Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Seeing life through different eyes.
9:56 pm edt
The skunk piece is coming along, but the warm sunny day lured me away from the computer, out to the manure spreader
to continue the multiflora rose eradication program. What a mess, but what fun. As I
hack away at the evil canes I’m uncovering all sorts of treasures. Old implement parts, long buried
but for some small tell-tale hub or gear and assorted spring flowers that never really stood much of a chance under all the
brambles have all worked their way to the surface. I’ve pulled the rusty iron relics from their shallow
graves to be discarded properly, but the flowers are an absolute delight. This site was near the original
barn that burned down around 1930, but garden flowers planted decades ago have managed to survive. Now
they can flourish.
The plan is to reroute my nature trail so that it will pass under the huge bing-type cherry tree where the Baltimore
Orioles build their charming basket nests each year. I may even make a little bench in this new space.
At the rate I’m going, summer will be over by the time I clear the invasive wicked roses, but even so making
these little discoveries is worth all the torn clothing and skin. Change is what makes life interesting
and I’m ready for some changes.
A friend recently remarked that she thinks blogs are stupid, but I read the blogs of a couple other writers and find
them interesting in different ways. One relates the artist/horsewoman’s observations and events in
her life. It’s always upbeat, clever and interesting. The other relates the writer’s self-absorbed
contemplations of life and not much more. Since the observations are rarely about anything other than the
author, they tend to be very tiresome. Blogs serve many purposes for both the writer and the reader, but I don’t agree
with my friend’s opinion that they are stupid. It’s just looking at life through different
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Getting back in the groove.
8:05 pm edt
Travel is great, but trying to cram two weeks of work into one upon return
is a real challenge and I’m having a bit of trouble meeting it! I’ve been frantically busy
since returning, yet the week is nearly half over and it feels as if I’ve accomplished little so far.
Some of today was spent researching skunks. I’m probably one of the few that actually find
them endearing. I even like their sulfur smell if it’s from afar and who can deny that they are beautiful
little creatures. Unfortunately, like so many other species of wildlife skunks are misunderstood and even
feared. The best rule of thumb is: Don’t bother them and they won’t bother
Right about this time of year they are busy breeding and soon the females will be tending litters of 4-7 kits with
no help from the sire. He will be off impregnating as many other girls as possible and trying not to become
a splat on the center line. Skunks are polygamous. I’ll share more on these omnivores
as the article takes shape, including a recipe to deodorize any pets that have a close-up encounter. One
word of advice; never ever use products like Febreeze or other fabric fresheners on your animals. It is
Monday, March 29, 2010
Yet another massacre!
6:38 pm edt
I don’t deny it. I am a tree fanatic and when
I see the senseless destruction of life forms that only enhance the world environmentally and aesthetically it sets off a
rage in me that is difficult to control. And so it was today as I drove past a large acreage where the
trees were stupidly annihilated a couple of years ago, but which Nature had reclaimed.
not far from my home consists of about 100 acres where a skeet club and a model airplane club have their facilities.
Unfortunately neither of these organizations owns the land. It is owned by a buffoon who surprised
everyone, especially the two clubs that lease the property by cutting down the entire buffer zone of trees that used to be
so lovely and also used to protect the tenants’ facilities. The members were outraged and rightly
Not only had the entire perimeter been reduced to ugly scrub that offered little to no habitat for the wildlife in
the area, it also opened up access for cretins who dump animals and rubbish, run rough-shod over the land with their ATV’s
and inflict other abuse. When confronted by the club memebers, the landowner said, “I want to return
the land to the way it was when I bought it….” It was a corn field!!!! What
At one point the model airplane folks planted pine trees which had grown to become a lovely grove where deer bedded
down and which softened the desecrated buffer. Today, for no logical reason the beautiful grove of evergreens
was cut to the ground.
Ironically, this landowner can never sell this piece of property because it is contaminated with lead shot from decades
of being used as a target range. Any buyer would be obligated to clean the soil at a cost of millions of
dollars. Both the skeet club and the airplane club take pride in keeping the land neat and tended, so to
deliberately reduce the countryside to stumps and slash was an act of ugly aggression against both of these responsible tenants.
I plan to find out the name of that property owner and to confront him with the question, “Why?”
The only explanation is that he is a very ignorant, arrogant fool, but this in no way lessens the anger and sadness
I feel seeing more wanton destruction which suddenly seems to be going on in every direction. I guess that
while intelligent people are watching programs like Nova or Nature that emphasize the importance of natural areas, wildlife
habitat and trees in general, people like this landowner must be watching nonsense like Biggest Loser. No
person with a brain commits such a massacre.
Today’s photo shows what happens when a traveler doesn’t promptly put luggage away. It
becomes a kitty bed.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
6:24 pm edt
How exciting to see the rhubarb!
Not only is it poking through the straw/manure mulch, but it’s spreading too. To me rhubarb
IS springtime which I officially usher in with my favorite pie. Since the sour plant is at its prime before
hot weather hits and because one can’t use frozen rhubarb for the pie, there is a rather small window of opportunity
to enjoy this fabulous dessert. The recipe is fool proof and easy. You will either adore
it or you will hate it. There is no neutral response to rhubarb custard pie.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
one 9” pie shell using the following recipe:
1/3 C. Crisco shortening (do not substitute anything else!)
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1/4 C. cold water
a pastry cutter, cut the first three ingredients until they are the consistency of coarse cornmeal. Then
slowly add the water, mixing lightly with a fork just until the dough holds together. With floured hands
form the dough into a ball that wipes the sides of the mixing bowl clean. Do not overwork this pie dough!
If too sticky, add a bit of flour.
Wipe the work surface with a damp cloth and then lay down one sheet of waxed paper
or plastic wrap and smooth it out. Flour this lightly and place the ball of dough in the center.
