Photo: Nicky Epstein, Doreen Connors and Charlotte Rose
Getting home late from town means you get to do your evening chores in the dark. That has its ups and downs! I moved all my water and closed the main gate after letting some sheep out to graze around the buildings overnight, and as I started up the lane in the short grass alongside the driveway, a huge rattlesnake reared up and started buzzing! Instant fear! But I was most concerned about “CC” our border collie who doesn’t hear anymore, and she just continued walking straight ahead! “CC!!!” I started yelling to her and moving sideways to get her coming to me and away from the snake. We made it; but now what. We don’t harm most snakes, except for the rattlesnakes that are in close like this. I had nothing at hand, so ran to the house for a long handled shovel (they’re never long enough!) and the car, so the headlights would allow me to see. I was moving fast, hoping it would still be in the same spot when I got back. No. So where was it? Yikes! The grass just made for darker shadows in the headlights, and I wasn’t real anxious to go walking around there in the dark. I gave up and headed back to the house. This is definitely one of the “downs!”
I still needed to feed the guard dogs up on top, where the sheep would be bedded down for the night. I grabbed the bucket of dog food and took off on the 4 wheeler to travel the couple miles to sheep camp near the upper fence line. At least I was up on the bike where snakes couldn’t get me! Everything seemed in order. Even though it was dark, I could tell that the sheep were spread out and bedded down contentedly, mamas and babies close together for the night. The dogs came to greet me and were sure ready for dinner. I knelt down to say hello, rub their ears and give them a bit of attention, when suddenly, what had to be a really big coyote, “barked” off just to my left and out a ways across the ridge fence. At almost the same time, another group started yipping off to the right, and a little further out. Chollo and Marriso took off like greyhounds! They split, Chollo going toward the big bark on the left, and Marriso heading out to the group on the right. I stood in the dark listening to the ruckus and then the fading sounds as the dogs gave chase and the action moved off into the distance. I waited and waited, listening to the absolute silence – except for the occasional lamb/ewe calling to each other. About 20 minutes later, I heard a sound coming in the dark. It gradually grew louder – pant, pant, pant, pant. Chollo returned first. It took him a bit to recover and be ready to eat. I rewarded him for his good job! I fed him and continued to wait. In maybe another 6 or 7 minutes – pant, pant, pant, pant. It was Marriso returning from a different direction. What terrific dogs! It was a magnificent evening. I can only imagine what all we might witness, if we were out there all the time. This is definitely an “up!”
Speaking of magnificent! We just hosted the 2nd annual Vogue Knitting LIVE! Destination Experience with workshop instructor Nicky Epstein. I knew it was going to be a great time when Doreen Connors of Vogue Knitting got off the charter bus carrying a guitar (of course, I didn’t know that she doesn’t play the guitar!); and Nicky arrived with her usual spunk and spirit in spite of a broken foot! The reunions and greetings of previous Imperial Destination Girls were so fun to behold as they met up with one another. Most participants travelled down the beautiful Columbia River Gorge on their way here with a stop at The Whole Ball of Yarn in The Dalles, or drove through the high desert. We welcomed everyone Friday night at dinner, and Dan delivered a message of managing land and livestock with a conservation ethic. Following dinner, we surprised participants Hilary and Naydean with a birthday cake which we enjoyed around the outdoor fire pit. Everyone brought their knitting, and it was truly an intimate start to the week-end with knitting and storytelling around the fire.
Saturday morning, Nicky set the stage with plenty of challenges to keep workshop participants clicking their needles. I loved the comment shared by one of the returning participants who said she had been very nervous about being able to do all the things taught in the classes, but that Nicky has a way of taking all the fear out of knitting. Wow! What a compliment! Nicky not only has the talent she does in both technical skills and design, but also the teaching ability. She is extraordinary with knitters of all skill levels in a class/workshop setting. Following the morning session, we loaded into the raft buses and headed out to the Imperial Stock Ranch for lunch under the shade of the poplars. It was a great afternoon of history, sheep, dogs, the ranch family and shopping! “Charlotte Rose” (the little lamb we had at Twisted during the Rose City Yarn Crawl) made an appearance in costume which included hot pink hooves! She was so adorable! For those who were new to the event this year, there were a few surprises awaiting them in the museum room of the old barn. Back at the lodge that evening, it was a rowdy good time with great food and incredible music by area Cowboy and Country Musician Les Vaughn and his band. Have we mentioned goodie bags and door prizes yet? Oh my there were some good ones Saturday night. And we gave out the annual “Toro Award” to Kate from Wyoming – she earned it! (We can’t write about this one in the newsletter!) Most of the participants brought their knitting for sitting around after dinner, but we did manage to get a lot of them up on the dance floor where the Imperial Yarn girls taught them some boot scootin’ dance steps. What a party!
