Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Remembering First Grade

When my education began, there was no kindergarten offered at my school. Because my birthday falls so late in the year, I was almost six when I started my education. Almost six years at home on the farm with no children's television programs, no Sesame Street, meant I badgered my poor mother to teach me to read. Her answer was invariably "You will learn to read in school." Her strategy was sound - I could not wait to get to school to learn to read.

The red brick schoolhouse was in the tiny berg of Gordon, Kansas and consisted of one large room handily divided by a large accordion partition. First through fifth grades were on the north side, and six through eight were on the south side.

A few grades ahead were two brothers with outlandish and ugly Mohawk haircuts. The younger brother was freckled, sullen and usually mean on the playground. The older brother, Bruce, was sweet tempered, tall, blue-eyed and quite beautiful. He was in fourth grade and sometimes helped the first graders with assignments. He was patient and kind. He was gentle. Sometimes he would smile at me and I fell in love with him. Bruce was my first love - despite the Mohawk.

One day the only pencil sharpener was mysteriously clogged with a crayon, so everyone was specifically ordered to never sharpen crayons again. As soon as the teacher turned her back, I tried to sharpen my white crayon. It was Bruce who paid the price for my willful disobedience. He had to clear the pencil sharpener. I do not remember being blamed for this act of defiance, but I remember Bruce's ears turning red in frustration as he struggled to remove the crayon.

Boys and rebellion aside, I learned to read so well in that tiny little school house that when I entered second grade in the big town of Douglass, I was the best reader in my class. I do not suppose little kids now will ever know what it is to impatiently wait to learn to read. They are given their letters and numbers and words almost as soon as they talk now. They have Sesame Street and an infinite supply of learning toys. They probably will never remember when they could not read. I guess that is good.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

US Army Deforests Spirit Creek!

Since wholesale herbicide assaults upon the land are no longer used at Spirit Creek, and because I do not own a real tractor with a big mowing deck, keeping the vegetation under control, especially the honey locust trees, is a big problem. These determined trees have gone forth and multiplied upon the land! In a remarkably short time they have formed a nuisance thicket between my east window and the horizon. The view of the morning sky I dearly value. The troublesome trees blocking the sunrise I do not value.

The trees are formidable survivors. Cut one down, five more spring from the roots. They have been easily winning the war over my feeble attempts to repel their invasion. I needed an environmentally safe and ultimate weapon to combat this aggressive encroachment. Enter Sgt. R. Clark of the United States Army, combat veteran of the Iraq war. In less than six hours he has cleared the view almost all the way to the fence around Ginger's pasture. Those trees do not stand a chance against the US Army.

Sgt. Clark and my daughter have felled trees, moved big limestone rocks, piled brush, and removed fencing. Rotting railroad ties have been pried from the ground and single-handedly heaved across Sgt. Clark's shoulder and carried to the truck. The two of them have been attacked by ticks and chiggers and bravely faced down poison ivy. All three of us have sweat and cussed in the steaming humidity of what passes for spring these days in Kansas.

My daughter is the first casualty to chiggers. The insect repellent was not applied liberally enough to her new boots so she is suffering. Chiggers are quite generous with their torment. It is warm weather protocol for a new can of Cutters insect repellent to be left on the front porch so it is available for anyone whether I am home or not.

This week it is the honey locust trees. Next week it is the cedar trees. Thanks to my own personal Army corp of engineers, the scenery at Spirit Creek Farm is improving.

Go Army!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Civilized Mice

My baby brother had a pet white mouse when he was a little boy. It spent long stretches of time in my brother's shirt pocket, occasionally peeking out on the world. The two of them made the occasional bike ride to the dime store for candy during the long summer days. The mouse also rode on his shoulder and stayed close to my brother if he was on the floor watching television or on his bed reading. They were good friends.

Eventually, a male mouse was purchased from a pet store in Hays - probably against my mother's wishes, though she was always tolerant of all the pets we brought home over the years, including Charley the raccoon. But the fun of baby mice was soon eclipsed by sheer numbers. My brother quickly ran out of friends and family to give the babies to and resorted to selling them to a pet store in Hastings, Nebraska. That is how I came to be the owner of a cute black and white female mouse. She was supposed to be for my little girl but instead became my husband's pet.

