Tangled.

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Out here on the ranch there are people and animals and machinery and water and buildings and growing things and plans thought out but maybe not discussed with one another…

When you combine all the moving parts sometimes things can go kinda weird, get tangled up so to speak.

Like last week I came home from something or other to Husband pushing dirt on the Bobcat, just like every other dry summer day. We have been working on landscaping and planning for a fence to keep the cows out of yard, so getting the dirt in the right places has been the longest and first step in the process.

Anyway, so I get home and I drop my bags, shuffle the mail pile on the counter and look out the window at the hill where the horses generally graze, and then down at the plum patch on the edge of what will be our fenced in yard one day.

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Then I notice a piece of wire or string or something stretched across the edge of the yard, from the plum patch, across the open toward the dam, with no end that I could see…

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With Pops and Husband involved in this place, a few scenarios run through my mind about the existence of this piece of wire or string or whatever.

1) Maybe Husband is staking out where the fence will go, which is good, because I think he’s right on in the placement.

2) Could Husband have strung a piece of electric fence or wire or something to temporarily keep the cows off his dirt moving masterpiece?

3) But it sorta looks like a piece of twine, and Pops was out here on the 4-wheeler the other day driving up the hill to check on things. I bet a peice got stuck to the back of his machine and he drug it a ways…that’s probably it…

4) Who the hell knows…these boys never tell me anything…I gotta call Pops, I’m too lazy to try to catch Husband on that Bobcat right now…

I dial…it rings…he answers.

“Hello.”

“Hi, it’s me. Yeah, did you like, string some twine across our yard, or like, maybe drag a piece on your 4-wheeler when you went by the other day…”

“No. No I didn’t. I noticed it too. It was there when I drove past…piece of twine, goes all the way up to the dam as far as I can tell…a cow musta drug it I think…”

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“Well that’s a theory…really? Weird…I wonder how far it goes?”

“Yeah, I don’t know…”

“Well, ok, just checking…I guess I’ll go investigate…wrap it up…”

“Yeah, ok bye.”

I hung up.

Wonder where a cow picked up all that twine? Wonder where it got hooked? On her foot? On her ear? On a tooth or something?

How did she pull it all that way without a snag or a snap?

I headed down to the plum patch, which seemed to be the middle of her destination, twine strung up in the thorns and heading toward the dam in one direction, to oblivion in the other…

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I grabbed it and followed it along the cow path that lead to the dam…
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To the edge of the dam where she grabbed a drink…

IMG_4185and then literally into the dam where she must have hung out to cool off.

IMG_4187And then turned around IMG_4188Then turned around to head to the shade of the trees up by the fence…

IMG_4190Where it looked like she might have taken and a nap and detached from it…

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But that was only the beginning. because there I stood with a pretty substantial roll of twine around my arm looking for the end, which seemed to be trailing back toward my house again, up the hill and toward the barnyard, with no end in sight.

I backtracked, to find the source, coiling as I went…

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It was going to be a long trip…

Back past the plum patch, up along the cow trail that turns into the road on the top of the hill. Past the old machinery and the broken down three-wheeler and lawn mower that we need to move for crying out loud. I have to get on that.

Then down toward the shop where the cow seemed to have gone back and forth, back and forth, zigzagging in front of the old tractor and little yellow boat. IMG_4217Then up to the old combine to scratch her back or something…

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Then back up to the top of the hill, across the road, to the scoria pile we’re saving for a literal rainy day, then back down through the brush on the side hill toward the old combine again, tangling up in the thorns of the prairie rose patch somehow…

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Then over toward the barn yard…wait, turn around, not yet…back in front of the shop, hooking on every stray weed and grass along the way, but never coming undone…no…where the hell did she pick this up?

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Why did we leave a big-ass roll of twine just laying around for some creature without opposable thumbs to go dragging for miles and miles across the countryside?

Why can’t we get our shit together around here?

How long is this damn roll? How long is this going to take?

Do you know how long this is going to take!!!

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And how does this even happen?

Where did it even…

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Begin? …

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So off you go, Pug…

Some of you have asked what has become of the pug, noticing his absence from the spotlight on these pages.

The truth is, I have been wondering the same thing for a few months now.

