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OLD YEAR'S PASSING MEANS IT'S TIME TO WINNOW THE FARM'S MOST MEMORABLE NONEVENTS OF 1999

While experts in all forms of the media have been busy selecting the top people and events of the last 99 years, I've limited my scope to a view of 1999. The media folks have been deliberating on the relative significance of World War II, the computer and the invention of Velcro.

I'm glad they are taking care of this, for it allows me to focus on what happened at our end of Alps Road in the last 12 months.

I've never caught on to how you rate one event against another, so the headlines in my 1999 journals just float around as if everything were equal. I suppose not having a countdown is unprofessional, and I apologize for it. You are welcome to take a pencil and give each item a number in the margin of your paper, creating your own Top Ten:

-- Prehistoric Creature Discovered! "Hey, Dad, look at this!" my son said as he opened his hand. There on his palm sat a baby snapping turtle, a perfect replica of the fearsome creatures that haunt our creeks. The little pug lifted its head and cast a cold-blooded stare at us before he or she was returned to the creek bank.

-- New Body of Water Debuts. This little lake was not gouged by glaciers or forgotten rivers. It appeared shortly after two lime-green Terex dozers scraped a quarter acre of dirt away in a hay field. Spring water began trickling in the same afternoon and has accumulated about 96,000 gallons since October. This was big news on this parched farm.

-- Cattle Market Improves! This headline sounds so unlikely that maybe it would be better plastered over a tabloid along with accounts of aliens and Elvis sightings. But we were able to sell our calves for 70 cents a pound this fall, 40 percent higher than a year ago. This is nothing near the strong market of 10 years ago, but we'll take it, thank you very much, and stay in business for another year.

-- Boy Outperforms Precipitation Index! Our rain gauge didn't have much to show for the summer months, barely 2 inches for the entire season. In the same period, however, according to the markings on the door jamb in the hall, our teen-ager added significantly to his altitude. From what I can make out, he outdistanced the aggregate precipitation by a quarter inch. If he can keep this up, and we have a snowy winter, he might be signing an NBA contract by Easter.

-- Puppies Please People. This weekend folks showed up to pick a puppy and take it home. A parade of beaming people walked down the hill with black or brown pooches in their arms. Big-eyed, and pudgy, no animal is more endearing than a puppy.

-- Roof Collapses at 11:53 p.m.! WhenI went out that morning after the heavy snow in January I found the shed roof on the west end of the shop a mess of wreckage. Inside the shop a clock had stopped at 11:53 after a wire broken in the collapse had flipped the breakers for the rest of the building. Our other buildings held up the weight of the snow, and our hearts went out to the farmers who lost barns in the middle of a bitter winter.

-- Creek Revives. This week the brook that runs through our pasture carried a trickle for the first time since July. The stream, which usually runs year round, has had its confidence shaken for the second dry year in a row. Apparently the brook's fate is tied up to the temperature of the Pacific Ocean above the equator. I can't keep it straight if this year La Nina or El Nino was at fault; I just wish the Pacific would behave itself for a while.

-- Boxes Disappear from Garage! I was worried when the truck pulled up the driveway and unloaded a pile of boxes containing the Alps Road Journal books Kathleen had designed and had printed. Just moving them wore me out -- would we ever be able to sell them all? Later I was reminded that one should never underestimate a determined woman. The printing was sold out by Easter.

-- Mower Mystery Still Puzzles Farmer. We spent a week or two last summer reconstructing a New Holland 479 haybine. When we were done, we had a shiny red and yellow machine that ran beautifully as we took it into the alfalfa for the first time. After mowing 10 acres, the new drive chains became very loose. I removed links of chain and tightened the idler, only to have it soon happen again. We put the machine away for the winter without solving the mystery why this kept happening. What gives?

-- Writer Tormented by Taters! I thought I was a pretty clever guy after writing about my St. Patrick's Day quest to eat nine pounds of potatoes. I'd heard that an Irish farmer traditionally ate that many spuds in the course of his day. I failed halfway to my goal and sat at the table wondering if I would ever be able to look a potato in the eye again.

A few days later we had supper at the Presbyterian church. I'd been invited me to speak at its ham and cabbage dinner. For some odd reason they kept bringing out bowls of potatoes and asking if I wanted seconds, thirds, fourths, and so on. I declined. Luckily, my appetite for pie was undaunted.

-- Boot Springs Leak! One of my usually dependable barn boots failed suddenly when put to the test crossing a soggy field last March. When I try to dramatize this nine months later, it sounds something less than newsworthy. But my foot was pretty cold that day in March. I had to sit by the fire for the rest of the afternoon. I decided to mix the leaky footwear in with the rest of the pile of boots. You never know when you'll need an excuse to take an afternoon off on a cold day.

Here's hoping that the year 2000 is as uneventful as its predecessor has been, and may it bring peace and contentment to each and all.

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