Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Carbon Footprint

No oil or gas line runs to our house. If we wish to warm our house, we must purchase heating oil in bulk or cut firewood. Usually in the summer, a truck with heating oil delivers fuel for the coming year. In the fall and winter, we cut and split wood for heating the home 12-18 months into the future. Seeing 100 gallons of heating oil and skids of stacked firewood gives us a visual about how much fuel we use to stay warm. And, it makes us stock up on wool socks, sweatshirts and long underwear.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

His Name is Rio

And he dances across the land.
Since the new foster dog arrived, I can't get the Duran Duran song out of my head.
I wonder if Rio likes the song?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Transfer of Life

A tree can take years to die. As I walk in the woods, I notice the thinning leaves, the loosening barks. The insects do too. Before the tree lets out its last leaves, the insects are making the tree its home. The raccoons and birds are scouting out snags and future nests.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dying Trees

Want to find the dying trees? Go into the woods in the fall and winter. I used to look for standing dead trees during the summer months. In a woods brimming with foliage, the trees without leaves should be easy to spot. But try following one of thousands of tree trunks from ground to top. Try determining what limbs belong to specific trees. I look for standing dead in late fall and winter, when the leaves have fallen. Then I can see the telltale signs of bark shedding from the tree. I can look into the tree canopy and spot the branches that have lost their capillary limbs.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Warming Units of Trees

Heating with wood changes the way I look at trees. Ask me how big a tree is, and I’ll tell you it’s a one-day tree, a one-week tree, or the very rare, two-week tree. I know how many logs it takes to heat our home on a January day. When I look at a tree, I see its height and divide it into 19-inch sections, the length needed to fit in our wood-burning stove. I wrap my hands, and sometimes arms, around its circumference, and estimate how many times we'll have to split the logs. Yesterday, we cut wood: three one-day trees, a four-day one and a one-week one.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chainsaw Music

Weeks after we bought a wood-burning stove I accompanied a friend to a craft show. Near her booth, a chainsaw artist was carving a figure out of a log. “Hear that noise?” she asked. I nodded, not sure where she was going with the conversation. “Learn to love it,” she said, “you’re going to be cutting a lot of wood in the years to come.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ladybug, Ladybug Don't Come in my Home

On the third day of Indian Summer, the Asian ladybugs emerge. With each passing hour of sunshine, they multiply on the south-facing doors and windows, and then spread to the other sides of the house and barns. They are looking for crevices, entrances, places to call home for the winter. In a few weeks, when the cold weather settles in, they will disappear, forgotten about until the next warm days of fall.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Desire to Work

Sometimes the desire to work is so strong that my dog forgets about some basic things. Like pottying duties. And potential pain. And that it's best to herd sheep, rather than other dogs. And that, yes, hikes are canceled due to a bloody eye. I didn't get a before photo of the eye -- just the post-stitching one.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

When Seasons Clash

Live on a farm, and you become aware of the sweet smell of curing hay that comes with summer, and the dank, earthy, rotting smells that comes with fall. On some mornings those smells collide. When temperatures in the 60s and sun was forecast this week, the farmer headed to the hay fields for a final cutting of alfalfa. So, this morning, when temperatures dipped into the 40s, I donned a sweatshirt and jacket for the pre-dawn walk. I took in the fall smell of decaying leaves and the sweet summer smell of curing hay.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Long-Term Foster Dogs

Why do some dogs wait in foster care for a year or longer before they find their forever home?
I work with a rescue group and sometimes we have dogs in rescue for more than a year. The first question people ask is -- what is wrong with them?
Pictured here is Caley -- a long-term foster we had several years back. We had her so long that she was trick-trained and agility trained.
People shied away from her because she was five years old.
She eventually found a home with a family who couldn't believe their good fortune in finding such a friendly, fun-loving, well-trained dog.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Lesson in Maturity