Because a few months ago, the pug went missing.

And I’m afraid that this time it’s for good.

Now, you’ve heard the stories of Chug the Pug’s tendencies to hike to Mom and Pops’ to visit his girlfriend, or to the nearest oil rig to see what the guys have cooking in terms of food and a warm cushy spot in the campers for him to lay and receive an unlimited amount of belly rubs from nice guys who think he’s been orphaned.

The pug, with his one eye and all, was really good at convincing those who didn’t know better that he was pathetic. But he wasn’t. He was self-sufficient. A big dog in a compact body, tortured by the limitations of his physique.

He was a pooch on a mission to sucker you into letting him on the couch, right after you witnessed him dragging a dead squirrel into the yard.

He was a wish granted to me from my husband after a particularly tough year where things appeared to be coming together, but I was falling apart.

And so he found a flyer on the bulletin board of the gas station in a small town as he was passing through. A picture of a dozen tiny black pugs in the arms of woman.

For Sale.

He was sold.

And so he brought him home to a woman under a quilt on the couch, recovering from a surgery that was meant to help her become a mother, the first of many experiments that have dissected and disappointed.

The pug was a way to take the edge off.

And he did.

Get home from a shit day at work? Watch the pug steal the stick from the lab.

Sick on the couch with the flu? The pug’ll keep your feet warm.

Grumpy because the world is annoying? Laugh at the pug barking at the dogs on TV.

Frustrated on how some things just don’t go as planned? Howl it out.

When I was a little girl we had a cow dog who had puppies and I rescued the runt. And then the runt went missing right as winter set in. I was a kid fresh out of Bible Camp and so I prayed every night that the tiny puppy would come back.

I searched for her in every culvert, old building, tall grass and hole on the place.

I cried and worried and wondered where she could be

And then one day the snow kicked in and I had sort of given up hope, dragging my sled to the hill up the road, and that little puppy jumped out from behind a rock, right toward me. A prayer answered.

Now, that puppy was sick from the start, so a week or so on her own didn’t do her any favors and she didn’t make it much longer, no matter how hard my dad tried to warm her and medicate and bring her back to life. But regardless, I sort of held on to the memory of that little border collie running back to me for the first month of our search for the damn pug, because, well, you just never know.

Every night on his way home from work, Husband would stop at a rig asking about the little black dog. We called the neighbors to keep an eye out. We drove around, up and down the roads, checked the ditches, hollered his name.

I would come down the drive expecting that one of these days he would decide his adventure was done and it was time to take his place on the rug on the floor by my chair.

He hasn’t come home yet.

And I don’t think he will now. It’s just been too long.

The pug is no longer mine. I say that, but I don’t suppose he ever really was. A creature is his own creature, we just take care of them the best we can when we decide on the job.

I’m glad I had the job. I wish I had done better.

I miss the little guy, but I can’t help but think of him tucked under the arm of a tender hearted roughneck, a guy who found a stray and took him home to lay at the foot of his daughter’s bed.

Or maybe he’s running with a pack of coyotes, howling at the moon at night, being wild inside that block of an unfortunate body.

Or he could be riding shotgun with a trucker along these backroads hauling water or crude, a bandana around his neck, his head hanging out the window, ears flapping in the breeze.

Or maybe he’s out saving stray and wandering cats. He’s always been good with cats.

Pug and Kitten

There’s no evidence to the contrary on any of these scenarios, so I’ll just leave it at that and say goodbye now pug.

You helped me through. I’m gonna be fine now.

So off you go…

Sunday Column: On summer, and the uninvited…

In the spring of the year we dream of all the possibilities the summer will bring. We prepare for the work that needs to be done and make plans to hit the lake and take long rides to hunt for raspberries.
IMG_0080We clear the deck of snow and ice and wait patiently for an evening warm enough to enjoy a cocktail out under a setting sun where we eye the garden and visualize it’s late summer bounty…

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Yes, in the longest winter of our lives, we dreamed of our garden. Of plump, ripe tomatoes. Of cucumber sandwiches with bacon. Fresh garden carrots, with a little dirt still stuck in the cracks. The snap of a pea pod. The crunch of a bean steamed with butter.

