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Tuesday, July 31, 2012



As the train rumbles northward passing over or beside various lakes, renewed anxiety fills the car.  Backpacks are yanked down from overhead bins, shoes that were removed so feet could rest upon the opposing seat are hastily pulled on and tied. Excited chatter resumes.  "We're almost there," says somebody.  "Look, there's Ed's island!" 

Anyone heading for Mile 212 knows that the best walleye fishing on Oba lake is between Ed's island (discreetly identified by faded white paint) and the shore.  Folks on the train are champing at the bit.  They can't wait to get their lines in the water.  Finally the train slows and there's Mike waiting to greet us.  Like the landscape, Mike never seems to change although his hair has faded from brown to gray. He's a big man with a big smile and a hearty embrace. Mike makes every person on the train feel welcome and safe and happy.


Mike and Hana emigrated from the Czech Republic and when they aren't at fish camp they live in Vancouver, British Columbia, but they travel extensively to exotic destinations all over the world.  I love them both.  They are interesting, creative and kind.  Hana is an accomplished potter and Mike has built a fabulous house in the remote mountains far north of Vancouver.

Greetings over, the arduous task of reclaiming all the gear from the baggage car begins.  It seems there's more to unload than was loaded at Hawk Junction, but everyone pitches in and within a matter of minutes everything with a 212 ticket is on the ground and the train continues its journey toward Hearst, the alleged moose capital of the world (although I never saw Bullwinkle when I was there...).

The improvised steps leading from the tracks down to the dock are hazardous.  Loose gravel covers the railroad ties that were used to construct them decades ago.  In spite of the dodgy footing all of the gear somehow makes its way down to the dock where the modified pontoon boat waits.  The pontoon is used exclusively for baggage transport and in spite of its copious capacity it's clear that Mike is going to have to make two trips to haul the incredible pile of stuff people have brought with them.  His smile and good humor never fade, but he must surely wonder what the heck is in all of those boxes, suitcases and Rubbermaid totes.

Andrei, Mike and Hana's son whom I've known since he was a child is now a handsome robust man, married to beautiful Kate and father to three month old Jessie.  Andrei helps everyone into the ‘people boat,' a sturdy craft with bench seats running from bow to stern and we sit crammed in like sardines as the boat zips over the water and rounds the bend.  Soon our home for the next week is within sight!  I see Hana standing on the dock and my little cabin in the background.


Unloading gear from the pontoon to the shore is a tedious task.  The dock is long and narrow and of varying heights, so passing while carrying luggage is dicey, but no one falls into the crystal-clear water and eventually the pile of stuff is sorted and hauled to the assigned cabins.  I'm in cabin #4, one of the original structures.

While the cabins may be old, they are spotlessly clean, thanks to Hana.  No electricity means rugs must be shaken rather than vacuumed.  Floors have to be swept with a broom and mopped and I know that cleaning the cabins is a lot of work. Running such a remote camp is a romantic myth.  It's labor-intensive!

In the kitchen an ever-changing hodge-podge assortment of dishes and cookware is more than adequate. There's a table and some unmatched chairs. Two bedrooms are separated from the kitchen by curtains hung in the doorways and there's a small box of firewood next to the stove.  Everything I need to be comfortable is here except linens. We all bring our own. 

I unpack my meager supplies, putting perishables in the vintage 1940's propane-fired fridge with its door that's held closed by a hasp.  The freezer (which does not freeze anything at all) has a nail and a bit of wire to hold its door shut, but like everything else it's adequate.  During my early visits to this camp refrigeration was limited to antique oak ice boxes with a big block of lake ice to keep things cool.  I much preferred the old ice boxes to the behemoth Serval.

Each cabin has its own privy, so marked with a corresponding number on the door.  These little houses tucked back from the cabins stink and the absurdity of the provided cans of air freshener make me smile.  A gas mask would be more appreciated, but no one expects a luxury loo at fish camp. Even so, trips to this little necessary building are  postponed as long as possible.


Soon Hana's happy face appears at my cabin door.  We hug one another, fix gin and tonics and retreat to the deck to catch up on all that's happened since my last visit.  It's good to be at my home away from home, but at this point I know that something is very wrong.  I am not just tired.  I am ill.  It's a bladder infection and I have no antibiotics.  The week ahead looms ominously, but I say nothing and hope for a miracle.


