Monday, December 14, 2015

Wascally Wabbits

     This is the warmest December I can remember in ages, but I'm not complaining and neither are the dogs.  Pretty weather means we are more likely to go rabbit hunting.

Last Saturday was perfect.  The temperatures were in the low 60's, the sun was high in the sky and we were high on the mountain.

Joe took Luke, Rex and Cooper out on leads to start with.

 When he got to the briar patches where ol' Brer Rabbit likes to hang out, he let the dogs go and they went to work....noses to the ground, tails flagging the air.  Joe tossed rocks into the briars and hit around with sticks to try to flush out any rabbits that might be hiding, but neither he nor the dogs could find one.

 Soon, we were joined by Scott and Jen.

 We all climbed to the top of the hill and the dogs hit on a trail, following it into the woods.  Unfortunately, it was not a rabbit trail.

The dogs were hot after a deer.  We called them for a while, then we sat down to wait.  On such a pretty day, we were happy to have an excuse to just enjoy the view of our farm and the surrounding hills.

Finally, our faithful Luke returned and the other dogs weren't  far behind.  We gathered them up and drove to a different, flatter field.

Rex jumped a rabbit shortly after we arrived.  In rabbit hunting, once a rabbit is running, you wait for it to circle back around.  Joe found a comfortable seat....

and I entertained myself by taking a selfie...proof that I, too, was rabbit hunting.

Jen took Cooper on lead across the field where Rex disappeared, but by the time they got there, the wascally wabbit had escaped..  The dogs lost his trail so we all headed home.  

What a beautiful way to spend a sunny December day.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Fabulous Fingers

     After  fifty-four years of biting my nails, I have kicked the habit and grown them long enough to treat myself to a manicure. My nails are beautiful and if I could find my camera I’d post a picture here just so you could admire them, too.  I’ve discovered that a manicured hand looks so much more feminine than my usual grubby fingers, but I’ve also discovered why you don’t see many farmwives with lacquered nails.
     Pretty hands require protection.  Washing dishes?  Pull on the latex gloves.  Gardening?  Chore gloves, of course.  Helping with cattle? Leather work gloves.  Peeling apples and making applesauce?  Disposable gloves.  Keeping up with all these gloves is impossible.  Plus, I can’t really work as efficiently in them.  My hands are small and the extra fabric in the gloves is bunchy and bothersome.  When I went in for the manicure, Heidi examined my stains.  “What’s all over your hands?” she asked. 
     The brown stains on my cuticles were from cutting up apples for applesauce.  I tried wearing gloves but I kept slashing the tips off with my knife so I gave up.  The blue smudge was from the sheep marker I used on Tuesday and the pink stains were from the beets I canned.
     Heidi was able to clean up my mess and for the moment my hands are pertly pretty.  The thing about trying to be a fashionable farm wife is you never know when the next farm emergency will occur.  This morning I had just stepped out of the shower and was blow drying my hair into poufy perfection when I heard a commotion.  My Own Farmer was out in the cattle lot whistling shrilly.  That’s usually a signal for someone in the family to see what he needs.  Scott was out there with him, so I assumed the summons was for him.  But then the horn on the cattle truck began blaring.  I leaned out the window.  “Do you need me?” I asked.
     “Yes,” he said, “two of the calves have escaped and I need you to help us get them back in.”
Lovely.  I pulled my dirty sweatshirt over my bouffant do and ran outside.  When I got back in the house my fluffy hair was flat. So much for beauty.  
     The farm has a different dress code from the rest of the world.  I have been known to wear the same grubby pants three days in a row if I know I’ll be getting dirty.  No use creating extra laundry, but how mortifying when unexpected company shows up.

     I would like to be as beautiful as my non-farm friends are, but it would require too many changes of clothing in a day, and keeping up with too many pairs of gloves, so if you see me in town wearing muck boots, don’t shake my hand unless you want to get yours dirty, too.  Except on Wednesdays.  That’s manicure day from now on, and if you catch me before I make it to the farm, be sure to admire my fabulous fingers.They won't look that way for long.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Working Cows

     We're up before dawn, and eat breakfast while we're waiting for enough light to gather the cattle.  It's day two of take up.  Steers were gathered and sent to market yesterday, heifers go today.
     Working cattle into a pen with family represents both the best and worst parts of farming. We are up early enough to appreciate the sun slanting through a gap in the mountains as it rises, lighting up fall-tinted trees like rows of  candles set out to celebrate the coming of day.  Haystacks and cattle both send luminous plumes of steam skyward in the chilly air, and the morning smells like ripe apples and pears and crisp leafy duff and woodsmoke.  
     Working cattle is also a time when I appreciate how much my little boys have matured into men.  They are experts at moving the stormy waves of cattle calmly through gates with only some whistles and a well placed four wheeler.  I have learned through the years where to stand to be helpful, but still my children insist on giving me directions.  "Move in closer Mom.  No, stand over there.  Wave your stick."  I tell them that I would make a great cattle dog, but the truth is that there is real joy in working with my boys-become-men who no longer need to be told what to do.  When did they become so knowledgeable and confident?
     As always, I am amazed by my husband's ability to stand in a gateway and direct cattle hither and yon with a gentle tap of his stick or a slight side-step to the right or left.  I once called him the Baryshnikov of the cattle ballet and he still dances as lightly with cows as he ever did.  The extra bonus is that my boys have both learned the same dance steps.  I am not brave enough to stand in a crowded pen full of side-kicking cows, but they step in unfazed and direct traffic until all the cows and calves are sorted through the various gates.
     But, cattle sorting also represents the dangerous side of farming. It involves zipping about on four-wheelers tilted sideways on dew covered hills as cattle are funneled to the gate.  I am aware that I do not know the number of times my children have rolled their four-wheelers because they occasionally let slip a story I haven't heard before about a spill or tumble.  This morning, Scott confidently spins some donuts in the field behind the cows as he waits for them to cross a mucky ditch.  I cover my eyes. I pray better that way.
    Stressful days have also included cattle breaking down fences, kicking or shitting on whoever is in the pen, or turning around in the middle of the chute until they are stuck and can't move in any direction. I remember a heifer who once got so stuck that we had to dismantle part of the fence to get her out.  Tempers rise and subside when things like this go wrong, but they always roll through as quickly as a fall shower and end quickly as things sort themselves out.
     This is my 28th year of working cattle.  This morning I realized that I've learned a few things over the years.  I'm not as afraid of cows as I used to be and that's helpful, because unlike sheep, you need to crowd them a bit to get them to move where you want them to go. Stand too far back and they'll make a break for it.  I've also learned that if you don't get them gathered on the first pass, it's not the end of the world. Chase cattle long enough, and they'll eventually go where you want them. I've learned that there will be some yelling but none of it should be taken personally.  Except maybe by the cows.  We want them to take it personally so they'll move on up the $%&* chute. Cattle don't respect the word "please."
     I have learned not to sweat the small stuff.  We lost a calf one year as we were unloading animals into the sale pens. That little jailbird roamed the county for over two months and I worried about him as he wandered. I figured he'd get hit by a car or hung in one of the fences he was crawling through and we'd never see him again. Several friends tried to capture him for us, but he was spooky and always escaped. Eventually, he joined a neighbor's herd and when the farmer gathered his cattle, he sorted the calf out and called us to come pick him up.
     Finally, I've learned that you can never predict how things will go.  I was sure  the cows would be hard to corral today.  After all we chased them around yesterday.  Why would they want to go through that again? But, I was wrong.  They sauntered in, complacent and compact. None jumped fences, hung themselves up in the chute or stepped on anyone. The only accident was a bright green fountain of poo that bubbled out from under a lifted tail right onto Joe's leg.  Here on the farm, we call that a pretty good day.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sunday Blessings3

