Memorial Weekend Snow

May 27, 2013

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Whiteface Mountain had received almost three feet of snow by yesterday afternoon. They fought to keep the highway plowed for the holiday weekend. However, before they plowed again yesterday morning, DH got there and skied up the mountain and then down.

“Fantastic!” was his caption for his iPhone snapshot below.

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I can think of other adjectives.

By 5 PM last evening the sleet in the lower elevations had stopped and the sun was struggling to come out. It is 25° F this morning but due to be over 80° in a few days.

So much for spring in the Adirondacks.

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I drive to Boston this morning to help my son pack up and move back to New York tomorrow. Though I will be happy to have him closer, I’m older and creakier these days and the prospect of driving eleven hours round-trip and spending the night in a sleeping bag on a hardwood floor is not as enticing as it once was.


Orphan of the Storm

May 26, 2013

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It snowed and rained by turns yesterday. All the mountains on our horizon were shrouded in clouds but from reports they are deep in snow. Whiteface 25 minutes away had eighteen inches by afternoon, and DH is driving over this morning to hike up and ski down.

The cold, wet, and wind combined to be perfect hypothermia conditions. I was walking into the school barn in my foul weather gear to borrow a couple of bales of hay when I spied a small morsel apparently dead in the ice-crusted grass. I took off my wet winter gloves to pick it up.

It was a female ruby-throated hummingbird.

Sliding my glasses down my nose to squint, I caught the tiniest flash of green iridescence as the wet feathers shifted minutely. She was breathing!

With the bird cupped in my warm palm, I drove home one-handed, showed her to DH, and grabbed my hummingbird feeder and some sugar. At the farm I put her in a box in my tiny work room and cranked up the heat to 70°.

The little bird seemed entirely comatose. Her eyes were closed. When I put her down she toppled over on her side. When I picked her up to set her on her feet, her wings opened, but there was no other sign of life. I turned out the lights and left.

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When I peeked in an hour later the room was toasty and there was a tiny green bird buzzing and zeep!-ing near the ceiling. I opened the window and the hummingbird flew back out into the storm.

I hung the feeder outside, just in case, but there is a half-inch of fresh snow on the ground this morning and I wonder and worry.

Reading online today I learn that hummingbirds, like frogs and flies, survive cold snaps by slowing down their metabolisms to a state of torpor. Perhaps I did more harm than good by warming this little bird. On the other hand, lying on the ground it was unlikely to survive the school barn cat, even if it survived the icy rain and snow.

I try to do the right thing but it’s often hard to know.


Rain… and Snow Again!

May 25, 2013

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It has rained on and off for the last four days, and this morning it was snowing when I moved the sheep at Betty’s field (above).

Many people here are upset by snow on Memorial Day Weekend but I am so grateful for the moisture from the sky I give thanks for it all.

Last night it was 37°F and freezing rain and wind, so I brought Lucy’s horse Birch and the cattle into the barn at evening chores, the first night they have spent indoors in several weeks. Birch is an old man and sighed with contentment to be out of the weather, listening to the rain drum on the roof.

It is due to be even colder and windier tonight.


New Shoats

May 24, 2013

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Ten days ago I bought five shoats (newly-weaned piglets). Baby pigs are one of the cutest things on God’s earth. They also grow very quickly.

For this reason, in 1994 when the producers of the movie Babe were faced with a six-month film shoot and wanted their star to remain adorable, they bought successive 10-week-old Yorkshire piglets. Forty-eight of them. If you figure that they always had two piglets on deck for the cameras, that means each pair starred for an average of a week before outgrowing the role.

(Despite all this, the filmmakers apparently felt that piglets needed a little help in the cuteness department. Makeup artists glued a toupé of dark hair on each one — what?! — plus false eyelashes. A real piglet has its own eyelashes, but they are short and white. In the publicity shot at left, a smile has also been drawn in.)

In real life, an adolescent pig — such as Babe purports to be — weighs about 300 pounds at six months old.

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Cuteness is not the first word that comes to mind.

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I saw the parents of my piglets. The sow weighed about 450 pounds and the boar maybe 650. When he reared up against the battered wooden fence to grunt at me, he was taller than I. With tusks. You can understand why small children were occasionally mauled, or even killed and eaten, by loose pigs when hogs roamed city streets rooting through garbage up until the middle of the 19th century.

I knew an affable 600-lb Large Black sow once, named Charlotte. I remember sitting leaning against her as she snored on her side in the pasture.

But there is no doubt that pigs are most emotionally appealing when they are tiny. Even without false eyelashes and a toupé.


Bobby is Missing

May 17, 2013

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My sweet young barn cat, Bobby Seal, is missing. I have not seen him in four days. I fear the worst. I feel sick.