Sunday morning was another great session with Nicky, followed by several afternoon options including a “Sit ‘n Knit with Nicky” that was very popular. Participants also took fly fishing lessons on the Deschutes River and quite a few went whitewater rafting. We gathered late in the afternoon for a short trip downriver to historic Sherar’s Falls, and then returned for our finale dinner. Guest Chef Mark Hosack was back to do the 5 course wine paired dinner that was superb; and Imperial Yarn’s designer Anna Cohen gave a presentation during dessert. I think what happened Sunday evening defines what this experience is all about. It’s really a connecting, sharing and bonding time with women and family who love fiber (and the sheep!), from all over the U.S. and Canada, and even one from China this year. Nicky and the Destination Girls decided to stitch together all their projects from class, into a gift for me. I was completely stunned when they presented me with the “Sunflower Patchwork Cardigan” Sunday night following dinner. Only Nicky could have pulled this off. It is absolutely beautiful, and has the touch of every hand and heart in it. I was overwhelmed with emotion, and have found no appropriate way to express my gratitude to each of them. The fact that they choose to come here and be part of this experience, support our efforts as ranchers, and become part of our family, is worth more than words can say. This was a magnificent experience. Our gratitude to our daughter Susie Miles and the staff of Imperial River Company for great food and hospitality; and to Doreen Connors and Vogue Knitting for their incredible support and choosing to bring this event to the Oregon desert. We hope to see you next time!
We have continued to have visitors the past few weeks, and almost everyone comments at some point about how we have the energy to get everything done around here. Let me assure you, it’s not all done! Oh yes, the sheep and cattle get moved in their rotations, and the farming gets done. But all that other stuff! Right now the garden is rototilled but not planted, and we haven’t quite succeeded in getting out all the hoses and sprinklers, setting up water to keep the grounds around the headquarters green for the summer. That’s important not just because it makes things look nice, but is critical to fire protection for these old buildings. But always I know the answer to the question about energy. The inspiration to carry on all the pieces that contribute to the cycles of life on a ranch like this comes from the landscape.
Each morning I wake up, open my eyes and look outside. Any direction I look, is a view of some portion of the landscape that just fills me with awe. It may be the broad views of the meadows lying north or south from the headquarters, or the rim rock ridges above us to the east and west; or it might be that the trees are beginning to bud or you just saw daffodils peeking through the soil for the first time this season. It may be wildlife like a pheasant or dove calling out from along Hinton Creek running along down the valley, or a covey of quail scurrying down the lane, or the quack of ducks taking off that we disturbed when bringing in wood to get the morning fire going in the stove. It might just be the way your dog greets you in the morning. It’s not only the sight of two huge bull elk fighting, or the horses running free, rearing and kicking up, that is awesome, but all the little tiny evidences of nature that surround us all the time. All we have to do is look, and the inspiration is there. That’s what propels us along each day.
The biggest activity here the past few weeks was bringing in the sheep and shearing. I snapped an outrageous photo of Blaine (our oldest son) as he came over a ridge bringing sheep. It was a pretty routine event for us, but we did have a special guest who came out to help. Joel Woodcock of Lantern Moon was on hand to help “wrangle” and he did a fine job! He says he’s working his way up to working cattle, and we’ll be sure to pick the right horse for him – how about “Gambler!” Our thanks to Joel who was a terrific sport and great help.
The first days of this month were filled with exciting action for Imperial Yarn. Our designer, Anna Cohen, was out to the ranch, along with her team of photographer, model and hair and makeup assistants, for the photo shoot of the new Imperial Knits Collection patterns. We are very pleased with the new designs and can’t wait to show everyone. Don’t miss our booth #737 coming up in June at TNNA. I was busy supporting the whole process which included my role as wrangler of the animals involved: our border collie “CC,” the bummer lambs including “Charlotte Rose,” and two of the horses “Doc” and “Salty.” I think they all hammed it up for the camera, and I can’t wait to see the photos.
Our ranch activities have moved along to spring roundup with the cattle. That’s always a focus in May. You may remember my description of that in last year’s May newsletter (see the 2012 ranch news archives here). We are only a couple weeks from the exciting Vogue Knitting LIVE! Destination Experience here with the incomparable Nicky Epstein. We are busy cooking up a few more surprises. Bring your dancin’ boots! I’ve got to somehow keep these Imperial Destination gals in line. The charter bus company has upped the fee this year, because we couldn’t stick to the time schedule – no one wanted to get on the bus and leave! Here’s to new friends, great experiences, and the inspiration provided by nature.
