Return of the Finch’s

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Brenda Fawcett mixes papercrete

Despite the heat, only one paint mixer drill bit and mosquitos aside, three programs happened onsite this past week. Monday, Putnam County Master Gardener Brenda Fawcett led a make-and-take wherein participants created planters out of papercrete (a sort of papier mache combination of Portland cement and paper strips.) Tuesday saw the return of the Hardin County Herb Society.

On Saturday, “the hottest day of the year” according to local weather forecasters, Charlene Finch and the 2016 Continental Jr. Gardeners made the group’s annual trek from the northwest corner of Putnam County. If you scroll back through this blog, you’ll see that Finch’s crew have been here just about this time every summer for several years. After partaking in a scavenger hunt for pollinators, the young green thumbs posed on the front porch of Red Fox Cabin for their annual portrait (thanks to Miranda for sharing this snap.) They also visited with the farm animal sanctuary residents, helping to cheer up S’more as he’s been pretty withdrawn due to the loss of his brother this week.

That pollinator search led to quite a list of creatures. The team of Nathan and his mom Lindsay won the scavenger hunt with a list of 21, as follows:

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Nathan, Pollinator ID Champion

1. baby green grasshopper
2. people
3. wasps
4. cabbage moth
5. dragonfly
6. wood bee
7.big brown beetle
8. fly
9. bumblebee
10. flying ant
11. mosquito
12.ash bugs
13. sweat bee
14. black cricket
15. honey bee
16.black wasp
17. Japanese beetle
18. black beetle
19. big brown camo moth
20. gnat
21. red lightning bug with reddish brown black spots

Teams didn’t have to be specific with names as long as they could describe their finds. As a group, we corrected some names and identified others as described. For instance, #19 was a skipper butterfly.

You’ll also note that not all on the list are technically pollinators: hummingbirds, bats, bees, beetles, butterflies, and flies that carry pollen from one plant to another as they collect nectar. However, all of Saturday’s finds carry pollen, not to mention seeds and other insects, in their journey from place to place. That includes humans, whether we intend to or not.

You may also see that the notorious, voracious invader Japanese beetle made the list. They may spread pollen around as it clings to their scarab-like bodies, but they more than make up for this by decimating green goods. But there’s hope from the skies, control provided by a European transplant that’s been here so long that the New World is as much theirs as it is ours.

Eat up, European starlings. There’s ketchup in the shelterhouse.

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anthroponothing

noun: anthropomorphism
the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object

On Thursday, we buried a friend of ours: Marshmallow, a Nigerian dwarf goat whose gentle disposition touched a lot of lives. I’ve already related this, clumsily fumbled my way through a post that was part eulogy, part obituary and completely inadequate in relating the true nature of this incredible being, how important he was to all of us here on The Quarry Farm and to those who had the good fortune to interact with him, however briefly. Something happened, though, while we were burying him, the relating of which I hope will make up for my failure.

Yesterday, I dug a hole. If you follow these posts, then you already know this. I dug the hole, then I drove the seventy-some miles to Marysville to pick up the husk that was Marsh. Marsh’s brother, S’More, was lounging near the gate, watching as I left, and he was still there roughly three hours later when I returned.

I pulled in, closed the gate, then maneuvered my car over to the site we’d chosen to return our dear friend’s biomass to the Earth.

It took me a few moments to jockey the body from the backseat, ease it into the hole and manipulate it into position, muttering apologies the whole time. That Marsh wasn’t there to hear me was apparent. I was simply pouring sound into absence.

As I took up the shovel, scooped the first blade of dirt, I saw S’more come up on my left  between me and the now not entirely empty hole. He was agitated, his tail flicking furiously as he paced the circumference of the pit. Every few steps, he’d stop and lean down toward the shell of his brother. His nostrils would pulse and he’d falter a bit, one foot pawing tentatively at the open air between them.

I waited until he was on the far side of the hole before I threw the first shovelful of dirt, then three more in rapid succession. As I was reaching for the fourth, S’More rounded the corner, stepped up to me and leaned the crown of his head against the handle of the shovel, holding it in place. I rubbed his neck for a moment, easing him away, then threw a fifth, and then a sixth shovelful. Turning for another, I found myself surrounded by all five goats who live here: Willow, Elora and Madmartigan, the three pygmies; Mister Bill, the giant Boer-mix; and S’More.

While the pygmies paced the pit, nostrils flaring, Bill gently hooked me with one horn. This isn’t unusual behavior. Bill loves to rub the side of his face up and down whomever will stand and tolerate it. In the process, his curled horn will lock a body in place, glide up and down a hip or leg or side as he rubs. This time, though, he  simply applied a gradual pressure that pushed me away from the dirt, away from the hole and, by necessity, the body in it.

For a few minutes, I soothed them all: rubbing the spot between Bill’s horns that he most dearly loves rubbed; stroking S’More’s neck and gently scratching his rump; talking quietly to Willow, Elora and Martigan, none of whom are overly fond of physical contact.

