Saturday, September 24, 2011

September Serenade

The spud trucks are rolling again. Our ranch is in the middle of potato country so we drive defensively this time of year. We reverently bow to the potato producers in southeast Idaho, where Spud Harvest deserves top ranking.   

Last night at sunset I let the dogs loose for their evening run. It was so lovely and mild - and no mosquitoes – that I stayed out until after dark. The dogs cavorted in the cool. A massive, brightly-lit spud digger lumbered by the house and into the darkness, ready to start a new field tomorrow. 

And then this morning I heard meadowlarks! Thinking this a springtime sound, I asked my 92-yr-old father about it. He said they sing in the spring and again in the fall. Maybe it’s just that most of the loudmouths have left town and so we notice them again, or maybe they’re calling the ranks together for winter.

Dad and I remembered a poem my grandma wrote that begins with, “I woke to find September at my door.” She also mentions meadowlarks:

His song was not the mating song of spring,
He had a softer, more contented note;
He spoke to me of every finished thing,
Yet joy of life just billowed from his throat.

Such an apt description of September. Not unlike a woman in her fifties, September has left behind the fickleness of spring and the bruising heat of summer. We’ve both matured. We’ve settled and feel a contentment borne of hard-fought wins. We speak our minds with clarity. Our thickened leaves lined with gold, we march on unafraid of the future.

September is not shy. And like her, we are secure in our beauty, confident in our timeline of experience which only increases our capacity to love, and to embrace this full-up stage of life.     

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mourn with Me

September marks one year since my mother’s death. There is no prettier month, none more poignant, than September, when the plants begin to shut down and prepare for winter. The irrigated fields are a deep lustrous green, but all is edged in gold as the grasses cure off, the goldenrod, rabbit brush, and sunflowers bloom. September is a month of mourning summer’s passing, and now it mourns for my mother as well. 
After Mom died we found a photo of my folks as young lovers. There is such joy in their faces. Dad, with his signature tilt to his cowboy hat, wraps his arms around Mom; she leans into his chest, her dark hair brushing his face. He has a flower in the buttonhole on his shirt, obviously stationed there by my mother. They look so young!

As they raised a family, Dad wasn’t very demonstrative towards Mom. Though we kids got regular hugs from him, she had to make a pest of herself to get any affection. She would discreetly grab him in the kitchen as we were watching TV around the corner. He would grimace and pretend he didn’t like it. But, oh the love they shared. 

Even late in life when Mom was failing, often confused and disoriented, she would say how lucky she was, and how Dad was the perfect man. In turn, Dad has conveniently forgotten there was anything wrong with Mom. He remembers her as perfect, which was how they treated each other their whole married lives.  

When I was a child I slept across the hallway from my parents. I remember their quiet murmuring in the darkness and the loud smack of their goodnight kiss. Never doubting the love of your parents for one another is a gift to children, one we took for granted of course. Never witnessing an argument or having to endure criticism from one to the other was a great comfort and joy.

Every day I practice the lessons Mom taught me (key word, practice, meaning I’m still working at it). Finish any job you start and do your best. Keep your word. Do what you love. But the most important lesson was to love your spouse – love being a verb. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"modern" agriculture

We had a lovely evening at a “farm fresh feast” to kick off the state fair here in our hometown. Our county recently added a community garden, which was the impetus for an outdoor “high-end restaurant” dining experience using local products. We provided the grass finished beef; other dishes were free-range chicken, fingerling potatoes, tomato-basil soup in a bread bowl, corn on the cob, salad greens and berry cheese cake.  Idaho wine and sarsaparilla made with local honey rounded out the meal.

It was a real treat to sit together there on the lawn in the middle of the race track, the same venue of our kids’ careers in horse 4-H, at a white linen covered table, sipping wine and honoring our local food producers of which we were one!  Mark even took his turn at the mic, describing our 5-generation ranch and the passion we share for putting grass and cows together.

Now, I know that locally produced food does nothing to address world hunger. Especially if you add attributes like grass-finished and/or organic, which this meal did. But how do you place a value on shaking hands with the farmer that grew your meal? What does it mean to come together, farmers and eaters, and finish the circle of creation and consumption of our most vital need? And what I’m more comfortable with every day, is the “choice” factor. We agriculturalists can provide food for consumers no matter their preference, be it industrially produced soybeans, or a dozen eggs straight from the farm.

One day this summer while Seth and I were driving by a neighboring grain field, we stopped so he could take me into the field and show me the large heads of grain and the stems packed tightly together. “Look what modern agriculture has done, Mom.” It was amazing; much more productive than the wheat fields I moved pipe through as a kid. And no, this wheat won’t be consumed in our county, maybe not in our nation.

When Seth talks about feeding the world, I always think, if you feed people, don’t they just have more kids, thereby exacerbating the hunger problem? It sounds harsh, but how do we fix it long run? His answer surprised me. He said that it’s only through nutrition that women become educated and empowered. And only through empowered women does family planning stand a chance of success. He taught me that it’s only when roads and food finally reach a people that despotism moves out. What a grand objective – improve the lives of all people, end tyranny, end hunger, and then population stabilizes.

Seth says it’s an exciting time to be in agriculture. Indeed. 

milkweeds along the yard
it's all about propagation

Friday, September 2, 2011

Salting the Range

After suffering through a week of over 90 degree temps, it has dipped into the 70’s now. Glorious September! The second cutting of hay looks good and we’re having beets and green beans from the garden.  

Mark and I took salt to the cows on Sunday. We have a set routine that doesn't vary. We put 6 or 7 fifty pound blocks on a 4-wheeler, strap them with tie-downs and travel to areas where we want to attract cows. We break the blocks into 8 pieces with a small sledge and throw them into the densest brush we can find, of which we have plenty. The cows stomp around, licking the pieces which are gone in a few days, not damaging the soil, but leaving an open spot in the brush and a bit of “edge” for wildlife. 

It’s a great way to look over the range and check cattle for health issues. Mark has a real connection with the cattle and recognizes each one. As we work through the herd, he points out pairs that we helped in one way or another this spring - the twin that wasn’t sucking, the cow that was confused and claimed the wrong calf, and the calves he treated for illness. We see Tim, the premature orphaned calf that we fed on a bottle for a few weeks until he got a new mom.  He’s big and strong now and we wonder if he remembers us. We figure after branding and trailing to the hills, he has long forgotten our care. We turn off the 4-wheeler and Mark approaches him slowly. Sure enough, he lets Mark scratch him, enjoying it immensely as his mother hums to him nearby.  

It was a nice diversion which ended badly when the 4-wheeler wouldn’t start and we had to walk back to our pickup in the rain. But the clouds were kind to us and only got us damp, not soaked.

If Mark feels a particular kinship with the cattle, I am compelled by the land. I make him stop to get a photo of crimson annual paintbrush, point out violet asters, and pick a sprig of mint for him to smell. Of course we cross-over in our loyalties as well, both wanting the “whole” to flourish. If we can keep the lines of communication open and not get defensive, this complementary allegiance works to the benefit of all.

When we returned a few days later to get the 4-wheeler, it still wouldn’t start. We had ridden double on our faithful sorrel horse, Sly, down to the creek where the machine waited. I got on to steer while Mark tied his lariat on the frame of the 4-wheeler and dallied to his saddle horn. Then Sly drug us back to the trailer for loading. Sly is a good sport and acted like dragging 4-wheelers was an everyday chore. I think that’s where the term “horsepower” comes from.