Matfield Green - Our first years

Thursday, August 31, 2006

River Cabin

I'm back from my retreat. After 5 hours a day of sitting meditation I am significantly more familiar with the workings of my mind. And my daily practice of 30 minutes a day will never again feel as daunting as it sometimes has before.

I've never been alone for as much time as this either. I was a mile away through woods and pasture from any other humans. The deer and the little mice in the attic were my companions. On Friday afternoon I had coffee with Liz Garst, one of the owners of the Garst Farm Resort and temporary volunteer interim execuctive director of the Whiterock Conservancy. She and her sisters are in the process of donating most of the family's 4000+ acres in central Iowa to the conservancy. Anyway, other than that conversation and shouting hello to some canoeists I didn't talk with anyone again until Tuesday. Just meditation, yoga, reading, walking, cooking and eating. Quite wonderful really. And then I was ready to come home.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Retreating for awhile

I am off for 6 days on a self-styled meditation retreat at a primitive cabin in Iowa. A couple of folks have pointed out that it sounds a lot like where I live. Nevertheless, it's a place to be alone and quiet. Something I've never done for this length of time.

Barb Armstrong points out that I am lucky to be living in this time, that in her day women did not go off on there own for a week.

While I'm gone Jay Scott will finish digging our pond and Pat will sheath the roof. Bill and Jim are finishing up putting together the cistern. There will be a lot of pictures to post when I return.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Tractor delivery

We took delivery of our new tractor today. It looks smaller and friendlier out here on the prairie than it did on the sales floor. Salesman Brad assured me that with regular service it will last a lifetime. Luther came along to help unload the brush hog and help with the driving lessons. Neighbors Ron, Jim and Tom gathered round to watch as we mowed down our covercrop of soybeans (and weeds) to prepare for tilling and garlic planting. Lots of gears and pedals but I think I can handle it.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Fun and itching

Bill and I had a blast celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary wtih a t rip to Lawrence on Friday evening. Lawrence is the home of University of Kansas and it is a happening place. Nothing like living in a place as quiet as Matfield to make you (me) appreciate block after block of restaurants, coffee shops with outdoor seating and actual people in the seats, art galleries, a renovated downtown movie house, used bookstores. The works! We drank coffee. We strolled and window shopped. At a trendy and beautifully decorated restautant with giant picture windows called Pachamamma's we ate ocean trout (Julia) and mixed grill (Bill). Enjoyed a wonderful mix of gnocchi, figs and baby beets and a salad of tender greens with hearts of palm. We drank good red wine and toasted each other.

After dinner we stopped at The Merc on our way out of town - the food Co-op - where we bought the good stuff: organic bulk oatmeal, goat cheese, ginger tea, free range buffalo burgers.

As we hit the road I remember saying to Bill that my thighs were itching. By halfway home I wanted to take my pants of and scratch. But we were going to stop at a Dairy Queen if we saw one, so I left my pants on, telling myself that the itching was a figment of my imagination.

My mind is more trustworthy than I thought. When we got home and I pulled off my trousers I spotted dozens, maybe hundreds of tiny brown dots - about 1/2 the size of a pin head - all over my inner thighs and along the outside of the elastic of my underpants. Some of them were moving, and they had at least four legs. Others were stuck in my skin, hard to dislodge even with tweezers. Yuck! Bill went to work with rubbing alchohol. Murdering them as fast as he could. I showered with Fells Naptha soap. Brushed off some dead ones. More alchohol. Another shower. Just 10 or 20 left now, and probably dead. We went to sleep, hardly daring to cuddle for fear I'd spread the infestation. Even then I'd feel a little itch and, turning on the light, find one more live one crawling across my arm or the back of my neck. Creepy.

The next day we washed all of our clothes in hot hot water and surfed the internet trying to identify the tiny intruders. For awhile Bill had me convinced they were scabies and that we'd both need a trip to the doctor and a month's worth of topical insecticide. An Emporia pharmacist reassured me that scabies were highly unlikely. He suggested chiggers and said just keep washing and treating with anti-itch cream. But the funny thing is now that they were dead even the dozen or so that were left hanging on my skin weren't itching.

Two days later now I check my thigh and notice just 2 or three left. One more shower and perhaps they'll be history. Nancy Marshall suggests authoritively that they are seed ticks. Better google that to see what my future has in store for me.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Care and Feeding of a John Deere

We bought a tractor yesterday. With a front loader, rotary brush hog mower and tiller. The smallest one whe could get but still a major purchase. Like buying a second car. We've vowed to each other that we will take care of it and make it last a life time. We'll take delivery next week, get some driving lessons and ask the question: How do you take care of a tractor?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Coyote encounter

Yesterday morning, Sunday, Pepper and I walked west into the prairie. I never dare take that walk on a workday, since at any moment a train may stop on the sidelines barring an easy crossing back to civilization. The tracks are double for about a mile right at the bunkhouse, allowing priority trains to pass less urgent ones. When a train stops it could be for 3 minutes to let another one pass, or it could sit for over an hour, waiting for more than one priority train.

