July 3, 2019

Yesterday the sky around the barn was filled with flashing wings. It appeared as if the nest of barn swallows in the hayloft had finally fledged and jumped to the air. The tree swallows in the birdbox on the gate post will soon follow. Summer is passing!

I try not to mourn or panic but simply appreciate the beauty.

The Eagle Has Landed

June 25, 2019

Early last Thursday morning crows were screeching and our dogs went crazy barking at the glass porch doors. I jumped up and ran to look out, assuming I would see a coyote (though wondering why the crows were fussing — coyotes don’t bother crows). Instead I saw this huge bird, mobbed by so many dozens of screaming and dive-bombing crows that in confusion he lighted on the top of my manure pile. He finally flew away toward the woods to the north, the mob in pursuit.

I was happily surprised to see him back in the top of the giant spruce in the driveway the next morning, when I was able to get some photos.

I checked with a naturalist acquaintance on Facebook. As I guessed, it was a young bald eagle. “Third year,” said the naturalist.

Lucy’s camera is terrific. The eagle was sitting in the crown of a very tall tree as I leaned back against the hood of our car in the driveway below. The camera later showed me details I could not see with my eyes.

Meanwhile the next tree over was collecting crows, loudly sounding the alarm. At last the eagle had had enough, and with a heavy flap of wings he departed.

In the summer on the farm the natural world is full of wonder at every turn. The tree frogs calling when I walk the dog at night. The wild turkeys in the pastures. The garter snakes that slide away through the grass. The bluebirds and goldfinches swaying on the fence lines, the barn swallows swooping in and out of the hay loft, the snowshoe hares nibbling grass along the driveway. All of these are little jolts of joy.

I am so blessed to live here.

Let It Go

November 3, 2018

It’s been a tough week. I wrote my builder a quick note of inquiry last Saturday when I discovered that he had come to the house while I was at work and removed all his scaffolding and ladders. These have sat here since last November, when he left promising to return in May to finish the work he had been paid for the previous June. In May he wrote an angry email and promised to return in August. At the end of August he returned briefly and promised to finish the rest of the work. At that time he told me to order $800 worth of brick. The brick is stacked on our porch.

He never came back.

We had house guests over the weekend, friends and teenagers in town for the memorial of my former student who died. The memorial was beautiful … and draining. We returned home exhausted.

At this low ebb, after more than a month of silence, I found an email from the builder. In the next six weeks, he would send me a couple of checks, covering what he considered the remaining work. (He appended a short list.) But he would not return.

He wrote, “I consider this a fair and honest resolution/closure to our contract,” and (bizarrely) reassured me, “I’m not upset.”

I was shocked.

As he left for a three-day business trip DH said patiently, “Just write, I look forward to receiving your checks.”

Even hot-tempered Damon growled over the phone, “Just write OK — or you won’t get fuckin’ nothin’.”

But I couldn’t get over my sense of betrayal. The list he provided, even without all the promised work already removed, still left out a number of items. I thought the real dollar amount was quite a bit more. I wrote him a short, polite note, stating that I was sorry he would not return and listing those items.

The next morning I received a long email, attacking me as self-centered, grasping, and ungrateful. How dare I bring up those items, when he had lost so much money on my job due to having to work around us? (Because he didn’t meet his finish date, a point he has consistently failed to note.) The personal viciousness of the email made me feel sick. After trashing my character, the email closed piously, “I will pray for you.”

I have never been able to cope with anger directed at me. What a fool I had been to reply! DH was gone and I felt shaky for days. I told myself to move on but I had to flog myself into putting one foot after another, walking the dogs, doing barn chores, teaching my classes. I did not sleep.

One afternoon I was mucking the barn when a confused yellow-shafted flicker flew in and then tried to hide by stuffing himself in a crevice behind a beam. I gently pulled him down. I “knew” the bird was a message from my late mother, who taught me about flickers so many years ago.

I carried the bird carefully outside — and then I let it go.

Today I’ll start moving the brick off the porch.


And Bears, Oh My!

October 17, 2018

Here is our old apple tree in early October. When I bought this land fifteen years ago, this tree was leaning out from the edge of a balsam forest. I cut the forest and saved the tree. In gratitude for the restored sunshine it has borne bounteous crops of apples almost every year, despite never being pruned to trim out sucker branches and allow light into the crown. (It’s on the list.) Now our new house has been built 100 feet from the tree and it is framed in my study window.

Someday I will have enough time to pick the apples and make cider, sauce, and pies, but that day is not yet. For now, animals domestic and wild take the fruit. Here are the cattle and Lucy’s horse Birch picking up windfalls in 2011.

I see deer prints and coyote scat regularly.

Last week there were a thousand drops under the tree and after filling an 18-gallon tub, I gave up and decided to fence the sheep away from them, for fear they would gorge, colic, and die. Two nights ago we had a windstorm that shook the house. Yesterday the grass under the tree was a solid carpet of apples.

Last night I took our little cairn terrier, Toby, out on a leash for a quick pee before I served dinner. It was dark. Toby whined and I looked up to see a large black bear sitting under the apple tree. As the mama ran off, a cub dropped out of the tree and raced after her.


Reality Check

July 31, 2018

I almost always work alone. Though I am accustomed to it, in times of stress I can get a little lonely and blue. Then God sends me a reminder of the miracle of creation. Yesterday there was a goldfinch feeding on a single stalk of timothy outside my kitchen window. The day before a kestrel was perched on a fence post. This morning it was this tiny frog.

What a beautiful world!

Days Are Passing

July 15, 2018

I am aware of the ticking clock. Both sets of bluebirds in my bluebird boxes have left the nest. The clutch of tree swallows in the box near the barn fledged the day before the official start of summer. I happened to be there and spent ten minutes watching the five babies try their wings. The barn seems lonelier now, without all the busy swooping.