Today's Sunday blessing is a poem I wrote:

I gave You my sin
You handed back love
Your grace fell upon me
as soft as a dove

You took all the things
that I had done wrong
and gave me Your love
as sweet as a song

Nothing I gave You
made You turn away
from the love that You promised
from the cross that day.

I gave You nothing
but a promise to try
You gave me forgiveness
with arms open wide

Friday, September 25, 2015

Reflections On Love, Wisdom and the Pre-frontal Cortex

My oldest child just married a beautiful young woman and I'm so grateful that he's found someone he loves and someone who also loves him. She makes him happy.

I'll never forget my first sight of Justin.  When the nurses placed him in my arms, he looked so wise. He cocked his little round head sideways as if he was already thinking deep thoughts. Turns out what he was thinking was that he wanted to sleep.  So he did.  He slept for so long that the nurses were worried that he wouldn't wake up.  They made us rub him with wet washcloths and jiggle him.  He ignored everything and slept until he was hungry. We were worried and a bit frantic, but he knew what he was doing. He was preparing us for his teen years.

His childhood plays through my head like a movie.  I see him crouched at the edge of the garden in his boots pulling up weeds and sometimes a vegetable.  Holding up the first fish he caught.  Pulling a stubborn calf along. Opening some Christmas presents.  Always opening our hearts a little more to love.

Children take us where we never thought we would go.  They give us the very deepest joys but they also teach us about the darker parts of ourselves. With my firstborn, I discovered that I wasn't as patient a person as I had once thought, and the addition of a second child to our family cemented that knowledge.  I discovered that I was more selfish than I wanted to be and more easily frustrated than I had ever realized. On the day that my boys dropped their plastic soldiers into the toilet and flushed them, I discovered my temper.

But, I also discovered that the kind of love that I give my children is the one that sits deepest in my soul. It doesn't require reciprocation.  I'm pretty certain that I love my children more than they can ever love me. That's the nature of the parent child relationship.   And it's a good thing that it works that way, because sweet toddlers grow into complex teenagers.

Teen aged boys lack a fully functioning pre-frontal cortex and Justin was no exception. He ran experiments with hairspray, a lighter and his newly acquired arm hair in the back of the school bus.  He piloted a truck over the edge of a mountain.  He played mailbox baseball.  There are rumors that he rode a shopping cart down a mountain.

He met Lisa in those pre-frontal cortex days and she loved him anyway. She's warm and kind and funny. She understands his deepest parts. He asked her to marry him.

Twenty five years ago, I held a tiny baby in my arms and wondered if he was as wise as he looked.  It turns out, he is.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Scoop on Poop

     Mountain women don't have conversations like those of city women.  You'd probably never catch a city woman discussing the kind of poop she sees when she's walking.  Yet, that's exactly the conversation that Lori and I had this morning on our walk.  And, it's not the first time.   It's not that we're grossed out by it or even too focused on it to be considered healthy.  It's just that we come across it all the time and we can tell so much about the wildlife in the area by taking a minute to examine what we're seeing.
     The first time I realized this, I wasn't with Lori.  I was trail riding with some friends.  We were deep in the woods on a narrow  trail that paralleled a ridge top when I spotted it.  "Robin, what kind of poop is that?"  I asked.
     He didn't look at me like I was crazy.  He pulled his horse up beside mine and said, "It's bear poop. Bear poop looks like human poop."
    He was right.  It did look like a wayward hillbilly had squatted on the path.  "Oh," I said.  "I wish I had a way to get it out of here and take it home with me.  We're talking about scat in class right now and that's a great example."
     Robin climbed off of his horse.  "I've got a little paper bag in my saddle bags," he said.  "We'll just put it in there and you can take it to your classroom."
     He scooped up the poop with a leaf and popped it in the bag.  Later in my classroom, we dissected it and determined that the bear had been feasting on grubs and poke berries.
     Three years later, I was glad I knew what bear poop looks like.  It was early summer and Lori and Caroline and I were hiking a portion of the Shenandoah Mountain Trail.  The trail started out wide and friendly. The sun was shining, but the further we got, the narrower and more closed in the trail became. Soon we had climbed high enough to be walking through a cloud which just made everything feel spooky.  Of course that's when we spotted it. A pile of fresh poop deposited right in front of us, and I knew what it was.  "That's bear poop," I pointed out.
     Lori looked around.  "Geez, we can't see anything much in this mess and if it's a momma bear she could be close by.  In fact her cub could be on one side of the trail and we might be between her and it and we wouldn't even be able to see her.  That could make her mad...."  Lori didn't need to finish. We turned around and high tailed it out of there.  We didn't stop to dissect the pile to see what the bear had been eating.  It didn't really matter as long as it wasn't going to be us.
     Since then, I've become pretty interested in animal scat.  Each morning, when Lori and I walk, we stop at any little pile (other than deer pellets which are everywhere) and try to figure out what's been there before us and what it was eating.  Here's some of what I've learned.
     Coyote poop looks like dog poop, but it's often full of hair or wool since coyotes feast on rabbits, fawns and lambs.  Raccoon poop is small and kind of looks like tootsie rolls, but it's usually full of seeds of some sort.  We've seen bear scat twice more and both times it had berry seeds and bug wings in it. Rabbit poop is pelleted and light brown because they eat a lot of bark.  Sometimes we find a pile we can't identify, but I'm not interested in walking around with a handful of poo, so we leave it alone.  I do however, try to remember if it was a plop, pellet or tube and then look it up on this website: What Pooped Here?    I'd really like to find some toad scat and some owl pellets which are not poop but regurgitated bones and fur.
    So, next time you're out for a country walk, look down. You might discover what's walked the path in front of you.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sunday Blessings2

   There's nothing sweeter than gathering around the table to share a meal with family and friends. At those times I'm always so aware of God's great blessings to me, my family and all of us who live in a place where we have food, shelter and the freedom to pray and worship as God leads us. I love the times when we bow our heads together, hold hands and thank God for the blessings he gives us each day.

    With that in mind, I thought I would share some of my favorite table blessings.

  • (I learned this one at Sunday School when I was very young)

Thank You for the world so sweet,
thank You for the food we eat,
thank You for the birds that sing,
Thank you, Lord, for everything.

