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

Not tomorrow, but today

We’ve been away for awhile–not in body so much as in mind.

For the past few days, the sky has loomed gray. While the temperatures were in the 30s (Fahrenheit), the air was heavy with wet, the kind of damp that soaks into your tissues and no amount of blankets will chase the chill away.

The cold hasn’t stopped the morass of mud all around The Quarry Farm. While quilts and jackets kept us warm, the animals burrowed under Bridenbaugh straw. A few northbound red-winged blackbirds showed up this week to promise that spring is close. Then these vernal signals went silent, too.

It was like that earlier today. Then the sun came out a few minutes ago. And happily, so did everyone else.

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.

 

 

 

welcoming Spring

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It’s Monday and snow is falling outside the window. The temperature is low enough that the white stuff of winter is sticking in clumps on trees and on what new grass there is. Two days ago it wasn’t much warmer, but it was still the first full day of spring. And even though the morning blew in on a cold northwest wind, Spring is great cause for celebration after a polar cold winter that began prematurely with snow on October 31.

IMG_9108We planned a March 21 ‘Welcome Spring’ Family Day three months ago by placing the event announcement in our winter newsletter. It was an optimistic move, one which dreamed big of turning over logs to find salamanders and the first bloodroot leaves curling up from the ground around the old homestead well north of the 10-acre grassland.

The forecast looked promising for Saturday, with sun and predicted temps in the high 50s. As noted two paragraphs ago, what we got was cold wind and gray. Laura switched the refreshment menu from cookies and lemonade to doughnut holes, cookies and a selection of hot beverages which we thought would consumed by those of us who live close by.

Instead, we were joined by three families, all hat-and-coated and ready to hit the trails. Most were return visitors, so they knew that the wind chill would drop once we entered the nature preserve with its tree lines of defense.

Two Canada geese stayed put on the melted quarry surface, at least long enough for us to watch them lift off. We saw plenty of signs of movement, from a variety of tracks to wild turkey feathers. And since this walk was one to greet Spring, this group inaugurated the vernal pool trail for all future guests.

Steve gathered two water samples from the largest pool, an oxbow that was once part of Cranberry Run prior to a brutal 1950s attempt to ditch the natural, wild creek. The oxbow is home to frogs, dragonflies, woods ducks and a variety of turtles. Saturday, most burrowed deep and our enthusiasm sent anything with wings away, but the net did yield scuds, a tiny crustacean akin to shrimp.

We pondered scat in the upland grassland, talked about the sharp hawthorn that sometimes stores a shrike’s lunch and made maple leaf angels on the main hardwoods trail.

Up and out again, and several donuts and hot chocolate cups later, the south Cranberry Run trail led us to the farm animal sanctuary where Buddy, Beatrice, Johnny, Marsh and Mister Bill led the pack in a high-five. Turkeys Inigo and Humperdink paraded their splendid selves about, puffing and drumming as their heads mottled from pink to blue to purple and back again.

IMG_9146It was the first visit with guests for Mister Bill, a very, very, very large Boer goat, and he was tolerant until he’d had enough and wandered away to chew on a spruce. We took the hint at high noon, the scheduled departure time anyway, and were escorted to the gate by turkeys, goats, Buddy and Beatrice.

A warmer spring walk, one fit for wildflowers and light sweaters, is in the works for April.

Stay tuned.

lions and lambs, donkeys and chickens and geese and goats

In 1826, American folk artist and Society of Friends minister Edward Hicks created “The Peacable Kingdom”. While it’s not in a style that I find particularly appealing, the content of the painting, its message, strikes a chord. In the foreground are a number of different creatures, some of which I can’t identify simply because of the manner in which they were represented, but clearly both predator and prey lying down with one another. There are cherubim and seraphim, as well, and in the background, English settlers meeting with Native Americans.

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I don’t pay attention to the human interaction; so little, in fact, that I’m always surprised when I see it. Suffice it to say that there appears to be some manner of commerce taking place involving blankets and, given how that type of exchange often worked out to the detriment of Native Americans, I apparently choose to ignore it each and every time I view the painting. I simply refuse to see.

But the animals? Now that is an altogether different story. I relish those innocent interactions; revel in the way they coexist. And while it’s unlikely that, in the wild, a lion will lay down with a lamb, interspecies cooperation isn’t a rare event, particularly here on The Quarry Farm. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the chickens ride Buddy, the resident miniature donkey, or any of the six goats that also live here. I’m not surprised to see Snitch, the neighbor’s cat, padding under Mister Bill, the extravagantly tall Boer goat mix, around a pig or two and sideling on by Johnny, the Canada goose. The goats play with the pigs, the pigs play with the chickens and Buddy whips everybody into a (relatively) friendly frenzy every now and again, especially now that spring is just around the corner. We’ve even seen wild rabbits lying out in the open and nursing little ones old enough to have left the nest, but still willing to nurse.

The Quarry Farm Musicians: Audrey, Buddy and S'More

The Quarry Farm Musicians: Audrey, Buddy and S’More

Even so, and despite all of that, I witnessed something the other morning that made me stop and stare.

Gigi

Gigi

Although we named him something altogether uncharacteristic of his gender, Gigi is a gander, an Emden goose who is, characteristically this time, very protective of the two geese in his flock. He came here several years ago from Van Buren State Park, where he and Louise (the other goose’s name is Henry and yes, yes, we know) were abandoned. Gigi can be so protective, so surly, in fact, that we encourage visitors to give the trio a wide birth. Gigi is the gander your mother always warned you about: quick to hiss and threaten and quicker still to follow through on that threat with a wing beating or a hard pinch with his bright orange bill.

