Thursday, October 25, 2012

And then.......

So it's now late October. The golden sun and leaves of my last post are gone. Literally - in the 50 mph wind we had last week. But other colors paint the landscape.

We cleared off the garden. Then we cleaned out the garage. The last of the green was gone from the creek, and the garden as well. The ewes relished the last seasonal treats of the immature squash and gourds. The broccoli plants were crunched with great enthusiasm, and the red and green tomatoes eagerly gobbled. We sighed a bit, and unwrapped yet another of the precious few bales.

And then...... it rained.

With a soft distant rumble of thunder, it began with a gentle patter on the window. It continued for much of the morning, each drop disappearing as soon as it hit the ground. It didn't seem like much, so I was surprised when the telltale sign of the glistening puddle appeared at the end of the drive - had it really reached the half inch mark?  Yes, indeed.

By then, the faint rhythmic pulse of the rain was accompaniment to the chorus of the green. If you listened carefully, you could almost hear the turnips singing. Maybe it was just my imagination, but  I think the trees were humming along.

To witness and be moved by such a simple act of nature is a wonder-ous and humbling thing. It brought back memories. Of my Dad, leaning against the frame of the porch screen door, watching the water pouring out of the bent downspout, covering  the lawn in a miniature flood plain, his face almost aglow in a grin. My mother's retelling of a neighbors claim "'Makes me want to break out a chorus of the Doxology when it rains like this', according to  Edith Stone". Was that the refrain I heard?

The 3/4 in we got that day was welcome beyond words. And there were still showers predicted that night. Sleep came easily for the first time in weeks. Brief pelting of drops off and on during the night were but more music to my ears.

The ground seemed unusually wet the next morning when I fetched Dolly from the kennel. Even a hint of mud. But it wasn't until later that day I understood why. "Did you empty the gauge last night?" I asked when Don came home. He went out  to check it, neither of us not sure if we could believe it. An inch .6 total.

And it didn't stop then. Again, today, it rained. Another inch. We can't explain why we continue to get considerably more than our neighbors (well, except in Omaha). Not going to question it.

So the ewes got a few days grazing on the last grass on the west fork. The mixed greens patch is fluffing up, but still not enough to graze. If the weather holds up, and its above normal temps as predicted, there may be some greens of a different sort come Christmas.

Meanwhile, the days pass by, and the usual seasonal activity with them. The girls were sorted by  familial groups, and the bucks turned out. New lambs will be the next crop hoped for. The cycles and circles of life spiral on. I noticed the other day, that the colors of the landscape had shifted. Before, the trees provided a backdrop of dry green over the tanning of the grass. Today, the gray-brown bare branches reach up from pools of green. The world once more has been turned up-side-down. Or has it been righted by rain? It matters not, I suppose.

Oh - it rained all right. But the drought is far from over. There will be many nights spent pondering copeing methods of dry, hopeful minds  emotionally enlightened and physically warmed by the orange glow of a friendly fire. There's one burning now.

And I hear it calling. Or maybe its speaking softly to the still alive trees outside, joining them in the soft melody of an ancient song. I think I'll join them. I'm sorry you can't hear us via blog. I'm humming the old hymn along with them.  It goes "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow, Praise Him all creatures here below."

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Rambling on the Island of Dry

So here we are. October is nearly half over, and the seasons have quietly shifted. The trees, stressed for much of the summer, were graying with age as the leaves dried out. So I couldn't help but be startled by the bright yellow glow on the ash tree outside the bathroom window.

I have been distracted, to be sure, these last few weeks. But not sorry. It's mostly been good. A Sunday afternoon art show, complete with modest sales and mystified lookers. Educational, both ways. I enjoy answering the questions (you have sheep!), and talking with the crowd gives me insight to the perspective of the non sheepish. And of course there is always much work to be done. Fencing and feed, fleece and seed.

I'm done with summer. The thin ice on the tank was almost welcome. A friendly fire for the evening and a warm wool blanket for the bed at night still comfort a modern shepherd. But, alas, something is still missing - the gently patter of rain.

Thats right. We are still stuck here in an island of dry. Oh, its rained all right.  Rained to the north. Showers to the South. Even a decent amount to the East, which only adds to a farmers frustrations. It would seem that our urban neighbors still just don't get it. An inch of rain on their lawns, and they believe hard times are over. Ha.  Maybe next year, when they got to the store, they will remember the warnings. But probably not.  Uh-oh, I'm already starting to sound a little cynical, and I really don't want to. Whining is still a waist of time and effort, and none of us have any to spare. After all, things will get better. It will rain again. Somewhere. Meanwhile, I finally broke down and watered the lawn, hoping for a brief return of green relief to ensure its survival of winter.

I suppose I was in a sort of mood like this when I went for a walk the other night. The leaves were in the first yellow blaze, and the sun was already beginning its set when I grabbed my camera and set out the back lane for the meadow.... pasture.... creek.   Gosh, I'm still not sure what to call it. The Grass, maybe.

Dolly, of course, was close behind... out front... all over. She clearly loves having more room to roam. Come, walk with us.

                                       The sun was setting on the trees along the lane to the north.

                         The leaves hung limply in the still evening air, turning golden like ripening fruit.

 The shadows had already reached the trees by the time I approached the far hill. Too late for good pictures, but beautiful and refreshing all the same. I watched the darkness creep across the field, and noticed the darker green line in the grass. Don noticed it the next day, while we worked on the fence. "Why is the grass taller there, and there".... he pointed to along the tree line. I gave my answer, having pondered before. "It's the shade line. Morning..... afternoon..."  The difference was profound.

