Monday, July 25, 2016

Peace and County Fairs

The other night I was returning home late from a meeting and I was driving down main street of my home town and I noticed a young person (probably late teens maybe early twenties) walking down the street with his phone held up in front of his face. It seemed like kind of an odd thing to be doing so I quizzed the teenagers in my household about it.
It seems as though there is this game called Pokemon Go where you wander around places watching through the camera on your phone waiting for different characters to pop up. I really do not understand this game, nor do I want to understand it. I guess I have reached “old geezer” status. But it did leave me with a couple of thoughts. First, I guess at least they have to be outside and exercise a little bit. Second, how sad it is that the only way to get some kids (and adults) off of the couch is with some game on their phone.
I also think it is another disturbing sign of how our society has become more and more dependent on our cell phones. I have heard the addiction to your cell phone is somewhere close to addiction to drugs and I would believe it. I am example A for this. Often I find the urge to check my phone overpowering and often I allow it to divert too much of my attention.
Recently, we have seen news stories and incidents where cell phone video has sparked protests and created controversy. We are too quick to judge people and their actions based only on a few seconds of video versus waiting for the entire story to be told. All of this rush to judgment (on either side) has serious repercussions. It adds to our stress and allows us to become bogged down with worry.
I don’t know about you but I really crave a break from the current news cycle and I want a reminder of all that is right in this world because I still believe there is a lot that is good and right. Thank goodness it is county fair time. If you want a snap shot of how the world should be go to your local county fair and look around. Often it reminds me of a time before we had all of this technology at our finger tips and maybe the world was a simpler, less stressful place.
Often I like to just sit in the bleachers or on a bench at the county fair and just watch what is going on around me. You will see neighbors and old friends engaging in conversations and catching up on what has happened since the last county fair. It is a place where kids play and meet new friends, many times the old friends catching up nearby started out as those kids playing at that very same county fair.
It is a place that will renew your faith in the next generation. You can see the hard work and skills they have acquired over the past year on display through the projects that line the barns and exhibit buildings. If you want to know more about what they have learned or how passionate they are about their projects, just ask them and you will be amazed at the answers you get in return. This is where our future community leaders are being trained.
I love the sights, smells and sounds of a county fair. Oh sure, the advances in technology have come to the county fair too. I know our fair and many others tout free wifi for those of us sufficiently addicted to our phones. At first I lamented the addition of an on ramp to the internet, but maybe it isn’t all that bad.
Remember, my earlier lament about all of the negative video on the internet. All of that footage of all of the bad things that happen in our world, coming to us in real time. Maybe we could try to reverse this trend of negativity by sharing some of the good things and wholesomeness of our local, small town county fairs. Show the kids playing, old friends talking and the youth displaying what they have learned. Let’s bombard the internet with good things.
No, on second thought, let’s just enjoy the moment without worrying about our phone or recording every second and truly start living. Make it a point to spend time at your county fair, take it all in and remember just how good life can be, I promise it will soothe your soul. And if you need a game to get you there it is OK, I suppose. Just remember to look away from the screen every once in a while and watch where you step.

