How to while away a winter.

This Soils and Streams column first appeared in the March 9, 2019, issue of the Kearney Hub.

Pass the time this winter with an ag-related book

Is there someone in Hub Territory who hasn’t complained about the weather?

That’s a rhetorical question, although I guess it’s possible someone enjoys winter enough that this streak of cold isn’t a bother. By the time this Weekend Hub hits the streets, we may have gotten back up to freezing again.

Regardless of the weather, calving is in full swing for many cattle producers. I haven’t yet heard anyone say, “Calving is going awesome!” It’s just too cold. We also know that once it warms up, the mud will be fierce.

For parents of small people, whiling away the depths of late winter takes more ingenuity by the day.

With temperatures and wind chills as they have been the last few weeks, staving off the lure of screen time takes all the tricks and requires invention of new ones.

By this time of year, the Christmas gifts are — well, not abandoned, but the gleam is off. The cards have been used for blackjack and war umpteen times.

We have discovered that we enjoy the board game Ticket to Ride and have dusted off some old favorites — Connect Four, Yahtzee, Mouse Trap, Boggle.

We’ve planned our garden enough to know that, at 32 feet by 32 feet, it’s still too little. The children have planted cherry pits, cotton, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, spinach and some flowers. In a week or two or five, we’ll start some tomatoes and peppers, and some more flowers.

That’ll about fill the garden, but I have people who want watermelon, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, cantaloupe and three kinds of pumpkins. This remains to be seen.

I am possibly The World’s Worst Gardener©™® — chronically late and averse to weeding — but it is pretty nice to be able to pull out a boatload of frozen tomatoes and make salsa in March.

I prompt the kids to read books — with varying degrees of success — mostly because that’s what I’d rather be doing.

We blaze through picture books. The Golden Sower nominees are a good list again this year, and we have a first-grader who’s very into books about sharks and spiders right now.

The older kids have been enjoying things I wouldn’t care for — one prefers Dork Diaries, the other is working his way through all of Gordon Korman’s books.

If reading through the depth of late winter interests you, I have a couple ag-related book ideas to offer.

The selection for One Book One Nebraska this year is “This Blessed Earth,” by Ted Genoways. By coincidence, my husband and I both have read it.

If you’re a farmer, or connected in some way to farmers, I strongly suggest you read this book. It is interesting enough, and well-written enough, that it will keep your attention. There are a couple points where I’d quibble with terminology and time progression, but overall, it’s a solid read.

For many among the Nebraska farming sector, the people’s names will be familiar, and they may even be people you know, which provides an added layer of interest.

The author’s intent is to create a conversation about farming. Some facets of agriculture hit all of today’s hot buttons, even when these aspects are pragmatic and scientific.

Many of the people who will read this book over the next year will be a part of this conversation because of the One Book One Nebraska structure that sets out conferences, reading groups, and other ways for people to interact.

Thanks to demographics, most of the people who read “This Blessed Earth” won’t be farm people. I If you’re a farmer and are interested in having a voice in the statewide discussion on your livelihood, I’d recommend you read it and then be ready to speak up if and when your chance arises.

The website for One Book One Nebraska is

Another book I’ve recently read that’s worth the read is a classic: Willa Cather’s “One of Ours.” Though I have read a lot of Cather, even when I was not a Nebraska resident, this is one that somehow slipped through the cracks ’til now.

When reading Cather, other writers seem a little like imposters. She’s a true wordsmith, and her books are impressively durable.

I’m not big on war stories, but I’m a fairly fast reader and was immersed right away. Before I was really aware of the book’s arc, I was in the trenches in France with a Nebraska farm kid.

The character, Claude, is crafted so well that it is crystal clear how possible it was that he was more interested in and felt more alive in the battles of World War I than he was on his family’s farm.

Moreover, decades before the familiarity of the acronym PTSD, and long before the current spotlight on veteran suicide, Cather is open about these aspects of the unseen damage caused by war.

For families with middle school and high school students, “One of Ours” is a level 7.2 in Accelerated Reader and will net 22 points for a successful quiz. I would have no reservations about students of these ages reading it.

Both “This Blessed Earth” and “One of Ours” are available as e-books and are on the OverDrive system for member libraries.

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