 The chill was noticeable, and with the light fading fast, I started back. I passed a milk weed just opening its pod. Frail fluffy white beauty in the moment, to be hated next spring.

 Golden green and orange brown drifts of leaves were collecting in the safe harbor of the gully under the cottonwood tree.  And then, if my soul had not yet been refreshed enough, I found this....

 It was weeks ago that we planted the fall pasture. Seeds of rye and rape and radish and turnip scattered into dust. The forecast of rain was forgone, and dust it remained. And yet, it grew. And weeks later, though it should have been thigh high and grazed short again by now, the tiny seedlings remain. The tenacity and resilience of nature continues to inspire me.

 I passed by the lambs, just to say, "Good evening".

With the summer we've had, the fall color may be short lived. But for now, at least it makes for pleasant,  peaceful chores.

Thanks for coming with me. I feel better again. The stress of coping with the drought has more than me a little short on patience and enthusiasm. I just keep reminding myself of those tiny little sprouts soaking up dew and waiting. Waiting for more.  While I, on the other hand, already have much.  Much more, this week.

Namely, little Maxwell Simon McClure, who joined the family on Oct. 2. A healthy little potential helper at 9 lb 12 oz, our 4th grandchild, and the first male of the generation born to carry the McClure family name.

So at least we are not alone on the isle of dry. And the wool and the radishes comfort me. I will wait a little longer for the rain. While I watch the oak trees take their turn with color. Already the ashes have dropped their leaves into pools of yellow at their feet.

Enough words for today. There is a fire glowing in the stove, its warmth softly calling. And a forecast with mention of rain come weekend. Only chances, but I will wait.

I'll believe it when I hear it. On the roof.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Leaves of green and the frugal (desperate) shepherd.

Vines of good intention still bear no fruit.

I can say that.  At the moment it's directed at politicians and those who so easily join their ill-informed chants and rants, (which I'm tempted to comment on, but I can only handle so much...) but it's not really judgmental, since I am just as guilty.  I have intended to blog several times, as things have been happening, but other things keep distracting me. I think I'm safe in blaming it on the heat.  Or because my brain is dehydrated. 

Although..... it did finally rain. We felt exceptionally blessed to get 1.3 in one damp Saturday.  Felt even better on Sunday  when we compared gauges with some neighbors, and found most got less.  And, even 10 days later, the thin layer of wet long gone, the effects are readily seen.  I'll get to that later.  First - a picture story of how a frugal shepherd deals with the drought.

Anything green here is getting hard to find. That includes feed for the sheep.  The creek patches have been picked clean, even the trees within 4 ft. of the ground. So we resorted to a trick from Brother Tim up at Camp Eat-a-lot-o-greens.  If the ewes can't reach the leaves on the trees, you reach for the chain saw. And the result-

                                       A truck load of greens.  Actually, 2 truck loads.  From where?

                          All those pesky volunteers in the fence line.  Been intending to cut them for years.

         So we hauled them into the lot, and decided while we were at it, we'd do a little taste test with the girls.  Tree branches( a variety of oak, elm, mulberry, and ash)  or corn. (very expensive corn, but they're worth it)

                                   And - they're off - looks like 50 -50 at first.....

                                  Or maybe not..... there's more coming for the corn....

                 And it's a clear choice.  Gold over green.  But the branches were stripped bare a  half  hour later.

As reported in a previous blog, the decision was made to cut the new grass to both remove the weeds and salvage as much hay as we could. We weren't sorry.

Weeks and a little rain later, I am amazed once more at the tenacity of grass. The mowing was almost painful for all of us, but short lived.  Within a few days, the field was showing green once more. New blades were cutting their way up through the tan stubble.
And the hay?  Well, there wasn't much. But the ewes are tearing through it.  Which led to the next problem.  There wasn't any to be found.

We called all the neighbors, but they had none. Some were concerned that they didn't have enough themselves. The price was going up almost daily.

So, in desperation, I went back to Craigs's list.
It wasn't pretty.  Obvious scams were going on. There was some hay out there, but the picking were slim. A couple promising leads, but it was already sold.
I started checking multiple site listings every couple hours. And after a few days of that, it wasn't much fun any more. Then, one last check for the night, and I found something - posted 30 minutes ago. It was late, but they got a call anyway. Arrangements were made to go look at it the next morning.  Finally, some better luck.

It wasn't exactly what we were hoping for, but it looked and smelled ok. And if delivered and affordable, the girls will just have to learn to like it. With a hefty check as deposit, we both have slept better since.

With a good start to the week, we hope the rain will fall along with the temperature by the weekend.  The 3.9 grand kids  will be here on Sunday.  Little feet will be trampling those tiny blades of green barely visible in the gray-brown lawn. Not worried about the grass though.

They say that stress of a dry spell makes the roots go deeper still.   Maybe that's what I've been feeling. My farm roots go deep alright.

Chance of showers tonight.  Hope some pass your way.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Listen closely

I woke suddenly this morning. The birds were already heralding the dawn. Don groaned briefly, and bolted out of bed. It was already after 5:00. That in itself was unusual, as was the short conversation that followed; options for getting rid of some of the abundance of cherry tomatoes left over from yesterdays market.  As he softly tread downstairs, I rolled over, and wondered what had woke me. And it hit me again - the breeze from the open north window beside me. I was COLD!  It was refreshing, to be sure, but I pulled up the blanket anyway, enjoying its comfort at long last. Oh blanket, how I have missed you.

It didn't last long. Not able to sleep any longer, I got up. The coolness had stirred brain cells gone dormant with the heat. While the coffee brewed, I flung open the windows. My cup was especially good this morning, with feet carefully tucked behind the couch cushion, with the only breaking of silence bird song. I love September mornings........  brrrrrrrrrpt. - wait a minute.... but its still early August! 

