August 2008 Archives

Saturday Night on the Prairie

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A theater in North Dakota in lieu of the Mill Theater

People have asked me over and over what I miss about being in the Cities. At this point-- approaching one year-- there are no things or places I miss (just people). Good coffee, great conversation, interesting attractions are all around me here.

Let me tell you about last night. After doing our farmers market stand, Alma and I came home and started processing the vegetables that hadn't sold-- mostly the Amish Paste heritage tomatoes. We started making a big batch of ketchup. It was, however, Saturday night and we were all ready for some off-farm fun.

The boys had been begging to see Kung Fu Panda and so we were pleased to see it had returned for a 2nd run to Mill Theaters in Milbank, South Dakota-- 30 miles from our farm. We headed to main street Milbank and enjoyed dinner at the Triple Dip cafe that features ice cream/espresso. The movie theater is a main street gem showing 1st run movies. I'm guessing it's more of a public service than a lucrative business venture. Admission for five, popcorn, 5 pops, 3 candies came to $29. If we wanted to we could have stayed to watch Indiana Jones for free-- but that wasn't going to happen with kids.

It was as fun a family outing as I could expect anywhere. We drove home in the dark across the prairie-- the western horizon slightly purple and blue. Jen commented on the shadows of tree overhanging the prairie potholes looked like trees in the lake.

Living History in Big Stone County


One of the sights at the Big Stone County Museum

There are a group of folks coming together to Create a Value Added Community in Big Stone County. Through these gatherings I’m getting to know inspiring people, finding new treasures in the area (last nights people brought photos of a 1800's Rendezvous gathering, a kayaking stream, and a cormorant rookery), and working to make the Big Stone area a sustainable community for us (to quote Don Sherman).

We met last night at the Big Stone County Museum. This is a place of wonder and part of my awe was a brief conversation I had with Earl Komis, museum tour guide. Earl, nearly 90, was recently featured in Twin Cities Business Magazine in the 8 to 5 at 85 article. I learned just a snippet of Mr. Komis’ story.

In Minnesota, United States of America, around 1934 Earl Komis and some of his 11 siblings drew straws to see who would leave their farm. There was not enough food for the family. At 14 years old Earl drew the short straws and had to leave with just one loaf of bread. He walked 82 miles, sleeping in culverts and hungry. Along the way, a kind woman in Milan, Minnesota saw this hungry youngster and gave him a meal of grits. This act of kindness still catches in Earl’s throat 74 years later. Earl found a farmer needing help with 17 cows and was paid room and board for 2 years.

I asked Earl what he thought the future held in store for us—not just in Big Stone County but in our country. Earl, who lived through some of the hardest days our country has seen, said “The futures gonna be tougher than we’ve ever seen.?

I’m bringing Alma to this museum on Friday (when the boys are down for their nap). I hope I can nab Earl as my museum guide and maybe even have a cup of coffee with him. Earl is part of the richness and blessings of living in a county with one of the highest percentage of people over 65 in the nation.

A Work of Fiction


crop duster picture.jpg
Picture, 8/15/08, taken from the north side of our yard

Sometime in the not distant future.

My heart ran cold hearing the single engine plane circling above the township. I tasted the metallic bite of fear in my mouth as I glimpsed the plane to the west. The plane flew low, I wondered if it was some kind of reconnaissance.

My mind flashed back to the first time I’d seen a plane over this land. I was pregnant with my oldest daughter when a crop duster came to spray the corn crops to the north and the east of the house- right along side the house and yard. That would be 14 years ago now. I was so angry then—furious that I couldn’t protect myself and my unborn babe from the pesticides that were sprayed all over. We were just visiting my in-laws for the weekend. The farm was still theirs then and we lived in the city—safe from crop dusters. In fact, in those days part of my job was to reduce children’s and pregnant women’s exposure to pesticides. I remember feeling completely impotent to even protect myself and rage at my helplessness.

