Prairie View

Sunday, September 22, 2019

According to Precedent

The Autumnal Equinox happens tomorrow.  In Rudyard Kipling's words (spoken by the elephant's child) very soon there will be "nothing left of the Equinoxes, because the Precession ha[s] preceded according to precedent. " While I'm not sure that making big deadlines out of times when creation rhythms and dates on the calendar intersect, for some reason it feels right to get caught up on a bit of blogging before the big event.  Within the next two weeks loom four events on my calendar that guarantee some extra busyness, in which time getting back to blogging is unlikely.


This Wednesday my sister Linda and I plan to take a day trip to the Flint Hills with Heritage Tours from Yoder.  This region is about two hours east of Reno County, in east central Kansas.  The topography is rolling, and the vegetation features Tallgrass prairie plants.  These grasses are at their most beautiful at this time of year.  Little Bluestem, the state grass of Kansas, is the signature grass of this area, although it's not the tallest grass in the region.  Indiangrass, Big Bluestem, and Switchgrass are all much taller and are present in great numbers.  Of all these, however, Little Bluestem provides the most highly favored forage.   

More rain falls there than here, but the soil overlays limestone formations fairly close to the surface, so the land is more suitable for grazing than cropping, unlike the deep level Reno County soils.  The grasses and skies are magnificent.  If you've ever read Little House on the Prairie, you can probably picture the grasses reaching higher than the head of the horses that pulled a covered wagon.  You may also remember stars so close that Laura felt like she could reach out and pluck one right out of the black sky at night.

One thing that other people in the world know about the Flint Hills is that this is the site of the only Tallgrass prairie that is part of the National Park system.  What is even more unusual is the congenial  relationship between the national government and ranchers who have owned the land for decades .  The ranchers are recognized as the experts in grassland management, so much of the land is used for grazing cattle just as has been the case for decades.  A portion of it, however, is grazed only by bison and deer, both Mule and White-Tail. 

I've seen the Flint Hills area listed as one of the very best sunrise and sunset viewing spots in the world.  It made the Top Seven in this list.  This is another thing that people elsewhere in the world know about Kansas.

One more signature event in the Flint Hills lures people from far and wide.  It features an outdoor concert presented by the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra.  The concert is timed so that attendees can witness a sunset as part of the event.  One of the major presenting sponsors is the BNSF Railroad (Burlington Northern Santa Fe), which passes right by our house.  Read about the event here.


On Saturday of this week, I plan to attend the regular meeting of Kansas Authors Club, District 6.  Jason Probst will be the presenter this time.  He has a background in journalism and worked for The Hutchinson News before it shrank to a shadow of its old self.  He works now as a state representative, having been appointed to finish out the term of his friend, Patsy Terrell. 

Drama preceded Probst's service in the House of Representatives.  Terrell died suddenly of natural causes during the night after one of the biggest victories of her short legislative career.  A Democrat in the extremely conservative administration of Sam Brownback, Terrell was part of a bipartisan vote to overturn the governor's veto on the year's budget proposal.  The tide began to turn with this vote, when Republican and Democratic lawmakers acted to fill in what had become gaping funding holes in state programs.  .

Terrell was a free-lance writer.  I frequently saw her writings in community publications.  I remember visiting briefly with her when she stopped by our Farmer's Market booth.  Before this, she once left a comment on one of my blog posts.  I have no idea how she found her way there.


The next upcoming event is the fall follow up to the Leadership Reno County classes I attended between January and May.  The sessions are held at the Kansas Leadership Center in Wichita from Wednesday morning to Friday noon during the first week in October.  I understand that this event brings together people from various parts of Kansas who have participated in local classes much like I did.  Driving back and forth to Wichita three days in a row is not high on my list of fun things to do, but it's part of the package of having been privileged to take the LRC class, and I'm grateful for the opportunity, so I'll find a way to make the next step happen. 


