This is what the farm looks like, looking west from the little house. You may have seen this photo before. It is not, however, what the land looks like at this moment when I’m writing. Now, it looks black. So, here’s the story.
Actually, it’s this story because I can’t add yet add to the memoir I’ve written in the last couple of posts. That’s because said memoir wasn’t working with the I/you bit and I’ve had to revise. In the meantime, I’ve been reading Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and John Banville’s new memoir, Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir, to see how other writers have dealt with the past/present conundrum. Here’s a Banville sentence to show you what I mean: I need hardly say I knew none of these things at the time of which I am writing.
You may be familiar with Fitzgerald’s work but if you’ve never read John Banville, I recommend him. I own several of his books.
At any rate: the burned farm story. Actually, the farm has been much in my consciousness, phone calls, thinking, and doing for the past several months. It began in January with the taxes. That was the easy part. Okay, done. And then, since the farm is in a conservation reserve program (CRP) and has been lo these past forty years since Dad retired from farming, I had to follow up the taxes with more pressing demands. The FSA (farm service agency) rules are such that every few years, I need to get the prairie burned off, all one-hundred-twenty-acres. I recently posted an old story on burning the prairie which adventure convinced me not to try to do it myself again. The other piece of FSA rules was that I needed to get someone to cut trees out of said prairie because once trees get hold, they prosper, and the prairie is no longer prairie. And then one takes these invoices, which we’ve paid, to the FSA and have them logged in so the fall payment for CRP, which supports the farm, will be paid.
So. It has taken me countless hours on the phone to find someone to burn and to cut. Hours and hours. For months and months. Keep in mind, I began the search in mid-January and only now is it done. We had the local fire department do the burn the past few times and gave them a donation of around $1,000 (having a farm in conservation is a pricey business) but they can no longer do it. 1. the men are too old; 2. Kansas law now prohibits fire departments from doing it.
After many many calls and just as many estimates, I found a man who would cut out the trees for around $1100. It turned out to be closer to $1200 but it was done. And at the same time, I was calling and calling leads to find someone to burn off the prairie. One estimate was $5,000. I mean, really???? I finally found a guy with whom I’d been in high school, but he was across the state line at the Liberty Fire Dept. and had several ahead of me in Nebraska and they had to come first but he’d do what he could. Keep in mind the farm is 1/2 mile from Nebraska.
And then, by a happenstance I can’t really remember, I found the Linn, Kansas, American Legion who were burning prairie to raise funds for the Legion. Whew! Linn is about 45 miles from the farm, so I sweetened the pot by adding $400 for a total of $1400. And they burned it and did a great job.
Now, after all that backstory, Stephen, my son, and I went to the farm over the weekend. Cliff had school papers to catch up on so he stayed home, did laundry, and had a good dinner ready for us when we returned on Monday evening. Which, all in all, is a fair trade. Our primary goal was to plant grass and put straw over said grass in the hopes that it would keep away critters and birds until it sprouts.
I’ve no idea where the essay is stored in this copious record of my life on WordPress, but there is an essay, perhaps the one where I pumped out the basement, on what a mess the area around the house became after construction. I’ve been struggling with the five feet times 90 feet of ground around it since. Earlier this year, I guess over spring break, Cliff and I went up, cleared out all the weed stalks/sunflower stalks/weird red berry something or another that seems determined to root, and left bare ground. Which Stephen and I covered copiously with grass seed. A neighbor brought up two bales of straw which we then used to cover said seed. No doubt, at some point in the future, I will update the story of whether or not I finally have grass instead of very tall weeds around the house. In the nonce (doncha love that word) it’s done.
And Stephen and I drove into Marysville, turned in papers to the FSA, re-certified the CRP for the next three years….and learned that the end of 2020 may be our last year in the program as the government has cut funding for conservation and instead is buying bombs and airplanes. I have no idea what we will do then, but as Scarlett O’Hara said, I’ll think about it tomorrow. What I know is that prairie roots are 12-14 and more deep and it’s hard to put it back in cultivation. (Which I don’t want to do anyway. It’s one half section of wild in the midst of corporate farming.) Stephen and I had lunch at the Wagon Wheel Cafe which has done steady business since I was a kid, and then we drove the three hours back to Kansas City.
However, I have to tell you one more story which Cliff said I should tell. Cliff, a city boy from Baltimore, is somewhat tool challenged, in a kind way of putting it. He also began wearing a C-Pap a few months ago which, as all C-Paps do, has a harness. It has strong magnets on the harness which tend to clasp onto themselves and usually, I help him get the harness adjusted. Well. I was on the farm. He had to do it himself. He said it took a while as the harness kept tangling and at one point it was in a knot on top of his head and he said, “I looked like a Polish grandmother with a babushka on my head!”
He was glad I was home.