Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thunder face

This is Mags' "thunder face." We've been getting a lot of thunder storms and she is very afraid of thunder. She gets under my desk and asks to get in my lap. Of course, I can't resist such a polite request.

Her hearing is amazing and I think she hears them coming long before I can. I have almost no hearing at the high end, but still have very good low-end pickup. I can hear a vehicle coming a very long way off, but I think she can hear thunder storms before they even get into the county!

Or maybe she just likes lap and knows I am a sucker for thunder face.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

She makes me laugh

Miss Mags is a nearly constant delight. Her zest for life is a tonic. As I've said before on these pages, not a day goes by that she doesn't make me laugh out loud. "Ball" is a big thing for her. The guy in the WalMart sporting goods department must think I'm a tennis pro by now, I buy so many tubes of balls. But they're all for Miss Mags. (Emma doesn't play with balls. Has no interest in them at all.)

Mags can tire me out throwing them for her, so I have started taking a hurley out with me when we go for a play-time. A hurley is the stick used in hurling, the Irish "national sport." (Look it up on Youtube— it's probably the best field sport ever.) Now she associates the hurley with ball-playing and will go over to it where I keep it and give it a nose-bump and then look at me expectantly. I can never resist. Out we go!

Sky poems

If you're a sky lover, as I am, the High Plains is a great country to live in. The expanse and the infinite variety are a constant delight. This sunset shot was taken last night. There is no particular time of year for glorious sunsets. They come as they please, anytime.

The big hoppers

They're back. For weeks now you can't walk through a patch of grass or weeds without raising a cloud of tiny grasshoppers. And they grow. I've read accounts of clouds of them appearing on the horizon and all but blotting out the sun. Then, when they pass, like a living tsunami, nothing is left in their wake. They have been the destructive agent of many prairie farms in the past.

This is a big fellow. He measured 3" from feelers to vent.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Prairie hawk

on the sun-kindled wind
glidering at elegant ease.

Steering with rudder of tail
he rises and falls
on wings of hunger
and surfeit.

High Plains Lushness

The hills are high in grass. As high as I have ever seen it. As good as the grass is, it breeds a constant fear of fire. We haven't had an appreciable rain for about two weeks now, after week after week of uncommon precipitation. The hills are drying at a great rate and with our accustomed every-evening thunderstorms we are just biding our time until we have a fire. Range fires are no joke, and with the grass waist high and higher, it is a very real threat. The winds that accompany the thunder storms can drive a fire across the plains at forty miles an hour. Not a pleasant thought in this otherwise idyllic summer.


South of the river the land changes abruptly and dramatically. It flattens out and becomes... cropland. There are patches that remain untilled, and are mostly untillable, but there is a good bit of cropland down there. Wheat, oats, barley, corn, some beans but not much. The grains are harvested now and the fields have that "two-day beard" look of tawny stubble. One day I go down to town and the fields are rich and waving with golden grain; a day or so later and they are clipped short, waiting for the tractors to turn them for the next crop.


Big commotion out behind my target backstop the other day. I looked out the front door in time to see the thrashing and flailing of a turkey wing in the high weeds. At first I thought that maybe a coyote had gotten among the hen and her poults and grabbed a rifle to go out and see. (I know: it's "nature's way" and there's no point in inserting oneself. But I'm a part of nature, too— and I'm on the turkey's side.)

But before I got off the porch I saw that it was just a squabble between two hens. I put the rifle away and sneaked down with a camera to see if I could get a few frames. They sensed me and melted away into the very high weeds (five to six feet high in places). I snugged myself into a spot against a cottonwood and waited.

Occasionally a poult would raise up his ugly little periscopy head, take a peek around, and then down-scope into the weeds. The other hen seemed to have disappeared, but mom was in and out of the weeds a number of times. She seemed aware of my presence, but never got alarmed about it. I got a number of fairly decent pictures, but mainly I was just happy to see that all was well. Even managed to sneak back up to the house without disturbing her.

