Savoring signs of life

DSC_0748Earlier this month, friend Kathy Doty taught me how to spot the difference between male and female Monarch butterflies. Visually, it’s really not that different than humans. I kept hearing that little girl who was a YouTube sensation several years back, her sing-song show-and-tell voice explaining to her classmates, “Boys have theses, see.” I’ve sat through a lot of PowerPoint presentations about Monarchs. I know the right way to hold them as you apply a tracking tag prior to release. But no one has every told me who has what. Kathy also displayed a young Praying Mantis and a viable Swallowtail chrysalis, anchored in place by one tiny gossamer lasso of swallowtail thread. She spotted both eggs and caterpillars in the Red Fox Cabin gardens. The sightings never cease to thrill.

Several days later, a steady stream of visitors to Summer 2019 Family Day watched monarchs, bumblebees and more dragonflies than I have seen since the June 2012 floor wax discharge decimated the variety of dragonfly nymphs one could sample in Riley Creek. It was hot, hot, hot in the sun. Steady breeze and ice water kept those of us anchored to the ground cool enough to take pleasure in flighted creatures who have the wherewithal to catch thermals.

With double-digit degrees less outside, Deb Weston walked the trails with her Debbie and a camera on Thursday. They spotted an Ebony Jewelwing damselfly, a female Baltimore Oriole, a Painted Lady butterfly, a Monarch, and two Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, birds I haven’t seen since I picked wild raspberries along the cut-off oxbow to sell at Andy’s IGA in Pandora.

I could wax on. How about I share Deb’s photos instead?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To everything, there is

At the start of the 2000s, after we breached the wave of Y2K and its potential mania, we weathered another onslaught. Well, we did, but not everyone made it through the ride. The farm animal sanctuary was not even a thought and wildlife rehabilitation training was still a phone call away. Instead, we planted 100 trees. Because the trees were small and the ground was traditionally a farmfield, a passerby in his cups mowed all but three of the grassed-in trees down. So we let the turf grow, transplanting native grasses like big bluestem, little bluestem, and switchgrass, all grown and gifted to us by Dennis Seitz. These, as well as wild asters and milkweeds, were slowly outpacing invasives like Canadian thistle. In the meantime, flocks of goldfinches cheered among the purple tops.

The pace wasn’t fast enough. One day, a township trustee arrived with a brushhog. He mowed through the thistle, Steve ran ahead of the blades. Praying mantis, adults and nymphs, clung to his hair, shirt and forearms. He stood in front of the driver, held his mantis-covered-arms aloft, saying, “See this? This is what you are doing.” With one tree still standing, insects and songbirds scattered, the tractor left. One neighbor asked us how this could have happened, here in America. It can and it did and we all lost.

_MG_9249That was 20 years ago. “Drift Zone” signs populate the neighboring fields. Local nurseries carrying various types of milkweed—and people are planting them. Several neighbors grow almost-acres of native grasses, wildflowers and Canada thistles poke their spiky heads up here and there as the natives are allowed to reestablish. Even so, anger still festers in me, 20 years after we were made to stand by and suffer a fool’s errand. Few mantids have turned their mystic heads my way since then and the goldfinches are still shy. IMG_1543

Today, my mother sent me two photos. A garter snake was soaking up rays on a weeping spruce at Red Fox Cabin this morning. It’s safe on its sunny bed, free from hungry chickens at our end and away from the road’s racing vehicles. The other photo is a mantis nymph, its image captured by Beth Scheckelhoff of Ohio State University’s Putnam County Extension. She saw a lot of mantid nymphs in the gardens above Cranberry Run. This makes me happy—even feel forgiving—though I’ll never forget.

seeking avian life forms

20190216_083800.jpgThis weekend is the 22nd Annual Great Backyard Bird Count, four days when, world-wide, people peer through binoculars and add apps to their phones (speaking from personal habit) to help them identify what birds are at their feeders or watering troughs from February 16-18, 2019. I can hear European starlings above our bathroom ceiling, so we started the count right off with that species. We really need to fix the cover on that vent.

20190216_093355Saturday morning, two Debs, one Maya, one Terry and one Mandy joined in The Quarry Farm count. At 8:08 a.m. we headed across the footbridge to listen and look for what birds would venture out with us into the cold. Not many, as it turned out. Red-bellied woodpeckers hammered in the north along Riley Creek. Horned larks chimed in the field. White-breasted nuthatches scolded. We saw or heard a downy woodpecker, two goldfinches, robins, a male cardinal, bluejays and two Canada geese.20190216_093733

The air was heavy with impending snow. We kept out toes moving and warm by exploring for nonfeathered treasures. There were tracks frozen in the floodplain, reminders of floodwaters that covered it earlier in the week. Fungi bracketed trees and downed limbs. Puddles were flash-frozen in rings as waters receded. Mandy spotted a cocoon of some kind that we have yet to identify but is probably this. And Laura was thrilled to see that the Indian hemp, also commonly called dogbane, has spread in the back 10.20190216_100117.jpg

The promised snow falls in icy pellets. A crow flew over this morning, calling as he scouted, his caws echoing in the cold sky. There isn’t much movement otherwise. I sit at the sewing machine, securing goat coat straps in place. S’more ditched his yesterday during an hour or two of warm sun. Now he is piled under straw in Sophie’s barn. From my perch at the sewing machine, I can watch for birds. The winter is frighteningly in need of visitors.

