Artful Land Care

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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.  Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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 »