Our Turn At This Earth

Thursdays at 6:44 p.m. during All Things Considered
  • Hosted by Julene Bair

High Plains Public Radio will begin airing all new episodes of Our Turn At This Earth, beginning this Thursday at 6:44 p.m. CT during All Things Considered. 

Every week in Our Turn At This Earth, author Julene Bair ponders the questions she began asking as a young woman working beside her father as a fourth generation High Plains farmer: How do we honor our families’ past while also honoring the land and water beneath our feet? How do we ensure that our children and grandchildren will have a future during their turn at this earth?

Julene Bair is the author of One Degree West and The Ogallala Road. For links to her books and other essays visit www.julenebair.com.  

Our Turn at This Earth is a production of High Plains Public Radio, written and voiced by Julene Bair and produced by Angie Haflich. 

Our Turn At This Earth: Homecoming

Jan 31, 2019
Julene Bair

High Plains Public Radio will be re-airing the past year's episodes of Our Turn At This Earth beginning Nov. 22, 2018.

In the meantime, Julene Bair is working on a whole new set of episodes, so stay tuned!

Those who, like myself, leave the places where they grew up at a young age almost always think they will never look back. But they almost always do.

Joe Angell

As a young girl, I resented the gender divisions on my family’s Kansas farm, where my brothers worked in the barn and fields and I was relegated to cooking, gardening and cleaning the house with my mom. Today I realize that all of our work contributed equally to our thriving in that place, but I grew up in a cultural climate that viewed women incapable of fixing a tractor, while to cook or sew threatened a man’s masculinity.

Our Turn At This Earth: In The Mojave's Mirror

Jan 17, 2019
Julene Bair

High Plains Public Radio will be re-airing the past year's episodes of Our Turn At This Earth beginning Nov. 22, 2018.

In the meantime, Julene Bair is working on a whole new set of episodes, so stay tuned!

As a young woman, newly single after my marriage had ended, I bought a little one-bedroom Victorian in an unassuming, foggy San Francisco neighborhood. That house would be worth a fortune today. But I was young then. I didn’t think about my financial security in the distant future. I wanted to live my dream now.

Our Turn At This Earth: Descartes' Legacy

Jan 10, 2019
WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

In my late twenties, I became enchanted by the mountainous deserts of the West. Whenever I could get a little time off from my work as bookkeeper for a San Francisco accounting firm, I would load up my old Toyota Land Cruiser with food, tools, and a few clothes, fill the Jerry cans I’d mounted on the Cruiser with gas and water, and head for a place that looked intriguing on the many U. S. Geological Survey topo maps I’d collected.

Our Turn At This Earth: Primal Bonds

Jan 3, 2019
Public Domain

High Plains Public Radio will be re-airing the past year's episodes of Our Turn At This Earth beginning Nov. 22, 2018.

In the meantime, Julene Bair is working on a whole new set of episodes, so stay tuned!

As a child on my family’s Kansas farm, I often whiled away entire mornings stalking a mother cat until she led me to her hidden litter of newborn kittens, or burrowing into my mother’s lilac bushes in pursuit of a baby cottontail.

Our Turn At This Earth: The Beauty Of Dry Places

Dec 27, 2018
CC0 Creative Commons

 

High Plains Public Radio will be re-airing the past year's episodes of Our Turn At This Earth beginning Nov. 22, 2018.

In the meantime, Julene Bair is working on a whole new set of episodes, so stay tuned!

Our Turn At This Earth: Wild Times

Dec 20, 2018
Julene Bair

High Plains Public Radio will be re-airing the past year's episodes of Our Turn At This Earth beginning Nov. 22, 2018.

In the meantime, Julene Bair is working on a whole new set of episodes, so stay tuned!

Our Turn At This Earth: Slow Migration

Dec 6, 2018
Julene Bair

High Plains Public Radio will be re-airing the past year's episodes of Our Turn At This Earth with this, the very first show. Not to fear though. Julene Bair will be back with new episodes of Our Turn At This Earth. In the meantime, we thought you might like to catch the first year's episodes. Enjoy!

Our Turn At This Earth: Plains Icons

Nov 29, 2018
Patrick Bolduan

High Plains Public Radio will be re-airing the past year's episodes of Our Turn At This Earth beginning  November 2018.  

Julene Bair is working on a whole new set of episodes, so stay tuned. 

To catch other episodes, visit the Our Turn At This Earth feature page.

Every few years, I obey the compulsion, as instinctive as a migratory bird’s, to return to the home nest.

