Friday, May 12, 2017

Down the Road to the Big Pasture

Perhaps you have noticed that even
in the very lightest breeze,
you can hear the voice of the cottonwood tree.
--Black Elk

(I can't find the original of this photo, so I have to settle for this one that I've edited. It ends up looking more like a painting.)

I've always loved the tunnel of cottonwood trees that leads to the Big Pasture. For more than 100 years, Randy's ancestors brought cattle through the tree-lined road to the pasture on the Rattlesnake Creek. The ground was purchased in 1900 for about $4 per acre by August Brinkman, a great-great-great uncle of Randy's. Originally in a tract of 1,040 acres, 560 acres remain in the Fritzemeier family.
A few years ago, this location was designated as a Farm Bureau Century Farm. Randy's Grandpa, Clarence, and two of his brothers owned the pasture together. Now Randy and his cousin, Don, are the owners.
July 2013
The road has never been the best maintained. But it was still one of my favorites because of the play of light and shadows from the mighty cottonwoods. I imagined Randy's predecessors appreciating the road less traveled as they brought cattle to pasture and then checked them throughout the summer months.

Traditionally, we don't move cattle to the Big Pasture before May 1. Randy says that's because it his grandpa and his great-uncles wanted to keep it fair for everyone. After weekend rains, we couldn't move the cattle on May Day. Instead, we were a day later in taking the mamas and babies to the summer pasture.

I knew that there were changes in the scenery. Randy had gotten a preview when they worked on rebuilding and repairing pasture fence. But this was my first venture down the road to the Big Pasture since county crews had torn out the bulk of the cottonwood trees.

The first time I went this spring, I was too busy driving a loaded trailer through the deep, muddy ruts to truly see the changes. After that first attempt down the road, we went an alternative route, adding 14 miles to each trip to the pasture but assuring that we wouldn't be stuck.
We went back later in the week to check on the cattle and the fence. It made me sad.
Only a few of the magnificent old trees survived. Most ended up in the brush piles on either side of the road.
Cottonwoods always make me think of the song my very first voice teacher had me sing at my very first lesson,

"I hear the cottonwoods whispering above ...
"The old hootie owl hootie-hoots to the dove ..."
(It wasn't exactly an art song, but I digress.)

The mama cows probably couldn't care less about the scenery, but this mama will miss those old cottonwoods.
They are likely much more concerned with the condition of the grass and the water in the creek. With abundant rains in the last six weeks or so, those are in good shape. We are thankful for the full creek. In the midst of a drought in 2012, there was no water there at all.

August 2012
It's a much prettier scene to have ripples in the creek as the water flows by.
May 2017
It will require some fence repair once the water goes down a bit.
But you sure can't beat the scenery when the rains have greened up the pastures and filled the creek to its banks.
From our pasture looking to the neighbor's pasture to the east.
The pairs we hauled to the pasture should have plenty to eat and drink. They arrived at the old corrals, which have been used time and time again by Randy's family.
This is the first time at the pasture for these calves, born in January and February of this year.
But maybe it's like "old home week" for their mamas as they return during their productive years to the pasture. I guess they'll show them the ropes!
It's not the bull's first rodeo at the Big Pasture either.
And they're off to greener pastures!


  1. Such a shame about the trees. it will take time but nature will heal, just like the dry creek bed to the lush river banks now. I hope the 'rodeo' goes well.

    1. It's sad to see these mighty old trees die. So many were planted in Kansas at the same time through the timber claims of our ancestors, so shelter belts and old farmsteads are looking straggly with the dying trees. I guess we all need to plant some new trees for those who will come after us (though I doubt the county wants us planting them along the roads).

  2. It is such a pity when old trees get removed, especially when there is nothing really around them to take their place.

    Randy looks very pleased with the Farm Bureau Century Farm sign. Can you tell me the significance of being named one of these farms? Is it because it has been in the family for many years?

  3. Yes. Century Farms are awarded by Farm Bureau. They must have been in the same family for at least 100 years.