Cattle Drive

We rotated cows to a fresh pasture today. Moving cows used to stress me out but I have learned to relax over the years. OK, my family would probably tell you that I still get pretty cranked up about moving them and the worst case scenarios go through my head each time I open the gate and let them out into the road. However, the cows at my place have generally been here for several seasons and they have a better idea of what is going on than I do. In other words, my cattle drives usually work in spite of all my worrying and planning.
Today was no exception. Isaac was on his horse, Dad was riding his atv and I was piloting the good old, loud feed truck with alfalfa on the back. Truth be told, the move could probably be made with just the old, loud feed truck, I am not even certain we need the alfalfa for anything more than to make the old cows bunch up at the gate and wait for the calves. Isaac does a good job of convincing the calves that it is a good idea to keep pace with the cows.
We hold the cows back at the gate because once they hit the road there is no turning back and the calves are often not smart enough to figure out that the gate is open if they don’t see their mama go through it. Today, the cows were relatively close to the gate and soon followed me. I waited patiently while Isaac and his horse pushed the calves down and Dad ran up to a high spot to make sure we didn’t have any stragglers.
Once I saw Isaac I let go of my grip on the bales (experience tells me the cows will drag them off and then you have grid-lock) and started moving. Sure enough once the old cows hit the road they started the mile jog toward fresh pasture. Like a Nascar driver starting at the back of the field I weaved my way up through the herd but only managed to make it half way before the finish line was in sight.
The cows were picking up momentum, I started to worry that they were going to go right on past the gate and began to formulate plan B in my head. However, as they came up even with the gate each cow made a hard right and went into the gate. I made it to the gate ahead of most of the calves and turned them into the pasture. That is when I noticed my two compadres bringing up the rear were not in sight.
Just as I started to worry they popped up over the hill each of them on either side of Lucky, the cow. Lucky was taking her own sweet time, eying the green grass on either side of the road. Lucky is the former 2007 Pottawatomie County Bucket Calf Champion and famous in her own beany little brain.
Her life started out tragically. We found her standing over her dead mother one February morning and she came to live with us. Tatum named her Lucky and she was the kid’s first cow. Lucky was the daughter of a first calf heifer who died giving birth to her so we were not sure if she would be a good mother. There must be a fair amount of instinct involved with mothering because she is an excellent mother and raises a nice calf each year.
Lucky isn’t much to look at, she is pretty narrow and way too thin. Each year we wonder if she is bred and luckily enough (for her) she is and often is one of the first to calve. She walks with a noticeable limp. Two or three different times she has come up lame on the same back foot. The first time she was caught in wire and cut the foot up pretty bad. It was right before calving and we thought for sure she would lose the calf. Nope, in true Lucky fashion she calved, raised a respectable calf and bred back on time all while looking like death warmed over. Each year we debate on culling old Lucky and each year she escapes that long trailer ride by, well, being lucky.
I have come to expect her to be the last one out into the road when we drive the cows. We overlook her bony appearance and we tolerate her slow limping gate. Why? Is it because she is a good old cow who keeps producing each year. Maybe, but I truly suspect it is because she has a name and a story and everyone knows that cows like that never die. They just limp on to greener pastures.

Celebrating the 4th

Once again I am a week off with my column. I guess it all goes along with the day late a dollar short. A day late I will buy but I am way more than a dollar short. In any case, I missed getting this column written before the July 4 holiday, but even as the smoke from the fireworks settles and all of the dogs are just coming out of hiding, I want to share my thoughts on our celebration of Independence Day.
July 4 is one of my favorite holidays for two reasons. First, I am a native of Wamego and we do the 4th in a big way. The parade and fireworks are the highlight of the summer. If you don’t know what I am talking about, you need to come to Wamego for the 4th of July and experience it. Words cannot describe the experience. I also think the 4th is special because it is a standalone holiday. We are a long way from the nearest holiday on either side of the 4th and that makes it special too.
However, we also need to make the 4th special because of what it stands for. It is the day we celebrate our beginning as a nation. From a fledgling colony that rebelled in a wilderness to the greatest nation our world has ever known, what we as a nation have done is quite remarkable. We should be proud of all that we are, all that we have done and (I hope) all that we will do.
A lot of great men and women have sacrificed so much for what we have. We have the highest standard of living, the most freedoms and the greatest rights of any nation at any time on earth. That is something that should not be taken lightly or for granted. We, as citizens of the United States, have more opportunities and possibilities than any other human on earth and we should be so thankful that we were lucky enough to be a citizen of this great nation.
Yes, I know there are many things going on that make us wonder. We see and hear bad news every day and it seems like maybe things are not so good. I do think we are at a cross road in this great nation, a time where we must take a hard look at ourselves. Have we become complacent, have we matured to the point that we have lost our edge and that we take what we have for granted? I hope not.
We are facing one of the most important elections we have ever seen. Yes, I am sure there were other times in our history that we faced hard times, tough decisions just like we are now. We came through those times stronger and tougher and I hope that is the outcome of this election. I am not endorsing any candidate, calling for any change, that is for each of us to decide and vote for what we think is best. What I am saying is that we must each get involved, become informed and make a decision. Recent voter turnout is pitiful, less than half of the citizens of this country exercise the right to vote.
A heavy price has been paid for the rights and freedoms we celebrate each 4th of July and I am quite sure many people take them for granted. We are not a nation of entitlement and handouts, but many of us fall into that trap and the result is not good for our long term health as a nation. Rather, when we are at our best, we are a nation of hard work, innovation and determination. We are leaders of industry and on the cutting edge of technology.
We are not a people ruled by a government but a government ruled by the people. We should not look to our government to guide us through trouble, we should guide our government. Our government was set up to provide protection and infrastructure to allow each one of us the freedom to become successful. Success is not a right, it is something we must earn. That is what we should be celebrating this 4th of July. We should be celebrating a nation where each person decides their own path and is in control of their own success. That is what makes us great.
I cannot wait for the parade and the fireworks. Both serve as a great reminder of just how good we have it here in the United States. We do live in the greatest nation on earth and that is something we should celebrate each day. I believe that we will continue to be the greatest nation on earth as long as we never forget the sacrifices and hard work this nation is built upon and continue to sacrifice and work hard to keep it that way.