The satisfaction of the taste of our growing things…

This May I helped Pops plant those little seeds in neat rows, the cucumbers in mounds, the tomato plants neatly caged up. We hoed and weeded and watered and watched those little seeds sprout…

We covered them when the frost threatened…

And then we left for Minnesota for a little getaway, hoping that the rains would come and keep things moving along…

Hoping the sun wouldn’t scorch things while we were gone.

Hoping the hail didn’t tear the leaves.

That’s the thing about North Dakota. Growing things have to grow fast, we don’t have much time for stretching toward the sun.

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The weeds know this better than any other living thing I decided I when I went to check on our little plot of dirt when we made it back home.

“Where are the pea plants? Where are the carrot tops?” I exclaimed as husband and I started pulling up little thistle plants and vines that didn’t belong.

“Wow, I something’s wrong! There should be peas here! They should be tall and lush! There should be carrot tops for crying out loud! Keep pulling, keep looking! Get Martha Stewart on the line, we’ve got issues here! A garden emergency!”

Husband just shook his head and calmly pulled and hoed at the things that needed to be pulled and hoed…

I grabbed the hose and sprayed frantically, cussing my black thumb and the idea that we had the guts to abandon a garden for a week at such a crucial time.

Could it be that we won’t have peas this year? Could it be that we won’t get fresh garden carrots or beans on the side of our steak supper?

Could it be the weather?

Could it be too much rain?

Not enough?

Could it be I planted things too deep?

Could it be…none of these things…

No.  It’s  just her.

Dad's Deer

See her there trying to hide behind the patio furniture?

She’s taken over. It’s a buffet and it’s her “all you can eat” secret.

And she’s at Mom and Pops’ every night.

Her favorite dish? Peas.

Dessert? Mom’s geraniums.

And nothing can stop her. Last night I heard her hissing at the dogs.

Step out on the deck and she barely lifts her head, each bite and munch crushing our garden dreams…

A million acres of sweet clover and this girl prefers Pops’ tomatoes.

Funny how, in the middle of the deep freeze of winter, our summer memories skip over mosquito bites, black flies, pig weeds that grow over our heads, barn swallows that make nests in the garage and shit on my car and pretty, bossy, little deer that bite the heads off of petunias.

Ah, every season has its battle. This week it’s all about ours…

Coming Home: Battling the annoying side of nature
by Jessie Veeder
7-20-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Cheers to the best parts of summer and here’s hoping all your house guests have been invited…

My column, Coming Home, appears Sundays in the Fargo Forum and weekly in the Dickinson Press and Grand Forks Herald. 

 

The golden hour…

IMG_9124Summers don’t last long enough here. But the days are long and so we make up for it by squeezing every last inch of sunlight out of our waking hours.

We have supper at 11 pm. Quick. Whip something up. We need to sleep so we can wake and do it again.

I like every inch of this time of year, but I like the witching hour best, the time right before sunset when everything on earth is bathed in a golden light and the creek bottoms cool and the clover smells fresh and crisp and like every childhood ride I’ve ever taken.

IMG_9099Last night I rushed home from meetings in town to meet up with Husband to push some bulls and a few cows through the gate to the west. I ran inside and switched from my sandals and fancy shirt to boots and jeans and jumped in the old green pickup and on down to the barn. I rearranged the tack room and swept away dust while I waited for him and the horses to come down.

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It would be a quick and easy ride, the cattle right by the gate. We saddled up and admired our animal’s sleek backs. They’re summering well, we said. Fat and sassy, full of gas.

We swung on and out of the barnyard and pushed those cows with their new boyfriends toward the creek. And they went well and so did our two bays and when they were through that gate we decided to keep going ourselves, to check the dam on the other side of the pasture. To just ride a bit and be out in it.

To make sure all the other cows were in between the fence lines.

I wish you could have seen it, the way the green looked neon and the purple flowers popped from the earth in the bask of the 9:30 sun sink. On a different Wednesday evening I might have brought my camera, but I left the house on a deadline and, sometimes it’s nice to just be there without the burden of trying to capture it the way I see it, because sometimes it just isn’t possible.

And sometimes it’s nice to just talk about nothing really and ride along.

IMG_9112Sometimes it’s nice to just say, “What a night! What a night!” and believe it between the two of you.

