Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Groundhog 2

We have set and baited several traps over in the cemetery field.

(these are live traps, commonly called Have-a-hearts, cages with one end open and when the animal goes inside to eat the bait he/she steps on a trip-plate that springs a trap door to slam shut behind her).

The cemetery field is where we grew the winter squash and pumpkins. It is also the field where a family of groundhogs established residence earlier this summer

(maybe back then it wasn’t a family, but rather only a pair of newlyweds. Now, though, there’s definitely a family, or maybe several families).

Anyway, this fall these squatters ate close to 500 pumpkins and winter squash. Not only did they eat that many but there were another 400 damaged winter squash (Remember the winter squash in the shares with the bite already eaten?)

Realizing the problem we set out to finding solutions.

1. Get one of the gp’s to stay over in the cemetery field. Both Andorra and Twain have a great love for groundhogs (as in - groundhog for dinner)
2. Put an electric fence around the field. We have plenty of those portable woven fences that work to keep sheep and goats and chickens in. And if they work to keep animals in, why won’t they work to keep groundhogs out?
3. Someone can sit over there for hours with rifle in hand waiting for one of the evil critters to apppear
4. We can trap them. Set out strategically located traps, and when the groundhog finds itself trapped inside the cage we can then relocate them to some place far, far away.

Now why didn’t these methods work?

1. Twain and Andorra don’t want to stay over in that field. If they aren’t tied up they come back home, and if they are tied up (and I don’t like tying up a dog) they don’t have the freedom to chase down the marauding groundhog.
2. The groundhogs have these really cunning front paws that they can use just about as well as we use our hands. After getting shocked once or twice they quickly learn not to touch the hot wires but instead to lift the bottom strand (the one without an electric charge) and carefully slide right under the fence (I saw this done).
3. I don’t have time to sit over in that field with a rifle waiting for a ground hog to appear. And even if I did I know that with my shooting skills I would probably miss and the ground hog would quickly run back into the briar thickets and disappear.
4. Finally, the traps.

Last week, the first animal caught in the trap was a house cat. One of our house cats. What she was doing going into a trap baited with vegetables is not known but there she was. When I set her free she stomped off, her pride, obviously, hurt.

The second time the trap was sprung there was no animal inside. Instead,the back door to the trap (this is a wire panel that slides up and down), had been lifted up. In other words, some animal, no doubt a ground hog, walked into the trap. The trapdoor slammed shut, and the groundhog, after looking around, examined its situation, and saw its prison cell's weakness. It was able, with its cunning hands, to slide its fingers under the back door and slowly lift it up high enough to squirm out to freedom.

Number three was the opossum. A baby opossum. Sort of cute. Looking, for all the world, much like a sweet, cuddly, endearing, sewer rat. I took it down to the other-side of the creek, opened the trap’s back door and after some coaxing it waddled off into the woods.

Then, there was last night’s catch. A larger animal. Almost as large as a ground hog. Only, instead of being gray, this one had a two toned fur coat. Black and white. Mostly black with a white stripe running down its back.

An animal that I usually don’t willingly get into close contact with.

Even if it is inside a cage and I’m on the outside it has the capability of making you very sorry.

And the question of the day is: ‘How do you release a skunk from a cage?’

Do I need to say the answer?

Friday, October 21, 2005

more chicks

This afternoon the brood hen, the one that regularly takes up a long three week residency under our house, emerged into the light.

She squeezed out from under the house followed by a passel of chirping peeps. (I didn't see how many but, there were quite a few).

Imagine what goes through the head of this bird. For three weeks, for 21 days, she climbs under the house and does nothing but sits by herself in the dark (and we mean dark, dark) on top of a nest of eggs.

If, during that time, she came out for food or water, I didn't see her.

But the question here is: what goes on in her mind during all of that time? (for that matter, what does a bird ever think?). Does she work out mathematical equations? Create epic poems? Picture the details of an efficient but fair social order?

Really, though, that's a lot of time to spend in a self-imposed solitary existence. Sort of like spending 40 days (and forty nights) in the wilderness. Just shorter.

But then, the wonders (and for us not mothers, weirdnesses) of motherhood are many. This hen is probably in touch, on some level, with each one of those chicks as it grows inside its egg. This is no doubt true and testable. After all, if an egg dies she knows, because she pushes it out of the nest. This brood-hen had several eggs pushed a foot or so away form her nest. Obviously eggs that were, for some reason, rejected.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

more spilt honey

I heard a lot of feedback today about spilt honey. (it's on the farm webpage at www.bullrunfarm.com under the newsletter section). I had one woman come by the vegetable pick up today and tell me that a friend had forwarded the story to her and she just had to know how it ended.

