Thursday, May 31, 2012

At Last, The Rain

The sky was unusally bizzare ahead of the storm, but the no-nonsense high winds and lightning announcing the arrival of the rain were in the black coulds spiking over the horizon. 

The eyes of the approaching storm

Double trouble, boil and bubble - a cauldren of atmospheric brew.

Ahead of the rain, the sky filled with unusal clouds, spinning and boiling into holes.  I happily took scores of photos.  My neighbors are accustomed to me standing at the edge of the road with my camera now.  They no longer stop to ask if I need help, but give me the courteous two-finger lift off the steering wheel acknowledgement as they pass by.  Have I ever mentioned how much I love where I live?  Even if it is in a "van down by the river", it is home sweet home.  Sweet, sweet home!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Roadside Attractions

Reception May Be Unreliable 
Local adaptation for Wind Shear

As you might expect, the dish was installed with baling wire.  The entire state of Kansas is held together with baling wire and duct tape, and artfully decorated with bullet holes.  Shooting holes in everything is the favorite pastime, second only to tossing empty beer cans into the ditches.

The sensibility responsible for hanging a satellite dish in a pasture is also responsible for a hand-painted sign that once graced a bean field west of Paxico:  UFO Parking $3.  Too bad that sign is gone. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

You Think You Have Troubles at Work?

Even Air Tubes Get the Blues 
Now here is a damned sad situation.  If the job requires only one skill - to wave in a strangely hypnotic manner to draw attention to your employer's business - we all assume we are well qualified.  Some of us likely fancy ourselves as exceedingly over-qualified.

But if you are an industry expert in this field, a highly sought-after professional because you are a hollow tube of forced air with a gaping hole in the top of your head, you would absolutely expect to knock out a twelve-hour day with one flapping hand tied behind your back.  In fact, you would confidently bet your professional reputation on it. 

Someone maliciously set this guy's pot too close to the fence, knowing the Kansas wind would bring him down.  His head is caught on the fence and there is not a damned thing he can do about it.  Even air tubes get screwed over at work.

Friday, May 25, 2012


I never know when proximity to another human being will trigger an overwhelming empathy.  It started early in my childhood, always hit without warning, and was entirely out of my control.  With a child's limited vocabulary, I always thought of the rush of emotion as "feeling sorry" for that person.  I have tried to find a word that better describes this experience. The definitions of sympathy, empathy, or pity all presume an active circumstance that elicits emotions in one person for the situation or condition of another.  It is, as best as I can describe, an overwhelming feeling of tenderness and love toward another human being simply because they are human. 

Luckily, I do not often experience these blasts of emotion toward strangers anymore, but the other night I had the luck of a double whammy.  The first instance happened when I ordered a sandwich at the local deli.  There was a line forming and only two people working.  A young man, a teenager, took my order.  He carefully listened to everything I said.  He worked at a steady pace and was focused entirely on the job at hand.  I always ask for "a lot of oregano" as the last ingredient.  Usually I have to ask for more, or I will say, "You can't put too much on it".  People are in a hurry.  They honestly do not care what the perfect amount of oregano is for my personal sandwich.  Many people might even think I should take the oregano and jump in a lake with it, if you know what I mean.  Not that I am demanding or rude about it - they ask you what you want at each step.  This earnest young man put in the exactly right amount of oregano.  He carefully and methodically shook oregano evenly over the length of the sandwich.  I could not have done it better myself.  It was such an honest act, not because he cared about me, but he was doing his job to the best of his ability.  He was giving good measure simply because it was asked of him. 

Sure enough, a big wave of "feeling sorry" for the young man welled up from some place in my spirit.  I thought of his mother.  She would know better than anyone how carefully and honestly he deals with everything in his young life.  At that moment, I hoped life would always be exceedingly kind to him... and his mother.

So, I ate the sandwich with the perfect amount of oregano, thoroughly enjoying it, and thought the transformative love of mothers for their sons should have made a noticeable difference in this evil world by now, but even that mighty force falls short.  Americans own an estimated 65 million handguns, which are made for one purpose only:  to shoot another human being.

After I finished eating, I had a quick purchase to make.  There were many customers in the convenience store and I was stalled in line behind a young woman.  I was face-to-face with the large and very bad tattoo on her bare back.  It was a reproduction of a famous photograph of a child as a fairy, or a sprite, in the middle of a flower.  It was without a doubt the worst tattoo I have ever seen.  Instead of an angelic face of a child, it was an old man's face.  Even worse, the hideous baby was holding an illegible sign, or the worst rendering of a beer can ever inked.  Because the woman was wearing a skimpy shirt, she was either proud of it, or she had long ago resigned herself to the fact that she was scarred forever with an extremely ugly and inept tattoo.

