Thursday, December 31, 2009
More found things.
6:09 pm est
In the barn is a hay hook which I use almost daily. It’s old, but not original to the farm, I’m sure. Even
so, it’s satisfying to know it’s still being used as intended rather than hanging on someone’s wall as a
“country” decoration. Behind the donkeys paddock is an old, iron-wheeled manure spreader and
a corn planter of the same vintage. These two pieces have been in place so long that trees have grown up
around them. My nature trail passes by these relics and I just like seeing them.
of this area as a sculptural garden and have no intention of getting rid of the old farm implements. I
like to look at them and to think of their use in the surrounding fields so many years ago when a real farmer lived here.
Multiflora rose has overtaken access to them, but refining this special area is on the spring ‘to do’ list.
Clearing away the evil invasive plant is skin-shredding, but in addition to the nasty roses a plethora of daffodils
and roadside lilies create a beautiful palette each spring. There is also a patch of wild asparagus.
This was the general location of the original barn (burned in 1940) which was most likely a big bank barn like old
Readers must wonder why, after all these years of living here so many things remain on my ‘to do’ list;
things like expanding the nature trail, clearing this ‘garden spot’ and a half dozen other projects.
Well, I’ll tell you dear readers.
Although I like living here on my own, the reality of doing so means that everything takes a lot of time, strength
or money (or the help of my can-do-anything friend), hence ‘fun’ projects such as the above get shoved to the
back burner. I also have to work, so while these things will get done eventually, I have to prioritize and that’s never
as much fun.
For instance, when I went to the barn for evening chores tonight I heard a drip. Considering how
much the new barn roof cost just last winter a drip was not what I expected. Not only is there a leak,
but the leak is dripping on the overhead light in the hay room. So, while I would rather be out hacking
away at multiflora rose or planning marking out an expanded trail, instead I’ll have to see about the drip that could
short out the electric and burn down the barn.
I sincerely expect the New Year to be more productive, healthier and more fun that the one that is mercifully ending!
Happy New Year!
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
5:53 pm est
“Oh boy, I heard there was a lot of money buried here,” said one neighbor shortly
after I bought this place. She gazed around as if she might spot the reputed stash. Oh sure…, I
thought. But while skeptical indeed, I admit I indulged a whisper of hope. Then while tearing out the old
plywood kitchen cupboards, shoved far to the back of the space behind a soffit I came across a large bulging envelope.
Ah ha! My heart was pounding as I tore open the dirty white package only to find about a gazillion
receipts for things ranging from coal deliveries to electric bills. Not one bloody cent let alone “a
lot of money.” Oh well. It was just one of many things found over the years. Even
today reminders of the past continue to surface.
This sign was in the attic and I learned via the grapevine that it had been painted by someone who lived here in the
1940’s. He must have had a bumper crop of zucchini. Ironically I have found that all squash-type
plants excel in this soil.
One summer in particular my crop was so prolific I placed a wooden box with “Free to good home” painted
on the side near the road. I’d fill it with the green giants before heading off to work in the
morning and every evening the box would be empty. I had plenty of non-paying produce “customers”
that year. That was also the summer I used zucchini as speed bumps to slow the traffic.
the old apple tree near the house I have dug up countless brass dog licenses. Some I saved, others I didn’t,
but now I wish I had kept every dog tag, every china and pottery shard, every old bit of iron and all the other relics.
I’m doing that now, but over the years I have foolishly discarded a lot of history. Other
things, like this sign which hangs above the doorway from the entryway into the kitchen I cherish.
I most regret throwing away was the child’s shoe I found in a wall. Just one small old shoe that
probably belonged to someone around seven or eight years of age. In those days of reckless purging I pondered only a few minutes
how or why it might have gotten there and then tossed it in the rubbish. Only recently did I learn that
placing a child’s shoe in a wall during the construction of a house was a good luck token. This practice was especially
common in the early 19th century and not surprisingly had European origins. Grogg was German. Wedging a shoe in
a wall was also thought to enhance fertility. That well-worn shoe which I threw away probably belonged to one of John and
Esther Grogg’s daughters. I could kick myself.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
The return of the shrew.
10:19 pm est
In her youth old Betty (cat) used to be quite athletic, but these days she spends most of her time asleep and her waking hours
demanding food. She's become very sedentary, so tonight, as all the other kitties were lulled
into a deep sleep by the crackling fire, the sound of caterwauling from the other end of the house was somewhat alarming.
I did not expect to find a suddenly-youthful Betty prancing about the kitchen with that poor little shrew in her mouth.
She was ever so proud of herself. I was happy and startled to see the little mammal had survived
and relieved to know I would be spared the unpleasantness of a hidden decaying carcass. I grabbed Betty with the intention
of rescuing the victim, but she immediately released her prey and in one quick clever move the recovered shrew ran under the
big wall cupboard. I expect this may be a night of interrupted rest. This shrew seems
to be like those humans who indulge in extreme sports. I shall make one last attempt to save the little
bugger, but even with my improvised bat-catcher net and tumble gym multi-mouse live trap, success is dubious.
To be continued….
Monday, December 28, 2009
Snow, beautiful snow!
6:19 pm est
All day I’ve had on a
cotton turtleneck, a heavy sweater and a polar fleece vest. And this is the attire needed to be comfortable
inside! Outside it’s very cold and blustery, but simply chilly in the house with the exception of
the living room which stays toasty thanks to the wood stove and my office which is kept comfortable with a space heater.
I’ve had my nose to the grindstone all day and it has paid off. One article is finished ahead
of deadline. Only two to go and these are underway. Whew… I
was so focused I didn’t even notice how the sky had darkened. The day had sped by and I hadn’t
been to the mail box nor had I done evening barn chores and daylight was almost gone.
The dogs gingerly lined up to get their coats on. Then I pulled on my own down jacket, ugly hat
and fleecy gloves and we pushed our way out into a beautiful snow storm. Probably not a lot of others would
share our enthusiasm about the current weather, but I love winter and it seems the dogs do too. Not a soul
in sight and only one set of tire tracks on the unplowed road. Perfect!
always have in-out barn privileges, but on days like this they rarely step outside. As the dogs played
tag in the snow I fed and topped off water for the bad boys and the chickens and visited with these critters for a bit. I
collected more kindling, hauled in more firewood from the woodpile and took some warm water out to Tom who seems very comfortable
in his garden apartment where he even has a down bed. Then we all set off for a walk in this winter wonderland.
