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We took care of a 1200-acre hay and cattle ranch in Northeastern Oregon for 8 years. We decided to keep the responsibility for educating our daughters, Juniper and Amanda within our family because we were so far from schools and because we didn’t want to turn that part of raising our daughters over to people we didn’t know. We lived close to elk, deer, coyotes, myriad resident and migrating birds. I rode a small motorcycle when I irrigated the ranch and to get to some of the fences I worked on. I strapped a shovel, a pitchfork I used to clear pine needles and limbs from ditches, and a hazel-hoe I used to chop through dense grass roots, to the luggage rack behind me.
Sometimes I carried plastic dams, rolled around slender lodgepole pines 12 to 20 feet long. I anchored the dams with dirt in ditches to stop water, spill it over the banks, and spread it across the meadow.
I bolted a wooden box to the luggage rack when I carried tools to repair fences or when I carried the chain saw and cut blown-down trees from the fence. I used the motorcycle all I could, because it got me almost everywhere and didn’t use much gas.
My daughters became the most enjoyable cargo I carried on the luggage rack behind the seat. When the weather settled to summer, I often took one of them with me when I went out to work on the meadows or in the timber. Amanda or Juniper stayed by me as I worked, and we talked, or she explored the area on foot, staying within sight of me.
We saw birds, animals, wildflowers, and the forest above the meadow, where the big ditch ran down through timber along the foot of the tall ridge and spread water across the south meadow.
Years after we rode across the meadow, Amanda told me she built an allegory about our journeys on the motorcycle. The meadow represented life. Bumps and jolts were trials and tribulations. She had to hang on, get over the rough spots, and continue on a steady course. Biting flies and mosquitoes tried to make her let go of her chosen course through life, but she knew she had to persevere through distractions to see life’s beauty, to be ready for all the new experiences ahead of her.
She said she liked to watch me dig the rich, dark mud from ditches and place it to direct the water where I wanted it to go on the meadow.
Juniper enjoyed going with me, too, but the ride across the meadow interested her more than waiting while I worked. Sometimes she became impatient to be on our way to other projects or to return home if she had nothing to do but wait for me to finish my work.
One morning when it was her turn to go with me, when she was seven, I said, Today, I think you should stay here and go with me another day. I have to repair a washed out bank in a big ditch. I’ll be working in one place for a long time. You’ve been getting bored and unhappy if we stay in one place for long. You’ll be bored, and I’ll have to bring you home before I finish. I don’t want to leave the job until it’s done.
I won’t be bored. I’ll wait until you’re through.
She really did want to go.
I said, Okay. You can go, but you have to be cheerful about it and keep smiling.
Okay. I will.
We forded the river, crossed the meadow, and rode up into the timber, to the big ditch. I parked the motorcycle and shoveled dirt from the bottom of the ditch and from the high side into the washed out bank and packed the dirt in place by walking on it. Juniper explored the area around us that grew pine and fir trees, western larch and aspen trees, dense grasses and brush. Then she sat on a log close to where I worked. We talked as I worked, and then we were quiet. I shoveled and watched the dirt I moved to make sure I threw it where I wanted it to go. After a while, I asked, How are you doing?
?Fine,? she said. Her cheerfulness sounded forced. I looked up from my shoveling. She was almost black with mosquitoes. More hovered around her, waiting for space to land. She had given up trying to shoo them away. She smiled, but she had to really work to do it.
I dropped my shovel, ran to her, and brushed away mosquitoes. I said, Let’s ride up the meadow and see what we can see, then head for home.
Are you through working already?
?For now I am. We can look around and then have lunch at home.? Mosquitoes had gathered to remind me, ditches could be repaired any time. Be sure to share plenty of the joys of living on the ranch in the mountains.
We rode up the meadow and looked at the beaver dam that blocked a large ditch near the west boundary and the pond spread out through the willows behind it.
I said, Beavers and I argue about water rights on this ditch. I take out their dam so I can get water down the ditch and spread out across the hay ground from here to the pine trees down there. They rebuild the dam over the next two or three nights, and I take it out again. When I get that area soaked, I let them have the water the rest of the season.
We looked at birds and flowers and grasses alive with summer on the meadow. Twenty elk crossed the meadow above the west boundary. I shut the motorcycle off, and we sat on it and watched the elk until they disappeared into timber.
We turned at the west boundary and rode down the length of the ranch, taking our time, because life was so active on the meadow, and we could stop and watch so much of it. We rode down to the county road, crossed the river on the bridge, and rode up the road home. We got home in time to eat lunch with Laura and Amanda, and I rode out and irrigated the meadow part of the afternoon.
I finished repairing the bank of the big ditch in mosquito territory when Laura, Amanda, and Juniper took care of errands in town. Mosquitoes and all of nature kept reminding me, never let work become so pressing that I don’t take time for a ride for fun, to see nature around us, or to take a passenger home from work when schedule-busting distractions come to visit.
?On the Meadow on the Motorcycle,? is excerpted from Jon’s book, Somewhere in an Oregon Valley. For information about his essays and books, please visit his web site:
http://www. remmerde.com His books can be ordered at most bookstores or on line at his web site or Barnes and Noble bookstores.