...Bob-wire, yucca, and blue skies. But we sure got plenty of those! If they were exportable, high-demand items we'd all be rich out here. But who wants to be rich anyway? If you're rich you have to watch your broker like a hawk (Buteo madoffii), keep an eye on your employees, and be sure your bank is on their toes and not yours. No time for prairie rambles! (Of course, you could hire somebody to take those rambles for you. But what's the fun in that?)
And what a grouch! Crotalus viridis viridis. The Prairie Rattlesnake.
This picture is a few years old. I was out with a friend on her ranch and we came upon this character. She hates snakes. I mean hates as in ethnic cleansing. Nobody had a shootin' arn so she ups and avails herself of modern technology! Calls the house on her cellphone and asks daughter #1 to bring her a shovel. Soon the pickup arrives and Mr. Slinky has an unfortunate confrontation with a piece of primitive hardware.
Live and let live is just fine, 'til you have to deal with a nose-bit cow or a dog swelling up like a dirigible. It'll definitely make a believer out of you where shovels are concerned.
Antelope are funny critters. You can pretty much predict the reactions of whitetails and mulies. But an antelope is capable of surprising you. Sometimes you'll come upon them and they'll stand at fairly close range and just stare at you, as if they couldn't care less what you are or what you plan to do. Other times they won't let you get within half a mile.
I saw several today and they were all skittish, like this little lady who clearly didn't want her portrait made.
This is the first prickly pear blossom I have seen this year. Not completely open, either. I will keep looking for better examples. But this one's kinda nice anyway. I was glad to find it. It was on a high, fairly open, south-facing hillside. Just where you'd expect it to be.
Buteo swainsoni. This one followed me for quite a way this morning along the road. I was cutting off into the roadside brush every now and then and I think he thought I could be a good critter-flusher for him. (That's why you see so many raptors staying close to the medians on the Interstates.) I would stop to photograph something and he would light on a fence post and wait for me to move on. Pretty self-assured dude.
I've seen Swainson's beat up on Redtails, a much bigger bird. They are swift flyers, very agile, and quite pretty with beautiful coloration. We have a lot of them.
An ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata). This time of year they are everywhere. I go out of my way to miss them on the road. I hate senseless road-kill and will do almost anything to keep from killing something that way.
These are innocuous fellows (although I think this one is a female) and they are surprisingly speedy. If you get close to one they will duck into their shell, but just for a moment. If they figure it's safe they will come out and high-tail it for cover. They can really make tracks when they want to.
I took a nice long ramble in the Rhino today and met up with these residents.
It's late in the calving season, so there are a lot of l'il ones roaming around with Mom and Dad these days. They have only 85,000 acres to play on, poor things, but wherever there's a road that seems to be where they wanna be.
This time of year you want to give 'em a wide birth when you're in a light vehicle— which the bulls can outweigh by a factor of two. There have been cases of ATV riders pushing their luck and having their machines flipped by a crotchedy bull. The cows aren't to be messed with either. I just give them plenty of room and big dollop of respect and never have any trouble with them. I've herded them with the Rhino and the trick is to always leave yourself an escape route where you can put the pedal to the metal if need arises.
The other night we had a sudden "creamy sky" effect that I wanted to get a picture of, but needed to walk out about 200 yards to get the shot I thought I wanted. Now, I live in the middle of the high plains, surrounded by miles and miles of cow country, but within a ranchstead fenced area of about ten acres. It's fenced in four-strand bobwire and of course the dogs could come and go with such a fence pretty much at will. But they don't. I've taught them that they stay inside the fence and don't go out of it. (Works most of the time!)
As I walked over the auto-gate I told them to "Wait!" which is a command they are both familiar with. They weren't too happy with that. I was gone about ten minutes and when I came back there they were! Wonder of wonders. They watched me the whole time (I was never out of sight) and maintained good order the whole time. I was proud of 'em. Especially since if I had given a hand-signal or yelled "Come!" Emma would have been over the auto-gate in a flash.
It takes a long time for dogs and men to get used to each other and to learn what each wants and expects. But once that happens— well, it's pretty nice.
