in his own sweet time

The Fall newsletter included a brief about Mister Bill. That isn’t the first time that giant Boer-crossed-with-something (likely giraffe) Billy made The Quarry Farm quarterly news. Several years ago, Doug and Sandy Downing brought Bill here to join the Marsh, S’more and Buddy herd. He was such a huge presence—not just in size but in attitude and personality—that he of the magnificent curled horns was featured in the next newsletter. In the Fall 2018 piece, we talked about his August trip to the Ohio State University Veterinarian Clinic’s Farm Animal Services. The diagnosis was megaesophagus. The muscular tube connecting his throat to his stomach had become enlarged, probably due to an injury. His appetite remained big, but the food wasn’t getting where it was supposed to go. The vet prescribed penicillin injections for aspiration pneumonia and a diet rich in soaked in alfalfa pellets, fed from buckets elevated enough to keep his throat as upright as possible.

20180828_184536Bill took to the increased menu with relish. After a week of antibiotics, he was strong enough to say no way to the syringe. He licked his bucket clean before joining the other goats to nibble tall goldenrod and mulberry leaves in the lowland. But there was more going on inside his barrel chest, after all. Several days ago, Billy couldn’t stand. It took two of us to walk him to a bed under the pines where he could be in shade and good company. Dr. Babbitt was scheduled for a Friday house call. The plan was to fill Bill’s red bucket with taste treats before a final injection and release.

As always, Mister Bill had a mind of his own. Last night, as I was mowing the south paddock, I saw Rowan cross the lawn to Bill, His bucket was a few feet away and his body prostrate. He was panting and panicked. Steve and I sat with him and stroked his long nose until he calmed. Rowan was with him when he died 30 minutes later. He was buried in a 6’ x 10’ grave, a hole that seemed small for such a mountain of a goat. In the end, it was too big for what little remained.

But this story isn’t about us, even though I’ve spent three windy paragraphs about what us humans did during Bill’s end days. It’s what the animals did, what they always do. We only skirt the edges of what it is.

As I sat on the ground with Bill, swatting and spritzing biting flies from his legs and mine, Nemo worried around us. Funny, since Bill’s megaesophagus was probably caused by a winter food skirmish with the huge pig. Last night, Nemo quietly lay down under the pine nearest Bill, even though there were fresh apples just on the other side of the fence. I walked away. Nemo stayed. In ones and twos, the other goats, pigs and donkeys came. Each stood over the body for a bit. Elora bleated. We waited. We buried him, digging the hole just a little deeper to make way for the massive right horn. I looked out the front window after dark and could see S’more and Elora sparing near the bare soil.

Steve said, if he were to write this, he would concentrate on what happened after Mister Bill died. He also said that what did happen was very much like what happened when Marsh died, except this time was quieter. “They fought me when I tried to fill the hole,” he said. That’s because the one who fought most was Mister Bill.

Bill

Finding the bees’ knees

DSC_1009This is a year of dragons. Saddlebags, skimmers, twelve-spots and white tales dive-bomb the farm animal sanctuary yard, plucking mosquitoes before they latch onto exposed skin. It has been stupid-hot of late, enough to keep the dragonflies under cover at mid-day. But in the evening, their wings shimmer position for hovering and steep dives.

Rain came today. No dot-com could have predicted this more accurately that the four bats that wheeled over the paddock at dusk; three more than we usually see when the chickens, turkeys and ducks are tucked in for the hungry night. Tonight, leopard frogs dive into Nemo’s mud wallow, skitter across the surface and churn the depths.

unnamed (1)

In Leipsic, making 59 bush honeysuckle hiking staffs with Boy Scouts

The Putnam County Master Gardeners were onsite before the rains came. I was across county, talking folklore to Boy Scouts and helping them to make hiking staff of plants that shouldn’t be in Ohio. The Master Gardeners were here, tending to plants that should be, in their pollinator garden on the chimney-facing side of Red Fox Cabin. They set fencing as a deterrent to wild yearlings in search of fresh greens among the yellowing grass. Bee balm, indigo, milkweeds and Joe Pye weed have grown tall enough to attract them. More importantly, they call to pollinators.

