Matfield Green - Our first years

Friday, March 31, 2006

Light Show in the Eastern Sky

Brother Fred called early this morning to see if we were alright - he'd heard about big storms last night in southeastern Kansas. We are fine. It is a stunning morning. Not a cloud in the sky, more spring green leaves and blossoms on the trees than this time yesterday. And our only experience of the storm, which must have been east and south of us, was a brilliant light show as I drove home from the Emporia Chamber of Commerce After Hours event last evening.

Back home in Chicago I'd have had no idea that counties to the east were getting bombarded by a storm. But here, where the horizon is wide open and the night sky is almost as dark as can be each flash of lightening illuminates the clouds and casts a red glow across the sky. It really is spectacular. It was hard to keep my eyes on the road. But luckily, as I took the curves on Highway 177 on that last couple of miles into Matfield Green I did have my eyes on the road. A big doe deer darted across the road. I slowed to let her pass but out of the corner of my eye came another smaller deer. This time I braked hard and fast and as I saw that deer frozen stock still 1 foot away from my front bumber it seemed impossible that I had actually stopped. That I was not going to run into her. After a moment she recovered her senses and moved on across the road, and I drove, shaken the last mile and a half toward home.

As if a deer was not enough, as I pulled into our driveway I narrowly missed nailing a skunk. Dangerous in another way. Drive slowly and keep your eyes on the road if you ever visit the Flint Hills at night.

I walked home from our morning walk today with three dogs instead of my usual one. Pepper hooked up with two Lab-mix adolescents as we walked west out of town. They followed us across the prairie and back to the bunkhouse, where all three played and fought and rested and nipped at each other. I suppose eventually they'll get hungry and go home. I hope.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Ode to the Georgetown Inn

I'm home again, after several days work ing in Washington DC with Georgetown University and the Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest. I have never appreciated white sheets, pillows and comforters so much as this week, after a muddy spring here on the prairie. Man, woman and dog, no matter how we try (and that dog don't try very hard) can't help tracking mud into the house. There was no mud in my room at the Georgetown Inn. How lovely!

But I am happy to be home. Jess Deane tried to disk the garden while I was away, but the tractor and disker wouldn't fit through the garden gate. He's going to buy the new tiller he's been wanting and come back to try again.

Tomatoes, peppers, celery and kale are growing happily in the bunkhouse - soon to be ready for transplanting. The Broccolli is struggling a bit.

It's extra-winding today so we probably won't burn our property this evening, but the fire season has definitely started. You can smell it, and occasionally there is a line of flames across the horizon. Things will "heat up" even more as we get into April.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Median age: old

Annie and John Wilson and their daughters hosted a big potluck dinner at their ranch west of Elmdale (8 miles into the hills) on Thursday night. They cooked a ham and gravy and mashed potatoes. Others brought bean casserole, salads, banana cream and rhubarb pies. I concocted an eggplant and chickpea casserole so spicy that the cooking made Bill's eyes water.

I shared the census data I'd uncovered with a group from Matfield Green. Tom, Barb, Emily, Phil and Kathy and I tried to figure out how in the world the median age of our town could be 49. We could name six kids, and I know there are a couple of people in their 20s and maybe a handful more who are in their 30s and 40s - but we all agreed that there is no way that there are 30 people under the age of 49 living in this town.

What gives?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Bright lights & Barack

Until last week I wasn't even sure that driving with your brights on was legal. Now I look forward to my weekly drive to Wichita for yoga and shopping, as much for the lonely drive home as anything else. It's a 60 mile drive and only around the half-way point, at El Dorado, do I have to switch back to the low beams for awhile.

I feel proud of the small city of El Dorado (pop. 12, 717) because it is the place that gave us Barack Obama. The US Senator from Illinois was born in El Dorado, though he lived most of his childhood in Hawaii. But his grandparents and mother - great influences on a great man - were pure El Doradans.

Coffee at the Talkington's

Bill and I visited with June and Phyllis Talkington this morning. June has been struggling with lung cancer. He has a doctor's appointment this afternoon. But he seemed bright and happy this morning. Grandson Jimmy (a semi-pro football player from Joplin, MO) is visiting for an extended period, helping his grandfather with the hog farm operation. Since it was cold this morning - 29 degrees and a dusting of snow - Jimmy took care of the chores and June stayed in.