Why do people resist going out and enjoying this beauty? How else will they see that rabbit hunkered
in the brush pile or that bird swooping from a pine tree to vanish in a heartbeat someplace unknown? Snow
covers ugliness. It hushes harsh sounds and softens hard world around us. Nature programs
on the telly are nice, but they don’t compare with the real thing.
I hope it snows all night. My plan is to work like a beaver all morning and then to reward myself
with the first cross-country ski outing of the season. I hope anyone lucky enough to look outside and see
their world blanketed in white will bundle up and go outside and enjoy it!
Sunday, December 27, 2009
7:34 pm est
Two of the feathered feet chickens have podiatric problems which have
caused their legs and feet to look ashy and thick. Not good. Todays research indicated that scaly
leg is common in such birds. I found suggested remedies ranging from deadly creosote to Vaseline, but it
makes no sense to embark on any sort of treatment at all unless the coop is scrupulously clean.
Not to brag, but my birds do enjoy very clean and sanitary accommodations all the time, but just to err on the side
of safety I stripped their coop, dusted all crevices with Sevin, sprayed laying boxes and replaced old roosts with fresh ones.
I think one could now prepare a meal or perform surgery in that coop. Tomorrow morning the two affected
birds will have their legs treated with a new preparation. Up to this point they have been having Camphophenique
applied with an eye dropper. They smell very fresh and treating them is a real sinus opener, but this stuff
is hard to find and quite expensive too. All web sites promise this common affliction is easy to cure.
I hope so!
In all the years of keeping chickens these are the first birds to develop such a problem, so the lesson learned is
that regardless how cute and endearing this hen and rooster look with their slipper-clad feet (which are supposed to keep
them warm in cold weather…), I won’t be tempted to acquire more feather footed fowl.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
The day after.
1:50 pm est
It’s no secret; the month of December is my least favorite time of the year for many reasons, most of which I
won’t delve into. But one reason that simply can’t be ignored is that as the year draws to
a close I can’t help but evaluate the accomplishments (or lack of) the previous months and to rethink plans for the
upcoming twelve. December is emotionally a very demanding month!
In spite of what I usually consider my idyllic lifestyle, I’ve been in the dumps lately. It
all began with the fall from the fence which cracked my rib. That slowed me down for sure.
No sooner had that healed then Nettie broke my nose which led to the mild concussion and that one did me in.
The relentless headache and sporadic memory issues have made concentrating and writing more than a bit challenging.
Having this facet of my life so disrupted has had a definite doom and gloom effect, but all of these issues are resolving.
After a lovely afternoon at my daughter’s I pulled myself out of the emotional crapper in
which I’ve been wallowing for too many weeks and am again optimistic about the approaching New Year. Being
a Virgo, order and discipline are crucial to my well-being, so the remainder of 2009 is being spent organizing and planning
projects that are inspiring, exciting and a few which I hope will mediate the disturbing environmental wreckage up the road.
Rather than thinking about the inevitable back-breaking work and expense in my plans for a view-blocking vegetative
barrier, I’m focusing on the careful selection of trees and other plants that will enhance wildlife habitat here,
the place where I do have control. It’s small consolation, but it IS consoling.
Dwelling on the past is just plain dumb and I’m not one to do so. Deal with the present and
plan for the future. This is my mantra and this is what will restore my Peaceable Kingdom, both physically
and mentally. This wonderful sign my daughter made for me to replace the old one will serve as a daily
reminder. Life is good.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
T'was the night before Christmas
6:34 pm est
Through the trees tonight I see my neighbor’s house on the next road over.
It’s all lit up like-- well, like Christmas. They’ve apparently spent a lot of time,
money and effort to create this colorful spectacle. They do it every year, but with variations. Their grandkids
will probably remember each holiday as it related to the decorations. I can’t identify with such
I don’t have such colorful childhood memories. Each year as our German and Italian neighbors
were decorating their windows with lights and spray-on snow, hauling in symmetrical cone-shaped evergreens, my own mother
would announce that there would be no tree! The declaration was as predictable as snow in winter.
Like so many things about my mother I never understood, her reluctance to enjoy events that were supposed to be joyous
and fun puzzled me, especially as a child. Christmas on Fifth Street was neither. It
was a time of bickering and pleading, eventually culminating with her acquiescence to a tree that made Charlie Brown’s
look like the one at Rockefeller Center. Wherever did my father find such scrawny, needle-dropping, lopsided
specimens? Year after year the scenario repeated itself.
My poor father
would push through the back door with said tree as my mother loudly admonished him for making a mess. Muttering
under his breath he’d shove his way through the house to the front hall, the official spot to erect the monstrosity.
Grumbling all the while, my mother would trudge up to the attic to retrieve the couple boxes of decorations (I use that term
loosely…) that looked worse each December. There were unconvincing
white plastic ice sickles and bubble lights that didn’t bubble unless snapped until your fingers were burnt.
But worst of all was the tinsel.
in a cellophane-covered tray. Long, thin strands of tin foil intended to be carefully placed at the end
of branches were supposed to impart the ultimate magic. Correctly (and freshly) applied they would shimmer
under the colored lights.
My mother was the original aluminum
recycler. We never ever got new tinsel. Each year the ratty strands were shorter until
they resembled silver rice. How expensive could a new box have been? I can’t recall
any pretty ornaments either. There was a green metal bell with flaking paint and a plastic Santa that was
always placed at eye level since it was the best bit in the box of “decorations.”
A white sheet that was reserved for Christmas use only was wrapped around the tree base to suggest that it might be
poking through snow. The crowning touch was an old red metal star covered with a few grains of glitter.
I can see these trees from my childhood as clearly as if it were yesterday. It makes the display
I see through the trees today seem outrageously extravagant. My mother would have thought this pretty,
but terribly wasteful.
I wish all my readers a joyous and
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The gaming of the shrew.
5:29 pm est
The winter migration of mini-mammals to my living quarters is now underway. I had just settled into
my warm bed last night when a loud squeaking disrupted the quiet of the house. It sounded like a bat. I
hoped it wasn’t because I didn’t fancy throwing open the windows to the frigid air. In fact
I didn’t want to leave my cozy nest to investigate, but the racket downstairs was intensifying leaving me little choice.
