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, 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!).