Montana Prairie Ponderings – Mountain Camping

When my husband, Steve, and I bought the Graham Ranch, we promised each other that we would still make time to camp in the mountains. The mountains’ solitude brings a person back from crazy time schedules and busy distractions like nowhere else. The rhythms of creeks and rocks and birds and squirrels encourage a person to pause. They are good for our psyches and good for our kids.
But our to-do list for tomorrow seems five years long. And haying season is upon us.

So I packed sleeping bags, tents, Dutch ovens and kids and headed to the west end of the ranch for five days. If we couldn’t go all the way to the mountains, at least we could peak through the tent flap to watch the sunrise. Maybe a deep breath among the sand rocks would help us pause for reflection.

While I was packing for a camp trip, Steve started up the small square baler that he had towed to the ranch in the dark of the night, sneaking along back roads so the neighbors wouldn’t see. He planned to use this new-to-us baler on our best alfalfa so I would have good hay to feed the sheep during the winter, and, especially, during lambing. The cows will thrive on lower-quality hay that Steve wraps up in round bales and feeds with the tractor. Small square bales preserve high-quality hay best, but somebody has to stack them, then load them again and then unload them to feed the sheep. Steve didn’t want any of the neighbors to know we would use such an inefficient feeding system just for sheep.

I couldn’t even roll Steve’s first square bales, much less pick them up and throw them over a fence. And he wouldn’t quit churning them out, even when we had enough. I kept suggesting he start on round bales, but he was mesmerized by the small square baler burping out 110-pound idiot cubes.
I did the only thing I could do: I burned the cornbread.

Steve’s Dutch oven meals melt in your mouth so I always let him cook when he offers. But this time he was busy baling hay so I piled on the charcoal myself. Even the dogs wouldn’t eat the cornbread — or the steaks, for that matter. I don’t know what Steve’s 16-year-old daughter, Stephanie, and 11-year-old Will said to Steve, but after that he came to camp to cook breakfast and supper.

Each morning, after breakfast, we all trooped down to the east end of the ranch to see if any of us could budge Steve’s latest bales. He said he kept shortening them up so they would be lighter, but we couldn’t feel the results for several days. In the evening, he quit haying for a while to feed his starving offspring.
Two-year-old Abby loved camping more than any of the rest of us. On the last morning, she climbed out of the tent barefoot, stretched her arms out wide and reveled in the breeze blowing through her hair. She showed the rest of us how to enjoy the solitude.

The solitude helped me pause and reflect, too. I realized I will not need to whine about spending so much time indoors next winter. I will be outside, pretending to be Arnold Schwarzenegger. Maybe by spring lambing season, I’ll be able to lift a few of Steve’s first bales.

Lisa Schmidt and her husband, Steve Hutton, raise natural, grassfed beef and lamb at the Graham Ranch near Conrad.
She has two children; Will, 11, and Abby, 2.

Lisa Schmidt