Wednesday, October 1, 2008

It's the most wonderful time of the year...harvesting Sugar Beets

This morning I woke up to a familiar sound, but one that only happens about the first of October each year! Just as hunters listen for that first sound of a goose heading south in the fall or seaman's widows waiting for the first faint blasts from the ships horn announcing that it soon will be appearing out on the horizon.

It's a combination sound usually starting off with the revving of a powerful diesel engine followed by a clunk,clunk clunk, clunk clunk clunk clunk, and then a constant stream of bumps as thousands and thousands of sugar beets are dropped from the conveyor chains into waiting truck boxes. It's called the campaign and it is always scheduled to start on October the First, midnight, October 1st. Why they start at midnight I'll never know, but I do know that it sets the stage for the coming 3 weeks as thousands of Diurnal men and women, for just a few weeks become Nocturnal. Trying to go to bed and get a good rest at nine in the morning just doesn't work for most of these people and so it's a time of tiredness, eating food out of lunch boxes, and mega amounts of coffee/hot chocolate and these new premium energy drinks.

My cousin Paul didn't get married till he was past 40. When the announcement was made, aunts and cousins all scrambled to find the perfect shower gift! A steel/tin box about 18 inches by 14 inches by 12 inches tall with two handles on it, much like a picnic basket. This box could NOT be made of plastic, or look like a back pack, although it resembled a picnic basket (handle wise anyway) it could not be woven of wooden strips, that would let the dust has to be of a thin tin, much like the storage boxes that farm women kept open chocolate chips, and brown sugar (tightly wrapped in plastic of course).

And so the hunt was on to find the perfect dinner packing box. I believe the prize went to my sister who found an authentic one on ebay which exactly fit the bill. Although it looks like a wicker picnic basket it's all metal with wicker handles and is an exact copy of the box that his father used for decades! Now Leah is complete as a farm wife (he says smiling!) They are big enough to hold a couple of thermos bottles of coffee and or hot chocolate, another 1/2 high thermos that hold hot food hot for many hours. Many sandwiches in plastic bags, home made cookies, and a few energy bars round out the contents. This is enough "fuel" to keep a hard working farmer going, sometimes for 18 hours at a time.

So the sugar beet harvest is on. Waterfowl season opens on Saturday, but for sugar farmers, that is only an item on the morning news. Their chance at harvesting some goose or ducks must come later.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


So often people as the question, "Are you a dog person or a cat person?" There's much written about the different temperaments that people supposedly have based on whether they've selected from the canine or the Felis catus. I don't know how to decide what I am since I've been the guardian of both for most all of my life. I'm reminded of the Jimmy Buffet interview where he was asked how he can write such quiet loving songs and such trashy songs. His reply was, "well, some days I'm feeling all warm and fuzzy and some days I'm feeling pretty trashy!"

That how it is with cats and dogs for me. Some days I enjoy the quiet peaceful nose push of my 18 year old cat who just wants to sit quietly and be held and some days I'm out seeing if I can ride my recumbent three wheeled cycle faster than my 2 year old 60 pound guardian of small children, protector of farm and property.

I am, however, convinced that my cat is an addict! This cat came into my life somewhat by accident. Back in 1994 when I moved back to the family farmstead from Tennessee, the folks that had been living here had 5 cats. Three inside which they took with them, and a pair of lovable, yet very acclimatized outdoor cats. They were presented to me as sisters, three years old, and very independent! They often would disappear for up to three days at a time and I got used to the idea that they might be around, and that they might not. If they were here, they would often be sunning themselves on the railings of my entry deck. Each one taking up residence on their own side, looking much like a smaller version of the sitting lions at the New York Public Library! I arrived in March of 94 and within 3 months they were both pregnant. YIKES this was not in my plans! Soon after they gave birth in the same barrel in the barn. All told 13 little kittens. They did everything as a group and I'm sure there was no issue of yours or mine...just ours. Fortunately I got them all placed (I've seen the great great (how many Great) grandchildren of their kittens over the years. Then a quick trip to the vet (yes with 2 everything costs double) and this was NOT going to be a stop for the feral tabbies anymore. They were named Bobby and Susie, although no one had ever showed us which one was which. They were identical except that one had a black tip on their calico tail and one had a silver-white tip. The one with the black tip was a little more gregarious and had this trait of trying to climb up on hour shoulder and around your neck. Not always fun because I left their claws on so that they can protect themselves out in the Wilds of Lowell Township.

