Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Showers of Blessing

Last night I watched with hope the bright greens, yellows, oranges, reds, and purples on the radar screens on my KENS5 app. Thunderstorms exploded around Abilene in the afternoon and made their way south and east through dry, parched Texas terrain. Waco would get some of the rain. And, hopefully, the storms would hold together as they moved past Junction and on into the San Antonio area. And they did!

By the time I went to bed, lightening was dancing in the sky above the farm. I raised the blinds in the bedroom to enjoy the show and wait for the rain to fall. I was sleepier than I thought. I went unconscious almost immediately and remained so through the night.

But when I awoke this morning I heard thunder and looked out to see falling rain and large pools of water on the caliche driveway.  I stepped out onto the front porch to be greeted by much cooler air and the fragrance of rain. I made my morning coffee and sat on the porch and just watched it for an hour.

The night before I’d parked my truck beside the garage rather than in front of it so my view of the fields would not be blocked. When the rain stopped this morning I went out to the truck to move it. I drove exactly one foot forward and the left rear tire sank to its axle. A gopher tunnel collapsed under the weight of the truck  and I was stuck in the mud in the middle of a place experiencing Exceptional Drought. A little work with a sharp shooter shovel and I had dug a ramp out of the whole and drove out.

Yesterday at sunset a huge roadrunner appeared just outside the kitchen window and climbed onto the edge of the yellow plastic swimming pool the grandkids enjoy. A bit later I  took a walk out into the field behind the house and saw a pair of coyotes running across the dry field of wheat stubble. Looking out the window this morning I saw some movement on the ground. I went out to investigate. I have a new wildlife sighting to report: two dung beetles were rolling doggie poop back home to enjoy. Never saw that before. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day Greetings

Just before leaving Houston yesterday I stopped by Alan & Kat’s to pick up the dogs. The family was attending a birthday party and was not yet home. Alan sent me a text asking me if I could hang out for a while until they got back because Madison had something to give me. It was a Father’s Day greeting consisting of an original, signed painting on canvas entitled “Wheat” by two artists named Madison and Austin. In a somewhat Impressionistic style, it presents our recent wheat crop and the huge oak tree behind our farm house. It’s value is inestimable.

In addition to the painting, I was given a coffee cup with “Papa” bear on it. Madison explained the connection between the bear on the cup and my association with Baylor University. I get it.

I was greeted by other things when I arrived at the farm late on Saturday night. Two deer bounded away from the house as I drove up. I performed my usual initial inspections of the place. Before entering the house I took a flashlight and walked around outside. I checked out the X-Garden and discovered that the row of corn plants had run their course and were wilted and brown, just like the entire field of corn across the road. The ears that grew on the brown stalks had been devoured by our pet rabbits who operate the garden in our absence.

Two small eggplants hung on a bush. I planned to get them in the morning. Several large green tomatoes were also enduring the heat of the summer. A few butternut squash were available for harvest. Purple zinnias, orange zinnias, and wild sunflowers decorated the place. The biggest surprise was the melons. Just three weeks ago the watermelons were no bigger than my thumb. Now seven large melons were lying on the ground in the garden. This is encouraging, since I went to Bush's roadside produce stand in Stockdale to buy a watermelon this morning only to be told they had none because of the drought. I'm not sure what I will do with rabbits that decide watermelons are on their diet.

(This morning I returned to the garden to get what I could – the squash and a bouquet of flowers. The eggplants had become rabbit food over night. And one of the big green tomatoes was on the bunny buffet as well.)

Inside the house another surprise awaited me last night. I entered the utility room to switch the water heater from “Vacation” to “Hot,” and found myself stepping into two inches of water. The water heater had sprung a leak in the last two weeks. Water had run into the garage and out the garage door. I spent an hour and a half mopping up the mess. Cold showers only until it is replaced.

When I stepped into the garage I found that John, my new lawn tractor, had flats on both front tires, a consequence of encountering mesquite and cactus thorns during his last workout. Fortunately, I knew about a magic solution called “Slime” that repairs and then prevents such leaks. I picked up some today and will repair the tires tomorrow.

