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About Julie Buntjer

Hi, I'm a farm reporter for the Daily Globe in Worthington, Minn. I grew up on a 96-acre hobby farm raising goats, chickens, turkeys and barn cats. I also had sheep as an FFA and 4-H project. The farm is rather quiet now - just a few cattle which, by the way, scare the dickens out of me (one too many bad childhood memories!) I have three brothers, 10 nieces and nephews, four great-nieces, one great-nephew and a black and beautiful lovable pooch named Molly. Molly now keeps my parents entertained down on the farm.

Molly the wonder dog

Ten years ago this month — just a short time into my Daily Globe tenure — I got behind the wheel of my Chevy Blazer with a niece, a nephew and my Mom and drove westward to the tiny town of Steen. There, a family’s faithful German Shepherd had given birth to a rather large litter of pups, and they were free for the taking.

I’d seen the ad in the paper and was more than willing to take on the added responsibility of a pet. The truth was, I needed someone to keep me company on the rather secluded farm site I was renting in the neighborhood where I grew up.

A puppy was the perfect answer.

Yes, I was looking through rose-colored glasses at the time.

Molly’s first night was spent inside the house, inside a deep, spacious tote, inside the bathroom … with the door closed. That was a huge step from the “absolutely no pets in the house” mantra I grew up with.

She whimpered through the night. I probably did as well. As I recall, there was a thunderstorm rolling through.

My house back then was surrounded by a grove of trees, far different from the small town and nearby neighbors I’d left behind in Wabasso. Molly was to calm all my fears — the fear of being alone, the fear of critters roaming the yard at night, the fear of strangers pulling into the secluded drive.

She was to be the ultimate guard dog. Unfortunately, she didn’t know that.

Molly barked at, then ran away from, strangers. (She still won’t get within 10 feet of my oldest brother!) She barked incessantly at the critters she cornered, requiring me to call either Dad or an older brother to come with a gun. She stole orange utility flags from the ditch and a quilt off the neighbor’s clothesline. She chewed through I don’t know how many toys.

Her puppy phase likely gave me my first gray hairs. (I’ve heard that’s true with children as well.)

Now, Molly’s gray hair is evident around her muzzle. Looking more like her father’s side of the family (he was the neighborhood’s roaming Black Lab over in Steen), she’s beginning to show her age — all 10 of them if you’re counting in human years.

She grew from a mischievous puppy into a faithful companion — one that has kept my parents company for the past eight years since I moved into town. She’s never far from my side when I visit the farm, still loves to play fetch and is still ornery enough to not return the toy she retrieves.

She barks at strangers, at the farm cats and at other critters — and perhaps the greatest thing of all, she is the killer of the garter snakes.

My folks have never had a snake-killing dog before, and they may never see such a dog again.

Perhaps Molly did learn how to be an exceptional guard dog after all. She knows one of my greatest fears and has made it her job in this life to protect me from those slithering, icky, sneaky snakes.

I’d give her a kiss and a hug for being such a good dog, but she has snake germs on her.

The undercover search for sheds

After writing in my last blog about looking for deer antlers in the grove on the family farm south of Worthington, my nephews hatched a plan to expand the search area to one of the Wildlife Management Areas in Bigelow Township.

So, with the weather cooperating last Saturday, Matt, Zach and I set out on an afternoon adventure in search of the elusive deer sheds.

 

The first antler, discovered under a pine tree. Notice the area where critters have been chewing on the antler.

Frankly, I have very little experience in searching for antlers. I found my first — and only — shed last spring, smack dab in the middle of the cattle yard on the Buntjer farm. It couldn’t have been in a more obvious locale, surrounded by young sprigs of green grass. At the time, I was hauling tree debris from the ice storm into the cattle yard, and I steered the ATV right past the two-point antler.

That antler is still proudly displayed in my house, surrounded by fake pine greenery in my attempt at interior decorating.

After Saturday’s adventure, I feel like the deer shed I found isn’t quite as worthy as one that, say, took several hours to find.

As Matt, Zach and I split up to walk through rows of evergreens and an assortment of other tree varieties, Matt told me about their previous successes — and failures — in the quest for trophy-sized antlers. Could you imagine spending eight hours walking through trees, matted down grasses and rows of corn stalks and still coming up empty handed?

Well, Matt’s done that. So has Zach.

The second antler, found in the middle of a tree line.

