There and Back Again

Driving in Kansas

Paula Ebert headshotRecently my son and I went back to visit my daughter, who lives in New Jersey. When we lived there, I remember thinking initially that New Jersey as the “garden state” had to be a piece of false advertising. But there are sections in the Garden State that are actually quite beautiful, and plenty of gardens. I really enjoyed the farmer’s markets. We used to enjoy going to working old fashioned farms, where things are done the way they were years ago. Or we’d go to Washington Crossing Historic Park for the annual days when they demonstrated spinning, weaving, plowing with draft horses, and such. Oh, and the reenactment of the Revolutionary War Battle of Monmouth was great.  

There are other things that one can only get in a populated area – great shopping, and the Wegman’s supermarket chain, for example.  

The problem lies in getting to all those places. I don’t mind driving, in fact I rather like it, but I finally caved in and got a GPS after getting lost going “down the shore” as they say there, and also coming back. The traffic is horrific. Any time you have roads with 10 lanes, full of traffic, and special roads for cars only, you know you have trouble. People have no compulsion about cutting a driver off. Also, if you stop at a yellow light, the person behind you will rear-end you, so you’re basically forced to run all the yellow lights. 

Another thing that got me when I lived there is the area is so heavily forested that you can’t navigate by line of sight. Of course this is more for the summer months, but there would be an entire shopping center, hidden behind all the trees. Being from Colorado, I’m used to be being able to say – oh, look, the gas station is just there, even off of the interstate. It is funny, what you take for granted, and later, what it turns out you miss. Who knew I’d miss being able to see where I was going? 

I was reflecting, when I drove to watch my son in a wrestling meet. It was an hour-and-45-minutes away, and I probably saw 20 cars on the road up to the main road, and then just the traffic was just moderate, at best. I’m driving along, listening to Willie Nelson, watching the scenery without being in a panic about the traffic. Lovely views over the Flint Hills. Then, a nice little town, then more Flint Hills – the occasional cow or farmer on his way somewhere. You may have to stop for the coal train, however. Oh well. It’s worth it.

Celebrating rural life in poetry

 Paula Ebert headshotI am very excited to have a part in a new book called "Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems." It is part of the celebration of the anniversary of Kansas. The Kansas poet laureate solicited poetry from around the state, and, much to my surprise my poem was accepted. I think that this book would be of interest to anyone with an eye for poetry, or an interest in all things rural. It is available from Woodley Press: Department of English, Washburn University, Topeka Kansas, 66621. The price is $15. But here, for free, is my poem in the book, and I think in the future I will offer a couple of unpublished poems.  

Into the Land of the Post Rock 

“When we build let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for; and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say, as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, ‘See! This our father did for us.’” ~ John Ruskin 

It looks as if a drill has marred the sides 

otherwise so straight and even 

seashells imbedded therein 

rumors of a long-ago sea. 

 

These are the marks of settlers who upon finding 

lots of rock, not su much timber 

set about the turn the Greenhorn Limestone 

into fence posts in Ellsworth, Westfall, Beverly 

towns of grandparents' past. 

 

The ingenious pioneers drilled holes 

filled them with water 

and waited for the winter freese to split the rock in two 

Then, slinging the 500-pound posts 

under horse-drawn wagons, hauled the posts into place. 

 

I've seen photos of the laborers - 

wearing overalls, hats pushed back, taking their ease at noon, 

eating lunches made by their German wives or 

posed with an uncomfortable pride around the hewn rocks. 

 

My own grandfather 

cut posts in the 1920s, 

when he was newly married, 

with a family to support. 

 

He went with his father and uncles to cut the rock 

working with sledge hammers and wedges 

in the winter when the carpentry work  

and Irv Elemnan's blacksmich shop were slow. 

 

Today, we move the posts with a tractor 

and sand-blast on names for decoration. 

But customers come with admiration for the pioneers 

and want ones with wire imbedded still. 

 

With each rock we move, I think, 

of the men in the wind-swept winter, 

keep moving to sayt warm, 

to keep food ont he table; 

and thoughts turn to my grandfather - 

tacturn, esteemed, indefatigable. 

 

I look for the marks of his hand.  

