Monday, November 23, 2015

Facebook Makes First Positive Contribution!

Some weeks ago, I saw a Facebook post of a very clever idea to build winter shelters for feral cats. It involved placing a styrofoam cooler inside a plastic tub, cutting an entry through both, then stuffing with hay. It is the only time I can think of when Facebook served a genuinely useful purpose in my life.

Because there simply are not enough chickens to defend their territory, the chicken coop has been co-opted by black snakes in the summer and now by pack rats in the winter. I evicted a pack rat last year by raking out his huge nest of leaves and sticks and leaving the big door wide open. I tried to do that with this new tenant but he is not deterred. He diligently gathers up his scattered nest material and rebuilds it overnight! The disturbance does not bother him in the least. Consequently, the last surviving little hen will not use the coop. She spends her nights perching on the Dr. Seuss structure I constructed in the early days of Chickenry at Spiritcreek.

If I forcibly remove the pack rat, he will surely build his nest beneath the hood of my car. This happens often in the winter and causes hundreds of dollars worth of damage. It cost $300 to replace a valve that controls air into the fuel system last spring. I assume the rat also caused the digital temperature to read a perpetual 50 external degrees as well. I have no heart to trap or kill or poison the rat. He has as much right to his life on this earth as I have to mine.  I admire his industry. Every single leaf I raked out of the coop has been retrieved from the ground around the coop and placed back into his nest.

The night temperatures have started to fall below freezing now, and I have been worrying about shelter for the little hen. Enter Facebook. I could construct an insulated cooler house for her. In fact, that would be even better than the poor tiny little thing trying to stay warm in the relatively cavernous coop!

I made a trip to Topeka to buy a styrofoam cooler. Per the First Law of Dumbassery (failure to measure equals another trip to town) it was one inch too tall to fit inside the blue storage tub already on hand. Cutting the cooler down to size made a huge, irritating mess of statically charged styrofoam crumbs. I shored up the raw edges with my trusty duct tape (famously called "hundred mile an hour tape" by my Reser cousins from Barton County).  I packed the empty spaces with loosely crumpled newspaper, taped the two openings together, stuffed the interior with some of Ginger's hay, and viola: chicken shelter extraordinaire! I roped it to the Dr Seuss perch and it seems sturdy enough to not crash in a hard wind. It makes a cozy little nest for the poor little hen!

If I were to build this again, and I might have to, I would find a better fit to avoid damaging the styrofoam so the lid would fit snugly. I would also screw the storage bin lid on with four screws and use a drill to make holes along the bottom for drainage. I also do not know how well the hundred mile an hour tape will hold up, but I have a huge supply of that on hand at all times because the Second Law of Dumbassery states duct tape is the strong force binding the dumbass universe.

High Rise for the last chicken

It is ugly but serviceable.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Mining Progresses

Strip mined across the entire frame.
Most of it is in a draw that runs to the north.
A little better idea of the true destruction.
Roughly the same view to give you before and after.
Though it is "reversible", it is still difficult to see.

A little closer.
It is difficult to judge the height of these mounds of disturbed earth.
Looking back north east.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Irritating Lumps of Biomass

Sometimes it does not matter what is going on in the world, everything makes me grumpy. Ginger, my bossy little mare, is the same way.

Last night at feeding time for the equine residents of my little "funny farm", Ginger was in a mood. Jake the dumb dog (who already knows better, having been repeatedly schooled by Wally scaring the bejeezus out of him) was right in the mix of galloping horses. Horses often take a warning stance before they kick the snot out of you, but if you are a dog like Jake, it is a wasted courtesy.

Ginger pointed her rear end toward Jake in warning and I tried to call him away from danger. He just stood there like the lump of irritating dog mass that he is. Kaboom! Oh, I thought Jake was dead. Ginger kicked again and he started yelping in pain and crawling on his belly. As it turned out, she must not have connected with him because he was fine - frightened but fine. While I was very happy he was not damaged, it was irritating that he was such a dummy!

Then there is the cable installation crews that have been installing flexible pipe for fiber optics service from the independent company that provides my phone and internet service. They sent their best ambassador to my home to "man 'splain" they would be boring from the road down to my service pole. I wanted to make sure they realized they would be boring across the ditch holding the electric line, water line and existing phone line to my home. I do not know how some men do it, but they simply ooze condescension and patronizing bullshit. Come here, fellows - I would like to introduce you to the ass-end of a grumpy little quarter horse mare. She will school you on proper respect for the females of all species.

Some days I have little tolerance for the male gender's general failings - when men insist on being a lump of irritating human mass. (I am entirely aware that the female gender also has failings but we are not talking about that right now, are we?) After the perfunctory lecture from the boring company man, I consoled myself recalling that a scant fortnight ago, I was struggling to change my flat tire in the parking lot of Stuckys. One lady, not in much better condition than me, helped unhook the spare from beneath the Ford. The rest I was doing myself until I got to the world's most worthless car jack provided by engineers employed by Ford Motor Company. Probably all men engineers, I cussed to myself as I struggled with that piece of junk.

