Elk Parts

15.10.04

October 4, 2015

Elk parts. They come once a year. Archery season opened a few weeks ago and rifle season follows it up. My bow hunting friends are saying this is a season unlike any other. The elk are not traveling normal trails or hanging in their normal high country valleys. Maybe there will be few elk parts this year.

I never imagined elk parts growing up in the rural canyons of southern California. Our deer are small in stature and when it comes to meat, they are little more than a big rabbit compared to an elk. Though small is size, being of a landscape of canyon sage, the flavor of their meat rivaled any Cascade elk. The black-tailed deer of sage country may not be the biggest of deer, but they are right up there with the smartest of deer—and a hair coat the blends beautifully with the sage landscape. The cageyness of these deer meant many hunters spent their time enjoying the landscape and returning home to eat beef. That might be why I never saw another hunter in the ridges and canyons around home, and why “I’m going up north to hunt, these deer are to small and not worth the time,” was often heard leading up to hunting season.

I knew I was not in the landscape of my youth when hunting season rolled around my first fall in White Swan. Growing up rural, forty minutes from town is one thing, living in a rural town is something different. The proximity of folk to one another in town (even a town of 500) leads to a different way of thinking than the open country. The old adage that everyone knows everyone in a small town carries a bit of truth. One of those truths is folk have a very good idea of which neighbor struggles economically and who does not—including their dogs.

When the first elk came out of the hills, that first fall, and after they were quartered and cut into steaks, roasts, and jerky, many hunters went about town giving their meat to the elderly and families who struggled. The knowledge being, the hunter is capable of hunting again and many others are not.

Two events made me notice how this new place was different from back home. One, two hunters showed up at the parsonage and offered us meat for no other reason than placing value on the community’s spiritual leaders. Place matters. When two elk roasts were lifted out of the back of the pickup, there was more meat than any one deer I hunted as a youth. My place was no longer the landscape of canyons and sage. Continue reading “Elk Parts”

Resurrected Hen Gives Limping Coyote Life

15.09.20

September 20, 2015

Wide shadows fell off the windrows in the early morning. The morning after the season’s last cutting of hay, I walked the field. A heavier dew than I like gathered across my boots and the pant leg that gathered at the laces. As I wondered how long it would take the cutting to dry, a coyote limped down a windrow along the eastern edge. With the right hind leg in the air, the coyote hunted one windrow after another hoping to rouse an unobservant vole or a slow gopher pushing up dirt. I wondered how the leg got hurt. The coyote looked young, so maybe he had made one of those teenage moves that twist an ankle. Then again, he may have wondered into the wrong field at the wrong time and ended up on the wrong end of a shotgun shell. Whatever the case, I went on about my business.

Two days later, one of the chickens thought little of my decision. In fifteen years we have lost only one chicken and one lamb to predation, that is, until that day. Losing another on the backend of seeing a limping coyote is normal enough. If we are going to manage the farm with an eye toward maintaining balance between wild and domestic animals, it is inevitable something is going to lean the scale to one side or another eventually (Like a hurt leg.). I don’t imagine the missing chicken nor the non-missing chickens agree with such an analytical assessment. When another hen went missing a week later, I also questioned my management practices.

A few days after losing the second hen, I was driving across the field in the balewagon and picking up hay bales. As I round the southwest corner, the coyote came out of the brush. No longer limping, he watched as I drove by. I wondered if I should pick up the rifle when I got to the end of the field nearest the house. Call it laziness or cutting the coyote slack one more time, I left the gun in the house and continued clearing the field of bales. A week later, the 22 rifle leaned against the wall near the back door. A third chicken was missing.

The decision to kill an animal is always difficult, more so when the kill is not for food. You might say killing the coyote is a food kill when the third hen is lost. After all the hens provide daily eggs (food), and when they stop laying eggs they provide for a wonderful winter chicken stew (food). Nevertheless, the killing of the coyote, itself, is not going to provide an evening meal. Since I also have no desire to skin the coyote, tan the hide, and use it for something or another, the killing of the coyote is only to try to reestablish balance and end the loss of chickens. Continue reading “Resurrected Hen Gives Limping Coyote Life”

Pickup Beds, Old Dogs, Children and a Ride to the Creek

15.08.30

August 30, 2015

Riding in the back of the pickup was normal in the sage canyons east of Saugus. Though not common, the seat of a 1956 Ford pickup holds only so many people, so when the family went to town in the pickup you’d find my younger brother, sister, and I arguing, singing, or yelling those all-important conversations back in the pickup bed. During baseball season, daddy would have half a dozen boys in the back heading home after a ballgame. Town being thirty to forty minutes from the house, meant a fair number of memories were made in the back of that pickup.