Padding down the steps I heard thumping kitty feet followed by frantic slides across the kitchen floor.
The lights caught old Betty, the granny of the feline family and Poppy the youngest in hot pursuit of a poor little
shrew who was skittering blindly along the baseboard of the cupboards. Before I could save him from the
trophy hunters (cats don’t eat shrews, they just kill for the thrill) he ran under the stove.
Moving appliances is difficult and since he was safe from his stalkers I figured his rescue could wait until today.
I shouldn’t have waited. This morning the kitchen floor bore telltale smears of blood, but
no body. Speaking from years of experience I assure you there is nothing worse than the smell of a hidden
corpse especially when the heat is on, so by necessity a major house cleaning was launched.
Pulling out the fridge and the stove only revealed things better left uncovered! Dust bunnies galore
and a bonanza of kitty toys. They all thought Santa had arrived early. Nothing under
the grain bin, nothing under the wall cupboard, nothing under the sink or in the registers, but what about that dishwasher?
I’ll never know. It’s built in.
trail continued to the dining room, but following it on wood floors was a lot more challenging than on linoleum.
Every piece of furniture that could be moved was moved, but several huge wall cupboards are impossible for me to move
even when they are empty. A yardstick probe under such pieces only yielded dozens of tin foil balls and
fake mice, both of which are fun toys, but apparently live prey is a whole lot more fun.
I knew that cats don’t eat shrews, but didn’t know why, so break time from the cleaning marathon allowed
me to do some research. I learned that the venom in the gland of one short-tailed American shrew is sufficient to kill 200
mice! Their sharp, grooved teeth deliver the poison. While I thought they were blind,
that isn’t so. They have tiny eyes, thus extremely poor vision, but sharply developed hearing and
sense of smell. They are voracious eaters and consume up to 90% of their body weight in food daily!
(So do I on some days.) And contrary to popular belief, although they resemble mice, shrews are
not rodents. They’re not even closely related. Feet, teeth and behavior are distinctly
different. Shrews are territorial and only chum around when breeding. Females can have up to ten litters
per year, but they don’t breed in the winter. (That was good news.)
death of Mr. Bean I scoured the cellar weekly to collect the carcasses of his kills. Now that he is gone
the migrants can come and go as they please, unless like this shrew they foolishly leave the safety of the cellar.
Closing every crack and crevice in the stone foundation would be impossible, but I have to wonder how this one made
it to the kitchen.
My research didn’t reveal how much blood these little mammals have, but judging from the smudges on my floors
it is doubtful the victim survived. This is worrisome indeed because I know what lies ahead and it won’t
be pleasant. The bright side to this story is that the house is squeaky clean. The downside
is that I have three articles with deadlines looming. I should have been writing instead of spending the
day on this futile search and recovery effort.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
All is well.
7:22 pm est
“Geez, it’s just a cat…,” said one person when I told her that Buddy’s overnight
stay at the vet cost $189.00. Well, of course she is just a cat, but she’s been part of my family
for almost twelve years and now that she has kidney stones should I just abandon her? I think not!
The vet feels that a special diet and a half tablet of some magic medicine will restore her good health.
I hope so.
The terrible twos at the barn (Corky and Andy) are also fine after their solstice gala yesterday. I’m
sure they tested the new gate latch, but this one is donkey-proof. Living with animals guarantees adventure
(and expense), but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Today I found
fresh fox tracks in the snow.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Happy (?) Winter Solstice!
4:28 pm est
Winter solstice is traditionally a time for rioting and feasting
and so in keeping with tradition, Corky and Andy rioted and feasted today. I double-check the latch on their stall each morning
after chores because this pair is notorious for adventuresome escapes. How they managed to get the door
open this morning is a mystery.
Buddy the cat who has had some health
issues had a 3:00 PM vet appointment. I went to the barn to retrieve the cat carrier and thought it strange
that donkeys were nowhere in sight. I only had to open the door to the feed room to find out why.
The two muck buckets of corn gleaned from Kenny’s field had been dramatically reduced. Andy’s
face said, “I don’t think I can eat one more kernel—burp.” Nothing was left untouched.
They had emptied the trash bin, pulled down lumber, even got the emergency first aid crate out for a look-see.
The stethoscope lay in the middle of the mess. The photo scarcely conveys the wreckage.
And to think that only yesterday I was worried sick about Corky.
them with a paste which comes in a tube with an adjustable ring to set the appropriate dosage. One tube
is sufficient for a 1,250 pound horse. I set the gauge at 300 pounds for Corky, shoved the end into his
mouth and pushed the plunger. The ring slipped and instead of getting dosed for 300 pounds, he got enough
for a 900 pound horse!
I flew to the computer to check for
Ivermectin poisoning and called my vet. She assured me that he would suffer no adverse reactions.
Fortunately that particular medication is very safe up to what is called 10LD50 which means that even if ten times
the proper dosage had been administered, there would be only a 50% chance of trouble (AKA lethal dose). Whew!
The vet admitted that the same thing had recently happened to her when treating a client’s horse, so I felt a
little better, but still worried.
He is fine
and up to his old tricks. I’ve now installed an emergency latch on the stall door. On
days like this I have to remind myself of the reasons I tell people donkeys are such delightful creatures. I
did not think so today.
As for Buddy, the doctor suspects
a possible bladder stone or abdominal mass. She is undergoing more tests$$$$$
Sunday, December 20, 2009
A tale of two kitties
11:20 am est
I love my simple life, but I also love visiting Patty’s house of extremes. Patty’s motto is
“It isn’t done until it’s overdone.” Her business is selling outrageous expensive
things that no human being really “needs” and her business is booming. Recession, what recession?
Among the many “unnecessary” bibelots in Patty’s inventory are party clothes for kitties.
Her cat Bella reluctantly modeled one little frock (cost: about $100.00 give or take a few…).
I sat amidst the opulence of her home that always makes me feel I am somewhere foreign sharing stories and memories
of growing up on 5th street and noshing on delectable goodies, listening to music I’d never listen to anywhere
else and I was so happy to be reunited with this childhood friend. Then I returned to my own real world
and was not at all unhappy to be here either. Extremes are what make life interesting as Tom, the garden
shed kitty was happy to remind me. He told me he was happy that Patty didn’t have any tuxedos for
Saturday, December 19, 2009
All quiet on the northern front.
