Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blizzard Qualifier

A foot of snow is probably not technically a blizzard, once the 40 and 50 mile per hour winds die down. So, for readers who come from serious snow country, including western Kansas, do not make fun of us wimpy snowbirds out here in the Flint Hills!

If you think we are soft namby pambies, I invite you to come out to Kansas in July, when the heat and humidity, mosquitoes and snakes make you long for winter, dream of snow, imagine 2 degree nights. Or when tornadoes are dropping out of the sky every five minutes, sucking up trees and houses and tow truck contractors.... Yeah, Bucko, that kind of weather separates the adults from the children!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Blizzard Blows the Blues - Updated


Brrrrrrr - but beautiful!


The most common sight in Kansas.

It is an ill wind that blows no good. For some time, I have had the feeling of unease and worry. Nothing I could put my finger on. This winter blizzard has ushered in some more unwelcome circumstances. I have yet to see my son for Christmas. The poor guy spent the entire Christmas day alone. So did I, now that I think about it.

My truck is hopefully sitting in the vicinity of the garage that I called first thing Monday for a tow and for repairs. At noon Tuesday, it was still on the side of the road.

I was going to post a photo of the snow drifts that had to be bulldozed aside in order to open the road the day after Christmas but my camera is still in the truck.

Drifts higher than the cab of my truck. Cool!

There was not even a car available to rent Tuesday in Topeka. Too many people needed rental cars due to accidents.

The good news is that I did not lose electricity at any time during this cold weather. I could watch television, or play expert spades on line with bored people the world over, or read other blogs online. There are many, many blogs of people raising goats, chickens, gardens, small farmettes, people going back to the land. It is so encouraging.

I hope my truck is repaired and available tomorrow and that it does not cost a small fortune. I hope my digital camera is still in the truck when I get it back. I hope the weather continues to improve so I can travel to my son's house with his Christmas gifts. I hope I can rent a car tomorrow if I need to. I hope I win the big lottery this month. I hope for world peace.

The Ugly Truth of the Matter
Another pack rat built a nest under the hood of my truck and chewed through a wiring harness, including one wire at both ends, so the mechanic did not even know for sure where that wire went. It also chewed through some hoses. Rats and mice have cost me a small fortune. Two weeks ago, a rat built a nest under the hood of the truck but it only chewed through a small tube. I noticed a problem when I got to work. A garage located across the street from my office repaired the truck that day. I was able to have my truck in time to go home, and it cost less than $70. Piece of cherry pie!

This new damage is going to cost considerably more - already over $260 with the car rental and tow and diagnosis work at the first garage. The Topeka garage is only open until noon Thursday, then closed until Monday. I continue to wish the worthless Farmers Insurance Contracted Tow Service will be able to get the truck from Paxico to Topeka on Thursday. Even if that happens, I doubt there will be enough time for the garage to repair the truck before noon when they close for the holiday.

The most aggravating factor in this whole scenario is the insurance tow contractor. I have paid premiums for their service since 1993 and have only needed their service once before, in the summer, and with similar results. Pack rats and contractors!

Which reminds me of a Jim Gaffigan joke: A guy dies, goes to heaven, and is surprised to find heaven is a gated community. He compliments the beautiful gates. St. Peter says, "Yeah, those gates weren't easy! We had to go down to hell for the contractor n' everything."

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cave Woman and The Water Hoses

A Cave Woman is just smart enough to get through life - no extra brain power for her. Something as simple as a water hose can be dangerously problematic.

The horses' water at Spirit Creek is provided in a sixty gallon tank and three hundred fifty feet of garden hose. In the winter, Cave Woman has to drain and roll up the hoses after each use, an enormous expenditure of energy for an overweight, out of shape, old Cave Woman. It takes hours dragging the hose up hill, filling the tank, draining the hose, winding it up (think frozen rubber), then wrestling it inside.

Eventually, even during the mildest winter, the hoses became hopelessly frozen, so buckets of water are filled and hauled up the hill in the back of the truck. No matter how carefully she drives, most of the water is spilled before it arrives at the tank. So, many buckets must be filled. It is a bit less energy expensive to simply carry two five gallon buckets of water up hill twice a day, and requires about the same amount of time.

Last year, Cave Woman installed a two-railed electric tape fence from the barn down to the edge of the yard. There, one fifty foot hose (piece of cake) and an electric tank heater made water available to the horses 24 hours a day. Putting in that fence took many more days to construct than anticipated. Because vegetation against the fence grounds it, the seven foot big blue stem plants had to be knocked down. Electric tape without a shock will not keep two full grown horses from wandering. In the absence of a suitable mower, the big blue stem was knocked down by driving the truck back and forth, up and down, for most of an afternoon. Then the fence posts were installed and the tape strung. It was Cave Woman's finest hour when the horses spiritedly trotted down the slope between the straight white electric rails to drink in the relocated tank!

Sadly, Cave Woman can not conceptualize into the future. She cannot extrapolate outcomes. With the arrival of warm weather, the tank was moved back up the hill and the electric corral was closed to reduce the chances of the horses getting out. The tank heater was no longer necessary and the hoses could lay on the ground all the time. But the prairie, fertilized by copious amounts of manure over the winter, and with no horses grazing it, grew to eight feet in the corral, too tall to mow with a lawn mower. With the fence in place there was not enough room to use the truck to knock down the grass. (And no room to drive the truck up the hill to haul water, either!) So, it was back to the hoses!

Here is the drill:
Turn on the faucet.
Walk up the hill to insure the water is running and actually going into the tank.
Wait for some indeterminate length of time for the tank to fill.
Walk down the hill to turn off the water.
Walk back up the hill to drain the hoses.
Slowly walk down the hill holding the hose high above the head - the cool-down for all that exercise.

Two trips up and down the hill per tank filling - except for Saturday after the blizzard. The hoses were buried under at least one foot of snow. But they were drained so water should flow through them, no problem. Alas, there had been a huge oversight before the blizzard by not hooking the delivery-end back to a fence post or something sturdy at last filling. Cave Woman had to dig around in the snow to find that end of the hose which was now "inexplicably" five feet too short to reach the tank. She walked down the hill, pulling the hose up through the heavy snow, stopping to rest every twenty feet, and sweating. She had to do this all the way down to the faucet, looking for that extra footage.

She turned right around and went up the hill with the snowy hose over her shoulder, pulling it straight as she went - too tired to cuss. Then back down the hill to turn the water on. Back up the hill to make sure water was flowing. Once the tank was filled, down the hill again, in her heavy mukluks, trudging through twelve to eighteen inches of soft snow every step of the way to turn the faucet off and unhook the hose. Then immediately back up the hill to begin the process of draining the water out of the hose before the water started to freeze. With hair wet from sweating, and frozen hands and feet, she finally accomplished the task.

In all, poor Cave Woman made four trips up and down the hill for a total of at least 2,800 feet - over a half mile in her mukluks - in deep snow - uphill. If only God had made her smarter....


The long hose path... it goes all the way to the little angled structure on the horizon. This was taken 20 days after the horrible ordeal documented in this blog....

Friday, December 25, 2009

Duke's Christmas Day


Another Christmas dawns and I am still alive on this old earth to welcome it. There is a lot of snow on the ground, blown into big drifts. The wind is still spinning snow into whirlwinds. I think the only Being happy about this much snow is The Duke. He loves the snow and celebrates in it as if he were still a pup.

Duke was about eight months old the first time he saw snow. When I walked out the back door that morning, he would not follow me into the mysterious white world. He would only peek out the dog door. I was shoveling a narrow path for myself around the house. As I got further away from him, he ventured out to follow cautiously behind me. It was just a few minutes before he discovered that it was perfectly safe to walk in the snow. Once he realized it was just white "stuff" over familiar ground, he was off! He ran in large figure eights, first to the right then to the left. At some point he leaned onto a shoulder and began to plow his nose through the snow, using three legs to power himself along. I was laughing hard at him by then. He was celebrating the snow with perfect dog abandon.

Duke is the happiest being I have ever known. His enthusiasm for life has never dimmed. He still plows through the snow with his nose, stopping only to sneeze a time or two. He still loves to chase rabbits, but the chases do not last long now. I have never seen him with a dead rabbit, or noticed any empty rabbit furs in the yard. He loves to snuffle around the barn, checking to see what critter might be living between the bales. He still loves to snuffle into prairie vole nests and dig frantically after them. I am certain he can catch and kill them with great expertise but I have never seen him actually catch a vole.

