Christmas readings with Captain John

One animal stayed outside in the winter snow to clean up after everyone else who snuggled inside the mitten. That’s what third grade students in Mrs. Arthur’s class at Pandora-Gilboa Elementary School found out this week when one class member invited Steve to read a story to his class.

PG visit3As a holiday treat, with language arts side effects, students were allowed to bring sleeping bags and pillows to class. They read favorite books in comfort and listened to visiting friends and family read out loud.

Quarry Farm friend Jaren asked Steve to be his reading guest. Steve chose to read Jan Brett’s The Mitten, a tale of woodland inhabitants who all find cold-weather shelter inside a mitten that was left alongside a trail.

If you’ve ever read The Mitten, you’ll know that quite a few animals, big and small, fit inside. But the Virginia opossum didn’t make the cut. We figure it’s because Nature’s garbage collector wandered on, cleaning up everything else that the bipedal trail walkers left behind.

PG visit2This being said, Captain John Smith*, The Quarry Farm educationalPG visit animal ambassador for Virginia opossums everywhere, accompanied Steve on the classroom visit. The Captain’s beautiful self was a hit, so much so that he was invited to visit Mrs. Henry’s class across the hall. But, since Captain John hadn’t had his breakfast yet, nor had he used the loo, Steve thought it best that the two of them return home.

There will be other visits. Like his namesake, Captain John Smith is up for the adventure. As he is nonreleasable due to his lack of fear, especially when it comes to humans like those that dropped that mitten, he benefits from the outing and is a wonderful guest.

* The opossum received its name in the early 1600s from Captain John Smith of the Jamestown colony in Virginia. Smith was trying to pronounce, for his mates across the pond, the word aposoum, a Virginia Algonquian word meaning “white beast.”

You’re The Great Pumpkin, Dave Hilty

There’s a story that makes the rounds every autumn on farms and in fields, and especially here on The Quarry Farm, about the generosity and beneficence of The Great Pumpkin, who rises from the pumpkin patch some time during the month of October and gifts all the good chickens and ducks and donkeys, turkeys and geese and goats and pigs with succulent orange orbs packed full of seeds and strings and goo. And while it’s rumored that the legend of The Great Pumpkin is born of humans, that particular mindset gains little acceptance on the farm, for it’s as the goats say, Humans spend most of their brainpower just maintaining their balance. And for the few that still might think otherwise, the donkey’s argument always prevails, one which he delivers in the most solemn of voices: Schulz, or no Schulz, Peanuts are for eating.

This year, as in years past, the residents here all waited anxiously as the month wore on, staring to the south for a sign of His (though some say Her) coming. Baskets of apples were delivered and pears by the bucketful and truckloads of zucchini and they were greatly appreciated, certainly, and swallowed down to the very last seed. But of The Great Pumpkin, there was no sign. October came and went and…

Nothing.

It’s just as we thought, the geese cried. Great Pumpkin, piffle. Great Poppycock is more like it. To which comment there was general agreement, particularly among the fowl (birds of a feather, you know). The goats made do, browsing the trees and bushes. Buddy, the donkey, cropped grass and chewed hay and if, occasionally, he seemed a bit tearful, nobody said a word. Little Pig, though, kept her own counsel and spent a good bit of each day off alone, walking along the southern fence line, eyes on the horizon, waiting.

And so it was that Little Pig was the first to see him: The Great Pumpkin, sitting in the cab of his red and silver pickup truck and towing along behind him a veritable mountain of pumpkins. A whole week late, he was, the first full week of November having past, but those that live here on The Quarry Farm are quick to understand simple truths: Time is fluid and Better late than not at all, not to mention All that matters is what matters in the end, especially when it’s pumpkins in the end.

The Great Pumpkin pulled in through the gate and up the stone drive before stopping and hopping down from his perch. To either side of the squash-laden wagon he threw the great round balls of sheer joy. The pumpkins bounced and broke and spilled their treasure of seeds and strings and slippery orange goo.

Heaven! Little Pig shouted. Slippery orange heaven!

The pumpkins flew and flew and still they flew and, finally, when the ducks and chickens and turkeys and geese and goats and donkey and pigs were certain that he had finished, when the blue and gray sky was no longer streaked with orange, what they heard him say made them all stop and stare.

How ‘bout if I just leave the wagon, The Great Pumpkin said. I won’t need it again ‘til spring.

turkey

They all looked to the wagon and it was heaped with pumpkins, mounded with pumpkins, buried in pumpkins as if not a single one had ever soared and fallen and broken and exploded in great gouts of seeds and strings and (heavenly) slippery orange goo.

The Great Pumpkin fiddled about a bit at the front of the wagon and then hopped into his red and silver truck.

Give a shout when you’re through, they all heard him say. No hurry, though.