When I entered Tag in the Buckeye Border Collie Rescue herding clinic over the weekend, I expected him to offer comic relief. His job is working people. Oh, over the years, I've tried him in many dog sports. It took him months to get over his fear of PVC pipes in agility classes. He does agility -- but he doesn't live for it. The same is true of obedience. When I took him to a herding trainer, Tag, then 1.5 years old, found the sheep a little frightening -- and the sheep knew it. They stomped at him. But Tag loves people -- and over the years, I've taken him to BBCR events, my workplace, the barn where I keep my horse, etc. He's a lover, not a fighter, I tell people. This spring, when I was bottle feeding two lambs, he stood in the pen with me, sniffing the lambs. I just don't expect him to herd the sheep, I told the herding instructor this weekend. Tag surprised me. He started circling and moving the sheep. My little boy is finally growing up.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Farm Instruction Manual: Critters in the Basement

When we bought the farmhouse, it had five exterior doors for humans, and several that animals created. Our century-old farmhouse sits on a stone foundation. Over time, cracks and holes develop. Groundhogs, with their amazing digging ability, discovered ways to burrow under the front porch. From there, one tunneled into the basement. What does one do when she walks into the basement and sees a furry, breathing ball? I backed up slowly. I informed my husband. I took the dogs for a walk. When a critter takes up residence in your residence, you have few options. Even if we were able to shoo it outside, it would surely return. Shooting it with a gun was not an option, as it was lying near the heating oil tank. My husband used his archery skills. Over the years, we've sealed cracks and holes, closed egresses, and come to realize that animals may try to find ways into our home.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Farm Instruction Manual: Found Pony

When a childhood dream comes true in adulthood, the reaction is not the same. Thus, when Tag found a pony early one morning, I didn't scream with delight. First, I was surprised. Then worried. How would I convince my husband that the Border collie found a pony in the fence row? I put the dogs inside, grabbed a lead rope, and went out to inspect Tag’s find. The pony wore no halter. I’d never seen him before and had no idea where he belonged. I put him in a box stall, and called the sheriff’s office. “I found a pony,” I told the dispatcher. “Good for you,” she said. Not really. Apparently no one reported losing a pony. She took down my information. I did morning chores. I took the dogs on a walk. No one drove down my driveway asking if I'd seen a pony. I stepped inside to an answering machine that wasn’t blinking. If I didn’t want a pony sticking around, I’d better be proactive. I got in the car and started driving the country roads looking for homes that might house a pony. When a boy answered the door at one home, I asked if he had a pony. Yes, he told me. “Where is it?” “In the barn.” I asked him to go check. No, he said the pony was missing. His parents came to get the pony. They thanked me for taking care of him. I thanked them for reminding me of my childhood dream – waking up and discovering the gift of a pony.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Farm Instruction Manual: Lost Horse

Upon arriving home from work late one afternoon, I found a note from a neighbor attached to my back door.
"Your horse was last seen running east from our house," it read.
A call to the neighbor revealed that Scuba, who had been on the farm eight days, had hopped over the fence and was grazing in a bean field when a farmer spotted her. Not knowing who she belonged to, he led her to the neighbor's house. Before he could reach the house, dogs spooked Scuba and she took off.
It was early November and daylight was disappearing fast.
As a former endurance rider, I knew horses could travel miles. I also knew it was getting dark, and there were lots of wooded areas and standing corn fields around us.
I went for the easy step first. I called the sheriff's office. No one had reported a loose horse. By that point, my husband was home. We got in our cars and began stopping at all houses with horses. As we too were relatively new to the area, this wasn't an easy task.
After canvassing houses within a mile radius, our search turned up nothing. My husband got out his spotlight and began driving the country roads, spotlighting fields and woods. While doing this, a passerby stopped.
"You spotting for coon or a horse?" the man asked.
When he'd arrived home from work, he'd found Scuba, our grey mare, hanging out with his blind Appaloosa gelding. He'd put her in the barn and started looking for her owner. He lived about three miles away.
When I arrived at his farm, I gave my mare a big hug. "Scuba, you ready to go home?" I asked.
The man looked at me oddly. "Her name's Scuba?" he asked.
When I nodded yes, he told me he was a dive instructor. Somehow my mare had managed to find one of the few scuba divers in the flatlands of Ohio.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Instructions Not Included

When we bought a car, it came with an operating manual. So did the lawnmower, tractor, weed eater, water heater, microwave, dish washer, telephone. The farm did not. So how do we know what to do when a horse disappears, or we find one? Or when I find a furry, breathing ball in the basement? An unwelcome critter in the barn? Or two dozen eyes and mooing outside the front window? What happens when a stream runs over the driveway? Or snow blocks it? We have to figure it out.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Watching the Merry-Go-Round

