Thursday, September 30, 2010

Warming my Hands

At night, the temperatures are now dipping into the 50s and 40s. The air chills me as I close the chickens in for the night and check on the sheep. My last stop on this nightly routine is the horse stalls. The Haflingers, finished with their hay, are ready to come out of the horse stalls. Before letting them out, I slide my hand under their manes, and pause, taking in the warm air pocket between their mane and fur, listening to the sounds of the night, looking at the stars. Neither mare seems bothered by this intrusion. Lily turns her head and sniffs, bringing a puff of warmth across my face.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Coyotes

The first time I saw a coyote, it was winter. It was hunting in the harvested corn field in the early dawn hours, and at first, I mistook the coyote for Rambles, our Border collie. The coyote hunted like our dog. It pronged and pounced, lithe and graceful. I sometimes go years without seeing the coyotes. Then, sometimes, usually in winter, I'll spot them several times, trotting across the waterway, hunting the hay and corn fields. And, I always marvel at how closely they resemble the Border collie. Not in color, but in size and movement. Maybe that's why I've always had a soft spot for the animals. Or, maybe, I marvel at their ability to adapt to their environment, and to survive. Or, maybe, its that, after all these years, we're still discovering more about this animal that lives among us. Great article in the New York Times about the wiley coyote:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Digging Potatoes

I'd been putting off digging potatoes for weeks. With the weather being so dry, I wasn't looking forward to digging into the ground. But yesterday was cool and sunny, and I knew I finally had to tackle the task. I was rewarded twice for the efforts. The soil, underneath the mulch, was moist and crumbling, perfect for digging around the ground for potatoes. Within an hour, I had three boxes of yellow and red potatoes. I also found a marble -- clear glass, with stripes of green, and a chip out of the side. For a moment, I paused and studied the marble, and wondered when it had been dropped on the ground and lost. Did the child look in the grass for hours for the missing orb? And, did the child mourn its loss? For how many years did the marble sit on the grass, in the ground, before I found it? What will I lose and leave behind that will have people pause and stop and wonder?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Flying into the Wind

Wind gusts reached 50 mph yesterday and carried dried corn leaves and tree leaves across fields that many farmers were harvesting. Firefighters were busy fighting fires that lapped up acres of dried corn and beans. I, though, was watching the birds trying to take flight. Do birds have "wind days" like people have "snow days?" Do they just decide that traveling isn't worth the bother? At what wind speed do birds just give up and decide not to fly into the wind? And, do adult birds welcome the windy days with glee and take their adolescent offspring out for flying lessons?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Simple Pleasures

Dewey Kitty receives a new toy about three times a week. Whenever we open a new carton of milk and pull the tab, he comes running.
He enjoys the fresh plastic tabs that still taste of milk and have spring. After batting them around the floor and carrying them from room to room, they tend to lose their spring.
This morning was a new toy morning.
Hours later, I found him asleep on the futon. The plastic tab was still in his paw.
Was he protecting his tab from the Border collies? Or, more likely, had he played until exhaustion?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

From my office window

I chose the room with windows on three sides for my office. The downside is that it's drafty during the winter months. The upside is my constantly changing view. As I've worked, I've watched the sheep graze. They aren't happy with me right now because I've shut them out of the alfalfa field. However, I gave them access to a pasture mixed with grasses, clover and a touch of alfalfa. They just didn't realize it yet. Sheep are creatures of habit. For four weeks, the habit has been to walk east to the alfalfa field. Tonight, when I let them out, it didn't occur to them to look north. So for 30 minutes they nibbled a low-cal pasture. Then, one of them discovered the open gate to the front pasture with the taller grass. From my window, I smiled as I watched the flock charge to the front pasture.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Weeds and Seeds

When listing pasture weeds, I mentioned thistles. "Why are those weeds?" the pasture expert asked. "Because the sheep won't eat them." "Why won't they eat them?" I wanted to say, "Because they're disgusting" or "Ouch," but I was trying to be somewhat professional. "Because their moms didn't eat them," he answered for me. He then suggested that in the spring, when the plants were small and tender, I spray the thistles with molasses water. The ewes would learn to eat the thistles and their lambs would follow. It worked. The thistle plants are just a few inches high now. As I inspect the sunflower heads in the two chicken yards, I think of those sheep. In the chicken yard with the older laying hens, the sunflower heads still retain their seeds. In the one with the four-month-old pullets, the heads are bare. The young chickens pluck the seeds from the heads as soon as I toss them over the fence. How did the one group learn to pluck the seeds while the other did not? Are the young chickens more adventurous as they learn to forage? Or, is it because the young chickens are confined to the chicken yard while the hens can roam the pastures and find more food options? Would the older hens learn to eat the sunflowers if I spray molasses water on them?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cowboy Dreams

I found the sheep grazing on the rise in the distant pasture. Stopping my horse, I rested my hand on the saddle horn, and was transported back to childhood when I dreamt of cows and lassos, red bandanas and spotted ponies. Smiling, I gazed at the flock of sheep nibbling on alfafa and grass and paying little attention to the horse and rider. Picking up the reins, I nudged Lily toward them. As we walked among the sheep, I heard the lowing of cattle and stomping of hooves.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Storm Clouds

