Winter Project Rain Dance

The scent of raindrops are in the air. Did you know you can watch the nature preserve bridge project from Google Earth? Engineer David does.

We do need rain/snow—maybe not all at once, but it is frighteningly pleasant for January in Northwest Ohio. The National Weather Service reports that we will have it as long as that green band of precipitation doesn’t rapidly shift southeast.

Board President Laura recalled the burnt toast odor that permeated the outdoors during the Summer of 1988. I remember that, as well as the smell of decay. As I ran the trails at Wildwood Metropark in Toledo, a doe walked out of the woodland of dried leaves and cracked soil. She didn’t run but feinted a few steps into the tree line and back out again. I have always regretted not following her. There was little I could do at the time to help, but I could have offered. I think of her every time I try to do so now.

How easily what is happening in Australia could happen to us. Our inland waterways could save us, as long as we save them.

Speaking of which, stellar Friend of The Quarry Farm Dave is forging ahead with his efforts to protect the old stone quarry wetland from sediment overload produced during flood events. The land bridge between Cranberry Run and the quarry provided a great nighttime path for the Girl Scouts last month, with the young explorers spotting fish and all manner of shadows through the thin film of ice over the stream. This spring, participants in water and plant quality studies to contrast the wetland and the Run will now have a flagstone deck. Here’s the latest from our favorite engineer:

“Nice day down by the quarry. Built up the bank a bit, at the north side of the culvert. Just wasn’t wide enough. Shoveled about 2 hours. Wide enough now.

Started putting flat stones on the path, so it was not so muddy. Is better, but needs more flat stones.  Also, they need to settle in, so they don’t wobble. Need to be walked on, I guess.
Last hour I dug up a few honeysuckle, just to the south of the quarry, along the east side of  the creek. One really big one, just for the experience. Mattock is better now that it is sharpened.”
Saturday’s rain will likely put a damper on our scheduled January 11 Full Moon Hike. Look for it to be rescheduled. How cool it will be to see the night sky reflected in riffles over one shoulder and in the still pool of a wetland surface over the other.

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

‘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.

Hiking with goats and lemonade

Saturday was a full Family Day. For a sunlit August 5, it was cool enough to hike from cabin to chickens without breaking a heavy sweat. Even the mosquitoes hatched from recent heavy rains were relatively scarce.

Thanks to all who joined us for the 2017 Family Day on The Quarry Farm. Much bush honeysuckle was repurposed for walking and hiking sticks, birdhouse gourds were polished, shirts were imprinted with unique leaf patterns, Red Fox Cabin was toured and the farm animals were enriched with gentle human interaction (except for Nemo who refused to break her afternoon nap routine.) As was expected, this gentle giant was up at 5 p.m., grazing on the grass so recently imprinted by visiting feet.

Next up: The 4th Annual Quarry Farm Jam

Changing of the color guard

Four beautiful bronze turkeys were part of the flock here on the farm. Fezzik, Inigo Montoya, and Humperdink are now part of everything, having lived out their lives on the ridge above Cranberry Run. All three rode down I-75, from various points in Lucas County by way of Nature’s Nursery, in a hatchback.

The fourth, Miracle Max, arrived in similar fashion, and he still walks the grounds. Two weeks ago, Max was greeter as schoolchildren and scouts entered the south gate. Since Humperdink died earlier this spring, Max has been blue. Quite literally, as his skin was a pale blue: the blue of loneliness and the fear and discomfort associated with losing his band of tom-turkeys.

(About that: Turkeys’ heads change color to express their emotions. The blood vessels lying directly under the skin of the wattle (that strange unicorn appendage between their eyes) are surrounded by long bands of collagen. When the turkey gets upset, the blood vessels contract, exposing more of the collagen bands. University of California, Berkeley scientists have actually developed a synthetic toxin sensor based on the turkey’s color-changing technique.)

When the April visitors walked onto his acreage, Max flushed a deep red, puffed his feathers, and thrummed the balloon of his chest. Instead of two-stepping away from anyone who came within arm’s length, as is his habit, he allowed a few of the kids to touch him briefly. And when his guests closed the gate behind them at the west gate, Max glided beside them from the other side of the fence, becoming paler as the kids moved further away. One little scout insisted on going back to console him.

