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.

 

Branching out, under bright lights

20170419_143537You know that tingling excitement you get when you try something on for the first time, especially when it fits and what looks back at you in the mirror looks pretty good? Yeah, you know. That’s kind of what last week felt like.

The week’s events started last fall with an email from Quarry Farm Friend Robyn. The trails here are not new to her or her family. In fact her son Zane is one of our best advisers during programs. Zane is kind of a barometer—if he’s happy with the program’s progression, we go with the flow. Anyway, Robyn is a Findlay teacher who recommended us as a field trip destination. So back at the start of School Year 2016-17, her co-worker Alyson scheduled a spring field trip.

After the ball dropped in January, Ada Girl Scot Leader Cathy called to schedule a three-badge (Hiker, Bugs, and Animal Habitats) for Brownies and Juniors. A month later, I entered Erie Conservation District‘s “2017 Recycled Runway: A Clean Water Cause” on behalf of The Quarry Farm.

None of these things are truly new. We raise our hands all the time. In fact we all but shout, “Pick me! Pick me!” in order to fulfill our mission statement. What was a stretch is that all these things were set to happen in the same week in April 2017.

20170419_142307On Sunday, we fortified ourselves with chocolate and other Easter basket contents. From Monday to Thursday, 218 Findlay preschool students, their teachers, parents and bus drivers made lasting-leaf t-shirts and followed the Cranberry Run Trail to meet the farm animal sanctuary residents before making the bus ride back to Hancock County. The mornings were cool and afternoons exceedingly warm, but Miracle Max the Bronze Turkey was always the gate greeter for every group even if the other animals dove for cover.

Fearless Girl

Fearless Girl from “200 Years…Same Shoes”

Friday night was the big Sandusky runway show. Recycled Runway was a fundraiser to restore Lake Erie’s Big Island Preserve on the eastside shoreline off the Cedar Point Causeway. Since everything done upstream (here) impacts downstream (Lake Erie) the Fabulous Sarah wrapped herself in repurposed pop can tabs, plastic shopping bags, snack bags, mesh fruit bags, plastic bottles, plastic caps, plastic straws, bubble wrap, and feed bags and walked the red carpet in our Regency/Roaring ’20s/2020 Fearless Girl time-warp entry “200 Years…Same Shoes.”

We made the Final Four (whoo Hoo!) and they raised $10,000 towards increased water quality. Check out the media photos.18034077_1524536627558995_2990400833246355312_n20170422_110444

Saturday morning, the Ada scouts reused bush honeysuckle to make hiking sticks, hiked habitats, tasted garlic mustard, and met the animals. Max was red with happiness.

2017-04-23 16.12.32Today we rest. So does Mister Bill. Looking in the mirror, or at the photos and videos on our cells, and through the perspectives captured by others who shared the stage of the day, we’ll still keep raising our hands.

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.

A long week with not enough time

Beginning with an 11 a.m. appointment with a room full of children and a few adults at the main branch in Ottawa, we visited every Putnam County District Library location in the county. In this case, “we” is not a royal “we” but rather two humans, a middle-aged Virginia opossum and a bucket of freshwater macroinvertebrates.

Two weeks ago, we drove an hour east to Honey Creek, a Seneca County tributary to the Sandusky River. Our mission was to collect hellgramites, the impressive predatory aquatic larva of the terrestrial and flighted dobsonfly. By all rights, or if all was right with the world, we should have been able to find them in Cranberry Run as it passes through The Quarry. Underneath all the silt of the stream and Riley Creek into which it flows — even the bigger Blanchard at the end of the Riley — there is a river bottom of cobbles and boulders, prime habitat for hellgrammites. But there’s that silt, smothering everything.

Like I said, we drove to Honey Creek in between heavy rains and flood events and did net a few dobsonfly larva as well as two large dragonfly “babies”: a spidery skimmer and a froglike darner. Here at home, we collected leeches, snails, and half of a freshwater clam shell, its mother-of-pearl lining worn smooth. We set up an aquarium for their stay.

Each weekday morning, Captain John Smith was loaded into a carrier and as many macros as we could fish out of the aquarium were placed in a bucket for transport. No dragonflies made the bucket because, a few days after their arrival in Putnam County, the hellgrammites ate them.

