Monday, June 25, 2018

Beneath the Rocks

The water of the Bullpasture River, which starts just three miles above my house, flows all the way to the James and then out to the Chesapeake Bay. When the weather gets really hot, I like to go sit in a quiet pool and cool off.

Snails cover many of the rocks.  This little guy is a pocket snail. Pocket snails only like clean water, so I'm always happy to find them. His operculum is on the right, so I know when I find him everything in the water is right.

While the snails hang out on top of rocks, lots of other critters live underneath.  They are invisible to the casual visitor, but I know a secret.  I pick up the rocks and I'm always surprised by what I find. First I spot a water penny beetle.  They also only like pure water, so I'm happy to find this one crawling on the rocks.  He's the round bunp near the bottom center.

I transfer him to my hand and his little feet tickle my finger as he glides gracefully around and around .

Under the next rock, I find mayfly nymphs.  They are still pretty small, but they are easy to spot because the minute I lift a rock, they hurry to the bottom side. Note the filmy gills near the back end of this one's abdomen and the three identifying tubes extending from his back end.  May flies are also known as fish flies because when they metamorphose, fish love to eat them.  Mayfly nymphs are also a sign of healthy water.

My favorite thing to find is caddis fly larvae hiding out in their home-made cases.  The larvae spin silk thread and use it to glue small stones or bits of detritus together into cigarette-shaped protective cases. If you look closely, you can see all the small pebbles that make up the shelter.  The worm-like larvae is inside.

Not all caddis flies are as talented.  Here are a some of  the other stone cases I found as I lifted rocks.

My favorite cases are more artistic. This caddisfly must have been dreaming about flying.

I find one last case before calling it a day. It's actually a pair of cases, which is pretty unusual and they are made of rolled up bark.

Next time you go down to the river to cool off, pick up some rocks. There are plenty to choose from. Let me know what you find.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Dogs of Easter

On Easter Sunday, after church, my sister, my dad and I went to the Easter on Parade event on Monument Avenue in Richmond.

While some went to great lengths to stand out

The dogs stole the show.

From the simple

 To the colorful

To the simply preposterous

To the charming

Happy Easter everyone!  WOOF WOOF!

Friday, March 23, 2018

Reflections From a Tiny Snowman

What a beautiful day!  Don't you just love a good snow?  I know I do! It invigorates me, makes me feel refreshed.  Of course if you are a snowman, a good snow adds so much to your life.

I live on a farm.  These are my chickens.

They don't like the snow nearly as much as I do.  Ginny had to dig that bare spot out for them so they would come outside.  When they are cooped up inside, their eggs get dirtier because they spend more time sitting on their nests.

Ginny likes their eggs cleaner so she doesn't have to spend so much time cleaning them herself. Aren't these beautiful?

This bucket is the same one that Ginny's mother-in-law used to gather eggs.  It's been in the family for at least 15 years.

Behind me you can see Ginny's house and her barn and her horses.  The horses are eating some corn that Ginny put out for them to supplement their hay.  They like to stand on that side of the building because it's the warmest in the winter.  See how the sun shines on it?  I stay away from places like that.  Warmth is not my friend.

I'm a little worried that I won't be around for very long.  See how the creek behind me has melted?
That's not a good sign.  Still, I'm happy to be alive. A spring snow this deep is pretty unusual. And, this snow is melting from underneath since the ground is so warm. That helps the groundwater re-charge. 

I will help the ground water re-charge, too.  You might think I wouldn't like melting, but even though I don't want to melt right this minute, melting is the way that I travel the world.  After I melt, I might evaporate into the sky to be a cloud, or I might run down to that creek and travel to the ocean.

Look, here's one of the family dogs.  His name is Rex and he's a rabbit beagle.  I think he wants to play.

Hey! Watch out! You're getting just a little too close. Back off Buster!

  I guess I'll be starting my travels sooner than I thought. 

I hope when we meet again, I'll be tall enough to look you in the eye.  Some facial hair would be nice, too.

Until then, look for me in the rain, in the rivers and in your tears.  I could show up just about anywhere that water runs.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Water Like A Stone

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.

These are the first words of one of my Dad’s favorite hymns and we are surely in this phase of winter weather.  The bonus of this kind of weather is that all of the eggs my hens lay are sparkly clean.  There is nothing for hens to track into the nests.  Even their poop freezes almost as soon as it hits the air.

The downside is that their eggs are freezing almost as fast as they are laid.  This necessitates a couple of trips to the henhouse per day to gather them before they bust open.  Other things are freezing as well.  Although the henhouse is well insulated, it’s not heated.  That wouldn’t be practical and the hens and roosters can hunker down and let their feathers cover their feet, which are the most vulnerable part of their anatomy when it’s cold.

What they can’t cover is their combs.  When the temperatures drop below zero and stay there, then there will be some comb damage.  It doesn’t seem to hurt, but the rooster won’t be quite the dandy he was before. 

We are also watching carefully for lambs or calves.  Anything born in this weather needs to be dried off quickly by its mama so it can rise up and suck some colostrum.  When those two things happen in quick order, then newborns are usually fine as there is some protection in that first milk that acts like anti-freeze.  Our job is to scout the fields and watch for imminent signs of birth in the mamas. This is much easier said than done, because often the first sign is the mother heaving and straining.  We have some sheep and cows with shortened ears who suffered frostbite as babies. 

