Saturday, October 31, 2009

High Plains Craziness!

That's for sure. We're just a day away from the "storm of the decade" and about 90% of that snow is now gone to the aquifer.

One thing I love about this country: If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes 'cuz something else will be right along!

(That's the temp here at 4PM MDT.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Killer Storm

That's what it was elsewhere, but where I am it more or less fizzled out. Most of it veered off north or south. I've got six or so inches on the flat and higher drifts, but nothing at all like some folks got.

It stirred the birds up, though. They were all over the place looking for shelter and food. Even had a crow visit this morning and I almost never see crows here. When I do see them they are off in the distance and never come into the place.

Some folks dislike starlings. I know they are foreign interlopers and all that (the European starling and the English sparrow are the only birds that are not 'protected' by USFW Service regulations), but having once had one as a pet I can't feel much animosity towards them. They are smart, clean, and very good talkers, too. Same for crows. I once helped rehab one with a broken tail and I don't think I could shoot a crow now. Plenty smart critters.

I guess I need to get some seed for the feathered bipeds and get a few feeders up for the winter. At least I don't have any squirrels to steal it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


My cottonwoods are finally giving up their leaves. Not much color to them this year, due I think to that sudden blizzard and cold snap that caught them flat-footed and still fully green. We're supposed to have a cold rain later in the week and that will finish them off I imagine.

Once the trees are bare I know that winter had finally arrived, whatever the calendar may say.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Spam redux

I've written here before about the gourmet restaurant that was serving Spam, of all things, to its up-scale clientele, and apparently getting rave reviews. I swore way back in the poverty days of grad school that I would never put that stuff in my mouth again, but the article piqued my curiosity.

I tried some and found it quite palatable if it were cut thin and grilled crisp. Makes a good substitute for breakfast bacon and can even be used in a pasta carbonara. It also keeps really well in its spiffy little cans and that's a real plus for me considering my lifestyle.

The other day I discovered a further improvement. Before slicing it into thin pieces for the griddle, I stood a "loaf" of it on end and cut it straight down the middle. Then I slice it into individual pieces about 3mm thick. You should get sixteen or seventeen slices out of each half that way. Four of five of these half-size slices are sufficient for a tasty breakfast, shown above with a salsa omelet and some of the last of my peppers.

OK, I guess I broke my oath.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Speak of the devil

Just a few minutes ago I noticed that little buck standing on a knoll overlooking the place, but not coming closer. I went out with a camera to see if he would come in a bit more. As I went through the door onto the porch I saw a 5x5 right next to one of my pistol butts. About 20 yards. When he saw me he went around behind the old barn. I sneaked around the other way and caught him flat footed looking in the wrong direction for me. I coughed and he squared up to give me the evil eye. After a few seconds I moved and he pronked off west to the old thicket there. Meanwhile the little guy had high-tailed it off south.

Sure seems like it's that time of year again.

Twenty minutes later he was back at the target butt, this time with a slightly smaller friend, maybe a 4x4. I'll try to get pics of him when I have some light.

The outcast

This young gentleman was making his careful way across the prairie just in front of my mailbox late yesterday afternoon. I suspect he has already been given the bum's rush by the Big Boys and was doing his best not to run into one of them as he moved into the thick stuff just west of me. He wasn't too concerned about me or the dog. The rut is coming up and he has no doubt been given the official word that he will be an unwelcome presence once that gets under way. I'll probably be seeing more of him as the weeks roll on.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Road hogs

If you calculated the relatively uninhabited land on both sides of the road all the way down to my post office it would amount to more than a million acres. And where do they like to hang out?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

And while I'm on the subject...

Here's my other Ambassador of Progress & Plenty. My mailman, or 'postie' as they would call him in Ireland. I get mail MWF when the weather and road conditions allow. He arrives almost like clockwork and always has a cheerful word and the latest gossip. He's also offered to bring me supplies if I need them. Although appreciated, I haven't taken him up on his offer. Might be better to save that one for a time of genuine need.

Last time we gabbed I twitted him about the condition of his truck, with about an inch thickness of prairie mud from stem to stern due to the snow-melt we had a week or so ago. I said it gave a bad impression of the federal gummint. He replied that considering the state of gummint the cosmetics of his truck was the least of the problem!

