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.

IMG_2730

Just add paint

117Watercolor is too real painting. As a painter who prefers this two-dimensional medium to most others, I have been in the position to argue this point. My argument accuses oil snobs of decorating their walls with off-the-rack roadside numbers that match a couch.

Boyfriends are broken-up with because of statements like this. But that was providence, it turns out, and a long time ago.

118And painting in oils is fine, if that’s what you like. But don’t tell me that a water-based work, one which requires the painter to give a measure of control over to their chosen medium, allowing light and whims of water, air and pigment to have their way, isn’t real painting.

So, with 94 percent humidity and a forecast of sun, the second “Watercolor for Beginners” workshop took place today under the earth-red roof of the Seitz Family Pavilion. Heavy fog kept a few distant registrants away, but hot black coffee, herbed shortbread and apple oatmeal cookies revived those that took up a brush.

146I love it when watercolor novices tell me, “I have no artistic talent.” These are the ones that are the first to let go; to pool water on their paper and break the surface tension of that pool with a loaded brush. It’s the ones that have painted before, using slow-to-dry, opaque, malleable mediums, that are reluctant let go of control. Because, in my opinion, that’s what you have to do with watercolor. You have to let go and see what water, paint, paper texture and weight and gravity can create when kind of, sort of left to their own devices. Once you have witnessed that, you can begin to take the reins and shape your work.

The seven people who floated through this morning’s fog, included some of the above. They chose their subjects from the Red Fox Cabin gardens, vegetables, flowers and leaves. You can see in the photos the tentative steps, the light lines of paint on cold press paper (I wouldn’t let them sketch their subjects with pencil first). Two hours later, we had a marvelous body of work, each of them showing promise and more than one worthy of exhibition at any art festival.

Of course that, along with my thoughts on how to begin painting with watercolors, is my opinion. I could be wrong.

But I don’t think so.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What’s Your Sign?

Group in Field

Alicia and Andrew Phillips review a winter star chart before leaving Red Fox Cabin for the trails.

Alicia and Andrew Phillips review a winter star chart before leaving Red Fox Cabin for the trails.

Astronomers have posited that if you were to count each and every grain of sand on all of the world’s beaches, you still wouldn’t come close to the number of stars in the sky. As a matter of fact, it’s suggested that you’d have to multiply that number by ten before you’d even come close. So it should come as no surprise, then, that the human imagination has configured the stars into any number of shapes over the thousands of years that we’ve been staring skyward. This past Saturday night, a group of participants in The Quarry Farm’s first Star Walk had the opportunity to view a few of these constellations.

It was nearly a perfect night for such an event. Although cloud cover had made star-gazing next to impossible for most of the week, a cold front moved in late Saturday afternoon and swept the sky clear. And while still chilly, the woods that surround the big back field provided a windbreak and pulled the teeth of the worst of the cold. While the wind howled outside the preserve, some stargazers even removed an outer layer.

Mike Erchenbrecher looks to the stars

Mike Erchenbrecher looks to the stars

Mike Erchenbrecher, an award-winning retired Franklin County science teacher and avid amateur astronomist, escorted more than a dozen people through the woods and back to the big eleven-acre field where we all turned our faces up. Mike immediately pointed out the Hunter’s two dogs, Canis Major, the big dog, and Procyon, the little dog, and then the Hunter himself, Orion, with his belt of three stars. His finger traced a giant W as he talked about Cassiopeia, the Queen, who is forever chased by Cepheus, the King. And then, of course, there were the zodiacal constellations. At this time of year, the most readily recognizable of such is Gemini, with its two bright stars, Castor and Pollux. Taurus is also recognizable, as well as Cancer.

Some closeups of what we saw:

  • The constellation Cygnus the Swan, which contains Cygnus X-1, the first object identified as a probable black hole
  • jupmoon4Jupiter and its moons*…we could make out a moon on either side of bright Jupiter overhead.
  • Orion NebulaThe Orion Nebula** below Orion’s Belt appeared to us as a hazy spot.
  • Core of Andromeda GalaxyOur Milky Way was outshown by the half moon, but the Andromeda galaxy** was visible to the north.