S & J 2BoysIt was a good week. We met new people, the Captain made a favorable impression for his kind, and I got to play with leeches. One young man suggested that leeches are kind of like shape-shifters. I like that. I’m going to remember that for our next gig. Two more suggested that the Captain’s tail looks like corn on the cob. Never though about that before, and they’re right.

Today is Saturday, and we are kind of tired. It seemed like a long week, what with two speaking engagements per day on top of day jobs, slogging buckets and straw through rain and mud here on the farm and in parking lots and nursing one of the potbellies through a mysterious spate of abscesses until his appointment next week at Ohio State University Veterinary Clinic.

IMG_4408But I realized, after finishing Sy Montgomery’s The Good, Good Pig, that two speaking engagements per day for five days wasn’t nearly enough time to point out the importance of Virginia opossums and hellgrammites in our human lives. You need a lifetime of appreciation.

Nor is it enough time to admire the intricate, delicate patterns that trace the exoskeletons, especially across the backs of their heads. One glance in a bucket at the boneless athleticism of a swimming leech is just not enough, not enough for anyone.

We hope it was at least enough to leave everyone wanting to learn more. As Ms. Montgomery noted in her book, maybe a one-off was enough to lead some to a new way of thinking.

Burdock, concrete, and brown butter icing (not all in the same bowl)

Thursday, it rained. Friday, it rained. Saturday, it didn’t rain.

At 10 a.m. on July 11, the clouds were scarce enough that some blue shown through, a good thing for many reasons not the least of which was that 10 people were involved in the annual leaf-making workshop in the Seitz Family Pavilion.

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Tim, Alex, Bob and Marilyn create their own leaves.

Brenda stirs concrete for her leaf.

Brenda stirs concrete for her leaf.

Because they are large with strong vein definition, burdock leaves are nurtured prior to each summer leaf casting. Two buckets held the giant cut leaves. After play sand was mounded to the shape desired by each leaf maker, the sand mold was covered with plastic cling wrap. The selected leaf topped that and concrete was layered on. Some added river stone or beach glass.

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Brenda and Elaine arrange burdock leaves for casting.

Although everyone walks away from these events with a lasting leaf with which to feed and/or water birds and other wildlife, to use as a garden stepper or to display on a coffee table, we on The Quarry Farm love watching the creative process. And on Saturday, we were the grateful recipients of apples and huge bags of peanuts for the farm animal sanctuary residents, as well as a generous check from the Putnam County Master Gardeners.

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The Putnam County Master Gardeners present a check to Board President Laura.

We won’t see the final leaves for a week or so, since the rain picked up again on Sunday and Monday to slow the drying process. But we experience the results of generous support everyday. In fact, I think everyone who shared in Saturday’s experience did as butterflies flitted in and out of the open-air classroom, damselflies and dragonflies nabbed mosquitoes and a little bullfrog sounded off in the full raingarden pond.

Oh, and here’s the recipe for those cookie bars that were on the snack table.

Frosted Butter Pecan Bars
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 pkg. (3.4 oz. each) instant butterscotch pudding mix
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans

FROSTING
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup better, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
[Optional:  Use a frosting that doesn’t have to be refrigerated.  I use browned butter frosting.  See below.]

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, whisk flour, pudding mix, sugar, baking powder and salt.  In another bowl, whisk egg, melted butter, oil, water and vanilla until blended; stir into flour mixture.  Stir in pecans.  (Dough will be stiff.)
2.  Press dough into a greased 13 x 9-in. baking pan.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until edges begin to brown.  Cool completely in pan on a wire rack.
3.  In a bowl, beat cream cheese, butter vanilla and salt until blended.  Gradually beat in confectioners’ sugar.  Spread over top.  Sprinkle with more chopped pecans, if desired.
Cut into bars before serving.  Store in refrigerator.

BROWNED BUTTER FROSTING
1/4 cup butter
2 and 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 tablespoons milk

1.  In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until butter turns a caramel-brown color.  Be careful not to burn.  Allow to cool.
2.  Combine all ingredients and beat until creamy.  Add a little milk, if necessary, to reach spreading consistency.

“Best field trip ever”

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One young boy shouted this as he was on his way back from the farm animal sanctuary this morning. How could it not be the headline today?

