Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Winter's Sleep

These are the longest nights. From now until mid-January the sun will set before most of us are done with the day's work. We'll be coming home in darkness and leaving the house again before dawn. Some folks never see their home in daylight this time of year except on weekends.

This is a time of torpor, when many mammals take to their burrows for hibernation. Colder weather and shorter days signal biological changes in the Earth's creatures, including man. Holidays alone are not the reason we do more shopping, put on more weight and feel more tired than usual.
Each of us comes with a built-in biological clock that affects virtually every function of our bodies, including sleep. Blood pressure rises and falls, pulse quickens and slows, and glands secrete proteins according to daily -- or Circadian -- rhythms established by this inner timepiece.

Continued at... A Winter's Sleep.

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1995. All rights reserved.
Rural Delivery
Second Nature
Out There
Artwork: Hibernation by Gun Legler

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Right Jolly Old Elf

"He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself"
    -- C. Clement Moore

This Santa Claus is certainly a magical fellow. He flies through the sky, is rarely seen outside of shopping malls, possesses an uncanny intelligence about who has been naughty or nice, and has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of toys.

Some say he is descended -- or evolved -- from Kris Kringle, a legendary figure from Norse folk tales. Or perhaps he's related to Odin, the Lord of the Winds who rode through the stormy nights on an eight-legged flying horse.

Continued at... A Right Jolly Old Elf.

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved.

Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Holidays and Notable Events
Artwork: Spirit Of Santa by Tom Browning

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Carol's Tale

Most songs don't keep. People sing them for a few years, then lose interest. New tunes replace the old in a continuous cycle and yesterday's lyrics are soon forgotten.
Even Christmas carols, the most traditional sounds in American music, have fairly shallow roots. The most popular Christmas song to date, "White Christmas," was composed by Irving Berlin in 1942. "Do You Hear What I Hear?" only dates back to 1962 and "Away in a Manger" is just over a century old.
Hardly anyone sings old Christmas classics like "La Bonna Novella" and "Nowell" any more. Both were big European hits in the 16th and 17th centuries. So was the German carol "Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen" ("Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming.")
Like a well-worn pair of boots left on the back porch, old songs lie forgotten until they lose their usefulness. Then they don't seem to fit any occasion.

Continued at... A Carol's Tale

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2007. All rights reserved.
Out of the Past
Holidays and Notable Events
Artwork: Church Choir Singing by Mary Evans

Friday, December 6, 2013

Risk Assessment

You know it's going to be a bad day when an official from the Environmental Protection Agency shows up at your door and wants to test your water.
A few years back my wife and I lived in an old mining camp high in the Pioneer Mountains of central Idaho. It was a incredibly scenic location, couched in a mountain valley with rugged snow-capped peaks rising in all directions. Our home was a prospector's cabin fashioned from rough-hewn lumber, rustic and full of character.

Early century miners drew tons of silver ore out of the nearby hills, crushed it to a fine powder and separated out the precious metals. They left behind mounds of overburden and large lagoons of mill tailings, the kinds of rock piles and mine wastes seen all across the American West.

Continued at... Risk Assessment

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1992. All rights reserved.
Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Here's How To... Test a Well
Artwork: Mine Waste Dump 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Christmas Letter

Folks used to correspond regularly with friends and family; perhaps some still do.
Nowadays it's a whole lot easier to dial or fax or text or e-mail or post something on Facebook. The physical act of writing, folding, stamping and posting a letter is becoming as rare as the horse-drawn wagon or the home-cooked meal.

Sure, we send out birthday cards and Mother's Day missives, and the occasional picture postcard, but in our home the only true attempt at formal letter-writing comes at Christmastime.

Continued at... Christmas Letter

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2007. All rights reserved.
Rural Delivery
Holidays and Notable Events
Out of the Past
Artwork: 1945 Print Ad for Parker 51 Pen

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Rare Breeds

Seen a cow lately? Or a pig? How about sheep or chickens? If you live near a major city, it's probably been awhile since you've encountered livestock. But even if you live in the country, miles from the nearest freeway or shopping mall, you're probably seeing less livestock these days.

