Monday, December 30, 2013


The other day I was making a presentation and I told this story. I was painting a picture of me.

When my father passed away unexpectedly over 20 years ago, I had the sudden urge to buy sheep. I don’t know whether it was something biblical or what. My dog had died three weeks after my father and I was bereft. I had horses but the thought of a soft, furry animal gently ruminating while I sat in the grass made me feel comforted. Within days, I was the proud owner of a black Oxford cross and a caramel colored Tunis. They were bottle babies and followed me everywhere. Just as I had imagined, we spent many hours sitting in a meadow overlooking our pond.
When it was time for their first shearing I kept the fleece. I met a group of ladies that taught me how to spin the wool into lovely yarn. Spinning proved to be a form of meditation and soothed my soul. The rhythm of the foot pedal and the easy slip of the roving through my fingers was heavenly on quiet evenings. I started taking my lambs and my spinning into the neighboring elementary schools. 

By now it was time to start considering a new dog. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a Border collie that would work the sheep at the schools and on our farm? I purchased a lively pup my girls named Charlie. The sheep were unimpressed with this young tyke. They followed me everywhere for a graham cracker and did not see the need. I was totally frustrated by my attempts to get the sheep or the dog to go in any direction that I desired. The ladies in my spinning group recommended an expert sheep dog handler. I was thrilled it was a woman. I invited her to my farm for a consultation.

The handler and I spoke while she met my dog and my sheep. She looked at me and shook her head. I will paraphrase, “You can’t have a dumb dog, dumb sheep and a dumb person. Someone in this mix has to know something.” I was not deterred. I had a vision in my mind and somehow we were going to get there. She said, “OK, bring your collie to my farm. I have dogged sheep and I will work the dog.” So off we went, Charlie and I on our adventure. We had a blast. I learned to walk with the trainer and hold the staff out over her sheep. The sheep clustered under the staff and when Charlie got too close, I would tap him with the staff to move him out. He learned to bye and way. He was a natural. Eventually, my dog and I tackled our sheep at home. The sheep were correct; there was no need for the dog. They went wherever I wanted for a cookie.

I had succeeded in creating my vision. We had muddled through – my dumb dog, my dumb sheep and me. I told this story about how it reminded me of my early days as extension agent in Montana. Once I had unpacked the boxes, I had this sinking feeling in my stomach. I don’t know about growing plants in Montana; I don’t know what kind of bugs or weeds they have here; I don’t know anything about cherry trees. What I do know is that I want to help people grow their food. I want to see them be successful and feel a sense of pride about their land. I held this vision and figured it out. When my clientele asked a question, I had no problem saying, “I don’t know, but I will find out.” I assisted my growers by consulting with the top researchers in the country. Just like with the sheep, I had to start with one piece of the puzzle. The rest fell into place.

I guess that is me. I can hold a vision, even if I have no idea how to get there. I don’t have to have the answers. They will come. This philosophy has served me so far. I am now in the process of building a house. I am gathering facts from excavators, framers, health department inspectors, general contractors, real estate agents, bankers and land owners. I can do this. My road may not be straight and narrow. It is sure to have a few bends and hair-pin turns, but that’s ok. I’ll get there. I always do.

Eventually, the dog herded sheep, the job exceeded my expectations and soon I will be peacefully curled up in my new house. I don’t know where or how, but it will happen. “Ignorance is bliss” – or so I have heard. I can’t say I know that to be true. On the other hand, I am not going to let my lack of knowledge keep me from my goal. I can always learn more. I’ll find my inner sheepdog and use it. I’m going to keep my sense of humor and smile when I realize I have taken the long way around. This will make a good story someday when I am in a rocker. Until then, keep a clear picture and soldier on!



It started out as an ordinary evening of chores. “Sarah, close the chicken coop door. Kate, make sure the rabbit’s water bottle is not frozen.” All tasks seemed to be accomplished-horses munching; cow ruminating; chickens roosting; bunnies hopping; hog grunting; sheep jostling for position and goats…hey, there should be two goats. “Girls, Hercules is missing. Has anyone seen him?”

Hercules and his older sister, Clover, were grey pygmy goats. My daughters had crowned him Hercules because even as a tiny kid, he was a daredevil. Climbing up onto the walls of the barn, chasing bicycles, running to the beach to watch the girls swim, Hercules wanted to  be wherever there was action. He was especially fond of suppertime and his graham cracker treats. Where was he?

The winter nights were long and it was dark in the barnyard when we started our search. The girls and the dog began looking in the riding ring, along the driveway and down at the house. I headed down the dirt road towards the draft horse barn. Maybe somehow he had gotten into that building and gotten locked in, or found a way into the grain room. The moon was brilliant and it was easier to see without the flashlight. The snow was crunching under foot when I heard something odd. I stopped and listened once more. It was a scratching sound and sort of a crumple. The sound was coming from the pond on my left. I peered into the darkness and there it was again. It was then I saw him.

