kind of like working with dogs does, although I enjoy working the dogs tenfold times more.

Gone for Supplies

Today was a day for picking up supplies. Mostly human food, a couple clothing items and a new pitchfork.

Instead of our usual big city shopping trip we went to a nearby smaller city and checked it out.

Sometimes there is great pleasure in slipping away for a day, exploring somewhere new and seeing people, even if it is in a city.

It felt like it appears the dogs feel when they explore their surroundings everyday. You look at everything with fresh eyes. You wander over here, check out over there. Stop and investigate any interesting sights and other than fitting the trip in in between AM and PM chores you have no time line.

You return feeling like you had a short and simple little adventure and life is good. 


Soft Pink Sunrise In January

The dogs and I headed out when there was a good tinge of soft pink on the east horizon. Enough light to see by but just before sun rise.

The snow was soft and quiet; a warmer day then. The wind was light.

The dogs walked with me out to pasture and once there ran around like dogs who have a whole day of energy to burn. That's okay as I can tend to my tasks with the bales without constant supervision of the dogs since the sheep haven't been let out yet.

By the time I was finished with the first bale I was peeling back my toque and unzipping my jacket. It was warm for January in Saskatchewan.  Lest you think it was that warm though - there are another three layers beneath the jacket (four on really cold days).

Warmth aside, it was a grand morning of simplicity and freedom, walking on pasture, being in the company of dogs and seeing a soft pink sunrise in January.

Good Knives are Valuable

Don't try this at home

When I'm doing morning chores and cutting bale twines I have a bad habit of sticking my knife into the bale - just until I need it again.  When I do need it again is when I realize that I left it there.

I've lost two knives this way. This third one is Allen's throwaway, since he refuses to let me buy another.

But actually I traded this Leatherman for a simple lock-blade pocket knife. The Leatherman is a great little multipurpose tool, good for summer, but it's inoperable with winter mitts on and at minus twenty five Celsius unfolding it to get the knife out is miserably cold on the fingers. 

So a simple pocket knife it is.

Having an appreciation for good knives is another of those country bits I did not expect before arriving here.

Good knives are valuable - because they cost a bit and because you don't want to be without one.

I understand first hand the uses of pocket knives, butcher knives and kitchen knives.

I understand about soft steel knives and hard steel knives.

There is an art to keeping an edge on a knife and keeping the edge sharp. My father in law is a master of this art. 
You can only bluff and excuse the loss of another knife for so long before having to fess up....

Doing is Normal, Being is Not

I'm short on words and time today so this post is quick, however I think it is also very apt.

When you are immersed in the lifestyle of farming or ranching it is very difficult not to work because to always be doing something is normal.

I try very hard though! and have come to appreciate the beauty and necessity  of silence and stillness. 

So I take this quote to heart and gain encouragement from it.

"Still, when we're not working, when we allow ourselves to drift and dream, we often feel as though we're over indulging ourselves, wasting time. But we're not, any more than winter is a waste of time just because seeds aren't flying around. "

Quoted from 'This Business of Writing' by Gregg Levoy

I needed to read that.

It Wouldn't Happen This Way Without the Dogs

Our current evening routine of putting sheep in the night pen goes something like this.

The dogs and I walk out to the pasture, about a distance of a quarter of mile, which brings us about mid way along the pasture and at the back of the flock or close to it.

Much to the dismay of the herding dogs, ninety-nine percent of the time, the sheep begin heading home upon noticing our arrival so there isn't a lot of stock work.  
It is only the cows who need more encouragement to get going. A task Cajun takes to readily. Getting Cajun to stop moving cows is actually the difficulty of the evening.

Once the group is headed the right direction we let them go while we make a loop around pasture to check bales and for the rare ewe who was too engrossed in eating to notice her flock left.

Then we head back to the night pen, close up the gate and carry on with the remaining chores (checking ewe lambs and horses and feeding guard dogs).
Yet this simple routine wouldn't happen this way without the dogs. I've tried it. I left the dogs at the house one particularly bitter cold day. The sheep did not head home upon just my arrival. When I applied a little pressure they ran around the bales, easily eluding me. I tried a bit longer and a bit harder but grew tired playing ring around the rosy with a few hundred sheep and ended up going back to the house for a dog.

A Ewe Died Today

Yes, a ewe died today.

The ewe was lying out on the pasture and Glory, one of the livestock guardian dogs, was sitting beside her, which is how I came to notice that the ewe was there.  She had not been dead for a long time because her body still flexed although it was now stone cold.

Dead bodies create an assortment of reactions from the still alive creatures.

The livestock guardian dogs take watch over a dead animal. Maybe guarding it from scavengers like magpies and ravens who are usually first on the scene? They don't begin to eat the carcass unless it gets left too long.