My husband was a tall, muscular, wild haired, alpha biker-type guy who looked so much like he could and would kick your butt with one hand tied behind his back that he was never in danger of being in a fight. Men always moved aside whenever he walked in. He embraced the mouse project with endearing enthusiasm. We purchased a small aquarium and pilfered a red plastic toy house from my daughter's toy box. I kept the cage clean and well stocked with food but it was my husband who handled the mouse, even carrying her around in his shirt pocket sometimes. One day he arrived home with a fat and sleek, gray and very handsome male mouse in a tiny cage. We had absolutely no idea of the instantaneous reproduction capabilities of mice!

The female was soon pregnant, and so darned cute! She sat on her haunches, folding her tiny hands over her belly. She became so fat that I did not think she could possibly squeeze through the tiny door of the tiny house but she managed. We anxiously kept watch and in a surprisingly short time there was a nest of tiny pink jelly beans squiggling in the soft nest. I cannot remember the exact number of babies, but it was a LOT - like twelve or fourteen. It seemed improbable that the mother's body could produce almost the equivalent of its own mass in offspring. (Humans stand a snowball's chance in hell at winning the mouse wars for this very reason.)

Once the babies grew hair and their eyes were open, they were the cutest little things I had ever seen. Their heads were comically larger than their bodies. Their perfect pink ears were adult sized, giving them the appearance of furry little clowns . They were assorted gray, white, black, and spotted, constantly on the move, swarming the exercise wheel and exploring every inch of the aquarium. Together my little family enjoyed watching them in the evenings after supper.

We made a trip home during this time and my little brother's mouse population was so great that he sent a gallon jar of half-grown babies back to Topeka with us. We were to sell them to a pet store for him - twenty-five cents for each baby. Of course, they were likely resold for snake food, so that made it blood money in our family. There was no other choice. No one in the world has enough friends to provide every baby mouse a good home.

As soon we arrived home from that trip, I innocently began placing my brother's mice into the aquarium with ours. Huge mistake! The instant the mother spotted the interlopers, she launched the length of the aquarium with a mouse shriek that terrified the bewildered strangers. She was so vicious in her attacks that I was almost afraid to put my hand in to rescue the unfortunate victims. They spent the night in the big glass jar and were taken to the pet store the very next day along with our handsome gray male mouse. Eventually, all of our mice went to the pet store. It hurt our conscience to sell the babies for snake food. But realistically, a full grown man is not going to develop an attachment to a pet mouse to the degree a little boy can, and my daughter was too young to care for a pet. Eventually the cute little mother mouse went to the pet store, too.

My brother's pet lived for about two years before she died of cancer. She was buried in the flower bed with full pet honors, resting in peace with all the other departed pets. She led an adventurous, fulfilling life, and in death nourished the beautiful flowers my stepfather planted. Every civilized mouse I sold as snake food has returned wild to Spirit Creek to remind me of my heartless ways. It is why they run to the center of the living room, stand on their hind legs, staring at me. They are making a positive i.d.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mouse Wars Redux

Oh yeah, Mouse Nation. It is ON! I do not care how darned cute your little mammalian ears and silvery whiskers are. Your obsidian bead eyes and adorable little mouse hands do not excuse you from invading my house. It is a game to sneak into the middle of the room to stare at me when I am inert on the couch watching John Stewart at 1 am every morning. I shout at your lone scout and he vanishes back under the furniture at shadow speed, only to try again in a few moments.

Already this spring five of your family have met their deaths in the swift justice of the Victor traps. The Victor brand mouse trap is one of the greatest inventions of mankind, second only to the wheel and the Harley Davidson motorcycle. My grandmother fought her mouse battles using Victor traps. Peanut butter is the Mouse Nation's siren call, luring the little beasts to their death. I hear a trap snap in a distant room and I cheer. I am Braveheart slaying the English at Stirling Bridge - the Terminator taking out the T1000 - Luke Skywalker fighting Darth Vader (before we knew Vader was his father).

I take the traps with the limp bodies hanging in them out to the woods, and there I sling them out of the trap, unceremoniously disposing the carcass to be reclaimed by whatever creature wants a fresh snack. Yeah, that is how heartless I am, Mice.

I will win this battle but the Mouse Nation knows they own the war. My side owns the twin superweapons: Victor Traps and Peanut Butter. They even the odds.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Frogs on the House

When I reached for the front door handle the other evening, I almost put my thumb on a little frog. He was sitting quite comfortably on the small flat area of the handle, facing outward, and entirely unconcerned that a big giant human had almost squished him. I hate to admit to any type of sissy behavior but the unexpected eyes staring at me from the normally inert door handle made me jump. Once I realized it was only a little frog, I came closer to look at him. He was so cute. He remained on the door handle as I came and went several times that evening, but he was gone the next day. He left a calling card on the handle for me, thank you very much. I hope he avoided the chickens. They would eat him - with gusto.

