Artful Land Care

Ditch Bank

In Landscape, Seasons on March 21, 2019 at 7:02 am

 

My experience of spring seldom has much to do with the vernal equinox.  Most years the landscape has warmed to spring well ahead of the equinox.  Others afterwards.  Seldom does the feel of landscape match the relationship between sun and earth.  Not so this year.

The snow melt-off has begun.  Spring grass may be long off but sinew of arms and legs feel the green lying in the ground.  I give thought to folk still residing in the clutches of sub-zero weather and snow, but it slips away as fast as I slip on ice hiding below the melting slush.  Unstable footing is life for the next few weeks as slush turns to the ground below to miserably cold mud.  Mud that clutches boot just long enough for either the foot to slip out or the body to lose balance.  Either way, mud becomes intimate sooner or later.  No reason to complain though.  Just a few days ago it seemed winter had a good mind to hang on through spring’s season—leave spring out in the cold—and meet summer for the first time.  Sun had a different opinion and I am happier for it.

East-west ditch banks know this lingering transition of winter and spring better than anyone. The sun and earths relation may be in equinox, but ditch banks in this landscape know the sun’s mid-day run lingers to the southern horizon.  The north ditch bank who faces the sun knows it well and welcomes its heat.  Soon a sliver of ground breaks through the snow. As that bit of dirt warms the sliver spreads and soon the north ditch bank is clear.  The southern bank who faces north tells a very different story. Sunlight leans over its back on its way to the northern bank without so much as a hello.  Lying in its own shadow the southern bank looks to the north with an icy stare.

A natural truth resides in the east and west ditch bank relationship.  They are sister and brother of their home ditch.  They are birthed of one dirt.  They have the same spring water running past their shoulders. Yet in this season they are treated differently.  They experience two different worlds.  Associated life is similar.  North bank worms know warming spring ground while southern worms continue to live in winters grasp.

A thing or two from east-west ditch banks.  We are birthed of one landscape, one valley, one continent, one earth, one creation.  We carry the same imagination, same inhibitions, same fears, same sanctity.  Contrary to what many of us would like to think, nothing sets one human apart from another, except the ditch-bank.  In our raising we find ourselves on two sides of one ridgeline, two sides of one track, different sides of one city, experiencing sun and shade, wet and dry and wet, hope and despair similarly but differently.  Little wonder our culture is different from our kin’s just across the way.

Ditch banks may be no more than dirt, but on this spring day they help us recognize folk who think and act differently than ourselves as kin. For after all, each of us are little more than walking dirt of the ditch-bank.

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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. 

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.