A truck full of men pulled in next to me. There were huge tool boxes on both sides of the truck. They would have a real jack! As they exited the cab, I asked if they had a jack I could borrow. They all looked at each other as if I had asked them for money, and for a second I thought they were going to be mere lumps of irritating human biomass of the male gender. Instead, they were hard working men at the end of a long day's work, who happened to speak English as a second language. Maybe they were not sure what I was asking because as they quickly sized up the situation, they said to me, "We will help you, M'am". For some reason, I almost started crying. There was so much kindness in that simple statement. I had wrestled with everything for a half hour, in a dress, while at least a dozen men came and went at the gas pumps. I was pretty sure people were getting a horrible view of my rear end as I bent over the rear deck of the SUV to unload the jack - when I crawled under the back bumper to lift the lowered spare off the dangling cable - while I struggled mightily to break loose the lug nuts - while I crawled under the side of the SUV in a futile attempt to place that worthless jack. The young men took over the whole operation and had the tire changed and the flat in the back in less than five minutes. I tried to pay them but they refused. An older gentleman remained in the truck, smoking, who could not speak any English. He would not take the cash I offered either.

"We will help you, M'am." The kindness of strangers. I concede: we can all be lumps of irritating biomass at times, but not all the time.

Saturday, October 31, 2015


Shamelessly used without permission from the
I sometimes wonder how Halloween came to be a children's holiday in America. Death is no laughing matter! We are all going there sooner or later so would it not make sense to have a little respect for it, for our departed ancestors? Cultures far older than ours respect those who come before. Not in America. There are no such things as ghosts, or whangdoodles, or other ethereal entities. Of course, I beg to differ.

I have been plagued with ghosts and ghostly activity my entire life. If they cannot get to me during waking hours, then they sometimes chase me through my dreams. Just the other night I dreamed of my mother. She and I were holding hands but then a ghost grabbed my hand and would not let go. I knew I had to shout the word "NO!" aloud to convince the ghost to let go of my hand. In the dream I could not speak but I kept valiantly trying until, with all of my willpower gathered in the pit of my stomach, I shouted "NO" and woke myself up.

It was not a frightening dream and after I shouted myself awake, I thought it was funny. Like every human being ever born, I wondered what the hell that was all about, especially considering my mother is technically a ghost, too. Perhaps when they visit us here they seem like ghosts, and when we visit in their dimension we seem as ghosts there. Maybe some unfortunate spirit on the other side thought I was a ghost and was trying to rid its space of me, a most uncooperative entity.

I know that in some cultures, All Saints Eve is the one night of the year when the veil is thinnest and those on the other side can easily visit. I am confused if the veil is thinnest after midnight October 30, or at midnight October 31? Or is it all 24 hours of Halloween? I have not received a visit from anyone on Halloween yet. Given my family's aversion to any sort of holiday travel due to the crush of crowds, it does not surprise me. Better to wait until the crowds thin, for an off day to visit.

In honor of  Halloween, I humbly offer one of my true ghost stories:

Years ago, when my son was a little boy, I took wood carving lessons from a husband and wife team. She was the artist and carver, and he hand-made fine wood carving tools. Their studio was a small two-story house only a couple of blocks from my house. They had turned their interests into a wonderful business. Once a week during the winter months I took carving lessons. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences! Everyone, mostly old people (I SAID it was YEARS ago), sat at tables arranged in a big U, carving and bullshitting for two hours once a week. Bullshitting is the scientifically correct and appropriate term for the wonderful ebb and flow of companionable conversation that occurs when carving. I came to love those old people and their wonderful sense of humor and patience and graceful acceptance of life.

The house I lived in at the time was haunted and the activity was quite blatant and troubling but I did not dare to bring that up for fear of ridicule from these fine older people. Inevitably, ghosts came up in the conversation one evening. A woman shared that her father had been working at her house when he died instantly of a heart attack. She explained that her father's spirit continued to visit her and made himself known to her in various ways. Predictably, everyone guffawed and disbelieved, not very charitably I might add. Except for me. I knew exactly what she was talking about because similar things happened in my house all the time! In her defense I shared my experiences and received the same treatment from our carving peers. The discussion lasted until it was clear that ten people were true disbelievers and two people were true nuts. The conversation naturally came to an end and in the silence I heard someone walking upstairs.

In all the months I had attended class in that little house, there had never been anyone upstairs. The owners did not live in the house. The rooms the woodcarving business did not occupy were used as storage for all manner of other things and were filled to the brim. I assumed the upstairs was the same. I was so surprised to hear footsteps, to clearly hear someone walking across the floor, that I quickly looked at the owners. They gave no indication whatsoever that anything was out of the ordinary. I looked around at every other person in the room. Not a single other person acted as if they were aware of the loud footsteps. We had been together as a class for over two years and not one other single time had there ever been a sound from upstairs. There was no outside staircase on the house, so if someone lived up there we would have unavoidably heard them open doors or walk up the steps. We would have heard someone before and we would have heard someone after that night. I waited for someone else to acknowledge the unmistakable footsteps across the old wooden floors over our heads but no one even looked up from their carving. After a few minutes, the conversation picked up again, the footsteps ceased and I never again heard someone upstairs during class.

I told my brother that story. He said he thought some people see or hear things others cannot see or hear. Maybe so.

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?!)