September 30th, 2011 §
This weekend I have plans to plant 44 trees and shrubs.
Last weekend I went looking for trees to create the living screen I wanted between my house and my neighbor’s. I hit pay dirt at a nursery over the mountain. All their material was 50 percent off, and they were willing to deliver. So I bought trees. Lots of trees. And some shrubs too.
The plants arrived early this week, and I spent some time yesterday moving the smaller material into the field. Tomorrow reinforcements—and heavy machinery—are arriving for the Big Dig.
September 25th, 2011 §
September 23rd, 2011 §
As an antidote to a bit of a downer blog week, yesterday morning was magical here on the farm. A thick fog surrounded the house as a weak sun tried to fight its way through. It made for a gorgeous scene in every direction, and while out with the dog early I found the hayfield full of magnificent spider webs all pearled up with dew.
Of course no sooner had I snapped this picture than a morning-exuberant puppy—yes, that’s him in the background—tore through the hay, rendering that masterpiece into this:
But it was beautiful while it lasted.
Which calls my attention to one of the most unanticipated benefits I’ve received from raising a dog here on the farm. He’s forced me outside during times when I wouldn’t normally have left the house. I remember last winter, when he was a brand-new puppy getting me out of bed for a middle of the night pee break, we stood in the middle of a snowy, frosty-crunchy field as shooting stars whizzed overhead. And even now, each morning we walk the property after his breakfast, checking on this tree and that flower and making note of all the changes that happened over night. It keeps both of us grounded and deeply in tune with the land we live on. It’s one of the best parts of my day, and a totally unexpected joy.
September 22nd, 2011 §
From the dog bowl:
In other chicken news, last Sunday I had the coop torn apart for cleaning, all open and aired out and all dishes and nest boxes freshly scrubbed and drying in the sun.
I was eating lunch on the back porch, Tuck lying at my feet. Lilac, one of the young hens, grew very interested in my tuna and crackers. I tossed her a few crumbs and she hopped up on the porch right in front of Tuck and ate crackers out of my hand. It was a peaceable kingdom if I’d ever seen one. The rest of the day she stuck very close as I worked on the coop, even as her sister Iris ventured further away. Normally the two hens stay close together. I figured Lilac was just looking for more handout and enjoyed the attention.
But when I put fresh bedding in the coop and hung up the nesting box, Lilac jumped right in the nest box. Within two minutes she hopped out and ran to join Iris. I checked the nest box and sure enough, a beautiful still-warm egg. I am excited to have finally solved the mystery of which hen is laying which colored egg. Fittingly, Lilac’s, on the left, is the more purple of the two:
September 22nd, 2011 §
I was driving home late last night when my headlights flashed on a distinctive shape in the road right in front of my house, strangely near the deer incident of earlier this week. I thought I’d seen a snake, but not just any snake. So I turned around and drove back again, and once I determined the creature was dead, I figured it was worth further investigation.
Allow me to stop right here and assure you I don’t suffer from necromania, a suspicion you’d be forgiven for having if you’ve read this blog for a while and noted its frequently occurring theme of dead animals. My interest in this particular bit of roadkill was strictly scientific: I could tell from the car that this wasn’t an ordinary black snake, which thus far have been the only snakes I’ve seen on the farm.
After I’d parked the car and grabbed a flashlight, my dark, drive-by suspicion was confirmed. A copperhead—the first I’ve seen around this property in the two and a half years I’ve owned it. It was a young one, less than two feet long, and the front half of its body was squashed and the skin flayed. But there was enough nonR-rated material left to make a positive i.d.
The snake could have been crossing the road, or now that night time temperatures are dropping it was perhaps soaking up some heat held in the warm pavement. What’s unusual to me is that so many of my acquaintances are recently reporting copperhead stories, including one man who was bitten by one that got in his house, and another woman whose dog was just bitten on the face. Many people are rather folksily conjecturing that last month’s earthquakes has the snakes out and on the move, but who knows? Seeing this snake tonight, though, was a good reminder for me to remain vigilant around my place, particularly when I am out in the dark.
