Cuteness attacks!

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Note: picture is not actual size. Ten years on, he’s much larger.

I came across this old picture of my younger son, Daniel, recently, and all I could think was: What the heck is he doing?

Maybe I shouldn’t have let him watch the Exorcist at such a young age?

Whatever he’s doing, it’s clearly frightening his older brother, Dylan, who is obviously cowering in fear in the background.

Then I looked a little further into the folder and I found these. What was going on in our house back then? Was it a new kind of dance? Did he get into the Nyquil?

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I offer these as a public service to the world. If you see your child behaving in this way, be sure and take pictures. You are witnessing an attack of cuteness and believe me, when they become teenagers, there aren’t nearly as many of those.

You have been warned.

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Tales from Date Creek Ranch – Time for a real horse

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My younger son, Daniel, at the ranch a few years ago.

Okay, money in hand, I was ready to buy a horse that didn’t suck! How hard could this be?

The first horse we got at the ranch for me to try out looked pretty good. At least he wasn’t swaybacked or 200 years old. I saddled him up and got on. Not once did he try to bite me, which put him way ahead of Lady already. In my book, any horse that resists the urge to bite me gets a gold star right off the top.

I clapped the spurs to him and he moved into a trot, then a lope, without too much trouble. He turned when I pulled on the reins. As an added bonus, he stopped when I wanted him too. Not once did I come close to being crippled for life, which put him ahead of Misty.

A person could get used to this, I thought.

I looked in the horse’s eyes. There was no dull glaze. No incipient madness lurking. He was beating out Beauty, the zombie horse, too! Continue reading “Tales from Date Creek Ranch – Time for a real horse”

A moment to reflect

DSCN1172By 2005 I’d had enough. My custom electronics business, while very successful, was destroying me. I was stressed all the time, I lost weight, I couldn’t sleep, I drank too much.

Worst of all was what it was doing to my family. I was fighting with my wife and neglecting my children, who were 6 and 4 at the time. Even when I was home, I couldn’t leave work.

So I quit. We moved to Tucson and the kids started attending a charter school, named Presidio. They liked it and so, after their first year I applied for and got a job teaching high school English there (the school is K-12).

Continue reading “A moment to reflect”

Tales from Date Creek Ranch – horrible nags part 2

My older son, Dylan, a few years ago in the creek at the ranch. He’s about twice as big now.

To round out the triumvirate of Date Creek Ranch nags I was stuck riding as a kid, there was Beauty. Beauty was all black, just like the Black Beauty of movie fame (read part 1 here).

And right there all comparisons between Beauty and her namesake ended.

There was nothing majestic or glamorous about Beauty. In fact, there was something terribly wrong with that horse. She never spooked the way the other horses did when something unexpected or scary happened. She was never playful or grumpy or had any discernible moods at all. She didn’t interact with the other horses. Most of the time when I saw her out in the pasture, she was just standing there with her head down, unmoving. She basically plodded along through life with her head down. It was like she was like some kind of zombie horse. She only barely responded to the reins. Spurring her or swatting her with a riding crop produced hardly any effect.

Continue reading “Tales from Date Creek Ranch – horrible nags part 2”

Tales from Date Creek Ranch – Horrible nags (part 1)

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A view of the old barn

By the time I was older, around 10 or so, I was heartily sick of riding the nags we had at Date Creek Ranch. Mom and Dad had good horses. My older sister, Kim, had a good horse, but I was still rotating between Lady (who, as I’ve mentioned before, was completely evil), Misty and Beauty. I’ve already filled you in on how awful Lady was, so let me pause for a moment to tell you about Misty and Beauty and what made them such a joy to ride.

Continue reading “Tales from Date Creek Ranch – Horrible nags (part 1)”

Tales from Date Creek Ranch – Horrible nags

By the time I was older, around 10 or so, I was heartily sick of riding the nags we had at the ranch. Mom and Dad had good horses. My older sister, Kim, had a good horse, but I was still rotating between Lady (who, as I’ve mentioned before, was completely evil), Misty and Beauty. I’ve already filled you in on how awful Lady was, so let me pause for a moment to tell you about Misty and Beauty and what made them such a joy to ride.