Farm animals are in decline worldwide. Out of approximately 4,000 breeds of domesticated animals, 1,000 breeds are seriously threatened with extinction. Every week another breed of workhorse, cattle, pig or variety of sheep or poultry follows the passenger pigeon, the blue pike and the wooly mammoth into oblivion.
In hard numbers, there's no shortage of livestock. More domesticated animals are being farmed in less space and with greater returns of meat, milk, eggs and wool than at any time in history. But the number of breeds of domesticated animals is much smaller than it was a century ago. The genetic diversity of farm animals is shrinking, and with it the ability to adapt to new climates, new diseases and new markets.

Continued at... Rare Breeds

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1997. All rights reserved.
Rural Delivery
Farm Supply
Artwork: Dexter Cow

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Final Harvest

Standing in a field just a few hundred yards from the place where he was born 70 years earlier on "a cold February morning," the retiring rancher eyed the crowd gathered around his dimantled windmill.

An auctioneer cried out from the center of the throng, "Last chance! Two-twenty-five, give me two-twenty-five! Sold for two hundred dollars."

The auctioneer and the crowd moved on, away from the rancher and toward a rusty manure spreader. The man with the highest bid, a neighbor, lagged behind. He studied the metal fan blades of the windmill and then crossed over to the rancher. His round, flushed face was reflected in the older man's dark glasses.

"You're going to have to help me put this thing together," he said.

The rancher studied him a moment from behind the glasses, then announced in mock seriousness. "Nope, I can't help you. I told you not to buy the thing."

Continued at... Final Harvest

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1989. All rights reserved.
Rural Delivery
Farm Supply
Artwork: Farm Auction, 1940

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Beware the Stones from Heaven

The moon is full and rising over the plain, saturating our town's quiet streets with its milky glow. I can feel its light against my skin. It casts shadows behind me.

Against the hush of this lunar glare a red fireball arches across heaven. The gaseous atmosphere makes it burn, whirling and sparking and breaking apart on its way to earth. In the stillness I think I hear it crackle and pop. Then it's gone.

Continued at... Beware the Stones from Heaven

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved.
Out There
Out of the Past
Artwork: Gosse Bluff

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Animal Talk

People who live with animals almost invariably talk to their critters, or at least that's been my experience. And the animals, in their own way, usually talk back.

I've personally talked to several horses,  a few cows,  assorted chickens,  a pair of exceptional pigs and dozens of dogs and cats.

We don't carry on about American literature, of course. When I do, their eyes glaze over the way mine do when someone talks about computer programming. They sniff. The scratch. They look elsewhere and finally walk away.

But when the subject is birds or food or the quality of the weather, then we understand each other just fine.

Continued at... Animal Talk

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1992. All rights reserved.
Pet Supply
Second Nature
Out There
Artwork: Mr. Ed

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cold Hardening

Hard frost again last night. My footsteps leave dark impressions on the ground. The breath of the cows rises in clouds as they huddle together like football players at Soldier Field on a December Sunday.
Fewer grasshoppers now, I notice. They used to scatter through the wheat stubble on my approach. Only a few stragglers remain. The rest have died or gone off to hide from winter.

The crisp night is giving way to a warm morning glow. It will be an "Indian Summer" sort of day, the kind we missed out on last year when winter dropped in early. Some of our coldest weather came in November rather than January, where it belongs.

Continued at... Cold Hardening

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1996. All rights reserved.
Rural Delivery
The Nature Pages
Second Nature
Artwork: Winter Tree Line by Ilona Wellman

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

All Soul's March

In the crisp chill of October night costumed children toddle down darkened lanes, their tittering voices fending off silence.

They come dressed as ghouls and monsters, aliens of outer space and starship captains from the 25th century. Masked as heroes and demons, wild animals and crazed villains, our youth knocks upon the doors of strangers demanding treats.