 

Love to Drive? Driving in Kansas

Paula Ebert headshotOver Christmas, we went back to visit my daughter, who lives in New Jersey. When we lived there, I remember thinking initially that New Jersey as the “garden state” had to be a piece of false advertising. But there are sections in the Garden State that are actually quite beautiful, and plenty of gardens. I really enjoyed the farmer’s markets. We used to enjoy going to working old fashioned farms, where things are done the way they were years ago. Or we’d go to Washington Crossing Historic Park for the annual days when they demonstrated spinning, weaving, plowing with draft horses, and such. Oh, and the reenactment of the Revolutionary War Battle of Monmouth was great.  

There are other things that one can only get in a populated area – great shopping, and the Wegman’s supermarket chain, for example.  

The problem lies in getting to all those places. I don’t mind driving, in fact I rather like it, but I finally caved in and got a GPS after getting lost going “down the shore” as they say there, and also coming back. The traffic is horrific. Any time you have roads with 10 lanes, full of traffic, and special roads for cars only, you know you have trouble. People have no compulsion about cutting a driver off. Also, if you stop at a yellow light, the person behind you will rear-end you, so you’re basically forced to run all the yellow lights.  

Another thing that got me when I lived there is the area is so heavily forested that you can’t navigate by line of sight. Of course this is more for the summer months, but there would be an entire shopping center, hidden behind all the trees. Being from Colorado, I’m used to be being able to say – oh, look, the gas station is just there, even off of the interstate. It is funny, what you take for granted, and later, what it turns out you miss. Who knew I’d miss being able to see where I was going? 

I was reflecting on this over the weekend, when I drove to watch my son in a wrestling meet. It was an hour-and-45-minutes away, and I probably saw 20 cars on the road up to the main road, and then just the traffic was just moderate, at best. I’m driving along, listening to Willie Nelson, watching the scenery without being in a panic about the traffic. Lovely views over the Flint Hills. Then, a nice little town, then more Flint Hills – the occasional cow or farmer on his way somewhere. You may have to stop for the coal train, however. Oh well. It’s worth it.

How About Those Farm Kids!

Paula Ebert headshotThe Chronicle of Higher Education recently ran an item on their blogs about how impressed the blogger, Laurie Fendrich, was with a young woman she met at a county fair. Never mind that it was an interesting read, as she made various comparisons between the animals and “factory farms.” She declares that the pigs were of only one breed, which was disappointing, but they were hormone- and antibiotic free. I wondered how she knew. She said the chickens were spectacular in their cages, “oblivious to their looming fate.” What looming fate? In our case, the chickens’ looming fate is to be released to free-range again. But it’s a city-person visiting the county fair, which is why I’m particularly careful to keep all the food bowls full during prime visiting hours, and clean the chicken cages just prior to Saturday’s rush at our county fair.

In any event, back to the topic. She meets a young woman at the Ulster County Fair in New York. This young woman named Katherine spends time talking to them about her farm experience, her responsibilities on the farm, and how she wants to go to Cornell to large animal veterinary medicine. The blogger quotes herself as thinking “I had a sudden thought. Colleges need to actively target and recruit farm kids. Their rigorous habits, their sense of discipline …  would bring a rich and difference perspective on life than what most suburban and urban kids know.”

When I read this I thought this is so true. My own son, transplanted from New Jersey, has learned much from his step-father regarding hard work, and sticking with a task, and planning ahead. Last night, several cows belonging to my brother-in-law were out on the road, a neighbor came over to tell us. My husband was out of town, but called his brother, who wasn’t nearby, either. We went over and my son began expertly herding up the cattle. I was so impressed with how much he’s learned. Just as we were finishing up (and I’m using the “royal we” here, he did the work) one of the nephews drove up. He’d come out from the local town when his dad called, in order to put back in the miscreants. I thought that here’s an example of responsibility, the young man, who is a college student, didn’t say the heck with you and your cows, he just went out to fix the problem.

I’m not saying that farm life is a guarantee of a successful life. But it sure is a good start.

A Reflection on the Independence of Farmers

Paula Ebert headshotSome weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night because I heard what sounded like a huge car crash. Looking at the clock, I wondered how two cars managed to collide at 1:40 a.m. on the road in front of the house. Sure enough, there was a vehicle on its side in the ditch. My husband called the sheriff and I got dressed and took my car out (to provide headlines to see by) and drove down the lane. I saw the car, and was convinced there would be need of an ambulance. By the time my husband joined me, I had discovered that it was a cousin (remember we’re related to half of the folks around here). He was out of his truck and it wasn’t a multi-car crash, it was him, trying to avoid a deer, unsuccessfully, it turned out. He announced that he’d called his girlfriend, and she was on her way so he could get his tractor and set the truck upright again.

