welcoming Spring

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It’s Monday and snow is falling outside the window. The temperature is low enough that the white stuff of winter is sticking in clumps on trees and on what new grass there is. Two days ago it wasn’t much warmer, but it was still the first full day of spring. And even though the morning blew in on a cold northwest wind, Spring is great cause for celebration after a polar cold winter that began prematurely with snow on October 31.

IMG_9108We planned a March 21 ‘Welcome Spring’ Family Day three months ago by placing the event announcement in our winter newsletter. It was an optimistic move, one which dreamed big of turning over logs to find salamanders and the first bloodroot leaves curling up from the ground around the old homestead well north of the 10-acre grassland.

The forecast looked promising for Saturday, with sun and predicted temps in the high 50s. As noted two paragraphs ago, what we got was cold wind and gray. Laura switched the refreshment menu from cookies and lemonade to doughnut holes, cookies and a selection of hot beverages which we thought would consumed by those of us who live close by.

Instead, we were joined by three families, all hat-and-coated and ready to hit the trails. Most were return visitors, so they knew that the wind chill would drop once we entered the nature preserve with its tree lines of defense.

Two Canada geese stayed put on the melted quarry surface, at least long enough for us to watch them lift off. We saw plenty of signs of movement, from a variety of tracks to wild turkey feathers. And since this walk was one to greet Spring, this group inaugurated the vernal pool trail for all future guests.

Steve gathered two water samples from the largest pool, an oxbow that was once part of Cranberry Run prior to a brutal 1950s attempt to ditch the natural, wild creek. The oxbow is home to frogs, dragonflies, woods ducks and a variety of turtles. Saturday, most burrowed deep and our enthusiasm sent anything with wings away, but the net did yield scuds, a tiny crustacean akin to shrimp.

We pondered scat in the upland grassland, talked about the sharp hawthorn that sometimes stores a shrike’s lunch and made maple leaf angels on the main hardwoods trail.

Up and out again, and several donuts and hot chocolate cups later, the south Cranberry Run trail led us to the farm animal sanctuary where Buddy, Beatrice, Johnny, Marsh and Mister Bill led the pack in a high-five. Turkeys Inigo and Humperdink paraded their splendid selves about, puffing and drumming as their heads mottled from pink to blue to purple and back again.

IMG_9146It was the first visit with guests for Mister Bill, a very, very, very large Boer goat, and he was tolerant until he’d had enough and wandered away to chew on a spruce. We took the hint at high noon, the scheduled departure time anyway, and were escorted to the gate by turkeys, goats, Buddy and Beatrice.

A warmer spring walk, one fit for wildflowers and light sweaters, is in the works for April.

Stay tuned.

lions and lambs, donkeys and chickens and geese and goats

In 1826, American folk artist and Society of Friends minister Edward Hicks created “The Peacable Kingdom”. While it’s not in a style that I find particularly appealing, the content of the painting, its message, strikes a chord. In the foreground are a number of different creatures, some of which I can’t identify simply because of the manner in which they were represented, but clearly both predator and prey lying down with one another. There are cherubim and seraphim, as well, and in the background, English settlers meeting with Native Americans.

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I don’t pay attention to the human interaction; so little, in fact, that I’m always surprised when I see it. Suffice it to say that there appears to be some manner of commerce taking place involving blankets and, given how that type of exchange often worked out to the detriment of Native Americans, I apparently choose to ignore it each and every time I view the painting. I simply refuse to see.

But the animals? Now that is an altogether different story. I relish those innocent interactions; revel in the way they coexist. And while it’s unlikely that, in the wild, a lion will lay down with a lamb, interspecies cooperation isn’t a rare event, particularly here on The Quarry Farm. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the chickens ride Buddy, the resident miniature donkey, or any of the six goats that also live here. I’m not surprised to see Snitch, the neighbor’s cat, padding under Mister Bill, the extravagantly tall Boer goat mix, around a pig or two and sideling on by Johnny, the Canada goose. The goats play with the pigs, the pigs play with the chickens and Buddy whips everybody into a (relatively) friendly frenzy every now and again, especially now that spring is just around the corner. We’ve even seen wild rabbits lying out in the open and nursing little ones old enough to have left the nest, but still willing to nurse.