Our Turn At This Earth: An Introduction

Nov 22, 2018
CC) Creative Commons

 

High Plains Public Radio will be re-airing the past year's episodes of Our Turn At This Earth with this, the very first show. Not to fear though. Julene Bair will be back with new episodes of Our Turn At This Earth. In the meantime, we thought you might like to catch the first year's episodes. Enjoy!

"I grew up on the mild-green, short-tufted buffalo grass prairies of northwestern Kansas.”

That is the first sentence in my first book, One Degree West.

Our Turn At This Earth: Ogallala Road

Nov 15, 2018
Ani Espriella

  

I’m the kind of person who can’t resist a country road. I’ll be zipping down the interstate between somewhere big and somewhere else big, and a narrow track winding between pale buffalo grass pastures will catch my eye. Next thing I know, the interstate is fading into the distance in my rear-view mirror, as I follow my nose into the next county.

Our Turn At This Earth: The Beaver Creeks

Nov 8, 2018
Ani Espriella

My father pastured his sheep on what could loosely be termed the “shores” of Little Beaver Creek, a dry watercourse that flowed only after gully washers – his term for big rainstorms. Today it amazes me that I could have grown up in that place and never wondered how the creek got its name. Nor did I wonder what happened to the water or the trees that beavers could not live without.

Our Turn At This Earth: The Carbon Cycle

Nov 1, 2018
Wikimedia

Stories about disruptions in the carbon cycle abound in the news these days. But recently, it occurred to me that I didn’t really know what the carbon cycle was.

A few Google searches later, and I will never again see my fall garden in quite the same way.

It has always seemed a miracle to me that a tiny seed can sprout into a squash vine that takes over my backyard. Well, now I know that during photosynthesis, plants use the sun’s energy to rearrange the carbon from carbon dioxide, and the hydrogen and oxygen in water, into glucose, which they use to grow.

Our Turn At This Earth: Animal Stories

Oct 18, 2018
Julene Bair

My mother used to tell a story about a dog that our family had before I was born. She swore he could read her mind. “’Elmer, ‘ I said to him one time, “why don’t you get me that chicken?’ I didn’t even point. But danged if he didn’t go over and grab me the chicken I’d been thinking about.”

Mom also liked to recall the time she placed duck eggs into the nest of a mother hen. “Well,” she said, “when they hatched and got a little older, they slipped through the fence and went swimming in the pond. Oh did that hen have a conniption.”

Our Turn At This Earth: Walls Of Corn

Oct 11, 2018
USDA

Like any farmer, my father loved driving along a wall of green corn and computing the many bushels it would yield and the money these would put into his bank account. He irrigated his corn out of the Ogallala Aquifer, and always believed that the government would shut him down before he ran out of water.

Our Turn At This Earth: Elephant Or Cash Cow?

Oct 4, 2018
Pexel

A few years ago I attended a meeting in my hometown, Goodland, Kansas. It had been called by the Vision Team, appointees of then Governor Sam Brownback, who had taken a noteworthy interest in conserving the Ogallala Aquifer.

We hundred or more attendees were divided into groups of around eight each and asked to address a series of questions. For instance, what role might technology play in conserving the aquifer? And how could education about the aquifer be improved?

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

“He thought he knew what he was going to see, but now that his horse stood on the summit, he couldn’t believe. He couldn’t believe that flat could be so flat or that distance ran so far or that the sky lifted so dizzy-deep or that the world stood so empty. … He thought he never had seen the world before. He never had known distance until now. He had lived shut off by trees and hills and had thought the world was a doll’s world and distance just three hollers away and the sky no higher than a rifle shot.”

John Deere's The Furrow magazine. Copyright (c) 2018 Deere & Company. All worldwide rights reserved.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been talking a lot about regenerative farming techniques. “But could they work where I’m from?” I kept wondering.

In order to find out, I spoke with Michael Thompson, a sixth-generation farmer from Norton County, Kansas, who grew up thinking, like I did, that wheat ground had to be fallowed every other year and kept bare to accumulate moisture for the next crop.

Public Domain

When it came time to plant a new windbreak on my family’s farm back in the 1980s, my father wanted just junipers or elms, while I wanted both of those, plus lilacs, Russian olives and plums, not in rows, but all mixed together randomly, like in a real forest.

We fought over those trees the way close family members will do as if our separate wishes were a threat to our mutual identity. He must have felt as if I were rejecting his very way of life and being, while I yearned for him to accept and share my taste for wildness.

