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Monday, August 31, 2009

Another blessed event


In the barn two hens are setting a big clutch of eggs that will begin peeping and hatching any day now.  This is still exciting and I just can’t imagine not having chickens. Thankfully the current gang is healthy and normal, but it hasn’t always been so.

I once had a little white rooster named Chopstix who had no feet, but he lived here for a decade before dying of old age.  That was a miracle considering some of the close calls he survived. One time he was literally beaten to a pulp by another cock of the walk gone berserk. His injuries were so extensive that I doubted he would make it.  It should be noted that an injured bird can not be reintroduced to the flock until all signs of vulnerability are gone as wounds provoke cannibalism.

Chopstix was confined to the isolation ward where thanks to daily warm compresses and ointments he made yet another miraculous recovery, but it was going to take some time before he could safely join the flock. Rather than forcing him to languish alone the entire summer I found a doll-size plastic Pilgrim hat at a thrift store.  Secured with a bit of tape it covered the not-totally-healed spot on top of his pate and he obligingly wore it.  Poor thing! As if it weren’t bad enough having no feet, he was forced to wear a hat! That harassing rooster never messed with Chopstix again.  How often I’ve regretted not photographing my footless feathered Pilgrim in that absurd millinery!  

I later sent the hat to a fellow poultry-lover in England. She keeps it on a taxidermied rooster in her kitchen and says it’s a good conversation starter.  I imagine it is….


5:21 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Trees matter.

Whenever I see one of those big orange Asplund trucks I cringe!  While it is one of the biggest “tree care” companies in the world, size should never suggest competency.  Formerly-beautiful trees that line streets in one nearby elegant neighborhood have literally been cut in half by these “tree experts.”  Not only is their “work” an aesthetic abomination, it clearly jeopardizes the health and future of trees that have graced the area for 80 years.  Frankly, seeing the mutilation or destruction of any tree sends me into a rage.  We can thank the electric power companies for employing these butchers who are slowly, but methodically laying waste to much arboreal beauty.

            When I was a kid my mother took me to a place called Nimisilen Park and Zoo which sat “on the wrong side of the tracks,” according to my her. (Never mind that we ourselves lived on the wrong side....) Images of the few exotic animals which neurotically paced back and forth in their wretched little cells still haunt me.  At some point this hellish zoo closed, but the park remained. Grass overtook the brick pathways and the stone gateposts are slowly vanishing, but the hundreds of trees there have grown to glorious maturity. Today this marginally-used park represents a very rare urban forest.  It is a lovely place and it’s how I came to meet a man who is an authentic “tree care” expert.

            Dick Drake is a certified arborist who volunteers his service and advice to the city park.  “I’m a tree lover, but I’m not a tree hugger,” he says.  That means that he knows that some trees must be cut down, especially in public places.  He knows the trees in this park intimately and as we walked through the cool shady haven one hot day this summer he pointed out dangerous issues; things the average person would never notice. The condition of one tree alarmed him.  While railing about the danger it presented he marked it with orange chalk and returned later to cut it down. I doubt very much that the city paid him, but that’s not why he did it.

He is committed to urban tree conservation and to educating the public about their value.  His passion is inspiring.  The world would be a much lovelier and healthier place for all if folks like Mr. Drake were managing city trees instead of the guys in the big orange trucks.  See why trees matter.

12:03 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Perfect Day

It’s a glorious end-of-summer day and none too soon for my tastes.  All good intentions for weed-free, bountiful gardens seem to have fallen by the wayside. The flowers are certainly lovely, but not because of anything I’ve done. Bugs of all sorts are too abundant and I prefer cooler temperatures.  The high temperature was 73 degrees this afternoon.  Perfect!

One of the resident snakes showed himself today and this is always cause for celebration.  When I first bought this place big milk snakes lived in the cellar.  It took two years of working evenings and weekends before the house was habitable, so the snakes weren’t a problem down there until the house was ready for me to call home.

Shortly after moving in, even though five of the big guys had been relocated to an abandoned log house at the end of the road, one appeared in the bathroom.  Needless to say, it was not especially welcome there, but in the gardens the Eastern Garter Snakes are very welcome.  They are endangered to some degree in Ohio due to vanishing habitat, so it’s good to know they are thriving here.  Booger the cat seemed nonplused to meet this one.