This is the last active schoolhouse in this area. It closed about six years ago. For the last couple of years there were two students. Most of the time they came to school on horseback.
There are no more schools like this. Now kids (if there are any kids) drive or are driven into the nearest consolidated school. In the winter they usually board in town. Depending on circumstance, they might stay in town for the whole school year, coming home only on holidays.
Just another example of this region as a "dying culture." There just aren't enough families to make for a real community any more. The local community center, plumb-dab in the middle of the prairie and miles from anything, is pretty much boarded up and there hasn't been a dance, or a wedding, or a fist-fight there for years.
The future is clear: ranchers will get older with the kids already off to the big city. They'll finally sell out to the big boys, and the population will decrease some more. It's inevitable. It's already happening and has been for a while now.
On my ramble today, just off the "mail road" I came across a pair of curlews and while I was making a few photographs I noticed a chick in the grass. He/she was about 6" high and its bill was only about 2" long. I never got closer than about 50'. So they've already hatched, some time ago, or at least this little guy had. And strangely, these parents were not very aggressive toward me. I wonder if they calm down once the babies are hatched.
Follow that right-hand fork, below, and in about five miles (and three more "intersections") you will get to my place. This is the mail route and, except for me and the neighbor, the mail-carrier is the only one that uses it. It's a better 4WD road than it looks and there is only one really bad sand wash on it.
I get mail three times a week, weather permitting, and the carrier is really good. The longest I've ever gone without mail in the winter is ten days. In the winter he takes the long way around as the county no longer plows these little-used roads.
I love days like this: bright sun, balmy, calm winds, and clouds piled high and fleecy. The Indians used to say "Only Earth and Sky last forever." That just may be enough. Readers of my offerings here may have noticed that I am drawn to the way earth and sky meet and "make medicine" together. Today was a good day for that.
I took a ramble today to look for pictures and to visit a couple of my nearest neighbors I hadn't seen for a while. It's about a twenty-mile loop to hit both places and there's lots to see. The picture above is of the intersection of two county roads. I'm coming from one ranch; the road to the right leads eventually to my place; the one on the left, which I have taken, leads to the second ranch and then back home.
No, no stop signs. There are only three towns in the county all very far south of me and with a combined population of about a thousand. They have stop signs down there of course, but there's not a stop light in the whole county.
Out hunting blossoming prairie plants today I blundered onto another curlew territorial enclave. They gave me the usual welcome and I banged off a few frames and then retreated out of respect for their fearless defense of their home range. I'd rather have them as friends than enemies!
Pincushion cactus (Coryphatna vivipara), also called "ball cactus." These little guys can be hard to spot when they are not in bloom as they are low along the ground and only about the size of a man's fist when small. Their blossoms are almost neon in their brilliance.
Last night, a little before dusk, we had one of those showers in bright sunlight and were rewarded with a beautiful, full-arc rainbow. I had the long lens on the camera and this is the best I could do. Even if I had had a wider lens attached I would have been unable to get the full arc.
I've mentioned before that when I was a kid I was always told the pot-o'-gold story about rainbows. But rainbows in my childhood only touched the ground on one side of the arc. What kind of challenge would that be? Then, for the first time (in Ireland as it happened) I saw a rainbow that touched down on both sides and the myth made sense. You have to guess which end has the gold!
Out here they always seem to be full arc. Fifty-percent. Not bad odds, but not all that good either.
Tonight after dinner I took the dogs out and found myself being stared at by a young whitetail buck, in velvet of course. This is the first whitetail I have seen for a while. Most of my resident deer are mulies and I have no idea where this citizen came from. He stayed for a while, but then got nervous when Emma started casting through the grass he was standing in. Nevertheless, he was amazingly placid, letting us get within about twenty-five yards of him before he bolted for the big wetland meadow.
I like going off-ranch for a day every four to six weeks. But I like going home even better. The "metropolis" I go to shop is a joke compared to, say, New Jersey or... well, just about anywhere with a real Urban Complex. (Like I wanna be there.)
