Artful Land Care

Archive for the ‘JustLiving Farm’ Category

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.

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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.

Of Spring and Dandelion

In Seasons on April 15, 2018 at 10:00 am

Wait for the right moment: Length of day.  Temperature.  A drenching spring rain.  Two days. From the ground they spring, abundantly, with fortitude.  Their numbers shout, no-matter-what-you-do we will out populate your work and survive and win.

Prior to rain, one rises, here and there, and tells all who’ll listen of what is soon to transpire.  Rain turns prophesy to reality.  By the hundreds dandelions are everywhere.  The abundance of flower is such that it is impossible not step upon one during a morning walk across a dew watered field.  Their abundance changes the spring greenscape into a landsky of yellow stars.

Dandelions fill the valley, but true abundance comes in the place of disturbance.  Native ground allows seed to settle and have life here and there.  However, pastures and hay fields where soil is opened by hoof and harrow sanctions exceptional seed to soil contact.  The yellow of hundreds of pasture dandelions extinguishes all doubt winter is of yesterday and spring is of now.

Being a wholly edible plant, one would think the dandelion virtuous and desirable.  Perhaps it is our local food store privilege.  Perhaps it is simple laziness.  Perhaps it is desire for an immaculate monoculture green lawn. Whatever the reason, the yellow dandelion flower raises the ire of many.

No ire for the goat though.  Dandelions are a goat’s plant of wonder.  Entering a pasture after dandelion flowers have risen is a goat moment not unlike that of a child spilling their candy upon the floor after a Halloween outing.  Such good life is unbelievable.  Such good fortune!  The low-lying flower is especially theirs.  While sheep will eat dandelion, they have little enthusiasm for its bitter leaf. The low lying character of the dandelion holds little interest for cattle because the distance between nose and teeth is greater than the height of flower and leaf.  But for the goat.  This is the flower of the gods…mmmm.

The spring dandelion is a bold reminder of life after a long winter.  The audaciousness of the lion’s yellow tooth smile beside its gift of total edibleness brings vivacity to sight and belly.  Winter is gone.  Spring has come.  With the pluckiness that comes with others thinking it a lowly weed, the dandelion is nothing if not confident enough to sidle up beside the daffodil and claim William Wordsworth’s poem, I wandered lonely as a cloud, as its own.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils

No Air No Life

In Art, Landscape, Soil on February 14, 2018 at 9:29 am

There are a number of small clay deposits on the farm.  Most of the year I do not appreciate them. They’re not much good when it comes to grass or alfalfa growth.  Plant a seed and the clay envelopes it so tightly the seed cannot breathe.  No air no life no grass no alfalfa.

Then come days when I want clay.  Adding local clay to store-bought clay gives pottery a uniqueness that is only of the farm’s landscape.  Yet, farm clay has its problems.  Clay might not grow much but it is not without organics.  A small six-inch hollow in a clay area allows drifting soil to fill, which allows grass seed to grow, that in turn allows roots to stretch into the clay—just a little.  The grass grows, withers, dies, and the faded leaf embeds into the clay during the next rainfall.  Alongside, a rabbit figures the clay is as good as anyplace to leave a dropping or two, which marries the clay as well during a rainfall.  When it comes to growing seed, it is all good.  The roots, leaf, droppings all break down to dust.  The dust enhances the small hollow a bit and over years the ground of growth enlarges.  Read the rest of this entry »

Full Day Sunsets and Dreams

In Reflections, Seasons on October 1, 2017 at 10:00 am

“It’s been a full day,” is a comment of norm as fall’s setting colors settles into the evening sky.  We’ve joked that this has been a season of maintenance as one farm implement after the other begs attention before returning to the mettle of its work.  There’s been as much time on the stick welder as there’s been irrigating, baling, moving cattle, and harvesting the foodbank garden.  Then when pasture work backs into pastor work, “It’s been a full day” falls into the air as easily as boots fall to floor.

Yet, when it comes to balancing a backyard supper plate of garden vegetables and beef cooked over wood coals and watching the West’s evening color show, there is an ease to the day.  The anxious grandson takes as-little-as-possible time to eat and runs off with the dog.  As they head toward the western lightshow it seems their romp leads them to heaven.  Maybe it does.

I wonder, does the wellbeing of those “It’s been a full day” evenings last?  I like to think so.    Those elders who do not cling to societies claim of forever young and seventy is the new fifty, regularly have a good word alongside one of ache.  They claim those full day sunsets as a gift.  A type of gift that cannot be claimed by the youthful.  Fullness of age lead them to stories of yesteryear, running with the dog, the pleasantries of love and wonder, and for the sly of heart, sex.  Like grandchildren, the forever young often miss simple evening colors while the elders speak of distinctions between subtle smells of the orange sunset and its burgundy kin.

