Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Destiny of Corn

May 22

June 3

June 4

June 9

July 1

July 9

August 22

Corn transforms a little calf into this handsome bull.

Every year I enjoy watching the transformation of my neighbors' land as they plant and harvest their crops. My daily commute to the cube farm gives me a ringside seat. Nothing man-made is quite as beautiful in the landscape as the geometric perfection of the corn rows. Nothing seems to sprout out of the ground and shoot skyward as quickly as corn stalks.

I had the intention of photographing one of the fields every day to chronicle the amazing rate of growth. Of course, that did not happen. I either forgot the camera, was running late, or could not afford the stupendous amount of energy to pull my car over, press the window "down" button, then click the camera. I did manage to record the life cycle of this particular crop. As usual, my photography does not do the scenery justice.

The weather was unusual this year, very wet and often cloudy. Two ferocious storms tried to flatten the corn as it stood in the field. The last episode nearly succeeded. I believe all of this corn was harvested and chopped into silage to feed to the big cattle herd maintained by these neighbors. Silage can be considered as "sauerkraut" for cattle. The entire corn stalk, ears, leaves and all, is coarsely chopped then stored in pits in the ground. It heats up and ferments, giving off a sharp, pungent aroma. The smell of silage does not bother me. I grew up with it. It reminds me of my father and grandfather and the icy breath of winter, when they fed the white-faced Herefords my grandfather proudly raised. (The red silo in these photos is where silage was once stored.)

This last photo is of the fields just up the valley a bit also owned by the same family. It was taken last July in the early morning. It is a glimpse of the beautiful valley during the height of summer.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

WWW

I encourage you to explore the other website links published here under the entirely original heading "Other Cool Sites". They will lead you to spectacular Kansas photographs of the caliber I wish I were capable of taking. They capture the true beauty and emotional impact of the landscape in this amazing state I call home.

There are links to some friends' web pages - intra- and extra-Kansas. There are other far more sophisticated and interesting blogs than mine, with links to even more amazing stuff. The internet is a genuine wonder we take for granted. Photos and philosophy and science and politics and art and outer space and humor and horror and pornography and war and everything good and bad under the sun - all existing electronically - tiny sparks of light we can access from just about any spot on the earth.

I sometimes enter any word I can think of into Google. I try to find a word that stumps Google. I have not been able to enter a word (out of my own mind) that returns 0 for many years. Common words return billions of websites in less than a fraction of a second. The word Ireland returns "about 1,030,000,000 results (0.54 seconds)". It would take multiple lifetimes to read everything on the internet about Ireland. The thing that strikes me the most about the internet is the proof that all humans are far more alike than we are different.

Take a spin through the other sites linked here, and then head out to explore the entire knowledge of the human race in text and photos at your fingertips!

(What am I, a Google employee?!)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Too Late to Take Shelter

Friday night I checked the Doppler weather radar website to see what my chances were of being sucked up into Nebraska or blown into Oklahoma while I slept. There was an ugly storm in Northwest Kansas but it appeared to be tracking north, missing Wabaunsee County - if it made it this far east. I went to bed and slept like a baby - if we are talking about a grumpy, cussing baby with aches and pains in every joint and muscle in her body.

Eventually I fell asleep only to become conscious sometime later of a howling wind raging outside. It has to be loud for me to hear it inside my snug little house. I could see the trees thrashing violently in the constant lighting. The tones in the wind were frightening.

I got up to look west out the front door, the expected direction of most tornadoes. The wind was driving the rain into a blinding white maelstrom. It was too late to take shelter in the basement in the north end of the old garage, a football field away from the front door.

I was not afraid (yet) but the thought did cross my mind of a headline: Old Kansas Woman Dead in Tornado - What Are The Odds?

I paced from window to door while the storm raged, listening to things slam against the side of the house. I turned the computer on but just as the Doppler radar page was about to open, the electricity went out. I went back to bed and listened to the angry winds escalate until the worst was over. When I got up Saturday morning and looked out, the world certainly had a bedraggled look to it. Jake was safe, and I could see the horses were alright. I could hear the last little hen clucking in her pen. We all made it safely through the night  but I could hear my neighbor's dog mournfully howling and that worried me.

