July 31, 2016


I speak here too often of my overwhelming work list and my anxiety about it, the machines that break down and my frustration. I realize I don’t often enough mention those moments when my heart sings.

Looking up from mowing to see my geese waddling down to graze under the apple tree, the mountains behind them, was one of those moments. Sheer happiness.


July 30, 2016


In between mucking, mowing, moving sheep, walking the dogs, and driving Lucy, I’ve been weeding the big future garden in hour-long snatches. I believe I’m about eleven hours into it now. I’ve filled two pallet compost bins that are almost 4′ x 4′ x 4′ high. I think three more hours and one more bin of pulled weeds will see it done. I don’t have a cow in milk this summer, but my forearms are getting a nice workout anyway.

It’s slightly discouraging to think that all this sweating in the hot sunshine could have been avoided if I’d been able to tackle the garden eight weeks ago. However, there are bigger problems in life.

I listen to hymns and pull weeds, and peace like a river attendeth my way. I’ll get it done eventually.

Tick Tock

July 29, 2016

Many of the songbirds have already departed. Crickets and grasshoppers jump away from the mower. Dragonflies hover in the air. My baby girl leaves for college in three weeks. The summer is rushing by.

And my list is still so long! So many things I haven’t even started!

Breathe, breathe.

Fencing the Cabin Field (Again)

July 28, 2016


Last evening at dusk, I turned the cattle into the cabin field. I had worked for several hours yesterday to fence it (and put temporary fencing around the cabin, to keep them off the porch).

I actually had this tiny field fenced last summer. Unfortunately, only a few days after I finished sweating to get the fencing up, Kyle misunderstood an instruction and ripped it all down in fifteen efficient minutes. When I walked out of the barn and saw all the steel fence posts lying on the ground, I’d thought I might faint.

It is always hard for me to be patient with mistakes, harder still to be patient with mistakes I am paying for. However I have learned over many years to (mostly) control my temper. Besides, I make so many mistakes myself that I have become slightly philosophical.

Still, it’s encouraging to regain this bit of lost progress.


Good Enough

July 27, 2016


When I set up my sheep shelters back in May, I didn’t have fresh tarps or enough zip ties on hand. I put up the three-year-old worn-out tarps, fastening them with the last of my ties, just enough to hold them on. I told myself I’d fix the shelters later.

On my next trip to the hardware store, I obediently bought the necessary tarps and ties. Yet somehow I have never gotten around to removing the ripped tarps or even snugging them down with extra ties. The shelters look trashy but work fine. They are good enough.

I’ve long since moved onto the next chore.

Similarly, though I always promised myself the shabby look of baling twine holding things together wouldn’t happen on my farm, there is quite a bit of orange plastic pressed into service around these acres. Here the gas lever is tied open on Allen’s old pull-mower. Eventually this had to be officially repaired by Mike, but for quite some time, the baling twine solution kept me (and the mower) going.


I’ve used my barn addition for two years without building the side and rear doors; I haven’t built the front doors for the garden shed I built last year. I’ve had the cattle grazing in the back field without wiring the field’s own, separate charger.

In several areas of my life I am a perfectionist. I don’t have that luxury at the farm.

I dream of having enough time to finish every project and not rushing from chore to chore, telling myself that whatever I’m dealing with is good enough.

Ironman and Farmer Tan

July 25, 2016

Yesterday was Ironman Sunday here in Lake Placid, when all the roads are closed from 6:30 AM to 5:30 PM for the triathlon.

Though many locals resent the Ironman, a part of me always looks forward to this day. The road shutdown puts me in a bubble where no other needs can intrude. I cannot drive anyone or shop for groceries or arrange family appointments. It’s like a travel day in that sense, except that I can’t travel and thus can work, uninterrupted, on whatever my heart desires for hours on end.

This year was different in that I have Stash. Stash is a bit like a child, very dear but also young and needing exercise and entertainment. I could not leave him from morning until night. So we drove down to the farm early. He “helped” me move the sheep (having been shocked by the fence, he stays away and runs around the field while I do this) and then watched as I mucked the barn and brought the cows in.

