Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…. June 15, 2018

In December 2013 at a Christmas party, I met my friend Sherie.  We squealed in delight when we found our first common thread: she and her husband are the ranch managers for members of a prominent Atlanta family who like to spend part of each summer in Montana.  I was delighted to meet someone who had a connection to Atlanta; I felt like because of this tie she’d understand me in a way that other Montanans cannot.

In March of 2015 we were having breakfast together, and she asked me if I’d be interested in coming out to the ranch in June to help plant flowers.  Pay me to plant flowers? Sign me up!
These flowers greet family and friends at the front door.


And so began an annual tradition for me, spending a couple of days planting flowers that are delivered by the truckload.  I relish being outside on a beautiful property, enhancing its natural appeal. There are ten or so flower beds, large and small, shade and sun.
There’s lots of fun yard art on the property. You know I like this guy!


It’s an interesting process helping these flower beds come to life, and it takes a party of people to pull it off in just two days.  Another of Sherie’s friends owns a landscaping business, so she and her team of two other ladies were there, as well as young gal who works with Sherie daily on the property, helping weed, deadhead, fertilize, and water all of the flowers.
This bed sits on the side of the house near the fire pit.
Each bed has a backdrop of leafy green perennials and from there, Sherie begins layering colors and textures.  She starts with jumbo pots of geraniums and some of the largest annual flowers.  She has “the bones” of the beds laid out by Monday morning, and we begin planting.
This sweet kitty followed us around, meowing to be petted.
Sherie drives the John Deere gator back and forth between the driveway, where the flats of flowers are laid out, and the beds, layering in more flowers.  With each round the spaces for flowers grows smaller, as do the pots that fill them.  We work back and forth among the beds, planting after Sherie places.  The final plants are tiny white flowers and dusty miller; the whites help the colors “pop.”
Bleeding heart flourish in Northwest Montana, and they are one of the few plants I have found that deer absolutely will not nibble.


Since the ranch is an hour away from my home, I asked Sheri if I could stay overnight, and she graciously said yes.
Am I ever glad I asked, because, y’all, we planted flowers from 9 AM to 4:30 PM with a half hour for lunch, and by the end of the day I was EXHAUSTED!  I was so thankful not to have to drive an hour home.  Instead, all I had to do was drive a mile to the guest house.
This is the room where I stayed. Isn’t it sumptuous?
The owners like to have friends visit, so the guest house is a full size three bedroom, two and a half bath house, and I had it to myself.  I felt like I was at a resort!  Sherie invited me to have dinner with her and her husband, Jake, so after a rest and a clean-up, I walked the half mile to their house, where we dined on grilled chicken, fresh corn on the cob, and salad.
See the pansies in the front? They will grow all summer without bolting and going to seed.
We planted for another full day Tuesday before I pulled out at 4:30 to head home. The weather was perfect.  Cool in the mornings with sunny days and highs around 70.
Appropriately, there is a trough full of flowers in front of the tack shed. The cheery cannas remind me of Atlanta.
I will admit that by the end of the second day, I was feeling my age.  Every year I am surprised by how kneeling and bending over the beds and digging holes seems to use every muscle in my body.  And after two days of gripping a spade, the nerves in my left hand are tingly and numb as I type this on Wednesday morning.
Butterflies arrived before we finished planting!
Meanwhile, back at our ranch, I was putting the chickens to bed Sunday night when I found one of the hens dead, flat on her back, feet in the air.  She turned out to be Cami, a barred rock who was one of our original twelve.
A river runs through it. Maybe next year I will bring a fishing rod.


She lived a good life as a free range chicken, and she was the first hen to go broody and hatch baby chicks.  Oddly, she went broody in December.  We moved her and her clutch of eggs into a large box in our shop so that she could sit quietly on her eggs in relative warmth. She hatched six chicks, if memory serves me correctly.
Ok, you know I like this chicken, too!


The following August, one of her chicks, now grown, went broody and hatched eleven chicks! So in less than a year and a half, we had third generation chickens enjoying free range life on the property.
Our big news for the week is that I (finally!) finished planting our garden on Sunday.  And then, of course, that night the temperature plunged to 35 degrees.  This is typical of June.  On June 17, 2014, it actually snowed an inch and a half!
Isn’t this bench in the shade garden welcoming?


We spent a couple of years trying to figure out our growing zone; no one seemed to know.  Eventually, we settled on zone 3, which means I am gardening with Canadians.
This is one of the small beds by the river.


 While researching our frost dates, one website told me that we have no frost dates; frost can happen anytime.  And just to prove the point, Monday night we had a frost warning.  John was outside until 10 PM creating makeshift frames to hold tarps to cover our garden plants.  Sherie said she was up every two or three hours to check the temperature on her AccuWeather app.  Fortunately, temperatures never hit the frost point.
What I am thinking about, reading, listening to:
Remember that recently I said that whenever something crosses my path more than once, I pay attention?  This week that “something” is “someone,” specifically Barbara Brown Taylor. She is an Episcopal priest, author, professor, and speaker.  She also lives in Georgia.
I admit to being very late in learning about her; in 2014, the TIME magazine placed her in its annual TIME 100 list of most influential people in the world.  On the one hand, I am asking myself “How did I not know of her sooner?” but on the other hand, I believe that people, places, and things come into our lives at the right moments.
She first crossed my radar via Amazon, which is featuring her book “Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith,” for $1.99 in kindle.  As I finish this blog post, it is still offered for this price. (It’s only $5.56 in paperback here.)  I scour the $1.99 books from Amazon several times a week, and usually I do not by a book the moment I see it; I like to think on it a day or so.

While I was thinking, a new podcast by Jen Hatmaker popped into my feed, and guess who she was interviewing?  Yes, Barbara, and they were discussing another of her books, “Learning to Walk in the Dark.” Intrigued, I went back to Amazon and purchased “Leaving Church.” In it, she chronicles her initial encounters with God, becoming ordained, serving on staff at All Saints in Atlanta, abruptly switching gears and becoming the rector at Grace-Calvary in Clarksville, then shifting yet again to become a professor at Piedmont College.

I can relate to her leaving the hustle-bustle of Atlanta for the country and for the constant struggle for life balance.  However, it is her lyrical prose and her honesty that are drawing me in.  The realness of God that she finds in nature also speaks to me.
What are you reading this week? I am always looking for book recommendations!
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