May 2012


Sun Above the Prairie Horizon

A storm blew down from the north last night
and the land received a little less than an inch of rain.
This morning,
glorious cool temperatures pervade.
Already this summer,
though it’s still early,
we are grateful for every raindrop
and every moment of cool breeze.
With a warmer-than-normal May,
we are concerned about heat this summer.
And still, we’re concerned about drought:
pastures that were lushly green two weeks ago
are already turning brown,
an indication that last summer’s drought
went deep
and this spring’s rains
haven’t gone deep enough
to reverse it.

So it was especially good news
that arrived in the electric bills this morning.
They reflect the second
of the first two full months
since solar panels were installed
on the pond house and farm house.
At the pond house,
the solar panels have produced
1.64 megawatt hours of electricity.
That’s enough to supply energy
to  54 houses for one day
and to offset 1.13 tons carbon,
or the equivalent of 29 trees.
At the pond house,
the solar panels have provided 408 kilowatt hours
of electricity in the last month.
Here at the farm house,
my electric bill reports
that I used an average of 0 kilowatt hours each day
as compared to 6 kilowatt hours each day
in the same period last year.

Bottom line:
we are not burning as much fossil fuel
and not releasing as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere
so that there isn’t as much global warming
or climate change
as there would be
if we weren’t.
It’s not enough difference
to solve the problem,
but part of the effort we can make
to contribute to the efforts
so many are making.
We have to.
Here’s a link to a piece by NASA climate scientist
James Hansen,
printed recently in The New York Times.

The global warming signal is now louder than the noise of random weather, as I predicted would happen by now in the journal Science in 1981. Extremely hot summers have increased noticeably. We can say with high confidence that the recent heat waves in Texas and Russia, and the one in Europe in 2003, which killed tens of thousands, were not natural events — they were caused by human-induced climate change.

We have known since the 1800s that carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere. The right amount keeps the climate conducive to human life. But add too much, as we are doing now, and temperatures will inevitably rise too high. This is not the result of natural variability, as some argue. The earth is currently in the part of its long-term orbit cycle where temperatures would normally be cooling. But they are rising — and it’s because we are forcing them higher with fossil fuel emissions.

Play Days at the Big Pond

Jay Miller building a fire a few years ago

My son Will spent the first five years
of his life
here on the farm.
And, honestly, he was thrilled to get to move to town.
“The sidewalks go all the way to Oklahoma City!”
he told me when we moved to Enid.
We visited the farm often
and, an only child,
he usually brought friends with him.
One of them was Tanner Bryan.
Another was Jay Miller.
The stories of adventures they had on the farm
are now legendary among their friends.
Will lives in Los Angeles now,
and when he’s home,
back on the farm,
friends still come to visit.
I am so grateful
they all have time on the farm,
roaming the pastures,
playing on the pond,
jumping hay bales,
taking night-time walks.
And I like to think
that freedom in nature
helped form them,
just a little,
into the fine young people they are today.

So it was a great joy
when Jay Miller and his fiance Erin Nordquist
asked if they could get married at the farm—
on the prairie,
atop the hill
overlooking the Big Pond.
Both Jay and Erin are nature-lovers,
outdoor adventurers,
and conscious of protecting the environment.
It seemed perfectly fitting
that they begin their married life together
in a simple ceremony
on the windy prairie
surrounded by a vast sky,
with a view of the world
that goes on forever,
and held in love and well-being
by scores of happy family and friends.

Family and friends follow Jay and pastor Bill Inglish
onto the prairie to the top of the hill.

Erin’s father, Mark, built a canopy
from fallen native brush.

The wedding party processes across the prairie

Tanner plays sweet, sweet music.

Jay and Erin proclaim their love and promises

Bride and groom take the shortcut
back from the hill

Erin and Jay

We are here,
back on the farm,
because we are fortunate
to have been gifted with care of this land.
We are here,
back on the farm,
because we are profoundly concerned
about the health of the planet.
We are here,
back on the farm,
to give people the opportunity
to connect again with the natural world
and learn to live sustainably with it.
We are here,
back on the farm,
for days like this—
when we get to celebrate
the coming together
of two young people
who not only care deeply about each other,
but also the planet.

They are off
to the world now,
and still
we hold them
with the everlasting bond
of the prairie.

Hurricane Ridge
Olympic National Park, Washington State

 

The Sabbath is one-seventh part of our days. Far less than one-seventh part of our land remains in wilderness. If we understand the lessons of restraint and liberation conveyed by the Sabbath, then we should leave alone every acre that has not already been stamped by our designs, and we should restore millions of acres that have been abused…

Some people object that our economy will falter unless we open up these last scraps of wild land to moneymaking. They warn against the danger of ‘locking up’ resources vital to our prosperity. But couldn’t the same be said of the Sabbath? Why ‘lock up’ a whole day of the week? Why spend time worshiping, why meditate or pray, when we could be using that time to produce more goods and services? If it is really true that our economy will fail unless we devote every minute and every acre to the pursuit of profit, then our economy is already doomed. For where shall we turn after the calendar and the continent have been exhausted?

To cherish the wilderness does not mean that one must despise human works, any more than loving the Sabbath means that one must despise the rest of the week. Even if you do not accept the religious premise on which the Sabbath is based, as many people do not, then consider the wisdom embodied in the practice of restraint. Through honoring both Sabbath and wilderness, we renew our contact with the mystery that precedes and surrounds and upholds our lives. The Sabbath and the wilderness remind us of what is true everywhere and at all times, but which in our arrogance we keep forgetting—that we did not make the earth, that we are guests here, that we are answerable to a reality deeper and older and more sacred than our own will.

Scott Russell Sanders
A Conservationist Manifesto

Four days ago,
the Black Orpington hen
was sitting in the chicken nest
and when I approached to take an egg
laying beside her,
she clucked at me.
I had an inkling she might be sitting.
The next day, the Leghorn hen
was sitting beside her.
I thought that odd;
never seen them in the same nest before
at the same time.
Yesterday, they had changed places,
but we knew:
they’re both sitting on eggs;
they didn’t get up all day.
We’re thrilled to see nature
taking its course
after we’d heard that nesting
had been bred out of modern day hens.
Every morning, we give them
our best wishes
and a little pep talk.
We don’t know how many eggs they are hatching—
or if they need a pep talk,
but we would.

We also give an “atta girl”
to the guinea hen sitting
on a clutch
of 20 eggs
out in the tall grass in the corral.
This is her fourteenth day;
she’s halfway there.

Five Keets

And now there are five guinea keets,
including a gray one,
that were hatched in the incubator.
Ann, Susan and Erica had to help them.
The shells are so hard that the keets crack them a little,
then can’t crack them any further
before the air dries the membrane a little
and it sticks to them;
then they’re trapped.
So they helped three out;
it was too late for a couple of others.
Those had cracked the eggs on the bottom
and Ann couldn’t see that they’d been trying to get out.
Unlike butterflies building muscles
as they free themselves from the cocoon,
guineas sometimes need help getting out of the shells.
And thereafter.

I had fed the alpaca,
scooped their manure into buckets,
let out into the pasture the chickens and guineas,
(and had my morning bout with Rooster)
left pellets and scratch for them in the barn,
gathered the eggs,
filled everyone’s water troughs,
fed and petted the goats,
opened the gate—
where chickens, guineas, alpaca waited
to go into the corral;
scooped alpaca manure in the corral piles,
fed and watered the rabbits
and was heading out of the goat pen,
morning chores done,
when I heard an interesting sound.
I looked up
and there on the center roof line of the barn,
was…
a Sandpiper!?
Its yellow legs taller than a Killdeer’s,
with a straight, long beak,
it was trim,
gray with a white breast.
I have since checked Sibley’s
and think it may have been an adult non-breeding
Stilt Sandpiper.
There it was,
a shore bird,
all alone
on top of the barn roof
on the prairie.
It sang a pretty, complex, long song.
A couple of barn cats
had come alongside
to see what was going on.
We stood, watching;
I in amazement
and delighted this visitor stopped
for a rest
on its way
to water.
I have long felt the connections
between the ocean—
my spiritual home, I think—
and the prairie.
For one thing,
the prairie was formed by oceans,
on and off again,
for millions of years.
The horizons are similar,
including the human-made structures
that interrupt them—
lighthouses
and grain elevators.
Both at the ocean
and on the prairie
you can see forever.
I experience an exquisite, plaintive beauty
at both,
and I have experienced
the magnificent energy of storms
at both.
Right now,
here on the prairie,
the grasses are tall
and as the winds blow
I’ve been poignantly aware of the green waves
in a sea of grass.
Happy, then,
am I,
to welcome,
if only briefly,
a sister traveler
from ocean to prairie.

Tomorrow
is hatching day.
The guinea eggs
will have been turning slowly
in the warm, humid environment
of the incubator,
for 28 days.
Already, two have hatched
and a third is pecking its way out.
The guinea egg shells seem harder
to penetrate
than chicken egg shells.
The third guinea has been chipping away
for a couple of days now.
We hear it cheeping too.
I’ve heard it said that
we go through the exiting process
in pretty much the same way we’ve lived our lives.
I’m thinking the entering process,
at least for guineas,
may be indicative
of their lives.
Figuring things out—
like how to get back over the fence
they just flew over—
seems challenging for them.
Maybe it all starts
getting out of the egg.

 


We’re not sure if the other eggs will hatch;
so far there isn’t the first indication
of pecking.
The two hatched keets
are keeping each other in close company
under a heat lamp
in the indoor pen.

 

Meanwhile,
this is the twelfth day
a guinea hen has been sitting
on a clutch of 20 eggs
hidden well in tall grass
in the corral.
Each day,
another guinea keeps her company,
staying close by
then returning to the barn at night.
She doesn’t appear to have moved
from the nest,
sitting low and wide
on the clutch of eggs.
If every egg hatched,
and lived,
there would be 40 new guineas!
From recent sightings
of tiny baby grasshoppers,
we have no doubt
there will be enough ticks and grasshoppers
to feed the flock.

 

Women on the Prairie Retreat

Friday evening,
during the Women on the Prairie Retreat,
we hiked up Zig Zag Lane
to the hilltop
and watched Earth roll up
and sun disappear.
In the night,
guests were surprised
that they could see
layers upon layers
of stars in the black sky.
In early morning,
we went out to watch Earth
somersault over
and the sun reappear,
in the eastern sky.
Hues of gold, orange, pink
weren’t the only showings in the sky.
In the evening,
we watched two Night Hawks
climb  high,
dive bomb one another,
then rise in flight again,
and again.
In the morning, we watched
Turkey Vultures glide,
the Great Blue Heron’s elegant flight,
a lone Scissortailed Flycatcher
and an unusually silent Mockingbird.
The giant canopy of sky
enlarges life
here on the prairie.
And it has been especially engaging
this year.
In February Venus and Jupiter
formed a bright triangle
with the dainty crescent moon
in the western night sky.
At the beginning of May
the moon came its closest this year
and, being full,
looked breathtakingly big, and beautiful.
Sunday night,
just as the bright orange ball of fire
floated above the horizon,
moon floated across too
and we gasped at the beauty
of seeing sun and moon together
in a solar eclipse.

Solar Eclipse from Turtle Rock Farm

And the year’s sky spectacles
are not finished.
June 5,
Venus will transit the sun.
This will not happen again
until 2117.
There’s information
about when you can see it in your area
and how to protect your eyes,
here.
Earth needs our attention—
and, it seems, knows how to get it!

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