Our four-year-old grandson does his part to herd the cattle down the road by waving his cap in order to encourage them along. His dad takes a bit more active approach as he runs along behind the critters!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fixing Fence

It began innocently enough. While out doing chores this morning I mentioned that I sure could use more exercise. Farmer John looked over and said, "How about right now?"

I was suspicious. "No heavy lifting."

"Not at all," he assured me. "Just a nice walk up to the wheat field to fix some fence."

I brightened. I had my brand new leather gloves in my farm bag and dug them out, adjusted my stocking hat, and said, "OK!"

John pulled into a hay meadow and said, "Let's go."

I looked around.  "Let's go where?" 

"Follow me!" And off he went. 

We went through brush, over a creek, over two fences, and up a mud-slicked hill.  And did I mention that the creek had water in it?  Running water?  I was whapped in the face with sunflower stalks and had my courage tested as I tiptoed over wet and muddy rocks at the creek. 

All in all it was a fine adventure.  I took a lot of photos and felt like an intrepid explorer.  We gained the top of the hill and there was a stiff breeze blowing. I was too warm from exertion and chilly at the same time. 

I spied the Bobcat sitting next to the fence that needed repairing.  The photos below tell the rest of the story. 

Farmer John fixing fence.

Farmer Linda fixing fence. 

OK, I did roll up some barbed wire and did a few other mildly helpful things. But this made a good story, and I'm all about making a good story! 

I loved this day tromping over hill and dale (and through the creek) back on the farm.

Monday, December 5, 2011

New Coveralls and a Persimmon

The propane tank is full, firewood has been stacked, and we've made one of our infrequent trips to Sam's Club in Topeka, stocking up on everything from Kleenex to canned soup.  We are cozily ready for winter.  

This morning the temperature on John's temperamental but usually accurate wireless indoor/outdoor gauge read 22 degrees.  We plugged in Annie's heat mat (Annie is our dog), and dug out the two heated water bowls for the cats (front porch) and for Annie (back yard). At the shop today in between welding projects, John plans to use a large plastic barrel to create a warmer sleeping spot for our five outdoor cats.  I'll be interested to see his finished design, because I can't quite picture how that's going to work. 

As I pulled on my brand new insulated coveralls this morning I thought, "Now I'll find out what all those dire warnings have been about."  I've been getting a lot of knowing looks and doubtful smiles from farming veterans who rightly believe I'm not, shall we say, the hale and hearty outdoor type.  I do love spending time outdoors, but I've never had a lot of stamina.  It's probably kind of late to start, but I am suffering the delusion that it is possible to become accustomed to a little more strenuous level of physical labor than I've attempted in the past.  
There was a brisk north wind blowing and even though I was wearing several layers of clothing I nevertheless got thoroughly chilled.  By the end of the morning I'd added a muffler, a hunter orange hood, and a jacket to my ensemble, but I hid the camera and Farmer John wasn't able to document those additions to my wardrobe. However, I noticed that he kept laughing every time he looked at me. Although this did not please me I couldn't really blame him. I looked like a clown ready for a circus act while he looked manly and well turned out, sort of like a lumberjack. This is not fair, because I try harder.  John's idea of grooming is to shave. I know  I can't win the hard work and knowledge category of the farming contest, and so I'd at least like to have been eligible to win the "cutest in farm clothes" portion of the competition.  But he is the clear winner in that category as well.  Oh, well. 

I drove, and "stabbed" 3 bales with the hay fork, picked 'em up (ok, I pushed the button that caused the hydraulic fork to raise), and set 'em down.
When John got out of the truck to open a gate he grabbed the camera and took my photo as I drove into the field.  He still can't quite believe I'm doing "farmerish" stuff.  That heifer at the left in the photo above is also looking at me pretty incredulously. 
Awhile later Farmer John removed some shanks from an anhydrous spreader that he shares with a neighbor.   He's going to use special welding rods to apply a hard surface coating to the edge of the shanks so they will last longer.  There was a persimmon tree nearby and my gallant spouse presented me with one of the fruits.  

Now, as I've shared here, I really am a farm girl at heart.  When I was young I used to roam the woods back of my Grandpa's farmhouse with my cousins, and I learned at an early age not to eat a green persimmon.  But this one looked ripe.  
I touched my tongue to the ripest portion and quickly drew back.  Hmmmm...sweet!  Persimmony!  Tasted like my grandma's jam!  Encouraged, I took a tiny bite of the fruit.  Almost instantly that distinctive, dry and puckery sensation spread throughout my mouth.  If I hadn't known better I'd have thought I'd been poisoned.  

I attempted and failed to force feed Farmer John the remainder of the persimmon.  

All in all, it was a pleasant morning back on the farm!

Friday, December 2, 2011


I chased another cow tonight.  I'm learning.  I sped around her, leapt out of the car, and opened the gate.  I'd planned to circle back, get behind her, and bring her to the now unobstructed opening.  To my surprise she ambled right on through while I was still in the process of opening the gate.  I was scarcely six feet away from her.  John has his cattle so tame from wooing them with corn chop that most of them are pretty easy to handle. 

As I was chasing this critter down the road it occurred to me that the skill I actually need to gain is that of fixing fence. I bought myself a pair of leather gloves the other day and my tetanus shots are up to date.  Maybe I'll give fence fixing a try.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Chasing Cattle

Since I married Farmer John there have been numerous occasions when I've been recruited to help chase cattle.  I am always reluctant to participate in such endeavors because I don't do it right.  The way I know that I don't do it right is that my husband says, "You aren't doing it right." 

