Thursday, September 29, 2016

Punkin assumptions

There seem to be fewer and fewer people around who realize that the food they purchase from the supermarket actually existed before it magically appeared on the shelf.

"It comes from farms, right? Yeah. Farms."

Which is pretty much the same as saying it comes from the "country."


I'm just now harvesting pumpkins from my garden. Most people I know (not all, but most) are pretty sure that pumpkins are for making Jack O'lanterns. And that to get pumpkin pie, you put punkins in one end of Mrs. Smith's factory and, after magic, you pick up frozen pumpkin pies from the other side.

The really hep, cool, and smart folks know that you can make a scratch pumpkin pie at home, using canned pumpkin. See, the punkins go in one end of the IGA factory and, after magic, you pick up canned pumpkin from the other side.

Of course it's not quite that bad. Not quite.

But give most folks a four pound pumpkin and ask them to make something with it, and 999 times out of a thousand you'll get a Jack O'lantern. And at least 10 lawsuits because the dumb bunnies cut their thumbs off.


Pumpkin Gratin

One pie pumpkin 
Two large eggs
One cup heavy cream
One-half pound bulk breakfast sausage
3/4 cup grated Swiss cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Quarter, seed and peel the pumpkin. Don't cut off your thumb. Place the peeled pumpkin under plastic wrap in a glass casserole and microwave on high for 15 minutes. Let cool.

While the pumpkin is cooking/cooling, crumble and brown the sausage.

When the pumpkin has cooled, transfer it to a large mixing bowl and mash it with a potato masher. You can use a food processor, but why would you?

You need one pound, or 16 ounces, of pumpkin for this recipe. The pumpkin I used today yielded 50 ounces. So I weighed out 16 ounces and put the remaining 34 ounces in a freezer bag in the freezer. It'll keep in there until spring.

To the 16 ounces of pumpkin add the eggs and cream and mix well with a rubber spatula.

Add the sausage, mix, add the Swiss, mix.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Pour into greased 1.5-2 quart casserole.

Top with shredded Parmesan and a bit more pepper.

Bake uncovered at 350 for 35-45 minutes.

Not the worst thing I've ever made.


Many, many years ago, when I was in Pensacola attending Aviation Medical Technician (AVT) "C" School, a Chief taught us the perils of making assumptions and shared a neat, simple blackboard trick to help us remember.

"When you assume something," he said, writing out the word on the blackboard (I told you it was a long time ago).

"You make an ASS (slash) out of U (slash) and ME.

ASS / U / ME

That little lesson, one that I suspect countless NCO's have shared with countless juniors over the years, has stayed with me.

It's not that the Chief fixed me, and that from that sunny, winter day in Lower Alabama, I was never again so dumb as to make assumptions. Oh no. I make unsupported and ill-conceived assumptions ALL. THE. FUCKING. TIME.

But thanks to the Chief (I've long since forgotten his name, but do recall that George Dickel was his rocket fuel of choice), and to a little thing that Plato said Socrates said, and to the message set out in documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and to experience and practice and the long, hard road of contemplation and objective self-assessment, I'm no longer a slave to pure emotion and mob-think. These days I'm aware of what a wobbly foundation an assumption is, and I try really hard to avoid making reflexive and unfounded judgments, and when I make them, I work really hard at unfucking myself. It's become a habit.

One thing that really, really irks me is when people hear or read things which never appeared in my spoken or written words. They make an assumption that what I'm really writing or saying is something else entirely. Man, that pisses me off.

And what pisses me off even more is that I get pissed off about it.

A long, long time ago another Chief pointed out to me that when we get pissed at the behavior of another, it's usually because their behavior mirrors an aspect of our own behavior which we do not like at all.

But... I never, ever read or hear stuff that isn't present in the spoken and written words of others!

Except of course, when I do.

Now go make something out of a pumpkin.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


When Colin Kaepernick did his first kneeldown, as I recall he said he was protesting the America that had decided it would be perfectly fine to have either a criminal or a blowhard as president. I think he did mention the social justice view of racist police activity, but that was pretty far down his list.

Since then a lot of people have jumped on the bandwagon. Most of them are young and impressionable, have never been anywhere or done anything, have never been taught or helped to learn about the way our American system is supposed to work.

