Prairie Ramblings

Saturday afternoons, 2:30 central during Silver Rails

A sixth generation Kansan, Karen Madorin cherishes the prairie in a way only one who has left a beloved homeland and returned can.  A writer, amateur photographer, and teacher, Karen loves finding fossils from the ancient inland seas  as well as  learning about  modern  pioneers who harvest Kansas wind. Each week Prairie Ramblings takes you inside everyday life.  It is a celebration of living the good life on the high plains.

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Seeing photos of my granddaughter’s visit to a pumpkin patch reminds me why these seasonal venues draw visitors from miles around.  Walking among vines to eyeball and then pick and carry home these great orange globes connects people to the soil that grew that particular squash and to the sun and rain that nurtured it. It’s like holding an electrical wire and getting the full buzz, only without the shock and spasms.

Autumn Uglies

Nov 1, 2013
beyondthefieldsweknow.org

Those of us who share our country homes with wildlife love spring time when we see the babies.  Nothing is cuter or sweeter than a newborn fawn unless it is six or seven baby raccoons following mom to the creek.  On the other hand, nothing is funnier looking and yet more charming than a flock of recently feathered turkey poults trying to catch grasshoppers as they follow their mother through tall grass.

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The palette of autumn colors in western Kansas dazzles me every year.  I know many folks think foliage tours in eastern states reveal the best seasonal color, but I wish they would drive across the prairie with me.  The colors may not be quite so obvious as the hardwood forests in the East, but anyone with a good eye can enjoy our fall hues.

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Normally, I avoid sequels.  I don’t want to know what happened after Rhett left Scarlet standing in the door with his famous line echoing in her mind.  I definitely didn’t want to see Rocky triumph more than once.  However, I must write a part two to the hedge apple saga.  If I don’t, that tale’s audience may enter the next bug cycle with unfounded hope.

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“Hedge apples, direct to you!” An Internet site suggests that placing these objects “around the foundation or inside the basement provide relief from cockroaches, spiders, box elder bugs, crickets, and other pests.” Hedge apples. Aren’t they ugly fruits that look like a green brain? In fact, green brain is another term for this wild pod along with the terms Osage orange, hedge balls, monkey balls, and horse apples.

A Weekend to Remember

Sep 27, 2013
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 Last week’s gusting winds did more than catch  arms and legs  in slamming doors, blow hair in directions it’s not intended to go, and make me tilt at a 60 degree angle in order to prevent joining a bazillion tumble weeds traveling hither and yon.  It set my nerves on fire and prepared me to enjoy a perfect weekend.

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  Folk wisdom, especially weather-related folk wisdom, captured my attention when I first learned the saying, “Red sky at night—a sailor’s delight and red sky at morning—a sailor’s warning,” from my grandmother. I’ve tried to determine whether or not her wise words consistently ring true over the decades, but so far--no verdict.

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  When I left home to attend a five week National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Teacher Seminar, my husband devoutly promised he’d water my flowers.  By the time I left, velvety purple petunias, coral moss rose, and vibrant snapdragons already showed heat distress.

While in North Dakota, I kept track of western Kansas weather through phone calls and monitoring the Hays Daily News.  Though some rain fell, I knew the only way my flowers would survive was through regularly hosings. 

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From the time I toddled until I finished 3rd grade, I called oil boomtowns dotting Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico home. During those years my family lived in this stark and beautiful region, my dad would bring me bits of petrified dinosaur skeleton he found near rig locations where he worked. These bones-turned-stones gripped my imagination until I added a dinosaur tooth and a dinosaur coprolite or fossilized doo to my rock collection.

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As a youngster riding down Highway 50, I never questioned how this piece of asphalt connected me to the past of either Kansas or our nation. It was a boring ride that didn’t have interesting scenery unless we happened to drive through a storm with writhing clouds or pass through at sunrise or sunset.

Gifted Armadillos

Aug 23, 2013
superanimalwallpaper.blogspot.com

Sometimes you look at a creature and wonder how it evolved into the beast it is. The kangaroo and platypus come to mind, but they’re Australian, and who can account for animal adaptations down under? The critter I’m most curious about is one I see squashed all too often on the Texas and Oklahoma Interstates--the armadillo. Not long ago, I spied an immigrant armadillo flattened on I-70 in Trego County.

Die Fly!

Aug 16, 2013
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If curses and death wishes worked, a fly couldn’t survive, let alone buzz in anyone’s ear or crawl on their flesh, near my house. In the last two weeks, I’ve thought or said, “Die fly,” at least a 10,000 times. Unfortunately, wishing these creepy crawlers into the afterworld has had absolutely no effect. It’s time for an attack plan.

A few years ago, we replaced the windows in our house. I expected dust, noise, flies, and suffering through hundred degree plus July days, but I didn’t expect an Oscar quality actor to make an appearance. One thing about living in the country, something unexpected always happens. Because of our remodeling project, I faced one of my most dreaded fears—a snake in the kitchen.  

Over decades, my students have written many essays detailing results of getting between young animals and their mommas. Mothers aren’t only tender. They’re tough when necessary, and one look at a momma cow with her calf clearly states you don’t want to mess with her baby. Years ago, a family of fledgling wrens reminded me how moms fuss over their babies and that I should stay out of their business.

