Spring Grass

May 30, 2018

The winters are long but spring makes it all seem worthwhile.

Cattle in the north pasture: the grass is not great but with the spring flush it is plentiful and they are happy. I let them out on it at dusk and then sat in a rocking chair on the unfinished front porch, rocking and watching the cattle and thinking, “My dreams have come true!”

There will always be problems but I know I am a very lucky woman.

Sheep May Safely Graze

May 29, 2018

It’s dandelion season. The pastures are spangled with yellow. I am happy to see so many thousands of bright flowers, knowing each is attached to a long taproot which will push deep into the acid soil, to eventually die and rot to be food for microbes and then worms.

This small corner of my pastures is the lushest on the property because years ago my neighbor Charlie cleared the manure pile from his stable and had the tons of compost trucked and dumped on this spot. I didn’t have a manure spreader so Allen just bulldozed it in a thick blanket over the small area. I wish I could do the same for the other twenty acres.

It’s been a long haul trying to establish pastures on this rocky farm. Here’s the south field in 2006. I had spread winter rye in the fall of 2005 and it was coming up as a first green mist on the logged-over land.

No one will ever know the thousands of hours I have worked alone hauling brush, broken logs, roots, and rocks, cutting back invasive poplar, raspberries, and blackberries, fighting to establish grass while being bitten by mosquitoes and blackflies. But that’s OK. I know.

And so the view today, though still far from perfect, makes me happy.

Pushing through the last week of school. A week from tomorrow is the finish line.

Fixing the Leak

May 28, 2018

It was suggested to me that I have been too well-mannered and trusting in my dealings with my contractor and that I needed to be polite but firm, reminding him of his obligations. “Firm” is far easier for me in writing — in person I’m a marshmallow — and so I sent him an email. The plumbing had been leaking for two weeks and had to be addressed before greater damage and mold occurred; moreover we had to sit down and work out a plan to finish the house on a mutually agreeable timetable. To my surprise he responded within two hours and a few hours after that was at our house to investigate the leak.

It felt awkward to see him, after my unaccustomed toughness. To prevent automatic apologies from tumbling from my mouth, I had to take myself outside to weedwhack. Over the course of the day, however, we gradually resumed a stiff semblance of our old friendly footing. He is a charming person.

He started in the basement (and to his frustration, knocked the pot of drip water off the high bookshelf to spill on the carpet). Once that was mopped up, he began cutting around the pipe in the ceiling in search of the source of the water. The wood above was soaked.

Next, upstairs he removed the baseboard in the short wall enclosing the refrigerator and cut a hole in the sheetrock. The wood there was wet also.

Gradually he moved higher, cutting holes to trace the water. Halfway up the wall the pipe was still wet.

At the top of the wall he finally found the source of the leak.

The crimping on a pipe had not been complete. He widened the hole in the sheetrock and then cut out the 2×12 so that he could fit his hands and tools in the space. Within a few hours the leak was fixed.

What a relief! The wall will remain open for now to let everything dry out. I am a little anxious because I believe that the cut-away 2×12 may be under the bathtub, and I am concerned about structural strength. I will talk to him about that when we meet.

Yes, as he was going out the door I forced myself to bring up the subject of our meeting next weekend to settle on a timetable for completing the work that we have paid for. His face hardened and he said coolly that the time might not work for him. I kept my own voice level and explained that DH had a busy travel schedule and we’d have to find a time. He promised to be in touch.

I am very grateful that the leak is fixed, but firmness is exhausting for me. I was up last night with another episode of atrial fibrillation.

Onward Once More

May 27, 2018

Yesterday I was so low and gloomy on hearing that my builder did not intend to return to finish the house until August that I knew it wasn’t healthy to sit stewing in those thoughts. Instead I turned them off and went outside in the drizzle. Action is often my best defense against depression.

After filling their bellies with hay, I got the cattle out on grass on the knoll field. The grass in this field is scant and thus is a safe introduction to the juicy delights of a salad bar after a winter of shredded wheat. I smiled to see them all bucking and kicking with joy.