3:51 pm edt          Comments

Monday, July 30, 2012


 It's no secret that I was pretty excited about my recent escape to Canada.  After all these years my enthusiasm has not withered a bit, and so armed with several audio books I set off on the long two day drive that would culminate at the Hawk Junction rail station.  The weather was gorgeous.  The roads were construction-free and with the exception of two wrecks that slowed the traffic flow the drive all the way through Michigan was without incident.

 At last the border was in sight.  Waiting my turn at immigration, passport in hand I made the shocking discovery that the important document had expired in March.  Oh well, the border agent was jolly and forgiving and after a few questions he waved me through. It had been a long day and I was tired.  I headed for the Adams Motel, a place I knew to be clean and quiet and soon fell asleep without even eating dinner.  The next morning I arose early and had breakfast at a tiny local diner where everyone knew everyone except me.  A banging thunder storm hit and restaurant quickly became a safe haven for others.  I almost hated to leave, but I did when the rains quieted.  As always I felt almost giddy as I headed north on Route 17. Few places are as stunningly beautiful as Superior Provincial Park and it's always tempting to stop and photograph the same breathtaking vistas, but I reminded myself that it still looks as it did on my last trip.  That's the beauty of it all, the unchanging splendor of that countryside. 


There's not much in Wawa, the last town before the train station. As usual I stopped at Value Mart for perishable groceries and then a final email check at the library. Wawa may not have much, but it still has phone booths with working telephones!   With my errands completed (including sending a postcard to old Kenny and Wilson) I arrived at the Hawk Junction train station with an hour to spare. 

‘Time to visit with ever-smiling Kathy, the station master/mistress who does everything but drive the train.  Kathy used to have help, but as the ticket prices escalated so did her duties.  She's really quite remarkable; selling the tickets, loading the train, tending the station, taking calls and embracing friends that she has sent into the bush year after year, decade after decade.  This year the train was almost on schedule.


About all that remains in Hawk Junction these days is the train station and the Black Bear "lounge."   The quaint little store that used to sell lures, hats, tobacco, beer and ice cream was razed a few years ago leaving folks waiting for the train with nothing to do but sit at picnic tables under the shade trees or play cards in the station.  This year a pitiful old dog making her rounds was a catalyst for concern and conversation.  Since my truck always contains a meal on wheels for any hungry critter the old girl got fed before a boy on a bike arrived. He clipped a lead on her and pedaled off toward home where Kathy said the dog would be "tied up."  I was glad she'd had a bit of freedom.

At last the Algoma Central rumbled into the station and the mad dash to load gear into the baggage car began.  While I had a mere three parcels, most of the others appeared to have packed up half of their households to survive for a week in the bush.  I'm always puzzled by pseudo-macho men who bring their bed pillows.  It seems so unnecessary. 


Most of the baggage bore ‘212' tags meaning the train would dump us and our gear off 212 miles north of Sault Saint Marie, Ontario.  When the last boat motors, coolers, Rubbermaid totes galore and cases of beer were heaved into the car and the doors clanged shut the passengers boarded the train. The mood was like kids at a birthday party.

Slowly, at first the train rocked out of the station, grumbling past the now-deserted mill at Dubberville where nothing remains but rusting equipment, abandoned buildings and mountains of sawdust.  The lumber business has bitten the dust and a lot of people are now out of work. It's an ugly and depressing sight, but soon passed from our view as the train picked up speed. It cut through arboreal forests and wedges that had been sliced through granite just wide enough for the train, so narrow one could easily brush the rock if the windows opened.  Water shimmered through the trees and the first lakes appeared. 

A piercing calm fell over the passengers and I imagined that everyone else was as awe-struck as I seeing the landscape which has remained unchanged since the railroad was built in the 19th century.  It's beautiful, but my eyelids suddenly felt very heavy and an uncomfortable fatigue hit me like a hammer.  Excusing it and the accompanying headache I told myself it was just that the long drive had finally caught up to me.  If only that had been the case....


3:57 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, July 19, 2012

. as I set of BYE BYE FOR NOW.


