Artful Land Care

Of Cornfield Surprise

In Landscape, Reflections on November 27, 2016 at 10:00 am

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Sage and I were walking toward the refuge.  Only a mile from the farm, the distance is just enough for the dog and I to have worked the kinks out of the legs before settling in for a good walk—that is saying more about me than Sage who is not quite of two years yet.  We were a quarter mile from the farm, walking along our neighbor’s cornfield, when visited.

The harrier is not one of the largest hawks in the valley, but for its size it has a rather impressive wingspan.  Males, gray in color, have a rounded shape tail with an unmistakable black band.  Unlike many other birds, it is the female who is more colorful and attractive—to my eyes not the birds.  Common to the farm, harriers like the low vegetation landscape that allows for a weaving pattern of low flight hunting.  They are a great benefit to managing the vole population in the hay fields.

We walked the cornfield’s west end keeping fifteen feet between the nearest corn stalk and us.  An early cool morning, the distance allowed us to walk in sunlight dropping off the cornfield’s edge.  Sage kept her nose to ground picking up scents of last night’s nocturnal critters.  She dashed in and out of cornrows, returning now and again questioning why I would not join in on the fun of following scent.

It was during one of those visits when a harrier dove off the cornfield edge and almost ran into us.  Sweeping hard to the south, the hawk was close enough to detail feathers on its gray belly.  I don’t know if hawks jump, but the waggle it made in it tough southerly turn seemed akin to the jump Sage and I made.

He quickly leveled out a few feet from the ground.  Sage watched him for the full length of a moment and then ran off nose to ground.  I took a breath.

In seconds the hawk was over the wild area it would take our non-flight legs to make.  Banking to the west he circled to the north, crossing the winter feeding ground of a neighbor and a disced wheat field before heading south.  Keeping five feet above the ground, he flew by a few feet off our right.  As he slid by, there was the slightest twist of his owlish face.  Perhaps it is a stretch, but I think not, we looked each other in the eye.  Meanwhile, with nose to ground Sage was busy checking out a pile of crusted over coyote crap—with little less wonder than my own.

Loosing Wildness

In Doctrine of Discovery, Theology on October 28, 2016 at 8:00 am

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If you were to go back two hundred and eleven years ago last Saturday (October 22) and stand on the bank of the Columbia River at Celilo Falls, you would watch hundreds of fishing families hoop-netting the salmon fall run.  Mid-day arrives and with your kin, you sit and eat in as unending mist rises from the falls turning waters.  The sound and constant mist is a wonder, but that wonder deepens as a group of folk portage the falls—the only place needing portage on this river of Canadian birth.  Word came weeks ago about these people headed by Lewis and Clark traveling west on the river.  However, you have lived long enough now to know what you hear, what you see, and what you experience seldom are a match.

Some two hundred miles upstream from the river’s mouth, these fishers are folk of subsistence. The falls are a natural barrier to returning salmon.  As more and more arrive on their journey to mate, lay eggs, and die in their spawning streams and creeks of birth, the pools below the falls fill.  As they leap and hurdle themselves ever forward over the falls toward embodied spawning grounds men with large hoop nets stand firmly on long-ago constructed family platforms pulling salmon from the river.  Youth gather fish and carry them to women who work carving meat away from bones and hanging it to dry.  Children help where they can, but most run about and play games as children do.  The value of those fishing, gathering, fileting, or drying is the same.  The work is natural work.  Honorable work.  The righteous work of community.

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Until the 1930’s, the Columbia did not know a dam. A century and a quarter after Lewis and Clark portaged around Celilo Falls, that all changed. 

Morning Walk

In Reflections on October 16, 2016 at 4:57 pm

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Hay is in the barn.  Baled, hefted on to the flatbed trailer and into the barn less than an hour before the first fall drencher.  Though we have had a few weeks of fall per the calendar and roughly the same per seasonal coolness, it has been summer work all along.  Now with last hay baled life feels like autumn.

The dialect of the early morning fall sky is different from that of summer.  One last watering of the hay field calls for a 5:30am walk to move irrigation line.  Summer speaks of light and long morning shadows as it rises above the eastern horizon.  With a flashlight in the back pocket, a sliver of moon in the dark morning sky and a milky star mass, between southern Orin Belt and northern Big Dipper, settling just out of reach, it is surely fall.

Morning dew soaks leather boots in the morning hour and darkening leather assures damp feet.  It seems it were only yesterday when one could walk barefoot at this hour without a hint of dampness.

Animals who were feeding a month ago at this hour are lying in the field.  After resetting the irrigation line and starting the pump, a few have raised their head and are chewing cud.  No one is in much of hurry to rise.

Returning to the house on a fall morning is worthy of celebration.  Prior to leaving the house, beans were ground and water placed in the coffeemaker.  The walk from field to house is an eastern one.  A hint of sunrise red in the dark sky cause eastern stars to vanish.  Yet it is as if those same stars have visited the house and their illuminance is beckoning through the kitchen window.  The square widow of light welcomes one home.