Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tis Merely Temporally Temporary

The Old Barn
This was my grandpa's barn.  This photo is about the loneliest thing I have ever seen.

The house faced north, and this is looking east, down what was once the driveway. There was fencing on both sides of the barn. There was a stock tank and gates and horses, people and cattle. There was a well curb to the right in the foreground where my father planted a wild grapevine he found along the river. By the time I arrived on the planet it had overspread the trellis above the well, making a cool, fragrant place to sit in the shade. There is the haymow where my Uncle Superman had a mad scientist laboratory full of pickled snakes, frogs and all manner of gruesome creatures one year. It was the sanctuary where, as often as I possibly could, I would spend time brushing Lady, my father's horse, talking to her and hugging her big coppery neck. If I could not ride, I would climb onto her back and lay against her neck, content to be in the presence of a being I loved with all of my child's heart and soul.

In recently remembering my parents, my grandparents, my aunt and uncles and the ordinary lives we shared here, a round of happy memories arose, coloring my dreams for several nights. The dearest times of our lives come and go, disappearing in the inexorable force of time. We understand no one lives forever but we have no way to change the impermanence of literally everything. Those days and most of those people have been washed far from me by time and life and death. I look back on those green and golden days with a full heart.

The farmstead was halfway up the hillside from a river bottom bend in the Little Walnut River. Atop the hill were the fading scars of buffalo wallows. There was a strong spring a bit further down the hill that ran fresh, cold water continually. And on the high bank of the river, my uncle found dozens of arrowheads and other stone tools, evidence that human beings had appreciated the fresh water spring for centuries before a single European ancestor set foot on the shores of Turtle Island. No one really knows who the first humans were to camp beside the river, or hunt the big game, or fish the water that even in my day still contained freshwater mussels twice as big as a man's hand - fresh water eels - perch and catfish. And, like me, how many hundreds of generations of children gratefully swam just above the shallows during the long, hot days of summer?

I do not know what tribes owned the area that became Butler County. One source mentions the Kansa. Another historical reference speaks of about twenty different Plains tribes gathering in the general vicinity for trade around the time the land was ceded. The final ceding of land came from the Osage, I believe. All I know for certain is that countless generations of people loved the bend of that river as much I did - as much as my whole family loved that place.

Reminiscing about my grandparent's farm, I considered the hours my grandfather poured into his crops and land - the maintenance of fences and pastures and ponds - the tending of his cattle. It was his life's work and the way he and Grandma provided for their family. Every human being alive upon this planet - from the early tribes who could not conceive of the concept of owning the land - to the poorest man struggling in the streets of any one of the enormous modern cities - intimately knows the landscape and all that moves on it. We love the place we call home, no matter how humble - no matter how grand - no matter how paved over it may be. The earth herself returns our love - our attention and our intention. And when the human beings depart, the heart goes out of well loved land.

The tribes who once loved that spring and the small unremarkable river lived from the bounty of the land, though that nomadic life was no easier than any other life. The immigrants who built the old house and barn and set the first fences around the bounty of the tall grass, breaking out the bottoms for corn, loved that place, too. The man who has that land now dug out the spring to make a moat around his house. It seems sacrilegious but someone before my family had built a concrete curb around the spring. The spring persists to this day and as yet has not been contaminated by fracking - though surely it is only a matter of time.

The immigrants, in just over a hundred years extirpated the buffalo, wolves, mountain lions, antelope and deer from Kansas. Now in the second century since white settlement, I would not swim nor eat fish caught in the river today. Each time I have returned to the Little Walnut, the water is a noxious brownish green, often with dirty foam. It is different than simply being muddy. It is poisoned.

The people who came before left arrowheads and boiling stones, Quivera knives and spear points in the soil of that river bottom. The new people have left fences and old stone foundations and a horrible mix of chemicals and abuse. Perhaps there will be a gradual balancing of the number of human beings then the burden on the earth will lessen. Nature will cover the scars, cleanse the water and soil. Our harmful marks upon the face of the planet will be swept away as surely as tall grass growing where this old barn once stood.  When I stop to consider it - the history and the sweep of time - I am once more struck by the indecipherable riddle of what exactly is the meaning and purpose of life on this planet - and will anyone ever solve it.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

An Uncommonly Beautiful Spring

It is the highest sorcery when the world transforms into shades of blue and green.

