May 2014

It’s always a thrill
to suddenly, unexpectedly
see old friends.
I’m not certain
the hummingbirds
are the same ones as previous years,
but perhaps they are.
Three at a time,
so far,
though they are all males.
I imagine their partners
are tending nests
for the time-being.

I feel certain turtle
is the old friend
who summers in the flower beds,
travels the grassy patches
south of the house,
and out to the hermitage
and nibbles on dog food
on the back porch.
I was thrilled to first see it
making its way through mulch
just off the front porch.
My heart jumped.
I spoke a warm welcome.
It kept walking.




A quiet morning walk
on the prairie
in spring
is not a leisurely experience.
There’s much to see
there, at your feet,
in the gravel,
that flower.


Up there, on the wire,
Scissortailed Flycatcher
cleaning herself,
morning feather-fluffing.
Where are those Meadowlarks?
Can’t see them;
one over here,
one over there—
singing brightly to each other.
A Cardinal couple fly
across my path.
An Eurasian-Collared Dove
and Mockingbird sings only one song,
warning that I pass.

DSCN3977Scissor-tailed Flycatcher



     DSCN4056  The greenhouse with its winter crops going to seed.
Seeds will be harvested for future greens.reens.

Our friends
Bruce Johnson and Barbara Hagan
have been living the agrarian life
for more than 30 years
just east of Oklahoma City.
Not far from the Cimarron River,
the soil is sandy.
In the Cross Timbers bio-region,
the land is wooded.
Growing their own food—
and plenty to share—
without using chemicals
is challenging.
But for every problem they face,
Bruce and Barbara have a steadfast stance:
find a non-violent solution.

To that sandy soil,
they add compost and other organic material,
year after year after year.

To keep the deer
from harvesting their crops
they have put up netting and other fences
around the perimeter of the gardens.

To keep the soil as moist as possible
and reduce the use of precious water
during Oklahoma’s years of drought,
they mulch—
with prairie grass they harvest by hand;
wood chips from the trees that burned
during two wildfires that spread across their land.

To protect plants from spring winds,
they use recycled parts of a greenhouse
to build a windbreak.

They dispense with detrimental insects
by picking them off.
And they use only non-toxic methods
of discouraging other invaders.
And now, for the third year,
to protect their plants from a devastating
invasion of grasshoppers,
they grow vegetables under row covers.

We visited them again recently,
while the grasshoppers were still 1/4-inch babes.
“We have a limited time offer,” said Bruce
with his gentle humor. He fully expects,
with the grasshoppers and the drought,
that this moment is the height of their growing season
this year.
And the garden is lush.


Notice net fence around the perimeter and all that mulch.


We shared a lovely lunch
of pasta and greens—
the Lambs Quarter
that grows wild, naturally,
in this part of Oklahoma
and the grasshoppers seem to ignore.

Being with them,
seeing their gardens;
being aware of their hard work
and dedication to the health of all life;
sharing a meal of gentle conversation
and healthy food,
we come away feeling nourished
and inspired.
They are our heroes.


DSCN4058The Park: Land they cleared of burned trees following the last fire.
A place of communion and respite from endless labor.




We have become so cynical
about rain clouds. They fill the sky
north, south, east, west
and overhead
and still, only about 15 drops. It has been months
since rain has come in measurable amounts.
We haven’t had a soaking rain
in more than a year.
The soil is deeply, profoundly
And that may become the normal
state of this prairie.
But this weekend rain came
in three thunderstorms
that put 2 3/4 inches on the soil.



Puddles grew large
as the rain came hard.
Plants perked up.
A Barnswallow couple sat on the fence together
in the downpour.
Guinea fowl splashed through standing water.
We splashed through standing water,
with glee.
High atop a dripping tree,
a Baltimore Oriole sang the lyrical notes
of its song, sweet and bright.
Doe Creek’s dry bed
and its tributaries
instantly filled
with muddy water.
As sun appeared beneath clouds
in the west
it cast a rainbow on storm clouds
moved east.


And then as sun struck the land
in its golden hour,
all that wet dried grass
turned breathtakingly golden
against the soaked green tree leaves
and the dark blue skies in the east.
Glee seemed to erupt



Janie McRory and other science teachers
at Cheyenne Middle School in Edmond
have created an environmental curriculum
for seventh graders
that is remarkable.
With grant money, they are guiding their students
through a hands-on learning process
that gives them the opportunity to understand
several aspects of how this organism of a planet
Together, students and teachers have built a stream,
a greenhouse,
raised bed gardens.
They have established many plantings
and raise chickens and guineas
right there on the school grounds.
Their teachers not only teach them
how systems work,
how food gets on their tables,
they also give them time to observe nature.
These teachers recognize the critical value
of children learning to pay attention
to the natural world that is their home.

Yesterday, I was privileged to visit the school
and spend some time with the seventh graders.
The day before their last day of school,
students participated in an outdoor fair
with exhibits about wind energy,
plants, animals, scientific phenomenon
and sustainability, which is where we
at Turtle Rock Farm could be involved.
As I explained various sustainable practices
at our farm and retreat center
and quizzed them about why having alpacas,
goats, chickens, high tunnels, worms, guineas, bees,
a strawbale and mud house with composting toilet
are sustainable practices,
they already knew many of the answers.
It was heartening to meet suburban young people
who are being introduced in a hands-on way
to the way the planet works
so they can contribute
to sustainable life
for all.
I bow in gratitude
to their teachers.

The three trees
that stand about a mile south
on what used to be “The Casebear Place”
mark where human familes once lived.
Homestead houses often had three or four
Juniper (“Red Cedar”) on the corners,
since they are the hardiest,
best windbreaks up here on the prairie.
On my evening walks,
the three remaining cedars there on the Casebear Place
are often quite beautiful against the changing
evening sky,
as Earth rolls up
and sun disappears til morning.
Their irregular shapes
speak to the hard days they have weathered,
and survived. And for me there is quiet beauty
in their surviving shapes.
On a walk this beautiful morning,
enjoying the stillness,
the cool air,
the Meadowlarks singing to each other,
Maizey trotting alongside,
I top the rise in the prairie,
not quite to the pond, now drying,
just below where the old Casebear house
once stood.
I look up, toward the old trees,
and my legs stop moving.
I shout, “Oh no!”


Those familiar friends
have been cut down.
A flood of feelings come.
Shock. Sadness. A sickness in my belly.
A flood of memories come.
People who lived there in my childhood.
After they left, other neighbors
moving that two-story white house
down the road on a giant truck. I remember
myself, as a young girl,
standing along the road at our house
watching with my sisters
as that huge house,
perched on a flatbed truck,
listing to one side,
was slowly driven a mile north.
I remember holding my breath that day,
and others.

A flood of thoughts
I never dreamed these trees would be gone
one day.
Never crossed my mind.
Who else even noticed them?
One of the three has died,
and that must have caught the eye
of our neighbor, who now farms the place.
Grasses from last fall are dry
and spring grasses are slow coming on this year;
with the drought, they may not come on much at all.
We live two miles from Interstate 35,
where fires are often sparked by people
throwing lit cigarettes out the window.
Cedars, especially dead ones, are highly flammable,
and burn hot.
I don’t know why, otherwise, these old trees
would be chopped down. Too “ugly” to even be noticed,
I guess I had thought—
them not being the model of symmetry and sun-drenched beauty;
rather, dark, straggly-looking silhouettes of struggle and survival
set against a vast, sometimes violent, sky.
As I turn away
for the walk home,
the strongest feeling I have
is sadness
that these lives are, suddenly,
The strongest thought I hold
is that, truly,
everything changes.
And then comes another: The birds and insects
who live and feed there
will find other food, other habitat. Maybe
it is time
for me to let the trees and all they represent,
maybe I am free
to move along the road.





A year ago,
permaculturist Mark Shepard
came to Turtle Rock Farm
and taught us about forestry ag:
building a food forest
on the prairie.
He helped us lay out swales and berms and pocket ponds
on the slope below the “hill”
where we have mowed our labyrinth.
The swales and berms follow the contour,
with the pocket ponds on the ends.
Rain water collects temporarily
in the ponds and then flows into the swales,
where trees would be planted.
With rain predicted the week after the swale-building,
we spread a mixture of prairie grasses on the berms
and were relieved and grateful
that the rain did materialize.
In January,
an Oklahoma City Boy Scout troop
helped us plant drought-resistant varieties
of trees and shrubs.
This spring,
we have barely had any rain. Immeasurable amounts.
Yet, the Yellow Clover is abloom
on the berms
and the swales are green.
Many of the tree starts are growing.

The summer forecast
is that the drought and heat
pattern of the last several summers
will remain.
So Ann and Frank are placing five-gallon buckets
in the swales
and watering the trees and shrubs,
to help them get established
in the dryness.
After the trees are more mature,
the expectation is that this will not be necessary
and the prairie will be producing
increased habitat and food
for bees, animals, humans.
These times call
for creative solutions.
We hope our efforts at this experiment
add to the knowledge.




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