"How did you clean up the honey?"

I told her that what she read was the first chapter of a much larger manuscript (one that is almost finished) and I couldn't quite remember how long it took me to divulge that information (probably half a dozen chapters, at least).

"But, there's an earlier version of the spilt honey story. And I think it's still on the farm webpage. Somewhere on the newsletter page."

I also told her that if people were interested I guess I could more chapters of the manuscript up on the web. 'At least the ones that tell the story of cleaning up all of that honey.'

If you are interested in reading more, drop me a note.

Scary full moons and creeping shadows

It's the middle of the night and the dogs are barking as though something large and scary was out there, something that is, maybe, creeping (well, I guess large scary things don't have to creep, instead they thump or storm) across the field right in front of our house.

The last time the dogs barked this loud and persistently and, well, with a tinge of fear in their bark, was the night the bear came through the gate that had mistakenly been left open and was in the process of tearing apart a beehive and eating frames of brood and honey.

I remember their barking that night. I went out to see what was happening and armed only with a flashlight stood there yelling at the bear to leave the hives alone.

Tonight, though, I don't think its the bear (though it could be) causing the ruckus.

Instead, of a bear, or some other night monster. I know what it is.

Its the moon.

If you've been out over the past couple of nights you will know what I mean.

A full moon. A harvest moon. One of the brightest nights of the year.

last night I was out about 2 or 3 in the morning checking on some loud squawking coming from the chicken pasture and it was so bright with clearly defined shadows that creep across the fields that I could feel it too.

Long, dark shadows everywhere. Constantly moving

Shadows that would be especially scary if you are a dog whose job, whose breeding, it is to watch every movement all night long.

On nights like this the dogs are running from one side of the farm to the other.


Barking at creeping shadows.

It seems to me that natural guardian dog like our GP's have a strong thread of fear that runs right through the very core of their being.

There's something out there and they are afraid of it.

But instead of running they stand their ground.

And defend us with their first line of defense. Their bark.

That's why Twain is up their in the woods right now, barking. He's fearful of something scary out there, something unknown, maybe a bear, and he is using his first line of defense to protect him and us, and yes the chickens and our other farm animals.

He's out there barking at it, trying to keep those creeping full moon shadows at bay.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Spilt Honey

This is for all of those people who remembered to bring their jars last week and got honey with their vegetables.

Let’s see hands on this one.

How many of you dropped and broke your jar of honey on the way home?

Sticky mess huh?

Well, just be glad it was only one pound and not 600. For those of you who haven’t heard my spilt honey story a new improved version is posted on the farm webpage on the newsletter page.

And for those who have heard the story in the past, you might get a kick our of this version. Actually, this is also the first chapter of a manuscript I’m finally finishing.

10-15-05 dognapping

10-15 Dognapping

Well, maybe not. But it sure seemed like it to me.

Andorra went missing two days ago.

At first we assumed she was up at Che’s. sitting outside his door waiting for a handout. (Andorra, who has never missed a meal in her life is very concerned about... eating).

But when I went up to see if she was there, and she wasn’t, we went into panic mode.

“Maybe she had gone up on the power-line trying to cage a handout and something happened. A tree fell on her.”

Or she followed us out the driveway in the morning (like she often does) and before she turned back to the farm someone came by and decided to dognap her. “look at the lost dog. I better take her home with me.’

It turned out it was the later. A woman, living in one of the tenant houses on one of the very large horse estates around this area had grabbed her and had, I must admit, called the spca.

The woman was new to the area. Had just moved out from the city, ‘to be closer to horses.’ and claimed she had found the dog locked in a field that she couldn’t get out of.’

Oh well. We got her back.

Now Andorra is living with the chickens. In side the electric fence that surrounds the chicken pasture. This serves two purposes. One, it stops the predators who have been sampling our chickens lately and two. well, no more dognappings.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

10-14 Clearing the Powerline

10-14 clearing the power line

The electric company has several crews out cutting down the trees and limbs over growing the power-line.

It was just a few years ago we had a fight with them about chemicals.

They wanted to spray a chemical along the right of way that would kill off trees, sort of like agent orange.

“But it’s perfectly safe.” the guy over at the Electric Coop told me.

“How do you know?’ I asked.

There was a moment’s hesitation.

“I went to a class.”

“Given by who?”

“The company that makes the stuff.”