Madmartigan

Madmartigan

Madmartigan is one of three pygmy goats that we adopted from a failing goat herd on the eastern side of Ohio four years ago. While generally good natured, like most goats, he has a fondness for his fodder. When food’s involved, all bets are off and he can, and does, do whatever he feels necessary to secure his own little patch of whatever. Being male, Madmardigan also has a ridiculously impressive set of horns, horns that spire up from the top of his head like twin missiles. And when he’s staking claim to a flake of hay or a patch of grass or an apple or three, he liberally applies those horns to heads and backsides and bodies; whatever he can reach to drive his point home.

Individually, these two are more often than not at the core of any discontent. Together, though, at least earlier this week, the two were quite fond of each other. Gigi would slide his neck along Madmartigan’s back and nibble through the hairs there and up his neck and behind his ears. For his part, Madmartigan would gently nudge him with his horns, prompt him to continue her gentle ministrations.

And so here we are on The Quarry Farm, our own peaceable kingdom.

a different shade of white

woods

In 1911, Franz Boas, an anthropologist who spent years living among the Inuit, published The Mind of Primitive Man. Through it, Boas not only revolutionized anthropology, but sparked a debate that has lasted over a century. Boas famously suggested that the Inuit have dozens, if not hundreds, of different names for snow. Linguists argue back and forth the merits of the claim, some saying that added suffixes to root words are simply individual flourishes while others assert that, yes, each new permutation is, indeed, a separate and distinct word.

Which leads me to my question and my subject…Would the Inuit consider a heavy frost snow?

There was fog in the early morning hours on Wednesday; fog and a whole lot of cold. Combined, the two create what I’ve always considered hoar frost, a consideration that is at least mostly accurate.

frosted wild teasel

frosted wild teasel

As it turns out, there are six different recognized types of frost – two of which, rime and black, are subject to debate – one of which is hoar. Well, sort of “one of which”. See, there are actually four different types of hoar frost: air, surface, crevasse and depth. Air hoar is the type of frost we experienced today. Tangentially, hoar is a word of Old English derivation, an adjective meaning “showing signs of old age”; in this case, conceivably, it is the fringe of white that conveys senility.

The world seems to froth with it, this thick confection of frozen air. It shrouds tree limbs, coats fences, cars and outbuildings and accumulates on the individual hairs and feathers of the animals that spend a good deal of their time out of shelter.

In the bottom land below our house, the plants and grasses were still, bowed under their burden of frost. The wild teasel (Dipsacus fullonum), an invasive from North Africa and Eurasia that has been here so long that it seems native, carried its coat with grace.

Later, though it never truly grew warm even for this time of year, the rising sun brushed so much frost from tree limbs that, under the canopy, it fell as thick as snow.

So, can anyone tell me? Does anyone know? Make it official…does frost translate to snow?

Buddy

A New Year’s Day walk below the wind

IMG_2737This new year looks bleak, with harsh, cold wind and an absence of snow. Thursday afternoon, I walked down the lane and had to fight to open the gate against bluster, feeling the cold bite of the latch’s surface through my work gloves. No one followed me to the gate in hopes of treats. I’m sure no apple slices could beat shelter on the sunny side of any outbuilding.

I made it just about 50 yards down the road before ducking down into the lowland along Cranberry Run, where the drop behind Red Fox Cabin blocked the wind. So cold were the trees that they hummed, except for Osage orange trees. These woven, thorny trees make sort of a whirring whine in frigid wind chill (truly exhilarating when one is walking on the trail at night…alone.)

IMG_2736Winter came on so suddenly that many of the Osage fruits are green and whole, their sticky white latex ooze flash-frozen to the ground. The fruit is not poisonous to us mammals, but I hear it’s not much to taste. Further on down the creek, on the east side of the footbridge, I saw something, maybe a fox squirrel, made use of an orange as a food source.

The sun is cold and farther away at the start of the year, a white sun in gray blue sky. Even the bane of the understory, bush honeysuckle, is leafless this year without a snow blanket. No green, other than the Osage fruits, was visible on Jan. 1, 2015. This is a good thing, I know; maybe this will give the maples and oak seedlings a chance to fill in the spaces left where the 2012 derecho took out so many mature trees.

IMG_2739IMG_2734The wind was so high and wild above the creek valley that I saw few birds, not even on the old stone quarry. This winter it is full of water, frozen with reflections of rich, ruddy browns, gold, and sky. There are no breaks in the still quarry’s surface, but Cranberry Run’s riffles keep a brisk pace, leaving open holes here and there, especially below the high blue clay banks at the northwest point of the nature preserve. Two birds, so in shadow that I couldn’t identify the species more than to say they are large songbirds, dipped in the water below a bare root hackberry that has held the top of the bank for as long as I can remember.

IMG_2741The camera, a treasured Rebel of my dad’s, said ‘no more’ to the cold, so I tucked it inside my blanket coat and headed back the way I came. At the top of the hill near The Quarry Farm entrance sign, I tucked my chin closer to the camera, wrapped my scarf around my head and ran for the gate.

With my eyes so adjusted to discerning the different hues of browns, the greeting party under the apple tree was a shock to the senses. Wrapped in new thermal coats, Buddy and the boys were like presents under the tree.

What a happy sight to begin a new year. Rain is promised for Saturday. Luckily, these coats of many colors are waterproof. I think I’ll stay inside and watch.

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