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We made our way to the dam, spotting a hawk and a coyote and a couple deer along the way. Oh, and some cows. There were cows too.

Good thing there were cows.

And then the sun that was kissing the top of my husband’s hat, filtering through his too-long hair, making him look like a western movie poster, sunk down over the horizon, chilled my skin and turned our stroll into a trot, back across the new spring on the hill, down through the valley where the plums grow in the fall, up along the deep trails, across the flat, to the creek and through the gate we left open.

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Feeling proud of our accomplishments and hungry for our 10 pm supper, we popped up over the hill that would take us to the pink road, past the grain bins and down to the barnyard.

But not before we came upon the cows and their boyfriends, the same ones we just pushed through that gate, munching and strolling exactly where we found them an hour or so before.

“Cows” I exclaimed as if my husband didn’t have eyes.

“Yup,” he replied in typical Husband fashion. And then, “Shoulda probably shut that gate…”

But if there ever was a night to do a chore like that twice, it was that night. Because in the golden hour or in the dark, we would rather be out there than anywhere…

And anyway, tacos taste best at 11 pm.

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Badass 4-H Nerds

Alex & Me. 4-H

I’ve had this photo on my fridge for a few weeks. I found it while going through photo albums in search of something else.

And then this gem falls out of from the pages, unattached and out of it’s place and I thought, well, what a shame that it’s been hidden all these years when it should be on display for me to see each day.

Because, well look at these nerds. Me and my little sister at the county fair, fresh off the ranch where we likely spent the night before washing my old mare, Rindy, in the backyard with Mane and Tail shampoo, a brush and a hose spraying freezing cold water.

I would have put on my shorts and boots and worked to convince Little Sister to hold Rindy’s halter rope while the horse got busy munching on as much lush green grass as she could, without a care about that tiny, fuzzy haired girl in her way.

Little Sister, enthused initially, likely started to get annoyed by the whole deal, the sun a little too hot on her already rosy cheeks, the bees getting dangerously close, so she probably abandoned ship after a couple arguments about it and then I would have been out there finishing the job, picking off the packed on dirt and yellow fly eggs horses get on their legs up in these parts and then standing back, pleased with the work I did and excited to show my horse in the big arena and decorate her up and ride her in the parade because she’s never looked so good, so shiny, her red coat glistening in the sun.

Then I’d take her down to the barnyard and give her a munch of grain, tell her I’d see her in the morning.

It would rain then, soaking the ground nice and good and I would wake up bright and early because likely I didn’t sleep a wink, so nervous about getting that purple ribbon. I would pull on the crisp dark blue Wrangler jeans that I laid out next to my brand new clean white shirt dad picked up for me at Cenex or the western store on Main Street and I would tuck it all in nice and neat and head out to the barn with Pops and Little Sister trailing behind to get my glistening horse and her fancy halter loaded up in the trailer only to find that she had gone ahead and taken advantage of the mud the rain produced, rolling in it nice and good and letting the clay form a thick crust on her back.

I’m thinking this scenerio is the reason for our serious expressions here.

But it looks like we got it worked out, because damn, we look good.

Especially that mare.

Badass we were. Badass 4-H nerds.

I frickin’ love this picture.

Alex & Me. 4-H

Sunday Column: When the outside comes in…

Well, it snowed.

So there’s that.

I sorta knew this was coming. We watch the weather like hawks around here, so on Friday when it was a calm, almost 70 degrees I called in the troops and we saddled up and headed east to get the kinks out of the horses’ backs, stretch our legs and get our saddle butts back.

It was a glorious few hours spent out under that spring sky, visiting pastures we haven’t seen in a while, counting crocuses and ducks and blades of green grass.

I even saw a couple turtles sunning themselves on a log in the stock dam.

I bet those turtles are pretty pissed right about now.

I bet those ducks are booking their flight back south.

I bet that muskrat that found his way into our garage last week is glad the cat put him out of his misery.

This week in my newspaper column I wrote a piece about all of the creatures that have come to life in this warm weather.

I was one of them. I had emerged. I traded my muck boots for cowboy boots. I put on a short sleeved shirt for crying out loud!

Things were looking up.

