Color run

It took the dregs of July, the last real rain to percolate through the cracked ground, to get us through three weeks of no rain. A mustard haze hovered over the corn field across the road. Any bit of breeze brushed it into the water pans and left a brown coating on grass that was already crispy. Water in the cabin rainbarrel was conserved used sparingly.

In the floodplain, Cranberry Run didn’t run. Darters, minnows, crayfish and blue gill duked it out in pools, the survivors left to feed the great blue herons by day and raccoons by night.IMG_2139 (1)A week ago, rain–rain we needed so very much–came and went, leaving fungi of all sorts sprouting and the rainbarrel full. The drought dried up the mosquito swarms, leaving perfect conditions for outdoor art workshops. There’s no better time to paint in watercolors than when water drips from the eaves of the shelterhouse, eh?IMG_2122

On August 20, we dug through the kitchen cupboard, the garden and its edges to pool a palette of natural pigments with which to paint still lifes and landscapes. The Saturday class includes individuals from right here in Putnam County to a Tennessee visitor. Using rich colors derived from paprika, turmeric, blueberries and poke berries (plus black coffee, something that’s part of every workshop here), participants developed pieces lush with late summer color. Store-bought paints were also available and most everyone washed the first layer of a second work.

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There were visitors of different species, including an unidentified caterpillar and two haywagons-full of riders shuttled by neighbor Daryl Bridenbaugh. When paints were put away, the creative mood was still fresh. Board President Laura shared a slurry of shredded, soaked paper, mixed in some concrete plus a little dab of this and that so those that could stay onsite could make papercrete containers.

On this last day of August, one pot has traveled home to North Carolina while the others are still drying in Ohio. Instead of yellow dust, there is fog.

And it’s raining.

Not one just like the other

20160519_100149 (1)Right now, as the sun sets on Saturday, Sophie is rooting grasses for a bed to sleep under the stars. In a week’s time, she seems to have developed a penchant for the outside rather than her nest inside her outbuilding. Her stint as visiting ambassador at Sauder Village, for porcine everywhere, and here on The Quarry Farm for two days of welcoming two schools from two counties, must have made this so.

As for me, my voice is gone, but the temporary loss is well spent on two full days of spring fields trips with over 170 people painting lasting leaf t-shirts, getting up close and personal with macroinvertebrates as water quality indicators, and meeting a six-spotted tiger beetle, pot-bellies, turkeys and Sophie herself.IMG_1184

Thursday morning, preschoolers and parents from the Pandora area hiked around the Red Fox gardens to select interesting leaves. With a little help from the adults, the children arranged dandelion, violet and burdock on their white shirts and spritzed paint around the greens. Several malfunctioning spray bottles later, there were some very colorful shirts, not a single one exactly like the one next to it.IMG_1213

Third graders from Chamberlin Hill Intermediate School in Findlay arrived on Friday in two shifts. The first 70-some got off the bus around 10 a.m., made their shirts (using all new spray bottles) and hung their finished wearable art in the bushes and trees before hiking down the hill, along Cranberry Run and splitting into two groups at the north gate. Half went through the gate to meet the farm animals, the other to see dragonflies, damselflies, crayfish and the amazing boneless swimming acrobatics of fish leeches.

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Thanks to Zoe for showing everyone that fish leeches won’t suck human blood, even after 10 whole minutes.

With a lot of paint left in the bottles after the second bus drove away south on 7L, we tackled the north picnic table with splashes of red, purple, green, and blue. The other table remains for another visit and another day.IMG_1221

Corvid appeal

There were once crows in this place. They would caw across the hollow, scolding at outdoor cats and other predators. Their young would burr in the tallest, most remote hardwoods, then become silent if anyone or anything other than their parent came close.

A decade or so ago, so many raptors disappeared, victims of West Nile virus. The corvids–jays and crows in these parts–died, too. We saw only one dead during that time. It wasn’t inspected by anyone, but we assumed the bird’s death was due to the mosquito-spread plague.