Modeling leaf resist t-shirts

Modeling leaf resist t-shirts

That young man was here with Charlene Finch and her Junior Gardeners from Continental. This was the second year that the group visited the Quarry Farm. They are one of best bunch of people we’ve ever met. Enthusiastic about everything, which is good since their day started here with rain. But since the shelter house went up last summer, the roof was ready and overhead. The new tent curtains were draw to the west and south, so the rain was hampered enough that kids and parents could make leaf shirts and select herbs for culinary, scent and healing bundles.

Charlene and her gardeners make herb bundles

Charlene and her gardeners make herb bundles

Charlene Finch started the Junior Gardeners group four years ago as part of her Defiance County Master Gardeners project. She liked it and the participants so much that she kept at it. Her own pocket paid for materials and seeds at

Costmary, an herb

Costmary, an herb

first. Now the group receives donations, holds 50/50 raffles and sells food at the Continental fall festival to fund summer gardening projects.

During the 2012 visit, Beatrice was just a piglet, a very shy one. Her encounter with Continental Junior Gardener Brandon was a positive turning point for us and Little Pig. Prior to the first trip, she wouldn’t let anyone close. But she liked Brandon. This morning as we all walked up the path to see the animals, Beatrice came at a trot, full grown and not a bit shy. Buddy and the goats were especially happy to see the 50-pound bag of peanuts that the group donated today.

You don’t have to be a star (but it’s really fun)

The new greenhouse north of Red Fox Cabin was of interest to the Owens class as they are considering one of this size for a butterfly house.

The new greenhouse north of Red Fox Cabin was of interest to the Owens class as they are considering one of this size for a butterfly house.

Been awhile, but with good cause. Seems as though weekly (or biweekly) posts may be the new norm of spring at the Quarry Farm.

On May 29, seven people from Owens Community College, Toledo Campus, drove down I-75 and made their way here, despite the Road 7L sign being missing from the turn off State Route 12. Jeannie Wiley Wolf, Findlay Courier reporter, almost didn’t find us to do an interview for an article that appeared in that newspaper on May 28. Steve says the sign mysteriously disappeared some time ago. Anyway, Owens’ Associate Professor Joanne Roehrs got the van here.

Owens2The students are working to obtain the Urban Agriculture and Sustainability Certificate, a new offering at Owens. All of them have sweat-equity in the urban community gardens in Toledo, especially in the Robert J. Anderson Agriculture Training Center and greenhouses (900 Oneida Street; Toledo, OH 43608) which are projects of Toledo GROWs, the community gardening outreach program of Toledo Botanical Garden. The Anderson Center is used as an educational forum for Owens Community College students who are studying urban agriculture. The Center is also an open-air classroom where under-privileged youth are educated on growing sustainable nourishment.

While on the Quarry, Roehrs and her Livestock Animal Husbandry students focused on the organic gardening projects, the wild bee boxes and the farm animal sanctuary. They study beekeeping through the hives at the Anderson Center. We were able to tell them what not to do with bees, from firsthand experience, and of plans for new bees in 2014. Beatrice of the whirligig tail was our model sanctuary adoption success story as she greeted all with charming, intelligent porcine loveliness.

If you are, or know of someone who is looking at new, relevant career option investment, this is a program to explore: http://catalog.owens.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=3&poid=634&returnto=158

From that point until 11:59 a.m. on June 6, preparations were made for the arrival and tour of 90 individuals, mostly K-8 graders, from Columbus Grove Local Schools’ after-school summer program. For coverage of that Quarry Farm landmark event, I’ll let the press do the talking. Diane Myer of Black Swamp Raptor Rehabilitation Center, Stacey Cook of Hometown Station WLIO, Nancy Kline of the Voice and Alex Woodring of the Putnam County Sentinel, volunteers Cathy, Shannon, Jonelle, Brendon, Cherie and Dakota, you all wear superhero capes. As long as the links hold, here’s the news from June 6:

Putnam County Sentinel: http://putnamsentinel.com/main.asp?SectionID=1&SubSectionID=1&ArticleID=15695

The Lima News/Putnam Voice: http://www.limaohio.com/news/putnam_county/article_8053fd5a-cf9d-11e2-807c-0019bb30f31a.html
plus photo gallery: http://limanews.mycapture.com/mycapture/enlarge.asp?image=47607266&event=1665851&CategoryID=65761

Couldn’t ask for more. Maybe sleep. But that’s OK, more than OK. As WLIO’s anchor Jeff Fitzgerald noted, “They say it should  be shared.” And we do.