Friday, September 9, 2016


     Last week, the  hot humid days that have brooded over us for a month, sulked their way out of the county to be replaced by perky air spilling down from the northern regions. This was a sure sign that it was time for animals and baked goods and artwork and cloggers and canned goods and vegetables and quilts and derby cars to make their way to the back lot of the school for the Highland County Fair.
     I never appreciated fairs until I moved to a place where the fair is a homecoming event and the absolute center of the social scene for four and a half days.  School even lets out early the day before to accommodate all of the students who need time to wash and brush their animals one last time before registration and show day.
     Preparing animals for the fair is a family event that can start as early as the first day of the previous fair.  In the quest for bragging rights and a banner, parents and children eyeball the winners as they are paraded into the ring, and begin digging for answers.  "Where did they buy that steer?" "Who raised the lamb that won?"  "What bloodline should we pursue?"  The answers to these questions are sometimes closely guarded secrets until a winning family retires from the ring.
     After breeding decisions are made,  Mother Nature is left alone to do her work. Then in early spring, the flocks and herds are inspected for possible winners.  These lucky animals are brought into barns and lots for special feeding and lessons in show ring deportment.  The animals are as anxious to learn to be led as middle school boys are to learn manners.  A tug of war ensues and sometimes, if a steer is too headstrong, even tractors and donkeys are brought in to muscle the animal into docility.
    Once the future contestants are lead rope trained then the bathing and trimming and walking begin. Our boys raised and showed steers, sheep and hogs.  Each day, in the two months before the fair, the boys haltered the sheep and walked them at least a half a mile to help build muscular thighs.  In the interest of time, Joe and I helped.  Then the lambs were exchanged for the steers, who also got a walk.  After the steer strolling, the hog chasing began as there is really no way to train a hog to go where it doesn't feel inclined to go.  Hogs get their exercise by running away from frustrated humans.
    After an hour or two of dragging or evading humans, the animals were rewarded with a bath and brushing.  The next day, it started again.  Usually by fair time, we had gone from loving our fair pets to looking forward to days that weren't quite so full.  And, it's a good thing, because the day the animals are sold is still sad and would be sadder if we all weren't so tired of the whole process.
    This year, our seventh since the boys stopped showing, we walked around on the last night of the fair and watched families as they prepared their animals for departure.  Many were going on to the slaughter house to become someone's steak or bacon or lamb chop.  It's a hard night for the kids and some of the parents, and many make it a point to be out of the barn when the animals are loaded onto the trailers.  In spite of the relief that it's over for another year, there are tears shed in dark corners where the kids go so no one can see them cry.  Even the boys are a little pink cheeked when they finally come back to the barn.  But, the sadness doesn't last long.  There's work to be done.  Stalls to muck out one last time, halters to gather, equipment to load.  When everything is ship-shape, the families stand just outside the barn, leaning against fences to watch the fireworks show.  Then, they turn and head towards the truck for the last ride home. With no animals to take care of, everyone will sleep in tomorrow.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Killing Things

