Thursday, June 27, 2019

First Day of "School" Jitters: Harvest 2019

Remember that anxious feeling in the pit of your stomach before the school year started each August? There was excitement, but there was also an undercurrent of nervous energy and uncertainty. Would you understand the concepts of Geometry? (Not without sitting at Mr. Bisel's desk for a little one-on-one time.) Would friendship triumph over the girl drama?

There's been a little of that feeling going on at The County Line this June. We finally got started with Harvest 2019 late yesterday afternoon, June 26.  It started better than last year when we sent a raccoon through the combine before ever cutting a swath.

This year, the anxiety was mainly about when we would finally begin. Rain has delayed harvest and caused a later start than we've ever experienced in our 38 years of farming together. I have a record of the start dates since I've been blogging:

2010:  June 18
2011:  June 10
2012:  May 26 (an anomaly and the earliest harvest, by far, we've ever had)
2013:  June 21
2014:  June 17
2015:  June 20
2016:  June 15
2017:  June 12
2018: June 12
2019: June 26
Randy thought the ground would be hard to maneuver because of the repeated rains. And while he did go around a lot of mud holes, he didn't have to call for a pullout. Fingers crossed. However, we do have the chain on the big tractor ... just in case.
There's a pond on the ground where we were harvesting last evening. I sent a photo to the landlord, and she didn't recognize it. Her dad had constructed the pond about the time he retired. And she said she'd never seen it look so full. With the old cottonwoods' leaves glistening in the evening sun and the bright blue against the golden wheat, it was undeniably pretty.
(This photo was taken through the window as I was riding with Randy, so it's kind of blurry)
In the background of the photo above, you can also see the water still standing in the field across the road from where we were harvesting. That's not a pond, but it has a lot of water - just like most fields around here.
"Dessert" after bringing dinner to the field last evening was my first combine ride of Harvest 2019 with my favorite farmer. There will be opportunities for plenty more evening "dates." However, we don't have quite as much wheat to harvest as usual, since last October's deluge of rain prevented us from planting nearly 400 planned wheat acres.
Sunset - October 25, 2018
Still, my farmer was happy to get the machine rolling. I'm sure there will be more (and better) photos to come! Let's just hope the stories aren't as "exciting" as raccoons and hiring oilfield machinery to pull us out of mud and mire. We could use a happy ending to this saga that began last fall.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Illustrations for Living A Life

The first sunrise of summer took its own sweet time getting here. Though the newspaper listed 6:09 as the magic minute when night would officially surrender to day, there was not much to see as the witching hour arrived last Friday.
June 21, 2019, 6:09 AM
By 6:14, a tinge of pink colored the sky in a painter's pastel palette and teased that a sunrise was possible.
Still, the dew coated the air and the horizon with moisture. And unlike the windshield, the obscured view couldn't be wiped away with the flick of a switch.
By 6:23, the sun was starting to crease the stubborn cloud cover in the eastern sky. As I watched my farmer watch the sky, I remembered the words of poet Mary Oliver shared by a speaker at the annual church conference a few weeks ago:

Instructions for Living A Life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

Perhaps this watercolor-hued sunrise over a corn field didn't have the drama of the full sun playing peekaboo with the horizon. But I was still glad to be there as the corn stalks rustled in the breeze and the birds greeted the morning with a "Wake up!" trill. The wispy, fast-moving clouds seemed to be playing tag with a jet that streaked across the newly awakened sky.
And we officially said "Hello!" to another day and the official start of summer. Perhaps we should not be surprised that summer began with cloud cover and dew. After a wet fall and spring, it should be a familiar guest.
The light splashed across the green field, kind of like a teenage girl dusting glitter on her cheeks before a high school dance. The morning just hinted at the heat that would have the thermometer climbing above 90 degrees on Friday.

The night before, June 20, I documented the final sunset of Spring 2019. Harvest is a slow-poke this year.
The golden hour was made for golden wheat.
But, in reality, the fields had quite a bit of green last Friday. Yesterday (June 24) my farmer told me the wheat was close to ready. The saturated fields are another story. 
The mosquitoes were my only companions as the day faded to darkness like the end of an old-time movie.