 

 

Mike handed out star charts and independent-study over hot chocolate and cookies. Here are satellite passes for the next few days:

International Space Station

Brightness                 Start                 Highest point                 End                 Pass type
                [Mag]                 Time                 Alt.                 Az.                 Time                 Alt.                 Az.                 Time                 Alt.                 Az.
20 Jan -0.8 06:11:53 13° N 06:11:53 13° N 06:13:03 10° NNE Visible
21 Jan -0.9 06:56:32 10° NNW 06:58:23 14° N 07:00:13 10° NE Visible
22 Jan -0.8 06:08:04 13° N 06:08:04 13° N 06:09:28 10° NNE Visible
23 Jan -1.2 06:52:31 11° NNW 06:54:49 18° NNE 06:57:12 10° ENE Visible
24 Jan -0.9 06:04:09 15° N 06:04:14 15° N 06:06:16 10° NE Visible
25 Jan -1.8 06:48:34 13° NNW 06:51:01 29° NNE 06:53:57 10° E Visible
26 Jan -1.4 06:00:13 21° NNE 06:00:27 21° NNE 06:03:04 10° ENE Visible
27 Jan 0.1 05:11:53 11° NE 05:11:53 11° NE 05:12:04 10° ENE Visible
27 Jan -3.0 06:44:40 18° NW 06:46:56 62° NNE 06:50:11 10° ESE Visible
28 Jan -2.2 05:56:22 37° NNE 05:56:25 37° NNE 05:59:30 10° E Visible
29 Jan 0.0 05:08:06 13° ENE 05:08:06 13° ENE 05:08:37 10° E Visible
29 Jan -3.0 06:40:53 24° WNW 06:42:33 50° SW 06:45:44 10° SE Visible

Iridium Flares
OK, so what’s an iridium flare? Iridium flares are relatively new ultra bright objects in the sky, produced by the glancing reflection of the sun’s rays off a particular type of satellite–the Iridium satellite. Because the main mission antenna are pointing towards Earth, at predictable points in their orbit, they pickup the sun’s glare and direct it towards the Earth, producing the “flash”. Because they flash so quickly, here are the dates and times to look fast:

Time                     Brightness                     Altitude                     Azimuth                 Satellite                 Distance to flare centre                 Brightness at flare centre                 Sun altitude
Jan 22, 18:18:55 -0.5 31° 198° (SSW) Iridium 46 33 km (W) -7.0 -7°
Jan 23, 18:12:57 -2.6 31° 200° (SSW) Iridium 49 17 km (W) -6.9 -6°
Jan 23, 19:48:44 -0.9 34° 155° (SSE) Iridium 58 34 km (W) -7.6 -24°
Jan 24, 19:42:42 -3.7 35° 156° (SSE) Iridium 55 14 km (W) -7.6 -22°
Jan 25, 19:36:36 -0.1 34° 155° (SSE) Iridium 31 40 km (E) -7.6 -21°

For these and other updates realted to satellites (natural and human-made): http://www.heavens-above.com/?lat=40.94806&lng=-83.96111&loc=Pandora&alt=227&tz=EST

To find out where the International Space Station is in relation to you, enroll at http://spotthestation.nasa.gov/ to get alerts for your specific area

Find yourself looking at the night sky with your cell phone in hand? Use to “GoogleSky” to help you navigate the view.

* Michael Stegina/Adam Block/NOAO/AURA/NSF

** Satellite images taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) aboard NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

Pig in a Blanket

The newest resident of the conservation farm is in recovery as I type. Beatrice the pygmy pot-bellied pig was spayed this afternoon by Dr. Kathleen Babbitt of Lima Animal Hospital. Vet Tech Kaylie called with the news that Beatrice came through surgery with flying colors. Dr. Babbitt took lots of photos with her cell phone, including the image posted here.

Although Beatrice has only been with us for several days, our research led us to the conclusion that it would best for her health (and our collective sanity) to have her spayed as soon as possible. Seems that as they age, intact female pigs are prone to fibroids and abdominal tumors.

This morning this sweet pig thoroughly explored the back rooms and surgery of the hospital before I left for work. Although she squealed lustily (quite piercingly, actually) when I picked her up to put her back in the carrier, Dr. Babbitt exclaimed, “I love her!” Lord love her, that woman is a joy and a godsend to our sanctuary as she is the only vet in a five-county radius willing and able to take on The Quarry Farm pigs, crows, and Johnny the Canada goose.