I moved the white hen and her chicks from the brooder box in the lambing stall to the chicken house for more room.

I mucked the barn. The rain stopped.

I hitched the small dump cart to the I-Haul and spent an hour shoveling and carting crushed gravel in an effort to fill the worst craters in the driveway. DH’s school vehicle is very low to the ground and he almost can’t in and out over the potholes. He creeps at five miles per hour and still scrapes bottom.

Last August I had accepted a bid from Ben, a local contractor, to fix the driveway (after he finished the grading around the house). He didn’t return to do it. After six weeks of waiting and calling to no response, I emailed his wife. She told me that he had landed a big job but would “fit me in.” I never heard from either of them again. Such is the joy of contractors in the north country!

Now I am making plans with my friend Damon to do the work later this month. In the meantime, though, I had a tiny amount of gravel and wanted to fill the worst holes. My tenant had told me one of his guests described the driveway as “North Korea.” I teach the Korean War and wasn’t sure of the exact reference but could infer it wasn’t good.

Next I drove into town for groceries and gas. I thawed a chuck roast for dinner and put it in the crockpot with chopped carrots and potatoes. I paid bills. I talked to an advisor about the house situation. I moved the sheep and refilled their water trough.

And then I fired up my weedwhacker. If you’re ever feeling powerless, frustrated, angry, and blue, pull on the harness of a bladed weedwhacker and wade into a five-foot tall thicket of raspberries, blackberries, and black cherry saplings. I’m about to turn 59 years old, my right elbow and left knee ache constantly, but for that hour I was Rambo slashing victoriously through the jungle.

Under my ear protectors I was listening to the soundtrack of Hamilton. I hadn’t listened to it all winter. I sang along with “Helpless” but as I swung the weedwhacker against the thorny stems and watched them fall, for once I didn’t feel that way.

I Had a Dream

May 24, 2018

Last night I woke with a start, sure I heard coyotes attacking my sheep in the field. I sat up, heart racing.

The noise was coming from DH, who had rolled over to snore in my ear.

Even in my fright, I found this funny. It could be that I’m a little anxious and over-tired.


May 23, 2018

It’s a familiar sensation in the spring. One minute the ground is bare and everything is possible, and the next there is an explosion of growth and I’m behind and quietly feeling frantic. The spring rush on the farm always coincides with the end of school and all the extra demands of the schedule. It’s a time so busy that simply cooking dinner, putting gas in the car, or remembering to do laundry can seem overwhelming.

I’m waking up at 4 to make my lists. When I feel breathless, pressured, or cranky, I remind myself that in only two weeks I will surface into the calm waters of summer vacation.


Waiting for Flora

May 22, 2018

My Angus heifer, Flora McDonald, has grown considerably this winter. When I bought her in September, Flora was a slim first-calf heifer smaller than Moxie. Now, at almost three, she is just as tall, and as she will calve soon she is wide and ponderous. I always remember my vet, David, telling me in reference to Moxie (a runt when I found her) that cattle have an amazing ability to continue to grow after their first year “if they have good groceries.” I set a generous table. “You spoil them cows,” says Rick, the hay man, when I complain about bad bales.

I’m not sure of Flora’s due date as she had been turned out in a large herd with Hereford bulls “for about a month.” I’m guessing in the next two weeks. I have no experience with beef cow udders but I’m watching Flora’s carefully.

I hope to get the cattle on fresh grass soon. My fences need hours of work after the long winter and I’m swamped at my job. However I’ve written down a list of the necessary steps and with luck I can make a little progress every day.

Farewell, Ambrose

May 21, 2018

I slaughtered my rooster, Ambrose Burnside, yesterday. I was sad to do it. I dislike killing anything. However, he was too aggressive to live on my farm. He had begun attacking me every time I came into the barn. He attacked Flossie the barn cat. He attacked the geese, not just chasing but pursuing them with mad intent. On Saturday morning he chased my old goose Kay out of the barn and up the hill until she went through the fence and in with the sheep for protection. That afternoon he chased a frantic Serena around the sheep stall, tearing out her feathers.