We’ve raised chickens most of our marriage, so that’s thirty years of learning to understand feathered, cackling females. I can confirm this species is messy, noisy, piggish, and sometimes mean –which explains the term henpecked. They’re also dense and run like gawky, miniature Tyrannosaurs. Despite their character flaws, I love my girls. However, one of them has confused me.

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The London Blitz involved nine months of German bomber-induced devastation that drove people who lived there into a state of constant awareness regarding the location of the nearest bomb shelter. While the banks of Big Creek won’t echo with the drone of mechanical motors and sound of carpet bombs exploding one right after another, one locale faces a dive bombing hawk intent on scoring a fresh chicken dinner.

Dingle Images

Somewhere I saw this quote, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” I agree and add you’ll meet interesting creatures along the way. Sometimes those new acquaintances look like something from an intergalactic space bar.

If you’ve ever closely examined vintage Ellis photos, you know the town had even more big trees shading yards, parks, and walkways than exist today. Seeing old pictures made me think about trees growing around town. Fortunately, I didn’t have to look long before I found a history of local tree culture.

Art on the Move

Jun 28, 2013

Frequently, I see ornate box turtles crossing a country road or highway. Because I like this home-carrying little reptile, I dodge these little speed bumps. While seeing them slowly lumber across the road triggers a smile, I hadn’t thought much about these Kansas state reptiles until recently.

This summer, I’ve been waking up early to enjoy the cool morning air as I water, weed, and pick veggies. A bonus of rising with the sun is meeting some of my yard neighbors that hide during the heat of the day.

Nobody told me when I married a game warden that a pelican would take up temporary residence in my children’s wading pool. Nor did I realize my two tiny daughters and I would spend a couple of days throwing our hooks and lines off a bridge over Big Creek trying to catch enough fish to satisfy that visitor’s insatiable appetite. On the other hand, that eating machine never expected to vacation at our house either.

Fawn Nurseries

Jun 7, 2013

Years ago our family tent-camped at Slough Creek Camp Ground, a primitive site at the north end of Yellowstone National Park where wildlife is abundant and close. That particular summer, the area’s fawn population had exploded. Does led babies to the stream bank directly across from our tent. While my husband fished, transfixed little girls and I watched the tiny creatures scamper and nurse while their mommas browsed and occasionally cleaned a baby. This is my fondest memory of camping with small children.

No Place for Sissies

May 30, 2013

We invited a French exchange student to share our lives for six weeks one summer. Her first question after she deposited her luggage in the bedroom was, “Do you have tornadoes here?”

As a self-appointed foodie, I often watch Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives for cooking inspiration. Guy Fieri’s success at seeking eateries with reputations for amazing fare motivates me to look for excellent dining on road trips. Because of my research, I have a list of favorite restaurants. However, none of these culinary institutions matches the quality or flavor of my all-time preferred place to eat, Grandma Lottie’s kitchen.

First Hunt

Apr 25, 2013

Parents mark children’s lives by firsts:  tooth, word, step, and day of school.  As youngsters mature, these memorable moments come further apart.   However, for a youngster who hunts, this list continues to grow.  If my husband and his friends’ experiences are any indication,  this record not only lengthens but  is infinite.  Hunters live for their stories, which always include a first. Perhaps this is a hunter’s way to cling to childhood’s elusive magic.

How many remember dancing in a circle while weaving long ribbons around a May Pole or making construction paper baskets covered with crayon drawings? Afterwards, flowers picked from the yard or a kind neighbor’s garden filled those paper baskets. Once you loaded your baskets with fragrant blooms, you sneaked from door to door to hang your homemade containers. At each house, you’d knock and then run like crazy to avoid detection. May Day was one of my favorite holidays from earliest childhood.

When I think of Great Plains birds I usually think of meadowlarks, hawks, and crows.  In this dry country, I don’t think of water birds with their long legs and necks as typical.  Yet these herons have made the plains home longer than European immigrants have.  Their limbs have adapted for wading our shallow creeks and rivers, and their bills make perfect spears to impale unwary fish and frogs.

Trophy Dust Bunnies

Jan 31, 2013

Athletes compete to make the play-offs.  If effort and luck shine on coaches, managers, players, owners, and fans, two franchises make it to games such as the Superbowl, World Series, Stanley Cup or other legendary competitions.  Olympians dedicate four years to earn those few seconds or minutes they have to claim gold. Hunters spend seasons seeking the biggest buck, bull elk, caribou or other record setting trophy to decorate the family room.  After a week of packing a house we lived in for 16 years, I have decided homemakers need their own prize.

I swore I would never be a woman who lived her life behind a camera lens.  I wanted to live in the moment, experiencing life as it occurred. 

I achieved this goal until I received a Nikon that captures moments up close and from considerable distance with clicks of a silver button.  Using that telescopic lens, I could see fine details my unaided eye used to see as blurs.

For the Love of Wildness

Jan 10, 2013

A while back, I read a book titled For Love of Wildness by retired Game Warden Terry Grosz.  I wish I’d found it earlier in my marriage to help me understand my husband’s love for his work.  This time of year, I always needed a good reminder of why he chose his profession and why he devoted so much time and energy that wasn’t always appreciated.

Discarded Christmas Trees

Jan 4, 2013

Driving around local communities in January, one is sure to spot the Christmas tree mulch site.   Some of the trees tossed willy-nilly inside bright orange snow-fence sport strands of tinsel, all that remains of their holiday décor.  These annual tugs at my heartstrings should not surprise me since discarded Christmas trees never fail to trigger a sad moment.

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