Windy Ridge Chronicles; Another Journey

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It’s been about a year since you’ve heard anything from me on here. It’s been quite a year. My journey has continued, as journeys tend to do. Just not in the direction I had believed it would. When I spoke to you last, it was on my Cottonwood Creek Chronicles page. I’m not on that creek anymore. No more rustling of the leaves of the trees along the creek, music of birdsong in the trees, or
bawling of my cattle in the distance. No more nickering of my horses as I go about my business. It’s all changed.
My home and the ranch I planned to grow old and die on are no longer mine. That dream and reality are gone. The bank, in spite of assurances earlier in the year that I was on track and that my business plan was sound, decided in December, a little over a year ago, that they could not renew my operating loan, that they had changed their “lending policies”. Therefore, I couldn’t make my payment the end of the year.
Panic, of course, hit me hard. Chest crushing, gasping for breath, heart pounding, head exploding, panic. I had put everything I had into that place. It was my HOME. It was to be my son and his sons’ homes when I was gone. It was home to my cows who I had been building on since 1982. They were settled there, knew where the water was, where the protected draws were in winter, where the shade was best in the summer. I had a nice bunch of share cows on the ranch as well. They and some pasture cattle, along with my cows, were the “good business plan” I had been told I had in the summer. Suddenly, I had all these cows to get through the winter and absolutely no money to do it with. I had hay, not an excessive amount, but hay if my usual cake and grass wintering plan could be utilized. I didn’t have much to buy cake, mineral, salt or diesel with, but I tightened my belt, dropped some things I felt were unnecessary, sold equipment I hoped I wouldn’t need, and kept going.

Immediately I started seeking alternative financing. I had cows, equipment, and all that other good collateral one needs. But, the bank wouldn’t turn any of it loose. Without that needed collateral, I couldn’t get anything but a free pen and a calendar from any lending institution I talked to. My bank didn’t NEED all that collateral as I didn’t owe them that much, but they hung on to it. Part of their new lending policy I presume. As each bank “interview” closed, the discouragement grew. The stress was unbelievable. My body was rebelling from not sleeping and hard work. February was bitter cold with endless snow. I kept moving snow so I could move snow until there was no place to put the snow. But, I had to keep doing it to get the cake and hay out to the cows. I bought cake with money I didn’t have to keep that protein and energy in them. I kept salt and mineral in front of them to help them battle the cold. Winter, February especially, drug on forever.