On Saturday, three lovely ladies took up residence here. A family in Michigan raised three Brown Orlopp hens with the intention of serving them on a platter. “But the girls loved them,” the dad said. Indeed, his three young daughters helped load them in our carrier. The eldest skipped and told us about naming them all ‘Waddles.’ Her younger sisters weren’t quite sure of our intentions, I think, judging by their tears as we drove away toward the Ohio line.

So this one is for you three girls to the north, for entrusting the Three Waddles to us further south. It’s also for a very happy, very rosy, Max.

turkeys

Listen and you shall hear

20170125_172422Water overflows in lower levels of the floodplain. Cranberry Run bubbles through the preserve, still held within its banks on its way to the Riley. There is a smattering of rain today but strong winds wipe away most of the drops before they make landfall.

That wind is gusting and swirling so that it’s difficult to say whether it’s blowing east of west, but the temperature is predicted to fall from the unusual balminess that’s been hereabouts this January. A hike is more of a slog right now and muddy boots and shoes are piled beside the front door. I saw a woman running last weekend, wearing just a sports bra and shorts as she clipped along, a site for July, not midwinter in Northwest Ohio.

The goats went all month without their coats. S’more shucked his after a week, but Mister Bill likes his fluorescent orange vest and kept it on until three days above freezing saw his tossed to the mud, too.

When the weather turns, they are quiet in their disgruntlement. Donkeys Buddy and Lucy are more vocal, hinnying plaintively. If that pitiful sound falls on deaf ears, they bawl and snort until apples are proffered. With mouths full and juice dripping from their chins, they snicker and quiet.

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Queen B holds court

Not so for the pigs. Rather, there is no common vocalization for all of the pigs that live here. Although the conversation usually has something to do with food, we know exactly who is sounding off.

Beatrice is the queen. She is usually very quiet since she doesn’t need to speak in order to be obeyed. She prefers to voice her opinion physically by pushing her way through or smacking on the front door. If that doesn’t get the required response, she bellows an alto “wahhhhhhhhhhhr-huh” until a) the door opens and she gets to come in or b) she is told to go to an outbuilding and she says something that I can’t repeat, even in porcine.

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Bob and Alphonse

Bob Barker barks, or he used to. Since his arrival a few years ago, the toothy boar has mellowed. These days, he humphs softly while being stoked across the bridge of his nose. When irritated, he mutters “MEEeuuurf” with a head shake.

Alphonse arrived at the same time as Bob, from the same horrific circumstance. He shrieked then and he shrieks now, just not as frequently. We believe that the trauma of early abuse left him emotionally unbalanced.

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Carlton

Carlton is a whiner. When he was younger and smaller, he could hop up on any bed in the house. Now his pot-belly is much rounder and closer to the ground. A repetitive “eeeee-rrr hmf hmf hmf” translates “It’s too cold/my feet are wet/she’s/he’s/it’s looking at/touching me.”

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Nemo and her friend Larry

Nemo is big; still a baby, but big. Her gestures are large and much of her communications are physical. For instance, I wear a jacket with an elastic drawstring. She draws back that drawstring with her teeth and releasese it to snap me in the thigh. At first, I thought this was an accident, until it happened every morning that I wore the coat.

Nemo’s voice is big, too. Her gutteral “whaaa” builds to a full-on roar when she’s hungry, which is most of the time. It takes a lot of food to maintain all that beauty. She and Carlton are friends. When Nemo eats, Carlton is usually close by, quietly snuffling up the leftovers. This is one reason why he can no longer jump.

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Sophie

Nemo may be the largest pig, but she is intimidated by the smallest. Sophie is currently petite, but was 40 pounds overweight when she came here. Walking was difficult for her and no veterinarian would spay her until she lost at least 40 pounds. We put her on a diet, one that did not include the daily bag of cookies to which she was accustomed. She never forgot that she once had cookies, though, and whistles a high-pitched soprano that builds to a kind of “hu-EE hu-EEEEE” until her breakfast is served.

Sometimes, everyone gets a cookie, even if they don’t all say “please” in the same way. We are enriched by their teachings. That’s thanks enough.

 

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.