Category Archives: Reflections

Sipping Tea on a Fall Afternoon

15.10.25a

October 22, 2015

The last sun tea is on the porch. If there was any doubt last week, there is not this week, it is autumn. Cool morning temperatures and the leaves are changing color. Two trees are already bare—looking naked next to those full of leaf—and irrigation ditches are dry.

Fall speaks to the sun tea’s seasonableness. There is something fitting about how slow seeping tea over ice suits a summer afternoon. Much like how boiling water over a tea bag fits a winter evening. There is a sadness though, as I walk by the mason jar on a fall day and notice there is hardly enough sunlight-heat to change water’s color. A reminder the heavy warmth of sun that buries self into soil and ripens summer tomatoes is again a wait until spring reality.

There is a comfort in knowing the change the landscape is experiencing. Insight gifts a time of preparation before freezing makes the soil impossible to dig. However, there is also something about the naiveté that comes with having not yet lived a winter. Sage, a five-month-old, red, something or other dog, is now a farm companion. Neighbors who live next to a busy hop season road found a throw away litter of pups five months ago. A too busy road led to Sage coming to the farm to live out her life.

Fall is a furiousness time. Different from the constant movement of summer, fall has this is the last chance to get chores done before the first hard freeze or snow that covers that one item your looking for.

As I rebuilt the temporary winter fence that allows cattle and goats to graze the stockpiled hay field, Sage ran from one end to the other and back, repeatedly. While I spliced two ends of fencing wire, she ran back flopping down into the alfalfa. Not breathing heavy, like any self-respecting fifty-something would after a full out eighth mile run (well, okay, this guy ain’t running nothing full out…), she sat in the green of full afternoon fall sun acting as if this is the best day ever. Clearly, she has no concept of cold of winter lying just round the corner!

15.10.25b Continue reading

Considering the Purple Cow Pill

15.08.09b

August 09, 2015

Soon there may be a new solution for problematic burping. A Purple Pill, of sorts, except for cows rather than humans. Folk might have heard it said that cow farting contributes to high methane levels, which depletes ozone. However, the cow methane problem comes from cow belching rather than their farting.

Being a ruminate, cows have a four stomach digestive system (actually a four compartment stomach). Ideally suited to grazers (cows) and browsers (goats), the rumen (the first stomach) allows cows to eat a lot of grass at once, not chew it, and store it. Later, when they are relaxing, they cough/burp up a cud (a mouthful of that non-chewed stomach stuff) and properly chew it. Thus, a cow does a lot of cud chewing and burping.

Figuring the United States alone has roughly 40 million cows, about 30 million beef cattle and 10 million dairy cows; there is a whole lot of burping going on. Like humans, cows digestive system have a complex community of microbes in their stomach helping break down food. One of those beneficial microbes creates methane in the process. To counter this methane development, some folk are proposing an additive to cattle feed to reduce the microbe’s ability to produce methane.

Hmm, it isn’t enough that pharmaceutical companies have convinced us humans to take a pill so we can ignore our bodies normal warning sign of when to lay off some foods. Now we are going to give cattle a little purple pill as well.

Contrary the popular stance, the methane burping problem is not a cattle digestive problem, but a human digestive problem. Consider the 30 million beef cattle. The 30 MILLION CATTLE who exist on American soil exist because the U.S. population is having a problem eating meat sensibly. All it takes to eliminate the methane problem is for U.S. folk to eat less beef. An easy solution if it were not centered on changing people’s gastronomic normal.

Life is much easier for humans if they place blame on creation other than themselves. Cattle, after all, are doing no more than being cattle. Humans, though, have to go a long way to justify eating double and triple decker hamburgers rather than single patty burgers or eating16-ounce steaks rather than 4-ounce steaks. The production of 30 million cattle is not a cattle problem, but one of human over consumption. Continue reading

Mystery In the Nooks and Crannies Of Garages and the Everyday

15.03.15

April 19, 2015

There was always a bit of mystery in Daddy’s garage. Having free range, we kids were in it most every day for one thing or another. It was a normal place with a bit of an edge.

Daddy fought in WWII as a young man. For him, as a parent, that meant more untold stories than told. Directly after the war he spent a few years in the States. But being single and of sound mind and a carpenter he headed to the middle-east. Like much of the world, the area was ramping up since the war had destroyed much of the infrastructure. He ran construction projects ranging from pipelines to housing for the better part of a decade. When he came home he brought carvings, rugs, old (at least old to us kids) films, and intricately made boxes. Time to time daddy might tell a story, but like the war stories, he kept Arabia pretty much to himself. Which made the garage all the more interesting.

We kids always had our own agenda. The garage was our first stop for whatever tools we needed to fix a bike, work on the treehouse, or build another live-trap to haul into the hills. It was in the midst of our stuff that we came across his stuff. Though it didn’t happen often, it was also not unusual to be looking for a drill bit in the drawer of a handmade toolbox and come across medals from the war, or looking for a handsaw and find a carving wrapped in a small Persian rug.