I've always been a believer that animals talk to us. Nonverbal language perhaps, but effective enough communication for a few wise enough to take time and care enough to listen. My favorite book from early childhood? "Charlotte's Web", but of course.

Many I've talked with recently have noticed the signs. The 'old wives tales' and Indian lore that supposedly fortels the coming seasons. I first noticed the morning fogs of May. Others have heard them too. The cicadas too early in June. Both indications of frost, and coinciding in early or mid September.

Still in the midst of unusual heat and drought of the summer, its hard to grasp. Until you look at the crops. And hear the talk of silage and early harvest. And there was the brome that headed out in early June, as if it knew the rains would soon cease. Maybe the earth has been whispering all the while.

"Hind sight is always 2020" the  old saying goes. But also "Mother Nature  always knows". Most had poor lamb crops this spring, the Ewes and Us included. The mild winter was blamed. Or did the flock know the grass would be short by the time the lambs were grown; that this was not a year more mouths would be as welcome.

I made good progress in the coolness this morning. Out door to-do's finally got done. And the forecast is even encouraging.  Maybe. Lows tomorrow in the 50's! More September mornings. Hmmm.

Outside chore list nearing the end, I finally went to tackle the kitchen. While washing the pile of pans from yesterdays baking, I noticed it. Back again. The pesky spiders have invaded. The webs brushed aside are replaced in hours.  They do this every fall. ....... it's as if it were September.  Charlotte speaks to us in a webby whisper....

Is anybody out there listening?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Promises, promises

The forecasters are trying to be hopeful. They try to make rain chances of 20 and 30% sound good. But I'm good enough at math to understand that even a 30% chance of rain - showers rather- means its a 70% chance of nothing. Still, when the sky appears like this, you have to hold out hope.

Pretty huh.   Makes me remember things.

The last couple of weeks have been full of remembering. 

Shortly after my last post, (and possibly partly because of it) I had a visit from Grant, from NPR. They are doing a series on 'My Farming Roots' in conjuncture with Harvest Public Media, and wanted an interview. Of course I said yes. As it often turns out, I was the party that benefited the most.

Grant was a likeable young man, and asked the appropriate questions. Of them, for me at least, the most thought provoking was a simple one.  "Do you ever think of them - your great and grandmothers - while you are going about your everyday work?" he asked.  Pause.  "Well, yeah, I guess I do."

But it was later that it hit me. I began connecting with my roots much more in the last few years. The stories of my Great-great grandmother amazed me. I remember a bit about my Great grandmother. But suddenly, I got it.  Maybe its the atmosphere. The effects of the deepening drought and my awareness of it has provided the perfect setups.

As we stood discussing the fate of the new seeded grass, and the decision to be made - to hay, to graze, or do nothing as a least harm effect - I thought of my Great-great grandmother Sarah, a widow homesteader with 15 children. I could almost feel her standing there behind me in the tall grass.

The other evening when the shadows covered the garden, I went to pick the tomatoes. At least something in the garden is doing well. I filled the first bucket, moped the sweat from my eyes, and went into the vines again. And again. And the sight of the row of 5 gallon buckets heaped with large red rounds made me remember the photo of my great grandmother seated among the heaping bushel baskets so long ago.

Last week, the buzz in the news became the drought. Record number of cattle being sold.  Record corn prices. Hay shortages. Yesterday, the neighbor came to mow the hay. You do what you think is best. Or what you have to do. This morning I walked a letter to the mailbox, and got a closer look at the sparse dry grass lying dusty and gray on the stubble along the road ditch. And I remembered the stories my Mother told of herding the family milk cows along the dusty roadsides in the 30's, because it was the only feed they had. And how one day the government came, and 'bought' the cows, including Rosie, her favorite, and took them out to the edge of a large pit they had dug, and shot them. And with them died the small cream check, their only dependable income. And I got it.  I think I finally understand why my mother never milked a cow again, and why she secretly hated being a farmers wife.

I realize now that my roots go way deeper than I ever imagined. Thanks to Peggy and HPM, and Grant and NPR. I know that even the new seeded grass holds onto the promise. On the surface, we are all dry and brown and gray. Some won't make it. We may have to re-seed come spring. We will if we have to. But some roots run deep, and they'll make it through. Its a promise.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A small oasis of green

Well here it is.  'It' has arrived. I'm not sure if it is a real drought, or just a normal dry spell, but it can no longer be ignored.

It crept in on us quietly, as all dry spells do. The signs were there all along, but just last week I began to notice the serious ones. The small clouds of dust rising around boot and paw with a mere walk across the yard as Don and Dolly on their way to get the ewes in for the night.

The heat has been oppressive, but we managed one more post hole. The heavy auger only 10 days before had easily bored through sod and soil, now groaned and slipped, slicing slowly through the hard clay, and it took several drops to reach the required depth. The sight of the small pile of dusty ground surrounding the black hole raised eyebrows, and an exchange of looks. Not even enough dirt to set the post.

So when the opportunity arose to take a painting job, I did. Hard work, but in air conditioning. And cash to buy more hay. So the last week or so has been on a time schedule. Work, water, home, move the water. Rescue the wilting. Keep the tanks full. Do what you have to do.

I admit I dislike these discouraging times. Times when the balance of sun and wind and water gets all out of wack, and with it the spirits and resolve of the people who must live with and in it. But to whine is a waste of time.

