Beginning Again


Welcome home! Watch your head!

I’m back on the Coteau after the nine-week legislative session which at times felt unbearably long and now feels like, “wait, it’s over already?” After a brief stop down in Southeastern SoDak to pick up my entitled feline, I made it home just in time to come down hard with the Capitol crud I’d managed to avoid while I was in the thick of things.


Still, a hacking cold doesn’t excuse a gal from glorying in visions of spring, regardless of the snow mountains piled everywhere in my little town. Especially since I picked up three weeks’ worth of mail, and among the bills and shoppers and credit card offers were three packages of seed I’d ordered in a fit of desperation during my last long weekend in Pierre.

Of course I’d done a seed inventory in late December, and of course I left my garden journal here at home, but I figured I remembered most of what I really needed. Unguided figuring coupled with websites full of glossy veggie and flower images is more than a little dangerous, but I didn’t get too far out of line. I set a budget of $100, and I managed to stay under it even with those seductive buy-this-much-get-free-shipping offers. I was disciplined.

OK, well, I was disciplined in that I kept my trio of orders under $100. And, I did order pretty much everything I needed, which wasn’t much. And then, in superbly un-disciplined fashion I ordered a bunch of other stuff that wasn’t on my needs list because I was still under my $100 limit.

I’m still amazed at how little seed I need and how much weird and wonderful stuff I can get now that I’m pretty much just growing for myself. The small amount of money and discipline necessary for making a seed order as compared to my CSA and market gardening days still blows my mind–at the same time, it’s difficult to force myself to choose the smallest pack size rather than, say, a pouch of five thousand.

Civilization as we know it could collapse. What if I didn’t have enough turnip seed to isolate, grow out, pollinate, and make more turnip seed? What if some rogue grower up the block (I’m lookin’ at you, Kim!) was growing out Chinese cabbage for seed at the same time, and it crossed with the last of my turnips and formed some mutant Brassica that not even flea beetles found appetizing? Do you think the Svalbard seed vault would save us? It’s already sprung a leak from melting permafrost!

I think we’re on our own. The last defenders of the Family Brassicaceae.


onion harvest
Seed-grown storage onions

Actually, I didn’t order turnips this year. I still have two packs in my seed stash. What I did order was storage onion seed because I’m tired of getting crappy onions from the store that go moldy in less than a week or have soft, rotten layers undetectable from the outside. Onions are easy to grow from seed; it’s just that they take some time. I much prefer starting them myself (if I can) than buying plants or sets.


Onion sets are an absolute last resort because they have a much greater tendency to bolt–and an onion that sends up a seed stalk is an onion that won’t keep through the winter. I seed my onions in 4-packs with 4 plants per cell as Eliot Coleman suggests in The New Organic Grower (though he uses soil blocks), and I agree with him that this makes weed control much easier than with a single row of onions. It doesn’t adversely affect the size of the bulbs.

I started my onions today, as well as Blue Solaise leeks, a superb variety of flat-leaf parsley from Pinetree Garden Seeds, and Brilliant celery root, which I grow every few years because it’s hard to find in grocery stores, it stores well, and it’s really delicious. Also on the celery theme, I’m starting lovage from seed–a huge, deep-rooted herb whose young leaves taste like very strong celery, but that I don’t usually eat–I grow it because it’s cool-looking, pollinators love the big umbels of yellow flowers, and it’s a tough-as-nails perennial. And, you know, if a civilizational collapse causes a desperate celery situation, you’re covered.


lovage flowers
Pollinators love lovage!

I ordered other stuff for the pollinators, too–borage and anise hyssop from Pinetree and swamp milkweed and cup plant from Seed Savers Exchange. (Turned out I already had seed for anise hyssop and cup plant–that’s the danger of ordering away from home.)


I also ordered and started rue (Ruta graveolens) plants because I saw very few Black Swallowtail butterflies here last year–I think I glimpsed one or two all season. Elsewhere, when I’ve had rue growing in my gardens, they seem to prefer to lay their eggs on it even more than dill, carrots, fennel, and parsley (which I’ll also grow). Rue is also a tough perennial–even when eaten down to a nub by hungry caterpillars, it’ll make a comeback the next season.

cooler tomatoesOne thing I pledged not to order this year (and was nearly successful in avoiding) was tomatoes. While browsing Territorial’s site, I found a variety of sauce/slicing tomato I had great success with in the past but has fallen out of my collection in recent years. So, Cuore di Bue will be back in the garden, along with one or two other varieties that somehow slipped into my stash during the Deuel County Women Farmers seed swap.

After last year’s multiple marathons of tomato canning, I’m thinking I’ll cut back this year and give myself a break. Wish me luck…er, discipline!



I sure do know how to rock a staycation.

I was hired for my current organizing position close to a year ago. I was living down in the southeastern corner of SoDak at the time, and initially I was hired as a lobbyist, so getting the job basically meant I had to up and move to Pierre the following week.

But, the organizer part of my job post legislative session required me to relocate somewhere closer to the Brookings office. And that meant getting my finances in order and house-hunting on weekends in between the madness of legislative weekdays.

My budget being what it is (and my entourage including a weekend teenager, a large dog, and a grumpy cat), Brookings itself was out of the question. I scoped out a few places in surrounding communities, and found the sweet spot in Toronto–where the population and property prices are low, the yards are big, and “urban” agriculture is a given.

I closed on a good-sized place with 1/3 acre–not as big of a lot as I wanted, but looking back I’m relieved I didn’t hold out for something even more time-consuming to maintain. And I moved in and got started at my organizing duties pretty much immediately upon returning from Pierre in the spring.

The compressed time frame meant that instead of doing the whole Rug Doctor dance, I gave the place a good vacuuming and then carried my stuff in the door. For those who recoil in horror at this–well, what kind of timeframe and more importantly what kind of help do you have going for you? The place looked decent enough; it didn’t stink; I moved in and got my butt to work.

Fast forward to the end of the first year. With the house closed up for winter, I notice that the furnace filter needs changing pretty often. There’s a kind of mustiness which is probably emanating from the dug-out basement (mine is the second-oldest house in Toronto, I’m told), but, you know, the carpets.

As awesome as my vacuum is (and it is super-cyclonic!), there’s no real substitute for  a machine designed to get down in there and suck up as many years of gunk as is possible without ripping up the floor coverings entirely. When I saw the opportunity for a few days off toward the end of the year, I also saw the opportunity to do the spring cleaning I didn’t have time to do this year, and I won’t likely have time for next year, either.

The first two calls I made to price renting a machine led me to one quick realization: the majority of people  must either have a lot of stamina or very little carpet. Who rents a Rug Doctor for one day? In my case, two carpeted bedrooms and a hall upstairs, the actual stairs, plus the living room and office on the main floor were not going to get clean in one day. And probably not two.