I knew he didn't stand a chance unless I stopped to rescue him from the middle of the road.  Expecting to simply move the big coiled snake to safer territory I didn't expect to see a half-consumed frog protruding from the his unhinged jaws.  The frog that was almost the size of my fist had gone (involuntarily) head first into the snake and I'm not sure that it was completely dead when I arrived on the scene.  The leg movements might have been from the slowly contracting ingestion motion (I hope...).  It was a sight I have never before seen.  I took Mister snake and "friend" out of harm's way and moved them to the roadside ditch.

My bag, Rubbermaid tote full of necessary food and my backpack with camera, field glasses, sketch pad and survival tools are all packed. I'm ready to hit the open road first thing tomorrow morning on the first 575 mile leg of my journey.  Day one isn't a fun drive, but it's crucial to cover that distance the first day in order not to miss the northbound train at Hawk Junction, Ontario which leaves mid-afternoon Saturday.  Missing the Saturday train means waiting until Monday for the next one and to the best of my knowledge there is no lodging in Hawk Junction.  Neither is there any reason I'd care to overnight at Hawk Junction!

My  "vacation" really begins the minute I climb aboard the Algoma Central train that cuts through the Canadian bush.  The ride is quite lovely and I know the getaway will be wonderful as always, but as always, just days prior to departure I become melancholy.  How can I possibly leave my animals, the gardens, my friends? 

This passes when I remember that I'll also be leaving the irritating noise of the dirt bikes from over the hill, the pathetic barking of the sad beagle on the corner, the rude drivers that would gladly run over snakes, cats, chickens or anything else that ventures into the road.  A trip to remote Oba lake is a peaceful respite for body and soul where nothing ever changes.  The rocks, the cedars and the pine-studded islands, the crystal clear water and the abundant wildlife are just as they were when I first stumbled upon this place decades ago.

Even the camp that was originally built about 70 years ago looks much the same as it might have then although a few more structures (as seen in the picture) have been added over the years.  The vertical log style of the new is consistent with those built by Sam Wood in the 1940's.  I will probably stay in the cabin called the trapper cabin identified by the rusty leghold trap that hangs over the door. Containing no more than what's needed to be safe, dry and comfortable, it's a reminder of how unnecessary most of what we clutter our lives with really is.  Less is more.

Since there will be no computer access, no electricity or any other amenities there will be no blog posts until the 30th at the earliest at which time I hope to have wonderful tales of bears, oddballs in camp and of course, the fish that got away (that would be all of them since I don't fish...).This will be 'home' for the next week.


4:32 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, July 18, 2012



And the chubby intruder heeded the order.  The big fat coon shot out of the garden shed where he'd planned to have a mid-afternoon snack and bolted through the cluster of mindless chickens.  The hen party exploded like shrapnel.  Fatso paid no mind and scurried under the tractor shed, his big round rump wiggling to fit under the skimpy space. Of course he returned about an hour later, but it was too hot to run him off again.

The thermometer on the garden shed read 98 degrees, a day not fit for man or beast. It looks as if there's been a massacre here with all the cats splayed full length, motionless in the shade of bushes that are withering before my eyes.  Only Booger seems sensible as he lounges in the basket on the desk in my air conditioned office.  The others think nothing is worth their attention--except for Tom.  Snakes seem to revel in this wretched weather, so Tom roused himself from a nap to poke at a reptile stretched out on the step.  He finally encouraged it to retreat into the lilies, then satisfied with his accomplishment as game warden, Tom returned to napping.

The bad asses have dug themselves several new dusting holes, AKA ankle breakers for their careless two-legged caretaker.  The barnyard is a dry pitted mess with a few thriving scraggly weeds.  I won't be a bit reluctant to leave this weather.  I'm not a summer person to begin with, but this summer is simply unbearable, so I'm heading to northern Ontario, to my favorite lake where I look forward to cooling off for a while.

I've never been much of a water person other than canoeing or kayaking.  In other words I enjoy being ON the water, rather than IN the water.  In fact I can barely swim and would be hard-pressed to save myself in the event of a capsize, hence a trusty PFD is a trusty companion.