If you choose to live on and off the land, as farmers do, you must come to both expect and respect it. It's just a cycle, like all of life. We humans tend to like schedules and predictability. Mother Earth prefers spontaneity and surprise.

Then this morning, I went to get water for coffee. And in the view from the kitchen sink, this is what I saw. An island oasis of green surrounded by a sea of dry grass.

 The garden. A remnant of Eden reserved for the nourishment and comfort of mankind. Thanks to the water.

 A closer inspection is more telling of the true abundance. Tomatoes, 6 feet tall and rising, and heavy with clusters of fruit (but resisting the turning to red). Peppers and eggplant dripping with tentacles of yellow and purplish black. Beans challenge the neighboring zinnias in a contest of bloom and beauty. Thanks to the water.

So to keep on the positive side, in this season of dryness, I choose gratitude. Thanks to the well men who came when called, and laid needed new pipe and hydrants. Thankfulness for the water deep under the dust.

I appreciate that water. Perhaps more than most. Because I grew up on the edge of the sand hills, and early learned of its silent life-giving presence beneath. And now the threats to that water are growing  by pipelines, pollution, and politics.  And whether it comes from above or below, it is essential to all of us.

As my Mother often said, quoting my grandmother no doubt, 'This to shall pass.' In but a few short months it is now predicted, we may be lamenting the cold and snow. Because we are human, and it is our very nature to go against our 'Mother.

Pray for rain, if you are so moved. Your prayers will be answered in time. I will lift my glass, now filled to the brim, with clear, cold, water, in gratitude. And the AC. While I watch the western skies with hope, and humbly wait for the rain. Because I am a farmer.

May the rain soon fall softly on your fields, and replenish your hearts.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Feel'in like Rip

Yawn.  stretch.   !    Uh oh.  Where am I?  what day is it?   JULY 1 !

What happened to June?  Was I sleeping?  I'm not tripping on a beard or anything, but I do feel a little like Rip.  Rip Van Winkle that is.  But wait - its all coming back to me now.

Yeah- June was kind of like a nightmare all right. Good, but in a blurr.

There was a trip to pick up items from the show in GI. Didn't win anything, but did sell a piece.

Then packing and the trip to the Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival.  That was enjoyable as usual. Always nice to work with like minded sheep and fiber people. Ate lamb 3 times in 2 days.  Taught a class of delightful students, and all of us had a good time. No floods this year, but it was hot. Glad the whole barn remembered their fans. Sales may have been down, but the exchange of info among the vendors was great. Wish we could have come home with less rams, but that's the way it goes.  Picture won the contest again this year, so that was a bonus.

Working on a class schedule for a felted ornament family class at the Lux for December.

Garden has exploded. Tomatoes look like flowering plants, and lots of green fruit. Cucumbers and zucchini need picked every other day. Beans are on the increase. First planting of corn is tasseling. One eggplant, 2 peppers in the bag. Now if the market customers would increase the same.

We did have a first this week.  A customer came back to proclaim we had the BEST Swiss Chard he had ever eaten. I guess thats an achievement. (we tried, but appreciation of even the BEST fell short to our palates)

Fencing is commencing. Slowly though. Of course its always 100 degrees on the days Don has or takes off when we can work on it. And, as is typical for June, our absence has put us behind. The weather predictions are not encouraging.  We have resigned ourselves to a summer of sweat.

Then there was the family reunion. My family. (Well, and a short drive and a few hours with Don's brother)
As expected,' interesting ' is good word for a summation.  And Hot, windy, cramped, stuffed (food).

A few noteable quotes from the weekend:

"Spray them?  I have several times, and they're still here."

"Catch' em quick!"   (kid, chip, napkins, lawn chair, - whatever)

"One, two, three, four!" ( Braydon counting the cabins)

to assembly of ages on the grass - "Have you heard about the chiggers down here?"

yeah. It was interesting.  I passed up my 40th class reunion to be there. From what I've heard, I don't think they even missed me.

It did leave me with a renewed sense of gratitude though. And a deeper understanding everything is a choice. Not just a choice of where we choose to go, or what we do but of who we choose to be.

Whether we look forward or behind.  That its true that you can't control what happens to you, only how you react. And who you are shows in those reactions.  I know if the old debate of 'nature vs. nurture' ever comes up, I now know which team I'll be on.

And now here it is July.( But it looks and feels like August). But first, there are things to do.  Birthdays, anniversaries, more birthdays, county fairs, the Farmers Market of course, and oh dear, more fence.

Must feed my sheep.

Much more in my head that needs to be said. Soon, I hope.

May your summer be as abundant as the blessings 'round here.

No summer slumber, Rip

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Looking both ways

Things are looking good here at the Farm. The recent 1in plus rain was needed. Last night and again today, there was and will be a mad scramble of picking and planting before the predicted stormy season arrives. The garden is already in early production phase. Strawberries, rhubarb, snap peas, new potatoes, radishes, lettuce, spinach, and the new experiment in Swiss Chard have passed into harvest mode.

Out to the north, the  Sheep are now grazing the first patch of oats. Full sheep are happy sheep. and it didn't take long to train them to the fence.  By day 3, none of them were even coming close.

So - on to days subject.

I am a 'fan' of Harvest Public Media on Facebook, and had taken an interest in their special with NET about Hispanic farmers in Nebraska. It aired last Friday night. It came on before I got out the door, and I found I couldn't leave the couch. It was interesting  -as expected.  But the thoughts and feelings it aroused in me were not.

I had watched some of the video clips linked to those posted on FB, so I had an idea of the story. More Nebraskans need to hear and see what has quietly been happening happening out-state. I was aware, but not to the extent the local culture has shifted. And no, its not what some believe. Change has always been hard. And for both sides. But thats not for today.

