Our Turn at this Earth

L. A. Huffman

When we were kids, my brother Bruce had a knack for finding arrowheads on the pasture hills surrounding our family’s farm. Once, he even found a point resting in the grass at the base of a neighbor’s light pole. I would drag sharp edges of against my palm and imagine braves racing bareback over our once unfenced pastures.

But despite the fact that these artifacts practically littered the ground beneath my feet, I grew up ignorant of Indian history. I didn’t know that many of the battles I’d seen on TV and at the movies, between cowboys, or cavalry, and Indians had taken place right in the Kansas-Colorado border region where we lived.

Our Turn At This Earth: In Search Of Live Water

Mar 8, 2018
Julene Bair

I once read a beautiful definition of a spring:  “a place where, without the agency of man, water flows from rock or soil.” That water can just appear in this way, often in a very dry place, has enchanted me ever since I was a young woman, traveling and camping in the Mojave Desert.

In those miraculous places where water trickled through cracks in granite or up from an otherwise dry creek bed, life sprang forth as magically as the water. Fish weaved through clear pools, casting shadows on sand or gravel bottoms. Birds darted among willow shrubs and cottonwoods. Bees buzzed. Butterflies flitted from flower to flower. Invariably, I found places in the lush grasses where deer or antelope had slept.

Our Turn At This Earth: Big Daddy

Mar 1, 2018
Courtesy/Julene Bair

When I farmed with my father in the mid-1980s, I often expressed my concern that the water we were withdrawing from the Ogallala Aquifer, to irrigate our crops, would one day run out. My father, who was one of those hardy old-timers—a grandson of pioneers—said, “Don’t worry. Big Daddy will put the plug in before it’s too late.” By “Big Daddy,” he meant the government.

Our Turn At This Earth: The Writing On The Wall

Feb 22, 2018
Susan O’Shea/susanoshea.files.wordpress.com

According to legends passed down from generation to generation among the Hopi Indians, humanity has occupied three previous worlds, each of which was destroyed because we failed to honor the instructions of our creator. I learned about this myth from a man named James, a Hopi farmer whose family I stayed with during a 1980s visit to Hotevilla, the most traditional Hopi village.

Our Turn At This Earth: As If No Tomorrow

Feb 15, 2018

When, as a young woman, I had the good fortune to stay for a few days in the home of a Hopi farming family, I saw many similarities between my host, James, and my own father. Both men had spent virtually every day of their lives outdoors, tilling soil and caring for crops. And they both did this in a dry place—in James’s case the northern Arizona desert, and in my father’s, the high, dry plains of western Kansas.

Calisphere/University of California

When I was a young woman, a friend who assisted the Hopi Indians with their causes invited me to join him on a visit to Hotevilla, the most traditional village on the Hopi Indian reservation. The Hopi descended from ancient Pueblo cultures that emerged in the desert Southwest around the 12th Century BC. They dwell in the region we now think of as northern Arizona. Their ability to stay in one place through the seasons, decades, and centuries rests on the domestication of corn on this continent seven thousand years ago.

Our Turn At This Earth: Full Speed Ahead

Feb 1, 2018

In the mid-1980s my father got a letter from the Kansas Water Office warning that, from then on, farmers who didn’t report their annual water use would be fined. This was long before our Groundwater Management District began requiring meters on irrigation wells, so we would have to extrapolate the amount of water we’d pumped that year from utility bills for the natural gas that powered our five well engines.

Colorado State University

In the mid-1980s, when I returned to western Kansas after a sixteen-year absence, I was shocked by the changes irrigation had brought to our once dry-land wheat farm. Many of the wheat fields and pastures of my childhood had been replaced by irrigated corn. The water that made this more lucrative, but very thirsty, crop possible came from the vast Ogallala Aquifer, which underlies western Kansas and portions of seven other states.

Our Turn At This Earth: Homecoming

Jan 18, 2018
Julene Bair

Those who, like myself, leave the places where they grew up at a young age almost always think they will never look back. But they almost always do. In my case, the inevitable look back began after I’d been living in San Francisco for eight years. Camping trips in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Mojave Desert reawakened me to the outdoor life I’d had as a child. In fact, I became downright nostalgic over my Kansas childhood.

Our Turn At This Earth: Cheater Bars And Self Reliance

Jan 11, 2018
Joe Angell

As a young girl, I resented the gender divisions on my family’s Kansas farm, where my brothers worked in the barn and fields and I was relegated to cooking, gardening and cleaning the house with my mom. Today I realize that all of our work contributed equally to our thriving in that place, but I grew up in a cultural climate that viewed women incapable of fixing a tractor, while to cook or sew threatened a man’s masculinity.