Then in the fall of 1999, a couple of days after I realized that one had been gone I got a call from Cousin Paul asking me if I was missing a cat. With a bit of hesitation I answered in the positive and he told me that news that he felt that he knew where she was. Leaving her with her claws on was no match for a sugar beet truck, and so I got a spade out and a plastic bag and went on that walk that no pet owner ever wants to do! About 1/4 mile down the road I found her and it was obvious that she got too close to where the rubber meets the road. So I brought her back to the farm an picked a spot out on the edge of a garden and laid her down to start digging a hole.

At that moment one of the most interesting things that I've even witnesses with animals happened. Here sister, her raise 13 kittens together best friend had followed me out to find her, and then was stuck right to me as I carried her back to the yard. When I laid her down, Bobby (or is it Susie?) walked up to her, gave sort of a sniff, then reached out a paw and gave the lifeless body a little push. Exactly at that moment, here attitude and attention completely changed, she walked away, totally having lost interest, like it never happened. Right away I remembered the Bible verse where Jesus said, "let the dead bury the dead" as he was encouraging his followers to be about the living! A good lesson that I would have never learned except for loosing a pet under those circumstances. That winter I decided I wasn't going to go to the barn to feed and water (and keep a heat lamp running) for one cat, so she because an INDOOR cat. She took to this very well! For the first years, she would spend some time outside, but with the passing of each fall season she was less anxious to go out, and always a little quicker to come in. Now, although in the evening she likes to go out every night, she never leaves the porch area, and is ready to come back in within about 15 minutes.

About six months ago things were not going well for her, health wise and I was sure the end was near. Drinking way to much water, not always able to control her bladder, weight loss, hair and skin now having lost it's vibrancy, and she didn't seem to care. So putting off what I though was going to be a sad trip to the vet, I hesitated each day until finally I knew it was time. Although this seemed like a big deal to me, it wasn't so out of the ordinary for the good Doctor. Within a minute or two of exam he said, well I'm guessing she has diabetes and it can go either way. If we run some tests and they come up as fail, then you have no other choice but to make the tough decision.

HOWEVER if the test shows that with insulin she can function normally, well then you have new choices to make. Choice number one, is that she needs to get a shot every 12 hours and you need to be pretty regular with it! Number 2, it costs a quite a bit. Do you notice that they always talk in generalities. Not, "it'll probably cost XXX.XX a year" but just "quite a bit!" Well does that mean 50 bucks a year? Or fine hundred bucks a year? Either price could sound like quite a bit depending on a persons financial condition and how much they love or put up with their pet. So let's get down to dollars. OH and don't forget, I'll have to be administering the shots (not such a big deal...I have some diabetic friends and I felt I could do what I saw them do to themselves) (BUT when you're gone you have to get someone else to do it...something I didn't recon on how difficult it would be to do!) If I reuse the needles several times (fine for cats...nix for humans), and I dose correctly so that the vial would last six months, it comes out to about 80 cents a day. Well that fits into my love of a good pet and ability to pay range, so it's off to the drug store to fill the prescription, then back to the vet to learn how to give the shot, then home with a very sick cat!

I really felt that I had just spent a couple of hundred bucks in vain. Vet services, tests, drugs, needles, it all adds up. But it was worth a try to push back the inevitable having to say goodbye to a good friend moment. I sure wasn't expecting a miracle, but over the next month or so that's exactly what happened. She gained a couple of pounds, took to giving herself daily baths, was drinking the typical amount of water needed for a cat, never missing the litter's really been a miraculous experience.

But there is one interesting thing that’s happening. She wants these shots. If I’m a little late, she comes and finds me and is not quiet about it. I can’t imagine that she has someone tied together better feelings with getting an injection twice a day, but it sure seems that way. NEVER does she try to get away, always she is waiting and it’s not tied to getting food cause she has free access to her food 24/7. I can only determine that my cat is an addict! She needs the steel, she’s a junkie…and I’m her enabler! My cat is an addict!