Saturday, May 2, 2009

"Know Your Soils"

The soil on The Farm ranges from Armstrong clay loam to Gorim silt loam. If that doesn't mean much to you, don't worry. It's a foreign language to me, too.

Everything I know about our soils comes from two sources. The first is the detailed conservation management report prepared for us by the local NRCS office. Each field--and even the distinct parts of each field--is carefully described and analyzed. Turns out we do not have any Menfro, which is the Missouri state soil. (I bet you didn't even know Missouri had a state soil!)

My second source of soil knowledge is first-hand. A couple of weeks ago, my brother and his overweight Labrador named Hagrid came for a weekend visit in their Jeep. When the drizzle on Saturday morning ruled out golf, we decided to head for The Farm (which he hadn't yet seen).

We had only been there about 30 minutes when our combined supply of good sense -- which is never as great when we're together as either of us can manage on our own -- ran out completely. I opened the wire gate to the pasture across the road from the house, and he drove the Jeep in. To get a better view, I opened the next gate, too, and he drove through that.

And then he was stuck. The drizzle-saturated clay suddenly seemed the consistency of pancake batter, and all four wheels of the Jeep were spinning uselessly. No matter which direction the Jeep was pointed, or which direction we spun the wheels, the vehicle only moved one direction: downhill. And downhill was not helpful, since at the bottom of the hill was a soggy creek and cow-trodden mud.

We took turns pushing and driving. We chopped branches to stuff under the wheels in an effort to grab some traction. We rocked the Jeep back and forth. We dragged big scraps of old carpet from the trash heap across the road, and stuck them under the wheels of the Jeep. That last one actually kind of worked, until the carpet was soaked with water and slimy clay mud; after that the carpet gave as much traction as shaving cream, and weighed about a hundred pounds a square yard.

The story has a long, sad ending, which involves cold wind and sleet, a tow-truck which got stuck worse than we were, and a drive home in the wee hours of the morning. Only Hagrid seemed to be enjoying himself: wind and freezing drizzle is a Labrador's natural habitat. We consoled ourselves next day with breakfast at Denny's. My brother's email when he got home summed it up pretty well: "had a great time. Hope we never do it again."

The NRCS soils report appeals to me in a kind of techy, cerebral way. I've always enjoyed learning foreign languages. But getting my brother's Jeep profoundly stuck in that wet patch of "Bevier silty clay loam" just north of the road was my real education about our soil.