It looked as if the clouds were enclosed behind the barbed wire fences, but the photo was something of a failure, except for that brilliant blue sky.

Big Spaces filled with horizon and sky

The emerald green emerges after the fires and the first rains.

The familiar landmark, Buffalo Mound, visible from Topeka.  Its resemblance to the top line of a buffalo earned its name.

Something happened in the translation of this photograph.  It went from brilliant and strangely lit at sunset to this drab photo.  What??
My nephew made the statement that the cameras in the smart phones take better photos than expensive cameras.  I politely disagreed.  I owe him an apology.  Though I have very little control over the photos taken with my phone, those photos reproduce the brilliant colors much better than my digital camera.  I wish I could post all of the photos I have taken this spring to share the amazing colors and the spectacular light. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Family Tradition

The author on her noble steed, Cricket.
The author's aunt on her noble steed, Cricket.
The noble steed Cricket gave birth to baby Patches on an Easter Sunday!
Patches grown up.

My aunt (sitting behind) and Superman on his noble steed Cricket.

The horse virus infected me surely before I was even born. Had I been born free of that incurable affliction, I was certainly infected almost immediately upon arrival. My paternal grandfather was a respected bronc rider as a young man and he retired a mature, respected cattle man. There was ample room in that time span for the horse virus to spread to those in his family born without natural immunity. The worst symptom is keeping expensive horses (even when the patient is unable to ride) simply because there is a need to see horses every single day. I could never get enough time with horses when I was a kid so I grew up, bought land, planted it to tall grass, built a barn and a fence and now I am the indentured servant to horses every single day. It is a powerful affliction, that horse virus.

I have written about my first loves - my father's cow pony, Lady, and my own first horse, Cricket. I have also written a bit about my grandparents, and my father and his brothers and sister. (Some links are included at the end, in case you are interested.) My aunt emailed these priceless photos and shared memories of the horses and the wonderful, long ago times. Receiving the photographs was better than winning the lottery! My dreams this week have been filled with the horses, my parents and grandparents, and that wonderful old farmstead on the bank of the Little Walnut River. My aunt and I came to the same conclusion that those were the happiest times of our respective lives. Undoubtedly, the secret ingredients were the horses and the freedom we were given to spend our days roaming the river.

I was the last child to ever love the old mare, Cricket. She was almost at the end of her natural life when she was brought to our barn for me to "ride". I was so young that I was more than content to simply sit on her, which was fine with Cricket. I always assumed she was one of my grandpa's retired cowponies but I found out she was actually purchased as a children's horse for the cousins one generation ahead of me. By default she became my aunt's horse, and shortly after, none other than Superman (my Uncle Jerry) laid claim to the gentle horse.

My aunt shared some wonderful stories. She tells them best: "Now you have heard the story of Jerry and Cricket. We had the yard fenced at the time. But he would ride that horse by himself at 18 months old. He would get up and put on all of his gear, neck kerchief, leather cuffs, pair of guns, cowboy hat, boots, pair of jeans and belt and his cowboy shirt and he would ride that horse till he’d go to sleep on her and Cricket would bring him by the front door and Mom would go get him and bring him in and put him in his bed."

And this: "Patches' dad was a big old horse. And Patches was not a good riding horse either. Rough ride! Oh, I remember Cricket when she was found that Easter Sunday as Daddy didn’t tell us. He just said, "Come on, let's take a ride". He took us down by the river and there she was with her baby colt. Didn’t have a clue she was going to have a baby! They never told us a thing! I think Dad was afraid she couldn’t do it cause that horse was so big and she was pretty old at the time. But she did it..."

So there you have a brief history of the wonderful old mare Cricket who carefully nurtured many, many children, not just those in our family. And there is the added wonderful Easter surprise story of Patches, the horse that grew up to step on my bare feet so many times that it had to have been on purpose. Surely she got that ornery streak from her father, the "big old horse" from next door!

Not only did I get a bit more insight and information regarding my dear Grandpa, my father, my aunt and uncle, but photos and stories about the horses, too! What a gift.


Bonnie Vista

A Sailor Writes Home