Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Debatable Politics

Thankfully last Monday I was at a meeting and was not subjected to the presidential debate on television. I did get to see the highlights (or maybe lowlights) of the debate for days following it as the pundits went over ever insult and accusation in minute, excruciating detail. As I watched the debate I had the same thought I have had all election season. Are these candidates really the best we can do?

The answer, sadly enough, is I am not sure, but these are the only two choices at this time. Please understand that if either one of these candidates are the one you chose and backed, good for you. Just because I disapprove of the candidates does not mean they are terrible choices. We live in a democracy and the winner is the one who can draw the majority of the support from those who exercise their right to vote.

However, as I watched the news clips of the debate and as I watch the news coming out of each of the campaigns it is apparent that both candidates are deeply flawed. I know, probably all of our presidential candidates over the years have been deeply flawed individuals, but I have never noticed it to the extent I am noticing it this year. Maybe I am older and more cynical but I think more likely something has happened in our society and our political system to surface candidates willing to say or do anything to get elected.

What has happened to us? I wish I had the answer, then we might be able to work toward fixing the problem. I am sure there is someone out there who does have a better handle on the situation and more of an answer than I do, we need to find that person. This election magnifies the need for a change in the mindset of all of us as United States citizens.

Am I saying there are no good, normal people involved in government. Absolutely not, I have the opportunity and privilege to interact with many elected officials at all levels and there are many, many good people who are there for the right reason and try to do the right thing. However, I am worried that we are making it more difficult for those who are civically minded to become involved.

I do think the tide can be changed but it is going to take an effort from all of us to do it. We do still live in a democracy and I do believe that a majority of the people can affect change. Here is the catch, we actually have to get involved and work to make those changes. We can’t sit back and watch the news and lament about how bad things are, real change takes hard work. We have to roll up our sleeves and dig in.

That is where the problem is. Too many of us (myself included) are too busy in keeping up with our everyday lives to add another thing to the list. We work hard only to come home to evenings of even more activities. In short, most of us suffer from self-induced exhaustion. We do not have time to be involved with government at any level.

I completely understand, I feel the same way myself. It seems easy to ignore what is going on in our government. It is easy to forget until it effects your everyday life and then we wake up. Then we do what we are doing now and wonder out loud how we got to this place. I don’t know about you but this is a place I don’t want to be.

Does this mean that all is lost and we are in a hopeless situation? The answer is a resounding no. We still live in the greatest nation on earth with more freedoms and opportunities than anywhere else in the world. Maintaining those freedoms and opportunities takes work and they cannot be neglected, part of the cost of living in a democracy is being involved at some level.

What do we do for the rest of this election cycle? Take the time to watch the debates, learn more about the candidates and vote for the one that best matches your viewpoints. I know this may be painful and we must also be thinking about the next election cycle and make sure that we surface and support the best candidates. We cannot sit idly by and let it play out on its own.

It is time for all of us to take ownership of our government and exercise the right we have been given to have a say in the direction we are going. I believe that we do have the best form of governance ever created and that we will right the ship. I also believe it is high time that each of us roll our sleeves up and get involved. I know it won’t be easy but it is the right thing to do.

A Watched Crop Never Harvests

There are many ways people describe things happening slowly. We have all heard that waiting for something is like watching paint dry, grass to grow or water to boil. Expressions like; “a watched pot will never boil” describe how hard it is to wait for something. I have a new one to add to that, “it’s like watching the corn get dry enough to harvest” or “a watched field never dries down”.

I admit that I get a little anxious this time of the year as I watch the crops mature. Surely I am not the only one, in fact, I would bet this is a common malady amongst those of us who have a cropping affliction. Probably every road past a maturing corn field has a couple of ruts worn into the road from the farmer driving past once a (or even twice) day.

This time honored ritual of worrying the moisture out of the corn usually starts as soon as the pollination process is done. Soon we start pulling ears to see how they filled out, then we start watching as the kernels dent, the black line starts to appear and finally the leaves start to die. All of this is watched like it would not happen if we were not there to watch it.

The worst part of the wait is the final stretch as we watch the last of the green leaves turn brown. That is when the telltale signs start to appear. Are the ears turned down? Have the tops broken out of the plant? The ruts deepen along the fields as we look for the signs, any signs that harvest is almost here. I am pretty sure farmers this time of the year are worse than a five-year-old at five o’clock Christmas morning.

