Thursday, May 14, 2015

Busy as a Beaver--More Busy as a Farm Kid



The beavers that dammed up our creek in the lower pasture must be desperate. It’s a small stream, lined with few trees, and--during the planting season--void of the bountiful crops that will fill out the fields in later months. Maybe this dam was built by outcasts from the colony downstream that produces more substantial structures.

To be honest, this dam looks like something my siblings, cousins, and I built back in our 1960s pasture roving days. We used mud, sticks, rocks, and preteen attitude to slow the creek enough to make a pond we could brag about. It was a bit murky--the cattle grazing upstream ignored us and swatted flies with their tails. Our dog Smoky watched us from the shade of a cottonwood tree as our attempts to dog paddle in the shallows turned into water fights and head dunking.

Shoddy dam or not, beavers are cool, so I took my grandsons to see the structure a few weeks ago. James is nearly six years old, and he ran around like Jim Bridger casing out the scene. Before long, he realized the beavers were either in their dens or they’d packed up and moved. The boys live in town, but the farm has been with the family for more than 165 years, and they visit on occasion. I showed them a faded beaver trail, some claw marks, and a gnawed-off sapling. James climbed a small tree and his two-year-old brother, Callan, kept running toward the bank as he if might attempt a six-foot dive into the shallow water.

After leaving the pasture, we explored the haymow of the classic red pole barn built in the 1890s. The few layers of small square bales left in it are rare nowadays, and I explained to them that my brothers and I might have stacked the ones on the bottom and played hide-and-seek there when we were kids. James and Callan were more interested in jumping recklessly from bale to bale, and they only listened closely to me when I warned them to stay away from the raccoon droppings. “Poop—Grandpa said ‘poop.’” I imagine that was the key word repeated that night when they told their parents what we’d been up to.

James ended up in the cab of my brother’s tractor as they planted corn. Kevin let him do enough duties to convince him that the year’s crop would not have been put in right if a five-year-old hadn’t helped. By this time, another grandchild—three-year-old Madison— had arrived, so she joined me in the garden where her hands were just the right size for dropping lettuce and spinach seeds into the rows. She stayed focused for several minutes—much longer than I ever did at that age.

During the rest of the afternoon, Madison took her grandma to the bridge on the lane where throwing rocks into the creek has been a ritual since the days when I fell in while launching a big rock that got the better of me. Callan matched wits with the cats in the yard and eventually moved inside to play with the toy tractors. All three of them ended up snacking on the farm’s classic health food--Great-grandma's chocolate chip cookies.
  
Like the beaver dam in our pasture, the activities were a bit scattered and haphazard, but the kids had fun. Little did they know that every fall in the hay, every stone thrown in the creek, and every scratch from climbing a tree brought back memories for their grandpa. I could see us kids doing the same things 50 years ago—and yes, I admit: I also think the word “poop” is funny.

by dan gogerty        

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Real Fantasy Baseball Down on the Farm



Sticks, Rocks, Hog Houses, and Freshly Mown Carpet...  

Mom's Cookies Were the Performance-enhancing Drugs      


My fantasy baseball existed well before cable TV and the Internet bought the rights to our imaginations. A team I called the Sparrows led my baseball league in the summer of ’59, but a broken pane of glass in the hog house window slowed their potent hitting attack. My league focused on stick-and-rock games played in the gravel lane that separated our house from the feedlots, and the hog house made a perfect right field wall. 

It wasn’t a classic green monster, and the only vines may have been a few stray weeds at ground level, but any rock I hit against the wall was a single, onto the sloping shingles a double, and over the roof into the lot a homerun. Triples only occurred when I clinked a rock off the aluminum cupola. Unlike Fenway or Wrigley, this outfield section had a few small glass windows, and anytime I cracked one of those, my teams would take a road trip until the incident simmered down. Dad had enough to do without having to clean bits of glass out of the farrowing stalls.

My other venue was the north side of the house. With only one window set low, the white board siding offered an easy target for a nine-year-old with a tennis ball and well-used glove. If the ball bounced back and I caught it in the air or I fielded a grounder cleanly and threw to a designated spot on the wall, the batter was out. If my pitch resulted in a return that went over my head or I made an error, the runner was on. An occasional ricochet between the eaves and the wall resulted in a bunt. The imaginary runners regularly beat the throw, especially if I subconsciously pulled for the team at bat. The umpires seemed to favor certain squads.
  
Dad’s office was on the other side of the wall. Like the Cubs of old, I didn’t have night games, so he seldom did paperwork during game time, but the constant thump of the ball in late afternoons must have been maddening. His desk was near the lone window, and even though I never broke the plastic-like double-pane, I imagine my errant throws caused him to mistype a few keystrokes on his Smith-Corona.