As I watched and listened, particularly to one story more local - outside Lincoln, they said - about a farmer on 2 acres, with a calf, some goats, and a few chickens, I felt a strange sense growing inside. I couldn't identify it at first, but it was growing. The show ended (I was disappointed there was nothing about the horse trainers I had seen in the video clips - they were amazing), and I went outside to attend to my chores. but the feeling was still there.

I watched the sheep race through the 'woodland gap' (the windbreak) in from the pasture. I filled the water tanks. And I thought.  And somewhere in there, it occurred to me - the feeling was resentment. I felt bad, feeling hostility toward those hard working emigrants, who I full knew were pursuing dreams I understood so well.  Aha! There it was.

Through the night, and into the next day, it became clear. But not until I looked back.

In 1975, Don and I were newly married, farm raised kids, with 2 college degrees in agriculture, and eager to stake our claim - as farmers. We found 40 acres of gently sloping farmland, made a plan to raise sheep and vegetables, and went to the only likely source of financing  - then called Farm Home Administration. Granted, sheep were little recognized as financially viable, and vegetables? They would have to be marketed to restaurants and smaller grocery stores. Farmers markets were yet unknown.  We filled out papers, and made our plea.  A few weeks later, a letter came. Rejection. They didn't think it would work. Discouraged, but not defeated, we modified our plan, and 3 years later planted our now little family on 5 acres.

Fast forward 35 years to today. Where we own a small farm where we raise sheep and vegetables. So why the resentment? - other than the obvious time and much work?  And the struggle to be recognized as 'farmers' on so many levels.  As female. With sheep. And vegetables. On only 5 acres. The struggle with neighbors, the public, and County, State, and national government to establish ourselves as 'real'. It took a long time, a lifetime almost, but we did it. Without help.

And the resentment?  Well,  now days there are all these programs. Community Crops, Beginning Farmers, grants, and now an focus on loans to Minorities and women? Hmmmfp.

Wait....... Could it be that things are changing?  Maybe. I hope so. I hope the changes will be of benefit, and not just more red tape and regulation. I hope the help gets to those who need it.

Maybe, just maybe, (I may be thinking this as self consolation), we have helped in some small way. Like our ancestors, we have been pioneers, unknowingly. Re-claiming a homestead. Breaking ground for a new way of farming and farmers.

I do not resent the individuals. Empathize more like it. I saw my own reflection in those dark eyes. 

Thanks HPM. Keep telling the stories.

They may be differed, delayed, detoured, and discouraged, but dreams should never die.

Farm on.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Stuck in the Middle -Again

The backdrop of thoughts for this post began last week. I took a day to drive out to Grand Island to deliver entries to the Prairie Wind Art Center for the Miniature show, so once again I had a good 3 hours for some think time. Always productive, this time I found the images and resulting pondering confusing and irritating. As a result, I put off putting anything down in letters, fearing my impulse would likely offend someone. Likely still will, but a post on Facebook by Harvest Public Media has sparked the urge once more. So, I will start with a disclaimer - This blog is only my opinion, which I have formed around my observations and personal experience. It is not intended to be critical of any individuals or groups, or of their respective opinions or stances.

It was a pleasant sunny day, and the interstate traffic was slowed into single file a good bit of the time by the dreaded orange cones. The need of men and machinery was apparent, and no one seemed to mind much. And of course the wind was blowing. I have been reminded of treks down this same stretch of road from 35 years ago, when the turn off at GI marked the half way mark home. That much hasn't changed. Neither of these was the source of my irritation. Rather, it was political.

The seasonal ads had planted the seed. Its primary season, and the vitreous messages pouring from every media outlet are as nauseous as ever. I never have taken to the black/white love/hate all or nothing tone of politics, but I have learned some selective hearing skills, and usually can deal with them. Until the Mommy Wars.  One quote, and the monster was released.

It bothered me. Memory serves me well from 35 years ago when it was fresh - for my generation at least. And in the past 3 years I have watched as my offspring discuss and adjust to find balance in the arena of finance and parenting, the difficulty the same, though decisions different. That alone was unsettling, but there was more.

I was thinking of the pieces I had just left at the Gallery. A picture of prairie. A ewe with twins. Stately Hereford bull. And a girl touching heads with a dark bay horse. How as a group, they make a statement about not just who I am, but where I came from. And not just me, but agriculture.

The panorama of the Platte was impressive that day. Flatland. Horizon broken only with the outlines of tree lines of villages. The grayish band hovering between  earth and sky was dust. An occasional plume of that dust could be traced back to a dot of red or green. Planting. Tractors as big as small houses for the most part, but a few 'small' farmers, the planters small enough you could easily count the rows.  Giant dust devils: larger and more numerous than I have seen in years, were frequent, and recent headlines swirled around in my mind.

Then, this morning, one line caught my eye. "or are you in the Middle"  And it all made sense. I'm back in the Middle again.  Only this time, its Ag War. Does anyone else see it coming? I really hope its just me.

An explanation is probably in order here.  I will use the Mommy Wars as an analogy. There, is issue comes down to Work and Daycare vs Stay at home Moms. Add on all of the associated issues of cloth or disposables, store bought or home made, and quality vs quantity, and you have enough ammunition for a major battle. Of course, both sides have valid points as well as the same claim of the over all well being of the child as the long term objective.  But experience and time has shown me that neither 'side' is entirely right nor wrong.