Hercules was boldly heading across the ice towards the middle of the pond. I called to him in desperation. The edges were frozen but the center was open. I could not walk out there to save him. The pressure of my weight made a cracking sound as I called once more. He turned towards me and seemed to skip with joy. Over his head, blinding him to his peril was a grain bag. He had obviously pulled it from the garbage can, put his head in to lick the crumbs and his horns had become snared. Was he bumbling around aimlessly or was he brashly continuing his evening rounds? What I do know is if I hadn’t found him within seconds, he would have fallen through the ice and drowned. I was shaking from the what ifs and he was totally unaffected. It was just another adventure to Hercules.

This scenario popped into my head the other day as I contemplated a job offer. It made me laugh to think about how many times we think we see all the options when we really are bumbling in the dark. How many times are we positive we know exactly where we are going when it ends up we are headed towards a cliff? Hercules almost traded a few sweet crumbs for his life. I have to hand it to him; he was doing it with confidence. 

Time will tell what my decision will be. I haven’t seen all the options yet. I have faith that my choice will be exactly what it should be.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tribute to Dave

Dave Mann Brant 1934-2013

He taught me patience.
I was weeding in the courthouse garden when an older man in a beat up hat asked if I was the new county agent. I said I was. He proceeded to ask me gruffly why I had not told him the grasshoppers were coming. With irritation he told me they were eating everything on his ranch. I said, “for one thing, I just got here. I didn’t know they were coming.  There have been several articles in the paper submitted by APHIS, federal agency, about the insects.” “I don’t read the newspaper,” he explained. “There have also been news programs about the grasshoppers presented by Montana State specialists.” “I don’t watch television.”  “Then how would you have liked to get this information?” I asked. I shook my head and thought this is going to be a long year. Somehow he expected I would know who he was, where he ranched and had his cell phone number.

He taught me history.
One summer night after the symphony in Whitefish, Dave asked if I would take him downtown for a while. Now it was a school night for me and it was already 10:00 but I said yes. He introduced me to the Palace Bar. You have to know that Dave did not drink although he encouraged me to do so. I declined since I was the driver. He told me about raucous evenings in that place 30 or 40 years ago. Our next stop was the Remington across the street. Funny, these places had never been on my must see list. Dave told me how there used to be two bars in here and sleeping rooms upstairs filled with bunks for patrons that over imbibed. The stories he could tell of skiing and partying in his younger days. Whitefish had not changed in many ways.

He taught me humility.
Dave asked if I could do something about his cherry trees that never produced fruit. He said, I just want enough for one pie that is all I ask.” I stopped by one afternoon and trimmed the heck out of the trees. Brad and Dave dragged away a pile of branches as big as my car. I told him to put water on the trees as least once a week. Later that summer, I got a call in my office. It was Dave. He and Chica were parked out front of the health department building in the old Cadillac. He said he wanted to deliver something to me. I ran down and he handed me a half of a cherry pie. The crust was all carved and beautiful. Natalie had been able to make three pies from the cherries off the trees this year. He wanted to share the bounty with me. He said, “You know, you might actually know something about this stuff.” After five years, I had finally proved myself.

He shared his faith.
Dave told me how he had a heart attack right in the Kalispell Emergency room. While recovering in the hospital, he swore that Jesus appeared at the end of his bed. I believe him. It changed his life completely. Wherever we broke bread – restaurants, bbqs, picnics, or at the ranch, we always held hands and Dave would say a blessing. He thanked God for his friends, his gifts and even his challenges. His faith never wavered;  it seemed to strengthen every day.

He shared with me his love for music.
I accompanied Dave to the Glacier Symphony several times a year. We watched them perform at Rebecca Farm, on the water in Bigfork, at Flathead High School, the Christian Center and the Whitefish Middle School. He’d tell me about the lives of the various composers, the differences between the instruments, how he idolized John Zoltec, and his appreciation that came from his mother. We’d dress up, have a special dinner that included seafood and always a chocolate dessert. Those evenings Chica begrudgingly sat in the backseat. This past winter he sheepishly told me he was having a great time but it was at my expense. When I asked, he said everyone keeps asking me who the blonde is but I don’t answer. I had to laugh, too.

Dave and I shared a wonderful friendship. I still have bags of peppermint tea in my purse that I carried with me in case we went somewhere they didn’t serve his favorite drink. My mother was visiting from New York a couple weeks ago and we had lunch at the ranch. Dave said he really wanted to know where I came from. He could rest assured I hadn’t been hatched. He and Mom had a great time comparing their surgical scars as I prepared the meal. They talked about me as if I wasn’t there, swapping stories. He always included me on the cattle drives with Kathy and Steve. I realize it was work but those days were some of the best memories of my life.

I will always treasure everything that Dave taught me- love of God, love of family, love of the land, love of music and love of cattle. I know how happy he is now. He is my hero riding his horse well into his eighties. What I miss is knowing that there will be no more Friday afternoon phone calls asking if I want to meet at “our place” – Scottibelli’s. No more driving the cattle up the mountainside to summer pasture and down again in the fall. No more long conversations about the composers before the symphony. What I do have is the gifts he left – love, laughter, friends and a sense of home in Montana.

Pat McGlynn