Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Has it been a year?

Funny how time flies. Especially at the farm.
Just a few months ago the pastures were wilting to bare nakedness under too much heat and not enough rain.
Now, the farm's being eaten alive by gigantic tumbleweeds and other menaces.
J and I have spent weekends trying to mow the beasts with trimmer mowers and our beloved John Deere riding mower.
Just as we thought we were making some headway another beast appeared along the creek: Cockleburs.
If you've never dealt with those critters, here's what you may encounter: a pecan-sized monster that latches onto your clothing, dog, hair, whatever's handy. And doesn't let go.
Supposedly, the inventor(s) of Velcro got their idea from the sticky little weeds.
I'll admit that I have a (very small) place in my heart for tumbleweeds. Back when we lived in the Texas Panhandle, tumbleweeds routinely visited our duplex, which was on the edge of a small valley.
The big, round monsters would pile up against our fence like a landslide.
One winter my wife and I bought a rainbow of spray paint cans and sprayed the tumblers in all sorts of colors.
Then we released them and let them run free.
The sight of dozens and dozens and dozens of brightly colored balls of sticky weeds rolling across the valley was a sight I'll never forget.
When we moved back to West Texas I became acquainted with a family who built snowmen from tumbleweeds at Christmas.

Their snowmen weren't tiny, either. The family cruised desert highways for hundreds of miles each summer searching for monster tumbleweeds.
Once found, the weeds were staked down in pastures so they couldn't escape. At Christmas time, they'd go find them, load 'em into the truck and head back home.
Then they sprayed them with white paint and pegged the biggest one  (size of a VW beetle!) to the front yard. ext came a recliner-sized weed and, finally, on top, a perfectly  round tumble head.
The tumbleweed snowman in their front yard was the best Christmas displays in town. We always drove by  in December and took friends to see it.
The moral of this story?
 I have never heard of a cocklebur snowman.
Meanwhile, if you need Christmas tumbleweeds for decorations, we have them. Help yourself. Tell your friends. Watch out for burs....

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A week after the rain

I finally was able to get onto the farm. A week of warm, dry weather can do wonders with mud. I parked the van by the Shed and walked the road up to the New Tank by the hill.

I knew the Oak Tree Pond and Middle Creek had been running over last weekend, but how about the New Tank? It hasn't held water in several years, causing us to speculate on what might be wrong with it.

Because of the flooding, I wasn't able to reach the New Tank last weekend. This weekend, it was easy.

Turns out, the only thing wrong with the tank was the lack of rain. Little spit-and-run showers couldn't even wet down the earthen tank, the biggest reservoir on the farm. But a 7-inch-plus rain filled it to its overflow channel.

Other videos below include a quick tour of the Hillside Trail. I spent some time clearing noxious weeds and brambles. Beyond that, the trail, built a year and a half ago, still looks pretty good to me.

I also included one of the Dead Pickup. The older it gets the more beautiful it looks.


Monday, March 5, 2012


Spring Break's almost here. Next week, I'm on vacation for nine endless days.

I have promised my long-suffering spouse that I'll take care of nasty little jobs around the house. We need to move the chicken coop. (Who knew there's an ordinance about the distance between chickens and neighbors' houses?)  Then there's the nasty little  "stucco problem" on the chimney, some cracked windows, a rotten board or two or three on the front porch. Then there's the weed invasion, crab grass, more weeds, yarda, yarda, yarda.

Or, I could spend the entire week at the farm. (Which could lead to spending the entire rest of my life at the farm if my lovely bride decides to change the locks while I'm ducking home chores.)

My plan is to work fast at home, then head for the hills. Or hill.

As faithful readers know, the Hillside Trail's a done deal. I walked it again Sunday during a quick trip to the farm and admired the workmanship. Truly a masterpiece.