So, on to the Ag Wars. It has come to my attention,( possibly amplified by media - social and conventional,) that a divide is occurring. You can almost divide the news articles by title. Pink slime, grass fed, Organic, GMO, animal welfare, cage free, and on and on. And I won't mention the government here. The problem I sense that is coming is not that people are taking sides according to their personal beliefs, as that is to be expected: rather, that there are flags being planted, and ground claimed. (Pun intended.)  But just like Mommies, there is no one best position.

I find it troubling. Words and names are being ostracized and often vilified. Chemical, Monsanto, pesticide and the like on one side, but so are Organic, green, and humane from the other. I'm not sure if either side gets it.

I could back up my apprehensions, but I'm not sure if anyone will even buy it. Meanwhile, I am, as they say, riding the fence. I am taking the stand, much as I did in the Mommy wars, that both sides are right. It comes down to choice. What sacrifices you and your kin are willing to make. But you do what you have to do to make it work. Most will fall in the middle. Financial and economic factors must be considered, and perhaps even drives the issues. But even that coin has two sides.

Politically, I get confused trying to assign red and blue to individual issues. Maybe because each side of the coin is either red or blue. Then when you toss them into the air, and they spin around together, the vision becomes purple.  Yeah. I think I like that.  Only I don't like being red on one side blue on the other.  I'm a painter. I'd rather just mix them up inside, they already are, and be purple.

It is my personal opinion that the Ag industry and its people can not afford to take side against each other. If, like all the Mommies out there, we must keep the over all well being of the land as our objective. I think thats a given. Name calling leads to bullying, and we can all agreed that's not good.

I'm in the middle all right. I see valid arguments from both sides. But wars are a waste of resources of both sides. Resources both sides claim a need to conserve.  I don't think its the same 'Middle' that was meant, but thanks for the use of the word.

Thanks also for the focus to rant. Next time, I hope my post is more positive. After all, its growing season. Guess some thoughts could use some cultivating now and again too.

Think green, and put down some new roots.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Showers welcome

It's spring planting time. So with new acres, we got in line, and managed to get the no-till planter to plant grass and temporary pasture. Don was already home on 'lambing vacation', and the weather was good, so there was a whole lot of seeding going on.

By planting into the corn stalks, the soil surface was undisturbed, and the stalks act as mulch. Just because we aren't organic, doesn't mean we don't aim to be sustainable.

I got to be the 'seed tender'. (Which means I drove the truck to the field).

After a good deal of research, we selected a mix of grasses and legumes for a well rounded pasture that can be hayed or grazed depending on the growth and season.

We couldn't help but note that there is very little information about sheep. Everything is based on cattle or horse forage needs and preferences. But I guess we expected that.

It may have been March 27th, but it was 80 degrees and sunny. Plums in full bloom, and the trees showing a hint of green.

In this patch, we sowed oats for temporary pasture. And then began the wait for rain.

The first chances didn't happen. Only a sprinkle.

The round green spots of the legumes began to show. Then the faint hair thin blades of grass began to emerge. Germination was good, but the hot dry days were making us nervous.

But maybe today, the spell is breaking. Only a nice shower so far, but anything is welcome, and the chance for rain is on the board for 3 more days. I think maybe this is why farmers turn gray.

Meanwhile, back at the barn, the lambs continue. The first run of twins ended abruptly, and mostly singles has become the norm.

I'm impressed every year by how the color markings on the lambs so closely resemble those on horses. This is 'Blaze'. At least for the time being.

As the next generation of lambs emerge, its always a surprise. This year is no exception. With the addition of a new bloodline into the flock this year, we thought we had the basic genetic pattern figured out. Wrong. Of course a black lamb born to a white mother is not new. In fact, it has happened about 50 % of the time if the sire is black. So we had thought it was a simple recessive gene at work, even though we have been told it is not. Some times the 'book' is right. This year, we have had black lambs that should have been white, and white ones that should have been black - 2 black parents. Ah, well, that's farm life.

More rain, please.

Happy grazing to ya.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Teacher day

Spring brings the new lambs, which in turn bring visitors to the farm. Yesterday a flock of them came. Allyn and Braydon, and a group of her fellow teachers and their kids came for an outing.

Of course, the newborn lambs were a big hit. There is no age limit on the grins and soft 'ahhhs' produced by a baby lamb.

Of course, when the crowd is here, (especially when they are teachers) the educational process doesn't stop in the barn.

The group got a brief wooly experience too.

Followed by mandatory hand washing before a picnic lunch.

Which was followed by an Easter Egg hunt in the back yard. Already 85 degrees, fresh mowed grass, and apple trees, spirea, and phlox in full bloom on March 30. Appropriate, yes. Unusual, definitely. A little unsettling actually. No one knows what the season to come will bring.

Everyone had a great time. Especially the Coopworth ewe, who was successful in begging for tidbits of countless small handfuls of fresh plucked grass.

Later in the afternoon, I had 3 teachers from Bellevue come looking for some wool to use in a science project. Of course they had to have the lamb tour too - since they were here.

The lambs continue to arrive. There were 2 more new pens this morning that Don picked up early. The barn is now at capacity, as I penned a set of twins and a single by 10:00. If there is more, I may have to leave them be, or put them in the alley if I have to. Don will be moving some out, even though its a little soon.

Later today I'll be off to Grand Island to the closing reception of the art show, and to bring home the cranes - unless they are sold. Company would have been nice, but Don is at work, and someone needs to be home to pick up lambs. Everyone else is otherwise occupied. But thats okay. Some alone time to think is never wasted on me. There is always another project to be thought out.

And a Happy April Fools.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Season to grow

I have to admit I have held myself back, purposely not blogging for the last few weeks. There was big things happening, and I didn't want to jinx it. And of course, big things never happen on time. But with the first day of Spring, it finally happened. Ewe And Us just got 4 times bigger!