  • (We sang the next four at Camp Hanover when I was a camper and a lifeguard there.)

Evening has come, the board is spread
Thanks be to God, who gives us bread
Praise God for bread.
( I can still hear the sound of the whole dining hall singing this as my group, which was always late, was pulling itself across the lake on the raft.)

Oh, the Lord's been good to me
and so I thank the Lord
for giving me the things I need,
the sun and the rain and the apple-seed
the Lord's been good to me.
(We always thought this one was guaranteed to bring rain)

For health, and strength and daily bread,
we give Thee thanks Oh Lord.
(This one was sung as a round)

We thank thee Lord, for this amazing day
For the leafy, green leaf spirit of trees
for the true blue dream of the sky
for everything that is natural,
that is infinite
that is Yes, Lord, Yes Lord,
Yes!  Yes!
(My friend Doug Walker taught us this one and I can still picture him leading it)

  • (I like this one because it reminds me that God has a sense of humor)

Rub a dub dub
Thanks for the grub
Yea God!

  • (My son Scott learned this one when he was really young, but he always mixed up the last words in the first two lines.  I'm writing it the way he always said it)

God is good,
God is great,
and we thank Him for our food.
By His hands, we all are fed
Thank You, Lord, for daily bread.

  • (and finally, my Daddy's prayer...)

Bless  this food to our use
and us to thy service,
and Please Lord, save this nation unto Yourself. (and then my mama always adds..."and Please Lord bless all those who suffer.")  In Jesus' name we pray...Amen.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


    After two months of rainy weather, the air is clear and the farmers are circling their fields.  They have been moaning the lack of hay weather all summer.  Not anymore. When I walked this morning, the green smell of new-cut hay hung over every field I passed, and swathes of hay raked in tidy rows outlined them like patterns stitched onto a grassy quilt.
     Years ago, my husband's father was a custom hay-baler.  Every summer he cut, tedded, raked and baled over 20,000 square bales and stacked them in airy barns all over the county.  My Own Farmer grew up riding on the hay wagons with friends and loves to point out the various places he bumped across the acres tossing or stacking.  When we were first married we continued the tradition, and I loved riding the wagon with him as it lurched over the furrowed ground. Even on the hottest days, there was a cool breeze generated by the slow forward motion and with two of us working, the pace of stacking was manageable, leaving breath for talking and flirting. 
     Swallows love hay weather, as well.  Every pass of the tractor stirs up heat-struck insects, creating an aerial feast for the acrobatic birds.  With the steady ka-chunk, chunk of the baling arm pushing hay into tight squares, and the wide arcs and swirls of the hungry birds, I often felt that I was inside a symphony.  The music was the tractor, the notes were the birds.
     Baling also provided work and a summer income for the county boys.  Stand on the steps of any general store in the evening and you would see them converging for a cold bottle of pop and a pack of nabs.  The sweat-grimed boys would sit in the cool evening air trading stories of wagons tipping when they rolled into groundhog holes, dusty hay lofts that were often hotter than one hundred degrees, and how many bales they had put up in a day.  Baling gave boys bragging rights.
     It’s different now.  Round balers changed our culture.  Hay baling is no longer a social event because one man can mow, ted, rake and bale his own fields with minimal help.  Even the hay bales can be stacked on wagons and moved to the barns without the touch of a single human hand. 
     I am often enlisted to help with the hay, but now I am relegated to driving a tractor and raking windrows.  I do not like machinery and I drive scared.  I have good reason for my fears.  I have managed to tangle a hay rake into a fence which took two men and some wire pliers to undo.  Twice, I have made turns so tight that the rake tongue cut too close to the tractor and caught on the wheel, riding it up until it was in danger of knocking me out of my seat.  That took two men and another tractor to fix.  I have overlooked groundhog holes and dropped into them so hard that the fillings in my teeth jangled for a week. I fear losing a wheel every time.  I am stupid about the clutch, using it instead of the brakes when headed downhill.
      I have female friends who are not machinery-impaired.  They love talking about the endless circling and the things they notice as they go around.  One friend told me the other day that she saw five deer, two eagles, a fox and a grouse in just one day.  I wouldn’t know.  I am always so focused on the clattering rake riding behind me that I never look around. Just yesterday, I stole a quick glance at the woods beyond the fence and was startled out of my reverie by the sound of the rake scraping a fence post.  Rakes are like that.  Let them out of your sight for a minute and they wander into trouble. 
     My Own Farmer once told me that riding a tractor was as good as taking a vacation.  He finds peace in the steady pace of the work.  I am happy for him.  Today, he is out in the front field baling while Scott rakes.  I hope they are enjoying it.  I know I am.  

