Thursday, August 11, 2022

Dog days, indeed!

And now it's August 11. I didn't expect to get run over with ranch work the way I did, but it seemed like little projects just snowballed on me. It's the way these things sometimes happen. "If I'm gonna do x, I might as well spend the time and effort to do it really well. Especially since it's the season of easy living." Anyway, I didn't intend to go sinker, but I kinda did, didn't I?

A complicating factor is that the last week has been leading up to the terrible date. Hard, busy work has helped keep me out of the land of morbid self reflection, but the combination of physical tiredness and heart/soul healing hasn't left a lot in the tank when it comes to writing.

And of course the Dog Days have arrived with a vengeance. Hot with blazing sunshine and not much breeze; a blanket of heat that begins early in the day and lingers for hours after the sun goes down.


Friday was a seemingly endless round of preparations for working and moving cattle. I know I mentioned plans to conduct this evolution a couple of weeks ago, but as is often the case in this business, plans change. As ape-lizards we continue to plan and try to shoehorn our chores into the human calendar, but nature's reality always gets the final say. The cattle owners have other cattle and farming to do as well, and with lots of variables in play plans change on an almost moment-by-moment basis. 

So on Friday changing plans and future-drifting deadlines gave me the opportunity to apply some longer-lived solutions to a couple of fence repairs. I've been trying to fix a couple of gates most of the summer and I finally got the opportunity to collect, then install, some serious fenceline anchor posts, which I commonly call corner posts. Such posts have to be deep and solid if they're going to stand up to the weight and tension of stretched barbed wire as well as nature's constant environmental pressure. You can do them half-assed, which I do more than I like to admit, but they begin leaning over relatively quickly -- within a year or two at best.

I spent the bulk of the day in preparations. Getting supplies lined out mostly, along with the usual daily cow checking and grass/nature scouting.

I noticed the butcher birds had been active.

And I shut down the windmills for the season.

Saturday was a busy day both on the ranch and in town. I failed to get any images or moving pictures, but I did get panels in place for working and moving cattle, a few newly required fence repairs done, and I got my yard in town mowed.

Sunday dawned relatively cool and breezy.

First I helped bring cattle in from pasture.

And showed off my broken windshield.

After getting the cattle in it was time for the crew to sort. It's the kind of job where an extra helper can be a real pain in the ass, so I had an hour or so to do something productive. I decided to harvest some timbers and railroad ties from "storage." I also made a video wherein I attempted to mansplain why it seems important that I accept challenges and often choose physically hard methods over the easy ones.

Then it was back to working cattle.

Sights and sounds.

Red got to work cows too, and that made it a great day for her. The chuckle we shared was when a calf got a shot and lunged ahead as one fellow was walking in front of the chute.

Since the owners pulled 21 calves off to feed out and prepare for a video sale, it was effectively weaning time for those calves and their mamas. It's usually best to give the suddenly calfless cows a day or two to adjust before moving them to a new pasture, so we decided to hold off on the move until Tuesday. Which we did.

I pushed myself pretty hard Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. In addition to working on fence I hand-mowed weeds up in the ranch yard. Tuesday I logged 24 miles, which was a good effort and left me pleasantly tired but not exhausted. The getting/staying in shape thing pays off. Over the three days I logged 57 miles. It was a good run of 116,000 steps. It's good to know that, at least for the moment, there's still plenty of gas in the tank.

I thought this was cool.


Some time ago I coined the phrase (at least in this space) "the season of easy living." It was springtime and I was trying (not very successfully) to 'splain how much easier everything is in the not-winter. No bundling up, no snow to trudge through, no biting winds, etc. It's a concept.


And now it's time to take kids up to the county fair.


Be well and embrace the blessings of liberty.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Gratitude list, partial

A few images of August hot.

Yesterday the heat felt oppressive. It only got up to 97, and there was a good breeze throughout most of the day, so you'd think the heat would be less than oppressive. However, the wind was in the south and it was hot. There were few clouds in the sky until afternoon so the sun hammered nearly straight down and it seemed I could feel the weight of every single photon. Dude, the sun is 93 million miles away! When the clouds rolled in they were mid-level cumulonimbus, flowing through to deliver rain somewhere to the east. As they rolled majestically through the atmosphere they let the hot breeze continue to wash over us. They also prevented ground heat from cleanly radiating up and away. Throughout the day sunset seemed impossibly far away, and the forecast predicted a warm night, with temps falling only into the 70's. These are the dog days of summer.