My swimwear, such as it is was tired-looking and worse still, I couldn't find the one reasonably-attractive suit that I was sure was somewhere, but where?  What better reason to head into town to my favorite air-conditioned thrift store where I found just what I needed.  The black Speedo was brand new with tags and it fits, but the name makes me laugh. For people like me someone should market a line called Splasho's.



10:37 am edt          Comments

Tuesday, July 17, 2012



Joyce Kilmer wrote:"I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree...."

Revised by Karen Kirsch:  "I fear that I shall never see, a stand of unmolested trees...."

Okay, I admit that I'm no poet, but as anyone who has ever been to this farm will attest, I am passionate about trees.

It was distressing enough to read that the local school district recently made a deal with a questionable logging outfit to sell 418 trees (AKA a small forest...) behind the school for a mere $18,000.00. I and others learned of the sale after the fact.

The ignored opportunities this unlogged woodland held are countless.  It might have served as a natural laboratory for the schools science or biology department.  It might have been used to teach conservation.  It did serve as food and shelter for imperiled wildlife destined to be displaced.  It could even have been responsibly and selectively harvested using horse loggers which would have been a sustainable resource, but a deal was cut (pun intended) behind closed doors and now a wasteland will exist instead of a lovely woodland.  Such utter ignorance makes me furious, to put it mildly, but today ignorance struck closer to home.

After taking the truck in to have the tires rotated I learned that a $635.00 brake job was needed.  I returned home in a mild state of shock over the unexpected, but obviously quite necessary expense only to be met with the unsettling roar of a chainsaw nearby.  I have not yet investigated the source, but am fairly certain about who is responsible and what is being destroyed.

Then I read an internet "headline" about a family that could not leave its home because a bee swarm (they looked like honey bees) had taken up residence in a mature tree in front of the house.  The owner said he'd called city and park officials, but no one could help.  Enter stupid ‘we're on your side' reporter who made a lot of noise and "solved the problem." 

The formerly-captive man proudly stood on a stump.  The solution had not been to call an agricultural university, or an apiary or any other logical option.  The "solution" was to cut down a healthy tree and then to pose as if the idea had been pure genius.

And so, my question is what is wrong with people?  Why do they refuse to be educated about the real value of trees, the lungs of the earth, be it one or 418?  Rattycat's expression conveys my own dismay and disappointment over the rampant environmental ignorance and indifference in modern society.


9:30 am edt          Comments

Sunday, July 15, 2012



"Mom, mom, where are you?  Help!  I'm too little to take care of myself!  Mom, mom...."

The calls were pathetic and heart-breaking because the ‘mom' was not coming back.  The chick was just a week old, but hawks don't care if their ‘lunch' leaves a helpless survivor.  The hen vanished without a trace and one pitiful chick was left alone in a world / flock of nasty, cruel poultry.  They wanted nothing to do with the orphan.

Hoping that perhaps the red hen might not notice an extra kid under her wing I slipped the desperate peep next to her on the perch.  Uncharitable tramp that she is she pecked the baby until it fell to the floor of the coop.  I tried the Pointer Sister with her two chicks.  She looked perplexed, as if to say, "Gee, I could have sworn I only hatched two eggs, but, oh well...."  The chick spent the night in precarious foster care, but was abandoned the next morning.

I'm leaving on another trip the end of next week and the critter sitter has her hands full as it is.  She doesn't need to worry about a motherless child.  Phone calls and emails were futile until I remembered Sally.  Good old Sally!  Her email said:  "Yes and I will call him Ichiban (Japanese for number 1)."

Sally arrived this morning, armed with a big bag of beautiful kale from her garden.  We had a long-overdue visit and then went up to the barn to collect her newest chicken.  It looks like a good match, don't you think?


2:02 pm edt          Comments

Friday, July 13, 2012



The day after the party I found two loaves of Kenny's trademark spelt bread at the end of the drive, a loaf flanking either side of the gate. Back at the house I opened the freezer to find it already stuffed with six more loaves.  As I stood at the gaping fridge wondering where to put the latest contributions neighbor Sandy walked in bearing four more loaves.