Later, after we had moved to the farm for good, I remember one day hearing and seeing the crop duster fly by. By then we’d been struggling a couple years to keep things going with spotty electric and even spottier access to diesel fuel. It was a comfort, to the point of tears, to see that plane in the sky tending crops the “old? way. We didn’t have the connections and resources to buy seed corn and pesticides, but someone around here still could. If they could, that meant that there was still a system in place producing them. Things might get back to normal. It was a thrill to see that plane—it made my heart swell with pride for the sophisticated technology.

That was nine years ago and we’d seen no planes since. This plane felt like a bad omen. We’d been relatively free from looters over the years. Our crops our own--taking care of our neighbors as we could. Maybe we were faring better than others in the wider world, who knew? I regretted for the first time the garden and crops laid out in straight rows that my husband was so proud of; a clear sign from the air of our relative “prosperity.? I was stunned by the next thoughts that went through my mind—could it be shot down? As the plane flew out of sight to the east I heard its engine whining and a distant repercussion.

None of us would be going to see what had happened to that plane, though I could guess. Today four families were gathering to make cheese. I subconsciously ran the math on the number of calories we would store up for the winter ahead. Enough calories for our 3 children for 3 weeks. This would be a good day after all.

Saying Goodbye on Mainstreet Minnesota


small town.jpg
Jeanne Taylor, Small Town, 1940

Yesterday I drove many more miles across rural Minnesota on my way to St. Paul. One of the pure luxuries of living in 2008 is that I can get a very fine espresso in small towns throughout the state. I pulled into a parking spot on mainstreet MN, population 1007, and got out of my car for a coffee and scone. Joy of joys on lovely summer morning in the oak savanah.

As I got out of the car, there was a family gathered around the small late model SUV in the next slant in parking spot. The patriarch of the family was sitting in the passenger seat of the car. Elegantly dressed, thick well groomed grey hair, his eyes squeezed shut, and cannulas deliverying oxygen into his nose. I walked into the coffee shop, forgot my go cup and back to the car, I overheard the family saying that he could stay in the car and people could visit him there.

At the counter- the owner took my order then turned to some of the family members and friends of the gentleman and asked if they would be coming in. No-- they wouldn't be able to bring him in afterall. The owner of the coffee shop asked if he could go out to the car to say goodbye. "Of course. By all means."

The coffee shop was rearranged to recieved the man, his family, his friends. They all came to mainstreet to say goodbye. In the end, he couldn't come to that table. But people stood in mainstreet-- hugging each other, leaning into the passenger seat-- saying their goodbyes.

As I got into my car and drove out of town I was struck by the public goodbye, but even more by the empty table that was ready, but unable to be occupied.

In my minds eye I saw Pastor Arlan at the alter. Turning to the congregation- smiling-- saying "The feast is prepared! All are welcomed to the table." I drove on for miles with the tears running down my face.

Saying goodbye-right there on mainstreet. The table is ready.

Our first worm


photo courtesy of Amy Stewart- worm author

I found my first earthworm on the farm yesterday. I pulled up a giant pigweed and saw the first worm in a clod of dirt. I was surprised to see it-- my surprise made me stop in my tracks. Worms have been completely missing from the soil- garden. In fact, I don't even recall seeing them skirming on the driveway after the rain.

I was struck with the sudden realization that our farm is absent of worms. And I hadn't even notice their absence until I pulled that first one out-- a 1 inch pinkish/blue worm. I ran across the field back to the house with the clod and the worm to take a picture for you all to see. Between the porch and the camera there was some kid emergency-- they got cold in the swimming pool and needed hot cocoa even though it is 84 degrees in the house, no breeze, and humid. By the time I got back to my clod of dirt the worm was missing. But it had been there- really.

It's good news that the worms are returning to our east field. It means the soil is coming back to life after all the anhydrous ammonia and pesticides.

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This page is an archive of entries from August 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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