This morning I was greeted by the usual wildlife – our pet rabbit checking out the garden, the cardinals gathering to devour the sunflower seeds and to enjoy the birdbath, hummingbirds checking in periodically for a refill of the sweet, red nectar I’d hung for them, and Mexican eagles patrolling the field.

Then I received the new version of Father’s Day cards, text messages from my children with embarrassing evaluations of my performance as a dad. Leaks, flats, and rabbits are nothing compared to such things as original artwork, coffee mugs, and Father's Day texts.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Anniversary Weekend

Memorial Day is about remembering the dead -- those who have sacrificed life for our freedom. Wedding anniversaries are about remembering the living -- celebrating the time that has passed and the sacrificing of life for each other over the years in small and large ways.

Thirty seven years ago tomorrow, Melinda and I drove my sister’s 1974 maroon Malibu with the white vinyl roof from our honeymoon suite at the Ramada Inn in Houston to my grandmother’s house in Floresville to spend our first week of marriage exploring San Antonio, New Braunfels, and just being alone at the farm. Now that place is ours. We were there again this weekend, but did not have much time alone. None, in fact. But that’s ok.

We were joined by Alan and Kat, celebrating their seventh anniversary (rookies, still). Alan and Kat brought the next generation, Madison and Austin, with them, and the aging grand-dogs, Porter and Presley. Jenna drove up on Saturday. And Saturday evening, the Farmers, friends of Alan and Kat, arrived with their two daughters, Zoe and Ava. And their dog.

I had responsibilities in McKinney on Sunday morning, and so made the now familiar flight from San Antonio to Dallas on Saturday night and returned on Sunday afternoon. In my absence, the entire entourage drove to Leakey, Texas to swim in the Frio River at Neal’s. About the time I landed at SAT, they were done swimming. We agreed to rendezvous at La Gloria, a Mexican street food restaurant on the San Antonio River that we’d enjoyed once before. The celebration of our thirty-seven years and Alan and Kat’s seven (rookies) involved the eleven of us (dogs were still at the farm) dining for a couple of hours on likes of tlayudas, tortas, potosinos, and molcajetes. We walked down to the river and enjoyed the evening that was quickly cooling down from the hundred degrees we’d endured most of the day.

We spent Monday, Memorial Day, exploring the farm, finding and identifying a variety of wild flowers, and making a road trip to Rhew Orchard , a couple of miles down County Road 401 from our place. The peaches were ripe and peach cobblers were still warm in the Rhew’s store when we drove up. We took one of those back with us. Some amazing vegetarian tacos awaited us for lunch back at the farm. Then cobbler and coffee. Then a lawn sprinker aimed at the trampoline in the backyard kept the kids occupied and drained off some of their energy (not all of it) in preparation for their three hour trip back to Houston.

By 4:30, the Farmers and Alan Creeches had left. I forgot how quiet my life normally is. Melinda, Jenna, and I cleaned up the house and spent the remainder of the evening watching 8 mm films Melinda’s dad had made of their family in the early 1960s. We’d dug out the 50 year old films and Sears projector while moving in the past week. Amazingly, the machine worked perfectly and the old films entertained us for several hours. We saw brief footage of Hurricane Carla and a short appearance of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans astride Trigger and Buttermilk making their way through downtown Houston in the Fat Stock Show and Rodeo Parade. We watched ten year old Melinda playing, attending Vacation Bible School at Shady Acres Baptist Church, and performing in the “May Fete” at Helms Elementary. We saw her mom and dad, who have been on the other side for many years now, walking about, laughing and enjoying life as much younger people. We saw Missy Momma, Melinda’s grandmother, in most of the short films. It made me wish my folks had made some movies along the way.

We returned to Waco today, ready to start the summer school work tomorrow. Melinda will be taking Latin all summer. I teach one Doctor of Ministry Seminar. Jenna will be an intern at KWTX in Waco, while taking nine semester hours of government and economics online.

Meanwhile, we have a lot to celebrate and a lot to remember.