Maybe when normal people do their deep cleaning, it’s not that deep. I’m not a neat-freak (I let things go–and go–and go), but I grew up in a cleanliness-next-to-godliness household, which means that when I do deep cleaning, not only does the place really, really need it, I know how to get in there and do it like a gal who’s had warnings about doing a “half-assed job” worked into her brain from infancy. If I’m going to rent a carpet cleaner, I’m going to rent it for a week because I intend to make every inch of that carpet forget it has a history.


So, the third call was to a rental center in town. I asked if they rented “Rug Doctors” because I guess I thought that was shorthand for a carpet cleaner the way that “Kleenex” is shorthand for facial tissue. I got corrected on that, but in the process of the explanation of the difference between machines, I learned that they had a commercial hot water extractor machine, and I sorta decided that if I was going to do this thing I was going to do it like a professional. A professional on staycation.

This sucker is big, it’s awkward, and it was absolute hell to get out of my car, onto my deck, and to lift-and-push one step at a time up the steep and cornered staircase to the second floor. It has two long cords I was advised to plug into separate circuits in my house to avoid blowing a fuse.

Yes, I have some fuses. I also have some circuit breakers. Maybe you have a hybrid car. I have a hybrid house.

I dragged all the furniture out of the first room. Luckily, I have one bedroom upstairs that is not carpeted, so I crammed everything in there. I crammed it more tightly when I realized that as I cleaned my way down the carpeted hallway, I’d have to back into that room with the machine and all of its hoses in order to do the landing at the top of the stairs.

I checked the fuse box map and figured out where to plug in the vacuum and spray line separate from the tank heater line. I filled the tank and measured the cleaning solution. I turned the machine on; the vacuum was sucking like Nebraska, the sprayer was blowing like North Dakota (this is the punchline to a joke about why it’s windy in South Dakota). The tank heater was…kaput.

I checked everything over again. In part because I really wanted it to work and in part because, as a woman, I knew the kinds of questions I would likely get from any man who answered the phone at the rental place. Questions suggesting that I lack a basic understanding of machinery and electrical systems and that the failure of the machine to operate was a failure on my part.

Studies have shown that being able to answer those kinds of questions before they’re asked is a safe and effective way to reduce your blood pressure and also avoid ripping someone’s head off.

On closer inspection, I could see that the protective cover on the tank heater switch was missing, and that there was moisture inside the clear inner part of the switch. Bingo. It wasn’t me, and it wasn’t going to work no matter where I plugged it in. I hashed out the problem with the rental place (and sent them a picture), and they suggested that, if I didn’t want to drag that thing down the stairs, load it in my vehicle, and drive the 50-mile round trip back to the store (and then try to find someplace else to rent one), I could simply heat the water on my stove top and pour it in the tank.

The reservoir on this machine is 5 gallons. The machine is upstairs. The stove top is in the kitchen on the main floor. Umm…no.

So, another thing I learned on my staycation this year is how to crank up my water heater to the temperature that ground beef is supposed to be cooked.  That’s 160 degrees–which is not as hot as the machine’s tank heater was supposed to get, but it’s hot enough to burn the heck out of your hand if you go to wash your dishes and forget you turned your water heater up that high.

I sat on a folding chair in the bathroom and filled buckets of scalding water with the shower head (low-flow, extra-slow) and finished the upstairs bedrooms and hall in two days. Tomorrow I put the upstairs furniture back in place and then start moving the office and living room furniture out of the way to do the next round of cleaning on the main floor.

The good thing about the professional hot water extractor is that it takes extraction seriously–very little water stays in the carpet, so it doesn’t take forever to dry. But it’s still not instantaneous, and with all the extra furniture from the carpeted bedrooms crammed in the guest room, it’s looking like I’ll be having another exciting staycation adventure tonight…

…sleeping on the couch.






This is a Post About Drought. And Farmer Suicide.

I traveled to Pierre on Saturday from my home in Northeastern South Dakota–a tiny little nook of the state that is green, lush, and lucky with moisture. We had edged into abnormally dry status in the last drought monitor update dated 7/25, but the nearest weather station update records nearly an inch of rain that day–and I’m fairly certain that in our little corner we absorbed twice that or more late that afternoon and into the evening.


The afternoon of the storm, I was trudging around a Nature Conservancy prairie preserve in Deuel County, and as I was leaving lightning was flashing in the distance and dark clouds edging in from the north and west. As my companion drove us back into Clear Lake, there was a solid gray wall bisecting upper Main Street from lower–a wall of absolute deluge. Despite being parked directly next to the driver’s side door of my vehicle, I had to wait about five minutes before the downward-facing firehose let up.

It’s a different story elsewhere in the state.

I travel to Pierre once or twice a month, so I knew already the stricken landscape that is central South Dakota. When I was there ten days ago, the bindweed (whose roots can extend thirty feet deep in the soil) was the last green thing remaining in the un-irrigated hillside lawns in town. Now it too has browned out.

This time, I was in the area for a tour of B&G Produce farm near Canning and meeting of the Greater Oahe Action League (GOAL) Chapter of Dakota Rural Action. Because of Matt and Lindy’s stewardship of water resources through drip irrigation, the beds of produce there were green and lush–but in between the rows, the soil was powder-dry.

Matt Geraets, who led the tour, told us one of his challenges this summer is pocket gophers–not their tunnels or depredations of the crops themselves so much as that they are chewing holes in the irrigation lines because there is no water to be found anywhere else. Powerful dust devils are also an issue–one whipped off a fifty-foot length of row cover, sucked it up in the air, and deposited it…well, they don’t even know where it ended up.

In attendance on the tour were a number of town folks and a farm couple who raise mostly small grains north of Pierre. I won’t mention their names, but I’ll say that I fell into conversation with them as we walked to the far fields of tomatoes, peppers, and squash. He said that he’d just plowed under his sunflower crop, and I naively asked if there might be any allelopathic effects of the plowed-down crop on a subsequent one.

[For the uninitiated, allelopathy refers to the positive or negative effects of one crop on another–sunflowers are known to have a negative effect on some other crops.]

He chuckled and said, “well, I doubt it, since I only had a 10% stand.” Meaning, only about 10% of his crop even had enough moisture to survive. Yeah. It’s bad out there. And, considering the conditions, there isn’t really the ability to plant a late crop–even a cover crop to protect the barren soil. When weeds with roots a dozen feet down can’t survive, there probably isn’t anything else that can, either. Except the farmers themselves.

Which brings me to the next point. And that is this: it’s too late to save the crops. It’s too late for the grass to come back or to have enough to feed all the cows through the winter. But it is NOT too late to save the farmers and ranchers, and we’d better start talking about that. Right. Damn. Now.

