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!

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.