Giving thanks trailside

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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.

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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

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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.

Get off my yawn

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Much as I tried, I couldn’t leave this photo to its own devices. Buddy was indeed yawning, not braying the classic “hee haw.” Donkeys don’t, at least the two here, don’t. They “hee-hee-hee” and “ho-o-o-o-nk” and blow raspberries, but declare nothing for Buck and Roy to play along with.

Sunday morning, as I filled the water pans, Buddy followed me to make sure no carrots lurked in my pockets. I saw his lower lip begin to tremble and readied the camera just in case a toothy grin was on its way..

preparing puffball

Gerald Owen Coburn, the man who first set foot to the path that led to The Quarry Farm as we know it, was, at his very core, an artist. It was with an artist’s eye that he looked on absolutely everything, particularly the natural world; a recurring theme in the body of work that he left, whether in paper, canvas, wood or stone. He was relentless in his desire to understand the world that he took to representing, primarily with brush, methodical and nearly clinical in his efforts to that end. And why not? It’s a fundamental truth that among the very many things that art is, it is most certainly science, peeled and filtered and laid out sideways so as to permit viewing from a different perspective.

One of the first Coburn paintings I had the opportunity to see was a watercolor. It depicted a young boy carrying in his arms what I first mistook to be a large stone, bigger than the boy’s head. It wasn’t a stone, though. It was a puffball, a fungus in the division Basidiomycota. To put an even finer point on it, it was probably Calvatia gigantea, the giant puffball, specimens of which commonly grow to a foot or more in diameter. Even more impressive, when they’re immature they’re not only edible, but supremely tasty. Be sure, though, that you are indeed in possession of an edible mushroom before taking a bite. If you have any doubts whatsoever, caution is the word of the day.

While puffballs are agreeable to most types of preparation, I have a fondness for them cut thick, breaded and sautéed. It’s simple, it’s quick and the results are noteworthy. Here’s how:

  • sliced puffballCut the puffball into ½ to ¾ inch slices. An immature puffball, when cut, will have a uniform white appearance. If they’re turning yellow on the inside, they’re too far gone to eat. Make a slit in the tough, outer skin and peel it away. It should come free quite easily.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil (each imparts its own flavor; choose to your taste) in a skillet over medium heat. Alternatively, use melted butter, but do not brown it. Dependent on the amount of puffball you’re preparing, you may need to add more oil or butter to the skillet as you go.
  • breaded puffballIn a pan large enough to accommodate the puffball slices, combine one egg with 1 ½ tablespoons of milk. On a different plate, prepare a bed of breadcrumbs. I’ve developed a preference for making my own, but store bought will do nicely.
  • Dip both sides of the puffball slices in the egg mixture, then dredge them through the breadcrumbs.
  • Sauté each side until golden brown, then drain momentarily on paper towels. Serve hot.

sautéed puffball

a different perspective

For the moment, let’s say you’re driving down a two-lane highway at night when, off to the side, your headlights pick up a misshapen bundle. You slow down to get a better look at whatever’s laying there, something that’s almost certainly dead, when, suddenly, part of the bundle shakes itself loose and skitters away into the dark…

Or it could be that there’s this cat that’s been hanging around and it’s pretty obvious that it’s had it more than a little rough. So, because you feel sorry for the poor wee thing, you’ve started leaving food out in a little dish by the back kitchen door. You hear it rustling around and turn on the light to give it a once over, see if there’s any improvement in its condition, only it’s not a cat, nothing like a cat, crunching down kibble. Nothing like a cat at all…

Or maybe it’s the night before garbage pick-up and you’re hauling the last bag out to the curb where you’ve already placed your recyclables and one half-full can. You reach for the lid, but it’s not in place. It’s lying, top-down, in the grass next to the can, and that’s odd because you’re more than kind of certain that you actually did put it in place before heading back to the house for that one last sack of trash. And that’s when you see it, furtive and menacing all at the same time, perched in the ripped-open Hefty bag at the bottom of the garbage can…

Whatever the scenario, what happens next is almost universal: you see those black eyes and all those sharp, glinting teeth in that gaping maw and your flight reflex kicks in. Before you’re even aware of turning, you’re burning rubber down the road, racing up the stairs, or dead-panic, brainless sprinting back to the house. And if your ears weren’t already full of the THUD, THUD, THUD of your own pounding heart, you know – I mean, you just know – that you’d hear it scrabbling along behind you, hissing and growling and keening for blood…

