Friday, May 31, 2013

Rain Reigns

Into each life, some rain must fall.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Thank goodness, Henry. Thank goodness. We were beginning to wonder after two-plus years of drought.

A total of 4.25 inches of rain fell on the County Line from Wednesday night into Thursday. We farmers would like to order rain like we order a Diet Coke. Maybe we didn't need the Big Gulp size all at once. But it sure helped quench our thirst for moisture. 

As we drove down the County Line last evening, Randy and I couldn't remember the last time we'd gotten 4-plus inches of rain all at once.
We were fortunate. We just got a Thomas Kincaid sunset illuminating storm clouds on Wednesday night, while North Central Kansas got tornadoes and hail.
We got plenty of wind, but not as much as my brother in Pratt County, who had an irrigation system overturned, as did a couple of his neighbors.

I realized after I looked at photos I took Wednesday night that I should have set a much quicker shutter speed. But the wheat field definitely demonstrated its dizzying resemblance to waves on the ocean during this time that "real" photographers call "the golden hour."
 Randy says the rain was ideal timing for filling wheat heads with grain.
However, in some places, the rain and wind knocked over wheat, giving the field a look of bedhead after a rough night of tossing and turning.

But it was like that only in areas of the fields.
This year, we'll have some wheat drowned out by mudholes. And that's OK. For the past two years, there have been no mudholes at all.
The ladybugs seemed to like the moisture Thursday evening.
 (I also found some ladybug larvae. I saw a photo in The Hutchinson News last Sunday and was surprised when I found one in our field, too. I don't think I'd ever seen that before. See photo below.)
The rain didn't just benefit the wheat crop. It also gave a boost to the corn ...
... and it helped fill waterways like Peace Creek and replenished grasses in pastures, where our cow-calf pairs are grazing this summer.
It gave an extra boost of growing energy to our alfalfa fields. A guy who checks oil wells in our area has been talking to Randy about this field south of our house. Randy planted it three years ago. With the lack of rain, we haven't ever gotten a good crop of alfalfa from it. However, Carl is saying that this is the year he'll get to see big windrows of hay and then lots of bales. We hope he's right.
Kansas truly is the Land of Ahs on a day after a rain.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sightseeing In Our Own Backyard

We don't want our cattle to be tourists at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Several cow-calf pairs are at their summer "vacation" home, munching grass in a pasture that borders the refuge.

However, we hope to leave the tourist excursions for the humans.
The Quivira National Wildlife Refuge really is our neighbor. It consists of 22,135 acres in Stafford, Rice and Reno Counties.

People in Orlando don't go to Disney World. Those in San Antonio don't visit the Alamo until they have out-of-town guests. San Franciscans don't go to the Golden Gate Bridge unless they need to go across it to get where they're going.

Those of us who live in close proximity don't always take advantage of tourist attractions in our own backyards. So, Randy and I decided to take an afternoon drive several weeks ago. It's likely greener now. Sorry I didn't get the photos posted back then. Still, even with a brown backdrop, the refuge is a beautiful place for an afternoon drive.
Though water levels are still lower than normal because of two-plus summers of drought, the marshes are rebounding after the late winter snows and early spring rains.
Near the confluence of  the Rattlesnake Creek and the Arkansas River in central Kansas, water remains the great driver of a diverse complex of salt marsh and unique native sand prairie community that is Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. The combination of these productive habitats as well as the refuge's mid-continent location continue to attract millions of birds needing to replenish essential reserves and to find protection in the mosaic of largely open grasses, sedges, rushes and water. 

For visitors, each moment is unique -- the smell of the moist earth and salty air, the primitive call of a crane, the whispering bluestem, the cacophony of geese, the early steps of a snowy plover chick or the discovery of a subtle pattern or design in nature.
From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan & Environmental Assessment
In May 1955, the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission approved the establishment of the Great Salt Marsh National Wildlife Refuge to recognize two unique, historic salt marsh and salt flat areas, the Big Salt Marsh and the Little Salt Marsh. In 1958, the name was changed to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge after the Spanish term for the area.
The Spanish word "Quivira" is a form of the Native American name, "Kirikuru," which is what local people called themselves when the Spanish explorer Don Francisco Vasquez de Coronado visited the region in 1541 in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola. Instead of gold, he found grasslands and wildlife. After his expedition left, only a few trappers and explorers came to the area until the mid-1800s.

The General Land Survey was conducted in the region in 1871, evaluating its suitability for farming and grazing. One surveyor noted:

Section 17, T22S, R11W (2 miles weest of what is now the Migrants' Mile area): "All pure sand without any vegetation. All hills and hollows. Constantly drifting. Worthless."