5:05 pm edt          Comments

Friday, August 28, 2009

Double Trouble
         photos/karensbike002jpg.jpg           Do these look like vandals?  Thugs who would break, enter and ransack a place? No, of course they don’t, but looks are deceiving. These two are not only incorrigible, but very clever.  Yesterday they broke into the main part of the barn and spent the afternoon trashing the place.  Nothing was left untouched, untasted, unaltered. 

I’d been gone most of the afternoon and didn’t notice that they weren’t in the barnyard until I took some corn husks up for them.  Opening the gate and calling them elicited a worrisome noise from the feed room of the barn. It was the sound of dancing hooves on a wooden floor and I knew even before opening the door that I wasn’t going to like what was on the other side of it. 

The boys had clearly had a great time.  It looked as if a bomb had exploded and in the midst of the rubble stood the two survivors/culprits who claimed they knew nothing about the mess surrounding them.  If Corky and Andy were horses instead of donkeys they would be dead considering the many off-limits things they’ve eaten, but donkeys have very strong constitutions.  Yesterday’s menu consisted of a bag of cat food (paper included) and a couple of boxes of candy canes (previously rationed to them as treats). 

So while I tell people how loving and entertaining donkeys are (and it is true…), I did not feel a lot of love, nor was I the least bit entertained by the pair that watched with innocent eyes as I  cleaned up the aftermath of their party. 

11:30 am edt          Comments

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A bike ride

photos/karensbike003.jpg I rode my bike over to neighbor Ben’s to get some of his terrific sweet corn.  In a rural community folks are eager to share news and so it was with Ben.  It seems his next door neighbor had awakened that morning to find a 1,300 pound steer in his swimming pool.  Three of the steers young friends were standing watch as their comrade struggled to get out.  The neighboring troops rallied.  They put a strap under the bovine’s hind quarters, hooked it to a fork lift and pulled him out of the drink.  Other than scraped front knees the beast was fine.  The owner haltered the quartet and led them back home where he no doubt placed a call to his insurance company as the rubber-lined pool didn’t hold up well to the hapless swimmer’s attempt to exit.


It’s about 3.5 miles to Ben’s and back and there are a couple of favorite places to visit along the way.  I especially like to check the latest enhancements to the roadside shrine erected at one farm as it seems to be a work in progress.  Let me describe this oddity.


The focal point is certainly the statue of the Virgin Mary as she stands with outstretched hands inside an up-ended bathtub which has been painted Royal Blue. The paint is chipped, so the exposed white porcelain looks like snow.  Mary is ever so slightly off kilter, tilting roadside.  Beside Mary is a cement goose who is wearing a yellow raincoat. I guess this is because of the storms we had last week, but his attire typically changes with the seasons.  In front of the goose is a giant cement toad stool on which sits a small frog in a prayerful position. He may be the offspring of the enormous cement frog off to the left. 


There are also plastic flowers and of course a mini-American flag.  All of this is set amidst a bed or orange mulch, the kind that comes from the gas station; four bags for $10.00. I drove back later in the day to photograph the scene, but the lighting was poor and this is really something that requires a close-up, but how could I explain myself if the owners caught me?  So, at this point I have no photo, but maybe when the snow flies it will be easier to capture this creation.  It really needs to be shared.


Then I stopped at the cemetery located just over the hill from my home. Most of the graves date pre-1850, yet some of the stones look as if they were carved just yesterday.  Sandstone markers crafted by one particular artisan are well-preserved and distinctive.  Others haven’t held up so well.


My farm was built in 1821 by John Grogg, although the spelling of that name varies in old documents.  The grave of Elizabeth Steffy, Consort of Peter Graugh sits apart from the other graves, nearly alone on a knoll. Peter was one of John’s sons.  Elizabeth was born in 1755, but her date of death is illegible.  Her headstone was done by the aforementioned stonecutter. The footstone simply says: E S G.


Few places are as somber as an old cemetery with its simple markers of the lives that built this community.  One bears the epitaph:


Remember my friend as you pass by

As you are now, so once was I.