I've never asked him the length of his route, but I figure there are about a dozen ranches on it. If he came directly to me and then went directly back to the post office it would be an eighty-mile roundtrip. But he makes a big circle, and I estimate his total mileage at something like 250 per delivery day. I'll have to remember to ask him about that next time we chat.

Believe me, I do not take him for granted.

Civilization's outreach

Civilization's mighty outstretched hand, rolling in over the auto-gate. UPS and FedEx put me, quite literally, in touch with the world. With the internet and a credit card I have the world at my fingers.

Of the two services I much prefer UPS. FedEx often calls from town wanting to know if they can leave a package for me at the barber shop. Wimps. UPS, on the other hand, seldom misses a projected delivery date and then only when the weather or the road conditions don't allow them to make it up here.

I'm lucky to have a good UPS driver who never whines about the trip. But he does know all the ranchers' vehicles and watches for them when he comes through town. Twice I have had him bring me a package to the barber shop while I was there, and once to the café where I sometimes have a store-boughten lunch. Sometimes even on the road he'll flash his lights and we'll both stop and make the transfer. If he doesn't have any other deliveries up my way it saves him about 70 miles. I'm all for that, as I don't want to see any "hardship address" fees appearing on my S&H itemization.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

That cast of light

Yesterday, having seen two of them pretty near the house, I was out on "coyote interdiction patrol" when there was an instance of "that cast of light" that I like so much. It can happen at any time of year: a mostly overcast day gives way to bright, near-dusk sunshine. It's especially dramatic when there is a dark sky in the background, as there frequently is in those circumstances. I can't resist it.

I fear we won't have a colorful fall this year. That early snow and the accompanying low temps caused the leaves, still green for the most part, to wilt. They have now passed into a mostly olive drab phase and that's probably the best we are going to get. Too bad, as I was looking forward to some autumn colors. Maybe next year.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bird corn

I didn't get much out of my corn this year. It came along really slowly and by the time I got back from Ireland it was past its prime.

I noticed that the birds were clinging to the stalks and eating the kernels they could get at, but were not having much luck with it. I stripped the ears off the stalks, shucked them, and fastened the ears along my garden fence. The blackbirds in particular seemed to really like that arrangement.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fall reprieve

And a pretty big one, too. Last week at this time we had a foot of snow on the ground and temps of 10°. Today it was 84° and bright and sunny.

So far a very strange autumn, with most of the leaves still on the trees as well.

This being the high plains, the question of the day is: What will tomorrow bring?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Frosted Prairie

This morning the prairie was arrayed in a coating of rime-ice. Fences, plants, weeds, spider webs— all were coated with a delicate tracery of frosty filigree. It didn't last long, of course, but for a while just after dawn it made the plains a foggy wonderland.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"Skillet Grouse"

I'm really fond of cooking up a nice, plump sharp-tailed grouse. Grouse is a blood red meat of great flavor and surpassing tenderness: a true gourmet treat. The best place to rustle up a brace of them around here is in the federal wilderness area that abuts my place. But since it is a huge area, and no vehicles allowed, there's getting to be too much luck-of-the-draw walking involved.

But I have found a reasonably satisfying counterfeit, which I call "skillet grouse." Here's how you can make it yourself.

Cut one half of a boned, skinless chicken breast into 'medallions' approximately half an inch thick. (I buy my chicken in the large 'economy' trays and then wrap the individual breasts in cling-film and freeze them. Then I simply semi-thaw them, still wrapped, in the microwave for one minute. They are still firm and cut very nicely this way.)

Put the medallions in a bowl and drizzle them with lots of balsamic vinegar. I understand that the really first-rate balsamic can go for $400 an ounce or more. I get along very well with Star brand from WalMart— in the little bulbous bottle. It's cheap and very good. Let them soak in the vinegar for an hour or so. Less will work if you are in a hurry, but more is better.

Heat a cast iron skillet after spraying it lightly with Pam or equivalent, or spreading a thin layer of olive oil. Fork the medallions onto the skillet directly from the vinegar bowl and cook to taste, turning as required.

Serve it up hot! Goes great with a glass of red, too.

This is an easy, quick meal, that is both healthy and mighty tasty. Will it fool a grouse connoisseur? Probably not. But he's not going to leave any of it on his plate either.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rio's Most Excellent Telephone Adventure

Here's a little tale about my latest telephone adventure.

(As background: I'm not too fond of telephones anyway. Idle chitchat on one annoys me. This is probably because I am what is politely referred to as "hearing impaired." So impaired in fact that my state department for such things is now sending me a special telephone system that will enable me to communicate with the rest of the species as if I were fully human myself.)