Virginia opossumExcept we’re not talking about some Jurassic Park raptor here, nor a great white shark or a freakshow hybrid of a government experiment gone awry, either. Nope. It’s an opossum – a Virginia opossum, to be precise – and it poses about as much threat to you as the neighbor’s Pomeranian. (You know, the one that they spritz with stink-pretty every other week after it’s been to the salon? The one that wears the pink Hello Kitty sweater as soon as the temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit? Yeah. That one.) So instead of chasing you down, that opossum’s busy either trying to put as much distance between the two of you as it possibly can, or making itself as small as possible, hoping against hope that you just won’t notice it.

Understand, I’m not saying that opossums can’t seem scary. They have more teeth than any other North American mammal and when their jaws are gaping wide in abject terror (yeah, mate, they’re positively terrified of you) it can be a little intimidating. But here’s the rub. Opossums aren’t predators. They’re scavengers, eaters of the dead and the overripe. See, they’re not interested in taking a bite out of you, unless, of course, you’re dead; in which case you have considerably bigger things to worry about than the chance that a wandering opossum just might stop in for a nibble.

mother and babies

So, no, opossums aren’t predatory, but they are seriously cool. They’re nomadic marsupials, have opposable thumbs on their back feet and they have prehensile tails. They’re the most primitive mammal in North America and, when threatened, “play possum.” The word “play,” though, is more than a bit misleading. It’s not a conscious act, not something that they choose to do. Nope, it’s something that happens to them when they get overexcited. Their hard drives crash and there’s absolutely nothing playful about a crashed hard drive.

Keep all this in mind the next time you scare up an opossum, because “scare,” my friends, is truly a matter of perspective.

Give Us a Hand and We’ll Give You a Shirt

If you’ve been following us for any time at all, you’ll know that, while we focus on assisting domestic animals, we also work with the occasional wild, but native, animal, as well. Most are just passing through, either on their way back to the wild or off to a rehab center. Sometimes, however, as with the two American crows and the Canada goose that live here, this is where they’ll stay from here on out. These native animals aren’t eligible for release, either because they have some physical defect that will prevent them from a successful return, or because they’ve developed a certain affinity for their most significant predator, humans. Such is the case with an opossum that recently came to us from Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Education.

No Name OpossumThey told us right up front that he seemed a bit on the friendly side, and he was. Even so, we treated him with the same distance as we treat all such animals we’re tasked with fostering. Several days ago, after nearly six weeks here at The Quarry Farm, we decided it was time to give him the opportunity to go it on his own. Sadly, rather than march off into the woods or even just into the tall grass near the banks of Cranberry Run, he decided to follow us back to the house.

After discussing the situation with the powers that be at Nature’s Nursery, it was decided that responsibility for him should be transferred to The Quarry Farm, where he will live out his days and serve as an ambassador of his kind to the folks who visit us here, on-site, and to those whom we visit in their classrooms.

But, Houston, we have a problem. We can’t seem to come up with a suitable name for him. We’ve labeled him a host of different monikers, but none of them have stuck. So we’re throwing it open and asking for help. The person who comes up with an appropriate name (and, yes, we’re the ones who decide what’s appropriate) will get a Quarry Farm T-shirt.

So, have at it, boys and girls, men and women.

And thanks. Here’s another quick study of the little guy, should that prove inspirational.

No Name Opossum

violet jelly, Mother’s Day and a walk in the woods

Violets We’re always looking for a reason to celebrate, here on The Quarry Farm, teasing out any excuse to pull together with friends and family for food and song and conversation, but particularly food. Today, we didn’t need to look far; Mother’s Day is a perennial favorite. So we set up camp in the Seitz Pavilion, the shelter house on the north end of the cabin grounds, and laid out the spread ‘til the tables groaned. There were cold-cuts and salads and chips and dips and condiments, but for the Seitz family, the meal is what you have to wade through in order to get to dessert. Never was there a single family with so many talented bakers. Today’s menu included strawberry cake and rhubarb, cherry and black raspberry pies. Here, then, was one of the many faces of bliss.