    When I was in second grade my teacher, Mrs. Williams, once scooped up a black widow spider, from a corner of the classroom, on a sheet of paper and, rotating it around to keep the spider from climbing onto her hand, she walked to the window and dumped it out, all the while telling us how poisonous black widows were.  This made quite an impression on me.  Even things that were dangerous deserved to live.
     I remained true to that belief, walking my own spiders outside (even two black widows) even after I married My Own Farmer and moved to the farm. Two years into our marriage,  I accidently dislodged a mama mouse from a bird box.  She scampered away from her nest, leaving five pink, pencil-eraser shaped nubbins behind.  They were her babies and it was my fault that they were now homeless.  I gathered them up, took them to the house and called my vet to see if he could recommend a suitable formula.  I think he covered the telephone receiver and snorted a few times before making his suggestions.
     When My Own Farmer came home that night and discovered the tiny box full of hairless, blind babies staying warm under a light bulb, he looked at me in total disbelief.  "You hate mice in the house," he said. "What are you doing?"  I shrugged.  "I don't know.  It just seemed like the right thing to do."  He raised his eyebrows and then sat down to read the paper.  I have to admit that I was thankful when they died in spite of my care.
    Later that year, I was at my mother-in-law's house when a raccoon wandered into the barn yard.  Geneva went outside and pitched rocks at it until it died.  She asked for my help, but I was too horrified to watch. Then she took a pitchfork and carried the body to a rock pile where she buried it.   "It might have had rabies," she explained.  Although I still didn't think I could have helped her kill it, I remember thinking what a strange new world I had married into.  Things like racoon stoning just didn't happen in the city.
     My lingering soft heart died one day when we were making hay.  As we rode around the bumpy field, tossing bales to the back of the wagon  and sweating in the brutal sun, the front wheel dropped into a deep groundhog hole.  The wagon pitched and yawed, almost righting itself before it finally keeled over, dropping all 140 carefully stacked bales  onto the meadow. We could have been killed, plus we had to re-load and re-stack that wagon full of bales.  It is twice as hard to stack bales that have to be pitched up from the ground than to stack the ones that are conveyed right to your hands by the baler.  I believe there was some cussing involved.
     The next time My Own Farmer got out his gun to shoot a groundhog in the hay field, I didn't whine about the sanctity of life.  I still didn't like the idea of killing critters, but suddenly I had a new perspective.
    Since that time, I've even requested the killing.  When my youngest was celebrating his fifth birthday, a skunk wobbled out of the woods above the house and headed down the hill to the celebration.  Perhaps he just wanted a slice of cake, but skunks don't usually come out during the day. I wasn't sure that he was healthy, so I rounded the children up and took them inside and called my husband who came home and shot the skunk.
     When a snake reared its head in the front yard and rattled two feet from my toddler, I screamed until someone brought a pistol out and killed it.   I still carry house spiders outside, but if I ever see a black widow in the house, I believe I'll squash it.
     Two weeks ago, when Lori and I went out at dawn to walk, we saw what we thought was a raccoon wobbling down the road.  It disappeared into the barn in front of my house and I worried about it all day. Where was it in relation to my livestock, my pets and my house?  Was it rabid?  That afternoon my questions were answered by my beagle Luke who began barking madly.  When I went outside to investigate, I discovered a mangy racoon hunkered under my chaise lounge on the patio.  It screamed at me when I peered underneath, so I grabbed the dog and ran inside.  My Own Farmer was at work in town, so I began dialing, looking for a neighbor with a gun.  Meanwhile, the racoon paced around the outside of my house, looking in my glass doors and chittering.  Not Normal!!
   By the time I reached a willing neighbor with a gun, the racoon had started staggering up my driveway.  It was getting away, and getting away meant that it could come back.  I would be trapped in the house forever.  As soon as the racoon was far enough away, I ran out to my car.  I couldn't let it disappear.
    As I followed the sick animal up the driveway it occurred to me that I did have a weapon I knew how to use.  My car.  I could run the racoon over.  So, I pushed the pedal to the metal and bounced up the hill.  The racoon dodged my wheels and continued climbing.  I followed it up the driveway, trying several more times to kill it, but missing. When my neighbor finally arrived and shot it, I was so shaken that I could hardly talk.  I realized that I had finally gotten to a point where I could consider killing something myself.
     I want a .22 caliber rifle and I want to learn to shoot it.  It's funny how your opinion changes when you're  trapped in the house by a crazy racoon.  It makes all the difference in how you see things.  I don't think I could ever deer hunt, even though I like to eat venison, but I want to be able to defend myself from snakes and rabid animals.  I've had enough experience, living out here in the back of beyond, to realize that sometimes a girls' gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Where the Fairies Hide

Sometimes you see them when you least expect it.  Not the fairies themselves, but their houses.  Such was the case today when I was pulling into my driveway.  I stopped to watch a chipmunk sitting on a log and ended up leaving the car and wandering through the woods in search of fairy houses.  The light was perfect for finding them.