Lightly dust the ball and place a second piece of plastic over it. Roll the dough between the two
sheets. Remove the top sheet and place the inverted pie plate over the dough. Lift the
lower sheet of plastic with the dough from beneath and position it in the pie plate. This is much easier
than trying to handle the dough alone. Simply peel off the plastic and crimp the edges of the pie crust.
Do not prick the pie shell. Set aside.
For the filling you will need the
3 C. fresh rhubarb.
You can not use frozen!
1 1/3 C. white sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
large eggs or 3 small eggs
To prepare the rhubarb: Wash thoroughly under cold water.
Using a kitchen scissors snip off the root end and discard. Then snip the rhubarb stalks into 1”
sections. Scissors are much easier and neater than a knife. Mix the rhubarb with the
other ingredients in a bowl and stir until thoroughly blended.
Dump this into the unbaked
pie shell and bake at 375 degrees for one hour or until pie crust is done. The pie should have mosaic look
when done as the rhubarb creates the top layer with a rich sweet/tart custard beneath it. The pie crust
will be flaky.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Home at last.
8:08 pm edt
What comes to mind when someone mentions Mobile, Alabama? If you’re like me (pre-trip), your response
might be, “Well, um, err, uh, nothing?” I could not have guessed this area would be so pleasantly
surprising! Planning a vacation? Consider this Gulf coast destination. You
will not be disappointed!
I’ll share some of the highlights of the trip later, but after spending the day on the road, on planes and in
airports since 8:00 AM I am pretty whipped tonight. It’s always nice to come home even when home
is nowhere near so luxurious as the accommodations which I’ve enjoyed since Tuesday.
As usual Neighbor Sandy did a fine job spoiling all the critters who nevertheless seem over the moon to have me back
home. At this writing I am still assimilating the culture shock having left elegant surroundings, deliciously-prepared
meals and the stimulating company of fellow writers after returning to the real world of my humble surroundings, a peanut
butter sandwich dinner and my stinky four-legged companions (Ernie required a bath). But, like I said,
I’m happy to be home, just very tired.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
10:44 am edt
Just after writing my latest less than uplifting post I opened the little
book of Words From Great Women which I keep on my desk.
It fell open to a page of quotes by Helen Keller and since I believe things happen for a purpose, I think Ms. Keller's words
were meant to be read by me on this dark day.
" To keep our faces
toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable."
10:31 am edt
The sky rumbled
and a nasty storm blew in from the south last night. Temperatures dropped and this morning is gloomy and
gray, but then we all knew that nice weather was too good to be true. The weatherman says it may even snow,
but I will not be here to see it as I am leaving in about an hour for a press trip in Alabama.
It’s been quite a week. I’ve been to Stat Care for what is almost-but-not-yet pneumonia,
so I’m literally under the weather. The medication I’m taking has some unpleasant side effects.
The rescued puppy I planned to bring home upon my return Saturday had to be euthanized! He
had an incurable health condition and there were no options, but I’m certainly glad that I was NOT the one forced to
make that awful decision. I wrote about finding hope, but admittedly I am finding that more than a little
I’m looking forward to visiting a new city, spending a few days with fellow writers enjoying Gulf breezes, good
food and some planned adventures. Considering the past several months I think a change of scene may be
just what the doctor ordered, but it is unlikely I will have time to post anything on this blog for the next several days.
I hope readers will bear with me. I’ll be home late Saturday. Keep your
fingers crossed that new calamities are not waiting for me in Dixie.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Hope is where you find it.
7:13 pm edt
Assorted engines snorted and roared at ET’s place all Saturday as the skeletons of deciduous trees were cut up
and hauled off as cordwood, buried or heaped upon the pyre of spruce, cedar and pine. Big trucks with loud
exhausts raced up and down the road as even-noisier ATV’s raced around the muddy plot that used to be Mrs. Clark’s
yard. I tried to ignore it, but that was pretty hard to do and I looked forward to going down to T’s
quiet place for dinner and a movie.
It was nice to spend the evening there, but when I returned home a celebration was going on up the road.
Before ET arrived all I used to see when I looked up the road was a bower of lovely trees, but now I can see all the
way through to Neighbor Sandy’s barn since nothing blocks the view.
A huge bonfire
fueled by the trees ET has annihilated lit up the sky and loud music threatened to drown out the peepers. This
was probably just a prelude of what can be expected from now on. I came inside feeling sad, angry, and
disheartened and finally fell asleep questioning why I even bother doing the things I do. For twenty years
I’ve worked to create a wildlife sanctuary on my little plot of less than six acres while in just a few months ET has
obliterated eight acres of habitat. ‘What is the point,” I lamented to the dogs who politely
listened to my rant as I fixed our breakfasts this morning. Then I turned on Bill Moyer whose guest was Jane Goodall, a woman
who has inspired me most of my adult life.
Has anyone seen more destruction,
disregard and exploitation of the natural world than this champion of Nature? Probably not, but in spite
of all the cruelty and devastation she has witnessed she remains optimistic and hopeful and above all else, more inspiring
than ever. I hung on her every word and my perspective changed. She reminded me that
no act is unimportant, regardless of how seemingly insignificant, even when it takes place on less than six acres.
Her intelligence, her hope for the future and her forgiveness of the stupid people responsible for all that is wrong
exceed any degree of evolution I could ever hope to meet, but her words were enough to keep me from giving up. We can all
do something! (http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/03192010/profile3.html )
Later this afternoon our monthly women’s writers group met and again I was inspired. Such
a genuinely nice group of writers; each with a unique talent, skill or style. I never come away from one
of these meetings not having learned something very useful. I’m very grateful to be part of this
gathering of women.
Now, as I sit here typing the roar of the loudest ATV penetrates the house, but I’m determined to focus on the
positive influences of the day for there were several.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
A busy day.
