Life on the Ranch

Family Time

Avalanche Ranch is the perfect place to have a family merge. I am biased, of course, but I am sure that it could be confirmed by all 14 relatives of mine who were just here. What I have witnessed over the years is that the property provides a certain amount of autonomy for each family as well as plenty of opportunities to spend time together. The true value is the quality of time. Without cell service, TV, and prolific wi-fi, families are forced to interact with each other. Activities such as conversation, cribbage and soaking are abundant.

I feel incredibly fortunate to live in a place where people will come to me, because otherwise, I may not see anyone, not only because I am married to this place, but because I am a bit of an introvert. So, this month I enjoyed visits from 6 cousins (and their spouses), 7 first cousins once removed, and 1 aunt. I had to look up the fact that they are my “cousins once removed”. There was much discussion this past weekend as to what terminology we should use for one another. My aunt and mother had gone rogue, introducing each other more than once as each other’s daughter or mother. I anticipate that once you are related to 3 linear generations and so many parallel generations, there is no way to keep it all straight. Not even the ability to define your own sister.

For visitors, Avalanche Ranch cultivates a slower pace. My cousins stayed 2 nights and I witnessed them shedding their busy selves and slow their heart rates. In the heart of our house, the kitchen, I caught up with one cousin’s many accomplishments from his car dealership to his cave diving. I realized that even though we live 30 miles apart we never carve out this kind of time. Conversations manifested themselves over coffee, feeding “Baby” the lamb, preparing fly and spinning rods for fishing, before and after a hike and over a casual dinner crowded around the table. The most stressful decisions being made were what fly to use to catch the monster Trout in the pond and what time was appropriate to crack the first beer.

My cousin once removed, Nate, married his long-time love, Britt, last weekend here at the Ranch. The snow rolled in Thursday and temperatures plummeted. It was perfect. Cooler temperatures forced us to snuggle in under the tent, around the campfire, and in the hot springs. It mandated intimate spaces to gather. The weekend was wonderful and I too slowed my heart rate, settled in to visit, eat, visit, eat, reconnect and laugh. It begged me to question, when can we do it again?!

The Joys and Strains


Robin, who helps manage the office, says I smell like lanolin. I also have manure on my jeans. It takes all of my weight and strength to hold a ewe while I position a lamb to nurse. I am clumsy when I milk and I can’t do it alone, not like my husband can. I have a gash along my forearm where wire lacerated flesh when I lost the wrestling match with one ewe. In April I am careful not to wear my favorite jeans, and to change my shoes between barnyard and office.

April is lambing season. This year we have 17 ewes. For most of them this is their first time being moms. Raising livestock is a learned lifestyle for me; I did not grow up a ranch girl. I appreciate the rhythms and responsibilities, but I also get overwhelmed by them. This time of year is a mixed bag of joy and strain. When my husband is around, the true ranch man, I am relieved. He knows when to intervene, how to doctor and is not phased by 2am issues. But he isn’t always home.

This year we also have 3 puppies, born in February to our Border Collie, Violet. My energy is divided, not evenly and not always in order, between Sheep, Children, Puppies, Household, Exercise and Office. I ask myself, am I doing any of them well?

One of the first ewes to lamb this spring lambed during the day. Without cause I began to worry that she was struggling with a second lamb and she was in need of help. Knowing my husband was in town, I called him and leaned on him to drive home. As we walked to assess the scene I immediately realized all was well and the first and only lamb was simply large. She was a single and that there was no second lamb. The ewe was fine. I was overreacting and a nervous wreck. My husband was kind and he withheld comment. Every year I have to re-learn and re-trust my abilities to assist in lambing season. It is not second nature.

Without exception we have a lamb or two that are rejected by their moms or fall ill. “Bum”lambs need supplemental milk. They are the “joy and strain” of my life in flesh. A baby lamb is pure cuteness. There is nothing more precious than when they take a bottle you are holding and their tails wag and their eyes glaze over. You become their mother. They follow you and love you. Joy. But you can’t go anywhere because your life is fragmented into 3-4 hour segments. You wake to their need and you time your rest to their need. I get weird stares when I am holding beer bottles at 10am, the nipple attached to the lip, not recognizable to the untrained eye. I am not an alcoholic, I am just a sleep deprived mother of a few 4 legged creatures. Strain.

I wouldn’t trade it. Every year when I am worn out and stretched too thin, I reevaluate. Would we rather go on Spring Break? And then I see the pack of lambs frolicking through the barnyard, share the guests enthusiasm for new life, and I know it is all worth it. It is grounding and real.

Life on the Ranch

What is it like to live at Avalanche Ranch?

Idyllic of course, and beautiful, and busy. A million adjectives could describe it. As it is the most common question asked of me, I thought I’d start writing about it.

This morning, driving to town, I asked my daughter, 15 yrs old, what are the top 3 perks of living at Avalanche Ranch.

#1 The outdoors. Out-of-the-door, back or front. She said she loves the accessibility of finding a plethora (not yet a word in her vocabulary) of things to do outside. The Pond as one of her favorites. Jumping in the pond. Not exclusive to summer-time, I will add. I think her earliest plunge is March, right as the ice vanishes. One of her most praised plunges was around age 8, diving down off the dock to retrieve a guest’s prescription glasses, for a cash reward. I love when her friends come for the day and they find that beneath their prim surface are wild daredevils that will jump, again and again, into the cold water where fish pee. Of course, with the hot springs, she and her friends find the pond forays to be that much better with the promise of a warm-up after.

#2 The Pottery Studio. We added the studio 2 years ago. I was hopeful that I could cultivate my love for the art, but also expose my kids to clay and creativity. As I have made little time to use it, my daughter has found it to be a haven for throwing pots on the wheel and listening to music. She pours through my old iPod exposing herself to the oldies-but-goodies: Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Simon & Garfunkel..

#3 The animals. She said she loves feeding the animals. And then amended that by saying that she doesn’t always want to, but then when she does, she loves it. Her main reason is that she realizes that not everyone gets the opportunity to do it. Which is reinforced by the gaggle of kids that hang around the barnyard and love to help her out. I see that she takes pride in the work and she knows it is a chore that can’t be shirked. She is good at it and she is reliable. The other night, when my husband and I were out, she was in charge of the animals, as she often is. The chicken door had blown closed before dusk and all the chickens, and turkey, roosted in the nearby trees and on the roof of the pig-pen. She discovered this when she went out at dark to close them in for the night. So, by herself she had to look for and transport 28 chickens and a 20+ pound turkey from their outdoor roost into the chicken coop, one by on, in the dark. Her friend, who lives in town, thought it was the funniest story ever, like an exotic ritual.

What I realize from this exercise is that my teenage daughter doesn’t take life here for granted. She doesn’t resent the lack of cell-service or commute to town. She never even brought it up.