He leaves the cats, the horses, and the neighbor's cows alone. He tolerates the chickens, though I get the feeling he does not like them all that much. He does not chase them, but I have noticed that if he sees a chance, (as long as it has the appearance of legitimacy), he will run through them, scattering them into a squawking, flapping flurry. All other wildlife are allowed to exist peacefully in his territory unmolested, including the squirrels. Except rats - he takes rats out like a CIA assassin. (He is not a descendant of wolves for nothing.)

This big snowstorm is a dangerous event during the four day weekend of our country's largest holiday. Many people are going to be killed in car wrecks trying to forge ahead with holiday plans - even though a blizzard should be a valid reason to stay home. People are going to try to get together with family because of their schedules. No one's workplace will let them have do-overs next week. People will try to get to work too because the boss will not accept bad weather as a reason to miss work - though we all should agree it is.

Duke should rule the world. Every day is a good dog day. When it is too hot to chase rabbits, you lay in the cool dirt in the shade. When the boss wants you to stop fooling around and yells at you to report for duty, you just look earnestly at her, then take off over the hill - she knows you will be back. When it snows, you rejoice in it - not drive off into certain death and destruction. When people you love come on your property, you rejoice with wild abandon. When you have irritating friends, you accept them as they are, even if you do not agree with their politics or understand their language - though it is permissible to get a rise out of them occasionally.

Good old Duke - this snow's for you!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Twas the Night Before Christmas.....


Santa's team relaxing before the big trip tonight!
Rudolph is not in this photo - he is a bit of a recluse and not often caught on film by the
paparazzi.

We are bracing for a serious snow storm expected to begin today. It rained most of yesterday and when I stepped out a few moments ago, it is still rather mild - above freezing, no wind, no ice. That is expected to change by nightfall: freezing rains changing to snow, accompanied by 40 mile per hour winds. As much as ten inches of snow could fall. It will be beautiful, but brutal.

Poor Santa. He might have some challenges in the Midwest tonight!


Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward (Some) Men

From the Critters and the Crazy Woman at Spirit Creek



PS Most of you probably already know this, but if you right click on the photos in my blog, and select "Open Link In New Window", the photos will load to their full size and you can see all the detail.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Junior's Adolescence


Junior, the teenaged roo'


Junior hatched out last summer. I thought he might be a rooster and in this instance, I was right. Roosters are like little boys in a lot of ways. When they begin to crow, they make funny noises that sound nothing like crowing. They sound strangled and off key. It takes a rooster a while to develop his crowing. Their voices change along with their body shape and of course, their beautiful plumage.

Junior will eventually earn a new name. "Junior" is not appropriate for a full grown rooster. He is a cross between a Porcelain D'Uccle father and a Partridge Cochin mother. He is still a bit goofy looking and might always be that way. You never know, Junior might be the exactly right name.

I have not seen what instigates the fights, but I have witnessed the end of a few tussles over the last week or so. Junior is trying to fight with Tenzing Norgay and Baby Sister. When one of the little hens "wins" and Junior turns tail, another hen follows, pecking at him for good measure. The hens are simply outraged. And yes, those little hens can whip some butt.

I think Junior is trying to work his way up in the pecking order, and not actually trying to court the ladies. When he is seriously interested in the ladies, Evil Roo will challenge him on that. I hope Evil Roo will challenge him. Right now it is rather endearing because once Junior gets his teenaged butt whipped by the women, he goes to his father's side, where he is safe. Only time will tell who will be the top roo but I hope Evil retains the title. He is a chivalrous patriarch and a benign ruler. The Cochin genes in Junior might cause him to be a dictator after the manner of his uncle, Big Man.

No one likes a dictator.

Monday, December 21, 2009

First Day of Winter


Photo from http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html


Happy Winter Solstice - Happy first day of winter.

When I went to the barn this morning, the absolute best aspect of living at Spirit Creek was gloriously present - the brilliant winter stars.

Light pollution is minimal, especially when the atmosphere is crystal clear and the stars are startlingly bright when I first step outdoors. They are living jewels caught among the winter branches.

This time of year, the Big Dipper appears to hang directly above my driveway and mighty Orion rises from the east. Cassiopeia and the Pleiades are familiar and I can always locate them. Sometimes the starshine is so bright that it casts faint shadows on the ground.

I am going to build a sleeping porch where I can sleep comfortably under the stars year 'round. It is already built in my imagination. I just need to bring it into reality.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Part Indian, Full Blood Cowboy


The world is missing one of its most original sons now. Ed Ketterman died last Tuesday when his big heart finally gave out. At the age of 75, not so old in these times, he made the decision he was tired and ready to move on. With his wife of fifty five years, and his loving family gathered around him, he took his leave the same way he lived his life - on his terms.

The day of the funeral, the main church was filled to capacity, with a large number of people relegated to the other side of the building where they could only hear the service. People of all ages came to say goodbye. It was no surprise to me that so many would come, but the preacher remarked on the unusually large funeral for someone Ed's age.

As I sat in the church with all those people who knew and loved Ed, I wondered who, in all of my life, was as honest and authentic as this good man. There was no one to compare.

Ed had a very quick mind, an excellent memory, and sized up any situation in an instant. He could not resist getting a person right where it stings, but it was never mean spirited. A darker man with the same attributes could have cut people to ribbons, but Ed's big heart and excellent humor saved all of us slower wits. There was always a twinkle in his eye.

Ed knew who he was and did not care who you may have thought you were. Marty Shottenheimer, head coach of Kansas City Chiefs, came through one day where Ed worked. The Chiefs had made the playoffs but lost in the first round. When Marty came by glad-handing everyone, Ed gave him the needle for bumbling the team's chances. Knowing Ed, he had distilled the entire failure of the game down to the pivotal point, and with his talent for truth, shot the arrow right into Marty's self important ego. Marty just walked on. Though I was not there, I can guarantee there was delight in Ed's eyes and likely a red-faced Marty.

You never had to guess where you stood with Ed Ketterman. He would tell you straight out what he thought. It was never in an overbearing, heavy handed way. It was just plain words, simple spoke. And he had a great sense of humor.

For quite some time he had to have a mechanical apparatus that regulated his heart beat. It was something more complicated than just a pace maker, as I understand it. Last year he needed to go in for an adjustment to this technology, which required some surgery. When they asked him to remove his boots, he refused. Knowing Ed, he was just checking to see what he could get away with. Ed had the surgery with his boots on, like any good cowboy.
Ed on the right.

Ed was a cowboy, a roper, a horse trainer. He was a hunter. He had a passion for sports - from his granddaughter's softball to all major league professional sports. He was a husband and a family man. A good neighbor. A grandfather and great grandfather. His obituary read, in part: "10 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren and the many children that called him Dad and Grandpa". Some of those "children" who called him Dad are well into middle age. He was my father's best friend, so I have known and loved Ed from the day I was born. When my father died unexpectedly in my childhood, it was Ed's big heart that offered what shelter there was for my broken one.

Some years ago, a cousin in Ed's family traced the family tree and discovered they were descendants of Red Cloud's people, the Oglala Lakota. It did not surprise me in the least that Ed was Lakota.

There is no way to capture the man here, or do his life justice, or convey the grief his family feels at his passing. No way to fully honor this good man and what he meant to so many people. No way to explain who he was to me. It is a great sorrow that in this lifetime I will never again hear his voice, never see this man I loved as much as my own father.

It was a cold winter day when the hearse took Ed to his final resting place in a tiny township cemetery, not five miles from the front door of the house where he lived for the last fifty years. Four horses came galloping to the fence as the hearse drove slowly by. They took off to the west, bucking and cavorting in the cold air, celebrating the passing of an honorable Oglala son - a genuine cowboy - the best man I have ever known.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Choose Happiness



I was behind one of the new Smart Cars in the drive through the other day. I could not stop smiling. Two full grown adults were aboard, and it was just too darned cute - even from the back. Head on, these little cars look like they are smiling, too.

Until they are given four wheel drive and a higher road clearance, it simply will not be practical to drive a Smart Car and live on the farm. One good bounce over a deep rut in the road and the little Smart Car would likely be ruined. But if I lived in town, I would own one of these little jewels for sure.

Change takes a lot of effort to overcome inertia, to move the status quo off dead center, but once it begins, it becomes increasingly easier. As the technology for the greener energy sources and the far more efficient use of traditional energy improves, change will gain momentum and acceptance. Once everyone is driving a cute little machine like this, how could we possibly treat one another hatefully?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Truly, The Land of Oz

In the little town of Wamego, Kansas, there is an old wild west prairie town theater, the Columbian. Built as a music hall in 1893, genuine cowboys came there for entertainment. Some years ago a group of enterprising folks restored that wonderful old building located right on the main street. They have been holding plays and musicals there ever since.

It is difficult to gather enough support for the Arts in Kansas - except for country music, the highest art form embraced here. I find it remarkable that such a small town has managed to restore the theater, stage plays and musicals, and draw an international crowd at least once a year to OZtoberFEST (every October). It is a citywide celebration of the Wizard of Oz.

I have been asked at least five hundred times "How is Dorothy?" after admitting to an out lander that I hail from Kansas. The only thing the rest of the world knows of Kansas is from the movie "The Wizard of Oz" - Dorothy and Toto and Auntie Em, all from Kansas. When someone asks me about Dorothy or Toto, I always get to say yes, I am from Kansas and even better - I have an Auntie Em, too - my mother's older sister, Emma Jean, forever called Em. It is fun.

I am not complaining that Kansas' claim to fame is a wonderful, timeless story beloved by millions. We could be known as the state that elected a school board hell bent on teaching creationism instead of evolution in our public schools in the twenty first century!

Wamego has made the Wizard of Oz into a true event. The remaining original actors who portrayed Munchkins in the movie come for the festivities. My daughter and I attended a dinner with these tiny actors one year. We met them and visited just a bit with each one. It was fun.

One of the great grandsons of L. Frank Baum, author of the original book, was there, too. Robert Baum is a tall man, with white hair, and he was dressed as Professor Tinker, the fortune teller who was also the Wizard of Oz. Mr. Baum looked so much like Professor Tinker to me that I had to stop and do the math. The actor who played the Wizard could not possibly have still been alive! I thought it remarkable that he so resembled the Wizard. (What kind of crazy karma is going on there?!)

The Wizard of Oz is performed on the stage in the Columbian each year, and it is very well done. We are not talking a Broadway production, but the acting and singing are certainly well performed, and the stage sets are ingenius and excellent. The tornado was constructed from yards of dark cloth and spun about with appropriate sound effects - it resembled a tornado in appearance and behavior - so clever. My favorite, and the very best special effect, were the genuine sparks that flew between the finger tips of the Wicked Witch and Dorothy's ruby slippers! And yes, there is a little dog Toto, too. He resembles the original Toto, and knows his cues like any professional actor worth his dog biscuits.

After six years the play has been retired, but OZtoberFEST continues. The Oz Museum is open next to the Columbian Theater, and there are many other Oz related festivities each fall. I am sure there will be something else to take the place of the play.

This year when I drove through Wamego's main street during the 'FEST, there were license plates from all over the United States: New Jersey, Florida, New York, Tennessee, Texas, California... I can not remember all the different license plates I noticed. The magic of Oz still lives in Kansas, and pilgrims come from far and wide. How much fun is that?

Visit Columbian Theater here.
There are links to the Oz museum and the OZtoberFEST, too.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Artist Daniel W Coburn

Truly, the most beautiful photographs of Kansas!

This is the link directly to Daniel Coburn's web site, where he has published some of the most beautiful photographs of Kansas. I urge you to visit his site and to spend some time looking at his photographs. They are stunning. He is quite familiar with the beauty of Kansas and has captured moments in each season, each time of day that reveal this land to those patient enough to wait for the landscape to reveal itself.

Of all who have attempted to photograph the space and sky of Kansas, only Daniel Coburn succeeded in capturing what must be seen to be believed. He has photographed the spirit and beauty of Kansas.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The First Installment of Cave Woman* Adventures

This morning it was 15 degrees Fahrenheit . It was darned cold in Kansas. There was a beautiful but hard frost covering everything. All the standing water was frozen in the dog dish, the chicken pen, and in the horse tank. All week I knew it was going to become this cold but naturally, I could not be proactive. No. Cave Woman can only be reactive.

So, there I was, wrestling with frozen electrical extension cords covered in frost - because when I rolled them up last spring, I left them right where I would need them again - in nine months.

Extension cords are not very flexible in below freezing weather but I got one cord untangled and plugged into to the light pole. I needed another extension cord to reach all the way to the chicken pen. I eventually got the second one unrolled and threaded through the chicken wire. As I connected the two cords, I realized a moment too late the rubber had been stripped off the end of one of the cords - the one in my left hand - where the snap, crackle, and pop of 110 volts of electricity was sparking and smoking in my gloved fingers.

I did not die. I did take my glove off and check to make sure I had not blown any holes in my cave woman self.

When I left for work, all the chickens were gathered round the fresh water, happily drinking from their heated water dispenser.

The shock therapy cleared the normal brain fog. All morning my mind has been as sharp as a razor.

To be continued....


*A nod to the two Cave Men I work with, Rog' and Gary.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dogs and Digital Mysteries

Digital Photography is the most miraculous thing that human beings have ever invented. No film, no waiting, no expensive disappointments. I can delete blurry and bad photos with reckless abandon. I can take one hundred photos of the same subject and not feel guilty. When I open the files on my computer screen, they come alive with the light from within, almost as magnificent as when originally seen with the human eye.

My little digital camera is capable of much more functionality than I know how to use. I have been experimenting with the camera's settings, hoping I can capture at least some of the more subtle and important aspects of subject matter that escape and frustrate me now. It is the same frustration I feel when I paint. I simply have not mastered the tools, neither the paints nor the camera, to reproduce what I see.

Once again, I tried to photograph the moonlit scenery. Tonight the moon is so bright that I can distinguish some colors outdoors. Of course, master photographers have been attempting to capture the magic of moonlight since the first camera was invented and most have failed. Oh, but I think I can do better with my little Kodak?

It is very cold tonight and clear. It is beautiful and I spent some time attempting to photograph the magic of the full moon illuminating the landscape. I wonder what my old dog Duke thinks I am doing when I go on these night forays. He understands feeding the horses, letting the chickens out of their pen. When my kids visit and hike the creek, Duke naturally gets the concept of the pack going on an adventure. I wonder what he thinks when I take the camera out at night, flashing an exceedingly bright light at random.

We assume the concept of taking pictures, and any number of other things, are beyond the intelligence of dogs. What if they are actually a superior race, so far evolved beyond us that they know photography, digital or otherwise, is such a futile endeavor only human beings would waste their time with it? Dogs do not go to war, build nuclear weapons, oppress and torture others. Dogs do not get in political debates. Sometimes when the ol' Dukenator, faithful and forever loyal, accompanies me in my idiot adventures, I know he is from the wisest species in the universe.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mother Earth News - The Nightmare

The new issue of Mother Earth News arrived yesterday in my mailbox. I love that magazine. My entire life I have wanted to own a small farm and get off the grid. That has been the biggest and most enduring dream - that and being a successful writer. Well, I do own a small acreage now, but the "farming" and "off the grid" parts are long past taking root. As Bob Dylan says, "Some things in life it just gets too late to learn."

I have had gardens a few times in my life, beginning at age twelve. The only garden that came to fruition was a small garden planted in the back yard of a rental home in east Topeka where a chicken coop once stood, according to the owner. Chicken poop - the stuff of miracles!

The small garden yielded a respectable crop of green beans, my favorite vegetable of all time. I had never canned anything, but my neighbor lady (whom I forgave daily for her gossip, interference, and Christian judgment against my divorced lifestyle) guided me through the process over her garden fence. Soon there were fourteen quarts of home grown green beans magnificently displayed on the kitchen counter top - in brand new Ball jars - with shiny lids. No human being had ever been more proud of green beans.

After a few days, a sour smell began to permeate the house. I almost cried when I tracked it down to the jars of beans. They did not properly seal. My green beans were spoiling in the jars. I emptied the beans and gave the jars to my nosy neighbor and Jesus.

This bean debacle came after tremendous effort: I purchased fencing and fence posts, enclosing about a ten by twelve plot in the back yard. I hand dug the soil with a spade. I planted that garden with such high hopes. I even put in hybrid corn that was designed to be planted in a single row and only grew about three feet high. It was for small urban gardens. I harvested corn alright - one tiny little ear per plant. My little girl and I had two tiny "roasting ears" for lunch one day, laughing over the dwarfed ears. I figured a net harvest of about 54 kernels of corn. Those green beans were my shining accomplishment for so much work and expense.

The green bean failure came hard on the heels of the ill-fated year of 1980, when my husband left me unexpectedly on six acres of land in Osage County. I had decided I would stay on even though The Jackass had left. Early that spring, I ordered seedlings of evergreens and lilac bushes and some other plants from the Kansas State University extension office. I continued to work full time in Topeka and work full time at improving "the farm".

I planted a row of little pine trees in depressions I had carefully dug to protect them from the wind. I mulched them with straw. Because I was broke, I could not afford another garden hose, so I carried buckets of water to them. I nourished those plants as if they were babies all that horrible hot summer. I might have to remind you that the summer of 1980 was one of the longest unbroken string of 100 degree plus days on local record, but I continued to water my little trees with great hope and vision. It came to an ugly end when The Jackass, in a misguided and worthless attempt to assuage his guilty conscience, came to mow the huge yard while I was at work in Topeka. He mowed down ALL the little trees, and the lilac bushes, and everything else I had been nursing along that hateful summer. It was a symbolic final straw and I moved back to Topeka in time for my daughter to begin third grade in Topeka that fall.

Those two horrible gardening calamities ended my gardening dreams and I bought a Harley Davidson instead. I could share a few more pathetic attempts at gardening, but why reopen the scabbed over wounds?!

Now, instead of risking the heartache of failure, I read of other people's success in Mother Earth News. This year there was an article about a 13 year old girl gloriously successful with her organic gardening, raising chickens, baking bread and writing about it!

These are the things that drive middle aged women to alcohol.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Good Morning America



The day always starts with such promise. This is what my morning looked like, and what it looks like almost every morning. Today just might be the day I win the lottery.....

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Long Road Home Past The World's Largest Ball of String

Visiting my stepfather this week for his 86th birthday meant a trip to what I reluctantly claim as my hometown. It is about two hundred miles, one way. It is always a long road home because I have traveled that route countless times since I graduated from high school there in May of 1970. (That date seems as if it should have B.C. tacked on it now, even to me.) It is a long, boring, familiar drive.

Over the years I have found the absolute shortest route possible to get there. No matter what was going on in my life, I would go home. My past is inextricably and forever linked with every mile. Each trip home is a trip to the past. Three hours of driving is ample time to thoroughly mull things over. My memory unwinds unavoidably on that drive home, so speed is of the essence.

There are perennial bright spots on that long trail that bring a smile and fond memories. One such place is the berg of Portis. I can never drive through that town without recalling the Christmas Eve my husband, a New Jersey transplant, came through Portis, Kansas for the first time. The citizens had made an honest effort to decorate their main street by stringing a single wire of "Christmas lights" across the highway which bisects the town. They were not even genuine Christmas lights, but a half dozen or so regular red light bulbs, and two were burned out. That was the full extent of the Portis Christmas decorations.

At first, my husband could not believe his eyes, then he started laughing. By the time we passed under the string of lights, he was laughing so hard that he had tears in his eyes. He kept trying to say something, but he was laughing too hard for me to understand him. He was laughing so hard that I began laughing/weeping too.

Since that season, the little town has done far better with their decorating efforts. Sometimes they have nothing at all, which is infinitely better than the single string of red bulbs.

A rather more infamous landmark is located on the main street of Cawker City, Kansas. It is the world's largest ball of string. For decades it was on the south side of the street in the center of the town, sadly sagging toward the ground, uncovered and unkept. We never passed by without someone in the car remarking on it. One year we noticed someone had apparently tried to burn it down.

The townsfolk have grown in their appreciation of their tourist attraction, and over the years they have made changes. It was eventually wrapped in sturdy rope, and reshaped into an actual ball. Then a new sign, then a formal sign. Some years later a roofed shelter was erected over it. Now there are contemplation benches so a person can sit, meditate, and consider the efforts to collect such a large ball of string and why. There are other "world's largest" balls of string, so Cawker City has made a more discerning designation as the world's largest ball of sisal twine.

If you are ever through Cawker City, look for it right there on main street. You can not miss it.




For even crazier Kansas stuff, visit here: http://www.roadsideamerica.com/location/ks
Select a Kansas town from the right hand side of the page. Read'em and weep.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Daughter

My daughter is my best best friend (BBF) and my best friend forever(BFF). I admire her.

She works diligently at moving her life forward. She always tries to do the right thing. She dresses for work stylishly and professionally and always looks beautiful, even when she is schlepping around at home. She did not learn her style from me, thank god. It is innate to her own sensibility.

When she was little, she was shy, compliant, and I only had to tell her once. Of course, that did not last. When she became a teenager.... well, let us just say I was glad to see her exert her will and break out of her shell. Once all that foolishness was behind us, we were able to find one another again and enjoy our relationship.

She is a good daughter. I understand now how I could have been a better daughter to my mother. My daughter has a tremendous will, which has served her well as she moves forward with her education, her career, her marriage and what I call "life electives" - motorcycling and photography for now. Women spend a lifetime learning how to manage their will gracefully and she is making great progress. There are a few people who have learned the hard way to not mess with my daughter.

There are characteristics evident in each human being from a very young age. My daughter, being quiet and agreeable for the most part, gives bullies the idea that she is a pushover. In first grade, the mean little neighbor girl found out the hard way just exactly how much abuse my daughter was going to accept. I heard a scream of rage followed by screams of the neighbor girl running home crying to her mother. My daughter threw a piece of brick directly to the back of the other little girl. I hate to say it, but if anyone ever deserved a brick to the back, that little neighbor girl did. Of course, a parent can not reward brick throwing, but in my heart I was glad to see that other child get her comeuppance. This illustrates one of my daughter's life tasks - how to set those boundaries early and maintain them so that a brick is not needed at the final hour. On the other hand, if it takes a brick, then throw it with all thy might.

Once my daughter married and moved far from Kansas, I never expected her to return to settle here. But she and her husband bought a house literally "down the road" from me. It seemed so far fetched to hope they would even come back to Kansas that I never even imagined they would one day buy a house so close by. She never admitted to thinking the Flint Hills were beautiful or that the sky was spectacular here, but now that she lives in a house with a dramatic view of the prairies, she is beginning to see what I see and love what I love. It takes a while for the subtleties of Kansas to reveal themselves.

We can talk about the old bad times, the events that occurred in our lives due to my inexperience, my negligence, my mistakes, and the mistakes she made growing up. She confesses things now when I never had a clue at the time. It is all forgiven and all we are left with is a warm understanding and a wonderful relationship.

My daughter's dedication to complete her Masters degree is what I admire most right now. Writing is difficult for her. It is frustrating, a true stretch. But, she is so determined. I have no doubt that she will make it. I see the effects of a good education in my daughter. She will never be just a "mere supervisor" the way I have been. She is director now in her current job, and who knows what her future holds? The daughter has exceeded the mother in all ways, and that is the way it should be.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Crazy Is As Crazy Does


Sometimes I can not sleep but it is not a hardship. There are nights when I fondly recall the era of my life when sleep was delicious and coveted and luxurious (when I was young). Delicious sleep belongs to the past, like so many other things. Occasionally when I can not sleep, I go walking. That is what I did last night.

It rained all night Sunday and was snowing hard Monday morning. It rained and snowed all day and continued to rain throughout the night. There was mud and slush and freezing rain coming down, so what better time to go for a walk?

About 3 am I decided to go up to the barn. I found my winter boots, still full of pieces of hay from feeding the horses all last winter, and also full of spider webs. I used the vacuum cleaner to insure there were no live spiders left in the boots, but two spiders crawling on the toe of one boot were sucked into the maelstrom - death by Kirby. I found my winter gloves, trusting no spiders had taken up residence in them, and located the headlamp. It was totally black outside, I needed a light. I bundled up in spider-ridden boots, dirty old work gloves, and my ragged work coat.

Taking up my walking stick, I took off in the dark for the barn. When it is raining or snowing, the sky is entirely black and the silence is comforting. Even though Duke is getting up there in age now and I hate to disturb his sleep, I can never sneak off in the dark without him. He always hears and comes running. The generosity of the dog nation is beyond reproach.

