Tag Archives: cattle

Post Rock Fences in Kansas

I saw these limestone fence posts, called post rocks, on a recent drive to western Kansas.

I saw these limestone fence posts, called post rocks, on a recent drive to western Kansas.

I’ve lived in Kansas most of my life, but I hadn’t seen more than a few limestone fence posts until this past weekend when I saw miles of them as I drove west in a section of the state I’d never visited before.  It has been estimated that at the peak of their use, there were about 40,000 miles of these stone post fences in central Kansas.  In the last  quarter of the 19th century, ranchers and farmers needed fences to keep the cattle from wandering onto cropland, but wood was scarce. Providentially, there is a bed of limestone buried only a few inches beneath the top soil, which is about about 18 inches in thickness, the perfect dimension for fence posts. It was easy to shape the soft stone, which hardened, enabling the posts to resist weathering in the elements.

About Post Rocks in Kansas.

More about Post Rock Fences and Where to Find Them.

 

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UFO Cattle Crossing Sign in New Mexico

Pranksters have placed UFO stickers on cattle crossing signs on US Highway 68 between Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico.

Pranksters have placed UFO stickers on cattle crossing signs on US Highway 68 between Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico.

My friend and fellow photographer Lynn and I recently returned from a thousand-mile (probably more) photography road trip, starting from Kansas City and making a round trip through New Mexico. I took about 4,000 photos, some great, some lousy, most were fun, especially this one of a UFO sign on a cattle crossing sign on Highway 68 from Santa Fe to Taos.

Pranksters placed the stickers on signs, which officials remove and then more stickers re-appear.   Click the link if you want to know the less humorous history behind the stickers… (I don’t recommend it.) Cattle Abductions.

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Don’t Fence Me In!

Hedge apples are the fruit of the Osage Orange tree, but unfortunately they aren't very tasty.  Too bad, because they are everywhere in the early fall in the lower Midwest.

Hedge apples are the fruit of the Osage Orange tree, but unfortunately they aren't aren't edible. Too bad, because they seem to be everywhere in early fall in the Midwest.

Devon, England, has some of the most ancient and renowned hedgerows in the world. I haven’t been there in person, but Paula of Locks Park Farm in Devon (link below) took her readers on a virtual tour of the hedgerows on her farm.  You could almost hear the song thrush singing in the trees as we “walked” along the path.  It was a sunny day after weeks of rainy weather in the Devon countryside.  In her photographs, the rose hips, crab apples and elderberries are explosions of color among the green leaves.  Somewhere dormouse nests (Alice in Wonderland!) are hidden in the hedges.

I told her we have “old” hedges here, too — not a thousand or more years old, of course.  One hundred and fifty years old is an ancient hedgerow here in the Midwest.  Our hedgerows consist mostly of Osage Orange trees, Maclura pomifera, which were planted densely together to confine cattle in the days before barbed wire.  Because these trees are so durable, they still mark the pastures, even though fencing is now used.  Paula describes her county’s hedgerows as part of a patchwork field system and imagines ours as vast fields, which in the Midwest is often true.  There’s a Cole Porter song that begins “Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above, don’t fence me in.”  Everyone from Bing Crosby to ABBA has sung it.  (Videos below.)

Osage Orange thorns make a menancing hedge.

Osage Orange thorns make a menacing hedge.

Osage Orange wood is very dense and prized for bows, tool handles and other uses.  It’s sometimes called ironwood, because it’s so hard to cut. Other plants, including varieties of dogwood shrubs and wildflowers such as goldenrod and sunflower, grow among the Osage Orange trees, providing homes for wildlife.  The trees were named for the Osage Indians of the area, for the color of the wood and for the fruit, called hedge apples, which are about the size of a large orange.  They aren’t toxic, but they’re not a good food source, either.

Hedge apple "harvest" on the curb.

Hedge apple "harvest" in my neighborhood. Hedge apple cider, anyone?

Extinct animals such as the giant ground sloth and the mammoth from 10, 000 years and longer ago may have eaten hedge apples, but now only squirrels seem to find any part of them nutritious.  They tear apart the apple to get at the seeds, leaving a mess.  A few other animals, such as horses and cattle, will eat the fruit, but it’s not very good for them.  