After a few of my failed efforts to be of help when cattle were out, we reached a consensus:  if cattle need to be "put in," it is Farmer John's problem and not mine. The advent of cell phones helped greatly with this arrangement; if I see a critter where it should not be, I just call Farmer John. 

However, yesterday afternoon there was a 700 pound heifer grazing contentedly in our front yard (I know she weighs 700 pounds because I became an expert at guessing the weights of livestock being run into the ring at the sale barn when we were selling our cattle this fall).  I stood gazing at her for a moment or two and then set my jaw in determination.  If I didn't do it right there were would not be a witness; Farmer John had gone to a sale in Topeka. 

My little red Ford Escape was conveniently parked in front of the house and I jumped behind the wheel and drove toward the heifer.  She gazed at me impassively and decided I posed no threat.  She resumed grazing the tasty dandelion greens and crabgrass of our front yard.  I gunned the motor, laid on the horn, and headed toward her again.  She took the point and ambled down the driveway in the opposite direction I'd intended her to go.  The chase was on. 

She trotted down the road ahead of me and I opened the gate on the south side of the road.  I circled behind her and brought her back to that gate, but she'd already checked it and, having found it closed, saw no point in checking it again. 

I opened the gate on the North side of the road.  I circled around behind her again and she obligingly turned and trotted down the road.  But she had already tried to get in through the gate I'd just opened, and the result was the same as with the south gate.  She didn't even cast a glance toward the open gate and down the road she went. 

This went on for what seemed like several hours.  She finally tired of being chased in circles and jumped over the fence, trotting out into the pasture without a backward glance.  I wearily closed both gates and went back home.  When I checked the clock I saw it had been only about 25 minutes since I'd walked out the front door. 

When Farmer John returned home from his sale he said, "Anything interesting happen around here while I was gone?"  

I hesitated just an instant and then said, "No, nothing much."

No use changing the status quo. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

He Makes Them Skip Like a Calf

Just a few seconds before this photo was taken these calves were cavorting by kicking up their back legs and butting one another with their heads.  
Finally, after ten days of being under the weather with two different viruses, I was back out doing chores this morning.  I was so happy to be outside and feeling better that everything seemed more delightful than usual, from the mourning dove cooing on a high wire to the antics of those calves pictured above. "He maketh them also to skip like a calf..." (Psalm 29:6 KJV).

My new skill of the day was picking up a big bale with the hay fork. For some reason I cringe as though I'm frightened of whiplash when Farmer John is backing up to a bale. Once in awhile he backs into the bale with a bit of a jerk and I act like we've been in a car accident.  Today, after looking at me for a long moment when I reacted like this, he said, "Why don't you drive?"  And so I did!  

Me, in the driver's seat.  John had no comments about my driving--though when I went around corners I noticed that he grabbed onto the edge of the seat.  I like to go fast. 

I picked up 3 bales and set them down by the bale feeders, which John then plopped down atop the bales.  This system worked pretty well because it saved him a bit of time.  

The main thing I needed to remember was not to set the bale down on top of him while he was cutting the net wrap off.  Ummm...just tried to do that once, but he hollered in time.  

I hope we have an extended time of this moderate weather.  People keep smiling in a knowing way and saying "Wait until it gets cold."  In anticipation of that I've ordered insulated coveralls which, I fear, will not make me look ten pounds thinner as I earnestly strive to accomplish with my other wardrobe choices.  

I am very glad to be back out doing "farmerish" things. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wish I Were Back on the Farm!

This photo was taken October 24.  Throughout October when the sunlight was at the right angle, plain old bluestem grass turned into stained glass with the light shining through translucent yellow stems. 
Last week I combined 20 acres of soybeans ALL BY MYSELF!  The machine was easy to run, but nevertheless there was a lot for me to think about at the end of each row; how far to allow for a turn, don't take out a fence row, remember to raise the header, and perhaps more importantly, remember to lower the header once I start combining again.  And I'm sure my wavering paths through the field would have bothered Farmer John--if he'd been there.  But he was taking a load of beans to town so I had freedom to figure things out by myself.  I didn't ruin anything, praise the Lord.  

But this week I've been housebound with a cold, and have really REALLY missed being outside.  I'm reminded of a "Farmer Johnism" from one day a few weeks ago.  Over his lunch break John had completed a couple of jobs from my "honey-do" list; a leaking faucet had been repaired and some needed items had been fetched from the scary basement. John does not bear being housebound any better than I, and when he emerged from the basement he didn't allow me time to think of another household job for him to do.  "I've got to go do some farmerish stuff," he said emphatically.  And he was gone!  Well, this week I've been missing doing "farmerish" stuff.  

I carry a notebook around with me in my "farm bag" because, let's face it, I'm more a writer than I am a farmer. When anything amusing happens (more often than you might expect), I jot it down for this blog. Here are a couple of Farmer John quotes from last week:  
John protests loudly at my careless treatment of a wrench when I toss it aside so I can sit in the passenger seat of the truck. 
 Me:  (sarcastically) Ohhhh, is that an important wrench? 
 John:  If it's the size you need it is.  
 Me:  I have GOT to clean this pickup out for you.  
John: (offended) What do you mean?  
Me:  It is filthy.  
He leans down and pulls an ancient container of Armour-all sheets from beneath the seat, extracts one, and begins to swipe ineffectually at the dash.  When he is done there are now muddy swirls where there was simply a thick layer of dust before.  
John: (martyred) There. 
John has had to finish the combining without me and I really don't know how he managed (!).  Next week I hope to be back on the farm!  

