The behavior of men and elk…

Out here on these acres of ranch land there are things I know are there and places I roam everyday. I know there are cattle somewhere between the east and west pastures, if the sneaky animals haven’t found a hole in the fence. I know that if I let the pug out too early in the morning without a bowl of food he will high tail it off down the red road to my parent’s garage where his girlfriend lives with one of those automatic dog feeders.

I know how to catch a horse and where the creek winds. I know where my favorite birch tree lives….and my favorite oak. I know there is a pair of geese that live in the dam in front of where we will put our new house. I know that they mate for life. When it comes to chokecherry picking, I know where to look. The same goes with plums, raspberries, tiger lilies and Christmas trees. I know who rides what saddle and to expect my pops, if he’s home on the weekend, down in the horse pens as soon as the light and weather will allow.

These things I know, these places I have shown you. I have taken you picking those berries, cutting that Christmas tree, down through that winding creek. I have introduced you to my favorite tree and shown you a photo of those geese. I have complained about the pug. These are things I can speak to, I can describe adequately and take you along through words and photos and feelings.

But on Friday evening as I saddled my horse and followed husband out of the barnyard and down the road to meet pops, I realized I haven’t successfully explained or portrayed to you my role out here on these rolling, rugged acres among the men of the Veeder Ranch.  Especially during a season that calls to their inner mountain men, that keeps their eyes wide open, their ears perked, their binoculars close to their sides and rifles tuned.

Yes, it’s nearing hunting season, and if I was ever a tag along, a nod and a “uh, huh” or “yeah, sure,” in their lives during the rest of the year as they explained to me where the fence was down and where the cattle were out, how to manage the water tank situation, how not to run over the biggest rock in the yard with the lawn mower, or where to stand and how to wave my hands when helping one of them back a pickup up to a trailer, ’tis truly the month for observation now, for quiet cheering, for watching these two men finally get a chance to play, to breathe, to flex their man muscles after a year filled with work and stresses.

So on Friday that’s what they did, we saddled up our horses and went scouting for elk–the elk that have been roaming in and out of our lives mysteriously all year, the elk that were behind our little brown house, across our road, by the cattle guard between the two places and then magically appear by my parents’ mailbox.

Because pops has his license this year, a kind of “once in a lifetime” chance at this majestic creature who he can hear bugling in his pastures in the evenings. But here’s the thing that I have learned about pops in my years of sitting next to him in the pickup as he leans his head out the window, his binoculars to his face…as much as the man is looking forward to the season and to the prospect of elk meat in his fridge for the winter,  what means more to him is the observation of this creature. He thrives on learning about their patterns of movement, where they water, where they bed down for the night, where they can be expected…or how they can be so unexpected.

And he wants to share in the experience, tell his story, see if he can show you the same thing. Which is precisely what we were doing on Friday as pops lead the way to the west pasture, talking quietly about how he came right up on these elk on Tuesday evening and got to watch them graze and hear them bugle from nearly 250 yards away. It made his month, that encounter, and he intended to find them again.

To watch.

To learn.

To listen.

And so I followed as the two men lead me down through the creek bottoms, up a rocky pass  across a grassy pasture and through a draw to the top of the hill where pops expected he might find the herd again. I followed as they whispered about guns and bows and where husband shot his whitetail deer a few seasons back. I watched them as they watched the hills, pulled binoculars to their faces, stopped short at the cracking of a tree branch or rustle of the leaves. They pointed things out to one another or stopped in a draw to whisper a few stories, pointers, to say what they expect or hope to see.

It as inspiring really as I moseyed behind, snapping photos and breathing in the fall air. These two men–one who raised me, one who I grew up with–have taught me things I may have never learned without them. Here they were, friends. Best friends out here under the sun that was setting fast and turning golden trees to dark shadows…best friends on an age-old mission, a ritual.

As we pushed our horses up to the top of the butte and dismounted, I watched as the two of them snuck to the edge of the hill, dark silhouettes of men out in an element that was made for them, silent and peering out into the big oak draws below.

My heart pumped hard as husband spun around with that expression I know means business and the two men nearly jogged back to the horses to get a closer look…they had heard the bulging and we were going to get a closer look.

Now here I would like to explain to you what that was like, sitting at the top of that hill with a herd of elk grazing and moving along the trees below us. I want to tell you what these men were saying and describe how the breeze was heavy, the light was low, how I was holding my breath nearly the entire time as the horses grazed behind us, listening for that unmistakable, mysterious bugle. I would have loved for you to be there, really, to learn a little about the behavior of elk in the men’s sporadic and enthused but quiet conversation about what they were seeing.

