Matfield Green - Our first years

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bill's last day

Today is Bill's last day at MKB, the architecture firm he founded 25 years ago. Congratulations and hip-hip-hooray!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Delbert Armstrong

Delbert Armstrong died last week. At 89, Delbert was Matfield Green's oldest male resident. Smiling welcome whenever we saw him. Active, though I know he was dealing with health problems. He'd come to at least two of our pigroasts, happy to have new people in town, optimistic, I think, about what we meant for the future. I think I'm remembering correctly when I tell you that, he'd once defended Wes Jackson in a fight at the Hitchin' Post (the local bar and Matfield's only business). I don't know if it was a physical fight, if anyone had to step outside, but I do know that Delbert stood for welcome and kindness, and stood with people who who love the land.

Last time I saw Delbert was in October. Dad and brother Andy and sister-in-law Ann and I were walking (certainly with Madeline and John in tow) up the one-block gravel road between the church and Delbert's house when Delbert drove up in one of those gian passenger vans. He'd just spent thoughsands of dollars fixing the transmission, or something equally expensive. I'm sure that Delbert realized that life - particularly his life - was fragile, but still he lived. He was thinking about the value of a good van and that it made more sense to spend money repairing it than to junk it and live without.

Delbert had two pet horses (wonder who will take care of them now) that he kept in a small pasture next to his house in town. Right across the street from my office. Sometimes he'd graze them on some Rogler property west of town. I looked forward to learning more about their regime. Delbert died tending to his pets - he'd gone to pick up some hay at Jane Koger's place.

His son Ronnie missed him and went looking. Found Delbert in Jane's barn. He died quickly, I hope. Engaged in life.

Death, I know, will be more a part of our new life than it ever has been before. Our friends are older for one thing. For another, when one member of a community of 70 passes on, and when you look around and see few prospects for new human life, death seems very real, more finite than cyclical.

It occurs to me that the positive thing about this is that it forces me to include all living beings in my life cycle. Because while the human beings of Matfield may be aging with little hope for replacement, there is all kinds of new life beating all around us - in the prairie, the river, in the sky.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

From a new point of view

If I weren't moving to rural Kansas I think I'd be planning a long sojourn in India, or job-hunting in Edinburgh, or joining a trek to the North Pole. It is time - here at midlife - to take a look at my world from a radically different point of view.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


I'm loving these days of preparation and transition. Throwing some things away. Other things relegated to the give-away-bag. Taking stock.

By the time this is over either Bill or I will have put our hands on every single thing we own.

The "To Do" list in my Palm Pilot is the shortest it's ever been. My work projects - mainly writing curriculum for upcoming advocacy and leadership classes - require privacy and quiet creativity, no series of accomplishable tasks to list and check off. When it comes to the move, the steps between here and a broom-clean house on closing day are simple. Put one foot in front of the other. Box. Label. Move on to the next room. Wade through this pile. Clean out that drawer. This to the bunkhouse. That to my office. This to storage. Say good by to the clothes and books in that bag - they no longer serve.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

What will you do when you get there?

I met friend Kate at The Grind coffeeshop on Lincoln Avenue one rainy (pouring) afternoon last week. After she'd corralled her umbrella, freed herself from her pullover sweatshirt and settled down in front of her decaf coffee she asked, "So do you know what you'll do when you'll get there?"

Gazing down at the foam of my decaf skim latte, I replied, "Well, first I'll set up my office, and then get the garden going. It's been plowed, but we need find some manure and get someone to till the soil. Then there's the seeding and starting some plants indoors." I'd already shared the news that I'd just signed up for a telecourse with Coach U - to get certified as a coach. "I'll be taking the coaching classes. I have three work trips to DC scheduled in the first 8 weeks, plus one to Chicago and one to Minnesota. And as soon as I'm settled in I'm going to start setting up weekly meetings with contacts in the cities that are within a couple of hours of Matfield Green - Wichita, Salina, Kansas City and Lawrence." Get started with my networking, in other words - Have lunch with people, let them know that here's what I do, and who do you know that might be able to help me get work?

As I described it to Kate it all took shape in my mind as my relocation plan, and with such a plan in place immediately much of my nervousness about the move lifted. All is well! Spring is coming and I have a plan!