Monday, July 20, 2015


     In a place where not one box store exists and no grocery stores offer food or cleaning products, I am grateful for the small general stores that still dot the landscape.  Each valley sports at least one and locals know that there is more to them than meets the eye.
     My first introduction to the friendly service offered by our general stores came shortly after moving to Highland from the city.  I was accustomed to banks that had drive-through windows and late hours but our little bank hadn't acquired such a window. I discovered that it didn't matter when I began shopping at the H and H Cash Store, which was just a short walk from where I lived.  The owner offered credit.  I could walk in, pick up a few things I needed, and then ask Gaye or one of her sons to "just put it on the list."  At the end of the month or whenever I felt like it, I paid off my bill and they scratched my name out of the little notebook that they kept.
     Then one weekend, a friend asked me to travel over the mountains with her.  I didn't have a dime in my pockets and the banks were closed.  After pondering my dilemma for a few moments, I walked up the street to the H and H Cash.  "Gaye, have you ever considered letting someone have a little money on credit?"  I asked.
     She looked up from the sweatshirt she was stitching designs into (you could buy one of her handmade designs for just $8.00) and peered at me over her glasses.  Her blue eyes twinkled.  "How much do you need?" she asked.
     "Oh, I think ten dollars would do," I replied.
      Without another word, she opened the cash drawer, drew out a ten and handed it over.  Then she wrote my name in her little book.  "I know you're good for it," she said.
     That was my first introduction to the hidden charms of general stores.  I later discovered that H and H was also the place to drop off your dry cleaning, which would be picked up by a truck from over the mountains and returned clean and crisp a week later.  H and H Cash was a treasure cave of supplies.  The interior smelled of apples, onions and shoe leather.   If they didn't have what you needed hidden somewhere in one of the dark corners, then they would order it for you. They even carried topographic maps of the area.
      When I married My Farmer, I moved one valley east and discovered Ralston's Grocery.  Anna Lou also allowed credit and as an added bonus, the post office was located behind the south wall.  There was a little window with bars and lots of cute metal mail boxes.  Ralston's was the center of the Highland News Network.  I used to jokingly tell people that I first discovered I was pregnant when I heard it being discussed while picking up my mail.
     The store changed hands, becoming Stonewall Grocery, and the post office was forced by the government to move to new digs dedicated solely to sorting and stuffing.  But, Patsy and Linda, recognizing that there was still an unmet need began allowing people to leave messages for each other on their back counter. Not too long ago, a fellow offered a telescope for sale on Facebook.  I offered to buy it and he left it at Stonewall Grocery for me to pick up.  When he dropped it off, he exchanged it for an envelope I'd left for him with payment. You can't do that at the local Walmart.
    Stonewall Grocery is also a great place to pick up supper.  They offer Wonder Roast chickens for overworked housewives and they are so popular that you have to call ahead in the morning and reserve one for supper that night.  I have friends two valleys over, who will make a special trip just so they can enjoy the juicy goodness of a Wonder Roast.  Stonewall also has a deli and makes sandwiches, homemade brownies and fresh baked banana bread.  They even give up precious shelf space for a satellite of our local library so you can check out a book to read while you eat.
     Other general stores in the area meet different needs.  There are pizzas at one, chicken tenders at another and taco salads at a third.  If I want oysters for Christmas, I can order them from the Country Convenience in Blue Grass.  If I'm craving homemade bread, cookies or pies, Mountain Oasis bakes on Tuesdays and Fridays.They also sell outdoor wood furnaces and guns. If I want some of the best sharp cheddar cheese on the East Coast, then a stop at the little store in Headwaters is necessary.  Headwaters also offers really inexpensive bottles of water.  I asked about this and the owner said, "Well, people come here and they are thirsty.  There's no where else to get water, so it's a service I offer."  None of this is advertised.  Small businesses have a tiny profit margin and can't afford it.  But, word of mouth is enough.  You just have to live here long enough to find it all.
     Now some of the little stores are closing.  Our population is shrinking and there aren't enough people to spread the money around, although our swelling summer population helps.  The general store in Mill Gap will soon lock its doors.  They were the last outpost for a cold coke if you were travelling west over the mountains. Hightown lost its general store when the owner, Jacob Hevener, got too old to work there.  They used to offer Woolrich clothes and Red Wing shoes.  H and H Cash closed its doors three years ago.  I guess I won't be getting money on credit anymore.
     I recently discovered that every time I use a credit card, it costs the store where I use it two to three percent of the sale.  In addition, if my card awards points, the store pays for that, too.  Doesn't seem like much unless your bottom line is tiny anyway.  So, I have made it my mission to shop locally for everything I can buy and to pay cash for all of it.  One day when small stores have been forced out of business, we will miss them.  Not just for their convenience, but for the rich life they brought to our mountains and valleys.  For the friendly greetings, the community support and the ways they made our lives a little easier.  I hope that day never comes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Please Don't Burp on My Porch

     After meeting Lori for my morning walk, which starts just after dawn and ends an hour later, I drove home through the lifting fog.  As I rounded the corner of my driveway, I saw a light brown body on the woody hill, about ten yards above the road.   I thought maybe it was one of the calves we have turned in around the front forty, but when I pulled up closer, I could see that it was a doe.
     It's not at all unusual to see deer along the driveway.  They often cross it in front of me on their way to and from the meadow out front.  Recently they've been crossing with fawns wobbling along behind.  I always hold my breath when mama and baby approach the fence.  The doe pauses, gathers and springs. In one leap, she arcs over.  The fawn is left behind.  It bleats and my heart stops for a moment. Surely mama won't run off and leave baby.
     She doesn't.  The doe waits patiently on the other side, ears and tail flicking, as her baby runs up and
down the barrier until it finds a hole big enough to wiggle through.  Then the two of them bound through the blowing swells of grass until they are hidden from my sight.  Deer that are standing or on the run are the norm.
      But, this doe wasn't standing.  I stopped the vehicle and turned it off right below her, and she looked at it curiously.  My windows were rolled up, so she couldn't smell me.  I thought maybe the doe was trying to give birth.  I couldn't imagine any other reason that she would have been rooted to such a public spot.
    The doe watched me, ears pricked forward, but she didn't get up and run.One of the gifts of retirement is time.  I wasn't in a hurry, so I decided to just sit still and watch her watch me.  Maybe I'd see a baby born, or maybe she was hurt.  I would wait until I knew which was true.
     The doe shifted around, ears still on alert.  Then I saw her relax.  Her ears rotated backwards.  I didn't know deer's ears could do that.   Usually I only see the front, pink centers because the deer are always considering whether to run or not..
     Then I saw the doe's throat move.  A tennis-ball-shaped lump rose to her mouth and then her cheeks ballooned out.  She looked like a baseball player with a mouth full of tobacco. The doe began to chew and swallow. Smaller, ping-pong-ball-sized lumps slid down her throat after each gulp.  Once her cheeks were empty, she burped and POOF her cheeks filled out once more.
     I know that deer chew their cuds but I'd never seen one do it.  They graze on high alert and then move to a safe spot to regurgitate and finish their meal.  Obviously this doe felt safe perched in plain sight.  While it was a wondrous sight, and I will add it to my list of things I never thought I'd see, it does beg the question.  Have the deer become so immune to humans around them that they will decide to party in my yard and garden?  I hope not.  I don't want to wake up one morning and find them burping and chewing on my front porch. Deer are more beautiful when I see them infrequently.  They probably feel the same about me.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Mondays Can Only Get Verse: Butterflies

It's Monday which means my post will be a poem.  By Me.  Go figure.

Two poems about butterflies:


I just saw a flutterby
I mean I saw a blutterfy

Oh shucks! the butterfly has flew
so now my silly poem is through..


Caterpillar, small and sweet
it seems that all you do is eat.
You dine on leaves all day and night
and munch until your skin's too tight.

But if you tire of chewing things
and wish to trade your feet for wings
then make a chrysalis of jade
to hang beneath the milkweed shade,
or maybe spin a silver nest
in cherry trees to rock and rest.

No matter which cocoon you make
you'll fly away, when you awake.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Blessings: Fathers

Sunday is a day for remembering our blessings and worship.  So, on Sundays, I will post a blessing.  Today's is for Father's Day and for my husband, my father, my brother, and my brother-in-law who, each of them, do such an excellent job of Fathering.

A Blessing on Father’s Day

Men of tender courage, strong hopes and firm presence: When you see your world – and move into it – you model our God who refused to be aloof and insisted on bold, visible love. With your daily labor, you carve life from the soil of this world. Like God, you bring order from the wild chaos. You name the truth, and your love has the power to touch the deep places of our soul. You are a poet, a craftsman, a priest. You are necessary.
For the ways you take on the weight of this world – and shield others from it,
For the many times you surrender your desires for the good of family,
For your faithfulness to your marriage, in a world that knows less and less about fidelity and loyalty, less about love,
For the times when all you want to do is fling your weary bones on a couch but instead you wrestle or sit down for a tea party or toss a football,
For the moments you’ve fought to the bitter end for what you believe is true and right, even if you lost,
For those of you who bear the scars from your own father,
For those of you who have become father for another,
For sticking around,
For keeping your word,
For laughing – and for being able to laugh at yourself,
For teaching us how to tell the truth, how to say “I’m sorry” and how to cry,
We bless you.
May the God who filled Father Adam with life and who filled King David with wisdom, boldness and tenderness and who brought our Redeemer into the world to enact and demonstrate selfless love, fill you with all grace and joy today. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Catching Some ZZZZ's

     The weather has gone from pleasantly cool to unpleasantly hot and muggy.  Afternoons remind me of my childhood.  One of the joys of my early years was a week-long visit to see my grandparents at  Rosebower Farm in Dinwiddie, Virginia.  My grandfather raised milo, peanuts, and tobacco, and he also had a beautiful vegetable garden.
     While I was there, we  spent mornings picking beans or strawberries or squash.  By noon, the temperature had often risen above ninety degrees so, after lunch, Nana and I would clean up the kitchen, and then we would take an afternoon nap.
    She would strip down to her slip and lie on her bed with the newspapers.  I would go into the cavernous, cool front room, strip down to my tee shirt and underwear and lie down on the little daybed with a National Geographic.  There was no air conditioning, so the shades were closed against the heat of the sun, but the window was open and I would drift in and out of consciousness to the quiet hum of tractors running off in the distance or the nearer buzz of bees in the rosebushes.  My Papa would sit in his overstuffed armchair in the dark paneled den.  He always swore he didn't nap, but once I snuck out and found him with his chin on his chest.
     When the still air picked up with an afternoon breeze, we would rouse ourselves from our sweaty stupor.  Papa would propose a ride in the pickup truck or a little jaunt to the farm pond for swimming or fishing.  The afternoon was re-energized by our siesta.
     When I left Rosebower to go back home each summer, I left napping behind, too.  Nana continued to take a nap almost every day of her life until she died at the age of one hundred.
     Now that I am retired, I have discovered the joys of napping.  I don't often stop for one, but when I do, I can almost feel myself right back on that little daybed at Rosebower, especially when it's hot and the bees are buzzing.  I have discovered that all the animals on the farm also stop what they are doing about mid-day and settle in for a shady snooze.

    I think the animals are on to something.  I find it hard to give myself permission to nap every day.  It seems extravagant, wasteful and indolent.  But my grandmother, who was energetic to the end, obviously knew something that has been lost to our fast-paced, work-a-holic world.
   It's time to stop and snore.  Research is showing that Americans don't get enough sleep.  I say it's time we took a lesson from Nana and the animals.  When I taught full time, afternoons were murder for me.  My energy levels dropped and my powers of concentration waned.  My natural cycle was begging me to nap.
     I believe that today, I will pay attention to those urges.  I will put my feet up and honor the napping hour.  I hope you'll join me.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Dingleberry Duty

     When the weather changes from cold and rainy to warm and sunny, then it's time for the sheep to get out of their wooly coats.  We've been working on shearing and I've managed to avoid most of it this year.  It was an informed decision.  I have done my share of helping and was happy to pass that chore on to my children.  Isn't that why we have them?
     But, with the opening of the family's second small engine repair shop, I've been trying to be more of a team player and help with duties I thought I had left behind me.  One of those was dingleberry duty. When my husband asked if I could help with the shearing, so he and my oldest son could keep the shops open, I agreed.  I thought I would just be doing modified Gate Girl duties: opening and closing gates and handing out syringes, so I dressed in my favorite new, blue designer overalls. Perfect for opening and shutting gates because my shirt would stay tucked in no matter how I moved.       I did open some gates, but then I was recruited to wade in behind my youngest son and mark the sheep he was doping. I might have refused if he hadn't been away at school for so long, but like any mother, I am game to do anything for a little quality time with my boy.  Including going into the doping pen.  For those of you unfamiliar with that term, it  means we were worming sheep.   Scott had a  back pack full of wormer on his back and a device to squirt it into the mouths of the sheep.

 The sheep don't like it and back away as it is being squirted in.  My job was to stand behind my boy, blue marker in hand, and mark the sheep he'd done so no one got a double dose.  Every time a sheep backed up, she ground her shitty (and there's no kinder way to say it) ass into my thighs which were clothed in those new designer overalls.  So much for just being a gate girl.  This was the end result!

Then, because I was already dirty and I could see how hard my son and Matt our shearer were working, and how I could make their lives a little easier,  I willingly agreed to be the person sorting through the freshly shorn fleeces to pull out dingleberries.  That's what locals call the by-products of grazing on fresh grass. The grass this year has been especially moist and juicy, leading to moist and juicy dingleberries.  Dingleberries are one of the main reasons that sheep have their tails docked when they are young.  Imagine a whole tail full of squishy, brown ornaments.  It's especially inviting to flies who like to lay eggs in the warm, moist environment.  Eggs that eventually hatch out into maggots.  I am thankful that there were no maggots in any of our dingleberries.
If you look, you can see some of those dingleberries dangling from the rear end of this sheep as Matt shears her.

     I wore my blue latex gloves, but by about the 20th sheep, the lanolin had completely destroyed them.  The last thirty sets of dingleberries were removed with my bare hands.  The only way to get through an experience like that is to remind yourself over and over that it's really just grass and water in a totally different form.  Very different form.
We finished the sheep in the first pen and moved on to the second one.  Scott packed wool, so after I did dingleberry duty, I rolled the fleece into a tight ball, placed it in a box and handed it up to him so he could squish it down.  We tried to get about thirty fleeces in each bag.

By the end of the day, we had processed fifty two sheep.  Matt said that was an easy day for him as he often does about a hundred.  Made me thankful not to have dingleberry duty on one of those days.
But, I was glad I did it.  We had as good a time as you can have working in hot humid weather with stinky sheep.  I learned some more about shearing listening to Matt tell stories as he worked.  For instance he has switched to using a plywood board to shear on as opposed to the green felted rug lots of shearers use. He said it makes it easier to keep the sheep down because they can't get a good purchase on the slick wood if they try to get up.  He did buy special shoes for it though.

