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.

Grandfathering Kingdom

I have yet to be present for the assembly of all the subjects of my entire grandfathering kingdom, although they gathered in Houston without me yesterday. I plan to see them all together Easter weekend. I do not often get to see Taylor & Amber's two (Ava and Jonas, left). In fact, Jonas was only six weeks old the last time we saw him. I don't see Alan & Kat's two (Madison & Austin) often enough, but somewhat more frequently. I'm grateful for the technology of Skype, texting, cell phones, digital photos, and blogs that keep us more connected with them than my parents or grandparents were ever able to be. I actually feel sorry for people with ordinary grandchildren, although I have never met such folk.

For more on the cutest grandchildren around, check out Kat's blog on picking strawberries.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

1000 Words -- South Texas Spring

Far as the Curse is Found

So you know the story of our ancestors Adam and Eve who made such a rotten decision in the produce section of The Garden of Eden. Rebellion, pride, arrogance, unbelief, and a long list of others motives mingled to introduce sin in to human experience and alienation from God, each other, and creation into the human condition.

“Cursed is the ground because of you;

through painful toil

you will eat food from it

all the days of your life.

It will produce thorns and thistles for you,

and you will eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your brow

you will eat your food.”

Donning our fig leaves we went about the next stage of our work on the X-Garden. As planned, we added the straw mulch to three of the beds. We returned to Cooper’s to pick up some additional plants – tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and watermelon – and another pound or two of encouragement, which Mr. Cooper offers freely. When the new plants were in place, we added mulch around them. This morning we planted some morning glories along the back garden fence and along the barbed wire fence by the road.

We raised two cattle panels in an A-frame construction to support the tomatoes and cucumbers when they begin to grow. All this work is an act of hope (James 4:7).

Melinda’s been taking seminars in Milton and Augustine this semester. Milton’s had her reading Paradise Lost and the Augustine seminar focuses on the Bishop of Hippo’s reading of Genesis. So all this gardening experience we have been working on at the farm has a theological and literary context.

She found a serpent in the garden (a Texas Spiny Lizard), whom she named "Satan." We also had a sighting of our Texas Rat Snake, my close encounters with which have been earlier recounted. He poked his head out of a drain pipe next to the house. I hope he's tired of eating dust and has developed an appetite for the many field mice around the place.

If my previous blog seemed a bit melancholy, reflecting on mortality, then perhaps it is appropriately so. Wrapped up in the curse that we are reminded of every time we grab a handful of Bermuda grass and pull it or decimate a thistle with a Weedeater is this word about our dustiness. Every time sweat runs down our face and mingles with the red earth we recall our dusty nature. Between Milton, Augustine, Genesis 3, the X-Garden, and the serpents, we have had plenty of reminders. (Oh, yeah, and there was also the expected, inevitable death of Murray, our lawn tractor who has served so faithfully for nearly 14 years. With great effort he finally started and cut his last field. When I turned him off to take a break, it was the last time he would breathe. His starter would not work. I know the feeling. Having spent more than his original cost of $1200 keeping him going these past four years, it is time to let him go.)

“Cursed is the ground because of you;

through painful toil

you will eat food from it

all the days of your life.

It will produce thorns and thistles for you,

and you will eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your brow

you will eat your food

until you return to the ground,

since from it you were taken;

for dust you are

and to dust you will return.”

I am reminded that planting is an act of hope and that the story ends in a Garden, even as it began in one, and that a promise remains:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. (Revelation 22)

Tending Garden, Setting Sun

Nanci Griffith has been one of our family’s favorite musicians since our boys were small. All three of our kids have been reared listening to her Texas folk sung with a thick twang. She’s our mainstay on long drives across Texas when we are in a “Lone Star State of Mind.” What we like about her is that her poetry is serious – not a C&W genre. We have heard her in concert in Austin, Ft. Worth, and Houston. Once, in Houston, we got to go backstage to the green room and meet her because Rex Waldheim, one of our astronaut friends, the guy who introduced us to her music long ago when there were only cassettes and vinyls, had recently flown a CD of hers on a shuttle flight, and was delivering it to her after the concert in Jones Hall. She was funny and gracious, holding her glass of white wine and posing for photos.

One of Nanci’s early pieces is called “Gulf Coast Highway.”

She sings of a couple who have lived a hard, but ordinary life, along the Texas coast. He’s found work where he could -- the railroad, in the rice fields and on the oilrigs in the Gulf of Mexico. They lived in a little house off U.S. 90, the old coastal highway that was supplanted by Interstate 10. They describe their home as “the only place on earth bluebonnets grow; once a year they come and go at this old house here by the road.” Even when they are young, they anticipate the day that, “when we die we say we’ll catch some blackbird’s wing, and we will fly away together come some sweet bluebonnet spring.” As they grow old together, the jobs are gone. They spend their days simply: “we tend our garden; we set the sun” still hoping for that “sweet bluebonnet spring,” when they will “fly away to heaven.”

Those words echoed in my mind frequently yesterday as Melinda and I continued to work on the garden project at the farm. (Details in a following post.) Having pulled weeds, cultivated, mulched, and cleared leaves from under the old live oak while Melinda added a dozen plants to what was already in place, we sat on bales of hay and watched the sun go down over the blue-green wheat that has now developed heads of grain. We tended our garden. We set the sun.

We’re really not ready to fly away yet. The jobs aren’t gone and there is much to do in life. It did make me think of mortality, though, something I manage to skillfully avoid most of the time. A friend half my age lost his life a month ago. While crossing the street on campus yesterday, a close brush with a careless driver reinforced the uncertainty of my own life.

The psalmist encouraged that kind of thinking –

Our days may come to seventy years,

or eighty if our strength endures;

yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,

for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

teach us to number our days,

that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90)

These days do quickly pass. I remember last spring here like yesterday. These Texas springs are a finite resource. I have a limited number left – twenty-five or thirty perhaps if “my strength endures.” That knowledge heightens my senses to the beauty of the dandelions scattered across the field and the occasional bluebonnet that has found a home at this old house here by the road.

A voice says, “Cry out.”

And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass,

and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.

The grass withers and the flowers fall,

because the breath of the Lord blows on them.

Surely the people are grass.

The grass withers and the flowers fall,

but the word of our God endures forever.”