What an April we’ve been having so far. I’ve already brought out the patio furniture, and fired up the barbeque. I’m trying to be patient about putting out flowers because I know it’s likely that this is just a teaser and we’ll still have many cold frosty nights. Last year, it seemed all our April showers were white! This perfect weather made gathering the calves in off the winter stubble fields a real pleasure. The transition out of winter has been quite smooth, with the boys all going full speed ahead with farming, seeding in crops. We even have some fruit trees in bloom!
I had a wonderful day yesterday, sharing the wonders of this place with artist Kathy Deggendorfer of Sisters, Oregon. I met Kathy a few years ago when she came out to the Imperial Stock Ranch for lunch and a tour, with a group of women from Bend. She has a historic ranch outside Sisters, and creates vibrant and colorful watercolor paintings, inspired by her surroundings. Her whimsical images are just certain to make you feel happy. Kathy was raised in Oregon in a clothing manufacturing family, a brand you would all know, but says that sewing skills skipped a generation with her! Kathy loves fabrics, however, and her paintings are often referred to as “Painters Quilts.” She says, “I just put my fat quarters down with a paintbrush!” Kathy’s work is collected throughout the Pacific Northwest, and her work has been translated into clothing and fabric for Columbia Sportswear (yes, that’s the family!). Kathy has created the Oregon State ornament for the White House Christmas Tree and been featured on Oregon Art Beat. Kathy is currently working on a project about Oregon Special Farms – artist meets artisan farmer – which will culminate in a show at the High Desert Museum in Bend, September, 2014. Imperial Stock Ranch will be a part of that show.
Kathy arrived bright and early, so we headed up the canyon north of Nechtar Butte to finish the morning chores. We’ve been feeding the guard dogs in the morning when the sheep come into the spring for water and their morning nap, after grazing since before dawn. While I fed the dogs and treated them for ticks, Kathy climbed up one side of the canyon to take photos and sketch, seeking a broad view of the canyon. Then we walked together through the sheep. I was struck with her observations, questions and artist’s perspective. She asked very detailed questions about sheep confirmation and explained how she works to portray animals accurately. She noticed how balanced the young lambs looked from front to back in musculature. But remarked how the mature ewes appear to be heavier in the front quarters. We discussed how the heavy wool coats affect this visual appearance of the animals. We discussed our ewe and ram selection characteristics as she noted how the wool seems to stop on top of their heads, or at a certain point on their upper legs. I explained that we like clean legs and open faces, and that all replacements must be out of sets of twins with good confirmation and good milking mothers. We both appreciated all the sounds as the sheep continued to come off the hillside, down to the spring for water. The canyon echoed with the ringing of sheep bells, the ewes calling their lambs to them and the lambs answering, and then scurrying to catch up. Kathy noticed how pink and almost translucent their ears became with the sun behind them; or the contentment in their faces when bedded down after a morning of grazing, a cool drink and a little salt from the trough. She was such a keen observer of details I never consider.
Kathy was fascinated with their “accordion coats.” Their wool coats appear to be solid, but then crack open like an accordion as they move. I explained that our sheep have wool that is very dense, lofty, and a fine crimp to each individual fiber. This fine wool isn’t loose and curly looking like in some sheep breeds. In fact the coat looks quite solid. And only the outer 3/8 to 1/2 inch is a gray off-white color due to the fibers being exposed to soil, moisture and the elements, making it dingy in color. Part that wool, and it’s as white as their faces. As the sheep walked along, their coats cracked open and then closed again -- cracks that appear and disappear like the action of an accordion, with the movement of the animal. Kathy said, “They have accordion coats!” Gosh – I had never really noticed before or thought of it like that.
Perhaps my favorite for the day, was her comment that they have “porcelain faces.” That stopped me. I love these sheep so much. To me they are incredibly beautiful, and her observation of their porcelain faces was a shared appreciation of that beauty. I have been pondering “porcelain faces” since yesterday morning. Delicate details, perfect in quality, and so very white – yes those are indeed porcelain faces.
Well that’s my catch up for now. I am grateful for all the blessings Kathy brought my way yesterday. And speaking of porcelain faces! Charlotte Rose is happy and still getting a bottle. I’m going to have a really hard time weaning her off milk. Only because she’s so cute and she loves her bottle!