I reported this to Bill that evening. He listened, and the next morning he noted that when he thinks about the move he's perhaps happiest about the idea of getting up without a plan, able to do whatever he chooses. But, you, he said, are a planner. He's right. I am. (How wonderful to have a partner to notice who I am and to reflect it back to me in the morning.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

My new precision seeder

I ordered my precision seeder today. Recommended by Elliot Coleman in his wonderful book The New Organic Grower. The manufacturer, Earthway Products, issues this description: "Plants up to 28 different vegetable seeds with precision. All in one operation seeder opens the soil, spaces and plants the seeds, covers the seeds, lightly packs the soil and marks the next row. Ruggedly constructed of heavy gauge aluminum. Plants many flower seeds, too. Six standard seed plates included." Sounds exciting! With a quarter acre to plant, I think we'll need it.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Rogler Ranch

We spent almost a week in Matfield Green, returning home to Chicago on Thursday evening. While we were away we received an excellent offer on our house, so we now have "contract pending" attached to the FOR SALE sign in our front yard. Yippee yay! A big step. As I wrote to friend Pete Leki yesterday, now we really have to go! Closing will be in mid-March, so we will be able to pack up the whole house and really move to Kansas, with no unfinished business to hold us back.

I was sick most of the time we were away - with a chest cold or flu that the doctor now terms "atypical pneumonia." I'm now all set up with antibiotics and a good expectorant and can already feel movement toward recovery.

So about all I did while were were in Matifield was lie around and read, facilitate the Symphony in the Flint Hills board retreat (the reason for the trip), unload a few books in the new office, and take one good, long walk around the Rogler Ranch with Bill and Pepper. Bill and I walked about 3 1/2 miles. My guess is Pepper covered at least 2 or 3 times that much ground in her running, sniffing and doubling back around. Nothiing like my dog to help me notice the little things.

The Rogler Ranch, 4128 acres of mostly rangeland, surrounds our property on 3 sides. Charles Rogler walked into Chase County (from Switzerland or Germany) in 1859, chose his property and started his business. Grazing and grass. The ranch has been in the family since that time, Charles' son Henry taking over from him, before passing it all on to his youngest son, Wayne, who ran the ranch until his death in the early 1990s. Wayne's widow, Elizabeth Ronniger Rogler, died just last year and now her five heirs are preparing to sell the property at auction in the fall.

With encouragement from The Land Institute's ( Wes Jackson, Bill and I (Bill in particular) are taking the lead in putting together a group of "conservation investors" to purchase the ranch. Our goal is to raise 5 million from a maximum of 10 investors - we already have one person in at $500,000 and we are prepared to send out a letter to other prospects next week. It is a long shot (that we can raise the money and then outbid big cattle interests and take control of the land) but a shot well worth taking.

Back to our walk....We cut straight across the broam field east of the bunkhouse, walking toward the rising sun and the South Branch of the Cottonwood River - a crystal clear (compared to what I'm used to) prairie stream that runs through the ranch, fertilizing the bottom land and wooded banks. It's work getting through the woods - deerpaths but no sign of the few humans who have gone before us there. The water was low - evidence of the drought we'll be suffering in our new homeland - so we were able to cross the river on a skinny tree branch, left for us be beavers no doubt. We supported ourselves on the crossing with sturdy walking sticks.

We continued west at the bottom of the dried-up bed of Corn Creek. Our goal was an old settlement, a fallen down house, dilapated silo, underground storm shelter and the ruins of an old resevoir or well at the creekbank. Tom Burton, Wayne Rogler's long-trusted ranch manager and the person charged with keeping things going on behalf of the heirs, remembers hiking up that house to buy eggs from its owners. From the looks of the site - a pile of wood beams and metal roofing - its been decades since hens and humans made this place a home.

Hen or human, however, couldn't ask for a more beatiful place to live. High enough above Corn Creek that the rainiest season would wash you out, the rocky bluffs around the house make the site feel cozy and protected from the elements. And out the door to the east - a heaven of tallgrass blowing in the breeze, glowing in the morning sunlight.

Our idea is to cluster up to 10 "eco-houses" at the Corn Creek site. Straw bale construction, off the grid, accessible only by mile and half driveway up from highway 177 into the praire. As we left the housing site, we walking along that driveway, imagining restoring from cropland to prairie in the bottomland along the Little Cottonwood, listening to the song of the meadowlarks and watching for the glint of the bluebirds I adore. Walking west now, we pasted the old barn - still in excellent repair - and the spacious "Henry House" - built in the 1940's and a perfect spot for some future bed and breakfast - surrounded by acres and acres of organic vegetables.

Monday, February 06, 2006

moving into the matfield office

That's a picture of my office in beautiful downtown Matfield Green. 20 x 20, just the right size.

We're down in Kansas for the better part of this week.Drawn down by my engagement to facilitate a board retreat for the Symphony in the Flint Hills on Wednesday, Bill and I decided to use this opportunity to move books and office supplies to the Matfield Office. Prior to our arrival Pat took a few days to install a spiffy new laminate floor that really brightens up the place, making it feel clean and worthy of its place at the center of my new life.

I've had the flu and its remnants for almost two weeks now, so this trip has been quieter than I had planned. Yesterday, I spent literally the whole day in bed. Bill cleaned up our bunkhouse unit around me. Straightening things up the way he did makes our 350 square feet feel completely livable.

Today I felt better, so we went down to the office. Pat put up shelves and I started unloading books.