I think he was a tree frog but I honestly do not know. I assume he was a frog because I do not think toads can climb. Once each summer, I see a little frog on the front window pane at night. Round toe pads keep him stuck to the glass. The lights in the house draw an infinite number of insects to all the windows. It is amazing how many insects there are out here in the prairie. It seems there should be far more frogs because there is clearly enough food for an army of them. But I only ever see one and I like to think it is the same frog each year.

Another reptile that always startles me (I even screamed a little in front of my neighbor Friday night) is the skink that lives in the hay at the barn. If I move a bale, the thing scrambles away with a very icky exaggerated wriggling that sets off the snake alarms in my nervous system. Once my brain catches up with my reflexes I feel a bit silly for freaking out over a little harmless skink, but I simply cannot help it.

No snakes yet this year, though I have seen them on the roads already. When my neighbor and I were moving bales out of my barn into her truck, and forking up the loose hay, I was sure we were going to uncover one or more of those huge prairie snakes that live in and around the barn. I usually only see their tails as they slide silently away from all the commotion. They do not like to see me any more than I like to see them. I do like it a lot that our paths seldom cross. If a little frog makes me jump, and a skink makes me scream, you can imagine the seizure a snake sighting causes. I seem to be hardwired to be afraid of snakes and there is nothing I can do about it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

One Good Thing About Horrible Kansas Weather

It is when the hot, humid, horrible Kansas weather arrives that Gingeris Khan, the supreme empress of Spirit Creek, truly appreciates me, her humble human servant. Oh yes, Miss Thing, the horse that walks away when I am hugging her neck - the haughty, impatient and imperious mare of my humble little acreage - the horse who sometimes shoves me aside with her nose in a fit of royal impatience - looooooves me when it gets hot and horrible and humid. I have the curry comb. I have the fly spray. I have the hands.

As soon as it gets warm flies begin to torment the poor horse. Once she sheds the winter coat they bite her sensitive skin. There is a type of fly that cluster around her eyes. So many flies gather that it looks evil and intolerable. It is why human beings invented fly masks for horses.

It took a long time for Ginger to realize the hissing spray bottle is not a dangerous attack of some mysterious creature. I once had to hide the bottle then spray point-blank or she would dance away. Ginger is not a stupid horse. As soon as she realized she was not harmed at the first spray, she tolerated the rest. But now I can I spray from a distance the first time. She also realizes it means instant relief from the torment of flies.

I liberally apply fly spray, especially in all the areas she cannot reach with her tail or nose. I comb and brush the liquid over every inch of her and the appreciative creature heaves a mighty sigh of contentment. Sometimes she returns this favor of grooming by gathering the material of my shirt in her sensitive mouth and scrubbing along my back or shoulder as I am brushing her. This is the ultimate horse compliment. Sometimes I get the compliment when I have my back to her, raking horse manure, or scrubbing algae out of the water tank and I know her highness is pleased. Sometimes I get the biggest horse compliment of all when Ginger reaches her head over my shoulder and pulls me close in what can only be construed as a hug. In my mind, it is the equivalent of an equine blessing from the supreme ruler of the horse nation here at Spirit Creek. I always graciously accept.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Statistics From Around the Globe

Blogspot, the host of my blog and countless others, is quite sophisticated. If a person has a well-read blog, they can choose to monetize it. There are several choices that range from a penny a click on advertisements, to contracts with big name advertisers based on site traffic. One of the tools available to the users of Blogspot is a statistics counter that identifies the number of visitors, the country where each visitor is located, all referring sites, search engines used to find my blog, and the number of times each blog entry is visited.

The individual post on my blog that receives the most hits is the one mentioning the world's largest ball of string in Cawker City, Kansas and that makes me laugh. The blogs with titles mentioning Bob Dylan and Tenzing Norgay are next in frequency, for obvious reasons. For awhile, the photos I posted for The Handsome Earth received the most visits. I suppose someone, somewhere has stolen my photos of the Flint Hills, but I do not mind. Anything posted on the internet is no longer private or exclusive. If I do not want to share something, I should not post it to the internet.