Critters give us the excuse to stop and watch and wonder. We separated the older ewes from the ewe lambs recently. They are in adjoining pastures for now, and the older ewes are in the area with the chicken shed. Because the ewe lambs didn't have much pasture, I gave them hay near the chicken shed, and I noticed the older ewes are playing follow the leader, walking single file around the chicken shed. Do they have a leader? I wonder as they walk circle after circle. What will cause them to stop the game? And what would people think if they saw an adult staring at sheep walking in circles on a frosty Sunday morning?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fall Cleaning

Like during spring cleaning, I battle nature – the rain, the winds, frost, and nightfall – to complete the outside yard work. But unlike spring cleaning, resignation, rather than hope, follows me as I pull up the tomato and pepper plants, remove the dead lily stalks, mow the grass and mulch the leaves for a final time this year.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tag and the Wood Stove

I built a fire in the wood stove this morning, and my faithful, always-by-my-side Border collie abandoned me. Rather than sleeping at my feet in my office, he stayed by the stove, basking in and sucking up the heat.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Handling Sheep

How I learn to handle sheep: Read books. Study diagrams. Talk with sheep owners. Trial and error when I try to move them from pasture to pasture or into the barn. How Caeli, my Border collie, learns to handle sheep: She's born with the instinct.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Scuba: The Name Game

Sometimes animals name themselves. When I bought Scuba, her name was Daisy. My childhood horse’s name was Blossom, and I was ready to move on from the flower names. [Yes, when I later bought Lily, the Haflinger, I just resigned myself to having equine flower children]. But when buying Daisy, I decided a name change was in order. Because I bought Scuba before we had fenced in the pasture, a good friend offered to keep her for a few months. After a week, that good friend commented how much more water five horses drink than four. A week later, she discovered why. Scuba [then Daisy] popped her front feet into the livestock tank and splashed in the water to cool off. She became Scuba after that. And never have I ridden a horse that loved water as much as she. When crossing a stream, she had to stop and splash, drenching me in the process. At home, when I turned on the hose, she nickered, happily -- trying to figure out how to roll in the stream of water.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Good-bye to a Great Grey Mare

Scuba never was a cover girl, though she once made the back page of EQUUS. She was the girl with the great personality. Not that she was ugly. She just tended to be on the drafty side, and there was always a better-looking horse in the barn. But there was never a horse I trusted more to bushwhack through the brush, jump over logs, or swim across a river. She was always the one to greet me with a throaty nicker, and the one who tolerated the cat and the chicken who wanted to lounge on her back and the goat who chewed her tail. When kids visited the farm, she was the one they brushed and the one they rode. Yesterday we said good-bye to Scuba after she suffered a severe case of laminitis. I’ll miss seeing the old gray mare and feeding her treats and listening to that throaty greeting.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Farmhouse: Flooring

I ran my fingers through the carpet samples at the floor store and imagined myself running barefoot through rooms of it. Then reality hit. I live in a farmhouse where carpet collects every piece of dirt, every hair and holds it in its grasp. I needed something easy to clean, and so we have vinyl, laminate, ceramic tile, and painted wood floors, and carpet remains something to be enjoyed in other people's houses.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Fixer-Upper Farmhouse

The scariest thing about the fixer-up farmhouse that my husband and I bought more than a decade ago wasn't the window frames that let in snow nor the pipes that could go into a "history of plumbing display."
It was the carpet.
The stairs and all the upstairs rooms were layered in a thick, plush white carpet.
I can't wear a white shirt for more than 10 minutes without spilling something on it. How could I -- and the dogs and cats and husband -- keep carpet in a house clean? The fact that the family who lived there previously -- husband, wife, and five children who raised hogs -- kept the carpet clean provided little solace.
My husband must have realized the futility. When one of the dogs had an accident on the carpet, he offered to clean it. When I walked into the room, I discovered he'd taken his utility knife and cut out the soiled carpet.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Hair Love Affair

I love her hair, even if it means:
Trimming the bridle path monthly.
Detangling the locks.
Cutting the hair around the fetlocks [ankles] twice a year for mud maintenance.
Crafting a French braid on both sides of the mane before a show.