"Kenny dropped off two bags (garbage bags) of bread.  The sheep are getting sick of this stuff," she said plunking the cellophane-wrapped bread (that can't be reclosed after opening) down on the kitchen table. 

"The chickens are eating a half a loaf a day already," I explained.  "The bad asses love it, but too much of it gives them the poops."

Having been raised my entire life hearing, ‘waste not, want not'  I would never discard this perfectly good food, but honestly how much bread does Kenny think one person and a few animals can eat???  Sandy left, I put the bread in the fridge that now contains little of anything else and came up to my office to work.  I'd hardly gotten started when the dogs announced that someone else was here.

Looking out the window I saw an unfamiliar older man walking up the driveway.  He was carrying some newspapers and yes, another loaf of spelt bread which he explained he found at the gate.  He introduced himself as John Adams and said he had his wife and George Robart in the car.  "George is the fellow who used to own this farm.  Didn't you know we was comin'?" he asked.  "Wilson said he'd tell ya."

Well no, I didn't know, but I was happy to meet the jolly trio (John, Dorothy and George) and invited them in for coffee.  Dorothy said, "Oh, I see Kenny brings spelt bread to you too.  Isn't it the worst stuff you've ever tasted!  I tried to make stuffing and bread pudding with it and it isn't even good for that," she laughed.  I told her about my fridge full, the animals' reluctance to eat it anymore and we discussed the questionable value of spelt bread in general.

George looked around with wonder.  "I sure wouldn't have recognized the place," he said.  While he teeters around with a walker George still has all of his own teeth and he doesn't need hearing aids.  He's slow, but in pretty good shape for being 98 years old.  He said he bought this farm in 1942.  "It had 33 acres of land, and the house had a wood cook stove," he said pointing to the spot in the kitchen where the chimney hole had been. It didn't have electricity either.  George had paid $2,500.00. He chuckled remembering the dungeon cellar, recalled the old orchard and even the old kitchen floor which had apparently acquired its seven layers (which I tore up) after George sold the place to go into the Army.   The old barn had already burned down, so it was he who built a flat-roofed yellow tile building where he kept cows.  That building didn't hold up well and all that remains are bits of the crumbled foundation which I've been trying to bury since I bought the farm.

George was quickly becoming tired and John (a most-entertaining character) pretty much dominated the conversation.  Before he retired he owned a well drilling company and incredibly it was his company that I had hired in 1987 to redo the house well. He remembered which workers he'd sent to do the job. There was so much more I wanted to know, but George was pooped and the Adams couple had carpet cleaners coming, so they had to leave, but promised to return and I hope they do.

As they were getting into the car John gave me his card which lists the services he provides:

Call Girls, New Cars, Jury Bribes, Wheel Chairs, Bed Pans, Elections Rigged, FHA Connections, Used Rugs, Horses Bought & Sold, Carpets, Trash Hauling, Manure Broker, Baby Sitting, Artificial Insemination, Lawns Mowed, Chicken Plucker, Pickle Pickers, Holes for Sale, Beer, Railroad Tickets Anything Wholesale, Perfumes, Nylon Hose, Brassieres and Monkey Wrenches.

And so my morning began....


11:46 am edt          Comments

Wednesday, July 11, 2012



I don't know if the bizarre weather is to blame, but life here at my Peaceable Kingdom seems to have gone haywire.  Tiny the serial killer is trying to take Peggy Sue on as an apprentice. Survival this hot dry summer is difficult enough for wildlife, but for any member of the rodent family, including moles, voles, chipmunks and assorted varieties of mice the deck is really stacked against them.  So far Peggy has limited her killing to moths, but Tiny is doing her best to corrupt her little sister.

Lothario, the big speckled rooster has been stalking Ted.  Just when the big guy stops to take a pee in the ivy the rooster charges from wherever he's lurking and attacks.  Ted is perplexed and looks at me as if to say, "What's with him?"  So far he hasn't retaliated.  Ted weighs 114 pounds.  The rooster weighs about 12 pounds.   ‘Lucky for the dumb bird that Ted is so tolerant.

One of the teenage chicks has suddenly morphed into a dead ringer for a pheasant.  Considering the trigger happy nut-cases around these parts I'm a bit concerned for this bird's safety.

