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In Animals, Seasons on December 31, 2018 at 7:56 pm

A light rain fell last evening.  Intermittent puddles line the bottom of the irrigation ditch.  The path alongside the ditch is damp and near muddy where vegetation has never taken hold in the alkali crusted soil.  As the alkali eases, small lime-green ground hugging plants keep mud from building up on boot soles.  The small plant doesn’t show up before nights cool down into the twenties.  Might the cold trigger their growth?  I wonder as I hunch in the cold and scan ground more than horizon.  I should have got down on my knees and drawn leaf details long ago so I could identify the plants.  Probably laziness on my part, but I’d rather think there is greater beauty in the not knowing.  I certainly have never enjoyed the beauty of poison oak as I did during my first fall introduction. Green with a tint of red, the oak’s beauty calls for closeness and touch.  I traded beauty for warning a day later when I learned what the oaks red does to skin.  Perhaps it is best to learn what that ground-hugging plant is all about, what its official scientific name is, but I leave pencil and paper in pocket and walk on to live with tomorrows conversational awkwardness of describing this moment with, “well, you know, those little green plants that lie on the ground when it gets cold.”

I seldom negotiate my way down the slope of the irrigation ditch. After untold millions of gallons of water over the length of the irrigation season the ditch never dries out before the next season.  Should one be foolish enough to slide sown the ditch bank they would find a muddy bottom that builds up on the bottom of one’s boots.  At about two inches thick the journey becomes tedious.  More so when the clump of mud breaks off it leaves one walking as if wearing a pair of high-heeled shoes with one heel missing.  Better to figure the ditch bottom is best left alone until after the first hard freeze.

Other life has a different opinion.   A scattering of footprints travel the length and crisscross the ditch. Someone has spent a good time in the bottom of the ditch, but from atop the ditch bank the individual tracks are hard to make out.  Clean, clear tracks are best in a little mud.  And the scattering of tracks is as attractive as any red tinted leaf.  I slide down the ditch bank.  Only to have my feet slide out from beneath me.  I fall back and use the rest of the bank as mud slide to the bottom.  Once at the bottom and now that the seat of my pants is muddy I find little reason not to take a closer look.  Sitting in the mud I see a mass of small thin three fingered tracks.  Quail have been using this spot as a crossing.  Preferring walking down, across, and up the ditch bank rather than flying across. 

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Bent Gate

In Landscape on October 31, 2018 at 11:59 am

After a fairly lengthy conversation with a Forest Ranger—not to obtain my qualifications as much, I imagine, as too many experiences with folk who believe nature something to spank rather than love—and looking over a number of maps, I left with a hand drawn map over the top of one of those free giveaway maps noting established campgrounds and services.  With some effort, a thank God mile-post marker, a careful eye for a gate with a bent middle rail along a barbed fence line, I opened the gate, drove through, and closed the gate behind me.  A short drive and I settled on a gravel bar beside the John Day river.

Last light had already left the water.  Enough time and light though, to pull out a chair, a book, and read as day faded into evening.  A few stone throws up river, rough water quieted as the river widen, slowed, and became thoughtful.  Reading doesn’t lend to much noise making.  River life takes little notice of a bank sitter.  Fish who’d settled into the drowsy stretch of water nipped the water surface as the air cooled only to strike hard and break surface as last light left the river canyon.

Three mallards, a drake and two hens, flew up the river’s centerline, locked up and made a river landing just up river of rough water. After some time, they bounced down river swinging around one rock then another as if the rough water was a private roller-coaster.

Across the river, basalt held up the western ridge.  Basalt sluffed rock in the steep areas and allowed shallow-rooted grasses on her slopes.  Firs and pines strutted green against the tan and golden grasses at the base of a draw.  As the ducks moved on down river two horses silently moved out of the firs eating long dead grasses.  As evening darkened they side-hilled the rivers five maybe eight-foot cut bank and nosed water.  They lost little time once they had their fill and disappeared beyond the pines into the draw.

One the eastern ridge elk bugled from one draw or another.  Evening gave way to night.  Latent light holds the darkest of blue above the western ridge with no hard line between it and the black of night above.  In that time where blue knows black and a name is just another word, the coyotes yowl.  Starting up river the chorus of individuals and packs move down river until voices surround the gravel bar, the chair, and the book laid down some time before.

As two, maybe three geese—better ears than mine could say in the dark—pass by heading up river.  Time for fire, its light, a touch of whisky, and supper.

Midsummers

In Seasons, Theology on August 26, 2018 at 10:00 am

There’s something about a summer sky that calls one to think of what is good.  There is too much talk about what is bad.  That’s plain enough listening to NPR in the morning or the evening news.  Too bad folk cannot find more good to talk about. Too bad too many people who should be leaders are so puffed up about themselves that themselves is all they seem to have to talk about and that just comes across as bad.

Midsummer clouds are unlike those of any other season.  They carry plainness of sureness.  Unlike spring clouds who puff themselves up as something to be reckoned with, the midsummers low and unassuming billows beg certitude.  Their simple ordinariness and off-handed confidence calls the wise to find shelter when day slides to evening and the lingering heat vaporizes and swirls into thunderheads.  Then is a time to wait.  And listen.  What was once shy and indifferent unfolds across the heights lighting the nocturnal and hollering just because.  Good listening lies in the reticent and reluctant.

At the edge of rough thorn grease brush stands a morning rabbit taking in low, driftless midsummers.  A hawk circles as they gather above; one into another.  Only to stretch and pull apart on the back of a breeze rising. Holding back, not making too much of themselves; rabbit and hawk wonder how these who linger quietly might be so presumptuous in the dark.  Both grounded and flighted struggle to concentrate on danger and hunger as the morning midsummers beg a seldom enjoyed depth of blue from the rinsed summer sky.  A firmament of poets.  A firmament which lies the backs of children and elders to the ground.

Firm ground to back.  A wisp of the poetical.  Good in the summer sky.  A thought. A wonder.  A “what if.”  The sacrament of the low and driftless might be enough to realize Good creation if the puffed and simple, friend and enemy, neighbor and rival lay upon the terra of their being and wondered at the enchanting of the midsummer.