6:12 pm edt
It was clean the coop day, a job that is never enjoyable, but one that I feel is important for the welfare of my birds.
These silly chickens are part of the reason I love being in the barn. It’s really their world
(and the donkeys’), but they allow me access. The girls and their suitors were out foraging while
I, the charwoman refreshed their lodging, so when they re-entered the coop at the end of the day there was big excitement.
“Ah, nice. I was wondering when she was going to get around to cleaning this place,”
says Figi (the surviving French girl). They always act as if they’ve been moved to a new country
when the coop is freshly cleaned. Buffy and Fluffy (I did not name these two) are setting a clutch of eggs and in about four
weeks chirping chicks will greet me when I enter the barn. I never tire of hearing the peeping eggs. It’s
thrilling to see the tiny beaks as they peck through the shells and sometimes I’m lucky enough to witness a wet fragile
peep as it stumbles into the world.
German scientists recently conducted studies on the olfactory systems of birds. Surprisingly they
found that chickens are among the species with the most acute sense of smell. Since smell is important
in foraging, one would expect that of wild birds to be more developed, but not so. To think that after
centuries of people keeping chickens, no one knew this until the 21st century. Amazing!
Friday, March 19, 2010
7:37 pm edt
I rounded the bend just in time to see a very large shaggy dog standing on the center line, gawking at the cars that
were swerving past him. He had that ‘help, I’m lost’ look
on his face, so I pulled off the road and called to him and he swaggered toward me. “Want
to go for a ride?” I asked and he eagerly hopped into the truck. His tag had a phone number and an
address, but the number was disconnected and after driving around for about 45 minutes, asking everyone I saw if they knew
where Knollridge Circle might be it was beginning to look as if Mr. Shaggy might be coming home with me.
My vet’s office was nearby, so in desperation I stopped and explained the dilemma. As luck would have it Shaggy
was a client there! Yippee! The office made a couple of calls and soon the owner’s
son arrived to collect the wayward canine. We all breathed a sigh of relief.
I guess springtime
provokes foolish behaviors, like Shaggy running away from his home and like Ted playing so much that he hurt his leg and like
me embarking on my own foolish project.
It was all part of the on-going spring cleanup, but nice weather can induce amnesia when it comes to some things.
That’s what happened today when I tackled the area behind the tractor shed. I had apparently
forgotten it had once been the site of the farms outhouse.
Rocks of manageable
sizes are handy things for building walls or walkways, but a few gigantic boulders of awkward shapes have been in the way
for years, so today I decided to move them. What a stupid idea! No wonder they’ve
been there for so long. It would have been easier to move a car than those rocks, but with great difficulty
I nudged two of the monsters free and rolled them to the fence line where they are out of the way. A third rock was simply
impossible to budge after prying it loose. What to do…. A burial seemed a logical solution, but
every shovel thrust met with implacable resistance.
Then I remembered the old crapper.
The big rocks had probably been corner posts, but the pit was lined with—what else— rocks!
I cannot move the big rock and I cannot dig a grave due to laid up smaller rocks, so I must resign myself to living
with it even though it doesn’t fit in with my plan for the area. Living with it won’t be easy.
I hate incomplete projects.
After wasting most of the afternoon struggling with the bothersome boulders I became aware of the
relentless drone coming from ET’s place. He’s into day of three of burying the torn out roots
of all the beautiful trees he destroyed this winter and grading the barren acres which now host nothing but a brick house
and a white barn. His work is going smoothly because ET has a Bobcat, a track loader, two tractors and
a back hoe. I have a shovel.
I’ve quit work for today, but
as I look out the window at that offending rock I’m considering taking a ‘welcome-to-the-neighborhood’ pie
up to the Environmental Terrorist. What could it hurt?
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Back on track!
6:28 pm edt
Happy to report that I am feeling fine today, so it must have been just some 24 hour bug that laid me flat out yesterday.
Or, perhaps it was the medicinal jello from Neighbor Sandy. She
is a peach. Not only did she call and offer to do my barn chores, but she brought soup, crackers, cough
drops and her signature jello.
Jello is something I rarely, if ever
make unless it’s part of a bigger recipe, but jello from Sandy has curative powers. Not feeling well?
Jello to the rescue! She fills the top shelf of the fridge with small disposable cups of the Technicolor
stuff that’s probably 90% sugar. This is a very thoughtful gesture indeed, for
when one is not feeling well it’s very comforting to shuffle out to the kitchen and discover this staple from my childhood
all prepared and ready to eat (and no clean up involved). Sandy is also my house sitter when I travel,
so she will be in charge while I’m in Alabama next week. The animals adore her and I know that everything
is in good hands when she’s here.
Today I received a phone call from a man with a seductive foreign accent. He was calling to comment
on my web site and suggested in no uncertain terms that I really should be embarrassed by it. “Wouldn’t
you like something, ahem, well, errr, umm, more PROFESSIONAL? Surely you aren’t getting any business
from ahh, my small COUNTY life….”
Perhaps if he had been a bit less
insulting I would have been a bit more interested in hearing what he had to say for at some point I will indeed fine-tune
this blog, but for now it is serving the intended purpose, so I bade Mr. Hotsy Totsy good day and hurried to investigate the
clanging and banging on the north side of the house. It was Mr. Gutter World and crew who were in the process
of replacing the storm damaged gutters. They worked like a team of beavers and did a terrific job, but
I have to say the name of the company makes me laugh; Mr. Gutter World. I considered referring them to
Mr. Snooty Phone Caller who I’m sure would not have approved of their company moniker.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
My spring has sprung.
I have the flu, so in spite of it being a sunny beautiful day, my day was spent
flat on my back. Please pardon this paltry post. I must go lie down again.