A few days ago the number of eggs normally collected from the laying boxes dropped dramatically, but not because the hens aren't laying.  Hens like to announce to anyone within earshot that they've just laid an egg.  From the house I hear the commotion, but since the eggs are not in the designated place, this means the girls are secreting their deposits elsewhere; behavior which usually signals that one of the hens is getting broody.   I've searched every nook and cranny in the barn and even the surrounding vegetation, but find nothing. The last thing I want/need around here is another clutch of chicks!

There's always been a healthy squirrel population here and it's little wonder since there are literally dozens of black walnut trees and a nice oak tree as well.  No food shortage on this farm!  The cats don't pay much attention to the bushy-tailed tree dwellers, but lately the army of squirrels is obsessed with harassing the cats.  The relentless chattering and teasing begins early each morning and continues most of the day. 

Rattycat is fed before dark so that the food bowl is empty during the night, but the ever-hopeful raccoon still visits each evening.  Not easily discouraged he sometimes dumps the aluminum can recycle bucket to express his disappointment, but lately he has started stealing the empty cat food bowls.  Three have vanished in the past couple of weeks.  Is this some sort of political statement?  I'm running out of bowls.

I blame all of this discord on climate change.


10:34 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, July 10, 2012



And what a wonderful party it was!  The gala began at 2:00 pm and the last guest left at 10:30 pm.  Mother Nature gave us a break and dropped the temperature by about twenty degrees and even provided a gentle breeze.  The food was plentiful, innovative and delicious (as usual) and the guests were interesting, creative and lively (also as usual).  It was a lovely event, but the following day I awoke sick as a dog, hence no post-party post on Monday.

As guests poured in and kitchen chaos ensued with everyone adding last minute touches to the foods I was surprised (an understatement!) to see Kenny and Wilson, all dandied up and sitting under the big maple tree, so I rushed out to welcome them.


"Boy, I'm sure glad you added ‘Wilson' to that invitation," said Kenny's buddy.  I'm glad I did too.  Just as Kenny is quiet and shy, Wilson's quite a chatty character.  He told me about a fellow named George Robart who lived on this farm in the 1930's.  Robart is now 98 and living in a nursing home, but Wilson plans to bring him here for a visit. 

"He has trouble getting around these days, but his mind is sharp as a tack.  He'll have lots to tell you about this place," promised Wilson..  I can't wait!  While I know a bit of the farms 19th century history and have firsthand knowledge of the place from when my friend Tom bought in the late 1960's, I know nothing about its early 20th century history.  I'm eager to learn the exact location of the old barn, milk house, wells, etc., so I'm looking forward to meeting Mr. Robart.

In all the years I've known Kenny Sunday was the first and only time I've seen him in anything but his signature blue overalls and cap.  As you can see in the photo Kenny(on the left) was all done up for the gathering.  The two old gentlemen-and they truly are gentle men-had a wonderful time and I was delighted they came.


A couple of the music ‘regulars' were ill and called with their regrets, but although we lacked a guitarist, the music that drifted from under the big maple drew a small appreciative audience.  On the porch, deck and patio several new acquaintances were made within the small groups that congregated.  Dogs, cats and chickens did their best to entertain and the bad asses pretended to be innocent of their bad reputations.  As I looked around at faces, some familiar and some new I felt very blessed to have so many creative and interesting friends.  It was a beautiful day and I'm sure I'll do it all again next July. 


11:13 am edt          Comments

Saturday, July 7, 2012



"Hey Tom, are coming to the party tomorrow," Peggy asks her handsome beau.

"I haven't decided yet.  This heat is killing me.  I don't feel in much of a party mood," he replies and I've got to say that until about an hour ago I've been in agreement with Tom.

The July party is a long-standing tradition here and while preparation is always laborious, this year with the temperature holding steady at 100 F. ‘laborious' doesn't begin to describe the scene, but I can now heave a great sigh of relief.  All of the really demanding work is finished.  A few foodie things remain to address, but the house is as clean as it ever gets, the kitchen chairs have been moved to the dining room and now crowd the Windsors around the big table, wine glasses await the first pour and presuming that I can get myself looking like a hostess tomorrow I consider things party-ready. 