And yesterday morning, right at dawn, the whole brood was out in front of the porch prancing around and looking for a nice breakfast of tasty bugs. I was very pleased to see that all six poults are still with her.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Constant visitor

I guess I shouldn't call him a "visitor" since he seems to have settled in. The mulies are still off on the prairie nursing their new fawns. They'll show up here in a week or so, as they usually do, bringing the little spotted ones with them of course. Meanwhile, this young whitetail buck has been enjoying the run of the place. This morning I went out to make a couple of pictures of him in the high grass just on the other side of the driveway. He watched me for a while and then took off for the high stuff. But before I was even back in the house he was back and walking across the front of my shooting range like he owned the place. Drove Emma nuts.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Watch where you step

I'm overrun with tiny toads! Woodhouse's toad (bufo woodhousii woodhousii) has apparently... spawned, whelped, littered, toaded, or whatever the term is. I saw the first one in the garden a day or two ago. It was about 1/3" long and could have been completely covered with a dime. It was hopping around my tomato plants. Today I found this one by the porch. It's about 3/4" in length. The cartridge is a .45ACP of course.

I really like having the toads around, as they are a good indicator of a healthy environment. They are also excellent insect-gobblers. But they are hopping around in sufficient numbers that I do have to watch where I step.

Mr. Antelope

Had to go to town yesterday to visit the dentist and saw this citizen on the way back. I was able to roll down the off-driver window while still moving, get the shot set up, and then punch the brakes. He was off in a flash. They generally will hold their ground if you keep moving, but if you stop they are gone. If I had to get out there would have been no picture.

He's a pretty nice one, but there is a much larger fellow in the neighborhood that has so far eluded me.

Clouds at sunset

Lovely clouds last night, right at sunset. The sky on the High Plains is an ever-changing panorama. I never get tired of it.

Parade! Parade!

I was working at my desk in the office when I happened to look out the window and saw this turkey hen and her poults marching up my driveway. I've seen them around for several days now but have been unable to get a decent picture of them. There are actually six poults but one was lagging too far behind to get in this frame.

The poults were running around grabbing grasshoppers, to which they are more than welcome.

Silly pelicans!

They are still hanging around over on the "shortcut" ponds. They look downright ridiculous when they are earthbound but they sure can fly gracefully.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The hills are lush

Lately I'm doing too much traveling. Can't be helped, but I've been "off ranch" three times in the last three days. But I insist on making lemonade: there are always things to see and things to photograph.

Coming back from "mail town" after a meeting the other night I was impressed by the abundance of grass on our plains this time of year. Last year the continuation of the drought had us burned down almost to the dirt. But this year the rains have given us waist high grass and plenty of it.

Ranchers are just "grass farmers" that use cows as combines. Could be a good year.

My "mail" town

My mail comes out of here, three times a week. So my postal address is in a town 40 miles away.

Population under 200. No grocery store. Coupla bars. A hardware store. Hey, we got a little library!

Like so many small towns on the High Plains it's struggling to hold itself together in the face of forces it didn't make and doesn't completely understand. But who does? The country is changing at a mighty rate and some of us are just barely hanging on.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Full-time job looming ominously

Western Ireland Farmhouse

I joke about getting a job so I can get some rest, but that only applies if you work for somebody else!

I've been a photographer/designer involved in the communications "industry" for many years. Last year I bought a wonderful giclĂ©e printer capable of producing archival prints (80-200 year permanence) for my limited edition prints. Recently I've started using the printer to produce archival note cards in various sizes. Mostly a lark—I love the design process— it is starting to get out of hand. The other day, just before our mini-vacation, I spent all day feeding the machine with high-quality heavy-weight paper to keep up with recent orders.

Now I'm starting to rethink the whole bright idea. I really don't want a full-time job—or anything that comes close. I've had a few of those in my time. I really enjoy the design and the problem-solving, and the pleasures of the finished product as well. I'm just getting really thoughtful about how far I want this to go.

(The picture above is from the Irish series of note-cards and prints.)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Busy Day

The first day back from a trip is always taken up by playing catch-up, especially in the growing season.

My grass didn't really need cutting when I left, but by the time I got back it did. I also had some sink holes in the rear dog pen that badly needed filling. So I spent my day driving the Rhino out onto the prairie to an old dump area about a mile away that has good, clean "beach" sand and brought back two big loads to dump into the holes. (The dump-bed on the Rhino is a great help!)

Then the grass, of which I have about one and a half acres to mow. Then the dog pen areas, front and back, and weed-whacking the borders, and... Well, it seemed to go on and on and I still didn't get to weed the garden. Tomorrow for that I guess. But the place looks great and now, except for the garden, it's time for another rest. Oh, what a tension filled life I lead.

