April 2008 Archives

Missed this-- 23 inches of snow

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Mark Mustful, potter

Between the April 10 and April 25 snow storms, we've had a minimum of 23 inches of snow. They said 9 inches yesterday-- but we have 4 foot drifts in our yard. School let out at early due to the storm and I was scared waiting by mailbox in my car, 1.5 miles from home. It was zero visibility, the wind violent and painful. I waited 1/2 hour for the bus and was so happy to have all the kids home. People used to die in these unexpected storms.

Due to that excitement I missed fun art outings. Kristi Fernholz has a show at Java River in Montevideo. Check out her portfolio on line-- she really captures the initmate beauty of this landscape.

Also, we were ready for a potluck to meet potter Mark Mustful who is considering moving to Big Stone County. Looking at his art, I can see that he would have lots of inspiration here. The potluck at the home of some of the local artists who made this stained glass depiction of the headwaters of the Minnesota River (below) for the MN Sesquicentennial. A lot of creative people here on the prairie. Did you know that the more "creative" class people, the higher the income of all the people in the area? Seems like another good strategy-- attract creatives to our region.

Enjoy this:

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Comfort reading

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Here's some comfort reading that will take you right to some comfort food-- real comfort food. Put out by Dakota Rural Action, this is South Dakota's first local foods directory, as I understand it. Yes-- it's a directory and a good one. But it is also a testament; values statements from dozens of South Dakota farmers. Ken Pigor's entry about raising beef gives one faith in a world that can be put aright--- "We acknowledge and welcome our privilege and responsibility as good stewards to care for all of God’s creation with compassion and respect."

And it is a work of art. The book itself feels good in the hand.

Call DRA. Get one. Sleep a little better at night knowing the folks in this book are tending the land on our behalf. I do.

We use it. Calling farmers on Saturday morning to get shavings for our chickens--purchsing the seed garlic we've planted to the east of the house. Which, by the way, is popping out of the ground-- chartreuse spikes-- my favorite color. Unfortunately, we planted the garlic a little too close to the giant leaf pile, meaning heavy wild kid traffic. I must have refered to them as my "green babies" because Jens let me know he didn't hurt my "green babies" as I yelled at them to stay off my garlic patch!

The frogs and snakes are back--heard but not seen. It's amazing since it is so chilly, 35 degrees this morning, yet they are croaking in the slough right now. Mike thinks I'm confusing frogs with the sound of mallards feeding-- but I saw squished frogs on the road-- a confirmation. The egrets are back-- one Blue Heron and a number of white phase Blue Herons. The geese have passed on to the north. The ducks are coming through-- some staying I imagine.

Abandoned Exercise for Pleasure, Leisure, and Wonder

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This raw, early spring morning I got my kids on the bus and started running south. The sun is already well over the horizon at 7:20am. The plowed under corn field to the west of our house has become a pond. Three pair of giant Tundra Swans have taken up residence in the temporary lake for the past two days. They are startling in their size; 36 inches long, 80 inch wingspan.

I run on about a mile and then have to stop. Over night the wind shifted from the south to the northwest. When I drove home last night the ice was on the north of the slough and has now blown to the south. It isn’t an ice sheet anymore—it is about 5 acres of 2-5 inch ice crystals all bunched together. The wind blows the ice crystals together and they are jangling each other in the undulating water. I can’t run—the sound of my wind breaker, my own heavy breathing drowning out the sound of the ice, the ducks, the wind blowing through the dry prairie grass.

Enough high impact aerobic exercise. I just squat down in the grass and watch as the sun rises higher and hits the acres of ice crystals—patience rewarded with delight. I walk further down the road (forgetting to look in the scary brush forest where I suspect the Big Cat lives) and see a waddling critter making its way across the plowed field towards the slough. I sit down to hold Happy and we watch the muskrat cross a dirt driveway a few feet away from us. Happy would have preferred to eat the muskrat (which leads to a heated argument with Mike when I get home about how Happy learns to distinguish between rats we want her to kill and muskrats that I’ll smack her if she kills).

I get home and open a package that came in the mail. It’s book of poetry, Red Bird, by Mary Oliver. I open it to this page.

The Orchard
(click on Continue reading to see the poem)

A bit of energy self reliance

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Around the end of December we installed a Central Boiler in our backyard (thanks to my father in-law David for help with cement and neighbor Bruce for the cement mixer and his electrician help). We have a lot of standing dead wood around the farm site that we weren't sure what to do with. So we decided to heat our home and water with it.

It's a fun experiment. And I would say with 3 months under our belts- a success.