7:13 pm edt
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Such a pretty face.
6:48 pm edt
There’s no gentle way to say it; Betty is a slob. She’s sort of like those people ahead
of you in the check-out line that you mentally make over because you're sure that under whatever the issue might be (hair,
clothes, make up, etc.) there is an attractive person.
Betty is a cat I think her feline friends probably have similar discussions among themselves; “Yes, she has such a pretty
face, but…,” Ivy says to Poppy. “Oh, she’s just disgusting,” Buddy chimes
in. Buddy is fastidious about her own grooming. “I can’t stand to even look at her,”
says Booger making a dramatic exit. While the other cats have pals, no one chums around with Betty.
Until a few
years ago I gave her a lion haircut and a bath each spring. She seemed to enjoy the whole process, but
now she is quite old and as discovered at the vet yesterday, she has an over-active thyroid condition that now requires little
pink pills twice a day which she resists taking. Even the vet said, “She’s a mess.”
Someone dumped Betty on a deserted stretch of road where I used to walk. I watched as she was making a
half-hearted attempt at hunting mice, but she didn’t seem to be having much success. She was skin
and bones, but friendly and aside from her lack of self-esteem she has always been a sweetheart. In the
sixteen plus years she has lived here she has never shown any interest in personal hygiene and now she is a mass of mats.
Each day I clip and snip at least two which is about all she will tolerate. Maybe it’s her
age or maybe it’s the thyroid condition, but there is no sign of hair regeneration, so she resembles a patchwork quilt.
Does it look as if she cares? What do you think?
Monday, March 15, 2010
Another one will come along...
9:11 pm edt
After the untimely and devastating death of Nettie I consoled myself knowing that another dog in need of a loving home
would come along. Well, it possibly has. My daughter just left with a mom and pup she
had just plucked out of harms way. However, I think this pair probably has a home and somehow became lost.
I strongly suspect someone will claim them, but if they don’t….
is a fine person. I’d like her even if she were not mine. She’s kind, honest,
hard-working, thoughtful and above all she is compassionate. Her own menagerie speaks to all of these attributes.
A brief inventory includes two large dogs; Isabelle (photo) and Lily, both Carna Corsos. Isabelle,
who weighs about 140 pounds and looks like a prize fighter is certified to visit nursing homes, schools and other educational
venues. Lily is still a baby, albeit a giant one. Then there are the cats; twelve of
them at her home, all rescued from assorted perilous conditions, but now all spayed or neutered and spoiled beyond all common
Martin Luther is a pygmy-impersonating goat who was born on Martin Luther King day sixteen years ago, hence his name.
He had been injured by his mother shortly after being born, so he has a dodgy foot and his ears had been frostbitten
too, so they aren’t quite complete. What could Jill do? He was represented as
a pygmy kid, but as he grew it was apparent that he was not as represented. Who knows what breed he is, but she adopted him
and he’s been tormenting her and getting into trouble ever since.
a crippled miniature horse rescued from the killer sale (a livestock auction where horses were sold en masse to be slaughtered
for meat). His front legs were horribly deformed, so an orthopedic vet performed intense corrective surgery
on him nearly two decades ago. He and Martin serve as sort of therapy animals and delight the residents
of one particular nursing home for the profoundly disabled. I’m sure the less-than-perfect animals
resonate with the humans who share that same distinction. Large Marge was a miniature pot-bellied pig rescued from a crack
house. She was also part of the therapy group, but after nearly twenty pampered years, Marge passed away
last fall comforted in her final hours by companions Martin and Weebles.
latest rescue (prior to the two dogs today) was Chuck the duck. The Muscovy with frostbitten feet was unable
to walk when found on the side of the road, but now that he’s been to the vet, receives daily foot baths and medication
for his compromised webs Chuck has made himself Weebles’ newest friend. Jill says she plans to make
Chuck a therapy critter as well.
In college Jill majored in Horse Production & Management and has worked solely in this field her entire life.
At her boarding stable she not only cares for other peoples equine, but gives riding and horsemanship lessons to an
army of pint-sized equestrians who all adore my daughter. PeeWee is a spotted pony I found tethered in
a small yard many years ago. Through some negotiation I managed to buy the handsome fellow and presented
him to Jill as a birthday present. Along with Rocky, a Missouri Foxtrotter, Pee Wee earns his keep as a schooling horse for
Jill’s young students,.
Her stable is also home to another colony of rescued felines and just like those at her home, these are all ‘fixed’
and doted upon. Few barn cats lead as pampered lives as those at her Fox Creek Stables.
So, you can see why I’m proud of my daughter. She is one of those rare individuals who never
passes any animal in distress or danger. Her animal advocacy extends beyond the animals she adopts.
She volunteers whenever and wherever there is a need to help animal welfare-related causes. Like
I said, she’s a fine person and a wonderful daughter.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Songs of love.
11:54 am edt
Saturday was ugly, cold and rainy, but it was the second Saturday of the month and that meant it was potluck time,
so rain or shine the friends who have reserved this Saturday every month for longer than I care to remember all gathered at
K & R’s place to eat and enjoy some music and comaraderie. As usual the food was delicious and the music lively,
but last night I was struck by how rare and special this collection of friends really is and remembered how it all began.
Long ago there was a tiny coffee house/music store
called Boulder Junction. It’s long gone now; the quaint little building razed and the luthiers moved
on to more “establishment” kind of jobs, but somehow the folks in what we now loosely refer to as “the music
group” all found their individual ways to this little place. Maybe they came to pick up some guitar
strings, look at a used instrument or to buy one of the lap dulcimers made at Boulder Junction. That was
Folk music was hot, so the owners cleverly reserved Thursday evenings for a jam session where both accomplished musicians
and those who knew nothing at all (like me) could come together and learn at least one old time tune each week.
