Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Remnant of the Inland Sea

Dennis has labored long and hard to eliminate the noxious weed sericea lespedeza from our pasture. Because we did not want to use noxious chemicals to combat a noxious weed, he went out every morning for two weeks to cut down the lespedeza that was choking out young big bluestem grass and other native plants. The cuttings quickly turned brown.

Now that the pasture has been set free its true beauty is revealed. Gayfeathers have almost finished their bloom, but the flowering spurge is going full tilt.

Annie accompanied us on a pasture walk last evening. Annie is a big golden dog but the pasture plants tower over her. In the next photo all we can see of Annie is her tail and parts of her head. (Look in the lower middle.)

While Annie and I enjoyed the view Dennis was still finding a few of the enemy to assassinate.

As the last light faded the big bluestem was silhouetted against the western sky. Nearly seven feet tall, it is emblematic of the tallgrass prairie, which was a 240-million-acre ecosystem before ranchers and farmers destroyed it.

We can never recreate that vast prairie but our little four-acre pasture can serve to remind us of what once was known as “the inland sea,” if only the Asian invader can be conquered.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Monday, August 17, 2015

It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

Now that Pam’s Cross tomatoes are rolling in from the garden I am using them extravagantly. They are very meaty, not a bit watery, so that when I slice them very little juice escapes. This, plus their true tomato taste, makes them perfectly suited to Caprese salad.

Caprese salad consists of garden-ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, and garden-fresh basil drizzled with olive oil and dusted with pepper.

Served with crusty bread and a side dish of olive oil for dipping, this salad is the essence of summer in Kansas.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tomato Surprise

The few July tomatoes our garden produced were a bust, but August tomatoes are coming on strong. The trouble is, they aren’t what we were expecting.  I bought most of our tomato plants at Vinland Valley Nursery, just a few miles from Paradise and I’m wondering what those folks were smoking when they planted the seeds.

From Vinland Valley I got four Roma plants to grow in the old stock tank that makes a nice raised bed. Roma tomatoes are a staple in our garden because they are more meaty than juicy, which makes them perfect for freezing. I also bought a yellow tomato and a couple of Rutgers for slicing.

My friend Pam had started seeds of my favorite, Abraham Lincoln, and of a tomato she had crossed between a Cherokee purple and some other variety. She had offered me some of her plants, which she duly delivered and planted for me.

This is today’s harvest: from the upper left are several Abraham Lincolns, an unknown yellow and orange tomato, another Abe, then Pam’s cross with its green shoulders, a strange pepper-shaped tomato with green shoulders, and a flock of small tomatoes from the stock tank.

Clearly the stock tank plants are only half Romas and half golf-ball size orange and yellow tomatoes. The Romas are miniscule, hardly worth preparing for freezing.

The pepper-shaped tomatoes must have come from outer space, but their flesh is rather dry and meaty, so they can stand in for the Romas.

Thank goodness Pam came through. If she hadn’t we would not have a single slicing tomato. Only the Abraham Lincoln and Pam’s cross have been successful. But they are plentiful and delicious. Pam’s cross shows its Cherokee heritage when sliced.

I’ll say one thing for the tomatoes of 2015 – they’re very interesting.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Good Drink of Water

People with arthritis get advance weather warnings and when I was awakened in the wee hours by shooting pain from my elbow up my arm, I got up to take ibuprofen and check the weather radar on line. Surprisingly a huge storm was moving over eastern Wyoming, western Nebraska, and northwest Kansas. It was sailing eastward as if in a hurry to be on the east coast to greet the rising sun.

Watching the mass moving on radar I tried to calculate whether the southern edge of the storm would hit Paradise if it were to follow its trajectory. Probably not, I thought, and went back to bed and deep sleep.