Hours after dog running the grandson will lie flat on his back and dream with the imagination that comes with three years of life.  Soon afterward I follow with a more aged imagination.  I like to think these full days will last until the end of days, whenever that might be.  There is not great necessity that either body or mind be in the best of working order as those days role in, as much as having the fullness of imagination blending yesterday’s work—running with the dog or welding a broken shaft—to the dreams of this full day.

Perhaps the mettle of an elder’s grace is no more than that: to have the imagination to dream.  Whether our age is 3 or 103, whether we run with the dog or sit and watch the dog run, whether we balance our plate on our knees or have someone feed us, as long as we dream of sunsets and full days we know pleasant stories of love, wonder, and—surely for the sly 103-year-old, sex.

Red Insulator

In Chores, Landscape on June 19, 2016 at 8:57 am

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June 19, 2016 

Land identification does not change easily in rural landscapes.  When a farm, ranch, or corner store passes hands, folk continue to identify it in the name of the previous owner years beyond the exchange.

Ray’s place became part of the farm a few years ago.  The passing of land and its being used differently meant some fence lines would need to come down and other go up.  However, I found knowing my neighbor well, meant I felt out of place any time I was on soil that once was his.  Because of that, I’ve waited to remove and construct fences.  Eventually, however, the time came to get the work done.

H-braces hold fence lines taut and are the first features built.  Theses went up in the early spring.  A month later T-posts were driven and then wire stretched.  The fence is a five wire fence.  The top two wires are barbwire, the next is electric fence wire, the fourth barb, and the bottom electric.  The pattern works well for a cow and goat operation.  The barbwire keeps cows in place and the goats, who duck through the barbwire easily enough, are stopped by the electric wire.

Wire clips hold the barbwire to the fence posts.  Insulators hold the electric wire to the same posts.  I had a number of insulators on hand from pulling them off old posts; some from the farm and others from Ray’s place.

When working a neighbors place you are acutely aware they are never quite gone.  That has a lot to do with why locals call places by the last owner’s name—even if it has been decades since they last lived there, and why local folk know the land being fenced as the old Brown place.  Fair enough, the working sweat and blood of those people are embedded in the soil they lived and worked on all those years.  One does not need be the best listener in the world to hear those voices of work long after they have left the land. Read the rest of this entry »

Fair Day

In Animals, Reflections, Theology on June 5, 2016 at 6:00 pm

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March 27, 2016

Each fall we take time off and head to the Central Washington Fair. Less than an hour from the farm, it is a great place to have a family day. There is a little something for everyone. You cannot go to the fair and not meet a neighbor or two. And we’re always sure to take any visiting friends; it is a nice way to get an overview of the farming and ranching in the county, all in one place.

If nothing else, you’ll get your daily walk in at the fair. From barns to the commercial building, we make our way from one end to the other. All the while being astonished by how gifted our county people are. Not far into the walk and it soon becomes clear folk across the county have many interests and they learn them well. A favorite of mine is the quilting barn. Quilting is something I have no interest in learning or taking up, but you have to give it to quilters. Quilts are where art, mathematics, and skill combine to expose just how wonderful and detailed our imagination is. Quilting is also one of those crafts which bring the elderly and the young together. Hanging from walls is the most carefully stitched quilt of an arthritic elder next to the first quilt of young smooth faced girl. Quilting is certainly family-neighborly art.

It isn’t a fair without visiting the canned goods barn. Just as artful as quilting it is good to know canning is making something of a comeback these days. I hope to trend continues to increase and there is some evidence of that in the barn. Bottles of pears, peaches, rhubarb, apples, strawberries, string beans, peas, and corn line one shelf after another. 4-H and FFA Youth, as you might expect, have their jams and preserves on display for folk to wonder over. Yet there are also jars from children and youth who are not in an organization. It might be conjecture, but I believe more grandparents are finding canning with their grandchildren a time to expose them to the wonders of good food and good storytelling. Whether it is prepping beans or slicing peaches or water bathing, canning is a time to tell the old stories and develop a few for tomorrow. Read the rest of this entry »

Coffee & Microwave 1

In JustLiving Farm, Reflections, YCM on May 8, 2016 at 8:00 am

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May 8, 2016  

Morning coffee has me thinking about giving up the microwave.  Our maker of electromagnetic radiation gave up the ghost about six months ago.  However, having returned from Ireland to a grant-based job—meaning the job could go away as the grant wrapped up—our daughter, Katherine, stayed with us until she obtained a non-grant job.  Which meant, we used her microwave.  It was bound to happen and sure enough, Katherine moved out with a non-grant job in tow.  As the Volkswagen bug headed down the driveway with an outstretched arm waving out the driver’s window, I saw the last of the microwave through the bug’s back window.