June is the source for history and information about the bunkhouse. He and his brothers worked around there in the 40s when our property a major artery near the heart of the Rogler cattle operation. This morning June told us that his brother and two other young men dug the dip tank in the stockyards on the west side of the tracks in 1941 or 42, just before the brother went of to war. They dug it buy hand, cause nobody had a backhoe in those days. They dug it well and, according to June, "It looks like it could still hold water."

The dip tank we're talking about is about 8 feet deep at the center and maybe 10 feet long. Filled with water and some kind of insecticide (creosote, says June, and we've found lingering evidence of something lethal called thoxiphene), cattle would be driven into the dip tank and then swim across the deep spot and walk out the other side, shaking out their fur as they emerged from the dip. The procedure killed ticks, which would build up by the dozens under their ears. After about 1947 the tank was replace by trucks with sprayers.

We talked about gardening (don't try to do anything with this soil when it's wet or we'll end up with clumps that will last all summer), and the old rural schoolhouses, which used to pepper the prairie, one every two or three miles it seems. Two outside dogs slept on the front porch in the sun and the little dog, Patches, begged for cookies at the table. Phyllis shared her secret for a delicious and bountiful tomato crop - an organic fertilizer called "Tomatoes Alive" from

Matfield Green KS - vital stats

Click here for current census data
There are no more than four African Americans in Chase County - 1% of the population. And the median age in Matfield is 49, compared to 31.5 in Chicago. I feel lonely for youth, and for children.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A dog's life

Back in Chicago Pepper used to beg for rawhides - fake bones purchased in big bags from Target, which I kept down by the washing machine and gave her almost every morning when we returned from our walk.

Last night I proffered one of these rawhides, thinking she deserved a treat (she really is a very wonderful and special dog). She politely took it and chewed a few chews on each end - to please me I think - before abadoning the rawhide in a corner of the bunkhouse.

No need for this dog to chew the fake stuff anymore. In the afternoon she and Bill had gone on a long walk along the Little Cottonwood. One of Pepper's discoveries was the leg bone from a small deer. She carried it to Bill, proud of her find, and acting as if she was going to drag it along for the rest of the walk. I wouldn't have blamed her if she had. And she did keep it for a while. But then something else must have been more tempting. Or she just decided in favor of complete freedom of movement.

Last week out walking with me she did about the same thing with a smaller, juicier bone of I know not what. On another walk it was the vertebrae of a small mammal.

So say hurray for another line item eliminated from the budget! The prairie will provide.

Monday, March 20, 2006

101 uses for...

I was roasting a tenderloin on Saturday night and Joy of Cooking read that after I pound it thin I should "roll and tie it up." In the absence of the right kind of mallet for pounding I lamely patted it thin with a wooden spoon. Not very thin. Then I looked around for some string. Must be in storage. With many other things I will need in the next few days, I'm sure.

So, I've discovered use #2 for dental floss. What is use #3?

Small town Sunday morning

Bill picked up the phone at about 10 o'clock yesterday morning and the woman on the other end asked him, "Why are you such an asshole?" Not sure what was going on, Bill replied, "Well, there are a few people here. Who were you trying to reach?"

Bill and Pat and Karl were watching Dick Cheney Face the Nation in Pat's unit; I was reading Willa Cather in ours. The thought crossed Bill's mind that it could Karl's daughter Nellie somehow making fun of her Dad. But no, that was not her voice. "I think you must have the wrong number," he said.

The woman laughed nervously, "I'm so embarrassed."

"Well you don't need to be," replied Bill, "cause I'm new in town and don't recognize your voice. I don't know who you are."

The woman hung up. Relieved, I'm sure. See there are only about 30 telephones in Matfield Green, and they all start out 620 753-43**. And I'm pretty sure that those 30 or so 753 numbers are the only numbers she could reach without having to dial the area code first. So almost anyone else in town would have been able to identify the caller.

Of course almost anyone else in town would probably also have had a reasonably good idea just exactly why the person she was calling deserved to be called an asshole.

So much to learn.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Gang's All Here

Partner Karl Rohlich (pictured at left) showed up early Thursday morning and Bill arrived at the crack of dawn a few hours later. After spending a good chunk of the afternoon unloading the Penske Truck (higly recommended over last week's U-Haul experience), we trooped off to the Grand Central Hotel in Cottonwood Falls to celebrate Bill's 58th birthday, our move, and being together. We are now officially moved.