Continued at... All Soul's March

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1994. All rights reserved.
Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Holidays and Notable Events
Artwork: Three Kids in Halloween Costumes With Scary Masks

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What Logs to Burn

"Logs to Burn! Logs to Burn!"
"Everyone needs logs to burn!"
Hear the woodman sell his wares.
What trees they come from, no one cares.

Ah! But here's a word to make you wise,
When you hear the woodman's cries.
Never heed his usual tale
That he has good logs for sale,
But read these lines and really learn
The proper kind of logs to burn:

Continued at... What Logs to Burn

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2004. All rights reserved.
Rural Delivery
Shop Tools and Hardware
How To Do  It Books
Artwork: Stack of Firewood

Monday, October 21, 2013

How to Make a Jack-o-Lantern

First, you start with a pumpkin seed, but not just any pumpkin. Seek out seeds of a Halloween or Jack-o'-Lantern or Spookie variety. You want a pumpkin that matures to the size and shape of your own head.
Sow your seed just before the last frost in mounds of soil and manure. And as you plant, reflect on how deeply the roots of pumpkins sink into history. Native to the Americas, pumpkins fed Indian tribes before Columbus landed and gave white settlers in frontier cabins sustenance through cold, dark winters.

Grow pumpkin vines in full sun with plenty of water. When they sprout small pumpkins, pinch off the tips of the vines. When the pumpkins are six inches across, pick all but one pumpkin per vine.

Continued at... How to Make a Jack-o-Lantern

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1996. All rights reserved.
Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Holidays and Notable Events
Artwork: Jack-o'-lantern

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Signs of the Weather

Bad weather is on its way -- ferocious storms of rain and maybe snow. I see it clearly in the night sky: that ring around the moon -- a sure sign.

The brighter the stars, of course, the better the weather, but when a cat begins to wash its face a storm is coming fast. And when smoke drops in a chimney, rain soon follows.

Continued at... Signs of the Weather

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1996. All rights reserved.
Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Artwork: Ring Around Moon by Alan Lenk

Monday, October 14, 2013

Silent Sentinel of Crop Protection

He stands alone near the fenceline staring out at the horizon. The breeze that rustles through the dried corn stalks stirs his tattered shirttails. He sways slightly, but keeps a firm grip on his rusty pitchfork with a broken tine.

Since spring planting he's been out there, a silent sentinel of agricultural defense. As the fields were plowed and fertilized, he was watching. He witnessed the first emergence of seedlings and saw the workers moving handlines during the early summer drought.

But now the crop is in and harvest done, and he's still standing there, waiting. I find him unnerving.

Continued at... Silent Sentinel of Crop Protection

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1995. All rights reserved.

Rural Delivery
Holidays and Notable Events
Artwork: Scarecrow by Susan Savad

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Bite Most Deadly

Some folks are afraid of spiders, others snakes. Lightning puts the fear of God in many of us, and so do earthquakes, tornadoes and dark moonless nights. Living in the country presents many special worries, like the threat of wildfire or the potential for flash floods. More cars collide with wild animals on rural roads than city lanes and the chances of eating a poisonous mushroom or contracting the deadly hantavirus are much greater off the beaten path. But there is no threat so terrifying in rural places, or as fatally serious as rabies.

Growing up, I learned to keep a wary eye on grape arbors and tall, dark hedges of lilacs lest some crazed bat should emerge, grab hold of my hair, bite my scalp and infect me with rabies. Older cousins planted a terror of rabies in my pre school mind with accounts of the terrible vaccination shots in the belly that bat bite victims had to endure and how, more often than not, the bitten person went crazy and was committed to an asylum, ranting and raving and foaming at the mouth.

Continued at... A Bite Most Deadly

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Out There
Pet Supply
Artwork: Mad Dog by Mike Savad

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Fruitful Year

It was the final day of the season for the Fallins' roadside produce stand and Mae Fallin was ready to close up.
For three months Mae and her husband, Vern, had stood behind their tables of melons and corn and apples and squash. Thousands of their homegrown tomatoes and watermelon and peppers passed through their hands this long, hot summer, sold to customers from Boise and Twin Falls and Pocatello and even New York.
"The customers from New York were a nice little family," Mae recalled. "They had been to Alaska and were heading home taking the back roads when they saw our stand."

