Reflections on February, 2015

Surviving February

Sunset behind a Southwest Oklahoma Oak

Sunset behind a Southwest Oklahoma Oak

Oklahoma February is a roller coaster of weather.  Some days are frigid and windy and icey, and others are in the 70’s for 3-4 day stretches.  During all of these days, no matter the weather, the cattlemen must continue the work of raising and nourishing the cattle.  Aaron has been busy with such cattle chores.  He and his dad built a corral on the pasture where the new high-tensile fence has gone up, part of the rotational grazing operation.

New corral built from oil-field waste

New corral built from oil-field waste

One of the benefits (the only one, in my opinion) of the oil industry’s occupation on my father-in-law’s pastures is the discard of pipes.  They leave random lengths of steel pipe strewn about near the well sites.  These pipes are useful for building gates, corrals, fences, and other such ranching infrastructure.  They have to be cut with a torch, and that’s where I get to help sometimes.  Care must be taken, or the pasture can catch fire.  When this happens, sometimes a shovel or bucket of water can quench the fire, other times, the fire department resolves the issue.

Ominous-looking pasture fire and sweet baby boy

Ominous-looking pasture fire and sweet baby boy

This section was put into a 4 paddock system 10 years ago, after continuous grazing by the previous owner.  Last year we divided it into 36 paddocks using temporary step-in posts and poly-braided turbo wire.  This is the first time this herd has not required any hay over the winter.  This is a great achievement was achieved by using the temporary fencing.  It must be noted that 3 cows died over the winter, but it was in the same area as deaths in the previous year, so a poisonous plant may be the culprit.  We learned a great deal from our first year of grazing.  And probably the biggest take away is to leave more.  In our first year, we took 50%  Going into our second year of grazing, we’re going to try to only take off 10%.

Rotational grazing increases plant matter, which contributes to water retention.  The creek at the bottom of our property flows through a pretty large incised channel.  While the average creek width is 4′-8′, the incised channel through which it flows averages 30′ across and 18′ deep.  During a high water event the flood plain is never reached and the channel gets deeper.   This problem has arisen from decades of continuous grazing.  As cattle are allowed to frequent the shade along the water line, the plants become overgrazed causing them to decline.  In the absence of shallow rooted plants along the creek, the soil becomes destabilized and large volumes of soil are eroded during high water events, thus further contributing to an incised channel.

By using a high stock density in our rotational grazing plan we have allowed for a longer plant recovery time.  This has worked wonders for restoring the plant community to our creek banks. This is a win for ecosystem health, but there is still much that can be done to heal an incised channel.

In finding the right tool we have turned to an ecosystem engineer and keystone species, the beaver.  The beaver is a semi-aquatic rodent, the largest in the US and second largest in the world.  After humans, no other animal does more to alter their environment.

There were some beaver dams upstream of us about 2 years ago.  Where they went, we’re not sure.  But during the beginning of February Aaron saw some fresh signs of beaver  while walking the stream to inspect the plant community.  They had stripped the bark from some willows along the bank and discarded the whips along the inside of a bend within the creek.  This sent Aaron into a flurry of beaver research.  After a few days he concluded that the best way to attract the beavers was to provide it’s favorite food, the willow.  On to willow research.

Willow stakes cut and painted

Willow stakes cut and painted

It turns out that spreading willows is extremely easy.   Simply cut off a branch 18″-24″ long and bigger around than your thumb and stick it in the ground leaving 3″ above the ground, at a place which is reliably moist, such as along a creek.  Success is greatly increased if one cuts and drives in the stakes during the dormant season.  All of this information was coming to the surface for us around early-mid February.   Aaron was already working double time for his father welding corrals in preparation for leaving on the 20th, to visit friends and family. So this left little time for frolicking in the woods cutting stakes of willow.  We did manage to plant about 60 stakes prior to leaving for vacation and will plant another 100-150 as soon as we return.

Willow stakes are "planted" on the inner curve of the creek, near the water

Willow stakes are “planted” on the inner curve of the creek, near the water

At H.O.M.E. Farm, the dogs are enjoying their automatic feeder, as they are full and plump.  Their coats are very full, even Azaylia’s, who spent her previous winters indoors.  They seem so happy outside at the farm, though they probably miss us being out there full time.  And, the guineas are alive and well, proving their resiliency to us and our little homestead.  I would imagine they too, will enjoy some more human activity as it begins to warm up in March.

Mason, Azaylia, and Key on one of the warmer February days

Mason, Azaylia, and Key on one of the warmer February days

February for me, has always been about surviving winter.  Sitting, bundled up on the couch with endless cups of tea and hot cocoa, trying not to shiver, while I turn the pages of my books.  Anticipating the spring that seems to be just around the corner.  Looking out the window is dreadful, with all the dead-looking trees, brown grass, and grey, vapid sky.  And it is so bone-chilling cold across much of the country.  Even our friends in Key West are suffering with temperatures in the 70’s, down from the normal 80’s.  It is really easy to get depressed during this time.  So, this post is about surviving this very uninspiring month.

They are two kinds of people in this world, and you’re one of them!  Really, I know that’s an oversimplification of the complex traits of human beings, but it is helpful in organizing optimistic habits for winter mind-body survival.  So, are you an introvert or an extrovert?  Psychologist Carl Jung coined these terms in the early 1920’s.  He explained that no person is strictly one or the other, but that most people tend to coalesce at their respective ends of the spectrum.  There’s also an ambivert, though that one is not Jung’s term.  Ambiverts can find pleasure in activities associated with both personality types.  There are lots of quizzes and tests online to help you determine which personality type fits you best, however, this one is so basic and forward, I thought I’d reference it: Click here for the Myers and Briggs Foundation Description of Extroversion & Introversion.

