Friday, October 15, 2010


Around here this fall the business to be in is grain storage bins. There was a LOT of wheat and barley because the early summer was so wet, but a LOT of it will be somewhat compromised because the late summer was so wet. Grain that is slightly compromised but still not degraded to the level of feedlots -- just a little less protein and the other stuff that makes it good for baking -- that stuff takes a long time to sell. The best sells first. The rest takes negotiation and a little searching around for buyers, maybe looking for bargains or for uses other than the usual. So the new storage bins are going up around town and in the country, even though the shuttle railroad spur has been busy hooting in the night.

The population near Valier is only a few generations away from Belgium so they tend to revert to the old European pattern of living in town and driving out to their farmlands in the daytime. In winter the grain farmers don’t even have to do that and the beef ranchers have grown used to shipping their cattle south for the winter, maybe contracting with someone to feed them down there if necessary. The Homestead Act forced settlement on lands as a condition of “proving up” for ownership (curious since the government that handed out the ownership had just driven off the people who had lived there for millenia). But the dispersed people were often lonesome, like the widow lady out on prairie proving up all by herself. Thinking she might need some meat, a cowboy brought her a live chicken (no refrigeration for dead ones, so you just hung the poor disheveled fowl upside down from your saddle). Months later he stopped back through to see how she was doing and was surprised to see the chicken walking around. She hadn’t killed it because it was such good company.

The oldest grain storage around here is little wooden “houses” with peaked roofs and often the framing on the outside of the board walls. In fact, more than a few ranch houses are several of these grain bins clustered and enclosed with one roof, proper siding. On a wet day they can smell a little mousy. The newer grain bins are corrugated metal, the ripples going sideways, with a conical roof and a little door towards the bottom like the door on a coal furnace where you take the ashes out. Grain acts like a liquid: you pour it in the top through a long pipe with a screw inside it -- its fins all the same size all the way up -- that works with a PTO. That’s a power take-off. It was an acronym that long precedes texting. Used in classified ads when buying or selling tractors. What the grain farmers do all winter is watch the commodities market on their computers. Maybe from a warmer place than Valier.

The optimists are building onto their houses right now, taking advantage of the same long sweet weeks of Indian summer that have saved the water main replacement project. (The meters that were required by the government as a condition of subsidy will be installed later, at least the ones that go under the houses. Some will be in vaults at the curb.) Now that the little shack behind my neighbor’s house that she called “Pinky’s dog house” (his man-cave in contempo-talk) has joined Pinky in oblivion, I can see out my window a house that just added a protected porch in front (otherwise when you open the door the winter comes sweeping in with a whirlwind of snow) and more rooms in back. When I was delivering papers, an old woman lived there but then one morning she came to the door at 4AM, incoherently telling me her dreams. Soon after, younger people moved in. Relatives, I think. Houses transfer here partly through purchase and partly through inheritance. That’s the way the politics work as well.

I should rake leaves today since all the poplars have thrown theirs down. I cut a lot of withy growth from the green ash stump that refuses to die, so now I have to decide whether to strip and save them for some mysterious future use or just cram them into the pickup and cart them to the rolloff. If the photo feature of blogspot is working (it hasn’t been for a while), I’ll put up a photo of the roll-off, mighty dumpsters in a cage so that the wind won’t drive the trash across the fields. A little like the cage around the home plate on a softball field. When the wind is up, it howls and moans more than a humpback whale.

Lately someone reminded me of the writing of Gaston Bachelard, a French philosopher who kept trying to get at the basics of human experience and how we organize them in our minds. So much of it has to do with dwellings. The NYTimes had an article today about trying to build satisfying places for poor people -- not just poor people but people like the Haitians who have nothing, not even a flat place in the mud. The newer idea is to provide a concrete and steel framework and let the people fill up the spaces to suit themselves, maybe with provided materials, the way they do anyway with the immense fragile complex mazes of slum in megacities around the planet. There is a lot more use of glass, like the architect who built a house of old used auto windshields, or recycling, like that well-known house made of bermed used tires.

But Valier rejects all that. They don’t like innovation. I have to say that the most innovative and “green” new building -- on the next block -- is built of styrofoam units piled up and filled with cement. Not many windows -- another neighbor used to resent that as though she lived there. There is no lawn, just gravel. One drives right up to the door, French style. The strange thing is that this man’s friend is the one who built a house with a glass front looking out at an elaborate garden. Both are compulsive maintainers, chasing weeds. Newcomers.

Me, I’m mixed media. Withy stumps and alfalfa clumps and fallen leaves. Yesterday the cats were sitting in the leaves among the aisles of laundry on the clothesline and gazing around in satisfaction. Today there is wind and I may not have to rake leaves after all. They might be outta town by sundown.

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