I can still recall the fingernails-on-a-blackboard noise of way too many dulcimers playing Old Molly Hare over and
over and over, but eventually the informal group established an actual repertoire of songs. We played for
monthly contra-dances, went to all the music festivals and got to know each another in the process.
Music was the thread that initially held us together, but over the years a strong tapestry of non-judgmental friendships
developed. That strength has seen members through all sorts of joy and sorrow. We are
all very different people, but we are all the same in our sincere concern for one another.
We’ve watched our children grow into interesting adults. We’ve been a pillar of support when misfortune
has struck in the form of illness, fractured relationships and even death. We tell each other how great
we look even though our once-willowy bodies have in most cases grown stumpier than we’d like. We
laugh and share things we’d never tell anyone else and at the end of each monthly get-together I think every person
recognizes and appreciates how lucky we are to be a part of such an extraordinary group. I know I do.
Friday, March 12, 2010
A Day in the Country
7:57 pm est
I sometimes lament the vanishing countryside and it’s true. It’s a very troubling issue,
but here on this tiny plot of land enough “country “remains to remind me how lucky I am and why this lifestyle
is satisfying, comforting and critical to my well being. Some of the things I value may seem questionable
to others (like these donkeys!), but reader feedback tells me that my way of life is appealing to others. Writing
about my small country life is one thing, but maybe I should be more enterprising and offer something like “A Day in
The itinerary could include some or all of the following: Guests would arrive very early morning
in time to enjoy a breakfast of farm fresh coddled eggs. Then it would be off to the barn to feed and muck
out the stall while fending off the attentions of the pesky pair of asses. The chickens have come to expect my verbal greeting
each morning as I open the coop to feed them and let them outside for the day. “Good morning, girls,”
I say and they reply in cheery chickenspeak. Guests might find this awkward at first, but they'd soon recognize the
unique pleasure of this exchange.
Then it would be time to collect the buckets and head out to the old hand pump to draw water for the barn dwellers.
This task would offer an opportunity for morning meditation. The squeak-clank of the pump is akin
to a chant--very relaxing. A mid-summer bonus may include learning to disassemble the pump to remove a
mouse nest or even seeing just born, bean-size baby rodents. Toting the heavy water buckets builds strength, so one could
think of this as an alternative to going to a gym. Back at the barn, water buckets must be cleaned and
filled and hay tossed out for the donkeys. Then guests would return to the house for another cup of coffee.
Additional activities might include digging in the gardens, planting trees or
other barriers to shut out the intruding “real world, clearing brush to extend the Nature trail, building rustic benches
on which to rest and meditate while enjoying the Nature trail, collecting eggs and perhaps experiencing hatching peeps,
harvesting seasonal fruits and vegetables and throwing Frisbees for Ted until it’s time to return to the barn to repeat
the morning ritual.
A walk through Ranger Rick’s woods and a hike around old Kenny’s field would be optional, but highly recommended.
Finally guests could sit on the porch with a nice glass of wine while I prepare a delicious vegetarian dinner after which
they may read or listen to music by the woodstove in the living room or, weather permitting retreat to the porch to listen
to night sounds. Extended options might be spending the night in the modest guestroom and falling asleep
to the sound of spring peepers.
Remember, I have never pretended to be a “real farmer,” so this Day in the Country could be considered
a primer for a similar retreat at a real farm. I have friends that offer such “opportunities”
which they call apprenticeships.
As the publishing industry becomes ever more challenging, this just might be something to consider….
Thursday, March 11, 2010
7:00 pm est
The weatherman is warning folks not to get too comfortable with these nice temperatures because it’s all going
to change, but he’s been making ominous predictions for days. I don’t believe him, but I am
trying to make the most of every warm sunny moment, so most of today was spent working outside getting a jump on spring projects.
If there’s one thing every farm has plenty of it’s baling twine. I have miles of the
stuff—in eight foot pieces. All farmers do the same thing; we save it just in case….
You never know when you’re going to need it. Baling twine falls into the same category as Duct Tape and W-D40.
These things are indispensible. Today my copious supply of twine came in handy for securing some
When I first got a goat I was naïve enough to think that woven wire fence would keep him confined.
It took about five minutes to discover the foolishness in that notion! The upper and lower paddocks
are fenced with high tensile wire, but unless at least one of the wires is hot a goat will step right between the strands.
None of this fencing is electrified, so I double-fenced the upper paddock with woven wire.
While this didn’t keep the goat where he was supposed to be, the woven wire has helped keep the donkeys from
getting at the vegetables I plant along one of the fence lines. Over time the woven stuff sags, hence baling
twine to the rescue! The garden spot will be safe from the troublemakers.
the pesky duo found a weak spot and in a single afternoon they picked a five gallon bucket of green tomatoes, not because
they had any intention of eating them. It was just a fun thing to do. That won’t
happen again. They stood close by as I worked on the fence today, no doubt memorizing how to tie and untie knots.
They are simply incorrigible! When pumpkin vines migrated to their side of the fence (and of course
the biggest pumpkins grew there), they used the big orange globes for toys.
the fencing I spread stall cleanings on the gardens. I can almost taste the super duper veggies I’ll
grow this summer thanks to all that nitrogen. Finally, while considering the multiflora rose eradication project out by the
manure spreader a burst of purple caught my eye. At first I thought it might be one of Ted’s toys,
but as you can see it was no toy! It was a surprising patch of crocus that had previously been hidden behind
that thicket of thorns.
Other plants are poking through in that area as well; daffodils and lilies, chives and dog foot violets and somewhere
within that jungle of brambles is a patch of asparagus. It’s been a long winter, but days like this
make it all seem like a vague distant memory. Yes, maybe I should have been inside writing, but it was
just too lovely to come indoors. I’ll write tonight….