The cleome has even redeemed the ragged gardens.  It almost looks as if I planted all these beautiful spidery flowers, but no; they are all volunteers that don't seem to mind the miserable conditions. 


I look forward to tomorrow; good food, good friends, music under the big Norway maple and the continuation of what has historically been a good time.


6:08 pm edt          Comments

Friday, July 6, 2012



Reluctantly I gave the broody little black hen that was setting in a corner of the donkeys' stall two eggs.  I really should have known that her gal pals would be supplementing the supply, but the truth is that I just didn't bother to pick her up daily and check.  It was foolish.  I don't want more chickens. Last night I finally did lift her protesting little body and found not only a dozen eggs, but one yellow chick just in the process of hatching.  A second egg was cracking, but it was apparently unable to extricate itself from the egg and was found dead this morning.  Mother and her only child have been moved to the safety of the hay room along with the unhatched eggs, but I'm tempted to discard them or to give them to someone with an incubator.

Chickens are dirty creatures.  Mine are let outside at 6:30 am and roam freely until they go to roost at dusk, but even so they manage to make a mess of their coop during the night.  Cleaning it is ugly business, but something that must be done and so it was today.  I like to think that when they come in this evening they will appreciate how I slaved away in this miserable heat for their comfort.  Yeh, right.... 

The skylight in their coop is a nice feature in the winter, but in summer it's just another heat source, so I tack up a sun shade.  Today I realized that the shade was crooked, so armed with the staple gun I climbed up the ladder to adjust it. That's when the first yellow jacket hit and sent me running from the barn.  Since chickens are not known to be perfectionists it will remain crooked.

Back at the house, nursing my injured hand I realized just how much extra work my free-range flock creates.  They poop all over the place requiring daily hosing of walkways unless I want to risk sliding through the stinky deposits.  They dig up my plants and pull mulch from the gardens.  They sit on patio benches as if the furniture had been placed there just for them.  They peck on the doors and demand special treats which I, their slave provide.

One could say I've created my own problems and I guess they'd be correct, but I can't imagine this place without my feathered "friends."  They will probably invite themselves to Sunday's party.

I look forward to this annual event which I have the audacity to refer to as a "garden party" because it's a chance to share the relative tranquility of my small country life with friends for whom chickens and bad asses are novelties.  The critters adore all the attention, so a good time is always had by all.


4:31 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, July 4, 2012



Ted went to the vet again, this time for his bum leg.  Although he enjoys the truck ride to and from, once there he becomes very anxious and reverts puppyhood, an outrageous display considering his bulk.  Even so, the nervous clown with his leash in his mouthas if taking himself for a walk never misbehaves, nor becomes aggressive like some of the other dogs there.  As the vet flexed his big legs and palpated his belly Ted just knitted his funny doggie eyebrows and said, "I'm scared!" but wagged his tail and did his best to cooperate.

In addition to his heart condition he has a severe case of arthritis in his left rear leg, so another drug has been added to the daily medication regimen.  It feels like I'm running a nursing home; Ted now gets two heart pills plus his arthritis tablet, Julie gets a big fish oil capsule for her itchy skin while Ernie gets thyroid pills.  The kitchen windowsill looks like a pharmacy shelf.  We are also going to try magnetic therapy to see if this helps.

Preparing for Sunday's party is an overwhelming task, so when I found a message from Super Sue offering to come over with her weed whip to help with the gardening it felt as if the guy from Publisher's Clearinghouse had called.  I eagerly accepted her offer and in no time she arrived like a soldier armed with the latest weapon to fight pesky garden invaders.  In a couple of hours she accomplished what would have taken me days to do.  That woman is a dynamo! Needless to say, I'm extremely grateful.  Now if I only had a friend who liked to clean house....


9:40 am edt          Comments

Monday, July 2, 2012



On Sunday I am hosting my annual "garden party" but this year it would more accurately be called a "weed fest."  The gardens that in previous years were glorious in spite of my casual neglect are parched, weed-infested and full of plants that shouldn't have bloomed until August, but did bloom and now stand as withered stalks.  It's a mess.  My friends are very forgiving, so I'm sure the event will still be enjoyable even if not surrounded by pretty greenery.