The X Garden Update: May 2011

I understand some of Mr. McGregor’s consternation regarding rabbits in his garden. This morning I went out to clean up the X Garden and found Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail enjoying the greenest place on the property during this extended dry period. It looked like they’d managed to gnaw down at least two corn stalks. I’m pretty much at their mercy, I suppose, since they are present every day and I’m not.

We harvested a few more yellow squash, a handful of cherry tomatoes, and one small eggplant – not enough to live on. But hope remains. We planted relatively late, so our production is behind schedule. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Watermelons are just beginning to form on the spreading vines and the bees are doing their part pollinating the plants.

Beans look pretty poor for some reason and we may have crowded our corn plants a bit too tightly. They are still short and the ears that are forming seem small. We’ll have to wait until I return in three weeks for a verdict on that.

Tomatoes are covering the vines, but we have few red ones. Butternut squash are showing up, but are not yet ready to be gathered. The pepper plants are not making a showing yet.

Here’s what I think I’ve learned so far. The irrigation system is perfect (although a connection has popped loose twice and I have had to tape it). Despite less than two inches of rain in three months, the garden remains verdant. The mulching with straw has both preserved moisture and has prevented an outbreak of weeds. That seems to be working. I do believe it would have been good to plant a couple of weeks earlier. And we’ll need to consult a corn expert about density of the crop before having another go with that one.

I’m excited about the watermelons. A dozen little ones are forming; the plants look healthy and green and are covered with yellow blossoms. I’m forecasting an enormous crop. A single good one would be nice, however.

The next X Garden report will come in three weeks.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Whole Wheat

In 1980 Melinda and I attended a Southern Baptist Convention meeting in St. Louis and stopped en route in Portia, Arkansas to visit with her kin. We had a son nearly two years old at the time. The field across the road from Melinda's uncle and aunt was filled with wheat, golden and ready to harvest. I took my camera and my son into the field and shot a photo that we later framed and hung on the wall of our homes over the years.

In May 2008, our first crop of wheat on the farm was ready for harvest and that little boy now had a nearly two year old daughter. So we travelled to the farm to photograph her in the wheat field.
Now our second wheat crop is ready for harvest and there's another little Creech kid almost two who clearly needed to join the club. So we all ventured into the field today to document the occasion.
Later, when things cooled down some (a record-breaking 95 on April 30 today) we walked out on the berm in the middle of the field and watched the sun set over the oaks and mesquites that line the western border of our fields.

Austin seemed a bit worried about the lack of rainfall.

For more details and photos, check out Kat's blog.

The X-Garden: The First Fruits

A leisurely (read "long") drive from Waco to the farm took us through Bastrop (dinner at the Roadhouse -- two thumbs up) and down the backroads through Luling, Nixon, Pandora, and Stockdale. The Great Horned Owl who shares the property with us greeted us when we drove up, launching from a low perch soaring away as our headlights exposed him. We got in just in time to unpack, open the windows, and go to bed early.

This morning Melinda replenished the sunflower seeds in the bird feeders and filled the bird bath with fresh water. In moments four pairs of cardinals gathered for the treat. We have not had measurable rainfall since before March, although there is hope for tomorrow night. The birds were glad to have water. A mockingbird soon took to the bird bath as if it were his own personal spa, chasing off any cardinal who ventured near. Swifts patrolled the wheat, flying low and fast to catch unsuspecting bugs for breakfast. A Mexican Eagle swooped and perched in the pecan tree halfway down the drive.
After coffee we went out to the X-garden to see how things were surviving in this dry period. The green of the garden contrasted with the brown of all the rest of the yard. When we walked through the gate we noticed, however, that a connection to our irrigation system had parted and that at least one recent watering had only managed to water the grass. I repaired the connection and gave the garden a drink.

One tomato plant has a dozen small cherry tomatoes and at least a half dozen yellow squash were ready for harvest. We decided to wait and let the grandkids do the honor when they arrived later in the day.