The first European settlement in Stafford County occurred in the 1860s. By 1876, a few people located near the Big Salt Marsh. A company was organized for the purpose of manufacturing salt, which was soon found to be unprofitable. Homesteaders began using the marshes and grasslands for pastures, hay land and cattle production. Besides agricultural uses, the salt marshes were used for commercial and recreational waterfowl hunting after the turn of the 20th century.**

The Refuge is a stopping point for migratory birds. But you can see lots of other animals during an afternoon drive, including deer.
We got an up-close-and-personal look at this turtle who had taken a break along one of the roads at the Big Salt Marsh. It looked like he'd had a rough life, with his shell showing some wear and tear.
For more information about Quivira, visit their website. There's a Visitor's Center located at the south end of the Refuge, overlooking Little Salt Marsh. Normal hours are Monday through Friday, 7:30 AM to 4 PM, but it is sometimes open on weekends during spring and fall.  Call the Refuge, 620-486-2393, during weekly business hours to get any updates on operational hours. Quivira is part of the Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway.
One of my Quivira sunset photos from 2010
** Historical information was taken from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan & Environmental Assessment, a 263-page document.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ties That Bind

As I nestled the pink geranium next to Gloria's gravestone, a red-headed girl and her brown-haired sister stood watching. Gloria was my late father-in-law's younger sister. On Monday, we gathered around the Fritzemeier stone at the Stafford Cemetery, carefully placing metal stakes in flower pots to batten them down in a stiff Kansas wind. No one in our little Memorial Day group knew Gloria. She died in 1954, a year before Randy was born.

But, as the unrelenting gale whipped Emily's red hair and pulled it from her ponytail, I thought about the threads that visibly and invisibly link us all together. Most of the photos I've seen of Gloria are black and white. I think her senior picture was probably tinted, as was the fashion in the 1950, but it shows her red hair and big smile.
My late father-in-law, Melvin, talked about Gloria's red hair. He, too, had red hair, but he often joked that it didn't stick around for long. He started going bald while still in high school. None of Melvin and Marie's children inherited the red hair. It wasn't until Emily was born that the family had a new generation of redheads.

But our visit to the cemetery was less about Gloria than it was about carrying on a tradition that was important to Melvin and Marie.

Later, Randy, Amanda and Emily (as well as Kathy, Dave & I) gathered at a soda fountain in downtown Stafford where Gloria and Melvin likely shared ice cream cones once upon a time. Not long ago, the marble bar and assorted fountain parts were dug out of storage and refurbished as a centerpiece for the new Stafford Mercantile. On Memorial Day, it was just another thread connecting past to present.
It was the same way at the Iuka Cemetery, as I laid flowers on the graves of my Dad's dad and his little brother, Gary.
It's been 70 years since my 79-year-old Dad had a father here on Earth and even longer since his brother died. I don't put the flowers on their graves to honor them as much as I do to honor my own Dad.
Those threads from the past inevitably stretch toward us. It's good to remember.

That seemed to be a theme everywhere I went last week. I was our church's lay delegate for the final Kansas West Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. In January, Kansas West will join Kansas East and the Nebraska Conference of the UMC in one big Great Plains conference.

The conference in Hutchinson was the last of its kind. During one of the sessions, Mary Lou Reece, the wife of Bishop Scott J. Jones, showcased an 1892-era quilt. It had belonged to the Rev. Augustus P. George, who was a Methodist circuit-riding preacher from 1880 through 1892. The quilt was presented to Rev. George to commemorate the places in Southwest Kansas he served from 1883 through 1892. He eventually retired in 1908 and died in 1917.

It's a crazy quilt, as unique as the congregations who stitched it together with different fabrics and threads. Those pioneer woman likely used scraps from their own dresses and from the curtains that brightened their simple homes. After a long day of tending children, working in the garden, making meals and hauling water, they may have sat near a kerosene lantern or a glowing fireplace to piece together the fabrics and add embroidery stitches and lace. The quilt squares are from Dodge City, Spearville, Garden City, Johnson City, Bucklin, Ness City and 14 other towns, including those long faded from memory.

One of those towns was Nonchalanta, which was a post office and trading point in Ness County. It was located 15 miles southwest of Ness City on the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. In 1910, it had a population of 69, but it included a Methodist church. Nonchalanta's square caught my eye because of the yellow cross featured there and because of the name.
Click on the photo to see a bigger version of the collage
There's nothing "nonchalant" about this quilt. George's descendents treasured it for more than a hundred years and kept it carefully preserved in cedar chest and mothballs.