Surprisingly, the forecast was incorrect and the mercury dipped all the way to 63. It was still 66 as the sun peeked over the eastern horizon. After bitterly complaining about having to endure a hot night, the back of my brain was delighted to be surprised by a not-hot night. Seven whole degrees did that!

So this morning I'm grateful for the relatively cool night. I'm even more grateful for having lived the day yesterday, for all the little moments of beauty and satisfaction I experienced, for the opportunity to accept the dog day challenge and persevere instead of sulking in a sweaty pity party. I'm grateful for a meal and conversation with people I love without reservation.

Yesterday Tommy escaped again. This time he bum-rushed me as I took the trash out and was off like a shot, completely ignoring my commands and not even pretending to hesitate. That's something new. I decided to leave the back gate open. I posted a note on the local lost and found and got on with the day. As I worked I considered what to do with this new, bold Tommy. I thought about different ways to instill discipline in the dog, but eventually I realized that he wasn't the only one who could benefit from some applied discipline. In the early afternoon I stopped home and happened to see Tommy come back into the yard through the open gate. He was tired and thirsty. He seemed glad to see me, and I was glad to see him. After inhaling a big bowl of fresh, cool water, he lay down in the shade and snoozed.

So I'm grateful that Tommy returned safe, grateful for thinking new thoughts about my responsibilities, and grateful for learning a few new things.


Speaking of dogs and heat and August, from the Iliad

Priam saw him first, with his old man's eyes,
A single point of light on Troy's dusty plain.
Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion's Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity.
Achilles' bronze gleamed like this as he ran.

Everybody (for certain values of everybody) knows it, the Dog Days of Summer are hottest and most uncomfortable days of the season.

The term comes down to us from the Greeks and Romans, who noted that the onset of the most intense summer heat -- along with drought and intense thunderstorms -- seemed to coincide with the late-summer arrival of Sirius. The Dog Star.

Sirius is part of the constellation Canis Major, or Great Dog, and represents the shoulder of the big dog. It is also the brightest star in the night sky (and in fact is a double-star).

The Greeks described Canis Major as the companion of Orion, following the mighty hunter through the night sky. Orion is located on the celestial equator and due to the geometry of Earth's orbit is absent (in the northern hemisphere) below the southeasterly horizon in spring and through much of the summer. It begins to rise late at night in August.
Sirius and the Great Dog are actually located in the southern celestial hemisphere, just below the celestial equator, and appear to trail "behind" Orion as the stars make their nightly swing through the sky.

The Greeks -- and later the Romans -- noted the brightness of Sirius and wondered if that blazing bright star was responsible for the stifling summer heat which arrived at about the same time.

It was a good hypothesis. Now that we're a bit more astronomically accomplished, we've discovered that Sirius A is about twice the size of our own sun, twenty-five times more luminous, and is one of our very near galactic neighbors, being only about 8.6 light years (50,556,178,209,379 miles) distant. Today we know that Sirius is much too far away to add heat to our planet, but you can understand and appreciate the reasoning of the ancients.

As with everything else about climate, the actual warmth of the Dog Days is variable. We can imagine that late summer featured relatively warm and still periods during the last ice age -- roughly 15,000 to 110,000 years ago, but it's unlikely that anyone complained about the heat at that time.

Furthermore, the actual onset of late-summer heat isn't linked to a particular calendar day. The Dog Days can arrive any time between mid-July and early September.

And finally (at least for this post), the Dog Days are a period of heat and stillness which are relatively hotter than the rest of the season, but there's no absolute thermometer reading which defines the heat. During the Little Ice age (Ca. 1300-1850) the mercury may have only touched 75 degrees during the Dog Days, while 115-120 degrees might have been the norm during the Dust Bowl era.


