Creeps up from the creek and across the field.
May 31st, 2014 § 0
May 30th, 2014 § 1
For weeks I’ve been watching a little house wren sit on a tidy nest in a front-garden shrub. I’d found the nest with my spade raised to prise the bush from the ground for relocation. Four blue, brown-speckled eggs popped into view, tucked just inside.
Obviously, landscaping was postponed, and each day I checked on the nest, always expecting the eggs to be gone. They were precariously sited in a bush not two feet off the ground, easy pickings for a snake or raccoon or possum. I considered surrounding the bush with some sort of barrier, but knew that the only thing that would keep a snake out was fine netting. I learned my lesson last summer when a large black snake got stuck and died in the netting I installed to protect the garden from the chickens. So I chose not to intervene with the nest.
Without any “help,” the eggs persisted, and two days ago the mother wren didn’t fly off the nest when I approached. She flattened her body in place, with only her brave eyes moving, and I knew her eggs had hatched.
Yesterday I went out to feed the chickens and saw Tucker bent over something in the grass. I knew that posture. Immediately I checked the nest, and it was empty.
I went back to where Tuck had been standing and searched the dewy clover. I found two little bodies, perfectly bloodless and still warm. I picked them both up, and they curled together in the palm of my hand as they must have in the nest. I almost felt their hearts beating against my skin, but knew it was only wishful thinking. Nearby the mother bird swooped and chattered, scolded and cried.
I buried the babies in a scrape of dirt, and went on with my chores, silent and avoiding eye contact with my dog. Of course I was sad but I had no right to be angry. I knew Tucker was only doing one of his jobs, hunting. A wild baby bird in an ill-positioned nest is to him no different than a rabbit flushed from the wellhouse or mole dug out of the pasture, and all are fair, encouraged game.
As I’d wrapped up the chicken chores I moved some flats of seedlings out of the shed into the rain. I glanced down and saw that my crepe myrtle, still in its gallon nursery pot, had leafed out by several inches from the base.
Seems reasonable until I tell you that I’d tortured this plant all last summer, letting it go bone dry and sunburned, as I prevaricated about where in the ground to stick it. And then summer became fall became our incredibly cold and snowy winter, all during which the pot of dead sticks sat unprotected outside of the wellhouse. I was disappointed in myself that I’d killed a perfectly good future tree by not being able to make a simple, timely decision, and just a few days ago I had accepted my crepe myrtle was toast and mentally pitched it on the compost pile.
But in that short interval between intention and action this forsaken plant had quietly, and on its own schedule, conveyed to me its plan to live.
Doing or not doing. Both are choices, and the joke of this choose-your-own-adventure is that we’re all just bumbling along. In a span of five minutes I got a perfect lesson in acting and not acting, and how each movement’s consequences can be both predictable and surprisingly unexpected.
I am going outside now to plant a crepe myrtle.
March 25th, 2014 § 0
March 25th, 2014 § 0
Then it was supposed to be an inch of sloppy snow accumulation. But now it’s been snowing all day hard enough that I can’t see the mountains in either my front or back yard, and there are five inches on the ground and it’s still coming down.
The daffodils have wisely not yet bloomed.
This is a pretty good representation of how I feel about today’s weather developments, and this whole miserable winter that just won’t end.
Interestingly, though, it was snowing on this day last year.
March 20th, 2014 § 0
March 17th, 2014 § 0
February 21st, 2014 § 3
When hours in front of the wood stove leave me feeling parched and sleepy, I like to take a walk to my nearest body of wild water. I head down the hill to the creek that runs along the back of my property. I have a relationship with this part of the farm only during winter. From March to about November the brambles grow so thickly that the woods are close to impenetrable, as well as being distressingly thick with ticks.
Walks to the creek in winter remind me of being a kid growing up playing in the woods and streams. Today the mineral smell of standing water and boggy decomposition flung me right back to being ten years old and scooping gelatenous masses of polywog eggs out of still water. The clumps broke apart and slimed my hands as I dropped them into a bucket of water before toting the survivors home to hatch in a fish tank in the garage.
I always find some sort of treasure, usually old broken bottles, mostly of the hootch-holding variety. Today I found an amber jug with the words “white fleece” around its top. Nearby was the bottom of the bottle. I looked online but couldn’t trace the bottle’s provenance. The name make me think of fabric softener—but did that ever come packaged in amber jugs? A mystery for sure.
The sound of the creek relaxes me—some day I’ve love to live near moving fresh water—and I like to walk up the creek in my wellies and feel the current against my feet and legs. Today the water was fast and churning grey from our recent snowmelt and rain.
I have happy memories of the creek being the site of my first adventures with Tucker. When he was a tiny pup we’d walk down there, him absorbing the important lessons of following and staying close to me that have made him such an excellent off-leash trail dog. He’d stop and sniff stumps, memorizing the scents of the native foxes and beginning to understand his territorial responsibilities. I’d coax him up and over fallen trees—massive obstacles to legs just a few inches long—him gaining confidence and learning to trust that I wouldn’t hurt or put him in danger. Trips to the creek laid a good foundation for our partnership.
Eventually I restricted Tuck’s range to within sight of the homestead when I installed his invisible fence. He still has acres to patrol, but his winter visits to the creek are now just memories.