Misty was Lady’s offspring, born back when my family lived on the MF Ranch up near Globe, Arizona. (I was born in Globe. We moved to Date Creek when I was about one.) The MF was a rough ranch, filled with manzanita, oak brush and brutally steep, rocky hillsides. Misty spent the first couple years of her life there and, as a result, she was incredibly sure-footed in the rocks, which is a real benefit when you’re trying to get a stubborn cow off a mountainside, since rolling wildly downhill underneath a horse isn’t a great way to spend your day. Unless you like hospitals and dying and such.

But Misty was “broken” by a cowboy who used to work for us and he wasn’t just old school, he was downright cruel and he basically ruined her. See, he used what’s known as a spade bit on her. The bit on most bridles is just a round piece of metal that goes through the horse’s mouth. A spade bit has a piece of metal on it shaped roughly like a spade. The problem with this type of bit is that if you’re not careful, you can really cut up a horse’s mouth with it.

Which this cowboy apparently did. As a result, Misty’s mouth was all scarred up inside and she was nearly impossible to turn or stop. She just didn’t have much feeling left in there or maybe she just wasn’t that fond of people anymore and not keen on following their orders.

On top of that, one time when she was in the corral overnight (not a common occurrence for our horses) she ran into a wire or something and put out one of her eyes.

Unlike her mother, Misty liked to run and she was fast. Which was all well and good, but once she got up a head of steam she was like a car with no brakes. And no steering wheel.

Once she got going, I simply couldn’t turn her. I just wasn’t strong enough. The only way I could turn her was by leaning way down and forward and grabbing the reins right down next to her mouth and pulling. Which, as you might imagine, isn’t the most efficient way to turn a horse, nor the safest.

Nor could I really stop her, since she’d take the bit in her teeth and clamp down on it. Getting her to stop required roughly the same time and distance as a runaway locomotive.

Now, like all our horses, Misty liked nothing better than heading back to the corral and ditching the heavy saddle and that annoying gnat of a rider on her back. I was also rather fond of getting back to the corral. One time when we were heading home I made the foolish mistake of letting Misty have her head.

As it nears the house, the road to Date Creek Ranch leads alongside the orchard for a couple hundred yards, then makes a ninety degree turn and goes down a bit of a hill. A hundred or so yards from there are the barn and shop with the main horse corral between them.

Misty started to pick up speed while running alongside the orchard. She had some quarter horse in her and she truly liked to run. We made it around the turn and started down the final stretch and she really laid it on.

About seventy-five yards from the corral I suddenly realized my error and pulled back on those reins as hard as I could. I mean, both hands, leaning back, giving it everything I got.

Misty completely ignored me.

I got desperate, jerking those reins just as hard as I could. The corrals loomed closer. We were going to crash through the gate, I just knew it.

At the last second Misty went to full brakes, tearing up chunks of dirt as she slid to a stop.

At which point poor little Eric, obeying Newton’s first law of motion, continued moving forward.

Right into the saddle horn.

I think I was actually airborne by that point and, with both hands pulling hard on the reins, I had nothing to save myself with.

A particularly vulnerable part of my anatomy bounced off the saddle horn. Misty completed her stop.

And I just kind of collapsed sideways and fell on the ground. Where I remained, while Misty wondered impatiently why I wasn’t opening the gate and removing her saddle yet.

Definitely time to get a new horse.

(part two coming soon)

Tales from Date Creek Ranch – My little Short Stuff

Not Date Creek Ranch, but we have lots of Joshua trees there and the landscape is similar

The first calf I ever raised with a bottle was a little heifer. I was about nine or so and we were driving some cattle back to the corrals. As I recall, I was riding in the drags (that’s at the back of the herd) with Dad and there was this little red calf with a white face, only a few days old and all wobbly on her skinny little legs. It was obvious that she was orphaned, a “dogie” in cowboy parlance. The other little calves were all chasing after their mothers and this little girl had no one. She was trying her best to find a new mom, running after cows and trying to nurse whenever they slowed down, but every time they drove her off and it was clear she wouldn’t make it all the way to the corrals. She was getting weaker and weaker, even to the point where she had quit bawling for the mother that was never coming back.

