Artful Land Care

Archive for the ‘Landscape’ Category

April

In Landscape on April 28, 2019 at 10:00 am

When the sun warms and turns to April there is little reason to travel far from home.  Yet spring is the time of year when church, business, and non-profit meetings come out of the woodwork.  Created within each of us, I imagine, is a springgene of sorts kicking in an emotional calling to engage in spiritual search.  Sometimes with others.  Sometimes alone.  After winter’s indoor confinement and outdoors heavy coat and boots and pants and gloves, the light jacket of spring pulls upon an ancient inclination to watch newborn grass break ground, rabbits browsing upon breaking leaves of greasewood, or a hawk catching an updraft.  However, much life has shifted from the body’s seasonal nature; too often we are left with little more than meetings and conferences to fill our post-winter emotional and spiritual needs.

Luck has it my away from home April meetings were canceled.  Allowing springs call to give an ear to wind and an eye to landscape.  Such good fortune should not be wasted but known for the joy to use winter’s learned skills of living quietly and slowly.  In this season of rapid change, a bit of gentle listening and watching may just bring one close as Creation crafts birth, remembrance, and reconciliation. Yesterday’s mundane of cold and motionless explodes in this season—minutes, hours, days—to movement and action.  To miss a spring moment is to miss a multitude of unknowns.  The thought has me turn my collar up against a light but chilly breeze, leave the farm behind, and walk toward the ridge.

The drainage ditch is flowing unhurriedly as I reach it.  A hen mallard slips from the reeds and ten hatchlings furiously paddle behind her. She stops paddling, the current carries her down through the brood to the last hatchling, she groups them up and moves them further upstream away from me.  A good move, the ridge is downstream.  I turn and walk away from them.

To the east a farm still has three-foot cornstalk in the field from Novembers harvest.  Folk have turned cow-calf pairs into the field who now feed on  the dry cornstalk.  Grasses will soon have the height and sugars to become this season’s feed.  Maybe the stalk will be enough, without buying more feed, to get the cattle to grass.  The farmer to the west has stored feed remaining and is busy discing last fall’s cornstalk into the dirt.  With a steady sound of a tractor behind me I reach the old wood-plank bridge that crosses a branch of Toppenish creek.

The creek is high, but its movement even less visible than that of the ditch.  Cresting its banks sometime in the last few days, the creek tells the flood plain of warmer weather upstream.  The road on the other side of the bridge has water flowing over it for the next thirty feet or better.  Crossing to dry road means getting wet.  Just how wet depends if water comes over my boot tops.  I take the chance and hope for no more than two or three inches of water.  A couple steps and I know luck isn’t mine today as boots fill with water who remembers itself as melting snow forty miles upstream.  Fine then.  I’ll count on a decent circulatory system and feet warming boot water.  Soon.  At water’s edge I leave the dirt road and walk downstream.  Finding a piece of ground twenty feet from a small eddy I sit down. Grasses rise above my head. Read the rest of this entry »

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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.

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.

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.

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 »

Heavens Cry

In Doctrine of Discovery, Landscape on December 4, 2017 at 8:02 am

We have become people who can live without the wild.  We will watch The Reverant and imagine and talk about the wild 1800’s.  We will ride a ski lift, look across vast lands of wild and imagine being wild as we ski alongside hundreds on the downslope.  We day hike in refuges and National Parks and think we are one with the wild.  But we believe we can live without it.

As President Trumps emasculates Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments today, it is hard to imagine him having ever backpacked the high country or the low country.  Though carrying all argumentative swagger boasting style of Teddy Roosevelt, he brings the modern dream of timber rather than trees and oil-copper-fracking rather than landscape.  Though the act is deplorable, the reduction of wild fits the US mindset of a growing-building economy rather than a maintaining-healing-imagining economy.

The loss is more than a loss of wild in favor of land development.  The loss tears at the emotional and spiritual wellbeing of people and animals and plants and soil.  Life, in all forms, live better when the imagination allows for the unknown around the next corner.  Vision of the unknown is something American settlers and American Natives had in common.  Read the rest of this entry »

A Cold Landscape

In Doctrine of Discovery, Landscape on December 30, 2016 at 8:29 am

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In five days I visit a landscape different from my own.  Belinda’s folk hail from North Dakota and the landscape is something of her own.  For this southern California boy though, walking into a winter place that locals call cold is likely an understatement.  When I visited the Dakota landscape in the past I found much of it in line with the stories of Belinda’s folk.  Today though, there is something different about the south-central landscape along the Missouri River.  From a distance, it speaks of change.

A landscape of change interests me.

