Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Return to Scene of the Crime

I at last relented and attended the graduating class of '70 high school reunion - forty five years later. That final decision to go rests in equal parts from the flattery and skillful persuasion from my best high school buddy - and a "wild" girl who got in as much trouble as I did back in the day agreeing to meet me - and the fact that the clock is ticking. Now or never.

I almost changed my mind. Every day between the moment I agreed to go and the very day of the event, I decided to not attend and then changed my mind again. I could not imagine that anyone other than a few people would even remember me. Behind this loud-mouth exterior pounds the quivering heart of a truly shy person. I did not want to chance not remembering someone's name or to not recognize the people I spent more time with than any of my husbands! I needn't have feared. I only called one person by the wrong name - and that should not even count because I instantly recognized his face!

Oh, to see once again so many people who meant so much to me! Adolescence is a true rite of passage, and we survived that horrible and amazing time together. All of the women were instantly recognizable. Indeed, most of them had not changed at all, being beautiful to this day. The men were a little more difficult to recognize. It was difficult to match the young boys of my memory with the fully mature men in the room. And by "fully mature" I mean hats and white beards and either balding heads or a few long-hairs like me.

It made me smile to watch everyone lean in to hear, or turn their "good" ear toward the conversation. The acoustics in the large room made it difficult to hear - that, and all the laughter. While we were eating, the cacophony died down making normal conversation possible. Everyone filling his or her pie-hole with food was better than a hearing aid!

We hugged and laughed and told stories. We recalled the spectacular exploits of those wild boys, agreeing that most of their pranks would bring legal consequences in school today. There were amiable apologies, spontaneously welling from the common wisdom that we knew nothing then but believed we knew everything!

We fondly recalled those few who died young, or more recently took their leave. We looked at photos of children and grandchildren. We laughed and cried and hugged again. We caught up quickly. The most wonderful thing was the way we picked up where we left off. It was easy, like slipping on an old sweater, comfortable and well-loved. It was good - all the way through.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

And All the Way from Oklahoma...

So here is a complete emergency kit - all the way from Oklahoma!  It is portable, plastic and that jug of ol' Jack will fit in my back pocket when hiking in snake country.  This is, amazingly enough, also a holistic herbal concoction to be taken to safeguard mental health!

No!  Oh, no!  I just got snakebit...

Friday, May 22, 2015

M'am! We've Already Answered Your Question! (So Sit Down and Shut Up)

Something terrible and ugly is coming to the neighborhood - strip mining for limestone - directly across the road. I simply cannot express the full depth of my dismay.

The notification came in the mail a couple of weeks ago. The Wabaunsee County Planning Commission would be holding a public hearing to consider a Conditional Use Permit to establish a ledge rock quarry - directly at the end of my drive way. It felt like a blow to the gut.

All that noise! Traffic. Huge machinery. Dust. The methodical destruction of the prairie. The peace and quiet I so dearly love destroyed, possibly for several years. My deepest disappointment is that the beautiful view I have lived with and loved will be utterly destroyed and permanently changed.

Yes, the land must be restored and reseeded with native plants. Eventually the earth will heal. But those of us who live next to this property will have to endure living with the ugliness and destruction of a rock ledge quarry for however many years it may take to utterly exhaust the limestone, fill the earth back into the holes, and wait for nature to run her course.

It was the first time I have ever attended a zoning hearing but it went as I expected. One landowner is in the process of turning a historical home, guest house and barn into a large event center that can and will serve alcohol. The woman who lives directly across the road told the commission her family moved to the country to live in the country not live across the street from a business. She was definitely opposed. Only one commissioner voted "no" but his vote was not actually in favor of her concerns. He was voting against the Kansas City and Topeka people who would come to the country and "complain about the smell" of cow manure. ? ? ?

Then the order of business turned to the foregone conclusion that the commission would vote in favor of the rock quarry strip mining directly across the road from my property. My next door neighbors live in an old limestone home that could easily be damaged by the slamming and pounding it takes to break the limestone - so it can be hauled to Topeka and Kansas City where the people with the sensitive noses live. The neighbors came prepared with insurance concerns, advice from the State of Kansas geologist, and science in their request that the mining be limited to 500 feet from their old limestone home. The commission took a minute to speed read the letter from my neighbors. I am guessing no one read the letter in its entirety.

Since Wabaunsee County has been allowing the destruction of the prairie for years, no one expected to actually put a stop to it. For me, it was the attitude of the men involved that commenced a smolderin' in my gizzard. Four women spoke. If a woman attempted to speak over a man, the chairman immediately barked an order for her to stop. Not a single man received a public scolding. Indeed, the men accorded nothing but the utmost respect for one another.  The room was full of patronizing attitudes, and the good ol' boy bullshit was so deep I wondered why no one complained of the smell. (No Kansas City or Topeka people present, I assume.)