On most Sundays I don't worry about the trains, since I wouldn't mind the excuse to wander longer out on the prairie.

I was determined to finish weeding the strawberry patch before the heat of the day set in, so yesterday's was not a long walk. We went out about a mile to the hills just beyond the Rogler ponds where the view is vast and the sky is huge. On our way back we were just about to climb the fence back into our property when I spotted a coyote about 400 feet off to our right. There were four coyote pups with her - each about the size of a large house cat. Spotting us, the pups took off over the hill and out of site. But mama stood her ground, and then some. I watched as she started towards us - Pepper saw her too and to my surprise did not attempt to engage her. We watched as she started towards us just a few yards. She stopped and barked - not like a dog bark - a cross between a bark and the howling we'd heard the previous couple of evenings.

I searched my brain for any stories of humans being mauled by coyotes, found none, but was not too reassured since she was still coming our way - not directly, but definitely our way. She was headed straight north and I was walking east, but her gait was faster than mine. Pepper the chickenhearted had, meanwhile, made a beeline for the tracks, home and breakfast. I walked quickly glancing over my shoulder. For a moment mama coyote disappeared from view, but then as I crested the hill there she was behind me. Parallel and drifting just a few steps east and closer to me. She was determined to see me out of that pasture ASAP.

This morning we had another animal encounter, this time in the draw at the south end of our property near the Miller's house. A possum with five babies on her back. I was watching my step in the mud, looked up and saw Pepper sniffing at a black and while animal. My first thought was skunk, but when Pepper stepped aside the vision of the 12 eyed, 6 tailed creature made me shreek. Pepper ran toward me (to protect or for protection I do not know). Mama possum stood looking at us blocking our path for just a moment and then scrambled off into the woods.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Raise the roof beam high

Friday, August 11, 2006

Dinnertime in hummingbird land

Seven hummingbirds came in from the rain yesterday evening, taking shelter under the Bunkhouse roof overhang. Five sat down for dinner at our feeder while two hovered nearby awaiting their turn at the table. In the flick of a wing the moment had come, and then it was gone.

It rained at least one and three-quarter inches between about 4:15 and 7pm yesterday. I believe that each of us, all living things, are connected through our membership in the living body of the earth. I felt that quite profoundly last night as my body relaxed and expanded in response to the rain. Some of my response was simple, personal relief as the temperature dropped from 105 degrees to about 75 in a matter of minutes. But there was also something more universal than that happening. As the tomatoes and watermelons and the apple trees drank deeply, my thirst was quenched.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Yes, it's hot, but...

The early mornings around here are the perfect time in the perfect place. Big red round sunrise this morning. A breeze as we walked out of town south toward the cemetary. I took a drink at the old pump in the shade of an even older tree at the cemetary gate, and then we continued on another 1/2 mile or so to say good morning to a threesome Mary Ann Quay's horses.

Clara Jo and I are resuming publication of the Matfield Green Newsletter - local news for residents and friends abroad. I've volunteered to write an article of the cattle season - a good excuse to call and talk with some folks I don't normally talk to. Nervous. It may take me a day or two to work up my courage. Or to find the time to relax into the task and enjoy the conversations.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Water Witch

Easter Heathman is 89 years old. He lives about 3 miles up the road toward Bazaar. He's been witching water since he was a boy. Discovered the talent accidently, playing with his brothers. His success rate, he says, is about 75-80%. Can't promise what kind of water we'll find - could be salty or could be good and sweet.

Recently Easter found delicious, soft water for a well to serve the farmhouse and studio that Susi Lulaki and Daryl Nickel are building on a long-neglected and deeply beautiful piece of land south of Lawrence. Susi had some photos to deliver to Easter on Saturday evening, and took the opportunity to introduce Bill and me to this local legend. We told Easter we were buildling cistern for drinking water and other household use, but that with as little rain as we've had this year we've been starting to think that we'd better dig a well for irrigating the garden. There doesn't seem to be a procrastinating bone in Easter's body, so he was down at our place by 8:30 Sunday morning, a forked branch of choke cherry in hand, and a similar one from an apple tree, so thatBill and I could play along. Not 6 feet inside the east gate of the garden Easter's branch was magnetized toward the earth.

A vein of water - or an old water line - seems to be running north to south along the garden fence.

I tried my hand at witching and felt a little tug where Easter's branch had pointed definitively down. Meanwhile, Easter found another spot at the top of the garden nearer the railroad track, and Bill did a little witching just outside the fence between the garden and the road, where it would be easiest to drill. He got a tug and asked Easter to confirm it. Confirmed! (Now Bill is wishing that he hadn't told Easter where he'd got his message, just asked him to walk the same path and see what happened.) But Easter is sure and proud of his gift. Not likely to say yes when he means he's not sure. Too honest to manipulate.

