My mother’s sister Gerda lives on a cattle ranch in southern Oregon, and has done so for close to all of her adult life. The ranch has been her family home since my uncle Hawk took it over from his uncle Buck and my aunt has been running the place with her family for decades. She is an honored cattlewoman and has been a strong matriarch of the family and the family business.
My cousin John lives on the ranch with his family and, as I understand it, is more or less responsible for the whole shebang (sort of a COO role to his mom’s CEO), which includes the cattle business and a flyfishing destination resort and guiding business, as well as running his own silversmith business. My second cousin Joe (a son of my cousin Ginny) lives on the ranch and takes care of the cattle operations. Until recently, my aunt has been hosting the fishermen, managing the original ranch house, where she lives and where meals are served, and the bunk house where the flyfishing guests and occasional itinerant cowboys stay. My cousin Dayton and his wife Sally have been summer residents of the ranch for the past couple of years, taking time out from their own careers in Sisters, Oregon to assist Gerda with her responsibilities as age takes its inevitable toll.
I got to chat with my aunt a couple of times during our brief visit and found her still as sharp as ever, though she tired quickly and our time for reminiscing was limited. My aunt is in hospice care at the moment and I’m glad we had this opportunity to be with her.
For most of the daytime during our visit, John was out working with a crew to harvest the hay that the ranch will need for the winter. John’s wife Jerri had 6 of their 8 grandchildren visiting, so between them there was also limited time to visit, though we did have a chance to sit with John after dinner one evening and get caught up. My cousin Taylor, who is a large-animal veterinarian, also stopped in while we were there – it was great to see him again, too.
We spent most of our time on the ranch with Dayton and Sally. Dayton and I are the two eldest male cousins in our clan. Dayton and I hadn’t seen each other since our grandmother’s memorial service in 1998, and before that roughly every five or ten years at our grandmother’s round-numbered birthdays. All of those were of course only brief visits, with lots of other people around. Before that, the last time we spent any significant stretch of time together we were both still in our teens. It was great to finally catch up, get to know my cousin again, and to realize that in many ways we hadn’t much changed. This was the first time we’d met Sally, who is delightful to be with and is now an old friend.
The ranch is as beautiful as ever. Check out a few of these photos. There was still a bit of haze from wildfire smoke, but that was slowly dissipating and it’s easy to see how this area can capture your heart. Yamsi has within it the source of the Williamson River, which is a famous trout fishing destination that draws flyfishing enthusiasts from around the world to this ranch. The river flows north here, along the east side of Yamsi, adjacent to the cattle grazing lands. We got to do some kayaking around some of the fishing holes, where we saw large numbers of very large fish. The cattle were mostly off in another part of the ranch where Joe and his team of cowboys were herding them up, so we didn’t see much of them.
I’ve been an infrequent but regular visitor to Yamsi since I was four or five years old, and many things there are still the same as they were then. For me, this visit brought back memories I’d forgotten I had. It was a good visit, a good example of one of the best reasons for doing whatever it is we’re doing with this “life on the road.”
[Addendum, Sept. 2, 2017] On August 30, my aunt Gerda passed away. Here is a link to an article about her. Our thoughts are with my cousins at this time, and fond memories of their mother are in our hearts.