They are made of felted wool and give him good traction on the slick surface.  It sort of evens the playing field when he's trying to sling a 300 pound buck around.  Matt also told me that a friend once told him the best way to shear a heavy buck.  If all else fails, shear him any way you can.  Sit on him, lie on him or even stick a bit of wool in his mouth so he'll worry about that and forget about you.  Matt said he tried that last one once, but all that happened is the buck bit him and then hopped up and ran away.
     At the end of the day, the ewes and bucks all seemed grateful to have that hot, heavy layer removed.  They'll stay cooler and cleaner, now.
     And as for my designer overalls?  Two washings later, the green stains have almost faded from view.  From now on, when I wear them,  those faint spots will remind me of a beautiful day spent with my son.  Dingleberries and all.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Lambzillas on the Loose

     BAAAA! BAAA!  Daggone it!  The two lambs have spotted me sneaking around the shed.  They spring up from their resting place in a patch of clover and chase me down.  BAAA! BAAA! BAAA! They are insistent, butting my knees, nibbling my fingers, even jumping up and planting their hooves on my belly.  They are looking for my udder, which is usually in the form of a plastic bottle with a red nipple, but I am weaning them, just as their own woolly mamas might, if they hadn't abandoned them.
     I have complete sympathy with those curly-fleeced moms right now.  I'm also trying to abandon the lambs, but not having much luck.  This time of year, walk into any pasture full of sheep and you will spot wooly rumps bobbing into the air as lambs kneel under their moms and grab a quick suck.  The lambs are half as tall as their moms and when they nurse they pile drive the mama sheep's legs up off the ground.  My two little orphans are capable of some pretty muscular moves themselves.  That's why I've taken to sneaking around the shed these days.
     When they first came to me, they were so cute.  Big eyes under wooly bangs, knobby knees, flickery tails.  I don't usually name the lambs, but because Joe told me these were mine to keep for breeding stock, I named them Carol and Dotty.   Dotty wouldn't drink much.  For the first two weeks of her life, she was a sheep sommelier as she smelled, then tasted, then sucked in each mouthful of Land O Lake's finest which she rolled around her tongue until she could determine its vintage. Each swallow was followed with a plaintive baa that clearly said, "This is not my mother's milk."  It took fifteen to twenty minutes for her to finish a bottle.
     Carol, on the other hand, sucked her bottle down like a thirsty construction worker at a bar on a Friday night.  She was done in two minutes and, drunk on cream, she became aggressive, pushing Dotty away as she attempted to steal some more milk. Each night was a struggle.Then the dog attacked Dotty and I had to bandage her on a daily basis.  That's when I discovered that she loved to be held just like a real baby. Cradled in my arms, she tucked her nibbly lips underneath my chin and sighed contentedly as I wrapped and unwrapped bandages from a front and back leg.
     I know better.  I really do.  If calves or lambs become pets, then they become pests.  And eventually pests become dangerous.  But a face framed in cloudy white fuzz was my undoing.  Dotty was just so darn cute.
     Now, she and Carol have grown into cute assassins.  If I'm not careful, they'll take me down.
    There's a third lamb in the barn.  Scott discovered it two weeks ago, out in a field limping pitifully after the flock.  It had broken the top part of its back leg.  This new lamb is confined to a small pen until the leg heals, and every day I am responsible for bringing it some fresh grass and water. This has complicated my life because when I am crawling around on all fours tearing up handfuls of grass, I resemble a ewe.  When Carol and Dotty spot me, they sprint over. Both of them slip their heads beneath my belly and  pile drive my back end up into the air.  I gather up the grass I've pulled and I run to the barn.  Dotty and Carol skip along behind me.  This new game is fun.  When I reach the safety of the shed, I slide the door shut. The new lamb is skittish as I dump the grass over into the pen.  That's the proper relationship between lamb and farmer.
     BAAA!  BAAA!  BAAA! Dotty and Carol, are circling the barn. I watch them through a crack in the door.  Maybe I can sneak out when they make the next lap.  Then the new lamb takes a deep breath.  "BAAAAA!" it hollers.  The two Lambzillas pull up short and circle back to the opening, poking their heads in as I back into the corner.  They widen the gap and bulldoze through.  With nowhere left to hide, I leap into the pen with  the third lamb. By the time Dotty and Carol give up, the new lamb is nibbling on my ear.

I think I'll call it Franky.  That's short for Frankenstein.  After all, I've just created another monster.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Mondays Can Only Get Verse 3


The rigid trees are draped in lace
of chartreuse leaves
a gauzy grace
which gives each twig a dance
in spring’s embrace.
Oh that I might a twiggy branchlet be
so clothed in grace that it would cover me
with soft green leaves that dancing
set me free.

Green flags
in the sun

skunk cabbage

winter's demise.


Spring is sporting yellow speckles.
My lawn has dandelion freckles.

I hack their tiny heads off as
they infiltrate my lawn
I'm sure I've killed them all and by
tomorrow they'll be gone
but nothing's quite so stubborn as
these fuzzy feline scions
At dawn I yield my field of dreams
done in by dandelions.

Billy Baker ate some soap
His mother said, "Don't do it!"
But when he coughed a bubble up,
his mother knew he blew it.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Surfing the Flood

     The cows have a new sport.  We've had several inches of rain and in addition to greening the fields, it has filled the rivers.  I went out to check on the riverbank and water-gaps because farmers always worry about something.  If it's sunny, it might get too dry  If it's warm, the trees might bud out too soon.  If it's cold, the cows will still need to be fed.  If it's raining, the rivers might flood.
     Having suffered through various floods, including the massive floods of '85 and '93, we are a bit rain-shy. Especially when we can hear the waters rushing down the valley through our closed bedroom window. Which was the case last night.  Hence my trip out to inspect riverbanks and water-gaps.  The river bank in front of the house is slowly giving way to rain and gravity.  Although there are still 30 yards of dirt and rock between us and the collapsing cliff, I've read Chesapeake by James Michener.  Remember in the last chapter how the house drops down into a river that was 100 yards from it at the beginning of the book?  Every heavy rain makes me worry.
     So, this morning I went out to inspect the damage.  The bank had held up fine, but from my lofty position I had an uninterrupted view of the river as it raged through our bottom, splitting it neatly in half.  On one side were bunches of mama cows. Their babies were on the other side. All of them were bawling and staring across the flood.  Then, one old Charolais mama decided to cross over.  She took a few tentative steps, committed to the journey, and waded out into the torrent.  At mid-river, the water was so deep that it piled up against her sides and curled over her back, shifting her downstream as she crossed.  She made shore with a final lunge, which was the signal for all of the other cows to follow.
     A cow weighs over a thousand pounds, so I wasn't too concerned about their decision.  I could see that the footing was good and, although the pressure was jostling the girls as they crossed, it didn't appear to be too dangerous. As each cow completed the crossing, she was met by a hungry baby.  I breathed a sigh of relief as the the last cow crossed.
     Then one of the Angus mamas walked away from her hungry calf, waded to the edge of the river and stood looking downstream.  Her baby walked up behind her, sticking his head between her legs, and trying to finish breakfast.  He followed her into the river as she crossed back to the other side.
    I held my breath as the 100 pound baby was picked up by the current and began bobbing downstream.  Mama reached the bank and never looked back.  Apparently the calf had attended the same water safety courses that I took in my teens.  It turned downstream and ,with vigorous pumping, swam with the current until it washed up safely on the other shore, thirty feet below where it had started.
     The rest of the cows and calves were so impressed that they followed.  Every mama and baby completed the treacherous swim.
      Some babies were washed further downstream than others.  I actually wondered how I might save one if it was unable to reach the other side. Would I run for a rope and lasso it?  Could I go down to the water-gap and pull it out there?  All possibilities were too dangerous.  I knew I would just have to let the baby float on by. Thank goodness they all made it to shore.
     Relieved, I turned to head back to the house.  That's when I heard it.  A mama mooing.  I turned to look and there was  that same old Charolais dipping her feet in the water again.  She dove in and baby followed.  I walked back to the house, unable to watch any longer.
     Later in the afternoon, when I counted cows and calves, all were safely grazing having survived a morning of  surfing the flood.  I wonder which one took home the trophy.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Mondays Can Only Get Verse 2

Why does the farm have to sing
of death?

why can't it always
be lambs bleating
calves bawling
chickens chattering?

