How Clear the Waters Run

I think it will always thrill me to overhear someone asking someone else if they have ever been to The Quarry Farm, for people to talk about the animals, birds, gardens and the clarity of the stream. Not everyone will turn over their yard to goats, roosters, and geriatric pigs, but gardens—the riotous kind filled with a variety of native flowering plants—and trees can make birds and clear water more common. This region’s native grasses and trees have long, branching root systems that hold the soil like a strong net. Have you ever pulled English Ivy? This non-native is tenacious and fast-growing but you can remove a large patch with one pull, so shallow-rooted and interwoven is this European transplant. In contrast, ever tried to pull a Common Milkweed in its entirety? Best of luck.


Old Man Sycamore in the north floodplain of the nature preserve has a hollow base that provides shelter to who knows how many creatures each night and during winter’s worst. As shallow-rooted landscapes topple across Northwest Ohio, he and the 300-year oaks withstand wicked flood currents and down-bursts. As the floodwaters recede, the forbs at his feet grasp run-off silt and soil. Within 36 hours, Cranberry Run is clear again.


You hear a lot about native plants these days. Big-box stores as well as local nurseries stock a variety of plants labeled as native. Keep in mind that native doesn’t always mean native to here. Also, ask your green-grower what kind of substrate your plants are potted in. Mass-marketed plants are often potted for long shelf lives, their roots sandwiched in neonicotinoid-laced soils that wreak havoc on bees and other beneficial insects.


Remember that part about riotous gardens? Variety is the spice of life. Some native plants can be invasive without other native plants to keep them in check. The Quarry Farm Gardener finds it necessary to parcel out starts of Coneflower every now any then, as well as Menarda (Bee Balm). Much is made of the benefits of keeping Common Milkweed for the Monarch butterflies. Without Ironweed, Coneflower, Asters, and Common Hackberry trees to watch over them all, who will feed and shelter Comma, Question Mark, swallowtails, and the Hackberry Emporer butterflies? And without Jewelweed and its orange orchid-like flowers nodding on the riverbanks and floodplains, how will I ever be rid of this confounded poison ivy rash?

pecking Order

Animals have their own way of doing things. We have ours and they have theirs, “we” being “humans” and “they” being “everything else” that understand each other as we bumble about convinced that we do, too.

The farm animal sanctuary residents eat their breakfast each morning then go about their day. We often go about our day thinking little of what they are doing. If it’s hot, as is ridiculously so now, they find shade. The mammals disappear in the bottom land, under the trees, to graze or to roll on the cool spring-fed earth. The birds chase insects across the yard. But each day, at the same time says Neighbor Casey, they meet under the same white pine in the south pasture. They gather for a half-hour, give or take, then the crowd disperses.

Sometimes there’s a crowd, perhaps enough that the meeting can be called to order with a quorum met.

PANDORA–Important announcements regarding Covid… latest news and precautionary steps when dealing with humans. (April 3, 2020, Casey reporting)

Sometimes it’s the Pecking Order, pecking order.

PANDORA–Agenda discussion: Food distribution and perching assignments. Open discussion and complaints regarding the new turkey referred to as Bruce. (May 17, 2021, Casey reporting)

Another year on and “we” still don’t know what’s really going on. But we can try, and enjoy ourselves in the process. I’m pretty sure that Casey’s right about Bruce being a topic of conversation, anyway.

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.

Get off my yawn

IMG_2387

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..

Sweet heat relief

Two weeks ago, cold wind and rain sent us shivering for hot chocolate.IMG_1244

Today, temperatures hit the upper 80s. Since Nemo is too long for the little pink wading pool that kept Beatrice and Carlton cool last summer, we purchased the next size up yesterday, one with little sharks on the sides (but no slide; that wouldn’t be pretty.)

There’s plenty of room for two, although the molded plastic walls are too high for Sophie. Cold wet, mud will have to do.

Couldn’t catch on the moments when Nemo blew bubbles through her nose in the water. Since it’ll be plenty warm for the rest of the Memorial Day weekend, there may be other opportunities.

Corvid appeal

There were once crows in this place. They would caw across the hollow, scolding at outdoor cats and other predators. Their young would burr in the tallest, most remote hardwoods, then become silent if anyone or anything other than their parent came close.

A decade or so ago, so many raptors disappeared, victims of West Nile virus. The corvids–jays and crows in these parts–died, too. We saw only one dead during that time. It wasn’t inspected by anyone, but we assumed the bird’s death was due to the mosquito-spread plague.

Not much was said then in mainstream media about the effect of West Nile on anyone but humans. While the disease caused harm to people–I’m not denying that–the kestrels, and red-tail hawks that had previously perched from telephone pole to fence post were missing for years. We are only just beginning to see them again.

But the crows never did come back. Last spring, we heard two calling in Coburn’s Bottom, the area of the floodplain north of the old quarry. We were so excited, calling everyone we knew and fairly shouting, “The crows are back!” whether the listener was interested or not. Unfortunately, the pair didn’t stay.