The Quarry Farm Musicians: Audrey, Buddy and S'More

The Quarry Farm Musicians: Audrey, Buddy and S’More

Even so, and despite all of that, I witnessed something the other morning that made me stop and stare.

Gigi

Gigi

Although we named him something altogether uncharacteristic of his gender, Gigi is a gander, an Emden goose who is, characteristically this time, very protective of the two geese in his flock. He came here several years ago from Van Buren State Park, where he and Louise (the other goose’s name is Henry and yes, yes, we know) were abandoned. Gigi can be so protective, so surly, in fact, that we encourage visitors to give the trio a wide birth. Gigi is the gander your mother always warned you about: quick to hiss and threaten and quicker still to follow through on that threat with a wing beating or a hard pinch with his bright orange bill.

Madmartigan

Madmartigan

Madmartigan is one of three pygmy goats that we adopted from a failing goat herd on the eastern side of Ohio four years ago. While generally good natured, like most goats, he has a fondness for his fodder. When food’s involved, all bets are off and he can, and does, do whatever he feels necessary to secure his own little patch of whatever. Being male, Madmardigan also has a ridiculously impressive set of horns, horns that spire up from the top of his head like twin missiles. And when he’s staking claim to a flake of hay or a patch of grass or an apple or three, he liberally applies those horns to heads and backsides and bodies; whatever he can reach to drive his point home.

Individually, these two are more often than not at the core of any discontent. Together, though, at least earlier this week, the two were quite fond of each other. Gigi would slide his neck along Madmartigan’s back and nibble through the hairs there and up his neck and behind his ears. For his part, Madmartigan would gently nudge him with his horns, prompt him to continue her gentle ministrations.

And so here we are on The Quarry Farm, our own peaceable kingdom.

and then there were four…

A little less than a month ago, we made a relatively short drive north to pick up a potbellied pig that, lost or abandoned (though most likely abandoned), had wandered into our friend June’s yard. Not knowing about us at the time, June called Laura Zitzelberger at Nature’s Nursery, who, in turn, called us.

in the carThe hour-long ride back was interesting; interesting in the sense of the ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Given to reckless behavior, I had decided to pick him up sans crate, so the little pig — and he is indeed little, weighing in at just a smidge over 30 pounds — was loose in the car. He spent nearly as much time on my shoulders doing his best to climb up on top of my head as he did on the seat. Eventually, though, he did settle in and down, sprawling in the back and resting his head in the palm of my right hand.

getting to know youOn arriving home, his behavior in the house was little different from his initial behavior in the car, that is to say, “hell bent.” He chomped and rooted, prodded and postured, picking fights with any and all comers, even with those more inclined to run away, myself included.

I grumbled. I growled. I cursed.

Anne smiled.

“He’ll be fine,” she said. “Don’t you remember Bob?”

Bob is a dear friend of ours, one of four pigs rescued last winter and one of two of the four who now live on The Quarry full time, along with Beatrice, aka Little Pig. At first, his behavior left something to be desired. Now, however, he’s nearly the perfect gentlepig. Despite Anne’s assurances, I had my doubts. And so did Lolly, who maintained a discreet distance.

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As he was still intact, the first order of business was arranging for a quick snip. Though she’d never performed this operation on a pig, our veterinarian, Dr. Jackie Santoro, did the requisite research and the procedure came off — pun intended — without a hitch.

On returning him to The Quarry, there wasn’t any significant change in behavior. He had this truly annoying habit of, when he wanted something, anything, of furiously rooting at any available ankle. With 30 pounds of pig behind it, that nearly vulcanized snout left bruises.

I threatened. I snarled. I swore.

Anne smiled.

CarltonHe hadn’t been back much more than a day, certainly no more than two, when, coming in from outside or up from the basement I heard Anne chirp, “Yes!”

She was standing in the kitchen with the little pig at her feet. In her hands was some manner of treat: grapes or carrots or banana or some such. She would hold out a morsel and watch the pig. When he took a step back, she’d bend at the waist, deliver the treat and exclaim the encouraging, “Yes!” In a single 15-minute session, she permanently broke his annoying, destructive rooting behavior.