It was too early to call, in case they were perfectly fine and still asleep, so I thought to simply drive past their house, just in case. There were two large uprooted trees blocking the road between my house and theirs, so I had to go out to the interstate then take Snokomo Road, a trip of about 13 miles. When I got to their house my neighbor was already in the yard. A very large tree was down across their driveway to the west, too. They were trapped in their own yard, but their house was fine, my neighbor was fine and so was his dog.

It was not long before the farmers were out with their big tractors and heavy equipment clearing the downed trees. The rural electric employees were already on the scene. They came to my house to make sure my lines were up, and shortly afterward the electricity came on. A bit after that another neighbor stopped by to make sure I was okay.

It made me feel good to know that if a tornado had blown me over into Missouri, someone would have eventually been looking for my dumbass.

Evidence of the roaring winds

Big healthy trees were broken

This tree was uprooted and blocking Vera Road

Over 3" of rain in a short time turns a ravine into a roaring "creek".  You can see from the downed grass how deep the water had been just a few hours earlier.

The rushing water scoured a wide patch out of Vera Road

Another uprooted tree blocking my neighbors from leaving their home

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Lot To Be Thankful For

Day One of the rock ledge quarry.


The sooner this project begins, the sooner it will be over. It is not my property, not my mining business, and not my karma.

The first cut started less than a quarter mile away from my house but directly across the road from my neighbors. It is a shame to tear up this beautiful pasture but as far as I know it is not untouched prairie. My neighbor said the original prairie had been plowed up during the war. I certainly hope their old house sustains no damage.

There are worse things that could be happening in the neighborhood. I am exceedingly grateful that it is not an oil field, a cell tower, a coal mine or a nuclear waste dump. It is not a whorehouse or a beer joint. It is not a feed lot, a pig farm or a sewage plant. It is not a major meth lab or a landfill. What I am absolutely the most deeply thankful for: none of my former horrible Topeka neighbors are moving in!

I will live through the noise, the heavy trucks, the dust, and the ugliness. Eventually the peace and quiet will return. You understand that there might still be a day or two when I will feel compelled to cuss and complain before this is all over. Just sayin'.

Monday, July 6, 2015

When You Leave the Camera at Home!

Friday morning I had to take Jake the Bad Dog to the vet for his annual shots and wellness exam. When I left the house I considered taking the camera but decided against it. How likely would it be to see anything astounding or amazing or unbelievable in the 36 mile round trip? (As if aliens would choose that Friday morning to land in Kansas!) That is why I was unable to record a Bald Eagle with a rabbit in its talons, landing in a field just east of Paxico.

Eagles were extirpated from Kansas long before I was born. I do not see a wild eagle until sometime in the late 1980's. According to the web site Friends of the Kaw, "Not a single Bald Eagle nest was found in the entire state of Kansas from the time of first settlement until 1989." If an eagle had dared to darken the skies over Kansas, it would have been shot right out of the sky before it could possibly kill a single chicken. If the all-out genocide had not killed them all, then the tons of DDT sprayed over every square inch of Kansas soil would have ensured that even had a pair managed to nest their eggs would never hatch.

In the last forty years, thanks to federal protection, the realization that DDT was going to kill ALL of the birds, and the tireless work of an army of unnamed people, eagles are once again in the Kansas skies. I see an eagle every few years within a few miles of my home. It remains a thrill to see one.

An eagle is such an unexpected sight that it took a second for me to realize what I was seeing Friday morning. The eagle, carrying a dead rabbit, glided to a graceful landing just past the railroad berm. It held the rabbit, taking a few pecks while maintaining a vigilant eye. It appeared to be resting.

Almost immediately, a crow appeared, landing a very safe distance away - maybe 25 feet. The crow took a minute to assess the situation, then impudently flew in a tight and low circle over the eagle and settled back in its original landing spot. How did that crow know so quickly there was a ready-made meal it could possibly steal?

The eagle seemed to consider the situation before deciding it could not tolerate such a blatant lack of respect. Leaving the rabbit, it launched effortlessly into a low glide directly at the crow. The crow wisely took flight but the eagle gave chase. As I watched, the crow disappeared to the south. The eagle made a lazy sunward circle to return to the rabbit.

By then a couple of cars had come along. I was in danger of blocking traffic and I did not want to draw any more attention to the eagle. He had enough trouble just trying to grab a bite, so I drove on.

