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.
Directly North

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.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Return to Scene of the Crime

I at last relented and attended the graduating class of '70 high school reunion - forty five years later. That final decision to go rests in equal parts from the flattery and skillful persuasion from my best high school buddy - and a "wild" girl who got in as much trouble as I did back in the day agreeing to meet me - and the fact that the clock is ticking. Now or never.

I almost changed my mind. Every day between the moment I agreed to go and the very day of the event, I decided to not attend and then changed my mind again. I could not imagine that anyone other than a few people would even remember me. Behind this loud-mouth exterior pounds the quivering heart of a truly shy person. I did not want to chance not remembering someone's name or to not recognize the people I spent more time with than any of my husbands! I needn't have feared. I only called one person by the wrong name - and that should not even count because I instantly recognized his face!

Oh, to see once again so many people who meant so much to me! Adolescence is a true rite of passage, and we survived that horrible and amazing time together. All of the women were instantly recognizable. Indeed, most of them had not changed at all, being beautiful to this day. The men were a little more difficult to recognize. It was difficult to match the young boys of my memory with the fully mature men in the room. And by "fully mature" I mean hats and white beards and either balding heads or a few long-hairs like me.

It made me smile to watch everyone lean in to hear, or turn their "good" ear toward the conversation. The acoustics in the large room made it difficult to hear - that, and all the laughter. While we were eating, the cacophony died down making normal conversation possible. Everyone filling his or her pie-hole with food was better than a hearing aid!

We hugged and laughed and told stories. We recalled the spectacular exploits of those wild boys, agreeing that most of their pranks would bring legal consequences in school today. There were amiable apologies, spontaneously welling from the common wisdom that we knew nothing then but believed we knew everything!

We fondly recalled those few who died young, or more recently took their leave. We looked at photos of children and grandchildren. We laughed and cried and hugged again. We caught up quickly. The most wonderful thing was the way we picked up where we left off. It was easy, like slipping on an old sweater, comfortable and well-loved. It was good - all the way through.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

And All the Way from Oklahoma...

So here is a complete emergency kit - all the way from Oklahoma!  It is portable, plastic and that jug of ol' Jack will fit in my back pocket when hiking in snake country.  This is, amazingly enough, also a holistic herbal concoction to be taken to safeguard mental health!

No!  Oh, no!  I just got snakebit...

Friday, May 22, 2015

M'am! We've Already Answered Your Question! (So Sit Down and Shut Up)

Something terrible and ugly is coming to the neighborhood - strip mining for limestone - directly across the road. I simply cannot express the full depth of my dismay.

The notification came in the mail a couple of weeks ago. The Wabaunsee County Planning Commission would be holding a public hearing to consider a Conditional Use Permit to establish a ledge rock quarry - directly at the end of my drive way. It felt like a blow to the gut.

All that noise! Traffic. Huge machinery. Dust. The methodical destruction of the prairie. The peace and quiet I so dearly love destroyed, possibly for several years. My deepest disappointment is that the beautiful view I have lived with and loved will be utterly destroyed and permanently changed.

Yes, the land must be restored and reseeded with native plants. Eventually the earth will heal. But those of us who live next to this property will have to endure living with the ugliness and destruction of a rock ledge quarry for however many years it may take to utterly exhaust the limestone, fill the earth back into the holes, and wait for nature to run her course.

It was the first time I have ever attended a zoning hearing but it went as I expected. One landowner is in the process of turning a historical home, guest house and barn into a large event center that can and will serve alcohol. The woman who lives directly across the road told the commission her family moved to the country to live in the country not live across the street from a business. She was definitely opposed. Only one commissioner voted "no" but his vote was not actually in favor of her concerns. He was voting against the Kansas City and Topeka people who would come to the country and "complain about the smell" of cow manure. ? ? ?

Then the order of business turned to the foregone conclusion that the commission would vote in favor of the rock quarry strip mining directly across the road from my property. My next door neighbors live in an old limestone home that could easily be damaged by the slamming and pounding it takes to break the limestone - so it can be hauled to Topeka and Kansas City where the people with the sensitive noses live. The neighbors came prepared with insurance concerns, advice from the State of Kansas geologist, and science in their request that the mining be limited to 500 feet from their old limestone home. The commission took a minute to speed read the letter from my neighbors. I am guessing no one read the letter in its entirety.

Since Wabaunsee County has been allowing the destruction of the prairie for years, no one expected to actually put a stop to it. For me, it was the attitude of the men involved that commenced a smolderin' in my gizzard. Four women spoke. If a woman attempted to speak over a man, the chairman immediately barked an order for her to stop. Not a single man received a public scolding. Indeed, the men accorded nothing but the utmost respect for one another.  The room was full of patronizing attitudes, and the good ol' boy bullshit was so deep I wondered why no one complained of the smell. (No Kansas City or Topeka people present, I assume.)

I believe everyone in the room is a decent human being. The commission members are likely well versed in fending off verbal abuse and keeping the peace when people seriously disagree over zoning issues. The man filing for the conditional permit is surely a good man but his attitude rankled me. He likely makes a nice living strip mining limestone. I wonder how happy he would be if someone spent several years creating an enormous, ugly, noisy mess next door to his home. How tolerant would he be to have his property value negatively impacted by an incredible eyesore? How tolerant would any of the commissioners be if a biker gang or halfway house for meth addicts set up shop next door? I want to live within eye sight and earshot of a rock quarry as much as any of those men would want to live next to a biker gang club house!

I had several questions, and though the men answered, I was not satisfied with every answer. People were tired of the discussion. Each time the chairman tried to move on, I had no choice but to speak up. The last time I did, in his best woman-scolding voice he declared "M'am! We've already answered your question!" The unspoken words "So sit down and shut up" lingered in the air for a brief moment before the order of business moved on.

As far as strip mining goes, grubbing out the limestone is fairly benign and the earth will heal. The commissioners have made a good faith attempt to keep the peace and accommodate and alleviate as many concerns as possible over this issue. I would be very angry if my neighbors were able to put a stop to anything I wanted to do on my own property. But, oh, it would be a great world indeed if the aesthetic objections against living across from a big dance hall or a rock quarry held the same value as a man's desire to destroy the beauty and peace of the neighborhood.

This beautiful scene from the end of my drive way will eventually be strip mined.
Under Assault
Everything on the horizon past these trees will be laid bare and the limestone removed.