Remembering that first day out on skis
‘Tis the season. The sun gets up late. The air stays cold. Feeding from the back of the pickup you see large white frost crystals sparkling on the cows’ eyelashes and nose whiskers. To enter a field you need to hold your bare hand around the metal gate clasp. The sharp bite in your palm unlocks the frost enough to slide the bolt back to open a gate. Time to wean the calves.
Weaning is more than just removing calves from their mothers. The majority of the calves born this year are now 8 or 9 months old and weigh about 800 pounds. They still have a lot of growing to do and grass in the field is pretty slim pickings, so we put the calves into a feed corral where they learn to eat hay from a manger. If the calves had to compete with their 1,400 pound mothers, aunts and the bull, who weighs a good ton on his own, they would get little.
Weaning is also good for the, hopefully, pregnant cows. This separation allows a rest before calving in February or March. To be sure a cow is pregnant and worth keeping over the winter and feeding cut hay to, we check her during weaning time. Today because of a silly oversight on my part there are no preg-checking gloves left in the preg-checking glove box. Too embarrassed to borrow a handful from a neighbor, we decided to still separate the calves from the cows but wait until next weekend to preg check and vaccinate the cows. Separating our bunch of cattle takes less time than it takes the sun to melt frost off whiskers. So with the whole morning still to ourselves the family decides to go skiing.
In the kitchen drinking a hot cup of tea to warm up and wait for our offspring to ready themselves in their “totally sick” mountain sports wear and equipment I ask my husband if he can remember the first time he took a turn on skis.
“Second grade, on a rope tow in Crystal Springs just up the road from here,” he said without a pause. “There was a Marine I remember, a friend of my dad’s I guess, he must have been stationed at the training camp over the pass. A bunch of guys came and him, I remember him because he always came, and these guys went up to the shop here and cut apart an old car and used it to fix the old tow rope up in Crystal Springs. As a kid I wanted to be part of it so I was up at the shop with the men whenever they came. One day my mom walked up to the shop and she had a pair of short skis in her hand. She asked the Marine if they were OK. She must have not seen me in the shop but I don’t think they were meant to be a Christmas present or anything because I remembered I skied in the middle of December, before Christmas and I had those skis.
“There was an old, brown, wood cabin, not a log cabin, just a low wood sided building about as big as this kitchen, with the office too. It’s not there anymore. I was in second grade. I remember a bunch of adults and a wood burning stove, always stoked, always with a boiling pot of coffee on it. Sometimes there was a pot of hot cocoa too, but not always.
“Somebody showed me how to put on my boots, strap on my skis, stand and hold the rope tow. Mom and Dad were pretty busy with my little brother Mark and the twins then so they couldn’t help me much. There was always someone around to help me. They showed me how to snowplow, they didn’t call it pizza then, and turn my skis… My cotton mittens just got ripped up holding on to that rope tow as it pulled me up the hill. They would only last for one day. Yeah, I remember my first turn on skis.”
He pours out his tea and leaves the kitchen. Time to get going. ‘Tis the season.
n Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher.