July 2013


DSCN0371Rain, July 10, 2013

We were braced
for another killer July.
Another summer
of days-on-end
triple-digit temperatures
and drought.
We had enjoyed
rain in June
but, as July approached,
expected hellish days
to return.
They did not.
July has brought weather
we thought not to even dream.
Cool mornings and evenings,
even some days;
and rain,
much more rain
than we’ve seen in any month
for a couple of years,
let alone the heart of summer.
This July in our part of the state
is the third wettest (5.80 inches)
on record since 1921.
We still can’t believe it.
We still approach each day
as if it is the day to break
the dream-July bubble.
We still savor every cool breeze,
give thanks
for every drop of rain,
for every moment of cloud cover.

One thing has become clear:
I have climate change anxiety.
And another
has become clearer:
climate change is our reality now,
even when it brings
relief.

Weather has always been central
to life here on the farm.
A day’s activity often depends
on the weather.
We’ve seen towns blown away,
crops destroyed by various weather events:
drought, hail, wind, floods.
The dryness or moisture
of the soil dictates
farming, ranching decisions.
Too, we’ve enjoyed
the flora and fauna
of the prairie
as it blooms
and thrives.
Weather is central.
And so watching it change,
watching the old patterns disappear
and the new extremes become
“normal”
and wondering what extremes
will do
to life here—
watching ponds and water wells dry up,
Red Cedar, for heaven’s sake,
die—
has been anxiety-producing.
What will become of the life
we live here on the prairie
with the flora and fauna?
We don’t know.
But we can see climate change
every day
here
and all around the world.
And on this last day
of the most scrumptious
July
anyone in these parts
can remember,
we are grateful
that the change has brought
relief
rather than disaster.
And we know
it
will
change.

DSCN0530Fair family arrival

They couldn’t help but notice
the grasshoppers
when they arrived.
A stroll out to the hermitage,
even in the mown grass,
brought them up-close-and-personal
as the bugs
flew around them,
crashed into them.
The children
were a little taken aback—
who wouldn’t be?
But only briefly.

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Compelled by the freedom
to explore the wide open spaces,
a tipi,
a straw bale hermitage,
the barns where the animals live,
the animals,
the prairie,
a farm pond,
the star-filled night sky,
the grasshoppers became
only a game.
After meeting the young guinea fowl—
too young to leave their pen in the barn—
the young humans
began catching grasshoppers for them.
Jar in hand,
they chased and caught
many
and brought them to the guineas.
The children dumped the cache of grasshoppers—
enough for each guinea to have a couple each—
before the guineas.
The grasshoppers laid there
on the ground,
stunned.
But as the hoppers awakened
and began hopping,
the guineas
all went after the same one!
The children noticed this,
and noticed the victor,
then imitated the young guinea
with a grasshopper hanging out its mouth.
Children
happy in nature—
our hearts
are happy too.

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Fair family meeting alpaca

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It’s only eggplant.
Who would have thought
its harvest
could arouse
a sense of profound
appreciation
for beauty?
And diversity—
in coloring,
shape
and dishes:
Mediterranean,
Asian,
Oklahoman?
It was the dark purple,
almost black,
bulbous ones
our mother peeled and sliced,
dredged through beaten egg,
then flour
and laid gently
in a skillet
filled
with hot oil,
to sizzle,
then drain on paper towels.
Now we prefer
babaganoush
and eggplant parmesan
or grilled,
roasted—
that beautiful skin
on.

 

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Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive  melodiously
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude—
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in this broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

—Mary Oliver, Red Bird

I was wondering
about grasshoppers.
I remember stories from pioneer days
here on the prairie
about how great invasions of grasshoppers
blackened the skies
and consumed crops,
even eating greens stripes out of dresses
hanging on the clothesline.
It seems to me the grasshopper population
increases every year,
so I was wondering what we’re in for.

There are over 400 species
of grasshoppers
and in any area,
several species.
I’ve noticed a variety here.
The great invasions
our ancestors experienced
were of the Rocky Mountain Locust,
a grasshopper that is now,
extinct,
due to habitat destruction
from agriculture and livestock grazing.
As damaging to crops as they were,
that is nothing to cheer about.
Shouldn’t be surprised:
they are a beneficial part
of an ecological system.
Grasshoppers are a natural part
of the grassland system;
they were not “introduced.”
And they have an important role:

Microbes can break down the feces produced by grasshoppers more easily than those produced by larger herbivores, such as cattle or sheep. Grasshopper-generated fecal nutrients are therefore more available for plant production. Also grasshoppers have a shorter lifespan and generally decompose where they die. The nutrients in their bodies return more rapidly to the soil for plant use than do nutrients found in the bodies of livestock. Even when grasshoppers create litter, they are enhancing plant production because increased litter increases the water retention of soils and reduces summer soil temperatures. These phenomena, in turn, enhance plant production by making more water and nutrients available in the semi-arid and arid conditions of the West. In total, grasshoppers may exert a positive influence on rangeland plant production.

Too, say the writers of this report,
grasshoppers offer weed control,
influence plant succession,
provide nutrients.

Grasshoppers are a major food source for other species that inhabit rangelands, especially spiders, reptiles, birds, and small mammals. Consequently, grasshoppers support other biological components of the ecosystem and influence their ability to affect ecosystem functioning.

The decline of grasshoppers also affects other species, especially those that consume them. Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that western rangeland birds have dramatically declined in abundance over the last decade, with the numbers of some species decreasing by as much as 70 percent. Many of these birds feed on grasshoppers as adults, and almost all rely heavily on grasshoppers to provision their nestlings. Therefore, the control of grasshoppers must be considered in a broader conservation perspective than forage production for livestock, protection of threatened grasshopper species, and the maintenance of the ecosystem functions provided by grasshoppers.

With the increasing emphasis placed upon ecosystem management by Federal and State agencies, grasshoppers in the rangelands of the Western United States must be considered in terms of their beneficial actions, not just in terms of their potential to reduce the abundance of forage for livestock. Consequently, pest management cannot be considered in isolation from larger ecological issues. This is especially true when the pest is a natural, coevolved component of the ecosystem, as grasshoppers are in western rangelands.

The point is—
one more time—
we don’t consider a being
a pest
simply because they irritate
or interfere
with humans’ agenda.
We look at their contribution
to the life cycle of the planet
and, when we come upon them,
we understand their contribution
and figure out ways to manage
rather than
control.
In this case,
I’m thinking
more birds!

I see that grasshoppers
like the leaves
of the Milk Thistle.
What an inspired
pairing!

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The sunflower plant—
they blanket the place this year—
climbs seven feet tall,
puts out giant leaves
along the stalk,
and at the top,
a few small blossoms
erupt.
Not everything
has to be efficient.

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Same with this native prairie flower—
a bouquet of dainty yellow blossoms
atop a five-foot stalk of green,
stickery leaves.

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The second family of six guineas
has finally found its way
out of the barn.
They wander the yards
eating grasshoppers
and are pretty good
at almost finding their way
back into the barn at night.

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The older guinea family
is a rowdy bunch:
their squawking is sometimes
so loud
I laugh right out loud;
males now have elaborate fights,
and the females
are determined
to raise another family.
Found a guinea nest
under the apple tree,
amidst the poison ivy
and Chinaberry sprouts.
17 eggs.
Her partner,
and maybe a sister,
take her out for grasshopper feasts
then keep her company
while she sits,
stupored.

 

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We are preparing
to say goodbye
to Joe.
In April,
Frank removed a tumor
from his rump
and now it is back,
bigger than before
and it can’t be removed.
So far,
Joe is not hurting,
though the tumor
is an irritant for him.
He is still eating,
still walking and running
and enjoying himself.
He lives a good life here,
sharing love with our guests,
his mom, Maizey.
We have these days, weeks,
to say goodbye
and to enjoy
his sweet company.

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