That brings us to where we are now. Harvest has been delayed by all of the rain we have received the past couple of weeks and that makes the waiting even worse. I stand by my statement that I will never complain about rain because as soon as you do, it will go away. However, a little dry weather right now and for the next 45 days or so would be greatly appreciated.  In any case, the rain and associated humidity have not helped in the drying down of the corn crop.

The combine and trucks sit serviced and ready to pounce, but only when the time is right. Yesterday we took the first of what will be many coffee cans of corn to town. I joke every year that we are going to bring the crop to town, one coffee can at a time. This annual ritual starts the same way every year.

The first sample is hand shelled off of three or four carefully selected ears. As Dad and I shell them, he usually predicts the moisture by how it shells off the ear and how spongy the cob is. Most of the time we would not really have to take the grain in because he has accurately predicted that it is too wet. Next is the sample we cut with the combine and Dad again accurately predicts it is too wet by sticking his hand in the sample.

Finally, several days to a week after the first hand shelled sample, we nervously cut the first full load and take it to town. Often it is right on the border of acceptable and the following loads are nervously filled with a hand on the phone to stop the combine at a moment’s notice. That will be especially true this year with the below sea level prices and the fact that even the smallest of discounts will eat a rather large portion out of the final check.

It’s funny how this happens each year and we know it is going to happen each year and no matter how hard we try to be patient we can’t be. I guess there is too much riding on the crop and it is better than Christmas presents once you get to be an adult. Much like Christmas presents to a five-year-old, some of the fields are like getting that bb gun and some are like getting a package of underwear. It is exciting and you do want to get the work done before anything can happen to the crop. I am not sure whether it is the air coming off of the truck driving by the field or the fact the corn plants know they are being watched that causes it to dry down. Whether you are in grade school or a grizzled veteran farmer, waiting is hard. Now, is you will excuse me, I have some drive by crop watching to do.

Conall Addison, A Life Well Lived

The world lost a great man this past weekend. No, you didn’t hear about it on any of the national news shows or probably any local news casts, but you should have. Conall Addison spent a lifetime mentoring, teaching and encouraging 4-Hers to live up to the motto of making the best better. More importantly he spent his whole life living that very moto. I can’t imagine how many thousands of youth and adults he impacted over his lifetime spent as a public servant.

I was blessed to get to know Conall as a co-worker and mentor. In my early years as an Extension Agent, Conall was one of the more veteran agents that I looked up too and hoped that I could be some day. He was one of those great educators who knew exactly what to do in every situation. He handled everything with an ease and a presence that a rookie like me could only marvel at.

Conall had a bigger than life personality that filled every space he entered. If his infectious smile and hearty laugh didn’t make your day better, well, I am not sure what could have. He had a big, booming voice that matched his personality perfectly and drew you into him. However, the thing I will remember the most is his laugh, you had to experience it to understand. He was someone you wanted to be around and to learn from. Conall Addison was a true leader.

I think what I will remember the most about Conall and what I was the most in awe of was the way he encouraged everyone around him. Many times I saw him greet one of his 4-Hers (and it could have been one from 20 years ago, but once you were one of Conall’s 4-Hers, you were always Conall’s 4-Her) and instantly give them a pep talk that was just right for the situation. You left Conall, inspired, encouraged and ready for life.

Even those of us who were not his 4-Hers could count on a warm handshake and a greeting that would make you feel good. I would hate to think about all of the fairs Conall judged, especially the rabbit shows. Just as in everything else, he would make the 4-Hers he was judging feel as if they were the most important people at that time and in that place. He could do that because they were the most important people too him at that very moment. That is a special talent that not very many people have.

After I saw the news, I wondered just how many lives he had impacted. Thousands I am absolutely sure benefitted from his life’s work. I am equally as sure that he would be overly humble and not want any credit. However, his legacy in the realm of 4-H and youth development speaks much more. We need more Conall Addisons in this world. People who work their entire lives making a positive difference in the world around them.

Conall’s life was the definition of a life well spent, a person who made a difference in everything he did. I am not sure how we will have a sheep show at the Kansas Junior Livestock Show without Conall announcing it. He had such a knack for getting the names of every exhibitor and their hometowns right. And there was that matter of including updates on the K-State football score as the afternoon rolled along.