Ernie and I sat on the porch taking a break from attempted garden renovation.  I was reading the New Yorker and Ernie was surveying his kingdom while Julie and Ted had opted to stay inside next to the fan.  Ernie (who is normally a bit of a coward) abruptly pulled to attention, emitted a low threatening growl and then took off like a rocket toward the orchard.  I've never seen the fat boy move so fast!  His bark was enough to frighten off the most intrepid invader, so the poor deer that had just dropped by to eat some gnarly apples left in a hurry.  Having accomplished his mission as estate guardian Ernie changed before my eyes.  He has taken on an entirely new persona.  No longer the timid, dim tubby of the dog family, he now exhibits a surprising confidence and pride.  Go Ernie!

As I walked around the nature trail that's usually flush with wild flowers and greenery it looked as if the entire area has been sprayed with Agent Orange.  Only the burdock and multiflora rose survive and even the latter is wilted.  If these plants (plus the ubiquitous plantain) were the only food sources, we humans could survive; young burdock is edible, plantain is versatile even if it is vile tasting and multiflora rose hips are chock full of Vitamin C.  I hope things never get so desperate that I have to resort to such a diet!


9:13 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, July 1, 2012



The little red hen is not such a good mother.  She should probably be reported to Chicken Children's Services, but fortunately for her lone offspring she pals around with the black hen who is a candidate for Mother of the Year.  The red hen's chick is learning the ropes of survival from her surrogate mom as she teaches her two kids.

Today while dispensing crumbled spelt bread (compliments of Kenny who has filled my freezer with the stuff...) the two hens and their peeps were eagerly pecking about under the pear tree.  No sooner had the bread hit the ground when a hungry blue jay decided to help himself to some of the not-so-tasty stuff.  Mother of the Year immediately went into full attack mode and beat the crap out of Mr. Jay who made a hasty retreat, no longer hungry or at least smart enough to know that spelt crumbs aren't worth encountering the wrath of an angry hen.

Near the pump is a stump just big enough to trip me.  I've tried to chop it off, but it's as hard as steel.  The bothersome hazard is usually hidden by tall grasses and pokeweed, but yesterday it suddenly became very visible.  The weeds surrounding it were down and there was a small hole next to the stump.  Today the hole is considerably bigger and the excavation work is going great guns.  The hole enters into the ground at a 45 degree angle.  It isn't big enough for a groundhog.  It's too obvious and atypical for a rabbit.  Opossums don't dig and opportunistic coons have no reason to exert themselves in such activity when they can simply sneak into the garden shed for snacks.  This leaves one possible culprit-a skunk. 


A metal water bowl sits next to the pump for any thirsty wildlife and each day it is almost empty, so I suspect the excavator is appreciative of the refreshment bar.  Eau de pepe l'pew sometimes disrupts the night and since skunk odor carries a long way this may be a clue.  He/she is certainly a strong digger.  Rocks the size of softballs have been dislodged and the stump that has stumped me for years apparently presents no obstacle for the digger.  To be continued.

The water from the barn well is icy cold and delicious, but for fear of agricultural chemical runoff that possibly pollutes it, I only drink it when really parched while working up there.  Lately more than water has shot out of the spout.  Thankfully no mice have built nests in it yet this year, but several times in the past few weeks startled frogs or toads have found themselves in the water pail.  This was today's little visitor.  Amphibian life  is a good sign regarding the health of that water source, so I'm pleased, but puzzled as to how this cute fellow got in there.   I think it's an Eastern American Toad, but am not certain.


The bad asses are at it again.  They've discovered that there are tomato plants on the opposite side of their paddock fence and there's nothing they like more than tomato leaves.  Today I caught them in the act of trying to remove the pesky woven wire fence that separates them from their favorite treat.  Both bad asses had their teeth firmly clamped on the bottom wire and were tugging with all their might.  Thankfully the garden hose was nearby and donkeys do not like getting wet, not even when the temperature is in the 90's.  A quick squirt was all it took to kill their craving and send them racing around as if they'd been shot, but I know they'll be back. 

Although I myself find the heat debilitating it doesn't seem to bother most of the other critters around here.  'Wish I knew their secret!



5:08 pm edt          Comments

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