Melinda went back to complete a research paper and I weeded and trimmed things in the X-Garden. The kids arrived around 4:30 and when it was time for dinner, they gathered the squash, which Melinda transformed into a kind of squash lasagna dish that went over quite well. This is the first fruit from the garden. We hope for more.
Based on the cost of installing the garden, those squash were worth about $50 each. Watching grandkids harvest and eat them . . . priceless.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Grampaws Rule!

I read a quotation once: "Little boys love their grampaws. Nobody seems to know why." I like that. Here are a couple of others.

Grandfathers are just antique little boys. ~Author Unknown

Few things are more delightful than grandchildren fighting over your lap. ~Doug Larson

Or how about this: "Grandchildren are the reward God give you for not killing your kids."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Previously on the X-Garden . . .

It had been two weeks since we put the finishing touches on our experimental garden and left it in the capable hands of the automated irrigation system. We returned to the farm to find the garden in good condition. Despite the extremely dry conditions, the plants inside the fence were a lovely green. The morning glories I planted last time were not in the watered area, and have not appeared. Few weeds had managed to find life through the straw mulch we'd laid around the vegetables. Unfortunately, wind had blown the mulch over a few of the smaller plants, like basil and carrots, that were just emerging from the ground. They, like the weeds, were smothered. But the larger plants are doing well.
One tomato plant has fruit on it, and several have blooms.

The squash is beginning to form as well. Some of the bush bean plants are blossoming, too. It will be a couple of weeks before we can examine the garden again. By that time, some of the squash may already have produced.

Meanwhile, the wheat crop in the field is making it transition from the deep blue green we saw a few weeks ago, to the green and gold that precedes the solid gold that will mean it is ready for harvest. In three or four weeks that harvest will be done.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ava & Jonas at the Farm

I was planning a longer trip to the farm this weekend, Thursday-Monday, but plans changed. Melinda’s assistance was needed in taking care of Jonas while his mom and big sister shared in a friend’s wedding – Amber as a bridesmaid and Ava as flower girl. That meant leaving late on Friday rather than early on Thursday. So on Thursday (Diadeloso -- the Day of the Bear -- at Baylor), I graded papers until I could not see straight and completely emptied my inbox. (Who assigned all these papers? I’d like to get my hands on him.) On Friday afternoon we made the trip down I-35 with our usual stop to see our favorite daughter in Austin at Quack’s, our favorite bakery/coffee shop. Then back on the road.

We got to Floresville with some daylight remaining. I attached some nifty ramp ends to my 2x8 homemade equipment ramp to make it easier to help Juan down out of the back of the truck. Melinda was inside. I got into the bed of the truck, released the lawn tractor’s parking brake, and carefully pushed and steered him from over his hood while I backed him toward the ramps. I successfully lined up his wheels over the 2x8’s and prepared to ease him down the incline. I was not paying so much attention to myself, however. I stepped off the end of the tailgate and tumbled on the ground ungracefully while Juan simple eased down the ramp. I jumped up and looked around. No one had witnessed the event. Good. I cranked him up and mowed a bit of the field in front that I had not been able to take care of last visit.

Amber arrived with Ava and Jonas a while later. We stayed up late playing and talking and getting better acquainted with Jonas, whom we’d last seen at age six weeks. Now he’s five months and quite entertaining.

Most of Saturday was spent playing with Ava. We went on walks and explored around the farm. She’d not been here since she was a baby, so this was new territory for her. I pushed her down the long rock driveway on a tricycle we’d gotten at a garage sale several years ago. She hunted rocks and chased a lizard.

Sometime in the afternoon she began “cooking” on the front porch. She gathered all kinds of items from the yard, mixing them into her soups and stews, and serving them to me in pink plastic dishes.

She found red sandstone that Mimi showed her could be used to write on the concrete and that would make war paint on your face as well, so she used it on me.

She pulled almost all the petals off the fading red roses by the door to “practice” being a flower girl, strewing them all over the front porch.

I flew to Dallas to preach at FBC McKinney again (they are calling a pastor on May 1) and back to the farm today. We saw Amber and the kids off around 5:30 and set about our work for a while. Melinda put finishing touches on a term paper while I caught up on my blogging.