September 21st, 2011 §
Early Monday morning I was awoken by Tucker barking a steady, strong alarm downstairs in his crate. I’d never heard him do that before, so I got out of bed and peered out the window into the darkness. There was a car parked off the road right in front of my house, and in its headlights I could see a woman moving around outside. I thought she maybe had wrecked her car so I pulled my boots and coat on over my pajamas, grabbed my Maglite, and stepped outside.
A man emerged from the car and explained that they’d hit a small deer right in front of my house. It hadn’t done much more than break their car’s headlight, but the deer was lying by my mailbox, still alive. They didn’t know what to do with it.
“I have a small knife in the car, but I’m on my way to work and wearing a white shirt,” the man said.
“Just leave it,” I said, hoping that it was injured enough that it would soon die on its own. The couple got back in their car and continued down the dark road.
As I got ready for work I kept checking on the deer, which had enough strength left to flop circles around the quince bush by the mailbox. As I approached it each time, it tried to run but appeared to have one or more broken legs. As it got later it appeared to lose strength, and its eyelids drooped and were closed by the time I left the farm. Unfortunately, it was still breathing.
From work I called the county police to send someone out to shoot the deer, which they did. They also claimed VDOT would be along to collect the body.
Of course VDOT workers have better things to do like stand around staring at potholes, and when I got home from work the deer was still there, now with a fresh bullet hole in its chest and minus its eyeballs and intestines thanks to a flock of gigantic vultures. I couldn’t have this animal rotting in my front yard, so I tied a piece of twine around its neck and began to tug it, revealing a dark blood spot and spent red shell case under the body. It was much heavier than I was expecting–I’d guess at least 65 pounds. In short bursts I dragged the deer all around the perimeter of my property line into the field behind my house. I took the long way to avoid dragging its scent through my yard, trying to avoid enticing my dog to follow the trail.
The creature grew heavier when we hit the thigh-high grass of the hayfield. I had to stop every few feet just to rest and readjust the twine that was cutting into my hands. Each time I started up again the deer’s leathered snout banged against the heels of my boots.
I found a nice hollow several hills away from the house and pointed the sightless body west, the direction it was traveling when it was hit. I tied the twine into a bow around the deer’s neck and walked away. When I got back to the site of the kill even the shell case was gone, carried off by the red-attracted scavengers who still watched from a nearby tree, wondering what I’d done with their dinner.
It was only late that night, lying in bed, that I realized I could have loaded the body into the tractor bucket and saved myself the grisly march. Though the idea of washing blood and guts off the tractor has similarly low appeal.
Three days later what’s stayed with me from this experience, other than the pearly whiteness of the inside of a freshly opened eye socket, is pride in Tuck’s developing guard/alert dog skills. He’s still young and actively figuring out what’s normal versus what’s not, and I am doing a lot of work to try to communicate the level of vigilance and warning I expect from him. For example, he still doesn’t reliably bark when people drive in the driveway, yet will sound off in response to a perfectly normal truck just passing by on the road. He is literally, right now, finding his voice. For him to alert me on Monday so calmly but effectively to a very abnormal scenario on the road in front of the house impresses me, and it bodes well for the partnership we are building.
September 20th, 2011 §
Tucker running full-speed out of the woods toward me when I call for him.
When his ears flip up in the wind I call it his border collie impersonation.
September 18th, 2011 §
In the past few weeks I’ve gotten a few major projects mostly crossed off my list. First up was the back porch ceiling, my personal bete noir thanks to an invasion of starlings (see here, and here). My dad and a couple of carpenters put it in, and it looks great. Now I just need to caulk and paint it, purchase and hang a ceiling fan, install the rope lights that will run in a tray around the ceiling, and reconnect my outdoor speakers.