When I resumed my task of shifting dirt from mound to cavity, the herd wandered off together and took up observance from the top of a small hill of dirt-filled tractor tires, a form of enrichment that Rowan constructed during her last visit home, some sixty feet away. They stayed there, all five of them, until I’d finished. Then, once I’d climbed the steps to the deck on the west side of our home, they left their perch and moved to surround the grave, staying there for several minutes before moving off to graze on the opposite side of the property.

It’s been suggested that we can’t truly understand the motivations of animals, that in trying to do so we attribute to them emotional responses that they simply don’t have. But it’s not they who are lacking. It’s not they who fail to understand.

In the end, I know what I know.

I know that they are grieving.

I know that they are sharing that grief.

 

holes

It took seventy-four minutes to dig a hole this morning; just over an hour, with shovel and pick, to create a nothing four feet by three feet by four feet deep. I had thought it would take longer, prove harder, given the heat and the dry. But, no. Just seventy-four minutes. Time enough to come to terms with the harsh reality of the past thirty-six hours.

In early July of 2010, Marshmallow and S’more, two Nigerian dwarf goats, wethers both and brothers by all accounts (though the two couldn’t be any more different), were delivered to The Quarry Farm by Anne and Rowan, who brought them north from Cincinnati in Anne’s little Scion xA. Their arrival fortified a growing vision of The Quarry Farm as a safe haven, a home and sanctuary for the unwanted and the unloved, the abused and the forgotten.

Which is not to say that all of the animals now living here were unwanted or abused. Buddy and Lucy and Bill and Beatrice all came from loving families who, through circumstances undesired, were simply unable to keep them any longer or believed them better served on The Quarry Farm. And so, too, it was with the brothers (if not by blood, then certainly in spirit). The family that raised them to that point loved them, and dearly. Sadly, the two large dogs that also lived with the family loved them as well, though in an entirely different and specifically threatening way. Thus the trip north.

Marsh and S’more (The Boys as we came to affectionately call them), when they arrived, joined the Priscillas, sixteen Hubbard Golden Comet hens, and Johnny and Stella, two non-releasable Canada geese; the sum and total of The Quarry Farm’s inhabitants (not including the three dogs and eleven cats). S’more, was, and still is, slim and athletic, given to spontaneous bursts of energy that found him bounding sideways and pronging through the yard. It was clear from the beginning, though, that Marsh had issues. While he’d chase after his brother, bash heads and sport about to the best of his ability, he was prone to a constant mild bloating that, despite our best efforts, made it difficult to keep up. On more than one occasion, a visitor would ask if “she” was pregnant. What he lacked in athleticism, though, he more than made up in personality. Frequently the first to greet guests, Marsh was sweet and gentle, curious and approachable and children thronged to him. He’d greet them, and us, with his head tilted up, encouraging any and everyone to stand nose-to-nose with him.

But while willing and even desirous of the attentions of others, particularly when they offered bits of fruit or carrots or peanuts, Marsh was clearly bound to S’More.

Inseparable from the first, the brothers would play together, eat together sleep together and wander the property together, often pressed up hard against one another, shoulder to shoulder, moving about in a coordinated tandem. Now, I ache for the one without the other.

A little less than three years ago, we found Marsh standing in the yard, straining to urinate, but unable to do so. We called Dr. Ron Baldridge, a local veterinarian, who, over the phone, diagnosed bladder stones. Unlike kidney stones in humans, bladder stones in goats, due to their unique and convoluted physiology, will, untreated, prove fatal. Explaining that goats were outside his purview, Ron recommended contacting Ohio State University’s Veterinary Hospital. There, they surgically removed the stones and, after a week, Marsh returned home. Here, we worked to acidify his diet, providing ammonium chloride in periodic drenches and pouring gallons of apple cider vinegar into water troughs. Even so, ten months later, they reoccurred, necessitating another trip to Columbus and a second surgery. And again eight months later.

Wednesday evening, we found him once more, his belly distended. On Thursday, we drove him to the OSU veterinary facility in Marysville. That evening they called with disastrous news. Early Friday, I brought what was left of him home.

It took seventy-four minutes to dig a hole this morning, and even less time to fill it in. But there are holes and there are holes, absences that no amount of effort can ever fill.

So, then, because there is nothing else to do or say, goodbye, Marshmallow. Goodnight and sweet dreams.

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Kings of the mountain

IMG_1622The mountains of Ohio are some distance from here: the highest point is an hour’s drive near Bellefontaine and the Appalachian foothills two hours more to the southeast. The Quarry Farm does house a valley and blue clay walls rise west above Cranberry Run, but the floodplain levels out east for some distance before it marches back up to the ridge trail and the grassland.

The point is that it’s pretty flat on the edge of the Great Black Swamp, just before land starts to pitch and roll a bit. There aren’t many climbing opportunities apart from trees and playground equipment. There certainly aren’t for goats, and most do love a good climb.