But much work remains. Next up: The long-awaited Hill Cabin. My plan is to at least start the foundation this spring. Dig some post holes, cement some posts, bolt some joists, nail some 2-by-6s. Generally have a good time making it up as I go along. (Which is the Farm Way.)

Stay tuned...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rethinking snakes

I am reconsidering my policy toward rattlesnakes at the farm.

As longtime readers may recall, I've had about a dozen encounters of the snake kind at the farm in the past 30 years. Half of the snakes, I killed. The other half, I cautiously watched as they did their thing (rattle, coil, rattle coil) or silently slipped away.

My policy has been: If they're in a "public" area where we tend to congregate, kill them. If not, leave 'em alone. (And don't breathe a word of this to my nephew, who is a senior biology major at ASU and has a deep love for all kinds of reptiles, including rattlers.)

I'm not  particularly proud of my snake-riddance policy. After all, snakes were at home on the farm long before I arrived, and they'll still be there long after I'm gone. I'm the intruder. They're just going about their business.

Friday, was my turning point, snake-wise. I attended a reading and Q&A by Leslie Marmon Silko, a Native-American writer and teacher from Tuscon, Ariz., by way of New Mexico.

She read from her memoir, "The Turquoise Ledge." One of her readings was about rattlesnakes.

Living much of her life in rugged, rural areas, the writer has a keen eye for nature. She misses nothing: the shape of clouds, the flight of birds, the sight of rattlers resting in shady spots.

But rather than fear snakes, she's fascinated by them. She admitted she did kill at least two early on, the last in 1979. Since then, she has probably killed a number of more  by accident when she strung chicken wire around pens and gardens to keep critters in or out. Snakes can easily become trapped trying to squeeze through the mesh. I know. One of the farm snakes I killed, a fat, 4-foot-long rattler, was trying to leave the vineyard when it ended up half in, half out of our chicken wire fence.

My solution was to cut the snake in half with a sharp hoe.

When Leslie encountered the same kind of crossroads,  she freed a snake  entangled in nylon filament netting.

In spine-tingling detail, she wrote about using tin snips to slowly, carefully cut away the threads that had sliced into the diamond back rattler's body. All the while, she was in easy striking distance of the diamond back's fangs, but it didn't move until she cut the last thread.

"When he felt his fat midsection cut free, the big diamond back glided away gracefully, and I felt blessed," she wrote.

She encountered the same snake later that year in her front yard. She was walking from car to porch in the dark when "I felt my foot leave the ground with the sickening sensation of live moving flesh under my foot and instantly I knew what I had done. As I jumped as high as I ever have, away from the snake, I heard him rattle once softly and then he was gone."

The snake, she wrote, seemed to know she meant him no harm.

She tells other great snake stories, too, including the rattler who lived under her literally ratty old ranch house and gave birth to six baby rattlers who ended up under her sofa "while my mother-in-law was sitting on it," she said. "Too bad!"

I am going to remember Leslie's  kindness the next time I encounter a rattlesnake at the farm.

Will I free one from a fence with my bare (or even gloved) hands? Doubtful.

Will I kill one simply because I encounter it on a walk? No. I will let it pass, or wait until it lets me pass. Then we can both go in peace and feel blessed.

But, if it parks under the sofa, all bets are off.

Monday, February 20, 2012


I spot the creek from a half-mile away. It's a blue ribbon. Not dry, like usual. Full.
Turning on the caliche road, I gauge my chances for getting stuck. Caliche (crushed limestone) is better than mud. But not a lot. 

I take it slow, dodging water-filled pot holes, admiring the green, soaked field of winter wheat. 

Is there anything lovelier than a dryland (meaning no irrigation; completely dependent on rain) farm after a 2-inch rain?  Doubtful.

The creek's running. Tanks are full of water. Water catchment barrels running over. Water, water everywhere.

I spend the rest of the afternoon sloshing through mud (wearing my old boots), wading over the creek (at a shallow crossing).

And admiring how quickly brown weeds turn green after a mid-winter rain.