August 10th, 2013 §
Yesterday morning, around 7:30, I was awoken by Tucker barking, once, down in the laundry room, where he sleeps. I have been sick all week, with nights spent swinging between illness-induced, jolting-awake nightmares, insomnia, and mouse killings. When I heard Tucker bark again, a single bark, I swum to the surface in a daze. Then he barked again.
In the two and a half years that we’ve lived together, I can count the times Tucker’s barked from his sleeping room on one hand. In fact, I have him sleep in the laundry room, instead of loose downstairs, because I believe it’s the only way he feels like he’s “off duty” and can relax from his job of relentlessly keeping tabs on everything. But this morning he was definitely telling me something, very clearly, and by that third bark I was already on my way downstairs.
I walked into the kitchen and saw this:
Ah, insomniac online shopping—looks like that horse I ordered had been delivered!
And apparently it was a buy one, get one free deal:
All joking aside, I had a serious situation on my hands. These are my next door neighbor’s two horses, and they were loose. Again. On Monday morning I’d woken up and seen them grazing outside of their fence. By the time I’d made a call to determine my neighbor wasn’t home, these two horses were on a heel-kicking joy ride up the road. A horrible situation for all involved, particularly any unsuspecting drivers who might be on a collision course with two revved-up, slightly panicked, thousand-pound blindly running animals.
I’d gotten dressed and run outside to try to get the horses back in, but they were out of sight by the time I made it across the pasture. I wandered the woods in the direction they’d gone, but no luck. I was just about home when another horse-owning neighbor came walking up the road, leading one of the horses with a rope gripped around its neck. The other horse followed behind. Apparently yet another neighbor had seen the horses on the road and called the neighbor who caught the horses, and they were back home safe for eight hours before their owner returned to question their chipped-up hooves and get the story. She said she’d been distracted and forgotten to fasten their gate the night before.
And now, here we were four mornings later with the same horses on the loose again. I left a message on my neighbor’s cell phone, and was calling Monday’s horse-catching neighbor when the horses’ owner returned my call. She came right home and with a whistle had her horses back in their pasture. She called to thank me, and again said she’d been distracted and left the gate open. Wow. In four years I have yet to see these horses get loose, and here they went twice in one week.
The animal drama around here just doesn’t stop. But thanks to my farm dog, who wasn’t sleeping on the job, the horses were collected before traveling further afield or into the road. Tuck got an egg cooked in bacon grease on his breakfast, and lots of hugs for a job well done.
April 11th, 2013 §
It’s ironic, isn’t it, that a week ago it was sleeting and now we’ve just come through several days of near-90 degree temperatures.
I feel clobbered by summer just when we should, finally, be enjoying spring.
The heat’s brought on the spring flowering trees, it appears to their detriment. My wonderful Yoshino cherry in the front yard flowered yesterday and already this morning its green leaves were pushing through tired-looking white flowers. In one day. With cooler weather one could enjoy the pure-white flowers and grey branches alone for at least a week before the leaves come in to make everything look a bit ragged.
I was out this morning hauling five-gallon buckets of water to the vegetable garden. I haven’t yet set up my hoses, and with this heat I needed to water the new peas and recently sprouted greens. We’ve had so little rain lately that these young plants were wilting like it was July, not early April. I would say this is not a good harbinger for an easy summer, if there is such a thing around here, but the variability demonstrated by last week’s weather compared to this week’s shows that there are no patterns nor useful predictions.
I’ve been chipping away at my spring to-do list, which is dozens of items long. It’s times like these that I really feel my singleness, my two small hands that are solely responsible for making so much happen. Most of the time I enjoy working alone, but I do know how much more can be accomplished with the extra helpers that I don’t have. If I still lived in San Diego, as I used to, I would totally have gone down to the nearest big-box hardware store parking lot and picked up a truck load of day laborers. But this kind of help just isn’t as, shall we say, visible here in central Virginia. So I go it alone.
One of my main focuses right now is to do what needs to be done to make summer maintenance a little less exhausting. To that end, I am working on defining beds around the house in order to keep turf and weeds from encroaching. I am also going to mulch pretty heavily, with straw in the vegetable garden, double-ground hardwood mulch in the ornamental beds, and pine bark around then pasture trees, in hopes that it will keep the weeds down and lessen drought stress (and watering) on plants.
But of course, this being the property it is, and by that I mean still young and undefined, in order to do all these things I must do several other things first. So for the past few weeks I have been hauling boulders out of the woods to edge the beds, shoveling topsoil, shoveling and hand-spreading mulch. All hard work that’s a race between physical exhaustion and the disappearance of daylight, and usually I push myself until the sun goes down.