Summer is fleeting here.


Explosion of Mice

May 16, 2018

This winter my barn had a mouse population explosion. I was constantly finding mice drowned in water buckets, mice in the grain bins, mice chewing holes into bags in the grain shed, mouse droppings everywhere. The tack room stank of mice. There were even mouse droppings in the cat’s food dish!  I knew something had to be done, but I don’t like killing and I put off dealing with the problem. Naturally, the problem grew.

When the snowbanks finally ebbed, I bought a simple set-up for a bucket mousetrap. This is a “walk the plank” trap which encourages the foraging mouse to creep out on a plank baited with peanut butter. The see-saw plank releases and the mouse falls into a bucket out of which it can’t jump. The directions say to fill the bottom of the bucket with several inches of water, but drowning is a slow and panicky death that I wouldn’t inflict on anything. Instead, I have driven the captured mice a mile down the road and released them in the forest.

Forty-three mice re-homed so far this spring.

Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends

January 14, 2018

A typical bright Adirondack morning. These photos were taken yesterday at 9 and 10 AM. We got six fresh inches of snow.

I had noticed that the dozens of robins here on Thursday were gone by Friday afternoon when my geese were playing in the puddles. The robins must have known something.

Just before lunch the snow stopped, the sky cleared, and the temperature began to plummet. This morning it is -27° F.

Winter here can be a long siege.

A Providential Thaw

January 12, 2018

Yesterday morning before work I spent an hour digging out the deep snowbank around the barn paddock fence. Over the day the temperature rose into the low 40s. The snow everywhere ebbed quickly.

Somehow a couple of dozen robins appeared and were hopping around the new bare patches in the fields. Robins? In January? Normally I first spot them March 30, plus or minus a few days. I found the sight of them at this season frightening, but when I inquired of a local naturalist he told me a few male robins often overwinter in town, surviving on crabapples. Though I saw closer to 20 than “a few,” I was comforted to hear that they were not necessarily harbingers of the apocalypse. (Note to self: buy some crabapple whips in the spring from the county Soil and Water Conservation service, which sells landscaping trees for about $5 each).

By evening the driveway was plate ice, running with water. Today it is raining and the high wind in the trees sounds like a passing train. The temperature is due to climb to 55°. Tonight it is supposed to switch to snow, and tomorrow’s storm is predicted to bring 4-6″ of powder and overnight a return to 15° below zero, with a windchill of -27°F.

Today is my short day at work so I should have three hours of daylight (grey, rainy, and gloomy, but still light) to work outside. Yesterday afternoon, an unexpected meeting in town bumped my “Things to Get Done in the Thaw” list, so today I have a double load. I need to:

  1. pump up the truck’s flat tire and pick up some mulch hay*
  2. rearrange materials on the front porch before it is snow-covered again
  3. fix the barn paddock hydrant
  4. straighten and hammer down snow fence posts leaning in the thaw
  5. muck the deep bedding out of the barn addition while it is not frozen.

The deep bedding in the addition should have been mucked out last June when the sheep went out on pasture, but I was moving us then. The addition is 10′ x 32′. The foot-thick bedding is now dried and petrified to something like adobe. For the past month it has been frozen adobe and in passing I’ve glanced in at it from the main barn, mentally wringing my hands. I could have lambs in as little as two weeks and will need the stall to be clean and fresh. (Ewes go from the main stall to the lambing jugs, and then from the jugs with their lambs to the addition.) Today’s thaw is a gift from God.

I think cleaning the addition will take about eight hours. (Why do I have to have a real job?) Normally I spread these hours over a week. We’ll see what I can finish in ninety minutes . . . in the rain and wind.

It’s good to have goals.


* Of course, Rick the hay man still hasn’t appeared with the mulch hay he promised to bring in early December and several times since!


December 9, 2017

This has been a rough week. DH and I have both been feeling ropy. (Such a great British word, with its sense of old, stringy, worn, and frayed.) At the end of the hard week, poor DH had to head out on the road for five days. So I have been alone, with the dogs, the cattle, the sheep, the geese, the chickens, Flossie the barn cat, and the lists.

I have been so tired and my eyes so scratchy that I have thought I must be coming down with pink-eye. But no. Just exhaustion.  I wake up at 4 and try to make a plan for the day, then stick to it with discipline through supper. I am behind on grading tests, writing term reports, and of course on many projects in the house and on the farm. My daily list shuffles me through these responsibilities.

Tonight after barn chores, I grilled a small steak and ate at the dining room table. (The steak had already been thawed or I’d have snacked on peanut butter or cheese and apples.) After a bath, wrapped in my thick terry robe, I read for a few minutes on our bed as a reward for my day of diligence.

I must have dozed off, because I woke to a coyote loudly howling. It was 7 PM. It sounded as if the coyote was just outside the house.

We hear coyotes all the time, but this was very close. I know they are close, but not usually when I’m awake. In the night the coyotes gnaw on frozen drops under the apple tree at the edge of the driveway, fifty feet from our door. Not only do my dogs go crazy with snuffling, but the scat I find everywhere in the pastures is full of apples. Apples and seeds and not much else. No feathers; no fur. No goose! I think to myself as I kick the scat apart to examine it. No chicken or lamb! I’m grateful but at the same time I think: poor things, they must be hungry.

Rousing to the sound of howling under my window, however, triggered a more primitive response. I’m Ma and Pa Ingalls out on the wild prairie with my girls, and the wolves are circling! I wanted to poke up the fire and arm myself with a big club. Or possibly even grab Pa’s gun from its hooks over the front door.

Instead I simply put on my slippers and turned on the outside lights.