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
A day of discoveries.
8:37 pm est
It was another day of clear skies and mild temperatures, so the dogs and I went for a road walk since the
woods are just too difficult for Ted with his sore leg. ET was in his driveway fiddling with some bit of
equipment as we passed by, so we exchanged neighborly greetings. On the return trip it was apparent he’d
been tuning up his malicious chainsaw in order to resume his environmental assault on the two trees that remained standing,
albeit in mutilated conditions. Today these trees joined their hortacultural comrades on the slash pile.
The melting snow has uncovered 46 beer cans (so far) tossed along the two miles of our walking route. Budweiser and
Busch seem to be the brew of choice. Unless the weather man’s storm prediction materializes I’ll
collect this litter tomorrow.
Poppy remains the undefeated champion in the feline fight against mice. For the past three days
she has delivered a carcass to the back door. She sits proudly in front of her kill, occasionally inflicting
a few tentative slaps to the lifeless form as Sissy and Ivy watch with apparent envy. I took photos of
her and her latest victim, but in the blink of an eye this computer erased them! Oh, to be computer savvy….
In the barn I discovered a petrified snake which had been hidden by hay bales. From his condition
I would say he’d been there for a while. In the corner of the spare stall a mysterious pyramid of
dirt about twenty inches tall and about a foot in diameter has erupted. Since this stall has a brick floor
and wooden walls I have no idea of the source of this mound. I find no scat, no footprints, nothing to indicate what critter
created this mess which I’ve now added to the clean up list.
It was a perfect day to sort and
plant peat pots of garden seeds and geranium cuttings. I was working at this task when a blood-curdling
scream sliced through the spring birdsong. It was a cat in horrible distress and it was not stationary.
It was traveling on the road that intersects this one. The dogs and my own cats froze in their tracks
and all heads turned toward the east. A minute later another scream cut through the air, further to the
west. A couple of minutes later I heard one gun shot. The implications of these anguished cries are too
awful to consider and I shudder to think what I may discover when I travel out on that road.
I think there
have been quite enough discoveries for one day.
Hey, where's my other eye brow?
9:44 am est
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
What a day!
6:35 pm est
What a wonderful day! A week ago I never would have believed that on Tuesday, March 9th
I would be eating lunch on the porch. All kitties were outside too, either napping or chasing one another. Ted and Ernie rolled around
in the snow, checked out the thawing ice on the pond and trotted about with big dog smiles on their faces.
It was lovely to go outside wearing a sweater instead of being bundled up like an Eskimo. It’s
amazing how a bit of sunshine can so drastically change one’s attitude. After a very productive day, I’m no longer
overwhelmed by all the damage the winter months have wrought. I’ll deal with all of it, one project
at a time.
I love watching my animals. Animals live in the
moment. They find joy and fun in the simplest activities. I took this photo as Sissy
as she briefly posed on a low branch of the Norway maple before racing to the top. She’s a show-off
and sped up the tree faster than any squirrel.
snow uncovered one of Ted’s favorite toys—a Frisbee. Such toys are not supposed
to come in the house, but he’s managed to sneak it inside and the minute I sit down he puts it on my lap and stares
at me with eager anticipation. That’s when I noticed that Ted has only one eyebrow. He
could care less!
Monday, March 8, 2010
8:08 pm est
Until relatively recently I enjoyed all of the nuances that set rural
life apart from urban living. I had a three mile cross-country walking course right outside my door.
The old farmers that owned the land on which I walked all said, "Sure you can walk there.... " It
was wonderful. Not a day passed that I didn’t see wildlife native to the area, including some that
most people never experience. Each day I offered silent thanks for the opportunity to share such wildness.
There was very little traffic on the road in front of my place. Most of what rumbled past were tractors,
farm trucks or school buses. It was peaceful and quiet. But one of the things I liked
best about living here was night time. It was dark, black as the inside of a cow unless there was a full
moon. When the sun set, my familiar world became an alien place, but in a good way. To
investigate things that went bump in the night required a bright flashlight, but I knew the sources (usually coons, opossum
or fox) were nothing to fear.
All of this has changed all too rapidly. Someone said, “All progress requires change, but
not all change is progress.” How true. The death of neighbor Glen launched the
sale of the first large section of land to people who wasted no time in destroying great swathes of wildlife habitat.
I almost lost my mind when this massacre was taking place. My walking route was diverted from the oil road to a field
so it was still cross country, but that only lasted until the newcomers dogs became a threat, so now my dogs and I must walk
part of the way on the road.
But the road has become a dangerous place as the township becomes increasingly “developed.” Cornfields
are being transformed into lawns surrounding homes of people who have no respect for narrow roadways, walkers, wildlife, equestrians
or anything else that used to safely use these byways. They speed by, chatting on their cell phones, utterly
oblivious to their surroundings pushing us to the edge of our safe tranquil lives.
I miss most is the blackness that used to be night. Now nearly every house but mine is equipped with at
least one hideous “security light” that blazes from dusk until dawn. How do the inhabitants tell day from night?
Truth be known, I’d love to shoot these lights out and plunge the paranoid homeowners into darkness.
It would be a learning experience for them.
Walking back from the barn tonight
I noticed that these intrusive beams seem to dot every horizon. Soon the trees will leaf out and hide some
of the energy-wasting eye sores, but they will still exist; one more reminder of my ever-shrinking small
Sunday, March 7, 2010
A sunny Sunday.
1:23 pm est
What a wonderful feeling to go outside wearing just a vest (over a turtleneck and a wool sweater…).