I like the song of
butterfly wings
hummingbird flight
meadowlarks and robins
declaring spring

I like the song of
seeds uncurling
leaves unfurling
green learning
to sing

I like the song of
blossoms drifting
romanced by wind
and sun

I like the song of
porch talk

when the day is done

take please
the song of dogs
who bite
to the bone

Play me a song of life.
without death
light without dark
sun without clouds

Take away that resonant drum

and bury the Composer's
in birdsong

I don't want to hear
life and death sung together


a sentimental song

would not
shake and shape my soul.

Friday, March 27, 2015


     This evening, as I went about my dusk-time chores, I locked things in and out.  I locked the chickens in. They need protection from coons and possums and foxes and coyotes.  When we built their coop, we designed it to be predator proof.  That means that there are absolutely no small openings anywhere that aren't covered by tightly attached chicken wire.  Nowhere for snakes to slither in, nowhere for rats to reconnoiter, nowhere for predators of any kind to eat, maim or steal eggs from my girls.
     After the chicken house, I locked the horses into the small lot in front of the house.  I let them out during the day to graze on the green blush of grass just beginning to color the fields, but I coax them back into the small lot at night so that they won't pester my dogs and steal their dog food.  I also want them in the small lot at least half of the time because both of my horses will eat fresh green grass until they founder which leads to sore feet and possible downing.  The small lot is a place where the grass truly is greener on the other side of the fence.
     Next, I lock the lambs into the woodshed.  Two lambs live there because their mamas in the big fields won't claim them.  One doesn't have enough milk for two lambs; the other is just plain mean. Who knows why she rejected this lamb and loved the other?  Both lambs enjoy the open doorway, protected by a pallet gate during the day, but during the night I'm sure Mr. Coyote would welcome an easy meal.  So, I slide the door closed and lock it for the evening.
    Spring means we are also constantly locking animals back into their proper fields.  At this time of year, drunk on that first taste of spring, the sheep and cows covet all the grass that is not theirs.  They are masters at creating openings in a fence: first finding a weak spot, then poking a head through, then pushing until the opening is big enough for escape.  Our sheep have been chased out of three yards this week and we have corralled a group of calves who were roaming the roads.  Once the escapees are returned, then the fence pliers, staples and wire come out and the animals are re-contained until the grass is growing evenly all around or they find another weak spot in the fence.
     What I got to thinking about last night, as I did all the latching and bolting and closing, was that I never worry out here about latching and bolting against human predators.  My worries are all centered on animal enemies.  When I take a walk in the early morning, before the sun brings the day to full shine, I worry about running into a skunk, not a human.  I know almost everyone who lives in my county.  I trust them. I don't trust the mama bears with babies or the raccoons roaming around in the middle of the day.  
     When one of my sons turned eleven, he asked if he could have a sleepover.  I agreed and three other boys descended on my house and immediately began lobbying to camp out.  I gave permission, thinking that they meant in our yard.  It wasn’t until they headed across the creek and into the woods beyond, that I realized that they had other ideas. 
      I stayed up all night, glancing out the window, worried, but not wanting to go spoil their fun.  I wasn’t worried that they would be abducted.  I was worried that a stray cow might stumble through their tents, or a raccoon might slip in to sleep with them.  I couldn’t believe that they would make it through the night.  The next morning, they all climbed back over the fence, waded the creek and demanded pancakes and bacon.  They’d had a blast. 
     So, locking and bolting have a different meaning here in the mountains.  Locking and bolting mean that I keep my animals safe and don’t worry so much about myself.

 I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Friday, March 6, 2015


     I have been a messy person almost all of my life.  My first college roommate can attest to that.  I still believe we parted ways because my clutter finally overcame her forgiving nature.  Then I married my husband. While he's not a neat freak, he is far better than I am at keeping things clean.  He started doing the laundry early in our marriage because he got tired of waiting for clean underwear.  He keeps his tools organized, his barn feedways neat and tidy, and his truck free from trash.
     Sometimes, he wakes up before I do and I can hear him puttering around downstairs.  First I hear the clink and scoop of coffee being made, then I hear the rattle of the dishwasher being loaded or unloaded. When I finally make it downstairs, the kitchen often looks better than I left it.
     In my defense, I have improved over time.  While it's always been important to me that the public areas of our house be presentable,  I have, in the last year, started making my bed every morning and, strangely, I now can't go downstairs until it's done.  I've learned to fold clothes as they come out of the dryer so they won't get wrinkled, and I'm much better at cleaning the kitchen before I go to bed.  But, there's one area of my life that I can't unclutter.
     It's my Hope Closet.  I believe every home should have a hope closet, a hope drawer, a hope bin or a hope chest.  In the old days, a hope chest was a place for a woman to collect things she planned to use in her married life.  That's not the kind of hope chest or closet I'm talking about.
    My Hope Closet is really a junk closet, but I call it a Hope Closet because if I need something, I can always hope it's in there.  Often it is.  My Hope Closet is full of many of the usual things you'd expect to find: batteries, light bulbs, tools, paint, screening supplies, jars of screws, nails and fasteners.  But, because it's the place I throw things when I'm not sure where to store them, it's a place full of surprises as well.  I often forget what I've put in there.
     When I have need of an item to finish a project, I go to my Hope Closet and dig, and sometimes I pray as I dig.  I don't know what's in there, and because I don't know, I pray that I'll find what I need.  Now, don't laugh, but I feel like God usually answers these silly prayers. Faith is about things unseen, and there are plenty of those in my Hope Closet.
      Here's a picture of it.

If you come to visit, I will not show it to you.  I'm not proud of the disarray, and if I were a complete convert to neatness, everything would be in neatly labeled boxes.   Neatly labeled boxes that completely took away my ability to hope and pray for something unseen.  In my life, hoping for things unseen is something I don't want to miss.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


     When I was 12, going on 13, I ended my nightly prayers with a request for snow on my birthday. I am a close-to Christmas baby and I planned to carol around the neighborhood with friends to celebrate becoming a teenager. I also secretly planned to get myself a boyfriend.  I had a big crush on Stewart and I was pretty sure he would offer to hold my hand if we were walking in swirls of snow beneath glowing streetlamps to the sound of happy carolers.
     I got my wish. There were swirls of snow beneath glowing streetlamps, and carolers singing, but Stewart held hands with my older sister.
     Snow just can't be trusted.
     I don't pray for snow anymore.  I know it is poor man's fertilizer, bringing nitrogen from the air down into the soil.  I know it refills our aquifers so that the spring behind my house will continue to provide clear water.  I know that to every thing there is a season and snow deserves its season.  I even know that we don't have as much snow as we did 40 years ago and that should be cause for alarm.  My husband still talks about snows that fell in November and melted in April.
     I am not alarmed.  I am relieved.  When your driveway is over a quarter mile long and the last part is a steep hill, snow means that getting to the road is an adventure.  For the first time since we've lived at the foot of this steep hill, I have a four wheel drive vehicle.  I can get out when it snows, but not if the snow has drifted into swales and swells that are two or three feet deep.
     So, I like snow as long as it is only two or three inches deep.  I like watching it fall, twirling to the ground in soft curtains of white, as long as it ends in a couple of hours.  I like my driveway, when it looks like this.