The dogs, who usually cuddle up together in one doghouse in the most severe weather, have even been allowed in on the mud porch.  Luke would be happy to stay in his bed all day, but Rex is antsy, asking to go out even in the bitterest winds.  Last night, he chased rabbits all night long.  We could hear his howling pursuit out in our front lot.  This morning he didn't seem any worse for the wear, but he did agree to take a nap.
Luke gives me puppy dog eyes when I ask him if he'd like to go out.

The worst part of such cold weather is the water. Every puddle, every stream, and every river is frozen.  
The merry stream behind our house is completely silent.

I know that the river in front of the house is flowing beneath the ice because I can hear it.

There is nothing for livestock or wildlife to drink unless they find the places where springs first rise up.  That water is 54 degrees and won’t freeze the first foot or two away from its inspiration.  

If you look closely, you can see a bit of live water where a spring rises up behind our house.  But it is frozen up a foot below this spot.

All the talk around our community is of chopping ice and trying to find ways to keep water tanks from freezing solid.
This tank was chopped open less than an hour ago and you can see that it's already re-frozen where it was opened up.

One farmer, at the basketball game last night, spoke of having to move a whole herd of cattle into another field.  When he chopped into their stream, he found no running water.  He said in his twenty years of farming that valley, he’d never seen anything like it.

Another farmer has been experimenting with bottles full of salt water, floating them in her water troughs to act as gateways to the liquid water beneath the ice.  She saw the idea on You Tube.  The video shows cattle pushing down on the bottles which, because they are full of salt water are less dense than the water in the trough.  They float and keep the top from freezing solid and then, when cattle push the  bottles below the ice, it leaves an open hole to drink from. 

She said that so far all that’s happened is that the bottles have frozen into the ice and are immovable.  She’s back to chipping and chopping little holes open by hand.
Annie and Midnight are glad to find the water tank.

This freeze up is supposed to last at least two more days.  I’d like to borrow from the Danes and cozy up my home with candles, then hunker down for the duration.  My farmer husband grins when I say that, then hands me my mittens.

Oh well, as the saying goes.  “There’s no such thing as bad weather.  Just bad clothing.”

Ready or not, here I come!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Acorn Man

          I was walking in the woods the other day and came across a little cave formed by tree roots.  Just inside the cave, I spotted a little table with a fluffy, moss seat cushion and a little rock chair.  There was a leaf place-mat, as well.
As I looked around to see who, or what, might be living in this little cave,  I heard a small voice.  "I'm over here!"

       His name was Acorn Man and he was excited to have a visitor to his forested mountain home.  "I've lived here all my life," he exclaimed.  "Wait here, and I'll show you."
      Acorn Man disappeared back into his cave.  Soon I heard a voice above my head.  "Here I am!" he said.
      When I looked up, I spotted the little fellow waving at me from a hole in the trunk above my head.  "I live in this high rise apartment," he said.  "The woodpeckers cut this home out for me last year."  Then he disappeared again.

 Before long, I heard a voice on the other side of the tree.  "The woodpecker cut windows all along the wall of my stairs, as well.  I'll be down in a minute."

     When Acorn Man was back on the ground, he took me on a tour of his forest. First we stopped at a little green tree.   "The hemlock trees are being killed by an invasive insect called the wooly adelgid, so I've started a little project planting new ones," he said.  "When the wooly adelgids are gone,  my little trees will be ready to grow into big hemlocks."

      After showing me his baby trees, Acorn Man asked if I had ever seen a tree heart.  "They're very special," he said.  "It's not often that a tree heart is visible when the tree is alive."
      I admitted that I had never seen one, so our next stop was the heart of an oak tree.  Acorn Man told me that the tree had been hit by lightning and the resulting scar had left the heart exposed.

Then he took me to what he said was the most special spot in the woods.
      "This is the forest cathedral," he said reverently.  "This is where the trees make a joyful noise."  We listened for a minute.  Sighs and creaks signaled that the choir was almost ready to start.

       Then, with a big whoosh, the air was full of leaves drifting, twirling, spinning, and whirling.
      "The forest sings with color," he exclaimed.  "Isn't it beautiful?"

     When the song was over, Acorn Man led me to his lookout tower. "I come here to watch out for intruders," he said.  Then, he climbed up and pointed.  "There goes one, now.  But, he's okay.  Sometimes, he comes here to sit and listen to turkeys."
     The intruder left, so Acorn Man climbed down from his watch tower.  "I'm tired," he said.  "Let's take a nap."  We walked through the forest looking for a soft place to dream. I found a place to pillow my head.

     Acorn Man joined me.  As we slept, the trees sang their colorful songs over our heads.

     Soon, the chilly air woke me.  It was time to go home.   As I turned to leave, Acorn Man climbed into the fork of a tree.  "Listen," he said.

     "I showed you all of this because I want you to promise share it with others.  Show them how special a forest is."
     I promised I would.
       Acorn Man thanked me and then headed back into the forest.  Before I walked away, I looked back to say goodbye.  Acorn Man was climbing into the elevator of a large oak.
     "Don't forget!" he said as he rose out of sight.

And, I didn't.