Ambrose had outgrown his teenage scruffiness and was very handsome. I’m sorry these last photos had to be taken on a drizzly weekend in the mud, as he rippled with iridescent green, gold, and copper in the sunshine. However his beauty was beside the point when he was flying at you, wings spread and spurs extended.

I don’t know what went wrong with Ambrose. He came to me as a young adult and perhaps he had a difficult past. Once he was with me I treated him with the same care and deference I’ve treated every rooster, all of whom remained friendly for years.

I plucked and gutted the carcass in the kitchen and we’ll have chicken soup for dinner.

 *   *   *

Meanwhile, of his six babies, the one with the dislocated leg was dead the second day. However the yellow chick without balance cheeped on. It became more steadily upright. It was still clueless and did not seem to be able to follow its mother’s instructions or even navigate on its feet. It did not eat or drink, despite my repeatedly dipping its beak. Morning and evening I lifted the hen, expecting to find the chick dead. But no. Cheep! Cheep! It seemed that though this yellow chick had been the first to start pipping its way out of the egg, it might simply be delayed in its maturity. Feeling cheered, I nicknamed it “A Day Late and A Dollar Short” and prayed it would get the hang of eating before it starved to death.

It did. Now I can’t tell “Dollar” from the healthy yellow chick, and all five run around like busy sandpipers. My hope is one will prove to be a rooster and grow up to lead the flock.

A Moist Weekend

May 20, 2018

It is so exciting to be living on the farm in the spring for the first time. I have loved walking the dogs at night and hearing the mating calls of the peepers and bull frogs, the crazy zeep! of a woodcock. During the daylight hours robins and jays squabble over territory; tree swallows swoop around the barn. The grass is green and starting to grow. I even don’t mind this weekend’s gloomy, dripping skies because the land is so full of promise.

The poplars leafed out last week in delicate green. “Popple” is here considered a trash tree, a weed, and I cut down seedlings ruthlessly in the pastures, but I can’t help but be fond of a tree that is the first to sport brave new leaves in the spring and the last one to lose them, golden, in the fall. (Poplars sound more upscale when you call them aspen.) Now the red buds of the maples are unfolding and the first blossoms of the black cherries gleam white in the woods.

Mike stopped by yesterday in his round of errands and  cut back a half dozen trees that fell over the fences in the back field in the big windstorm two weeks ago. I could have cut them all with a handsaw but once you’ve seen the wonders of technology, it’s hard to go back. It took Mike less than ten minutes to saw the trees into manageable chunks.

I’ll stack the logs in the woods and haul the brush to the burn pile. Yesterday I stopped at the fire department and picked up a permit.

But today it is pouring rain and I will focus on indoor chores.

Hooray for the Weekend!

May 19, 2018

The end of the school year is fast approaching. One more week of real classes, another week of partial classes, graduation, several days of meetings, and I am done. I cannot wait!  It is so freeing to think that this summer there is no single overwhelming job (vid. build the garage, or pack and move our household). I am so eager to tackle smaller projects. I have several hundred on my list. I am excited to start.

Before then, however, I have classes to teach, exams to grade, papers to correct, diplomas and end-of-year reports to write, senior pages to put together for all the graduates. The next two weeks will be busy.

It is due to rain all weekend. I am trying to walk on the neighboring ski trails with the dogs for 30-40 minutes a day, both for my heart and to strengthen my bad knee. I hope to go this morning before the rain starts and tomorrow late after it ends. I need to move the sheep both days and muck the barn. I need to weedwhack the driftway so I can repair and get a charge in the fence, to get the cows out on first grass. Also on my list are weeding a couple of the gardens before the goutweed takes over and cutting down a pair of shed doors before the rain starts.

I know — pipe dreams! I won’t even tell you about the other 35 chores I’ve written down hopefully for the weekend. On Saturday mornings, drinking my coffee, anything seems possible.