Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Ould Sod Beckons

Tomorrow will be my last day on the High Plains for a couple of weeks. I'll be heading to County Kerry for an early fall sojourn.

For almost two decades now I have been taking small groups to Ireland for a 'cultural immersion' experience in the Irish-speaking regions (gaeltachts) of the west coast country, and the offshore islands. I've taken a break for a couple of years while I got myself settled out here and now I'm ready to resume my annual trips. I'm looking forward to seeing my friends there, and being in the country again, but I will also very much miss my 'little house on the prairie' and everything around it. The hardest part will be dropping my dawgz off to the neighbor who is going to keep them for me.

If time allows I'll try to post a couple of times from there.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Keep your mouth closed!

Never saw so many grasshoppers. They range from a little over an inch to over three inches. Just walking along raises clouds of them ahead of you. Mouth-breathers should avoid ATV rides right now!

I guess this means they'll be a whole lot scarcer next year.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

"All politics is local"

We've all heard that. I believe it's credited to the late Tip O'Neill.

Out here on the Great Plains all weather is local. In the picture above I am standing under a dark and forbidding storm cloud while the country a mile to the south is enjoying a lovely dusk display of color and sunlight. I've stood out on the prairie and had a fast moving rain storm move past, just a few scant yards away, and been untouched by the rain. Only the smell of hot earth being rained on to bolster the evidence of my eyes. A neighbor will tell me that the night before, while I was enjoying piece and calm and a balmy night, he was being pounded half to death by 2" hailstones followed by rain enough to almost flood his place. Sometimes it makes you feel 'specially exempted,' and sometimes you feel like you're being picked on!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

After the storm

We've really been getting hammered lately by horrific thunderstorms that hit just before dusk. They usually come up very fast, with wildly roiling clouds close the ground, and high winds. Some rain, too, and occasionally hail. Lots of sound and fury. They make one feel very small and insignificant.

Last night we got dessert after the main course. The setting sun poked through just long and strong enough to give us that brilliant last-light effect, along with a high, arching rainbow that seemed to be balancing on the hill just south of me. A nice reward.

One of my mice is missing

Well, not exactly missing. I knew exactly where he was. He was on top of one of the fenceposts for my garden, visiting with a... friend. I think they were playing a little game called "It's lunchtime!" and the mouse drew the menu card.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Prairie groves

In the early days of the Great Plains these groves of trees were very rare and were treasured camping spots of the Indians. Some of them were used as traditional meeting spots between bands and friendly tribes and usually carried a name that translated pretty close to "council grove" or something similar.

Sadly, this one is probably just the remnants of a long-abandoned homestead and not likely to be a real Indian meeting ground or even very old. But it reminded me of those days and in that lovely all-enveloping light I could almost imagine what it would be like to come upon it in the old days and see the reflections of the sun off the buffalo-hide tipis, see the smoke rising from the fires, and hear the chatter and laughter of children playing in the surrounding grassland.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

One heckuva blow!

Last night just before dusk the weather service posted a severe thunderstorm warning (I get them on the computer). It was mostly out of my area and to the northeast so I didn't pay much mind as such warnings are a daily occurrence.

But then I looked out the office window and saw a huge, angry cloud rushing west to east. I went out with a camera. The picture shows a static mass, but it was far from that. It was moving very fast, swirling and roiling as it went. Then I heard a roaring of the wind and a low cloud came at me out of the southwest, more or less tangential to the big boy. It was dark and turbulent right down to the ground, roaring like a freight train, and shredding branches off the cottonwoods and scattering them around. I fled to the house, prepared to get the dogs and head for the shelter. But it passed as quickly as it came.

The lower pic was taken at the same time off to the east. Looks like a funnel cloud was trying to form but it never turned into anything.

Never a dull moment.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Corn, the American miracle

Corn, the quintessential American plant, fascinates me. I love the folds and contours of its leaves, the way it moves in the wind, and the lovely, perfect drapery of the silks and leaves together. Eating it isn't bad either, but the most amazing miracle of all: all of this beauty and sustenance comes from a tiny seed put into the ground. And in the fullness of time...

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Great American Jungle

The Great American Desert has become the Great American Jungle, thanks to all the rain we've had. The prairie is a-bloom everywhere. Many of the places where the dogs and I used to walk are now all but impassable. I have managed to cut a narrow tunnel to my mailbox through 10-foot-high sunflowers and horse-weed for the mailman. Weed growth in my garden is just as spectacular, unfortunately. This has been a summer to remember.

(The picture was taken on a neighbor's place, during my ramble yesterday.)