As I am now, so you will be

Prepare for death and follow me.


Mounting my bicycle I wished I’d worn my helmet.

10:31 am edt          Comments

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The rest of the story

         It wasn’t hard to locate the Fox family’s home away from my home.  In the night I could hear them yipping and soon found their den at the edge of the tree line that intersected the field north of the barn. The family included three darling kits. I was smitten and soon found myself looking forward to sitting in middle of the field at dusk watching them play as Mister Fox watched me.  I imagine he pointed me out to his children.  “That’s the woman with the chickens that I’ve been telling you about....”

It was such a treat to witness their uninhibited romping around sunset, but by this time I was down to six nervous hens.  I’d had to remove the Eggs For Sale sign from the fencepost since the survivors were on strike:  No eggs would be laid until they were assured of better security. 

The solution came to me one day as I was delivering Mitzvah Mobile Meals.  It was so simple!  Why hadn’t I thought of it before!  I bought a big bag of dog food and each evening after mucking out the donkeys stalls I delivered dinner to the clever marauders. Within days the chick-napping ceased, but it would take a while to convince the hens.

            Clever as a fox....  Clever indeed to trick a human into delivering meals as promptly as if they’d ordered a pizza.  Yes, it was inconvenient and yet another expense, but ultimately worth the effort.  The problem was solved, or so it seemed.  One evening just at dusk one of the half-grown kits trotted up the driveway in my direction just like an old friend.  His eager look seemed to say, “Mom sent me down for a chicken.” 

            Cute as he was I raced toward him, heaving a handful of stones in his direction and sent him packing.  The seasons changed, the family moved on and a relative calm returned to the hen house, but now it may be time to get another bag of cheap dog food.


1:26 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wrongly Accused

Yes, the hawk does glide over the barnyard, and yes, he announces himself with a long squeal, but I do think I have wrongly accused this aerial predator of snatching the young chickens.  Yesterday the more likely culprit was spotted by some of the neighbors. Fox predation hasn't been a problem for some time, but I'm afraid an encore of the massacre which took place a few years ago is underway. That ordeal went as follows.

                A fresh shower of snow drifted past my window, adding to the heavy flocking already on the trees and blanketing the farm in white.  I found endless reasons to look away from the computer page before me and wander to the window to watch the beautiful transformation of the world outside.  What utter delight to see the ginger-colored fox trotting toward the house.  Like I said earlier, a real farmer would have foreseen trouble, but all I saw was a beautiful animal.  I was delirious with joy. That Wednesday also happened to be my volunteer day to deliver Mitzvah Mobile  Months would pass before the irony of this connection would hit home. Meals,hot meals to shut-ins.

                When I told friends about the visitor, they chided me with clichés like “ in the hen house,” but not to worry I said.  The donkeys were “guard animals.” There should be no problem.  The inherent aversion of Equus asinus  to canines makes them officious guardians of sheep and herds of goats, keeping coyotes at bay, so surely this would extend to guarding chickens from marauding foxes, wouldn’t it?  Silly me.  I actually thought so until that bright spring day when I saw the donkeys and fox all standing at the gate to the chicken pen. 

They seemed to be discussing how best to get their new friend inside:  Corkey:  I think if you just jump on it you can get it open.  Andy:  No, no, of course that won’t work.  Corky and I will push on it, then you can just slip in. 

My screaming sent the fox off in a hasty retreat.  He was little more than an orange blur. When he did return he brought a friend with him.  The pair casually lounged in the grassy field between the house and the barn as if they were part of the family.  At first they ran when I appeared, but after a few days they simply ignored me.  Strangely, the dogs showed no interest in chasing them, but instead hung back and stared up at me questioningly.

Soon I could get quite close to them.  Trying to convince them that mice and butterflies were really much tastier than any of my tough old hens was futile.  Ears erect, they listened politely to my argument, then stretched languidly and said, “Oh no, we really prefer chicken, thank you very much.” 

                Weeks passed. Peace prevailed as the chickens were confined to the poultry yard since the appearance of the potential marauders. Then it happened. 

