October 23, 2016

A  month ago DH and I looked at our calendar for October, entirely scribbled over with commitments big and small, and told each other, “We just need to get through until the 23rd.” Yesterday, October 22, was an important all-day board meeting for DH, and I was to host a cocktail party here at the house. After that we would be practically carefree.

It began to snow yesterday at 3 PM. I did barn chores early. Our guests started arriving at 4:30. By 6:30 it was obviously a storm and the group was due at a restaurant in town. A caravan of cars started out.

I hate driving in snow and rarely dine out. My knuckles were white as I gripped the steering wheel. Traffic crept through the dark at 20 m.p.h. Cars were fishtailing all over the road in the heavy, wet slush. Visibility was terrible. DH said mildly, “Are you OK?” I said, “I cannot believe I am risking my life to go out to eat!” I longed to be safe at home with a peanut butter sandwich.

When we drove back three hours later the plows had been out. Walking the dogs before bed, I waded around the yard to all the young birch trees bent over under the snow, and shook them free. It was still snowing.

The electricity went out at 2 A.M. Every room in this big old house has a fire alarm with a power-failure warning. Every alarm in every room went off every twenty seconds for the rest of the night. Sleep was impossible. I finally got up at 4:00 AM and boiled water for coffee by candlelight.

I drove down to the farm for barn chores at 7:30.


It was beautiful… and windy.


I walked out and knocked snow off the sheep shelters. My farm is not ready for winter. Mowers, shelters, temporary fences, tools… Nothing is put away.


I pray the snow melts this week. The list for next weekend will be huge.

Thankfully, the power has now been restored. I am grateful, as today I have teacher reports to write, as well as my new responsibilities. Unfortunately, after last night’s alarms my energy is at a slightly low ebb.


Trying to Stay On Top of the Work

September 4, 2016


I began this blog entry seven weeks ago.

Meetings for my school year started last week. Before and after the work day I have attempted to keep up with the various pressing jobs on the farm. It’s not happening. I’ve simply become more frenzied with my juggling.

In early August, the battery on the old farm truck went dead. I was so busy then, I just factored in five extra minutes every day to jump it, and kept it running throughout chores. (Because all my tools are old and my farm is run on a shoestring, this sort of maneuver is second nature. I have to raise the hood of one of my mowers and smack the starter with a hammer to start it.) Now, three weeks later, I finally took the time to buy a new battery. Truck is solved! Everything’s easy now, right? Not really.

I drove my big steers to the slaughterhouse last week, a long, sad day. Olaf and Skippy had suckled all their lives. With them gone, Moxie has needed milking twice a day, another hour of work to squeeze in. Meanwhile I searched classifieds and advertised for a calf on Craigslist, using a photo from a few years back.

wanted Jersey bull calf

No luck. The nearest calf I can find is six hours away. So, I am milking. All my milking things were packed up in the move last fall and put into storage. I have been too rushed to search for them, and have simply clabbered the milk for the chickens.

Speaking of chickens, a coyote has raided my barnyard four times in the past month, strolling boldly to the barn in broad daylight and killing four (more about this another day). Worryingly, twice I was mowing only a few hundred yards up the hill at the time. Now, whatever the chore, I am always scanning the horizon.

Mike fixed my tow-behind brush hog (again) and I mowed the barnyard and the knoll field in hour-long stints, picking up the usual complement of stones along the way.


I was excited to find the brush hog working so dependably, but I remembered Mike and Allen’s cautions — “Don’t jinx it!” — and said nothing. Still, my heart sang. I started again in the back field. The weeds in the barnyard, knoll field, and back field have all been all close to two feet tall. It is slow going, and I have only had an hour or so a day between school work and the usual daily farm chores.


…. Here my entry broke off. I never had a chance to finish it. Trying to Stay On Top of the Work, indeed! At this point, the work overwhelmed me and I submerged. I have taken on more responsibilities at my teaching job this year — unfortunately tasks that require me to write daily. Not only my hours but my creative brain has felt squeezed dry.

However I miss this blog. I miss having the record of my small days on the farm and the big days in our family. So much has been going on recently, it feels as if I may never catch up! However, although the entries may be shorter, posted with a lick and a promise as I dash out the door, I’m going to try.


Back to Real Life

August 30, 2016


All summer we’ve had a half dozen Canada geese on the lake — a pair or two of adults and their goslings. Yesterday morning, with much honking, reinforcements flew in. Now we have a flotilla.

For people in the suburbs, rafts of Canada geese are nothing new. In fact, geese are pests on lawns and golf courses. But these on the lake are not tame suburban geese, they are wild ones, gathering their strength and numbers for the hard flight south. Their cries from high overhead are haunting. The Long Cold is on its way! Join us! The Long Cold is coming!

Today meetings for my school year as a teacher start. My summer for big projects on the farm is over. The list of things I didn’t get to remains very long. However, I comfort myself that I pushed day after day and never slacked.

God willing, there’s always next year.