We’ll listen for owls tonight. Until then, the hot chocolate and tea are warm and plentiful for watching whomever flies.20190216_093228

ill wind

20190130_170858A dozen squash and a bag of apples are all that remain from the December windfall from Hoehns Orchard. The fruits flash froze in the bed of the Ranger yesterday. They’ll thaw this weekend as temperatures jump from this morning’s -8°F  to 52°F on Monday. Buddy and Lucy will love their sweet squashy pudding. Tonight, the geese will scavenge for apple bits after the pigs shred the applesicles.

Everyone made it through Wednesday’s -40°F windchill, at least everyone in the farm animal sanctuary. There were tracks leading up the path from Cranberry Run, so some of the wild things are beginning to emerge from the deep freeze. Here’s hoping some of the bush honeysuckle in the hedgerow weren’t so lucky.

We were—lucky, that is. A friend in Minneapolis says it’s still -21°F there on Day 2 of Invasion Polar Vortex, windchill notwithstanding. Mosaic the Llama’s dreamy eyelashes are dripping rather than hanging and she is out of the barn and staring at the mass of singing starlings that shelter in the pines.

We were lucky, counting all toes, fingers, nostrils and ears as healthy and whole. We weathered this bout with fractured weather patterns. As we hung blankets in the archway of Nemo’s and Carlton’s shed, packed straw into the barns and latched the doors Tuesday night, it wasn’t the plunging temps and 30 mph wind that scared us. It was what the wind was packing.

 

20190130_090253For 36-hours, the wind bore a topsoil blown from tilled fields to the west, a haze so thick that it coated trees, cars and ground with a gray film. Rays of Wednesday sunrise shown amber. Even with wind chill warnings outside, our boots left muddy tracks in the foyer. I wiped brown frost from the skin left exposed by my face mask. Snow and rain are predicted to wash down hill and stream this weekend.

Friend Kim called the film of topsoil on my car “cancer dirt”. She wasn’t being funny. Neither am I when I say I think I know what ash from nuclear fallout looks like. Why do we insist on taking everyone else with us?

20190130_162305

New Year 2019

The bowl is full. Not just halfway filled, either. After a New Year’s Eve drenching, the old quarry, its drainage channels and Cranberry Run are Lake Quarry Farm. Up above along the ridges, there are enough puddles that the geese haven’t the need to wander down the paths to take a swim in the pool.

The rain swale beside the cabin is full again, having done its job diverting one and a third inches of downpour from under the historic floorboards. Two white tails flashed behind the east-facing porch; hooves crashed through the brush as deer stranded on the Ridge sought cover. Rifle season”s good and gone so their secret is safe.

Last night’s ball didn’t drop around here. It blew from West to east which is probably why the water isn’t still deeper. All the bird nesting boxes are back up on their posts and the Christmas ladder is back up on the deck. Wintery mix is in the forecast, just enough (fingers-crossed) to wash the mud off its steps so it can be stored away, but not enough to keep the donkeys, goats and pigs from enjoying the windfall from Hoen’s Orchard. The llamas, who normally scoff at anything not hay or sweet feed, have set a place at the juicy table of apples and squash.

Happy New Year, wherever it takes you. Maybe it will be lead you here in 364 days or less.

Giving thanks trailside

20181117_105626

A mossy find

Qarie Marshall offered a sunny weather radio forecast for Thursday—“Turkey Day.” I’m counting on Aunt Paula’s cheesecake and Mom’s mashed red potatoes, with the ruby skins liberally integrated.

Every day is Turkey Day here. Max the Bronze is the current guardian of the farm animal sanctuary flock. Visitors have frequently lost the contents of their pockets to bronze Buttercup. Their wild relatives sway in summer night breeze, perched high in tree tops like giant fruit. They chortle and murmur in the daytime, hidden from predatory eyes in the thickest thickets. A stray feather occasionally makes its way into the Putnam County Master Gardeners’ pollinator patch.

20181117_110124

20181117_110354

Cool hat…missing boots

Saturday, we stretched our legs in thanks for a late morning hike. Elisha broke in a new pair of Trespass boots shipped from the UK. His mom Esther shared her lovely Irish accent and details about the clothing line, including the fact that Trespass makes water-resistant onesies.

Type ‘Ohio’ into the company website’s ‘Find a Store’ widget and you get Galway (eh…only 3,426.94 miles away.) Still, the “No Child Left Inside” movement would benefit from a line of puddle-jumping ware.

So, apparently, would my child. Home on holiday, she took off her rubber knee boots (“They’ll get wet, Mom”) to wade in the chilly quarry wetland with a seine in hand. She caught a sample of snails, a beetle and a fingernail clam for us to see. The clam was the size of the second smallest hiker’s pinkie finger. 20181117_112005

The smallest hiker of all slept through the walk, swaddled in his mother’s walking fleece.20181117_105059

20181117_110744

Fungi suspended over autumn leaves

The sun brought out the color in what leaves still hung on the trees. We used honeysuckle walking sticks to traverse downed leaf matter. We gathered a few Osage oranges before the ghosts of mammoths could lay claim to them. I thought I saw a shrike in the back 10 acres. Maybe we’ll see his/her larder—voles impaled on hawthorn spikes—during the 2019 Great Backyard Bird Count.

We saw tracks. They crossed our path in wallows and licks and fur clinging to branches. There were hoof marks, short and long bird toe prints and thin drag lines. The turkeys left the latter two for us to find, surely watching us from a distance that would keep them whole beyond Thursday’s feast.

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 sparring 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