Oklahoma


Steady, all-day rain
has a hint
of romance about it.

I remember
riding a train
from NYC Penn Station
out to New Jersey
to see a dear old friend
on such a day…
The world seemed
to slow down,
grow a little softer.

Even after several days
of rain here at the farm
long ago,
I remember…
the day when the flood waters
inched their way closer
to the old barn
(that has since blown down
in a tornado) and we wondered
if, for the first time
in memory, water
would reach the barn.
Even that day,
rain seemed to round
the sharp corners
of the world
as we stood in rubber boots,
in a soft rain,
helpless, yet at ease,
watching water rise.

Now, after years
of chronic, exceptional drought,
here in Oklahoma
rain has fallen in record amounts
and there is chronic flooding.
We aren’t complaining
much. We value water more
now, even
in extremes. Wiser,
we know, drought
will come again. (More than 18 inches
has fallen so far in Oklahoma City
this month; more than 10 inches
at Turtle Rock Farm.)

A few days ago,
strolling through a flea market
on another unseasonably cool,
rainy day,
I met a woman who asked,
a bit hesitantly:
“Do you like the rain?”
Her question seemed odd
for some reason. I smiled,
perhaps a bit quizzically.
Turns out,
she’s taking a sort of informal poll,
to confirm an observation:
“It seems like people who wear sweaters
love the rain.”

Even knowing
there would be big
biting mosquitoes—
not so present during the dry years—
I set out on a twilight walk
across the lush green prairie.
Grasses are already thigh-high.
I wonder
who has been making
a narrow path
through the thick greening
and find the answer
when an armadillo and I
surprise each other.
Milk Thistle is just blooming
(those tall, beautiful purple flowers—
prolific,
invasive—
will be have to be mowed.)
Last year,
for the first time in forever,
there were almost no sunflowers.
This year, they blanket
giant patches.
The impact of water
on parched life
is astonishing.
The creek is flowing,
ditches are filled,
water stands in low spots.
Mosquito clans whirl round
my head, but cooling night breeze
and my waving hand
keep them from landing.
My shoes get wet
as I jump not quite far enough
over creek and puddle,
and I am glad.
As the light vanishes,
Venus and Jupiter,
high in the inky blue western sky,
glow brilliantly.
I stand in awe.
And listen
to frogs.
And breathe
in the cool, loamy air.
Then, there,
along the road,
the golden blinking lights
of summer.
Summer?
Seems way too early,
too cool,
too wet.
But there they are:
flashing in the darkness,
fireflies.

 

We feared
that the Big Pond
might dry up again,
this summer,
as it did four summers ago.

pond drying out

Last summer, it was way down,
again—water less
than two feet deep.
Pelicans stayed about 10 days,
feasting on easy-pickings.
Algae blossomed,
fish died.
We couldn’t water gardens
(the pump was above the water line.)
We didn’t swim.

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As spring came this year
and the best chances for rain—
May and June—
approached, we weren’t sure
we had the energy
for dashed hopes,
as last spring,
big rains never came.

But they have this year!
And for all our friends
who know the pond,
have grieved the drought with us,
who share our love and concern
for that beautiful pond;
for those who’ve asked how it’s doing,
look:
it’s full,
overflowing!

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Last fall,
during Urban Ag Week,
we spent one morning in a workshop
exploring the Deep Fork bioregion,
right in the heart of Oklahoma City.
We started at the headwaters
and visited other sites along the creek,
as it flows through human habitation.
It was a thrill to pull back our view
and get a sense of place—
the land forms,
habitat,
life
that is our natural community
in the city.
That day it was easy to see
that every inch on Earth
is part of the natural world.