Now, it's getting new life. George's great-grandchildren presented the crazy quilt to the Kansas West Conference. It will now be on display at the Great Plains UMC Conference office in Wichita.

During one of the conference worship services, we sang one of my favorite "new" hymns, "Hymn of Promise." (New is relative. It was written in 1986.) It says, in part:

From the past will come the future
What it holds a mystery
Unrevealed until its season
Something God alone can see.

That's true ... whether you're talking about families or churches or communities. It's the ties from the past that bind us together ... the threads that connect us ... the bits and pieces that come together to make the whole. That's worth remembering.

I'm linked today to Jennifer Dukes Lee's Tell His Story. Click there to find out if you're smarter than a 5th grader and other important "stuff" about faith.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Clearing the Fog

The fog was like a wet blanket as I walked down my country road one day last week. If I'm honest, it matched my mood. My feelings were hurt, and my spirit felt the heaviness of the morning.
I really didn't want to walk. It's like that sometimes, when your feet feel as heavy as your heart. But I did it anyway.
As I was walking, the sun started to filter through the clouds and cast golden light on the horizon. Slowly, but surely, the light penetrated the fog. The Light was doing the same for me.

Instead of focusing on the darkness, I began looking with eyes wide open to the beauty. The miniscule dew drops looked like diamonds as they clung tenaciously to the wheat heads.
Moisture gave a luster and freshness to the flowering shrub in my backyard.
Soft sunlight illuminated the pasture fence that seemed to stretch forever as it disappeared into the morning fog.
 And wouldn't you know it? An email devotional showed up at about the same time:
Choosing to be positive and having a grateful attitude is going to determine how you're going to live your life. Approach the day with a joyful attitude. A positive attitude is one of the greatest spiritual gifts. Help us remember to praise!
From a Guideposts email devotional
This week, as I watched coverage from the devastation that tornadoes brought to our neighbors to the south in Shawnee and Moore, Okla., it's easy to feel that "fog" pull me down again. But there is so much light - if I look hard enough. I could see it in the tired eyes of the emergency workers. I saw it as teachers hugged the students they had protected with their own bodies as the storm roared overhead. I could hear it in the brave words of people who have lost everything but the clothes on their back, but who were just thankful to be alive and who vowed to rebuild.
I see Light as delegates to the Kansas West Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church gather in Hutchinson. Today, there's a special offering being taken for UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), and every penny goes to victims. If you'd like to donate $10 immediately, text RESPONSE to 80888. Or to give online,  click on the following link:

We are not alone. This is happening all over the U.S. as people's hearts, hands and resources reach out to those in need.
And, on this Memorial Day weekend as we remember those who sacrificed for our country and those family members who were so important to our heritage, we can find light, too. Have a safe and blessed weekend, everyone!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hatfields and McCoys

It's the Wheat Farmer vs. the Corn Farmer. I don't think it's the modern-day version of the Hatfields and the McCoys. But, come planting time, there was a slightly different outlook on weather conditions.

At my parents' and brother's farming operation in Pratt County, corn is king. Our 350 acres of dryland corn pale in comparison to the cropland they have allocated to dryland and irrigated circles of corn.

Randy was happy to have his corn planting interrupted with rain because of the benefits to the 2013 wheat crop and to our drought-strained pastures. At the same time, my brother was ready for some uninterrupted corn planting.  I guess it's the difference between a Wheat Farmer and a Corn Farmer. (In all fairness, Kent is thankful for the moisture, too. He just would have liked to order it like you order a Diet Coke at the drive-through. Aren't all farm families like that, if we're honest?)

Wheat is still our primary crop at the County Line. But this year, we have added a new crop to the rotation. We planted corn for the first time in our 32 years of farming together.
In recent years, there has been some dryland corn planted in our area, but wheat is the dominate crop. For most in this immediate area, irrigation is not an option. Our proximity to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and its salt marshes is not ideal for quality ground water for irrigation.

Corn was a primary crop in this area when it was settled. The 6th Biennial Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture of 1888 reported that corn was the main crop for Stafford County, covering 48,030 acres. Oats were grown on 10,849 acres, while the winter wheat crop totaled 8,717 acres. Pasture ground was tallied at 13,446 acres. Other crops in 1888 were millet, spring wheat, rye, Irish and sweet potatoes, sorghum, castor beans, cotton, flax, hemp, tobacco and broom corn. Swine outnumbered cattle in livestock. (Information taken from Stafford County History: 1870-1990.)

So, in some ways, I guess we are returning to Randy's Stafford County farming ancestors' roots. However, the corn planted today is much different than the varieties planted 125 years ago.