The first one I spotted was tucked at the foot of an oak tree.  I fell in love with the little red table in the front yard.

Beyond that I saw a cozy little cottage built on the side of a hill.  There was no smoke coming from the chimney so I knew the fairies weren't home.

I realized I had stumbled into a small fairy neighborhood.   Each house was cuter than the next.

Just beyond the neighborhood, I spotted a playground.  The fairies must have run off as I approached.  They left their ball behind.

The playground was part of a larger park complex.  There was a visitor center perched on a hill...

and a small cabin with another one of those cute red tables set out front.

Beyond the park, a small fairy city was outlined with streetlights.

At the center of the city, I found  a beautiful restaurant, reminiscent of the Space Needle in Seattle.

I would have spent more time exploring, but I was chased away by one of the guardians of the community.

I was sorry to leave it all behind.  Perhaps I'll find another fairy land some day.  If I do, you can be sure, I'll post more pictures.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

     My Own Farmer and I had a date tonight.  When you live on a farm, dates can be few and far between. There's always something that needs to be done.  But, tonight we combined work with pleasure.  I rode with him to make a delivery on the far side of the county.
     Going for a ride is always special in a place where every road is a scenic drive.  Today was no different.  After several days of rain, the air was washed clean.  The grass was greener, the sky was bluer, the clouds were whiter.  The road curled its way through the valleys, each curve revealing a sweeter view than the next.
     My Own farmer grew up in these mountains and one of my favorite parts of our rides is what I call his litany of farms.  "There's the old Simmons' place.  Oh look Richard got a new backhoe.  He and his brother went in on it together.  See that?  Brendan is making good progress on the Pugh farm.  It's a shame that it got broken into pieces to be sold, but he'll make the house look good as new.  I see Mike got a new bull.  He better build some more fence to keep him in..."
     I learn a little something new each time we travel.  Which farms have been in the family for six generations, which old houses might be haunted, which barns are original, where old line fences used to go, who recently had to get rid of their sheep flock because of coyotes.
    After our ride, we go out to dinner.  There are two restaurants to choose from, but the menus are basically the same.   I know his order by heart...ham, mashed potatoes with gravy and coleslaw.  I always get a hamburger, so I guess he knows mine, too.
     The restaurant is hosting a rehearsal dinner in the back room and we can see the families celebrating.  MOF points out people he hasn't seen since high school and a few stop by to talk on their way to the bathrooms.  Two tables are occupied by tourists.  We can tell they aren't from here because, well, we don't know them.  But there are several tables full of friends and we pass the time waiting for supper talking about the play we're all going to see tonight.
     The play is the annual children's theater put on by the county art's council.  The kids have been working all day long for five days to learn lines, make costumes, and choreograph steps. This is the nineteenth year of this event and county grandparents often invite their grandchildren to come visit during this week so they can be a part of it all.  The local kids are always happy to make friends with kids they haven't known all their lives.
    Tonight's production is "Wonderland," a loose interpretation of Lewis Carroll's iconic work.  The tiniest actors are the most fun to watch and their chicken choir, singing about eggs with Humpty Dumpty, steals the show. Lines are forgotten, costumes come loose, actors forget to come on stage. There's an intermission so all the primaries can visit the bathroom.  It's a magical night.
    I've gotten spoiled out here.  There's no such thing as a private date.  When we're out, the community is part of our evening.  I don't think I could go back to living in a place where I don't know the faces and stories behind them.
Like the song says, I live in a place where:

everybody knows your name, 
and they're always glad you came. 