“And you believe them?”

Now I don’t have to have the annual fight. Back then I guess they just classified me as weird (speaking of being classified as weird, the other day two Buddhist monks dressed in their robes and riding an ATV came down out driveway and turned around at a neighbors house. ‘we just assumed the neighbor told us the next day, ‘that they were coming to visit you.’ )

This year the coop, I notice, isn’t using chemicals as all. It’s all being cut by hand. were.

I guess what was once weird, given time, enters the mainstream.

Monday, October 10, 2005

10-10 End of Drought

10-10 End of drought
Well, it looks like 4 inches of rain fell out here on the farm breaking the worst drought our area has had for this time of year since records have been kept. That was over 50 days without any measurable rain.
You might have seen in the news that our area was declared an agriculture disaster area. If you look closely, this disaster declaration was not because of the fall drought but instead was due, to the lack of rain back in the spring.
In other words, our area was declared an agriculture disaster area because we didn't get enough rain in the April through June period.
The recent record setting dry spell hasn't even worked its way into the calculations yet.
This is the cause of a number of poor crops around the DC area.
Plants like tomatoes and eggplant like to receive about an inch of rain a week.
We have done pretty good, considering,considering, considering I was out there watering 24/7. I just calculated that I diverted and pumped and irrigated and spread on our fields around half a million gallons (500000) of water over the past 6 weeks alone.
Now, maybe, with the recent rain, I can start getting a full night's sleep again. :-)

ground hog

10-12 the entire story is posted.
I was coming home tonight and there was a ground hog running across the driveway with a smallish acorn squash in its paws. My latest calculations are that the groundhogs have eatten something like 400 winter squash over there in the cemetery field. Devoured 400 and taken bites out of most of what's left. I put out several live traps the other day. Baited them with bananas, onions and apples but with no luck. Anybody interested in staking out a groundhog tunnel?
Besides thinking bad thoughts about the groundhog I've finally put together Wenonah's desert story. It can be found on our webpage under newsletters.
Tomorrow, hopefully, since we are giving out honey in the shares, and since some of you have, no doubt, dropped your jar and spilt it, I'm going to post the newest version of my spilt honey story. This version is the opening chapter of a farm manuscript I've just finished.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

