home


Stories from Bernie's current trip - a mule voyage from Canada to Mexico

Mule Traveler's Meal
August 27, 2008
Posted Wednesday August 27, 2008 by Bernie
Come Picnic with Mule Polly and Bernie
August 27, 2008
Posted Wednesday August 27, 2008 by Bernie
Take a Flight Over the Nebraska Sandhills with Ed Minor
August 26, 2008


The Lost Sea as it looks today
(Note the tiny yellow rectangle in the center of the picture. That’s the roof of my traveling home, the Lost Sea mule wagon.)
Outside Merriman, NE

I spend most of my days walking beside mule Polly and the Lost Sea mule wagon looking for traces of the Western Interior Seaway, the now-vanished body of water the covered the Great Plains back in the days when dinosaurs, not cows, covered the land.


Another day in the Sand Hills
Outside Hyannis, NE

While walking is a fine way to see the country side, to really get a feeling for the land,I think a person needs to see it from the air.

But how does a guy that travels in a mule wagon get airborne?

Easy. Planes are drawn to him.

Recently, while walking through the rolling dunes that comprise the Nebraska Sand Hills, my thoughts were interrupted by a roar overhead that turned into plane that landed on a ranch road just across from mule Polly and I.

That’s how I met Ed Minor.

Seems Ed had been out checking windmills on his ranch when he spotted my yellow wagon and dropped in for a closer look. That’s right, instead of flying home to his hanger and returning in his truck, he landed his 1952 Cessna 180 on a ranch road barely wider than his plane’s wings, “just to see what the hell that yellow thing was rolling down the road”.


Ed’s ranch road landing

The next day, Ed took me up in his Cessna to check windmills. To listen to Ed’s plane take off, click the player below.




Ed Minor at the controls

As we roared above the 40,000-plus acre Minor Ranch, Ed explained why he used a plane instead of a horse, truck or mule to check windmills. The Minors have to check over 60 windmills daily. In a plane Ed can check them in “30 minutes or so” but a pickup takes “the better part of a day”. It’s important to check windmills because the cattle rely on them for water. When one stops pumping, the stock has nothing to drink.

Viewed from 4000 feet, the landscape was dominated by an arterial mesh of trails, each network of paths running to a stock tank a tireless wind mill filled. Scattered among the faint trails, tiny and randomly scattered as peppercorns, were Ed’s cows.


Cows around windmill at 4000 feet

Heaving on the controls, Ed put us into a spiraling dive. The mesh of trails disappeared, replaced by a spinning windmill surrounded by galloping cattle.


Cows around windmill at 200 feet

Look closely at the photo above and you’ll see why Ed describes his ranch as a “cow and calf operation”. Next to many of the fleeing cows (planes scare the bejebees out of cattle) is a baby calf galloping full bore to keep up.

Thanks, Ed, for showing us these grass lands from the sky.

(PS: Thanks, too, to Dick and Arlene Minor, Ed’s parents, for hosting Polly – and Roxie for cooking and telling me about Paris.
PPS: Ed. I’ve been practicing with that lariat you gave me. It might come in handy next time Polly escapes…

Posted Tuesday August 26, 2008 by Bernie
Listen to Mule Polly Rake Hay with Trent Loos
August 18, 2008


Lost Sea Vessel (Fritz Sampson photo)

Traveling from Canada toward Mexico with my Lost Sea mule vessel, I wonder. What would it be like to switch to a 100% Equine Powered Lifestyle? I mean, here I am, traveling across the land under pure mule power. Why not expand on the equine power idea?

Recently, mule Polly and I had a chance to test the notion. While visiting Trent Loos of Hazard, Nebraska, he mentioned he needed to rake some hay with his team of Percherons. Would I be interested in throwing Polly into the hitch?

Two hours later, I was perched next to Trent in a Nebraska hay filed raking alfalfa.


Polly (Left) and Jim (Center) rake hay with Trent Loos at the lines

Okay, so the 900-pound Polly looked sorta’ funny next to Trent’s 2,000-pound Percheron Jim. Still, the two managed to pull the twin hay rake. As we rattled up and down the hay field raking two rows of hay into one (that’s what hay rakes do) Trent explained his views on the overlap between old-fashioned and new-fashioned agriculture.