Next the guys moved on to fixing the garage, which entailed cutting out and replacing some rotten trim. I used MiraTec again for the trim, to match the house.
Now I need to either pay a couple of thousand bucks to have the building power washed, scraped, sanded, windows reglazed, nail holes filled and joints caulked, and repainted, or I need to do it myself. The jury’s still out on this one. I also need to order new garage doors.
Last weekend my dad and a friend finally took care of the huge pile of black walnut that had been in my field for more than a year. My brother had milled some wood from a couple of storm-fallen trees, and this farm proved a good place to store the limb wood until it could be cut for firewood. So a day of fun with a neat little skid steer and a couple of chainsaws and I have a shed full of ready-to-burn limb wood, as well as a double-thick row of logs outside waiting for the wood splitter.
Finally, I took a day of work last week to knock out a project that’s been more than a year overdue: trimming out the chicken coop. Again my chainsawing friend helped as we drove over the mountain to pick up lumber and metal roofing, which we strapped to the top of the station wagon. Farm use tags, here I come!
Once home, we had the coop trimmed in no time, even with an intervening rainstorm. We also added a bit more metal roofing to create better overhangs on each end. Today I cleaned the interior of the coop, and filled nail holes. I ran out of steam while sanding them, but when I get geared up again I will finish sanding, and caulk and paint the building. The coop looks a lot better, and I am thrilled with the progress.
I am so happy to have these projects underway. They were all hanging over my head, bothering me in their various stages of incompleteness. I know I have a long way to go still, what with all the finish work and painting, but to have made this much progress is worth celebrating.
My goal for the rest of the fall, or at least until cold weather hits and outdoor work ceases, is to have the back porch ceiling painted and complete, have the garage fixed and repainted and sporting new doors, and to have the coop trimmed and repainted. If I can get these major projects accomplished, I will happily rest in front of the wood stove for the winter. All the while, of course, plotting next year’s improvements…
September 15th, 2011 §
Even clean-up was pretty.
September 9th, 2011 §
At 4:00 in the wee hours of Thursday morning I was awakened by a familiar scrambling in my bedroom. At this point I should know better and just roll over and go back to sleep. But the responsible homeowner/vendettive bitch in me just can’t resist the call of a good MOUSE RODEO!
So up I sprang to find my four-legged assistant already on the case. Kitty was chasing a poor little mouse to and fro around the bedroom. I swear she was playing with him, and I haven’t seen a mortally cuter sight than the mouse staring up at her, impotent boxing fists at the ready, chattering hail Mary’s in mouse-speak while Kitty watched, tail twitching. This went on for a few minutes, with me shouting encouragement from the sidelines. I know it’s gross, but I wanted nothing more than for the cat to sink her teeth into this thing and be done with it so I could go back to bed. But it soon became apparent that I’d woken up for a spectator sport, not a blood sport.
But damned if I was giving this invasive creature the chance to continue its life in my palace. So into my closet I went for The Shoe Box. And then I chased that damn mouse around my bedroom, in and out of my closet, until I finally grabbed him:
Trouble was, I only managed to get his body in the box while his poor wee head stuck outside. What to do?
It was now about 4:15 in the morning, and I was buzzing from my adrenaline-induced hunt. There was no way I was going to let the mouse escape, and I knew that if I tried to get him properly in the box odds were he’d escape. So I grabbed a roll of packing tape and with one hand sealed him halfway in his cardboard coffin. And then I slipped him into a plastic bag and went to do what I do with all small mammals I am out to dispatch: put him in the freezer. Only my freezer was too full with chilling beer steins and venison sausage, so this guy met his end in the fridge. And I went upstairs to wipe mouse blood stains off my floor. Turns out this actually was a blood sport for Kitty.
When I got the mouse out the next day he was good and dead, and one little eyeball was frosty white from freezing against the bag. I chucked him into the woods for the fox, and then went inside to give my partner Kitty a well-deserved scratch about her ears.