It had been too long since I had seen Conall. Probably at last year’s KJLS, maybe longer than that. In any case it was much too long especially now as I hear the news of his passing. He was a great man who touched my life and made it better in the relatively short amount of time I spent with him. I must say I have a twinge of jealousy for those who had him as an Extension Agent.

This world is a pretty crazy, mixed up place these days with a lot of bad news around every corner. Too often we do not celebrate all that is right and people that are good. Conall Addison was one of the good guys in this world, one who made a difference and that should be celebrated. Conall Addison was the type of person we should all inspire to be.

I am sure Conall would not want us to be sad at his passing and would encourage us to carry on the things that he started. In his honor we should make those around us feel special, focus on the positive things and pass along a joy for life. Above all else we should honor Conall with a deep, hearty, life affirming laugh and appreciate all that is good around you. Conall Addison might not be with us physically but his legacy will live on forever through the many lives he touched.


Last Saturday I had the privilege of speaking to the Leavenworth County Beef Improvement Association. I love speaking to ag groups, for two reasons. Usually the meal is really, really good, especially with beef groups. However, most importantly, I really enjoy meeting with fellow farmers and ranchers and sharing ideas and stories. This speaking engagement had been on my calendar for months and I was really excited to be a part of their county meeting.

Tom, the president, was tremendously organized and checked with me a couple of times before the meeting. He told me it would be held at Rocky Top Farms and gave me the address. Most importantly he gave me his cell phone number and said if I had any problems I could give him a call at any time. I plugged the address in the navigation system in my phone knowing that I could call him as a safety net.

That morning Tatum was supposed to help with an event for her softball team. It was rainy and the windshield wipers on our good car worked better than her car so she took it instead. About mid-morning she asked if she could go to the high school volleyball tournament with some friends. About mid-afternoon it occurred to me that she was not going to make it home by the time I needed to leave. That meant I would be driving the pickup to the meeting. Not a big problem but not the most economical way to go either. I kicked myself for my lack of planning.

I left home right on time or maybe even a touch early, quite an accomplishment for me. I felt confident, my “smart” phone had the address plugged in and the nice soothing voice was telling me where to go. I ambled my way down the road in the pickup practicing my talk as I drove (I am sure everyone who met me wondered what the crazy guy in the pickup was talking to himself about). The trip was progressing just like I had planned and I would arrive right on time.

I enjoyed the scenery as I drew nearer and nearer. The buttery soft voice of my smart phone interrupting my observation of the countryside. I turned right, then another right with my destination just a couple of miles away. That is when I noticed the gravel road turning into a two track gravel road with grass growing in between the tracks. Suddenly the road turned into a dirt road with an ominous sign reading “Road may be Flooded”. Maybe driving the pickup was the right idea. I never had to put it in four-wheel drive, but it was close. That was when the annoying voice on my phone squawked to me that I had arrived.

It was an open pasture with no houses, barns or people in sight. I phoned Tom and got his voice mail. I very calmly explained my situation and asked that he call me back. Either my “smart” phone was wrong or this was a prank. I calmly told the navigator it was wrong and plugged the address back in. What do you know, this time it gave me a new set of directions that had me backtracking? This time the roads were all respectable blacktop and gravel and the road name was even right but once again I was led to open pasture. I once again called Tom and once again got his voicemail. I was now fifteen minutes late.

I continued to wonder around and call Tom. Soon I was forty-five minutes late, running low on cell phone battery and had almost no signal. Out of desperation I Googled Rocky Top Farms, limousine and got nothing but car services. Then in a flash of brilliance I looked up the Kansas Limousine breeders web page and found Rocky Top Farms listed. On my phone the print was really small and I really wished I had brought my glasses so I jabbed at the screen with my finger and a 913 number suddenly popped up.

The phone rang several times and I had just about given up when the most soothing, calming voice I had ever heard answered the phone. I am sure I sounded like I had been lost in the wilderness for several months. I tried to give landmarks or road names to help. Karen guided me onto the right road and soon I had arrived at the meeting just on time to catch my breath and give my talk. I also found out that the meeting was in a metal building and the cell phone signal was not the strongest, therefore Tom did not get my many, many calls. In the end, all ended up good and once again I learned the lesson that phones are not smart and maybe I ought to carry a map.