Category Archives: family

The year Merle Haggard died and we had kittens

img_20160302_155105

On the home front….

My better and more talented half wrote another beautiful book.


The eldest turned 16, In Every Way. The twins turned twelve.  Lila is becoming quite the equestrian, and both boys continue to be obsessive ballers–Daniel’s the star of the rec team I’m coaching, and Theo plays on the Middle School team. I never have to worry about having something to talk about with them. It’s hoops chatter 24-7. (I should mention Theo ran cross-country and made the all-region team!)

Also, the boys have really excelled  at that bottle-flipping thing.

An undetermined critter got at what was left of our chicken brood, on two successive midsummer nights, and the coop, devoid of avian life, has become the home of a huge woodchuck who tore the floor out and burrowed a home beneath.

A photo posted by Tim Ungs (@timungs) on


A stray cat wandered up to the house, and withstood the combined efforts of our two dogs and four established felines to run her off. Then she had four kittens.

The cowherd got bigger, again, and the count is up to 46, far too many for the pasture I have. Got a good price on hay in the fall, though. I bought enough to last through winter, and will lighten my load when (I hope) the market firms a bit in spring.

img_20160514_122902

The bees looked to be going great guns for the first part of the season, which was awfully wet. I got a fair bit of honey from all of my hives in June, but starting in mid-July it stopped raining. I really don’t know what the bees had to forage from August through October, but they were in just OK shape when I left them to ball up and face the winter. There are five hives going right now. I hope there will be that many in April…

For the third year running, 2016 was the hottest on record in, basically, the world. Locally, and more critical to my needs, it was also dry. Ordinary folks thought that made for pleasant weather (it did), but farmers thought it was weird. I had to pump spendy city water for five months. Thanks to winter rains, the spring  in the cave field only just started to flow again.

I got to go to Nashville, again, solo, to hang with my peripatetic scholar friend John, and Atlanta, with the entire family, to see the other John, his wife Nuria, and boy Pau.

All smiles at the Carter center

A photo posted by Tim Ungs (@timungs) on

Had visits: from dear sister Caroline and her dog Emma, and the annual return of my old Great Plainsman comrade Charly. The MacNeal clan, now based in Taiwan, honored us with a very fun visit. A pleasant surprise was the arrival of Anna, my old Australian friend, with whom I traveled to a good few countries, including hers (for half a year!), in the mid-eighties.

From what I could gather, Anna had somewhere in the range of six to twelve international trips in the last year alone. Me? Me, I have a passport I renewed in 2003, which has never once been stamped. She brought a big canvas sack of my old letters to her, which I have yet to dig into. I’m a bit afraid they will seem to have written by another person….

A photo posted by Tim Ungs (@timungs) on

I had to be reminded of it, but I had not one but two aces in  2016. I accept I may never have another. I’m fine with that.

Neither ace had a witness (so go ahead and append the asterisk). In any case, I was far more impressed with myself when I pured a 7-iron to inside a foot on a back pin on #13. I was playing through a foursome of well-lubricated Louisvillians on the tee, and we all became good friends for a brief moment.

img_20160516_155124

Crepuscular études

Crepuscular. I love that word and always have to look it up.

A photo posted by Tim Ungs (@timungs) on

I posted this on Instagram yesterday, and it led to comments from friends as far afield as Minnesota, Brazil and Australia. Genevieve in St. Paul declared it “word of the day,” and Dan in Sao Paulo informed me that crepuscular is a common Portuguese word, which I didn’t know, but it makes sense. Saudade has no direct English translation either.

Then Ricky chipped in from Corrimal.

Personally, I’m quite fond of dawn and dusk, they have a bit of a mystic feel. The changing of the light is always interesting.

…I love the outline of the cow…. The filigree quality of the trees against the light is beautifully delicate, and the warm glow on the horizon sets the middle ground of the frame, but it’s the presence of of the animal and its lack of complete definition that brings it all back to earth.

I didn’t know I had done all that, but … yeah. I hadn’t wanted to explain the shot too much, Ricky’s interest in it led me to confess to what I was really after.

I was actually photographing that cow more that the entire scene. She just lost her calf yesterday morning. It’s been my experience that cows don’t quite get it when their calves die, especially when they get taken away (and the Dead Truck came around in record time, a mere 15 minutes after I had called). So typically the mama bellows for the calf for a couple of days. She comes up to me accusingly and bellows with special ferocity, as if to say “where’d you put my calf!??!”

Ricky: With my tendency to anthropomorphise, I couldn’t do what you do, Tim.