Monday, October 24, 2011

October Beauty

September this year was characterized by shades of yellow with the abundance of sunflowers taking a starring role.  There were  yellowing leaves on many trees from the drought so that even the light took on a yellow-warmed hue as it filtered through all the shades of gold in plants and trees. 

October has brought some welcome touches of red.  With the exception of the photo of the Virgina Creeper, all the photos below were taken today:   
This photo of the five leafed vine called "Virginia creeper" was taken October 3. 


Wild plum saplings
I don't know how people can say that Kansas is not beautiful.  They aren't looking in the right places, I suppose, but I think it is more likely that one's state of mind and preconceived ideas affect the ability to perceive beauty.  These next two photos are very pretty, but the real life scenes exceeded the beauty I was able to capture here by far: 
Indian Head Grass

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Combine Driving Lesson

It is my goal to learn at least the basics of operating each piece of equipment on the farm. I'm not real interested in doing anything heroic like driving our temperamental dump truck to the elevator with a load of grain, but would nevertheless like to have the ability to do this if necessary.  My true motivation is that I consider myself to fill the role of  mother/wife/grammy-in-charge-of-safety-control.   I would like to possess the necessary skill to extract Farmer John from whatever part of a machine that might try to ensnare him when he's not looking.  

And lest you think safety control is not needed on our farm, consider that I once noticed my three-year-old son's eyebrows and eyelashes were missing in a way that looked very similar my dad's appearance after he attempted to light a temperamental furnace years ago.  When I asked Jonathan what happened he said, "Daddy said not to tell you."  


Yesterday I had my first lesson in driving the combine. It looks so easy.  Push the ground speed lever forward to go, pull it back to stop.  Toggle the thumb switch up to raise the header up, down to lower it. Steer. That's pretty much all there is to it.  Of course, there are at least 20 other switches, pedals, and monitors that I have no idea what are for. It looks like the control panel of a lunar module to me. (I know what the inside of a lunar module looks like because I watched Apollo 13.)

My problem was with steering. In fact, while I was combining, a highway patrolman turned on his lights and siren and sped by on the highway that goes past the field where we were working.  I was relieved to see that the officer was after a speeding driver on the highway and wasn't interested in weaving combines.  For a moment I was sure I was about to experience my first sobriety test. 

Nevertheless, Farmer John said it was pretty good for my first time out.  I didn't tell him it was actually my third or fourth time driving the combine because he's obviously blocked those prior occasions from years past from his mind.  One does that with traumatic experiences.  

Here are a couple of the photos we took as I learned to run the combine:

I guess we do need auto steer.  Not sure who was driving as we posed for this photo.  Son-in-law Brian would be glad to sell us a brand new JD combine with GPS auto steer or whatever it is called.  We'd be glad to buy one if I didn't do things like quitting a paying job in order to become a farm hand and writing books that make no money.  Ah, well, the Lord is in control. 

I was too nervous to take my eyes off the header to look at the camera.  Nevertheless I did manage to slug the combine because of failing to slow down when I went over a terrace. The header adjusts automatically but needs a bit slower ground speed going over a steep terrace. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

'Til the Cows Come Home

We rent a pasture that's about three miles from our house.  Pasture season runs from April 15 until October 15, and so today we were a day late as we gathered 90 head of cattle from the half section pasture (that's 320 acres) and headed them down the gravel road toward home.  

Farmer John, son-in-law Brian, and I rode together to the pasture, making numerous stops along the way to close gates so our critters wouldn't be tempted to take the scenic route through the neighbors' pastures.  Son Jonathan and his wife, Nicole, went ahead of us to the pasture and were driving the cattle toward the gate in Jon's old blue pickup when we arrived.  Wonder if Nic had her seatbelt fastened?  If not I'm afraid she spent some time airborne. 

Nephews John Lee and Jacob parked their truck at the corner in order to turn the cattle, then once that mission was accomplished they sped around the section to get in front of us.  Their next job was to keep the cattle from going into a hay meadow that's just before the gate to the pasture we wanted them to enter.  

Grandpa Johnnie, (the original Farmer John) brought up the rear of the procession, herding an old girl who had rheumatism and thus couldn't jog along as fast as her comrades (see photo above). 

The main challenge to this journey was that the cattle had to be coaxed to cross an overpass that goes over an interstate highway.  Farmer John said, "At least the wind is out of the north so they won't be bothered by the highway noise until they are nearly to the overpass."  This wouldn't have occurred to me.  And then he added something else that I'd never have thought, "I hope no truckers honk.  One year one of them honked and got the cattle so upset it was terrible.  I thought they were going to leap over the guard rails and fall onto the highway." 

I was incredulous and said, "But, honking an air horn could cause the cattle to go wild and hurt one another or even one of us."

Farmer John looked grim.  "Exactly," he said. 

Brian hopped out at the overpass and stood ready to keep the cattle on the road in case they decided to run down toward the highway.  I drove the pickup and Farmer John rode in back, coaxing the cattle along.  Lured by his voice and the promise of corn chop as he rattled a feed sack, they followed  willingly.  Many of them had made this trip before.  

When about 30 head of cattle were in the middle of the overpass, sure enough, the driver of an eighteen wheeler pulled his air horn.  But whether the horn wasn't as loud as most or because the wind was blowing so hard, the cattle didn't react.  We made it home without further difficulty.  