After sweeping the porches free of debris that has accumulated over the past few months I optimistically put the snow
shovel back in the garden shed. What a relief! It was beginning to feel like the rigid
appendage had been grafted to my right arm. Perhaps returning it to its place on the wall of tools was
premature, but out of sight, out of mind.
the sun melts the mountains of snow and rivers of ice more property damage comes to light. As the snow
cascaded from the south roof it ripped the arm right off one of the Adirondack chairs. On the north side
lays the twisted gutter. The rose bushes off the brick porch took a hit as well, but all of this seems
minor. The sun is shining!
the weekend I attended an art show and bought a little painting that caught my eye. While I like living in my old house
with its sloping floors, wonky doorways, drafty rooms with time-worn mouse holes, I love modern art, abstraction in
particular. I think of the oddities of an old house as architectural abstractions. Abstraction
calls for thoughtful consideration and induces emotions which can be exciting, calming or liberating. My
new painting is such.
It reminds me a bit of Mark
Rothko’s classic contemplative works. I hate it when people ask things like, “Well, what does
it MEAN?” or they make insipid claims such as, “I could paint THAT…,” but they didn’t and if
they did, they wouldn’t know why they did it, so I don’t even attempt to respond to these remarks.
I think Rothko’s comment that, “Silence is so accurate,” says it all. I love this
new painting for what it is.
Friday, March 5, 2010
Survival of the fittest.
6:24 pm est
Driving to Amish country earlier this week I saw an emaciated opossum walking along the edge of a field.
It was mid-afternoon and the nocturnal scavenger shouldn’t have been out and about, but his haggard condition
clearly indicated he was hungry and desperate. He looked awful. As I drove home a few
hours later, he was lying dead in the middle of the road. All of this snow cover is making basic survival
for wildlife extremely challenging.
Today I encountered yet another
opossum sitting on the roadside. He too looked thin and desperate. As luck would have
it my friend had several cans of cat food in her trunk, , so we stopped to give the poor critter a meal. I opened one can
and walked up to the thin confused marsupial. He didn’t flinch, but ate heartily. He probably thought
he’d died and gone to heaven, so I gave him a second can. When we returned a couple of hours later
he was gone, thank goodness. Hopefully he was off resting his recharged body. Perhaps
no creature is as misunderstood, unappreciated and maligned as these useful creatures. I’ve done
several articles about them and they are really quite fascinating, so if you see one, don’t hurt it!
Tonight as I closed up the chicken coop one of the hens was beating the crap out of something as her feathered friends
watched from their perches as if they were spectators at sporting event. Incredibly the big hen (the surviving
French girl) had actually killed a mouse. Winter can’t end too soon for any of us. While
I’m just tired of the inconvenience this winter has inflicted, for many of the wild things it has meant an early death.
9:16 am est
I awakened at 2:00 AM thinking it was time to start the day, but the dogs continuedtheir snoring and snuffling, oblivious
to my alert state. While lying there staring up at the tongue and groove ceiling, I made a list of all
that must be done today. Why was the sky still so dark, I wondered. It finally dawned
on me (no pun intended) that perhaps it was not yet morning. That’s when I looked at the clock.
After half an hour of tossing and turning I padded downstairs and drank some milk. What a wonderful,
but unheralded sleep inducer! The Milk Council really should exploit this benefit. I returned to bed and
was soon fast asleep, but disturbing dreams intruded upon my rest.
researching an article yesterday I came across information that haunts me and this was no doubt the source of the unpleasant
dreams. Mules have always played important roles in military operations, but during WWII the American government
got the bright idea to air drop them into chosen territories. They outfitted about ten mules with parachutes
and then began shoving them out of the plane. After three plunged to their deaths the remaining mules refused
to go near the open door. That’s when the government acknowledged that mules are indeed very smart
Primarily used as pack animals to carry munitions, mules carried 250 pounds on their backs for up to 16 hours each
day. God only knows what the government is doing to animals in the current wars. Things
like this keep me awake at night.
My friend Terry is a British
harness maker who after seeing horrible suffering and unintentional injuries inflicted on donkeys and mules in Third World
countries where they are the main transportation animals he decided to do something about it. In most cases
the injuries were easily preventable, but prevalent because the indigenous people just didn’t know how to create humane
harnessing with the materials they had available to them. Terry knew he could change this by designing
a simple harnessing system adaptable to various materials.
with a vet to remote sections he teaches locals how to make these harnessing systems, thus creating a cottage industry while
saving the animals unimaginable suffering from improvised harness like that seen in this photo.
I must keep reminding myself of people like Terry to get any sleep at night.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Thoughts at the end of the day.
9:19 pm est
Two roads diverged
in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I’m growing fonder of Mr. Frost these days. He's something of a soul mate.
This particular poem (The Road Not Taken) seems to sum up my life. I have few, if any regrets.
Tomorrow I will take photos
for the snow is just beginning to melt. No longer is everything pristine and lovely. Now it is dirty. I've
spent the day working on stories and feel good about finally getting back into my normal routine. I only hope there
will be no more unpleasant surprises.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
8:21 pm est
stranger seen walking on the road out here provokes all kinds of speculation. Someone on foot with no apparent destination
must surely be up to no good, so the neighborhood watch goes on alert. Such paranoia brings back memories of when I
was a kid on Fifth Street. Strangers were treated quite differently then.
My mother wasn’t really a good cook,
but to the endless stream of hungry dogs or hobos--as they were called prior to being re-christened ‘indigents,’
her offerings must have been veritable feasts. It didn’t occur to me at the time to wonder where any of them went
after leaving our backyard.
would begin with a chalk or crayoned mark found slashed on one of the maples in front of the house. For a while thereafter
a stream of hungry drifters would appear knowing they would be fed without question or fear.
For the dogs she’d put food on the cement sidewalk under the apple tree and the hungry mongrels would clean up every
morsel. For the men (and it was always men), the ritual was different.