As I waited, trying not to stare at her back, another wave of compassion flooded over me.  There had to be a reason why this woman chose that particular artwork to decorate her body.  Maybe it was supposed to be her own baby's face.  Clearly the sign, or the beer can, had a significance but it was entirely lost due to the inept and illegible rendering.  If it was supposed to be a joke, no one could possibly decipher it.  Whatever her original intention, it had clearly missed the mark, in all ways.  But what if she was honestly satisfied with it?  I should not be "feeling sorry" for her but should just keep my entirely subjective opinion to myself.  But I did feel sorry for her.  Bless her heart, I thought with a lump in my throat.

The woman with the terrible tattoo invoked a sorrow for all of our imperfections, our failures, all the times we settle for so much less than we deserve.  We treat one another badly but sometimes it is the best we can do.  The reality of our intentions sometimes translates into something not beautiful, but ugly, inept, terrible - utter failure comes to mind - and then we are stuck with it for the rest of our lives.

Sometimes I have to remind myself what my son said once in extreme exasperation:  "Mom!  Not everything is a big spiritual deal!"

I beg to sometimes differ, Son.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Fields in Snokomo Valley

Ripening Wheat

Evening Falls in the Valley

Evening Primrose

Buck Wheat

Friday, May 18, 2012

Imagine That

Butterfly Milkweed, also known as pleurisy root.
Butterfly on Butterfly Milkweed - Imagine that!
At some point in human history we discovered how to make glass.  We eventually discovered how to create a magnifying lens, which evolved to telescopes, microscopes, and the common telephoto lens for a digital camera.  As a human being I have inherited the benefit of all human knowledge, but this is what I know about manufacturing glass:  a fiercely hot fire will melt sand into glass.  This is what I know about magnifying lenses:  grind glass finely enough and you can see light billions of years old or particles so tiny they are a mere breath beyond mythical.  Collective knowledge translates into my life like this:  from the opposite side of the road last evening, I took these photos through the open car window.  It is fortunate each human being does not have to know everything the human race knows. 

Should butterflies exist for another billion years, they will not discover how to make glass.  It is unlikely that they will ever need a telescope.  Human beings believe we understand the role of butterflies because we crudely replicate their pollination endeavors on a limited scale.  But it is utterly impossible for human beings to ensure the pollination of every plant in a single square mile of prairie.

It is fortunate that human beings do not have to know everything in order for the world to live.  It is beyond imagination when you consider it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I Want to Kill My Lawn Tractor But It is Already DEAD

When mowing with a regular lawn mower became too difficult, and trying to hire someone reliable enough to mow on a regular basis proved to be impossible over the course of several years, I finally bought a lawn tractor.  It was a happy day on the farm when it was delivered.  For one glorious month that first summer, the grass was regularly mowed and I was the happiest old woman in Kansas as I zipped around on the shiny yellow and green tractor mowing down everything in sight.  Then the honeymoon was over.

A gear simply fell out from under the mower deck and dropped various parts before I realized the machine had stopped mowing.  Three weeks later the repairman arrived.  The tires are flat ALL the time.  The battery has been replaced twice and maybe three times - I will know tomorrow.  And since NOTHING is immune to the destruction of the goddamn mice, the last visit from the repairman was to repair wiring.  The only season I was able to use the tractor before calling the repairman was the first summer, four years ago!  Good thing for me I bought the extended warranty because it has paid for everything.  But the warranty does not mow the lawn.  The warranty expires August 7 of this year and I am sick about this expensive piece of worthless crap rotting in the garage.

I wonder if I can trade it for a herd of goats.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Lovely Prairie

In The Grand Scheme...

Maybe Slender Vetch ?

Wild Prairie Rose

Supermoon Eve...

And on the opposite horizon 

That's a Wrap

Post Script:  The telephoto lense on the new camera is AWESOME!  Look at the moon! 

Saturday, May 12, 2012


It might be that if my life were to end in the short-term, I would deeply regret that my travels were confined to only the United States - aaaaand a memorable, ill-advised trip to Mexico.  If my travels were to conclude today, I can say I survived the treacherous surf off the coast of California, and swam with wild dolphins in Hawaii.  I dove through shallow waves full of thousands of jellyfish (in ignorance) in the Gulf of Mexico.  I waded into the Atlantic and napped alone beside the sighing waves.  I crossed the Rocky Mountains many times and camped in the Badlands of South Dakota twice.  I saw Gregg Allman perform in person on a cool southern night in North Carolina, and bought yellow root at an enormous farmers market in Atlanta, Georgia.  I drove through the aromatic night air of Tennessee and Kentucky with tobacco drying in almost every barn.  I saw pure white bales of cotton for the first time in South Carolina.  I wanted to pick a boll at the edge of a harvested field but I dared not trespass.  I swam in the turquoise waters of Acapulco and marveled at the green patchwork fields of Indian farmers in the central mountains of Mexico.  I prayed in the Medicine Wheel in the Big Horn Mountains, and put down tobacco at Bear Butte.  I have to say, when a long stretch of highway disappears far into the distance, a mighty wanderlust possesses me and I wish for the freedom to go wherever it leads.