I know most truckers are honorable and hard working folks who wouldn't willingly cause trouble for honorable and hard working farmers.  But there are evidently a few who don't mind indulging an impulsive action that could potentially cost us thousands of dollars if any of our cattle are  injured as a result of their prank. What's even worse is that 90 head of upset cattle have great potential to cause harm to their human handlers.  At one point today both my husband and my son-in-law were herding the cattle on foot. 

All's well that ends well, and it took just a little over an hour to bring the cattle home today.  Best of all, no one that I'm gonna love 'til the cows come home got hurt.  
If the phrase "love ya' till the cows come home" isn't familiar to you, have a listen here--and if you don't want to take time to listen I'll just explain; this song includes the lyric, "I'm gonna' love her 'til the cows come home'":   "When I Get Home"  (From The Beatles, A Hard Day's Night Album, 1964). 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Shopping, Farmer Style

Farmer John spent an unreasonable amount of time at an implement dealer's yesterday  Yesterday afternoon John had to spend some time at J&W Equipment  in Iola, leaving me to wander around outside looking at a lot of farm equipment that was the wrong color (I said that in case my son Jonathan or son-in-law Brian happen to read this; they both work for John Deere. And for those who might not know: J&W's Case/IH equipment is red, while John Deere is green).

I had my camera slung over my shoulder as usual, and it was an absolutely beautiful day.  I started taking photos of shapes that caught my eye and as I did so I felt more and more impressed with the ingenuity behind the engineering of these forms.  Pretty cool.

Then, when I thought we were finally on the way home, Farmer John swung into New Strawn and spent an unreasonable amount of time and spent some time perusing the old and used equipment that has been prepared for the weekly sale to be held this Saturday morning.  The antique equipment caught my eye and while John enjoyed shopping (just because it isn't a mall doesn't mean it isn't shopping),  I found some more pretty shapes to photograph. 

Despite the fact I didn't accomplish very much on my to-do list It was a very nice day. 

auger from a brand new posthole digger 

antique dump rake
Even the shadow of this rake was pretty. 

Dontcha' love these curly cued shapes?

Rake teeth

Monday, September 26, 2011

His Favorite Color Was Yellow

My father went home to be with the Lord in January of 1997 at age 79.  His illness and death triggered the onset of my mother's dementia symptoms, although she managed to live on her own for another seven years or so.  I always think of Dad's death as heralding an end to one phase of my life and the beginning of another, as these past fifteen years I've made the transition from being my parents' beloved only daughter to becoming the primary caregiver for my beloved mother. 

Today is the anniversary of my father's birth.   He would have been 94. 

On this, his birthday, I want to pay a special tribute to my dad  for the positive impact he still has on my mother's life and my own.  At age 50 my dad, who did not complete high school, realized that his wages as a meat cutter at Iowa Beef were not going to provide adequately for a family that included a daughter who wanted to go to college.  He applied for acceptance in a program that trained government meat inspectors, and was told if he could manage the entrance exam and subsequent training  (which included classes in biology, math, and chemistry) that he would be accepted.  They probably didn't think he could do it.  

They were wrong.  

He did a very brave thing to quit his job and take the year's training which included traveling to various locations around the country, and completing an internship.  He then worked for 15 years as a government meat inspector, during which time he paid off his house loan and set up a savings program.  He also got me started on a college education that he hoped would lead to my becoming a doctor.  That's right, a physician.  He thought I was smart enough to complete medical school, bless his heart. But I think he was proud when I became a teacher.  I know he was proud when I became an employed teacher.

Nearly every day I think of  my father's foresight, hard work, and planning that have allowed his best girls, my mother and me, financial security even through the devastating diagnosis of my Mom's Alzheimer's disease. 

Dad's favorite color was yellow, which is appropriate for someone born in September, when the light turns golden and the very grass and trees are tinged with that hue.  In honor of my dad, here are some photos I've taken the past week featuring his favorite color: 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Always a Farm Girl at Heart

When I moved to our little town as a junior in high school many many many years ago, my fellow high school students perceived me as a city girl.  "City girl" sounded good to me, kind of glamorous; and I had indeed lived in Wichita and Olathe.  Not great big cities, but gettin' right up there with the most citified places Kansas has to offer.  What I didn't share was that I'd started life on fifteen farm-like acres surrounded by fields of farm ground and pastures full of cattle. My mom's big garden and our little white farmhouse provided the setting for what I would always think of as the ideal home.  

My grandpa was a farmer, and I loved our trips to the Ozark hills of Missouri to spend time at his farm.  As my dad's job caused me to change homes and schools seven times between the ages of 5 and 18, my grandparents' farm became the place I felt most at home.  I loved tromping through the pastures, fishing at the pond (although I wasn't great at sitting still for long), and going exploring through the walnut grove just south of Grandpa's workshop.  And let me just add a note about Grandpa's shop; he had begun his working career as a blacksmith in the early 1900's. The fascinating tools of that trade including a forge and his anvil were still in good working order in that shop... I remember climbing the ladder that led to the loft-like attic of the shop to find a mother cat and 5 kittens curled under the eaves... 

I won't say that I married Farmer John just because he was a farmer, but I will admit that the fact he planned to make farming his career seemed like a dream come true to me.  Don't laugh. Through the good times and bad (dry times and wet, poor times and...well, if not rich, comfortable...) I have always loved living outside of town.  If I continue on I'll get uncomfortably sappy about things like the scent of milkweed blooming in the spring and how thrilling it is to see a blue heron take flight just a dozen feet away as I take my daily walk across the pond dam on the hill across from our house, but let's just make it clear that I love being outdoors and always have.  