That point came to me later in the morning, after I’d traveled a much larger swathe of the Crow Creek Reservation than ever before. I was heading down to Chamberlain to see a friend who’s a mentor to me, and whom I’d not seen for a couple of months. It was early in the morning, and I saw a detour I thought I was supposed to take–though looking back I kind of wonder if it was a necessary turn. Whatever. I had time.

Crow Creek storm
Too little too late–storm clouds north of Crow Creek.

The sign said, “Detour BIA 3,” but as far as I know, I was on SD 50. There was also a “ROAD CLOSED TO THROUGH TRAFFIC” sign (I think–but maybe I just remember that wrong because I saw a lot of other signs like that before I got to where I was going). I had a half tank of gas, so, why not? I took the dirt road out through the pastures.

It ended up taking an extra hour to get to my friend’s place. I saw a lot of miles with a lot of cattle on a lot of dried-out grass. And then I finally found a crossroads with actual multi-directional signs and stopped to pull my gazetteer out of the backseat.

[Pro tip: rural travelers do not depend on navigation apps.]

I was east of my target destination, and apparently I was smack dab in the middle of the town of Shelby. Let me relieve you of the notion that there is an actual town there–there is a ranch there, but a town there isn’t. Still, I now knew exactly where I was and how to get where I was going.

After I related the previous night’s conversation, my friend told me she’d attended a recent meeting in that area on the topic of the drought. There were dozens of local farmers and ranchers there, and although folks sat with other folks they knew, there wasn’t the usual jovial atmosphere of previous gatherings she’d seen. The discussion focused on belt-tightening–the corn cut for hay (not wet enough for silage), the recommendation to return newly purchased and rented equipment. How many cows to sell off.

And then one of the professional presenters who’d started her presentation on drought effects abruptly stopped, removed her glasses, pulled up a slide, and started to cry.

The slide was the suicide hotline.

This is where we are at, folks. It is better that we start talking about it now. Now, before we lose anyone–though in saying that, I realize that I don’t actually know that. Maybe we’ve lost people already. Maybe we’ve lost people and there’s nothing in the obit column that makes it clear this is why. We’d better start talking about it. Right. Now.

I’m a child of the 70’s, and I grew up in the 1980’s. I grew up in the Champlain Valley of Vermont, which is a region that was, at that time, rich in dairy farms. And then came the farm crisis and the whole herd buyout. My school was a mix of kids whose parents worked for the ultra-spendy liberal arts college, kids whose parents worked white and blue collar jobs or no jobs at all, and farm kids–mostly dairy. Some kids whose parents sold out their herds and moved to town. I was young enough and sheltered enough then that if the worst happened, I would never have heard the reasons behind it–though farmers in the Northeast had a much lower rate of suicide than those in the West and Midwest.

Now that I’m older, and I’ve worked for a couple of organizations that formed during the farm crisis of the 80’s, I’ve learned the history of what happened, and I see many of the same factors playing out today. Commodity prices have crashed. We have an administration threatening to gut USDA Rural Development funding. And, here in South Dakota (as well as North Dakota and Montana), drought is hitting hard.

According to a University of Iowa study, over a thousand farmers took their lives during the 80’s crisis. And the rate of suicide among farmers and farm workers has remained higher than in other professions.

As in the 1980s, financial issues continue to cause some suicides, especially during economic crises or periods of extreme weather, Peek-Asa says. But farmers face an array of other stresses that put them at high risk for suicide: physical isolation from a social network, leading to loneliness; physical pain from the arduous work of farming; and lack of available health care resources in rural areas, especially mental health care.   Snee, Tom. “Long after 80’s farm crisis, farm workers still take own lives at high rate.” Iowa Now. 6/12/2017.

Right now, we are seeing the double-whammies of economic crisis and extreme weather in some states–the very factors that can cause a spike in suicides.  We’re seeing our rural communities hollowed out by federal farm policies still operating on the, “get big or get out” model that we known damn well is killing us–in some cases literally. It is bad out there, and it is getting worse.

But, one thing we do have that we didn’t at the start of the eighties is a host of organizations and support networks formed during that time of crisis. Many of them are still here, still doing good work to challenge the policies that are failing people in farm country, and still fighting for family farmers and ranchers.  And many of them also help connect farmers and ranchers to support networks and communities of neighbors that can alleviate the isolation and feelings of despair.

I’m not a counselor. I’m a rural organizer. I care about farmers and ranchers and our rural communities, and I’m worried for our people. My friend in Chamberlain has been trying to get local bankers and business owners to talk about the drought for months now and has gotten virtually no acknowledgement that it exists. I’m worried that we won’t really admit how bad things are until it’s too late. I’m worried we’ll lose people.

So, let’s start talking about it. Right. Damn. Now.

Here is the South Dakota Helpline Center link.

Their suicide hotline number is 1-800-273-8255. 

Here’s a link to the Farm Aid Crisis Support page. Farm Aid was formed in 1985 to “raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on the land.” They also fund the work of organizations like Dakota Rural Action, where I’m employed.

Don’t be a stranger. Visit your neighbors. Take care of yourself.

And don’t wait to ask for help.






Some Thoughts About the Election

***Note: this post contains some adult language.

I spent the days surrounding the election up at Oceti Sakowin Camp on and near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. I did that on purpose–after voting early for a few people I wanted in office, and a few more I was pretty apathetic or even somewhat uncomfortable with–I GTFO’d up to the community in North Dakota where I’ve stayed, worked, and prayed four times now since late August.

Because I was traveling with an elder companion, and because I still had the cold I’d picked up on a previous trip, we slept at the casino hotel where there is tv, internet, and cell reception. That meant I was able, after a long day in the wind and sun, to watch the election results come in and also the (for the most part) grim horror and disbelief of those reporting on it and reacting to it.

And as I watched, I started to get angry.

To be clear, I wasn’t mad at the Republicans or the people who voted for Donald Trump. And, frankly, I wasn’t even surprised at what happened. I was watching this thing and getting angry at the Democratic Party–getting mad at all the people who patted us Bernie supporters on the head, called us naive and bratty, rolled their eyes at us, said he was unelectable, and proceeded to–there is no other way to say this–royally f*ck us, themselves, and our country. And then watch those folks be totally horrified and flabbergasted when someone who is about as unelectable as it gets took home the prize.