The horses hear me coming as well, and Ginger sometimes makes a low greeting in her throat. Annie rarely makes any noise. She is a horse of few words. She expresses herself in other ways. She chases Duke, plays in the water tank, and routinely scares the bejeezus out of me with her startled stomps and take offs.

The horses are not glad to see me - only if I have food or treats. Otherwise, I am just their noisy servant stomping around in the middle of the night, disturbing their sleep. But, I like going to visit them in the dark. It never ceases to amaze me that thousand pound animals with four feet can silently get within six inches of me to exhale a warm blast of air onto my neck, giving me a heart attack, but they can. Ginger did this to me in broad daylight. She routinely sneaked up behind me when I was cleaning her pen. She worked to perfect her technique.

Duke is never off duty, marking his territory all along the path to the barn, even in the dark. If I am not paying attention I sometimes run into him if he has stopped to claim a spot where a coyote or other intruder left a scent. He always goes ahead of me on the path, peeing on things every few feet. I think it is the canine equivalent of the red carpet treatment.

Once I get to the barn, I turn off the headlamp. I only need it to make sure I do not trip and fall down where Duke can enthusiastically lick my face. Duke will be twelve years old next spring and he still has not learned to not lick and slobber and breathe stinky dog breath all over me if he gets the chance. The four words he always hears: "*#@ *&@$^& #&, Duke!" have no meaning or effect on him. I believe he assumes that is the sound humans make which means "carry on enthusiastically."

Duke snuffles around the hay and usually takes off in the dark while I am at the barn. When I get tired, or too cold, or resign myself to going back to bed, he is often so far away that I can not hear him at all. I know there is nothing in the dark that will harm me, (unless there should be a rabid skunk), but sometimes I hear something big rustling through the prairie and I certainly hope it is the ol' Dukester. It always is. I can never sneak away from the barn without Duke running up to escort me back to the house.

It is a good thing to go out to the barn at night. The warm bodies of the horses are dark shapes silently passing next to me. I run my hands down their soft necks. Sometimes, if Ginger will stand still long enough for me to lean against her warm side, I place my arms around her neck. She only tolerates this because she believes royalty should always treat servants with civility.

Sometimes the wind is what I want to listen to. Sometimes it is the silent snowfall, or the gentle mist of rain. Sometimes it is the stars. Late in the winter, it is the owls calling eerily along the creek. Sometimes it is the moonlight that calls me to the little rise where the barn sits. Sometimes it is simply a restlessness in my spirit and the need to reconnect with the energy of this place I call home. Sometimes thoughts of the future crash through my reverie, ruining my sojourn. There will likely come the day when I will have to move to town - go live in a dinky little apartment some place where the only animal I will be allowed to look after might be a cat, if I am lucky. If I am damned, I will have to go to a rest home. I know what happens to crazy old women who try to wander away from rest homes, or want to roam the night in their nightgowns and winter boots.

Tenzing Norgay


Tenzing roosting alone at night on the back porch

Two years ago, at the farm store, I saw tiny blue chicks for the first time, ever. They were blue with yellow caps, and so tiny! I had to have one, even though I did not know what breed of chicken they were. For some time, I observed the tub of bantam chicks for sale. There were four or five different breeds mixed together and I did not recognize any of them. One blue chick distinguished itself from all the others by being the most vital. It also seemed to be the most intelligent as it interacted with the other chicks and the limited environment. It was simply more "engaged" in whatever it was doing. So, I chose it. Of course, I was hoping it would be blue when it grew up.

Of the three chicks I chose that day, they turned out to be Tenzing Norgay, a Porcelain D'Uccle and the dominate hen of my flock today, and two Partridge Cochin roosters, Big Man and Sweetie Peep. I have chronicled my adventures with them throughout my blog. Big Man was the funniest chicken I have ever known, and I loved him so much, but I had too many roosters. Since I can not eat my pets, I had to give them away. I believe I found a good home for the roosters but I am not sure how much longer they survived. I no longer ask the girl who has them, just in case she might have bad news. Only the little blue chick, Tenzing Norgay, remains of the original three.

As you may recall, Tenzing was able to fly to the cage door as soon as her real feathers came in. She quickly learned to fly to the door the second it opened, and apparently simply liked to sit in my hand because she was not rewarded with food for this.  She was roughly the size of a meadow lark and so cute. The two roosters would run around in the cage in a panic. They never figured out that my hands were not predators, or that they too could fly to the door.  Tenzing was, wings down, far smarter than those silly little roosters.

She continues to distinguish herself, though there are five other Porcelaine D'Uccle hens in the flock now. They all started out as blue chicks with a spot of yellow on their heads. Now they are white hens with splotches of blue around their necks. Each one is marked a bit differently so I can tell them all apart. Tenzing is a loner. She found her old cage stacked on the back porch early this summer and began laying her eggs in there. (She can get into the back porch the same way the dog does - through the dog door.) She prefers that cage as her roost at night.  All the other chickens go into the pen at twilight, but Tenzing goes to her solitary roost on the back porch. Since she is not penned with the others at night, she always has her freedom during the day. I do not have the heart to throw her in with the others. I understand about needing solitude and space.

Of all the chickens, she seems to understand that I am her friend and protector. As soon as she hears my voice she comes running and tags along behind me.  She knows I will have food but I think she also remembers that I have amazing powers that can expand her world.

Sunday, the cold rain necessitated a change where I store the chicken feed.  The flock has been kept penned up due to the slinking coyote recently spotted several times just a few feet from the pen. Since I no longer scatter the chicken feed in the driveway so I did not expect Tenzing to be out in the cold rain, but when she heard me, she came running. She followed me around the house several times as I moved the bins of food to the back porch.  It was unusual that she followed behind me for such a long time.  Even a genius chicken like Tenzing only has an attention span of.... well, not very long. And chickens can be distracted quite easily. Even when they expect food, none of them follow me for more than about thirty feet.

I do not pick her up any more but I still talk to her. I think she would be cold sleeping alone, as all the other chickens snuggle in the nests together for warmth and companionship at night. But, for whatever reason, little Tenzing Norgay prefers a roost of her own choosing, even if it means being alone. I need to find an intelligent, handsome rooster worthy of her.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Riverdance

A bit of Ireland came to Kansas Saturday night and my daughter and I were there. We attended the Saturday night performance of Riverdance - the Farewell Tour. It was a delight. The dancing was unusual and dramatic. The dancers were all so beautiful. I believe the small stage at the Topeka Performing Arts Center limited the production to a degree, but we thoroughly enjoyed it.

The lead female dancer was absolutely flawless, but this being Kansas, she hardly garnered the appreciative applause she deserved. The loudest applause was lauded on the dramatic male dancers. The men were good, but to my eye, the young lady was a cut above them and absolutely perfect. (Uppity women are not appreciated in Kansas - unless you are Sarah Palin, don'cha know?)

My daughter and I had girl's night out. We ate a nice dinner then went to the theater. I even put on makeup, but do not assume I was puttin' on airs. I proved beyond a shadow of a doubt it is true that you can take the woman away from her bike, but you can not take the biker out of the woman. Just as this long awaited and highly anticipated production began, right at the moment the actual dancing began, some late-comers came flying toward their seats to our right. Okay - I am normally patient and understanding. Because a giant (but innocent) man was already seated several chairs inland, and the tardy ticket holder's seats were on the other side of him, the ensuing musical chairs involved about nine people! Eight or nine people, including a giant, milling around within a few feet of us, making noise, blocking the stage and creating an enormous distraction! My irritation knew no bounds. I intended that my whispers would be heard only by my daughter when I hissed, "Jeeeeez - ussss Christ! Sit the **** down!"

I half-heartedly apologized for my outburst at the time. My daughter said "Everyone else was thinking the exact same thing."

Returning to our car after the concert, my daughter brought it up. She admitted that it stunned her at the time. Unfortunately I was much louder than I intended. After the concert, (when her embarrassment had worn off) she was beginning to appreciate it in a different light. I apologized, admitting it was wrong on every level. She pointed out not a single person stood up in front us the entire rest of the evening. We began to laugh until we both had tears in our eyes. In fact, at one point we were howling.

