Friday, January 25, 2008

One Man's Memories Part 2

"Fifty years ago much of the rolling prairie grasslands remained intact, impossible to irrigate because of the topography. Today only the steepest of hills and gullies remain untouched, thanks to the advent of the pivot irrigation sprinklers crawling over the mostly barren landscape where woodlands and native prairie used to be. It is true a few wildlife species have achieved some benefit from modern farming technology and the abundance of grain. Migrating waterfowl and cranes feed on the grain left from the harvest that fuels their migration to the far north. And with most predators, like coyotes and cougars, having been killed off, wild turkeys and white-tailed deer have become more prevalent. However, many species have been devastated. Formerly abundant, cottontails, prairie chickens, and sharp-tailed grouse have nearly disappeared. In the alfalfa field where I counted 123 jackrabbits as a child one summer night, I haven't seen a jackrabbit in more than thirty years.

Diet Start

"My fondest childhood memories were those summers spent on Ned Martin's place east of Maxwell, Nebraska, and on the Schneider farm near the Platte River where we still have our cabin. The Martins, although they grew some crops, liked the idea of being more rancher than farmer. They ran cattle in the short native prairie grasses of the Nebraska Sandhills. Back then the morning sounds of early spring were enriched by the crisp, sharp calls ofmeadowlarks and song sparrows. The prairie-scented air, which was always cool, made one breathe deeply. Leaving their leks, or dancing grounds, flocks of low-flying prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse flew over the valleys in search of morning feed.

"The sight of cattle in those days, spread out over the vast grassland, seemed healthy and good. From time to time cowboys herded the cattle to greener pastures and in winter moved them to areas where they would be fed from haystacks of prairie grass or alfalfa. Their meat was lean and flavorful. Ned Martin showed me the right way to cook a steak, from beef he had raised. Under a large cast-iron frying pan Ned turned the propane burner on high, took a twenty-ounce hand-cut sirloin from the refrigerator, heavily salted it on both sides, flopped it into the pan, counted to five, flipped it over and after another five seconds it was ready to eat. I was impressed.

"It's been nearly three weeks since I was on my stomach eye-to-eye with the herd of corn-fed Nebraska prime. The sign read 'No Trespassing—Bio Secure Area.' I didn't know if the sign was for my protection or the cattle's. I was careful not to trespass an inch past the fence. Here in the Heartland it is not just loss of habitat that is responsible for species decline but the amount of chemical fertilizer and herbicide and pesticide poisons put on the fields to create bumper yields of corn. The same corn that feeds the cattle in the feedlots. Industrialized farming has forced many family farms to go the way of the jackrabbits. Ned, too, is gone, but I shall never forget his respect for animals and the land on which he raised them."

... andjoyohoxing