I have to cut them a lot of slack because they are young and dumb. I'm not giving them a complete pass, but I remember being young and dumb and filled with certainty and self-centered righteousness about complex issues. I said and did a lot of dumb things.

Furthermore, when I was young and dumb the government and media and the educational system weren't openly fomenting race war.

I feel a lot of sympathy for these youngsters. They're being manipulated, being treated as objects to be used by the millions of people who live in this country but do not find fundamental human equality a self evident truth.

I strongly disagree with nearly everything these folks say they kneel for. They're wrong about institutionalized racism and brutality. It's not that there aren't racists aplenty in this country, but the poor dumb clucks of the klan are far outnumbered by sophisticated racists and bigots who will not behave in a civilized fashion.

In a very real sense, the kneelers are correct in that there is something horribly wrong with America, but they haven't yet realized that the real racists are the diseased souls of all color who seek to divide and conquer at any cost.

The kneeldown came to Nebraska last week. I don't approve, however, I have to respect the fundamental humanity of these young men, respect their right to speak and opine, and perhaps most importantly respect their right to be wrong. I cannot be an American if I do otherwise, and god knows I've got more experience at being wrong than these kids do. It's not easy. I feel strongly about the issue. But I have to take up the very hard task of being a principled American, or I am lost.

I very strongly endorse and approve of Mike Riley's leadership and guidance. If you're interested, his remarks on the subject begin at 7:53 in the first video, and at 10:58 in the second video.


Monday, September 26, 2016


I gave a talk at the local library last week. It was generally about the ranch as an ecosystem with a bit of emphasis placed on seasonal variations, weather, and wildlife.

It was a standing room only crowd -- not!

There were six adults and two children present, and two of the adults were library staff.

I'm not complaining! I doff my hat to the library staff for making the attempt. Maybe we'll develop it into a better and better attended lecture in the future.

I mention this talk only because I ran into a common reaction when I showed my pictures and videos. Everybody loves the antelope and ground squirrels and weasels and baby calves and insects and -- well -- just about everything.

But when I put up the slides of the snakes, the near-universal reaction is negative. Very negative. "Ick, yuck, awful, terrible, ooohhh."

I'm pretty sure I know why that is. It's fear.

Now there are a lot of animals to be cautious of and to even fear. Lions. Tigers. Bears. Bison. Cape Buffalo. Those things can kill us in very short order, and we pretty much all understand that.

But we also seem to find those deadly animals interesting and fascinating.

Our seemingly universal reaction to snakes is very different. In a great many cases just the image of a snake causes revulsion and a deep fear bordering on terror.

I wonder why that is. It seems to be a very deeply rooted phobia, one that lives in the primitive, non-reasoning part of our brain. Why are snakes so fundamentally repulsive and fear-inducing, while other deadly animals are less so?

It's interesting to think about. I don't know the answer, but I get the feeling that snakes were the number one danger to evolving proto-humans, and that deep seated fear has remained with us down through the ages. It may in fact be hard-wired into our very DNA.

Just speculation, of course, but interesting to think about.

And oh by the way, my own visceral reaction to snakes is one of fear and revulsion. I've learned to deal with it and to appreciate snakes intellectually and rationally. But that does not mean that an unexpected rattle at my feet does not instantly shoot adrenaline through my system. And every time I levitate and scream like a girl. My primitive brain and my reasoning brain do not agree on the subject at all.

In the last couple of months I've posted on rattlesnakes and bullsnakes. One of the things that absolutely delights my reasoning brain is the way the bullsnake aggressively imitates the rattlesnake when threatened. It coils, raises its head, vibrates its tail, hisses in a fair approximation of the buzz of a rattlesnake rattle, and strikes at the threat if it comes close.

The bullsnake is, in fact, more aggressively and overtly threatening than the rattlesnake. The difference in behavior is striking. The rattlesnake -- at least the prairie rattlesnake -- is usually quite docile. It will coil and raise its head and rattle, but usually only after some serious pestering. In general the rattlesnake will simply try to slither away. Prairie rattlesnakes actually seem pretty laid back, especially when compared to the bullsnake, which often behaves like a tweaker coming down off the meth.

