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!

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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!


Coyotes

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.


No Words

November 2, 2017

Yesterday was a busy day. After teaching, I raced up to see Lucy at college and drop off her birthday presents. I could only stay to give her a hug because I had to pick up my freezer lamb at the slaughterhouse and get home in time to pick up the dogs at the vet. (They have to be in the vet while the stair work is being done.) Somehow I had absentmindedly thought: Lucy’s college is two hours north, the slaughterhouse is two hours north, the two places are practically next door to each other. Nope. To my fright, at the last moment I discovered they were 45 minutes apart. Yikes! Hurry! I ran in to pick up the dogs just under the wire.

After unloading the heavy boxes of lamb into my freezers and walking the dogs, I pulled on my coveralls and went down to barn chores. That’s when I discovered the pile of golden feathers.

One of my Buff Orpington hens had clearly jumped over the hard 42″ fence and been killed by the coyote fifteen feet from the entrance to the barn. (To keep the chickens from wandering, I’d pulled the barrn doors closed, so after jumping out she would have had no way to get in except to jump back over the fence.) This killing happened in broad daylight.

My rooster, Monty, is also missing. I found no black feathers anywhere, so I have a flicker of hope. It’s possible he fled into the woods and is hiding. However, I do know it’s unlikely. It’s far more likely that the coyote carried him off to eat elsewhere. That flicker of hope can drive me crazy sometimes.

I’m so sad and angry with this coyote, with myself for not finishing my sheep and poultry pen, and with the  foolishness of chickens… I have no words.