Not much was said then in mainstream media about the effect of West Nile on anyone but humans. While the disease caused harm to people–I’m not denying that–the kestrels, and red-tail hawks that had previously perched from telephone pole to fence post were missing for years. We are only just beginning to see them again.

But the crows never did come back. Last spring, we heard two calling in Coburn’s Bottom, the area of the floodplain north of the old quarry. We were so excited, calling everyone we knew and fairly shouting, “The crows are back!” whether the listener was interested or not. Unfortunately, the pair didn’t stay.

We began to suspect that there is more to the absence of crows hereabouts than West Nile taking its toll. As I said, the bluejays are back, as are the hawks and even bald eagles. But research and observation of crows has determined that crows tell each other stories. Before a flock of crows enter a new area, they send a sentinel in to scope things out. If the report is favorable, the rest will move forward. If something disasterous happens while they are there–for instance, if one or more are poisoned or shot–the crows leave at the first opportunity. And they don’t forget.

That said, there’s strong suspiscion that it was inhumane human behavior that left a big red mark along the Riley and Cranberry Run for crows. Sad, as these birds are thought to be one of the most intelligent creatures that share this planet with people. Crows aren’t a bellwether species, but they are brilliant, secretive, organized and to be allowed to share space with them is an honor.

We’ve had the pleasure of spending time with two crows. Blackie and Jo, however, are here only because they have physical and developmental issues that mean neither can be free to make that choice for themselves.

Crows backlitStained glass artist Martha Erchenbrecher created the gorgeous work of art pictured above. The piece is stained glass mosaic or glass-on-glass mosaic. After trying for a few months, we were able to take a decent photo of it today with the winter afternoon sun shining through. We’ve hung it here for farm animal sanctuary visitors to see. One day, we hope to display it in a nature center here.

Maybe a scouting crow will see it and tell the others that they are welcome, anytime.

Two sides to everything

This Martin Luther King Day is cold. Yes it’s January, and yes, this is Northwest Ohio. But a predicted high of 9 degrees Fahrenheit (wind chill -4) meant wrangling the goats into their coats last evening and coaxing Lucy the donkey into a new purple insulated number. The latter was much easier than anticipated. I would even venture to say that she liked it, although her girth meant that the length is for horses and the coat will need alteration.

Goats Marsh and S’more, however, do their best to peel back the velcroed straps on their parkas. Marsh rubs up against posts and building corners. S’more just reaches around and pulls his off. By sunrise today, his was laying out in the paddock. Giant goat Mister Bill, while happy to keep his coat on, boxed my left ear during my first attempt to shrug S’more’s coat over his squirrely head. With my ear and head ringing, it just seemed a good idea to throw boots in the closet and crawl back under the comforters.

Instead, Steve and I threw on more layers and drove to Bridenbaughs’ farm to fill the truck bed with hay. Tomorrow isn’t going to get any warmer, and the fires under those quilted coats have to be stoked since, even with arctic cold, all the creatures on the farm animal sanctuary insist on moving from outbuilding to outbuilding. The hay is always greener on the other side of the wall, I suppose.

As we drove back over the M-6 bridge, the UPS truck teetered past. Outside the gate, the driver had left a large, square, flat package. On its face was a note from Sandy, one of Mister Bill’s original caretakers. Along with “Fragile” and “Don’t open with a knife” the markered face said “Hi Billy” and “With love to my friends.”

Dog PaintingLast summer, Sandy and Doug visited Mister Bill here on The Quarry Farm. They brought him treats, delectable items that he unwillingly shared with most of the other goats. While walking the gardens and sharing a human lunch outside Red Fox Cabin, we told Sandy about our intent to hang paintings around the perimeter of the sanctuary. The package that came in the mail was the size and shape of just such a painting.

And it was.

We talked about treating it, how to properly display the piece, etc., and flipped the board to check mounting possibilities.

On the back is this.Fox Painting

Words fail. So I leave you today with Miracle Max in all his purples, blues and rosey reds.

Miracle Max

Nine more words: Thank you, Sandy for the winter reminder of loveliness.

 

 

 

All (almost) natural

TrioSaturday morning was humid, just like the day before and Sunday, Monday, Tuesday…you get the picture. The rain of Friday night persisted into the daylight hours, cooling the air and freshening the yellows, greens and amethysts of this late summer season.

