24 August 2016

Ranchers Ode to Cherry County Flora and Ranching

A unique facet of Cherry county flora is an ode written by Clarence Nollett during his time ranching 15 miles northwest of Crookston. He describes the local flora in his self-published work – written from a self-expressed rancher’s perspective – as prepared from 1993 to 2000, while living on the ranch where he was born. Plant types include prairie grasses, legumes, colorful forbs and woody trees and shrubs.

The history for the ranch starts in 1918-19 when Felix Nollett paid $29 per acre for 320 acres, Clarence Nollett said. Martin and Irma Nollett carried on at the ranch. This was the range country where Clarence grew to appreciate floral and their differences.

While was growing up in the 1930s, he "thought we were in the forgotten part of the world." The land and its livestock, as well as the outdoors were features he enjoyed.

When a youngster, Clarence remembers walking the 3/4 mile to the mailbox south of the house. "We would pick wildflowers during the walk," down the country lane. Nollett said. "Mom would trim them and put them in a vase" for appreciation in the kitchen.

One reminiscence he mentioned was arriving late for classes at the country school because of the time spent gathering flowers. The wild rose is one plant he especially enjoyed then.

Nollett returned to the ranch land in October 1953, after his service in the Army. The youthful interest in blooming plants started again with in the 1960s upon winning a $100 savings bond for first place in a state conservation district competition.

Days on the prairie were some of the best times of my life, Nollett said. "One day with a range conservationist was one of the best days of my life," he said. He heard about grassland features, plants and other new things. "Prairie is an amazing feature of our area."

He worked on his flora book from about 1993 to 2000, he said. It started with a personal inventory with text about the grasses and wanting to put a name on them. Pictures were then added for many other species, including legumes and forbs with their flowers.

"I hope I have left some footprints that someone can follow."

His book begins with a preface and then an account for Big Bluestem, a prominent species of the "true prairie." Nollett then writes about Little Bluestem and Indian Grass and some of its features of particular interest. Switchgrass has its own account. For each of the plant types, his rancher’s perspective is indicative, and also included floristics, plant uses and the scientific name. Poems are included, including one from Robert Frost, a great American poet.

Personal essays are reading to enjoy, especially one about the family farm (with numerous pictures from the place during the years), then about range and management, financial management, marketing and conservation. Quotes from scripture and authors of renown are included as they convey important perspectives.

Cattle at the ranch were sold in 2002, though he stayed at the place for several more years before moving to Valentine. A favorite plant now is the shell-leaf penstemon. A picture hanging in his residence shows this species with a windmill in the background.

A donated copy of "Range Grasses and Plants of the Native Prairie" is available at the Valentine Public Library. It is an over 400 page book, - loosely bound in a large notebook - is dedicated to his parents Martin and Irma Nollett, who "helped nourish my interest in plants and birds."

His work was done to inspire future generations, as conveyed by the tome’s preface: "I want to create an awareness, stimulate the curiosity, and help to develop an understanding and an appreciation for the things found in our surroundings."

Nollett is still a member of the Great Plains native plants society, Hermosa, SD.