Continued at... A Fruitful Year

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Farm Supply
Artwork: Mae Fallin with squash (photo by Michael Hofferber)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Bird Wars

Some farmers enforce their property rights with shotguns; others use feral cats, cannons, balloons or plastic owls. If they don't, birds can eat them into poverty.

This is the time of year when sparrows, starlings, pigeons and other overwintering fowl start making a pest of themselves in barns and feedlots. Feed lines in dairy barns are black with birds and the backs of the cows are often slick with their excrement.

An adult starling, according to some reports, will eat one-and-a-half times its body weight in feed per day if given the chance. Wintering flocks numbering 2,000 birds will consume a ton of feed a month or more.

Continued at... Bird Wars

Michael Hofferber
Farm Supply
Pest Control
Artwork: Starlings by Will Borden

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Harvest Song

Summer's back is broken. The hot, dry winds of August gave way this week to steady rain. We haven't had a soaking like this since June, or May.

There will be more hot days this year, without doubt, but in these mountain valleys October is already in sight, and November too. Spring is often a latecomer, but autumn is ever anxious, showing up at the door weeks before he's due.

I see autumn in the meadows and pastures, where ryegrasses and wild wheat have reached maturity, their tops all yellow and bent over with the burden of seed. The goldenrod is blooming now, taking the place of monkeyflower and penstemon.

Continued at... Harvest Song

Michael Hofferber
Growth Spurts
Holidays and Notable Events
Artwork: The Harvest at Arles by Vincent Van Gogh

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Where Did Dogs Come From?

In the space of just a few thousand years, dogs have changed their shape and behaviors to fit into almost every known human environment and endeavor, from Huskies pulling sleds in the Arctic to Border Collies herding sheep in Scotland and Pekinese warming laps in midtown Manhattan.

"Dogs may well display the greatest range of shapes of any mammal that has ever existed," note biologists Raymond and Lorna Coppinger. "As reproductive adults, they may have a greater range of sizes and shapes than any vertebrate species that ever lived."

And yet, at the molecular level not much has changed since dogs branched off from the family of wolves. The DNA makeup of wolves and dogs is almost identical.

Continued at... Where Did Dogs Come From?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

When Cowgirls Rode the Broncs

Before there was Venus Williams or Nancy Lopez or even Billie Jean King, there was Lulu Belle Parr and Bertha Blancett and Lucille Mulhall.
The true pioneers of women's professional sports gripped reins instead of golf clubs, rode wild horses and bulls instead of thoroughbreds, and competed in dusty arenas rather than on grass courts. America's first female pro athletes grew up on farms and ranches of the West, like Lorena Trickey of Oregon, who started competing as a bronc rider to support the family after her parents died. They were cowgirls competing head-to-head with cowboys in rodeos all across America.

From the late 1890s through the 1920s, cowgirls like Dorothy Morrell and Tad Lucas were popular stars of big-time rodeo competitions like the Calgary Stampede, the Pendleton Roundup and the World Series Rodeo in Madison Square Garden of New York City.

Continued at... When Cowgirls Rode the Broncs

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Out of the Past
Cowgirls of the Rodeo
Artwork: Cowgirl with Horse

Friday, July 5, 2013

Full Bloom

As spring gives way to summer, most of the blooms of April and May wilt before the feverish efflorescence of June and July. Gone are the tulips and daffodils and lilies of cooler days and longer nights.
Have you ever wondered why the tulip drops its petals just as orchids are unfolding and while pansies and petunias go on blooming? Is it the heat of summer that makes them fade? Or some aversion to longer days?

Blame it on plant genetics. Flowers don't die off; they are deliberately strangled by the rest of the plant.

Continued at... Full Bloom

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Science and the Garden 
Artwork: Orange Parrot Tulip

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Place of Our Own

I'd like to tell you about a beautiful little lake I know of, perched in a glaciated valley and surrounded by granite peaks, where the brown trout bite fearlessly and elk come down to the water's edge at evening and graze on lush meadow grasses garnished with wildflowers, but I can't. I promised.