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So, we’re going to offer that workshop
again.
Saturday, May 30, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
We’ll meet at 1000 NW 32nd street,
which is Turtle Rock Farm’s new place
in the city,
in the CommonWealth Urban Farm community.
Yes, of course,
we’re still in the country as well,
up north in the prairie ecosystem.
Over the years,
people have said to us,
things like: “We’re so glad
you’re out there doing that.”
And they’ve asked: “How
do I live sustainably in the city?”
Good question.
Yes, we all must learn how to live
sustainably—
in the city, too.
Living on the prairie
has different sustainability challenges
(observe conventional modern
agriculture practices.)
Many more of us humans live in the city,
where the challenges are different,
including feeling separate
from the natural world.
We want to be more engaged
in these questions. So,
here we are,
settling in,
offering the Sense of Place workshop
again in Oklahoma City.
(To register, go to the calendar page
on our website: www.turtlerockfarmretreat.com)
Our engagement with life—
country
and city—
continues.

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Exquisite Peony,
my mouth gapes
at the sight
of your beautiful
fragrant
simple
miraculous
life.

The Phoebe
evidently decided
that the tiny balls of dried mud
fashioned into a nest by Barn Swallows
but abandoned before completion
make for a solid foundation to build on.
I read that this is common; that Barn Swallows
and Phoebes often use the same nests,
alternately raising their families. Both species
(Phoebes are in the Flycatcher family)
like to build on human-made structures,
though the Phoebe’s natural nesting site
is a stone outcropping—not many of those
around here.
They have adapted, well.

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Seems the female makes the decision.
Male Phoebes don’t build the nests, but
he has been flying in now and then to take a look
and sitting on a Hackberry branch nearby
and calling—”Fee-bee”—from somewhere.
To build up the front of the nest
she made many trips
carrying mud in her beak.
Then, for days, she brought softer materials—
straw, grass, feathers—
to make the nest suitable. She poked
in the soft nest stuff,
then tamped with her tiny feet,
her whole body shaking. Now and then
she seemed to snuggle into the nest,
as if trying out the fit.

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The nest appears to be finished.
The trips with building materials have stopped.
I am concerned that our constant activity—
Maizey, the chickens,
the raucous Guinea fowl, the cat, me—
will be threatening
and she will abandon her beautiful construction,
as, perhaps, the Barn Swallows did.
I have removed the small wind chime
that hung below the nest.
I sit at the far end of the porch these days.
But Maizey sits very near
and the rest of the community
come and go, loudly,
as they please.

Last night, as I came in very near dark,
I could see her shape, dimly,
sitting on the nest.
This morning,
not so.
We wait in hope.

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Evening Clouds the First Night of This Week’s Storms in Oklahoma

It’s raining again,
early evening. Yesterday, .3;
now, more. I decide to stay with it,
on the front porch, appreciate it deeply,
considering the drought these last
three, four years—maybe still,
don’t know. Five days ago,
in south Oklahoma City,
there was historic flash flooding following
an outbreak of tornadoes and torrential rain—
up to nine inches, maybe more.
Flood and drought
is the natural cycle on the prairie.
We humans have long ago forgotten
that.
But it does appear now
to be extreme: “exceptional
drought,” recalling for us,
hand-me-down memories
of those Dust Bowl Days;
just now too, more intense
rain, flood. I calm myself
on the front porch,
taking in the long-awaited, cherished
moisture,
ready to absorb the sound of rainfall,
(crashing thunder would come later
in the evening, with 1.7 inches total
for the day)
and set my sight on savoring the lush green,
the huge puddles. And then,
just as Earth is about to hide it,
the sun bursts through! Golden light
yanks me from the porch.

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Light rain falls,
but I go out
and watch the river-like torrent
rushing through the pasture. Doe Creek
is out too.

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And then,
in the cloudless eastern blue sky,
a full rainbow. I can see
its complete expanse
and as the western sky turns golden
the rainbow in the east brightens
and glows for a long time,
as if it were stable,
permanent.

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It is that I am to stay with.
There is distant thunder.
The wind picks up again,
from the east—
the direction of the rainbow.
I stand in the road
for the best view,
of lush spring grasses
and wet, golden, dried tall grasses;
listening to frogs sing
and listening to the rainbow—long a sign,
messenger,
to humanity.
One tradition says that the rainbow
is God’s message that any future floods
would not be at the hand of a supernatural
divine one. Hmmm…if so,
must be us, then. Indeed,
coyote howls sound
like a siren,
and rainbow shouts silently:
“RESPECT THE EARTH SYSTEM!”

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