For any of my loyal readers, rest assured that I do not know who you are, even if you choose to "follow" me under your real name. The statistics do not tell me who each visitor is. I suspect that a statistic indicating someone clicked into my blog does not mean that they were actually reading it. It is exciting to see that people from all over the world are visiting - China, Australia, Iraq, Russia. They are not marveling over my pithy wisdom, admiring my skillful writing talents - just clicking through. I do not have enough readers to monetize my blog and never will, so do not worry that you will begin to get spam from reading my posts.

But, it is fun to read the statistics and realize that just about anyone in the world is a mere mouse click away. We are truly a global community.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Animal Rescue in Joplin

My daughter spent Memorial Day weekend in Joplin, Missouri as a volunteer with the ASPCA. She has contacts with many ASPCA, Humane Society and Emergency Preparedness people because her recent Master Report tackled the problem of pet rescue in emergencies. She spent a lot of time interviewing a large number of people so she is on many lists and was able to answer the call for volunteers.

Each volunteer going to Joplin had to be as self-sufficient as possible, bringing their own food and water, and either a tent or camper, or plan to sleep in their car. It was grueling work - 12 hour days. I was worried because after the sun goes down, like rats, people flock into the vast destroyed area of that town to loot. People who would do such a thing would not think twice of harming a single woman alone in a tent. Luckily, a friend who lives ten minutes from Joplin opened her home to my daughter. No sleeping unprotected while looters and other vermin scurry about under the cover of darkness.

When my daughter first arrived, there were about 200 animals in the care of the ASPCA. Three days later, there were close to 600 and the numbers continue to climb. When my daughter chose animal rescue in disaster planning for her Master Report, her arrogant male professor thought it was ridiculous and would not approve her idea. He is one of those human beings who simply cannot see the value of animals to humans. There are many who agree with his thinking. Luckily for my daughter, a woman professor mentored and advised her until the idea was in a form the principle professor grudgingly approved. The final product is a matrix any community can use in planning for animal rescue should they experience a large-scale disaster.

What my daughter experienced in Joplin was a group of professional, unflappable, organized and dedicated people who have a successful system that directs and harnesses the large numbers of volunteers who willingly arrive to help. Animals are brought in, and each one is assessed, given triage, tested, immunized, treated for worms, fleas, scanned for identification. They are fed and watered, walked, and given human companionship. Any animal that was once a pet to a human being was brought in and cared for: dogs, cats, bunnies - even gold fish were found and brought in by the volunteers who were searching the wreckage.

One of the tasks assigned to my daughter was to accompany people through the kennels at the ASPCA site to identify their animals. Too bad the cranky old professor was not there to witness the true value of the human/animal bond. People who had literally lost every material thing - cut, bruised and limping - came every day looking for their pets. One seriously injured old couple, who probably would have still been in the hospital under ordinary circumstances, came every day. The man could not leave the car but his wife, her face deeply bruised, slowly limped through each day looking for their second dog. They had found one of their two dogs dead and hoped the other had survived and would be found by the volunteers.

A young war veteran on crutches and his mother had lost every material thing but showed up every day looking for a cat. When the soldier came home wounded, his mother had given him a kitten to help cheer him up and provide companionship as he healed. For the three days my daughter was there, the cat was not found. It is my express hope that Frosty the cat is found and reunited with his young soldier owner.

During the time my daughter was in Joplin, for unknown reasons, someone posted a Facebook page of photos of dead animals, attributing them to the ASPCA in Joplin. Why would anyone do such a thing?

Even in disasters, red tape and authorities exist and succeed in keeping people away from what is rightfully theirs. One man who may have been homeless before the tornado, came each day looking for his dog. To anyone who would listen he told how he and his dog had been sucked out of his truck and how he had watched in horror as his little dog ran or was blown down the street out of his sight. He had spent every moment since looking for the dog himself and coming to the ASPCA site daily, hoping someone else had found the dog. Once he spotted the dog amid the carnage but was prevented by law enforcement from entering the area, even after he explained he had recognized his dog from a distance. The last afternoon my daughter was there, the man came through with his dog, joyously sharing his good fortune with everyone.

There were emotional reunions of people and dogs that made all of the hard work worthwhile. Unfortunately, it is difficult to reunite people and their cats in such circumstances if the animals are not micro-chipped or wearing identification tags. Felines are far less demonstrative than dogs and surprisingly, people cannot be as certain in their identification of a cat. If there is any doubt, people are not allowed to take an animal. In the three days my daughter was there, no cats were reunited with owners, but people continued to return each day hoping to find their pets. If possible, owners should microchip their cats to avoid this problem, just in case some disaster should befall them.

