Monday, April 9, 2018

The Dogs of Easter

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

While some went to great lengths to stand out

The dogs stole the show.

From the simple

 To the colorful

To the simply preposterous

To the charming

Happy Easter everyone!  WOOF WOOF!

Friday, March 23, 2018

Reflections From a Tiny Snowman

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

I live on a farm.  These are my chickens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 5, 2018

Water Like A Stone

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready or not, here I come!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Acorn Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, I didn't.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Our Own Dolly Llama

     Last year, we lost over 40 lambs before getting them to market.  Many of those losses were to bears and coyotes.  This spring, it started again.  Dead lambs on the hill.  Dead lambs in the meadow. Dead lambs near the barn. When the local coyote control officer confirmed that coyotes were killing our little ones, we knew it was time to do something different.
    So, we purchased two llamas. Llamas are camelids and have been traditionally used as pack animals, but they bond easily with other flocking animals and hate canines.  The breeder who sold us our llamas guaranteed that they would work, or we could trade them in for new ones.  
     Our ladies were housed in a barn waiting for us when we drove up.   For me, it was love at first look, but our llamas didn't feel the same about us.

      They were not broken to lead, so it took some heavy persuasion to get them on the trailer.  Once on, they settled down in the straw for the trip home and we took a 4-wheeler ride to look at the rest of the llamas on the ranch.
    As we drove, a cool breeze wafted out over the meadow, carrying with it the  sound of monks in prayer.  I pictured long-robed bald men meditating in the barn on the top of the hill, but found this instead.  

 What I mistook for evening psalms was a barn full of llamas who were unhappy about being confined.  It turns out that llamas hum when they are worried and the combined sound of all of them humming at slightly different pitches sounded remarkably like reverent chanting.  
     With ears like apostrophes on either side of their heads, and eyelashes that Elizabeth Taylor would envy, the inquisitive llamas looked more like fuzzy pets than fierce guard animals, but we were assured that, once they bonded with our flock,we would be amazed at their  dedication to the job.

    When we got our two guardians home, we left them on the trailer overnight and then released them into separate pastures to meet their flocks the next morning.  The sheep were terrified of these tall interlopers and ran off to stare at them from a distance.  The llamas, having been raised only with other llamas, were equally apprehensive.  For two days the llamas and sheep stalked each other, bolting whenever they got too close.  We despaired of them ever bonding.
   By the third day, the llamas and lambs were walking parallel to each other and now, six months into the experiment the llamas are fully in charge of their flocks.  I renamed one Dolly Llama because she seems so wise and peaceful. 
     Every night, just at dusk, Dolly Llama runs around the pasture rounding up her lambs.  When she has bunched them together, she herds them through the meadow gate to the watering trough, where they all stop for a cool drink.  Then she leads them up the hill to a hollow where, with a steep ridge to their back,  she can stand watch over her flock through the night.  
     Dolly Llama is not inclined to socialize with mere humans and although she will reluctantly take a few bites of hay from a flake held in my hand, she usually hums nervously if I get too close.  Her compatriot, who is with a flock down the road, is equally as dedicated.
     Even after six months, I thrill at the sight of our long-necked guardian standing out in the field, swiveling her head back and forth as she scans for danger.  She stays on a rise above the lambs so that she can see them all, and it's obvious that the lambs rely on her to make all important decisions.
     The other night part of the lambs came through the gate with her, but some laggards stayed behind for one last bite of grass.  When Dolly Llama realized that she didn't have all of her charges, she galloped back into the field and shrieked at the woolly miscreants as she rounded them up.  Then she drove them through the gate to safety.  Any coyote watching that display would have been terrified.
When she had them gathered and headed in the right direction, Dolly stopped for a moment and stared back at me.  I found her fierce expression just a little terrifying myself.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Light in the Leaves

Sometimes a day comes along that just knocks me over the head with its beauty.  Today was just such a day.  I know that there will be prettier fall days to come.  The trees haven't put on all of their autumn splendor, but when you've been worried and  the sun breaks through, then the day holds special beauty.

My mom is coming home from the hospital today after a two week stay.  We children have worked to ease the load a bit for my parents as they struggled to make sense of the hard realities of illness.  But, we couldn't really carry their load for them.  They carried it and then leaned on us when it felt like too much.

My community has suffered a deep tragedy this week as well, and all of us are shattered as we consider events that we wish could be undone.  We are mourning for those involved, but also for ourselves as we consider how fragile this life we live is.