I try not to look at the ten yards of mulch that was just yesterday dumped in my field and think that I will need to position it all, shovel by shovel, in place. Instead I just pick up the shovel, start up the tractor, and take it one bucket-load at a time.
Tonight, near eight o’clock, I was shoveling mulch on the front bed when I heard a guitar. My neighbor, a young guy who rents the the house just up the road, was sitting on his porch, strumming and singing in the sunset. I’m not going to lie, I had a somewhat bitter flashback to being a young renter, with no better way to spend a warm, dry evening than just sitting. I wish I could say the “joys of home ownership” make losing all sense of idle relaxation worth it, but the jury’s still out on that.
And while they’re debating, there is still the veg garden to lime, fertilize, straw, and oh, plan and plant. All I have in now are peas and greens, but in a couple of weeks it will be time to pound tomato stakes and transplant the dahlias that I potted up inside a few weeks ago. And sow the cut flowers, and set up the cucumber trellis. And there are the water hoses to set up, the chicken house to clean, the roses to prune, and the tools to clean and organize, among many other tasks. We’re officially in the season of nonstop projects, and those short winter days spent reading by the wood stove are but a pleasant memory.
If it sounds like I am complaining, I am not. I love every minute of all of this work, and nothing makes me feel more vital than these tasks. I feel like taking care of this patch of dirt is one of the things I was born to do, but I know enough about the sequence of spring chores to know that certain issues, if not nipped in the bud—literally!—make for larger problems down the road. I am feeling behind and panicky. And I still need to do my taxes!
The pressure is on in part because I have have wonderful out-of-town friends arriving in a week. I am so very much looking forward to their visit, and I’d like to have a good handle on all these things so I can be the relaxed hostess they deserve, without having to conscript them into mulch spreading! And, my green tractor is ailing—leaking oil from its front axle—and going to the tractor hospital on Monday for bit of a stay. I need the tractor for most of my outdoor jobs, so I need to get those done before the tractor is away on convalescence. And tomorrow it’s supposed to rain most of the day, which is a wonderful thing for the drought, but not so great for my plans to mulch. So the variables are stacking up, and there’s nothing to do but make lists, prioritize, and push through the best I can.
December 30th, 2011 §
There’s a big pasture full of ex-rodeo bulls near my house. Didn’t they win the lottery—Free Union mountain views vs. slaughterhouse!
I walk Tuck on the gravel road past their farm every now and then. Last weekend, for the first time since I got him, Tuck was able to calmly watch this bull from the fence without a single bark. Progress!
October 11th, 2011 §
The first weekend of October was devoted to installing the new forest. The purpose of this mass planting is to create screening between my neighbor’s house and mine and to also block the view of the back of my house from people coming down the road. To give you a sense of scale, the installation is about 200 feet long and 30 feet deep.
I had bought 44 trees and shrubs, and it took two long weekend days of nonstop work to install 27 of them. I am grateful for my tree planting partner father, as well as his backhoe and tractor and skid steer that made it possible to pick these trees up. Some were quite large and must have weighed several hundred pounds. And even with the heavy equipment we both did a lot of shoveling. And we’re still not done…
My vision for this part of the landscape is of a multilayered hedge with mixed tall evergreens forming an all-seasons background screen and shorter deciduous trees in front to provide seasonal interest with their flowers and fall color. It looks a little sparse now as I positioned the trees with a mind to their mature sizes but already it’s having the effect of drawing attention away from undesirable views and toward the trees. It is a major change for what used to be perfectly pretty pasture, and I hope it works out! Below is the view from my neighbor’s fence line back toward my compound.
I spent all last Sunday watering the trees and staking them. I am torn about staking: all the recent research suggests that it can do more harm than good to young trees. Stress and movement of the tree in the wind actually encourage the tree to develop a stronger root system and stockier trunk. However, I also know that this field is incredibly windy in the winter, and I fear that without some support these top-heavy evergreens will be lifted right out of the ground. So each tree got one stake, to be removed as soon as the roots show signs of having knit themselves to the earth. I found this publication by the University of Minnesota to be incredibly helpful.
I also loosely wrapped the trunks of the deciduous trees in balled up deer netting and tied it on. The theory is that deer don’t like the feeling of the netting and refrain from scratching their antlers against the trunks—a rather rude act that can kill a young tree.
Now I just need to order a couple of truckloads of mulch from my mulch guy and tuck these babies in for the winter!
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 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.
July 4th, 2011 §
Where you can sit on the back porch and watch fireworks over the field.
