Friday, September 22, 2017

Primordial Places


Most of the project sites I travel to for work are not that far from the beaten path.  But sometimes, I find myself working in a place that seems as though it rarely feels the tread of boots.  There are still wild places, not that far away, that feel primordial.  With hidden waterfalls...


and cascading streams.


These are usually rugged places - where the bones of the planet poke through.


These steep and wild places are sanctuaries for trees and forest life.  Because the trees are so hard to harvest, they are allowed to grow to impressive heights.  


Like Alice, my dimensions feel altered, and the scale of the world is different.  Ferns as tall as our waists..

  
and thickets of dense rhododendron to navigate.  It's hard not to feel vulnerable when your limbs are tangled in branches and the pattern of leaves underneath is perfect camouflage for the copperheads that are known the live there.  


Every little pool of water is filled with the buzzes, croaks and peeps of some of the most ancient life forms. My heightened copperhead awareness helps me tune in to every flutter of leaves in my perephery.  Sometimes I feel slight vibrations and stirring with the soles of my feet.  The soil is alive. 


On the forest floor, which has been mulched with decades of leaves, grow strange creatures, like this stinky and weirdly familiar mushroom.  Giggle. 


Pretty purple buttons poke through the leaves.  


Like vibrant sea anemone, the fungi spread their arms.


Ancient plant lifeforms, like this clubmoss, carpet the slopes.  


I have fond childhood memories of decorating a tree house with long strands of ground cedar, making curtains to shield me. 


Another clubmoss, ground pine, creeps on long stolons forming colonies. 


If it wasn't for all the snakes and insects, I could get comfortable on the ground pine carpet and take a much needed nap!  My coworkers wear fitbits, so now we know that I don't start really whining about getting tired until we've hiked seven miles and about a hundred flights of stairs.    


Coral reef, or forest floor?  




Decaying logs were moist, black, and covered in colorful moss and fungi. 


Is this a chanterelle?  There were hundreds of them.  


As we hiked down this steep valley, we saw a deer up ahead.  We slowly approached, waiting for it to dart away.  As I got closer, I could see it's chest heaving as it breathed.  It's eyes were closed and it was making a gentle snoring or groaning sound as it stood with it's feet in the flowing stream and it leaned its snout against the moss covered bank.  When it's tail flicked, tiny droplets of bright red blood spattered it's flanks.  That's when I noticed the still bleeding scratches and puncture wounds on both sides of it's back legs, and the large bite mark on the back of it's neck!  Something attacked this deer, and very recently too.  Could it be a bobcat?  A bear? a dog? a coyote?  A mountain lion!?  I wonder, was it watching us, while we examined it's dinner...  

Friday, September 15, 2017

Back from Vacation


I'm baaaack!  I'm home from vacation.  I traveled with my parents and my aunt all the way the shores of Lake Erie, where we set up camp at East Harbor State Park.  We are getting to be experts at camping.  We travel with some of the comforts of home packed into my parents camper.  My tent was very comfortable too, and this time, I felt I had plenty of room for myself and all my gear. I wonder what was so different this time?  I know - it's because I wasn't sharing a tiny tent with a giant Brandon!  


It was too cold for swimming, but the perfect temperature for hiking, touring, biking, and enjoying our nightly campfire.  And eating, of course.  We cooked delicious campers breakfasts in the mornings, with enough leftover bacon for picnic BLT sandwiches for lunch.  


We rode the ferry to Kelly's Island, and joined the other weekend tourists enjoying drinks on the balconies and seeing the sights.  One of the sights was these large groves carved in rocks by glaciers nearly twenty-five thousand years ago.  They were some very groovy rocks.  


We saw a picturesque lighthouse under deep blue skies, with sailboats on the water, children scampering on the rocks, and a lovely couple taking their wedding photos at the base.  


Sunrise over the lake was beautiful.  The sun was a brilliant orange ball that swiftly rose from the water into the pink sky. 


We rented a bike!  It's been years and years since most of us had ridden a bike, and I was nervous we would end up bruised and bleeding.  Luckily, riding a bike is just like riding a bike - you don't really forget how to do it. 


Weeeeee!!!!