Even Lolly was impressed.

Lolly and Carlton

annerNow, he spends his time making his way around the house. I’m not saying that there aren’t still problems. He has a habit of poking his nose into places it doesn’t belong and he and Bob will likely never be fast friends, but we all have our faults, our own clashes of personality. The bottom line is this: he’s a smart, gentle, comforting being and it shows in any number of ways.

So, he’s here to stay. This is home.

We call him Carlton.

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Winter 2015 Newsletter

2015 Winter Newsletter-2With heavy snow in the forecast for Sunday, we’re looking at pretty stellar photo opps on the trails. Since the roads leading to may be impassable, perhaps the upcoming events listed in the newsletter may be more accessible.

Click on the cover to the right and see if one or all fit into your winter schedule.

guess who came in for breakfast…

aphonse coming in This morning, after almost nine months on The Quarry Farm, one of the sanctuary’s potbellied pigs decided to expand his territory, see just what exactly makes the other side of the green door such a big deal. It took some coaxing, about an hour of Anne’s time, three apples, a banana and a handful or two of peanuts to get him all the way into the house, but, eventually, Alphonse took the plunge. Bob Barker, his father (at least, we’re pretty sure Bob’s his father; their similarities in appearance are uncanny), watched him slowly make his way in, while Beatrice (aka Little Pig) peered through the slats in her pen at all the goings-on.

Bob and Alphonse are two of the four pigs rescued from a horrific hoarding situation by representatives of the Humane Society of Allen County and the Allen County Sheriff’s office during the depths of last winter’s freeze. Their story isn’t groundbreaking news — we’ve talked about it repeatedly here — but their recovery is a source of joy for all acquainted with these two. Where Bob settled into a routine relatively quickly, Alphonse has retained near total independence, refusing most advances for even the simplest of interactions. And that’s reflective of what they found during his rescue. While none of the animals had adequate shelter, Alphonse, it seemed, had none at all. He was free of any pen, though the drifting snow had created some measure of confinement. He had worn deep alphonsetrenches in the snow and roamed the area within their confines. Following his rescue, he, Bob and Greta and Grits, the other two potbellies who now live on the top of a hill down in Kentucky, were sheltered at HSoAC. Even there, Alphonse was less interested in companionship than he was in regular meals. After all of the legal issues were dealt with and out of the way, Bob and Alphonse came here. After several months of living exclusively out-of-doors, Bob discovered the pleasures of clean floors, soft blankets and nearly constant access to treats. But Alphonse, not so much. He settled into the outbuilding we’d originally constructed for the turkeys and that’s where he stayed, quite content to keep his distance. Of all of us, Rowan had the best of luck with him, though maybe it’s better said that Alphonse has been much more tolerant of her than of any others. Routinely, she was the one permitted to touch him. So it was something of a shock when we noticed him standing on the front porch about three weeks ago, and this with Rowan off to college.

alphSince then, Anne has worked with him daily. Talking to him, coaxing him closer to the house, to the porch to the door. This morning, all that effort payed off and he stepped inside for the first time, possibly ever, anywhere. To prove to him that he was still autonomous, captain of his own ship, we let him back out almost immediately. After, that is, as many peanuts as he could eat in the space of three minutes. It wasn’t long before he was back at the door, asking to come in. And out again. And back in.

He’s back out, out and running wherever and doing whatever within the confines of the four acres that serve as sanctuary for him and the others…but now he knows.

Alphonse, shortly after arriving.

Alphonse, shortly after arriving.

The door is always open.

all roads lead to OH-235 and at the end of the drive…pigs

Yesterday, Anne, Laura and I took half the day and drove south to Yellow Springs. Rowan’s there, engaged in a major of Environmental Sciences at Antioch College. It’s a great place to visit, even a groovy place, Yellow Springs having never entirely given up on hippy culture.

On the way, we crossed OH-235 and Laura made the comment that, seemingly, no matter where you’re going, there’s OH-235. We’d been on it just a few days before, coming back from a funeral, and here, unexpectedly, it was again.

