It’s hard for me to even know where to start with this post. I will give you the facts, then open my heart wide…
The same 2010 workshop where I met Eileen (last blog post), I also met Andra Erickson. A sweet, kindhearted woman who ranches in California with her family. We spoke briefly at that workshop about the possibility of doing one at her ranch in the Sierra mountains, just outside of Yosemite. We spoke over the phone a few times, and it just wasn’t clicking. Until 2013, when the time felt right and we moved forward with our plans. Here was the Ranch Retreat blog post.
The Erickson Cattle Company started back in 1892. They have preserved a true ranching lifestyle, working cattle from horseback. In the summer, they graze their cattle up in the mountains, just a little ways outside of Yosemite National Park.
The weekend of the retreat was perfection in every way. The Ericksons were the gracious hosts, the participants were all fun and considerate, the weather was picture perfect, and the photography opportunities were absolutely breathtaking (backlit dust? YES PLEASE!)
I had to pinch myself often to make sure I wasn’t in a dream!
But I also have this chilling memory. The mountains were so dry last year, and I remember asking Andra, “has there ever been a forest fire here?” She said there had been a small one in the 80s, but nothing big for many years.
The ten days after our retreat, California’s 5th largest forest fire, named the “Rim Fire” tore through this piece of heaven.
I prayed and cried every. single. day.
I would stay up late, waiting for word that the cabin was still there, that the cattle were okay, that somehow the fire would go around the Erickson ranch and leave their property and cattle untouched.
It felt like my heart was on fire. I am choked up now, just remembering how those days felt.
But God heard my prayers, and those of hundreds, maybe thousands of others. The fire did not destroy the ranch. It came so, so, so close, but the fire fighters used Ackerson Meadow (where most of the cattle photos you will see here were taken) and the meadow in front of the cabin, as a base of operations. The blessing of that was they did not let the fire overtake these areas. Andra’s husband Dan and his dad also worked tirelessly to protect the land and get as many cattle out as possible. All while the fire raged around them.
Here are links to a few photos of the fires near Ackerson Meadow and the cabin:
The consequences of the fire are hard to grasp. For the Ericksons, who lost about 50 head of cattle, it has meant temporarily finding grazing land elsewhere, as their cattle grazed mostly on forest service land and that land is now stressed from the fire. It remains to be seen how many cattle they will be able to return to the land in the years to come, which has a big impact not just on their company, but it could also mean saying goodbye to a way of life that has been in Dan’s family for over 120 years.
I am heading back to the mountains next month. But this time, I’m going by myself to spend some time with the Ericksons and see what the area looks like now. I hope to be able to teach there again someday, so we will discuss and dream about future Ranch Retreats. :) I am also going to work on a special project that I hope to have done by the end of the year. And of course, I’ll take a bunch more photos, and do some mountain riding, which I’m SUPER excited about!
Okay, enough words, now onto the photos! I am working on setting up a web site where prints of some of these can be ordered. I will put up a blog post when that is ready!
We named this cow “Heidi Klum.” She was always out in front, posing for us, often in the best light. And she’s quite beautiful, for a cow. ;)
Andra’s husband Dan is a cowboy through and through. He was a professional rodeo competitor in saddle bronc riding, calf roping and steer wrestling. It was fun to watch him ride and rope!
Standing in the truck made for a great view. Kandace smiled the whole time she was behind the camera. :)
Andra both participated as a photographer, and as a “model.” She’s an excellent rider and roper.
This dog was extremely loyal to Dan. We would try to contain her sometimes so she wasn’t in the photos, and she would have NONE of it!
Travis was working for the Erickson’s that summer, so he “modeled” too.
Andra’s kids rode too! Alissa was just 7 at the time and she roped a few cows. Amazing!
Jon is an online friend whom I had never met until this weekend. I love it when virtual friends become real life friends!
Isn’t she the sweetest?
Maureen is a school teacher, and Andra’s children ADORED her.
So did we. :)
Several times, we got to photograph horses running through the pasture.
We practiced panning shots. They are hard to master, but amazing when they work!
Running horses back and forth is sweaty business! When they stopped to let the horses catch their breath, steam started to rise! I LOVE steam rising in backlight. :)
Travis, showing off his amazing horsemanship skills!
“Where’d the head go?” Oh, we laughed so much all weekend!
Here’s the cabin. It was perfectly rustic, with no electricity except a generator, and no cell service.
We enjoyed many delicious meals together.
Here’s a photos of me taken by Jon Pece.
Such a great family!