Meanwhile, in the Back 40...
The suspense builds as we hike the big loop around the Would-Be Farm –– which trees are down? Which bulbs are up? Are the beavers still damming around? What happened while we were gone?
As we hike, marveling at the frost-heaved rocks, the exquisite timing of the grouse that explodes from underfoot at the exact moment we are least prepared, the wide expanse of northern sky, the tracks left by deer, coyotes, skunk, mystery beasties.
This year, on the first 500 yards, we spotted hoof prints. "That's a big deer," Jeff said. "That's an enormous deer," I said, then, hope springing eternal, "Oooh, maybe it's a moose!"
Moose used to roam these woods. They, like the bobcat and the bear and what-not might also return. One can hope –– seriously, the biggest cervid, back again?! Goofy and majestic creatures, sporting dingle-berries and draped with stringy green plant material, near-sighted and not suffering of fools –– that's a great wild life.
We followed the tracks until the next game camera, where we got distracted checking batteries and removing the memory card.
We have a bunch of game-cameras. They are back-up security, entertainment, and animal-spotting tool all in one.
Admittedly, there's always one that we misplace. Sometimes it appears, just where we left it, after we've passed it dozens of times. Ocassionally, it gets dragged away by varmints.
Anyhow, on this first circuit, we go from camera to camera, pulling batteries and collecting memory.
Back at the cabin, I fire up the trusty card reader and begin the uphill slog: 8000 images on this disk. 5300 on this one. Oooh, only 1430 on this one! 6000 on this one. 7600 on this one. I do not exaggerate on this issue, there are thousands of images, some triggered by actual animals, others by the whim of the camera, and not a few by the movement of branches in the wind.
So I am approximately 12,000 images into the winter's story when I discover –– Eureka! –– the large-hoofed maker of the tracks that we hoped might be moose.
Cows on the run. Oh, I have questions.
Will I get answers? We'll see, once the great dumpster debate (oh! neighbors!) of 2023 is settled. (Two neighbors, one actively squalid, the other just trying to raise a few cows. Add dumpster full of trash, stir until state cops arrive...)
Meanwhile, here's a few of the winter's highlights. Understand that I have selected these from a pool of zillions, and I DO find it amusing that so many are butt shots.
Quick novel update: things are moving along. I've been gathering publishing intel while the manuscript spent time at the editor. Details will follow on this page here.
A Week of Dead Days
A few years ago, I read a book with a title something like this. The Book of Dead Days?
The story did not stick with me, but I've adopted the phrase as a description of the time between the midwinter holidays and New Year's.
It's a week for not getting work done. A week to kindle up some fire against the dark and then sit poking the fire with a stick.
But I did mean to share the results of a recent photo safari. It's seasonable to the odd week.
Here's hoping for a bright new year.
Meanwhile, on The Farm...
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.
Looking and Seeing
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.
A Balm by Any Other Name...
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.
Writing Prompt: Tree lives
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.
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