It sort of makes our three-hour quest on Saturday afternoon seem, well, not at all a waste of time. After all, Nephew Zach found not one — but two sheds — a matching pair, in fact. If I had to estimate the distance, I’d say the two were found a quarter-mile apart.

What was interesting about the finds, besides discovering a matching pair, was that the first antler was missing its very tips. It seems, according to Nephew Matt, that the varmints — squirrels, rodents and other critters — gnaw on the antlers for their source of calcium.

Nephew Zach and his deer antler finds.

Antlers are like bones, bones contain calcium — it made sense to me. I have such a smart nephew … and another nephew (also smart) who I now refer to as the Master Shed Hunter. (Actually, I better refer to both of them as Master Shed Hunters … I know Matt has quite a collection as well!)

Meanwhile, I got skunked on Saturday (not in the real sense, of course!). I was so desperate to find a deer shed, I even walked through a couple of areas twice — just in case I missed something the first trip through.

I also encountered an awful sense of being lost, thanks to the thick understory of some pine trees and my decision to follow the deer trails instead of maintain my sense of direction.

My quest to enjoy nature and find a treasure led to mild panic — a feeling of claustrophobia and a fear that I might come face to face with a skunk or a raccoon just beyond the next tree trunk.

I didn’t admit that to the guys though — I didn’t want them thinking I was a sissy.

Sheds, shells and solitude

With the sun shining and just a hint of wind Sunday afternoon, I eagerly headed out to the family farm. There were no deadlines to meet, no demands on my time, nothing on my schedule. It was my time, and my soul hungered for solitude.

I’ve found there are few places on Earth where I can go to just get away from it all. My favorites are at the farm and at the lake — both just a short drive from Worthington.

As the afternoon progressed, I pulled on my coat, called for my dog Molly and headed out the back door of the farmhouse to reconnect with the prairie. I was eager to stroll among the battered trees and the tamped down grasses of the farm’s grove.

It’s still a mess after the ice storm of nearly one year ago. We did what we could before tick season began and the brown grass gave way to green last spring. Then, there was a disagreement between a nephew and me regarding how much debris should be cleaned up. What he saw as new habitat for critters, I saw as tripping hazards. And so, tree limbs still lay haphazardly across lanes, their branches have become weapons to poke anyone on approach.

I wasn’t too far into my exploration before I began picking up the limbs and tossing them over the fence into the cattle yard. There, a burn pile already awaits the day when the wind doesn’t blow, the grass is green and the fire can be contained.

Now, sitting at my computer, I see the little red welts and scratches on my hands. I’d forgotten to wear gloves. But then, I’d never intended to start the daunting task of cleaning out the grove.

Actually, my mission of relaxation began as more of a search. Dad said it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack, but I was willing to at least try.

The story begins with an incident late last fall, when the nephews were testing out their rifles and scouring the grove for critters.

A Buntjer boy, who shall remain nameless, lost a nearly-full box of .22 rifle shells. Anyone who hunts knows how difficult it is to find such shells on the store shelves these days.
Well, the kids searched for hours to no avail, and the ensuing days piled several inches of snow across the landscape. Any hopes of finding the ammo were dashed — at least until spring.

For nearly two hours Sunday, I roamed up and down the lanes looking for this box of shells — and deer antler sheds — without success. Instead of deer antlers I found deer droppings and instead of rifle shells I found varmint holes. Meanwhile, the birds chirped overhead and a terrified bunny rustled through the grass on a mission to outpace my Molly.

Ah, nature. How I’ve missed thee.

After supper, I returned to the grove with the four-wheeler, more intent this time on hauling branches out of the grove and into the cattle yard. On my first pass through the south end of the grove, something red caught my eye. I stopped, put the ATV in reverse, backed up too far and then, there it was — a box of Winchester rifle shells, minus the first row of bullets — resting among the dried brown grass.

I’d found the needle in the haystack. The nephew is happy.

I told him he owed me one, and I plan to collect the next time he comes to Grandpa’s house — he can help me haul more tree limbs out of the grove.

History lesson arrives in the mail

Sitting in front of a computer for much of my work day, I get distracted from time to time by the email alerts that pop up in the lower right-hand corner of my screen. Some I ignore — especially the politically-based emails that complain about Congress or our president — and others are clicked on as a quick and pleasant diversion from my task at hand.

While I love the practicality and ease of email, I still find that nothing beats a good old-fashioned piece of mail. Snail mail is what we call it today.

