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Barnstorming (without an airplane)

7 Jan

I love a good barn. The older the better. So I asked someone I know if he’d be willing to let me explore and photograph his lovely, old specimen of barnishness. Happily, he said yes, and even though the hunters didn’t appreciate that I had taken over “their” space, I spent a good half hour or so exploring the lovely old weathered barn where once cows and sheep and horses (and at least one homeless man) lived. Now it’s home to barn swallows and mice and dust motes.

And the ghosts of chickens past.

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Squirrel Mafia

26 Nov

Me: “There’s a squirrel in the birch tree right there.”

My husband: “It better run for its life.”

Me: “I bet it doesn’t know.”

My husband: “It will find out soon enough.”

Me: (A little guiltily) “I noticed all those black walnuts on the ground beneath the trees the other day and got to worrying about the squirrels. If they’re drawn by the scent.”

My husband: “But not enough to pick them up.”

Me: “What?”

My husband: “You didn’t worry enough to pick them up.”

Me: “Oh. No. Too much work.”

Black walnuts, anyone?

Black walnuts, anyone?

My husband: “You’d think that they’d spread the word. Avoid the place.”

Me: “They can’t spread the word. They’re all dead.”

My husband: “Don’t blame me.”

Me: “No. It’s the squirrel mafia.”

My husband: “Totally.”

Me: (Still watching the doomed squirrel.) “Poor guy.”

My husband: “I’m not too bothered by it, actually.”

Me: (Shouting) “RUN AWAY, LITTLE SQUIRREL! RUN AWAY!”

My husband: “He won’t.”

Me: “I know. I know.”

My husband: “Dead as a door nail.”

Me: “Deader. Doornails never were alive.”

My husband: “Remember the little paw?”

Me: “Lying on top of the dumpster. Like a mute warning.”

My husband: “Squirrels beware.”

Me: “It really was gross.”

My husband: “That’s the mafia for you. Probably a few of their victims are swimming with the fishes at the bottom of the stream.”

Me: “Swimming with the beavers, you mean. We don’t have any fishes in our stream.”

My husband: “Cement boots.”

Me: “Electrocuted, actually.”

My husband: “True. Brutally shocked at the top of the light pole.”

Me: “Fallen to the ground below. All stiff…”

My husband: “Next time the power goes out mysteriously in the middle of the day – no storm, no warning – you’ll know why.”

Me: “Yes. The squirrel mafia will have struck again.”

My husband: (Joining me at the window) “How many times has it happened?”

Me: “Twice. But there was that other squirrel – the one that did a weird dance in the middle of the road and was found dead in the yard the next day.”

My husband: “Yeah. Forgot about that one. I thought you thought it was rabies that time.”

Me: “Mafia-induced rabies, probably.”

We stood there, watching the innocent squirrel run down the tree trunk and head south.

My husband: “Looks like he’s heading into Iowa.”

Me: “Good thing. The mafia is less powerful there.”

My husband: “He’ll be back. All those nuts…just calling to him…”

Me: (Shouting and banging on the glass) “GOOD LUCK LITTLE SQUIRREL! AND DON’T COME BACK!!! Never, ever come back…”

My husband: “Squirrels aren’t known for their wisdom.”

Me: “Maybe I should put up warning signs.”

My husband: “Maybe you should just pick up the walnuts.”

The End

PS – Though the conversation may not have gone exactly like this, the details of the squirrel mafia are entirely true. It’s a bizarre fact that squirrels who come to our property die. And we don’t have anything to do with it. Any relation to actual events was completely on purpose. No animals were injured in the making of this post.

Bare walnut trees.

Bare walnut trees.

Life in My Neighborhood

12 Nov

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Of the five states and two countries I’ve lived in throughout my life, only one location has been deprived of noticeable seasonal changes, and I’m thankful I only lived there long enough to learn to sit up and eat solid foods. I’m sure that people living in Miami, as I did when I was born, get used to recognizing the seasons by what decorations are up in the stores, but I would miss the more obvious signs terribly if forced to give them up.

I would miss digging sweaters out of the depths of my closet, searching for matching snow boots, and wearing scarves as more than just accessories.

After the harvest.

