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!
April 26, 2015
Most calves arrive on the farm arrive in the fall. Many of our neighbor’s spring calves sell at that time, so fall is a good time to buy. Fall, a year later, is butchering time.
During the year I walk the pastures and slowly develop a relationship with the steers. Each walk gives me a chance to see if anyone is off their feed, has a runny eye, or a dry nose—better to find a problem at the start than after it has settled in. These walks lead to a comfortableness between us. Comfortableness matters on butcher day.
Our goal at the farm is that none of our calves’ dies of natural causes. (At least not natural from a steer’s point of view.) Growing up, I never gave much thought to steers raised on the family place, but my folks did. They did not name steers, though they didn’t stop us kids. It was their way of having some distance in the human /steer relationship. They knew the steers were not going to die of natural causes and a no-name steer is easier to kill on butcher day. Good idea, but none of that ever worked out. It seems that if you live with an animal for eighteen months, more or less, relationships develop, whether you like it or not.
Daddy never liked butcher day, mostly because of the relationship gained whether you like it or not. Daddy never killed a steer. Instead our neighbor, Mr. Riggins, dropped by early morning to handle the killing. Once done, daddy, Mr. Riggins, and us boys would skin and quarter the beef.
Today I understand Mr. Riggins and daddy’s butchering relationship was based in the human/animal relationship. Mr. Riggins didn’t have the relationship daddy had with the steers. This separation made killing much easier for Mr. Riggins than daddy. Many folk raising animals for meat need a Mr. Riggins and mine is Johan. Continue reading
March 8, 2015
A while back I brought a steer onto the place who could not or would not settle down. Before I sent him down the road, he successfully bent the hell out of one of the corral gates. With longer days settling in (though it is going to take some time for me to settle into daylight savings time) and a mild end to winter (at least for the moment), it is a good time to replace bent gates.
Like too many other things around here, our bent gates are the result of trying to save money. Our lighter gage gates are fine for lightweight animals like our sheep and goats, but they are quite up to the job with a 600-pound steer runs into them. But we all know about that don’t we? You live with what you can afford at the time!
A few years back Belinda and I attended an auction at an out-of-business feedlot. We bid and picked up a number of heavy weight gates. Gates much more suited to a 600-pound steer slamming into them. I figured they would make great replacements for the light gates in the heavy use corrals. Me being me though, well-meaning doesn’t always get the job done. I’m willing to use the excuse there was always something more important to take care of, but of course all that got me was a few bent gates.
February 01, 2015
As January slips away so does my patience with fog. After weeks of fog, along with knowing a sunny blue sky is a hundred or two feet above, and because February can hold more fog ahead, my patience is normally wanting.
So I am surprised to find my patience fairly intact at the end of January. I have had enough, little doubt about that, but I have found the winter fog talkative. Walking back to the house the other night I watched the crescent moon barrel through the fog and backlight a bare tree. The tree stood full, chest out, nakedly proud in the showering mist of fog. Lovely how a cold foggy winter night brings out the ampleness of life lodged in water of air, tree, and moon.
I miss the fullness of life too often. I find it easy enough to think a tree as living, and when creek water tumbles or fog loiters, living water. Yet my secular and religious teachings have taught me to give little credence to the notion of life in rock, soil, mountain, or moon. When it comes to soil it’s okay to give life to the rhizomes and micro-critters living within, but the dirt itself? Not a chance. Moon shimmering through a night fog calls forth another story.
Some folk mindfully walk. Such walking allows awareness of grounded relationship. A relationship the ground has always known. Ground is fully aware of the feet who play ball, run, hike or swing a child in the air. The stories of twisting, heavy breath, and laughter become grounded. While we—our partners, our parents, our children, ourselves—may forget such moments, they are not lost, but embedded. If one listens, the ground has stories to tell. Continue reading
October 18, 2014
“Do you have a fly swatter?” I almost laughed. Didn’t.
We were sitting in the shade of willow trees, talking. Water ran down tea glasses and wet rings grew on the wood picnic table. Folk lightly swatted at flies buzzing ears and arms. I hadn’t given my own swatting much thought as we talked about why paying less for physical work than for office work is an injustice.
It was June when I turned and answered, “Folk sometimes offer the suggestion that I should do something about the flies bothering the cows.” That didn’t seem to be the answer they were looking for, but I continued. “A Cow’s life is outside. Some seasons have more flies than others. Winter, for instance, there isn’t a fly for miles. Summer though, more flies than cow or human want. Thing is, just shy of nuking the cows with pesticides—with who know what residual effects—there’s always another fly to take the last ones place.”