I’m telling you all this because it is a car accident with a good ending, for one. No one but the deer hurt, and it illustrates something vitally important about the farmer mentality. This fellow wasted no time. He wanted to set the truck upright because of the fluids in the engine. There was no waiting for a tow truck, no ringing of hands, no wasting time on regrets. Just fix it. He used the tine on the tractor to hoist up the truck, and drive it home, and came back and got the tractor. Done in about an hour.

My son, one time, drove a fully-loaded dump truck into a ditch. There was a similar response. Once the men finished a bit of teasing, they pitched in to fix it. It was visible from the road, and several men came by to see if they could help. They ended up unloading the truck and using a tractor to pull it out. All the men had a story about similar things they had done as a youth, or even the day before. There was a tremendous tolerance for mistakes that I really appreciated, and I’m sure my son did too.

When we first moved here, my son was very impressed with the hard work of the farmers. He said if you wanted to win a war, all you’d need were a bunch of old farmers, because they would work and work until it was done, and they’d do it all themselves.  American know-how at its best.

What About Those Rotten Cows?

Paula Ebert headshotI mentioned that I’m not overly fond of cows, steers, bulls or what-have you. When I first came to the farm, I started out with good intentions. I know and love horses, but we have none of those, just cows, etc. How hard could it be?

It seems like the second my husband is away, the beasts decide that it is time to escape. We live off of a very busy road, particularly in the afternoon, as the local students go to and from the school just up the road, and busses and such go by. You know how some stories get funnier in retrospect? Well, this isn’t one of them.

One day, just as I’d returned home from work and before I’d changed out of my “dress up clothes,” I look up to see cows booking it down the lane at a rather rapid trot. We have a cousin in the area who is assigned to look out after me when my husband is away, although no one would necessarily phrase it that way. I picked up the phone called him, begging for help, and ran out of the house. I didn’t know that my little dog followed me.

Picture this: I’m running down the lane in a dress, as two cows head out onto the road. I’m waiving my arms and trying to stop traffic before they run over the cows, who are standing in the road, with stupid bovine looks on their faces. They dash toward the bridge over a small creek, and I’m thinking if they get over the bridge, I’ve lost them for good. I’m running as hard as I can and I head them off before they get over the bridge and they are now running down the barrow ditch. It’s now time for the school busses to start whizzing by and they do. Thankfully, a fellow stops and sees my distress, and offers to help with the cows, just as I look up and my little dog, evidently tired of waiting for me, is now in the middle of the road trying to come to my aid!

All thoughts of the cows are gone, as I run toward the dog, telling the poor blind and deaf dog to go home!!! Then, I look up and I see the cousin’s wife, Kay, on her way to save me … With the aid of the fellow who has now abandoned his car by the side of the road, the wife and this fellow manage to lure the cows back into the corral. But because they had to open the gate, I can’t figure out how they got out.

Further investigation, after Cousin Tom arrived, we discover deer probably knocked down an electric fence, and the cows were just strolling out. Fence fixed. My husband returns from a trip out west, just in time to miss all the action. Months later, I met a woman who told me she’d tried to stop traffic on the road that day. “Oh, that was you in the dress.” She just smiles.

Stupid cows.  

mother and newborn calf

Things That Flow From One to Another

Paula Ebert headshotThings that flow from one thing to another.

What I mean is … a relative had white grapes and had left over white grape juice. My husband asked if I wanted to make jelly. Sure. So, I came home from work early, and thriftily turned her left-over grape juice into jelly. Of course, I had to buy pectin. Which sort of makes it less thrifty. But at least it wasn’t the way it was earlier, when I had to purchase jars also. My first year in graduate school, I was enrolled in a poetry writing course. Trust me, I’m no poet, but I wrote a poem about the free tomatoes my husband brought home.

The Tyranny of the Tomato 

"Do you want some tomatoes?" 
The Man asks me.  

"Sure," I foolishly reply. 

That evening, he returns 
Armed with four grocery bags full; 
I know he thinks he’s being kind. 

Tomatoes are free from a friend. 

They won't last. 

To town I go for all I need for salsa –Jalapenos, onions, habanero peppers, green chilies. $20.  

But the tomatoes are free. 

A day spent –Washing, cutting, cooking tomatoes; 
Roasting, peeling, seeding peppers; 
Boiling canning water. 
Electricity, water, jars, lids, bands – 
Not studying.  

But the tomatoes are free. 

 

I’m not sure I can say more than this …