Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Deprived and the Not-So-Deprived

Hubby had to do all the chores and irrigating last night, since I was on the bi-monthly pilgrimage to Billings, Montana, to pick up a round bale feeder and vacuum cleaner and to stock up on cheap groceries. He called with an AAR (animal accommodation report) as I was headed home.

·         Hubby brought the goats into the barn and fed them, but they protested loudly until he figured out that they didn’t like the stemmy hay that he’d given them. He gave them some leafy alfalfa; they shut up.
·         He let the cat in and deposited him in front of a reasonably full bowl of cat food. The cat wouldn’t eat, however, and meowed pitifully until Hubby remembered me saying that Smokey insists on a scoop of fresh food at every meal. (Not only that, but, once a day, he orders up a side of dog kibble or biscuits.)

The cows, horses, and dogs were more agreeable and, for once, didn’t lobby for more than they were given.

For a few glorious weeks in late summer, we humans feast on sweet corn while the bovines devour sweet corn shucks, cobs, and stalks. When the corn disappeared, I rotated the cows to another pasture which was lush from irrigation and rest. One would think that the herd would be satisfied with green grass up to their knees, but not so—early the next morning they showed up, looking for their sweet corn breakfast!

Son Zach, who is on a year-long Rotary student exchange to Jamnagar, India, tells us that our animals don’t know how good they have it compared to that of animals in his city. Dogs and cats aren’t kept as pets; chickens, pigs, goats and water buffalo aren’t kept on a farm. No one feeds them. They run wild, subsisting on what they glean from the garbage dumps or their fellow gleaners. Disease (most of the dogs suffer from mange) and parasites are the norm.

Maybe we should send our over-indulged animals overseas to see how their Indian brethren are getting along in the garbage dumps. When they return, they might not be so quick to fuss if their meals are not 5-star rated or, heaven forbid, five minutes late!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mirth Blooming

                The honeybees love me! Well, at least they never sting me as we work side by side in the flower beds—me watering and weeding, they gathering nectar and pollinating. It’s the middle of September; the nights are cold, but it has yet to frost. The sunny yellows of the marigolds, calendulas and black-eyed Susans have never been so bright, and the scarlet, pink and peach hues of the roses have never been so vivid. Even the sunflowers, purple coneflowers and poppies, though weary and heavy-laden with seed, are still blooming satisfactorily.

                The bees and I know that it’s just a matter of days before the flowers will be frostbitten, their brilliance turned to brown and black dullness. To ease the pain of color-lovers who inhabit cold climates, the good Lord—a master of garden design if there ever was one—has provided for dazzling autumn displays of red, orange and yellow that even outshine the intense, smiling hues of mums and asters. Already the current bushes are turning crimson, and the green is fading in the aspen and cottonwoods.

                In a few months, when there’s nothing but neutrals—white snow, tan grass, grey trunks and branches—I’ll be ever so grateful for the few splotches of color that I still have: the red-orange rose hips and a few young juniper and blue spruce trees. (Why didn’t we plant more of those? I’ll wonder.) And I’ll be even more thankful that our home, barn and outbuildings aren’t the neutrals we’d originally considered, but are a cheery barn red with white trim and hunter green roofs. My color focus will have shifted indoors as I merrily deck the halls in preparation for Christmas. (Don’t worry about the bees. By then, they’ll have been transported to the West Coast and will be buzzing about from one almond blossom to another.)

                Color is a miracle which dictionaries and the science of physics try to explain in vague terms such as, “An attribute of things that results from the light they reflect, transmit, or emit in so far as this light causes a visual sensation that depends on its wavelengths.” (Huh?) To me, color in nature is just more proof that our Creator loves people (hey, He could have designed the world in grayscale and we’d have never known the difference) and that He’s not near as austere as we sometimes suppose. The next time you pass a zinnia or a viola, look closely—you might just see God grinning.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Of Sticks and Sons

“Why are you putting all those sticks in the ground?” asked the little boy, looking down at Hubby and me on our knees in the mud.
“These aren’t sticks,” we laughed. “They’re trees!” He looked dubious, and I couldn’t blame him. The tiny saplings indeed looked like mere sticks—they had no branches or leaves and only a few roots. Fifty of them fit into one bucket!
We planted hundreds of trees that day and have done so several times since, doing our part to enhance the environment as well as increase the profits of companies that produce OTC pain relievers. (Tree planting wouldn’t be so hard on the knees and back if the bulk of the work could be done above ground level!)
Anyone who has planted trees knows the investment of time required to nurse a “stick” into a tree. When I heard the Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago,” I laughed at its truth. Everything else we plant—grass, crops, flowers, vegetables—nearly always grows to maturity in a year or two, but trees take years, even decades.
Wyoming is no Garden of Eden either. Saplings face enemies like sub-zero winters, hot and dry summers, choking weeds, alkaline soil, brutal winds, and munching mule deer . In order for young trees to survive and thrive here, we Johnny Appleseeds have to help them out with irrigation, mulch, weeding, fertilizer, and protective fencing—not to mention splints made from sticks, socks and duct tape!
Tree husbandry can be quite rewarding when a “stick” you planted three years ago finally has a trunk strong enough for the cat to climb, branches sturdy enough to support a songbird, or shade enough for the dogs on a hot summer afternoon. This summer, I discovered a red-winged blackbird nest in a little silver buffaloberry we’d planted just over a year earlier! Even though the nest was partially supported by a thistle, I felt a certain parental pride, the kind I felt when Zach played Theodore Roosevelt in his 2nd grade history play, or made his first layup in 5th grade basketball.
The most gratifying thing about tree parenting, I think, is that, after all the investment of time, work and love that you put into saplings, they don’t pack their bags and move to India!