Beautiful clean-up

Beautiful clean-up

And while the raindrops fell, the paints and papers came out under the red roof of the Seitz Family Pavilion, this time for a workshop on Drawing and Painting using natural materials. The fruits of a wild Friday evening in the kitchen resulted in a Saturday palette consisting of four different “paints” stewed from goldenrod, black walnut hulls, blueberries and strawberries, powdered paprika, topsoil and subsoil.

Side note: Potbelly pigs are unimpressed by cooked goldenrod.

There was also to be charcoal grilled from wild grape vine and willow, but since the damp air would have lent more slime than smudge to the medium, solid graphite pencils were used to sketch one or two selections from a table filled with flowers from the Red Fox Cabin gardens, honey locust thorns, the world’s most realistic fake fruit, and feathers molted this summer from the bronze turkeys next door at the farm animal sanctuary.

Will Laura’s scrumptious shortbread to fortify, as well as coffee and green tea, participants created two pieces each, with everyone coming up with unique shades as they experimented with the materials. A nearby poke plant produced a rich magenta. Because I couldn’t cook up a good green, each palette was fortified with tube watercolors, but someone came up with a fresh green using goldenrod and walnut. Since there were a whole lot of brushes being dipped in coffee cups (mostly by accident, although black coffee makes a nice ink), the poke berry paint was applied straight from the berry.

I am going to try freezing goldenrod and walnut paints, so the next workshop may be yet this winter. We shall see. In the meantime, take a look at the gallery from Sept. 5’s lab work and check out Nick Neddo’s The Organic Artist for further motivation. This book just arrived in the mail and it is calling softly from the bookshelf.

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Creativity in the garden

The Seitz Family Pavilion resembled a construction site this morning as bags of concrete, vermiculite, and vinyl patch were piled under its roof in preparation for a make-it-take-it workshop at The Quarry Farm.

Under the tutelage of Board President Laura, the Gardening Basket Herb Society, with members from Putnam, Hancock, and Hardin counties, made a variety of containers and stepping stones for use in their gardens.

IMG_4989There were the makings for hypertufa pots, that mysterious stuff that resembles wet kitty litter when mixed but dries with a unique surface that, to me, makes a plant look as though it is thriving in an earthen sculpture.

IMG_4992Plastic buckets and pails of concrete were stirred with great big spoons and paddles to make steppers and then decorated with everything from glass beads to shells and aquarium stone. More concrete was pressed over leaves arranged on sand mounds to create leaf bowls.

Slurries —concrete ‘gravy’ — were dabbed and poured over draped towels and other cloths to make fabric pots.

IMG_4985There were also marbles, glass pebbles, press letters and crockery bits with which to ornament the finished containers, if the students so chose. Unbeknownst to the group, these sparklies had been perused on Wednesday night by a couple of juvenile raccoons. I heard them chattering from next door as I was putting the chickens to bed.

I think the masked marauders were unimpressed. Although one bag of marbles was on the grass off the concrete pad, all the shiny bits were contained.

Superheroes swoop in on Saturday (no capes!)