Nevertheless, I feel a definite sense of release and gratitude once I am finally on the homeward leg of my all-day supply-run. From the tiny county seat, where I turn north, I have about seventeen miles of dirt before I cross the river and hit the one-lane (two-track) oiled road for another fifteen or so miles until I turn off on the one-lane dirt into my place, another two miles. But it's like pulling into "home port" for me. The dogs (in their safe and comfy shop+fenced area— (hey! they have their own couch in there!) give me a great greeting as if I have been away for years! I'm sure the fact that I have brought them goodies from town has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of their welcome. That they check out each and every bag is only a bizarre coincidence.
Like I said, I like going out occasionally, but coming back is even better.
Soapweed. (Yucca glauca) Sometimes called just "yucca." The Plains Indians made a kind of soap out of the roots. Cows find parts of it tasty, but most ranchers kill it when it gets too numerous. When it blooms, it is a pretty plant. Some are in full bloom south of here, but right around my place they are still working on it.
I hadda make my six-week supply run today, a little early but I was running out of some essentials.
When I got back and was unloading the truck Em pleaded to go out so I let her out on the front porch. But when I looked out the window I saw a turkey on the driveway, about thirty yards from the porch, just meandering along. I told Emma to stay on the porch and went to get a camera.
By the time I got outside the turkey was gone, but I was sure it had gone into the high grass next to the driveway. I let Emma stay out with me and we started to move quietly through the grass. Em caught the scent and began to cast back and forth ahead of me. I saw the turkey raise its head to look at me and I therefore knew where it was. When Emma flushed it I was ready and as it crossed ahead of me I managed to get off about four shots.
I felt bad about pestering her, but at the same time I don't want her to get too comfortable or feel too safe here. I would rather that she not nest here in the compound where Emma might stumble upon her brood. I don't want to run her off, but a little 'stress-testing' is not entirely out of order.
Emma came back to me with her eyes bugged out. "Dad! I just flushed the biggest frickin' pheasant in the known universe!"
I see them as the surest-of-all-signs of spring. They've actually been back for almost a month now, but this is the first time I have had a chance to go among them.
The Long-Billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) is migratory, spending his winters as far south as Central America. Ours are just starting to stake out their nesting grounds. Once they actually start nesting they will dive bomb an interloper like Stukas, actually knocking your hat off if you're not paying attention.
They're big birds: wingspan a little over two feet, and that bill can be 10" long. Their cry when alarmed (or angry) is a shrill, loud cur-WEE cur-WEE cur-WEE (usually in bursts of three). They spend most of their time on the ground and for the most part fly only when alarmed.
Really nice birds. It's so good to have them back.
Enough politics. Talking about people of such generally low moral worth only encourages them. So on to the important things...
This is the time of year when I get the urge to explore the prairie. The best way to do that is with my trusty Rhino which will, literally, take me anywhere I want to go no matter how rough the terrain.
When I want to "work" (that is, make photographs in a more or less serious manner) I leave the dogs at home. This is an extremely unpopular decision on my part and they don't hesitate to let me know about it. If this were a democracy I would no doubt be impeached. It's not. It's a monarchy. So I get to decide. If they came along I would have to use about 40% of my attention to take care of them. Leaving them behind is unfortunate, but necessary. Besides, they tend to run right across what I am photographing as soon as I get it focused.
Rarely do I write about politics on this blog. I see it as a kind of refuge, I guess: a place where I can post pics and some text about things that matter to me in my isolated, somewhat atypical life and might be of interest to a few folks who can at least sympathize with that kind of lifestyle. But politics will not be denied. They poke and prod and first thing you know, there they are between the cereal bowl and the coffee cup and staring up at you with a yellow-toothed grin.
I wrote on another blog that I sometimes visit that I felt we were a republic in "End-Game." I would love to be proved wrong, and hope that I am. But there is so much Bad Stuff in the air right now that I do not think I will have to eat those words, much as I would like to.
We have a president who really doesn't like America very much as far as I can tell, and who achieved the highest office in the land without any discernable accomplishments to his credit. Oh, I take that back: he has two 'inspiring' autobiographies, a gift of gab, and a talent for surrounding himself with people who can raise lots and lots of money, mostly on the internet. He also has a fetish for Europe and for apologizing at the drop of a hat for— well, whatever America has done in the past, he's sorry about it. He also nominates for the Supreme Court an amazingly under-qualified candidate who wants to judge issues on "feelings." (Cue the violins.)