I could have sat there forever like that surrounded by good things, with the moon above and the grass under my body. I could have listened to these men in their best moments, watched these unsuspecting animals so far away in their habitat, doing what they do to survive out here.

I could have listened to those coyotes howl all night and fallen asleep under the stars at the feet of my horse.

That’s how I felt. 

This is what we saw…

And these are the sounds. They are something you may have never heard before so I wanted to share so badly. It’s nothing thrilling, no fast cars or complicated music, no political banter or celebrity gossip that you might typically find on an internet video. No. This is just the sound of quiet, of calm, of good men in awe of  nature, an elk bugling, coyotes howling and a woman listening…watching…observing the world through their eyes…

The sights and sounds of elk scouting with the men of the Veeder Ranch:

On bulls and husbands

See that foot up there? Yeah, it’s resting on the recliner right now, exactly where it and it’s friend, Lefty, are not supposed to be.

Where are they  supposed to be? On the floor while I sweep something, put something in the laundry or rinse a dish or two in the sink.

Better yet, they should be in my grubby shoes while I push a mower outside, unpack the camper from our weekend in Yellowstone, or move a few more worthless items out of the garage.

I know, I know, that damn garage.

But it’s been a busy week at the ranch.

Well, more technically it’s been a busy week in town as the human inhabitants of the Veeder Ranch were pulled in a hundred different directions by their day jobs that include planning big events, helping establish new businesses, serving on committees, sitting in on important meetings, maintaining oil wells, delivering drinks, selling shoes, snuggling a baby and singing for their supper.

But there is no rest for the weary around here. Yes, we have jobs in town, but we have cattle out here too. And when your day job is heated and buzzing and full on busy, you can bet your fancy khakis the cows are getting out.

It’s all about timing.

So pops and I took the morning to saddle up and take off after a bull who was out visiting the sexy neighbor cows in the adjacent pasture. I will admit I took my time opening my eyelids and rolling my weary body out of the cocoon of my room, because although I love a good morning ride on the top of a horse, I was realistic about what was waiting for me outside my cozy doors.

It was what kept me lingering with slurpy sips on my morning coffee and taking the long way to the barn to stop and pull up unruly burdock and kick a couple cow turds…

because we were chasing a bull today.

Ah, man...

A single bull who made new girlfriends and settled into the clover in a new pasture.

A bull with attitude.

Because there’s no bull without attitude.

Isn’t that on a bumper sticker or something?

Anyway, I’ve been here before, behind a bull who has decided that the grass is greener and the ladies friendlier on the other side of the fence…so he hops right on over with no intentions of coming home.

Now, I brought my little camera along knowing full well there would be very little chance to whip it out, so the documentation of the bull we found standing a few yards away from the gate who spotted our smiling faces and immediately turned to run off with his women in the opposite direction, is a little patchy.

Forgive me, but when you’re heading up a steep, muddy, slippery hill at full speed to turn the cows who have no intention of turning it’s hard to take a good photo. Things get a little blurry.

But as I was taking direction from pops and recalling all the lessons I learned in similar situations like this growing up (i.e.:  how to move a bull with a few cows in order to get him to cooperate, how not to push him too hard, how not to get him running, how to stay the hell out of the way, how to let the cow horse under you do what she does best and how not to lose the shirt tied around your waist while running at full speed after cows it turns out you didn’t really need to be running after in the first place) I got to thinking that the techniques used to move bulls are similar to the techniques I have been using on the man I call husband for years.

Yeah, I'm talking 'bout you...

Let me try to explain here.

See, husband and I have an ongoing struggle in our household when it comes to getting big tasks accomplished. The damn garage is a perfect example. We will agree that the garage needs to be cleaned out and torn down. Great. But from there it gets hairy. Because as soon as that statement passes my lips, I am out there waist deep in junk throwing it all over my back and out the door willy nilly like some cartoon character with no plan about where to go from there.

Husband resists this technique with his heart and soul. Because he likes to think it out, see the outcome seventy-five different ways, make a full fledged plan to get it started and then stand back and think some more before he proceeds, weeks later, to open the garage doors, pick up each item and turn it over in his hands a few times before deciding to toss it.