My daughter has collected a few memorable quotes, things I have said or done over the years that she and my son find funny. I think my son-in-law has been in on this recently, too. The sad thing is that when I say these things they find so funny, I am most often entirely serious. I guess I am a "character" in their lives. It is not that they are making fun of me so much as they are beginning to see their mother as an individual. I am happy they find some humor in a few of the more outrageous things I might say or do, but I think it is Old Woman Tourettes, and they should be more respectful.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Major Retraction!

All three Weird Sisters survived the night! Where the missing one was hiding last night, I do not know, but all three Weird Sisters survived. I repeat: No missing chickens!!

Seems Like the First Day of Winter

It is cold and wet and overcast today. All the leaves are down, but there remains some green - the rose bushes, for example. Undoubtedly the prairie is preparing for winter. Normally the summers are so hot and brutal that I welcome and appreciate winter until at least mid-January. Then I begin pining for the light and warmth of spring. Enough is enough!

Every year, I have the intention of buying special light bulbs from Sweden that are said to offset the depression of winter. If they work, I might make it through the entire winter season as a happy idiot. What would it feel like to be almost in a good mood during January, I wonder? Never have I taken one tiny concrete step toward getting those light bulbs. Like everything else, if I just wait long enough, it will be spring again and I will not need light bulbs from Sweden. I wish I was more proactive but it takes a lot of energy.

I am also a tiny bit sad this morning because one of the Weird Sisters disappeared last night. Some unknown predator had her for supper. Darn it. The little chicks I bought at the farm store have survived and proliferated, but of the eight silver sebright chicks that traveled via United States Postal Service from Back East, only two are left. Kansas has proven to be too wild and dangerous for them. Whatever gets them does not even scatter any feathers.

It was my fault for letting them out yesterday morning. I knew I was going to be gone all evening so I should never have let them out. I was not too worried because it had been overcast all day, and I was certain the chickens would go to roost early. By evening the chickens were making their slow way toward the pen. Their speed and distance from the pen correlates directly to the amount of daylight left. As my departure time approached, the sun broke through, illuminating our little valley and invigorating the chickens. They headed back toward the timber, industriously scratching through all the leaves as they made their way. I did not have time to pen them up. As soon as I got home I checked on them, and one of the sebrights was gone.

I knew it was foolhardy to raise chickens in this location without extraordinary measures or permanently penning them. More have survived then I ever imagined. It still depresses me a little bit, especially on a wet cold day like today.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Red Tailed Hawks


The pair of hawks, center.

The red tailed hawk is a sort of spiritual messenger for me. A red tail feather signaled a major life shift. My spirit was fading away with a broken heart. I was floundering in a great absence of hope. I had lost faith in all my dreams and did not know how to spiritually replenish myself. That feather came from the North, signaling a new strength building in my life.

There have always been Indians in my life, but none of them were "practicing Indians". There was shame and heartache associated with being Indian, so no one ever wanted to admit to it. Some people I love dearly did not even know they had Indian blood, not until late in their lives.

After that feather appeared, I met people I fondly refer to as "real Indians". It has nothing to do with blood quantum, though I did meet and come to know some full bloods, too. I had opportunity to go into lodge, to sit humbly on the good earth, in the dark, singing those old prayer songs. My spirit rose from the ashes.

When the prairie had been restored on my twenty acres of former farm land, I dared to hope a hawk might find the habitat suitable to claim for itself. Amazingly, three summers ago I noticed a pair had taken up residence upstream of my bend in the creek, but they hunted my pasture.

Since all the leaves are gone now, it is easy to see, directly in my line of sight, the distinctive silhouette of a single red tailed hawk perched between me and the sunrise every morning. It could not be more directly aligned within my sight as I look out this east window. If I pay attention, I will see the moment when its mate flies up to perch briefly next to it on the same branch. They sit within inches of one another for a short time, then both take silent wing in the faint light.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Spirit Fairs

The Spirit, Mind, Body fair took place in Topeka on Saturday. When the Church of the Infinite Source first tried to hold a spirit (new age) fair in Topeka, they had to jump through hoops. All the psychics had to be ordained ministers of some type. The powers ruling Topeka were afraid of witches, I guess.

It was wonderful when the fairs first started. For me, the energy generated by all those like-minded people was like swimming in warm water after surviving the cold desert. I have seldom missed a fair since. There are various energetic healers, exotic stone jewelry, psychics of every persuasion, essential oils, music, books, tons of junk, and my favorite - the quartz crystal vendors. The best vendor is a woman from Mt. Ida, Arkansas. I have bought dozens of her crystals over the years.

Some people attribute special powers to crystals but I do not know about that. I suspect there is much traditional shamanic knowledge in working with crystals. That aside, quartz crystal literally inundates all of modern life - watches, computers, scientific equipment, toys, lcd's - there are few things that do not have some form of quartz crystal in them. Crystals form in a spiral manner and always terminate with six faces, and one face is always a perfect triangle. Quartz crystal is one of the few substances that energy passes through without diminishing. The molecular structure allows the free transfer of energy.

There are dozens of books about the mystical purpose of quartz crystals - healers, transmitters, record keepers, time windows. The list is exhaustive. Perhaps in the right hands, those things are true. Nothing amazing has ever happened between me and my crystals. I just like them. I think they are beautiful. No two are ever the same. Some of them do have natural strange etchings on their faces - pyramids, runes, graceful structures, rainbows and fantastic inclusions within them.

One myth is that when a crystal finds the right person, it will become clear. The first crystal I ever purchased was dirty brown, about six inches long and two inches around. There was an inclusion within it that spiraled up from the bottom. The faces were beat up and chipped. It had been on a long, rough journey. Most crystals are violently broken from their matrix but there was only one tiny little area where mine had been connected to its mother matrix. In effect, it is almost as if it formed whole. As soon as I saw it, ugly and chipped and dirty-looking as it was, I felt an immediate connection to it. I had to have it. For the first several years I owned this crystal, it was cloudy and you could not easily see through it. One day I suddenly realized it was clear. What happened within the crystal to make it become clear is a mystery. It is still brown in color, but it has cleared within.

I do not give much serious thought to all the angel/spirit/space brother/spiritual ray hokiness of most of that new age stuff. Most of the time I think it is harmless imagination. But the tolerance and proliferation of new age thought has opened the door to far more serious mainstream tolerance and study: biofeedback, energy work acceptance in clinics, hospitals and psychiatry, acupuncture, herbal healing - things too numerous to list here.

Skepticism is good, I think. It is healthy. Of course, if a space brother ever contacts me, I might have to reconsider.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Useful Information

I have learned a few things in my life that I am willing to share with the rest of the world freely and with no further obligation.

When I was four years old, I had the idea to dive head first into a pillow. I placed a pillow carefully on the floor, then climbed into my little brother's crib. It was easy to get into the crib because the side rail was down. With no further ado, I dove head first into the pillow. I hit the pillow squarely. The top of my head slammed into the floor as if the pillow was not there. It hurt. As I lay stunned on the floor, I determined that diving into pillows is not useful.

When I was eleven, my family was visiting my first cousins. In my aunt's yard there was room to ride a bicycle all the way around her large house. I was doing just that, minding my own business, riding one of my many cousins' little bicycles. With each lap around the house, I was picking up speed. I had my head down and was totally into the moment. Tommy Reser, the meanest of all the big cousins, jumped out from behind a shrub and jammed a broom handle into the front wheel of that bike. The front of the bike stopped immediately but the back wheel, and me, continued to travel at the same speed right over the handle bars. As I lay stunned on the sidewalk, I determined it is safer, and more useful, to always ride with eyes ahead.

The first time I swallowed a bug while I was riding my motorcycle, I thought it was possible at seventy miles per hour to spit off to the side, and the wind would carry it away. No. The air pressure simply smears the moisture along the surface of your face.

This is free advice.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

People of the South Wind - the Kansa

The state of Kansas takes its name from the Kansa people, the People of the South Wind. The Kansas River, is also known as the Kaw - also a pronunciation of the name of the original owners of the Flint Hills. William Least Heat Moon lists 140 different spellings of the Kansa name in his book "PrairyErth". Kansas, Kansa, Konza, Kaw all refer to the People of the South Wind.

"The (Konza) band before us were all finely formed men; for with the exception of the Osage Indians of the Arkansaw, they are considered the most noble of the tribes which yet roam within the neighborhood of the settlements."