The photo above was taken a week ago, on the first day I ever saw him venture outside the barn for more than a quick glance. I was so pleased for him. He had gained confidence and trust (and much needed weight) all winter. Though still easily startled and shy, he was such a love, always eager for petting. All I had to do was climb up into the hayloft and there he’d be, pacing the floor, wanting me to sit down to snuggle with him.

He had won over my cranky older female, Flossie — who went from grumbling and hissing and slapping at him with raking claws to pushing her head into his flank and purring.

I am going to check at the trailer park across the highway, but I’m afraid.


Sheep on Grass

May 15, 2013

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Yesterday was a long day, but a satisfying one.

At 7 AM, my friendly lumberyard delivered a bottle of CDT vaccine during the school carpool. At morning chores, I brought my sheep in, trimmed all their hooves, and vaccinated the entire flock. (At one point I was wrestling a ewe with a loaded hypodermic clenched in my teeth.) Next I gathered my portable fencing and charger and drove the mile down the highway to Betty’s field, where I set up a temporary paddock. Then I hitched up the school’s stock trailer, drove to the farm, backed the trailer tight to the barn door, loaded the sheep, and trucked them to the grass.

For the next few hours I drove back and forth between the farm and the field, ferrying shelters and my lawn tractor. My two oldest shelters had rotted and needed new braces. I cut fresh 2x4s and made the repairs before carrying them down. The shelters barely fit in the stock trailer, and were right at the limit of my ability to lift and load without help. I sweated considerably. Taking them off was easier, however, and as I had trucked the lawn mower down in my first trip,  towing them into the field was a snap.

Through the day I was happily aware that my skills in all areas (vaccinating, flock handling, backing a trailer, carpentry) had improved in the last few years. I decided to concentrate on that positive thought, rather than the undeniable fact that my muscles are weaker with age.

These photos were taken at dusk, after I’d washed out and put away the trailer, and returned to re-fill the water trough.

The sheep are so happy. And watching them, I was happy, too. They are newly wormed, vaccinated, clean-footed, and out on new grass. After this very discouraging winter and spring, I felt like Super-Shepherd.

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Snowing….?

May 13, 2013

Yesterday it was snowing as I built a new dog pen, and even wearing a jacket and wool hat I had to stop often to warm my hands. This morning the lawn is dusted white and the wind is blowing scattered flakes in a sullen fog. Ugh. However these days I am trying hard to remember to count my blessings. Yesterday as I worked I told myself firmly,”I have to thank you, God, for no black flies!”

When I bought the welded wire for the dog pen last fall, the salesman suggested I try a green-coated version. I thought this might look nice, and agreed. I didn’t realize I was buying wire so light-gauge that any self-respecting labrador retriever could push through it just by leaning against it. Our lab, Tess, is almost 11 years old, slow, and arthritic. Within five minutes of my finishing the pen, she was sitting outside it. This is just one more example of why I must never take helpful, last-minute suggestions for substitutions in material when I’m building anything. I am too ignorant of the hidden variables. Today I’ll call to see how much long tent stakes would cost, to pin the bottom edge to the ground so she can’t bend it up.

Yesterday was my first Mother’s Day in 25 years that I had no children at home. Lucy is on a four-day hike, and Jon is in Boston. However he emailed and telephoned and I was happy.

Unfortunately on Friday my old computer collapsed and breathed its last, so it may be a few days before I’m up and running again.


A Small Setback

May 6, 2013

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I was excited to start cutting and setting rafters yesterday. It is fun to lift the 12-foot or 10-foot boards into position on the saw and cut the ends to a precisely 10° angle.DW715

I am using D’s compound miter saw, referred to by most of the guys as a chop saw. (I am currently borrowing so many of D’s tools, I am guiltily aware that I am way behind on the diabetic cooking part of the equation.)

Using a chop saw is easy, but the whole process of lifting the long boards, measuring, marking, and cutting — flipping the board to get the whole cut —  is just challenging enough for this airhead, who has to constantly double-check to make sure I’m cutting the angle in the right direction, that I am foolishly pleased to manage it.

(Back in 2008, when Dean and I paneled the inside of the cabin, I was in charge of cutting the tongue and groove knotty pine while Dean nailed it up. Poor Dean regularly informed me with patient control: “Beautiful job, Sel, but you reversed the angle.” It was at this time that I began to understand that my brain doesn’t visualize well. In fact, I’m terrible at it. If this skill had been tested in school, I would have been diagnosed with a learning disability. However, like my loved ones with dyslexia, I’ve learned ways to compensate. Pictures. I need pictures.)

I was also pleased to figure out how to brace the long rafter high in the air for nailing without another person on the other end of the board. Again, this is elementary stuff, but makes me feel brilliant.

Unfortunately I ran into another snafu. It turns out that the main barn roof that looks so perfect from the ground is not. When I put the 10° angled rafter for the shed roof in the place where it wants to fall, it is too tight to the main roof. There should be a 1.5″ gap. There isn’t.