Last year when the Imperial Yarn Trunk Show was at LYS Twisted (Portland, OR) during the Rose City Yarn Crawl, we joked about how I should bring a lamb next year. Well those Twistedistas don’t forget! As the big event approached, they reminded me that I was to bring a lamb to Portland for the event. As the day drew near, I wondered how I could pull it off, and just what had I gotten into this time. Normally when livestock takes to the road, it’s in a stock trailer or in a pickup truck with stock racks at the very least. But you can’t put a little lamb in a big vehicle like that all by itself! I wondered what lamb I might have available. To take one out by itself and have it not be under stress, it would have to be bonded to me. That means a “bummer lamb” that I’m raising on a bottle, who thinks I’m its mama. It would then be content, as long as I’m near. It would also have to be the age and size that I could easily handle it in the car. There’s never any guarantee we will happen to have one like that, since most are raised by their real moms! However, about a week before the Rose City Yarn Crawl, a ewe delivered our 15th set of triplets for the season. Two of her lambs were perfectly normal size and very evenly matched. But the third was a tiny little perfectly formed lamb about one quarter the size of its siblings. It was so tiny, that it couldn’t reach the ewe’s bag to nurse. It had to be lifted up to reach its very first taste of mother’s milk. It was the most adorable little lamb you’ve ever seen. We left it with the ewe for the first couple days, but we all knew that it would never be able to compete for milk with the other two lambs. It was also too small to match with a “single” and get adopted. So this tiny little girl joined my bummer pen. I knew then that if she adapted well and was strong and healthy, she might be a lamb that could go to Portland.
At about 10 days old, the tiny triplet and I loaded into the car right after morning chores, and left for Portland. She cried when I put her in a box on the front seat and kept trying to jump out. So I let her curl up in my lap on a towel, and she stayed there all the way to Portland (3 hours) contentedly nibbling on my fingers. As I parked outside the front door of Twisted, the Twistedistas came out to help unload and were immediately in love with this little lamb. Into the store she went where she was immediately surrounded by a circle of children. For the next 4 hours, every person who walked in the door had pretty much the same reaction, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhh!” The little lamb was held, caressed and kissed by men, women, and children and brought smiles to every face. Since she’s so little, she eats pretty often in small quantities, and there was plenty of help to give her a bottle! Amazingly, she made no messes, except in her box of straw after each feeding. Hmmmm, so predictable. Everyone began putting name suggestions into a basket, and during the last hour of our time there, we drew a name. She is officially our little Charlotte Rose. Thank you to everyone who came to meet her.
Late in the day as I pulled away from Twisted headed back to the ranch (another 3 hours), I realized how I had forgotten to use the restroom. In fact, I hadn’t eaten all day, and I desperately needed a bathroom and food! How to achieve that? I had to take the lamb with me anywhere I went. I figured maybe I could slip into a McDonald’s and use the restroom and no one would notice. So once I got out of Portland, I exited the freeway and pulled into a McDonald’s. I wrapped the lamb in a towel, with just her head sticking out, and approached the building to discover there was no back door near the restrooms. I’d have to go in the front. I hoped no one was paying attention, and that little Charlotte Rose would stay quiet. Unfortunately, it was dinner time and all the tables were full of people. And they noticed! As I quickly walked to the restrooms in the rear, every single table had the same reaction, “Ohhhhhhhhhhh!” I slipped into the bathroom and took the handicap stall, putting Charlotte down on the floor where she proceeded to walk around and check things out. Fortunately, no one else was in there, until I heard the outside door open. I hoped it wasn’t management coming in; and then I heard, “There it is!” We were discovered! I wrapped Charlotte up and exited the stall, and there was a mom and 4 kids waiting to see the lamb. They graciously held her and all got to pet her while I washed up. They were all smiles as I made a quick exit back to the car. I still needed food, so pulled through the drive up and placed an order. The last smile Charlotte gave was to the guy in the window, who saw her standing in my lap. He said, “Ummmmm, would your name happen to be Mary?!”
By the time I got back on the highway, Charlotte Rose was fast asleep on the towel in my lap, and she stayed “crashed” all the way home. What a day. Thank you to Twisted for all their support.
In closing, I’d like to say we are really looking forward to the return of the Vogue Knitting LIVE! Destination Experience. Everyone who attended last year can expect just as much fun, and some new surprises. We’ll welcome back the incomparable Nicky Epstein and of course, the women of Vogue Knitting. There’ll be more wrangling, cowboy entertainment, great prizes and incredible food. Guest Chef Mark Hosack will be back, and the wonderful hospitality of the Imperial River Company. Don’t miss it May 31st through June 3rd. Come and meet Charlotte Rose!