The seasons that came before Summer 2019 were like an obstinate toddler, throwing a temper tantrum and crying buckets of tears which filled our fields - and our basements - with its wrath.

The weekend brought even more moisture. Friday night, we got 0.30 inches of rain here at home but had as much as 2 inches on other farm ground.  Then, we got up Sunday morning to a rain gauge with 2.30 inches in it. Just two miles away, we had a total of 4 inches over the weekend, and one of our landlords dumped 4 inches out of his rain gauge several miles away, too.
Thankfully, these spectacular clouds over the Stafford golf course only produced a sprinkle of moisture on our Sunday evening excursion.
Those sprinkles through raindrops produced a rainbow. And, yes, I made Randy pull over so I could take a photo.
The leftover clouds created a spectacular sunset later Sunday evening.
Sunset over a CRP field
When I saw the red bleeding into the sky above the kitchen window, I grabbed my camera and drove down the road.
I sometimes watch those Beach Hunters episodes where people want a view of the water. We have lakefront property in our corn fields.
 I don't think that's what they have in mind.
I suppose there is always hope in a sunrise or sunset. 

Let me keep my mind on what matters ... 
which is mostly standing still 
and learning to be astonished.
Mary Oliver, Poet

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Kansas Staycation: McPherson

McPherson is a small town with a big downtown presence. From the outside looking in, it appears the 13,000-some residents have figured out the formula for keeping hometown businesses viable. It's a rarity in this new world of online ordering and the rush to big box stores to shave a few bucks off the family's budget.

Somehow, McPherson seems to have found the formula. As I looked at a colorful collage at the Clayworks gallery, I thought maybe it represented the answer: A variety of ideas and concepts in the downtown area create a whole that is attractive to both residents and out-of-town visitors. And, as one of the pieces of the collage says, "All things grow with LOVE."

It's obvious that McPhersonites love their town. With its location in the middle of the state, it's also a great spot for a Kansas Staycation.

 My PEO group traveled to McPherson this spring for a field trip. We only toured two places and ate lunch at the Main Street Deli. Some of us spent a little time at Twice Told Tales, a second-hand book store which turned out to be owned by a "girl" who grew up in Stafford. (It was a nice surprise. We didn't know it until we walked through the door.) Since we were on a schedule, we didn't have time to explore other stores, including two of my favorites, The Well and The Cook's Nook.

But, if you didn't want to spend all day in McPherson, you could amble on down the road to nearby Lindsborg, about 20 minutes away. (I have done blog posts about Coronado Heights, the Red Barn Studio, and Dala horses in Lindsborg, and there are plenty of other stores and attractions there, too.
On the PEO trip to McPherson, we started at the renovated McPherson Opera House. McPherson County was booming in the late 1800s with a population of some 24,000. Commerce and agriculture supported the county and its same-named county seat, McPherson.

Even though McPherson lost its bid in 1887 to become the capital of Kansas, some early entrepreneurs weren't deterred. They wanted to build a bigger and better opera house to replace the city's original structure.
The opera house, which cost $42,000 to build, had its grand opening in January 1889, and it became a center for conventions, political rallies, high school and eighth grade graduations, orphan train stops and a variety of entertainment. The auditorium had two balconies and seated 900 persons.
In 1913, the auditorium was redecorated. The owners hired G.N. Malm for the project, a noted painter and writer affiliated with Bethany College in Lindsborg. In addition, Malm, along with his brother and Oscar Gunnerson, had a successful business that dealt in hand-cut stencils designed by Malm.
Malm painted the mural above the proscenium arch and designed the decorative stenciling that has been recreated in the auditorium. During a 1925-1929 extensive remodeling of the Opera House, the decorative scheme devised by Malm was largely left intact but some of his work was painted over in an effort to “modernize” the interior.

