People & Place

For those of us whose lives and work are dictated by the seasons, spring opens the new year. Spring is synonymous with anticipation, rebirth, and new beginnings. Spring can arrive gradually, with tender green shoots pushing their way up through the melting snow. Or it can rush at you all at once as flocks of ewes seek shelter to lamb or newborn calves seem suddenly to appear in still brown pastures.

Dunrovin Ranch encompasses several worlds, each with its own version of spring. Since installing a web camera above the ranch’s ospreys’ nest, life at Dunrovin revolves in part around the ospreys’ migration. No matter what the weather or the color of the vegetation, spring in this part of Dunrovin’s world does not slowly unfold. It is ferried to us on the wings of our beloved ospreys. It abruptly lands the moment Harriet Osprey’s talons touch down on her enormous nest where she has reigned supreme for many years. 

Harriet’s arrival ends months of speculation, apprehension, and downright anxiety among the thousands of webcam viewers who have come to know and love her and her mate, Hal. No sooner do they and their chicks head south in September for the winter than the count down for their return begins. The ospreys’ autumn departures seize our imaginations and fill us with an unquenchable desire to follow. We remain tethered to them throughout the darkness of their six-month absence. We wonder. We wait. We remain restless until they are safely back in the spring to start another breeding season.

Instincts drive the same breeding rituals each year; yet no two years are ever the alike. Last year Harriet arrived to find a goose settled in her nest, sitting on her own egg. Like a war-zone drone strike, Harriet appeared out of nowhere to dispatch her, only to be left with an egg she is unable to remove. Later that night, a great horned owl pulled the same drone maneuver on her, knocking Harriet from her perch in an effort to place her own flag on the nest. Harriet prevailed. A day later a Rocky Mountain snow storm rolled through the valley, covering both Harriet and the offending goose egg. Still stuck with the goose egg, Harriet was saved by an egg stealing raven that stealthily ventured to the nest while Harriet was out fishing. This all happened just within the first four days of Harriet’s return—before Hal had yet been seen.

The osprey drama continues unabated throughout the spring and summer and well into the fall. Eggs are laid in the middle of the night. Chicks hatch within hours of each other. Eagles swoop in to attack and try to steal a chick. Harriet and Hal noisily defend. Hal spends all day delivering fish to feed his hungry family. Harriet spreads her wings to umbrella her chicks from fierce thunderstorms and scorching sun of long summer days. Fighting break outs when the rivers flood and Hal’s fishing success rate falls. Sometimes a chick dies; sometimes they all robustly grow and are banded by University of Montana scientists. Occasionally one is later photographed along the Gulf of Mexico, confirming their successful fall migration. What a show! It’s no wonder that we all stand in line at the theater for spring to begin.

Dunrovin expects Harriet to return to her nest by the first week of April. You can watch her at www.DaysAtDunrovin.com.

The ospreys are not the only spring show on the ranch. Last spring’s performances included another maternal struggle within 50 vertical feet of Harriet. In the barn stall beneath the ospreys’ nest, the Lovely Lady Lonza spent night after night shifting her burdening weight to find comfort during the last days of her pregnancy. The foal watch commenced when Lonza began to “wax” and drip creamy colostrum in preparation for nursing. Her stall was lined with soft, clean straw and a mobile webcam positioned so every corner was in view. Everyone watched, and waited, and timed contractions – for three full nights in a row. At one point viewer Bev from Oklahoma wrote on the chat, “Well, it’s 4 a.m. where I live and I think I will turn in. If someone had told me that in my 76th year, I would be sitting up all night timing the contractions of a horse in Montana, I would have had to call them a liar. But here I am waiting.”

Finally, on May 3rd, the miracle of birth swept us all up, held us quietly, and stopped time. Lonza laid down and within minutes a huge, palomino colt slid out of her body into the straw, rested for a few moments, clumsily found its feet, and unsteadily stood, searching for his first meal of life-giving colostrum. The waiting, the fretting, the late-night yawns and stories to keep each other awake vanished from our minds as joyful smiles spread across all our faces. 

The Bitterroot River defines yet another aspect of Dunrovin’s world. Rivers aren’t subtle to their response to each season. The river overflows its banks, spreading itself across the land, scattering logs and debris along its paths, and carving new courses through the landscape. It demands attention. Boiling currents and rising waters that engulf green meadows to form small lakes cannot be ignored. We have come to love this annual spring display of the Bitterroot River’s might. In a striking display of destruction and regeneration, the Bitterroot uses what it tears down upstream to build downstream. Trees fall, ponds form, channels wander, and life rushes in.

These exciting moments at the osprey’s nest, the foaling barn, and river’s banks punctuate the more orderly progression that spring makes in Dunrovin’s pastures, gardens, and orchard. The fruit trees gradually turn a light pea green as tiny new twigs form to hold tight little buds. Imperceptibly, petals of white and pink and red uncurl to show their glorious blossoms. The scent of lilacs permeates the air. The hum of orchard bees sings in our ears as they flit from pistil to pistil, pollinating each in their path. A flowering crabapple tree beckons us to stop and remember a beloved departed animal in whose name the tress was planted year ago. 

Fresh from a winter of rest, the horses return to start their conditioning programs and welcome the youngsters participating after-school pony clubs. They are glad to see each other. Every living creature turns cheeks and sides to the warming sun. Soon the tack brushes and combs are full of fur as the horses shed their long winter coats.  

These are the spring moments that stir our hopes and dreams and ambitions back to life each year. This is why we toil through long hours of endless chores, broken fences, and frozen pipes, ignoring whatever weather the skies serve up, and catching sleep as best we can. Spring’s never-ending parade of life’s renewal and resilience sustains us. This is what we long to share and what we humbly offer our many guests who come to visit.