So— I have a Tracfone instead of a "real cellphone" because I don't have cellphone reception where I live, nor for 30-or-so miles in any direction. Doesn't pay to have a phone that carries a monthly contract under those circumstances so I bought a Tracfone for those times when I travel or even just when I go to town.

I've had several problems with it, such as lately when it "broke into" an Alltel network and they apparently disabled the phone. Half an hour on the phone to Bombay (!) cured that. But lately there was more.

My service for the phone was due to run out on Monday unless I upped the time on it and on Saturday and Sunday we had a storm that more or less snowed me in and made it impossible to get to town. I would not only lose my service but the 700 minutes already on the phone. (Told you I don't use it much.)What to do?

I discovered that I could add minutes on the internet! So I did. But there was a note on the add-minutes page saying that I was now to turn on my phone and leave it on for 24 hours so the time could be added. To be sure I didn't lose my service I emailed the "Support" desk and told of my situation, emphasizing that I didn't have reception at the present time.

Within three or four hours I got a response back.

"Dear Mr. Arriba: Thank you for your interest in Tracfone. We are happy to resolve your problem. Please turn on your cellphone...etc..."

I wrote back and explained that they had evidently missed the part about my having no reception and that I only wanted to be sure that I had my service and my new minutes when I did finally make it to a place that had reception. They sent back a response in a few hours.

"Dear Mr. Arriba: Thank you for your interest in Tracfone. We are happy to resolve your problem. Please turn on your cellphone...etc..."

This time I was a little more direct, questioning why they had a "Customer Support" function if they didn't bother to read their customers' emails. They got right back to me.

"Dear Mr. Arriba: Thank you for your interest in Tracfone. We are happy to resolve your problem. Please turn on your cellphone...etc..."

OK. Gloves off now. I responded with some vigor, including comments about their language skills and how I was very disappointed in the whole line of Tracfone BS. I tactfully avoided commentary about their dubious ancestry, but closed by saying I didn't want anymore pointless chats with brick walls and all I wanted was to have my phone work when I got to town and to have on it all the minutes I had paid for. No response this time. All this was Sunday and yesterday.

This morning I got a phone call. Obviously international and poor connection to boot. Heavy accent. I explained that I was hearing impaired and the nice gentleman would have to speak more distinctly.


He did, however, ask me several times about whether I was able to get reception where I was. I patiently (and politely!) explained to the Nice Man with an Accent that there were indeed places in the world that did not receive the many benefits of cellphone coverage. He changed the subject.

At any rate, he was very apologetic blahblahblah but was unable to tell me why the "customer service reps" were not able to read plain, simple English sentences.

So after some nimble coding by my new friend I supposedly have a fully operative Tracfone with 840 minutes on it just quivering in electronic anticipation of me turning it on in a reception area and jabbering my fool head off.

We'll see.

I love our new international business climate. I love the New Responsiveness of corporations that the New Improved Communication Tools have made possible.

I love the Brave New World!

Thus endeth my saga, thus endeth my tale.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Quick update...

Had 4" more Saturday night and another 4" last night. Pretty well snowed in at this point. Icy rain maybe later this week, so I fired up the genny to check it out. All is well.

There is a calm beauty to being snowed in out here. The world is far, far away. Things become elemental, simple, honest: keep warm, keep fed, keep stuff working. That's pretty much what matters.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Not to be left out...

Tired of her sister's showboating, Mags (A/K/A "Piglet") strikes a pose of her own in an effort to get a little attention for herself. Actually, she couldn't care less about posing and doesn't really like the camera much at all. But she does love to act crazy in fresh snow, running those silly circles that dogs do in fresh powder.

Mags doesn't really care if Emma gets the lion's share of lens-time, as long as the dumb bird-dog acknowledges her as the Boss.

Emma finds a birdie

Ignoring the snow that has fallen onto her back, intrepid bird-dog strikes a flashy point and holds a trophy upland game bird for her dead-eye hunter.

Well, not perzactly. Emma is hot to have me walk along with her on these crisp days, and apparently anxious to show me how much fun it is to go with her. This noble point was devoted to a small bird that had embedded itself into an old stump. She enjoys doing this now, but when the real season starts she will ignore all the little birds and go solely for the "real thing." She's a fun dog and really enjoys her work, even when it's only play.