In 1929, the facility was converted into a movie theater, first called the Empire and later called the Mac. In 1965, the last business to occupy the building was the Trailways Bus Station. However, the building fell into disrepair. In the 1980s, the crumbling structure was facing demolition when a group of citizens organized efforts to renovate the building. Through careful restoration, the interior now looks much like it would have in 1913. But it now has modern amenities, including larger seats, a digital sound system for movies and a concession stand. 
Light still shines into the building through colored glass windows.

The restoration took 25 years and cost $8.5 million. Funding came from individual donors, foundations, government and private grants, as well as from State and Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credits.
One part of the restoration has a back story: In about 1933, a little girl named Jo (Norma Joan Burlingame) visited the Empire movie theater with her babysitter. The sitter's boyfriend was the projectionist, and the two went to the projection room where Jo was placed on a shelf in order to restrict her adventurous spirit. There, Jo found two "soldiers" - which were actually the two handles from the original Opera House doors.

The sitter and the boyfriend tried to get them back, but Jo protested so loudly that they eventually gave up and let her take them home, where she buried them in a sand pile. A few years later, her family moved to St. Louis and the "soldier" handles came along. In her later years, she told the story to her family.

Her daughter Sarah Peters of Louisville, Ky., returned the door handles to the Opera House in late 2011. Now the handles are mounted on the original Opera House doors in the Grand Ballroom. The transfer back to McPherson fulfilled her mother's wish: "If you restore the building you can have them back!"
The opera house ticket booth is not original to the building, but provides a handy place for current patrons to buy tickets before the numerous local and traveling tour performances.
 The basement has also been renovated. In its early years, McPherson had underground tunnels in its business district, like many prairie towns. (PEO toured Ellinwood's tunnels during another field trip.)
The basement meeting rooms are rented out for community events or business meetings. Guests can see the original limestone that was quarried in neighboring Marion County and brought by horse and wagon to McPherson. Some of the square nails used during construction in the 1880s are still visible.

Another part of the basement has been transformed into the Mary Anderson Arts Center, which functions as a working art studio for artists. The clay room features a kiln and potter's wheels, while the other arts are taught and practiced in the adjacent room. Novice and veteran artists can use the center to host art-inspired camps, birthday parties, women’s groups and more.
The McPherson Arts Alliance, whose office is across the hall from the Arts Center, programs a number of classes for all ages. During summer, the McPherson Recreation Commission provides art classes for youth.

We had a wonderful tour guide, Jean Rowland. If you're with a group, I highly recommend a guided tour. You may also take a walking tour on your own for a small fee.

The arts center at the Opera House is certainly not the only venue for art in McPherson. Clayworks provides a location for differently-abled people to do art - and sell it to others.

Disability Supports of the Great Plains' goal is to make life complete for its clients. Clayworks provides an artistic venue for clients to express themselves by making bowls, decorative plates, planter decor, mugs, wind chimes, vases and other pottery, as well as jewelry, stepping stones and stationary, our tour guide, Teresa Preston, told us.
I purposely kept this photo fairly dark so that the people couldn't be easily identified.
A gallery on McPherson's Main Street gives the public a chance to buy the client's work. The artist gets 100 percent of the revenue from their artwork.
The Clayworks. Studio staff follow case worker's recommendations on what media and projects are best suited for each individual client, and they use what they call a “gentle teaching” approach to working with the artists. Sessions are kept to a 12–16 artists working in clay, greenware, hand-thrown pottery and drawing.
 “When the artists begin a project, they start with something they look at as just a mound of clay, or a pencil, brush and sheet of paper. But as they work with it, it grows, transitions and changes. By the time they’re finished, they’ve communicated their personality and feelings in a way words never could.”
David Olson on The Clayworks website
The Clayworks uses creativity as a way to help people find a sense of place as well as a livelihood — and a place to share their gifts with the world. A similar work space and gallery is set to open on Main Street Hutchinson in July.
These pieces of pottery were completed that day and were ready to be fired. I was struck by the message of the LOVE stickers on the "window" that looked into the work room.
If art is not your thing, there's also a beautiful golf course that Randy and I visited last year - Turkey Creek. We ate at Tres Amigos Mexican Restaurant for our evening meal and enjoyed that, too!
For more ideas on a Kansas Staycation in McPherson, go to this website.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Last Hurrah: A Farm Update

"The last hurrah" for an aging alfalfa field has been a bright spot in a cloudy (literally) spring.