The Great Pumpkin waved as he pulled away and through the gate, moving south until he’d disappeared from sight. Every duck and chicken, goose and turkey, donkey and goat and pig thanked him a big thanks before tucking into their chosen pumpkin. And if Little Pig was a bit greedy, if she pushed aside a goose or three to suckle at the slippery orange goo, nudged out of her way a chicken or a turkey or a duck, well, then, maybe she could find forgiveness in the eyes of those who keep the faith, in the hearts of those who believe.

POSTSCRIPT:
Special thanks to Dave and Jane Hilty, who are this year’s Great Pumpkins at The Quarry Farm.

Thank you for the BIG check

quarry farms - laura coburn

We want all of The Quarry Farm friends, family and neighbors, near and far, to know that we received grant funding from the Operation Round Up program as part of the Paulding Putnam Electric Co-op Trust.

Here’s how it happened: Anyone who is a PPE member rounds up their bill to the nearest dollar amount and the funds are pooled. Periodically, organizations are able to apply for community programming. We did, and our educational programming was elected to benefit from the program.

Yesterday, Board President Laura drove over to Paulding to receive the grant check (actual check much smaller than indicated here) so that we could provide more outreach during this year. By the way, take a look at those presentations and workshops that we do offer and give us a call or send us an email at thequarryfarm@gmail.com.

What and impact that just a few cents each month can make on a community.

Fall 2014 newsletter

Fall 2014 TQF Newsletter-1

 

 

The temperature may be dropping, but the beat goes on here on The Quarry Farm. Click on the newsletter cover over to the left and keep up with what’s happening in the pavilion, the sanctuary, the Red Fox and on the trails.

And speaking of trails, hope to see you on them this autumn.

Jonah with puffball

preparing puffball

Gerald Owen Coburn, the man who first set foot to the path that led to The Quarry Farm as we know it, was, at his very core, an artist. It was with an artist’s eye that he looked on absolutely everything, particularly the natural world; a recurring theme in the body of work that he left, whether in paper, canvas, wood or stone. He was relentless in his desire to understand the world that he took to representing, primarily with brush, methodical and nearly clinical in his efforts to that end. And why not? It’s a fundamental truth that among the very many things that art is, it is most certainly science, peeled and filtered and laid out sideways so as to permit viewing from a different perspective.

One of the first Coburn paintings I had the opportunity to see was a watercolor. It depicted a young boy carrying in his arms what I first mistook to be a large stone, bigger than the boy’s head. It wasn’t a stone, though. It was a puffball, a fungus in the division Basidiomycota. To put an even finer point on it, it was probably Calvatia gigantea, the giant puffball, specimens of which commonly grow to a foot or more in diameter. Even more impressive, when they’re immature they’re not only edible, but supremely tasty. Be sure, though, that you are indeed in possession of an edible mushroom before taking a bite. If you have any doubts whatsoever, caution is the word of the day.

While puffballs are agreeable to most types of preparation, I have a fondness for them cut thick, breaded and sautéed. It’s simple, it’s quick and the results are noteworthy. Here’s how:

  • sliced puffballCut the puffball into ½ to ¾ inch slices. An immature puffball, when cut, will have a uniform white appearance. If they’re turning yellow on the inside, they’re too far gone to eat. Make a slit in the tough, outer skin and peel it away. It should come free quite easily.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil (each imparts its own flavor; choose to your taste) in a skillet over medium heat. Alternatively, use melted butter, but do not brown it. Dependent on the amount of puffball you’re preparing, you may need to add more oil or butter to the skillet as you go.
  • breaded puffballIn a pan large enough to accommodate the puffball slices, combine one egg with 1 ½ tablespoons of milk. On a different plate, prepare a bed of breadcrumbs. I’ve developed a preference for making my own, but store bought will do nicely.
  • Dip both sides of the puffball slices in the egg mixture, then dredge them through the breadcrumbs.
  • Sauté each side until golden brown, then drain momentarily on paper towels. Serve hot.

sautéed puffball

Unplugged at The Quarry Farm, second time around

Acoustic NightAbout the time that we spent a year visiting local classrooms and introducing students to aquatic health canaries like dragonfly nymphs and hellgrammites, yet before the first goat, pig or donkey had trotted onto the farm animal sanctuary —we hadn’t even thought of attempting a farm animal sanctuary — we pipe-dreamed of what might happen here on The Quarry Farm.Acoustic Night2

There is no state or even county park system in Putnam County, nor is there a nature preserve. As family and friends have long enjoyed the woods, stream, oxbow the old quarry itself, we began to develop a trail system that is more identifiable to those of us who just know the way.

With teachers in that circle of relationships, we began to plan educational programs. Visual artists are also part of the mix, so we crafted some 2- and 3-D workshops.IMG_1081

Then Steve said wouldn’t it be something to invite musicians/nonmusicians from all over to come here and play/listen for a night? So in October of last year we sent a few emails around, made a few phone calls, put out chairs, chips and cider and waited for people to show.

