From a very early age — really as far back as I can remember — I wanted to own land. Probably not a typical dream for a little girl. There were no ballerinas, no unicorns, no fancy wedding dreams for me. Just this confidence that I was meant to own land.
Life often ends up taking a different shape than you thought it would once upon a time — back before you understood money and time! — and I know well, now, that I may never be a land baroness. But the dream was simply to own land, and that — thanks to some special people who helped us out — has already come true. Sometimes I can hardly believe it. Of course, it’s a very small piece of land, and I sure wouldn’t venture to call it A Ranch Of Our Own. But that’s okay. Because it. Is. Ours.
This is the story of how it happened.
I grew up on this big corporate ranch, and I always thought it was kinda weird that the ranch doesn’t own the land just east of the barn here at headquarters. That land, instead of belonging to the Griersons and later the PV, was always part of The Webb Place — that is, a family farm owned by Bob & Sylvia Webb, who lived just down the road from here, on their place, until they retired a few years back. Though most of The Webb Place consists of linear farmed fields, there is this hilly 23-acre piece that’s cut off from the rest of the place by the irrigation ditch. That’s the part that’s close to the PV barn. At times throughout his life, Bob has said, he did run a few cows and graze the hilly piece, but as far back as I can remember the Webbs didn’t use the ground above the ditch — except to add to the family’s machinery cemetery on the east end of it.
When I was 10 or so years old, the Griersons worked out a deal with the Webbs and built feedlot pens on Webbs’ hilly ground; the feedlot was later shut down because of runoff issues. The pens were ripped out and reassembled on land below the ditch, and where the pens once had stood on the hilly ground, weeds grew up tall and rank. The land was quiet.
In the summertimes of my high school years, in the weeks before the county fair, I often turned my 4-H cattle out to graze on Webbs’ hills. (I never questioned why or how I got to use their land; I’m guessing now that my folks worked out a deal with the Webbs.) The little pasture — long and skinny, as I described in yesterday’s blog — wasn’t completely fenced, but my old grand champion show cow Two Sox never wandered too far away because I brought her a bucket of grain every night.
And then… years went by. I went to college, got married, worked a few jobs, and lived in five different houses before I came back to live in the cookhouse at the PV headquarters. In 2014 I had a 3-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter and still that everyday gnawing reminder in my mind that I needed to own land. I was out and about with the kids one melty spring day that year and I looked over at the hills and thought to myself, I should call Bob and Sylvia and see if they would ever sell that land east of the barn.
So I did call them. They had already moved to Colorado by that time, to be near their daughter; they’re over 90 years old. They were surprised to hear from me but interested in my offer to buy, probably less because they had ever planned to sell it and more because they didn’t want to tell me no.
Several months later, after I organized lots of phone calls to realtors, surveyors, and our local attorney, Bob and Sylvia signed the paperwork to sell those 23 acres to me and to Beau. And just like that, we were landowners! It seemed so surreal to be in a class that part of me had always feared I wasn’t qualified for. Coming as we do from a corporate ranch background — where every deal is a million-dollar deal, where the rich just keep getting richer as they gobble up more and more agricultural land — it was amazing to accept that we Blakes had a foot in the door.
I still believe the Webbs sold to us just out of the goodness of their good hearts. They had told us right away that they were not interested in selling to the ranch we work for, but they would consider selling to us. We are not relatives to them and they have their own family to take care of, but they were willing to think outside of the box and work out a deal with us to share a part of their Montana legacy.
And, as you probably know if you’ve read much of my writing, I take Montana legacies very seriously. That land that Beau and I now own, as far as I’m concerned, will always be part of The Webb Place. And in the five years since we bought it (mostly because we were focused on paying off the loan my parents extended to us to help us buy the land — thanks, Mom and Dad!), we’ve left the land completely untouched. The fence is still a mess, the junk cemetery is still totally intact, the grass not grazed. It’s stayed exactly as it was before we bought it, and Bob and Sylvia know their family is welcome to visit and poke around in the junk pile any time.
But two big things happened in 2019:
1 — We got it paid for. And we are proud as punch.
2 — In the fall, custom dirt-movers came to the PV to work on the feedlot pens. Beau asked them if they would have time to do a little leveling on our own land before leaving the area… and they did!
I took both picture below this past Thanksgiving morning from a hill in the PV horse pasture. In the top picture I’m looking right, toward the west, at the PV barn and feedlot and the house we live in (with the van parked in front). In the bottom picture I’m looking left, toward the east, at our own land.
That beauty there, with the tire tracks going all through it. It’s our first improvement on our own land! You might be thinking we’re planning to build a house on that flat spot, but no. Believe me, Beau and I have thoroughly dissected the list of all the things we want and need for our own little slice of earth: a perimeter fence, a water well, a big ol’ house some day… but more than anything else, an arena.
For many years we have pined for a riding arena near our home, and a couple years ago we decided that, since we live in PV Ranch housing, we ought to invest in an arena on our land as soon as there was money enough. This past fall Mark VanHaele and his crew of dirt-movers gave us a great deal on the project and knocked it out in about a day. Man, oh man, it made my heart sing to see those dirt-movers working on our arena!
I love feeling like we’re making progress. And I love to dream about (someday soon now) riding with my kids on that good ground. In our own arena!
Of course, it’s not much more than a flat spot now. But someday — maybe not this year, but perhaps in a couple years — there will be a fence around it. And then… and then… and then!
Today’s Weather: High of 51. Low of 34. Another beauty.
Today On The Ranch: Beau caked cows, sent in payroll, and did a few other chores this morning. He tries to take Saturday afternoons pretty easy, though, so we can do something as a family. After lunch I talked him into taking the long walk with me and the kids (on the path I mowed yesterday) across our land.
At the junk pile:
On the walk back to our house at the PV:
And at the arena, looking west:
© Tami Blake