In my neighborhood, Osage Orange trees grow in a wild area at the edge of the landscaped areas, and the hedge apples fall on the street and are smashed by passing cars.  To learn more click on all about the osage orange tree.

To read Paula’s beautiful post and see the gorgeous photos of the Devon hedgerows click on “our amazing hedges.”  A video of Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters singing “Don’t Fence Me In” is below the photograph of a partial hedgerow in my neighborhood. Beneath Bing Crosby is a video of ABBA singing “Don’t Fence Me In” on the Dick Cavett Show.

Sunflowers, goldenrod, dogwoods and other plants grow in the hedgerow.
Sunflowers, goldenrod, dogwoods and other plants grow in the remnants of a hedgerow in my neighborhood.

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Kansas City Symphony in the Flint Hills

 Cowboys herded cattle during the music of \

SYMPHONY in the FLINT HILLS   A symphony concert in a pasture?  Hmmmm?  Concert veterans Matt and Sue R. told us about the Kansas City Symphony’s third annual concert in the Flint Hills of Kansas on June 15.

A cowgirl along the path to the concert.  Photo by Cathy Sherman.

A cowgirl along the path to the concert. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

I love the symphony, but I thought of some drawbacks.  Chiggers, mosquitoes, snakes.   And Kansas summer weather.  It changes from hour to hour.  Hot, humid, thunderstorms, lightning, mud, floods, even tornadoes. Take your pick.   I experienced nearly all of them at Girl Scout camp……

(Later, I discovered a hazard I hadn’t thought of, though I should have known better.  Cowpies!  I stepped in one.  I worried about the other possible calamities for nothing.  I returned home unscathed without even a sunburn!)

Another attraction was our friends who had a vacation house on Lake Wabaunsee, which wasn’t that far away from the concert site.  The lake is interesting its own right because it was built by the CCC crews during the Great Depression, and cabins there housed German prisoners of War during World War II.

The two Sues make the long trek to the concert site.  Photo by Cathy Sherman.

The two Sues make the long trek to the concert site. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

This year, the concert was just south of Council Grove, a three-hour drive from our house.  The location changes every year for variety and because the audience of five thousand people can do a lot of damage to the land, even if only for a day. 

 Matt and Sue, the old friends who’d gone to the second annual concert, did the hard work of dialing for tickets, which were sold out within an hour. 

To get to the concert area, we walked a mile from the parking lot, hauling our chairs, soft coolers full of food and drink, hats, sunblock, umbrellas, bug spray and cameras.  There were wagons and shuttles for those who couldn’t make it on foot.  Or were smarter than I was.  Our group arrived early enough to sit close to the stage, but Sue pointed to an an area at the top of the hill.  She knew that the higher you sat, the better to enjoy the sweeping vista.  She was right! 

A group of music lovers stake out a spot. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

A group of music lovers stake out a spot. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

The symphony patrons are seated in front on hard seats that they paid extra for, but the cheap seats are the best. 

In the afternoon before the concert, experts gave talks in tents on many Flint Hills topics, such as archeology, Kansas birds, ranching, geology, the prairie grass and wildflowers. You learned something, and you got out of the sun.  (More about the Flint Hills below.)

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius addresses the crowd. Photo by Cathy Sherman

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius addresses the crowd. Photo by Cathy Sherman

Now, we’ll go live.  Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, honorary chair, greets the crowd.  The first half of the program features Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony (Symphony No. 6 in F Major, op. 68 ) and works by Chadwick and Copland.

Matt and Sue R.

Matt and Sue R.

 As the sun sinks in the west (sounds like a Zane Grey Western), it’s still hot, humid and sunny.  Cowboys herd a river of cattle on a hillside as the Symphony plays “The Great Westerns Suite,” a medley of powerful music from four western movies.  The setting sun brushes everyone and everything with gold. My eyes tear up as the theme to How the West Was Won fills the valley.  I loved that movie as a girl.  I still love it.  (Spoiler alert) I cry over Jimmy Stewart’s death yet again.  “Oh, Linus,” I can still hear Carroll Baker’s character say.  Also featured is music from The Magnificent Seven, Silverado and Dances With Wolves.  I’m a sucker for every western archetype.  Sue later discovered that the cattle drive — so perfectly timed — was not part of the program.  We’d thought the arrival of the cattle was choreographed to match the magestic western music. Instead, the cattle had broken free from their alarmed cowboy escorts and headed toward the music on their own!

