• Ian Thompson

When the World is Running Down...

Updated: Oct 29

...you make the best of what's still around... This a classic rock title, released by the Police a short time before I was born. It also pretty well sums up the summer of '22 on Nan Awaya Farm.

Through this blog, we've committed to taking our readers with us on the journey of the Nan Awaya Farm experiment. Working to try to reverse the tide of ecological destruction on this piece of land, working to find ways to practically implement traditional culture in the 21st century, to revitalize Indigenous food, to live sustainably in rural America - These efforts have brought us learning experiences we couldn't have possibly gained in any other way. They've let us enjoy some breath-taking moments like watching a bison herd in the evening glow, contentedly grazing on native prairie from out of our own bedroom window. These are experiences of a lifetime. One could even say that they are priceless, but that would not be quite true. Some of these things cost. Most of the time, it's easy to laugh off the challenges that come with a way of life that goes a little bit against the grain, if you believe in what you're doing. Sometimes, I'm afraid that our enthusiasm for what we're doing might rose tint this blog just a little. In today's post, I'm going to try to talk candidly about a few of this summer's challenges on the farm.

Electric cars are the way of the future. With no tailpipe emissions, they can help to decrease the global warming that is threatening life as we know it. When our old car could go no farther, it was a moral imperative for us to replace it with a used electric vehicle (In our case, hybrid electric given the absence of local charging infrastructure). We chose a model that could be repaired at our local dealership. Unfortunately, company headquarters set up new requirements for servicing electric vehicles this year, which many small, rural dealers couldn't meet. When our car broke down in May, even though the problem was on the gas side of the engine, it could only go to a dealer certified to service EVs. With the closest one being located clear down in Dallas, it meant being stranded in Dallas when the rental car places couldn't entrust their cars to someone with an out of state license. It meant navigating the challenges of getting home and getting in to work for a week with no second car. It meant picking up our repaired vehicle from the dealership, only to have it break down on the way home three consecutive times, and getting stranded in Dallas again, and again. It meant the challenges of working out transportation for the weeks our car was in the shop. Now 5 months into this experience, we're driving the car while we wait on a back ordered replacement part. Rural Oklahoma is not yet set up for electric cars. To this day, we're the only rural Oklahomans we know who have one, yet our having it has saved one ton of CO2 in the atmosphere this year alone. We would go electric again if we had it all to do over, but it has come at a cost.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is our 1952 Ford 8N tractor. A gift from my aunt and uncle, it's been one of the most reliable and essential pieces of equipment on the farm for years. Last fall, it started to have issues. After a 4 month stay at the repair shop, it came back without the issues being fixed. We couldn't afford for it to sit at the shop for another 4 months. I got some help from my uncle and YouTube and tried to work on the tractor, while we continued to use it for essential farm work. Once or twice, it seemed that I had managed to fix the problem, only for the issues to return after a few days or weeks. This weekend, after a year-long decline in operability, the tractor finally reached a point that I couldn't get it tarted.

As challenges multiply, they can start to bump up against each other. Between the end of May and middle of October, we received only 3 inches of rainfall. Our upland pastures eventually dried up. Areas that had good forage saw it evaporate even with no animals grazing it. It became hard to find hay for sale, but with friends going above and beyond to help us, we obtained what I had calculated to be sufficient hay to feed our herd for 10 months. Overkill. With the other challenges, at least we wouldn't have to worry about having enough hay to feed the bison...Two weeks into feeding, we found that the animals are eating through the bales more than twice as fast as I expected. Instead of being secure, we were looking at a 7-week gap between the day we'll run out of hay and the day when our pastures will have enough spring grass to sustain the herd. One afternoon, the herd, tired of the drought, broke through an interior fence. That happened to be on the same day I came down with COVID. A quick test showed that our electric fence had very little charge running through it. The month before, in hopes of avoiding a jam exactly like this one, I'd worked to get the charge up to 9,600 volts. Now, I walked up and down our 6 miles of fence with a pounding COVID headache to try to locate the problem. One hot, dark, middle of the night saw Amy out in a pasture wearing a surgical mask, and me trying not to cough as fence work continued. Like the experience with the car and tractor, we'd get the fence back to having a good charge. Then, in a few days, we'd find not only had the charge dropped back to nothing, but the animals had broken through it again.

When challenges that you think you've overcome just keep coming back, it starts to get draining. You lay awake at night wondering: "What if some of these things gang up on us in a way where we just can't make it any more." This, I believe, is an experience shared by almost all farmers. When your world is running down, you make the best of what's still around...

This weekend, a friend got us connected with a man that specializes in repairing old tractors. He was willing to put a rush on our repair. Another friend hauled our tractor to him. We've put our worst fence-breaking offender buffalo in the corral and moved up his schedule for butchering a couple of months. Our latest rigging on the fence has kept its charge for the past month and it's now been a week since the animals have challenged it. This has allowed us to put them on fall pasture and start cutting into the 7-week gap in hay that has been awaiting for us at the end of winter We've taken our car to a dealer in a different town that seems more competent and where the car rental places will not only rent to us, but even give us a ride to the dealer. Any or all of these latest attempts could fail tomorrow. The Nan Awaya Farm experiment sometimes comes at a cost, but as long as we're able to learn through the challenges and occasional failures it's worth it. When the going gets a little rough like it has been this summer, we're grateful for friends, family, and having each other to rely on.

This Sunday, for the first time in weeks, we didn't have work to do for our day jobs and we also didn't have any hair's-on-fire kind of work to do on the farm. I used some of this discretionary time to chip the point that is the title image of this post. I make most of my points out of stone, but for the past several years I've been taking increasing pleasure in chipping them out of discarded glass. Glass chips the same way as flint. Unlike flint, which is a non-renewable resource, more and more glass is being made and thrown away every day. It takes forever for natural processes to break it down. Two million years from now, mountains of trash glass will still be here as a testament of our brief time on this planet.

The point pictured above was the base of a broken bottle just a few days ago, seemingly destined to clutter the ground for twenty thousand human lifetimes. No, it's not exactly the same as a point made of native stone, but it's deadly sharp and has a beauty all its own in the way the flake scars bend the light. Investing a couple of hours of time and a little of the cultural knowledge that I've been entrusted with has turned this piece of trash into something that I would be proud to have sitting around for the next couple million years as a reminder of my time on this earth. Maybe there's a metaphor in there for the little challenges that we've been facing at Nan Awaya Farm this summer and maybe also for some of the bigger challenges that we are facing as humanity.

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