As for 2022 at Kimball, this second dog day (August 5 as I write this) might be the final dog day of the year. The prediction is for a high of 101 today and the electronical spectrum is alive with heat advisories. The hot south wind is expected to continue bathe us in the dog star's scalding and fetid breath. Until just after sunset when the wind is expected to swing west, then north, with the arrival of more late-season monsoonal air flow. The next five days or so are predicted to be 10-15 degrees cooler with an increased chance of precipitation. Overnight lows are predicted to dip into the mid- to low-50's. Which will be delightful. And about which I'm sure to complain, for those temperatures will be on the other side of of perfect.


After I wrote the above, it got busy. and it got hot. The mercury hit 100. I got quite a bit of work done, spent some time with family, and had my brain boggled a couple of times. I planned to write more this evening, but now at 9:30 p.m. when things are finally slowing down and cooling off I find that my writer isn't up to it. A little sleep should put that right. Tomorrow is forecast to be cooler, but also forecast to be busier. I guess it's that time of the year.


Be well and embrace the blessings of liberty.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Eighty years ago in August

But before we go there, how about zero years ago, early August, Kimball, Nebraska. The weather guessers prognosticated...

And they weren't far wrong. The wind shifted to the south before dawn and went from calm to breezy. It was fairly pleasant, but a south wind in August in this part of the world usually means it's gonna get hot. It was 90 by noon and hit 97 shortly thereafter.

At 7 a.m. I noticed a pigweed poking up from the cucumber patch in my garden. Pigweed is, obviously, a weed. It's stealing moisture and nutrients from my future pickles. I should pull it out and toss it in the compost. But I don't think I will. It's not hurting much, and it's an interesting example of nature doing nature stuff.

Then it was time to pull maintenance on the mower.

Last night I cleaned and dried the air filter, which was caked nearly solid with a mixture of oil and dirt and grass particles. No wonder it wasn't making full power yesterday.

This morning I looked in vain for an oil drain plug, then realized it's one of those small engines where the filler port is also the drain hole.

While I was searching for the drain hole I noticed a bunch of twine wrapped around the blade shaft. That's always fun to cut away, and this particular snarl did not disappoint. I also noticed that the blade was dull and dinged up. So I pulled the blade off (and emptied the gas tank) before flipping the mower and draining the oil.

Then I headed out to check cows, blade in hand. The cattle were fine and enjoying the still not roasting hot breeze. I took the time to fix a little bit of fence and to "harvest" a few steel posts which have been waiting several years for me to pull them out of the ground. I stopped by the ranch shop and sharpened and balanced the mower blade.

Back home I reassembled the mower, filled it with gas and oil, and let it rip. Runs like a Briggs.

This evening I had a conversation about mowing weeds, and the consensus was that using a push mower to tame big weeds in a large area is foolish. I appreciate the argument and I don't entirely disagree. However, when I mow weeds I'm not just doing an unpleasant job. I'm livin' a life, and each second that passes is a second I won't get back. I prefer the challenge of doing it the hard way. I know that there will come a time when I can't, so I relish what I can, while I can.

Aside from the enjoyment I get from livin' this life, there's also the matter of my duty to live this life. It's part of the debt I owe those who have fallen in service to the Constitution of the United States. Those who gave everything they had and everything they ever could have had.


Eighty years ago there was a worldwide shitstorm going on.  In the sea off the Solomon Islands sailors from Kimball, Nebraska were locked in desperate combat. Not all of them survived.


Be well and embrace the blessings of liberty.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

The everything giver

Before we get to that, a morning garden update.

What kind of bees are black and sip nectar from sweet corn flowers? I love the falling pollen grains. I think it's a black longhorn(ed) bee, but I don't know for sure.

Tomatoes and Tommy.

I got some video, too, but it's mostly babbling.


And once again, before the everything giver, a chore report. I know.

Preparing the home place corrals for working cattle this weekend was a good morning chore. It involved fence work and a lot of mowing. While it's cooler here today, only about 87, there's very little breeze and the sky is crystal clear so the sun was really hammering down. Lots of effort, lots of sweat. Like James T. Kirk and Jason Nesmith I gladly took the opportunity to get my shirt off. I'm probably too lazy to do the work of describing what the experience of hard work in the summer sun feels like for my body, mind, and soul. It's simply amazing. It's a very satisfying thing to have learned how to do physical labor and to be able to do it unflinchingly and with boundless enjoyment. Even when it sucks, which it did not do today. And let's not forget the bonus vitamin D!