A few weeks ago, somebody added me to the Hillary-supporting Facebook group called, “Pantsuit Nation,” and although several friends whom I respect participated in it, the group as a whole struck me as elitist and offensive. In the Democratic primary, it was clear from nationwide results and from the rural/urban split in many states that Bernie Sanders was speaking in a very direct way to groups the Democratic Party had left behind–people whose communities are dying, people whose “pantsuit” is a pair of Carhartt coveralls and whose dress-up clothes are a pair of clean jeans and a button-front shirt. A string tie and the good hat if it’s a wedding or funeral. People for whom the people in suits are the ones who have paperwork you sign knowing that if you don’t fulfill all the fine-print obligations, you’ll lose your farm, your home, your family, your whole world. To put a finer point on it, calling a group, “Pantsuit Nation” is a sure way to alienate folks whose professional attire does not fit in a white collar environment.

I was watching the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the pantsuit group on election night and what I envisioned was a parade of well-appointed and empowered white women (with an “appropriate” and token few LBGTQ women and/or women of color) marching forward, arm-in arm, laughing and congratulating themselves on their amazing leadership toward this historic achievement of electing Hillary Clinton, only to look over their shoulders and discover with complete shock that no one was following. Reactions to that realization were along the lines of, “I can’t believe this is happening,” “I’m just weeping in disbelief,” and “Maybe we can start ‘Pantsuit Circles’ locally–like ‘Lean In’ groups for support?”

It made me want to barf in my mouth, and it also made me angry. The next morning when I woke up to the result I was pretty sure was going to materialize the night before, I posted this status on Facebook:

“When y’all are done wailing and gnashing your teeth, done with being angry and blaming, we could use your help at Standing Rock. And a thousand, million other places as well. Leave your pantsuit at home, humble yourself, and listen to people who didn’t see a choice in the choices they were “given.” Just be quiet and listen. And then–without jumping in or ahead or figuring you know how to “fix” it, without getting upset because you aren’t being recognized and appreciated as much as you think you should be–ask how you can be of service to the community. Humble yourself. Listen. #StandWithStandingRock”

And that post pissed off some people. It was “too soon” to point out how there had been a major miscalculation in the Democratic Party, a major amount of condescension and a major lack of listening and recognizing where people were at in this country. It was “too soon” to point out what rural Democrats and disenfranchised folks have been pointing out for years because the pantsuit people’s feelings were too raw on the day they realized how much they’d miscalculated. Maybe I should have said what I was real, raw-ly feeling myself, which was something like,

“OK–you patted us on the head and said we were naive and our candidate was unelectable and we should just go home and shut up about the “political revolution” and vote for her. And guess what? Despite all that condescension, many of us STILL dutifully did just what you told us, and YOU WERE WRONG, and WE ARE PISSED OFF, and we are not terribly concerned about whether your feelings are hurt by us saying it because WE ARE ALL F*CKED NOW and IT IS YOUR FAULT.”

On Election Day, I was at Oceti Sakowin Camp all day, and I heard nearly constant announcements that those who’d been in camp thirty days or more were eligible to vote in North Dakota by signing an affidavit of residency. Cars were waiting to take people to the polls a couple miles away. I took one person myself because I could only find one person out of the many, many people in my camp who were eligible to vote and had any interest in doing so. And that one person was a white person. I’ve had people react to that story by saying, “don’t [Native people] understand how terrible Trump will be for them?” And my response is, don’t you understand that all the violence perpetrated against the water protectors thusfar has been on President Obama’s watch?

Don’t you realize that Hillary Clinton has made absolutely no assurances whatsoever to indigenous people fighting for their lives, land, and culture? Don’t you know that FDR–the New Deal guy, the four-term Democratic president–authorized the Pick-Sloan Plan to dam the Missouri and flood millions of acres of reservation lands, communities, and cultural resources? Don’t you know that even your most beloved and just President Abraham Lincoln–the one who freed the slaves!–also authorized the hanging of 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota–the largest mass execution in US history? But, by all means, tell Native people more about how they ought to be participating in your system and voting for your candidate because the other guy will be so much worse. As one friend in camp put it, “at least now the enemy is out in the open.”

The day before the election, I sat talking with a thirty-something Dakota woman by a small woodstove in a makeshift willow-and-tarp structure, winterized with layers of pallets and thermawrap to protect against the coming North Dakota winter. This woman, whose ancestor led her people out of Minnesota after the 1862 Uprising, told me about her experience in the Democratic primary as a delegate for Bernie Sanders–how she and other Native people felt respected and heard by him–how proud she was to have presented him with a pair of handmade moccasins. How despite her disappointment in the outcome of that primary, her experience has made her committed to running for public office in the near future.

I keep hearing the Democratic Party faithful say that even if Bernie Sanders had been their nominee, he’d have lost. But, I am fairly certain that if Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic nominee, the cars taking people from camp to the polls in Cannonball would have had a lot more riders. I believe that many of the white people who voted for Trump not because they agreed with his hateful and racist rhetoric but because he told people in desperate economic situations he’d get their jobs back would likely have been Sanders voters, as would many of the nearly half of the electorate who stayed home. It wouldn’t have taken much to swing this election the other way, and I’m frankly done being polite with those who continue to blame Trump’s win on the “fact” that a quarter of the electorate are a bunch of xenophobic, homophobic, racist misogynist “deplorables.”

Let me tell you something straight out in case you’ve never experienced it yourself: when you’ve lost your job, your home, your savings, and your wife–when your own circumstances are that desperate, you’re not thinking about who you’re “throwing under the bus” by voting for someone who says they’ll stick it to the people who did this to you plus also get you your job back and hopefully your dignity, too. And it’s just too bad that the Democratic Party decided someone who said things like that was “unelectable” because our guy meant it as more than lip service, he has experience doing it, and he said it with a message of healing, not hate.

And, about all that hate? That hate existed before the election, and it would be there no matter who won. Heck, the backlash might’ve been worse if Hillary had triumphed what with armed militias warning they’d take down the country if she did win. Nevertheless, the haters are emboldened now, and that is scary, but the enemy is out in the open where it is easier to fight. All those messages of support about standing up for people of color, for people of non-Christian faiths, for women and for LBGTQ folks are incredibly important, and I hope those who are posting them knew that it was important to stand up for love and equality and justice before the election, too.

Yeah, I think they did know that, and I hope that they acted on it and will continue to act on it. I hope we all do. But, I also hope that this election has clarified that loving people and standing up for them is also about listening to them–about humbling yourself, offering your service to their community–giving up the podium and the microphone without worrying that your power and your voice might be questioned or lessened–and truly listening and believing what they have to say.



A Little Post…and More to Come

Now that I am actually starting to work off-farm a little (and putting together a super-exciting project proposal I’ll blog about if it goes through), I thought it might be time to get some content flowing here again!