I'm always glad I came, too.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Frozen: The Sequel

      It’s wooly pop season again.  That’s the season of lambs popping out, but also the season of rejected lambs.  Some mama sheep ignore a lamb and this season is no exception.  We’re only two weeks into our first flock of lambers and already two lambs have spent the night in my great room.  
     The first was a little Suffolk cross lamb.  He has black ears and legs with a spotty white body and at three days old, he’s still small enough to cradle like a football.  His mama had triplets.  After her birth, Joe put her in a lambing jug in the barn.  Jugs are small pens which encourage mamas and babies to bond.  They are the final stop in our maternity ward before the ewe and lamb are turned back out on pasture.  For a couple of days, mama and baby are spoiled.    She gets light flakes of second cutting hay and buckets of water delivered just to her.  The lamb gets close access to his mama for warmth and milk.   Usually this results in a close bond between the two before they are turned out to pasture.  But not always. 
     He was a triplet, born in weather with minus degree wind chills. His mama gave birth to all three of her babies so fast that she didn’t have the time or inclination to clean off the first two before the last one dropped to the ground.  It goes that way sometimes.  So, he and his brother didn’t get dried off and they got cold.  Very cold.  When we found them their brother, who was the last born, was up and nursing. They were lying on their sides, legs out stiff, heads and necks thrown back.  We thought they were dead. 
     A closer inspection revealed sides fluttering with tiny breaths of air.  I put my finger in each of their mouths.  Cold.  When lambs are this far gone, it’s difficult to bring them back to life.  Their normal body temperature is about 103 degrees, so if their mouths feel cold, it’s far below that.  Lambs are amazingly resilient right after birth.  They land on the ground with bodies full of glucose which acts like antifreeze in their veins for 2-4 hours.  That usually gives them enough time to stand and start nursing.  Their mother’s first milk, which is like a thin, golden custard, is full of antibodies which help quick start the lamb.
     When a lambing goes well, the baby drops out behind his mama and she immediately turns to clean him off.  As she flicks her tongue over him, he lifts his head, shakes out his ears, and within ten minutes is usually pulling his legs underneath his body for the first rising.  Lambs instinctively head for the dark area between the ewe’s body and back legs.  That’s where the round globe of milk, her udder, dangles deliciously.  She noses his back end as he totters to the prize, nickering softly and licking her lips with pleasure at the scent of him.
     This little baby and his brother got none of that attention.  His mother was too distracted by her labor to notice them.  Then she was distracted by the last baby, cleaning him off while they lay in ten degree, windy weather, slowly freezing into lamb –sicles.  And then, because they were already too cold to lift their heads and bawl when she was done, she forgot that she’d had three.  She walked away leaving them as a gift to the barren earth. 
     One lamb died in the floorboard of our truck on the way back to the house.  The other hung on long enough to be placed in a sink full of warm water.  I held his limp head above the surface and swirled him around, adding hotter water slowly to bring his core temperatures closer to normal.  When his mouth felt warmer I dried his limp body and placed him on cardboard in front of our woodstove.  It has a blower at floor level, so he lay in a sirocco of wind and it wasn’t long before he began to quiver.  Soon his whole body was rattling as he shivered himself warm and in ten more minutes he began to bawl.
     I was ready.  Before we left the barn, we milked some colostrum from his mama.  Joe had held her head and neck, pressing her against the barn wall, while I reached under and coaxed a small stream into an empty Dr. Pepper bottle.  Mama grumbled and shifted, but she let her milk down and soon I had about a half a bottle full.  That bottle was sitting in warm water, waiting for this lamb.
     I tipped the bottle into the lamb’s mouth and it swallowed halfheartedly.  Some of the gold colostrum dribbled down his chin, so I eased up.  It’s easy to drown a lamb if it’s not ready to suck.  For the next hour, I dribbled drops of milk into the lamb.  Then it happened.  After an hour of half-hearted sucking, the lamb lurched to life.  It was that quick.  One minute he was limp and listless, the next he was pushing to his feet and sucking hard.

