I managed to not make it to the farm all winter what with one thing and then another on the home front. I finally got down this past week for four days. I was kinda apprehensive about going because I knew I’d have a couple of messes to clean up. First on the list was getting the water system back in service. Another family member had, a few weeks ago, knocked down a dead tree for me, for which I was grateful. It had been standing there, bare, forlorn limbs reaching skyward like a lost soul, for a few years. It had become a symbol of loss––a reminder of what the farm had been––and I wanted it gone.
It would have been better if, in the tree-downing process this family member hadn’t busted a water line by running over it, but sometimes these things happen. The water system had to be shut off and I was anxious about what it might take to fix it.
The fix turned out to be fairly easy. I capped the line above ground after just one trip to the hardware. I’ll do a more permanent repair later. Before winter I will have to dig down and cap it off below the frost line, but for a few months anyway we’re back in business.
I couldn’t be too upset at this family member because he also cleaned up some substantial storm damage to trees that occurred last fall. I wasn’t looking forward to climbing into trees with a heavy chain saw to finish the job that nature had begun. So it was nice to see that I didn’t have to. Let’s hear it for relative youth. Or youthful relatives. Or at least relatives who are younger than I am.
This same hard worker was out at the farm with me last week to tackle a second dead tree. This one posed a danger to the farmhouse if it were to fall the wrong way. We got most of it down, but had to quit when we met up with a colony of wasps under the bark. Fortunately, I was not the one twenty feet up in the air on the power lift at the time. But there were no injuries and it is amazing how fast those lifts can come down when they need to.
The trees on the farm are mostly Siberian elms, planted in the thirties by my father and grandfather. Now in their dotage, these trees––the sentinel trees of my childhood––have been badly ravaged by storms and age. So every year they are a little more diminished. And there is always cleanup to do.
I had a long list of things that needed to be done on this trip. At the top was patching holes in the floor of the haymow. The previous owners had let the haymow doors blow off years ago. Rain and snow had come in and rotted the boards around each of the doors. And since, lately, my eleven-year-old grand-nephew had been inviting his friends to play up there—there’s a very attractive hanging rope left over from the days when loose hay was stored in the mow–there was a safety issue. (We won’t go into whether the rope itself might be a safety issue.)
The floor boards were exactly 10 inches wide. When the barn was built 100 years ago a 1 x 10 was exactly that—ten inches. If you were to go to buy a 1 x 10 today it will measure 9 1/4 inches—too narrow for my purpose. I didn’t relish cutting down 12-inch boards (those are now 11 1/4) for this purpose. I scouted my various board piles and didn’t find anything. Ah, but on a farm there’s always another place to look. In the old barn itself, tucked in under the haymow joists, I found a few old boards that, when a tape measure was put on them, measured a true ten inches. How long had they been there? Had they been left over from the construction of the barn so long ago? Had they been waiting there for just this purpose, riding along over the heads of draft horses and barn swallows? I like to think so. I like to think about that long-ago builder picking up his tools at the end of the job and sliding those leftover boards up above the joists because he knew that someday they’d be needed. It was a nice find. Of course, they wouldn’t have been needed if the doors had stayed on the barn. Idiots!
I got a fair amount of other stuff done last week. I was afraid I was going to have to take apart a leaky frost-free hydrant, but as it turned out the mechanism just needed exercising. I love it when problems are solved that easily. A second hydrant, which had been dripping for six months, had stopped, and so I wired it closed and tiptoed away from it. No point in fixing something that might have fixed itself. I patched the hole in the farmhouse porch ceiling that the bee man made when he removed the colony of bees almost two years ago. I got the riding lawnmower ready for the season with a new tire and an oil change. I screwed a mobile home anchor into the ground next to the cabin we acquired from the 4-H camp, in case spring winds picked up. I’m pretty sure the cabin is too heavy to go anywhere, but I’m not taking chances.
I played with the goats. There are seven kids this spring, cute as can be, and curious about everything. I also cut volunteer trees out of the pasture. They were mostly hackberry and Osage Orange and mulberry. It would have been a much easier job if I’d done it when they were saplings. Most of them were now about six to twelve inches around. That’s the way it is with trees. You think you’ll get to it “next trip,” with nothing more than a pair of loppers, and then before you know it you need a chain saw to do the job. From a distance these trees always look smaller than they are up close. But I do like a clean pasture, and so I spent some time clearing them out.
The Midwest is having an epidemic of volunteer tree growth in pastures and on prairies. No one, including the Nature Conservancy, is sure why, but hedge trees, hackberries, mulberries, and especially red cedars, are sprouting up in places where they never did before. Or at least in greater numbers.The trees are “planted” by birds that eat the seeds. Driving across the middle of the country one can see pasture after pasture that looks more like a tree farm than an open prairie. One reason may be that now that farms are larger, not as many owners take the time to cut out these trees before they take over.
I hate to sound old-fashioned, but owners just don’t seem to care as much anymore. Oh, for the olden days when every farmer needed his 40-acre pasture and tended it as carefully as his crop land. This epidemic might have to do with climate change, I suppose. Across the road from the farm is a full quarter-section prairie. In my youth it was always tended carefully. We would wander across it looking for fossils and wading in its boggy places. But lately it has been owned by a wealthy oilman who hasn’t noticed, or doesn’t care that it is now so dotted with small hedge trees that it is ceasing to become a pasture. There’s no money in maintaining it. And now it would cost something to return it to prairie. Idiots!
I have always liked being out in the pasture on the farm. It’s one of the only places on the farm that has not been desecrated by industrial farming. It was very pleasant out there last week, just me and the western meadowlarks, the mockingbird, and the red-winged blackbirds. There were a half-dozen mallard pairs on the small pond, dabbling and diving. No scissor-tail flycatchers yet, but they will be here soon. There was the distant rumble of the Santa Fe freight trains (I refuse to call it the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe) and the truck traffic on the highway ¾ of a mile away. And not much else. I worked until the sun went down and I couldn’t see anymore.