Stash is always on a leash at the farm. It feels important not to awaken his prey drive, which is considerable. When we hike, he will race off at 30 mph and leap into the air after ruffed grouse that explode out of the brush.

On a leash, unable to run and chase, he watches chickens calmly as the water trough is scrubbed and refilled.


My barn cat, Flossie, twines around him.


The desire to pounce and play is kept under control. Just barely.


But yesterday we were done by 9:30 and then I had to think of what I could work on with a toddler at my side. I could not mow. I could not weedwhack.

I decided to weed the future garden.


Stash was bored but happy to be with me. It was hot but a merciful breeze kept off the biting flies. I pulled weeds for hours. We took occasional breaks for walks to stretch his legs. When my right elbow gave out, I switched to my left.


I got about a third of the garden length cleared and clean, but it is the wide third — the garden expands from 2 feet deep at the top to 10 feet at the bottom — so in my mind, I’m half done.

Having Stash with me made me much more careful to go inside the apartment regularly to drink water and cool down. At lunch time, I peeled off my sweaty double-front Carhartt jeans and hung them on the deck to dry. As I munched on a peanut butter sandwich, I glanced down at my hand on my knee and laughed out loud.

It’s clear why my family teases me about my farmer tan!



July 24, 2016


Thursday I drove to Wadhams to pick up 44 free bales of hay that had been used as seating at a hilltop wedding. The couple had planned to return the bales to their local farmer but the wedding was interrupted by a brief shower, ruining the hay (but not the wedding, as a double rainbow immediately appeared over their ceremony). The hay will be mulch for the soil of my back field, which though improving and sweetening bit by bit every year, still has large areas of sour moss.

Of course I could not pass up $100 worth of free mulch hay. However, neither picking up mulch hay nor spreading mulch hay were on the typed, four-page, single-spaced To-Do list I made in late May. (This list includes line items ranging from “burn the burn pile” to “paint the garage.”)

Lucy leaves for college three weeks from today. I’ve taken her for a physical exam and her last vaccinations and an eye exam and new contact lenses. She had her wisdom teeth pulled this week. I’ve filled out and submitted pages and pages of forms. I’ve been teaching her to drive. But I have yet to take her shopping (to one of two cities an hour or two hours away) for clothes or supplies. That wasn’t on my list either.

Meanwhile, some of the work I’ve already done needs doing again. The fences are growing up in weeds and once more need weedwhacking to keep their charge. I mow in the pastures for at least an hour every day, but remain far behind. Ten days ago I began weeding the future garden and made forty feet of progress. Now that cleared bed is re-sprouting and the untouched length is nearly waist high.


DH tells me we will be hosting another party this week and will have more houseguests the week after.

A friend came over yesterday for tea. She was a half hour late and stayed ninety minutes. We had a wonderful talk — the first time ever since we moved to this house that I actually sat by the lake, and we watched a loon fishing, chatted, and laughed — but that two hours hadn’t been in my plan. The cabin knoll did not get fenced.

I know I need to add more relaxation into my life. However it’s hard to make myself slow down when the days are sliding by and I feel so much pressure to speed up.

I look at my list of undone chores and feel a flutter of anxiety in my chest.

Summer Haircut

July 21, 2016


My standard poodle, Stash, is happier now that he has been clipped. His curls were actually a month longer than in the above photograph.

Who wants to wear a heavy black wool coat in this heat? Forget hiking — Stash would be panting just lying in the kitchen. I’d frequently find him stretched out on the cool ceramic tiles of the bathroom shower stall.

Now he’s light and free and easy.


A sweet woman in her 80s who loves poodles exclaimed, “You don’t even let him have a pom-pom on his tail!?”, as though I were a child torturer.

Nope. Stash is a farm dog.


July 20, 2016

Yesterday I took my daughter Lucy to have four impacted wisdom teeth removed. I brought her home by lunchtime and then spent the afternoon making cold milkshakes, bringing her meds on schedule, supplying ice packs, and cooking a big pot of chicken soup.