Anne and I arrived home to a message from Laura Zitzelberger, the face and mind behind Nature’s  Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Education. It seems that a potbellied pig had arrived uninvited at someone’s home and they’d called NN to see what could be done. Laura, in turn, called us and we closed the loop by calling June, the woman with the uninvited guest. She provided us with her address and we agreed to pick up the pig the next day (today, as I write this), Sunday.

In the morning, I input June’s address into mapquest. The recommended route sent me north on OH-235 for roughly an hour.

Go figure.

in the carStepping out of the car, I could hear him, the pig. He was quietly grunting, standing at the gate of a small outside kennel; behind him, a thick blanket that had served as his bed for the night. He trotted out, allowed me to scoop him up and we settled into the car for the drive back.

This is the second potbellied pig in less than one week to simply turn up, wandering without direction, without oversight and without hope. And while nowhere near one another – the first was discovered stumbling along State Route 65 in Columbus Grove and the second some 50 miles north – the trend is disturbing. It is, sadly, also not surprising. Visit any domestic animal rescue site and the sheer number of pigs up for adoption is staggering. RescueMe (what is, for us, the preeminent site for finding families and animals in need) is overburdened with people seeking new homes for pigs; not simply in Ohio, but all across the nation. And these are the people who are making an effort to re-home their companions.

Pigs are smart, strong, curious and obsessive. Left to their own devices, pigs will find a way; and, while cute and cuddly when little, most pigs don’t stay small. A low weight for a miniature potbellied pig is 60 pounds, but, while minis can maintain weights below 100 pounds, seeing pigs in excess of 100 pounds isn’t unusual. So, rather than the Chihuahua they were expecting, they wind up with an animal closer in size to a Labrador, or something even larger. All too often, these pigs that have grown bigger than anticipated are simply abandoned, turned out and left to fend for themselves. Within months, even the most docile and diminutive of pigs may revert to a feral state: growing tusks and thicker hair and becoming leaner and more muscular. Pigs returned to the wild, intentionally or not, within three generations will assume the physical attributes of their boar ancestry, no matter their ancestry. This is just as true of potbellied pigs as it is of Chinas and Polands.

But not this pig. He’s here for the long haul, or in another, similar environment.. He’s an intact adolescent male, but that condition won’t last long. Tomorrow, we’ll contact The Quarry Farm’s veterinarian and arrange for a bit of a snip. Tomorrow we’ll also contact the Wood County Humane Society and let them know he’s here.

Just in case someone’s interested.

getting to know you

a different shade of white

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In 1911, Franz Boas, an anthropologist who spent years living among the Inuit, published The Mind of Primitive Man. Through it, Boas not only revolutionized anthropology, but sparked a debate that has lasted over a century. Boas famously suggested that the Inuit have dozens, if not hundreds, of different names for snow. Linguists argue back and forth the merits of the claim, some saying that added suffixes to root words are simply individual flourishes while others assert that, yes, each new permutation is, indeed, a separate and distinct word.

Which leads me to my question and my subject…Would the Inuit consider a heavy frost snow?

There was fog in the early morning hours on Wednesday; fog and a whole lot of cold. Combined, the two create what I’ve always considered hoar frost, a consideration that is at least mostly accurate.

frosted wild teasel

frosted wild teasel

As it turns out, there are six different recognized types of frost – two of which, rime and black, are subject to debate – one of which is hoar. Well, sort of “one of which”. See, there are actually four different types of hoar frost: air, surface, crevasse and depth. Air hoar is the type of frost we experienced today. Tangentially, hoar is a word of Old English derivation, an adjective meaning “showing signs of old age”; in this case, conceivably, it is the fringe of white that conveys senility.

The world seems to froth with it, this thick confection of frozen air. It shrouds tree limbs, coats fences, cars and outbuildings and accumulates on the individual hairs and feathers of the animals that spend a good deal of their time out of shelter.

In the bottom land below our house, the plants and grasses were still, bowed under their burden of frost. The wild teasel (Dipsacus fullonum), an invasive from North Africa and Eurasia that has been here so long that it seems native, carried its coat with grace.

Later, though it never truly grew warm even for this time of year, the rising sun brushed so much frost from tree limbs that, under the canopy, it fell as thick as snow.

So, can anyone tell me? Does anyone know? Make it official…does frost translate to snow?

Buddy