     This transition from near death to life always thrills me.  So many things can go wrong when you’re trying to resurrect a lamb.  It’s marvelous when it goes right.  The next morning we took him to the barn.  Step two of bringing lambs home is taking them back to their mamas.  We always hope that the mama will accept the lamb.  Sniff it, nicker, nudge it to her milk bag. 
     This little lamb was willing.  He jumped right up,  trying to nurse her, but she would have none of it.  After one sniff, she butted him away.  Every time he dove under her, she shifted denying him a meal.  At one point she even laid down in her jug.  So, we held her and let him nurse.  Sometimes that’s all it takes.  I was hopeful because the lamb was eager and his poop was going to smell like her milk.  That’s all he’d had so far.

     But, she must not have liked the fact that he’d been dunked in a hot bath.  He didn’t smell right.  He didn’t smell like her other lamb.  We left him with her for the day, stopping in twice more to hold her so he could nurse.  On our last visit, he looked hungry, so we let him nurse again and then went home to bed.
     The next morning, when we went out to the barn, he was lying in the corner of the jug, listless and cold.  UGH!  So, we gathered him up again, took him home again, and resurrected him again.  We had one more trick up our sleeves.  Once the lamb was lively, we took him back to the barn and his mama and confined her in a ewe stanchion.  It’s something we built especially for this situation.  The stanchion allows the ewe to stand, lie down, eat and drink, but she can’t turn around and butt the lamb.

He spent the day with her, but it just didn’t work.  Some lambs are not aggressive and he’s one of them.  He bawls constantly, but he just won’t get up and nurse often enough.  By that evening, the ewe had been released and the lamb was back in front of the stove, warming up yet again.

     Now, he’s out in the shed behind the house.  I am feeding him every 4-6 hours.  I remember when I first moved onto the farm.  I thought it was so much fun to have lambs to feed.  And it can be, for the right person.  So, I have a cute little spotted bottle lamb. He's resilient and would love a good home:  one where someone has the time to nurture him.  Don’t you want to join in the fun?  I've named him Elsa. He's ready to put his past behind him and just let it go.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Mother of Rivers