Redneck neighbors are the best.
April 23rd, 2011 §
I took delivery of 10 yards of mulch from my mulch and compost purveyor, a 50-something man who was born and raised about 20 minutes from my farm. He wears Carhartt overalls, a camo baseball cap, and spends all day wheeling and dealing mulch and compost from his cellphone. He is unfailingly polite and helpful to everyone who calls, which I know not only from my own calls to him, but also from overhearing him speak to his other clients on the phone while at my place.
He backed his dump truck into the pasture and dumped my mulch. And then we got to talking. He noticed the garden space I just prepared, and noted that the soil looked good. He pointed out the broom straw in my field and told me I needed lime. We shot the breeze about our shared middle schools and the recent wind-fueled wildfires down the road. He walked over to the guinea coop and peeked in, talking to the birds. He noticed the old oak tree near the well house and that it had been topped by a previous owner of this property. Which led us into a discussion of trees. He looked into my woods, said, “Let’s take a walk,” and shut off his truck.
We scrambled around the woodline, and he pointed out all the different trees that grew there. “I used to work for the forest service,” he told me, as he spied an old cherry tree growing amongst a group of “Paradise Trees,” which he said I should cut for fuel because “they’re good for nothing else.”
When he found the big old white oaks further in the woods he stood still, calculating in his head. Finally he spoke. “Now don’t go cutting these just yet. Save these for the future, for when you need a little bit of money.”
It took me a minute to process what he’d meant. A little bit of money?
“I bet you’d get a tractor trailer load of lumber out of these woods,” he said.
It all became clear. He was looking at my woods as a cash crop, something I’d never considered as I’d tiptoed beneath these beautiful old trees, willing them to withstand wind storms and time.
“Well, I kind of would just like to leave them as they are,” I said.
He considered that idea, head cocked to the side. “You never know,” was all he replied. Then he told me a story of a huge old cherry tree, “growing up in the hollow,” that he’d kept tabs on for most of his life and how the minute the property it was standing on was sold, the tree was cut for lumber.
We walked out of the woods and he pointed out scars on the oaks I’d never noticed where an old wire fence had been subsumed by bark. That’s too bad, he said, noting that the embedded wire lost me several board feet of timber.
Our talk turned to the future as he advised me to go back in my woods and dig up any little beech trees or dogwoods I could find to transplant around my house. He looked me up and down. “Not higher than your waist,” he said. “Any bigger and they won’t take.”
Then he shook my hand, climbed back in his dump truck, and drove away.
September 27th, 2010 §
Came home tonight to a note in my mailbox:
We are running the hounds tomorrow at 9-00 clock. hope that’s ok. if not, give us a call at xxx xxxx. Thanks xxxxx.
May 2nd, 2010 §
The tease at the end of my last post wasn’t entirely about my new front porch sconces, though those are pretty neat. Instead, last week my house traded its zebra stripes and HardiePlank gray for its official paint scheme:
When I pulled up to the house one evening after the first coat of paint had gone on, I was pretty much beside myself with excitement and relief. I loved it instantly and I actually got kind of choked up with happiness that I managed to pull this off to my liking. One would think that to paint a house white would be the easiest choice in the paint deck, but the reality is the thousands of white paint colors are really just a minefield waiting for a very expensive and public misstep. Too cool, too warm, too gray, too gold. And of course, I knew what I didn’t want—anything too stark or modern or anything resembling the shade of the old white aluminum siding we pulled off the house (and which is still on the wellhouse). But I’ve known from the beginning that I wanted the house to be white. It’s something of an homage to the previous house that shared this foundation, and I also enjoy the look of a bunch of white farm/cottage buildings in a field.
The trim color was the easiest decision I made in this whole project. There’s a house not far from mine that’s just adorable…a little 1920s stucco cottage. It has the most amazing trim color—a dynamic shade that looks green in some light, grey in other, and sometimes even blue. I looked the homeowner up, asked her to share her trim color, and she invited me to visit. Well, the inside of her house was just as cute as the outside, and reflected the good taste of a very neat, artistic lady. We spent a couple of hours sharing some wine and conversation. I came away with a trim color and a new friend.
Now the only exterior color decisions left to be made involve the front door and the porch ceiling. I am really liking the raw wood look of the ceiling, so I may scrap my plans for a “haint blue” paint job in favor of a nice natural stain that will preserve the wood but leave its color looking like, well, wood. For the front door, I think I will experiment with the gel stains that are sold to stain fiberglass doors and see if I can get a nice medium oak color. If not, ‘a-painting I will go. Ideas?