A man would come to the back of the house, often clutching a soiled cloth cap in one hand as he rapped with his other
on the wooden porch boards. These men never came up onto the porch, but stretched their arms as long as possible to
humbly tap on the porch floor. My mother would come to the back door and without saying a word begin dishing up a meal
regardless of the time of day.
The man would sit on the cement steps waiting until the door opened. There would be no exchange of words, just an apparent
understanding between the two of them. In her somber house dress and sensible shoes she’d move silently across
the gray painted floor and hand the man a plate or maybe a bowl of soup. Most times there was coffee too. Then
she’d scurry back inside and push the little tab that locked the storm door. I’m sure the lock snapping
into place must have been embarrassing, but it was the price to be paid for a hot meal.
My memories of these events are always in
black and white and gray; the men as soiled and colorless as the long roads they’d traveled. Their clothes dreary
and hanging like excess skin on someone who has lost a lot of weight. They sat on the gray cement steps that led to
the gray painted porch and ate from my mother’s heavy faded ironstone dishes.
When the meal was finished the man might bow his head and nod to my mother who stood
safely behind the door, as if to thank her. Maybe he’d say something like, “Thank ya, ma’m.”
One man scribbled a note on a scrap of paper and left it under the plate. My mother kept that note in her Bible.
When the drifter
was gone she would snap the lock open, cross the porch and retrieve the dishes sometimes using a towel to pick up the soiled
plates which she’d put in the chipped double sink and pour boiling water over as if being a hobo were synonymous with
being sick and contagious.
Things have really changed.
Nowadays people call 911 and report a suspicious person who will probably be hauled off to jail. No doubt that person will
get a meal, but not like those my mother served.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Spring is in the air.
9:24 pm est
At first I thought it was just wishful thinking, but it’s true; spring is just around the corner. The
wildlife says it is so. The woods are just abuzz with activity. The silence that was
so deafening just a couple of weeks ago is gone. Birds are atwitter all day long. Squirrels scamper across
the snow, across the still-frozen pond and leap from one barren limb to another. They may already have
babies in their leafy nests.
In the barn one of the young hens is broody. Today, against her vocal protest I took four eggs from
under her. There will be time enough for chicks to hatch when the weather improves. Without
thinking I tucked the eggs in my jacket pocket, forgot they were there and leaned against the truck. Trust
me; sticking one’s hand into a pocket of cold yellow goo is not pleasant.
On the south
side of the house, near the foundation the snow has melted enough to expose pale green shoots of the lilies that skirt the
flagstone patio. It’s all so exciting!
I had hoped to plant some seeds today,
but can’t find the bag of potting soil, nor the peat pots that I distinctly remember buying last year. I spent way too
much time searching for these items, so tomorrow I’ll head to the store and get some more. You just
know the elusive soil and pots will show up then.
I’ve saved seeds from especially
tasty tomatoes and melons and some unusual squash that I’m eager to plant. The corner of the field
that has sadly become a dog cemetery is going to be planted with melons. Nettie had strange food preferences
and melons were among her favorites.
The dogs and I are slowly emerging
from our grief. The boys are romping and playing again instead of moping about, but they still seem lost
without their leader. Ted has even lost some weight during this period of mourning, but it seems that Ernie has found it.
He is obsessed with food and even steals bread crumbs which I put out for the birds. It’s
been a long difficult winter, but each day brings new signs that it will soon be over. I’m hopeful
and optimistic and can't wait to be taking more pictures like this one (last years garden).
An inspiring day in real country.
10:08 am est
I live quite
near the largest Amish community in the world and used to spend a good bit of time there since I write for several heavy horse
publications. The unbroken Amish tradition of working with draft animals has provided a plethora of story
subjects over the years. While in this picturesque landscape on business yesterday I stopped in to say
hello to friend Daniel Raber. Daniel is one of the most interesting and talented people I’ve ever
had the pleasure of knowing. He is a true master carriage restorer.
I met Daniel
and his late father Alvin many years ago and to say the pair was atypical of the Amish culture would be a gross understatement.
The family was Old Order and Alvin had followed in his father’s profession making and repairing Amish buggies,
but when the English (non-Amish) driving community discovered his outstanding craftsmanship he ceased buggy making and devoted
his skills entirely to restoration. Daniel learned from a master and in turn became one himself.
“I remember working on the last buggy Dad made. I was fifteen, so I’ve been doing this (restoration) for
twenty-eight years now.”
Alvin lost a brave battle with cancer
four years ago and the loss hit Daniel hard as father and son were very close. As Alvin’s restoration
business had grown he made the decision to leave the Amish society, got a car and a cell phone and a big RV which he and Daniel
drove to Alaska every year. His wonderful sense of humor was legendary and I never heard anyone say a harsh word about the
jovial genius. His knowledge of horse drawn vehicles was encyclopedic and I loved to sit and watch the
father and son working on some carriage that looked more like firewood than the rare coach it actually was.
Daniel has carried on his father’s craft and has maybe even surpassed the mastery, but unlike Alvin Daniel
has remained Amish. He still works out of the old barn on the family farm. The workshop is heated by a
monstrous old coal furnace. Propane, hydraulics, generators and batteries provide power. There’s
an ancient oil-stained workbench, neat stacks of firewood and two dogs. His mother’s house is just a dozen yards from
the barn and one brother’s place is up the lane a bit. Out of six siblings, only Daniel followed in his father’s
Like his dad, Daniel is a perfectionist who knows the history of every coach that comes into the shop.
One might expect someone who has restored carriages for collectors and museums globally to be snooty, but that’s
not the case. He’s humble, kind, friendly and brilliant. I’ve written about A & D Buggy
Shop in the past and look forward to doing more stories very soon.
the web site at: www.a-dbuggy.com and be sure to look at the before and after photos although the pictures scarcely convey the work involved in restoring them
to their original conditions.