Raking hay

After an hour and a half of raking, of which Polly contributed half an hour in front of the rake, it became clear Polly and I weren’t ready for the 100% Equine Powered Lifestyle. She was pooped.


Trent rests a pooped Polly

To hear Trent’s hay rake in motion, and listen to Trent’s views on mechanized agriculture, click on the player below.



So did we finish raking with horse and mule? Not quite. Of 15 acres of hay that needed raking, we raked 4. So Trent fired up the tractor and finished the job in half an hour.

Thanks Trent for throwing Polly into your hitch. For those of you interested in learning more about Trent’s informative food production pod casts, be sure to visit Faces of Agriculture…

Posted Monday August 18, 2008 by Bernie
Listen to Lakota Elder Janice Red Willow List Prairie Animals in Lakota
August 11, 2008

Traveling across the Great Plains from Canada to Mexico in the Lost Sea Expedition wagon, mule Polly and I encounter all sorts of prairie animals: antelope, deer, rabbits and prairie dogs. Around lakes, we hang out with Western Painted Turtles.


Western Painted Turtle
Imlay (pronounce “Emily”), South Dakota

But those are White Man names.

What, I wondered, did the Lakota Indians, call these creatures?

Recently, while traveling across Pine Ridge Reservation, mule Polly and I spent several days visiting with Lakota Elder Janice Red Willow of Hisle, South Dakota.


Lakota Elder Janice Red Willow
Hisle, South Dakota

Early one morning, with Polly listening in, Janice shared the Lakota names of the prairie fauna surrounding us.


Janice (L) explains as mule Polly and friend listen

Click on the player to listen to Janice Red Willow speak.



Post Script: Thank you, or in your native Lakota, “pila ma yo”, Janice, for putting mule Polly and me up – and keeping us going with “black medicine” (known as coffee aboard the Lost Sea wagon).

Posted Monday August 11, 2008 by Bernie
Ralph Porch Plays the Momma Cow
August 4, 2008


Bernie and Polly inspect the Badlands
West of Interior, South Dakota

Scientists and the fossil record tell us the ridge mule Polly and I are occupying in the picture above was once covered in close to a thousand feet of water.


Flash forward to the present. The inland sea’s gone, replaced by guys with mules posing heroically on the highest points of the once-submerged landscape. Arid, with less than a foot of annual precipitation, one wonders. Aside from ego-boosting photos, what’s this land good for?

In one word: Ranching.


Cow and calf country
West of Scenic, South Dakota

Because the South Dakota Badlands are so dry, they can’t be farmed. Instead, they’re home to enormous ranches. In local speak, they’re called “cow and calf operations”. The calves are born to the mother cows in spring who nurse them until they’re old enough to eat grass.

But what happens if a mother cow can’t nurse her calf? Maybe she dies. Maybe she has twins and there’s only enough milk for one to go around. Then what’s a rancher to do?

Enter Ralph Porch.


Ralph Porch

Ralph Porch and his family ranch on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation just south of Interior South Dakota. As mule Polly and I passed through his neck of the Plains, he invited us to spend the night.

The next day, before Polly and I headed out, Ralph asked if I wanted to go feed the bucket calves.

Bucket calves?


Ralph with bucket calves

That’s right, every morning before Ralph starts his regular chores like mending fences, big, tough Ralph Porch feeds calves who’ve lost their moms. He mixes milk from formula, pours it into enormous bottles, and the nursing begins.


The nursing begins

Ready to hear Ralph’s thoughts on bottle feeding? Just click on the player below.



Thanks Ralph, Diana, Shari, Shannon, Shane and Shawn Porch for putting mule Polly and me up and showing me how to bottle feed calves. For more on the Porch family’s ranch and Quarter horses, click here to visit porchfamilyquarterhorses.com.

Posted Monday August 4, 2008 by Bernie


Recent "Lost Sea Expedition" posts:
Lost Sea Expedition Archives:
2009
January
February
March
April
August
September
2008
January
February
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
2007
February
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
2006
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
2005
October
November
December