After the harvest.

Here in southwest Minnesota the seasons can come in with a bang. I guess, if I had my druthers, I’d rather have the calmer, less brutal seasonal changes of Oregon or Washington than the IN YOUR FACE seasonal changes around here, but there is no denying that I get a lot of pleasure from watching the seasons through the palate of the farmer’s fields.

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In spring I love the daily changes in the fields, the minute corn and soybean plants beginning to poke their leaves above the soil, turning the brown earth into mint-green fields of promise. I adore spring, and all the more so since living through the Minnesota winters.

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But I also love watching the progress of harvest every autumn. I love seeing the combines sweeping back and forth across the fields. I especially love watching them at night when their headlights rise like the sun above the gentle folds and ridges of the countryside. Living as I do out in the country, it makes for an interesting time in the neighborhood – as opposed to the usual excitement of pheasants and feral cats.

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I thought I’d leave you today with a few photos of harvest in SW Minnesota. Some of these shots are from this year, and some from previous autumns. This is life in my neighborhood.

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A few years ago Boo was given in a ride in a combine as they harvested corn.  She was thrilled!

A few years ago Boo was given in a ride in a combine as they harvested corn. She was thrilled!

The view from inside the cab as we dumped corn from the combine into the gravity wagon.

The view from inside the cab as we dumped corn from the combine into the gravity wagon.

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Literally the view from my window...

Literally the view from my window…

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An Afternoon On the Farm!

15 Oct

It wasn’t hard to say, “Of course!” when my husband’s cousin asked if I’d be able to arrange a visit to some animals when she and her husband and two boys were coming to town the next weekend.

“Cows or pigs or chickens,” she said. “The boys would love to see any of them.”

The farm girl with her kitty...and the city boy plugging his nose at the smell.  By the time we were done he had long since ceased to notice the smell - which, I must add, was NOT AT ALL bad!

The farm girl with her kitty…and the city boy plugging his nose at the smell. By the time we were done he had long since ceased to notice the smell – which, I must add, was NOT AT ALL bad!

Well, when visiting in Southwest Minnesota, any of those are pretty easy to arrange. Without a moment’s hesitation, the first person I thought of was my friend, Rita.

Rita did not grow up in SW MN, but her husband, Joe, did and, in fact, I taught his younger sister way back when she was in high school. I didn’t teach him – I’m not THAT old. :-)

I got to know Rita when I joined the local MOPS group – Mothers of Preschoolers. Sadly, I don’t have a preschooler any longer, but thankfully I’m still in touch with Rita. My life would definitely be a lonelier place without her in it.

I love the tongue!

I love the tongue!

Rita began blogging in February of this past year. Her blog, So She Married a Farmer, is a great picture of rural farming life in this day and age. Rita knew what she was getting into when she married her farmer – she grew up on a farm and majored in something cow-related at the University of Minnesota – in fact, that’s how she met Joe.

Rita loves the heifers that they keep on their farm. And when I say “loves them”, I mean really, really cares about them. She cares about them as animals, and she cares about their product – both their babies and their milk. She is a great advocate for the dairy industry.

The neighbor's sheep.

The neighbor’s sheep.

Rita and Joe get the heifers when they’re first-time pregnant moms. They keep them at their farm until they’re almost ready to give birth. (They receive them just shortly after they are identified as pregnant.) Then when they’re ready to give birth they go elsewhere and then when they’re ready to be regular dairy cows they go over to Joe and his dad’s dairy farm. It’s a complicated business, but Rita and Joe know it inside and out.

We spent a wonderful couple of hours at Rita and Joe’s farm, accompanied by their smiley daughter. THANK YOU, Rita, for our lovely afternoon on the farm!!

I asked Rita if I could include this photo - this is Joe on the farm visiting the cows in the rain.  It's too wet to combine today, so the cows get a little more attention.

I asked Rita if I could include this photo – this is Joe on the farm visiting the cows in the rain. It’s too wet to combine today, so the cows get a little more attention.

The pink stripes indicate that she's newly pregnant.  Glad I didn't have to go through that when I was expecting!

The pink stripes indicate that she’s newly pregnant. Glad I didn’t have to go through that when I was expecting!