6:28 pm est
I have the most wonderful blog readers! People who really are kindred
spirits, like Tony who shared this beautiful poem. I think it says more than I concerning the environmental destruction
up the road. Thank you Tony! It should be noted that the remaining trees do not belong to the terrorist, thank
THE GHOSTS OF TREES
My tickled leaves chortle, with nudging breezes,
to all my gaiety in living.
Leafy bough to bear the heaviness of snows,
trunk, strong and stout enough, to counter force of stormy blows.
Not just a tree but, a welcoming house, to offer hospitality.
Kindness to creatures that fly and climb, feast and nest,
for all to come and take some rest.
Branches to nestle twig and weed, fruits dropped for food to eat,
shade for travelers with tired feet.
of beauty gracing the land,
to enkindle the aesthetic sense of man.
arm spread wide, lifted on high,
proclamation of alleluias to the sky.
are made by fools like me but,
only God can make a tree."
Long ago, with kinder blade
and little toil,
a loving friend placed my tiny feet in nurturing soil.
There I stood, maturing in grand delight, a statuesque
beauty to behold, for all who
came within my sight.
A landmark of beauty for miles
around, a monument gracing
Strength to ward off crippling assault but, not enough ,
evil act of angry saw, in the hand of a
When will we people ever learn,
"a tree is a tree", "a tree is a tree", "a tree is a tree",
A TREE IS JUST NOT A TREE
BUT, A BREATHING BEING
YOU AND ME!
May sensitive ears attuned
to cries, that are carried by wind,
hear the wails from wandering souls,
of trees that now roam, ruthlessly severed from their homes.
Friday, December 18, 2009
In the dark
10:04 pm est
After posting yesterdays blog I tried not to think about the situation that so upset me and instead to concentrate on the
lovely time I’d had earlier in the day gleaning corn from old Kenny’s field. I drove the truck
back to the field, so Nettie, the dog that can’t go for a walk due to her bum leg went with me and neighbor Sandy.
Kenny’s cows were grazing peacefully beside the field. The sun was dropping in the sky and
casting a golden glow over the corn stubble. For just a short while, life was idyllic.
As I finished the barn chores I made a supreme effort not to look toward the destruction wrought by the environmental
terrorist. Back at the house I built a fire in the wood stove and settled in with a book planning to relax
for the evening, but the reverie was ever so brief.
Dusk had fallen, but still the chainsaws roared and then…BBZZZTTTT! I and over 1,000 other
households were suddenly plunged into inky blackness when yet another falling tree ripped down the power lines.
The temperature was in the low 20’s.
Ohio Edison was quick to respond, but hours later we were still in the cold darkness. Candlelight
is lovely, but… Hours later the power was restored, but the crew was still working on the line at
midnight. We on the road are anxious to learn what the penalties are for disrupting service.
On a happier note, the mule and goat duo have several responsible parties interested in adopting them, any one of which
would be superb a new owner for Mo and Radar. Interviews are underway.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
And so it went...
5:42 pm est
The destruction at the house up the road continued today until nothing vertical remained. The lovely
old orchard, all of the trees of every variety, even the rose bushes are gone. Nothing remains except the
couple of trees too near the power lines for the environmental terrorist to tackle on his own. He is my
worst nightmare times one hundred. The entire population of this road is incredulous and heartsick.
Sadly, I believe this person symbolizes the disregard for nature that has become commonplace in American society.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Wasteful, ignorant and ugly!
5:53 pm est
Those are just a few words I might use to describe the actions of my new neighbor. Dare I prejudge
this person? Yes, I dare. I can’t stand him and I haven’t even met him face
to face, but todays events revealed plenty about this guy and none of it is good.
While working in my office this morning I heard the dreaded roar of a chainsaw, but I thought/hoped it was just the
guy on the corner cutting up firewood. I was wrong. When the dogs and I set off for
our walk we didn’t have to go far to see the wasteful, ignorant ugly source of the noise. Almost
all of the trees that have surrounded the late Mrs. Clark’s home since I’ve been here are gone and those still
standing just haven’t felt the bite of the saw yet, but their fate is sealed. Beautiful maples, Blue
Spruce forty feet tall, towering Cedars (you know, the tree of life…) and even the holly bushes are now nothing more
than stumps. Their majestic life-giving bodies have been dragged to a pile in the middle of the field.
The ordinary tan brick ranch house that until this morning was graced and shaded by dozens of mature trees now looks
like a carbuncle on the face of the earth (to paraphrase Prince Charles in his description of modern architecture).
What exactly is it about trees that people find so bothersome, so intolerable, so loathsome that the first thing they
do after acquiring a property is to destroy them? The arrogance and belligerence of those who choose to
ignore the environmental not to mention the aesthetic benefits of trees is simply mind boggling.
“You don’t live there. It’s none of your business,” says my friend Tim.
Of course he is right, but that doesn’t lessen my outrage over the reckless destruction of Nature.
It doesn’t matter to me that the property now has as much character as a Walmart parking lot. It
doesn’t matter to me that come summer that house will heat up like a pizza oven. What matters is
that the actions of dumb people like my new neighbor impact air quality and more importantly the habitat of birds and squirrels.
Before this property was auctioned I hoped that it would be purchased by an intelligent person who
cared about the natural world, a kindred spirit, someone like the people who read this blog and are attracted to a rural lifestyle
amidst trees and wildlife. Clearly that did not happen.
So, now when I look to the north, no longer do I see a mini-arboretum that made a simple house look warm and inviting.
Now I see several cars lined up like those in a junk yard and I fear things will go from bad to worse.
If I seem to be in a rage, it’s because I am. My small country life just got a lot
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Stands to reason...
6:14 pm est
I write about equine of
all sorts, so it stands to reason that I’d get the call about a nice molly mule who needs a home. I’ll
admit it, I was tempted to take her myself, but reason prevailed. Caring for animals is costly, both from
a monetary and labor perspective, but I do love mules. I’ve ridden them out west, in the Mexican
mountains and in Ohio. Mules have the athleticism of a horse, but the common sense and sure-footedness
of a donkey. They live long productive lives and it’s not uncommon for a mule to live forty years.