Here’s a small thing I’ve worked on in the past couple of days, since returning from the Spirit Camp north of Cannon Ball, ND very early Sunday:

photo 1(24)
[Most of] Whatever’s ripe goes in the pot…
Of course, when I returned from a few days on the road there was a crisis of deliciousness in the gardens begging to be harvested. Since I planted so late this spring (umm…summer), the warm-season crops (which were all that I attempted to plant) began to bear fruit a couple of weeks later than normal. That means the main canning season is also starting a couple of weeks late, and I’m scrambling to put up in jars what I’m able because freezer space is very limited.

Hence, this stew of skinned and cut-up tomatoes, red okra, roasted peppers and eggplant. With freshness like this, there isn’t much need for doctoring with spices, but I did add a little salt, a couple of cloves of garlic, and some chopped stems and leaves of a cute little celeriac that has been growing companionably in the pot with my bay tree ever since late 2015, when it suddenly germinated out of the batch of cell packs I’d given up on in spring (over a year ago!!!) and redistributed the seemingly barren potting soil among the houseplants.

Talk about a late bloomer (well, OK, it didn’t bloom):

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I only ended up with eight pints of the pressure-canned stew (plus a little left in the stockpot for supper), but eight shelf-stable pints is better than no pints, and it’s also better than using half my available freezer space for one small project.

Now, to consider options for the wave of beans, cukes, and tomatillos coming next…

Chokecherries: A Little Creativity Would Be Appreciated

After searching for pie cherries and coming up nearly empty (I found about a gallon to pick a bit past their prime), I am positively overwhelmed with chokecherries at the farm. I’ve picked a few gallons at this point, and I haven’t even gotten out the ladder for the fruit at higher elevation.

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Yeah, I could say screw it and let the birds have them, but that seems wasteful when there are loads more of them on shrubs in the convoluted downer-tree grove for the fruit-eating bluejays and redheaded woodpeckers and all.

With a bounty like this, I’ve decided I want to be a little more creative–beyond the cordial, jelly, and juice. I’m curious about combining flavors and entertaining new ways to use chokecherries. Surely, others (and more specifically, others with some measure of creativity in the kitchen) have experienced this kind of over-abundance?

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According to my so-far searches on the internets–apparently not. Yes, I’ve got a promising wine recipe, and I’ll be picking up equipment for that very soon. Otherwise, the only somewhat “different” recipes for chokecherries involved drying them and pummeling them into flour, which apparently has a pleasing almond flavor (imparted, I suppose, by the cyanide-producing compound in the pits). Not having a flour-making device and also feeling a little sketchy about the whole cyanide-pit thing, I’m just flummoxed by the total lack of interesting recipes for the juice and pulp.

So far, I’ve canned five quarts of juice (plus not quite a sixth living in the fridge), and with today’s picking I attempted a cordial which ended up gelatinous once chilled (I won’t cook the berries and sugar next time) plus a pint and a half of syrup spiked with basil (Meh. OK.). I’ve got plenty of herbs this year, so I might also try sage and maybe rosemary as well. Bay leaf infusion? A few spices from the cupboard might also fall in the pot in further experimentation. It’s hard to go wrong with cinnamon.

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I’ll let you know if I come up with anything promising.



This is the year I officially laid aside gardening and took up prairie restoration.

I didn’t really see it coming, although the garden space when I arrived this spring was dauntingly overwhelmed and overwhelming. I started a few plants indoors (late) and planted out in the latter half of June (very late) when I finally broke down and asked my neighbor to strip till a couple of spots. I check on things down there every couple of days, and I’ve weeded just enough to keep the jungle in check.

The deer and rabbits have chowed down the first planting of beans, and I suspect they’ll do so with the second planting as well. The seed is a couple of years old, so whatever. I throw it in the ground and maybe we’ll get something. Most of what’s down there is being left alone–about thirty tomato plants, peppers and eggplant protected by a small fence–the sweet corn and okra seem so far unpalatable to the critters. Meh. Whatever happens, happens.

I think the transition began when the earliest of the native prairie forbs poked through. Hoary vervain. Ox-eye sunflower. I never knew what they were before–never knew that these hills contain maybe dozens of species that survived decades-ago overgrazing and another few decades of neglect and invasion. Never saw anything before but the vast expanse of brome–never even looked, and if I had, I would not have known what I was seeing.

I blame Minnesota. I blame being immersed in the protected, restored, and re-planted prairie landscapes among passionate prairie people–grass farmers and photographers, conservationists and watershed protectors. Hermit-naturalists and native plant nursery-people and birders, geologists, and mollusc-lovers (yeah, really).


I blame hugging, as far as my arms would stretch, the biggest cottonwood tree in the state, and most of all I blame myself for enrolling in the Minnesota Master Naturalist class, where for months I spent a few hours a week hanging out with a nerd-herd of those similarly infected with a prairie passion. And then the small but constant doses at work, hiking hilly grazing lands dotted with Hoary Puccoon, Ground Plum, and Birdsfoot Violet and punctuated with Bobolinks, Grasshopper Sparrows, and a dozen species of Odonata–learning how well-managed grazing can not only be safe for the endangered prairie ecosystem, it can be beneficial for the preservation and restoration of grasslands.

Living on the prairie for over half my life now, how could I have missed the immense diversity and complexity of this landscape? Well, that’s easy to answer: how much complexity do you see, driving down virtually any road in Southeast South Dakota? Corn, beans, Smooth Brome. Canada and Musk Thistle. If you’re lucky, a lonely clump of Big Bluestem surviving alongside a patch of Common Milkweed. You might spot a spike or two of vivid purple-blue, or a splash of tall yellow-something sailing past an old hayfield at 65mph or more.

Teucrium canadense (Germander)

Now, instead of coddling annual food plants in a small, protected space, I wander out almost daily into dozens of acres of tall grass that no one’s walked in years, cataloging species I never knew existed here–some obvious from my training and some to mull over, matching images taken with my phone to those in my guides and Google, guessing at families (when in doubt, Asteraceae is a good bet–square stems likely Lamiaceae) and flower structures not yet formed.

Most of what’s left on this farm is of the weedier, hardier class of native plant. The ones that can take a beating from brome, sweet clover, and field bindweed and survive. I get my “fix” of further diversity by visiting the restoration-in-progress a few miles away at Spirit Mound–there are a lot more forbs out there than you’d expect in a high-quality preserved remnant, but it’s beautiful to walk along the trail and be enshrouded by the minty-sage-y scent of Monarda fistulosa, nearly blind yourself by gaping at the almost unnatural fluorescence of Asclepias tuberosa, and peer into the “cups” of Silphium perfoliatum to see who’s taking a drink.

The restoration project at Spirit Mound is a riot of colorful forbs that is best appreciated by walking the trail and being soothed by the scent of native Bee Balm.