The other ewes and the cows continue to graze or go on about their day. Their reaction is almost a non-reaction or at least an inward one I can not access. They are not interested in staying close to bodies but they also don't seem to show any great concern or repulsion.

The times I have seen flock animals outwardly reacting to dead bodies are when a ewe has lost her lamb or a lamb has lost its ewe. Other ewes may also check out a dead lamb that is not theirs but then go on their way. 

The herding dogs approach a dead animal rather tentatively, on alert in case the dead animal is playing them for fools. When close enough a quick sniff tells them all they need to know. Then the reaction is varied. 

Jayde grabs fleece and gives a hard tug as though she's determined to make the ewe move again. Cajun seems to think food and is quick to guard while he intently sniffs. Fynn sniffs and then backs off. Perhaps he is concerned about Cajun and Jayde?

And me.... I fret, I worry, I regret, I get angry, I feel like a failure. 

I throw myself into the rest of my day, acting harshly, feeling a tinge of bitterness and carrying a heavy load of why-damn it-why?????

Levels of Alone

Living on a ranch in a rural location builds a certain comfort level with spending hours in your own company, even if you are married (children I think are another matter).

Not only do you talk to yourself and the animals around you but you begin to admire that you do so.

You can sing and dance as though no other person is watching because no other person is; they all live too far away.  And in the middle of a Saskatchewan winter you know they won't be stopping by unannounced for tea and biscuits.

You can let dressing up and combing your hair slide.

You also discover that there exists more than one level of being alone. 

There is being alone even though your surrounded by people. I feel this alone whenever I go into the city.

Being alone in the peacefulness of needed solitude.

Being alone when you really want someone there to share a moment with.

Utterly and insignificantly alone, no matter who is there.

Alone with the hair raising sensation that you are indeed not alone.

Being alone when another pair of hands would really lighten your load.

Finally and most fleetingly, being on your own, content with your self, feeling the pulsing energy of the natural world that surrounds you and knowing you are one and the same. That in fact, you are never alone.

Back to Life - Water Bowls and Winter

It is cold and there is trouble with one of the water bowls.

The cows were my clue that something was amiss. When I opened the gate, the sheep headed out to eat with the cows trailing behind them. The cows are never as eager to get moving as the  sheep are. 

The cows headed toward the open gate but then turned away and went back across the paddock to the main gate; to the water bowls.

Water bowls are something you get into the habit of taking a look at every day. But I hadn't made it up to that end of the paddock yet. The cows walking back and hanging out there meant something was up.

Sure enough the bowl had run dry. Possibly a problem with the float and hopefully a simple one to fix.

There are two things children learn growing up in Saskatchewan winters.
1) The famous - it's not a wise idea to stick your tongue on any metal or metal looking surfaces.
2) Never allow any part of your body to get wet.

Fixing this likely meant breaking rule number two.

Warm water hauled from the house and dumped into the bowl, a jiggle of the float to unstick it (immersing hand and breaking of rule number two) and then covering the bowl with a tarp for a few hours seemed to do the trick.  The bowl is automatically refilling (and my hand is warm again).

In case you're wondering, the animals can do with eating snow for the winter and the sheep seem to take to this more readily than the cows do. Notice it wasn't the ewes who walked back to check if there was any water yet.

The preferred practice though is to get them adjusted on either snow or open water and not force them to switch from one to the other as the sole source.

Toward Natural Art

"Pull yourself together before you set yourself apart.
Make every door you walk through a living work of art.
For heaven's sake there's more at stake
Then we may every learn
More footsteps to hold onto and corners to be turned."

Song lyrics by Scott Jason with Clayton Stroope of Thriving Ivory from the album Thriving Ivory

"Make every door you walk through a living work of art..."

I'm positive Mother Nature was nudging the hand that penned these lyrics.

I struggle to see my own living work of art but then I witness moments like this and it makes me wonder about such things all over again.

Indeed I've fallen into the trap of believing I live a rather mundane ranch life feeding sheep and if I plunked my living work of art on an easel today who would ever admire it? Would I?

I've got that same deep rooted, societal belief so many of us have. That I have to do something grand and awe inspiring before my work of art is ready for display.

I'd like to do away with that belief. I'd rather see my world and myself as a living work of art. It's just damn difficult to do.

Maybe if I believed in my own natural art I would appreciate my day to day-ness that otherwise feels like it isn't working. Maybe it would help me to live right here and now like I know nature does. Maybe I would set up my easel once more only this time invite viewers to have a look. And maybe, just maybe, I would stop being concerned about what they thought.

Winter Wool

One of the things I like doing is taking pictures of sheep. You don't have sit still for very long before you have a photo opportunity.

They really are amazing creatures.

Remarkably placid when allowed to be so.
Curious. Alert. Light footed. Persistent. 
Surprisingly observant and intelligent.