A friend took me there on the condition that I not reveal its location to anyone.

"And for heaven's sake, don't write about it!" he pleaded.

Continued at... A Place of Our Own

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
The Nature Pages
Artwork: A Place of Our Own

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Raspberry Rhapsody

Growing raspberries is like raising reindeer or taming mustangs. Fenced in or not, the species still hears the call of the wild, and given the opportunity it will follow.

Raspberries flourish on their own throughout the Northwest. I've seen them along roads, at the edges of farmers' fields, and deep in the backcountry. They grow best on slightly sloping, sunny hillsides.

As a child, my first harvest memories are of raspberries. I recall carrying jars of the precious red fruit to the kitchen where my mother was canning jam and watching her stir them into a molten mixture on the stove. Just the memory of its smell makes my mouth water.

Continued at... Raspberry Rhapsody

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Plants and Seeds
Home and Garden
Artwork: Red Raspberries

Monday, June 17, 2013

Lightning Strikes

Tonight the sky is growling. Beneath the blackened heavens a finicky breeze rattles the maple leaves and makes the pine boughs groan. A scent of rain rides the whiffs.

Without warning this darkness is penetrated by fingers of ghostly white. They grasp at the earth, its treetops and its mountainsides, ever so lightly before withdrawing into the night. Moments later, thunder rumbles.

Lightning is one of the most dramatic, uncontrollable and dangerous acts of God. A hundred times each second bolts of lightning connect with the Earth. Where they will strike, no one can say. But aside from floods, no other natural phenomenon claims as many lives or causes as much damage.

Continued at... Lightning Strikes

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
The Nature Pages
Out There
Artwork: Lightning Strikes

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sunday Drive

Folks on a Sunday Drive count livestock, assess crop conditions and take notice of wildflowers. They pause for rainbows, old weathered barns and small animals crossing the road. And they're likely to stop at any yard sale, flea market or roadside fruit stand.

You'll know these folks by their sun-bronzed forearms resting atop drawn-down windows and their willingness to wave at passersby. Sometimes they'll be stopped side by side in the middle of the road facing opposite directions and jawing at each other across the center line.

Continued at... Sunday Drive

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Artwork: Sunday Drive

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ascent of Man

There are tougher jobs than parenting. Longshoremen lift far heavier weights and ocean-going fishermen endure much greater discomfort. City police on night patrol face more stress and emergency medical teams have to deal with more terrible traumas. But no man's job is more dangerous to him on a personal level than fatherhood. No other occupation threatens as much heartbreak or deeper wounds. The loss of no other livelihood can cost a man not only his life, but his place in eternity.

For my little boy's well-being, I realized early on, there is little I would not suffer. His hurts pain me ten times more than my own. His laughter makes me happier than my own.

Continued at... Ascent of Man

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Father's Day
Artwork: Time by Jean Monti

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Keeping a Tornado Watch

This time of year I look for thunderstorms, big boomers with rolling black clouds and great flashes of lightning. I want the kind of storm that sends down sheets of rain, gully-washers, and creates worrisome winds that uproot trees and down power lines.

I wait for the kind of tempest King Lear lived through, both terrifying and thrilling, capable of washing away the grime of madness, purifying and cathartic.
For three springs and summers I lived in Kansas. There I saw storms that could lift a roof or drown a crop.

Huge walls of cloud, broiling in fury and rising into the rafters of heaven, would come rumbling across the plains late on any given afternoon turning the day into night and sending every living creatllre scurrying for cover

Continued at... Keeping a Tornado Watch

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Out There
Artwork: The Dimmitt Tornado

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Read the News Backwards

If there's a gruesome crime today in Florida, Nebraska or even the Yukon I can count on the media to tell me about it before bedtime and again the next morning, and for days on end if the story is good enough. But will I ever hear about the fireman who saved a life, the teacher who helped a troubled child, the farmer who cleared his debts, or the woman who survived breast cancer in those places?
What good is news about people and places we have little notion of, and are not likely to ever meet? Information without intention is only gossip. That was the opinion of Henry David Thoreau nearly 150 years ago:
"If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, we need never read of another. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for the myriad instances and applications?"