Now we need to find someone to drill.

Next month Easter goes to South Bend, Indiana, to be honored for his role in another kind of legend. 75 years ago a young Easter Heathman was one of the first people at the crash site when Knute Rockne's plane went down in the field about a mile and a half west of where he lives now. As a teen-ager, he was also the youngest among those who discovered the wreck, and perhaps the most outgoing, so it is natural that Easter has become the keeper of the story, the steward of the site. People drive out from Kansas City and beyond to make early morning pilgrimages with Easter (it's too hot for walking out in these pastures by 10 in the morning these days). The interest does not seem to be waning and Easter does nothing to discourage his visitors.

People have told me that in Easter's version of the crash story the bodies of all the passengers on the Pan Am flight are intact and identifiable. Other eyewitnesses gave much more gruesome accounts of Chase Countians carrying off souveniers - ears and fingers and other body parts.

After Easter left us, I spent the rest of Sunday morning reading while Bill and Pat braved the heat down at the housesite. At noon Don and Imogene Hewitt arrived as planned to have lunch with Bill and me down at the Hitchin' Post.

We learned when we arrived that our local bar is open only one Sunday a month - Biker Sunday! The place, which is usually almost deserted, was packed to overflowing with men and women in leather and black tee-shirts. We lucked into a booth by the door and wrote our order on a napkin that Bill delivered to the cook. Clara Jo, who sometimes pitches in when the bar gets busy, came in directly after Church and, since everything seemed to be under control, sat down with us for awhile. The conversation turned again to Rockne and the crash. Clara Jo's dad hadn't mentioned a thing about it - ever - though the plane went down on his father's land. Then, not too long ago, the Kansas Turnpike Authority unveiled a memorial at the Matfield Green Service Plaza, and Clara Jo's dad asked her to take him over there for the ceremony. He sat silent the whole time they were there. Back in the car he said, "That's not the way it happened." "Well, how did it happen, dad?" That's when she learned that her dad and his brother were out tending horses when they saw the plane headed toward the earth. There was an explosion. Clara Jo's uncle got there first because her dad, more concerned about horses than plane, stopped to shut the gate...

Then the Hitchin Post blew a fuse, the air conditioning and the fans stopped and the room fell silent.

Another conversation to be continued.

Friday, August 04, 2006

House progress

Above: Pat gets ready to install the beam. Below: New stairs to the catwalk in the barn.

Above: Bill studies the directions before he starts putting the cistern together.

Below: The frame is finished and we're almost ready for the roof. Bill has spent hours collecting the stones in the foreground - digging them up out of the earth - to build a stone wall around the front part of the house. A neighbor commented on the size of our structure the other day, "It looks like you guys are building the Alamo down there."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Vote here

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


I voted for the first time as a Kansan yesterday. As a Matfield Democrat to be precise. There are few of us Democrats in the county. No one was running against anyone in the primary. But there was a push to write in Stephen R. Collett for county commissioner in our district. He needs 33 write-in votes to get on the ballot in November.

After two decades of voting with the crowd in Chicago, it felt good to be able to make a new kind of difference.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Out my office window today at 11am

38,000 Gallons

We used 38,000 gallons of water last month. Clara Jo came up to tell us about it as soon as she read the meter.

Note that in the 3 1/2 years that we have owned the bunkhouse we have used 78,000 gallons of water. Since we've been living here fulltime it's gone up to between 6 and 10,000 gallons per month - the 10,000 back in April when we were putting out fires on railroad tracks and in woodchip piles. So 38,000 gallons is a lot of water.

An hour after Clara Jo drove back towards town in her golfcart, friend and city council member Tom Armstrong called to urge us to get out there and walk the water line from our house to town looking for the leak. We've know we had a leak for at least a couple of years. Pat ran an experiment back when it first came to light and found that we were leaking - somewhere - at the rate of about 50 gallons a day. That's 1500 gallons a month. Not 31,500 gallons a month! At 1500 gallons a month we'd expect to find a patch of brightly colored grass among the drying leaves of midsummer. At 30,000+ we might expect a large puddle. I walk the path that covers the place where we dug the ditch to run the waterline virtually everyday. Surely Pepper - on these hot hot mornings would find that puddle and stop for a drink. She's the best sleuth around when it comes to things she can ingest. But she has found nothing.

So we skipped the walking the line and called Jay Scott our excavator and asked him to bring his heavy equipment and come on down and help us hone in on the problem. He arrived the next morning, but without the heavy equipment. He perused the line and found the same lack of puddles that we had. He also told us that his son had left the hose on one night and used up 40,000 gallons. Answered our quesitons. We'd left the hose on two nights. Now we owe $165.

Live and learn.

I like this small town living and learning. I like it that Clara Jo comes and tells me when we've spent an unusual amount of water. I like feeling that connected to the necessities of life. I like feeling that we are all concerned about how much water we are using from our communal well. Leaks are not only my problem - they are the community problem.