It was the strangest thing. Once the surgery was safely over, I was suddenly so tired I thought I might fall asleep sitting up. I think I’ve been under such stress for the last couple of weeks that the minute I relaxed my guard, the exhaustion hit me like a tsunami.

Though last night I’d hoped to get good sleep to catch up, a neighbor texted at 10 PM to say that nine gun shots had been heard from the direction of my farm, following a loud clapping noise. (I’d heard nothing; the farm is a half mile from the house where we’re living.) In addition, a large black bear has been roaming the neighborhood for several days.

Bears and/or shooters?! I immediately climbed back into clothes and drove down to the farm to investigate.

I could find nothing amiss but the sheep were anxious and standing alert at their fence line in the dark. I let them out and walked them down the property to the barn (they were afraid and for once kept close at my heels). “Bears won’t hurt us,” I told them loudly. “We’re fine!” I hoped the bear, if he were listening, agreed. Ditto any possible drunk shooter.

After I closed the barn door I walked out to the back field to check on the cattle. They were standing in the moonlight, chewing their cuds.

All was well, but the resulting adrenalin kept me up past midnight. I’m groggy today.

The Tale of Beatrix Gosling

July 19, 2016


My five-year-old Pilgrim geese, Andy and Kay White (named for the author of Charlotte’s Web and his wife), hatched eight goslings on June 7. There were three boys and five girls. I would stand leaning against the stall gate watching them.

During the second night, one of the little males mysteriously disappeared. I don’t have a clue what happened to him. Two days after that, I noticed that another of the males was considerably smaller than the rest. Obviously, his siblings were growing and he was not.


I named him Dinky. I could find nothing outwardly wrong with him. I put him directly in the feed dish, where he began eating obediently.


In the morning Dinky was dead. I know such losses are the way of nature, but I felt terrible.

We were now down to five female babies and one male. Kay and Andy took their family of six for daily walks in the pasture …


… and down the barnyard lane. I worried about ravens, but Andy was always vigilant.


Every evening they brought them into the barn for the night. The goslings grew and grew.


On July 1, when the goslings were 3.5 weeks old, I noticed one of the little girls tilting her head at a fixed angle. When you see animals every day, anything out of the ordinary grabs your attention. I wondered if her father had stepped on her. In his zeal to protect and defend, Andy will march over anything in his path — including his children.

The next day, the gosling’s head was definitely cocked to one side.


However she was still walking and eating, albeit with her head turned almost upside down.


I looked up the condition on poultry sites. When a bird holds its head upside down, it is called “wry neck.” Dodging Andy’s snapping beak and flapping wings, I caught the gosling and dosed her with the recommended baby vitamins and liquid Vitamin E.

By the following afternoon, her neck was a corkscrew and she could no longer walk to follow the family. She had started having convulsive, repetitive movements of her neck. It circled like a crank handle.


I took the gosling into the barn and put her safely in a large box, protected by a wire top from any of the passing chickens.

More internet research. I could find nothing that matched her symptoms exactly. West Nile virus? Clostridium infection? Brain damage through injury?

So: I decided to concentrate on wry neck. After all, her head was upside down. Of all the treatments I could find, the most praised method recommended prednisone, a prescription drug. Naturally, it was now Sunday afternoon on a 4th of July holiday weekend. I left a message for my vet on her emergency line.

A substitute vet called back an hour later, while I was mowing. I explained the situation. The vet admitted she knew little of poultry, but under the circumstances she was willing to call in a prescription.


I gave my name.

“No, the animal’s name.”

I had been calling the gosling Beatrix. (Given that her parents were named for one children’s author, I automatically chose another. And, yes, I do know that Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle-duck was clearly a duck, not a goose, but it was hot, I’d been fencing, mowing, and driving carpools, and my mind was vague.)

When I arrived at the drug store, Dick, the pharmacist, whom I have known for thirty years, greeted me, “When they said it was for a chicken, I knew it had to be you!” I love small towns. I explained that Bea was actually a gosling, not a chicken. “Even better!” exclaimed Dick, handing over the bottle.


I gave her all the meds (Vitamin B, Vitamin E, and prednisone) twice a day for a week. It was very discouraging. I held Bea in my lap to eat and drink from a pan, but she was listless and uninterested.