This morning I woke to the patter of rain against the window. I thought it was a nice little shower, but Dennis, who was already up making coffee, informed me that a big storm had passed through. Small tree limbs were broken and lying on the ground. The
rain gauge read 1½ inches. In the garden one six-foot tomato (our best one) and its cage were lying on the ground. Other tomatoes and pepper plant branches were broken and leaves littered the soil. There must have been a heck of a blow driving the rain. Our garden needed the rain, though, to continue producing vegetables for our table.

I happen to be in the midst of reading Rain: A Natural and Cultural History*, by Cynthia Barnett. It is a strong reminder of life’s dependence on rain. Without Earth’s moisture-trapping atmosphere there would be no life on earth. Every living thing depends on water.

Earth has a closed system when it comes to water. There’s a finite amount of water in and around our beautiful blue planet. Under certain temperature, wind, and other atmospheric conditions, rain falls from the sky. The earth retains water in soil, underground chambers, lakes, reservoirs, oceans, and ice caps at the poles. Water is recirculated into the atmosphere through evaporation at the earth’s surface.

Only about one percent of all the water in and surrounding our planet is available for our use. The remainder is either inaccessible to us or unsuitable. Think of “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink,” and humans’ costly efforts to desalinate ocean water.

Given our finite supply of water we are well advised to care for it as the treasure it is, safeguarding it for ourselves and for the various forms of life on which we depend for food. Mighty civilizations have died for lack of rain, such as Ur in what is now Iraq, where no rain fell for 300 years. Cities were abandoned and eventually were buried beneath the sand. Our civilization could die, too, if we spoil all of our available water through chemical contamination.

An enormous amount of water is being infused with a chemical cocktail to be used in fracking, the chemical process that frees oil from shale. Afterward, that once-good water is injected deep into the earth to protect us from contamination. That water is gone from our limited supply for a long, long time – perhaps ever.

Scientists have found disturbing evidence that 40 percent of our rain now contains glyphosate, the cancer-causing chemical in the herbicide Round Up. They also have shown that the chemical is in the water we drink because it has been found in human breast milk.

Glyphosate and other chemical wastes in the water I drink probably won’t be the death of me (after all, I’ll soon be an octogenarian) but I worry about what they will do to my grandchildren and their offspring. Stewardship of water is a virtue we must to practice for the sake of both ourselves and posterity.

In spite of wind damage I’m thankful for last night’s rain, and fervently hope it didn’t rain very much glyphosate.

*Another good read on this subject is in Bill Bryson’s chapter on water in  A History of Nearly Everything.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Art of Conversation

Conversationalist: a person who is good at or fond of engaging in conversation.

The definition differentiates between being good at conversation and being fond of it. We all know someone who seems to be fond of “conversation” but really just wants an audience. Such a person expounds endlessly on various topics while her audience nods or says “Uh-huh” and goes on eating her soup. The endless talker gives not a whit what anyone else might say if given a chance, but might be abashed to learn what others are thinking. “What a bore!”

Following just a few simple rules anyone can become a good conversationalist.

Show an interest in your companion(s) by asking them questions about their lives and opinions.
            Think of the people you know who are good conversationalists. I’ll bet my hat they are people who show an interest in you. They probably ask you questions and listen to your answers.

Make eye contact.
            Remember the phrase “Look me in the eye.” It really means please relate to me directly, acknowledge me as a human being.

Monitor the time you spend talking.
            We don’t learn anything while we are talking. In order to learn one must spend plenty of time listening. When telling a story try to be concise and avoid unnecessary details. Get to the point by a direct route. If anyone wants to know more, they will ask you.

Go with the flow.
            Some folks bring up the same topic again and again even when no one else picks up on it. I’m sure I’m guilty of that, but really we should let it go after the first time.

Be fully present.

            Turn off your phone and put it away.

It’s a funny thing that in the process of earning my doctorate in speech communication and human relations, I never heard a professor bring up the topic of conversation or the importance of give and take. Conversation is not insignificant; it is the basic building block of good human relations.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer