Palabras Pintorescas - The snow storms of days gone by

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By Editha Bartley

Where oh where have the big snow of yester year gone? The ranch has recorded 81 inches here so far this year, which is much better than last year, but our annual average is 120 inches, so we have a way to go. We still  have time for a big storm or two, and the high mountains do have enough snow to keep our streams running longer than last year. The acequia watchers monitor this constantly.

This old ranch has been through many droughts. Our pine tree rings confirm this. And for someone like me who remembers the wet, best years and prefers to forget those dry years, these droughts are no fun. Our cows must be fed palatable hay every day during the winter here, and sometimes into summer if the snows and rains don’t come.

Early on I learned how to drive our H model International Harvester tricycle wheel tractor, pulling a big hay wagon loaded with lots of bales of hay for our cows and horses. Yes, it was almost always cold, and if there was a lot of snow on the ground the chances of my getting that tractor stuck were pretty good. I can still hear big boss Jim saying to me, “How in the heck could you get this rig so stuck, so fast?” He forgot I had/have almost no mechanical ability. Not good in this instance, I might add.

We had wonderful neighbors up the road, a well-seasoned Texas cowboy and his wife were caretakers for a small family ranch here. Doc (just a nickname given him in school) would show up often for a cup of coffee with us after the feeding was done. He’d always say “never seen it looking better” no matter what the situation was, weatherwise. He and his cousin Heavy (also a schooltime nickname) who worked for us would tell stories of “tailing up cows,” cows so weak they could no longer stand for any period of time. There was very little for anything, even a jack rabbit, to eat during extended droughts. Neither of these old-timers ever saw a very prolonged drought so they knew if we could just hold on for a few months, these hungry cows would again be knee-deep in grass. I know there is nothing like a few gentle rains in late spring to bring all of our pastures back to lush green.

These skilled cowboys often sat in the doorway of our big saddle-house and either whittled/ carved something out of a scrap of wood with their always sharp pocket knives or made something artistic from a broken or discarded piece of leather. They could create a whole bridle headstall from the many leather scraps, plus old buckles and some rivets left in the always present junk pile.

And both of them could repair almost any kind of damage or destruction our saddles met when a horse decided to roll over when saddled. Fortunately Carl, our son, one of our dude wranglers at the time, picked up Doc and Heavy’s talents and then got to apprentice with one of our state’s noted leather/saddlemakers, Slim Green, who lived and ran a repair shop at his Tesuque home.

Carl still has his set of leather tools and can make a saddle if time and space would permit. Who knows — he may need those skills again if gas prices continue to go up! Those horse and buggy days may become a reality here ...

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, let it snow. Early Spring snows are absolutely the best cure for dry watersheds, and New Mexico has a lot of those at the moment. And yes, our cows get extra hay when the old, dead grass is covered in snow. That is why they wait patiently for the day wagon every morning.

Editha Bartley  lives in Gascon in Mora County. She may be reached at 454-0563.