I saw no improvement at all. She grew weaker and weaker.

Finally, to save her life, I began tube feeding her with a stomach tube. I mixed the meds with raw egg, threaded the tube down her throat, and force-fed her three times a day.

I ran into the substitute vet once during this period. She asked about Bea and I explained about the tube feeding. She gave me a startled, sideways glance. I have fielded such looks all my life. They are the looks that say: You know you’re being a little nutty, right? And in this case, with the added: All this work for a gosling? I smiled, thanked her, and moved on.

With the tube feeding, Bea was instantly stronger. Still her head remained upside down and her neck revolved like a crank handle. She could not keep on her feet but would tumble over backwards, neck writhing, peeping with fright.

On the fourth day of tube-feeding, and a week of treatment, I told her, “Bea, you need to give me some sign here. I need you to start eating on your own.”

It had occurred to me that maybe she could eat if she had a brace to hold her neck at least partly straight rather than flopping helplessly with her eyes near the floor. I used some two-inch foam pipe insulation, held in place with vet wrap. The brace instantly lifted her point of view.


Her head was still upside down, her neck still circled, she still fell over backwards, but the brace gave her just enough stability that she could see to eat and drink if I held her. Between all my other chores, I would stop in to help her every few hours.

After three days, she was strong enough to brace herself on her feet in a corner of the box, and eat on her own. This was a big milestone. She was reaching for food! This was a girl who wanted to live.


However, her head was still upside down and between ravenous feeds, her neck still circled convulsively, tipping her over and knocking her into walls.


The foam brace helped protect her head as it swung into the plywood. Her repetitive, uncontrollable movements reminded me of a patient I once saw who had a toxic reaction to Haldol.


Days went by. I watched Bea, my heart heavy. I was tired and there was a lot of stress and sadness in my personal life. I wondered if I had saved Bea only to consign her to a state of permanent severe damage. I knew if she did not improve, I was going to have to put her down.

Then one day last week I brought Bea a bowl of fresh water and she took deliberate steps toward it. What? Was she getting better? Or was it just a fluke and she happened to stagger in that direction? I always remember Garson Kanin, the playwright, talking about working on a Broadway play in out-of-town tryouts — and how easy it was to be deceived when absorbed in a project because while the play would become better, it still was not good.

It was easy to see that Bea still was not good. She would straighten her neck to take a sip of water and the shock of the success seemed to trigger “overflow” motion — she would lurch backwards even as the sip was going down her throat, and her neck would begin to thrash again.

Still, it sometimes appeared that in times of concentration — when eating, for example — she was increasingly able to hold her head steady. I told myself that now that she was eating and drinking on her own, she wasn’t really requiring much effort on my part. Maybe she would get a little stronger every day. Maybe undamaged nerves would take over for the damaged ones (this happened for my husband after being paralyzed by polio when he was a child). Or maybe whatever mysterious thing that almost killed her would slowly abate. Maybe I would not have to put her down.

Nevertheless, I knew this was wishful thinking. On Sunday, when I made my list for the week ahead, I wrote: Deal with Bea.

To my shock, yesterday I fed and watered Bea only to have her draw herself up almost straight — peeping with determination — and try to jump out of the box!


What? “Really?” I cried. I ran for some scissors and cut off the neck brace. Bea’s neck was not straight but her head was not upside down. Her neck was not circling. She was walking and calling for her family.

I carried her outside to the pasture to Andy and Kay and the rest of the kids.


Andy and Kay were nonplussed. They had looked into the hospital box every night (I had kept her box in the stall with her family) but otherwise had seemed to ignore their daughter for seventeen days. Andy particularly was suspicious. After her long ordeal, Bea was much smaller than the other goslings, and she did walk with a bit of a tilt and a stagger. Still, he refrained from attacking her. Her sisters pinched at her viciously, but Bea hurried out of reach, and soon they seemed to ignore her. Bea blissfully ate grass.


It felt like a miracle. I don’t know what exactly was wrong, and I don’t know what exactly saved her, but Beatrix Gosling is back in the flock.

I smiled all day. Thank you, God.