These chickens actually reside at the farm across the road.  We visited over there, too!

These chickens actually reside at the farm across the road. We visited over there, too!

He so badly wanted to gather the eggs.

He so badly wanted to gather the eggs.

I had forgotten that a stump can be so much fun.

I had forgotten that a stump can be so much fun.

As a youngest child, I can relate to wanting to do what my older sibling is doing!

As a youngest child, I can relate to wanting to do what my older sibling is doing!

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We ended our day out at a local pumpkin patch.

We ended our day out at a local pumpkin patch.

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"The Swan."

“The Swan.”

My Summer, in Photos…

8 Oct

Ok, so I still have many photos from both Orcas Island as well as from Duluth, Minnesota to post, but today you’re getting more of a grab bag. A few pictures from around home. A few from a weekend spent swimming with the fishes in Rochester, MN. A few that show the season. Enjoy!

Sunset from our back yard.

Sunset from our back yard.

We're still burning piles of dead trees from the ice storm in April.  It's been a huge process.

We’re still burning piles of dead trees from the ice storm in April. It’s been a huge process.

Two sisters enjoying the rain.

Two sisters enjoying the rain.

There was a barn fire not too far from us.  We stood in our yard and took a few photos.

There was a barn fire not too far from us. We stood in our yard and took a few photos.

The fire trucks were rushing past our house.

The fire trucks were rushing past our house.

Fun in the sun.

Fun in the sun.

I've spent many an evening sorting through old Martha Stewart magazines, dating from 1997.  Yes, I literally hurt my back moving the things.

I’ve spent many an evening sorting through old Martha Stewart magazines, dating from 1997. Yes, I literally hurt my back moving the things.

My son's day - if not his year - was made in the ferry line on the 4th of July when we saw this Delorean pull to a stop two lanes over from us.  Everyone and their dog started taking photos.  The lovely couple had come from a 4th of July parade where they show the car, all decked out like in Back to the Future.  My son got to sit in it and even pull the door closed.  He was in heaven.

My son’s day – if not his year – was made in the ferry line on the 4th of July when we saw this Delorean pull to a stop two lanes over from us. Everyone and their dog started taking photos. The lovely couple had come from a 4th of July parade where they show the car, all decked out like in Back to the Future. My son got to sit in it and even pull the door closed. He was in heaven.

The crops have gone from this...

The crops have gone from this…

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...to this...

…to this…

...to this.

…to this.

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Meep tried so hard to catch a fish with her hands.  She got pretty close!

Meep tried so hard to catch a fish with her hands. She got pretty close!

If anyone can tell me what kind of fish these are, I'd appreciate it!

If anyone can tell me what kind of fish these are, I’d appreciate it!


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Tomato Bowling

10 Sep

A couple of years ago, round about this time of year, my daughter Meep came to me and said, “Mom! Look at this perfect bowling pin!”

She was holding a tomato. A yellow pear tomato. And she was right – it did look like a perfect bowling pin.

And so, what was the next logical step for a family to do but go tomato bowling?

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Canning My Own Tomatoes…Again

29 Aug

Full disclosure: I wrote (and posted) this two years ago…but thought of it last night and felt called to re-post since many of you didn’t see it back then! This is tomato season – and I’ll blog more about that on Tuesday – but for now, enjoy this “throwback” post. It’s one of my favorites.

This is how I can tomatoes: with words. In past years I have canned them with jars. Lovely, shining, wide-mouth Mason jars, topped with golden rings and flowery caps. I have waited in nervous expectation for them to seal, for them to justify my time and energy and sweat. And, almost always, I have been rewarded with a “ping” of success. Ah, sweet music to a canner’s ears.

But not anymore. Well, maybe someday again, but not for now. Nor, I’m sure, for a long time to come. Canning is a HUGE job. No, it’s not difficult, per say, but it’s messy, hot, and sticky…times a thousand. Every surface of my kitchen would need wiping down after I canned tomatoes. And I needed a shower. Badly. Yes, it’s rewarding. Yes, I loved having MY tomatoes on the shelf all winter long, lending the taste of summer to my spaghetti sauce. I LOVED that. But not enough to do it anymore.