As Joe Kinsella wrote, “If you build it, they will come.” Maybe ‘build’ isn’t the correct word. But since Red Doud and Joe Hovest moved large boulders into place, Phyllis Macke ID’d plants with ingenious signs she created and everyone moved soil, mulch and a purple tricycle in place, let’s go with that. In any case, they came: swallowtail, fritillary, monarch and skipper butterflies; honey, bumble and other wild bees moved from blossom to blossom. A hummingbird moth whirred in, unfurling and curling its proboscis as a nectar drinking straw. A widow skimmer dragonfly paused on the plant next door, pausing just long enough for me to click another blurry photo.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

With the scent of sun-warmed monarda in my nose, I picked a handful of mint on my way home and boiled it up with three bags of Earl Grey. The last of the chilled brew is at my elbow now. The mint is in bloom and off limits, waiting for whomever can make their way across the desert to save us all.

‘Further up and further in’

Heron

Look overhead, above Paul Nusbaum’s bridge over the quarry channel. Do you see who’s watching?

Summer 2018 Newsletter CoverThe humidity today says it is summer in Northwest Ohio. The calendar says it’s spring. We’ll go with the weather and release the Summer 2018 issue of The Quarry Farm Newsletter. Click on the cover to the right for your copy.

There is only so much information that can be included in an 11″ x 17″ newsletter. There For instance, on the first weekend in May, we drove across five states to Save-a-Fox Rescue to meet a potential education ambassador . Google Maps advised us to travel south to U.S. Route 30 to begin our Northwest journey. That didn’t make sense, so we took SR 15 North. We saw flat land bisected by rivers flowing into unglaciated parts of Williams County.

Westbound Indiana was a I-80/90. Enough said.

I slept through most of Illinois, but Steve regaled quotes from billboards, including one promising “All the Liquor…None of the Clothes.” We stopped at the Belvidere Oasis, a six-lane-spanning travel plaza on a stretch of 1-90 dubbed the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway, east of Rockford Mile Marker 54.5. We planned on buying bagels. Instead, we pounced on a food kiosk selling cucumber salads and falafel. Aside from the usual food chains, Mom-and-Pop vendors were hawking jewelry and fudge. 

Wisconsin is a very tall state. We drove its full height. Motorists can enjoy scenic wetlands, glacier-carved sandstone formations interspersed with theme parks, yellow-and-black “Beef Jerky Outlet” billboards and signs advertising a ‘gentlemen’s club’ called “Cruisin’ Chubbies.”

Interstate 90 connecting the La CrosseWisconsin area to rural Winona CountyMinnesota is breathtaking. We added another jerky outlet sign to our list when, suddenly, the Mississippi River stretched before us, banked rocky cliffs and green. Google Maps flashed an emoji of the late musical artist Prince to tell that we had arrived in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes (and Purple Rain.)

20180531_200157My ears popped as we climbed out of the Mississippi River Valley and rolled through greening hills and fjords toward Rice County, Minnesota. On the evening of May 4, we arrived at the place where silver, red, and roan foxes roost in trees rather than in the cramped, fur farm cages. Alexis at Save-a-Fox describes foxes as “those mythical creatures you read about in middle school.” We are learning just so from Quinn, the vulpine ambassador who made the return trek to Ohio.

Bridging confused seasons

This week’s April morning snow reminded me that the mucks will likely occupy a place on the door mat beside the sandals, probably for a double-digit number of days. The garden hose thawed in 80°F last Friday. Resting water froze again on Saturday. There is a groundhog somewhere who predicts eight more weeks of hauling water buckets.

We grouse about layers of sweaters, vests and coats, socks and boots. We never know what to tell visitors to wear, so we just tell them, “Come prepared for the weather. There will be hot chocolate or lemonade.” Pigs Nemo and Carlton have done their winter worst, rooting three acres of soil so that the pastures resemble a mine field. If this didn’t happen every year, we would despair of the unsightly furrowed ground.