On Wednesday evening I drove 60 miles to go to a yoga class. Luckily it was a good one, led by Jana at Yoga Central in Wichita. Combine it with a trip to Target and the grocery store and it starts to make sense. I had a strong tailwind behind me on the way home and the little Civic Hybrid gave me 52 miles to the gallon.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

"I hate the wind"

Friend, bunkhouse partner, carpenter extraordinaire, and Kansas native Pat Moss hates the wind. His parents lived through the dustbowl in western Kansas and Pat grew up listening to tales of lining the doors and window frames with sodden towels only to find a 1/4 inch of dust inside the cupboards after the storm had passed.

Over last night's dinner of thick bean soup with pasta shells Pat told me the story of being a "single digit kid" in Hays Kansas in 1957 or so, when the Great Plains experienced two years of dustbowl redoux which were only relieved by a catastrophic flood. Pat was down the street playing outside with Sammy Johnson (actually I forgot the name he said, but Sammy will do). Mrs. Johnson, a bit older than Pat's parents and well-versed in duststorms, saw it coming and sent Pat home. "I dawdled and almost didn't make it."

It's 9am in Matfield Green and the wind is kicking up as promised. Given the heads-up by Pat, who keeps a sharp eye on the weather, Pepper and I got our walk in early, heading west out into the open prairie toward the line of hills west of the fishing ponds. Perhaps my favorite thing about living here is the countless walking destinations that don't involve spending money. I can pick out any of many hills and know that even if I walked there just yesterday, the view - and the feeling of the wind on my neck or the sun on my face - will be different today than ever before.

My second favorite thing about living here is that, like Pepper, I can squat and pee whenever the spirit moves me.

So far, I don't hate the wind. A couple of times this week, mind full of Pat's stories and friends' questions about Tornado Alley, I've awoken in the middle of the night thinking that it's a 50 mile an hour wind shaking the bunkhouse. But it's only a particularly heavy train.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Seeding the soil blocks

More soil blocks and seeds warming on the heat mat under Bill's desk here at the bunkhouse:

Big Beef Tomatoes (in addition to yesterday's Romas and Sun Gold Cherries)
Golden Bell Peppers
and Broccoli

Makes my mouth water. Say a prayer for the little dear ones. Seeds and seedlings have such a tenuous grasp on life. These first few days and weeks are crucial.

Pepper and I walked east and north this morning, following the road along the South Fork of the Cottonwood River through the Rogler Ranch. We crossed where we'd never been able to before - Chase County is aching for rain - and took off across a field of grass and up into the hills for a fabulous 360* view. People have been known to make fun of the Flint Hills ("that's a hill?!?"), but between the terrain and the fresh air my glutes and my lungs are getting a workout. I feel healthier already.

I finished unloading boxes in my office today, rescued my desk chair from the storage trailer and cleaned the new floor (put in by Pat in January) with vinegar and water. All I need now is the telephone and Internet hookup and I'll be ready for business.

Moonrise over Matfield

Monday, March 13, 2006

Farmer Julia

Yesterday - Sunday - I spent the morning shoveling manure, from Delbert's corral to Pat's truck to our garden site. What felt like a lot (and took a lot of shoveling) looked like a drop in the bucket next to 1/5 acre of clay soil. But it's a start. Tom Armstrong says he'll donate a pile of composted leaves. Any and all organic matter is welcome!

In the afternoon I mixed up some seed-started and used my new soil block makers for the first time. They work like cooky cutters, pushing out soil in the shape of a small peat pot, but no need for the pot. I planted cherry tomatoes and a whole bunch of Romas. Put them on the heat mat under Bill's desk. Growing space is at a premium until he arrives with the cold frame.

Pat and I spent the evening at Emily Hunters, eating ham and sweet potatoes with Phil & Kathy Miller, Barb Armstrong (Tom is significantly debilitated by a bad case of shingles and the effects of the painkillers), and a couple from Lawrence: Rob and Nancy. They know Emily through the Herb Growers Association. Here's a link to some of Nancy's paintings.

On our way home, Pat remarked that surely this was the only dinner party in Matfield Green where the primary topic of conversation was the sorry state of Democratic politics.

Pepper and I took a long walk east this morning, up to the top of the bluff about two miles away where we can get a good look back at the bunkhouse. Pepper is more interested in what is hiding in this patch of grass or that mole hole than she is in the view, but it never fails to take my breath away.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Birds of all feathers

Red-tale hawk
Cedar wax wing
Hairy woodpecker
Canada goose
Great blue heron
Red-wing blackbird
Crow and sparrow (of course)
Robin (I think they never leave)

I'll need to start studying my bird book so that I can paint an even broader picture of the abundance. All of these in just the last 36 hours.