I asked Dad if I could have her and he said okay. He got down and picked the little girl up and put her across the saddle in front of me. She struggled a bit at the change of scenery but soon gave up and just lay there while I petted her and generally forgot all about the job I was supposed to be doing.

Once the cows were in the corral I got help getting her down off my horse and I put her in a little pen by herself and went to get her a bottle. We had to hand-raise orphaned calves from time to time and there was a whole big sack of powdered milk formula in the feed room in the barn, along with a couple of quart plastic bottles with nipples.

I wasn’t sure she would eat. Some calves wouldn’t, especially when they were already pretty weak and she didn’t even stand up when I put her in there. I ran to get that bottle and shook it up while I ran back to the pen.

Then I sat there on the ground and took her head in my lap and started trying to get her to eat. At first I couldn’t even get the nipple in her mouth—this was a scary new experience for her—and I had to kind of pry her jaws open. Then she didn’t want to drink so I stroked under her chin while talking to her gently, telling her she had to eat or she’d die and I didn’t want her to die.

It seemed like a miracle when she took that first suck. She only drank a little bit of it—I’m sure it didn’t taste very good compared to mama’s milk—but at least she got a little in her stomach.

As soon as I was free of working in the corrals I ran back to her pen and managed to get a little bit more down her. It was a couple of days before she really started to get the hang of it and I didn’t have to coax her. A couple days where I was really worried about her. I’d brought in baby chicks that fell out of the nest and even a baby rabbit one time, tried to feed them with an eye dropper, and every one of them died after a couple days. Burying them was hard and I didn’t want to have to bury her.

But finally she started to drink and to thrive. I named her Short Stuff and taking her that bottle every morning and every night was the highlight of my day. I got really attached to her.

After a month or so she was big enough where I could let her out of the pen and she could wander around the ranch headquarters and drink out of the creek. All I had to do when I wanted to give her her bottle was go out, cross the cattle guard that separated the yard from the rest of the place, and yell her name. Wherever she was, she’d come running pell mell as fast as she could for that bottle. She’d just about knock me down, butting against that bottle in her eagerness to drink. The milk never came fast enough and I finally cut off the end of the nipple to speed it up and she could drain that thing in less than a minute. Then keep sucking until I wrenched it away from her. It was the neatest thing. I didn’t have a very happy childhood and she was a real bright spot for me.

In due time she grew up and got bigger than me and I had to quit with the milk. I gave her water in the bottle sometimes just for the fun of watching how excited she’d get running for it, but she always looked at me as if she was a little annoyed at being tricked like that.

Finally it was time to put her out to pasture. When the next roundup came I called her into the big pen with the other cows. Her name was sure appropriate because she was definitely a runt compared to the others, only about two-thirds their size. But she did have one advantage: horns.

Back then we cut off their little horn nubbins when we branded them as little calves. Then we’d put a hot iron on the spot to keep them from growing back. It made our lives a little easier in the corral, knowing they didn’t have horns to stick us with.

But Short Stuff never got her horns cut off. I had to brand her so no one could steal her (I paid for and got my own brand, registered with the state in my name) but that was all.

Over the years that followed I saw her use those horns a number of times. Being small, the other cows would shove her around, especially when we tossed hay out into the corrals when we had to keep them in overnight during roundup. When that happened she’d just hook them in the ribs—her horns were sharp—and they’d back right off.

The next year at roundup Short Stuff showed up with a calf of her own, the spitting image of her, though her calf grew to be bigger than her. I branded that calf and because she was a heifer I didn’t send her to the sale when she was a yearling but kept her as a cow. I had my own little herd going.

Short Stuff got older and I got older. She became a cow and not my pet any longer and I went to middle school and started thinking about motorcycles a lot. But she never forgot me completely. I could always go out to the corrals and yell, “Short Stuff!” and she’d turn and look. I usually brought her a flake of hay and I’d watch her eat it and back the other cows off with her horns.

The time came when she didn’t turn up in a roundup and I never saw her again. Maybe she got sick, maybe she broke a leg and starved. I’ll never know but I’ll never forget her.

My little Short Stuff.

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