Otherwise, and in addition to the almost constant job of clean-up and fix-up on the old farmstead, I’m formulating plans for restoration and revitalization. I want to know what’s here first (principles of intelligent tinkering and doing no harm), but I also know from experience that some of what’s here may not be immediately evident–might be suppressed and waiting underneath that decades-old mat of brome. I’m beating back my desire to start interplanting native grasses (none of which are yet in evidence) until I have the plan and the equipment to keep open a space for them to establish. One very small mowing experiment on a dry, compacted patch of ground to set back Kentucky bluegrass did result in an explosion of Verbena stricta and Asclepias verticillata–but it also precipitated a land-grab by invasive yellow sweet clover.

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Early mowing in a small test plot knocked back Kentucky bluegrass and facilitated an explosion of whorled milkweed–as well as invasive yellow sweet clover.

Of the various tools for restoration and management, fire is probably going to be the most important to remove the long-accumulated mat of vegetation, but also the trickiest to pull off safely. As much as I was rarin’ to go on it this spring, pulling together a crew and establishing fire breaks comes first, and so that ingredient will have to wait until next year. I’ve started familiarizing myself with heavier equipment like the big brush mower, and after some safety training and practice, I’m planning to purchase my own chainsaw, so I can finally go after the cedars too big to take down with loppers and pruning saw. I’m getting used to wearing safety gear I never needed in the garden–hard hat, chaps, safety goggles, hearing protection.

And while it has been a little odd explaining to old friends and acquaintances that I’m no longer interested in being “Veggie Queen,” it has been an absolute pleasure to meet and visit with the multitude of new vendors at the farmers market and know that if the rabbits do eat all my snap beans while I’m out cataloging and conspiring to save the prairie, I’ve got excellent back-up.


Lithospermum incisum–Fringed Puccoon



Road Trip Part 3: Land of Enchantment

For part one of this series, see Paradise on The Platte.

For part two, see Captured By Kansas.

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Past Elkhart, the road roughened crossing into Oklahoma; glass insulators gleamed on power poles stretching to the distance. The route through the Panhandle at this point is 71 miles of loneliness, punctuated by Boise City, threading just south of Colorado’s border and north of Texas by a hair.

Rabbit Ear Mountain, that sentinel of U.S. 56, loomed as I passed into the Land of Enchantment, and I gained an hour from Mountain Time. Twelve more miles got me to Clayton, where I pulled off to a parking space along the main drag and, realizing I had the tools to avoid the hot beef disaster from earlier in the day, asked my phone where to eat.

I also really, really wanted a cold beer. My butt was killing me from two days of driving, and there were motels visible from the parking lot. I had made it to New Mexico. I could eat and crash. But there was no beer available at The Rabbit Ear Cafe–just the typical line-up of sodas, plus real brewed iced tea–which ended up being the perfect accompaniment to my awesome tamale plate with green chile sauce and homemade beans and rice. I walked out the door somewhat revived and completely satisfied, and with the rest of my tea in a to-go cup, sat down on a bench with my road atlas to decide what to do next.

U.S. 56 ends at Springer and Interstate 25, which heads south toward Las Vegas (no, not that Las Vegas) and then loops up toward Santa Fe, then down again toward Albuquerque and eventually, Los Cruces. My intention was to avoid long stretches of  interstate and heavily populated areas as much as possible (as well as going north when I meant to go south) while making my way across the state and into southeastern Arizona, so I wanted an alternate route. Fortunately, there is this little two-lane (402) running from Clayton to Nara Visa, which sits at the junction of another diagonal highway, U.S. 54. With a fresh infusion of caffeine coursing through my veins and an hour or two of daylight left, why not?

New Mexico is not only gorgeous, has more consistently delicious food than most other states, and is fully deserving of its “Land of Enchantment” moniker, it is really, really big. Despite getting one measly page in my road atlas (while horizontal Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas all get two), New Mexico is the fifth largest state. And, when you consider that its ranking puts it behind only the truly enormous states of Alaska, Texas, California, and Montana–well, it’s hard for a New Englander–even one turned prairie gal for over two decades–to fully comprehend. Unless, of course, she drives across it. Twice.

New Mexico 402 is a narrow, lonely two-lane through the Kiowa National Grassland hills blazing in the sunset. There are two towns between Clayton and Nara Visa that (as I discovered is true for many points on the New Mexico map) are virtually abandoned. Or probably there wasn’t much there to begin with. Either way, the service they provide is more about seeing that you are making progress toward your destination than giving you a place to pee or buy a cold drink. You quickly learn to use the bathroom and gas up whenever you get a chance rather than waiting for the next town indicated on the map.

From Nara Visa, it is another 24 miles to Logan which, despite being the same font size on my map as many other towns with no services, has plenty of them due to the presence of Ute State Park just on the edge of town. I pulled into a cute little motel called the Yucca and, after petting the office kitty, got a room for less than forty bucks. It was a little shabby in that old-family-run-motel-near-the-state-park kind of way, but it was perfectly clean, and the decor was old-school kitschy cabin goodness.

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Antler lamps & handmade doilies
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Vintage chenille
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Jigsaw under glass

I ended up staying in the Yucca twice–once on the way out, and once on the way back. My only real disappointment there was failing to eat at the cafe next door, whose chile-laden menu is displayed over four delicious photocopied pages in the hotel rooms’ information book. I missed it on my way into town when all I wanted was bed (and one of the beers in my cooler), and when I left the second time, it was 5:45am and I assumed it wouldn’t be open (it was, but with a major storm rolling in to the north, I was thinking more about miles than a meal).

The gas-and-restroom lesson is one most travelers of rural regions are familiar with, but the other hard lesson of this trip (and one that never quite set in) was taking off in the morning without eating first–especially when there was a promising-looking cafe in the vicinity. I’m not usually an early eater, but by late morning I can get desperate enough to make a bad choice. That happened in Hoxie, Kansas, and it might’ve happened again in eastern New Mexico had there actually been any place to eat on my route (though, as I said before, New Mexico doesn’t seem to have much bad food).

I passed through Tucumcari (TWO-come-carry) and it was still too early to eat; I followed a sliver of I-40 to Santa Rosa and then south again on 54 and west on 60. By the time I got to Willard, I was desperate enough for a bathroom that I begged the postmistress to let me use hers–only then seeing “No Public Restroom” signs on the door she blessedly unlocked for me. But there wasn’t anything else public in Willard–all the old business were boarded up with “For Sale” signs bleached from the sun, and the grassland plains don’t offer much to hide behind along the roadside.

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No place to pee here…

In Mountainair, I stopped in front of the historical marker and tried to use my phone again to seek out food, but I couldn’t even get a signal. Then, looking off to the side, I saw a sign advertising an old, historic inn nearby with great, fresh food and a welcoming atmosphere. It turned out to be closed as well, so I headed back to the main drag behind an old lime-green painted Chevy pickup with Bernie Sanders “Honk for a Political Revolution” and “Wolves Against Sarah Palin” stickers. Yes, I was truly in New Mexico.