Speaking of the sun, I get morning sunshine on the north side of my house for the nine or ten weeks surrounding the summer solstice. It's about gone for the year.


Perhaps unsurprisingly this post from February, 2015 was one of the things that came to mind as I was working in the sunshine.


Be well and embrace the blessings of liberty.


Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Drought, heat wave, and other reported weather phenomena

Cows and calves grazing in the cool morning air.

Quite an interesting day today, even if nothing Earth-shattering happened.

As the sun came up this morning the cows and calves were enjoying fresh tall (ish) grass on a cool and mostly cloudy morning. The weather guessers predicted 96 and sunny with a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. For the most part it stayed cloudy and calm, so while it did touch 93 for a few minutes there was no pressure from a blazing sun, which made it seem relatively less hot.

This morning the littles and I took an hour or so to swing and catch bugs. The six year old is very excited about the rapidly approaching school year. He'll be a big first-grader. The little one will be going to pre-K, and she's both excited and apprehensive. But thanks to some of the kind neighborhood girls she's spent time this summer learning how to meet and play with other kids. It's a big step!

When the thunderstorms rolled in after lunch I decided to give up working on the four-line lightning conduit. I dove into some writing instead and have much of part two of "what the firetruck's wrong with my leg" whipped into shape. I hit an editing logjam and decided to go in a different direction, resulting in this post, such as it is.


Ya know, reported reality isn't the same as real reality.

When it comes to summertime weather reporting, the print and broadcast and electronic media headlines are filled with doom and gloom. Record high temperatures! Record low rainfall! Killing drought! Crop failure! Wildfires everywhere, thousands of homes burned! And on and on.

So how does the reported reality match up with real reality?

Not very well.

Sure, specifics are often more or less correct. But when the focus is on bad stuff only, you run into the soda straw effect. When you rely only on media reports to tell you what reality looks like, you are essentially looking through a soda straw. What you can see you can see fine, but that’s only a tiny and constrained field of view. You see a tiny pinpoint very well, but you see nothing else, and what you don’t see is vastly bigger than what you see through the soda straw. If you fall into the trap of believing that you are well informed via the soda straw, you are actually extremely poorly informed. You begin to think that reported reality represents all or nearly all of reality.

That’s a dangerous place to be.

So how terrible was July? Let’s look at Kimball, which is a fair representation of our tri-state region. And of course the place I have data for and easily to hand.

It was warm. That shouldn't come as a surprise. July is known for being warm in this part of the world. In the first three weeks, 16 days topped 90 degrees. There were also two days of triple digits with both days hitting 101. As usual, the nights were relatively cool during that three week period. Fifteen of those were in the 50's, and all of them were below 70. It’s one of the nice features of this High Plains region; we generally have cool summer nights.

Over the first three weeks of July the average high temp at Kimball was 92.36; the average low 58.54, and the daily mean temperature 75.45. The 129-year averages at Kimball for July are 87, 56, and 71.5, respectively. It’s fair to say that those first three weeks were warmer than average. However, the month has four weeks and change -- 31 days in all. So what did the final 10 days look like?

Over the July 22-31 period, the average high was 84.12, the average low 58.5, and the daily mean temperature was 71.31 degrees. The high was almost three degrees below average, the low was about two degrees above average, and the mean was, unsurprisingly, about two-tenths of a degree cooler than average.

With the entire month behind us now, what did the July, 2022 temperatures look like in the record book? The daily high averaged 90.09, or just over three degrees above average. The daily low was 2.64 degrees above average at 58.64. The daily mean temperature averaged 74.37, about two-and-a-half degrees above average.

So was July warm? It sure was. Was it record warm or even exceptionally warm? Not really. Over the last 129 years the warmest average daily high was 95.9 degrees in 1934. The coolest average daily high was 80.8 degrees in 1906. The warmest average overnight low was 62.5 degrees in 1936. The coolest average overnight low was 52.1 degrees in 1924. The warmest average daily mean temperature was 78.7 degrees in 1936. The coolest average daily mean temperature was 67.1 degrees in 1906.

