Pondering Arks

My 4-year-old daughter, Abby, and I almost finished planting our garden last week. So far, we have potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, nasturtiums, marigolds and peas in the ground. We waited on the corn, but we think we will be okay. If the old saying about corn “knee-high by the Fourth of July” applies to all grass species, then our lawn indicates our corn will make huge ears even though we waited.

Abby and I had to press pause on planting our vegetables to build an ark. The skies dumped about 4 inches of rain on our humble abode last week, far less than most of Montana, but enough to start us thinking about fishing as an occupation. And plenty enough to stir up a soupy, sticky mess.

So our family set to work. My husband, Steve, is a genius with fashioning whatever we need from the materials at hand, but one of his former girlfriends once advised me to never heed Steve’s sense of interior design. I recall her words as “He would just as soon sit on a cinder block in the living room as relax in a recliner. Don’t listen to him when he wants to decorate.” I believe her. So Steve built the exterior of our ark. Meanwhile, my son, Will, designed the navigational system while Abby and I selected various species of animals to join us.

We decided that coyotes probably do not need our assistance; no doubt they will survive anything.

About a week into our lambing season, I found the front half of a newborn lamb only 75 yards from the barn. A coyote had stolen the rear half before I even had time to bring the lamb and its mother to the safety of the corral.

Then the other night, while our orphan Icelandic lamb, Dora, slept peacefully in the dog house with our two dogs, coyotes howled below the house. They baited our three pets down to the creek. Dora never returned. Steve found a few tufts of her fleece only a couple of hundred yards from her dog house.

A few mornings later, I found a dead lamb, shoulder ripped from its socket, in the Goofy Pen where all the newborns stay with their ewes. Theoretically, the lambs are supposed to be safe in the Goofy Pen, but apparently they are not.

We’re missing more lambs, but have yet to find the evidence of their demise. We probably never will.

Steve and I now have a friendly competition going. If I get five coyotes before he does, he will take me to dinner. If he wins, I will bake a butterscotch pie from his mother’s recipe for him. For five coyotes from our ranch, I might even make two.

Our whole family agreed that we needed lawn chairs on the deck of our ark. That way, as the water recedes, we can watch the grass grow. We are pretty confident that we will be able to hear it growing, too.

We lost four lambs and three ewes to this solid week of bone-chilling, grass-growing rain. Steve and I think that is a small price to pay for all the forage we will have soon. That price does not even register on the grand payment scale when we see all that others are suffering through. The devastation to homes and buildings and roads and crops and livelihoods and family histories makes us so thankful for all that we still have.

Abby will welcome the flood refugees to our ark. They just need to leave their coyotes back home.

Lisa Schmidt and her husband, Steve Hutton, raise natural, grassfed beef and lamb at the Graham Ranch near Conrad.

She has two children; Will, 13, and Abby, 4.

Lisa Schmidt