Here There Be Cactus

Greg and I spent a couple of hours this morning walking around the Burns place—that is, the acreage surrounding the home site, which is the section of the property where we’re going to begin our farming enterprise—so I could do some more mapping and we could get an idea of the sizes of some fields.  Greg used the distance walker thing, and I drew in my farm journal, a hard-backed 7” X 10” sketch book.  We worked on a new section today, following the old road bed southwest to northeast and continuing to the fence that marks the end of the property.  On our left were some nice woods with big oaks and elms, beyond which lay the stock tanks from which we dragged tires ten days ago; on our right, in the field we wanted to know the size of, fairly open land scattered with young elms.  The mesquites are not so bad there, though the area would need to be root-plowed before cultivation.


I enjoy making and studying maps and hope to one day take a college-level cartography course.  My maps-in-progress of the Burns place, though useful for our purposes, are imprecise and full of wild surmises.  I can measure edges and get an approximate compass bearing, but can only guess at the angles of the corners and the exact shape of the vaguely trapezoidal fields.  I can’t even be sure of the edges, since the cactus and mesquite make it impossible to go in a straight line.  I like things to be precise; but of course if we waited until we could do things perfectly before getting started, we would do very little.


As we walked I kept thinking about the survey map of the farm, which we’d had a copy of for a long time, but hadn’t seen since our move.  If I could take a gander at it, I could square up my compass orientation and confirm or correct distances.


Later in the day, I drove Daniel to Susanne’s.  While he took care of her cats, I looked around inside the storage containers for some kitchen things.  I was casually browsing when suddenly I found the survey map!


Back at the house, I held the map against the glass of the front door, laid a sheet of graph paper on top, and traced.  How nice it was to be sure of north and south!


I’m glad I spent so much time walking around the land with paper and pencil, taking a stab at rendering field borders, noting landmarks, and all that, because now I look at the survey map with an informed eye.  The blobs have meaning and context.


My next task is to freehand a new map with a change of scale, from four hundred feet to the inch to two hundred, to allow more room for detail and notes.  This is not hard to do with graph paper.  I have done it lots of times, rendering maps of the environs of my fantasy novels.  It’s the sort of engrossing, painstaking work that I enjoy.


Greg’s current project at the Burns place is to pull up old fencing from around the garden area.  The barbed wire sags sadly between posts; sometimes it is altogether buried, and he has to pull it up from the ground.  Sometimes a cactus is growing over it, that evil-minded skinny kind.  Greg pulls, and the cactus explodes upward, disintegrating into inch-long pieces that lodge on his clothing.  That is his least favorite part of this task.


We had lemon sherbet for dessert tonight, made by Anna from good Jersey milk and cream.  It was delicious, and really easy to make; the hardest step was juicing and zesting the lemons.  Recently Anna came across a paragraph in Nourishing Traditions that lists some of the unpronounceable ingredients in commercial ice cream and gives disturbing details about their other applications (antifreeze, paint remover, lice killer, leather cleaner, and the like).  She read it aloud to the family and even copied the information in a letter to a friend.  Our sherbet had only six ingredients, all of which we can pronounce.


After dinner, Greg let himself be talked into going with me to walk the dogs.  We did not go at my usual pace, because Greg’s feet hurt; although, when you think about it, this only meant that he remained on his feet longer, since we didn’t shorten the distance.  Shirley, the matriarch of the free-range cats, followed at a trot.


As we approached the third or so of the gateless passages from one pasture to another, we saw the roan horse, a bold and friendly animal, standing right in the middle of it.  He watched us a while, then started towards us.  After we passed him, he turned around and fell in behind us, a few yards ahead of Shirley.  Ready has barked through the fence at him many times, talking trash in the style of Hank the Cowdog; and the horse seemed to remember it, because he followed right behind Ready, head lowered, practically breathing down the dog’s ankles.  Ready kept darting nervous looks over his shoulder.


When the horse thought he’d gone far enough, he stopped, watched us walk on a while, then turned and clopped back the way he’d come.


Shirley, for reasons best known to herself, followed us all the way to the woodland belt that marks the turn-around point.  She’d been panting most of the way and was starting to lag behind.  Greg tried carrying her for the return journey, but she soon squirmed to get down.  She kept following us, but at an increasing distance, until finally we couldn’t see her anymore.

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