It was supposed to be a quick drive to check pastured cows. I suggested Farmer just take Princess and go without me, but no, what if he had to tag a calf? There are a few yet to be born. So we loaded Princess in the “bumpy truck” we use for fencing.
Warmer than ever a late September evening could be remembered, under a clear sky without a breeze, I was soon glad for diversion from any work I could’ve crammed in before making supper. We were a little over an hour from dark. Farmer drove straight to the west end and there they were: two cows and four calves on the wrong side.
I got out and walked the cattle toward a gate Farmer drove away to open. I don’t recall being so thankful to be walking on virgin prairie in such perfect stillness.
Most sloughs were dry and even those Farmer hadn’t cut were chewed down to the point that I couldn’t tell a machine hadn’t touched them. Walking the neighbour’s side of the fence, I scattered handfuls of cat tail fluff with my hands. Goldenrod and various other grasses and flowers had gone to seed too, crunching under my feet like the driest tinder.
It is time to go to seed and the hills are desiccated but far from dead.
A neighbour recently told me he drove past a fellow burning sloughs and then ploughing them under. There’s never enough farm land when all a farmer sees is potential profit. But the rains will return and perhaps with last year’s prairie monsoons, but the seeds and organic material needed to make good slough grass will be burned and gone.
If it doesn’t rain, an alkaline strip of land that once was a slough will grow very little green of any kind. We both agreed: burning was a poor choice. And burning in this drought put the rest of us at risk of losing our farms and homes to fire.
“What’s money?” my son recently asked, his face twisted up in angst.
“It’s paper with somebody’s picture on it, so what? Why is it so important?”
Sloughs are little pockets of health insurance. They don’t just store water, which is good for everyone, but carbon too, creating an environment benefiting everything from air, dragonflies, birds, bees to us. We can’t afford to lose sloughs.