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I should have known better. Only in North Dakota would the end of April mean ice pellets slamming up against your window at midnight, turning a perfectly peaceful promise of spring into a snow day.

At least I didn’t go so far as to pack away my winter gear. I have a feeling a few creatures will be knocking on my door today, looking to borrow a sweater…

Coming Home: When the great outdoors venture inside
by Jessie Veeder
4-28-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Happy Day Earth! Thanks for being our home.

IMG_6720Earth, we love you. We love how you bring flowers after the snow. How you promise them to us, even when you’re still brown and thawing. How you don’t let us down.

IMG_6553Earth, we love you. We love how you keep us, how you hold us, how you call us to lay down in the grass under the warm sun.

Cowgirl Wildflower

And how that warm sun changes you so you look different every day.

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We love your tall trees and your tall grass.

Grass and Sky

We love your mud and dirt for growing things.

Rain on the ButtesYou’re stark and flat and predictable.

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You’re rocky and uneven and scary and beautiful.

Horses in BadlandsWe love your horizons and the way the moon emerges from the edge of it all.

moon above the landscape

And then the sun comes.

Ranch SunriseOh, we love your sun.

IMG_6727 Wild SunflowersSunset

Sunset RideAnd your wind.

IMG_6517 WindWindWindAnd your rain.

Rain on horsesRain on ConeflowersRain on berriesBarnyard RainAnd your snow.

Purple flowers in snow Bird in snow

snow stormFrom all who take from you, live on you and love you and thrive…

Horses on Hill

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one last clover Lake Binnoculars Laying in the grass Big Lake Lab

IMG_6745Happy Day Earth. Thanks for being our home.

Landscape

Love and snow fall…

We woke up this Valentines Day to find a nice fresh coat of fluffy snow, a little sun and some sparkle in the air.

I was happy to see it, because for about three months it’s literally been too cold to snow.

Yes.

Too. Cold. To. Snow.

That’s a thing here.

Which means I’ve been cooped up a bit, and so has my camera. Things like cameras and fingers don’t work too well when it’s too cold to snow.

But those clouds and that sun seemed to be working this morning (I mean it was like 10 degrees above zero) so I went out in it.

A gift to myself for a day covered in love.

Love and sparkly snow on the tips of berry covered branches…

On the noses of dogs…

Ok, all over the faces of dogs…

On the tips of the grass…

On the backs of horses…

In barnyards…

and all of the things made more beautiful with a little light…

and a little frosting.

Happy Valentines Day Friends. Spread a little love today.

Feeding Hay

It doesn’t say so on the calendar, but the temperatures and blowing snow make it perfectly clear.

Winter is here.

And because we still have some cows around, this means feeding hay and breaking ice for the animals.

When I was growing up we had cattle every winter. And every evening after my dad came home from his work in town, often after the sun had gone down, I would bundle up in my coveralls and beanie, and sit beside him in the feed pickup as he rolled out bales for the cows.

It was always one of my favorite chores for a lot of reasons. The pickup had heat, so that was one of them. I got to sit bundled up and watch the cows come in from the hills in a nice straight, black line.

When we would feed cake or grain, I got to drive the pickup while Pops shoveled it out the back. He would put it in low and release the clutch and tell me to keep it out of the trees. My nose would barely reach over the steering wheel, but I felt helpful and I liked it.

And I liked the way the hay smelled when it unrolled from the back of the pickup, like it had kept some summer underneath its layers.

There’s something about an everyday chore like this that is sort of comforting. Maybe it’s the knowing that you’re a necessary part of the order of things. Knowing that you’re responsible.

It’s the taking care I think.

These cows are heading to different pastures next week, leaving these prairie pastures to the horses.

So I was glad to get one last feed in with the ladies.

Bon appetit fine gals. I’ll miss taking care of you!

The making of a dog.

Remember this little girl?

OMMMGEEEE she was so fluffaaaayyy I could diiieee!!!

Yes, that was Juno, The Littlest Cow Dog last winter when we brought her home to the ranch in Pops’ pickup. I held her the whole thirty-some miles while she drooled all over my arm and shook with fear or anticipation or nervousness or whatever it is that goes through a little puppy’s head when she’s taken away from her momma.