With history as our guide the July 2022 averages were pretty close to average.

Hottest July day at Kimball? 110 degrees in 1934. Coolest July day at Kimball? 53 degrees in 1895. Coolest July low? 37 degrees in 1952. Warmest July low? 73 degrees in 1936.

Let’s not forget widespread reporting about how terribly dry it was this July. At Kimball precipitation for the month measured 3.03 inches, almost a half-inch above the long term average. How dry can a dry July be at Kimball? Over the last 129 years the lowest July precipitation total was a mere 0.18 inches in 1920. The wettest July over that period came in 1998 when 7.28 inches of rain fell. Measurable precipitation on 15 of 31 days! Imagine that!

None of this is intended to accuse the various media outlets of wrongdoing. The point is that you can’t get enough objective information to be well informed by spending a few moments with a television or a newspaper or on the interwebs. You have to do the work to be informed.

And let’s remember that weather statistics are based on single location measurements. The world is a big place, and weather information is gathered from only a very few locations. The information we get from them help us understand general trends and conditions, but they don’t tell us anything about what happens in the rest of reality. Rainfall measured at the local airport is not the same thing as the rain that fell (or didn’t fall) in a field or pasture. Reported weather figures give us an idea of what’s going on in the area, but the important information is what nature is doing in all the vastness of her real reality.

So what does all this mean about July, 2022? Simply that it was July on the High Plains.


Be well and embrace the blessings of liberty.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Amor Fati

Long, busy day today.

I decided to move cows into an adjacent pasture this morning as we won't be taking them south until this weekend. There's abundant grass in the new pasture and it's closer to the corrals which will make moving them a bit easier for all concerned, especially the cattle.

Red got to try helping.

An unscripted primer on moving cows through a gate.

There was more. Much more. It was hot and muggy and buggy. I'm pooped!

Therefore I've dredged up a blast from the past, which appears below.


The love of fate.


Our corporeal existence on this plane -- this thing we know as life -- is extremely limited in duration. As far as any of us can tell for certain, this short life is all we get. Maybe there's more after and even before, but we can't know this for sure. It's a matter of faith. In that light it seems unwise to squander the precious gift we've been given.

The Stoics talked about a fleeting life and the importance of cherishing all of it, the importance of not wasting priceless time on morbid self reflection or anger or greed or feeling sorry for oneself. The Jedi mind trick they used was the notion of Amor Fati, or the love of fate. The idea is to love your life so much that you love all of it, even the slings and arrows of outrageous fate. Perhaps especially those slings and arrows, for they provide context and perspective. Could I actually love life's most beautiful and precious moments if never experienced their antithesis? I don't think I could.

So, how do you love fate?

I wrote this back in June of 2012.

Last week we talked about calculated risks and the potential injuries farmers and ranchers face when executing those risks.

But talking about risk without mentioning reward kind of skews the issue. I skirted around it last week – saving time and money are part of the reward farmers and ranchers receive when their calculated risks pay off.

But there are other rewards, too. Most folks in this country work directly for employers. We don’t. We set our own course. We are the epitome of the sovereign citizen. No one tells us when or how to do our work. We do our own quality control. In many ways, we are the freest of the free. And that’s a reward that only comes from daring to take calculated risks.

So there’s a big paradox. To be the freest of the free you have to risk it all – or at least a great portion of it. And if your risk doesn’t work out, even if you’ve done your best to manage it, even if you've done everything right, you can find yourself among the ranks of the former farmers and ranchers.

Risk and reward go hand in hand.

A top-of-the-head definition of risk might be ‘the potential for unintended foreseeable and non-foreseeable consequences to occur during the course of a particular action or inaction.

A similar definition for reward – so far as farmers and ranchers go – might be ‘the realization of great freedom and independence which comes only from having successfully executed equally great risks.

Hard work, solid planning and perseverance usually allow farmers and ranchers to survive unanticipated negative outcomes or events. But not always. Nature doesn’t deal in our conception of fairness. Successful farmers and ranchers understand this. Perhaps it’s why my Grandpa said “endure the bad years and enjoy the good years.”

I’ve been building fence around a quarter-section that recently came out of CRP. The quarter is adjacent to two sections which are already fenced, so I’ve really only been fencing the south and west sides.

