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!

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Rain and the Beauty it Brings

Even the hilltops are soggy!

Rain in Pottawatomie County

Nothing feeds my spirit as much as the living Kansas sky.

I have not seen a single Monarch butterfly yet this year.

Just a taste of the magic.

Good night, Kansas.


Front yard - steamy, like the jungle!

Abundant prairie.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Soon To Be Under Assault

These photos are of the property directly across the road, in an amateurish panorama looking west to east. This will eventually be under the assault of a rock ledge quarry. This is the view visible from my home.
West
Northwest
Northeast
Directly North
Northeast

A preview of what is to come.
Two machines and a mountain of prairie earth.
It is difficult to see the extent of the digging because of the summer vegetation.

An idea of how deep it can go.


Three of us rode horses in this pasture once - now entirely stripped and piled high.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

And Then The Rains Came...

It has been raining - in waves - for days. The parched and cracked prairie soil is now thoroughly soaked and cannot absorb any more water. I lost track of the total number of inches of water collected in the gauge this spring but it is more than twelve inches in the last several weeks. Exactly two inches fell yesterday while I was at work. Awake in the middle of the night and checking from the safety of the front door, the flashlight beam reveals another three inches in the gauge. The rain is falling still. The creek is roaring.

I no longer have to worry about my house flooding should the little creek escape its banks. It is not entirely impossible for my house to flood - simply because I know to NEVER say never. It would take an apocalyptic amount of rain falling in a very short time on already saturated soil to flood the new house. As long as the rain comes in waves, the water rises, roaring in a downhill blast out of the valley, but subsides to a benign flow in a matter of hours.

I am not complaining about the rain. The long term drought left an ugly mark on me. I am not complaining about the invasive trees encroaching into my pasture - at least not right at this very moment. Their roots are holding the earth together and slowing the unimaginable cumulative amount of water from draining directly into the creek. I am celebrating the lush, green cover of tall grass and prairie plants and weeds firmly anchoring the soil. I am imagining the underground water levels rising in my well though I must exercise restraint. There is a multitude of disgusting things on and in the ground that water contacts on its journey into my well - snakes, grubs, horse manure... you get the idea.

The return of the rain is most pleasing.  The familiar splashing beneath the open windows and the constant rushing of the little creek mean I am home.
Every spring there are different flowers adorning the prairie.
Wild roses.
The rains bring an abundant and verdant prairie.
Nothing but green...
An overflowing pond - something impossible for the last several years.
Every season there are more Missouri Primroses on this bare bank.  My favorite wildflower.
Determination!