Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Rodeo Clowns: No Joke

I spent two days in the bleachers with the parents, grandparents, and siblings of high school rodeo contestants in Salmon, Idaho. The snack bar served beef, but no beer.

Both days ended with bull riding. The contestants were high school students, but the rodeo clowns, or bullfighters, were the real deal. Big time fighter-clowns, the ones on the Professional Bull Riders circuit, are celebrities. Flint Rasmussen has been immortalized in plastic. The fighter-clowns at Salmon’s high school rodeo might never reach those dizzying heights, but they were pros.

Some fighter-clowns entertain the crowds between bulls. Flint tells jokes and dances. Those at my first rodeo, in Preston, MN, provided bathroom humor. My aunt, who’d brought me to the rodeo, didn’t approve. Decades later, she didn’t approve of my line dancing class; it was “too worldly.”

Salmon’s high school bull riders wore headgear and padded vests. Some pro riders wear brain buckets, too. I couldn’t see what kind of protection the fighter-clowns wore under their baggy clothes, but I could see that only cowboy hats protected their noggins. They weren't shod with matching cowboy boots at the other end: they wore cleated shoes for traction.

Cleated shoes suggest the need to dodge feedback from the crowd, but that wasn’t the case. Salmon's fighter-clowns were the non-entertaining variety. The real job of these rodeo professionals is protecting the cowboys from the bulls. Here’s an example of how they do that, from the Salmon high school rodeo.

This cowboy looks good out of the chute. The fighter-clown in red and black is watching from the right.

Then the rider starts to tip.

He's too far forward now.

A bull rider's nightmare: his hand is hung up. Riders stay on by wedging one hand under their rope, which is wrapped around the bull. If a rider comes off frontwards, their hand can get caught. Red-and-black is putting his cleats to the arena sand.

Both clowns are there to free the rider and distract the bull from attacking him.

Red-and-black fighter-clown jumps over the bull; his hands hit where the rider's hand was trapped. The second fighter-clown, in blue, is nearly hidden behind the bull. The rider hits the ground with his hand still attached to his arm.

Red-and-black slips on landing; Blue sprints to distract the bull from the fallen fighter-clown. The rider gets up and out of the way so the fighter-clowns don't have to protect him, too.

The bull kicks off the rope as the two mounted pickup riders move in with their ropes. Pickup riders can get close enough to bucking horses for bronc riders to grab on for a graceful exit, but this doesn't work with bulls. Bulls charge horses. In bull riding, pickup riders can only watch the drama and then escort the bull out of the arena.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Three Degrees, No Garlic Scapes

In three agriculture degrees, several botany classes, and decades as a plant ecologist, I never ran into garlic scapes. I know and use terms such as “homoploid hybrid species” and “Pseudotsuga menziesii.” But, until last Saturday, I’d never met a garlic scape.

Jessica and Jeremy of Swift River Farm introduced me to the curvy, green flower shoots at their booth at the Lemhi County Farmers Market in Salmon, Idaho. The couple, who also sell subscription shares in their farm’s produce, spun an improbable tale of sex and scapes.

Long before humans began sautéing cloves or warding off vampires with the heads, garlic dispensed with seed. The plants gave up sex. Each of these Shakers of the plant world eschewed others of its kind and simply produced garlic heads that grew into plants that produced garlic heads.

Jeremy and Jessica embrace garlic’s celibacy and plant individual cloves, which grow into plants that produce full heads. Each plant is genetically identical to its single parent, which is identical to its single parent, and so on back through time.

Oddly, some kinds of garlic still produce flowers, as if trying to blend in with the rest of the plant world. While other plants produce flowers with male and female parts that swap genes with the opposite flower parts to form seeds, garlic flowers form bulbils. Bulbils look like tiny cloves and grow into plants identical to their parent.

The scapes I discovered at the market are garlic flower stalks with developing bulbils. I cut open one of the largest developing flower clusters.


I’ve also learned there are two kinds of garlic: soft neck and hard neck. The garlic in grocery stores is the former, as it stores well enough to keep the produce bins stocked all year. I might be excused my garlic-scape ignorance, as they are only produced by hard neck garlic. These types are grown in cooler climates and usually consumed locally, as they don’t store well.

My new friends, the garlic scapes, gave me the perfect excuse to skip my usual toast-and-yogurt breakfast and linger over an omelet-and-garlic-scape-potato Sunday brunch.