I am very much an introvert, and so I take pleasure in some aspects of winter, particularly the isolation part… for a while.  No matter our personalities, sharing time with others is part of the human condition.  It is important beyond explanation.  So without further ado, here’s a list of holistic and multidisciplinary winter survival tips….

….For the Introvert

Let your Creative Energies Blossom.

Try new things in the kitchen.  Bake.  Fry.  Try things that won’t be ready for a while, so as to give yourself something to look forward to, such as sauerkraut, brewing your own beer, making cheese or soap or kombucha.

Write.  Letters to friends.  A blog.  A family newsletter.  Try your hand at poetry.

Paint!  Try a painting class.  There are many drinking & painting classes, so you can ease into the social setting with a glass of wine or beer.

Organize.

Use this time to clear your mind (and your closets).  Organize those places of your house that you’ve been putting off.  You’ll feel better afterwards.  I always feel more creative when my space is clean and organized.

Donate old stuff.

Put together a photo album of the kids, or friends, or a trip you recently took.  I did a lot of work on baby books this February.

Clean off your computer’s desktop.  Uninstall unused programs and defragment your hard drive.  You’ll free up space, and your computer will run better and faster.  (You can do much the same thing with your smart phone too).

Read & Research.

Get some good, entertaining fiction just for the fun of it.

Research something you’ve been wondering about.  Earthbag doghouse?  Rocket stove?  Be curious.  Investigate.  But try to pick one thing to focus on at a time.  Too many project ideas can overwhelm an introvert.

Research some new varieties of foods for your climate and plan and design this year’s garden.

Read all those articles you’ve saved.  I always see articles that friends have posted on facebook, but don’t have the time to read right away.  If I’m near my notebook I write these down and search for them later.  You can also share them to your facebook wall, to save for later, though, they become hard to find if weeks and months have passed.

Hone your Mind-Body Connection.

Yoga!  If you haven’t, try it.  If you have, try some new poses.

Meditate.

Be sure to recognize that your mind influences your body and vice versa.  Eating healthy and toning your muscles can stimulate better brain activity.  And, thinking positively can improve metabolism and blood flow, keeping you warm in winter.

Socialize.

A little here, a little there.  We all need time with others.  Make a date with a friend you haven’t seen in a while.  If you are already down, your friend will help to pull you out of the darkness.

Attend a painting class.  Even though they are often full of people, many of them allow drinks, helping to ease the social anxiety.  Plus, when everyone is focused on their own paintings, there is little room for judgement and awkward small-talk.

Try a book club.  You usually meet once a month, in an intimate setting and discuss books you love.  They have these online now, though I haven’t tried one.

Use social networking to bridge gaps of distance or awkward relationships.  We have a lot of friends that live too far to visit very often.  Facebook helps me fill that void.

 

….And for the Extrovert

Let Your Creativity Blossom.

Attend art classes.  If you have an artistic skill, share it with others.  Host a workshop in your home.  Use your social skills to better others’ arts and crafts skills.

Try new things in the kitchen.  Try your hand at baking, soap-making, or cheese-making.  Invite your friends.

Organize.

Plan a get-together, an indoor social activity.  Maybe its time for a family reunion.  Make the calls and set dates for this important family event.  Having events to looking forward to will help you get through the dreary winter.

Go to a friend’s house and help them organize a cluttered room.  Being able to chat while you do mundane tasks makes them easier and faster.  Then invite them to reciprocate.  Donate old stuff.

Have a Skype session while you clean up your computer’s desktop.  Uninstall un-used programs and defragment your hard drive.  You can do similar organizing tasks on your smart phone.

Host or attend a scrapbooking party.  Share ideas.  Share stickers.  Share those funky patterned scissors.  Do a photo album of family or friends or a recent trip.

Read and Research.

Join a bookclub.  You read.  You interact with others about what you’ve read.  Simple.  Satisfying.  Engaging.

Enjoy some fiction for the fun of it.  Escape winter’s chill with a travel story about a warm climate.

Research something you’ve been thinking about.  Research multiple projects at a time to maintain stimulation.  Invite others to join you and collaborate on ideas and plans.

Hone Your Mind-Body Connection 

Yoga!  If you haven’t, try it.  If you have, try some new poses.  Attend a yoga class.

Meditate.

Be sure to recognize that your mind influences your body and vice versa.  Eating healthy and toning your muscles can stimulate better brain activity.  And, thinking positively can improve metabolism and blood flow, keeping you warm in winter.

Socialize

Attend classes for activities like painting, sewing, pottery, etc.  This is a great time to meet new people or bring along friends and family for a fun activity.

Plan a party just for the heck of it.  Call it a winter survival party.  Your friends are cooped up too and will relate to this need for socialization.

Have you ever tried karaoke?

Museums nowadays offer adult special events, after normal museum hours.  I’ve always been intrigued by those events.  Check those out.

Whew! That was exhausting just thinking about all that social interaction.  Maybe that’s why introverts write tips for introverts, and extroverts don’t write anything.  Just kidding.

Our 10th Anniversary date night: Painting class at Paint n Cheers in Oklahoma City

Our 10th Anniversary date night: Painting class at Paint n Cheers in Oklahoma City

I rather enjoy the solitude of winter as it gives my introverted mind time to organize my thoughts, and make future plans.  I imagine that when we get the house completed, winter will be a warm, comfy time of year, filled with rich family experiences and lots of warm, farm-fresh meals stored away from summer harvests.  Its fun to daydream about such simple pleasures.  What are some ways you get through the dreary winter months?

 

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