Who knew such beauty could come from a lowly whiskey barrel?

For one thing, I’d have to have a garden. Or at least a whole lot more tomatoes than I have now in my four whiskey-barrels. And to have a garden I’d need a fence. And to have a fence I’d need time and energy and commitment to this lifestyle called gardening in order to justify the expense of the fence and the fertilizer (perhaps Rita over at SoSheMarriedAFarmer could give me some cow poop for free?). But most of all, the sheer loss of writing time while out weeding, watering and harvesting keeps my fingernails clean and my thumb less than green. Yes, I have a lot of excuses.

But seriously, writing – and figuring out this writing life – is captivating/controlling/fulfilling me right now. I cannot do everything…and so gardening is out. If only we had more TIME. Time to clean, play, parent, garden, write, sleep, eat, work, drive, can, read, volunteer, befriend a lonely orphan…the list goes on. Canning is definitely out.

How is it that some people seem to have time to do all of that and then some? I am not one of those people. There are too many books calling to be read. Too many sentences begging to be edited. Too many blogs to check out. This is my life right now, and I’m okay with that.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked canning. Other than the mess. I liked feeling a communion with my mother, my Scottish grandmother. I liked feeling like I was contributing. Liked feeling like a homemaker, a provider. Like I was Ma Ingalls. After all, Walnut Grove is only a couple of hours from here; maybe there’s something in the air in these parts, some tomato-laden scent that calls a person with the voice of those pioneer women, enticing them jar-wards. Just call me Caroline.


Yeah, dream on, Self. I never was more than a one-hit wonder in the canning world. I never canned anything other than tomatoes – oh, and a few kinds of jam, come to think of it. I did write a poem about canned beans once. It was the only poem I wrote that my college poetry professor ever liked. I got into his class because he thought I was related to someone…only I wasn’t. There aren’t a lot of poets out there with the last name of “Wendt” and it turns out that Ingrid Wendt was a known Eugene-area poet of the time. All these English profs and secretaries in the department kept asking me if she was my mother – it was very confusing at first – but turned out to be to my benefit, so thanks, Ingrid, if you ever read this!

Anyway, I’ll see if I can find that poem just for giggles. I know I still have it somewhere in the depths of my box of college memorabilia. I wrote it during Music Appreciation class one afternoon – shhh – don’t tell my kids I wasn’t paying attention to the teacher.

So, yes, sadly, (but to the joy of anti-botulism fans everywhere) the only beans I ever canned were in my poem. And the only tomatoes these days are in words, too. The jam is long gone, the jars mostly broken. But the words remain. Perhaps that’s the best kind of canning, after all.

At least for me.

Buckle Up! Summer’s Heading Out.

6 Aug

A friend asked me last week if I’d bought my kid’s school supplies yet. I stopped. Turned. And stared at her. “Umm, excuse me, but what did you say?”

“I was just wondering if you’d bought your school supplies yet,” she repeated, looking a little defensive. “I mean, they’re already being picked through….”

I walked away from that conversation feeling a little ill. How is it possible that summer is almost over and I need to buy school supplies already? I guess I was in denial.

But then I went and spent $150 on supplies and reality hit home.
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But enough about that. I have to say that it’s been a great summer and a lot of the greatness is due to all the hard work that many, many willing adults put in to making a ton of great activities for my kids to participate in. Kids need summer activities. Yes, they need to relax and just hang out but they can’t do that for three solid months. If they did, they and I both would go insane.

And so we signed them up for a few things. Not as many as some years, mind you, but a few, well-chosen things. My oldest two did Summer Band at the middle school and they both loved it. I have never seen my daughter so excited about her band instrument, as she was able to begin playing a “Frumpet” because French Horns simply aren’t marching band instruments. Along with my son on his marching band tuba (read Susaphone), we had several marvelous duets in the evenings and loved every minute of it. Thanks so much to Mr. Anderson and all of the band teachers and helpers involved with that program.

A little Frumpet action.

A little Frumpet action.