Parked in front of the post office, I practically assaulted a young woman walking down the street (she had ear buds in) in order to find a place to eat. Once she realized I was yelling at her, she smiled broadly, pulled out the buds, and pointed me to Alpine Alley–a funky little coffee house and sandwich place where the regulars are crusty with each other, but kind and generous with visitors. In keeping with my vow to eat green chile at every meal in New Mexico, I had the “Sophia Loren” wrap and grabbed a scone for the road.

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From Mountainair, I headed on, down into the Rio Grande Valley, and then up through the mountainous western part of the state. For that tale, my friends (which includes the Continental Divide and famous PieTown–see how I managed to keep my green chile pledge!), you’ll need to read the next installment of the road trip series.


The Gardenless Season?

I haven’t started a single thing under lights this year, nor have I planted a seed (or a potato tuber, or anything else) in the ground.

I haven’t ordered any new seed (though I have a plentiful supply on hand). Seed inventory took place just after the new year, and although I made notes about what to order, I never followed through.

In a typical year, I’d start leeks and onions mid-February–March 1st at the latest. Peppers and eggplant (and perennial herbs and flowers) would be next, followed by tomatoes a few weeks later, then cabbages, broccoli, lettuce, etc. By this time in a normal season, I’d be running low on seed-starting mix and castigating my worms at how slowly they were turning kitchen scraps into fertilizer for the next batch. I’d be poking around the pea patch daily, looking for signs of sprouting, and the spinach and arugula would be up under the row covers.

The fact that I haven’t sown a single radish might seem even stranger since I’m back at the farmstead where I ran a 20-family CSA and market garden business. My vermicompost bin is here, and my light shelf (though not in the house, nor assembled), and there’s a bale of peat and bags of PBH (parboiled rice hulls–for loft and drainage) in the storage unit. I’ve got flats and cell packs as well as soil block makers. My tools are here, too. So what the hell am I waiting for?

early spring garden
Spring 2008 Market Gardens
Another View Through the Mulberries
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Fall Cleanup West Garden 2008

This morning on Facebook, I saw a “memory” from five years ago–a post from this day on a former blog wherein I reported building four raised beds for the backyard of a house I was renting in a little town in Minnesota. There was landscape rock to remove on a flower bed in front, and also another field garden of about 600 square feet to cultivate in back. In the post, I was relating how many gardens I’d built and then left behind (spoiler: I left that one, too, when the house burned while I was visiting family back East). I even said something about maybe getting too old to keep doing that.

And that, my friends? That was three built-then-left gardens ago.

And these were no mere 100-square-foot plots. The next one was composed of four raised beds (the same ones–friends helped me lift the frames and move them across town to my new place) plus two newly-developed 20×80′ field gardens. That’s nearly 3400 square feet of growing space. Then the farm, with 18 raised beds, a 40×40′ lower field garden, plus a 30×30′ upper field garden newly cultivated last year (and in which my fall-planted garlic crop presently resides).

One of the two 20×80′ plots, Clinton, MN 2012
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June 2014 Raised Bed & Lower Field Garden at the Farm

I guess if I was getting too old for this five years ago, then I wouldn’t have gone on to do even more in subsequent years. I could say that this year is different because I was moving during most of February and much of March–except that I moved to the aforementioned rental house in mid-March of 2011 and it burned in early August, and I still had a full garden there. I simultaneously managed both the Clinton house gardens and developed the farm gardens, helped with house renovations, moved (and helped my husband move) in the spring of 2013. So, I know it’s entirely possible to start seeds and plan a garden even in the process of moving.

But maybe this year, instead of just getting older, I am getting (OK–trying to get) wiser about garden development. As in, not doing so much, so quickly, and then having so much ground to manage and food to process. So much stress when there’s a window of good weather to plant, but the equipment isn’t working or there’s a work project taking precedence or some damn other thing is getting in the way of what absolutely needs to be done in the gardens right this bloody second ARRRRRRGH!

And then, there’s this:


This is what the old market gardens look like now.

I hesitated a little to even show these images because I don’t want the people who grew here last year to feel bad about it (even though they’ve already told me they feel bad about it–don’t feel bad about it!). Life happens. In their case, a baby happened. And when a baby happens…well, this can happen, too.

And it’s totally, completely OK. Because it also happened to make me less inclined to make myself crazy about an acre or so of ground that might be better off planted into cover crop and maybe some fruit trees next year. And yeah, I will probably till some up and throw in some potatoes. And I may have pulled a couple of flats and some other seed starting supplies out of the storage unit last night. And a few boxes of seed out of my stash. And I might do a little, but I won’t do it all. And that is also totally, completely OK.

Because what I’ve decided about this place, and also about myself, is that it’s time to take a lot broader view than a perfectly cultivated garden on a little patch of ground. There’s a lot more that I could do–both on this 90 acres and in the world and my life, too. It’s just not worth making myself crazy about regaining “control” over a little patch of ground when I could be developing a plan that, over time, would improve the whole in ways that slowly, methodically, eventually, work to the benefit of everything that lives here (OK–except the brome and cedars–death to the brome and cedars).

Although it will be a season of less garden, it will not be altogether gardenless. And it will be full of beauty and appreciation nonetheless.

Now, then. Time to start some seeds.

Road Trip Part Two: Captured By Kansas

For part one of this series, see Paradise on the Platte.

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The epiphany of the cranes and the Great Interstate Archway provided energy enough to put on a few more miles that first night. From Kearney, I headed south and west through Axtell and Funk to Holdredge, where I paused to gas up.

After being nailed by a heavy downpour on I-80, I was wary of the fact that thunderstorms were developing in several directions–it’s one thing to be engulfed by one in the daylight, but quite another at night, on hilly, dark two-lanes full of truck traffic out on the High Plains. The young man at the filling station took my snack money (you pay at the pump after dark) and said, “be careful out there,” which, considering the lightning crackling to the north, I took to refer to the weather and not anything sketchy about the town itself.

South from there on 183, over twenty miles of dark road and lightning on three sides to Alma, on the Republican River and near the border. There are several motels there, but I didn’t want to stop until Nebraska was behind me, so on I went over the river and into The Great State of Kansas. From there, I picked up 383, a diagonal state highway marked with the ubiquitous golden sunflower (that, I’m sorry, looks like an amoeba when it’s stretched to encompass three digits),  running along Prairie Dog Creek through the northwest corner of the state.