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Len has patiently answered all my worried questions. He reminds me that this is a remodel and measurements may not be exact. On his advice I am changing the rafters to a 9° angle and will snap a chalk line across the header to keep the lower roof-line level.

It’s all do-able, just time-consuming and a little unnerving for this neophyte.


We Need Rain

May 5, 2013

Everyone is enjoying our fabulous stretch of good weather — clear blue and gold days of 70° and brilliant starry nights in the low 30s. However as gorgeous day follows gorgeous day, I feel my stomach clenching.

Last summer was the worst in my life, and one of its prominent features was drought. The pastures baked brown in the sun and quit growing, and feed for the animals grew scarce. I bought expensive hay and found it nothing but dry stalks. The sheep and cows refused to eat it, and lost weight. My lambs did not grow. Day by day I was haunted by lines from the memoir of Mary O’Hara, the author of My Friend Flicka, about her real-life experience raising sheep on the “green grass” of Wyoming during the drought and Depression of the early 1930s:

Sheep growers lost fortunes. Prices went down. To save the cost of molasses cake and hay and the wages of a sheepherder, we sold a couple of thousand at a price per head less than the price of a single lamb chop. Prices still fell. Then we simply turned the remainder out to fend for themselves, and were harrowed by the sight of the little band ganging up outside the corral gates, begging to be taken back and cared for; or, terrified and abandoned, tearing about the prairie, their fleeces ragged and torn — hanging in strips from the attacks of coyotes. They constantly diminished in number; at last, melted away.

I would shoot my sheep before I turned them out to “fend for themselves” — sheep have no defenses — but even with my miniscule flock I could understand the desperation. Last summer I listened to the lambs crying and wanted to cry, too. Drought is a nightmare. The thought of global warming and that this may be the new reality scares me deeply.

Currently my pastures are turning green but barely growing. Now should be the spring flush of abundant grass. Instead the fields are dusty and dry. The water level in the pond is dropping steadily. New York State has issued a burn ban.

Please God, let it rain.

*    *    *

Yesterday I stood on a ladder to measure and mark the headers of the addition with the layout of the rafters. Over the years I have watched a number of men do this work with tape, square, and pencil: Dean, O.B., and Gary. So yesterday afternoon in my imagination I was alternately tiny and Italian, short and burly, or tall and wiry with a black mustache.

I have a long list of domestic chores today but my goal is to try to put up four rafters a day. Inch by inch.


Inching Forward

May 4, 2013

The problem with feeling empowered is that a little power can go to your head and make you very impatient with any obstacles in your path.

I want to get on with the barn addition! screams my brain.

Who wants to stop for changing beds, unloading the dishwasher, folding laundry, grocery shopping, or cooking meals? Paying bills? Putting gas in the car? Arrrgh. Even transitioning the cattle and sheep to the meager spring grass feels like a huge imposition. Oh, heavens, I have to walk all those fence lines and re-tarp the sheep shelters!

I am having to keep myself on a short leash, with frequent snaps of the collar to redirect my attention to my real life responsibilities.

However, on Thursday I did cut and nail up all the remaining ledger boards, as well as the final 16-foot piece of the beam. The center of this treated board was bowed 3/8″ above its corresponding ledger. I felt very clever when I hung a ratchet strap over the board and stood in the loop to pull the board straight for nailing. This is very elementary carpentry but nevertheless made me happy to manage on my own.

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The basic frame of the west wall is now finished and ready.

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Next up: I had to remove the metal edging of the main barn roof. I’d been unhappy to learn this would be necessary. When Dean put up the sheet metal in 2008, he did a beautiful job. He had pre-drilled all the sheets on the ground, with the result that there is not a crimp or dimple in the metal anywhere. I hated to touch it.

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However, the edging, nailed beneath the roofing, did have to go so the two roofs could conjoin. Len patiently explained to me how to remove it without bending the sheet metal and wrecking the look of my roof.

The process involved standing on an 8-foot ladder with a cordless driver, two pry bars, and a hammer.  With the driver I removed the first two rows of fasteners and gently inserted one pry barn under the edge of each metal roof sheet to lift it. With the hammer, I attempted to smack the end of the ring-shanked nail upward from below. Finally, with the second pry bar I removed each nail and dropped it in a bag on my shoulder. Then I screwed back down the upper row of fasteners.

There was a nail every foot along the 32-foot edge. The first nail took five minutes to remove. Though with practice I got a little faster, not much faster. For one thing, I constantly had to adjust my glasses just to be able to see the tiny nail point inches from my nose. For another, I am notoriously absent-minded when engaged in repetitive tasks, and remembering not to step backward off the ladder took a bit of concentration. (Yes, really.)

So: five minutes times 33 nails comes to… oh dear.

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However, between other responsibilities, yesterday morning I got it done. Today my hands are sore with the usual bloody nicks, but I’ve saved the edging to use on the new bottom edge of the roof.

Rafters next!