When I told everyone I was going to help on the farm, one of my teacher friends said, "This is so out of character, I can't believe it;  you didn't even like going outside for recess."  Let me just explain that having 20 six-year-olds trailing along behind you is enough to dampen the enthusiasm of the most dedicated nature lover.  I loved teaching school and I sorely miss my teaching colleagues, my students, and that wonderful satisfaction of imparting knowledge in a way that helps others.  But one of the most difficult disciplines of the job for me was  the claustrophobic feeling caused by the necessity of staying within four walls throughout the most beautiful portions of every day.  

Here are three photos I took last week as we checked cattle. I am loving being back home on the farm. 
"Doorways" such as this one always tempt me.  I'd have dearly loved to go tromping off into the wooded area shown here and in the picture below--but that very healthy poison ivy deterred me. 

An invitation to enter if ever I saw one...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Long Way From the Heart

A few years ago a farming peer who owns and runs all new equipment noticed the amount of grain John had hauled to the elevator during wheat harvest and said, “You sure get a lot done with what you have to work with.”  That statement could be interpreted a number of different ways, most of them unflattering.  But the fact of the matter is that John really does get a lot done and spends less money doing it than some. The fact that he’s often able to do his own mechanic work helps. 

But once in awhile Farmer John does carry things too far.  Before he traded his last pickup in, both the right front headlight and the rear bumper were held to the body of the vehicle with baling wire. One afternoon I pulled into the filling station in my little red Ford Escape and the owner hurried over, bent his knees and pushed his head into the driver’s window.  We were eye to eye when he quickly looked to the right and to the left as though to check for eavesdroppers, and then said in an urgent whisper, “Linda, John needs a new pickup.”  

Like I hadn’t noticed. 

I went home and found my husband lying on his back under the old pickup, probably tying more things together with baling wire.  I said, “John for Pete’s sake, when the gas station man is trying to get me to use my influence to persuade you to buy a new pickup, it’s time to go truck shopping!”  A few weeks later he bought his new(er) truck. 

The New(er) Truck
We check cattle using this newest pickup which has less, shall we say, character than the other vehicles.  

Our second best pickup is named "The Trilobite" because the truck’s former owners owned a rock quarry, and had decorated the truck with decal of a trilobite (trilobites are fossilized skeletons of prehistoric creatures that lived in the depths of the ocean that covered Kansas millenniums ago, and these fossils are sometimes revealed when layers of rock are uncovered).  The decal is long gone, but the truck's nickname remains.  We use the Trilobite to haul the stock trailer because it has dual wheels in the back and handles loads well.  
The Trilobite
 During the years I was working as a teacher, I had few opportunities to ride in the Trilobite; and on sale day last week I found that this old diesel truck has developed a few new idiosyncrasies since I rode in it last. I discovered one of those when I was left waiting in the truck while Farmer John went to pick up his cattle check.  I used the electric window button to lower the driver's side window.  When John returned he muttered something under his breath and entered into a wrestling match with the window.  “It goes down, but it won’t come back up,” he said, as he nevertheless was able to use his pliers and the flat of his hand to force the window closed.  

A little while later I was looking for a pen, and I reached for the glove compartment.  I heard John make a sound of protest just as I released the latch.  “It opens, but it won’t close,” he said.  He leaned over, performed a series of maneuvers on the latch, and after a few minutes of struggle (which made me nervous because we were driving down the highway at 70 mph at the time) managed to get the door to stay closed. 

I like things that work the way they are supposed to, and John noticed the dissatisfied expression on my face.  He tilted his head to one side with the demeanor a of a college professor patiently explaining a difficult concept to a not-very-bright student, and said, “It is true that my vehicles aren’t new…”  I rolled my eyes. He ignored me and continued, “…but they are mechanically sound.  The window and the glove box are a long way from the heart.”  

I looked at him doubtfully.  

“Here’s my point,” he continued, “Windows, doors, and tires are just accessories.  The heart of the vehicle is the motor and transmission.  Those are sound.” 

He paused and then with a little less conviction added, “Hopefully.”  

We pulled into the cattle barn and John expertly backed the trailer to the chute and unloaded his cattle.  I heard one of the workers shout jovially, “Well here’s one trailer that’s bought and paid for!”  John just grinned at him and agreed.  

When he got back into the truck he was still smiling.  “You see, my trailer isn’t pretty but it serves the purpose, and that guy was exactly right.  It’s paid for.”  I looked back at the trailer and could see that the inside dividers had been liberally reinforced with baling wire.  

But hey, that’s a long way from the heart. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Beauty Despite Dry Conditions

Most of these sunflowers have their own 6 legged friend...perhaps my etymologist friend, Frannie, can tell me what sort of bugs these are and whether they fall into the category of beneficial or nuisance. 

Despite the drought, the countryside is beautiful right now. This is entirely due to the fact that sunflowers are able to thrive in dry conditions.  They are growing in masses of hopeful yellow along railroad tracks, in road ditches, and clustered along windbreaks.  It's hard not to feel encouraged, somehow, just looking at them.  

(Double click on photos to enlarge, click the back button to return to this page--if you close the window after viewing a photo up close, you have to start over from scratch).

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

You Have Cattle Out...