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Such Good Donkeys


I was so proud of the donkeys when the farrier came to trim their hooves.  Especially Rufus, who stood quietly while the farrier trimmed all four hooves and I hugged his face and petted his forehead.  No kicking!  And, it was only his second hoof trimming.  He's such a good boy.  


Hattie is still a baby, and it was her first time, so she's excused for kicking up a little fuss. She was curious while Rufus had his hooves trimmed, and kept sticking her face in the way.  When it was her turn, she didn't like it much.  I held her as tight as I could, and even had to twist her poor ears to get her to hold still.  The farrier said I was doing a good thing to get her trimmed when she was so young, so she will get used to it before she's a crabby old girl.  


The farrier said their feet were in good shape.  I told him that I don't use a pick to get the dirt out of their hooves every week, like the book says to do.  He said that it's important to do that if they stand around in mud all day, or if they are locked in a stall and can't get their feet cleaned out by roaming around, because they could get thrush in their feet.


In the days leading up to the farrier visit, Hattie got to practice with the halter going on and coming off, and she even got to try having her head tied to a post.  She was not a huge fan, and pulled on the post so hard that it's a little loose in the ground now.  But, even though she didn't care for being tied up, she and Rufus both enjoy the attention of the halter and lead rope.  They stand still and let me buckle them up, and try to stick their noses in my pockets where I keep the sunflower seeds.  I tried leading them both with ropes while we took a walk around the pasture, and it was a fiasco.  They are pretty good at taking a walk with Rufus behind me and Hattie bringing up the rear, but that's hard to manage with leashes.  We need to practice!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Herb Spiral is Good


I've mentioned before that the mound of rocks and dirt by the back door is and herb spiral.  In this picture, it looks less like an herb spiral and more like an herb clump!  


But in that clump of vegetation, is several types of basil, holy basil, sage, oregano, and thyme, plus a milkweed plant and a couple of marigolds.  


The sweet basil and holy basil have dominated the spiral, for sure.  They smell wonderful, and I enjoy seeing the insects visiting the flowers right outside the door.  It's two steps past the door to harvest more herbs that we can eat!  Our favorite salad dressing during the elimination diet is a giant handful of herbs, mostly sweet basil, blended with olive oil, raw apple cider vinegar, honey, and a pinch of salt.  It's bright green, and tangy.  I keep a jar of it in the refrigerator and have been known to brush it on fish, and even add it to tomato sauce.  If I were smart I would figure out how to freeze some of these herbs in oil so I could have salad dressing even in the winter...  


Of the three milkweed plants that I transplanted to the top of the spiral, only one survived.  It's the tall plant with the broad leaves sticking up above the others.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Summer Harvest


So many tomatoes!  It's exciting to harvest so many fruits from the garden, but also daunting to have so much food that needs attention.  I would feel overwhelmed if I weren't able to pass on all the ripe tomatoes to family members who like to preserve tomato juice in jars to enjoy through the winter.  I've enjoyed eating my fill of tomatoes and even freezing some sauce.  


The tomato patch was low maintenance and incredibly productive, but not incredibly easy to harvest from.  The plants grew into a lush tangle of leaves, and the cages could barely support the weight of the heavy fruits, so they are leaning on each other.  I've got some ideas for improvements for next year.  


Brandon and I completed the full two months of the elimination diet.  High five!  It was intense, to spend so much time and thought on food and food preparation, but it leaves us in a very good place, health wise.  We learned so much about how our bodies respond to different foods, we got into some good habits, we feel really good, and all our clothes are too big.  We had suspicions that eggs were a problem for Brandon, and unfortunately, the elimination diet confirmed it.  He can't eat eggs, and I have fourteen laying hens.  Sigh.  But, we get to share eggs with friends, and any eggs that get dirty shells get cracked into some dog food for Wendigo.  She loves eggs.   Lately, we always have a bowl of eggs sitting by the front door ready for the dogs.  The cats think it's weird.  


Our most productive summer crops, other than eggs and tomatoes, are the green beans.  Inside the garden fence, with zinnias and sunflowers, the beans have conquered the corn and wire trellises.  


The corn was planted so late and so thinly, I didn't anticipate them actually making ears.  They are lost in a tangle of beans, but the corn made corn!