In this season, when US Christianity struggles to speak and act in favor of Creational justice, there are people in a rural landscape who have placed it front and center and have garnered attention for doing so.  Some folk, both local and global, believe they have achieved justice if the current refusal to issue DAPL a permit to cross the Missouri remains in effect come February.  At the surface, my interest lies with the people who believe that as untrue.  For they seem to be the folk who understand care of people without care of land and water and wind may well be a form of mercy, but not justice.  Below the surface, my curiosity lies in the water, land, and wind itself.  There is little action of substance in my home landscape that comes about through people alone.  Any inkling of justice seems to arise only when humans ally their voice with the voice of the landscape.

I wonder, what justice does the water and the land and the wind of this landscape of Belinda’s folk have to speak?  A question, I think, worth a journey.  Why does this landscape call for justice in this this season, in the life of my children?  A question I believe that is worth a pilgrimage.  Yet maybe most important, what if my landscape is calling for the same, but because it is mine, because I see the same ridges each day, because the ridges’ changing shadows amuse and mystify me, I am not able to hear her cry for justice?  What if a visit to a landscape not my own has a word that fractures the barrier between my ears and my landscape’s voice?  Can one not risk journey?

 

Of Cornfield Surprise

In Landscape, Reflections on November 27, 2016 at 10:00 am

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Sage and I were walking toward the refuge.  Only a mile from the farm, the distance is just enough for the dog and I to have worked the kinks out of the legs before settling in for a good walk—that is saying more about me than Sage who is not quite of two years yet.  We were a quarter mile from the farm, walking along our neighbor’s cornfield, when visited.

The harrier is not one of the largest hawks in the valley, but for its size it has a rather impressive wingspan.  Males, gray in color, have a rounded shape tail with an unmistakable black band.  Unlike many other birds, it is the female who is more colorful and attractive—to my eyes not the birds.  Common to the farm, harriers like the low vegetation landscape that allows for a weaving pattern of low flight hunting.  They are a great benefit to managing the vole population in the hay fields.

We walked the cornfield’s west end keeping fifteen feet between the nearest corn stalk and us.  An early cool morning, the distance allowed us to walk in sunlight dropping off the cornfield’s edge.  Sage kept her nose to ground picking up scents of last night’s nocturnal critters.  She dashed in and out of cornrows, returning now and again questioning why I would not join in on the fun of following scent.

It was during one of those visits when a harrier dove off the cornfield edge and almost ran into us.  Sweeping hard to the south, the hawk was close enough to detail feathers on its gray belly.  I don’t know if hawks jump, but the waggle it made in it tough southerly turn seemed akin to the jump Sage and I made.

He quickly leveled out a few feet from the ground.  Sage watched him for the full length of a moment and then ran off nose to ground.  I took a breath.

In seconds the hawk was over the wild area it would take our non-flight legs to make.  Banking to the west he circled to the north, crossing the winter feeding ground of a neighbor and a disced wheat field before heading south.  Keeping five feet above the ground, he flew by a few feet off our right.  As he slid by, there was the slightest twist of his owlish face.  Perhaps it is a stretch, but I think not, we looked each other in the eye.  Meanwhile, with nose to ground Sage was busy checking out a pile of crusted over coyote crap—with little less wonder than my own.

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 »

The Sentient and Soulful Landscape

In Landscape, Theology on February 28, 2016 at 1:00 pm

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February 28, 2016

She was nailing it! Speaking on how the Federal and State government were dealing with an environmental issue in northern California, she told stories of her family, earth, and water. Yet, many folk in the room of predominantly non-Indian middle (more or less) class folk were not getting it.

A problem with being middle (more or less) class in the US, is to have made it out of poverty and subsistence living, folk did it by obtaining and accepting a western education. While this education has served us well in obtaining a good money-earning job, it has done a shabby job of having us maintain relationship with the spirit of the landscape.

I grew up with an Okie neighbor who told stories. Those stories kept him in relationship with folk, told much about him, and spoke to his outlook on life, land, the future, and the past. Most often peppered with words most folk would find inappropriate for children’s ears—and many adults for that matter—they were the racy stories that kept a young teenagers attention from beginning to end. From him I learned stories spoke truth and were much easier to remember later than, say, the historical dates being taught to me in school. His stories also helped me know there is life and ways of being different from my normal. Which meant later in life I heard other stories as truthful rather than fantasyful.

Another friend, a Yakama, told me stories of her and her family’s life growing up in landscape of ancient people. Her stories walked a path that before too long intersected with a rabbit trail. Not one to walk away from an adventure, her story wandered the rabbit trail, many times finding and taking another trail. Often, but not always, a trail would be found leading back to the original path. Whether the story found the original path or not, each story found its way to a natural truth needing telling. Read the rest of this entry »