At the end of March, Randy planted oats in an alfalfa field he plans to retire after this growing season. An alfalfa field is productive about 7 to 8 years. This final cutting will provide a mixture of alfalfa and oats that we will bale up for cattle feed.
The excessive rain we've gotten since last fall has been a challenge in many aspects. But as Randy stood in the waist-high oats, it was obvious that like the Luke Brian song says, "Rain is a good thing" ... at least, for this field.
After Randy got to the end of a swath, he got off the tractor to tell me, "This is fun!"
Even the alfalfa has grown taller than normal, as it's tried to climb high enough to reach the sun from the canopy created by the taller oats. You can see its purple flowers among the oats.
The oats had reached the soft dough stage when they were swathed.

The oats and alfalfa are so lush that Randy had to move slowly through the field, more like swathing sudan than alfalfa.
Each swath left behind big windrows.
Unfortunately, we got 0.60" of rain on the swathed hay Friday night. Randy had hoped it would be dry enough to bale over Father's Day weekend, but the additional rain fall curtailed that schedule.
He was able to bale a field of alfalfa hay Sunday evening.
 Yes, working on Father's Day made him happy.
On Monday afternoon, the oat hay was dry enough to begin baling.
The first round yielded 14 bales!
I got another "This is fun!" from my farmer ... until the baler slugged and he was pulling hay out by hand. He wasn't able to bale past dark, since the hay got too wet.


Wet weather is not good for hay baling. But it's good for turtles. This snapping turtle was visiting our driveway last week. That's quite a distance from a creek, but there are a plethora of mudholes to visit in the vicinity.

June 13, 2019
The rain and cool weather have slowed Wheat Harvest 2019. By this time in most recent years, our combines have been rolling through golden fields. Here's the breakdown:

2010:  June 18
2011:  June 10
2012:  May 26 (an anomaly and the earliest harvest, by far, we've ever had)
2013:  June 21
2014:  June 17
2015:  June 20
2016:  June 15
2017:  June 12
2018: June 12
2019: ???????????????
This year, there's still a lot of green. The weather map shows the chance for more rain this week. The weather is something we can't control. Last fall, because of 15 inches of rain, we couldn't even plant 400 acres of what Randy had planned for our 2019 wheat crop. So the strange weather continues.
When we were taking photos in the wheat field last week, it felt more like spring than mid-June. The hot winds that blow in harvest weather just haven't been around much. On the other hand, the cooler weather helped fill the heads.
Another field - June 16, 2019
The last several days have started to feel like harvest weather. However, there is rain in the forecast today. According to the National Weather Service, severe thunderstorms are "very likely," with the possibility for hail and high winds. Scattered thunderstorms remain possible for all areas from Thursday night through Sunday.

So, at this point, we'll just have to see what happens. (I guess that's always true!)

 The milo crop is up and growing.
I took this photo as Randy was planting milo on June 4 (a different field). He planted 95 total acres of milo and 25 acres of silage.
June 13, 2019
It's off to a good start.

June 13, 2019
The prevented planting of wheat acres meant an increase to those we are devoting to corn on the County Line this year. We planted 600 acres of corn in mid- to late April on ground that Randy had planned to go to wheat this year.
April 2019
We are planting more corn this year than ever - 600 acres. That's not much when compared to other farmers, especially those with irrigated acres, but it's significant for us.

Another 12+ inches of rain in May means a lot of mudholes in the corn fields. The cool weather in early June also slowed down the growth. But it's making progress.
It would be nice if we could "bank" some cooler days and a little rain for when the corn is tasseling.

I spent an afternoon replenishing my cookie supply for harvest. I tripled my go-to cookie recipe and then divided the dough, making it into five different varieties. I bag some of them two-by-two in snack-sized bags and stick them in the freezer. That makes it easy to pull out bags for meals-to-the-field treats. Randy has bales piled. I have cookies.