In February I was served with eviction papers from the person I had the contract on the ranch with. The sheriff, my friend, said he wouldn’t enforce it as he knew, due to the weather and deep snow, that I couldn’t get anything out if I tried. I hired a lawyer to buy time. He needed money too. I sent him paperwork as well, besides checks. It wasn’t encouraging. All I wanted was time to get a loan to continue ranching. I had filled out hundreds of pages of paperwork in a last ditch effort to get a loan. I had revealed every
bit of personal and business information I had in doing so. I had submitted it in full. Then I waited. And waited. Then I was notified that because it was taking so long, it would all have to be done again and resubmitted. I was out of time. The cows were getting closer and closer to calving.
My son was home for the weekend, helping me with some projects and repairs. I had lain awake the whole night before, praying, crying out to God for a different answer than what I was getting. I was worn out. I was always pretty lean, but I was downright thin by this time. I knew that, but didn’t realize how bad it was, though I knew I had my belt pulled up pretty short to keep everything in place. That morning, long before daylight, I was up drinking coffee, praying, trying to figure out how to tell my grown son who had spent months back on the ranch helping me the summer before. He had invested his time and skills in trade for no wages, to get the work done I couldn’t do alone. How was I to tell him I was going to have to pull the plug on it? This ranch was his dream too. His boys’ dream. How could I tell him I was quitting?
After breakfast that morning, I refilled our cups and I sat down and looked at him. I told him I had to call it quits. The cows were too close to calving. I just couldn’t keep fighting it and risk their well being. I waited for the meltdown, come apart, tirade, whatever it was I was expecting. I was ready for that. He looked at me, leaned back in his chair and said,“Thank God.” What? He explained his response. He knew it had to be my decision. He had just hoped I’d do it before I killed myself off. He wouldn’t tell me what to do, as ultimately, it was my decision. I was stunned. We got up to get on with our day. I had stepped out of the room and when I came back, he was putting his coat on to go out. I slid my arms around his waist and hugging him, said I was sorry.
“Sorry for what?” Failing. “Failing?” Yes. He hugged me tighter. “Mom, you didn’t fail anyone. If we asked my boys whether they’d rather have this ranch or you, they’d want you. I do too. I was afraid I was going to lose you before you quit.”
How ironic. I was afraid of losing me if I did quit. And I did lose parts of me. But, they are parts I can apparently do without. I notified my share cow owners that day that they would need to take their cows home as soon as the snow had melted enough to use the corrals and get trucks in. I kept feeding them while that time passed.
Snow melted, water ran, corrals started appearing above the drifts. After Colin went back to his job, I had to do the second hardest thing I’ve had to do. I had to advertise my cows for sale. The bank had sent the final nastygram on foreclosure, and if I was going to have any say in how the cows were dispersed, I had to get it done before that date. I resented it deeply as the cows
are more than cows to me and meant nothing to them. I didn’t owe them enough to have to sell everything I had, but that’s the hand they were forcing me to play at that point. So, I wrote up a sale ad. I had great pictures of these fabulous producers that were more than cows to me, so I put them on the ad, along with pictures of their calves from years past. I put a price on them. That
was hard. How do you put a price on your lifeblood? Then, I posted the ad on a couple of social media sites that were ranch based. Weeping, I laid my head on the table after pushing “share”. How could I do that to them? I hated everything about it. My heart was breaking for them and for me.
A voice said “What about your pride?” What??? “What about your pride?” But Lord, I put them on there for sale. I posted it. “What about your pride?” But Lord, if I put them on my personal page, everyone I know will know that I failed! “What about your pride?” So, I got back on and posted the ad and the pictures on my personal page. Then I got up and put on my coat and went to do chores. I caked the cows, mine and the share cows. I looked at them with hollow eyes. I caked the saddle horses. They too would have to go somewhere else. But where.
I had an appointment in town, so I went to town to do that. I didn’t want to check my messages. I didn’t want to know if someone was wanting my cows. I didn’t want to see another human being, maybe ever again. But I got through my appointment. I got back in my pickup and my phone beeped. I looked to see who it was. It was my niece. She’d seen the ad. She asked if I was ok. I wasn’t. She asked if I really had to sell my cows. I assured her I did. She asked again. I was getting testy. Then she said that if I really had to that she and her husband wanted to buy my bred heifers. We discussed that. No, they didn’t need to see them, they knew what they’d be capable of as cows. We made the deal over the phone.
Driving away, I felt a flicker of relief. Someone I loved and trusted would have my bred heifers. The heifers I had spent hours after they were weaned, teaching them the rules of being a cow, how to sort through gates like ladies, how to wait patiently when asked to, how to trust me to not do them wrong. Heifers who were generations of selection growing from the original little heifers I bought in 1982. I could, as I drove, picture their little kids feeding the heifers cake from their hands and how tickled they’d
be by that. I smiled. First time in weeks. Maybe months. I smiled.
I made a stop for mineral and headed home. Getting home I checked my messages. I had one from another girl I knew. She and her brother had a loan to buy a set dollar amount of cows and asked if they could buy that many. I replied that they could. We later made a deal over the phone for them, again, sight unseen. I pored through the cow book putting together a package of young to running age cows for them. No short terms or broken mouths, just nice solid young cows. I smiled a little more.
A young couple I had gotten fond of from town had been out the week before and had looked at the nice set of replacement heifer calves I had kept the fall before. Those heifers were gentle and uniform, easy to handle and quite nice. They liked them a lot. So, we made a deal on them and they were sold, despite not being on the ad.

As I was running numbers and figures through my head, I realized that the number I had sold might just be enough to pay off the bank. So, I sat down with my calculator and it was within a few hundred dollars. I had a bull I planned to sell as a weighup, so I rough figured what he would bring, and sure enough, I could pay off the bank without having to sell all of my cows. Another friend messaged me and said that I could bring my cows to their place to run, so we made a deal to run the ones I had left, along
with my remaining bulls.
The first weekend in April, the snow had settled enough in the shipping corrals to get the gates to swing and sort cattle in. I gathered the cows and sorted mine off. The share cows got on the trucks and headed for home. My cow buyers were there and we sorted the ones off that they had bought and we loaded them up and they went to their new homes. I got back on my horse and trailed my remaining cows back to their pasture by the house. My heart was aching over the ones I had sold, but I was happy with where they had gone. A week or so later, my almost yearling heifers were hauled to their new home. I hauled the bull to the sale barn, took the checks for him and the others to the bank, and wrote them a check and paid them off. I didn’t have a warm feeling toward them over that, but it was good to be free of them at last, even if I was broke and on the verge of being homeless.
That homeless situation was bearing down on me. I didn’t have any money or means to rent a place to live. I was making payments on a lawyer’s student loans and had paid for a lot of feed and fuel over the winter. There wasn’t anything left. My son, good hearted guy that he is, lived in a truck in the oilfield. Not like I could camp on his couch for a bit. Thankfully, a dear friend of many years, offered me a place to live indefinitely. So, in June, my son finally got time off and helped me get moved. Mostly my belonging are in a storage unit for now. I brought what I absolutely needed to this big house of my friend’s.
My horses that I just couldn’t sell are in a safe place, along with my leftover hay and a tractor to feed it with. My cows are in a good place and well fed. My dog and my cat are here with me.
This is temporary. I don’t know at this point where I’m going next, but God does. In my parallel story to this long story, I will tell you all about my journey of faith through this. It’s pretty amazing. I am blessed beyond all reason, and am looking to the future. I will tell you why in the next installment. Stay tuned.

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About Jan Swan Wood

Jan was raised on a ranch in far western South Dakota. She grew up horseback working all descriptions of cattle, plus sheep and horses. After leaving home she pursued a post-graduate study of cowboying and dayworking in Nebraska, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota....

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