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7/12/2004

Forest On The Prairie

I grew up on a Kansas stock farm. Our family had ranched since 1883 in these parts, but by the 1950’s our cattle operation was about half of the income with wheat and milo (sorghum) making up the other half. We were lucky enough to have shelter belts planted around our property. For the prairie uninitiated, a shelter belt is several rows of trees planted perpendicular to the wind. They were usually north and east of what ever was to be protected. Protection is most appreciated when the gales of winter blow unmercifully from cold northwest. The large belts of ponderosa pine, eastern red cedar, honey locust, black locust, Osage orange, mulberry, ash and an occasional apricot for personal pleasure, were just about the only trees to be found on the upland plains. From our place the horizon was broken with several groves of trees planted after the rainfall returned to the plains in the years following the great dust bowl of the thirties.  
An occasional Cottonwood tree rose majestically on a grassy hillside. A few trees could be found along intermittent waterways, we called cricks. Grand old oak trees were treasured by landowners.  
Once, the county built a new bridge straightening out the road that had once bent around two or three huge cottonwoods. Of course, the cottonwoods had to go. I recall my mother being very upset at the loss of those wonderful old trees. “You should never cut a tree! We have so few trees!” she lectured as we drove over the new bridge surveying its barren surroundings.  
Boy Howdy! Things have sure changed! Only a few short years after my mother’s admonition to protect the trees we noticed a few extra trees along those cricks. Then the cedars began to come up on the ridges of the pastures. And last, the Osage orange and honey locust spread into the pastures.  
Well, mom, I just spent the past weekend cutting tree after tree in our pasture. We once could look across the pasture and see car traveling down the road in the distance. Not any more! Honey locust is perhaps our worst problem although in some places cedars are covering the grass and that open view of the horizon. After a day of constant cutting my son, Michael and I looked as if we had gone to war. Ya jest can’t get at those locust trees without more than one encounter with thorns. Blood oozes from minor wounds on arms, backs and legs. I think we almost let them get to much of a head start. In two or three years we might have things back to where they were when my mother lamented the loss of those few trees. As for me, I’m a prairie man. I appreciate the shelter belts especially when the cold winter wind blows, but when it comes down to it, give me an occasional majestic cottonwood or oak. That’s enough tree for me. Now, Grass, “You should never plow grass! We have so little prairie left!” 
So Long, 
The Cowboy 

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