The other day I marked and drilled post holes along the south side and started tamping in posts. But near the east end of the fence line I got lazy and about a dozen of the post holes were off line. Only by about six inches, but it’s a property boundary, so the fence line needs to be straight and precise.

I initially decided to dig out the sides of the post holes with the old “Armstrong” post hole digger, but the dry soil was a lot tougher to dig than I expected, so I only repaired one hole the old-fashioned way. It was a lot of work. I used the skid-steer and auger to refine the other errant post holes.

I had thirty or forty posts tamped in when quitin’ time rolled around, so I called it a day and headed for the house, leaving the one hand-dug and tamped post isolated, a few hundred yards away from the others, like a soldier standing guard.

Sometime after midnight the wind shifted around to the south, wafting the scent of our cow herd, now congregated on summer pasture, toward our herd bulls, isolated in a pasture four miles away. They were behind a stout four-wire fence, as were the cows. There were two other stout fences in between, as well as my partially-completed fencing project.

But a four-wire fence won’t hold a bull that wants to go visiting. None of the four fences seemed to slow them down a whit. In the morning they were with the cows, 11 days early. Not a major problem. But there will be some early calves next spring.

During their nighttime journey south, the bulls paused along my growing fence line and milled around long enough to fill several open post holes. And they found my isolated fence post irresistible for rubbing. After all the effort I expended setting that post, they casually snapped it off right at ground level.

Experiences like these tend to keep a person centered. There’s a whole big universe out there, and it’s not really concerned about your plans.

As Stephen Crane put it:

A man said to the universe:
“Sir I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

We work with the bountiful tools nature provides. We also work with the roadblocks and setbacks she provides.


Be well and embrace the blessings of liberty.


Sunday, July 31, 2022

Morning garden update

Among other things. Warm, hazy, and humid this morning. At 8 a.m. it was 73 degrees and 49 percent humidity. That there is humid, at least for this part of the world.

My sweet corn was flowering this morning.

Squash bee in a pumpkin blossom.

Out in the country, sunflowers and corn in a field of proso millet. And an unidentified bee zipping through the frame.

Dryland soybeans were setting pods.

Field corn flowering.

Prickly poppy, one of my favorite wildflowers.


And of course there had to be an irritating part of the day.

The cow that does this pushes her head through the wire to reach grass on the other side. It's learned behavior and probably comes from being hungry in another pasture or lot and learning to reach for grass through a fence. In this case it's become a habit. She has to walk through green tasty grass to get to the fence, and the grass (and millet crop) on the other side is neither as tasty or nutritious.

Because she's a cow, big and strong, she can push the steel posts over as she reaches for the grass. Along the edge of this pasture, where it butts up against a farm field, the soil is quite loose and doesn't firmly hold the steel posts. Which is why when I built the fence I placed eight-foot wooden posts in between the steel posts. That means that the wooden posts are anchored in four feet of soil. They'd be very solid and prevent the steel posts from pushing over except for one thing. They were improperly treated against rot and insects. The shoddy treatment crystalized the wood. So when a cow pushes on them, they break at ground level.

No use in blaming anyone but myself. Caveat emptor.

The whole fencing gig is a process. Fences are temporary structures placed upon an astonishingly dynamic landscape in an extremely dynamic environment.

All in all it's a good thing. This quarter section is the only place we have this problem, and the fix is relatively inexpensive and requires only time and effort. It's work I enjoy doing in a place I love to spend time. And good physical labor is beautiful exercise for mind, body, and soul.

So there's that.


Seen at the local dollah sto'.

To help me what?

Yeah right.


After checking cattle I worked on corrals. By that time it was muggy and well over 90 degrees. A superior workout with lots of sweat sting in the eyeballs and biting stable flies. Those things are a challenge and a trial. It's good to be uncomfortable from time to time. It's important to know that hard work and discomfort aren't fatal, that they can be worked through. That knowledge might be the difference between living and dying when the unexpected happens.


Then I spent quality time at the park with the kids, followed by a late lunch at my house including free-range cherry tomatoes from the garden.

And tricycle decoration.

July has been delightful. Bring on August!


Be well and embrace the blessings of liberty.