Continued at... Read the News Backwards

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Out of the Past: Thoreau
Artwork: Farmer 1931

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Any Given Name

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.

Juliet, upon her balcony, wishes Romeo would give up his family name and change it to some other. He, in turn, offers to be "new baptiz'd" with some other name than Montague? But does he follow through? Does he change either his Romeo or his Montague? Naw.

Not for love or for the sake of their two warring families do the star-crossed lovers change their names. They'll go to any extreme, even drink poison if they must, to avoid that end.

What's in a name? Just about everything

Continued at... Any Given Name

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Artwork: What's in a Name?
Out of the Past: What's in a Name?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

For the Love of Tractors

Many old-timers came of age in the seat of an Allis-Chalmers, a Farmall or even a Poppin' Johhny. Wisconsin folk historian Jerry Apps' first tractor was a homemade contraption sculpted from the remains of old trucks, spare parts and down-home know-how.

Apps was only eight years old at the time and the tractor was the creation of a local welder-blacksmith, Jim Colligan, who fashioned it from an old Model A Ford truck.
"He shortened the truck's frame. In place of regular truck tires, he acquired a pair of huge old tires that the county discarded from one of its snowplows," Apps recalls. "Colligan bolted these tires to the truck wheels and left them flat, to provide more traction for the tractor. With some sheet metal, he fashioned a hood to cover the engine, and he made a seat for the operator to sit on. He covered the whole thing with aluminum paint and drove it out to the farm one summer day in 1942."

Continued at... For the Love of Tractors

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Old Iron Disease

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Canine Alter Ego

When Ulysses, that ancient Greek king, returned home in disguise after being on the road for twenty years only his faithful dog -- Argos -- recognized the hero in beggar's clothing.
External trappings don't mean much to the canine species. Rich or poor, famous or ordinary, your dog still responds to character and performance. There's no fooling Fido.
"The fact that dogs haven't given up on humans completely and still make people their friends shows there must be some hope for the human race," said President Lyndon Johnson, whose beagles stood by him despite that awful ear pulling.

This ability to see beneath the surface of humans probably explains why dogs, almost invariably, resemble their masters.

Continued at... Canine Alter Ego

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Pet Supply
Artwork: President Lyndon Johnson Pulling Dogs' Ears

Friday, April 26, 2013

Touching Discovery

Talk a walk through a field and run your fingers across the leaves, or bend over and lightly touch the seedlings emerging from the ground, and you may make the difference between whether those plants thrive or perish.

That's the implication of the findings by three ecologists in Pennsylvania who discovered that touching plants in the field affected their ability to repel insects.

James Cahill of the University of Alberta, and Jeff Castelli and Brenda Casper of the University of Pennsylvania were conducting field studies of plants in an abandoned hayfield and along a forest floor when they noticed that plants they had marked for study were experiencing extremely high rates of attack by insects. Plants that they had not disturbed were faring much better.

Could it be that they, the detached and impartial scientific observers, were making a difference in the plants' environment that affected their survival?

Continued at... Touching Discovery

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Plants and Seeds
Out There
Artwork: Butter and Eggs Toadflax

Friday, April 12, 2013

Rural Economics

Sip your coffee slowly and it will last longer, one cup of stimulation for twice the length of time. Keep it warm in a thermos and you save on microwaves. Re-use your coffee grounds and you'll save nearly 30 pounds of coffee, or $200, by year's end.
Here it goes again, that compulsion to count and figure and cut and scrimp. Like some actuary, I'm compelled to calculate the costs and consequences of every action and exchange.
Air-drying laundry on a clothesline saves nearly 50 cents a load.
Add two weeks between those monthly haircuts and save at least $60 a year.

Buy heating oil in midsummer and save another $50 or more.

