A glimpse of a family in the shifting West

A Montana family balances raising small children with the challenges of modern-day ranching.

  • Hilary Zaranek-Anderson plays with her dog, Heck, while bathing her draft horse. Zaranek-Anderson married into a third generation ranching family, the Andersons, and in 2013 spearheaded the first range-rider program in Tom Miner Basin, Montana. She now works seasonally as a range-rider coordinator at the Anderson Ranch.

    Louise Johns
  • Photographer Louise Johns rides behind Zaranek-Anderson in Tom Miner Basin. Range riders are modern day shepherds, covering ranch lands in an effort to minimize livestock loss due to predation from wolves and grizzly bears. "When you're out there you are a part of it (the landscape) and you're exposed to whatever nature might throw your way," Zaranek-Anderson says. "I love not knowing quite what I'll find or what I might see.”

    Louise Johns
  • The Anderson Ranch is located in Tom Miner Basin, Montana, on the northwest border of Yellowstone National Park. It is home to ranchers, landowners, an outfitting business, and an abundance of wolves and grizzly bears. Part of Zaranek-Anderson’s job as a range rider is to understand where wildlife is moving in relation to cattle herds. She takes her children exploring the landscape overlooking Paradise Valley.

    Louise Johns
  • On an October morning Zaranek-Anderson and her dog, Jacey, move cattle from the summer high country in Tom Miner Basin. Due to harsh winter weather most cattle graze seasonally at high altitudes prior to being shipped out before winter.

    Louise Johns
  • In addition to range riding and ranching, the Andersons have four young children who all participate in the daily activities on the ranch. Zaranek-Anderson helps three of her children get on her horse, Taz.

    Louise Johns
  • Elle Anderson bottle-feeds a bum calf, Niles, who lost his mother shortly after birth. Over the years the Andersons and their children have developed relationships with the animals in their care.

    Louise Johns
  • Zaranek-Anderson and her daughter Elle walk through the barnyard at J Bar L Ranch in Twin Bridges, Montana. The family lives in Twin Bridges most of the year where cattle are on winter pasture and schools are accessible for the children.

    Louise Johns
  • Animals are an integral part of everyday life. Daily responsibilities of the Anderson children include feeding chickens and collecting eggs.

    Louise Johns
  • The Anderson children play on hay bales in the barnyard. From a young age they have a sense of independence and adventure. "Whatever wisdom and lessons from the natural world that have been given to them at a young age, I hope they carry those with them," Zaranek-Anderson .

    Louise Johns
  • Zaranek-Anderson and her husband, Andrew Anderson, bring their horses into corrals at the J Bar L’s summer ranch located in Centennial Valley, Montana. Throughout the year the couple splits their time between Tom Miner, Centennial Valley and Twin Bridges. It’s a constant effort to remain balanced among the responsibilities of ranching and having a family.

    Louise Johns
  • Bonnet, one of the oldest mares on the Anderson Ranch, has lived through 24 winters in Tom Miner. Horses like Bonnet represent strength, endurance and warmth for the Andersons.

    Louise Johns
  • Zaranek-Anderson catches her horse at dawn. The dedication to her work requires early mornings and long days.

    Louise Johns

 

Photographer Louise Johns has been documenting daily moments of the Andersons, a multi-generation ranching family in Montana, over the course of four years. Her photographs provide a glimpse into the lifestyle of a family of range riders, modern-day shepherds who try to prevent predation of livestock by coexisting more harmoniously with wildlife. Johns has followed closely the day-to-day life of Hilary Zaranek-Anderson, who in 2013 founded the first range-rider program in Tom Miner Basin, near the northwestern corner of Yellowstone National Park. As a range rider, some of Zaranek-Anderson’s main tasks include tracking wildlife, riding through cattle daily and sharing observations with landowners and cattle managers.

Johns’ connection with the family delivers intimate moments between the Andersons and their small children that help define life on the range. The photographs’ most revealing details — like an aging mare that has lived through more than two decades of harsh, Montana winters — show the enduring warmth of the range lifestyle.

In Johns’ words: “Despite the challenges of living and ranching in a dynamic, unforgiving environment, this family has cultivated a space that is tender and loving, inviting of imagination and curiosity, and dedicated to the landscape they call home.”

Johns observed a symbiotic relationship between range-riders and the landscape. “Instead of being a dominant force, the Andersons strive to be part of the landscape, humbled by the rugged space that surrounds them, rather than threatened by its unpredictability,” Johns writes. “This family’s search for balance in a landscape is both courageous and uplifting, leaving me with hope for a future that values working with the wild.” —Paige Blankenbuehler