We have a population that is probably the most ignorant we have ever had about those things that an electorate should be fluent in.
We are inundated with illegal immigrants who will probably receive from our president all the benefits that a Santa-list could hold. Some of the newest of those immigrants may have recently resided in Gitmo.
Our economy is in tatters; we are in hock to the Chinese up to our eyes; our industrial base is almost completely defunct; the government now owns our automobile industry, and the Received Wisdom is that the military sucks. In addition, the media follows the party line and lies to us daily about what is going on and how well everything is going.
No, I don't think I will have to recant my pessimism, unfortunately. But if we recover, if we become "America again," no one would be happier to say "I was wrong! Kick me! Kick me hard!" Pray God that it be so.
I guess some could respond "No! Wait! Things are changing. America will be better, new, fresh— changed! Remember: hope and change!"
Well, I wouldn't be surprised. All I can say is I don't want to live in a country that is "changed" in the way some of these folks envision.
Sic transit gloria? I hope not. But I have fears. Lots of them.
It's been cool the last few weeks, nights dipping into the 40s. That has retarded the blooming of many prairie plants, the prickly pear among them. If we get some warm weather now, on top of all this moisture, I predict an explosion of color on the prairie.
This is a wet spring. The wettest in memory for most folks around here. This week we have had rain and thunderstorms every day. Last night we got a gentle soaking rain and this morning all vegetation was beautifully 'basted' with droplets. If you're a photographer you know all about the old trick of carrying a squirt bottle of water to be-dew your subjects. Not necessary this morning for sure!
We're really at the mercy of the weather out here. In the winter you can be isolated by snow. But you can also be prevented from going anywhere by rain. The roads, normally baked hard except where they are just sand, become deep mires of sticky muck that can sometimes defeat 4WD. Sand becomes more solid and easier to drive on as it gets wet.
The hay crops will be excellent if the rain holds off long enough to allow for cutting and drying, but the weather boffins say we're in for at least another week of this. I'm kind of a desert person and I'm starting to long for a little of that much vaunted aridity!
Mags (A/K/A 'Piglet') is sure that her job is to keep me exercised and amused, preferably at the same time. It works.
Her favorite toys are her ring (above) and a tennis ball. Any tennis ball. She goes through a couple of tubes of Wilson Titaniums every summer.
But the ring is her special toy. If thrown correctly it will roll upright for long distances and she chases it down, her ears tucked along her neck, and snags it on the run. Then we have to do that again. And again.
She shows her exuberance by jumping, and she is a great jumper. She can jump in place almost shoulder high, and when she returns with the ring she will do a few jumps hoping that I will catch the ring and then swing her around using it as a handle. Although called a 'terrier' she is really more a little bulldog and she has a terrific set of jaws on her. But I'm very careful about that catch-and-swing business because I don't want to injure her and wouldn't let anyone else do that with her. But she does love to be swung around like that.
Mags is my first Boston Terrorist. As a breed they definitely get my vote.
This is my place under a glorious sky. Everything seemed special today: the wonderfully clean air, the brilliant sun, the ever-changing array of clouds, and there seemed to be a kind of energy in the air, too. We spent much of it out on the prairie checking out the new wildflowers, watching the birds, letting Em work some fields, and just generally reveling in the wonder of it all.
Then just wait a few hours until you get something you do like.
Yesterday at this time we were covered with roiling clouds and waiting for a tornado to drop in for dinner. Today has been wonderful: lovely sun, balmy breezes, fleecy clouds. The dogs and I took a long ride in the UTV with Emma working some lush fields along the way. She is a passionate hunter, and a good-looking field is more than she can stand if she can't get out in it and cast for birds— or anything else of interest. Some curlews and a few meadowlarks were about all she found today but she was happy anyway.
We are in bright sun and in the background, to the right, is a rainstorm over the hill. Never touched us.