If I had only brought my camera. If only I were not so stubborn and long ago succumbed to the pressure to buy a smart phone, we would all be looking at photos of this encounter right now!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Eighteen Miles of Kansas

The Kansas River is "UP" as we say in Kansas.  A bit of an understatement.
Upstream, to the west.
It is impossible to capture distance!
After the wheat harvest, in the gloaming.  It is a beautiful sight.
Green in every known shade thanks to the rain.
Every year, the earth faithfully produces the grain and grass and the beauty.
A sight too long absent from the skies.
A sea of grass produces driftwood, too.
Almost home...
Another tree felled by the power of a rushing prairie creek.  Hard to believe looking at this benign little trickle now.

Driving eighteen miles home from Wamego Thursday evening, I took all of these photos. It is amazing when I look at all of them together what a variety of light and color and texture is available in that short amount of distance and time. I wish with all of my might for better photography skills! Everything is so much more beautiful than a mere photograph can convey.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Horse Persons

Ginger and Wally, who insists on rolling in the dirt!
These two equine beings constitute my wild horse herd. They are not genuinely wild but few people have ever ridden either of these beasts. Ginger was ridden a few times by a consummate horsewoman many years ago and returned to me greenbroke, not a finished horse as I was expecting. I fell off when Ginger suddenly whirled around on a dime - as all good Quarter Horses can do. The laws of centrifugal force cast me ignobly onto the sand of my neighbor's riding arena in shame and embarrassment. In my defense, I was riding an English saddle for the first time in my life, with two bad knees. It might have been different had I been riding a western saddle. I was incredibly lucky that I did not break anything, not even my ass. I gave up on my idea of ever riding again after that. The pain in my knees makes it impossible anyway.

Wally is a clever horse. According to his former owners, when inexperienced people attempted to ride him, he simply refused to move. When experienced riders saddled up to make him behave, he would only back up. He refused to move forward. It is possible that he has some form of horse dyslexia because he survived being struck by lightning, amazingly enough. Knowing Wally the way I do, I think it is far more likely that he understands exactly the dynamics of not cooperating with his captors.

There are people who could and would take my horses and "break" them. Wally would know to ride out - or else. Ginger would likely have the worst of it as she firmly believes she is the Supreme Being. It would be ugly and horrible to break her. As it stands, my horses are safe to be around, to halter and lead. They are safe for the farrier. The vet is a bit dicey but that is understandable! (If I thought I could rabbit punch the doctor and get away with it for the pain and suffering he inflicts on my person...) Ginger unfortunately kicked a human being last year, but I believe she was aiming at Wally. Our human friend was collateral damage. If she had intended to kick our friend, the outcome would have been quite serious if not tragic. As it was, there was no bruising or swelling but I continue to regret that it happened.

The best advice is to always pay attention around horses - just in case.

I also did not name these wild beasts! Ginger surely must be named for the fictional mare in the children's book Black Beauty - the chestnut horse of great spirit and suffering who died of ill treatment and heavy work in the streets of 1800's London - the way countless real horses have died of ill treatment at the hands of human beings.

Wally's name is a shortened version of a fancy Arabian name that I was never told. He is a registered Arabian. His former owners kept his papers as a way to insure that I would never be tempted to sell him for instant cash but that would never happen. I might have to find a new home for my horses some sad day, but it will not be for money.

I do not know what names I would have given either of the horses. Based on my track record with dog names (Nuke, Duke, and Jake) and the one horse I named Annie, they would likely be unassuming, unoriginal names but never Ginger or Wally. It is too late now as both horses know their names - either from the sound of it, or from the energy behind it. I have never figured out which it is with horses. Science has already proven that dogs can understand over 150 human words. While horses learn voice commands, they are such an intuitive and sensitive creature that I think their communications with human beings occurs well before a human voices a single word.

I sometimes feel badly for Wally. If I could afford a real barn, with wide stalls and big doors that could be closed against the cold winter winds - he could eat and drink in peace apart from Ginger's constant dominance. If I could build a nice paddock for him to live in, his beautiful tail and mane would grow luxurious and long. I could braid his mane and polish his hooves. He would never be covered with cuckleburrs or mud.

If Ginger had a real barn to live in, she would be the first to enter and the first to exit. She could shelter against the cold and heat, too. Her mane would never grow luxurious, but her tail would. All three of us should have had better fortune in life!