The first couple weeks of September signal fall for me more than the solstice does.
Kids have been going to school a while — thankfully, this is true for our district, knock on wood — and the week of Labor Day often is host to the last super hot days of the summer.
At our house, Kleenex consumption is at a year-long high because ragweed, pigweed and kochia released their pollen at the same time several people got the first cold of the school year. And this year, I’m glad it’s just allergies and colds.
Our oldest daughter had a barn quilt 4-H project selected for the Nebraska State Fair, so we spent a day on the fairgrounds in Grand Island. I know State Fair is all about attendance, attendance, attendance, but we really enjoyed the 4-H focus of this year’s fair.
I’m here to tell you that if our future is in the hands of the 4-H’ers who exhibited at the State Fair, we’re good to go. The creativity, skills and craftsmanship in the projects are very impressive.
The first of our cow-calf pairs have moved home from summer grazing. Accordingly, they’ve also had the opportunity to get out into the lawn thanks to a bumped plug on the fencer.
We thought 2019 had unwelcome surprises at every turn, with a bomb cyclone and mud and floods and then another flood or two, but 2020 takes the cake.
As usual, we had hot days early in the week. Snow in the Panhandle the day after Labor Day is almost unimaginable, but this is 2020. Why not?
Because this is the craziest of years, we’ve also had buffalo in the yard. Massive undomesticated mammals casually strolling out of corn fields seems an appropriate way to ease into fall — I’m sure of it.
Buffalo? Bison? There’s a difference; we have bison, and buffalo aren’t even native to our continent. But, we’re home on the range, and the buffalo are roaming.
The buffalo situation fits right into the 2020 theme, a curious combination of a disaster and a phenomenon. Any day of the week, people local to Bertrand could drive a couple extra miles and see the pen of buffalo from the road, yet seeing them on the highways and byways makes it a thousand times more interesting.
In the spirit of Dr. Seuss, our community is divided between the “have-seens” and the “have-not-seens.”
It’s got to be simply the novelty of the situation. We’re not in Custer State Park in South Dakota. There’s no ranger around here to poke his head in the car window and say, very emphatically, “Do NOT make the buffalo angry.” Some people could really use that ranger’s reminder.
I’m not much of a history person (not to my credit), but my favorite time period is Westward Expansion. I love the Forty-Niners and the Oregon Trail, the Pony Express and Transcontinental Railroad, the books of Gwen Bristow and Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I even like outlaw stories — when I was a little kid, my family lived within an hour’s drive of Fort Sumner, New Mexico, where Billy the Kid died; and in high school, we were just an hour from Dodge City, Kansas.
Now, we live just off the Great Platte River Road and within 10 minutes of wagon ruts and a pen of buffalo.
If these locations aren’t fodder for a fertile, fiction-fueled imagination, I don’t know what is.
My view is pretty rosy, though. I’d like to think I’d do pretty well in the mid- to late 1800s on the North American prairie, but really, I do love my HVAC and household water systems, vaccinations, year-round fresh produce, permission to wear jeans and T-shirts, and the ability to motivate with a nice eight-cylinder engine and accelerator pedal.
Would I want a buffalo stampede to split around my home or wolves to howl outside the windows? Not so much. General lawlessness? Nope. Slavery? Definitely no.
So the 1800s probably aren’t actually for me, but still, I’m a prairie person, and I easily get wrapped up in sentiment involving the places where the bison formerly wallowed.
I recently read Timothy Cotton’s new book “Detective in the Dooryard,” and it made me realize that is not a sentiment peculiar to me or my places — and how it took me that long to realize it, I have no idea.
Cotton, who writes the Facebook posts for the Bangor, Maine, Police Department, compiled some of those writings and some new essays into his book. I requested that Kearney Public Library purchase it, and being the kind humans that they are, the staff set that in motion.
You should really read this book. It’ll move you to laughter and to tears and maybe to want to visit Maine even though there are no wandering bison there — assuming ours haven’t gotten there yet. It’s about the human experience as much as it is about law enforcement.
Cotton doesn’t write about buffalo, but he does write about fall a little bit, which makes it a seasonally appropriate read.
This Soils and Streams column first appeared in the Sept. 12, 2020, issue of the Kearney Hub.