More about Beatrice later. In the meantime, you just have to love this little face.

The Buzz

I’ve been struggling to find some clever way to start this post, to write the hook I need to pull you in and I’m failing miserably. Miserably. So, because my brain is fogged with the ridiculous heat we’re dealing with, I’ll just say that it’s about bees. Yeah. Bees. The kind that make honey, that bumble flower to flower, that kamikaze in defense of their homes, that, in conjunction with birds, create a happy little euphemism for sex. And sex is sexy, so maybe that’s all the hook I really need.

Clever me.

So, the bees. We set up a hive in mid April. Anne’s cousin, Brian, made all the arrangements for the bees and we took care of the materials: the hive body, the supers, the frames, the feeding troughs. We provided them a steady diet of syrup (sugar and water) and we’d pull off the hive cover and the inner cover on a nearly daily basis and ogle them from a distance. Yesterday, we got up close and personal. Brian came up from Columbus and he and Anne cracked the hive, pulled out the frames and checked out the action. The news could have been better.

Brian Erchenbrecher examining a frame from The Quarry Farm hive.

While the bees had developed new comb on the frames, there wasn’t nearly enough. And, again, while there were eggs and signs of developing brood, there wasn’t much and indications are that the developing brood are mostly drones. What are drones, you ask? They’re ne’er-do-well playboys, eating the nectar and giving back nearly nothing. They have no stinger, so they can’t protect the hive. They have no pollen sacs, so they can’t gather food. Their idea of work is chasing virgin queens.

Think Bruce Wayne, but no Batman. There you have it. Drones.

So what’s the big deal? So what if the hive’s Bohemian, populated with lotus eaters? If there are  only drones and no workers, there’s no comb. Without comb, there’s no honey. Without honey, the bees starve come winter. In fact, come late autumn the worker bees force the drones from the hive. They have to. Driving them out could well mean the difference between starving to death and surviving until spring.

It’s been suggested by scientists who study bees that a bee hive operates very much like a human brain. I mean, there’s no higher cognitive function, but otherwise, scientists have posited that their operations are very similar. If that’s the case, then our hive brain is more like Forrest Gump’s than Stephen Hawking’s. Which is not to say that it can’t improve. There is still hope, albeit one akin to the Flowers for Algernon variety. Realistically? Odds are, based on what we saw yesterday, that the hive will fail, the brain will die and we’ll have to start fresh next spring. That’s not what we wanted to hear, but there’s still good news.

And here it is.

The catalpa hive

Down the road from us, near the intersection of Roads 7-L and O, there’s a line of catalpa trees. In one of those trees is a hive of feral bees. This is a very cool thing, particularly when you understand that the hive has survived and thrived for roughly four years. With the population of bees dwindling as a consequence of a host of issues, to find a succesful wild hive is seriously cool. Why? Bees are our primary pollinators. Without them, plants that reproduce through pollination, and that’s the vast majority of our fruits and vegetables, simply don’t reproduce. No reproduction = No food.

So cheer on the bees, both wild and domestic. We’ll keep you posted on their progress.

Rain!

A lovely, much-needed rain greened this morning. Can almost hear the trees sighing, and the birds…the birds!

Sid is sporting a new wet look for the day. What do you think? Let’s have a little creative writing contest here. There’s a free Quarry Farm t-shirt for the winner. The most descriptive commentary will be awarded a shirt in the author’s size. You have until June 1 to weigh in here on www.thequarryfarm.com.

Who Are You Calling Chicken?

There are milestones in all lives: births, deaths, graduations, marriage, love. As much as this statement may sound like the prologue to a soap, these are the events that shape our lives. I’ve experienced all of the above and have to include another: chickens. I’m going to wait a few seconds while you take that in, get whatever comments you feel you have to make out of your system.

Everybody okay? May we move on?

Now I’ll say it again. As much as any other event in my life, chickens have helped to make me who I am, here and now. And, man, did I fight it.

It was Anne’s idea to get chickens, Anne’s and Rowan’s. I had … reservations. Many of them. They smell, right? They’re mean. They’re stupid. They’re noisy. They attract pests. The list was longer, but I’ve forgotten most of it. All of it was true in my head at the time and all of it, as it turns out, was wrong.