My daughter also was able to participate in Summer Orchestra and she enjoyed that very much, remembering what it is like to pick up a viola after quite a few weeks of…I admit it…not doing so. The students were even were able to take a field trip to the National Music Museum in Vermillion, SD, which definitely is a place our whole family needs to check out, from the sounds of it. Thanks to Mrs. Loy for a great couple of weeks!

Most recently my two oldest kids enjoyed Kid’s College out at Minnesota West. For four days they experimented, learned, played, created, and soaked in the atmosphere of the college and many willing and capable instructors. Too bad it couldn’t be longer, says this mom!

Not his Susaphone, but you get the idea.

Not his Susaphone, but you get the idea.


Not to be forgotten, our youngest, too, had weekly fun at the Summer Library Program at the Nobles County Library, thanks to all the hard work of Jackie Van Horsen, the children’s librarian. Three Hershey’s kiss gnomes, a caterpillar, an ant, and something that I’m a little unclear as to what it is exactly – still grace our family room with their smiling faces. Her crafts are all smiling, according to her, because she was having a great time making them with her friends at the library.
Library gnomes.

Library gnomes.


There were other activities our kids did – and other activities they should have done (read swimming lessons) – and somehow, all of a sudden, summer is winding down and there is very little I can do about that. Okay, there’s nothing I can do about it, I just like to pretend that maybe there is.

One thing that was very different for us this summer was not being involved with the summer musical at the Memorial Auditorium here in Worthington, as we were for the past two summers. Instead, we were able to sit and RELAX in the audience and enjoy the hard work that the cast and crew of SHREK THE MUSICAL put in over the summer to entertain us all. I intimately understand how much effort it takes to put on such a show, and I appreciate their time and commitment so much. I can’t say that we didn’t miss doing a show a little bit, but mostly, we were just glad to have summer evenings at home. But yes, in case you’re wondering, I’m sure the stage will lure us back one of these summers, if not more than one.
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Summer has been lovely, but all good things must come to an end. School is important, and I guess I’m ready for it, at least as far as my kid’s supplies go. Mentally, though…I’m thinking I’d rather cuddle with my six year old a little longer, savor my coffee on the deck with a good book, watch the kids catch lightning bugs, and have just one more day to sleep in.

But this is my life, at least for a few more years. School supplies, alarm clocks, homework…. Someday I’ll miss all that, they tell me.

For now, I’ll buckle up for the ride.

Didn't catch him flashing, but here is a lightning bug...in all his non-glowing glory.

Didn’t catch him flashing, but here is a lightning bug…in all his non-glowing glory.

One got caught in Boo's hair!

One got caught in Boo’s hair!

I Live On The Way to Someplace Else

2 Jul

When we lived on the island, people would come to visit us. When we lived in West Berlin, people would come to visit us. Now I live in the Southwest corner of Minnesota and no one ever comes to visit unless they’re on their way to somewhere else.

The good thing about this is that even though my own town has very little to recommend it to those in search of adventure, it is at least very close to a major east-west route across the United States and so people DO stop sometimes, at least long enough for dinner. It also means that I have no fear of anyone staying so long that they’ll begin to smell like fish…right, Benjamin Franklin? (He is the “fish and company begin to smell in 3 days” guy, right?)

The bad thing is that it gets a little lonely.

Well, this week I benefitted from living on the way to somewhere else in that one of my good college friends, Jen, stopped by (on her way to South Dakota) with her three nice boys and sweet wee girl for lunch, and we had a lovely time. She and my friend Susan last summer are the only ones who have ever stopped. THANK YOU!!!*

So, as I was mentally preparing for a rare visit from a friend, I got to thinking about what I remember about Jen, circa our college years, 1988-1992. Here’s my list: (I remember a little more, but this will do to be going on with.)

Jen and her lovely kiddos!

Jen and her lovely kiddos!