Continued at... Rural Economics

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Holidays and Notable Events
Farmers Market Supply
Artwork: 12-Digit Desktop Calculator with Tax Function

Friday, March 22, 2013

Give Eggs a Break

When I was growing up eggs were often called "the perfect food" -- a massive dose of protein packed into a small container with all the essential nutrients for making strong bodies. Everyone endorsed them. We all ate them at almost every meal.

Then some egghead discovered cholesterol and everything got scrambled.

Eggs contain more cholesterol than almost any food source, a whopping 212 milligrams or so per yolk. So when doctors started prescribing less cholesterol in the diet, eggs were the first to go.

That decision may have been a little too hard-boiled.

Continued at... Give Eggs a Break

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Eggs and Health Promotion
Artwork: Fresh Eggs

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Another animal has joined our menagerie -- a puppy this time, probably of mixed breed. Barely six weeks old, he's a furry ball with a hungry belly, loose tongue and sharp teeth. He's already made some unfortunate impressions on exposed shins, flower beds and the living room carpet; being cute and affectionate has been key to his survival.

In some households, people spend hundreds of dollars on specially bred and registered pets. They go to great lengths to seek out and find just the right animal. We might have too, I suppose, if we lived somewhere less rural.

All of our pets, including this puppy, have come into our care through unplanned and unexpected adoptions. All but one was abandoned on our property, or nearby, by faceless miscreants too irresponsible to show themselves.

Continued at... Strays

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Pet Supply
Artwork: Mother's Love

Monday, March 18, 2013


We lie on the brink of change. Great storms are brewing. This is the week of equinox, when the Earth stands up straight to the sun before it begins to tilt again, northern hemisphere tipping outward.
At this moment everything hangs in balance. The hours of day and night are nearly even. There's some powerful physics at play.

I remember Oregon Coast fishermen, charter skippers and commercial trollers, standing around the bait shop scolding the weather. The worst storms and the most unpredictable catches occurred at equinoxes, they said. Nasty storm clouds would rise out of nowhere and turn the ocean black, threatening lives. Then, quick as cream in a cat's mouth, the clouds would be gone. Skies would clear. Fish would bite.

Equinoxes are times of special powers. Calendars are created around them; crops are planted by them.

Continued at... Equinox

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sacrificial Cells

Plants get sick. They develop soft rot and leaf spot and cankers of all sorts. They suffer ulcerous lesions, mildews, and various wilts and scabs.
Apple trees get fire blight, which blackens their leaves and twigs and is sometimes fatal. Potatoes are susceptible to late blight, as 19th century Ireland learned too well, and grapes are vulnerable to powdery mildew, which nearly wrecked the French wine industry.
In the U.S. alone, there are more than 25,000 known plant diseases causing crop losses of several billion dollars annually.

Figuring out how plants defend themselves against disease and bolstering those defenses has been a priority for agricultural researchers.

Continued at... Sacrificial Cells

Friday, February 8, 2013

So God Made a Farmer

by Paul Harvey.

And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, "I need a caretaker." So God made a farmer.

God said, "I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board." So God made a farmer.

"I need somebody with arms strong enough to rustle a calf and yet gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild. Somebody to call hogs, tame cantankerous machinery, come home hungry, have to wait lunch until his wife's done feeding visiting ladies and tell the ladies to be sure and come back real soon -- and mean it." So God made a farmer.

Continued at... So God Made a Farmer

Rural Delivery
Artwork: Farmer by Norman Rockwell

Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story

Friday, February 1, 2013

Sweet Spot

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1993. All rights reserved.

I hadn't known it, but in my son's first cries I heard a sound I had been waiting all my life to hear. And everything I'd ever done, from learning to read in grade school to pruning last year's raspberry vines, seemed directed toward that moment. Whatever family my wife and I shared alone before the baby had suddenly blossomed like a flower from a bud, surprisingly brilliant and ambrosial.

