April 2010


It’s not easy raising a cat family
on the prairie.
Owls,
daddy cats,
dogs with heavy playful paws,
coyotes,
cars
all threaten a kitten’s life.
Last spring,
horrifying as this story is to tell,
a mama cat broke her leg
and evidently unsure she could care for her litter,
she killed her babies.
So this year
we have been very excited to watch a mama cat
raise her kittens.
We’ve done our best to keep the heavy dog paws
at a distance –
no small feat.
And we’ve kept a protective eye
in the evenings
at dusk
when Mama lets them out to play
and when predators are on the prowl.
So far,
all four are still with us,
growing big
and more and more
adventurous.
Hopeful for their continued well-being,
we share them now.

Kildere

I have long felt that my affinity
for the ocean and its shoreline
has something to do with growing up on the prairie.
There is the same vacant, subtly undulating horizon line,
the vastness,
the embracing sky,
the waving waves
of water and grass.
Even the architecture is similar:
vertical edifices rising above the plains:
lighthouses on some shores
and grain elevators on the prairie.
Then there are the birds.
At the shore,
I would be mesmerized watching sandpipers’
tall, thin legs
run quickly up the sand
ahead of the waves.
And I loved their haunting calls.
When I returned to Oklahoma as an adult,
having by then
been to the seashore,
I was struck by a bird that looked like a sandpiper
and sounded like a sandpiper.
When I asked Dad,
he confirmed that the Kildere is a shorebird.
And so I learned we have many shorebirds
here,
on the waving prairie,
this vast land,
these Great Plains
that once was an ocean.

The Kildere have returned this spring.
Their haunting, high-pitched call now pierces
through the lyrical, chirp of songbirds.
I’ve seen them hanging around the edges of our gravel road.
They like to build their nests there,
on the roadside
in the gravel.
I told Jae,
who is new to prairie life,
about the Kildere
and how they will do a little dance –
kind of a wounded-wing dance –
to distract from the site of the nest.
Alert,
yesterday Jae saw a Kildere laying with her wings outstretched
in a spot in the very center of the gravel driveway leading to the pond house.
As Jae approached,
Kildere did her dance
and Jae took a quick look to discover
two speckled eggs in a round indentation in the gravel
right in the middle of the driveway road.
As vulnerable as that nest seems,
it is probably more protected in the middle of the road
where tires don’t normally tread
than it would be on the side of the road.
In any case,
we are driving carefully around it now,
warning all visitors we can
and giving the Kildere
room to raise their family.

Kildere eggs in gravel nest

Kildere pair, keeping a wary watch nearby

I probably have mentioned it
a time or two,
and probably will continue
to mention it,
for it is a compelling
issue, really,
and my understanding continues to evolve
and deepen.
Much of what we do here at Turtle Rock Farm
has to do with feeding each other.
There’s the larger farm
where cattle and wheat are grown,
which means that in the winter
cattle may eat the winter wheat
and they are also fed hay,
which was swathed and baled for them in the summer.
A farmer’s life is about
feeding.
On a smaller scale,
and at a different, more personal level,
here at our retreat center,
a significant part of our day is about feeding each other.
We feed cats and dogs,
wild birds,
Guineas, a rabbit, Alpaca, Hens, Honey Bees, Red Wiggler Worms.
We also feed the soil,
with manures from rabbit, hens, Alpaca, worms,
with kitchen scraps and dried leaves.
And a significant part of our day
is about feeding humans – ourselves and our guests.
Feeding us well –
fresh, locally-grown, non-toxic foods, grown in a way that sustains the planet –
requires intention, effort and time.
Somewhere along the way,
our culture decided that there are more important things to do
than grow and cook food for ourselves,
so we have a food system
that requires little intention, no effort and very little time.
We can get our food from a hole in the wall of a building
and eat it in our car
while we’re driving and talking on our hands-free telephones.
And we call that a “happy meal.”

I admit that I grow impatient with feeding chores
when there are pressing deadlines
and so many things that seem to need to be done,
as they say, yesterday.
And I admit that when I am planning my day
I try to squeeze in cooking
amidst other, seemingly, more important tasks
and then get stressed when I have to stop and cook
when I’d rather finish some project.
So, somewhat irritated and feeling pressed,
I put aside the project for the moment
and hurriedly whip up a soup or salad or quiche
for us
or, these days, for the hermitage-building team.
And then we sit down together
and pause to remember that Earth has fed us one more time,
and as we sit at table,
marveling over healthy, delicious, fresh food
and enjoying each others’ presence
and engaging in good conversation,
I remember
how important it is,
this feeding each other.

We have been experimenting
with more vegetarian dishes
and they have been fun to present to our hungry
hermitage-building crew
and retreat guests.
Then one evening last week,
friends Jeni and Paul,
came for a visit
and brought all the ingredients
to cook supper for us.
We sat at the kitchen island,
(doing just a little chopping to assist Jeni)
but mostly visiting.
And when we all sat down at table together
with a beautiful, fresh, healthy and delicious soup,
it was a tremendous gift
to have someone cook a meal for us.
And I realized what a gift it is
to be able to provide that for others
who come to Turtle Rock Farm
to connect with the natural world.
Food can be a deep and abiding connection
with the natural world.
And feeding each other –
animal, vegetable, mineral –
IS a big part of life,
as it should be.

The path of the chicken tractor is evident:
the chickens have been where the soil is weed-free

The weeds the chickens will eat next.

There’s been a lot going on
in the chicken tractor lately.
The chickens were moved
from their winter pen in the barn
to their movable pen in the garden
a month or more ago
and have been pecking at insects
and scratching weeds to death
ever since.
We move the pen every few days
and they are absolutely thrilled
when they have new green stuff to attack.
The volume on their cackling increases
and they quickly get into a frenzy,
pecking at the fresh weeds.
You can easily see where they’ve been at work;
the soil is clean of weeds
and, we presume,
insects.

We don’t have a rooster
but the Little Speckled Hen
evidently thinks she can hatch babes from her eggs
because she’s been sitting on them.
She’s sitting on all the hens’ eggs.
We have to pick her up and remove her from the roost
every time we go to collect the eggs
or feed and water.
Jae, who’s doing an internship,
has had this duty lately.
As she does with everything,
she handles Little Speckled Hen
with great tenderness,
setting her down gently,
knowing she’ll be back on the roost soon.

One day last week,
as Jae was freshening water and scattering corn,
Speckled Hen was out with the other hens
but they all started acting peculiarly.
Jae took a closer look
and discovered a young cat
in the roost.
The hens were greatly disturbed,
but the cat,
more so.
Jae set it free
and doesn’t expect it to find its way
into the hen house
anytime soon.


Hens in their winter pen

They are fine hens.
We enjoy their happy cackling sounds
and we appreciate their great work.
Not only do they do a thorough job
controlling weeds and insects,
they fertilize the soil
and produce
five lovely eggs
every day.

I wish Speckled Hen
could know
how wonderful
are her quiches.

Family from North Carolina,
feeding the chickens at Turtle Rock Farm

Clothes Drying on the Porch –
Fast, in the Spring Wind

If we still had a barn door
it would have been banging.
It’s one of the haunting memories
from my childhood.
On certain days in the spring,
the wind would blow
and that metal barn door
would bang.
It wouldn’t bang on windy days in the winter
I suppose
because it was kept closed.
But in the spring,
the doors would be open.
And in the spring,
when the winds blow in a particular way,
it usually means
there’s a storm brewing somewhere to the west.
So in the spring,
when the barn door would bang
anxiety would build
in the center of my chest
because I knew that sound meant
tonight we would be watching for storms.
There are no sirens here
to warn of dangerous weather.
We must watch the skies
(and the television
and now, listen to the weather radio.)
In our childhood,
we watched the skies
and then,
as the storm approached,
fled to the neighbors’ cellar.

There is no door on the barn anymore.
But on a day like this,
it would be banging
and even without it
there is an anxious clenching in the center of my chest
and I can sense a storm whipping up.
I don’t mind it anymore,
though I probably should
since two years ago
we were hit by two tornadoes,
one destroying a barn
and the other causing significant damage
to one end of the pond house.
The anxious clenching
is evidently built into my cellular memory.
It’s delicious really.
It connects me
to our family story
here on the very farm where I grew up
and it connects me to something
about which I have absolutely
no control.
It puts me in my place.

(more…)

It looks like there will be apricots this summer.
They bloom so early,
long before our last freeze,
and so we rarely see these delectable orbs.
But this year,
the trees bloomed
and we didn’t get another freeze,
or even a hard frost
and here they are,
little orbs of hope.
We’re searching the cookbooks for promising recipes
and planning to dry some
so we can enjoy their wonderful flavor
all winter.
We’re pretty excited actually.
These days of increasing human contentiousness,
little green orbs of hope
are quite a big, happy thing.

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