Artful Land Care

Archive for 2018|Yearly archive page

Home

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.  Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

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.

Marble

In Poetry on July 22, 2018 at 10:00 am

Our ghosts follow us more
often than we think,
or want.

I told my grandmother,
“Get in touch with me after you die.”
If existence after death is real.
I’ve never heard from her.

A church attender
who is trying to figure out
weird religious after-this-life stuff.

“We’ve never been taught to listen differently.
To hear the song of kin long dead.
In the breeze, the bending of a tree,
or sunlight’s twinkle off rippling water.”

Something rolled in the sock drawer
when pulling it out.
Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

Again, the next day.
Rolling.
Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
Reaching back, past the socks—a marble.

Who’d been the marble
of my dead brother
whose birthday was yesterday.

 

Standing Rock 2018

In YCM on June 17, 2018 at 11:37 am

A twenty-hour drive and I am back home on a sunny and clear Sunday morning.  Such a drive allows much time for reflection.  The last few weeks of visiting reservations of this ancient land, having many conversations, and living with young adults on the Standing Rock reservation gives one much to ponder.  Just the same, I spent as much of that driving time listening to TED Talk’s and music than I did pondering the past.  So, on this sunny Sunday morning, as I write this last piece on the Standing Rock trip, I settle upon one image of these last weeks.

Four mares stand in a temporary corral. They each descend from a particular time in the life of the Hunkpapa Lakota people.  Specifically under the leadership of Sitting Bull.  The story told is about Sitting Bull and a number of folk going to Canada after the Battle of Little Bighorn for safety.  They live there for a number of years.  During that time US representatives visited five times to negotiate their return to the US.  After the fifth time Sitting Bull and the people agree to return—under specific conditions and agreements.  When they returned their horses were taken from them and they confined to place—not the conditions and place agreed to.  The four mares standing in the corral before me are decedents of the Sitting Bull horses taken on that day. Read the rest of this entry »

Standing Rock 2018

In YCM on June 13, 2018 at 12:00 pm

I’ve known about the Mandan people for more time than most westerners west of the Rockies.  Mostly because I married into a North Dakota family.  As one might suspect my knowledge was rather lacking as a white non-Native marrying into a white non-Native family. Of course my schooling was lacking in the Nativeness of the landscape as well.  My education was better than many, I figure, because my junior and high school years were the years of the Red Power movement.  Not only did I have access to nightly news events: Occupation of Alcatraz Island 1969-71, Wounded Knee incident 1973, but I went to a fairly progressive High school for the era that allowed for an edgy curriculum that include Native American studies.  Once I get to the bottom of it though, I knew nothing of indigenous history by the time I graduated High School.

Since last Saturday I have been hanging with a number of High School students in North Dakota, on the Standing Rock Reservation where Dakota and Lakota (mostly) people live.  The reservation itself is a small piece of what was once the Great Sioux Reservation, which went through a great reduction after gold was found in the Black Hills in the early 1870’s—enough of that though, typical history can be looked up.  I find myself on the reservation because of two people, Laurie Pound-Feille and Bill Spangler-Dunning.  Read the rest of this entry »

Standing Rock 2018

In YCM on June 12, 2018 at 5:53 am

The eagle staff entered the powwow pavilion from the east.  From the river side.  Next comes flags and then dancers.  They processed clockwise around the pavilion with the staff and colors circling toward the pavilions center as dancers continued to enter. A shade structure frames the perimeter of the pavilion.  Twelve feet in width.  Circling the pavilion every ten feet are support posts holding the structure above the ground. Three rising seat benches make up the boundary of the pavilion. The last and highest bench backrest is five feet off the ground.

Standing outside the pavilion I used the top rail of the backrest to support a sketch pad as I sketch the pavilion’s doings.  Powwow’s have their own life.  Something or another is going on all the time, but there is an ebb and flow—dancing, conversations, drumming, eating.  Sketching has a way of filling out a powwow day.

I’m finishing a sketch when a young girl of eight or nine bounces down the bench, sits down, and asks what I am doing. I tell her.  I tell her how I try to show the support posts and the pavilion roof to give perspective to the dancers in the sketch.  She listens as I talk—but I know that little talk on perspective went nowhere and I need to get a grip on whom I am talking with.  Read the rest of this entry »

Standing Rock 2018

In YCM on June 10, 2018 at 5:52 am

Morning.  Stars filled the night sky when I last looked.  Then a good wind blew.  Moving clouds in.  Then out. Leaving just enough to catch and mix the morning sun rays into a painting a photo could never justify.

Morning and I find myself on 40 acres of the local Episcopal Diocese.  Acres who lie within the boundaries of the Standing Rock Nation. Not all that far from where protesting and water protection occurred just a few years ago.  Like so much, those days of protesting of the Dakota Access Pipeline have been lost in the continual data and news stream filling our phones, computers, and televisions.

Morning comes after yesterday evenings powwow.  The first for the young adults who’ve come to this place.  The evening was a moment of beginnings.  Sights.  Sounds. Dust. Conversation.  A group of non-Natives wondering what and whom and how this landscape is different than their home place.  Dancers, speakers, children.  A different story to learn.  Not new. But new to them.

Morning and the sun breaks over the horizon.

Willow

In Poetry on May 13, 2018 at 10:00 am

 

Rooted willow stands outside
Front window.  Morning twilight.
Neither light nor dark.

Black trunk and branches
Rise. Sillohetted against the
Dark light blue sky.

Small branches wing out.
Tips loose themselves in
Lighted dark blue sky.

Willow without one leaf
On one branch.  Rooted
Lightly in dark ground.

 

Craned Neck

In Animals, Landscape on April 29, 2018 at 10:00 am

A warbling trumpet sound wanders across the valley.  Must be mid-March for the sound can only mean the Sandhill Crane has returned.  Having left the warmth of the south for northern places, the valley provides rest and food and thoughtfulness.

The arrival of the crane means it is time for spring tilling.  Scattered tractor engines belch black smoke after their winter idleness.  Then settle into smokeless back and forth movement across fields.  Few in number this early in the season means the sound of a single tractor working the hop field a mile to the north can be distinguished from one disking a cornfield half mile to the east.  Over the low growl of engines, a sound without equal encourages eyes to wander the sky.

Two factors work against your first glimpse of spring cranes.  Their trumpet sound is heard for miles and by the time you hear it they’ve traveled a good stone’s throw from where they spoke.  Then, the March sky is the gray of rain.  Delineating between their gray bodies and the undulating grays of clouds takes persistence.  However, the payoff is worth persistence and close listening.

A first spring sighting of a Sandhill Crane flock is a view one hopes will linger into that era after life is lived. Their over-reaching wingspans slipping across the sky is something of the ancient.  And as a flight of dozens glide through the valley as if they are floating upon unseen swales, one experiences a gift.  Of the ages.

Twenty-three settle upon the north end of the west pasture.  It’s the first week of April.  As soon as they land they point their bills south and begin feeding.  Guards with long necks, regally straight, walk with an eye toward the strange and predator.  Others feed. Soon there is a a changing of the guards.  Guarders drop necks to feed and feeders rise to guard.  The constant change from guard to feeder to guard is a communal act of safety, family survival, and natural relationship.

The eating Sandhill walk is as graceful as it is odd. Leaning forward over ridiculously long legs with backward knees seems it should come across as awkward.  However, the lean comes with the long neck bent into a double U, one U upward the other downward—not unlike the p-trap under the kitchen sink—which gives the observer a natural sense of balance.  This stance also places their bill perpendicular to the ground.  Ready for feeding.

Step by step they feed across the field.
Without sound.

A tractor a few miles to the west fires up.