     I lived all of my life up until I was 27 in a city or town and I took water for granted.  If I turned on the tap, water came out.  I never even considered where it might come from.
     Then, I moved on to our little mountain farm and the water that I drink every day comes trickling out of the hill behind my house.  We've been told that the spring has never gone dry and, so far, we are grateful that our experience has been one of abundance.
     Springs are mysterious.  They tap an underground reservoir of water that we can't see or trace very well.  My spring bubbles out of the hill behind my house and the first settler to find it sank a round tile into the ground to better contain it. Then he built a spring house around that tile and the overflow ran through a trough where butter and milk were kept cool.  Although the spring house was gone by the time we started work on the house, the indentation in the ground where it was built is still visible.
     When we were re-doing the house we were told not to mess with the spring as any disturbance might change the course of the water and we could lose our source.  So, we simply built a little hut over the brimming tile, knocked a hole in the side so we could insert a pipe, and sent the water from there to a 500 gallon tank which we buried a short distance away.  I am always thankful, when I drink a glass of this pure, unfiltered, unchanged water at the gift of clean water rising up from the ground.
    Today, I walked the mountain behind our house and discovered another spring flowing from the side of a hill.  We've had lots of snow and rain, so the ground is saturated and the water table is high.
Not only was water flowing fiercely up from that spot, but it was also bubbling up in mini artesian springs in the meadow below. 
      The land around my farm is the mother of a river, the mother of a bay, the mother of an ocean.  I am connected by way of it to sharks, tunas, rays and whales and they in turn are connected to me, my cattle, my house.
     The conservationists are telling us that farmers are the main polluters of the Bay.  Well, not farmers exactly, but our cattle and sheep.  We are told that their poop is the major source of algae growing uncontrollably in the Chesapeake.  
     My cattle do poop in the river.  I've seen them.  But, so do the deer and years ago, when each valley in our area was home to large herds of buffalo, so did they. I suspect that there were far more of them than the present number of cattle in our valleys, and they existed at a time when the Bay was clear.
     In school I taught the students about point source and non-point source pollution.  Point source pollution is when you can identify clearly where the pollution begins.  Non-point source is when you know it's there, but can't really tell exactly where it starts.
     Cattle are non-point source, but because farmers don't have huge lobbies to say otherwise, they've become point source, as in fingers are being pointed at them, and farmers are being asked to fence off their rivers and streams.
     Fencing off rivers and streams in the mountains is like trying to drop a net on a bird. You have to have a very large net.  To fence a mountain stream or river, you have to have a lot of acreage on either side of the banks.  That's because mountain streams and rivers rarely stay in one place for long. Evidence of that can be found in the valley meadows which, no matter where you dig, yield layers of river jack, deposited over thousands of years as the valleys were carved.   The rivers writhe and shift their beds with every high water.
     So, I want to be a good steward of the land.  But, I cannot fence enough land around my rivers to ensure that the fence remains standing after the next high water moves the riverbed east or west.  I also suspect that most of the nutrient damage to the Bay is not being caused by farmers with cattle in the fields. It's being caused by homeowners who, quite frankly in the quest to be greener than their neighbors, over-apply fertilizer to suburban lawns which washes, unfiltered, down  to curbs which lead to underground pipes which carry the effluent to streams, to rivers, to the Bay.  I also suspect that the city sewage treatment plants which overflow when water is high, into the rivers below them, have something big to do with nutrient pollution.  These plants also have politicians defending them. because  they service hundreds of thousands of voters who do not want another tax to fix the problem.
     Farmers love land and water because they live on it, walk it, tend it, feed it, depend on it and yes, use it to grow animals which then feed people in cities. I am sure that large farms in the piedmonts and deltas do need to create and maintain some buffer zones and use best management practices. Many of them already do.  And, large scale poultry or hog producers, even in the mountains, must report regularly to the government the steps they've taken to ensure that nutrient pollution is mitigated or contained.           
     But, asking small mountain farmers to fence our streams and rivers  will put us out of business. We will lose too much grazing land in our already narrow valleys in the creation of the huge buffer zones that will be necessary to contain a river determined to carve a new route.  We will lose too much income in maintaining fence lines that are washed out every time a river changes course.  Our small family farms will become extinct.  Then, when the Bay is still polluted because of the larger non-point sources, it will be too late to bring them back. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Battening Down the Hatches

     A snowstorm is on its way, although by the looks of the beautiful weather today, you'd never know it.  Nevertheless, a few minutes on Facebook is all it takes to see that weather indeed must be coming.  All of my city friends are posting pictures of empty shelves in grocery stores as folks rush around trying to ensure their safety and well-being before the storm.
     The rushing around looks different up here in the mountains.  Folks are rushing around, but the tasks are vastly different.  Many of us have cellars and freezers full of food, so that isn't such a concern. Our concern is for the livestock.  Deep snow means difficulty getting feed to animals, so we are taking some steps to make things easier.
     Justin spent the day putting a snow-blade on his skid loader.  If we get the predicted two feet of snow, not only will he need to open paths to the barns to help us get in to the hay, he will also need to open pathways for the sheep and cattle so they can reach food and water.  They will also need places to lie down.
     After that, Scott and Justin worked on replacing a fence that had been removed for some construction around a barn.  When the fence was back in place, they moved a flock of pregnant sheep down the road to the meadow next to that barn.  Pregnant sheep in deep snow are like deeply loaded boats in a high swell. They rise and fall but they don't make much forward progress.  Being next to the barn will give them shelter and easier access to food.
     Then Joe and I called another flock in from a high pasture across the road to the barn and meadow right in front of the house. We moved feeders in place so we could drop food in  from the main road.  One year, it snowed so much near this particular barn that the drifts covered the tops of the fences. Shoveling something that deep is nearly impossible, so the closer we can get the sheep to shelter and the main road, the easier it will be to keep them safe.
     We moved cars out to the end of our quarter mile long driveway, since it could take a day or two to get it plowed out.  Joe put the snowplow blade on our four wheeler and he'll try to keep a path open as the snow falls, but if we get the wind that's predicted it will soon blow shut and he'll have to go out again and again, just like this picture from last year.

