Regardless the state of the world, and the awful things that are going bump in the daytime, the Would-Be Farm is full of urgent and pleasant chores.
It's the first thing on my spring chore list: Clear trail. Which means cutting up fallen logs (both emerald ash borer and something that might be pine beetles are burning through the woods).
Much farther down the list, but equally important for navigating is to locate the two critical culverts in the big field. Because nobody likes to slip into the ditch.
The grass is more than 4 feet tall in places, so there's an element of fun and danger in scouting the way in the 4WD mule.
There's other tidying to do, like sweeping up pollen and other detritus at the –– still critter-proof! –– gazebo in the woods.
And installations! Last December, my favorite skipper constructed two bat houses and a barred owl nesting box for me.
It wasn't chinchy to get this first one mounted on a 20-foot pole and then –– like the mother of all mast-stepping moments –– raising the pole upright and settled into its post-hole, but the result is magnificent.
We hope the bats find it and make it home. The local populations are –– we hear –– rebounding from white-nose-fungal colony collapse.
Sadly, since we are only part-time farmers, and because poultry are not notable for excellent traveling habits, we don't plan on adding chickens to the mix.
Good thing we have good neighbors who could not walk past that stock tank full of tiny chicks this spring at the feed store. And you do have to buy six at a time.
In addition to being unable to resist the charms of chooks, the neighbors have a 6-year-old granddaughter who has nothing more pressing on her to-do list than to hand-tame the chickens. I'm thinking about sewing them (and her) matching tutus.
This summer's largest project hones Jeff's carpentry and patience both. Without the camper trailer to protect, the shed suffered a bit of a breakdown, or possibly a depressive episode of some kind, drooping visibly and listing downhill.
The strategy that seems to work for us (QED, baby!) when this kind of thing occurs in our lives, is to get help, get to work, and find new meaning.
Transforming the shed into a barn has meant shoring up the structure and adding a concrete floor.
Followed by enclosing the space and helping it to a new identity by color.
And when not holding metal panels in place while Mr. Linton does his drill thing, I have about a thousand daffodil bulbs to re-arrange.
I started in 2015 by transplanting "Scrambled Eggs" a fluffy double-flowered daffodil, from where the previous owner of the farm had bedded them by the old farmhouse. I wanted them where I could see them, so I stuck them hither and yon. They are prolific and have doubled, tripled, quadrupled in number.
As some may remember, my sweet mother-in-law and I put in 200 or so jonquil bulbs a few years ago. They too have multiplied and started to crowd one another.
Plus she gave me dozens of bulbs to start in Florida this winter. It's not a kind climate for jonquils, so those bulbs also came to the farm.
I transplanted or replanted maybe 200 bulbs last week. Digging up the plants, feeling for the bulbs amidst the other roots and rocks, removing them feet first through a chunk of turf, then putting each chubby knob back into its own neat divot...I don't know what else will come next spring, but I thoroughly expect to have a glorious crop of flowers.
It's not a fancy camera, but it does allow me to take a very close (if not entirely focused) close-up. It's often a surprise when I put the images onto my laptop to see just what turns up in these photos.
This sweet green plant is a wild garlic (aka "ramp"). I was interested in how the droplet of water holds itself together within the fold of the leaves.
Forget Paris, we'll always have midden.
The Would-Be Farm has at least two separate dump piles full of jetsam. We cleared out a trailor-load this spring, hauling away one and a half broken pot-bellied wood stoves, a white enameled cooking stove (such an eyesore!), miles of metal and wire scrap, and cubic yard after cubic yard of disintegrating plastic junk.
The next layer down revealed a surprising number of unbroken glass items, including this prescient cough medicine bottle.
The former inhabitants of the Would-Be farm were brand loyal to Pepsi and Jim Beam, for long enough for the Pepsi bottles to evolve from one shape to another to another. I suppose they also had diabetes.
It's known as mud season; moving even the 4-wheel-drive mule across a field is a slippery clay adventure in the spring. As each shoe grows its own brick of mud, a person develops a sort of "Big Lick" walking gait. It's part of the inspiration for my rock stepping stones.
Still, looking up, the season also has its crystal-clean moments.
It's the Spring 2022 collection! Can you hear to pop-pop-popping of the cameras? Live from the Would-Be Farm, I give you...a fashion show of sorts.
They prowl the stage.
They have cheekbones to die for.
Others preen and strut.
Some amble, even.
Many –– so many! –– are ready for their close-up, Mr. deMille.
Please disregard the off dates on these game-camera photos. The tiny chip's worth of brains that power the camera occasionally lose track. Reminding me, uselessly, of the first rule of time travel: ascertain your temporal location.
The Would-Be Farm has had a wet 2021 summer. The grass grows like weeds. The weeds grow even faster. But the flowers have been pretty glorious, honestly.
Last year, my long-suffering sister agreed to start some of my eccentric seed choices. In March, when gardeners in the North Country begin to stare longingly at anything green in hopes that it might be alive, grow-table real estate is valuable. It was a generous offer.
So I sent packets of ground cherry seeds, monarda seeds, borage seeds with my hope.
The ground cherries refused en mass to start, and the borage, once started, too closely resembled a weed and in June was twice accidentally whacked and gave in to entropy without fuss.
But monarda –– monarda was the standout: each seed sprouted and refused to be cowed by last summer's drought.
Back in April in that first plague year, under the grow-lights, my sister sister looked at the monarda starts with suspicion. "Are these," she asked me dubiously, "bee-balm?"
Me, consulting the inter webs: Um, yes.
No wonder these seeds had sprouted: the stuff had taken over a whole corner of her flower-garden. I could have as much as I like yanked out of her garden. For crying out loud.