 Unlike many of our friends and acquaintances, we've kept a landline despite the fact that most calls ringing through on our old phone come when we are in the middle of a meal and are from telephone sales representatives located in other countries.  However, calls that come later than the ten o-clock news tend to be:  1) from people in our same area code (this includes the sheriff's department)  and 2) tell us about cattle that are not where they should be.  Last night at about 10:30 pm, the old phone rang, and I could tell by the look on my husband's face the message was not a happy one.  A hereford cow and two angus cross heifers had escaped by ducking under a cable stretched across a dried up creekbed, and were grazing along the railroad track in an adjacent pasture. 

Most of our cattle are black, thus are very hard to see at night.  A black cow on a highway or even along a country road poses a terrible danger to drivers, and so a  "you have cattle out" call that comes after the sun has set makes Farmer John move quickly to grab his spotlight, don his boots, and out the door he goes. In the past, my job has been to stay home and pray for the welfare of both Farmer John and those in his path (including the errant cattle).  Last night, in a flush of "I'm helping on the farm now" dedication, I unwisely decided to ride along. 

Early in our marriage I had accompanied Farmer John on similar expeditions, but I had forgotten, I really had forgotten the terrors of bouncing through an unfamiliar pasture at high speeds chasing cattle who do not want to be caught.  At least Farmer John's pickup has seatbelts now, and so I fastened myself in.  A seatbelt keeps your head from bouncing off the ceiling of the truck while traversing ditches at high speeds, and headrests are great comfort when the truck goes from 60 mph to 0 mph in 1.2 seconds. 

My job was to wield the spotlight.  I don't think I did too badly but there were a couple of tactical errors.  One was when I decided to open the door quickly in order to discourage a cow that was trying to rush past our truck on the passenger side.   When Farmer John  heard the door open he thought I was getting out.   It warms my heart that although he was in the midst of a high speed chase and had entered that adrenalin fueled state of battle readiness that can turn the nicest man into an order shouting drill sergeant, he nevertheless did not want to see his wife trampled by a thousand pound critter or run down by a pickup.  He brought the truck to a complete halt and clutched at his heart.  He gasped for air a couple of times and I stared at him apprehensively.  But, as I've mentioned in earlier posts, time has mellowed Farmer John.  When he could speak without yelling, he just said, in measured tones, "Do Not Get Out of The Truck."  And then we were off once more.  

My second error occurred when I helpfully attempted to shine the spotlight out the driver's side door. The bright light blinded Farmer John completely for a few seconds.  "Sorry, I'm sorry!"  I said quickly.  He didn't say anything, but he also did not slow down at all.  

Finally, John brought the truck to a stop, got out, and had a conversation with the three cows.  They associate his voice with the sweet taste of corn chop, and they calmed immediately.  He explained to them that they really didn't want to be where they were, and urged them on toward the open gate.   On foot, in the dark, he pushed them along and after a few further adventures I won't detail here, they returned to their own pasture. 

It is truly to my husband's credit that on the way home he patted my hand and said, in a kind tone of voice, "Thanks for your help, Hon."  

This morning we returned to that pasture and fixed the fence, and everything should be ok now.  But the next time we get one of those late night calls I think maybe I'll just stay home and pray for Farmer John.  Regardless of how nice he was about the whole episode last night, praying is probably how I can help the most when the cattle are out.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Doin' Pretty Well

This morning Farmer John loaded ten heifers and delivered them to the livestock auction, which is about 20 miles away from the pasture where these critters have spent the summer.  John prefers to do this chore by himself.  He says that if the cattle are used to just one person getting out of the truck to feed them each day, then the appearance of another person will upset them.  "They can count," he says.  

I have evidence that this may be true.  One day last week I got out of the truck with my camera cradled in one arm and my three-year old grandson, Daniel, in the other.  I swung Daniel to the bed of the truck and turned to take some photos, just in time to see the cattle startle and stampede toward Farmer John, who at that moment happened to have  his back turned. 

Time has mellowed my husband, and he did not say, "Get the blankety back in the blinkety-blank truck (expletives deleted)," as he might have in the past.  He did have a comment, though.  

"Thought I was a goner," he said.  

I did too.  

So I've learned to keep my voice low and not to make sudden movements around the cattle. 

John cajoles and soothes, talking in a soft voice to the skittish animals, rarely touching them with his stick.   "C'mon now, calm down" he'll say.  And my favorite..."soo-cow, soo cow...."  They pretty much do what he wants.  Nevertheless, I'm not fond of the sight of my husband striding around among fifteen or twenty restless critters that weigh about 1000 pounds each.  The cattle are armed with hooves and some have horns; John just has that slender white stick.  

I'm  impressed by the way John is able to quickly dance out of the way of any critter who does not cooperate with him.  At one point today he climbed a panel, leapt to the ground, ran to a panel gate, swung it closed and wired it, all in less time than it took me to write this sentence. 

 Considering that he is eligible for the senior citizen discount at most restaurants, Farmer John's doing pretty well. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Blessings Behind and Before

Classes began today at the little elementary school where I worked and taught for 25 years. This is the first "first day" in nearly half my lifetime that my very heartbeat has not been intertwined with the pulse of the classroom.  This year I didn't decorate a bulletin board, fill out a first day plan, or suffer that wonderful combination of anxiety and anticipation that causes teachers to toss and turn the night before the first day of school.  I slept soundly last night.  