Understanding Chinese

This past week I had the opportunity to do something I had never done before. I had supper with the Chinese Grain Sorghum Trade Team. They were touring the United States looking at various parts of the Grain Sorghum supply chain and a couple of those days were to be spent in Kansas. I got an invite to help represent Kansas Farm Bureau. I had no idea what to expect.
The evening started with each of us determining where we would sit. It was suggested that we break ourselves up a bit and intermingle with our guests. I found myself seated across from the leader of the delegation and next to a grain buyer. The leader spoke very good English and the grain buyer spoke none. I have to admit that I was nervous, I wanted to say the right things and help sell more U.S. grain sorghum.
We introduced ourselves and started to make small talk while we were waiting for the waiter to come around. I tried my best to generate discussion, I had trouble hearing the leader, he was soft spoken and the room was loud. That added to my anxiety because I wanted to make sure I said and did the right things. Somehow in my mind I was afraid of starting an international incident solely because I didn’t hear something right. I strained intently to listen to every word.
My two new friends also conversed among themselves and I really wondered what they were saying. I suppose it was pretty mundane stuff but the truth was I did not know. Soon we were talking about agriculture and crops and I started to relax and enjoy the conversation. The grain buyer’s questions were mainly about my cost of production and what I thought the weather would be like this summer. It hit me that he wanted to know what our crop conditions, he was doing his job and trying to understand what our supply of grain sorghum would be like this year.
The cost of production was pretty simple. However, trying to predict the weather for the upcoming growing season and explaining the ups and downs of Kansas weather is difficult if you speak the same language, let alone through a translator. I am still not sure my answers satisfied him, he kept pressing me for more details about the weather. I think he thought I was holding out on him when I gave wishy washy answers about rain and heat. I would guess my answers will be reinforced by fellow farmers over the coming weeks. Kansas summer weather is unpredictable no matter what language you use.
Then I started to watch our guests and I realized I could have been watching a group of people from anywhere. I didn’t understand what I was hearing but I did understand what I was seeing. I watched as they picked on one another and joked around. The gentleman across from me explained that the ladies in the group were threatening a boycott on the tour Sunday so they could spend time shopping at a mall. They continued to needle him throughout the meal and if I was a betting man, I would guess that they will be wandering the shops instead of fields on Sunday afternoon.
He also explained that they were blaming him for any of the problems on the trip. More than once he said that they were telling us if anything went wrong it was his fault. This all seemed to be in very good humor and there was a lot of laughing and jostling at our table. I noticed similar activity at the other table too. It certainly reinforced the idea that no matter what our background or nationality that people are just people.
The evening soon began to wind down. Our guests were eleven hours behind their normal schedule and jet lag had to be setting in. I also noticed, no matter what our nationality that everyone of us kept checking our mobile devices. Addiction knows no boundaries. When everything was said and done I drew three thoughts from this dinner.
 First, I wish I had paid more attention in school about China and especially the geography. It would have kept me from asking what I am sure were dumb questions. Second, these are our customers and we must listen to them and carry on a dialogue. They need us and we need them. Finally, we are more similar than different. Our viewpoints and objectives maybe different but at the core we are members of the human race. Each of us are trying to live our lives, we have careers, families and friends and lives that influence our actions. I am not sure what our guests from China came away with, but I know I have a whole new perspective on our trading partners on the other side of the globe.