Ironically, as I am writing this a weather alert just chimed. Severe thunderstorm warning for tonight and another tornado two counties over. What did I just say about waiting for a change in the weather?
Sharptail grouse. I don't know what it is about my front grassy area but all the birds seem to like it. In addition to the usual more common species that are always around in large numbers, within the last week I have had pheasant, killdeer, turkeys, and now grouse as visitors. I can only imagine what it would be like if I started feeding them.
I labeled this image as "hen," but on closer inspection I think it is a young male. It's not a very good picture. It is a very small segment of the original picture, which was taken with a 400mm lens from my front porch. Just couldn't get any closer without spooking him.
We were under a tornado watch all during the late afternoon. Then about an hour before dusk we shifted to a tornado warning. One was "sighted" near a lake just a few miles away from me and said to be heading our way. (I assume it was a radar sighting, since there isn't anybody over there to actually see it.)
The sky got wild, hail the size of Minié balls began to fall, and we got a dose of torrential rain with a terrific thunderstorm on the side. The sky was a kaleidoscope of slithering and contorted clouds for about an hour, the kinds of clouds I do not like to see. After dark things calmed down a bit and they turned the watch into a warning again. I lost satellite contact for a while during the height of the storm and was unable to keep up with the radar images. This contact can be very comforting, but sometimes not. It's a bit nerve-racking to see the tornado rectangle centered directly over your location.
Mags, the Boston, is afraid of thunder and she stayed glued to my heels the whole time. Even asked me to pick her up for a while. It was kind of unnerving, too, when Emma began to howl. I suspected she might have sensed something. Perhaps she did, but I never saw the thing and we never did go to the shelter. It couldn't have passed very far away, but pass it apparently did. I might have been able to see it had I driven the UTV up on the mountain behind us, but there was no way I was going up there with all the lightning we were getting.
Otherwise known as Woodhouse's toad (bufo woodhousii woodhousii), sometimes confused with the Great Plains toad.
I like having the toads around. Frogs and toads are signs of a healthy environment. If they disappear, as they are in parts of the world, we'll all be in trouble.
Emma likes toads, too. Unfortunately her interest is not entirely benevolent. But I'll give her credit: she has learned (pretty well at least) that I won't tolerate her mugging the toads. It's a help in this endeavor that they exude an unpleasant substance when bothered and it makes her salivate by the gallon. No doubt tastes bad as well. I certainly hope so.
This chap is living under the front porch among my kindling buckets and the wood pile I keep under there.
You don't want to get caught in my truck if you wanna get someplace in a hurry! Write that down because I won't be repeating it.
Had to go to the county seat on business today. Took me a lot longer than it should have because I was stopping so often to either look at or photograph something that caught my eye. Flowers, cactus, skies, green grass, swollen creeks, critters— whatever.
I saw the pretty orange things from the truck as I drove by and stopped and walked back with the camera. I looked to my left and saw what I had missed before I stopped: a pretty little antelope doe (I think it was a doe anyway) who couldn't figger out exactly what I was and whether she should stay or go. She finally decided to go, but a little late if I had meant her any harm.
Don't go riding these hills with me unless you got plenty of time.
Outlanders are always surprised at how much surface water we have, despite the statistical facts of our definite aridity. After all, I live in the heart of the "Great American Desert" as it was known to the over-excitable 19th century pilgrims who couldn't wait to be somewhere else.
We have little lakes everywhere. Thousands of them. Unfortunately many of them are alkali ponds and no good for anything but avoidance. But we also have plenty of sweet water ponds and lakes, scattered all over the place. In early spring and late fall they are covered with migratory waterfowl.
This one is on one of the ranches where I hunt deer.
I worked in the garden all day yesterday, finishing up my planting and getting it done just in time, too. Late in the afternoon a fast-moving thunderstorm closed in on us and put on quite a show.
My front porch is covered and a great place to sit and enjoy the frequent sky-shows. I'm particularly fond of the little localized showers that I call "rainwalkers" and the way they move across the plains on their spindly water-legs.
The sky out here will really spoil you, as there is almost always something interesting going on and there's so much of it. (May it not, however, be "interesting" in the Chinese sense!)