“We’ll never be able to fix this,” commented Steve on the first spring with multiple pigs in the farm animal sanctuary. We stood on the front porch and despaired over upturned soil, bare of green grass and treacherous for foot traffic. A month later, after the first mow, the grass was green and patches of Grandpa Seitz’s bird’s-foot trefoil bloomed on the hillside. The garden was remarkably free of Japanese beetles. We realized that the pigs had feasted on more grubs than shoots. Now we grin and bear the brown ruts, knowing that there will be more than enough thick grass to cut when shorts-and-T weather settles in.

So…this snow. The sky is clear and the forecast predicts a high of 55°F. The barn and shed roofs are beginning to drip. The chickens and turkeys dodge the drops as they breakfast and the geese revel in widening puddles.

20180419_072804
20180419_072542In the cold shadows of the nature preserve, the colors are still blue, gray and purple. I cross the footbridge, going where a raccoon has recently come. Blue flag shoots and water grasses rise from wetlands, brilliant green contrasts to the white that coats the trees on the high bank and the land bridge between the old stone quarry and Cranberry Run. Thanks to Paul Nusbaum, the land bridge is clear of bush honeysuckle. This will provide a living lab for school groups to discover the differences between wetlands and running streams.

Here comes the sun. I’m off to work, away…and it’s alright.20180419_072730

Winter bird watch and listen

The 2018 Great Backyard Bird Count ended Monday. Tuesday evening we heard our first American Woodcock hurtle across the lowland. Both occurrences are memorable, but maybe not for the same reasons they were in recent years.

Twelve springs ago, I sat on the front steps in shorts and a long-sleeved t-shirt. Not an hour before we discovered the death of a cherished family member–a creative, young, outdoor, salt-of-the-earth. I sat there in the quiet after sunset and heard the first woodcock wings whistle overhead. The date was April 6.

Things are definitely changing. Call it what you like, but the fact is that we are a few weeks away from official spring and Red-Winged Blackbirds are already trilling in the trees above the Blanchard River. The wild mood swings of the 21st Century’s seasons leave us shivering one day and in short sleeves the next. We’ll keep the feeders full for the feathered ones who are flying in to face plunging temperatures.

20180217_075509_002The Boy Scouts that hiked the trails from 8 to 10 a.m. on February 17 used their ears and eyes to see a variety of woodpeckers. Audio recordings helped us identify other birds back at the shelter house. Overall, the birds we documented this year were different than those listed on past walks. We did see some of the same species but not in the quantities of years past.

It was a joy to hear a crow caw above the oxbow. The only corvids we’ve heard in recent years are Blue Jays. West Nile took its toll on crows in the ‘90s and Noughts. However, the likely reason for the missing crows is that someone used them for target practice. Crows have long memories. Saturday was quiet, so the scout we heard may share an ‘all-clear’ with the rest of the flock.

Take a look at what we did see and hear this year, as well as what other people documented: https://ebird.org/gbbc/hotspot/L2709897?yr=cur&m=&rank=mrec

A stroll about the Red Fox

Today is promising to be a hot one, with temperatures in the 90s and a heat index climbing higher. A hawk just flew over with a blackbird in hot pursuit of the raptor’s red tail. Even the birds are feeling it.

Dewy Borage

The plants, however, are loving the warmth and light after the heavy rain of last week. They’re positively dripping with joy. Humid fog sits over the soybeans to the west of The Quarry Farm, but the nature preserve is rich, deep, rainforest green, with dabs of brilliance. Seems the best kind of morning to inspect those colors more closely.

The gardens at Red Fox Cabin are blooming. The whites, pale yellows, pinks, and violets of spring are gone, replaced by a full spectrum in every shape and size. Bumblebees navigate the lavender and bee balm, hovering just long enough that I think I can get a picture. When I bring up the photo, I see they’ve led me on.

Bee Balm

The pollinators are back this year. Populations are smaller, but they are here. The big fuzzy bumblers share space with other wild bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, and moths.

And the dragonflies are glorious.

It’s a little too early in the day for them to be up and about, but Steve is seeing species that he’s not familiar with. The books and apps are out and he is getting to know new odonata in 2017. Storms are in the forecast for later this week. He will be on the front porch watching the dragonflies surge before the storm, hunting for insects ahead of the rain.