It Won't Rain (wink, wink)

, we went from the rainy season right into the broiler. You have to love one hundred degrees and high humidity after a prolonged period of rain. Then you get oppressive heat, smothering humidity and mosquitos. There is nothing better than sweating and slapping while working outdoors. Misery loves company.
I must admit that I am afraid that we might be in a drought or at least a pro-longed dry spell. All the signs seem to be pointing toward that conclusion. This week the weatherman forecast a couple days of rain followed by cooler temperatures for the end of the week. As the first of the week approached the rain chances got slimmer and the temperatures got hotter. The weatherman misses rain often but they are usually right about cold fronts. In my expert opinion, that combination is not a good one, unless you are putting up hay.
Dad and I finished planting last week and we were surprised at just how dry the ground had gotten in just a couple of weeks. We were kind of counting on the rain. I suppose that was our first mistake. One should never count on anything as far as weather goes in Kansas.  However, the beans do seem to be coming up fairly well in spite of the conditions.
Back to the impending drought because as we all know, in Kansas we are either in the middle of an impending drought or flooding. Dad and I finished planting and went right into baling brome hay. Even though the forecast called for rain, we decided to mow hay down anyway. After all we thought we could sacrifice a little hay to bring on a rain.
Monday morning dawned with a forty percent chance of scattered thunderstorms. I drove down to Dad’s to get started on mowing hay and on the way down I saw two turtles crossing the road. This was another sure sign it was going to rain. Turtles are never wrong. I also noticed that every bunch of cows I saw were huddled up in a corner, another can’t miss sign of impending precipitation.
There was even rain on the radar out in Western Kansas and it seemed to be moving our way. Dad and I hooked up to the mower, serviced it, changed blades and we were ready to put hay down. A quick check of the radar showed that the rain was quickly evaporating but the forecast promised it would redevelop in the afternoon or for sure by Tuesday. We decided we had to start mowing sometime and that might as well be now.
Dad mowed hay and I worked on the rake and watched the radar. Later that afternoon it became painfully obvious the rain had passed us by for the day. No worries, the best chance of rain was Tuesday anyway and we had really set ourselves up to get rained on. Isaac was scheduled for his freshmen orientation at Kansas State and parents were highly encouraged to attend. Dad would be on his own (something he would say is not all that unusual) so there was no hope of one of us raking while the other baled. If that wouldn’t bring on rain, I don’t know what would. Just for good measure we went ahead and hung clothes out on the line before we left.
Storms were supposed to start bubbling up that afternoon. Sure enough about four o’clock little green dots started turning into green and orange. Maybe all this planning was going to work and our soybeans would get some much needed rain. I emerged from Isaac’s enrollment to see a darkening cloud pretty much over Manhattan. I called Dad and he had just finished raking and started baling, he also noted the rainy look off to the West. We both agreed that we would gladly sacrifice some hay for a little rain. That was probably our biggest mistake, never talk about your plans when it comes to rain.
That night I watched as the clouds built up and moved straight East, missing us by just a few miles. I heard reports that several places really close to us got a good rain. I have to admit that I experienced rain envy. After all we had done everything we could do to attract the rain and all of the signs pointed toward success. I mean how often do turtles and cows lie. In retrospect maybe I should have left the pickup windows down, but I don’t know what else I could have done. I guess we are in for a real dry spell, perfect haying weather, we might as well mow as much hay down as we can because there is no rain anywhere in the forecast. Nope, there is no way this hay will get wet, so I might as well get to mowing. Wink, wink!