Age didn’t matter when you came across a medal or a carving for the first or umpteenth time. The imagination wandered. Because a story was seldom available, these items from times past and landscapes unknown brought mystery into the moment. The bike or treehouse was forgotten and the mysterious led the imagination to that place of wonderment and questioning. Funny, isn’t it, how the non-story can bring about intricate and surprising stories? Continue reading

Sageness in the Canyon Landscape of Prickles, Songbirds, and Sunlight

15.02.22

February 22, 2015

When I am in southern California I take a few hours and walk a canyon. On the backside of two weeks of traveling and meetings, I finally found myself walking a southern California canyon on a Saturday morning. Entering the north-south canyon before sunrise, I hoped to hear the canyon awaken as the sunlight made its way from ridgetop to canyon floor. Also, its being a southern California canyon just outside of Camarillo, I hoped to have it all to myself for a little of a while.

I hiked this same canyon in September. Showing the effects of the ongoing drought, the canyon was dry and brittle. Normally, hiking these canyons in the fall, there are the jewels of prickly pears hidden in the crevasses of northern exposures. Pears make hiking a wonderful taste. This particular canyon has an abundance, ripe for the picking. They also have an abundance of hairlike prickles called glochids, near impossible to see, covering them. Should you pick a pear, the prickles from the fruit detach and leave you with a handful of stickers. You can get around this by lighting a match and burning the prickles off. However, it being a brittle dry fall, it did not seem wise to start any fire, even if it was only a match, so I did without pears.

15.02.22b Continue reading

Bending Gates and Bending Wills or High Tailing It

15.01.18a

January 18, 2015

Last October I picked up a number of weaned steers. They came from an Angus herd, raised on grass, and certified natural. Just the animals I look for to bring to the farm.

I trailered them to the farm and unloaded into the holding corral where they would stay for the next two weeks. Giving them a chance to settle down and get use to the new landscape and people (and giving us a chance to see if the new animals are sick before turning them out with the herd). I kept my distance from the corral, other than to feed, figuring the trailering and new space is enough stress for a day. Figuring out humans could wait a day or two. Just the same, I keep an eye on them with binoculars in case something comes up.

I noticed one steer in particular kept its tail in the air and its head raised all day. While a high sense of alertness might serve well on the high range, a raised tail is not a good sign for our farm. An hour after arrival, where the others have their heads in the hay trough, he is moving about and edgy. By the end of the day, the others are well fed, watered and quieted down—not him.

After two weeks everyone continued to look healthy and mostly settled in. Not as settled as I’d like, the one continued to have its tail in the air every time I fed. But I figured once they were on pasture, with acres of space to roam, his tail would drop and everyone would claim the calmness of the existing herd. Continue reading

Coffee and the Art of Inattentiveness

14.12.28

December 28, 2014

5:15am, the morning after Christmas, and I am standing outside a McDonalds. Waking this morning in a home away from home, I negotiated pass bodies scattered on the couches and floor finding my way to the kitchen. I figured I would have a cup of coffee and write for a while. Looking at the coffee grinder though and glancing into the family room, I thought some of those scattered bodies might not think too highly of my grinding a pot of coffee at this hour. Then it came to me, I’m in the city! I’m not thirty or forty minutes from a coffee shop. I should be able to jump in the truck and have a cup of coffee in less than five minutes! I sneak out of the house, stepping on remarkably few bodies, start the truck, and head down a Christmas light lite road.

The off-the-beaten-track local bakery is only two minutes away, but it is closed. As they well should be—after all, should anyone really be out this morning away from family…can’t coffee be given up until a bit later, just once? The question comes and goes from my coffee deprived noggin; I’m not to be deterred. Two choices remain, Starbucks and McDonalds. I don’t like the thought of either, but my high minded virtues slipped away when I slipped out of the house. With sorry justification, I choose the closer of the two and turn into the McDonalds parking lot.

Some guy stands just outside and to the right of the entrance doors. Near him is the only car in the parking lot and I assume it is his. Shutting the truck door behind me, I quickly judge the scene. Continue reading

Dressing For Wellness

14.10.11

October 11, 2014

After living a number of years on a farm a friend noted that before coming to the farm he had no idea how well versed his children would become in death. The line between death and life on a farm is not a thick one—nor should it be, for death should be as natural as life whether on a farm or in the city. Whether one plants crops or raises animals, a balance exists between planting and birth, harvest and death. For animal raisers, the butcher date arrives eventually. For crop folk, harvest leads to spring plowing where all sorts of life—gophers, rabbits, voles, and bugs are lost. Done well, farm life is a harmonious interplay between life and death.

I’ve another friend who is spending some of his time writing essays dealing with death and death rituals. His What happens to village death rituals when people move to town? has me pondering a common local death ritual that today is uncommon in most of our communities -The Dressing.

Though uncommon today, the 1984 movie Places in the Heart has a scene that tells how normal the ritual of dressing once was. Sheriff Royce Spalding, who lives at the edge of town, is called away from his meal. While away he is accidently shot and dies. Four local men bring the body back home. As they enter the home, one quickly takes a lone plate off the dining table and lays it on the sideboard. Continue reading