A report on the progress of the X-Garden will follow soon.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lawn Tractors, Death and Resurrection: Murray & John

Murray came to live with and work for my grandmother in 1998. I have his papers and pedigree. He was a brand new Murray Select I, with 16.5 hp and a 42" deck, and cost $1,200. He served her long and faithfully. She drove him herself until late into her 80s, mowing the 2-3 acres around the house. Once while she was mowing, a swarm of bees attacked her, stinging her more than a hundred times, almost killing her. That did not prevent her getting back out on the mower and taking care of things herself. She wore a bee hood after that, though. I don't know if Murray required many repairs when my grandmother was working with him, but when I inherited him he was already 10 years old. I figure that's about 75 in human years. He was already blind -- headlights had not worked in some time. I cleaned him up, changed his oil, got him a new battery, and put him back in service.

Murray made frequent trips to the hospital. Once a blade broke. Then the deck broke. The belts broke. The transmission broke. A pulley broke. Tires went flat a couple of times, and once a wheel broke. And one time, the engine gave out in a cloud of white smoke. I thought that was the end. But each time, I figured that a repair would be less expensive than replacing him, so I loaded him in the back of Willie, driving or pushing him (depending on his physical condition) up a ramp made of 2x8's, and taking him to Tractor City on Hwy 97 or Ken's Farm Parts down in Poth. When his engine died, I brought him all the way back to Houston to a repair shop there and had the engine rebuilt. Each time he worked a while longer before something else gave out. I've not kept up with the costs, but I suspect I could have paid for most of a new one by now.

In February he threatened to give up the ghost again. He just would not start. It seemed to be an electrical problem. When I told Melinda it was time to get rid of him, he started again. But when I returned in March he hesitated once more. Finally, he found the gumption to crank up and worked with me for about an hour. I turned him off to go inside and check on the beans, and when I returned, he was dead. I think a new starter might keep him going for a while, but I had already decided that there would be no more trips to the hospital, no more extreme measures. He has served well, but we need to let him go and look for a new hired hand to help keep the place up.

Research led me to Murray's replacement, John (Melinda suggested he be called Juan). I found that he was available just around the corner from me in Waco and so I went to check him out. We negotiated a good price (thank you, Dave Ramsey) and I picked him up to start work on Wednesday. He rode in the back of Willie, all shiny, new, young, strong, and eager to work on a farm like his big brothers on the sales lot. When we got there I backed him down the ramp and he went right to work. I was a bit disappointed in the work before us, since the dry weather hasn't produced much growth. But I wasn't going to bring a new lawn tractor all the way to Floresville and not cut something. He did a great job. I parked him in his new home where he patiently awaits my return in a few weeks to work with him again.

When it was time to go back home, with great effort I managed to get Murray's corpse loaded into the back of Willie one more time. Willie was sad to see his friend in such a state. We brought him back to Waco where the man who had sold us Juan took him off our hands. He will be recycled soon. We will remember him fondly.

I have noticed a theme in recent posts -- aging, mortality, and hope. I'm sure it has to do with approaching 60 soon. Murray is a metaphor, I suppose. We are not machines that can be repaired and sustained infinitely -- transplanting hearts, livers, and kidneys, replacing hips and knees, removing cataracts and being equipped with hearing aids, managing cholesterol with chemicals. We are mortal, finite, "beings-unto-death" according to Heidegger. We are not the only creatures that die, but we are the only ones who live knowing that we shall die. Heidegger says,
If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life - and only then will I be free to become myself.
We are not inherently immortal. I do not believe in the immortality of the soul -- a pagan concept given to early Christianity by the Greeks ("the Trojan horse of Christian theology," William Hendricks used to say to us. "Beware the Greeks even when bearing gifts!") Rather I confess in the words of the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in the resurrection of the body."

Easter is around the corner. Good Friday proclaims our mortality. Death is real. Resurrection Sunday proclaims God's victory over the last enemy, Death. God raised Jesus from the dead. He who raised Jesus will give life to our mortal bodies. Our souls are not inherently immortal. We are dependent on God's gift of eternal life, of resurrection. Unlike lawn tractors, we will be made new.