It was dark, and concentration was flagging. I can see well enough driving in the dark, but my eyes wearied of watching for deer, and oncoming headlights were making it worse. A semi came up behind me; the road was winding; there wasn’t anywhere to pull off. Even after adjusting my mirrors to cut the glare, it was obvious I was just going to have to hole up in the next available place.

Thankfully, I spotted a water tower ahead, and a neat-looking little town just off the highway–well-lit and promising a bed for me. I slowed; the semi passed me, and I was executing the turn before I saw the sign: “Norton Correctional Facility.” Oh, hell. Probably not the bed I was looking for! But, where there’s a prison, there’s a town for its workers to live, and I found that and my rest just a couple more miles down the road.

High wind warnings for the next day drove me out early and without breakfast–just a couple cups of mediocre motel coffee and the belief that I’d find interesting food somewhere down the road. The idea was to stick on 383 southwest, then hook up with 83 down to Oakley, before turning west on 40 and into Colorado, toward the Sand Creek Massacre site.

Or, maybe I’d go further south on 83 and check out some points of interest before picking up 96 west. Either way, the early part of the day would get me to Colorado, and then a right turn would have me entering New Mexico by sundown. It turned out to be a good thing I’d planned some flexibility in my route because it flexed a lot more before the day was done.

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While this is in Kansas, it is not a U.S. Highway, no matter what you might have heard.

The morning went by along with several small towns, none of which had the requisite number of pickups parked in one place to signify a good Midwestern cafe. I craned my neck hard passing through Jennings–a sign read “Czech Us Out!” and I was thinking I could “Czech out” some kolaches, but no such luck, at least from what was visible passing through. Outside Selden about a mile, the highway was completely blocked off and closed (for no ascertainable reason, so…zombie invasion?). A detour forced me to backtrack east six miles, then south to Hoxie.

By the time I hit Hoxie, the wind was howling out of the north, and I was starving. I drove around town twice looking for a likely cafe, and stopped at one on the main drag where, fighting gusts, I managed to exit my car and order what was bar-none the worst hot beef sandwich of my entire life. Hints were there, of course, in the multiple blaring TV screens and coffee “whitener” nestled next to the fake sugar packets. The artificial potatoes were so cheap, they didn’t even bother adding potato flavor, and don’t get me started about the gravy. Just awful.

But, like a good Midwesterner, I ate it, said it was “fine,” and got back on the road, vowing to snack on gas station crap rather than letting myself get desperate enough to repeat that experience. If I’m going to take time to stop and eat, I’d like it to taste better than dried out chemical-laden “croissandwiches” from a rotating warmer cabinet by the highway.

To get back on my intended route, I needed to head west, and west was getting really, really difficult with sustained winds in the 40mph range. Tumbleweeds attacked by the dozens, and semi trailers noticeably shuddered in the gusts. At Oakley, I gassed up–and gave up–on the Colorado route, letting the Kansas wind capture me and sail me straight south.

And what a blessing that turned out to be. “Everybody likes to hate on Kansas,” a friend from there exclaims. I guess it’s probably like Nebraska in that its attractions are not well-known, and it’s in the way of getting to “cooler” states like Colorado and…um, Colorado. Heading straight down the west side of Kansas not only gave me ten extra miles per gallon, but the definitive knowledge that there are, in fact, some really cool things to see there.

The first one is Monument Rocks National Natural Landmark. You might think that because it’s called a “National Landmark” that it’s nicely accessible with a paved parking lot and clean restroom facilities. Actually, it’s located on private property seven miles off the pavement and over a couple of cattle grates (which means, yes, there are cattle grazing in and around the limestone formations). There are no facilities other than what you might’ve brought with you. And it’s really, really cool.

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Out there in the wind and sun, being blasted by limestone eroding off the formations, it’s worthwhile to remember that you’re standing at the bottom of what was once a vast inland sea. Though, you might not know it unless you have some grounding (heh–get it?) in geology, or you stop at the information kiosk on the main highway–because there are no signs out here except those that tell you not to climb on the rocks.

Back on the highway, I traveled a few more southerly miles before dropping down into Scott State Park, nestled in a canyon and situated around a pretty, spring-fed lake. The park staff were all in the office when I walked in, and provided my $5 day pass along with lots of maps, information, and suggestions of other points of interest along my route. But the purpose of my visit there had less to do with the lake or getting out of the wind (that was really nice) than visiting the northernmost pueblo ruins in the United States.

That’s right–they’re in Kansas.


El Cuartelejo (as it’s now known) was constructed around 1664 by a group of Taos Indians fleeing Spanish rule. It was inhabited by a few other groups before being abandoned in the 1700s and later re-discovered by white homesteaders on the land, excavated, and the foundation reconstructed.

The foundation itself was not as interesting to me as the story–more unknown than known–and standing right there on land settled three-and-a-half centuries ago by people who were a long, long way from home. What was their journey like? How long did it take? Why did they travel so very far north? And, turning slowly around to take in the landscape, what factors are visible to me that helped them decide on just this location to build a “permanent” resting place?


The third stop I made that early afternoon was one I would not have bothered with had it not been for the state park staff. “Battle Canyon” is only a couple of miles down the road from the park office, and it didn’t appear on my maps. It looks to be on private property, but there is an information kiosk and guest register across a cattle grate and at the foot of a short, but winding, washed out, and rocky road to the monument on top.

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Having had my butt in a car seat for much too much of the day already, I strapped on my hiking boots and did a little climbing down in the canyon, which is reputed to be the site of the last Indian battle in Kansas–between the U.S. Army and a band of Northern Cheyenne that had been removed to a reservation in Oklahoma and got fed up (no pun intended) with the sickness and starvation there, so decided to head back home (against the government’s wishes) to Wyoming, where they could take care of themselves.

photo 2(21)There’s a lot of “wild west” anti-Indian bull-crap still out there, even in today’s supposedly enlightened world, so I was really pleased to read the handout on the “Battle of Punished Woman Fork,” which was written from the perspective that, hey, this band of Northern Cheyenne was being starved and sickened by genocidal U.S. government policies, and they did what they had to do for the good of their people, despite being chased down, attacked, and killed for trying to get home. And at least in the battle that took place here–they won.

Getting back in my car and looking at the time, I realized that as cool as western Kansas was, if I wanted to be in New Mexico by nightfall, I needed to put some serious miles under me. I made it past Garden City (which is as lovely as the name suggests) and into a landscape that starts to look more and more like the southwest–irrigated wheat fields giving way to sagebrush plains and feedlots with their haze of pulverized manure dust. Near Sublette, with the wind dying down, I picked up U.S. 56 and resumed a somewhat westerly route through Cimarron National Grassland, and into the Oklahoma Panhandle.

Next installment: Out of the Panhandle and Into Enchantment.