"The Konzas had a proud, noble air, and their white blankets as they hung in loose and graceful folds around them, had the effect of classic drapery." John Treat Irving, traveler (1833)

"In the evening the principal Kanzas chief paid us a visit in our tent. He is a young man about twenty five years of age, straight as a poplar and with a noble countenance and bearing. ...Our chief is a very lively, laughing, and rather playful personage ...perhaps he may put on his dignity, like a glove, when it suits him." John Kirk Townsend, touring physician and naturalist (1834)

"The Kansa were quite tall and very well shaped. Their physiognomy...was quite virile. Their abrupt, guttural language was remarkable for its long and sharp accentuation of inflection.

To their strength, shrewdness, and courage, they added good common sense. Among their chiefs were some men of true distinction. The best-known of them... was White Plume." Nicolas Point, traveler and Jesuit missionary (1840)

"I believe my people will soon be impoverished. This I do not want to see. This is the darkest period in our history. The whites have made attempts to buy my lands, but I have never yet asserted that I wished to sell my lands." Chief Ahlegawaho (1871)

"...The government forcing several land-cession treaties onto the Kansa over the years when they were still on their ancestral grounds up along the Kaw River. First, Congress made them cede twenty million acres - that's the size of South Carolina - in return for two million acres and annuities from the sale of their lands. Then, in a later treaty, the government took that reservation away and handed them roughly a quarter of a million acres here along the Neosho, and then reduced that to the Diminished Reserve before finally forcing them into Oklahoma, where the Kansa had to buy land from the Osage." Joe Hickey, anthropologist (1991)

"We have not seen the dusky forms of the noble red man of the Kaw persuasion about our streets in the last two or three days. Doubtless those sweet-scented ones that were encamped near here have gone back to their reservation. When we consider how efficient they were in "gobbling up" the putrescent animal and vegetable matter about the city, we almost regret their departure." (Topeka) Daily Kansas State Record (June, 1868)

all quotes from the book "PrairyErth" by William Least Heat Moon copyright 1991


The Kansa ancestral lands include the property where I now live. I sometimes think the melancholy that wells up in my heart, the ache that arises from the thrumming of those high lonesome winds, is the memory of those who lived here first. Maybe the Kansa are recalling the beauty and abundance of the Flint Hills before Indian and land alike had fallen to starvation and disease and the greed, Christianity and government of the white man. Perhaps they are reminding me to love this land while I have the chance.

As I was writing this tonight, a white streak of light appeared right out of the east window. Before that happened, I was thinking of going out into the night to say prayers in memory of the Kansa. Now I am afraid of ghosts. Patti is likely laughing at me, wherever in this universe she is, but I am still not brave enough to face ghosts the way she was. I will wait until daylight.

Reading current reader comments posted to daily on-line articles published in the Topeka Capital Journal, I see that the mean, ignorant spirit of the goodly citizens of Topeka has not changed at all since 1868.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Kansas Winds

No surprise that the wind blows - a lot - in Kansas. Sometimes it howls and batters everything from the ground up. Sometimes it sounds as if it is whipping everything apart, but if you look, only the treetops are thrashing. Sometimes it is a high wind, high up in the atmosphere, that you can only hear and not necessarily see. There is a particular sound in those winds that brings a deep melancholy to my spirit. I do not know why.

Wind often brings a change in the weather. The horses are always high strung and nervous then. I have to be watchful around them as the slightest thing sets them off. They smell fresh scents from far locations, and if they were free, they would cover miles and miles with that wind. I understand. All of us were once free to roam this world, horses and humans.

Sometimes a mighty storm rolls in from the Rockies. You can sense the shift in the atmosphere. I like wrapping in a big quilt, laying in the dark, hearing the roaring winter wind. Those same winds in the other seasons are frightening because they could contain a tornado or out flow winds. Those winds are too exciting and dangerous and I am always a bit sad when they subside.

Most of the rain that falls in Kansas begins as humidity in the Gulf of Mexico. If the weather has been dry, or exceedingly cold, drying the air, when those Southern humid winds arrive you catch the scent of water. Those sweet, moisture laden winds remind me of Hawaii where the Pacific winds comb through the islands each day with frequent showers and numerous rainbows.

Some days in Kansas there is little wind but if you look high up, a silent rushing moves clouds in a sustained current, a literal river in the atmosphere. It is a perfect time to lay back in the sunlight, watching this dramatic movement in the ocean of air in which we live. It gives me the sensation of determination, as if it is heading to a destination with purpose and resolve.

Tonight the wind is high up, building and subsiding in waves as it rolls in from the south. It is a comforting sound I love. It is the sound of Kansas. Toward the ground there are no tree branches or items blowing in the dark. The small red bud trees just out the front window are not moving at all. Near the house is it almost windless but if it were daylight, I would see the tall grasses on the ridges moving in the ebb of these winds. Lower down, not even the fallen leaves stir.

Sometimes there are breezes that come in low, along the ground, yet not a single branch moves. There are eddies of air that come among the buildings, day or night, and tug at your hair or clothing from different directions. Sometimes you could swear the wind has an awareness of you.

One brisk spring day, my brother and I were in our grandfather's meadow. It was really too cold to be there without our coats. Though it was spring, and the meadow was beginning to green, the wind out of the north was cold. An endless army of small puffs of clouds were being driven low and fast before that cold wind, rolling shadows quickly along the ground. In the spontaneous invention of children, we began a game of cloud tag. The idea was to stay in the shadows racing along the ground. Of that bright morning I remember the pure white shapes of sunlit clouds - it seems as if they were hardly off the ground. It is hard to say how long we laughed and tumbled in the fragrant grass that morning, diving and rolling into the shadows. At some point there was total abandon into the perfect present, and not only could we better judge the shadows, the clouds themselves seemed to participate in the play. It was magic. My brother has no memory of this perfect day - we were very young. But I remember it well.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Monday

I believe our thoughts are energy. They can direct energy, influence outcomes and events, turn the tides of our lives and football games. I was wondering what Monday morning looks like energetically. It must be one big black pit of despair and depression.

Studies should be done to determine how many more deer commit suicide on Monday morning by throwing themselves in front of cars traveling to work. Deer are sensitive to the energy environment. The collective sigh of human boredom, and the burden of selling hours of our lives
for money, wash across the entire country in a despairing tide of emptiness and futility.

It is not drugs, or disease, or old age that kills us. It is the cumulative effect of Monday.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Advent of Winter


The three sisters reflecting the red sunset.



After a most unusual summer of cool temperatures and rain, the prairie was spectacular with rich color this month. There were trees covering the green and growing grass beneath with blazing yellow leaves, generously spilling color. I should have spent time photographing the glowing orange and yellow and red of the tall grass. I did not. Now the color, and the chance, has been lost. It remains only in my memory, and that too will fade and become nothing.

The fall of leaves is as magic as their arrival, a silent ebb and flow, a living time signature through the melody of each year's turning, and to me, more beloved each season. It is not a sad passing, but the signal to look toward the coming change.

I was thinking how our lives are like leaves. We arrive and fall away individually, yet taken together, we adorn the trees in our season before falling back into the earth. Leaves continually return, never exactly the same, in new time. Above the fallen leaves, the limbs hold the machinery and spirit for new leaves. When the limb falls, others bring forth the leaves. When the tree is gone, when all the trees are gone, there are seeds of new trees, and the idea of new trees, all with long summers of leaves.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Trickster

All night long the Duke was barking in his most authoritative voice. I knew something was out there he did not want coming around. It could be skunk, opossum, bobcat, deer (though he only half- heartedly warns them away), fox, or dog. Maybe an escaped cow. Or a coyote. Duke knows his wild cousins are up to no good, day and night. Good old Duke.

So, this morning, I was having my hot tea as I checked email and read the online newspaper. Duke was asleep on the front porch, having worn himself out from a long night on duty. I had not yet turned the chickens out for the day, and was feeling guilty about it. I could see them crowded around the door waiting to get started on their very busy day. They have soil to scratch, bugs to eat, seeds to peck. If they get too close to one another, there is squawking and pecking and irritability among them. I fully understand this. I do not want to talk to anyone at work until about eleven or so. On a bad day, I would appreciate it if I did not have to speak to anyone until about 4:15 pm.

Out my east window, about thirty feet from the house, I saw a coyote, crouching low, sneaking toward the chicken pen. I should have taken his picture before I knocked on the window. He looked at me but waited to see what I was going to do. I shouted at him, and he turned away. As I watched, he loped few short yards, then sauntered away. What a punk!