I picked half the beans, and we ate beans until we were tired of them.  There's still plenty on the vine.  The lettuce, chard, and kale kept us in greens all spring and early summer.  The herbs I started from seed in the greenhouse are monster sized plants that have given us delicious dishes and salad dressings all summer long.  I have a pile of garlic drying in the barn, and sweet potatoes still growing in the ground.  The apple tree is covered in tiny spotted apples, and even the old pear tree in the front yard has a load of pears that will be ready to pick soon.  It's funny that when I list all the foods we grew this year, it sounds like a lot, but when I look at my weedy garden I don't always see the food past the weeds!  

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Siblings in Halters and Goat Intimidation


Can you tell they are related?  Now that Hattie is shedding her lighter colored baby fur, she looks more and more like her brother Rufus.  They have the same fuzzy ears, and the same velvety noses.  They squabble over who gets to stand closest to the food, or who gets to be petted, just like siblings do.  A giant horse fly was buzzing around them yesterday, and Hattie practically crawled under her brother trying to escape before she kicked up her heels and raced for the barn.  She does not like horseflies.  


Look - Hattie is wearing her new halter!  It's pink.  You know, for a girl donkey.


Getting the halter on was a big step for Hattie and I.  Luckily for me, she loves sunflower seeds, so I was able to bribe her into wearing the halter.  Now that she can wear a halter, I can more easily wipe her down with the herbal fly repellent.   I made an appointment with the farrier to get both of their hooves trimmed too.  Hattie's eyes are frequently watery, and the tears make tracks down her face.  Her eyes aren't red or gunky, so I'm not sure if she's got allergies, dust in her eyes, fly problems, or something even worse.  Being able to tie her up is going to help me figure out what's going on.  


Little Buck has made his place in the goat herd.  He still gets bossed by the older goats, but he doesn't seem to mind as much these days.  He's pushy, just like Peaches.  I don't know if it's a difference in their breed or their upbringing, but the River brothers are less likely to step on my feet trying to force their way out of the gate when I come in.  Peaches and Little Buck just barge their way right past me, over me, or under me, if they can.  I can see now that I'm going to have to assert myself more in order not be trampled by my growing herd.  I was warned that slapping a pushy goat doesn't do anything but hurt your hand, since they are so bony and hard headed.  Seeing how hard they hit each other lets me know they would be hard to intimidate physically.  They respect the water hose the most, since they don't like to get wet.  I'm about to introduce them to a squirt bottle in order to teach them some manners! Stop stepping on my toes!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Hoards of Hay


Would you just look at all that hay!  That's all hay that we cut from our own fields, stored on two hay racks that Brandon built.  They aren't even completely filled up yet!


As you may remember, we've been making small bales of hay with the home made hand baler.  It makes tidy little square bundles of hay, perfect for stacking.  Baling the hay with the baler is quite, meditative work, that uses plenty of arm strength to load the hay in the top, and to compress the hay into bales.  We filled our available space with bales, and then wondered how we were going to store more.  After all, I used up three giant rolls of hay last winter to feed the goats and donkey, and this year I have an extra goat and donkey to feed.  Thank goodness other folks put their good hay storage ideas on the interweb, right? 
 

Brandon loves a carpentry solution to a problem, so he had the two racks built and partially loaded before I even fully understood what he was planning.  I think each rack cost around sixty dollars for the wood and the tarp, and we hope they will last many years.


Wendigo is an excellent mascot for our haymaking, as she sports a Scythe Supply hat!


There is some danger in making hay.  Danger of bee sting!  In two places in our fields, Brandon has disturbed nests of giant black and white bumble bees while cutting hay.  The bees swarm into the air when they are disturbed by the mower, and Brandon has to make a quick get away.  He's been lucky so far, even once jumping from the stalled out tractor and making a run for it.  I snapped this picture of Brandon as he was gearing up to cut the hay near one of the nests.


I now know why a tractor with a closed in cab would be nice!  

Last evening, as Brandon and I were forking a row of cut and dried hay onto our small trailer, which we pull with the jeep, we were talking about why I love hay so much.  I really do get a thrill from making hay.  I like to bring in a load of garden produce or a pile of eggs too, but I didn't know I would get so much satisfaction from harvesting hay.  I should have known, considering I've always loved plants, and hay is plants.  It's like I'm hoarding up mounds of plants!  And you know who loves plants even more than I do?  


Peaches does!
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