The Central Boiler heats about 300 gallons of water and has some magic mechanisms for calling up and reducing the flame and so is very wood efficient-- we can go a couple days without needing to add more wood. We have hot water heat in the house and run the wood heated water right through our furnace boiler and a heat exchanger heats the water in our hot water heater. We've:

1) Turned off the electricity to our hot water heater, saving about $60 per month on our electric bills
2) Have hardly used any propane since we fired the stove up around the 1st of January (saving about 1,500 to 2,000 gallons of propane per year)

A conservative estimate is a 3 year payback on the investment. Wow! Plus, I believe it is pretty carbon neutral since the wood was decomposing and releasing its carbon naturally before we burnt it and released the carbon faster. Plus we'll be planting more trees than we use.

Aside-- I can be borderline cruel about conserving energy- like making my kids wash their hands in cold water. Now I'm like "FREE HOT WATER" --take a long hot shower, fill the sink with hot water to wash the dishes, let the kids have warm water hand washes! Makes me smile just to turn on the hot tap. I said this Mike and he says "uhh... yeah it's free except I'm the one cutting and loading all the wood." A small price to pay.

Farm critters...

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Friday night:
Home from work in the Cities—kids home from school. Sitting on the porch with a Doppelbock, binoculars, and the Guide to the Birds of North America. The Red Wing Blackbirds descended on our farm like a noisy black cloud. Ducks are entering the mix of migrating waterfowl. Kids and dog romping in the sun.

Saturday morning: Send the kids out to play. Jens comes in sobbing that Happy is hurt. Sure ‘nuf. Sometime over the night Happy had an encounter with a wild animal and got her face slashed open. I’ve been suspecting that we have a Big Cat (like a cougar) around here—but Happy probably wouldn’t have lived through that encounter. Maybe a badger or something. She looks awful—her poor snout like sliced meat. We doctor her and love her up—she’s not racing around like her usual self.

Then the kids and I head down to play with our chickens. I’m so pleased to see a whole row of chickens sitting in their nesting box to lay eggs—better than finding the eggs on the coup floor. I’m feeding them some organic flax when Alma screams “Banana is dead!? Sure ‘nuf. There’s Banana crumpled up on the edge of the coup. We suspect murder. Now since we have 38 (now 37) “mixed heavies? we can tell them apart- brown, red, black, black/white, white chickens- most with names. I gather all the kids and run back to the house. Jens and Alma fighting over who gets to break the news to Dad about poor Banana.

Mike deadpans,
“Whadya do with it??
“Do with it? I gathered our children and raced to the house.?
Mike stares at me, “you left a dead chicken??
I wasn’t going to pick it up. I didn’t have gloves and, frankly, NO—I’m not handling the dead livestock.

Mike uses some old fashioned word like “I’m incensed you didn’t take care of the dead chicken.? [NOTE: the kids and I refer to her as Banana and to Mike it’s “that dead chicken?] By his way of thinking, I should be behaving as the farmer I hope to claim to be.

But by my calculations, as long as a woman has a living, functioning husband he can:

1) Sharpen all the kitchen knives- always
2) Handle all dead livestock

Back to my porch—this time a cup of coffee and the Co-op newsletter. They boys magically learned to peddle over the winter. They’re racing down the dirt/gravel driveway on their tricycles to low point between garage and ‘machine shed’ where they get mired in the mud. Alma red faced from racing up and down our ½ mile driveway. “Time me!? She’s at 6 minutes per round trip. My poor hurt dog stretched out beside me—tail wagging, smelling like a skunk. We had a baby skunk on the porch—cute little thing I hear. Happy “scared? it off- now she and parts of our house smell of skunk.

Point is… this is a wild place. A farm in nature. There aren’t many of these around. But right here on the southern edge of Malta township we have very few people (we’re the only ones in a four square mile area) and a fair amount of prairie pothole habitat. We have lots of deer, pheasants, mice, skunks, rabbits, possum (don’t get me started on the possum—ecological refugees invading other critters habitat niche), coyotes, waterfowl, a big cat (I suspect). Life, death, disfigurement. It’s all here—all in one day’s livin’.

Snow geese

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The snow geese arrived last weekend-- in the 10's of thousands. They came at first in flocks with the Canadian geese-- a few white geese along with the greys. So much for "birds of a feather..." Now there are sheets of the white geese with black wing tips across the sky and the land. Their calls so loud you don't even need to open the windows to hear them-- although it may be saying something about our windows as well.

Alma made up a song "...There's no better place to live than in the prairie where the birds are wild..."

As the school bus made its way across the prairie (I can see the bus from about 4 miles away) the flocks fly up around it like silvery clouds-- circling overhead and all around-- floating off like clouds towards the horizon. I hear that climate change has benefited the snow geese-- individual flocks numbering up into the 80,000 range. Me, I'm just in awe-- jaw dropping awe of these dramatically beautiful creatures. There sheer numbers part of the awesome beauty.

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