I stepped out the back door just as a red blur shot from the barn through the stall door. My clever friend had discovered there was more than one entrance to the ‘diner.’  Trouble was literally on the horizon.  I went inside, poured a cup of coffee and headed for the porch to consider the unfolding dilemma, but I was not alone.  The fox had stopped for a drink too. He looked up at me from the pond.

                “Get out of here!” I screamed.  He took a few more laps of pond water, collected the dead chicken that lay next to him and calmly trotted into the woods. And so it began.  In spite of all fox-proofing efforts I was losing a chicken a day. The donkeys were useless.  The dogs had no interest in these creatures that looked like they could be distant relatives.  Screaming and arm waving was after the fact. Killing them was out of the question even though my friendly game warden assured me that as varmints they were “always in season.”  He seemed genuinely amused that I would inquire about ways to merely discourage their visits. I needed a strategy.  To be continued.

2:44 pm edt          Comments

Monday, August 24, 2009

A New Week, New Ideas

karensbike086.jpgEvery week begins with plans to make the next five work days productive, but somehow these good intentions always seem to be derailed by unexpected 'emergencies.'  And so it is today, although the situation is not actually an emergency.  It involves Poppy, the latest kitty dumped here.

Poppy arrived in a sorry state.  She was obviously not well, but an immediate vet visit put her straight--except for her curious skin condition.  It looks as if someone has snatched bits of hair from her coat, leaving very short hairs in the empty spots.  She scratches all the time.  The vet says microscopic examination revealed no mites or mange.  She has been on a costly regimen of Revolution, antibiotics, special food and even fish oil capsules, but there is no improvement. 

This mysterious malady does not inhibit her friendly demeanor, playful enthusiasm or lust for life, not to mention her quest to move from the barn to the house.  She lurks outside the back door until it opens, then quick as lightning, she's inside.  In my heart I know she is going to succeed in this goal to become house princess, but tfor now she will continue her barn occupation.  Today she is going to a new vet for a second dermatological opinion.  Considering her spay surgery, innoculations, meds and assorted other vet care, she already represents more than a $300.00 investment, so what's a little more! 

Upon her univited arrival (dumped at the barn) she quickly decided to become the donkeys best friend.  When their hay is put down she flies through the air and lands with a thump in the center of the pile.  They politely nibble around her.  Andy nuzzles her and gently shoves her about.  She rubs against his nose, purring madly.  She loves to lounge on one of their backs while they are being groomed.  Andy seems to enjoy her kneading little paws.  Corkey tolerates it.  Poppy is not any ordinary cat. 

And so while there is no logic to having a total of eight cats, what was I to do?  Such a personality this one has, she is doing her best to justify the dollar investment and I think she's worth every penny.  Anyone who doesn't live with animals, be it one or well, eight or more  surely has more disposable income, but is cheating himself out of a lot of joy and smiles.

10:48 am edt          Comments

Sunday, August 23, 2009

It's overcast and chilly today, but no one seems to have told the wildflowers.  The roadside is ablaze in color.  Queen Ann's lace, Goldenrod, Chicory, Clover, Mulliem and more.  It's lovely and makes me wonder why I bother with gardens that demand weeding.  Silly, isn't it?
1:57 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The good, the bad and the ugly

karensbike007.jpgShannon was just leaving the neighbor’s stable last Saturday evening when she came face to face with the black bear in the middle of this road. It stood about a foot from her car.  They looked at one another for a minute or two and then the bear ambled off into the field. This was a big event, for bears are not common around here. While bears are indigenous to Ohio, they are now classified as endangered and around these parts there are way too many people, way too little habitat and what remains is diminishing daily.  My friends at the stable and I decided it best not to share this sighting lest some testosterone-crazed lunatic grab his gun and set off to kill it.  We reveled in our secret and hoped for another spotting. 


It didn’t take long, but alas it was not the sort of spotting any of us wanted.  The newspaper photo showed the bear lying in front of a smashed car.  Less than a week since the 250 pound bruin visited our neighborhood, it ran in front of a car on a nearby road and was hit.  That’s the story the paper ran.  It said the bear had to be “euthanized.”  The real story was that the testosterone-crazed lunatic we feared was a state trooper with a shotgun.  He shot the injured beast four times.