Raised on a farmstead, I was no stranger to birth. I thought I could be a calm presence during the delivery. But as the hours of my wife's labors wore on and the emergence of my child grew more imminent I felt myself rising up on my toes with anticipation. I broke into a sweat. My mouth went dry. My heart throbbed intensely.

At birth, I choked up. Couldn't say nary a word. Just looked at the babe and then my wife and then back at the babe again. Inside myself, I was standing on a chair cheering and cheering

Continued at... Sweet Spot

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Artwork: Sweet Spot by Michael Hofferber

Thursday, January 24, 2013

In The Quiet

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved.

Coming home after a trip to the city, I look forward to the warmth of my loved ones, the comfort of familiar faces, and the joys of country living: open space, good neighbors, unpaved land. But what I often crave most is the sound of this place, or rather the lack of sound. The silence. The quiet. The peace.

Here on the porch, I hear the drip of meltwater in the drainspout, the chirp of juncos at the bird feeder, the sound of a pickup truck on a far‑off section road, and the occasional bellowing of a cow or barking of a dog.

Days and nights in the city reverberate with alarms and whistles and recorded noises of all kinds, from disembodied voices to loud syncopated beats. The hum is nearly constant, like being at the seashore next to a continuously pounding surf. The waves roll in, one after another, day after day, until your body starts to expect them and your ears stop hearing them and you wouldn't be able to sleep nights if they were taken away.

Continued at... In The Quiet

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Artwork: Quiet Settles In by Doug Ealley

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Incidents in a Small Town

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved.

Living in a small town, you share a sense of common destiny with your neighbors. When tragedy strikes, the whole community trembles.

Our town has been shaken twice in recent weeks. The police chief, a popular and respected man with a young family, died in a freak highway accident when a delivery truck swerved into his lane and hit him head-on with its load.

Barely two weeks later a single mother and her four small children were murdered in their home and a local sharecropper, known to be a friend of theirs, was found dead in his pickup from a gunshot wound to his head. Investigators suspect a murder-suicide, but they are still trying to find a motive.

Continued at... Incidents in a Small Town

Rural Delivery
Artwork: White Water In a Small Town by Dwight Baird

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Dark of Winter

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2006. All rights reserved.

In the dark days that follow the winter solstice, the last of December through the middle of January, I anxiously track the growth of daylight for reassurance that the tide has indeed turned and that winter will eventually give way to the brightening of early spring.

At this latitude of approximately 45 degrees, daylight grows ever so slowly at first, just a minute more each day until the middle of January, when it starts to grow by twos and then by threes at the month's end.

What I always find curious, and faintly disturbing, is that the day does not grow evenly. The sun sets a minute later each day for the week following the solstice, but it rises the same time day after day.

How could this be? If the earth rotates at a constant speed and tilts at an angle to the sun that's roughly the same at dawn as at sunset shouldn't the amount of daylight grow evenly, the same half-minute at sunrise as at dusk?

Continued at... Dark of Winter.

Michael Hofferber
Rural Delivery
Out There
The Nature Pages
Artwork: Winter Awakening

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Change in the Weather

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1993. All rights reserved.

There's been a change in the weather on the Camas Prairie this winter and Emma Bennett has proof. After six consecutive years of drought, the parched grain fields of Camas County lie beneath welcome layers of snow, the likes of which haven't been seen since the 1950s.

"This is the most snow I've seen since I've been reading the weather, which will be 21 years in October," said Bennett, the 75-year-old proprietor of the Hill City Store and postmaster for the tiny Hill City Post Office.

Only about two dozen residents collect their mail at Bennett's post office, but many are likely to stop in and ask about the weather. "How much rain yesterday? How cold was it last night?"

Everyone knows Bennett can be relied upon for those facts. As an official weather observer for the National Weather Service, she records the highs and lows and precipitation amounts for the Camas Prairie daily. And every afternoon she gets a call from KMVT-TV in Twin Falls asking for the weather data that shows up under Fairfield on the station's nightly newscasts.

Continued at... A Change in the Weather.

Rural Delivery
Out There
The Nature Pages
Artwork: Prairie Dog Pokes Through Heavy Snow