THE TOP 10 THINGS I REMEMBER ABOUT MY COLLEGE FRIEND, JEN

1) She chugs ½ and ½ straight from the tiny restaurant coffee creamer containers when you find yourselves at Perkins at 11:00p.m., on a study break while in college. (She probably does this anytime, that’s just the first time I remember witnessing such a thing.)
2) She has a tremendous laugh. And when I say “tremendous” I mean truly spectacular. So wonderful that a complete stranger came up to us in a busy restaurant and gave us all free cassette tapes of his music (this was 1992) simply because he liked her laugh.) It’s an awesome tape – I even bought the CD years later!
3) She is sole accessory to the fact that I had ONE all-nighter in college – what we were studying for I have no idea, but we managed to last – all night in the cold basement of her dorm…
4) She used to drive a yellow 1960’s-era Ford Mustang. I am not a car person, and never will be, but even I thought that was a cool ride.
5) She wears bright red lipstick. And when I say “bright”, I mean like a stoplight, cops pulling you over, redder than a fire engine.
6) She is adventurous, funny, kind, wise, interesting, steadfast in her friendships and beliefs.
7) She is a good companion (along with another friend, Danielle) on a road from Oregon to Colorado and back again. She is also a good companion for going on a Senior Year Spring Break Week-Long Extravaganza (along with two other friends) when we went from Eugene, Oregon, to her parents in Salem, OR, to our friend Cindy’s parents in Gig Harbor, Washington, to our friend Marti’s parents in Auburn, WA, to Orcas Island, to Victoria, British Colombia, Canada, for a night, then back to WA, OR and ultimately got back in time for class on Monday morning.
8) She likes to sleep in, in the morning. So if you ever go on a road trip with her, keep this in mind.
9) She likes to sing and does it well.
10) She likes to play cards. I, who grew up in a family where Scottish Grandparents instilled the belief into their daughter (my mother) that card-playing was wicked, didn’t know how to play cards and found the whole thing suspicious. I missed out on a lot of Jen-time because of it. Sadly.

So that’s my Top Ten of Jen!

Jen and me.  :-)

Jen and me. :-)

We had a lovely visit – our kids seemed to like each other and got along, and it was great seeing Jen in Mom Mode, as opposed to carefree college kid (I’d seen her a few other times since college, but this was the first time with all her kids). It’s always so good to catch up with a friend – and even more fun to do so way out here in the boondocks of our home.

We may not live in France or England or even New York, but if my friends come to visit us out here on the prairie, I promise you won’t be sorry.

Note I said friends. Mosquitoes are not welcome.

*I do have to give credit to a few people who, over the 16 years we’ve lived here, have come JUST SO SEE US. Stacey and Margaret, my husband’s aunt and uncle, and my sister. It’s a special feeling to know that people are driving a few hours (or flying) JUST FOR YOU, isn’t it?

Good Morning, Farmland!

25 Jun

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There’s nothing like waking up to the sound of an airplane flying right over your house. For a moment – that moment between awake and asleep – you might think you’re in a war zone (minus, thankfully, the shooting guns). You might think that a maniacal driver is out on your dirt road, going about 100, and then, when it’s almost too late, you realize what it is and suddenly you’re wide awake, running for the camera, because it’s crop dusting season, and you love it.
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I blogged about this once before (here, in a longer post than this one, titled A Ten Year Olds Epiphany)  – but it was only a couple of months into my blogging adventure and not many people had a chance to read it! So, I quote in part from my previous post…but with all-new photos for your enjoyment!
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Out on the deck we laugh and wave and delight in the noise, the proximity, the sheer overwhelming power. Inevitably, at some point, I run for the camera, though I’ve never been able to get a shot of it directly over my head. The good thing is, I usually have several tries, as the planes come back and forth, back and forth in their job of spraying the corn, the soybeans, the bugs that threaten the crops.DSC_0346
Not all of my friends understand the joy I find in the crop dusters, though a few of them understand a little. My husband, bless his heart, gets it, and he runs to the deck with us, shading his eyes against the sun as he admires the dangerous flying. Nevermind the possible philosophical issues with chemicals vs. organic farming, to me these planes are my youth, growing up as the daughter of a pilot – my wonderful childhood of tidepools and forts and parents who loved me – all rolled up in that airplane sound, flying over my house, over my years of memories.DSC_0347
The pilot has no idea, I’m sure, why this crazy family comes running to wave. Maybe he doesn’t even see us, focused as he is on the field before him. And then, so quickly, he’s gone, only to return, time and again, rising like the sun on the horizon, like a ship on a sea of grain.DSC_0348
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