We have always had in mind that some day we would like to own more ground. Especially that to the north of us, where our well is. And now we do. An additional 17.2 acres brings our 'holdings' to 22.2, making us a 'real' farm (by zoning standards) for the first time. But more on that in a moment. Meanwhile, the flock has begun its seasonal growth in numbers.

They started last Friday. 4 sets of twins in a row, (and some of them black ewe lambs). Then 2 singles. The Coopworth gave us a very nice ewe lamb. I was very impressed with her full sisters fleeces (yeah, we sheared, and I missed blogging it), and welcome another into the flock.

Monday morning I had some errands in town. I checked the ewes before I left, and the two sets of twins born that morning were doing well. I returned just 2 hours later, and took the groceries in the house, checked the messages (someone had called about wanting bottle lambs), and thought about lunch, but had a sudden feeling that I needed to check the ewes first. Nothing was happening outside. I took a quick look at the new twins again, who were up and nursing. The ewes had gotten up and filed out the door. All but one. My heart sank. The remaining ewe was scrunched in a heap, and a VERY large glistening black pool behind her on the straw. We lost a nice black ewe lamb last year when the amniotic sac still covered her nose, and I feared the same fate for this lamb. My maternal instinct kicked in. Gentle prodding produced to response, but it was warm. I quickly cleared her nose, and thumped her side. There was a heartbeat, so I continued to thump and squeeze her ribs and rub her side. Finally, she took a breath. And as I continued to rough her up, I swear she looked up at me and smiled. The ewe was weak, her hind quarters trembling. I pulled the lamb, which I now knew was a ewe, over to where she could lick her off, and mother and daughter began the bonding.

I checked on them several times, as the ewe was still having trouble standing (Large lambs sometimes pinch nerves) but they both continued to improve.

Here is the little 'Whopper' later in the day.

The lambs just keep coming, as they should. we have had more twins, many black, and one more single. So far, even though the singles have been large, we haven't had problems like many have reported this year. Supposedly the mild winter has resulted in larger lambs this year.

So the older lambs have already been put out together in their family groups.

Now, back to the bigger addition, where our thoughts and dreams are beginning to manifest.

The flock numbers have been increasing over the last year. Feed cost has been a concern, but now the girls should have little to fear.

Plans are already coming together.

The machine shed in the top picture is soon to become a shed for ewes and lambs.

The foreground will be temporary pasture for early summer. The hill to the northwest will be planted to a grass and legume mix for hay and grazing.

We only had 3 acres of pasture. An additional 17 means a lot of potential.

We also squared off the building site on the west side, so the bucks will have an additional paddock as soon as it gets fenced.

The line runs from the pink stake to just right of the little white grain bin.

Okay, so we realize we just bought ourselves work for the rest of our lives. Much of the ground is cut through by creek, both running and dry. Fifty years or so of neglect means down trees everywhere. At least we won't have to go to the neighbors for wood to burn next winter.

Other plans are already in motion too. The garden plot will double in size, and with it produce for the Farmers Market, including corn for the first time. The potatoes, onions, peas and more are already in the old plot, and the new ground has been plowed in time to soak up the gentle rain falling today.

It will take some time, but the vision is clear. Our intentions are becoming reality. I am already spending more time at home with the wool business, and Don hopes to retire next year. Our new/old careers already await.

I found this tree clinging to the creek bank, and I identify. Graphic image of how I have been feeling the last few weeks. But now its time to move on. I am consoled by the knowledge that this is not a recent development; this half naked rooting. Most likely the tree is merely growing where it was planted. Notice that the roots turn into the bank as they have grown, not exposed at all. In a precarious position for life to be sure. But then, aren't we all. But our roots run deep.

Stay tuned for more spring news to come.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Success and Epiphany

So the new year is off to a roaring start. So much is happening all at the same time, I have given up trying to stay ahead - I'll settle for barely keeping up.

My first success of the year is the Wings Over the Platte Art show at Stuhr Museum. I entered 2 pieces, and they both won 'Merit Awards' in their respective categories. This is a needle felted picture on hand dyed wool fabric. It was quite impressive in the gallery with the lighting - although a bit deceiving, as it looked like it was back lit. (Pardon the picture, my mate was kind of in a hurry to get the picture, as we thought the batteries were dying in the camera).

This is the 3-D piece - a 12" sculpture of Sandhill cranes.

The opening reception was fun also - chocolate fountain, flvored hot chocolate, and cousin Carla too.

That over, I'm now back at work. Three paint jobs lined up. Income taxes waiting for Kansas papers to arrive. Classes for girl scouts and 4-Hers lined up for March. One special order filled, another on the slate.

Meanwhile, in the sheep fold, Don is hoping to start shearing tomorrow. That is, if they are dry. The recent snow, mud, and more rain has made us postpone a couple of days already. Time to get with it, as lambing is fast approaching. Of course I'm anxious to get a look at this years larger crop of covered fleeces and get some on the market.

So today I finished up a special order for 12 pairs of sock yarns. Customer specified what color combinations she wanted, and I had no qualms about being about to produce them. So yesterday, while I began the first round, I was a little surprised to realize I was unusually irritated with the process I normally find much pleasure in. On the third batch, I stood there in the shop with turkey baster in purple gloved hands, and had an epiphany. I am an artist - not a chemist!

I realized that the tedious process of keeping 'recipies' of the dyes I was using, trying to keep careful records of it all so I could 'match' it again if desired, was pushing all my buttons. The wrong ones. I realized it had to be the artist in me. If I am not free to 'paint' as I choose, and feel in the moment, its just no fun. And call me selfish if you like, but I have worked too long not to claim my fought for freedom of expression. I shall not be held captive by a color code!

