Thursday, September 24, 2015

Food Chain Blues

The annual toad population around the house has dwindled to nothing. I do not know the natural lifespan of a toad, but surely it is longer than two seasons? The plains garter snake eats toads here on the wild prairie, so perhaps there is a hungry snake helping itself to the toads. Eeeewwww. It would be unbelievably disturbing to be swallowed alive, whole and head first. Another revolting fact about garter snakes is they bear live young, up to 60 (SIXTY) at a time! (Why do I torture myself like this?)

All this needless horror and revulsion aside, I do not know for certain the toads met their fate as snake food. They may have found better habitat since it has been such a wet summer. Fortunately for me, the only snake I have seen this year is the big black snake that periodically visits the chicken pen searching for spare eggs. I had a chance to run that creature over with my car recently. The snake was jauntily making its way from the chicken pen when I backed down the drive. We caught sight of one another at the same instant. The snake froze, knowing it was likely doomed crossing the wide expanse of gravel at the bottom of the drive. There was no where to hide. I drove slowly past, giving it the evil eye with all my might, hoping it would take its graciously spared life to another county. It was in the chicken pen again a few days ago. It quickly hid beneath the coop, then lowered its evil head to look at me. I think it was it mocking me for being such a spineless human that I did not even try to kill it with the car.

Here is what I hope happens: the snake is allowed to eat all the eggs it wants - not on purpose but because I am too afraid to gather the eggs any more. Thanks to the enriched diet, it grows large enough to eat the pack rats that build nests under the hood of my car in the winter. Of course the snake must eat the rats before it hibernates. This might not be a good plan.

The tiny frogs from last summer, the ones that sprang wildly into the air, are also absent. Instead there are tiny frogs that can only hop a short distance, maybe six inches. I think I stepped on one of these little critters when I was taking groceries from the car. I noticed a tiny carcass on the driveway and felt a pang of regret. I may not have been the culprit because had I stepped on it, it should have been entirely flat and likely not even recognizable as a frog. It was probably me, though.

The other night one of the little frogs hopped into the garage ahead of me. Before I could redirect it back into the wild, it hopped beneath the stairs entirely out of my reach. I was too tired to deal with it so I put a flat plate of water on the floor by the steps. I hope it survives until I can open the garage doors all day, giving it a chance to escape into the prairie. The world needs all the toads and frogs it can possibly get.

Another predator has returned, one I welcome. There is a certain large dragonfly that hunts in the last hours of sunlight. It bears a vague resemblance to a Huey helicopter. They arrive in enormous numbers, hundreds filling the air above the lawn, apparently feasting on mosquitoes or insects too small for me to see. Though it looks chaotic as they dive and wheel and rush past my head, they never crash into me or one another. I first noticed them above Ginger's pen years ago when I fed her in the evening. The only thing I have not been observant enough to determine is how many days they live to fill the air with their amazing aerial assault.

And finally, at last, the winter's hay is stacked in the barn. The rainy weather this summer delayed the delivery for many weeks but now there is enough hay to feed the horses through the winter. It is a very good feeling to see the bales stacked in the barn. It is one less thing to worry about until cold weather next year. One less thing.

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


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.