Our Turn At This Earth: In The Mojave's Mirror

Jan 4, 2018
Julene Bair

As a young woman, newly single after my marriage had ended, I bought a little one-bedroom Victorian in an unassuming, foggy San Francisco neighborhood. That house would be worth a fortune today. But I was young then. I didn’t think about my financial security in the distant future. I wanted to live my dream now. I sold the house a few years after I bought it for what I considered a tidy profit and moved to the Mojave Desert, to live alone in a rock cabin and teach myself to write.

Our Turn At This Earth: Descartes’ Legacy

Dec 28, 2017
Wikimedia Commons

In my late twenties, I became enchanted by the mountainous deserts of the West. Whenever I could get a little time off from my work as bookkeeper for a San Francisco accounting firm, I would load up my old Toyota Land Cruiser with food, tools, and a few clothes, fill the Jerry cans I’d mounted on the Cruiser with gas and water, and head for a place that looked intriguing on the many U. S. Geological Survey topo maps I’d collected.

Our Turn At This Earth: Primal Bonds

Dec 21, 2017
Public Domain

As a child on my family’s Kansas farm, I often whiled away entire mornings stalking a mother cat until she led me to her hidden litter of newborn kittens, or burrowing into my mother’s lilac bushes in pursuit of a baby cottontail. Of an afternoon, I might circle the pasture rattling a grain bucket until, in utter triumph, I managed to slip a rope around one of my horse’s necks, or I would sit in a low place in the farmyard where, after a recent rain, the earth had dried and shrunk into a jigsaw puzzle of thin, cracked clay.

Our Turn At This Earth: The Beauty Of Dry Places

Dec 15, 2017
CCO Creative Commons

As Plains farmers, my parents had to stay focused on very practical concerns. Our livelihood depended on carefully preparing the soil, then planting, nurturing and harvesting crops. But the impractical whims of the sky often interfered with my parents’ practical efforts. My ancestors had chosen a marginal and often ruthless climate in which to ply their weather-dependent trade.

Our Turn At This Earth: Wild Times

Dec 7, 2017
Julene Bair

May, 1968. I’m 18, too young to know what love is. This guy comes to my small western Kansas town driving a classic 1956 T-Bird. I decide to attend college in eastern Kansas rather than in Colorado as I’d planned, because that’s where the guy lives. By October he proposes, and in January we are wed. I drop out of school and off we go to San Francisco, where he has found a job as an audio engineer.

Our Turn At This Earth: Leaving Goodland

Nov 30, 2017
Ammodramus/Wikimedia Commons

My Kansas hometown was straightforwardly named for what surrounded it: good land. I grew up on some of that good, if somewhat hillier than prime, land, about fifteen miles beyond town as the crow flew, through sunny skies over sunlit plains, up toward the Colorado and Nebraska borders.

Our Turn At This Earth: Slow Migration

Nov 23, 2017
Julene Bair

They Came to Stay - that is the title of three big history volumes recording the stories of the first settlers of Sherman County, Kansas. I grew up basking in the pride of that phrase. Proof of my own family’s long past in Sherman County could be seen in the crumbled remains of the sod house where my mother’s older siblings had been born. In 1919 my grandfather built the big, broad, two-story farmhouse we lived in. Clearly, he believed that his family would stay on that land for generations to come. Why else go to all that effort?

Our Turn At This Earth: Plains Icons

Nov 16, 2017
Patrick Bolduan

Every few years, I obey the compulsion, as instinctive as a migratory bird’s, to return to the home nest. Last time I visited the northwest Kansas farm I grew up on, I parked my car by the pole that used to bring electricity to our house. The electricity it brought now kept a pivot sprinkler clocking through the ghost of the farmstead my mother’s family had settled in 1906. As usual, I walked down the rows of ankle-high corn, searching for artifacts I might recognize.

Our Turn At This Earth: An Introduction

Nov 9, 2017
CCO Creative Commons

“I grew up on the mild-green, short-tufted buffalo grass prairies of northwestern Kansas.” That is the first sentence in my first book, One Degree West. Not all people define themselves by their childhood past, but still today, if asked to explain who I am, I would begin there—on that western Kansas farm, under a broad sky on the dry sunlit plains, in a family who never had to question who we were, because we were directly connected to the source of our identity.