The two pipevine trellises are heavy with green. Two days ago, The Quarry Farm Gardener noticed tiny black crawlies on the southwest tower. They grew, expanding with the humidity and tasty leaves, as pipevine swallowtail caterpillars do. We missed them during the past two years. The cropduster that flies low of late is a concern. The news is that gypsy moth treatments are underway.

Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillars

The raingarden is doing a fine job drawing water away from the cabin and housing leopard frogs.A wheelbarrow supports its own garden, spilling a fragrant shower that doesn’t quite make landfall.

Common Mullein

Mullein reaches for the sky here and there. The flannel leaves of common mullein were used as lamp wicks–since the time of the Romans for torches–as well as toilet paper. The leaves were once placed inside of shoes to provided both warmth and softness. Mullein isn’t native to North America, but local insects are attracted by the flower’s honey-like scent.

I’ve looped back to my car; my ride to pay the piper. If you balance a coffee in one hand, it’s possible to snap a photo. This last mid-week catch: coneflowers above the nature preserve, leaning toward the place I want to be.

Water words and tiger tales

beetle larvaOver 100 years ago, there was no quarry here on these 50 acres. Cranberry Run was a meandering trickle. When the digs and blasts began, this place’s namesake was one of several in these parts. Over time, most closed or consolidated operation. Springs kept the abandoned holes filled. People and animals fished them. Picnics were eaten on the shores.

Before his body failed him, my dad spent a lot of sticky hot summer time rebuilding a stone wall between our quarry and Cranberry Run. This happened nearly 50 years after human hands and earth movers stretched, straightened, and deepened the natural engineering of the stream to push water through various townships to others downstream. The quarry was opened to heavy sediment loads forced through via the Run. Over the course of 50 years, the quarry depth went from 20 feet at its deepest point to no more than four of water and muck.The Quarry

As soil, grasses, and trees further rooted the wall, the quarry began to change again. Aquatic plants, their seeds held for generations in the floodplain, took root beneath the water’s surface. Some are rare, others not so much, but most are native and blooming to attract pollinators and migrating birds to shelter among the green.

unnamed.jpgTwo weeks ago, heavy rain flooded the quarry. Kayakers paddled through the preserve, weaving through trees well above the Run’s banks. The footbridge floated, held fast by heavy chains, thanks to Engineer Dave Seitz’ design. After the flood wave crested and rolled north toward the Blanchard, I kayaked under it and on to Riley Creek, past the 20170513_141555absent M-6 bridge, Putnam Aggregates and the Riley Creek United Methodist Church. The banks were surprisingly clear of debris, with one exception on the east bank in Riley Township. There, an old car follows a wave of cans and other discards toward a detonated washing machine on the bank below.

About a month ago, the water in the quarry was crystal-clear. You could lean out over the bank and watch spring life move in and out of the sprouting aquatic plants, except for those areas that were wriggling black with toadpoles. You could reach in and pick up handfuls of the fry if you wanted to. Steve used a dip net instead, keeping several in a five-gallon bucket to show to visitors at Lima’s Faurot Park Earth Day celebration.

20170502_201309_LLSThe week before that, Steve came back to the house with a bucket of fairy shrimp in quarry water. I love to watch these tool in healthy circles, especially since their presence tells me that the wetlands are doing such fine work sponging sediment and impurities in the floodplain. The pools did such a great job that the bucket also contained a salamander larva with waving spaniel-ear-gills, and a predaceous diving beetle nymph.

My dad would have been so excited to see the contents of this bucket. His artist’s eye would note the analogous brown and gold patterns of the amphibian skins and the scarlet jaws of the young beetle. The latter is nicknamed “water tiger.” You don’t have to spend much time to understand why. Steve said he started up the path between the quarry and home with 10 toadpoles. At the door, there were seven left.

After lots of people oo-ed and ah-ed over the catch, we released them. Though many were surely washed away, we know that quite a few are still there. Grown frogs and toads sing through the nights. Great blue herons, raccoons, and ducks feast in the shallows while perched raptors wait for their one false move.