Brooke.

Brooke watches the cattle make their way toward the music, which we later discovered was not choreographed as we'd thought. Sue R. said that the cattle broke free from their alarmed cowboy escorts. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

The sound is huge, but you can still hear the chirp of crickets and appreciate the rolling hills and rhythm of the cattle as they flow across the land.  It makes you think of corny phrases like “The hills are alive with music.”  Everything is grand. The music, the view, th"Ashokan Farewell" plays as the sun sets.e history.  The real tear-jerker is the last song on the program, Ashokan Farewell, the theme from the Ken Burns miniseries, The Civil War.  The Kansas State Song, Home on the Range, plays as we prepare to leave.  Everyone knows the words…..

The crowd of 5,000 winds its way to the parking lot after an inspiring day. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

The crowd of 5,000 winds its way to the parking lot after the concert. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

 

THE FLINT HILLS —I’ve lived in Kansas since I was two, but I haven’t spent much time on the Kansas prairie after my days at Girl Scout camp.  The Flint Hills are a band of hills stretching through the center of Kansas into Oklahoma, comprised of limestone and shale.  Zebulon Pike named the hills for the flint-like chert stone he saw in the limestone.

I studied prairie grass in college botany classes and driven through the Flint Hills at least a hundred times on the Kansas turnpike, which bisects it, but until I walked through the tall grass itself I didn’t realize how beautiful and diverse it is.  And it definitely isn’t flat.  Geologist Rex Buchanan can tell you by looking at each hill what layer of rock lies underneath.

Prairie once covered a third of the North American continent.  The largest portion of virgin tallgrass prairie lies in the Flint Hills, which escaped plowing because it’s so rocky.  The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, the first national park devoted solely to the preservation of the nation’s prairie heritage, is 11,000 acres near Strong City.Blue Wild Indigo, a wildflower in the Tallgrass Prairie of the Flint Hills.  It was used as a dye. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

Not so long ago, the tallgrass prairie reached into eastern Kansas, where I live.  Tallgrass prairie once blanketed Mount Oread in Lawrence, the home of the University of Kansas.  There’s plenty of rainfall for trees, but fires periodically killed the trees and shrubs.  Modern man keeps the natural fires from burning the trees (and the buildings.) Now mature trees are everywhere in eastern Kansas, making it look more like Missouri than it did when Quantrill’s raiders swept in.  

My backyard, which is a mile from Missouri, is part of that state’s oak – history forest and has walnut, redbud, mulberry, hickory, hackberry, elm trees, plus the Campanile on the campus of the University of Kansas, surrounded by trees where once there were none. Photo by Cathy Sherman.oaks– burr, shingle and chestnut.

On the KU campus, an acre was devoted to the tallgrass prairie that once prevailed there (I don’t know whether it’s still there), but you need thousands of acres to make a prairie.  And it’s a living thing, too, made up of hundreds of different species of plants, animals and insects.  A fire every now and then burns out the shrubs and trees and regenerates the grass and wildflowers. Lightning used to start the fires. Now, mostly ranchers do.

One April I was driving to Wichita for an Easter weekend.  As I passed through the Flint Hills during a controlled burn, huge dark flakes began to cloud my windshield.  It was snow, tinged with ash.  Ranchers burn every spring, and it doesn’t take long before the hills are green again.

 

Symphony in the Flint Hills websitewww.SymphonyintheFlintHills.org   

Interesting websites about the prairie:

Tallgrass Prairie National Preservewww.nps.gov/tapr  

Geologist Rex Buchanan points out a rock formation in the Flint Hills in a talk about the geology of the area. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

Geologist Rex Buchanan points out a rock formation in the Flint Hills in a talk about the geology of the area. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

Kansas Wildflowers www.kswildflower.org 

The Nature Conservancy in Kansas — www.nature.org/Kansas

Kansas Wildlife & Parks www.kdwp.state.ks.us
 

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Kansas City Symphony in the Flint Hills Cattle Drive — The Magnificent Seven Theme

Flint Hills Symphony & cattle drive

The theme to “The Magnificent Seven” at the Kansas City Symphony in the Flint Hills concert on June 14, 2008, near Council Grove, Kansas.  www.symphonyintheflinthills.org

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