Sure enough. Those wee four-leafed starters from last year turned into thigh-high big bursts of vivid color: clear red, pink, deep fuschia. The scent is a bit like oregano, strong and –– allegedly –– unappealing to some of the hungry natives of the Would-Be.
I don't know if deer and rabbits and porcupine and woodchucks and all will continue to avoid the plantings. It's all one big experiment. I've put tasty fruit trees in the midst of all that color, hiding them among the strong scent and bright color until they are tall enough to avoid the predators themselves.
Meanwhile, call them bee balm or Monarda, them what you will, the flowerbeds are hugely popular with the pollinators
We'll see if they take over the orchard. We'll see if they protect fruit trees. Knock wood, we'll see.
Like everybody's Uncle Ernie, I bring you... a slide show.
By our unscientific counting, we are guessing that we have more bobcat and fewer coyote snaps than usual. Only the one bear, but honestly, who needs more than the one? Plus, my personal weakness: a nice-looking free-range peep.
As anyone who knows my fondness for Archie MacPhee will testify, I am liable to announce a propos of nada: “Sharks have no bones!”
It was a catchy tagline from a catalog some years ago. And true.
Shark are all cartilage and attitude. And, as one might discover on a foggy January wander along a beach – teeth.
Sharks continually shed teeth and grow more. Row after row of them.
Walk down the right beach and tune your attention to the y-shape, and dozens of teeth will appear.
Which makes sense, because sharks have been swimming about for millions of years. And some grow up to 35,000 teeth in a lifetime.
I suppose someone has done the math, but it’s a lot of teeth underfoot. One might say, the opposite of hen's teeth, even.
I snapped a photo of the television while awaiting landfall of Hurricane Eta. It's not unsurprising that local newscasters, who should certainly know better, position themselves near a body of water and start casting news.
If it's not a weather person suited head to toe in Goretex, announcing that the waves are throwing the yachts around violently (in the background, a tranquil day at a marina, the boats bobbing languidly under an overcast sky), it's some would-be Jim Cantore shouting about the force of the winds when it's, you know, breezy –– but not brutal.
In this photo, I love the cognitive dissonance: this newscaster was talking about how Tampa Bay residents were battening down their hatches and frantically preparing for the storm, while in the background, the usual cast of fishing characters are lounging on the pier, baiting their hooks and hoping for a good bite.
Come on, man.
P.S. This is not to say we don't have anything to worry about. People die from hurricanes, and houses are washed into the sea. But hyperbole is flat out unnecessary.
Tell the story that is, not the story that sounds more exciting. And that's my wish for the new year.
Putting words on the screen and trying not to be too judgy-judgy about whatever my creativity chucks out...
Like sunburned beachgoers storming an ice-cream parlor, the tiny leaf-shaped fires spread a conflagration of color across the woodlot.
Inside the wood, under the bright canopy, the leaf-strewn floor shines brighter yet. Rafts of bronze-backed turkey drift through this orange world. Devilish tuft-eared black squirrels add a Halloween accent, digging with only the barest pause to glare at an intruder.
A pair of leggy yearling deer skitter around a doe. She rarely stops moving, nosing through the leaves for beechnuts, for tender branch-ends, for windfall apples.
Prey animals are changing color from spring chestnut to ashy brown. In a week they will disappear into a stand of dead grass simply by standing still, but just now, in this pumpkin-spice week of peak color, they pop.
So much happened over the summer on the Would-Be Farm, and so little of it has anything to do with us humans.
My favorite skipper eventually called it: mad dash.
It will seem quaint someday how we drove north in a self-contained little world of snacks and Lysol wipes with a U-Haul full of Would-Be Farm equipment and furniture.
It will be just another page in the Quarantine Chronicles how we isolated and monitored.
Perhaps we'll remember how we could only hope our precautions and cheerful masks will have made a difference.
But it seems instead that this is the year we are reminded that Mamma Nature not only holds all the cards, but that she has sharp teeth, and claws at the end of a long reach...
If it wasn't the black bear emptying the bird feeder (effortlessly snagging it with a claw and pouring the contents –– like the crumbs from the bottom of a potato chip bag –– right down the old pie hole), it was porcupine eating the gazebo. Or birds flying down the chimney.
And how does one deal with a 300-lb black bear with a penchant for black oil safflower seed? One puts a decorative cow-bell –– an inexplicable tourist purchase finally coming into use –– onto the formerly lovely red metal feeder.
Pavlov's crazy dog at the midnight clank, one dashes onto the screened porch closest to the feeder, shouting and clashing together an aluminum saucepan and lid. The noise was like nothing I have ever made before. It worked.
Though of course the raccoons followed the bear in the violation of my bird feeder. They are less shy of human attention. After some weeks of interrupted sleep, I decided the easier –– though not unproblematic solution was to take the feeder inside at night. Now I only rouse myself to chase things off the unscreened porch. Which happens a lot.
And how to address the ongoing porcupine issue? Porcupines eat bark and tree parts...unless of course they develop a taste for pressure-treated lumber.
Fair's fair. The porcupines were here first. I tried putting rows of hardware cloth around the perimeter, but Mr. Linton took the reins. We call the gazebo The USS Monitor now. The damage has stopped.
Sidebar fact: tom turkeys sometimes get really worked up by the sound of a carborundum blade working through metal roofing sheets. I guess it sounds like a big sweet gal of a hen.
And as for the bird, we were sitting on the couch in front of the cold wood stove when we heard a gentle tapping on the glass window on the stove door.
A youthful house-wren politely requesting a hand.
Of course it panicked. All birds do, when confronted with the inside of a house. It flapped into a window, and then briefly fainted in Jeff's hands. But it eventually regained its senses and flew off, rewarding us for a few weeks –– possibly –– with extra noisy morning songs.
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