One other thing that many bullsnakes do is to constrict the muscles right behind the head to give the head a triangular appearance. The rattlesnake head is triangular due to the muscles and joints required to strike and envenomate, and also due to the size and musculature of the venom glands. The bullsnake, on the other hand, has an oval shaped head.

But it can sure make its head look triangular! I found this one sunning on a county road yesterday.
Just soakin' up some rays.

Close up of the oval shaped head.
Presto-changeo! Now I'm a rattlesnake! Note the round pupil.
Very convincing!
For comparison, here's the prairie rattlesnake.

Coiling, tail up but not rattling. Just a gentle "have a care, chum."
Naturally triangular head.
And a vertically slit pupil.

And here's some video of the bullsnake.

All in all, just a slice of nature's wonder. As is our visceral reaction to snakes.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A touch of Farmers' Day

I'd really like to thank you kind readers for the well wishes and support as I navigate (with no little whining) the road to recovery. Very thoughtful and touching and appreciated. I am blessed.

Saturday was the 90th iteration of Farmers' Day in Kimball. It started as a day to honor county farmers and ranchers who the locals understood were the producers which allowed the community to survive economically. Things haven't changed economically, and I'll just leave it at that.

Here are a few images from the parade.

The kids always put a smile on my face.
As does the Color Guard from Frankie Warren AFB. You can either have marching, or nukular weapons deliverin', but not both. Hmm. Maybe a sixth week of boot camp? Just teasing. When I was that age and not deployed I usually had a massive hangover on Saturday morning too.
KVFD finally took delivery of their new fire engine.
KHS Band! They're really good this year. I had a video but my phone decided to reformat its card...
A '61-ish Nash/Hudson Metropolitan from Wyoming.
Cub Scouts have returned to town after a 20 year absence.
 The next five images should be enjoyed in sequence.

VERY autumnal light.
Those are BIG oxen!
And a couple of videos. 

And best for last, the Junior High Band! These kids are my favorites for some reason.

Mom was telling me last evening how cool Farmers' Day used to be. She tells great stories about the husband calling contests which were (and remain, IMO) legendary.

Huskers managed to defeat both Northwestern and themselves last evening. Nice to see them returning to their Cornhusker Traditions and away from whatever that maniac bo pelini was trying to accomplish.

And now I'm off to soak the foot. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Red sky

Red sky in morning, sailor take warning,
Red sky at night, sailor's delight.

If the weather guessers are to be believed we shouldn't get much weather from the front that's passing on this, the first full day of Autumn, 2016. Some cloudiness, a little breeze, a little rain. That'll be okay, and if it's not okay, it'll still be okay, if you take my meaning.

I'm from a small farming community. There are pluses and minuses to living in a small town. Quiet, little traffic, little crime. It's hard to get scented tofu, though, and the only rabid progressives are in local government and populate the school system. And everybody knows you and knows your business. Which is a plus as well as a minus. On the plus side, no one honked or yelled at me for standing in the middle of Highway 30 at dawn and snapping a few pics. "That's just Shaun, he does that shit all the time."

The last three weeks have been anything but enjoyable. The infection near my left Achilles tendon has been tough to treat, and the healing process is taking longer than, well, longer than I'd like. The endotoxins released from the cellular battlefield make me ill and cause a lot of inflammation and irritation, thus a lot of pain. Unlike the prospective worst U.S. President in history, I'm not good at powering through the sick and hurt the way all XX'ers have done for all of time. I lack a platoon of secret squirrels to carry me around, and I lack minions, and I also lack the dozens of gubmint pseudo-physicians putting their lives and careers on hold to minister to my every sniffle and cerebral-vascular accident. Butt I digress.

Healing the infection has meant forced inactivity. The foot needs to be elevated a lot, and physical activity generally involves the foot not being elevated. So, sitting around and reading, which would be heaven, if I could forget the chores that are piling up. The mind, of course, could and should be active regardless of what the body is doing, so I really should have been writing these last 21 days and change. And my computers are all laptops, perfectly operable from the foot-up and reclined position. But the spark has been lacking. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

I haven't been completely inactive. Cattle need checking and tending to on a daily basis pretty much regardless of other considerations. It's a responsibility one cannot duck. This time of year, fortunately, the checking and tending can be done almost exclusively from the pickup.