So Rowan brought a climb to them. She research designs and materials. She bookmarked wooden platforms with ramps and towers made of giant cable spools. IMG_1610She frowned a lot when I said that head butting and a large pig would probably bash any kind of platform to bits, but she held her ground. She revised her plans, rounded up tractor tires, dug and chipped free sub-baked soil to fill them and created a goat mountain at the edge of the former paddock. There’s also an arch for head-scratchingIMG_1632

IMG_1623After all the hard work and sweat, no one showed any interest in playing on the new station–not in May or June or into July, until this evening when I pulled through the gate and saw Mister Bill gazing out over the hillside from the highest level. He must have got the ball rolling because Martigan tried it out,too…after Billy left the vicinity.

Living from the dead

Four years and six days ago, we watched a wall of white march across the field, a roaring mass that stretched from north to south as it blew southeast. We weathered the June 29, 2012 derecho from a basement window, watched the trees bend and debris fly over their tops.IMG_1532

In the end, several hardwoods fell on the nature preserve. Only a few fell over trails, so the others remained where they fell to provide habitat and host. We lost more pines than anything, their shallow foundations not suited to the soil and winds here. Four years later, the Fourth of July weekend provided the right conditions for us to break up the dried pine and safely burn.IMG_1533IMG_1540

We moved the brush to cleared ground, shaking loose pill bugs, millipedes and a garter snake that is blind as it prepares to shed a worn skin. Old stumps were broken up to make way for school bus parking. A cluster of mottled gray fingers clutched the base of one; a toe pointed skyward against another. I’ve never seen fungi Dead Man’s Fingers in the flesh before today. Makes the delicate jewelweed blooming in the floodplain that much more brilliant in contrast–but what a thing to see.

A recap, with goat wrestling

2016-07-01_13.26.20Steve is wrestling with Mister Bill in the cool of the evening. This has become the routine this week after the temperatures fell out of the upper 80s and into the 60s by dusk. Bill scampers up the ramp and down the steps to mock charge. Steve holds the giant goat’s horns–lightly so as not to challenge–and Bill tosses his head and off he goes again on his gangly giraffe legs.

This playtime is to make-up for Bill’s banishment to Sophie’s corral during summer’s Family Day. The big lug likes to hug, but his horns are part of the mighty embrace. If you’re not familiar with his ways, a Mister Bill show of affection can be alarming and uncomfortable.

So one week ago today he watched from a distance as 70 some people came to visit, seeing a long-eared owl, kestrel, red-tailed hawk and turkey vulture from Black Swamp Raptor Rehab, a wild juvenile bald eagle overhead. Laura demonstrated how to make a cement-and-fiber pot. Bush honeysuckle was repurposed as hiking sticks and leaves were made lasting on t-shirts.IMG_5218

Mister Bill did meet a troop of Daisies the next day. The girls made hiking sticks in the pavilion as a brief but heavy rain thundered over its red roof. Lemonade and cookies later, they set forth on a trek along the stream to meet Bill, Buddy and everyone else who decided to come forward after the shower.

On the hike back, they saw a leopard frog along the creek, a tiny toad in the raingarden and three different dragonflies: a widow skimmer, a white tail, and at least two twelve spots in the pollinator garden. IMG_20160626_155257

The bridge to a bridge

IMG_1434This was Wednesday’s view looking west across the footbridge from the preserve-side of Cranberry Run. The photo wasn’t taken Wednesday, but Antioch College Intern Emma snapped it a couple of weeks ago. Since it was dry as a bone from before that point until Wednesday night, the photo could have been taken three days ago.

A fox squirrel probably lifted the pine cone between then and then, but you get the picture.

Historic records and reminiscences indicate that Cranberry Run, known affectionately in these parts as the Little Cranberry, was a trickle narrow enough for a skip and a jump to cross. The rush of water, sped via human ingenuity north through the Allen County and the southeast corner of Putnam, has accelerated the bankfull width to a current 10 to 15 feet as it falls to Riley Creek.

That’s a little more than a hop to cross. The first Cranberry Run footbridge (in my memory) stretched from the west to a landbridge between the stone quarry and the Run. After channelization in the 1980s, before the Army Corps theoreticized and modeled this ineffectual practice away to leave a native waterway to do what native waterways do best, another bridge was built at a bend 100 yards south. When that gave way, the most recent bridge was engineered downstream again.

IMG_1481This footbridge spans the little creek about 1/8 of a mile upstream of the confluence with the Riley, itself a tributary to the Blanchard River. The structure was built nearly a decade ago and was designed to allow floodwaters to pass through widely-spaced slats. Each end was boxed around trees on opposite banks. Chains were attached to the telephone pole bases, buried and stretched to anchor to other trees.

The bridge held fast until last year when the weathering effects of floodplain fills and heavy windfall from the 2012 derecho carved away enough bank that the anchor trees caved. In 2015, volunteer David Seitz winched and wrangled the structure back into shape, but he knew this was a stop-gap. Sure enough, Wednesday’s 3 to 4 inches of fast, hard rainfall swelled the stream into a fast-moving lake. This morning, I parted the black raspberries along the path and saw that the bridge now angles northwest to southeast rather than due east.IMG_1487

“Am needing a ride this PM,” said David after he saw the photos. He tells me that moving it to another location will probably require disassembly and rebuilding, as well as a lift. Yet, “Possible,” is how he signed off.
Sounds promising to me. Anything is, after all.
Any takers?