I spotted real treasure today with this small yellow feather. Despite being only about four inches long, against the brown leaves it stood out to me like a beacon. I tucked it into my pocket, to add to my collection, and once home identified it as a wing feather from a northern flicker.
At some point I approached what I was sure was a horse-sized skull buried in the creek gravel. I got very excited, but turns out it was just a plastic bag. Seeing it brought to mind a hike I took up a creek in the Blue Ridge with friends the summer before I went to college. We got to a very tricky part that was basically just scrambling up a sheer rock face covered with rushing water. As I started to climb I slipped and fell backward into a pool of water, hitting my hip and injuring it for for what would turn out to be years to come. I was in great pain, but when I went to heave myself up I turned and saw that I’d splashed down right next to a dead dog, pale and decomposing in the water.
Maybe the winter colors of the creek really are all about death and decay. Regardless, or maybe because of this, I love this winter creek’s color palette best—when the water and leaves combine to give me new appreciation for a subtle layering of browns spiked with an occasional acid green, bone white or flicker gold. It takes work to seek out inspiration in winter, the season of sleeping rot, but each time I walk to the creek I find something beautiful.
February 14th, 2014 § 3
Around six tonight I suddenly remembered it was the eve of February’s full moon. I ran outside with my camera and tripod to get a few shots as it rose in the front yard over Buck Mountain. The moon’s light on all the snow made it so bright that within a few minutes of my eyes adjusting I could have walked anywhere I wished without any extra light.
A far-away friend recently asked me if you could see any stars from my farm. Well, here’s your answer. Even on a full-moon night, the stars pop out of the sky.
It’s nights like these that I’m again reminded why I like to leave the hay standing in the front field over winter, instead of bush hogging as most people do in fall. Not only does it create lots of habitat—the place is riddled with deer beds, and Tucker is constantly hunting voles and rabbits out here—it also makes a more interesting picture. And, I love the golden color of the standing grass. In the grey darkness of winter, I will take color anywhere I can get it.
Full moon with Chamaecyparis obtusa, in foreground, and Juniperus virginiana, at far right. Cultivated and wild, planted by me and sown by birds, respectively.
Winter garden, under 15″ of snow. I am loving the architecture of the rock wall beneath the snow, and how something so low and jagged has been smoothed into great pillows lining the bed.
There’s another little clipper system on the way, and even in the fifteen or so minutes I was out taking photos the clouds started to thicken and obscure the full moon. We’re supposed to pick up another inch or so of snow overnight, but next week temps are forecast to be in the 60s. Undoubtedly all the daffodils will be tricked into thinking it’s spring, only to be dumped on by the snow that always falls into March.
February 13th, 2014 § 0
The second wave of this big storm ended at dusk, and with just a bit of light left I went out with the dog to get some photos. I didn’t take an official measurement, but the snow came over the top of my wellies, which are 16″ tall. That’s a lot of snow, especially for here—the most since “Snowpocalypse” in 2009/2010, the winter I built my house. Tonight the national news reported that 60% of the U.S. is under snow. Impressive and wonderful, to have a real winter again.
Being snowed in makes feel especially fondly toward my little farm, which gives me everything I need. Looking back on it from across the pasture, I can see the candles lit in the windows, a warm coop that shelters my flock, a great garage full of capable machines, a beautiful wood stove burning through the sidelights, and a black dog that’s happy to break any trail I need. I never expected to feel as in love with a place as I do here. It’s a feeling I looked for my entire life, and I am blessed to have created it. On the eve of Valentine’s Day, my love is right here.
More snow photos to come, I imagine, in the morning.
January 20th, 2014 § 0
All that pottering in the garden yesterday was barely enough to keep me warm. To get the blood flowing I split some kindling, enough to get a few more wood stove fires going. I tore into a few rounds of of choke cherry cut this time last year when I cleared my wood line. It felt really good to split this beautiful red wood that I knew when it was still a living tree, festooned with honeysuckle and girded with wild brambles.
I was heavily supervised by the quality control team, which didn’t seem too perturbed when an errant piece of cherry clocked one of them in the head. That Griz (rooster, lower right) really keeps an eye on everything. He’s a personable rooster if I ever saw one—maybe because as an embryo he was rescued from a refrigerator and I held him in my hand within seconds of him kicking free of his eggshell?
That makes me think of one of the most unexpectedly wonderful, and sometimes heartbreaking, aspects of this whole farm life. Whether it’s working to turn a living tree into fuel to heat my house or raising generations of homegrown chickens, it is beautiful to see cycles, and lifecycles, complete themselves under my watch.
I started stacking the kindling and this one, my English shadow, maneuvered himself right into portrait position and smiled for the camera with no direction from me. The Cora photobomb was similarly unscripted.
Speaking of Cora, she’s another country heard from with yesterday’s egg collection. Along with two small green eggs, and one large brown Dahlia egg, I found a pointy blue egg that could only have come from Cora. It’s one of less than ten that she’s ever laid in her life, which makes each of her eggs worth probably $100 when you figure in the cost of feed. If I hadn’t felt this little dear die and resurrect under my fingers, if I hadn’t become intimately acquainted with every muscle and vein of her skinless head as I fought to keep infection and fly infestation at bay, she would have long been Craigslisted by now.
But Cora still here, and once in a blue moon she lays a pointy turquoise egg. To my appreciation and great delight.