Lambing stories - anyone who's worked lambing has them! You run up to the house for a hot cup of tea for just a half hour, and when you come back to the lambing shed, there’s lambs scattered all across the lambing grounds and multiple ewes claiming them. This usually happens at night of course, when it’s even more difficult to see what’s going on. You begin moving as quickly as you can, depending on weather and conditions, watching for signs of who belongs to whom, and getting them paired up and into stalls or “jugs.” Far more ewes follow you into the barn crying for the babies than can possibly have lambed (plus they show no signs of having lambed on their posterior), so you chase out all the “sympathizers” who are absolutely certain you just stole their baby! Your greatest hope is that the real mothers accept the lambs that everyone else was cleaning and claiming. Attempting to match up the lambs by size and looks, along with where exactly they were “dropped” in the pasture, you watch nervously as the mothers smell and interact with the lambs you’ve put in their stalls. They alternately talk to them, lick them, knock them down and act completely schizophrenic. You decide you may have it wrong, and attempt to switch the lambs around, hoping the ewe will decide by her keen sense of smell which ones are truly hers. Sometimes you just have to put them all together and hope the ewes will sort them out on their own. This doesn’t always work either, as sometimes a lamb is not claimed by either ewe.
And then there’s the occasional instance where one of the real mothers, usually one who’s lambing for the first time, gives birth to a lamb and then gets up and walks to the other side of the pasture and acts as if nothing has happened! If you haven’t watched this happen, then you have no idea that the real mother is actually missing. Through careful examination of their rear ends with your trusty spotlight (remember this usually happens at night!), you realize that the ewe(s) claiming one or two of the lambs just born, are perfectly clean on their rear ends and haven’t given birth yet. That necessitates examination of the entire group to find the missing mom. She must be captured and put in a stall with her lambs, or lambs that are possibly hers, and convinced that she just began motherhood.
One time toward the end of an especially heavy and tiring night shift some years ago, I brought in what I thought was a wonderful set of twins. Everything was going so well, until she had a 3rd and then a 4th lamb! Every time I checked on her, there would be another lamb in her stall! They were all big lambs so I knew something was terribly wrong. Through a careful search of all the ewes, we were able to spot the ewe who had lambed and then “disappeared.” We brought her in and gave her the original “twins” of the ewe that now had 4 lambs in her stall. It all ended just fine, but what confusion!
The real lesson here is, skip that cup of hot tea and keep a close eye on the lambing grounds!
We've had cold temperatures and snow for days now. The scenes are beautiful and everywhere you look it's a postcard image. The sky is the frosty blue of a glacier. Everything is more stark and clear. And at night, the moon over the snowscape reveals every detail like it's daylight. I usually go outside for the last time about 10:30 or 11 pm, and the air cuts razor sharp as you breathe it in. For many folks, this is a winter recreation playground. Our playground activities are a little different though. With the grasses covered, we're "feeding the hungry" all day long. The cattle and sheep follow the feed wagon in long lines. And when it's their turn, the horses come running, kicking up the powder in clouds, tossing their heads in excitement about plunging their noses into the sweet smelling hay.
The tough work is made tougher when rigs won't start, an axle breaks busting cross country to get to the stock, or the dreaded "getting stuck." We slid off a ranch road one time feeding cattle off a flatbed truck (okay this has happened more than once!), and landed in a deep gully. We had to hike through 15" of snow back to the headquarters to get a big tractor to pull the truck out. By the time we got back, the cattle had completely demolished the load of hay, and were standing on the bed of the truck, since it was level with the bank of the road. Oh those winter memories!
The winter scenes are constant, like birds flocking in for feed, the dogs rolling and playing in the snow, barn kitties venturing out into the deep powder with the trade mark flick of their paws, and all the trees and bushes dressed in thick white coats. But along with these come other scenes, like chopping all the water troughs or springs open every day, frozen pipes, bad roads, and trying to dry all your clothes and gear by the wood stove before the next round. I've been reading a book recently about a ranch woman who lived in tough country in the late 1800's. That was before women wore pants or insulated overalls. She talks about trying to layer on enough petticoats to protect against the cold while feeding livestock in subzero weather. At least we don't have to deal with petticoats!
I used to think we were the only ones that seemed to get stuck. I'm not sure it's fortunate, but we have company! We've pulled out the UPS man, the school bus, and even the snow plow!! And they were driving on roads. I'm sharing a photo I took the other morning. One of our neighbors who buys hay from us, had just loaded up and is headed out to "feed the hungry" on their place. Although the conditions present challenges, may we all remember to be thankful for the snows and moisture. We'll sure need it later this summer.