The Beaver

August 28, 2016

We are living temporarily in this beautiful house at the edge of a lake. I have loved watching the water in all its moods: roiled with whitecaps in a storm, placidly mirroring a blue sky, or locked in ice. Even more I have enjoyed watching the wildlife. Insects and minnows dimpling the surface. Mergansers, ducks, and loons. A snow goose on the lawn. A great blue heron fishing in the shallows. A coyote crossing the thin ice at dawn.

For the past few days I have watched a beaver early every morning. I have been told that if I see a beaver, I should call the neighbor, who will shoot it. I am not sure why. I understand we can’t have beavers on the streams due to flooding. I don’t know what problem beavers pose to this lake.

I have enjoyed watching the beaver swimming strongly by the house, his small brown head at the surface a wedge creating ripples flowing behind him like a cape. Two days ago he swam past in the other direction, towing a young poplar sapling still with leaves.

I haven’t called anyone.

Our Baby is Off to College

August 22, 2016


Yesterday we drove our daughter Lucy to her new university. The day was too hectic to be emotional, but I did ask her roommate to take a photo of us to commemorate the milestone.

Packing for college while all three of us were working, a trustee was staying overnight, our house was hosting daily group tours, a film crew was on hand, and the internet (crucial for last-minute college forms) was down for three days was definitely a challenge. Even as we pulled out of the driveway, more visitors were arriving on the lawn. Amazingly, we forgot very little. I did overlook that Lucy had practiced driving for three hours this week, and thus we almost ran out of gas in the Adirondack backwoods. (“We have only four miles’ worth left in the tank!” I said anxiously. DH made jokes about Lucy’s “over-distance workout,” running to college. Luckily, we coasted into St. Regis Falls on fumes.)

In the photo, my hair and shirt are soaking wet from setting up Lucy’s new room in high heat and humidity. For some reason, whenever I am moving our children, it is inevitably over 90°.

I had planned to bring along a few tools, just in case, but Lucy demurred.

“You won’t need Wonder Mom?” I had teased.

Lucy did not want to overwhelm her roommate. Her first roommate in high school had taken over their shared room before Lucy arrived and now Lucy wanted to be low-key and thoughtful. “I might need Wonder Mom a month from now.”

Naturally, it turned out that to put up a mirror for the girls to share, I needed a screw driver to remove an old dead landline phone hanger from the wall. No tools. I ground my teeth, and then fashioned a shim out of a cardboard box, stuck the shim to the wall with velcro, and velcroed the mirror reasonably flush over the top of the phone hanger. With luck it will hold, and I can fix it when we go up for visiting day in September.

As we unpacked her duffle bags, various boys and girls (Mid-Atlantic skiers) stopped in to say hello. By the end of the evening Lucy had her side of the room set up with her posters and personal items.

Looking at the snapshot she forwarded this morning, I suddenly remembered a line from The West Wing, when the president’s daughter goes into her college dorm room and the door closes. “Bookbag is in for the night,” an agent whispers into a wrist device. I think a part of me must be anxious and wishing my baby had a Secret Service detail.

This is the start of a big new adventure. I hope and pray Lucy’s college experience will be warm and wonderful.

Feeding Hay

August 20, 2016


Though the grass in the north and south pastures is still green (unlike that in the back field), it is barely regrowing with the drought and the end of summer. I have started feeding hay to the sheep as well as the cows. Every day I move the sheep to a fresh rectangle of grass. The sheep quickly graze off the tender green and then fill up on hay.

I have 100 bales of last year’s second-cut: “candy hay,” as I have always called it. Soft and sweet and delicious. All the animals adore it.

The question facing me is: do I feed candy hay, and boost the growth of my lambs, or feed regular hay, full of stems and seeds — which will lead to a lot of waste, boosting the growth of my pasture?

I am a pushover, so of course I started with candy for the lambs.


Though my head feels better, the cough has settled in my chest and I have paroxysms of barking when I can scarcely catch my breath. Greeting so many old acquaintances at the big camp and school reunion these past few days, I’ve felt I should have a DANGER! sign hung around my neck to ward off our instinctive hugs.

Yesterday, Lucy’s last day of ski team practice was followed by the last day of her summer job. After the reunion dinner last night, she and I folded laundry, marked items with Sharpie, and began packing her bags for college.

Dear Mom

August 19, 2016

My mother would have been 93 this week. How I miss her. Yet I think of her every day — in many contexts, but none so immediate as when I am observing wildlife.

It is she I think of when I move a young garter snake out of the way of the mower…


… stop to watch a barn spider catch and wrap a yellow jacket for dinner (a rare circumstance in which I feel sorry for a yellow jacket)…


… look at baby meadow voles turned up under the water trough, before carefully returning them to the nest …


… or pause to watch wild turkeys cross the north pasture.


The ravens, the hawks, the calling loons, the grouse that explode out of the brush, the mergansers feeding in the lake as the last spring snow falls…

“Look, Mom! Look!”

I was so very, very lucky to have a mother who fostered my love of the natural world.