I was a little bit afraid that grief  would stage a sneak attack, and so did not want to be alone this morning.  I nearly ran to the pickup and hopped in with Farmer John.  I've learned it's almost impossible to feel depression or grief when you are riding in a pickup with the windows rolled down (if it is hay fever season you might feel allergy symptoms, but you won't be depressed about it). 

While John fed cattle I walked through the pasture and took some photos, breathing in a peace that I could almost taste.  I stood for a few moments in a field of sunflowers, and shot several seconds of video in an attempt to share their soothing dance:
I love "rear view mirror" photos, and this one seemed especially significant because the sky ahead is a little bit bluer and clearer than the clouds behind (Jeremiah 29:11 comes to mind; see quote below).  

We finished our morning circuit of checking cattle and when John pulled into a pasture just down the road from our house, I hopped out and walked home. The temperature had risen to near 90, and the sun was hot at my back.  I was very happy to see my dear old yellow farmhouse appear before me as I cleared the windbreak east of our house.  
I'm glad to be back home on the farm.  

"For I know the the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11).

"LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup;  you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance" (Psalm 16:5-6).  

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Don't Text and Farm

Farmer John is mildly disapproving whenever I pull out my cell phone to text a message to someone else when I am riding in the pickup with him.  He doesn't say much, but people who have been married for a long time learn one another's signals.  There is a certain set to his jaw that tells me he'd rather I stop what I'm doing and do something else.  Of course, people who have been married to each other for a long time also learn to ignore one another's signals. That's just what I was doing last Tuesday when we were headed to a pasture to load some heifers to take to the sale.  

I was texting a long message to my friend, Kathy, setting up a lunch date for next week.  I glanced over at Farmer John, unconsciously checking to see whether his mild disapproval had escalated into the category of annoyance (his jaw gets more rigid when that happens).  To my surprise, he had a mirthful grin on his face.  At that exact moment there was an alarming nose; a whining sound that immediately convinced me that an airplane just over our heads was losing altitude.  The sound increased in volume so rapidly that I was convinced the plane was about to crash onto our truck.  I hunkered down in the seat in alarm, and a motion caught my eye on the passenger side of the truck.  A train was RIGHT THERE. 

The track runs adjacent to the narrow country road we were traveling, and John had seen the train's approach, as I would have if I'd not been texting.  To John's disappointment, the engineer did not cause the whistle to blow, which would have terrified me further and added to Farmer John's glee.  Lesson learned:  do not text and farm.  

Here are a few more photos of our past week of farming:  
The photo above reveals several things:  1.  Annie is not fond of being photographed,  2.  The weight I'm trying to lose will benefit more than just my cholesterol reading, and 3.  I really, really like my new Justin boots.

 I hope you will not lose all respect for me if I tell you the tooled leather tops are pink.  I can't believe how comfortable they are, somewhat like my continuing amazement at how comfortable I am doing things like moving portable corrals.  Go figure.  

On a more somber note, we have not received a substantial, nourishing rain for over six weeks.  Because we'd intermittently received tiny rainfalls measuring a quarter inch or less, everything but the corn had continued to look, if not good, then not horrible. It was just this past week that our pastures began to look terribly stressed. 

In an article entitled "Pray for Rain," this month's issue of Kansas magazine says that droughts often run in three year cycles.  The author of that article told people to pray that this will not be the case.  So, let's join our voices and ask the Lord for an end to this drought, in Jesus' Name we pray. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dances With Bulls

I would give much to have a photo to go with this entry, and a video would be even better.  But alas, when the events I describe below were unfolding, I was too worried about Farmer John's safety to even think of picking up my camera. 

We had received a call that one of our bulls was in a pasture with the neighbor's cattle.  Farmer John was positive it was not our bull.  Although there is a pasture of twenty of our  heifers right next door to this neighbor's property, John's nearest pasture with a bull in it is three miles away.  However, when we investigated, there was a large black bull grazing contentedly amidst the neighbor's cows and calves, and he had our brand on his right hip.

Sometimes a highly unlikely set of circumstances intersect to form what we call a coincidence, and that  was the case here.  The unlikely event was that this bull had evidently hiked three miles down a country road, taking two turns along the way; and the coincidence is that he chose as his new home a pasture right next to one of ours.

I picture him ambling by our pasture of heifers.  He recognizes them by their brands as a kindred herd, but already having proven himself as the type who likes to stray, steps over the adjacent fence and walks right over to those enticingly unfamiliar cows.  "Helloooo Girls!" 

Farmer John had been meaning to move a bull into the pasture next door anyway.  He didn't spend much time puzzling over the logistics of the bull's arrival in a pasture right next to the one needing a bull, and decided to take advantage of the situation. 

He sprinkled some corn chop on the ground and the bull obligingly ambled right to it with a trail of cows following. Farmer John quickly opened a corner gate between the two pastures, stepped between the bull and his new harem, and it appeared all was going to go beautifully according to John's plan.  The bull was about a foot from the open gate when he changed his mind.  He could clearly see the heifers wearing his brand in the pasture beyond, and evidently did not feel that he had completed the task of sowing wild oats on the other side of the fence.  He turned his 1800 pounds of bulk with amazing quickness and there was Farmer John, armed only with a feed sack, standing in his way. 

The bull feinted to the right, and Farmer John, arms outspread in a wrestler's crouch, feed sack in hand, followed the movement.  The bull moved left and Farmer John smacked him on the nose with the feed sack.  The bull's huge head drew back and his eyes squinted closed, but he did not stop moving his feet.  Thankfully, he is a gentle bull and faced with  this puny human's interference he did not lower his head and charge.  They began a rhythmic side-to-side dance punctuated with John's swats on the bull's  nose with the sack: left, right, smack, left, right, smack....