IMG_1082And they did. You may have read the post about Acoustic Night 2013. If not, it’s still in the archives. I will tell you that the photos are lovely, so lovely that we have gone annual with Acoustic Night.

On September 13, 2014, the skies were full of stars and cool temperatures kept the mosquitos away. Laura lit a fire in the Red Fox Cabin fireplace and kept hot coffee, tea and hot chocolate flowing. There were volunteer-baked cookies and muffins. I’m still not sure why she sent me to the store for Cheetos, saying, “Everyone likes Cheetos, even when they’re stale,” but I have to admit that I ate quite a few of the dusty fluorescent bits myself. I guess she was right.

1908061_875195272492033_3010147628062901086_nAnd Steve was right about Acoustic Night. Musicians from 2013 returned, and others just kept coming. Erin Coburn (guitar and ukelele) and Mark Gallimore (guitar) were back. Bobbie Sue, Zoe (saxophone) Mike (trombone), another Mike (guitar) and Clara (violin) jammed from 6 to 10 p.m. A few other people came through carrying guitars but played off to the side. 10624884_875195359158691_4731297319852830606_n

There were kazoos for the first 25 arrivals and I heard a few of those. Little Caroline became quite proficient, as a matter of fact. She was a hit with the bronze turkeys next door at the sanctuary.

If you made it out this year, thank you. I hope the Cheeto dust came off your pant legs in the wash. If not, we’re thinking Labor Day weekend for Acoustic Night 2015. The Cheetos will be fresh.

Dinosaur tracks Tuba City AZ

yesterday and today

Life in the DevonianBefore The Quarry Farm in its current incarnation, with Red Fox Cabin and the gardens and a forest and the sanctuary, there was the quarry farm, pasturage for cattle and two ponies. Before the quarry farm, there was a great forest of hardwoods, oak and hickory and maple, on the very southern edge of the Great Black Swamp. Before the forest on the edge of the swamp, there was a glacier that traveled inexorably south, planing everything before it flat. Before the glacier, there was a vast, shallow, warm sea boiling with life in what we’ve come to call the Devonian Period.

And we live there now, on the floor of a sea that died some four hundred million years ago. Even so, the reality of it remains.

crinoid segmentsThe Quarry Farm isn’t simply The Quarry Farm (though, to be honest, there is little simple about it). It is also literally our home. We built here fifteen years ago and when they excavated our basement, they pulled up all manner of wonderful things; bits and pieces of what once lived here that had turned, over time, into stone. There were round chunks of coral, too big to play softball, but too small for soccer, and flat sheets of dolomite speckled with clam-like brachiopods. Later, as we began to seriously explore Cranberry Run, we found smaller pieces of coral, smoothed by time and weather and water, and tiny stone discs and columns of discs: the individual segments and broken sections from the stalks of crinoids. And all of these things were evidence of what had once been, of an ocean with strange and fantastic animals that struggled for survival before ultimately, for some at least, making their way onto land to begin a whole new aspect of life.

Everything changes. Everything evolves.

Turkey VulturesCurrent scientific theory is that present day birds are what remain of the dinosaurs, that over the course of some fifty million years, dinosaurs shrank in size and developed feathers in greater abundance (while it was once thought that only avian dinos had feathers, discoveries in the mid 1990s indicated that even non-avian species, including velociraptors, were feathered to some degree). So, the blue jay in the yard, the crows in the spare bedroom, the turkey vultures that soar over the quarry, the ducks and geese in the stream…all descended from dinosaurs. And, oh yes, the chickens.

I spend a lot of time with the chickens that live here. There is something comforting about them; the nonchalant way that they roam the property looking for food, their quiet crooning. I enjoy their interactions Smart Girland I am particularly appreciative when one, or more, chooses to spend time with me, to sit beside me or in my lap and simply be. I find them calming and inspirational and a source of nearly endless fascination. As odd as it may sound, they bring me peace. Every now and again, though, they remind of me of where they come from, what they once were.

There is one hen in particular, an eighteen-month old Jersey Giant that, when we call her anything, we simply call her Smart Girl. Smart Girl will leap into the apple trees and throw fruit down. This isn’t some phenomenally new behavior; others have done it. But when she climbs, she always throws down enough apples to distract the other chickens, ducks, geese, goats and any other animal swirling about the base of the tree before throwing something down for her. She plans her actions. And, it’s possible, she hunts. On three different occasions, I’ve seen her run across the yard with a small adult bird in her beak. On a fourth, she was carrying either a small rat or a large mouse. It may be that she’s finding these animals, dead, on the ground or stealing them from a neighbor’s cat, but I can’t preclude the possibility that she is actively pursuing prey. Sometimes now, when I’m watching her as she roams the grounds of the sanctuary, I see her differently, her and the property she’s stalking.

Time travel, as it turns out, isn’t all that difficult. All you have to do is squint.

chicken feet 3