Back Issue Vol: 43-1
The next day I had to go back to the area to return something to a Fleet Farm store just south of the farm area. I did my business there and headed north just a few exits to Exit 57 Holy Hill Rd – Hwy 167 West, the farm exit. Upon approaching the exit, catching glimpses across the road and to my right a quarter mile down the road, I was shocked to not see one single familiar thing. It was gone… totally GONE, ALL of it. The massive old large family farm home from the 1800s, the newer ranch from mid century 1900s. The road was tore up for construction, the road was one lane in some areas, there were large many acre parcels of newly cleared land. Land not to be toiled upon to raise crops, but land stripped of it’s top soil and in some stage of preparation to be parking areas or mega building sites. Upon where I surmised as best I could, upon the space where the farm actually stood, was a massive new building, a distribution center for Briggs and Stratton. Briggs has a treasured history all its own, but I was not at all receptive to it stealing our family history.
Haying season started in early June and just seemed to last all summer in the 1940s and 1950s on the Scheckel farm outside Seneca in the heart of Crawford County. In between first crop and second crop, we cut and shocked oats. After the second crop of hay, threshing was done. After threshing, we often put up a third crop of hay. There was no hay baler on the Scheckel farm. Hay was cut with a No. 9 McCormick-Deering Enclosed Steel Gear Mower with a five-foot sickle and pulled by two horses. Let it cure for a few days, then bring in the siderake to windrow the hay, then the hay loader pulled behind a hay wagon. It was hard, dirty, back breaking work, often in hot and humid weather.
This is my third Horse Progress Days, including 2008 in Mount Hope, Ohio, and 2016 in Howe, Indiana. We could note a few trends in a nutshell — how tall draft horses are back, and miniature horses (which are not stocky ponies but perfectly proportioned horses more pleasing to the eye) are being bred to ever more refined and useful conformations. How the current style for most big draft horses is to have their tails severely docked, though the tails of miniature horses are left long. By way of footwear these days there seem to be few of the brightly colored Crocs for the whole family, but gray and black Crocs aplenty. One huge change over three years ago is that here were as many bicycles, with and without baskets and trailers (and some with batteries and motors), as the dark square family buggies drawn by identical lean brown trotters and pacers. Bicyclers include both youthful and older farmers, using this healthy and efficient form of transportation to get around.
Driving tepee truck is a humble job, beneath the dignity of a lamber, but it suits me fine. The ten-mile drive through the hills to Sunrise Camp is beautiful in the early morning. This is the season between snow and flowers, when the first soft green of grass and moss spreads over the hills with a promise. The long hard winter is over. Next month the ranch will be literally carpeted with wild flowers — bird’s-bills, dog tooth violets, crocuses, wild irises, evening primroses and forget-me-nots — a tangled, riotous fulfillment in colors no artist could paint. Beautiful, yes, but I like this season better. For everywhere I look I can see the stir of new life — in the tender, pale green of the hills, rolling on and on to meet the horizon; in the deepening green of slender, silver-trunked quaking aspen; in the sweet, sharp-scented fragrance of pine and spruce and fir, as the sap runs through their branches.
There are several prerequisites to ploughing successfully: you need a workable plough, somewhere suitable to plough, and horses which will walk where you want them to, at a slow to moderate pace. You also need to know the feel of the plough, how to adjust it, and how to control the horses. Once you can do all these things, then you can plough, but for each one that you cannot yet tick off your list, the harder it will be to learn. Fortunately, some of these skills can be achieved before you ever get near a moving plough, and the more boxes you can tick before you start, the easier it will be. Let’s start by breaking down the act of ploughing into its component parts.
It was at this moment that I became aware of a certain menace behind me and an instant later felt something engage my back. There was a violent flapping of wings and the stabbing pain of talons. It was Rex, the barred rock patriarch of the flock. I twisted and stood up quicker than I thought possible, throwing him off in one motion. Naturally I was alarmed, and not at all pleased. I chased him around the pen and snatched him up. Staring into his beady little rooster eyes, I spoke to him words that he would clearly understand. I told him that he may be a grande and beautiful rooster, full of might, but that I am a grander and far more powerful rooster, full of greater might even than he. My message delivered, I gently set him down. He skulked off to a far corner of the coop to think things over.
The thoughts triggered by the summer consequences of that slow snow has me looking for clear evidence. Did the snow cause this dramatic increase in grass growth beneath trees, in overall fertility? Is this land, this region, this wildife migration zone, showing signs of comfort and appreciation for the weather and water turnaround brought by the deep snows? I see the strength of our pastures, the health and gain of our livestock, and the increase in the bird populations. Evidence everywhere, but you only see it if you are looking for it. And, as farmers, we look for it because it gives us clues for our management choices and preparations. The slow snow helps me to see underneath because my eyes are drawn to the obvious changes.
The Appleton Husker and Shredder itself was one of the very first placed on the market and it has been a great success from the start, each succeeding season serving to emphasize its success and to increase its popularity. This unequaled success is due largely to the possession of certain exclusive features which have remained practically unchanged during all the years it has been on the market. Chief among these are our knife-roll husking device, our interchangeable cutting and shredding heads, our method of driving all working parts by a single heavy belt, our superior separating and cleaning device, and our swiveling ear corn carrier and convenient blower.
We need to have longer memories than we do. The last two hundred years are not representative of the life of our species. They were built on a foundation that is not sustainable, and when it crumbles, our capacity for innovation may need to be replaced by our capacity for renovation. Old technologies that were designed with the limits of economics and planetary sustainability in mind will once again become valuable, and our lives will have to change drastically as a result.
It’s a cool morning on a nature preserve owned by Bur Oak Land Trust in Johnson County. I’m scouring a shady hillside with John Rucker and his four Boykin spaniels, looking for turtles. “Find turtle, find turtle,” Rucker calls to his dogs. He turns to me and says, “did I tell you I’m the only person in the world that does this?” When he’s not living off the grid in rural Montana, Rucker travels the country with his specially-trained hunting dogs, helping scientists and conservationists find turtles.