They come in all sizes and are easy keepers, extremely smart and simply lovely animals. The mule
in peril is twenty-something and includes a gift with purchase. She has always had a little goat pal and
he is part of the deal. They must go as a pair.
It’s always surprising how many people confuse donkeys and mules. FYI:
A mule is the hybrid offspring of a donkey jack (male) and a horse mare. When the coupling is reversed;
a horse stallion and a donkey jennet, the offspring is called a hinny which resembles a pony more than a donkey.
Hinnies are less common because the mule is generally a more useful animal. A male mule is a jack
and a female is a molly. Mules are almost always sterile.
They are accused of being stubborn, but those who know these long ears know that they are not stubborn.
They are smart. Donkeys and mules look out for #1. They will not do what they
perceive to be stupid or dangerous, thus they rarely (never ever say never…) bolt like a horse, hence they are the
transportation animals of choice for trips down into the Grand Canyon for instance.
Now that I’ve used today’s blog as Mules 101, I must get on the phone and try to find a suitable new home
for Mo and Radar.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Nature can be cruel, but some men can be crueler.
6:51 pm est
Today was the first the dogs and I have been in Ranger Rick’s woods since last week’s spectacular wind storms.
The trees took quite a hit. A few were snapped off about five feet from the ground, but many sizable
limbs had broken from trees that still stood. The dogs were nervous from the moment we entered the woods,
especially Ernie, the baby. We hadn’t gone far when I spotted the reason.
A very large raccoon had apparently had the misfortune to be under one tree that lost a heavy dense limb.
He lay at the bottom of the tree with the six inch diameter limb neatly embedded in his skull. It
was hard to believe, but upon close examination there was no doubt what had happened. From the damage I
doubt that he ever knew what hit him.
slogging along the muddy trail until we came to Chuck’s corn field. (Chuck is the fellow farming
Kenny’s land.) Unlike the guy with the state of the art equipment who is working the fields adjoining
my place, Chuck’s corn picker must have some years on it or else it needs a major tune up. It looked
like as much corn remained on the ground as he had picked. Gleaning there will be fruitful. After stuffing
my jacket pockets we re-entered the woods and again the dogs were fidgety, stopping to sniff and investigate more than usual.
The woods were eerily still and I was enjoying the peaceful solitude. We pushed onward.
Not far into the final loop of the trail I noticed a gray-brown lump on the side of the path. It
was another raccoon, equally as big and healthy-looking as the first one, but equally dead. Upon examination
I found no sign of injury. It was as if he had just gotten tired and laid down for a nap. I’d
like to think he died of natural causes, but I fear otherwise.
Recently I heard that some farmers are poisoning coons with little effort or cost. A can of Pepsi
(I suppose Coke would work as well…) laced with a couple spoonfuls of fly bait is irresistible, but lethal to the masked
bandits. Imagining the agony of such a death is gut wrenching, but in this time of ignorance and intolerance,
such cruelty is not surprising. I don’t believe anyone I know would do such a hideous thing, but
there are a couple of new neighbors on the road which I’ve yet to meet.
But, such ugliness is offset by other people who are kind, generous and thoughtful—like my friend Lynn Digby.
The donkeys are such an integral part of my life they don’t seem any more unusual than the dogs do to me, but
to others they are uncommonly cute. Imagine my surprise when Lynn presented me with
this portrait of Corky! I love the painting! He looks so innocent!
PS: Lynn Digby’s work can
be seen http://www.lynndigby.artspan.com/gallery.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
why we do the things we do.
6:21 pm est
Deciding to do a blog was selfishly motivated. For years I’ve been “working” on a collection
of short stories about this place, but it was not coming together. While sharing rural ruminations with
a friend was easy, attempts at telling the same story with the intent of it being part of something bigger was disastrous.
Simply not doing it got easier and easier, but the need to do it pestered me like a stone in a shoe.
Blogging seemed a perfect way to discipline myself to write more than the magazine articles which are my job.
Spontaneous story telling is a whole lot different from writing articles. Those come together easily. Now,
all these months later I find that while daily posts are indeed a discipline, they have become more. First,
they are providing a compilation of ideas, but more importantly the obligation of posting has made me look at life from a
very different perspective. Things I used to think I “saw” I now “see” in new light.
Feedback from readers has shown me that sharing my small country life is consistent with my life goal of
encouraging conservation measures that I believe are important.
I’m delighted to have readers who are comfortable sharing their thoughts, their poems, their own observations.
While I do physically travel quite a bit, these readers have expanded my world in other ways and for that I’m
very grateful and feel extremely blessed.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
No act of kindness is ever too small.
5:15 pm est
Sometimes it’s difficult to see beyond the clouds, be they dark or darker and that’s just how it’s
been here lately. The pile up of accident-related injuries, illness (both my own and my animals) and even
the recent euthanasia of Bean all coupled with the 24/7 headache due to the mild concussion resulting from my nose to dog
head collision with Nettie were all getting me down. But, as my British friends always say in the face
of adversity, “Well, you just get on with it, now don’t you?” They are hardier stock
than I for admittedly I was finding “getting on with it” tough. I am over it now and it’s
all because of a simple act of kindness and generosity from a person I hardly know.
A few days ago the phone rang and the caller identified himself as Tim, the brother of my friend Bob. Tim
lives in West Virginia and he and I had only met once at their mother’s home. It seems Tim had purchased
tickets for what he thought was an Ian & Sylvia concert. Only when he had tickets in hand did he realize
the concert was not for his favorite folk singers, but for Janice Ian who happens to be one of my favorites. At
the suggestion of his brother, Tim sent me the tickets; four seats, second row, center. The concert was
last night and it was simply wonderful!
I’ve loved her music for decades
and she has only gotten better over the years. Aside from being an outstanding musician, singer-songwriter,
she is also a poignant writer who shared bits of her autobiography. I can’t wait to read it!
Tim’s generous gift of the tickets got me to go out on a brutally cold night. The concert
was like a tonic that erased the pile up gloom, thus proving that no act of kindness is too small or insignificant.
When I awoke this morning, rested and inspired by some of what I’d heard the night before, the sun was shining.
It was a new day literally and figuratively. I headed to the barn with a bright attitude.
The donkey is back to his old self, totally recovered from his mystery ailment, thank goodness! The
only sad part of the day was the discovery of a dear little mouse that had drowned in the chickens heated water bowl.
At least he died in a warm bath. I’ve fashioned tiny life rafts so this tragedy won’t
occur again. Will the donkeys allow the wooden “boat” to remain in their bucket?
We’ll just have to wait and see.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Drama du jour
4:14 pm est
Today’s post will be brief because I’m simply pooped. Yesterday afternoon was supposed
to be my Good Samaritan day. I planned to deliver gifts to two of my favorite people; Ginny, who is 98
years old and still living independently on her own 160 acre farm, and Dorothy who is 94, but sadly confined to a nursing
It was about 3:30 PM when I loaded some homemade cookies and specially-chosen gifts into the truck, but since I knew
these visits would be time consuming I decided to feed the donkeys a little earlier than usual. I knew
something was wrong the minute I entered the barn.
bigger of the two stood shivering in the corner of his stall. Yes, it was bloody cold yesterday (and today
too!), but the boys have their heavy winter coats and the shelter of the barn. Something else was going
on. I leaned on Andy and put my arm around his neck and his trembling was intense.
To make a long story short, calls to the vet, my daughter (who runs a stable) and to my friend Karen up the road who
also runs a stable were all futile. No one was home or available, but ultimately connections were made,
Andy got a dose of Bute, a horse rug big enough for a Percheron and a pot of warm oatmeal. My planned visits
to shut-in’s were aborted and instead I made many visits to the barn. Andy is better today, but still
just not himself.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that now I’m not feeling well. At
times like this my small country life isn’t as comfortable and romantic as it usually seems. With
a bit of luck things will be back to normal by next post. Stay tuned, dear readers.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Winter is here.
1:50 pm est
All night the winds howled and screamed. The usual lilting song of the wind chimes on the porch became a clashing racket.
At 6:00 AM it was still too dark to see how many branches had come down, but after I’d had some coffee and the
dogs had picked at their kibble, we headed for the barn and saw that the windfall of kindling was generous indeed, but several
bird houses were also on the ground.
Most days pumping buckets of water
is an afternoon chore, but yesterday even knowing the weather would probably be worse by morning, I didn’t do it and
so this morning, bundled against the cold I stood at the pump and watched as the wicked west wind blew the stream of water
right past the bucket. Horizontal water in mid air!
is meditation time for me. The well is at the northern most border of my property, so as I pump, listening
to the familiar squeak-clank, squeak-clank of the iron handle as it pulls the icy water from somewhere deep in the earth I
can survey everything to the south; the garden shed that is Tom’s home, my house with the reassuring plume of smoke
coming from the east chimney, the naked trees, the tufts of dry weeds and even the unraked leaves blowing helter skelter in
Being chilled makes me appreciate the anticipated warmth of my house. Trudging back with the heavy
buckets I’m aware of my strength—or lack of. My face stings from the cold, but inside the barn
none of this matters. In the barn there’s a soothing atmosphere like no other place. Anyone with
a barn that houses animals understands this indefinable ambiance. Inside we’re all safe from the
wind and snow. The radio is always tuned to NPR. The light is soft and the smells are life-affirming.
Sweet hay and manure create a potpourri one might not want in the living room, but in the barn it is not at all unpleasant.
When I open their hatch to the outside the chickens cluck and complain as if I’m responsible for the nasty weather.
I fill their feed trough and top off the water in their heated bowl. By now the donkeys have finished
eating their grain and carrots and greet me with gentle nudges as I muck out their stall and fill their water bucket.
Each morning they take this opportunity to poke around in the area beyond their stall door in the big part of the barn.
Corky pulls a lead rope from the rack and teases Andy with it, challenging him take the other end. They have a routine
and on days when I’m preoccupied with some personal distraction, the predictability of morning chores and the antics
of this pair are grounding.
“Get back in here, boys,”
I say, as I do every morning and they plod back into their stall to await the morning hay. The obligation
of caring for animals might seem bothersome to others, but even on blustery days like this I feel very blessed to start each
morning this way. It wouldn’t work for everyone, but it does for me.
One of my readers sent this verse which I think eloquently expresses this sentiment.
Set the scene. Seek the place. Create the setting.
Look for the Sacred. It is not there.
Be open. Be present. Be aware.
The Sacred finds you. It is here.
Thank you, Tony.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
7:16 pm est
This morning the air was so balmy it might have been April, but by noon
the predicted winds were picking up and the temperatures were plummeting. The weatherman’s “icy
blast” had apparently arrived. By late afternoon it was frigid. I threw budgetary
caution to the wind (so to speak…) and cranked up the thermostat as I loaded the woodstove. It was
apparent we were in for some wicked weather, but when I made the final trip to the barn, all bundled up and fighting my way
against the roaring cold, once again those ridiculous donkeys made me laugh.
It looked as if that silly pair were trying to haul in a Christmas tree. The winds have taken the top out of a huge
blue spruce and it was wedged in the doorway to their stall. There they stood in their stall, peering over
the top of the greenery. Had it not been dark I would have returned to the house for the camera for it
really was another Kodak moment.
hauled the spruce away from their entry and maybe tomorrow I’ll cut a few boughs for decoration. The
winds are not dying down and I suspect there may be more damage by morning. Meanwhile I’m tossing
more wood in the stove and hoping the power doesn’t go out. Barring any further surprises I will
take some photos tomorrow.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
This small country life.
9:09 pm est
Living in a rural
community is not without “excitement” fraught with gossip. Many years ago when Glen and Ruth were alive,
living in their lovely Victorian home with their pet cows which grazed peacefully just across the road, no one said much.
But when Ruth died and Glen confided to the busy-body gossip on the corner that he was “desperate for a woman”
the entire road heard about it. We were mesmerized since Glen was not what anyone would call a babe magnet.
In his desperation he took
a job as a bagger at the local IGA in order to meet women and began reporting his progress to the neighborhood gossip that
I shall simply refer to as J. We were all engrossed in our very own soap opera.
On steamy summer evenings we’d see Glen in his old blue Chevy Impala (vintage somewhere in the 1970’s), with his
hair (what was left of it) slicked back, clad in a shiny, new, polyester, short-sleeved shirt as he’d set off for a
date with the Tupperware lady he’d met when he bagged her groceries. We could hardly wait to hear the details
which ultimately became way more than any of us wanted to imagine. (ewww…) Due to issues better left undetailed
here, he dumped the Tupperware lady, but soon found Look-Alike Lucy who was a dead ringer for his dead wife Ruth.