I can almost hear her say "But don't I look good?" What a ham.

Yes, the end of the peppers

No more peppers this year I reckon. I'm not complaining. I had a good crop, more than I could harvest and use, as the picture above amply shows. And I still have a big bin of them in the pantry that are holding up pretty well. Made an excellent huevos rancheros con biftek jalisco this morning for breakfast with fresh chips of jalopeño and New Mexico chils in the salsa. Pretty passable.

White on green

A bit strange to see the snow on green leaves (that haven't really begun to drop yet), and on grass that still looks fresh and nourishing. This is a portent, I think. We will still have some lovely fall weather, even warm and balmy days. But we have been warned.

More of the white stuff

After the skimpy snow-fall we had just the other day it wasn't much of a surprise to wake up to about seven inches on the ground this morning. The temp was 15° and has been holding under freezing all day, so it may stay around for a bit. Down by the river they got 12" or more.

One nice side-effect of the snow is that the reflection of the sun fills the house with light, and that is very pleasant.

All indications are that we are in for a real winter this year.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A poor picture, but...

...he sure is a nice, big boy. Saw him at about 500 yards yesterday, just east of the house on my way out. Didn't have a long lens so had to enlarge a little chunk of a file to even get this much detail. I suspect he was coming out of the federal wilderness area just to the south of my place. He looks to be in very good shape, all set for the rut.

First of the season

Yesterday it was in the 60s but this morning I woke up to snow. It came down pretty hard throughout the morning but never amounted to anything on the ground as it stayed in the high 30s and low 40s all day. But we have forecasts for more of the stuff for the next few days and temps reaching toward 10°. Looks like it's getting to be time to break out all those winter-time inside projects.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

¡Bandidos en el camino!

Drove down today to help a friend with a late branding and ran into these galoots. Well, not literally, but close. They don't challenge vehicles and just give way as you press forward but they can be pretty dumb about issues of right of way. These are young ones and they are pretty full of themselves. Kind of like human sophomores. They have a kind of goofy dumheit that is endearing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Oh, no, Rocky! Not you, too!

Picture from news article. Source unknown.

Yes, it appears that the lovable Rocky Raccoon and relatives have joined the ranks of the Mad As Hells who aren't going to take it anymore. This was discovered up close and personal by a poor woman in Florida who had the misfortune of being mugged and seriously injured by a gang of them. As far as I know this is the first report of a group of raccoons attacking a person.

So now raccoons have joined the fray, along with coyotes who snatch cats and small dogs virtually from the arms of their owners, cougars who pounce on unsuspecting joggers, and bears who suddenly turn grumpy and homicidal. Makes you wonder what is going on, doesn't it?

Well, for one thing when you teach wild critters not to fear and respect you you have a problem. Humans and coyotes are not really meant to live in close proximity. Their politics differ so radically that it's really not a good arrangement for either of them. But as more and more people insist on expanding their habitations into environments which toothy citizens have had to themselves forever, there is bound to be some inter-species unpleasantness.

I'm reminded of folks who build a house in the woods and then call the state game commission to come and remove the bears that insist on wandering into their newly seeded yard and making off with their frisbees. Sensible game commissions tell the new arrivals to "deal with it" because the bears were there first. (There's also the story of the suburban woman who called the game commission and asked them to move the deer crossing sign near her house because too many deer were being killed by automobiles there.)

Most Americans don't know beans about wild things. Thus their sense of horrified betrayal when Rocky grows testy and clamps down on their ankle. That is no way for a lovable cartoon character to act! Nor is it pleasant to contemplate that bunny rabbits have fleas, cute little deer mice can carry bubonic plague, and that adorable little skunklet is a prime carrier of rabies.

Education might help. Fewer people would help even more. Neither are likely to happen. We'll probably be hearing from Rocky again.

Monday, October 5, 2009


I don't know what they're gossiping about, but they always seem to have plenty to talk about. They could just as easily light in a tree and have some cover. Instead they seem to prefer to be out in the open where they can enjoy the view. I'd give a shiny new quarter to know the latest topic of conversation.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Emma— ready to roll

Another dog post? Well, what did you expect?

My Emma is a big bitch— she stands 26" at the withers and weighs 65 pounds in hunting trim, as she is right now. She presents the image of a dog ready for anything and indeed she is. (More than a few males have tried to bully her and failed, sometimes with comic results. She will not be put upon and if she could talk would probably say "I can take care of myself!")