     How about you?  Do you still feel romantic when the snow starts swirling, or do you growl?

The weatherman is calling for 6-8 inches of snow tonight.  It might swirl romantically in the glow of the porch light outside my house, but I won't be watching.  I'll be curled up inside on the sofa with my true love.  It turns out it doesn't take snow to make romance after all.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Snow Day on the Farm

Any snow over four inches deep means that the work on the farm is doubled. Today we have at least 14 inches and it's still snowing.

 First Joe opens the driveway so we can get out to feed the cows.

Halfway through, he must stop to repair the four-wheeler.

While he's working on that I carry corn out to the horses. They get extra rations in the winter weather to help them stay warm.  The ice all over them  is proof that their long winter coats are protecting them from heat loss. 

Then, Luke and I go down to the creek to knock open a water hole for thirsty
livestock (and dogs).

Joe has finished the driveway, so we hop in the truck and drive down to the barn where we must shovel open the gate.  This is where Gate Girl gets her exercise.

Then the barn doors are shoveled open so Joe can get the tractor out and give the calves and cows their hay.

While he's doing that, his wife entertains herself in the truck taking selfies...

Finally, we head back to the house.  I carry water to the chickens, gather eggs and carry in firewood, while Joe plows out the driveway again.

It's still snowing outside and our county has been declared a local disaster area, but we are tucked safe and warm in our house.  We'll worry about that tomorrow.

Monday, February 16, 2015




February flirts,
looks back coyly
blows warm kisses
melts hearts and streams
turns a cold shoulder to her promises
and chooses winter
as her partner

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Rooster Love

     The chickens are always so much fun to watch, but I especially enjoy watching the roosters.   They know their job is to protect the girls, so they crow alarm when a hawk flies overhead and crow about supper when I take slop out to share with the hens.  But, they also love to crow for attention.  They crow in the morning, long before the sun comes up.  They crow in the hen house. They crow outside.  They crow just because they can.  They are cock-a-doodle Carusos, standing tiptoe, reaching deep into their diaphragms for air, and belting out melodic morning arias.

      But, they don't crow when they are trying to seduce the ladies.  Besides living to protect the hens, roosters also exist just so they can get them some chicken love.  When a rooster wants love, he is strangely silent.  He morphs from a sassy soloist to a shy salsa dancer.

The rooster struts
and scratches
and crows
He jumps to the left
and bounces on his toes.
He waggles his wattle
and he cocks his eye,
quicksteps to the right
when the hen passes by.

The hen scratches seeds
with her eyes on the ground
She never looks up, 'cause
she's always looking down.

The rooster on her right
isn't nearly as thrilling
as the bug in the ground
for which she is drilling.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Polished With Prayer

     February is a muddy month.  It's great weather for the maple sugar producers.  Cold nights and warmer days make the trees and the producers run.  But, it's not so great for those of us who gather eggs from free ranging chickens.  My hens are not confined to nests or even to the hen-house.  They run around outside all day parading through puddles, digging in dirt, and stomping out designs on the muddy paths.  After all that fun, the hens hurry back inside.  They do not stop to wipe their feet.  Instead, they hop on the nest, deposit an egg and wipe their feet on that.  February is egg cleaning month.
     Customers who buy eggs in grocery stores are buying eggs laid by hens in cages.  The eggs never have a chance to get dirty because the hens don't.  Customers who buy my eggs are also buying the time my hens spend outside and the time I spend hand polishing their eggs. My hens are laying about 45 eggs a day. That's a lot of mud and a lot of time with a rag, and I forgot to polish eggs yesterday.
     When I picked up my rag today and stared glumly at the 90 eggs waiting for a cleaning,  it occurred to me that, after they are polished, the eggs glow just like rosary beads.  That gave me an idea.  Today, instead of moaning about the job in front of me, I decided to treat each egg as an opportunity to pray for the people I love.
     Now, looking at the cartons full of glowing eggs, I am looking at cartons full of prayer. I suspect the praying polished me a little as well.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Gate Girl

This was published in my local paper, but never made it to the blog.  Thought those of you who hadn't seen it might relate.

     Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  With love is in the air, it’s no wonder that, when Joe asks me to go along with him to feed, I am lulled into believing he wants to spend a few romantic moments holding hands in the truck.  That notion only lasts until we reach the end of the driveway.  That’s when I realize that he wants me to go along because he needs the services of Gate Girl. 
     Being Gate Girl is one of my biggest responsibilities.  Tonight is a nine-gate evening.  Each gate is different and demands a different skill set.  
     Gate number one is brand new, but fell off of its hinges a week after we hung it. First I pry it open.  Then I move to the back side and drag it over the bumpy ground.  This is complicated by the sheep who are anxious for their evening grain.  I have to abandon my dragging to shoo them back into the field.  
     Gate number two has both hinges, but the latch has been replaced by a strand of barbed wire.  I prick my fingers as I untwist it. 
     Gate number three is made of wood.  Some nails are loose and the boards shift and creak as I push it around.  
      Gate number four is new.  I like gate number four.  
     Gate number five is lightweight, but must be lifted over a mound of dirt as I open it.  
     Gate number six has a sliding wooden latch that pinches my fingers.  
     Gate number seven must be propped open with an old fence post or it will swing shut on the truck as we pull through.  
     Gate number eight has one baler twine hinge and no latch.  It leans drunkenly against the posts and has to be bullied around.  I hate gate eight. 
     Gate number nine opens on the left instead of the right.  I always forget and try to open the wrong side.  Tonight is no exception.
     When we were first married I loved any excuse to ride along with Joe and help out on the farm. Being Gate Girl was something a city girl could do with no training. Now that I am older and more experienced, I can drive tractors, feed hay from the back of a moving pick-up truck, bottle feed calves and lambs, give shots and rake a pretty tidy windrow.  But, being Gate Girl is still my favorite farm chore.       
     Gate Girl will never make it to the super hero hall of fame.  I can’t leap buildings in a single bound or put out fires with my bare hands.  What I can do is open any gate on the farm and make my husband’s life just a little easier.  And when all the gates have been opened and closed, perhaps we’ll pull up to the top of a hill and watch the lambs play in the fields below.  

     Then, Joe will turn to me and whisper softly in my ear, “Can you help me again tomorrow?”