Monday, April 25, 2011

Nature's Lessons

                   April is a promise that May is bound to keep –Hal Borland

The wind is blowing of course. It’s April. And it’s been cold, but I’m convinced that spring is finally here.

The change happened on Tuesday. It’s not just that the long johns come off, or the woodstove sits idle - it’s a change of mind set. It happens quickly, the first real warm day and my thoughts do their bi-annual flip flop to a new season. Suddenly all around us are spring chores clamoring to be noticed. All the ditches need burned before they will run water. The fences need attention. The pastures need harrowed, the calves branded, and everywhere spring cleanup beckons.

One of my favorite chores this time of year is working in the wooded areas cleaning up limbs and piling them to burn. How beautiful the trees look with the floor clean around them. We harvested firewood this winter in the same field where we were feeding cattle, in true multiple-use fashion. It will take more than one spring to clean up all the debris.  

And the grass is coming. Hesitantly at first, the leaves gearing up their solar panels for long days and warmer temperatures.

I am reminded of a line by my favorite nature writer, Hal Borland:

Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.

Patience and persistence, two qualities we get to practice every day. Patience as we care for calves that won't turn into income for over a year. And persistence as we walk the same sandhills Mark’s great grandfather roamed a century ago.  

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Looking Ahead

Anna and I traveled to Moscow this past week to visit the University of Idaho and see Seth. His girl “friends” put us up in their apartment and Casey made us supper one night. I can’t express how good it feels to a mother to know her child is surrounded by friends like that – supporting, challenging, ever encouraging.

We visited the Moscow Co-op which carries our meat, had supper at Mickey’s Gyros, and managed to hop on over to Spokane to get Seth a jacket for the FFA convention next week. We visited campus, stopping at a wonderful 2nd story alcove overlooking the ivy covered mathematics lab. Seth came up with the name “solace room” to describe the area behind a curved wall - a comfy bench beckons young people to sit, gaze across campus and contemplate their future. We had breakfast at Bucer’s, a little coffee house downtown, with creaky floors and yummy quiche. There’s also a wonderful consignment store with tall ceilings and vintage duds where Anna found jeans and Seth a three piece suit for $36.00.  

One favorite evening we walked the paths of the arboretum, a fragrant collection of flora from around the world, ponds, even an old barn. It butts up against a golf course. “Mom have you ever seen a putting green?” The grass is an emerald turf, so tightly shorn it’s hard to believe it’s living plant material. I knelt to run my hand across its bristly texture. I’ve always known grass to be remarkable, but this was amazing!

And then there was the drive. Nine hours each way, with rain pelting us much of the time. The rolling dry farms of the Palouse, the forested ridges along the Clark Fork, the cattle nestled along the grasslands around Deer Lodge and Dillon, all make lustrous viewing. Anna made a playlist for me on her ipod and we whizzed along, her madly reading All Quiet on the Western Front for English, and me, lost in the theme from Forrest Gump or On Golden Pond.  Lots of time to reflect on a life of parenting, and giving thanks for my kids’ individuality - their inspiration, their positivism, the many lessons they teach me. 

Hungry for Spring

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spring "Service" Break

guest post by Seth Pratt

           Over the week of March 15, calving numbers peak at the ranch. University of Idaho’s spring break is the same time. With my family’s support, rather than going back home, I flew to Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, on an Alternative Service Break. These “ASB” trips send students all across the country to volunteer in communities.
Even now I am not entirely sure why Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, exists. The land there would naturally be under water for six weeks of the year. That water is now held back by the levees that run along the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. Between these levees is an area sometimes referred to as the “bathtub.” When the levees broke during Katrina, this area was under thirty feet of water. Not quite half of the Plaquemines residents have returned since the hurricane; bare foundations of their homes are scattered across the parish. Experiencing the destruction was humbling for a rural Idahoan. At times I could almost see the homes, the running children, and even their haunting laughter.
One day, knowing it was a bold question, I asked Reverend Turner why people have insisted upon living here. He told me their lives are here, in memories, in the land, and in the people. He has seen two demolishing floods in his lifetime, which is few from his perspective. I’ve seen plugged irrigation pipes flood the neighbor’s yard; I felt na├»ve.
             Louisiana was a neat place to see, and impressive to experience. The best part of the trip though, had little to do with the bayou, gators, or seafood. Volunteering requires very little of a person, it strips you of all but very basic necessities. This leaves you free, in mind and spirit. In fact, during my time in Louisiana I felt an indefinable peace.
This essay is less about Louisiana, and more about what life is meant to be. Through giving of my time each day, I felt absolute fulfillment. In giving up possessions, I found myself needing nothing. In listening to others, I heard my own voice.
Now my mind is full of questions: Do we have to live in a certain place to experience happiness? Will these gnat bites go away? Why do we own so much stuff? Why don’t I focus on others every day? Where is the line between my own success and self-sacrifice? Can they go hand-in-hand, or is our definition of success superficial?
Where to start - here.   How to start - slowly.   When to start - now.   What to start with - kindness. 

burned out home prior to demolition by volunteers

Driving through Grand Bayou