Sunday, January 29, 2012

Trees From My Present

My blog entry yesterday was supposed to be about some of the trees that we have here on our farm, but it somehow morphed into trees of my past.  I started out by saying "I love trees" and felt compelled to explain why, which got me to talking about the big old trees that were in my yard when I was growing up and how these made such an indelible impression on me as a child.

So, today I will try to get back on track.  Our five acres is long and narrow.  Our house sits in the middle.  There is a 5-car garage with a small office at one end and a metal shop building on the property as well.  These are located near the house.  Tom uses the land to the east of these for his gardens and I have a few raised beds between the garage and the shop.  (Please note that we do not have 5 cars!  Most of the garage is used for storage of equipment, potting soil and other odds and ends.)

There are very few trees on the 5 acres.  But, there are several large oak and pecan trees just west of the house.  These are wonderful to provide much needed shade in the summer time and provide a great place for our grandkids to play when they come visit.  Here is a picture of them.

Last year we noticed that a limb on one of the trees looked like it was dying.  It was not unusual to find pieces of bark or branches from that limb on the ground after a windy day.  One day we even saw a Pileated Woodpecker pecking on the limb.  These are very large woodpeckers that we usually do not see around here.  Here is a good link to read about them.

This link indicates that Stillwater is on the edge of their normal range.  So, I think we were very fortunate to have been able to see this bird in action.   At any rate, the Pileated was literally attacking this dead limb causing huge chunks of wood to fall to the ground!   And,we became concerned that the limb might break and fall on one of the grandkids while they were playing under the trees.  Since our chainsaw is on the blink, we asked our son-in-law if he could bring his up and cut the limb off for us.  Here is what it looked like after it was cut from the tree.  

You can see that about half the limb was rotten while the other half was still in good shape.  So, it might have been a good while before the limb was weakened sufficiently to fall on its own.  But, it is a relief to have it gone and not have to worry about it falling on someone.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Trees From My Past

I love trees.  I've mentioned in previous posts that I grew up in southern Arkansas.  Needless to say, there are a LOT of trees in that part of the country.  In the front yard of the house where I grew up were four large trees - a pine tree, a sweetgum tree, a sassafras tree and some sort of oak tree.  From what I can find on the internet, it appears to have been a water oak.

My parents are both deceased and the old home place was sold years ago. The house where I grew up burned not many years after it was sold. So, the property has been left for mother nature to reclaim as her own. In some ways this is sad, but it also gives me a sense of peace. My sister and I try to make a trip once a year down there to visit the cemetery and we always drive out to the home place.  We call this annual trip our "pilgrimage".

In the picture below, the pine tree that I mentioned is to the right of the car and the sweetgum tree is in front of it.  This picture was taken this past summer when my sister and I were on our pilgrimage. 

Beyond the trees, you can see the top of an old shed.  My parents used to call this the "crib".  I think this name came from the fact that it was probably used as a corn crib in early years when the land was farmed (probably with mule and plow).  Here is a better picture of the crib.  The sweetgum tree is on the left of this picture.

My father inherited the land from his parents and by the time we moved there in the 1950s it was no longer farmed.  However, my dad kept the crib in good repair and even had a small wood burning stove in it so he could work in it during the winter.  I'm not sure what sort of wood is on the outside of this building, but it has not rotted even after all these years.

I didn't take any pictures of the other trees this summer, but I was astonished by the size of the crepe myrtle bush below. 

This "bush" must be 15-20 feet tall.  That is a lot bigger than they grow in this part of Oklahoma!  I remember this bush only being maybe 8 feet tall at the most when I was a child.  I don't know how many more years we'll be able to make the long trip to southern Arkansas to visit these memories.  But, I hope to take my grandchildren on this pilgrimage some day and share with them some of the stories from my childhood.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Pathway Mystery Solved

Across the fence to our south on our neighbor's property lies a creek that meanders around and flows in a generally southeast direction.   At one point it is about 30 feet from our property line.  During the spring, this area is usually pretty wet and during the summer it grows up in Johnson grass that is over my head in some places.  

In the warmer months, I don't normally venture into this area for fear of snakes, ticks, chiggers and other loathsome creatures.  But in the winter, I occasionally walk over to the creek.  At this time of year, the Johnson grass has died and there are a multitude of "paths" through the grass made by deer and small animals.   Here are some pictures of the area that I took today.

In the above picture, the creek is to the left.

The above picture shows one of the paths I mentioned.  It runs right down the center.

At one point, two of these paths converge (see above) at the fence and come out near our deer feeder.  I've always wondered what uses these little trails through the grass and moved our wildlife camera to a point where I could focus it on this path.  However, since there was no fence post or tree to attach it to, I had to rig up something to hang it on.  Here is what I came up with.

I think the deer are scared of this new camera setup because there are nights when they don't eat all the corn Tom puts out for them.  However, I was able to solve the mystery of what used the pathway under the fence.  The first picture shows two eyes shining in the darkness.  See them on the right hand side of the picture.

Then, out of the grass, came a family of raccoon.  They seem to have noticed the different placement of the camera as well.

One of them, in particular, seems to have been curious enough to wander over to check it out.

Smile!  You're on Candid Camera!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Reflections on the Drought

I took the following picture a few weeks ago on my way home from work.  This pond and these trees are located on the property of Eagle Heights Baptist Church at the corner of Jardot and Lakeview.  I drive by there twice a day.