I closed my eyes tightly and prayed aloud, "Lord protect John, Lord protect John, Lord protect John..."  I should have added "...and let the bull go in" to my plea, because as I opened my eyes to take one more terrified glance at the proceedings, the bull turned, nimbly squeezed between a tree and the fence, and galloped back into the midst of the neighbor's herd. 

Farmer John climbed back into the driver's seat of the pickup and grinned at me.  "Well, THAT didn't go the way I wanted," he said.  He was acting nonchalant about the whole situation, but I noticed that his shirt was glued to his back with perspiration and that he'd thrown his farm cap onto the seat between us, which usually signals some degree of irritation.  I wisely made no comment regarding John's dance with the bull.  However,  after a few minutes had passed I said, "I think I'll name that bull, "Dancer."  John cast a sidelong glance at me but said nothing. 

The next day we returned with a portable corral.  John loaded Dancer into the stock trailer, drove him 50 feet to our pasture next door, and released him.  Dancer took a few eager steps toward the girls that shared his brand but then stopped uncertainly.  It might have been my imagination, but as the heifers formed a group to survey the newcomer, they appeared vexed.  I think Dancer would be wise to proceed with caution. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

In the Eyes of the Beholder

Yesterday afternoon Farmer John and I were riding down the road in his pickup.  We had both passenger windows rolled down, and the dusty cross-ventilation was whipping my Loreal #7A hair into tufts of windblown frizz.  I'd tried my hand at moving cattle panels with some success, but had worked up an unladylike sweat in the process.

He looked over at me, then reached out and patted my hand.  "You know," he said fondly, "you are my trophy wife."

I laughed.  "Trophy wives are young," I said.

"That's what I mean," he replied.  "You look young." 

This proves several things:
  1. Near vision deteriorates with age (he wasn't wearing his bifocals).  
  2. "Nevah, nevah, nevah give up!"  (Quote attributed to Winston Churchill, though I don't believe he was talking about a 57-year-old woman's quest to remain attractive despite crow's feet and a double chin). 
  3. Growing old together might not be as bad as I thought. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back on the Farm

In year 37 of our marriage we are still smiling.  From left:  Farmer John, Annie, Farmer Linda.  
When my husband and I were married in 1974, I thought I would become the quintessential farmer's wife. That first summer of our marriage I hung laundry on the line and relished the scent of hay-sweetened air. I accompanied my husband, John (aka "Farmer John") as he did farm chores each morning. My rosy view of our future saw us as partners in work and in life.

However, it soon became apparent that our little farming operation needed a financial boost. And so I became a school secretary, then a teacher, and finally, a mother. I loved my career and I loved raising my two beautiful children; but I missed the farm. There was no longer time to ride with my husband in his old pickup as he drove into the green stillness of a spring morning to care for our cattle.

When budget cuts took the special reading program I'd run for years, I thought the end of my world had come. I suffered through a tunnel of grieving before I finally accepted the inevitable and retired from teaching this past spring. But a funny thing happened a few weeks after my official retirement; I woke up and realized that I am still living on a farm.

Farmer John welcomed me back to the passenger seat of a slightly newer pickup than the one I'd abandoned 37 years earlier. The air still smells sweet, the cattle still rush to feed on the grain we bring them each morning, and I'm loving riding down a country road with the windows rolled down and the wind blowing through my graying hair.

God is so good. We may forget a heart need or a prayer, but He doesn't forget.

I'm back on the farm.

I snapped this photo one morning last week as we drove through a pasture.  I expected to see a hobbit or a wizard pop out from behind a tree in this secret, rocky space.  It felt as though no human should enter. 

John's been feeding the cattle corn chop to give them a pleasant association with him so they will cooperate when he wants to load them.  It must taste like candy to them.  They rush to it, and then toss their heads and lick their chops as they gobble it down. 

I always think John looks like he's pontificating to a congregation when he counts cattle. 

 There were just two of us in the pickup today, three drinks.  Farming is thirsty work. 

Annie loves being a farm dog.  You should see her sad face when we have to leave her at home. 

I helped to lift each one of these panels and put them into place.  Very proud of myself. 

John filled sacks with corn chop this morning. I slid that panel out for him and pushed it back on his command.  I pulled a bit hard the first time and caused him to say, calmly, "You don't want to pull that all the way out--all the corn chop would pour out on the ground."  Glad I didn't do that.  He's been very patient with me--so far. 

We are having FUN. 

This is our brand.  It is an open A over a backward J.  We have a neighbor who calls it an umbrella, which just doesn't sound nearly as cool. 

I have angst about my footwear.  I feel I should wear boots, like a real farmer.  
Postscript:  This entry is the first post of my "new" blog, Back on the Farm.  The blog was formerly titled Swansong, and chronicled the final days of my teaching career.   That blog was about grief over a chapter of my life that was coming to a close, but this blog is about a new song the Lord has given me to sing.  I am very grateful to Him.  This quote from Jan Karon's Light From Heaven describes how I feel about this new time in my life:   
“I’m reminded of something George Herbert wrote, that lovely man.  ‘And now in age I bud again…’ I sense that God has set you on a wonderful new course, that you’re entering a kind of golden passage”  (Light From Heaven, by Jan Karon; from her Mitford series--read 'em all if you haven't yet!).