Then daddy and mamma bought a 1969 Ford three-quarter ton Camper Special—with seatbelts. There began a change in the way mamma and daddy thought about pickup bed traveling and other than the local gravel road, a pasture, or the stockyard in town, the seat belted three-quarter ton ended back of the truck forty-five mile-per-hour conversations.

Thirty years later Belinda and I were driving down Fort Road on the reservation. We were following a pickup full of kids, doing forty-five maybe fifty miles-per-hour. By then we were fairly sure of our good opinion thinking something along the lines of, “What are they thinking?” Thirty years of seatbelts had something to do with our thoughts, but also being from California had something to do with it as well.

Years earlier Californians passed a law keeping dogs from riding in the pickup bed. After it passed, you could not have a morning coffee at the local café in rural California, where working dogs in the bed were common, and not have a conversation about the dog law. Statements were often rural verses urban, along the lines, “Yep, isn’t it just like those folk who don’t live where men, women, and dogs work together would pass a law against dogs in the back of the truck…and never give any thought to a law keeping children out of the back of pickups first.” Well, enough years of such conversations made us pretty sure those kids in the back of the pickup shouldn’t be, and dogs should be cut more slack.

It so happens that while California has its who-cannot-ride-in-the-back-of-pickup law, Washington State code sees it a little different,

This section only applies to motor vehicles that meet the manual seat belt safety standards as set forth in federal motor vehicle safety standard 208 and to neighborhood electric vehicles and medium-speed electric vehicles. This section does not apply to a vehicle occupant for whom no safety belt is available when all designated seating positions as required by federal motor vehicle safety standard 208 are occupied. (RCW 46.61.688, Sec.2—as of 2008)

Continue reading “Pickup Beds, Old Dogs, Children and a Ride to the Creek”

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 “Considering the Purple Cow Pill”

When Cows Garden

15.07.05a

July 5, 2015

We rotate cattle from pasture to pasture. As long as their numbers are balanced to land, rotational pasturing allows for healthier pasture, abundant grass, and more cattle per acre.

After five weeks, we began our second pass through the pastures a week ago. A week later we moved the cattle to the next pasture. With the grass and weeds eaten down, we found a zucchini squash plant blossoming in the middle of the eaten pasture. Standing by itself, green leaves, yellow flowers, and a couple zucchini, the cattle had eaten around the plant without a bite taken. Given who cows are and given the zucchini plant’s poky nature, perhaps it isn’t too surprising the cows left it alone.

My reaction to finding the zucchini in the middle of the pasture was one of surprise. When I told Belinda later she thought I was trying to get something past her. But there the plant grows, out of place, a good eighth mile from our garden.

Each summer, we cut up leftover squash and throw it out to the chickens. They do a fair job of eating all the meat, leaving only the skins on the ground. I imagine a chicken walked out into the pasture last summer and while turning over cow pies looking for bugs pooped out a seed or two. With water, a bit of soil, and natural fertilizer, the seed obviously found a home suited to its growth.

The unrelenting need to reproduce is amazing. Whether it humans, animals, or plants, life does not give up until it recreates itself.

The cattle may have left the zucchini plant alone because of the sticker-ness of the plant. It just might be though, they too are amazed to find a zucchini plant in the middle of their pasture. Or maybe they also find it a simple gift to have yellow flowers in their midst. Perhaps I give the cattle too much credit, yet I’d rather than not live with the idea the world is better off believing cattle are as wanting as ourselves to have a bit of unusual beauty in their midst.

 

Sidle Up To The Fenceline

15.04.05a

April 5, 2015

Ray and I spoke across the fenceline for fifteen years. Each Christmas, whether we needed to or not, our families got together. When Rebecca and Andy’s wedding came, Ray and Mary were there. Ray and I didn’t see eye to eye on everything and I am glad we didn’t—made life a little richer, but we when it came to the joy of working land, we had pretty darn the same mindset. Ray passed away a few years ago and his place was split up. We picked up the land—someone else the home and barn—not long afterwards. I think of Ray whenever I am working the place. However, I sorely miss the fenceline conversations.