Today, many farmers plant RIB corn (refuge in a bag) - whether it's irrigated or dryland.
The green-colored seeds have a different genetic make-up and are treated with a different insecticide than the pink-colored seeds. The pink seeds are a refuge for several different insects in a field, giving them a habitat to satisfy EPA rules. Before RIB technology was available, farmers had to plant so many acres in a field to a corn that wasn't resistant to the bugs and the rest of the field could be resistant. With RIB technology, farmers can plant it all at the same time, without changing seed and figuring acreage requirements. 
Our planter was set at 18,200 corn seeds per acre. Each $280 bag had 80,000 seeds and plants 4.4 acres. One bag of certified wheat seed costs $15 and plants a little more than 1/2 an acre. A bag of milo seed costs $100 and plants 14 acres.
This year, instead of planting milo as our row crop, we planted corn. There's a potential for higher yields (or so My Farmer says. I don't think he is just justifying the purchase of a corn header for the combine). There is more drought tolerance built into dryland corn seeds than previously available. 

Additionally, corn is Round-Up ready, and milo is not. We have been having trouble controlling weeds in milo. If there are weeds and grasses in the corn, we can spray with Round-Up without harming the growing plants.
After a planting period filled with more rain delays than a college baseball season, all our corn crop is up and growing. Time will tell whether this new approach will be profitable on the County Line.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Memorial Day Picnic Salad

Jill helping decorate graves in 1988 - Age 2 1/2

On Sunday, I'll join my parents for our annual Memorial Day pilgrimage to several Pratt and Stafford County cemeteries. Then, on Monday, Randy's sister, Kathy, and family will be here to decorate graves for that side of the family.

Back when I was a little girl, my Grandma and Grandpa Leonard from Sublette came back to their home county (Pratt) to make the trip on Memorial Day weekend. My Grandma's flowers were usually from her own garden and carefully arranged in cans which my Grandpa had spray-painted a dark green.
(There she is in the background with my Grandpa in 1989. Brent, 1, is with my Dad, and the young-looking guy in the middle is Randy.)

Maybe you don't think about a cemetery being a joyful place. But when I see the joy in these two little girls' faces, I can't help but think that the ancestors whose graves we were visiting had to be smiling as the little girls danced. (Read more in my 2010 blog post, Dancing in the Graveyard.)
Dancing in the graveyard - Jill & Paige - 1988
When I was a little girl about their age, we sometimes gathered at Lemon Park in Pratt for a picnic before our car caravan to the cemeteries. My Great Aunt Helen and Great Uncle Mike and their family would often meet us there. As a child, I loved getting together, eating homemade favorites and playing on the playground equipment until it was time to go and place flowers on graves of ancestors, some of whom I remembered and some who had died long before I was born.

At the time, I was blissfully unaware that preparing a picnic meal while also getting flowers ready for Decoration Day was more work for Moms and Grandmas. These days, we usually let a local pizza parlor do the cooking for us. And that's OK, too. But, if you have a picnic or a potluck to attend this Memorial Day weekend, this Cornbread Confetti Salad could be a contender. 

I last made it for a funeral dinner at church. It makes a large amount, which is great anytime you need to serve a crowd. Enjoy!

Cornbread Confetti Salad
From Taste of Home magazine
1 pkg. (8.5 oz.) cornbread/muffin mix
2 cans (15.5 oz. each) whole kernel corn, drained
2 cans (15 oz. each) pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 oz.) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 pt. grape tomatoes, halved (or 3 small tomatoes, chopped)
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 medium sweet red pepper, chopped
1/2 cup chopped green onions (bulb and green tops)
10 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded Cheddar cheese

1 cup (8 oz.) sour cream
1 cup Miracle Whip
1 envelope ranch salad dressing mix

Prepare cornbread according to package directions. Cool completely; crumble. Set aside.

Combine dressing ingredients; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine corn, beans, tomatoes, peppers and onions. Refrigerate.

Just before serving, add corn bread, crumbled bacon and cheese to the bean mixture. Pour dressing over all and toss to coat. Makes 20 to 22 servings.

Notes: I used both low-fat Miracle Whip and sour cream. Instead of preparing my own bacon, I used a package of already prepared real bacon bits found near the salad dressings. It was more expensive, but it worked well and saved time and mess.

The original recipe added the cornbread to the beans ahead of time. I prefer not having the cornbread, bacon and cheese soggy, so I add those just before serving. However, the leftovers were still good even with all the ingredients combined.

If you are serving this at an outdoor event, be sure and have a cooler ready for the leftovers.

Here's another potluck salad good for a Memorial Day outing:

I am linked today to Ashley's What's In Your Kitchen Wednesday. Click on the link to see what's cooking with other food bloggers.