We began to suspect that there is more to the absence of crows hereabouts than West Nile taking its toll. As I said, the bluejays are back, as are the hawks and even bald eagles. But research and observation of crows has determined that crows tell each other stories. Before a flock of crows enter a new area, they send a sentinel in to scope things out. If the report is favorable, the rest will move forward. If something disasterous happens while they are there–for instance, if one or more are poisoned or shot–the crows leave at the first opportunity. And they don’t forget.

That said, there’s strong suspiscion that it was inhumane human behavior that left a big red mark along the Riley and Cranberry Run for crows. Sad, as these birds are thought to be one of the most intelligent creatures that share this planet with people. Crows aren’t a bellwether species, but they are brilliant, secretive, organized and to be allowed to share space with them is an honor.

We’ve had the pleasure of spending time with two crows. Blackie and Jo, however, are here only because they have physical and developmental issues that mean neither can be free to make that choice for themselves.

Crows backlitStained glass artist Martha Erchenbrecher created the gorgeous work of art pictured above. The piece is stained glass mosaic or glass-on-glass mosaic. After trying for a few months, we were able to take a decent photo of it today with the winter afternoon sun shining through. We’ve hung it here for farm animal sanctuary visitors to see. One day, we hope to display it in a nature center here.

Maybe a scouting crow will see it and tell the others that they are welcome, anytime.

Flowing back in time through two townships

Quarry and CreekThere’s a lot of history in and around The Quarry Farm, not to mention up the road.

On the opposite side of the block stands a log home constructed by Tom McCullough. Like our Red Fox Cabin, McCullough’s place isn’t a Putnam County native, but did stand in the United States during the country’s first 100 years. The 2.5-story building started out in Reading, Pennsylvania, was relocated here in 2008 and reconstructed by a professional antique cabin firm and kitted out with local 19th century furniture.

Bridenbaugh OrganistNorth on the same road and across Riley Creek is Bridenbaugh Schoolhouse. Imagine a one-room schoolhouse on every country mile and you will picture the education system as it once was in rural Ohio. In 1997, Dale Bridenbaugh restored the schoolhouse on his farm to what could have been its original 1889 glory.Peggy Bridenbaugh

RC with signCross the Riley on the c. 1876 M-6 bridge, itself listed in the Historic American Engineer Record as an example of “Morrison’s Patent Wrought Iron Arch Truss Bridge,” travel about a mile and a half north on 7L and sit in the stillness and peace of Riley Creek United Methodist Church. The church was founded in 1850 and is still active in one large, lofted room. Sun and moonlight filter through etched and stain-glass windows to pool on handmade wooden pews. The long upright-backed benches glow with the hand polish and years of congregational sitting, but the names of former youth break the smooth surfaces here and there.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Cabin MomSaturday broke records for December warmth and, although we could use some rain or snow to soften the dry bed of the quarry, the weather was perfect for the first Old Time Riley Creek Christmas Tour. All of the above were stops on the route. All were decorated for the holidays, most as they may have been long ago. Riley and Pleasant Township saw plenty of driving tourists as a result. One of the visitors was Pandora’s Dr. Darrell Garmon. He walked up the path through the Red Fox Cabin gardens and introduced himself as Dr. Garmon and as the person who poses as Sea Captain James Riley.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fox StatueNext door, Carlton, Beatrice and the other potbellies, a speckling of chickens and Johnny Goose gathered at the farm animal sanctuary fence corner closest to the hubbub. Lucy’s foghorn bray paused more than one conversation. Two tourists left the cabin and stopped at the gate where the turkeys were on full display. Buddy took issue with the attention the boys were getting, so he grabbed a mouthful of tail feathers, spit them out and smiled. True story – the couple took a photo and promised to share it with us.

For now, the images above will do.

Captain John Smith (2014-2015)

The overwhelming downside to establishing relationships is the inevitable loss and grief that accompanies them. Sometimes, when we’re lucky, we can Untitled-1postpone that inevitability for decades. Other times…well, we take what we can get and are simply grateful for it.

11235061_10207536043982656_4756174563500865798_o

Steve and Captain John at the Columbus Grove branch of the Putnam County District Library

So it is with Captain John Smith and we are, indeed, grateful.

Our friend, Kim Starr, suggested his name, told us of the Englishman’s role in delivering the word opossum, a close approximation of the Powhatan word aposoum, to the English language. We can only hope that the human Smith served as well as Captain John in the role of ambassador. It was with a gentle nature that he turned heads, changed opinions and opened eyes to new understandings.

Captain John Smith, ambassador for Virginia opossums everywhere, made his last public appearance at the Delphos Public Library on Nov. 19.

Captain John Smith, ambassador for Virginia opossums everywhere, made his last public appearance at the Delphos Public Library on Nov. 19.

Given that it’s an extinct language, there’s just a short list of some 550 words/phrases in Powhatan with which linguists are familiar. Goodbye isn’t among them. Thank you, on the other hand, is. So…

Kenagh, Captain John.

We will miss you.