Saturday, June 19, 2010

Gathering Up the Fragments

     We have a new barn out in our hayfield. It seems as if it grew up overnight with the hay. Joe has dreamed of building this particular barn for the last twenty years, but as ever, my Scotch-Irish husband waited until he had the financial means to do it before starting. But now, when I look out my window towards the north end of the field, there it is. We chose to build a red barn because, really, is there any other color suitable?
     When Glen Jr. had put the last nail in place, we drove out to inspect. There were piles of leftover tin and boards everywhere and like good country folk, we began to gather up the scraps and plan for their use. Although we made a pile for the dump, we also made piles for kindling, piles for patching and piles for doghouse building. Living as far as we do from a Home Depot or Lowes means we carefully consider what we throw away and what we save. Thank goodness we have outbuildings to keep our recycled treasures in. I’ve discovered that “if you build it, it will fill.” I’m sure that new barn will be full of things we can’t live without in a couple of years.
     I like to recycle the old pieces of metal that I find lying around by making them into wind-chimes and have even snipped some old tin roofing into stars for our Christmas tree. Used baler twine is good for emergency gate latches, staking tomatoes, and can even be woven into a sturdy fence patch. When Joe takes down a section of old woven wire fence, he rolls it up. Much of it is still serviceable for tomato cages. And if it’s too old for that then it can be mashed up and used for erosion control.
     Things don’t go to waste in the house, either. Ratty tee shirts are cut up for rags or torn into cotton strips for rugs. Mayonnaise jars, before the companies started using plastic, made great canning jars. Food scraps go to the chickens. Old cardboard boxes are torn into strips and saved for emergency kindling. Worn out socks become dusting mitts, and newspapers can be used as mulch in the garden.
     Joe’s mom, Geneva, was the master of repurposing. Growing up during the depression gave her a strong need to hold on to things in case they could be used for something else. The first day I opened her fridge a pile of butter wrappers fluttered to the floor. She was saving them to grease cookie pans. She also had a cookie tin full of buttons she’d cut off of old shirts and several attractive stools in her house she’d made from fruit juice cans and scraps of fabric. Windshield glass from broken down cars became colored mosaic candle holders and lamp shades. Joe never wore the legs out of a pair of jeans, because every time he tore a hole in them, she would cut up an old pair and make a sturdy patch. She also taught me how to turn shirt collars so the frayed edge was underneath.
     When Geneva was alive, I always knew that if I needed something, I could go prowl through one of the twelve rooms in her house and I would probably find exactly what I was looking for, or something that could be used in its place. Her most unusual repurpose was the time she cut up hundreds of bread bags into strips which she crocheted into pocket books and placemats.
     Many of our older neighbors also have the recycle, repurpose, reuse bug. Glen Jr. ( the same one who built the barn) went out last winter when there was twenty inches of snow on the ground and removed each of the huge icicles that hung from his eaves. He cut them into chunks, some as big as three loaves of bread, and carried them to his freezer where he stored them until we dug them out last week. We chipped them up, threw them in the churn with a bunch of salt and cranked out some truly old-fashioned home-made ice-cream. It could be my imagination, but I believe it tasted sweeter because it was made with the last icy breath of a really hard winter.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Communing with Cows

     I climbed the hill across from the house, yesterday and sat in the pasture with the cows. I didn’t plan on spending so much time with them. I started out with watercolors and sketch book in hand to do some studies of sheep and the view of my house from the hill. After climbing to the top, I sat on my little three legged stool and began to pencil in a small drawing of the view. That’s when the curious cows moved in.  I wasn’t aware of how close they were until one snorted.  When I looked back, ten cows, each the size of a small pickup truck, were lined up shoulder to shoulder glaring down their noses and chewing their cuds.
     They grunted softly, snorted loudly and their rumens rumbled constantly. One calf, who probably weighed about 500 pounds, kept sidling closer and closer. Finally he worked up the courage to rub his shiny wet nose across my shoulder. Then he began licking my arm. Imagine the roughness of a cat’s tongue multiplied by ten. The grown-up cows watched him with interest and finally decided I might be a friendly beast. They moved in and soon I was surrounded by an imposing row of cows looking down at me through incredibly long eye-lashes.
    As we sat there, one species pondering the other, the cows stepped closer until the circle of curious bovines was only an arms-length away. I was afraid to breathe. Even the smallest shifting of my weight from one side of the stool to the other made them jump, and I didn’t want ten tons of cows to spook and stampede me.
     I was surprised when a flock of cowbirds circled and landed beside us. One or two of the small birds hopped up through the grass, dodging massive legs and hooves, until they were right at my feet. They tilted their heads like they were listening and then began pecking at something hidden the grass. I wondered about the symbiotic relationship between birds and cows. The birds hopped without care around and between the mass of shifting, shuffling beef, but when I moved, the birds startled and took flight.
     After a day full of noisy students and clanging bells, the gentle cropping and burping of cows was like a lullaby. The sun was low enough in the sky to outline the cows in gold light and I was content in the shadow of their ruminations. Finally, I had to scratch my nose. When I lifted my hand the cows bolted and the birds fluttered to another part of the field. I folded up my stool and walked down the hill. It was way past time to start supper. The cows followed me to the gate and then as I clanged it shut, turned and threaded their way up the narrow valley back to the high meadow. But, the little calf who had tasted my sweat, paused for a moment to stare at me. Then with a flick of his ear, he ran to catch up with his mama. I wonder what stories he told her under the stars.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Critter List

Critter List

Today, just for fun, I kept a list of all the critters I saw as I went about my daily business. Here it is
1. Golden Eagle riding a thermal
2. Bald Eagle soaring along the river
3. Geese honking their way north in a perfect V formation
4. Goldfinch perched in a peach tree
5. Bluebird catching a bug in mid-air
6. Robin pulling a worm out of my lawn
7. Brown Thrush skirting the wooded edge of the driveway
8. Black Bear and three cubs crossing the road
9. Whitetail deer and fawn in meadow
10. Chipmunk scurrying across the driveway
11. Frog (didn’t see him, but heard him)
12. dead groundhog in road
13. dead raccoon in road
14. Vultures eating dead groundhog and dead raccoon in the road
15. Sheep and lambs lounging in the shade
16. Cows and calves licking up salt
17. Chickens scratching in the dirt
18. Dogs hanging out in their houses
19. Cats napping on the porch
20. Horses grazing in the front lot
21. Earthworm curled under a rock
22. Cricket hopping across shed floor
23. Yellow Snail climbing a grass stalk
24. Slug eating holes in my Hostas
25. Crows congregating in the woods
26. Redtail Hawk being chased by crows
27. Red Fox being chased by crows
28. Honeybee sipping clover
29. Fly annoying me
30. Gnat annoying me
31. Deer Fly annoying me
32. Newt hiding under a log
33. Crayfish scuttling backwards in a riffle
34. Minnows swimming forwards in a riffle
35. Water Strider swimming on top of a riffle
36. Bats looping and curling after bugs
37. Swallows dipping and soaring after bugs
38. Squirrel scolding me from tree
39. Dragonfly hovering over rushes in marsh
40. Fireflies twinkling in the pasture and woods
41. Bobwhite (didn’t see him, but heard him)
42. Grouse crossing road
43. Butterfly sipping water from a fresh cow pie
44. Little spider making a sheet web
45. Moles (well, not the moles, but evidence of their tunneling)
46. Redwing Blackbirds singing from tall grasses in marsh