For once, my laziness paid off. That coyote would have picked the chickens off one by one. I fed the chickens in the pen, scattering milo throughout so they could scratch and peck for it. They have settled down now that they know they are not going to leave the pen.

A good farmer would have shot the coyote. Even though I love my chickens, I could not kill a coyote. Duke and I will have to work harder to keep the chickens safe, but they will always be under threat. I will keep them penned for several days but eventually I will let them out again. I do not know how persistent the coyote will be.

Coyotes are smart. They are also severely persecuted in Kansas. Stockmen claim coyotes kill their calves. I am going to commit blasphemy here, but I would have to see coyotes kill a healthy calf before I believe it. It would take a pack of coyotes to worry a cow away from her calf and bring down a big calf. I never see coyotes running in packs - never in my entire life.

I knew it was going to be a challenge to keep chickens. Everything likes to eat chickens, not only humans. Better to live free, scratching happily in the dirt, and be taken quickly in death than to spend an entire life in cages, on concrete, never seeing the light of day. Duke and I will do what we can, but there is only one guarantee in life. Party on, little chickens.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Live and In Person



I just spent the evening with Bob Dylan, and my daughter, and Sgt. Robert Clark, newly returned from Iraq. From Baghdad to Dylan in less than thirty days. Think about that.

I was worried the concert would be a long, boring endurance test for my two companions, neither of whom have entered the Church of Dylan before. I knew they would hear excellent rock music performed by consummate musicians, even if the songs were unknown to them, and even with no personal emotional history to any of the music.

Privately, I was hoping the sixty eight year old Dylan still had what it takes. He has been an important spiritual resource for many of us old hippies for lo, these many years. He has provided the soundtrack for many important events in our lives. What if this concert was that one tour too many? It would mean the end was just that much nearer for all of us. It would mean my generation's season was drawing to a close.

All my fears were unfounded. Those musicians on that stage were playing smokin' hot rock music, and Bob was still The Bob Dylan. I am not sure about Sgt. Clark, but my daughter is a brand new convert. That skinny, gravel voiced, hard minded old poet still has what it takes to charm women and impress men. My daughter came entirely under his spell. She will be borrowing ALL of my cd's.

Looking around the crowd, there were many my age, white hair visible in the low light. There were many of our children there, and more importantly, a good number of our grandchildren, too. The culmination of the Bush years has been hard on us in Kansas, in so many ways. The Bicentennial Center was not sold out. It would have surprised me if it had. But the Faithful were there.

I admit that I teared up a time or two. It is one thing to love Bob Dylan's music when you are young. But when you have been through a thing or two in life and you hear his music with a deeper soul, music written thirty and forty years ago remains relevant. When you know how goddamned hard it is to do what you love in this world - when you count all you have sold out, traded away, given up, lost, and done without, yet Bob is still making his music, then you think most likely you are still doing your own thing, too. Not that I need a Dylan song to know what I am doing. It is simply a fine, fine thing to have him put our lives to music.



At the truck stop after the concert with our tickets, which had our names printed on them!

Friday, October 23, 2009

The News

The last few days the local news has been dominated by an Amber Alert for a seventeen year old girl who was supposedly abducted by a twenty one year old man. The man had recently made the news for entering into a few high schools, asking about wrestling programs. Of course, any stranger entering schools should be checked out. Though he did have a record of some wrongdoing in Texas, his inquiries in the local high schools were found to be harmless.

This week, news broke that he had taken a seventeen year old girl against her will, and both had disappeared. The FBI was called and the Amber Alert issued. From the moment I heard this, I knew the girl was not in danger and that she had gone willingly with this young man. A sense of sadness came over me each time I heard the Amber Alert reported or saw the headlines.

The two were found yesterday. It made the top news this morning. Along with the news, a video recorded yesterday in a Topeka liquor store was aired. It showed two young people calmly walk into the store and speak with the clerk. The girl did not seem to be afraid, or under duress, or attempting to alert the clerk that she was being kidnapped. Their body language, as I saw it on the tape, did not even indicate that they were anything other than friends.

The kidnapping came to an end when a bank teller recognized the pair as they attempted to cash a check. He stalled them at the bank while law enforcement was called. The girl was in the bank when the man was arrested in his car. The arresting police officer emphasized that the young man cooperated fully with them. He reported the girl was scared and relieved.

If in reality the girl was taken against her will, then my concern is entirely misplaced. But if she went willingly, then it is a bad situation. A young man, who may have some mental deficiencies, is facing major federal crimes, serious enough that he could spend most of his life in prison if convicted. Our federal laws have become an enormous burden upon us. We are the least free people of the Western world, imprisoning more of our citizens than any other country, including Russia and China. Our justice system is such an array of twists and turns that no innocent human being can hope to navigate them successfully.

There is the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. The letter of the law decrees the young man kidnapped a minor and took her over several county lines. If she engaged in any sexual conduct whatsoever with this young man, the letter of the law will effectively pronounce a life sentence on him. In reality, it may have been two young people together on nothing more than an adventure.

The spirit of the law is to enact justice on behalf of innocent victims of kidnapping and rape. In this case, I think the young man will be the ultimate victim.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Roosting Chickens


Baby Sister (left) and her son, Junior (right).




From left to right, in the nests, Baby Sister and Junior, Mrs Peckins, the Four Girls - only one has a name, Peepy Peeperton. She is the little white head just visible in the foreground. You can see that while she is white, she has a tan cast to her feathers. That means she is genetically Mrs. Peckins' daughter.



The Weird Sisters.



Baby Sister is the best hen mother. She hatched Peepy Peeperton and Junior this summer in two different settings. Junior is clearly one of Mrs. Peckins' eggs, and I think he is a rooster. (If Mrs. Peckins had hatched him, he would already be on his own!) Even though he as big as his mother, he still makes baby peeping noises, so Baby Sister continues to look after him. I think those baby peepings translate into human phrases like "Where's my college rent money, Mom?" or "You still need to pay my car insurance while I'm in college, Mom."

Last week, I opened the nest lid to count heads, and poor Baby Sister had her little wing stretched entirely out trying to cover Junior. In her defense, Baby Sister has endured much motherly trauma.

Unfortunately, I took all the eggs but one from her nest and put them under Mrs Peckins when they started hatching. When I checked on that last egg, a tiny little chick had only half hatched and was dried into the shell. That chick smelled HORRIBLE but she was so alert and conscious. When I was trying to determine how to best get her out of the stinky shell, her bright little eyes were fixed on me. I know it sounds silly, but that tiny little chick was conscious and present the way the other peeps were not. I soaked her and the shell in warm water and peeled it away without harming her or her fluff. I also washed her with soap and water because of the enormous smell. After she dried I returned her with all the peeps under Mrs Peckins instead of Baby Sister. I thought a single chick would be better off with a nest full of peeps, so that is why I put her with Mrs Peckins. She was so tiny it was easy to recognize her among all the other chicks. She was always losing the others and peeping loudly for them, so I began calling her Peepy Peeperton.

Later in the summer, Baby Sister hatched two more chicks, both of them brown. One hatched on Saturday and the other on Sunday. They were so cute, and Baby Sister was a ferocious mother. Despite her best efforts, one of the chicks disappeared when it was about three weeks old. The remaining chick (Junior) plaintively peeped for his sister for a couple of days. It was very sad. Due to so much loss and trauma, Baby Sister still tries to protect Junior as if he is a peep - that and he still makes baby peepings so his mother has not noticed how big he is, apparently.

Now, the Weird Sisters are a hoot! They are very high strung and go flying off in a big flurry at the slightest disturbance. When I call the chickens, those three goofy girls come flying and hopping as fast as they can. They are always together in a little gang of three. Even though they are so excitable, they are also the most curious. If I am outside doing something, they are the first to come around, craning their necks and observing everything with their big black eyes. They will also eat from my hand. Their feathers are smooth and their little bodies are very round and fleshy. They are very different in temperament than the D'Uccles. And, of course, no one is a sweet as Mrs. Peckins, the tiny Partridge Cochin hen.

I had no idea how much fun it would be to raise chickens. I should have guessed that they would each have their own personality. I knew I would get attached to them but I never suspected the depth of that attachment. I guess when you know'em from the time they were peeps....