She's a pleasure to hunt with. She works close, is attentive to where I am and to voice, whistle, and hand signals. She also just about completely ignores other hunters and dogs when she's working, even when she knows them. Her points are stylish and rock-solid.

She has some faults, of course. She is a poor retriever, probably the result of working as a pup with dogs that did retrieve well and didn't give her much of a chance at that job. I also confess to being a lazy trainer on that score and letting her slide. She'll also sometimes strike a beautiful point on a spot where birds were but are no longer in residence. Other than those, she's a good worker and a pleasure to be afield with.

If you like dogs and enjoy hunting with one, you bond with them. It's a strange and powerful phenomenon that can't really be understood unless you experience it yourself. It's primal I suppose. Emma and I have bonded and I consider myself enriched by it. I don't think she cares: she just wants to hunt.

We're both looking forward to some good hunting together later this fall.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Neighbor critters

My neighbor to the east and the north raises bison on his place. I'm not sure but I think he just bought another place over east and now has 90,000 acres. He runs about 5000 buffs on this. He's been taking out his cross-fences and I think his pastures now average about 15,000 acres. Eventually he will have no cross fencing at all. This view of the hillside is on his westernmost section, nearest to me. It's about a mile away in this picture.

Buffalo are wanderers. They come by here from time to time, but there is no predicting when that will be. The last time I saw them on this hillside was in the early summer.

Friday, October 2, 2009

When the addiction strikes

I've already confessed to being a chili addict. And when the addiction strikes, as it does frequently, out comes the big pot and the drama begins!

I keep telling myself that I am going to start with dry black beans and do the work-up from all basic ingredients. Usually though, I use cans of Kuners of Colorado 'Black Beans with Jalopeños.' Cheating I guess, but it works for me. About ten cans of Kuners, a few pounds of lean, grass-fed ground beef (sautéed separately with garlic and cumin and then added to the pot), and lots of spices. Those long thingies floating on top are dried guajillo peppers. They have become essential to my chili pots. Also used is a lot of ground ancho chili, plus some ground hot chilis. The guajillos and anchos are not hot, but add a sweet, dark, smoky flavor to the chili that I really like and have come to insist upon. Add a little Mexican oregano, some more cumin, a few dashes of Penzey's Chili 9000 mix, some whole-kernel sweet corn, a dash of chocolate powder, and a chopped onion and let it simmer a few hours. This is a rich, dark chili for which "flavorful" is an understatement.

Only two gallons this time, but it will hold me for a while. The next batch will use cubed venison.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Anyone who is blessed enough to be "owned by a bird-dog" knows the syndrome: they are energized by the coming of fall.

Emma begins to get The Fever in late August, when the cast of light changes and the mornings are crisp and cool. Her ears take a different set; her eyes shine and glisten; she insists on going out early to make her rounds; she also insists that I go with her, as if she has something she wants to show me. Usually, though, she goes on her first rounds by herself.

The ranchstead here consists of about ten acres that are fenced off from the cattle. This little 'compound' is made up of some old buildings, my house and shop building, two long tree lines, some evergreens, several large brush piles, a dozen or so big round hay bales, and a myriad of coverts of brush and weeds.

In the morning, Emma is frantic to make the rounds of her domain. I let her out and she is moaning and whimpering with anticipation as she rushes down the stairs of the porch and heads off into her first adventure of the day. She knows she is to stay inside the wire and to check back with me every half hour or so, and so she does. She'll come back to the door, bark, and wait for me. If she hasn't finished her sport she will move to the steps and wait for me to release her again, and then off she goes to continue the Great Exploration for another half hour.

Her life is complete, and can only get better when bird season finally begins and the rambles will include me, and 'our' Browning.

For her, it's perfect happiness such as I think we poor humans can seldom, if ever, know.

That time of year, again

October arrives and thoughts turn to... woodpiles. Fireplaces. Gray days with a warm fire in the grate, good book in hand, and a dog stretched tummy-to-blaze on her rug.

I haven't had a fire yet, but the time is coming. Fortunately, I still have a good supply of wood ready from last year. It's already stacked under the porch waiting to be transferred to the covered area near the door.

In a way I am looking forward to the coming winter. Many "inside" projects have been put off through the summer and I have a full plate of them. More than enough to keep me happily busy.

Firewood is such a simple thing to be enthusiastic about. Such is life here.