Young bull

This could be the fellow that did the wallow. I met him about half a mile further along the mail road. He was lying near the road and when he heard me coming he got up and moved up the hill. I stopped and whistled and he turned around to see what was going on. He wasn't interested in having company.

The young bulls start to get solitary at about two, and go off on their own. This one looks to be about that age, maybe slightly older. But still a long way from challenging the older, larger bulls in order to build a harem. These are his days of wandering in the wilderness. And making an occasional wallow.

Sure doesn't look like much

This hole/depression right alongside the "mail road" almost looks like somebody did a little digging for some purpose of other. Actually, it's not man-made. It's a buffalo wallow. They like to scrabble around and by rolling and scratching themselves they dig these wallows all over the countryside. Fresh ones were "good sign" for Indians in the old days, and not a few frontiersmen found them to be excellent emergency breastworks for defense against a surprise attack.

The Real Deal

However you choose to pump it, this is the Real Deal: the lifeblood of the plains. There is no substitute. On a hot day, with that prairie sun bearing down, there's no better sound than the music of clear, clean, cold water splashing into a tank.


That's what they call it. More and more ranchers are not repairing the old windmills, and even tearing them down in favor of new-fangled pumps driven by solar cells. Fortunately there are still plenty of the old AerMotors around, and will be for some time. If they ever disappeared I'd really miss them. They've pumped the life-blood of this country for a long time. Some of them are now pushing a hundred years old and still squeeking away.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tornadoes and sunflowers

We're in a tornado watch right now, 'til midnight. Often when we have these conditions we will have very dark skies with intermittent bright sun. It's beautiful, but also a little scary when you know what it portends. The weather service is warning about 70MPH winds and 2" hail. Such is life on the prairie.

(Sunnies are real survivors. They bend in the winds and then come right back to their original position. They're tough rather than hard. A good life lesson. The highest of these, by the way, is 10' and a little more.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

More turkeys

With a deadline approaching, I was at the desk before light this morning. As I've mentioned often before, my office window looks out on my front area and then the prairie stretching away into the distance. Just after it got good light I noticed a skinny neck periscoping over the shorter weeds from time to time and knew the turkey family was dropping in for a visit.

They were extremely wary this morning and I had to make pictures from the porch. As far as I could tell all six poults are still with mom. I counted five definitely and there was some poult-size movement in the weeds that I couldn't make out for sure.

One interesting point: there were two hens with the bunch. You can see one clearly just over the auto-gate and if you look carefully on the right, you will see the dark outline of an adult neck. I'm pretty sure this must be the same poult-less hen that was involved in the squabble a few days ago. I'm not sure what that dynamic is, but if any guajalote experts know about it, please let me know.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What he could have said

Well, he could have said "I had just gotten back from China. I was tired and cranky about my sticking door, and just plain worn out. I said and did things I shouldn't have, and I'm sorry for that. I still think the officer was a bit aggressive, but the main fault was mine and I take responsibility for it."

Under the circumstances a reasonable and gentlemanly response worthy of respect. End of story.

But, no. Professor Gates' knee-jerk reaction was one of oppression, bias, and victimhood. I remember vividly an incident in a department store back east. A very large black woman had been stopped just outside the store by two (white) plainclothes store security people, one male and one female. She was yelling and blustering and being as in-their-face as she could while they pulled merchandise, some still on hangers, out of her big shopping bag. "You doing this to me 'cause I'm black!" she said. It could have been laughable were it not so sad.

The good professor reacted the same way. And then so did our president. That knee-jerk reaction, on both their parts, puts the lie to the myths about post-racialism in our society.

The "let's-have-a-beer" charade just made it worse. Cheap, tawdry, manipulative, and cliché-ridden. (What? No single-malt, no chardonnay?) And, of course, Joe had to come on board, too. Enough already!

A sorry spectacle all around.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sunflower season

We're well into sunflower season here on the High Plains. I have a thing for Helianthus annuus and always enjoy the times that they are around. They are a simple, yet entirely beautiful plant, and I imagine I have photographed them in every possible stage.

Not so much around here, but in some parts of the plains they are grown as a crop. It's quite something to see a full-section (640 acres) field a-bloom with big blossoms— and all facing in the same direction!

The pictures above are two new prints. In the bottom picture, the highest sunflower is over nine feet tall. I call the close-up a "Sunflower Portrait."

I do love 'em.

"Good Grass"

That we have, and in abundance. The rains have tapered off but the prairie is still high and rich in grass and the critters are reaping the benefits.

("Good Grass" is the title of one of my latest prints, of which the lead photo above is a small copy.)