On the day after the Leadership classes end, my niece Heidi plans to marry James in a block-party-style wedding in front of her house in Hutchinson.  Siblings of mine and other family members plan to arrive here before then from Oregon, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Virginia.  They'll come also from Labette County, KS and the Kansas City area.  I'm sure that a host of the couple's relatives and friends are coming from many other places.  The wedding meal will be served by food truck vendors.  I'm sure that prayers for nice weather on October 5 have been offered for some time before now and will continue. 


For the first time ever, writing has become part of my daily routine.  Writing and routine haven't usually occurred in the same sentence in  my experience.  The trigger for this was an intervention staged by Hiromi when I began to talk about having a writing cabin built.  He attempted to dissuade me, arguing that it would be a waste of money.  I thought he was being difficult, but I cooperated by putting the idea on hold. 

On his own, he set about cleaning out the seed house so that I could use that for my writing location.  This is a shed-style building about 10' x 10' with the tall south-facing wall glazed with double-wall polycarbonate (think greenhouse plexiglass).  I've used it in the past for seed starting.  It's fully insulated and can be heated and cooled.  The table tucked under the low side of the slanting roof  is my writing surface.  I am using an office chair from school where I had taken it and then left it when I retired--because I didn't know where to put it at home.  Gradually I have been furnishing the table with the supplies that make it an efficient work space.

At first the seed house was alive with crickets.  I put down glue boards for that problem--eight of them.  I stopped counting when I got to 100 crickets caught on those glue boards.  I still hear crickets there, but I can live with this level of infestation.  I'll keep putting out fresh glue boards as long as I hear them though.

The seed house has often been my happy place in the past.  It's full of natural light, and often has plant babies being born and then growing into garden-ready plants.  The seed starting function is continuing in conjunction with my writing efforts.  In fact, for the first time ever, I feel like I have a good place for the books and papers that are needed for seed starting records.  I see hope for the house becoming tidier with this change.  I hope to also create a flower arranging space out there.  That would help me keep my dining room clear of flower "clutter."

Right now I have at least 200 mini soil blocks planted with seeds of "cool flowers."  These are for fall planting, with the expectation that they will winter over and bloom early next spring.  They are a mixture of Hardy Annuals, Biennials, and Perennials.  I wish I had gotten started earlier this year, and this season will be a trial run of sorts. 

My inspiration comes from a book by Lisa Mason Ziegler.  Cool Flowers is the title.  She's the first writer I've read who has spelled out how to do what I have often idealized--spreading out the flower seeding and growing tasks over seasons other than spring and summer, and secondly,  utilizing the benefits of self-sowing flowers. 

I came to peace about continuing to use the "seed house" name for this writing place after I realized that ideas for writing are really a lot like seeds for gardening.  They start out small and grow into something bigger.  They take on a life of their own, sometimes morphing in surprising ways as they grow.  Providing favorable conditions for germination is important, as is nurturing seeds and ideas after they've germinated.  I'll be asking a lot of that seed house space and I'm confident it will deliver.


My praise for glue boards as effective cricket traps is tempered by the distasteful reality of having to see them in operation and dispose of them appropriately.  The horror of using them ramped up almost beyond my tolerance level when we caught several mice on the ones I had placed inside the house for crickets.  Hiromi carried those out.  "Don't ask," he said when I asked what he did with them.  I wish I had thought of that myself. 


We took the first nature walk of the season last Friday.  One of the fun finds along the banks of Salt Creek was identifying a Bullfrog and Plains Leopard Frogs from the bridge on Centennial Road.  The list of things we identified was much longer than I realized when I listed them at home afterward.  they included animal tracks, grasses and forbs (weeds and wildflowers), trees, birds, a mollusk (clam), clouds, and the afore-mentioned amphibians. 

The week before, the grandchildren had seen a Black and Yellow Argiope (the huge garden spider of fall), catch a hover fly in its web and "run" to secure it.  On that same day we had identified two kinds of toads:  the Woodhouse's Toad and the Great Plains Toad.  Shane's boys had collected them from their window wells. I hope we have a chance next spring to listen to their calls and identify what we're hearing.