It would have been a perfect landscape picture had there not been an exposed sewer pipe in the water to the left of the tree.  We had no idea the pipe was there until this summer's drought when, as the water in the pond evaporated, it gradually began to appear.  The first clue I had that it was there was I would see what looked like a "turtle train".  There would be 10 to 12 turtles lined up on it sunning themselves.   At first you could not see the pipe, just the turtles.  But, it gradually rose out of the water as the summer went along.

In my previous post, I mentioned the Oklahoma Mesonet website.  Later I had the opportunity to dig deeper into the site and found a map of the state showing the drought areas.

This shows our part of the state in the "severe" drought area.  Most of western Oklahoma is in the "extreme" drought area.  But, there is even an area in the panhandle that is classified as "exceptional".  My worry over this is exacerbated due to the fact that I read a book last fall titled "The Worst Hard Time" by Timothy Egan.  It is the story of those people who survived the Dust Bowl in this area of the United States.  The troubling fact brought out in this book is that the drought occurring during the Dust Bowl was not just a 1 - 2 year event.  It lasted 7 years!

The book also mentions that many of the people who suffered through those years were drawn to the area by unscrupulous businessmen that scooped up large tracks of prairie land at cheap prices and advertised them as being ideal "farmland".  They made the wild claim that whenever large areas of prairie sod were plowed up and planted, it would actually change the weather patterns and bring more rain to the area!  They asserted that this was a proven scientific fact.

It is difficult for us these days to believe people could be suckered into believing that kind of thing.  But, I suppose people were desperate to own land.  We've come a long way since those times.  And, our land management practices are much better at conserving the top soil.  But, still, it is worrisome to think that we might be in for more years like this last one. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Snow 2012

This winter is much milder than last.  If you look at my post for February 2, 2011, you'll see what I mean.  While the snow shown in that post was beautiful, it was very cold.  In fact, last winter Oklahoma recorded the lowest temperature ever on record.  It was -27 degrees here, but it was colder than that other places in the state.

However, we did have a cold front come through a couple of days ago that dropped the temperature dramatically from the mild winter temperatures we had been experiencing.  And, it even brought a little snow.   I took the following picture while I was outside this afternoon.

I think it is interesting how the snow has melted everywhere the sun touched it.  However, the snow in this picture is on the north side of our shop building where the ground was shaded all day.  So, it left a perfectly straight line that marks where the shaded ended.

I don't expect it to stay very cold.  From the looks of things, we are in for more mild weather (which is good), but there is also no rain in the forecast either (which is bad).  There is a very informative website, , that gives a wealth of information about Oklahoma weather.  It shows that we are still very far below normal in precipitation in most areas of the state.  Even after the nice rains that we had last fall, we need a lot more to replenish the ground water and bring us back to normal.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Wildlife Camera

It is hard to believe that we have been living here on our farm for almost 3 years! I grew up in the "woods" in southern Arkansas and was looking forward to being back in the "country" after living in town for 25 years. Granted the forests of southern Arkansas and the open country of northern Oklahoma are quite different. But country is country and I'll take either one.

I don't think I fully appreciated the quiet beauty that country living offers back when I was growing up. So, I was excited about moving out here to the farm, and I had visions of looking out our windows to see raccoon, coyotes, deer and all sorts of wildlife everyday. Turns out we don't see too much wildlife, but see "signs" of where they have been, like deer tracks in the garden and holes dug in the yard by armadillos during the night. We occasionally hear coyotes, but never see them.

Not to be outdone, I decided we needed a wildlife camera. So, for my Christmas present that first year we lived here, Tom bought me a Moultrie wildlife camera. Here is a picture of it.

It is housed in a weatherproof box that can be left outside day and night and in all kinds of weather. It is motion-activated and has an infra-red flash so as not to scare the animals away at night. I've published a lot of pictures taken by the camera on this blog. So, you know how much fun we've had with it.

At first, we just hung it on a tree to see what animals came by. There were a lot pictures of birds and squirrels during the day, but not much at night. Then Tom decided to buy some "deer corn" and focus the camera on it. That did the trick and we started capturing pictures of raccoon, rabbits, possums, deer, our cat and an occasional coyote.

I have a feeling we may have to repair or replace the camera in the coming months. It has an LED screen you use to set the time, date, etc. But, it appears that this screen is going bad. Not surprising considering that it suffered through temperatures ranging from -27 degrees last winter to 110 degrees this past summer. From what I have read, trying to fix the camera may be more expensive than just buying a new one. For now, it is still taking pretty good pictures. So, I think we'll take a "wait and see" approach.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Repurposed Paper Sacks

We start all of our tomato and pepper plants ourselves.  (See my post "Start Your Own Seeds" on March 9, 2011)  During the winter, Tom pours over seed catalogs deciding what varieties to order.  We always end up with more than we planned and, as a result, have several varieties of each to offer.  We plant about half of these in our gardens and sell the others at our farmers' market.

Most people buy 2 or 3 plants at a time.  However, others only buy 1 and others may buy 8 to 10.  It varies.  If you've ever purchased bedding plants, you know the pots are usually dirty.   So, we try to have enough paper sacks on hand to put them in to help keep our customers' clothing and cars clean.  Therefore, one of the things we do all year around is collect paper sacks for this purpose.  We cut them in half and they work great.  Here is a picture of some of the ones we currently have on hand.

As you can see, there is quite a variety and they tell you something about the stores we frequent.  Panera Bread, Daylight Donuts, Cracker Barrel......  I wonder what these stores would think if they knew that the sack they gave us would be used to hold someone's tomato and pepper plants.  I hope they would be proud that it was being repurposed and reused.