The same goes with closet organization, dishes, laundry folding, construction projects, yard work and any kind of purchase.

This behavior, however, is null and void when it comes to bringing home a new dog, as you have probably already figured out by the existence of the pug.

Ok. Mooooving right along.

I have known this man for a solid thirteen years and in those solid thirteen years this quality of contemplation when it comes to a task, big or small, has never wavered.

Oh, I have fought it, yes I have. Just like I have fought a bull who prefers to run the opposite way, take after your horse at full speed or stay in the brush, thank you very much. The outcome of the choice to argue, with bull or husband, is never good. In fact it usually results in a further run in the opposite direction, a sarcastic swipe at my ways of jumping the gun and at least double the time in the brush or the easy chair.

But after some time spent battling with man and beast I am finally beginning to see the light…and damn if that light hasn’t revealed that some of the rules are the same.

So wives I offer you these tips from a woman who has attempted to nudge the most unruly of the male species in the house and in the pasture only to come out on the other end with a bull through the gate and a husband filling garbage bags in the garage.

Grab your pencils and let’s get started with today’s lesson:

On bulls and husbands

The first tip is the most important….

1) If it’s your idea, find a way to make it his. If a bull is dead set on heading south and you want him to go west, let him go south. There’s no use in fighting it, eventually all those gates lead to the place you need to go.

2) Ask once. Ask nicely. Wait patiently. What kind male soul, man or beast, wouldn’t respond positively to that?

If this isn't a face filled with love and appreciation, show me a face that is...

Which leads me to…

3) Unless you want to be disappointed, at home or in the pasture, forget about deadlines.

Which will help you when dealing with the next tip…

4) Once he’s on it, let him do it his way, even if your way is easier/shorter/faster/smarter. In the pasture, as soon as the bull is heading in the right direction, your best bet is to stay back a bit, watch his head for any signs of straying, and let him go. He might weave a little, go up some nasty rocks or gnarly trees, but as long as he’s getting there, leave him be. Same goes with your man ladies.

But better than standing back is this…

5) Find some company that is moving in the right direction. To get a bull to move he needs his lady friends along for the walk. Same goes in the household. You want him to do something, help him for crying out loud! That, or just start the task yourself. I mean the best way I can get husband to fix that gutter is to pull out our giant ladder in an attempt to do it myself…

So there you have it, five simple rules that I have found to work to my benefit about 80% of the time. What about the other 20% you ask? Well ladies, that’s why we have rule number six…

6) When all else fails, let him stay in the brush…eventually he will get thirsty and come out.

Implement these this weekend and let me know your results…

Oh, and try not to lose your shirt while you work, because then all bets are off.

Happy Friday!

Play like a man.

Husband folds my underwear in perfectly neat little squares. Husband cooks me bacon on Sunday morning while I wait impatiently in the adjoining room because he knows that I cannot be trusted alone with bacon. Husband ventures out in the cold spring air to push the snow away from the house.

Husband makes me drink Theraflu when I have a cold, even though it makes me gag and whine the entire duration of the illness. Husband unclogs my hair-ball from the shower drain and has never said a word about it really.

Husband reminds me to put the lid on the toilet when I’m done because he is genuinely concerned there is a possibility I will drop something, like my toothbrush or a bath towel in there…

Husband’s most usually right.

Husband doesn’t get mad when I forget to check the pockets of his jeans before I send them through the washer and dryer…along with his pocketknife, dollar bills, lists, pens, wrenches and other super important work things I didn’t notice.

Husband thinks I look pathetic in the morning with my head buried under the pillows and no matter how much I tell him he NEEDS to wake me up when he leaves for work at 5:30 am he claims he just can’t do it. I’m too pathetic and he’s too sweet so he puts his socks on in the dark and leaves me a cup of coffee in the pot for when I actually do rise (not quite shining).

Husband fixes drippy faucets…by ripping the entire shower apart and putting it back together with beautiful new tile.

Husband lets the cats sit on the desk to look out the window at the birds…breaking every rule he has about cats.

Husband folds my underwear in neat little squares…did I mention this already?

Did I mention husband needs a break?

Yes. Husband needs a break.

Not just any break. A real break. A break complete with a big pickup hitched up to a horse trailer pulling big boy toys off into the wild blue yonder as the speakers howl out Johnny Cash and his little brother hits the gas and hands him a big bag of Cheetos and a candy bar and promises him a glass or two of whiskey on the rocks when they get to that yonder he’s been talking about for weeks.