A few days ago, my publisher showed me the recently received order of note cards with the new Daily Globe logo and asked if I ever sent notes to the people I interview.

Sadly, I looked down at my feet and said, “No.”

I should get in the habit, though. I don’t know how many times I’ve had a watchful eye over the 4-H kids I mentor as they fill out thank-you cards for one reason or another. I guess without a watchful eye over my shoulder, simple notes of appreciation fail to be written.

I bring this up because just the other day, a manila envelope was waiting on my desk when I arrived at work. It came from Tom Nelson, who just happened to grow up on the very farm in Bigelow Township that is the source of many of my Farm Bleat columns. It’s the farm where I go to “get away from it all” in the summer by finding solitude on a hill overlooking Peterson Slough from the back pasture.

Nelson discovered our connection to the land through this very column, and we actually met a year ago when he returned to southwest Minnesota for a visit from his home in California. During that visit, I invited him out to the farm and we reminisced over familiar names painted on the interior of our old garage — familiar names to him because they were his family, and familiar names to me because I’d grown up seeing them scrawled in black paint across the boards.

Included in the manila envelope the other day was a trio of pictures and a letter about oxygenating Lake Ocheda nearly 70 years ago — with a young Tom pictured in the mix of local men. It arrived in response to recent articles I’ve written about the health of the lake.

While the photos were interesting, I was quite pleased to find a photocopy of a big string of northern pike caught on Lake Ocheda included in the mailing. Tom wrote that his dad caught them in a dark house — the largest pike weighed more than 15½ pounds — in the winter of 1934 or 1935.

The fish were impressive, but the background is what brought a smile to my face. It was my farm — our farm — with the cattle pasture and the oil shed (he called it the pump house) looking today just as it had 80 years ago. Wow.

I looked from that photo to a photo I have in a collage at my workspace — of me holding a northern pike I caught last summer. It was the largest pike I’ve ever caught, and in the background was that same oil shed and the barn, which Tom said was built in 1936.

I’m so grateful to have grown up on the Buntjer family farm, which once was the Nelson family farm, and I’ve learned that it isn’t just a love of the land that Tom and I have in common. These recent photos shed light on other commonalities between these families — the joy of fishing and an interest in the health of our Lake Ocheda.

So Tom, I probably won’t get around to sending you a hand-written note of appreciation (even though I know I should), but I know you read my Farm Bleat from time to time. Thanks for photos and the stories — they are much appreciated.

A Top 10 about this winter

As I stood inside one of the 80-plus degree greenhouses at Grandpa’s Fun Farm Thursday afternoon, I thought about creating a space on the counter, finding a chair and spending the rest of my day writing from inside the slightly humid, tropical climate.

I’m sure Jolene Nystrom wouldn’t have minded — as long as the watering hose stayed clear of my laptop, and the nutrient-rich soil didn’t scatter across my keyboard.

Many of us would be envious — especially this winter — of a job that would allow us to spend our days soaking up the sunshine even when it’s not so nice outside.

It’s been a long winter for everyone, but I’ve been fortunate to not let it get to me. A visit to Nystrom’s greenhouse, and a recent trip to the Como Park Conservatory in the Twin Cities, has helped keep the winter blues away.

Still, I’ve been thinking about ways to counteract the negativity emanating from so many people this winter. Perhaps a Top 10 list of why this winter “really isn’t so bad” might help.

With a little input from co-workers, here’s my attempt to get readers thinking positive. After all, spring will come eventually, followed by summer and complaints that “It’s too hot!”

Without further ado:

10. At least we don’t have to mow the lawn every week.

9. We don’t have to buy mosquito repellent or anti-itch ointments for bug bites.

8. The fly swatter is on hiatus.

7. Ice-cold water comes right out of the tap.

6. It’s a perfectly acceptable excuse to say it’s too cold outside so you can stay home and do absolutely nothing.

5. Homemade ice cream … need I say more?

4. Those of us who love to read can finally get through some of those books in our collection. (Then donate them to the Friends of the Library book sale!)

3. We can spend an entire weekend putting a 1,000-piece puzzle together and not feel guilty about it.

2. Personally, I haven’t screamed a blood-curdling scream in months because my dog can’t find a single snake to kill under all of that snow.

1. Any day when the sun shines, the wind doesn’t blow and the pipes don’t freeze is a beautiful day in southwest Minnesota (and northwest Iowa).

There you have it … a Top 10 to get you thinking this winter isn’t so bad.