Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Spring Cattle Drive

Back in 2003, I spent the first week of June in Montana on a cattle drive. It was my second trip to the Half Moon Ranch near Lavina, Montana....the first one was in September of 2002 when I was there with my dad. The trips were very different, but both wonderful in their own way.

One of the gals on the trip worked for the Virginia Farm Bureau. She did an article on the drive that you can find here. She had asked us a series of questions for the article, none of my comments made the cut, but I had saved them so I'll share them here.

This photo is of me on the left and Donna from down South was on our arrival day, we were riding in one of the pens to get to know our horses. She was there with her husband and was really funny. I should mention that all of the photos on today's blog were taken by Mark MacLeod, a professional photographer from Bozeman.

Question 1. Why did you decide to participate in the cattle drive? What made you decide on this particular one, with Art and Eilein Nelson?
When I signed up for the Fall 2002 cattle drive I was looking for an adventure, looking for a way to spread my wings, looking for a place to take a big step out of my comfort zone. I had just turned 40, just celebrated my 20th wedding anniversary. I needed to do something on my own and it needed to be something that wouldn't be easy. I love horses. I love Montana and wanted to experience it in a real way...not just driving through. A cattle drive seemed to fit the bill. I told my Dad about the adventure I was planning, saw the twinkle in his eye, and decided to see if he'd like to join me. His reply was that he wasn't getting any younger and with that, he decided to go too. So my "doing something on my own" trip became a father / daughter adventure. It was one of the best experiences that I've ever had.

I signed up for the spring drive by myself, to complete the circle, to do it on my own, to see Montana in the spring, to see the green grass and the wild flowers, and to see some of the friends I had made in the fall. When I signed up in the fall I chose the Halfmoon ranch cattle drive because it fit what I was looking for. I didn't want a dude ranch. I didn't want a "done for show" event. I was looking for an authentic drive with real Montana folks. I wanted a challenge. I wanted to rough it, wanted to camp. I liked the fact that the Nelson's are a part of the Farm dad is a farmer in Minnesota. I liked the website. It just felt right somehow.

These are some of the true characters that were on both cattle drives. Brand (Art & Eilein's son), Dave from Boston, favorite cowboy ever, and neighbor Sid.

Question 2. Did you learn anything new about yourself? If so, would you share those thoughts with me?
It wasn't learning something new as much as it was rediscovering some things that I had forgotten. I had given up my career 9 years ago to be a stay at home mom. Somewhere, in the midst of taking care of everyone else's needs, I lost track of mine. Being out there, surviving whatever is thrown at you, helped me to refocus on what really is important. Being a part of a team that was trying to get a real job done was also something that I had been missing. I also remembered what it was like to be me, instead of just some body's mom, and that felt pretty nice. I rediscovered that I really can do pretty much anything that I set my mind to, something that I had seemed to have forgotten along the way. And last but not least, I discovered that I really don't like having wet boots for days on end. :-)

The sky really is bigger in Montana. This was on our first day, the weather turned after that. We saw rains and winds and even sleet then snow.

This is Art Nelson, one of the owners of the ranch.

Question 3. What is your opinion of Art and Eilein doing this and opening it up to people like us?
I think that it is a very wonderful and generous thing that Art and Eilein do. I can't imagine the stress involved in putting together something like this. I can't imagine the headaches. The weather is unpredictable, so are the cattle, and the horses. Even the guests are unpredictable to a degree. They make it all work with a smile on their faces... to me that is pretty amazing. In doing so, they provide an opportunity to experience Montana in a way that is being lost. It gives people a chance to play cowboy for a week. It's a wonderful glimpse of a lifestyle that hasn't changed all that much for generations. I commend them for sharing a very, very special thing.

Me, Eilein, and one of the girls from Wisconsin. Eilein is one hard working woman.

Moving 600 cows and calves from the lower ranch to the upper ranch. Wide open spaces. The dots along the horizon are the horseback riders.

There were two mule teams and a team of horses with us, carrying non-riders and lunch supplies for the full days on the trail.
Question 4. What was the most memorable part of the trip for you?
This spring (2003) it was the wild flowers. Last fall (2002) it was spending time with my dad, the great campfires, eating rocky mountain oysters and the team penning competition. That was fast, furious fun!

On the trail, getting closer to the ranch.

Question 5. Would you do this again? Why or why not?
I'm not sure. After the fall drive I couldn't wait to come back. This spring drive was very different from the fall. I'm not really sure why it was SO different. It might have been the weather...the campfires weren't as enjoyable...too windy, too cold, too wet....we didn't do some of the really fun things like the team penning. It might have been because we were going from the lower ranch to the upper ranch, the scenery was much more spectacular going the other way....looking from the hills over the vast prairie was a reason to go back in itself....we didn't experience that on this drive. It could have been because the steers got so scattered and there wasn't the time to spend with the wranglers, getting to know them. Or it might just be that my expectations were changed for the 2nd trip. I'm not complaining, I loved it, I just don't know if a person can really go back again.

I think that the cattle were as tired of the weather as we were.

What a sight to see the entrance to the Half Moon Ranch after some long, cold, wet days of riding.

Question 6. If you had to tell someone what the best part about this trip was, what would you say?
That's a tough one....this time around I'd have to say the sun coming out on our last day, finally drying out, warming up....and riding in the hills looking at flowers instead of steer was like a little piece of heaven.

Question 7. How did you feel after you got home and back to your regular schedule? Did you feel different and if so, how did you feel different?
After returning from the fall trip I felt like I could conquer just about anything. Felt like I could make some decisions that I needed to make. I felt more confident, more sure of myself. Knew what I wanted and needed. The little things were just that...little. And I really appreciated hot showers and a comfortable bed. I haven't noticed as much of a change this time around, my summer schedule has been sort of insane, but the feelings are still there. When everything starts looking too hard to deal with for another day...I just remind myself that I can do it...because after all, a cowgirl can do just about anything. :-)

It was after the Fall drive that I decided that I would go back to school for Graphic Design. It's funny what a little adventure in Montana can do for a girl.
Some of the views seen on our after the drive pleasure ride.

Loping through the grassy meadow...a cow girls dream.

I've kept in touch with a few people from the cattle drives. Eilein is a facebook's been nice to keep in touch that way. Her status yesterday was that they were happy the sun came out after 7" of snow and 1.5" of rain. I told her it sounded a lot like cattle drive weather. Those farmers and ranchers really are the salt of the earth.
The end.


Lania said...

I like flowers too, horses, not at all but I've spent a good time with you this night. Bye from France, Britain, Rennes

Pat said...

Hi Lania,
I'm glad that you enjoyed the flowers. Thanks for visiting!