We filled our woodbox and made another pile near the house.  One of my first tasks after the snow ends will be to shovel a path out to that pile.
     The last thing I did before coming in to write this blog was fill the bird feeders.  I don't like wading through knee deep snow to do that.
     After the snow falls, round two will start.  My chickens are a half a football field away from the house.  I usually end up hand digging a path out there so I can feed and water them.  The dogs will be allowed to sleep together so they can stay warm, but their house will have to be shoveled out as well.  We will have to shovel all of the gates to the various fields open and shovel a path to the root cellar.
     It's a lot to think about and worry about, but after almost thirty years of living here, I've learned that worry never changes anything and eventually we always find a way to get things done.  That way often includes the help of neighbors who will start calling to check on each other as soon as the last flake falls. We have helped neighbors remove heavy snow from barn roofs and on more than one occasion, I have awakened to the sound of a neighbor on his bulldozer plowing us out.
    A snow of this magnitude means that generosity of the same magnitude will abound, so I think I'll pour another cup of hot tea and curl up in front of a window to watch the show.  It's going to be beautiful.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Big Meander

     It's definitely winter outside and so my usual sunrise walk with a friend was cancelled.  Our rule is: if the temperature falls below 20 degrees and the wind is blowing, the walk is cancelled.  But, by 10:00 the wind had calmed a bit and the temperature had risen to 25 degrees.
     If I don't get outside, I get cranky, so after some post-Christmas clean up (yes, I just took my tree down), I bundled up and stepped out.  I decided to avoid the road today and instead meander the fence-line of the field in front of my house.  That way Luke, my beagle, could walk with me.
     This field is one that I see every day from the north and west facing windows in my house.  A river runs through it.  There are marshy ditches, a small copse of wild apples, an abandoned graveyard, and a tiny cliff. I decided on a path that would visit them all.
      The copse of wild apples was a delightful surprise.  From the house, it's just a tangle of trees, but the cows spend much of their summer meadow-time hanging out there, and I discovered a path that they had tamped and trammeled right through the middle

     At the bottom edge, the path dissolved into a marshy ditch which was covered with a sheet of glassy ice, giving me a clear view of the bottom. While there were no signs of life, there was evidence.  Tiny holes dotted the silt and, although I guessed that they might be signs of the tiny peeper frogs who sing up spring, when I looked it up I found I was wrong.  Spring Peepers sing and mate on the edges of thawing puddles, but they hibernate under leaves and bark, sometimes freezing almost solid before spring wakes them up.  I don't know what made the little holes that I saw.
      Next, at river's edge, I discovered beautiful cones of ice, around the bottom of each stem of grass that grew in or within splashing range of the water.

 As I walked, Luke ran circles around me, seeing with his nose things I could only imagine.  At several places he stopped and rolled onto his back, grinning in upside down delight.  I wonder what marvelous dead animal perfume he found? Perhaps Eau de Decayed Skunk or Parfum de Possum. Although I couldn't see the remains of his wiggly euphoria, we did discover tracks in some of the snow, evidence of a cat, maybe mine, prowling through the night.
    One set of tracks was older, left in the snow when it was mush.  Last night's freeze had turned each print into a lattice-work of crystals.

 As we left river's edge and turned toward the barn, the wind was no longer at my back, but biting my cheeks and nose.  The lee of the barn was a quiet reprieve, almost warm where the wind couldn't blow.  No wonder the sheep spend all their time there.

As I climbed the last hill on the way to the house, I stopped in the graveyard to pay my respects to Samuel Wilson.  His stone is subsiding into the grass, helped along by the tunneling of at least one groundhog.  Above the stone, a lone bird's nest had pocketed a bit of snow.

    Finally, I made my last right turn, and followed the fence home.  The brisk wind bit my nose and cheeks, making the warmth of the wood stove a welcoming friend.