Life is too short not to live it vibrantly. Paint your own reality. Gray is the color of fog. I prefer to surround myself with the colors of life. Saint Teresa of Avila had it right. Let me live green.

And green life soon will be again. The receding snow on brown grass is already showing hints of green. The other day, I heard birds sing. And even by the calendar, Spring is only a few weeks away.

But first, we must shear sheep. And I will live to dye again.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

January - Where did it go?

So its January 29, 2012. But you would never know it here. It's a little hard to comprehend on several levels.

The most obvious would be the weather. It's been crazy here in the midwest. Today its supposed to top out in the 40's. The talk is about January thaws, and whether the lack of snow is indication of the drought moving northward in the coming year. For me its a little unsettling. Not because its extreme - I've seen it like this before. And while it could be a harbinger of global warming, my more immediate fear is that winter will get real about 2 weeks from now. That after our bodies have almost adjusted to average winter temperatures of a more southern state, one day we will wake up to a more normal winter clime. That day, indicated by past experience, would most likely be the annual chosen day to shear.

No, I'm not wringing hands over the potential shivers from the newly naked flock. They have managed fine before, and with a roof overhead and a bed of straw below, will so again. No, it's me. I long ago accepted the fact that the stars align along with the jet stream, the highs and lows of atmospheric pressure, Don's work schedule, and whatever other factors may enter in, and the coldest day of the year will fall along with the mercury on shearing day.

There is cold, and then there is barn cold. That same cutting cold of an unoccupied house, that feels colder than it really is. The kind of cold that numbs toes and fingers despite the added insulating layers - wool of course. Of course, the shearer soon sheds his outerwear, and offers no consolation to one who appears to be merely standing by. Which of course, I am not. For with the toss of the first fleece onto the sorting table, there is skirting and weighing and tagging and bagging. But none of that warms toes. Although, I learned years ago of the magical feeling of thrusting icy cold fingers into a freshly sheared fleece still warm and alive. It may be a part of the true appreciation for wool. An experience I still look forward to, as it serves as a reminder of another of the essential links in this cycle we call the shepherds life.

So regardless of the weather, the shearing will take place. Hopefully (for me) a little slower this year. With so many more wooly bodies, there will likely be more than one shearing day. Several perhaps, for the sake of both shearer and skirter. Sorting later on the garage floor is not any more fun.

Other seasonal subjects have been in discussion. The seed catalogs have arrived. Plots of melons and sweet corn already dance in our heads. And there is talk of new fields for all.

And as a personal achievement, I finished little Harper's nursery quilt. In keeping with the meadow theme of the nursery, (see previous blog for pictures) the back of the quilt is 'strip farmed'. See above picure - they are not cooperating today.

Another bird showed up at Christmas. Attached to a slinky, if you pull the cord it 'flies'!

And the quilt top. A variation of an uneven block pattern, I named it "Harper's Field."

So now its almost February. And the calendar is already filling. Conventions and presentation, art projects to finish (and start), planning and hopes for a productive year ahead.

I'll get at that. And try to keep you posted as it develops.

And of course, we will be shearing, regardless the weather.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Braydon visits the farm, and another year begins

So Christmas has come and gone. Without a lot of fuss around here. Since it was an 'inlaw' year, Christmas day was pretty quiet. Don at work, Dolly and Stalky and I hung out, enjoying the wonders of real Christmas music via Pandora, enjoying the fire and twinkly lights. Not bad, all in all. But we did venture off for supper with the Fujans, where I recieved the unwanted gift of the Christmas virus.

Fortunately, it didn't kick in for a few days. Because Braydon came for a visit. 48 hours of boy toddler. No time for sneezing. Since the weather was so nice, we got to spend some time outside. Braydon is finally old enough to do some serious exploring.

Of course we had to help with chores. Braydon directed the munching ewes with his new found toy.

The only snow left was a heap from the driveway clearing.

"Silly Dolly Dog," you could almost hear him mutter. "Daddy told me you don't eat snow."

The drifts of leaves were great fun though, because they rustle when you walk.

Braydon is learning new words every day. Being a boy on the farm, this one came easily.

"Stick!" he proclaimed without prompting. Then proceeded to 'write' in the dirt.

And discovered it makes a happy clattering sound when you beat it against the panels.

"What da ya mean, Grandma don't allow no sticks in the house?'

And while 'helping' Grandpa do chores, they stopped for a 'ride' on the old gray tractor. "Tractor' was also a new word. And possibly how 'Grandpa Tractor' got a new name.

After the 'ride' Braydon and Grandpa had a serious discussion of safety on the farm, and the high price of tires.

2 nights and 2 days, Cinnamon apple pancakes, books read, and much fun. Old toys played with by other little boys long ago were dusted off and drove once more. And the old Fisher Price doll house garage door goes up and down, up and down, and the front door bell still rings.

Then when the allotted time ran out, Grandma Fujan came for Braydon. It was their turn for a couple days of Braydon fun.

And the next day, the Virus took hold. And held through New Years, which was really Christmas. By then, I was really stuffed up and confused. But it was a good time with the kids and grandkids all home for supper at the farm.

So its now Jan, and we are well off the blocks in another year. Many exciting new plans are already beginning to unfold. There will soon be sheep to shear, and lambs to be born. Here's hoping for a truly Happy New Year for all.

Happy New Year Everyone.

Oh. And I am grateful to Dr. M, who gave me antibiotics even if I didn't have strep throat. I'm feeling much better now.