Dinner at the Burns Cafe last night. A Mennonite restaurant. Simple fare. Bill's ribs were excellent. My "grilled chicken" was of the pressed variety, shaped like a small breast, but not. Moral of the story: order one of the specials. The 15 mile drive across the prairie at sunset is the cafe's biggest draw. They only serve dinner on Friday, so that makes it an easy choice when the weekend comes and we're looking for a change. There is a selection of at least 10 homemade pies for dessert - and the crusts are worth writing home about.

I've checked in with new neighbors Tom and Barb Armstrong (next door to my office) and Kathy and Phil Miller (the nearest bunkhouse neighbors, 1/2 mile north). Clara Jo Talkington turned on the water at my office. Ron Armstrong, Delbert's son, is still forelorn. "It will be two weeks ago Wednesday," he told me. He's been taking care of the horses, Rudy and Annie, and his dad's dogs, but can't really bring himself to spend much time in the house yet. Ron says I can take as much horse manure as I can use. Rudy and Annie, kindly, deposit most of it in a pile near the gate.

Friday, March 10, 2006

We're all here!

I arrived in Matfield Green late last night - nips from Pepper and kisses from Bill on arrival. Who could ask for for more! We've been unpacking all morning and now I'm trying to figure out why my outgoing email isn't working. There was a bluebird out front this morning, and the wild onions have sprouted along the road. It's heaven.

Transition – Wednesday March 8

William Bridges writes about transition (in his book of the same name) as a cycle: from “the Ending” through “the Neutral Zone” to “the New Beginning.” The Neutral Zone is the murky middle where, if you approach it gently and inquisitively with intuition turned up high, there is much to learn about yourself and the world. It’s a place of uncertainty and, ideally, growth, a place to make ready for a fabulous New Beginning.

As I write this I am in a literal Neutral Zone. An empty house. Just me, a 4-inch thick futon with sleeping bag and pillow, the coffee maker and this computer. I’ve packed up the Internet router, so I won’t be posting this entry for a day or so. We packed up the U-Haul yesterday (with the necessary aid of the fabulous Hector and his crew of four) and, after a grueling 19 hour, truck unwilling to travel at much more than 40 mph, with pouring rain, and malfunctioning headlights, Bill is finally – and already – at home in Matfield Green.

I’ve stayed behind to wrap-up the loose ends. Get the oil changed, make sure the house is “broom-clean,” toast the end of this phase of our friendship with Davin, take a long walk with Laurene and visit a while with Irica and 7-month-old-beautiful-Amelia. In between there’s the last yoga class and a wonderful Shiatsu massage in the strong hands of Nick Sistler.

There is a lot to like about the Neutral Zone.

Of course, I’m also in the midst of the more figurative Neutral Zone that Bridges writes so insightfully about. Last December I gave up a job I loved because the constant travel to and from Minnesota was taking me away from myself; I’m refocusing my business from facilitation to personal coaching – a calling I can fulfill on the telephone from my little office on the prairie; and I’m making a major cross-country move, leaving friends behind, leaving the place I know, setting out on an adventure that may occasionally feel like a big mistake.

There is a New Beginning out there. It’s right around this corner, or perhaps the next. It’s in the first turn of the tiller in my Kansas soil, in the first sprouting seedling. Spring is almost here.

"Don't say nothin' bad about my baby!"

Moving Day - March 7

Justine & Bill & me on the big day.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Today it may be snowing but yesterday in the cold frame Spring was here

Crying and Kathy Mattea

I've moved past crabbiness to exhausted through and through. Lots of good-byes this weekend. Packing the kitchen this morning I played Kathy Mattea's greatest hits. Love at the Five and Dime, 18 Wheels and Dozen Roses, Life as We Knew It, Where Have You after song makes me sob. Could be hormonal, could be the move, could just be Kathy. Most likely it's all of the above.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Packing is making me crabby. The endless supply of things to put in boxes. The more we box, it seems, the more there is to box. And then yesterday I packed up a pile of books only to realize that the one I needed for my 3pm meeting was burried at the bottom of the box. Bill is more of a saver, thriftier than I. Packing every 1/2 bottle of hand-lotion. It is the right thing to do, I'm sure. Why buy more when we have it already. But left to my own devices...

Tuesday is moving day. Walking back from another coffee-date with Kate we marvelled at how unreal it feels. Chicago has been my place for 38 years, and by the end of the week I will no longer be from here.

Today's big question: will I need to print anything between now and Tuesday?