All praise aside, I'd really like to know what it's like to be wearing that fleece because this one looks very comfortable in it.

Lessons in the Ordinary

Before opening the gate from the night pen to let sheep out for the day, I deal with the bales first. It is far easier to manage bales without four hundred ewes pushing around to eat  (one plus to night penning).

I check for bales that are ready to tip and tip them. I remove top twines, fork any loose or packed hay to lighten the load and roll the bales out. The bales that are half eaten are the ones I am looking for. At half size they are about 600 pounds. The bottom half will be eaten so they are ready to tip and roll. It is just me and a pitchfork.

This morning, as I wrestled with bales and the herding dogs raced about, I was peppered with a number of life analogies that sprouted from my efforts and the task I was doing. Who knew there could be so many lessons had from such a routine event. Such is natures way of teaching.

1. Strength is not a matter of size. We are much stronger than we think if only we believe we can.

2. The biggest effort is getting started.

3. When you gain a little momentum go with it and keep it rolling.

4. If you get caught in a depression it's okay to sit, rest and ponder for a bit.

5. If you find yourself wallowing in your depression or getting angry, you've been sitting for too long or trying too hard.

6. Going uphill is more difficult no matter how small the load or slight the incline.

7. It really is easier to go with the downhill flow of life.

8. It's okay to cut the strings that tie you up and spread yourself out a little.

9. If life isn't unrolling smoothly you need to turn and go a different direction.

10. Sometimes all of your best efforts will go unnoticed and some days we all need the freedom to run around and be crazy.

Nothing But Routine

Today was regular and routine and I'm struggling with how to write about it. It was so usual that it feels hardly worth mentioning except that not mentioning it somehow does the day a disservice. Regular and routine are partly what makes life out here flow so I need to write something about it. 

Hhhmm. Now that I think about it, some people pay money so that they can have days that lack chaos and busyness. Maybe I'm on to something.

The only thing not usual about the day was the weather. Today was warm enough to cause me to shed one layer of clothing while doing morning work outside. I even peeled my hood back and worked for a short spurts without my mitts on.

Warmer weather in January is a beautiful reprieve for Saskatchewanites. We tend to face January with a grin and bear it attitude. The holiday season is over and we have at least two months of bitter cold to go.

The sheep didn't seem to change their routine at all today either. Not even for the warmer weather. For them life is all about finding the best spot to eat before the crowd comes, unless you're a ram, in which case, life is all about breeding.

Wool Covered Jewels

Lambing during the warm summer means breeding is during the cold winter.

During our first couple years raising sheep I never gave this any thought whatsoever. But today is a few year later and I now have another one of those unanticipated blips of country life under my belt.

Woolly testicles are important.

Yes, seriously.

Let me explain.

Rams will still breed ewes no matter how cold but the cold may affect the outcome.

During breeding rams have one obvious thing on their mind. Because they are very focused and work very hard many rams lose body weight and condition during breeding. Losing condition during cold weather means they can quickly lose stamina.

During very cold weather the sperm count will diminish. This is when a good woolly covering on the testicles is valuable. 

Loss of stamina combined with loss of sperm can mean open ewes.

If a stretch of cold weather is predicted during breeding some producers will keep rams indoors during the day to rest and bring the ewes in to the rams at night. Or they will keep an extra group of fresh rams to switch with the first group part way through breeding. Either way, they'll still make sure the boys are well fleeced - everywhere. 

Sleeping Dogs

It is difficult to satisfy the exercise needs of a young working dog during the winter.

The daily chores are less involved, walks are shorter, their feet get cold so they don't stay outside for long, they spend more time inside and therefore rest more. The cat and everyone else, has grown tired of being their playmate. 

Yes, it is tough to keep up with an active, young, working dog in the winter.

But when you do manage to, this is what can happen afterward.   

Outlook for 2011 - Sheep, Dogs and Horses

So how did we spend yesterday, the first day of 2011?

Sorting sheep since it is time for the rams to go out with the ewes.

Breeding now will mean a June 1 timeline for the start of lambing. 

Since we are not including the ewe lambs in the breeding program they needed to be seperated from the main flock before we could let the rams out.

While the rams are with the main flock the ewe lambs will park in the paddock where the rams were. This way we don't need a third feeding area.

We also let the horses out of the small training paddock and into the larger barn paddock where they have a few acres to run and stretch their legs. That is where yesterdays quick post and photo came from.

So we spent new years day together, in the company of a lot of sheep, with working dogs at our side and watching horses run. The outlook for the year is good.

Flock in Shed
Counting Breeding Ewes as They Go Out

Two Thousand and Eleven

Here's hoping 2011 is filled with an abundance of opportunities to be in the presence of nature and appreciate the beauty, wherever you may find yourself.

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