They came in a little box, delivered via USPS by our local mail carrier, Dorothy. There were sixteen of them. We had ordered fifteen, but somebody counted wrong or it’s the practice of the hatchery we ordered them from to throw in an extra. At any rate, there were sixteen Hubbard Golden Comet chicks in a little container that was half the size of a shoebox. We set them up in a storage tub in the house, dedicating a room to their safekeeping. They were tiny and yellow and fuzzy and cute and busy in their dedication to growing. I found myself fascinated and spent hours watching them, holding them, talking to them. We called them all Priscilla, each and every last one of them, and, yes, there’s a story there, but not one for the telling here, now. I discovered that all of the preconceived notions I had about chickens were, for the most part, wrong. Do chickens smell? Only because their living quarters aren’t properly maintained. If you keep their coop clean, smell isn’t an issue. Are they mean? They give what they get. If you treat them like property, like machines, and take, but never give, then yes, probably. I wouldn’t know for sure. The chickens here are friendly. Are they stupid? Well, they’re not going to be doing calculus any time soon, but, then, neither am I.

Priscilla

They presented us with no problems, no surprises, and eventually we moved them outside to a coop. I was still fascinated, spending hours with them, watching them live their lives. I discovered that, for me, they were more than fascinating, more than simply interesting observable phenomena. They brought me a degree of peace I’ve rarely experienced. They calmed me down. They made me think. They inspired me.

And now there are even more than there were to begin with. Big Girl, an Ameraucana, came to us through Nature’s Nursery. So did Audrey and Miss Kitty. Barbara, Karen, Nancy, Jeff, Ralph, Bernie and Sid all came to us from people looking to find a new home for birds they found they couldn’t handle. Most of these birds are still with us, ranging across the property and perching in the trees. Others haven’t fared as well.

Audrey

Audrey was found wandering along Interstate 75 somewhere south of Toledo. She was so docile when I picked her up from the people that had found her that I honestly believe she’d have been content sitting in my lap for the hour-long drive home (she didn’t; I transported her in a dog kennel). She’d been debeaked. Most hatcheries offer this “service.” A hot wire is used to slice a chicken’s beak from its head. This is done while they are chicks. The idea is that irritable chickens that have been debeaked will do less damage to other nearby chickens and, I suspect, to the hands that feed them. On the downside, this practice can also lead to feeding difficulties and respiratory issues. Even so, Audrey was one of the most benign animals it has ever been my good fortune to meet. She was nearly always the first one to greet us in the morning and would come and sit in our laps. She established a relationship with Buddy, a miniature donkey that lives here, and would spend a part of her day riding around on his back. She lived with us for just over a year before she died.

Miss Kitty

Miss Kitty died yesterday, much to our sorrow. He (and, yes, Miss Kitty was a rooster, though we didn’t know that when we named him) was, we assume, a meat production bird. Initially we believed that he was a Catalana hen (hence Miss Kitty). It wasn’t until he started crowing that we suspected the truth. He grew extremely large extremely fast and, as a consequence, developed a host of physical issues. He was less than a year old when his body simply and finally failed. Over the last few days of his life, all of the hens cared for him. He was never alone, one of the girls was always nearby. They were warm days and dry, and he spent his time lying in the shade of a crabapple tree or under the branches of an elderberry.

Big Girl

And then there are the successes. Big Girl came from a pretty rough neighborhood near downtown Toledo. How she got there is anybody’s guess, but we know how she came to be here. She was rescued by an elderly man who drove off a group boys. They were menacing her with sticks and stones. He called Nature’s Nursery and Nature’s Nursery called us. She was nervous, at first, and maintained her distance. If you took a step toward her, she took a step away. She stayed that way for months. Now she’ll shift out of the way if it pleases her, otherwise we have to step around.

Bernie and Barbara and Karen were part of a flock that kept dwindling, their coop mates the victims of an undetermined predator. Ralph and Jeff were abandoned (Jeff because he crows twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and Ralph, I suspect, because he’s cock of the walk and not afraid to let you know it). While these two do lock horns, so to speak, they spend the bulk of their time pointedly ignoring one another. Sid was simply unwanted.

I suspect that our flock will grow again this year. I sincerely hope so, at any rate. I look forward to it. I gain far more from them than I give.

And I’m not just talking about eggs.

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