Julene Bair

Last month, my partner and I, having become mutually deluded, decided to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Al had done this many times as a younger man. Now 67, he likes to remind me that he is two whole years my junior. I had only backpacked a few times in that long life of mine, but with visions of diving into blue mountain lakes, I thought that a three-mile jaunt into the Sierras should be no problem.

Julene Bair

This May, when I paid a visit to the North Dakota farm of the well-known Soil Health advocate, Gabe Brown, I felt particularly blessed to take part in a conversation with the insightful soil scientist, John Norman. Although he retired some time ago from university teaching and research, John had agreed to oversee a study of the soils on Gabe’s farm.

He was motivated in this research by his understanding of prairies and the soils beneath them as living systems.

Julene Bair

“This farming has gotten so industrialized and out of hand,” Gabe Brown said.

We were sitting in the shade on his North Dakota regenerative farm, watching several hundred chickens scratching in a field of mixed cover crops. They provided ready contrast to the ills Gabe was describing. Most chickens these days live in cages so small they can’t even spread their wings.

Abe Collins, a soil advocate colleague of Gabe’s, felt he understood the root of the problem.

Our Turn At This Earth: The Missing Loop

Aug 16, 2018
Julene Bair

By lucky coincidence, my visit this May to the North Dakota farm of the remarkable soil health advocate Gabe Brown corresponded with a study being led by two other remarkable men. One of them was Abe Collins, who has spent most of his life raising cattle and sheep.

Collins is now mapping the soils on regenerative farms such as Gabe’s, hoping to create what he calls a “translation utility.”

Our Turn At This Earth: Nature Won Them Over

Aug 9, 2018
USDA NRCS South Dakota

Often in our culture, when thinking about land, we think only about how much money we can make farming its soils, grazing its grasses, mining its minerals, or harvesting its trees. We think this way, understandably, because we need to make a living and secure our futures, but in that pursuit, we sometimes fail to notice what the land already gives us in its natural state.

Courtesy

That’s the question I first asked myself some months ago when I began learning about the Soil Health movement. I’d seen a video of Ray Archuleta, the agronomist who spearheaded the movement, demonstrating how non-tilled versus conventionally farmed soils absorb water. When he placed a clump of soil from a field that had been tilled year after year into a jar of water, it immediately fell apart and turned the water brown, while a clump from a field farmed without tillage held together for over 24 hours.

Our Turn At This Earth: A Soil Health Tour

Jul 26, 2018
Julene Bair

Gabe threw a drain spade into the bed of his pickup and invited me to hop in the passenger seat. I’d arrived at his North Dakota farm earlier that morning and was getting a crash course in the art and science of regenerative agriculture from one of its foremost practitioners. 

brownsranch.us

I love the wide-open, top-of-the-world feeling I get whenever I’m on the Great Plains. Last month, I was able to relish that feeling once again. After flying into Bismarck, North Dakota, I drove out to Gabe Brown’s 5,000-acre ranch and farm.

Gabe showed me to a chair on the porch of a one-room cabin he’d built for meetings with visitors. A prominent leader in the Soil Health movement, he told me that a group or an individual comes by almost every day to learn about his regenerative farming and grazing techniques.

“So tell me what you’re interested in,” he said.

I told him that until my family sold our western Kansas irrigated farm in 2006, we had done our part in depleting the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest source of groundwater in this country. That farm and others like it were continuing to drain the aquifer, which seemed wrong to me. For a long time, I’d been looking for some positive news to share about how the aquifer could be saved.

Our Turn At This Earth: Soil Health Movement

Jul 5, 2018
USDA National Resource Conservation Services

I had read something about a Montana farmer who was using sweet clover as a cover crop in his wheat. The details are long lost to me. He may have been inter-seeding the clover with the wheat, or establishing it over a season or two, then turning it under before he planted his cash crop. Whatever his method, the clover, being a legume, fixed nitrogen in the soil.

Our Turn At This Earth: Dream Women

Jun 28, 2018
Public Domain

In the dream, a little girl stands beside a row of women. The women are dressed demurely in dark dresses such as the ones my mother’s mother wore—navy blue with tiny polka dots or dark green bordering on black. They sit erect in straight-backed chairs, their hands folded in their laps. The girl moves from one woman to the next, asking, “Do you have any magic?” Each, in turn, smiles indulgently at the girl. “Oh my! Why no, dear.”

Our Turn At This Earth: Finding The Right Words

Jun 21, 2018
Creative Commons CC0

It’s happened many times. There I’ll be driving innocently down a western Kansas road, and a stretch of buffalo grass will reach out and grab me, almost pulling me into the ditch. Often, I’ve had to stop the car and get out, as I did one February afternoon a few years ago.

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