The wind carries dried corn leaves across the farm fields. A few flutter through the yard and onto the next field. The fence catches a few. Tree limbs bend and rustle as the wind picks up speed. To the west, the dark clouds move closer. Surely they will bring much needed rain. After living in the country for more than a decade, I've come to expect rains around fair time in August. Remnants of hurricanes usually bring a few more good rains. But they haven't come this year. I haven't mowed the back yard for two months. The sheep have almost finished grazing the stockpiled pasture. Dust clouds follow the horses as they walk. But those clouds only tease. They deliver a few drops before moving on by. I am left to wait and hope for another chance days from now.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Coyotes Call

The yips drifted through the open bedroom room around 3:45 this morning. Apparently the coyotes were gathering near the river. Soon, the barking dogs joined the chorus. I haven't heard the coyotes since spring. Has it been too hot to howl? Or, have they been satisfied with the feast of corn, field mice and rabbits they glean from the fields? Or, I wondered, as I was walking the dogs among the zillions of stars in the clear, still darkness, were the coyotoes just delighting in a perfect fall night?

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Garden in September

My garden consists of three tomato plants, three rows of potatoes and a row of sunflowers. I can't bear pulling up perfectly healthy, producing tomato plants. Yet, I vowed weeks ago that I will make no more sauce nor can tomatoes. After eating a few each day, I toss the rest to chickens who eagerly await something juicy and sweet. The potatoes lie in waiting. I'd planned to dig them six weeks ago, but held off until we received enough rain to soften the ground. I'm still waiting. The sunflowers lost their yellow petals and green leaves weeks ago. Yet the stalks still hold the bowed heads. I need to behead them before the stalks weaken and the seeds fall to the ground. I choose that as my afternoon task. After lopping off the head of a sunflower plant, I plucked a seed and stuck it in my mouth. I hope the chickens didn't see the look of disappointment on my face moments before I tossed the sunflower head to them.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Horse Whispers

Two fences and twelve feet separated the horses. But that didn't keep Lily nor the new horse from sizing each other up. I didn't see any evil eyes, flattened ears, kicks or posturing. I heard no squeals. But, somehow, they determined the new horse was the dominant mare. That settled, my Lily went back to grazing.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Recycling Station

When walking by the trash and recycling area at a recent outdoor wedding, I thought nothing of the signs and containers for clear glass, brown glass, aluminum, plastic silverware, burnables. I, too, live in the country where trash disposal choices are limited. We could pay the high price of weekly trash collection. But that would involve hauling trash cans to the end of a quarter-mile driveway, and hoping to not find the trash scattered by animals or bored teens. Unfortunately, some folks still have a "farm dump," usually at the edge of their farm, where they throw their trash. We opt to take our trash to the town dump, now called the Transfer Station, every few months. Because we pay per pound and must store it until the dump run to town, we sort trash. We have containers for glass, aluminum, cans, plastics and newspapers. We keep a burnable bag for cereal boxes, cardboard containers and such. We compost and feed food scraps to the dogs and chickens. That leaves little trash left to haul to the dump.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Open Windows

Our house has 25 windows. I know this because during the summer months, I'm opening and closing them twice a day. We don't have central air conditioning, so we open the windows at night to cool the house. In the mornings, I close the windows and close the shades to keep the sun and outside warm air from heating the house. In the spring and fall, my routine is opposite. I open the windows during the day to warm the house, and close them at night to keep the inside temperatures from falling into the 50s. But, for a few weeks, in late spring and early fall, we enjoy open windows, day and night. We are reveling in 70-degree days and 50-degree nights. During the days, warm breezes sweep through the house and carry the scents of harvest. On some nights, the cool airs bring the smells of campfires and burning leaves. I welcome it all.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

An Early Harvest

On this post-Labor Day Tuesday, I'm okay with putting away the summer whites. But I'm not quite ready for the dried yellows and browns of dormant and dying plants nor the rumble of combines as they chew their way across the corn and soybean fields. A hot dry August means harvest is early this year. Or, at least is beginning early. As I walk across the fields, I notice the curled green grass among the withered vegetation, the cracks in the field, the puffs of dust clouds that follow my feet, the hard ground, and I'm reminded of a similar time in late August five years ago. Then hurricane season hit, and somehow, those far-off storms delivered a much-needed drink of water.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Finding Breakfast in the Chicken Coop

When I enter the hen house in the mornings, Trick the Cat follows me. He's searching for his breakfast, too. As I pull warm eggs from underneath hens, he hops onto the roost and catches a sparrow. With bird in mouth, he trots out the hens' door, across the yard, over the fence and into the garden. As I marvel at his speed and stealth, I wonder if he'll ever rid the hen house of all of the sparrows.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Discoveries in the Horse Stall

I don't check the automatic waterer in the sheep stall often. It is at horse level, so the Five Virgins don't use it. Apparently some other critters do. When I peer into it, I see little black tadpoles swimming in the water. How did they get there? As I ponder this, I also wonder what to do with them. Surely they can't get out of the metal bowl.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Watering the Cracks

We haven't had much rainfall for weeks. Dust clouds follow the sheep as they trot to the faraway alfalfa field. Each evening, I check my little patch in the garden where I planted spinach seeds. The plants aren't quite an inch high. As I water them, I gaze at the cracks that snake through the garden, threatening to gobble up those tender young plants. How much water would it take to fill those cracks?