We had high hopes for that puppy that day. Our old cow dog, Pudge, limpy, gimpy, faithful, storm fearing, fur tangled, sweet as sugar, gramma Pudge is getting a little too arthritic to make it on long rides or up into the pickup box by herself. She has retired to sleeping on her soft pillow under the heat lamp and occasionally accompanying us to the barn or down the road to get the mail. It’s tough to admit that any day now Pudge will take her last 4-wheeler ride, but it’s clear looking into those sweet ancient eyes that it’s the truth. And without Pudge the Veeder Ranch would be left cow-dog-less.

Because, contrary to the pug’s delusions he doesn’t quite fit the bill.

And so we found Juno. Part border collie. Part blue heeler. Part angel and part acrobatic, magical boot sniffer-outer and chewer-upper. (Seriously. It doesn’t matter how you put those boots on the shelf, she’s gonna get them and she’s gonna eat them).

When Juno found herself on her new ranch she was a bundle of energy, fur and timid playfulness. Everyone fell in love.

My mom wanted her to sleep in the house.

I wanted her to sleep at my house.

And Chug the Pug wanted to move to mom and dad’s house.

pug and puppy copy

Even Pudge, who had been getting up slower and slower every day found a new swig of youthfulness that she occasionally employs to chase her new garage-mate around the yard.

Funny what a wave of youth and fluff and plain cuteness can bring to an old place.

But Juno was meant to be more than a cute companion. That’s the thing here. Cow dogs have many important responsibilities, and when you’ve got a pup on your hands who’s only interest seems to be digging holes, spilling the food dish and chewing the fingers out of your best leather gloves, a large part of you wonders what you’ve got on your hands here (besides fingerless gloves).

Yes, cow dogs have a punch list and Juno, cute as she was, wasn’t an exception. She needed to grow up to be:

Gentle with children but rough on varmints who might wander into the yard.

Sweet and obedient but brave enough to convince a 2,000 pound bull to get his ass out of the brush.

Vocal and adventurous,  but only with the cattle.

Athletic and smart and sensitive to commands.

Quick

Fierce and loyal and friendly with a work ethic and an eager to please attitude.

Instinctual. As in: know what to do even without being told…and while we’re at it..

Bur and tick repellent

Not too much to ask right? Not too much pressure from an eager to please baby who hasn’t even seen her second winter…

But here’s the thing, a good dog is an invaluable asset around here. I joke about the expectations, but if they emerge, if they are even remotely met out here on the days when it’s just  a cowboy against 100 head of cattle heading in the wrong direction, that cowboy won’t trade that dog for a mansion in the mountains.

And so we’ve been watching that pup closely, wondering how she might emerge from puppyhood. Will she be too timid? She’s a sweet little thing. Will she ever want to jump in the back of the pickup on her own? Will she come back when called? Will she be intimidated by the ornery cows? Will she come along on a ride? Will she become more than a pet?

Will she be what we hoped she would be?

Well, take a look here friends. It’s Juno.

And there she is way out there alongside of Pops and his horse, bopping and jumping and trotting through the long grass on our way to move some cows.

Take a look at how she’s grown up, that little sweetie.

Then take your coat off, take a seat and let Pops pour you a fresh cup of coffee because if you’ve stopped over you’re gonna hear it.

And it’s gonna be a while.

Because he’s proud.

Like Trail-90 proud.

Like grandkid proud.

“Can I tell you about my dog?” he’ll ask.

And before you can answer he’ll tell you how last night she would have taken that bull all the way home on her own if he would have let her.

He’ll tell you she’ll little but she got instinct.

He’ll tell you she’s sweet but she’s tough enough.

He’ll tell you how she’s so smart she comes back with one ask of one command and this morning he thinks he might have actually heard her say a word, like “hello” or “hi there” or something that sounded like a greeting, and, well, he’s not quite sure but she just might be bur repellent too…

And then he’ll tell you he’s pleased and that she just might be…could possibly be…if he doesn’t screw it all up…

 

The Best Cow Dog He’s Ever Had in His Whole Entire Life!!!!

Ever.

Don’t worry. I won’t tell Pudge.

Or the Pug.

Oh Juno, you’re doin’ good girl!