I wonder when did we became a people of those blue glowing electric insect killers. Granted I don’t like flies or other insects—certainly mosquitoes—tenaciously buzzing my face. We all have our limit. But have we come to a time of believing we should not be inconvenienced or bothered, at all? I hope not. Continue reading
December 25, 2013
The door banged open and Arnie blew in with the Santa Ana’s (that’s wind for the non-southern California folk). “I just got off that L.A. freeway without getting killed or caught,” he said. We knew what he meant. Every one of us had spent time on California freeways to get to this room. If L.A. freeways are good for anything else, they always make you feel like you’ve accomplished something making it to your destination in one piece! But when an armadillo says without getting killed or caught (Had I said Arnie’s an armadillo? We’re all uniquely created, but ya gotta admit, there’s something a bit different when it comes to armadillo’s.) you get one of those chicken crossing the L.A. freeway images and, well, Arnie probably had his heart beating a bit more than normal a time or two.
“I thought I’d left the key in the ‘ol’ front door lock,” Arnie said, “but, then, we got something to believe in, don’t you think?” We sat there looking at Arnie and no clue as to what he was talking about. But that was nothing new, Arnie often kept us a notch off center, wondering.
“I walked through the downtown yesterday, he said. The streets were filled with laughter and light…and the music of the season. We looked at each other and wondered what in the world was Arnie doing downtown? There always a risk when any of us visit the city, but an armadillo, downtown, with foot and car traffic, in this season! Well you’ve gotta give some thought to how well he’s tracking! Arnie went on, “as I walked I got those stares, you know the ones. It was all a little surreal, there is something about when their christmas comes they tense-up and focus on possessions. You’d think the act of giving to their relations would be a good time, but many seem to walk with smiles on their faces while the season turns their temple to a robber’s den.” We were tracking him, more or less, but one couldn’t be sure.
“I came to the corner of 25th and Chris Street,” he said. “There was this old boy in worn out shoes, sitting on the curb. Continue reading
December 06, 2013
Two lanes, hot weather, and apricots are of summer memories. One memory pulls in each year with the apricot harvest. As I migrated north from the southern California canyons of my youth, the season of memory has shifted, but not much. West coast apricots all seem to ripen sometime from mid-June to mid-July.
Two lane road names describe place. We, my younger brother, my more younger sister, and I grew up just off Placerita Canyon Road, on the western slope of Sand Canyon, with friends living along Sand Canyon Road and up Iron Canyon Road, Oak Spring Canyon Road, and Lost Canyon Road. Each a two lane road, at least until they narrowed and the asphalt gave way to gravel. I imagine they will always be two lane roads. That may not be the case. Any more, with fast pace of life and faster driving, fewer folk seem to appreciate the curving roads following canyon bottoms that call for slower driving and life pace. Just the same, I like to imagine there will always be a need for the slow pace of canyon two lanes.
Come late June-early July we would load ourselves into the old Ford station wagon and head up Sand Canyon—Mamma and daddy would have the three of us sit upright on the backseat and keep our hands off each other, it was, however, many more years before we gave serious thought to putting on a seatbelt. Some years, we would turn right onto Soledad Canyon Road, others we’d head over the next ridge and turn right onto Sierra Highway. Both were two lanes. Though Soledad Canyon twisted more, water and Live Oaks made for a cooler drive. In either case as the canyons faded in the background and the countryside heated up, Soledad hooked up with Sierra Hwy just east of the small town of Acton. Another few miles and a right onto the Pearblossom Hwy took us out to our folk’s destination, Littlerock. Continue reading
October 22, 2012
As we worked putting up temporary fence around the hay fields, it is apparent fall now owns the valley landscape. First snow has fallen on the foothills to the west. Wind blows steady from the west. Sun glitters leaf edge—alfalfa, grass, and neighbors dry corn stalk.
Pulling wire and driving posts this time of year is a gift. The fall wind hasn’t blown so long and hard that it tiring and obnoxious. Instead, it heightens awareness allowing for considerations easily walked by otherwise. Mixed with sun and fall smells, the wind whispers the fence from chore of metal upon metal to plate rim.
In the next day or so, most of the fall fencing will be done and the field transforms from hay to a large vegetarian supper plate. A time of rejoicing. Animals have an abundance of feed and we have the freedom of not feeding every morning and evening throughout most of the winter. Such rejoicing lived time and again when wind and cold push temperatures into the single digits—or worse—and animals feed while we watch from the warmth of house.
January 23, 2012
I walk by them every day. Each spring we plant more sunflowers than we will ever harvest. This isn’t so hard, a sunflower or two will produce all the seeds we’re going to eat for a year. We plant the rest for birds to partake during late spring and early winter. By now, they have figured out how to get the last seed out of the flower head. So, I walk by those stems and flower heads that were so green and yellow last summer, each day, without thinking much about them. Then the sun came out. With sunlight touching the snow buildup on each head the sunflowers presented a beauty that comes after life has slipped away.
© David B. Bell 2012
December 13, 2011
One good thing about frozen fog mornings in December is the sound. The sound of quite frozen fog mornings is unlike anything else. Unlike mornings of snow-covered landscape that encases movement and sound, frozen air allows the wheatgrass to move with the slightest of breeze. The grasses dampened rustle plays with the conversation of two chirping birds which mingles with crunching frozen grass below each boot step. Frozen fog, a natural symphony of sorts.
© David B. Bell 2011