Me: Well, you harden over time I guess. Yesterday I took the opportunity to ship off two of my favorite old cows as well (they both had udder problems and couldn’t nurse their calves, and one had chronic hoof issues). They got onto the trailer like humans stepping onto a bus, and when we opened the gate, both trotted gamely into the heart of the cacophonous stockyard labyrinth.

I felt a bit of a pang, but turned and let ’em go.

When I told my daughter we had sold the big red cow with the horns, she was very upset with me.

“I had to sell her,” I told her. “You didn’t HAVE to,” she replied. Correctly.

timandcow

La saison de la boue: Mud and contentment, or something like it

Halfway through a winter where I’ve been woodsman and cowherd, dad, cook, and basketball coach. Nothing remotely lucrative in any of that, and it can’t go on forever. But I’m strangely contented. I think.

I’ve dropped much of the electric fencing and my little herd, 34 head with two calves yet to come, is free to wander off my 20-some acres to graze the much larger expanse my wife’s family leases to corn and bean planters in the warmer months. My truck is in the shop and it’s too muddy to drive anyway, so this week I’ve been locating the herd by driving around the perimeter in my Subaru, and then walking from where I park to where they are. It’s an awful lot of walking.

I’m a little anxious about the big red cow with horns, who has chronic issues with her hooves and has trouble keeping up with the others. I’ve been expecting her to calve any day now for the past month. I should have sold her long ago, but she’s something of a pet to me and I’m (still) not hardheaded enough for this business.

Poor Lil frozen honeybee. Why you didn't go back to the hive baby bee?

A photo posted by Tim Ungs (@timungs) on

There is not much I can do for the cattle besides count them and check for lameness and hope to stumble across a cow when she’s ready to calve. I curse having to trudge over this stubble (some days for miles), especially when it’s bitterly cold, but even then, after 15 minutes of brisk perambulation, my body warms and the mood edges gradually into a sort of low-key euphoria. At first I think the landscape is hideous, corn stalks and ruts and bean hulls, but then again, after a while I recognize the variegation, I become familiar with the genera in the treelines–walnut, cherry, oak, hackberry. I make a note of downed trees to cut up later, as well as any standing and easy to access hedge, or osage orange, trees. Their distinctive yellow wood burns well–hot and sparky–and seasons quickly.

 

Like the desert, I imagine, you just have to stare at this landscape of crop residue a while, and it comes to life. Rabbits dart in front as I walk through the wash areas, where the cows still find plenty of green grass to graze, a complement to their hay and the corn and soybeans they scavenge. The starlings are of course ubiquitous, and this time of year there are flocks of geese flying over and landing near the ponds, and just yesterday I noticed, for the first time this year, a gathering of exotic, weird and beautiful sandhill cranes.

I may be repeating myself with this lament but here goes. I grew up in Minnesota, and we had real winters, son. From November to late March, we had snow and ice and inside our galoshes we wore two pairs of socks with a bread bag between them. There was rarely a thought of staying inside before supper. Fifteen below, we played hockey.

Of course winters up north haven’t been quite the same in recent years, and it’s also possible that my memories are not what they should be. But no matter. I can say without any doubt that in Kentucky, in the 20-teens, we don’t have winter as such. We have mud season. I don’t know if saison de la boue is a thing in French, but it should be. I can’t get my kids to go outside, even when the weather’s fine.

My attention span is not what it might be, and I have read maybe parts of three books this winter. I spend a great deal of time in the evenings with one eye on a college basketball game, and the other on my twitter feed. I want to break myself from my addiction to myriad bits of data and opinions on issues over which I have no control. Some mornings I wake up and have to check my bookmarks to remember what article I was reading from 11 to midnight. How many words have I gobbled up on the Charlie Hebdo killings, and to what end? Women and minorities are underrepresented in the Academy Award nominations. And…? American Sniper is a massively popular movie this year, apparently.

Just reading what I’ve written I can see that what I called contentment is at best an intermittent thing. There are truly idyllic aspects to the way we live, but worries, regrets and concerns storm to the forefront of my consciousness when I think about the world outside of our agrarian idyll. My dreams are about separation and scission (excellent word, also a great book of stories) with the occasional aviation disaster thrown in. Are those the dreams of a contented man?

I might venture that it’s contentment, with an awareness of its unsustainable nature. Waiting for the health problems of middle age to raise their heads. Raising three children with the knowledge that their future prospects range from murky to outright scary. Wondering what our beautiful part of Kentucky, officially the outer Bluegrass region, will look like when and if world temperatures rise another couple of degrees, which is not unlikely.

Let’s just call it a kind of serenity, walking a tightrope on a windy day over an abyss. I’m fine with it.