When we were done, Anne and I took a short walk back on the quarry so that Anne could pick violets. For the past several years, we’ve made it a habit to make violet jelly and this year is no exception. I hobbled along behind, determined to work off some of the weight I’d just packed on. And while Anne worked, I played, taking quick photographs of anything I found myself looking at.

Painted TurtlesThe quarry itself is one of my favorite places. It rarely fails to offer up something worth watching, a moment worth recording. Painted turtles, sunning themselves on a log, sat still jFrogust long enough for a single image capture. Ranging along the shore, a solitary sandpiper picked its careful way around the quarry while a pair of wood ducks coursed nervously back and forth. A green frog, or possibly a bullfrog, just barely broke the water’s surface, .

While any body of water is tantalizing, moving water is even more so. Cranberry Run, the stream that courses through the Riffleproperty that makes up The Quarry Farm, is a source of constant fascination. At what we commonly call the ford, a partially burned log was caught up in the rocks that create a riffle there. While we didn’t bother looking, there are undoubtedly any number of aquatic insects and other macroinvertebrates sheltering beneath it and the stones that the Little Cranberry swirls over.

There are paths cut through the woods that make up The Quarry Farm. What was once pasture land for dairy cows has worked Virginia creeperits way through a succession of stages that have brought it to its present state, something that is more and more resembling the temperate, hardwood rain forest it once was. Where there were once scrub trees, shrubs and bushes there are now primarily sugar maple trees and black walnuts. Virginia creeper and poison ivy climbs these trees, using the bark as a lattice and creating a curtain of green and red.

Just slightly off the beaten path is the area we call the Cut Off. Sometime in the 1950s, in an effort to move water more quickly away from agricultural land, area waterways were straightened, or “ditched,” as was more commonly said. What is now the Cut Marsh MarigoldOff was an ox bow in Cranberry Run. The county simply recoursed the stream and blocked off the oxbow, isolating it from the stream. Even so, the Cut Off is an aquatic habitat on its own. The tile from a nearby field empties into the old ox bow and keeps it hydrated for most if not all of the year. Here there are all manner of plants and animals that survive despite the damage done to Cranberry Run. Dutchman’s britches and may apples grow along side ramps. Recently, after a trip north to a nursery that offers only native species, Anne returned with a sampling of marsh marigolds that she planted near the water and in a swale that helps to feed the Cut Off. We were pleased to find them thriving.

Jack In the PulpitWhat we didn’t photograph was at least as exciting: a rufus-sided towhee, a common yellow warbler and a black-throated green warbler. There were dragonflies and turtles and dozens upon dozens of plants, some flowering some not, that are only now gaining a toe-hold here on the quarry, plants that we’ve talked about transplanting here that have, instead, and thankfully, arrived on their own. Plants like wild ginger and dragon’s tongue, jack-in-the-pulpit and bloodroot. The plants and animals that make their homes here are, like the stream that runs through The Quarry Farm and the face of the land itself, constantly changing, Even so, it allows for a familiarity that breeds comfort. For that, we are forever grateful and excited by the new challenges and opportunities that every day presents.

Wood Ducks

One pumpkin to go

Inigo and FezzikHours before predicted temperature drops, 25 m.p.h. wind gusts, rain, snow and sleet (sneet), Inigo and Fezzik are finishing off the last of a frost-softened pumpkin. Marsh (upper right) worked his way through the dregs of another inside the paddock. Beatrice is just out of the frame, strings of orange squash trailing from either side of her jaws.

NOAA tells us that this latest roller coaster ride in the weather is due sometime this evening. For now, the air is mild enough for the hens, geese and goats to forage, and for Jo to caw at them from her window.

They do know something is coming, though, without Internet access. The animals are connected to everything in a way that humans lost long ago. So we watch them dance across the browned grass as they snatch seeds and midges that hatched in the warmth of last night. This is one clue that cold and wet is on its way. Another is the very fact that Marsh is in the paddock and not lazing with the other goats under the pines. He is keeping close to the shelter of a warm donkey and an east-facing outer wall.

One pumpkin is in storage, so to speak, under the roof of the pavilion beside Red Fox Cabin. That will be a treat to put out when the weather breaks on Sunday. That’s what the National Weather Service predicts, anyway. We’ll watch the animals on Saturday and let them make the final call.