Artful Land Care

Archive for the ‘JustLiving Farm’ Category

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.

Corn Pie

In Animals, Poetry on February 21, 2016 at 8:00 am

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whole kernel cow pie
do cows think of
corn as cow food

 

Iced Post

In JustLiving Farm, Poetry on February 7, 2016 at 8:00 am

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air frozen to post
imagine night on street
with coat and blanket

Fathers-In-Law

In Chores, Landscape, Theology on January 24, 2016 at 8:00 am

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January 24, 2016

A fog storm settled in around us as we worked the rail fence. We started setting posts in the last moments of autumn hoping to beat the winter cold. We didn’t make it. The cold barreled in and uncritical chores became critical and the remaining post and railing took a seat. Those chores ended just in time for winter days who freeze nose hairs as you step out of the house.

Cattle are a curious bunch. So there we were trying to lag rails to the few posts we’d set weeks ago, with steers breathing out great buffs of fog as we worked, each settling a foot above our heads. Before you knew it, it was hard to see Belinda at the end of a sixteen-foot board. You think it an exaggeration? Well, perhaps a bit. Just the same…

I could hear Belinda’s dad scoffing at us as we worked. “Four below zero? Well, let me tell you. I was returning home from school one day when mamma stopped and picked me up. ‘Buddy,’ she said, ‘Don’t you know it is 43 below!! You’ll freeze before you ever get home.’ Four below, …hmpff.” My figures numbed inside unlined leather gloves.

My response was non-verbal, Dad has been gone for nearly three years now, “Yeah, well Bud, that’s what you Swedes and Norwegians get for choosing North Dakota when you arrived in this landscape. Some of us had the good sense to head straight to warm land, like, say, south Texas and California.” The trouble with having in your head conversations is you start countering your own arguments and it is no longer Bud but myself saying, “Oh Yeah, then why the hell are you here at the end of a board in below freezing weather? Damn!” I continued bickering with Bud and myself until the last lag screw is twisted in. We packed up the tools and took them to the shed. Then headed up to the house, the woodstove, a cup of coffee, and verbal conversation—I’m sure I will pick up the conversation with Bud another day. Read the rest of this entry »

Zucchini’s Cunning Effort to Populate Creation

In JustLiving Farm on November 1, 2015 at 10:00 am

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November 1, 2015

Early in the spring we put out three zucchini plants and two crookneck. More plants than we normally plant, but we figured we would get through them just fine. However, a freeze came along. Figuring the plants had died, we put in five more. The days were busy in the spring and we didn’t get around to pulling the dead ones for a week. When we did, they all had the beginning of new leaves, so, we let them grow.

Anyone who has grown a zucchini plant knows what happened next. Nothing is as proliferate as a zucchini plant. Once it gets procreation of seed on its plant mind, it cannot shake it loose. Now, I like zucchini as much as the next guy, but after having zucchini every night for three weeks, options are tenuous. I told a recently retired friend about our hardship. He was in the process of cleaning up his library, and when he arrived at the coffee shop the next week he handed me a zucchini cookbook, with a smile. Knowing him for the gardener he is, I wondered if there was bountiful laughing behind the smile. I still do. We got by two more weeks on that cookbook though.

Keeping up with the zucchini was hard during the early weeks. Impossible in the later weeks. Wheelbarrows full of squash, two or three or four feet long, headed back to the goats each week. After dumping them, took a square head shovel, and chopped them into three and four inch pieces. That worked well, the chickens and goats ate and ate, for a couple of weeks. I guess zucchini has its limits for everyone—except the soil.

By mid-summer we found zucchini plants in the pastures. Obviously, these plants were from the last year’s natural chicken sowing efforts of the few zucchini we dumped. Which gives wonder and fear to what the soil will do next summer with the extraordinary number of seeds the chickens must be spreading this year.

With zucchini stacked on the back porch, the laundry room half-full, and the hardly able to open the pumphouse door without them tumbling out, I wondered how to tell this story. Then Gene Logsdon wrote The Good, the Bad, and…the Zucchini last week. Sooner or later, every writer who grows zucchini has a zucchini story. Logsdon nails the zucchini story this year. So, instead of wondering how to tell our story, I invite you to hear a story of intrigue, humor, scheming, and zucchini’s cunning plot to invade every nook and cranny of the world. And I will go have a slice of zucchini bread.

***** Read the rest of this entry »

Sipping Tea on a Dog Chewing Autumn Afternoon

In Animals, Art, JustLiving Farm on October 25, 2015 at 10:00 am

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October 22, 2015

The last sun tea is on the porch. If there was any doubt last week, there is not this week, it is autumn. Cool morning temperatures and the leaves are changing color. Two trees are already bare—looking naked next to those full of leaf—and irrigation ditches are dry.

Fall speaks to the sun tea’s seasonableness. There is something fitting about how slow seeping tea over ice suits a summer afternoon. Much like how boiling water over a tea bag fits a winter evening. There is a sadness though, as I walk by the mason jar on a fall day and notice there is hardly enough sunlight-heat to change water’s color. A reminder the heavy warmth of sun that buries self into soil and ripens summer tomatoes is again a wait until spring reality.

There is a comfort in knowing the change the landscape is experiencing. Insight gifts a time of preparation before freezing makes the soil impossible to dig. However, there is also something about the naiveté that comes with having not yet lived a winter. Sage, a five-month-old, red, something or other dog, is now a farm companion. Neighbors who live next to a busy hop season road found a throw away litter of pups five months ago. A too busy road led to Sage coming to the farm to live out her life.

Fall is a furiousness time. Different from the constant movement of summer, fall has this is the last chance to get chores done before the first hard freeze or snow that covers that one item your looking for.

As I rebuilt the temporary winter fence that allows cattle and goats to graze the stockpiled hay field, Sage ran from one end to the other and back, repeatedly. While I spliced two ends of fencing wire, she ran back flopping down into the alfalfa. Not breathing heavy, like any self-respecting fifty-something would after a full out eighth mile run (well, okay, this guy ain’t running nothing full out…), she sat in the green of full afternoon fall sun acting as if this is the best day ever. Clearly, she has no concept of cold of winter lying just round the corner!

15.10.25b Read the rest of this entry »