Yesterday we moved cows from summer to fall pasture, and that was done mostly from the pickup. The journey was about five miles, the cows knew where they were going, and the dogs got to chase cows!, which they live for. It was a pretty morning, coolish and misty at the beginning but warming up and breaking into clear September skies when we finished.

The fact that celestial/calendar autumn arrived while we were moving the cattle had nothing to do with going from summer to fall pasture. The calendar only rarely lines up exactly with range conditions. We went into summer pasture on July 1, for instance, eleven days after calendar summer had arrived.

The summer pasture was holding well and would have provided good grazing until hard freeze. The fall pasture we elected to go to has been ungrazed for two years, however, and is lush with a season's full growth as well as abundant regrowth of the cool season grasses. The idea is to take advantage of that regrowth while we have the opportunity and before a hard frost arrives. Depending on what mother nature does, we could be reaping the benefit of springlike browse for some weeks to come. And the summer pasture will enjoy a few weeks, perhaps, of regeneration sans grazing pressure. Hey, presto! Rangeland management!

They really like cool season regrowth...
Under a wide and cloudy sky...
I began writing this on Friday morning (Sept. 23), but somewhere along in here I had enough pain going on that I wasn't writing very well, so most of the following was written on Saturday afternoon.

I've kept up with other bits and bobs of chores; those that don't require a lot of walking or a lot of time. One such chore is draining, cleaning and refilling stock tanks. Not much of a chore, really, and one that can be done in small bites.

Our stock tanks are  generally used heavily enough that the aquatic environment is more like a slow moving stream rather than a still pond or lake. They teem with life, including algae, microscopic single- and multi-cellular organisms, and water bugs. Cows drink about 15 gallons each day, and calves about 5-6 gallons, so there's a constant influx of fresh water to replace what the cows (and evaporation) take. Therefore, when in use for watering, the tanks never see heavy growth or blooming of algae or water plants.

That being the case, they don't really need cleaning each year. They are completely open to the environment though, and accumulate dust and tumbleweeds and other atmospheric detritus, so they do begin to silt up over time, and it's generally easier in the long run to clean them out every year.

The green stuff is a combination of silt and algae and assorted bits of "gunk"
Most of that stuff is dried algae. This one hadn't been cleaned for two years.
The drain hole from the inside. This is a bottomed or portable tank.
Drain plug and gasket. The gasket has seen better days.
Old and busted, new hotness.
It fits! And it's an o ring rather than a flat gasket. But it works.
The other (out) side of the plug.
Where the plug goes.
The plug fitting is sized for a slip-joint pliers handle. Pliers are the universal tool of  ranching.
Ta-dah! O ring seals perfectly.
Clean, shiny and ready for dihydrogen monooxide.
This is a bottomless or permanent tank. It's made of galvanized sections bolted together in a ring, laid into a base of concrete which is plumbed for drainage as well as supply.
Water is mostly drained here, but I let the gunk dry a bit more before scooping it out.
Another bottomless tank. The open pipe is the standpipe which is fitted into the drain. The standpipe opening sets the water level as overfill flows down the standpipe and into the drain. This tank had also been uncleaned for two years and has a nice growth of aquatic weeds.
This end of the standpipe screws into the drain in the concrete base of the bottomless tank.
I've just removed the standpipe and water is flowing through the drain.
Drain discharge, cleverly placed on the downhill side of the tank.
These calves have five other tanks to choose from, but they want to drink from the empty one...
And it's their lucky day, because... comes the water!
I've just replaced the standpipe, using the other universal ranching tool, the pipe wrench.
And that's another annual chore complete.

Earlier today (Saturday) I attended the 90th Annual Farmers' Day parade. Hope to throw up some pics and vids and a complete recap tomorrow. Or so. Depends on a couple of things. Whether I'm pain-free-ish enough for one. And whether I'm in the proper mood, or can force myself into the proper mood. Part of that last may depend on how well the Huskers play tonight.

Hope this finds you all well and enjoying early autumn.