CJD: An opportunity to celebrate the Old West

By Katy Nesbitt/The Observer July 24, 2013 10:33 am
Last month I mentioned to a fellow at the Institute of Journalism and Natural Resources that I would return home in time for the first hay cut. The public radio reporter said, “First? We are on our third in the Tri-Cities.”

Here in the Wallowa Valley things progress at a slower pace — the snow continues to come off the mountains until late June while fresh snow is still falling.

A rancher once told me that the old rule of thumb in Wallowa County was to get the hay cut between the Fourth of July and Chief Joseph Days. There are variables, of course, like rain and the inevitable “break down” of equipment. You don’t know a swather is going to break down until you get it out to cut hay.

The wheat fields in the county aren’t quite ready to cut, but this is just about the time that driving through the mid-valley you need to turn off the air conditioning and roll down the window to smell its heavenly perfume. Reminds me of that song in “Oklahoma!”: “The waving wheat can sure smell sweet when the wind comes right behind the rain.”

There are times in my pastoral dwelling when I literally can’t hear a thing — it’s that quiet, but the agriculture industry punctuates that quiet with cows bawling during calving and weaning and the soothing sound of the swather cutting through the grass outside my window.

As I run up and down Highway 82 this week, I see a lot of out-of-state license plates, the grocery stores and restaurants are bustlingly busy, and, of course,  Wallowa Lake’s parking lots are full and running over — on a 95 degree day where else do you go?

Whether the hay is up or not, today we celebrate the Old West with broncs and bulls and team roping — the smell of grilling hamburgers will fill the air at the rodeo grounds tonight. Four nights of rodeo, a Nez Perce Friendship Feast on Saturday, dances, souvenirs — it’s all the stuff of our biggest weekend of the year.

Next week? It’s back to cutting, raking, baling hay, changing pipe, moving cattle, hauling logs, restocking store shelves and getting back to the rest of our
summer.