I figured I knew how often we used the microwave.  However, I never thought about how the microwave effected contemplative life.

When I finish chores in the morning I make a pot of coffee.  Then sit and read or write.  Inevitably, I forget my cup sitting beside me and the coffee turns cold.  Not a big deal, I put the cup in the microwave, set it for 20 seconds.  Hot coffee!  One does not need to pay much attention with a microwave on the counter.

No microwave and my like for hot coffee have led me toward drinking coffee thoughtfully.  Spring mornings allows for sitting at the outside table and listening to early birds sing as the eastern sky brightens.  A transitional time arrives each morning when rabbits leave the pasture and head back to the safety of the wild landscape.  Some mornings the owl arrives late to the roost and her swooping image is more than a silhouette.  Sipping coffee, watching, and thinking and may not be the way of the traditional contemplative, but it does lend to a quietness. Read the rest of this entry »

The Contemplative Of Warm Teats

In Animals, Reflections on April 10, 2016 at 8:00 am

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April 10, 2016

Milking is not my place of redemption.  I never got to know God when rising at four on a cold winter morning and heading to the barn to milk cows or goats.  The lack of connection probably had a lot to do with cold fingers and a love for warm weather!

Because of my lack of love for milking, I managed to never do much of it.  My father and Belinda, though, did quite a lot.  Belinda was milking sixty or so goats in southern California when I met her.  Dad grew up milking cows in the landscape of the Texas panhandle.  Belinda has many great stories of milking.  Daddy, not so many, but then there is a lot of difference in winter weather between southern California and the Texas panhandle.  Winter is winter though, and both talk about the redemption of milking on a cold winter morning is a warm teat.

Milking is milking, but there is as much difference between cow and goat teats as there is in their milk.  Cow’s teats are slender and fit a medium sized hand fairly well.  They are tough though, and the action of milking, rolling fingers from top to bottom with a bit of pulling action, develops hand strength.

A few days ago a neighbor stopped by the farm and picked up a ton of hay for his cows.  He supposes milking has its ups and downs, with more ups than down.  An up was during his teenage years.  The daily pulling of teats, he figures, gave him such hand and forearm strength that he had an advantage over his high school wrestling opponents.  No longer a young man, when I look at his hands and forearms I am good with not having him as an opponent all those years ago.

The goat teat is softer and more funnel shape than the cylindrical teats of a cow.  The difference in teats between species is fairly obvious.  From cow to goat to hog to cat they are all uniquely suited to their young.  After talking to milkers though, I imagine teats are like fingerprints, they are all unique to the individual animal—no two, quad, or dozen are alike.  This uniqueness is apparent when talking to milkers.  Read the rest of this entry »

Showing Up

In JustLiving Farm, Reflections on March 27, 2016 at 6:55 pm

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March 27, 2016

About a dozen folk were already in the high school when we arrived.  This was caucus day.  Caucusing is still a bit weird for us.  Before we first came to Washington State, we simply went to the local high school and placed our ballot.  Now living in a caucus state, we sit with folk in our community, argue for whom we believe would best represent our community, and choose delegates for the candidates selected.

Caucusing began an hour after we arrived, so we watched as folk arrived and slowly filled the tables of each precinct.  We sat at the 4001 precinct table.  Folk filled the tables to the north and south, and to the east and west.  We waited.  When time came to caucus, most all the tables were filled, except one to the west, which like ours, had two people.

There is something about showing up.  This Easter day, the day after caucusing, has much to say about just showing up.  No one chanced showing up at the tomb, but the women.  Showing up though meant they had the opportunity to speak with a couple of dazzling men (Lk. 24:4).  That morning, those women lived through something no one experienced before or ever again—except through the stories they told.  There is something about showing up.

At the end of the day, for the hundred or so square miles of our precinct, two people chose two delegates.  The same held true from the precinct table to the west of us.  Sure, how few people were at the tables have a lot to say to just how many democrats live within these hundred square miles.  Yet it also has much to say of what it means not to show up.  The power of many is relinquished to the few.

The experience has much to say to those who wonder about the value of my vote.  For on this one day, in the State of Washington, the delegates who are to represent the people of hundreds of square miles of the American landscape, who in turn will help decide who the next president of the United States might be, were decided by four people.

There is something about just showing up.