If I had gotten started sooner with this interest in identifying frogs, I could have taken a class at Dillon Nature Center this past summer and become a member of the newly-formed local chapter of Frogwatch, a national citizen science organization.  Monitoring their populations provides clues about the state of their habitat and ability to survive.  One very basic bit of information I gleaned by reading and conversing about amphibians on Facebook is that toads are a subset of frogs. 

Abundant rains early this summer produced a bumper crop of frogs and toads.  I'm not sure if the abundance of rain is also a reason for an abundance of dragonflies, but they are as ubiquitous as the amphibians here this summer. 


Last week before one of our walks along Trail West Road I labeled zipper-top bags with the names of all the kinds of grasses I had seen on earlier walks.  Hiromi carried the bags and a scissors in his pockets, and we stopped and snipped off seeds heads whenever we came to a place with a concentration of one kind of grass.  Since I didn't know for sure if I was harvesting them at the appropriate time for maturity of seeds, I hoped to repeat the process later.  It was not to be because the ditch mowers passed since then and everything lies on the ground, chopped into featureless litter.  I am unhappy about this destruction of natural beauty, but Hiromi says he thinks I would have a hard time convincing anyone in public words to back off on what I see as over-zealous mowing.  It's as though when you have a mower, everything looks like something to chop up. 

Grasses provide much of our fall color.  This fall alone, I've enjoyed three kinds of purple grasses, each of them with the color name of the seed head or the foliage in the grass name: Purpletop, Purple Lovegrass, and Purple Three-Awn.  "Blue" foliage colors are common.  Bluestem is a grass with many adjective modifiers:  Big, Little, and Silver are the common ones here.  Little Bluestem foliage turns orange and red later in the fall.

What could possibly be lost if mowers mowed only the shoulder of the road, or mowed only from the edge of the road down to the lowest part of the ditch?  I understand the need for good visibility when approaching a road from a private driveway.  I also understand the necessity of providing a safe place for vehicles to pull off the road when needed.  Making provision for that would still allow the "back" side of the ditch to be left unmowed.  What am I missing?  Right now I think I know what "they" are missing, but "they" might have a perspective I haven't considered.

I go through this "rage" every year.


My daily routines include heading outdoors twice a day to sit in one of the chairs that are strategically placed to make it easy to watch the sunrise and sunset.  In the mornings I take a songbook along and sing into the coloring and brightening sky.  This morning a Great Horned Owl appeared undisturbed by my singing.  That was considerate.  I like to find where the moon is located in the morning. I'm only beginning to notice patterns in where it appears.  Often I see it as I'm returning to the house.

In the evening I also take the Common Prayer book and focus on certain parts of the daily readings.  The cat seems to come looking for me when she hears me sing.  Tonight I found an evening song written by my friend Lucy A. Martin.  I tried to sing it, but my sight-reading skills need improvement.  The cat was not alarmed by this.  The two evening songs for which I can easily sing all the verses by memory are "Savior Breathe an Evening Blessing" and "Day is Dying in the West."  Hymns of the Church has a section containing beautiful evening songs, beginning around page 63. I'm gradually learning some of them.

I've learned the morning song "Still, Still With Thee" by memory, although it was more of a struggle than usual because the first part of every score is sung in chant style on a single tone.  This means that no rhythm or movement in the tone can be of any memorization help.  In the morning I usually sing through the songs that were sung in church the Sunday before. 


My own Facebook posts are running some competition with blog posts.  Some of what I used to post here is now being posted on Facebook in short snippets.  On one hand, I regret the erosion of this blogging effort, and on the other hand, I'm happy that I'm getting something put out there, even if I don't feel that I have time for a full-blown blog post.  Maybe I should occasionally do a blog post with a "Facebook repeat" label.  It would essentially mean pasting here what I wrote there. 


Much that I've written about did not really occur much according to precedent, but I love Kipling's fun use of words like equinoxes and precession, so I seized on this excuse to quote him.