Mighty Montana

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We drove out of Yellowstone through the North East entrance in order to experience the Bear Tooth Mountain range. It was a good decision! The snow covered mountains, even now in mid-June are other worldly beautiful. The interesting winding roads taking you to the remote mountain tops past the odd hard core skier and plenty of yellow-bellied marmots. Frozen lakes and three metre walls of snow line the road as you hairpin your way up, up, up the ear popping heights.

Bear tooth mountain range, Rob Dean

Rob in the Bear Tooth Mountain Range

But the decent, again along treacherous zigzag passes is very different indeed. The side that gets the sun is lined with waterfalls and grassy meadows between the patches of tumbling rock held back by giant girders holding vast nets. Then suddenly you’re in the valley. Lush and green with a wide river providing fantastic habitat for eagles and osprey.

So on we drove to Bozeman for the night to get our clothes and bodies clean before the next adventure… WWOOFing on a ranch in Montana.

Thanks to a minor disaster involving a red crayon in the tumble dryer which somewhat slowed our morning, we arrived at Sabo Ranch at lunch time and had a wonderfully warm welcome from our host Jenny. The boys were instantly delighted with their two, older, boys; Reilly and Kiril, respectively 14 and 11 years old… Alfie’s idea of heroes. Later Mark arrived home and we set to talking through the ranch and it’s routines. Branding calves was to be the big task over the weekend and then moving the cattle during the week.

Then the pitter patter of rain drops started falling on the roof of their beautiful straw bale home and our cosy cabin and we found ourselves in a parallel universe… one in which rain is welcomed and rejoiced. “ Oh this rain is just so wonderful” and “this is great, all this rain” were phrases muttered from our delighted hosts peering out at the grey sky with bucket loads of water lashing against the windows, bolts of lightening crashing around us and and vegetable sized hail pounding the ground.

And so these two world collided as we tried to imagine living and farming in a place so dry that you pray for rain, where two days of steady rain can mean an entire extra month of grazing. And they tried to imagine our horror at wishing for water… our world where the rain bolts our crops and wrecks our hay. We relayed stories of late nights with a new born baby bringing bales to the barn to save them from the rain which was starting at 4am – we missed two in the darkness… that’s fine as we saved the rest. They shared stories of dry summer after dry summer and methods for irrigating whole fields of grass and their worry for getting enough feed to see them through the winter.

By Monday however the rain presented a problem. We were there to help with the branding of the calves and for this task it was essential that the calves are dry… stamping a wet calf with a red hot iron results in cooling of the iron and scalding with steam, rather than burning which seals the mark up. We’ve never branded cattle before, it’s not really done in the UK. We’ve de-horned, ear tagged, castrated, tattoo’d piglets, rung lambs and plenty other brutal procedures essential to modern farming, but branding was new to us. And you know what, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting! The calves are restrained on a table with a couple of strong men and clearly it hurts while it’s done. But they recover straight away and I suspect the full thickness burn doesn’t actually hurt that much after (not that I ever want to test that theory). Lambs seem much more put out by a tight rubber band round their testicles!

Branding in pictures:

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The rest of the week saw Rob getting out and helping with various tasks on the farm which he enjoyed and the kids enjoyed playing with the Sabo children and helping with their pig and turkey chores, Patrick even became a qualified Turkey Nurse! I enjoyed having the evenings to work on my book. Speaking of which, is the reason my blogging here is far less prolific. The book needs to take priority at the moment and this needs to take a back burner for a while.

At the end of the week Jenny had her sister and nephew come to stay for the weekend so we decamped to make room and had the incredible opportunity to stay in their renovated original settlers cabin. A beautiful one bed cabin in the middle of 6,500 private acres where at night no other human lights can be seen, resulting in the most incredible starry nights.

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It was while staying in this lovely isolation we made plans and decisions about the next step. We weighted up our journey so far, the things we’d seen and the people we’d met. We talked about our plans for when we returned home and we evaluated what is important to us here and now. We assess the impact of the time difference and the struggle of juggling poor internet connection. We discussed options and searched for what we really wanted.

And so on the Sunday evening I sent some emails and rearranged our flights… next stop, the UK. We’re not going home to Cornwall just yet, we’re buying a van to tour the UK, see friends old and new, and to work from… I need to work. And I need to be in at least vaguely the same time zone as my colleagues and peers. The book I’ve written is getting close to release and the time is ripe. So I’m returning to the UK for some shameless self promotion and and hard work. It’s the next adventure, being published and changing the experience of women suffering an obscure medical condition.

We are heading back across America now, via North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin then down past Chicago and onto Washington DC where we fly from next week.

I will continue to blog about our adventures but perhaps not as prolifically while I’m getting the book finalised and the PR for it organised. It’s such a lot of work and it needs to take priority. It’s my next big adventure. Once the book is released I’ll come back to this and we have loads more adventures planned for the coming months around the UK, Europe and beyond.

Oh and I’ve yet to tell you about Bruce and Pat… that’s coming soon.

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