GardenEveryone has stuff to do. Some of us are list makers, like Quarry Farm Board President Laura. Others have swirls of snippets of chatter spinning through their brain, like yours truly. Or little notes jotted on the backs of envelopes stuffed in the glove compartment, drawers and/or stacked on the kitchen table (again, fingers pointing right back.) Betty and BuddyHere on The Quarry Farm, there is always so much to do. Water tubs and buckets to clean and refill, food to prep and food bowls to juggle, hungry potbellies to restrain, hinnying donkeys to brush, and buildings to clean, rinse and repeat. This year, we have buildings to paint. And that’s just in the farm animal sanctuary. In the gardens of Red Fox Cabin, the long wait for nature to prevail over invasives is one which has yet to be won. But Nature is making headway, with a little help from her friends. After years of solarizing beds and hand-picking beetles rather than spraying and dusting, has allowed natural insect predators to get a foothold. The gigantic rainbarrel that collects droplets from the roof of Red Fox Cabin is almost always full for the watering. BillBut those of us who currently ‘mind the store’ rarely have the opportunity to check everything off our wish list. Last Saturday — that golden day — we got to pen a whole host of checkmarks. About a month ago, I received an email from William Schumacher. I first met Bill when an Ohio Department of Natural Resources co-worker suggested that the man, an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency employee, might be willing to lend his expertise as a soil science presenter at a teacher workshop I was planning. It turns out that actually wasn’t the first time that I met Bill. He and his brothers Joe and Dan grew up along the opposite bank of Riley Creek. We rode the same school bus and developed the same love for nature while walking the creeks, pastures and woods. CarolGetting back to that email. Although Bill and his brothers no longer live nearby, they remember. They remember the fish that swam in Riley Creek and the pasture that their dad tended for years. And they’ve seen what happened to the creek when that floodplain pasture was plowed and subsequently eroded. They like the clear waters of Cranberry Run that flow through The Quarry Farm on their way to the Riley, so much so that Bill offered up his helping hand as well of those his wife Carol and their teenaged daughters and sons. Since his brother Joe was flying in from South Dakota and his brother Dan would also be up from the Dayton area, why, they could bring up their tools and pitch in to help us out, too. GardenBoy, did they ever. When Sophie the potbelly pig arrived here last month, she was so overweight that she couldn’t walk, much less be spayed. In less than eight hours, we had a new wooden fence in the quarantine area where Sophie is now dieting. DanThe butterfly gardens were weeded of quack grass, with straw down between the rows. Bill had dug and walled a kidney-shaped raingarden off the north gable of the cabin. Dan had led a crew along the south end of the Cranberry, clearing windfall from the path and cutting a big dent in bush honeysuckle along the way. Yatchi and HWords cannot sufficiently express our gratitude to the Schumachers. Instead, I’ll let the impressions of some of our youngest visitors say it for me. These drawings just arrived in the mail, sent to us by the third grade class from Pandora-Gilboa Elementary School following a day spent here on May 8. Those kids are one of the greatest reasons why we do what we do, so that these creeks, pastures and woods, as well as the nonhumans that share it, will mean as much to them as they did to much younger Bill, Joe, Dan and me. Still do.

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.

Just add paint

117Watercolor is too real painting. As a painter who prefers this two-dimensional medium to most others, I have been in the position to argue this point. My argument accuses oil snobs of decorating their walls with off-the-rack roadside numbers that match a couch.

Boyfriends are broken-up with because of statements like this. But that was providence, it turns out, and a long time ago.

118And painting in oils is fine, if that’s what you like. But don’t tell me that a water-based work, one which requires the painter to give a measure of control over to their chosen medium, allowing light and whims of water, air and pigment to have their way, isn’t real painting.

So, with 94 percent humidity and a forecast of sun, the second “Watercolor for Beginners” workshop took place today under the earth-red roof of the Seitz Family Pavilion. Heavy fog kept a few distant registrants away, but hot black coffee, herbed shortbread and apple oatmeal cookies revived those that took up a brush.

146I love it when watercolor novices tell me, “I have no artistic talent.” These are the ones that are the first to let go; to pool water on their paper and break the surface tension of that pool with a loaded brush. It’s the ones that have painted before, using slow-to-dry, opaque, malleable mediums, that are reluctant let go of control. Because, in my opinion, that’s what you have to do with watercolor. You have to let go and see what water, paint, paper texture and weight and gravity can create when kind of, sort of left to their own devices. Once you have witnessed that, you can begin to take the reins and shape your work.

The seven people who floated through this morning’s fog, included some of the above. They chose their subjects from the Red Fox Cabin gardens, vegetables, flowers and leaves. You can see in the photos the tentative steps, the light lines of paint on cold press paper (I wouldn’t let them sketch their subjects with pencil first). Two hours later, we had a marvelous body of work, each of them showing promise and more than one worthy of exhibition at any art festival.

Of course that, along with my thoughts on how to begin painting with watercolors, is my opinion. I could be wrong.

But I don’t think so.

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