My spirit has always been of two notions - the solid earth and grounded Capricorn energy tethering me to my responsibilities and obligations, and the mystic poet's soul, an Indian spirit from another time grieving for something irretrievable and forever lost.  There are some who say I will return again and again until the grief is cleared, or the debt paid, forgiveness is granted, or perhaps received.  But I honestly do not know. 

I hope I last long enough to clear that grief and die a free spirit.  I hope I last long enough to travel, right up until the very end. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Within a Mile of My House

Mother Killdeer feigning injury to draw me away from her babies

Mother and two baby Killdeer who live in the intersection

An Upland Plover or Upland Sandpiper - back from the brink of extinction

Eastern Kingbird

Might be a Missouri evening primrose
I began noticing a tiny little bird scurrying at break-neck speed on the ground each time I turned at the intersection near my house.  The bird was so small that it eventually occurred to me that it was a baby bird.  After that, I slowed well ahead of the intersection, looking for the tiny bird.  Soon, I discovered two baby birds and their mother.  The next step was to have the camera ready.  Slowing the car to a stop threatened the mother bird. She went in the opposite direction of her babies and displayed her tail in an attempt to draw my attention, and to apparently appear wounded.  The entire time, she and the babies were whistling and piping in alarm.

A few fence posts down the road, an upland plover perched and waited for me to take its photo.  I did not know that this bird was hunted almost to extinction but now is entirely protected.  Audubon describes its voice, "Well known for its beautiful song, whistled trills and mournful wind-like sounds."  Exactly what you would expect of an open grassland bird. 

The Eastern Kingbird was perched in Ginger's pasture.  These are the little birds often seen chasing hawks through the sky, defending their home territory and nest.  I do not understand why a 24" hawk would be threatened by an 8 1/2" bird.  Perhaps the hawks are simply being magnanimous, or as is often the case with pests, you just yield to get them out of your hair (feathers).

The last treasure from the roadside is a yellow prairie extravagance.  I surely would have noticed this spectacular flower long before now, but I do not recall ever seeing it before.  I had to take photos and then find my Wildflowers and Grasses of Kansas book.  I think this plant might be a Missouri primrose, but I am not entirely sure.  No matter what it is named, it is beautiful.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Archaeology of Aluminum

Humidity Blankets the Flint Hills
I have spent many hours driving the backroads of Wabaunsee County, searching for beautiful scenery and solitude.  No matter where I go, I find an abundance of aluminum cans discarded in the ditches.  If the human race is a deadly, invasive and parasitic infection of the planet, then surely one of the tell-tale disease markers is the proliferation of aluminum litter.  Rather the way white blood cells indicate infection in humans, the density of discarded soda and beer cans charts the decline in any natural environment.

It is aggravating to witness the trash and detritus people are willing to leave behind on land that does not belong to them.  Last week, a load of tree branches, lumber from a rotting deck, and a shattered porcelain toilet were dumped along the county road by someone too lazy to drive their trash to the Pottawatomie County landfill to dispose of it for a mere $6.50.  My neighbors have already cleaned up the mess.  I too have picked up trash dumped in the county roads.  Most of my neighbors do the same.  

Civic groups adopt individual miles of highways, and throughout the warmer months people of all ages can be seen in the ditches bagging the trash tossed from the windows of thousands of vehicles.  Americans have no compunction using their own highways as a giant trash dump.  Everything from dirty baby diapers to plastic bottles full of human urine are found along the road.  Plastic bags and bottles, styrofoam, cans, paper, not to mention plastic gallon containers full of used oil or other noxious automotive chemicals, even abandoned car batteries are left behind.  Broken furniture, clothing, and all manner of steel parts that have broken and fallen from the machines are strewn in the ditches.  I am grateful for the time and effort of those willing to spend a day gathering the trash of those lazy, irresponsible Americans who believe the ditches of Kansas exist as trash dump.

There are not enough people to walk all the country roads even in just one Wabaunsee township to collect the glass and aluminum littering the miles of ditches.  Archaeologists far into the future will uncover a thin layer of compressed aluminum cans from a strata far below the surface and wonder how the North American continent came to be covered in aluminum.  They will never guess it was nothing more than laziness and willful disregard.
Following a New Trail
Prairie Lamp Post

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

After the Tornado

The Faux Front Range
Spring Thunderstorms Bring the Big Green

Alas, I have not yet mastered the complicated art of digital photography with its mysterious requirements of light and speed. I took over one hundred photos the evening tornadoes threatened to the east. The strange light is always beautiful after the danger has passed. I used the telephoto lens for all of the photos and none of them turned out. These two photos were the sorry best of the lot. The first is looking east through the rain. The second is to the west where more storms were building.

Spring is a glorious time for prairie dwellers. The entire world is green and blue. Temperatures are pleasant, cool, and dearly welcome. The weather spins a natural wheel of excitement and chance, but once the storms have swept over the horizon the world is mysteriously lit and somewhat magical. In the west sometimes the Faux Front Range of Kansas may appear.