Ray flood irrigated the land. Each spring he hooked a V-ditcher up to the 3-wheel tractor and pulled ditches. Just like it sounds, the V-ditcher is a huge V shaped metal implement. When pulled behind a tractor it pulls dirt up and out of the ground leaving a V-shaped ditch. Once pulled, the irrigator runs water down the ditch. Siphon tubes then transfer water from the ditch into the field. The practice of ditching and siphoning is laborious. Which has a lot to do with my intention of using sprinklers to irrigate the field.

To flood the land, Ray created a series of crisscrossing ditches. The large supply ditches run the property’s boundary. Changing to sprinklers means all the ditches need filling. To do so, I run a spring-tooth implement up and down the mounds of dirt along each side of the ditch. After loosening the dirt mounds, I use a 3-point blade to turn the soil back into the ditch.

15.04.05b Continue reading “Sidle Up To The Fenceline”

Table Across the Street from the Reservation School

15.01.11

January 11, 2015

Preamble
Sitting, at the southwest table.
The Cougar Den is the only
gas station restaurant in town.

First bell rang ten minutes ago.
He sits, black cap backwards, at the opposite
wall table, two in front.

She walks in,
shawl dances around her, as
wind gusts through shutting door.

A glance across the room,
she strides to counter, orders,
then coffee in hand fringes soar as birds.

Black bill rises, like duck of water
after eating in the shallows,
head drops and hides.

Shawl spreads like hawk wings,
her stride summons the wind.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in school?”

The bill is still, the air is quiet.
Elder voice shivers blue and green fringes,
duck quivers as hawk circles.

Shawl hand rests on bill shoulder,
ducks bob on water,
feet dangling in trauma.

Continue reading “Table Across the Street from the Reservation School”

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 “Coffee and the Art of Inattentiveness”

Patchwork

14.12.21

December 21, 2014

Sitting at a table in the southwest corner of the Cougar Den I watch youth arrive. The Cougar Den is as close as it gets to a restaurant in White Swan—a gas station with a grill and a few tables. Across the street from the middle and high school, youth get off the morning bus, walk through the school and across the street to grab a mable bar, sit down, and hang out until first bell.

The last week of school before the Christmas break is like no other. Unlike the week before summer break, everyone knows their back in a few weeks, but unlike a three day weekend, there is plenty of time get in trouble, both small t and big T, both innocuous and obstinate. Many of us recall school days leading up to Christmas break. The energy, the excitement, and the making of big plans—that mostly never came to fruition.

Tuesday morning with a cup of coffee and opened book, I listened as girls laughed a couple tables in front of me and boys prattled and cussed (bouncing between whispering and almost bellowing) a table to my right. The level of noise had me wondering how this week before Christmas break is shaping my teacher friends.

It was 7:20 am when five high school girls walked into the Cougar Den. Excited and talking up a storm they moved toward a table kitty-corner to myself. Two of the five had on jeans, with holes. I don’t know when holey jeans became popular, but it’s been some time. Now holey jeans are natural. Continue reading “Patchwork”

Great Music is Country Music

14.11.16

November 16, 2014

All great music is country music. From Handles Water Music to Guy Clark’s Homeless, music that matters is music of landscape.

The landscape sings. Not metaphorical nor exacting music, rather the song of landscape rises from the mystical space of experiential and Déjà vu, from space known and unknown. Landscape singing tells stories, ancient and current, of creation; and great music, well, great music comes from those who listen well. This is why great music is genre-less. The best of the Blues or Native Folk, or Rap or Powwow or Western or Jazz or Native flute and whistle or Classical, comes from those who have tuned into the landscape, listened, and interpreted that song so the rest of us can hear—the nature of Creation, I think, is to hold on to her valuables until a caring ear or eye or hand comes along, gently leans in, and asks if they might interpret his voice so others might awaken.

Hearing the fullness of the landscape is to become whole. To sing well, in key or not, is to know the voice of place. The song of landscape is unique, but then, every landscape is uniquely its own. No other voice, no other sound can come out of her than that which is his own. Jazz, the Blues, ancient stick and drum, and Western sing of place. Classical does the same, but in human’s eagerness to classify, the songs of many landscapes have been bundled together and place of origin too often lost. Continue reading “Great Music is Country Music”