And so it was yesterday evening as I pulled into the drive and witnessed the Redneck Extravaganza that appeared as two grown men morphed into excited and giddy young boys pushing and craning and squeezing two fancy snowmobiles into our horsetrailer. A horsetrailer  that has hauled livestock and horses and home renovation supplies and all of our earthly possessions all over the country and still, no matter what, continues to boast a nice, unmovable layer of poop residue on the floor.

I will tell you, I had to take photos, because this piece of ranch equipment wasn’t meant to haul anything this shiny. Nothing this expensive.

I also had to take photos in case this was the last time I ever saw husband again–with so many reasons for him to never return home and so many ways he could be lethally injured riding this machine as fast as it can go up and down mountains without a voice of reason nearby to tell him to watch out for: avalanches, huge hidden rocks, man-eating raptors, grizzly bears, fences that could decapitate him, mountain caves covered in snow that could swallow him up, poisonous berries, aliens, and most dangerous of all, himself.

No. There would be nobody there to save him from the reckless teenager I know exists in that man-sized body of his–the one who used to drive 115 miles per hour down country roads in his Thunderbird during a blizzard to see a girl he might have liked a little, the kid who has been known to climb to the top of the highest cliff and do a backflip on his way down to the un-navigated water below, the boy who used to ride all over the badlands on the back of his three-wheeler, jumping cliffs and climbing buttes and more than occasionally landing on, crushing and dislocating countless bones along the way, the kid who…oh forget it…I can’t talk about this anymore…I need to take a break to check our insurance policy…

O.K. Anyway, husband has been working really hard these last few months. And although it doesn’t look like it at the ranch, Western North Dakota is a happening place right now due to the booming oil industry and husband works right in the thick of it. And he’s really good at his job.

So good and dedicated that lately he’s been working nearly 12 hour days only to come home to a wife who has an issue with a drippy faucet, burned the Hamburger Helper to his favorite pan, forgot that we don’t have a garbage disposal and left the lights on in his pickup, draining the battery while galavanting around the ranch…again.


Yes, with a wife like this it’s a good thing God granted men the unfaltering ability to play. Like really play. Have you ever noticed this about the species? When men get together they DO things. They hunt. They fish. They play basketball, cards or football. They ride things like 4-wheelers, motorcycles, snowmobiles or boats around. They ski or snowboard or grab a hockey puck and stick and practice their slap-shot. And if they can’t do these things in real life, they do it in the form of video games, watch other guys do it on TV or talk about all the times they have done the above activities together…and who got hurt along the way.

I admire this about men. I admire the play. I admire how they can just let it all go, the faucet, the clogged drain, the one-eyed pug that cost him a fortune, and go to a place to let loose in friendship and brotherhood and good old fashioned fun. And they don’t make excuses. They don’t justify. They don’t prioritize or time themselves or feel guilty about it. They just play.

So anyway, this weekend it’s just me, the cats, the lab and the one-eyed pug in a cone holding down the fort while husband is out inventing new ways to hurt himself and mom and pops are headed to visit my grandparents in Arizona.

The definition of pathetic...

And I don’t mind, as long as there are no more blizzards, power outages, porcupine encounters, coyote incidents or alien invasions while the troops are gone everything will be fine.

Anyway, I have a list a mile long that I have been meaning to get to that requires me to get up at the crack of dawn to check pockets, fold my underwear, unclog the sink, take out the garbage,  caulk the newly tiled shower, close the lid on the toilet seat and spend some time with bacon…

Bacon+Me=lack of self control, guilty, fat-laden, salty, happiness

But when I’m finished not doing all of the above (except, of course, the bacon part…) I think I might take husband’s lead and start on the other list–you know, the one that requires me to paint my toenails, watch movies that feature a man named Matthew McConaughey, play my guitar and sing really loud, venture into town to listen to other people do the same thing while kicking back a cocktail, eat cereal and popcorn for supper, catch up on all of my Glamour and People magazines, practice my sweet dance moves without scrutiny from onlookers and critics, eat cereal and popcorn for lunch, watch movies that feature a woman named Julia Roberts, tie up the phone-line chatting up my girlfriends, let the pug and the cats sleep in my bed, avoid the laundry at all costs…

…and not feel the least big guilty about it.

I hope you will all make like a man and do the same…

or at least your version of it…

…and for the love of Martha, watch out for avalanches.