We on the road sensed trouble.
Before anyone could blink an eye, Glen married Look Alike Lucy who began spending his money faster than he could count it.
Things quickly went from bad to worse. Lucy banished him from the house (his own house!) that she was remodeling with
his money. We were saddened to see him relegated to the garage, locked out the house he’d grown up in! Sometimes
he would rave and throw things about and swear so loudly we could hear his rants echoing across the hills. I once saw
him in frustration throw a chair out toward the road. The chair was followed by a stream of profanity. His marriage
was not working.
Thanks to J. the gossip we heard every lurid detail of how Lucy eventually managed to banish Glen to a nursing home, had an
affair with the preacher and only after years of unnecessary confinement, a costly divorce and untold misery did Glen return
to the home that he could barely recognize. Shortly thereafter, he died. The farmland was sold off in parcels.
The parcel that included the lovely old barn was razed and replaced with a predictable house with little or no character and
acres of grass. Glen’s once-charming old house has been rented to people who are never seen.
I only share this story to balance the picture of bucolic peace and tranquility I’ve thus far
painted. The current Tiger Woods drama has nothing on this little corner of the world. The only difference is
that no one here made the evening news.
Monday, December 7, 2009
RIP Mr. Bean
5:29 pm est
About eleven years ago I had a different
walking route that took me past Glen and Ruth’s old farm. The house sat on one side of the road and
the barn was directly across from it. They had three pet cows and in the evening Glen and Ruth would sit
on their front porch swing watching the cows who were watching them.
One day as
I approached their farm a young orange cat raced across the street narrowly missing being smashed by a speeding car.
“Someone dumped him off last night, Karen. You’d better take him home because he’s
going to get killed,” yelled Glen poking his head out the front door. I managed to grab the wildcat
and carried him home by the scruff of his neck in order to save myself from being ripped to shreds. That
was Mr. Bean.
Bean was never a normal kitty. If he were a person he’d be labeled as a boy at risk, or hyperactive
or today’s acronym for out of control children, but good or bad, he was mine and like all of my animals, I loved him.
His unacceptable house manners ultimately relegated him to the basement, but with a kitty door that allowed him outside
access at will.
In recent years Ruth died and Glen was so distraught he sent the cows to market, an act I
never understood. A few years later Glen died and most recently the sturdy old barn was torn down. And
now I’ve just returned from the vet where I signed Mr. Bean’s execution papers. My heart is
so heavy I can barely write this post.
This was Bean’s fourth trip
to the vet in less than four months for something that was compromising his ability to breathe. While the treatment was promising
at first, each interval between attacks of near suffocation was shorter than the previous one. Today blood
tests confirmed what had been suspected last month. His immune system was shutting down and there were
no more options. Steroids and antibiotics could no longer prolong his life for a few more weeks.
He was doomed.
In my heart I know it was the only thing to do, but that doesn’t make having a pet put down any easier or less
painful. I’m too sad to write anything else today.
11:51 am est
was lovely, so the dogs and I set off to glean the corn field north of the barn. The farmer who is currently
working this land has state of the art equipment that leaves almost nothing, unlike his predecessor whose picker left a bounty.
My harvest was very sparse, but the dogs had a great time and the ears will go on the old fashioned corn drier hanging
on the porch to feed the blue jays and cardinals.
It’s good that my animals and I don’t have to depend on this post-harvest ‘harvest.’
For me. poking around these fields is just a lovely way to pass a sunny afternoon, but I always think of Millet’s
famous 19th century painting (The Gleaners) since I am indeed a gleaner, but quite different from those depicted
by the artist.
It’s such a familiar image. A framed copy hung in my mother’s attic, but I never really
got the implications when I was a kid. Three peasant women in the foreground, their heads bent in what
looks like a prayerful pose are searching the picked field for missed grains of wheat. I think a lot of
people misinterpret this picture. Often overlooked is the bountiful harvest that can be seen in the background
and if you really look closely the wealthy land owner off to the right might be estimating his harvest or maybe even begrudging
the women who are gathering the spoils. The painting was actually a commentary on poverty.
Because of the socio/political implications of this work it was not well received in the mid-19th century
and the artist had to accept a buyer’s offer that was substantially less than he was asking. As a
modern day gleaner I share none of the sadness nor poverty of the women in Millet’s painting. For
me gleaning is just another excuse to be outdoors with my dogs.
Any dog with
even a hint of Labrador retriever in his ancestry never tires of playing fetch. Ted is half Lab and half
Rottweiler. He goes nowhere without a toy, a ball or a stick in his mouth. It would
have seemed that after hours in the corn field, chasing the stuffed toy he’d brought with him that he might be tired
when we came inside, but that wasn’t the case. Sitting at the computer I heard a rustling noise behind
me and turned to see my big boy walking around with a bag on his head. He was sure there might be something
in there for him. Talk about a Kodak moment! I couldn’t have posed this picture.
Luckily the camera was right next to me.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Behind this door...
7:53 pm est
It is bloody cold here today and tomorrow won’t be any warmer, so I shall have to go to the attic
and retrieve the barn boots. Sliding my bare feet into Crocs this morning was very uncomfortable.
I should have gotten the Wellingtons out of storage before I went to Cleveland today, but I didn’t and since
there is no electricity in the attic and it was dark by the time I returned, getting them will just have to wait until morning.
The attic is another part of
this house that is basically unchanged since John Grogg built the place. When it isn’t so cold I
enjoy being up there. It’s so quiet and something about it recalls the past in more ways than just
items packed away in boxes. The bones of the house are all visible in their rawest state, much like the hand-hewn rafters
in the cellar. Some of the floor boards are 20” wide, blackened and smoothed by the years and like most attics there’s
a special smell that’s not at all unpleasant. It doesn’t smell like anything else.
It’s just attic smell.
staircase beyond the door leading to this magic place still bears the original old German blue paint on the spindles.
In my early days here I used this as a color guide for the stairs, but I’m not a purist. I
lived with it for many years, but now it’s changed. It was never my intention to make this house into a museum of any
sort, but only to retain the character of the structure. Colors have evolved over the years of my ownership, but I will never
paint over the original blue on the attic stair spindles.