All this rain we have been having (more than our annual average rainfall in less than a month) has the prairie waist high and lush. Wildflowers are abloom everywhere and you could hide an elephant in the wild dock thickets. The deer have been lying low, fawning. But I did see a mom and a young'un today while hauling sand. A less pleasant result of all the moisture has been the 'skeeters. We are fortunate in that we usually have enough breeze to keep them off you. But if you are in the shade when the wind dies down to nothing you are gonna get et, for sure.

But this is such a glorious time of year, 'skeeters and all.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Back from our mini-vacation

We're back on-ranch from our July 4th excursion.

We had a great time, the dawgz and I. They are liked and appreciated at my friends' place and there were two new puppies there for them to play with. They had a great time.

Mostly we all just lazed around and "hung out" (I think the phrase is), but we did a little prairie dog shooting. I had been super-lazy and despite having all manner of varmint hardware just brought a scoped Ruger 77/22. Great fun was had plinking away at way-out-of-range prairie-poodles, but I did manage two confirmed, clean kills at 160-yards or more with the little rimfire. But the outing itself was much more important than the kills, despite their nuisance nega-value to my friends' ranch, which has a-plenty of the little vermin.

Sunday we had a good BBQ feed at the local rural fire department, with all neighbors gathering to feed their faces and swap lies. Gracious, but the food was good, and way too plentiful.

So we're back now. With grass that needs mowing and a garden that needs weeding and limbs that need clearing from storms. All will be done in good time.

Right now the three of us are doing a bit of post-trip loafing. And not feeling the least guilty about it.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Taking a break

The dawgz and I are going out of state to a friend-family's ranch for the 4th. I'll be taking a few days off from fiddling with this blog-thingy.

Happy 4th, everybody. Let's all try to think about what we're supposed to be celebrating. Have a great one!

Variety is the spice...

The lakes, ponds, and wetlands are rich habitats and a treat for the eye, but a mile or so up the road there's this. It's hard to get bored driving around this country, even at 10MPH. There's always something different just ahead and it's almost always worth savoring.

Even this barren-looking country has its appeal.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Vibrating with life

These prairie ponds and wetlands are alive with life of every description. This one came right up to the road, which was elevated somewhat levee-style. There were little puddle-ducks paddling around everywhere and having a great time. When I stopped to make a picture, instead of flying off, they just paddled off into the vegetation. I couldn't see them, but I could see the plants trembling and moving from their passage all over the place.

I've never experienced any environment so rich with varied life as the prairie.

Puddle ducks

Here's a couple of unidentified flying objects, A/K/A "puddle ducks", in a pond a mile or so from 'Pelican Lake.' This is a shallow pond, as almost all here are, and this pair was having a ball diving down to the bottom for a bite of lunch. Next time I come by this way I will bring my binoculars.

Pelecanus erythroryhnchos

Many of the ponds and lakelets serve as breeding grounds for the American White Pelican. They're with us for quite a while in the summer time. These are big fellows with an eight-foot wingspan. They look clumsy and ungainly but they are wonderful flyers and can soar on our high plains winds like expensive Swiss sailplanes.

This bunch was on one of the larger ponds.

Prairie ponds

One of the highlights of my trip yesterday were the many prairie ponds I passed along the way. While some are heavily alkaline and therefore useless for much of anything, others are beautiful wetland habitats, oases of abundant life. Some are quite small, maybe an acre or two. Other are perhaps one or two hundred acres in size. This one is on one of the ranches where I hunt deer.

The short cut

Yesterday I had business in a town I don't get to very often. There's a way to get there that's mostly hard road, but then there's the "short cut" that runs for almost forty miles across one of the larger ranches in the area (over 100,000 acres) to finally meet up with a good hard road that runs the fifty miles on into town. I chose the cross-country route yesterday, since I hadn't been that way before. I'll definitely go that way again as there's a lot to see, even though the road isn't too good. The picture above shows one of the better sections. I'll post later about some of what I saw.

Another neighbor gone

If I told him once I told him a dozen times: "Nathan, you gotta stop messing around with those silly centrifuges and that cheap, mail-order uranium!"

But would he listen? No!