Sometimes, I can't make sense of the difficult things of this world.  I want to ask God why, but that's an unanswerable question. Events in this life are sometimes the result of ripples from a pebble dropped in another time or place. I am grateful that God gave us each other so we could navigate those ripples together. Sometimes, I see Him most clearly when I look in the eyes of a concerned friend.

So, after a week of helping and being helped, I took a walk in the sunshine and gathered evidence that the world holds beauty, even when things seem dark.  The winter is coming, yet the leaves are glorious in the sun.

I gathered bouquets and put them where the sun could make cathedral windows of my plain glass.  Now we see in a glass darkly, but one day we shall see face to face.  The stained glass leaves in my windows remind me of the beauty yet to come.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Renegade Rooster

I never gave him a name because I don't name my chickens.  They are not pets, although I love going into the hen house at night and listening to their idle chatter about the day.  Chickens make soothing sounds. They purr, hum and yodel softly when they are happy, and at the end of the day, when they are tucked together in a feathered mountain on the roost, they create a joyful soft chorus.

It was my habit to wait until about dark, then grab my egg bucket and trek through the softening light out to the coop.  The girls and their two roosters were always inside and, for the first month or so after we got him, rooster #1 watched me balefully from the roost and crowed to let the girls know I had entered the premises.

As he grew, so did his testosterone.  Rooster #1 soon became BRIC (Big Rooster In Charge).  He chased rooster #2 away any time that #2 bowed and danced and fluffed in front of a hen.  I admired the way he crowed the hens over whenever I brought out a bucket of choice tidbits.  He never ate until the hens had a chance to make first pick.

BRIC challenged any intruders and he soon had my two rambunctious rabbit beagles cowed and respectful in his presence.  Luke, who always nosed his way into the flock to share in the feast when I dumped a bucket of scraps, stopped going out to the chicken house with me.  BRIC strutted, crowed and lunged any time one of the dogs breached the buffer zone.

I admired his bravado.  No eagle or hawk or fox or racoon would be able to hurt my hens.  BRIC was on patrol.

Then, BRIC started challenging me.  At first it was all sound and fury, but then one day he lunged at me.  I started carrying a stick when I went out to see the hens and had to use it more than once to enforce my own buffer zone.   When a neighbor called to ask if her grandchildren could come gather eggs, I had to regretfully decline. BRIC was not trustworthy.

Then, one evening, BRIC jumped off the roost when I walked through the hen house door.  As I gathered eggs, he glared and paced between me and the door.  When I was ready to leave, I had to toss a handful of feed into a far corner to distract him.

I started carrying my club into the hen house.  After I tapped him with it a few times, he learned to exit through the small door, which I closed behind him.  He wasn't allowed to come back in until I was done.

While I gathered eggs, BRIC stood outside on the chicken ramp, crowing his anger, and when I opened the little door to let him back in, he often chased me out the big door.

One morning last month,  I went to the hen yard and opened the gate so the girls and boys could roam for the day.  When I turned to walk back to the farmhouse, I felt something heavy hit my thigh and then dig in.  It was BRIC.  He had launched himself, flipped his dagger sharp spurs skyward and stuck them in my thigh.

I ran screaming back to the house, and the next day had to make a trip to the doctor for a tetanus shot. Still, I reasoned, BRIC did such a good job protecting the flock, that it would be a shame to kill him. So, I let him be.

But, the joy of hens and the soft quiet music of egg picking was replaced by terror.  I hated going to the chicken house and BRIC knew it.  He gloated and crowed whenever I came near.  It didn't matter that I often came bearing treats.  He had identified the enemy and it was me.

Last week, I decided that he was just too risky to have around anymore, so I had Joe dispatch him to the great chicken heaven in the sky.  I felt terrible about it.  Although we kill and eat chickens, killing one because he was mean, seemed wrong.

I felt terrible until the next night, when I went out to the hen house and the girls were singing their soft songs about their day and I could gather eggs without a club in my hand and I could walk, not run to the door.

I'm sorry BRIC couldn't continue to defend his hens, but after examining their backs, I suspect they are glad he's gone as well.  Many bear scars from his overzealous love-making.  Rooster #2 is just beginning to realize that BRIC is gone.  He crows in the morning now and dances and struts for the hens, but so far seems happy to keep his distance from me.

I hope it stays that way.

Anyone out there with chickens ever have anything similar happen? I'd love to know that I'm not alone.