During the off-season or on rainy nights, I drafted my younger brothers to play in the indoor league. Our fantasy games consisted of baseball cards and marbles or rolled-up aluminum foil balls. Poker chips made sturdy bases, and a good surface was crucial. Linoleum and wooden floors were useless, and shag carpet was like playing in an overgrown pasture. A thick, short-cropped carpet made the best field, and the dimensions were up to the participants. I imagine we had brush-back pitches, questionable calls, and a few collisions at home plate, but mom’s chocolate chip cookies were our only performance-enhancing drugs, and all-in-all, we got along fine.

Being the oldest brother, I probably pulled rank and made the final umpiring decisions more often than not. But, as Tom Hanks once said, there’s no crying in baseball, and the carpet league kept us happy; even the electric baseball game that came one Christmas didn’t win us over. The low electric hum and the slow-moving players couldn’t match the intensity of the game playing out in our heads.

I’m not sure how many years the fantasy leagues survived. We had Rocky Colavito, Nellie Fox, and Hank Aaron on contract for at least a few years or until their bubble gum cards wore out. My brother Tom says that we occasionally fell into “Dizzy Dean lingo” during that era because we watched the Game of the Week on our black and white TV. “He slud into third” was acceptable around the house, but I don’t think we would have been allowed to say Dizzyisms like, “I ain’t what I used to be, but who the hell is?”

After a few years, the baseball cards faded and the rock pitchers gave up too many homeruns over the hog house. By the time I was eleven, my brothers and our cousins down the road formed a league that had a bit more reality to it including a tree for first base, heated arguments, and a few games called on account of chores. Decades later, my childhood fantasy league was rejuvenated for a time when my son spent hours tossing a ball against a concrete wall, and he even played a few carpet league games with me. I knew things were changing though. During one close contest, I flipped the tinfoil ball to first just before his runner touched the chip. But my son not only disputed the call, he replayed the whole scene in “slow motion video,” and in his version the runner touched just before my ball arrived. I couldn’t argue with technology.

I wonder what type of fantasy baseball experiences kids encounter nowadays. I hope they include a chipped wooden bat, a beat-up rubber ball, and a freshly mown carpet.

by dan gogerty (top pic from ingridlml.loveitsomuch.com and bottom one from aghistoryproject.org)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Three Ways to Communicate about Ag--Science, Cooperation, Guns



As an ag journalist, I read plenty of articles about the importance of agriculture communication. Many folks are interested in how food producers and various ag stakeholders convey their messages. Some seem concerned about image, while others focus more on credible information. Is it best to discuss issues politely on the front porch or yell and jump around in the barnyard? Their tactics certainly vary, as these three examples demonstrate.

“Scientists Are Human Too”

Professor Alison Van Eenennaam is a respected researcher and influential ag communicator from UC-Davis. During her recent speech at the National Press Club, “Communicating Science in a Networked World,” she emphasized the need for scientists to use facts and skills to shine a light on beneficial ag tech and innovation. She also thinks it is important that scientists show their “human side” as they communicate. Van Eenennaam uses humor, logic, and specific examples to get her point across.

“Communication Is a Two-way Street”

Ryan Goodman thinks science is important, but he also emphasizes ethics and understanding. He says that agriculturalists spend too much time worrying about the “lunatic fringe” and not enough time working with the public. A proud farmer and successful blogger, he advocates thoughtfulness, empathy, and a willingness to listen

“Appeal to Emotion, Not Science”

In this editorial, popular keynote speaker Damian Mason lays out reasons why he is willing to accept confrontation for the cause of agriculture. He wants a “well-organized, united front” to “take up the battle.” He admires the tactics used by the National Rifle Association. As he says, “Agriculture is under attack. It’s time to follow the NRA example.”

What's Up, Doc?

Doc Callahan knocks the farm dirt off his shoes and visits occasionally, so I asked him how he reacted to the three methods. He's been "communicating about ag" since his farm days at the local feed store and his years as a college professor. As he sees it...

"All three methods give us something to consider, but I think it’s always better to have the facts on my side. Van Eenennaam shows how science can have a human face. She's passionate about ag, but she has a fun side. Goodman seems like a fellow who knows what he believes but also knows how to listen to others. Seems like the type you wouldn't mind goin' fishin' with. As for the third style, I’m an NRA member myself, but I’m not much interested in focusing on words like battle and armed citizenry. I'm sure Mason doesn't always advocate confrontation, but he did say it’s no use taking a pitchfork to a gunfight. I’d rather gather up some scientific facts and rural common sense--and then find a reasoned debate. If you go looking for a gunfight, you’re just as likely to shoot yourself in the foot."

by dan gogerty (top pic from miller-mccune.jpg; bottom one from friendshipcircle.org)