I was proud of my daughter for her willingness to give up a three day weekend in service to her fellow man. I was greatly pleased to see the difficult effort at writing that Master Report produced genuine results for her. I was glad to hear first hand from someone I trust that money given to the ASPCA is actually put to the use for which it was intended. I will be a much more enthusiastic supporter of the ASPCA and the Humane Society from now on. The money aids the animals for certain, but it also serves humans as well. A double investment.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Got The Statesboro Blues Again....

There is simply no excuse to wake up with the blues after a long night of spring rains and lightning. But I did. In fact, I have been struggling against falling into the rabbit hole of despair and depression where I have visited on more than a few occasions in this lifetime. I simply have no reason to be sad and depressed - no legitimate reason, that is.

But then, there is the cube farm waiting for me this morning. It is not that I am ungrateful for a good job because I am very grateful. I work with good people and our work is useful to our fellow man. Dealing with corporate insanity gets me down and cube farms drain a person's will to live. A million times I have asked myself what I would rather be doing for a living, but I can never imagine a better job, which is a cause for depression all by itself! It is such a pathetic thing to admit. My god. I feel even more sorry for myself seeing that admission in print.

If I could earn a good living riding a motorcycle across the country following the good weather, or if I could win 200 million in the lottery, I might never be depressed again. At least I like to think that would be true. But, even if I were rich, or even if I were young again, and even if the only thing I had to do today was to ride to Statesboro on my Harley, I would still have the blues.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I Live In Kansas Unfortunately

I love Kansas. I was born and raised here. I have lived here all of my life. I know my way around the state. I know most of the laws and most of the requirements of Kansas citizens well enough that I can usually stay out of trouble. I also know most of the unwritten laws of Kansas, some of which I enjoy breaking occasionally. But even in Kansas, there are troublesome folks I have to tolerate.

The most famous troublesome Kansas folk are the Westboro Baptist Church members, the hate-mongering, sign-carrying, anti-gay "protesters" who show up everywhere with their message of ignorance and intolerance. They are in Topeka all the time, and anywhere anytime there might be a crowd.

Over the years, as the citizens in Topeka learned to ignore their disgusting signs, the message became more offensive and objectionable, if that is even possible. When Fred's flock created new signs that read "Fag Air Force, Fag Navy, Fag Army, Fag Marines", it took the local outrage back to previous levels. When our young men began coming home with injuries sustained in Iraq, the WBC made signs that read "Thank God for IED's". While I find all of their signs offensive, that particular one got to me. I simply had to drive away from their day-glo signs if I happened to see the fools on a street corner in time to avoid driving past. All I could imagine was driving my truck right into their smug, hateful little group of "protesters" and watching them run for their lives. They have small children with them, also holding signs, which is the most despicable sight of all. No one wants to harm children, which is precisely why they have their unfortunate children on the street corners. Like it not, I have learned to tolerate Fred's crazy, in-your-face signs. Fred's hate mongering is one enormous lesson in tolerance. Perhaps Fred is doing God's work after all, just not in the way Fred imagines.

Kansas routinely makes the national news, thanks to Fred and his crazies. But there are others. In recent times, a school board was elected that attempted to replace evolution with creationism in our schools' science classes. That took several years to sort out, and it is not resolved forever. More moderate minds must be ever vigilant.

Those vigilant minds slacked off in the last election and Sam Brownback was elected governor. A mere 30% of eligible voters was all it took to elect him to the state's highest office. Thanks to the slackers who did not vote, Kansas has made national news twice in the last week - once for making the list of states with the craziest gun laws. Kansas law allows concealed guns to be carried into our schools in certain circumstances. Secondly, Sam used his line-item veto to destroy the Kansas Arts Commission. Originally he was going to cut its already embarrassingly small annual budget of $800,000, leaving $200,000 as one-time amount to seed a privately funded arts council, but that seed money was cut as well. Kansas is the only state in America without an arts council now.

Brownback is just getting started. Next year he will cut funding for public broadcasting. He has destroyed scores of jobs already and as far as I can tell, the only new jobs he has created are for more attorneys to prosecute sex offenders - and not just the truly dangerous sex offenders, but even 18 year old teenagers who have consensual sex with their younger high school sweethearts.

It is disturbing on so many levels. Brownback has made no secret that he intends to appoint people in high places who share his fundamentalist Christian beliefs, and implement "faith based" oversight. Christian charity can work miracles, but that is a far cry from "faith based" programs running our state government.

All that comes to mind is a quote from Justin Halprin's father: "Yeah, democracy ain't so fun when it fucks you, huh?"