Euthanasia is defined as mercy killing.  Four blasts from a shotgun?  A bullet from a high-caliber gun delivered to the brain would have been merciful, but that wasn’t the case.  Needless to say, those of us who were thrilled by the bear’s presence are sad and disappointed that our regal night visitor met such a violent end.


On a brighter note, Nettie got a haircut and it has transformed my bad-to-the-bone Border Collie into a frisky puppy-impersonator.  I guess it stands to reason; people feel different after a trip to the beauty salon and so it was with Nettie although she did not go to a salon.  Her haircut was administered by me on the porch.  She was itchy, but bathing all that hair was such a task, so out came the clippers.  Freed from about a bushel of lovely black and white fur she also seemed to be freed of the mischievous demons that possessed her.  She's a different dog! That back leg that has pained her since her ACL surgery?  What pain!  She bounces around oblivious to any discomfort, flashing a big dog smile to passersby as she parades up and down the fence line for all to admire. And such a look of adoration does she bestow on me when I tell her what a pretty girl she is! Had I guessed such a behavioral transformation would be so simple, she would have gotten a buzz cut long ago. 


Oh, she still steals eggs from the chicken coop if she gets to them before I do and she still opens the cupboard under the sink to check out the trash bin, but she ‘s so much happier doing it. 

3:14 pm edt          Comments

Friday, August 21, 2009

When I bought this place in 1987, I naively thought to make it a wildlife sanctuary while living here with assorted livestock.  Now, a real farmer immediately would have spotted the problem with this scheme.  Some wildlife likes to eat livestock--chickens in particular.  And so it has been this past week.  Six peeps hatched by the little white silkie hen are now down to just two.  Mother hen grew tired of her maternal duties early on and simply abandoned the chicks much sooner than they were prepared to be on their own.  The hawk quickly saw his opportunity.

He glides high over the fields, even announcing his presence with a prolonged squeal, but while the big chickens knew to take cover, the little ones weren't fast enough and so Mr. Hawk has had a tasty KFC (Karen's Fresh Chicken) lunch almost every day.  Today he took the little yellow hen's peep.  She was the proverbial mother hen and took the job of caring for her "only child" quite seriously.  All was well when the flock was let out this morning, but all is not well now.  The little hen is wandering about, clucking in vane for the chick that literally flew the coop with the help of the handsome Red Tailed abductor. 

It has been my observation that birds of prey never bother with roosters, regardless of size.  Too tough to eat, maybe?  Early this spring as I was happily preparing a garden spot a Red Tailed Hawk attacked a full grown Black Australorp hen as she was not ten feet away from me.  While I did shoo the attacker away, the damage was done.  She died before my eyes.  I left the carcass and the hawk returned daily to feast.  Yes, I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I'll never be a real farmer, but have resigned myself to Nature's life and death scenarios. 
1:22 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, August 20, 2009

why blog? why me?

As a freelance writer for horse, agricultural and environmental magazines I spend a lot of time with people who live the genuine country life.  I have a lot of respect for these hardworking, dedicated folks, but the truth is, I like my simple small country life.  It doesn't qualify me as an authentic farmer, nor horseman, nor anything else really.  I'm just someone who finds that living with animals and the natural world instead of with a person suits me.  These animals currently include three large dogs, eight cats of various colors, sizes, ages and dispositions, two very spoiled donkeys and many chickens.  There are also the hobos that stop by for a meal, a warm place to sleep or in the case of some domesticated critters, in hopes of a new permanent home.  As indicated by the aforementioned census, some of these have obviously hit upon the right place.

Not a day passes that I'm not aware of what a privileged life I lead.  The critters that share this old farm bring me smiles and comfort beyond words. When we  head to the barn for morning chores, regardless of the weather, the dogs and I enter a different world; one that is pared to essentials. It's quite wonderful and it's a bit of my world that I want to share.  To do otherwise would somehow seem selfish.

5:55 pm edt          Comments

Starting a blog.
Thank goodness for expert advice on starting a blog.  It isn't quite as easy as I thought it might be.
2:15 pm edt          Comments

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