I believe everyone in the room is a decent human being. The commission members are likely well versed in fending off verbal abuse and keeping the peace when people seriously disagree over zoning issues. The man filing for the conditional permit is surely a good man but his attitude rankled me. He likely makes a nice living strip mining limestone. I wonder how happy he would be if someone spent several years creating an enormous, ugly, noisy mess next door to his home. How tolerant would he be to have his property value negatively impacted by an incredible eyesore? How tolerant would any of the commissioners be if a biker gang or halfway house for meth addicts set up shop next door? I want to live within eye sight and earshot of a rock quarry as much as any of those men would want to live next to a biker gang club house!

I had several questions, and though the men answered, I was not satisfied with every answer. People were tired of the discussion. Each time the chairman tried to move on, I had no choice but to speak up. The last time I did, in his best woman-scolding voice he declared "M'am! We've already answered your question!" The unspoken words "So sit down and shut up" lingered in the air for a brief moment before the order of business moved on.

As far as strip mining goes, grubbing out the limestone is fairly benign and the earth will heal. The commissioners have made a good faith attempt to keep the peace and accommodate and alleviate as many concerns as possible over this issue. I would be very angry if my neighbors were able to put a stop to anything I wanted to do on my own property. But, oh, it would be a great world indeed if the aesthetic objections against living across from a big dance hall or a rock quarry held the same value as a man's desire to destroy the beauty and peace of the neighborhood.

This beautiful scene from the end of my drive way will eventually be strip mined.
Under Assault
Everything on the horizon past these trees will be laid bare and the limestone removed.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Kind Faces

To get good photos of the mares and colts in this pasture, I had to come to the fence. When I came to the fence, so did the horses. I was lucky to get any photos at all. The world already has too many pictures of horses with their faces over a fence.

The first horses to greet me (get in my line of vision) were babies and youngsters. Should I live to be 300 years old, attention from a horse will never fail to delight me. I petted each beautiful face in turn. Then Big Mamma parted the crowd, coming to investigate. She waited a very polite 30 seconds for everyone to give way then she sped up the proceedings with flattened ears and a threat to bite. Everyone immediately gave her royal highness space front and center. I was allowed to pet her face and neck, but with no treats forthcoming, she summarily ended the audience. With her regal behind moving away, the more timid herd members came to the fence.

When all the horses, young and old, were satisfied there was nothing in it for them, they all moved back out of reach of the fence. I returned to my car - down a steep and slippery bank. By the time I was back in the car, these two little guys, most assuredly at the very bottom of the pecking order, had their turn at the fence. If only I had a carrot or an apple or a peppermint on hand! It would have been worth the climb back up the hill to pet these adorable creatures. Because I did not have anything to give them, I did not return to the fence, which was surely just as well. If their boss is as mean as Ginger, they might have been punished for getting a treat when she did not. They stayed close to the fence patiently watching, just in case, then they turned away, too. They looked so sad! I was sad, too.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Morning After the Storms

Early Sunday after the storm.

Snokomo School pump in the brilliant light

Tall Grass Spring

Weathered the Storm

In the Cool Shade

Better than church

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Enough Rain to Drive for Miles

It has been raining - honestly raining - for a couple of weeks. There is thunder and lightning and wind, and then rain falls from the sky for longer than one minute. Instead of dusty, cracked dirt there is mud. The clouds in the sky are normal Kansas clouds and not mere wisps of vanishing vapor. For far too long there has only been "fake" rain - thunder, lightning and wind but only a stingy spit of rain. I was afraid the Kansas climate had permanently changed.

Now the grass is so high it will take two days to mow. There has only been a window of opportunity to mow once so far. Let me clarify. I have only felt like mowing once of any of the times I could have mowed so far. The most important perk of living in the country is that the neighbors will not complain about a lack of yard work. Do not think the absence of social pressure means I will never mow.  The back half of the fattest, longest black snake - ever - disappearing into the grass by the chicken pen is more than enough incentive to keep the lawn civilized. I happened to be standing at the front door when I noticed the snake. Jake was sitting back a safe distance watching it. He lazily eked out one lame "arf", then looked at me.

"You are FIRED!" I shouted at that worthless dog.

He does not care.

These long years of drought meant I have not driven in the rain after dark.  It has been such a long time that it was unnerving the other night, especially when I realized my eyesight has diminished. I slowed down to compensate. I appreciated the rhythm of rain against the windshield, the "slishing" roll of the tires, and the slick light reflections smearing across the landscape. I was thankful for the life-giving rain replenishing the streams and ponds and the lakes, restoring the moisture deep in the prairie soil, refilling the wells.

With rain like this the prairie explodes into lush and extravagant green. When nature adorns herself yet again with the celebratory finery of a verdant spring, I wonder at the living processes we take for granted. The earth is a marvel, alive in the same manner as we are alive. We must realize this and act accordingly before we succeed in stopping the rain forever.

Rain has magical properties beyond the natural, too. The outside temperature display in my Ford stopped at 50 degrees last winter and has not wavered a single degree since. Driving in the rain suddenly brought it to life. When I noticed, it was negative 7 degrees. As the wet interstate miles rolled, the numbers steadily fell until it was 33 degrees below zero in my driveway. Taking my chances that I would not be instantly freeze dried if I left the safety of the car, I stepped into the welcome rain and did not mind getting wet.