That third floor was never finished and I’ve often wondered why those busy
early inhabitants took the time, not to mention the costly paint to decorate this section of the staircase rarely seen.
When I moved here there was an old metal bed up there, but it wasn’t old enough to have any value.
Did someone once sleep in that chilly room, I wonder? I sanded and painted the bed and used it in
the guest room for a while before giving it away.
It’s crucial for me to have one little thing to look forward to every single
day. It might be something as simple as a new bag of coffee beans or redressing my bed with crisp icy linens
that have dried on the clothesline. Tomorrows little pleasure will be the brief trip to the third floor.
There again I’ll wonder about the sharp pieces of tin nailed at the half-way point on each rafter.
I’ll inhale the lovely “old” smell of the big room while fussing around with some of the stuff stored
up there. I’ll grab the blue barn boots, clump down the stairs in a stoop so I don’t bang my head and finally
I’ll slam the old door with the complicated latch to make sure it’s closed and forget about the room above my
bedroom until the next time I need something hidden up there.
Friday, December 4, 2009
A death in the family
7:21 pm est
It is with a heavy heart that I report the passing of one of the French girls. Fifi and
Gigi, my Cuckoo Maran hens were identical, so I’m not sure which one is now in a bucket pending tomorrow’s service.
A clever friend has suggested that I rename the survivor Figi and so it will be, not that either of them knew their
names anyway…. I don’t know how old she was, but she did have some years on her.
The deceased was an adult when I bought her and her twin
several years ago from an interesting lady named Sue. Sue raises a wide variety of poultry and knows a
great deal about every breed. I was impressed not only with her knowledge, but with the extraordinary care
afforded to all of her birds (and there were a lot of them!).
According to Sue, the Maran breed (classified as rare) is a prolific layer of large brown
eggs, but a bird which eats only about half as much food as other chickens of comparable size. In appearance
it resembles the Barred Rock breed. I bought the two French girls and they did indeed live up to all of
Sue’s accolades. They were among the best layers, were pleasant and docile and while not as pretty
as Barred Rocks their other qualities offset their plain Jane appearance. But now one of them is dead, apparently from natural
She had been somewhat
lethargic for the past day or so and last evening she sat hunched on the floor rather than on a perch. Her
comb was a worrisome dark purple rather than rosy pink. In chickens this is not a good sign at all.
She didn’t protest when I examined her (another bad sign), so I was not at all surprised to find her dead as
a mackerel today.
of a big dead hen requires some thought. The ground is hard, so a burial is out of the question and besides,
she will be a tasty treat for some hungry opossum. So, where to put the carcass? It’s
not something one tosses out on the lawn!
stiff body will respectfully be placed near the manure pile first thing tomorrow morning.
will also put her out of Nettie’s range. When not lounging on the sofa (where she is forbidden to
sleep, ha ha), Nettie enjoys rolling on dead smelly things.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Not so romantic...
4:05 pm est
A blog about living alone on an old farm is probably a lot more romantic than the reality
of such a life, especially when illness or injury is part of the scenario. I’ve had a bit of both
lately and while friends have asked if I needed help, I’ve found it’s usually more difficult to explain what needs
to be done and how to do it than just doing it myself, and so it was this morning. Frankly, my whining
self-pity was repulsive, so I applied that ‘mind over matter’ approach and confronted all that had to be done.
It worked. I feel much better now.
Times like this make me think
about Esther and John Grogg who built my farm. I doubt they were whiners. In 1817 John bought this
79 acre tract from his father in law for $1.00. It wasn’t until 1821 that (according to tax records)
the house was built and he and Esther were living here. In 1826 Esther was being taxed $1.08 for her three
cows which were valued at $8.00 each. (She is indicated as their owner.) By 1829 her herd had grown to
five cows. In addition to the five cows she bore four daughters.
Among papers found when this property
was researched by an accomplished genealogist was a document illustrating just what a visionary John Grogg was.
He anticipated that old age or ill health could compromise his lifestyle, so he set stipulations for the dispersal
of his land to his daughters and their spouses. That clever fellow had no intention of doing without.
to allocate plots to sons-in-law for free, but only IF they agreed to provide him with the goods and services detailed on
a lengthy list for the remainder of his life. Should the son-in-law renege on the deal he would be obligated
to pay a substantial price for said land. The list was very well thought out, right down to specific annual
quantities of salt, sugar and other food staples, farrier care and feed for his animals, firewood and every other necessity
(and even some luxuries) imaginable.
But, as luck would have it John died in 1832, so his offspring were off the hook. Those papers
made no mention of provisions for poor Esther. The farm went to Sheriff’s sale and was bought by
their daughter Catherine and her husband Jacob for $500.00. The money was divided among the heirs.
was more or less left to fend for herself, but records indicated she retained enough basics (including a cow) to keep herself
afloat. Maybe she found herself a sugar daddy, but I like to think of her as a rugged, self-sufficient
woman who discovered she was quite comfortable living on her own.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
4:47 pm est
Well, it has been quite a week. My nose is definitely broken as a result of play time
with the dog. The good news is that because it is straight and I can still breathe through it, the doctor
says it will heal without intervention. It is discolored and my eyes are black and blue, so it’s
not a pretty look. I also have a cold and feel very achy.
The donkeys were “on point” when I glanced out the window this morning
and following their gaze I saw the subject of interest just on the opposite side of the fence. A deer had
taken refuge from the onslaught of weekend warriors. I hope that the pile of carrots left in these woods
will encourage him to remain here where its’ safe.
It’s cold and raining and the landscape looks bleak in spite of some of my neighbors’
efforts to look festive as seen through the now-naked trees. A few places look as if Clark Griswold is
on site with all those lights and worse still, inflatable snowmen, Santa’s and other nonsense. I
actually saw a reindeer made out of plastic which was supposed to look like twigs painted white. The plastic twig-deer was
festooned with twinkle lights and motorized so that his head bobbed up and down. Incredible!
Nature needs no “enhancement.”
Although the colorful plants of summer are long gone, beauty is everywhere if we just look.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
The last bit of summer.
6:32 pm est
Not feeling well at all today, but did manage to harvest the very last of the garden. Wonderful beets!
How can anyone not love them. While I know they will be available at the market all winter, they won't be the ones I've
grown myself. I will really enjoy this last bit of summer.