10-09 Wenonah Finally Found

10-9-05 Wenonah's finally found
"There's the jeep, right where I parked it. I wonder where Leigh is? There isn't any sign of him, or the bike. Wait, that looks like Leigh's backpack, the one he carried his water in. And there's a note, written in the dust on the side of the door."
And with that there is a flash of the jeep door. In the dust there is a note, only marginally legible.
Wenonah, I can't find you. I'm worried. I've ridden bike to ranger station for help. Leigh
And there ends the video tape and its recorded monologue. It also marks the end of our objective account of what happened on her hike.
From here we have only Wenonah's account, given later that night, of what happened. I have no reason, of course, to doubt that this report is anything but absolutely factual.
Remember, at this time, I'm in the ranger's jeep with the ranger driving (I don't know if that's the correct term for traveling in a vehicle through a rocky desert on what can not be really, in all honesty, be called a road).
It's getting dark.
And Wenonah, standing at the jeep door, picks up my pack, takes the key out of her pack, unlocks the door, opens it, throws my empty pack on the passenger's seat, picks up a water bottle, takes a long drink of water.
And starts the jeep.
Now she can drive in two directions. She can take the jeep back up over the rocks to the end of the fin where our camp is set up.
She could slowly driv e over the rocks. Go to the camp. Wash up with the water in the container we had sitting up on a rock in the sun inside a black trash bag. (a little solar water heater if you will).
She could have even turned on the gas camp stove, heated up some water. Fixed some coffee. Maybe even started up dinner. (we were going to have pasta).
But she didn't do that.
Instead, she decided to go in the other direction.
She started up the jeep, threw it in reverse, backed up, (almost to the edge of the cliff), slammed on the brakes. Put it into drive.
Shot forward.
Hit the breaks again with the front bumper almost smacking into a large boulder.
Threw it in reverse.
Back to the edge of the cliff. The tires only inches away from slipping over the edge).
And then she put it in drive again and hit the gas, spinning the tires.
And headed up the trail in the direction of the ranger's station.
Now you get the picture?
The ranger and I are barreling down the rocky trail bouncing from one ledge to the next, going m uch to fast. Going so fast if we didn't have our seat belts on we would be bouncing out of our seats, probably banging our heads against the roof.
We were going so fast, trying to get to where Wenonah before dark. Sometimes we would come up on drops in the road so quickly that we wouldn't have time to see what was just feet in front of us.
And Wenonah, driving like a mad woman. Up the hill, the tires slipping on the ledges, scraping the underbelly of the car on the large rocks.
Up over one rise and speeding up along a flat, and then bouncing up the rocks along another set of rock ledges,
Bam, wam, striking the underside of the car, scraping over the rocks.
And it's gotten darker.
The ranger turned on her lights.
Wenonah turned on her lights.
We were both intent, going so recklessly fast, bouncing and skidding and sliding on the trail right toward each other.
Wenonah later reported, over dinner that night, that she thought she was going to catch up with me. Catch me with the jeep, before I had gone very far up the trail on my bike.
"I was thinking that I was going to catch up with you and tell you that I hadn't been lost was wrong. You just hadn't looked in the right place.
And we were still dropping down the rocky desert slope, dropping off one hill after the other.
And Wenonah driving the jeep much to fast, scraping the under-carrage, the bumpers, the wheel rims as she slid over one rock after the other.
And we had just dropped off of one hill and had speeded up going over a relatively flat and level piece of road.
And Wenonah was at the bottom of a steep hill. She got about half way up, her tires just spinning, in the sand,
She backed the jeep up. Hesitated for a moment and then, putting it in forward, hit the gas.
Her foot to the floor.
And the jeep shot foward.
We, on the other hand, had covered the flat stretch of road and ahead of us was yet another drop off.
The ranger was late hitting the brakes, we went over the rise and down the other side.
And you don't really think we ran in to each other do you?
Wenonah coming up the hill much to fast and the ranger's jeep flying over the top.
You can almost see the jeeps crashing. One landing on the hood of the other.
Breaking glass and steam.
Tat would be really something. A head on collison, one jeep coming up a hill. Going much to fast. Bouncing up over boulders, skidding.
And the ranger, thinking she has a woman lost out in the dry desert, maybe having fallen off of a cliff, or dehydrated, having crawled under a pinon tree.
Driving much too fast to the rescue.
Bouncing down the road, reaching a rise and being just a fraction of a second late in hitting the brakes before dropping off the other side.
What are the chances of a wreck like that happening? Out there in the desert, no other humans, no other vehicles. Jeez, hardly any mammals for scores and scores of miles.
How do you figure out that sort of probability?
(I don't need to tell you the chance is almost non existent, do I?).
But back to Wenonah.
There was this big boulder, She couldn't get the jeep up over it, So she backed down the hill, pointed the jeep between two large boulders and...
Hit the gas and..
there was an explosion.
Well, not really an explosion.
Maybe, more like a large bang.
With a red light on the dash flashing
And hissing coming from somewhere out the window.
And the ranger and I, going over the top of the rise, flew in the air, landed, banged on a rock, swerved to miss a large rock, and then the ranger had control of her vehicle and we were again off down the road, speeding away, going, going, what must have been way over a safe speed, we must have been going almost twenty miles an hour.
Down the hill, along a flat section and then down the next hill.
And when we finally went over one last steep hill.
There was Wenonah.
She had the jeep's doors open and the back hatch thrown open.
And the spare tire down on the ground.
And there she was down on her back in the sand and dust with the jack handle.
Jacking up the jeep.
She'd hit that rock and had blown out a tire.
A large gash in the side of the tire.
That night, back at our camp we did have pasta. and the night sky was still unbelieveably impressive, with the Milky Way so bright and close it seemed you could almost reach up and touch it, and all of those falling stars.
While we had been gone, something had broken into our camp and pecking into the end of the watermelon had eaten half of it.
(a large raven that again flew around the camp at first light looking for more unguarded food).
But I wasn't all that picky, dehydrated and especially drained of electrolites, I wasn't opposed to eating the other half after the raven.
Within an hour I felt whole again. And over dinner Wenonah told her version of the story.
How she couldn't understand how I'd failed to find the trail she was on, the one that slipped around behind Cleopatra's Chair.
"You even read the description of the trail to me before I went hiking. It's right there in the guide book."
And so it was.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

10-4 Groundhog

10-4 groundhog
I saw the ground hog this morning.
I was up by the cemetery field, looking down the rows of pumpkins when this varmint lifts up its head from between the rows up pumpkins. In fact it stood up on its hind legs.
With a piece of pumpkin, I swear, in its front paws (hands?)
And looked around as though it was scouting out a new country.
And when it saw me it stopped moving.
and stared.
A long stare,
But before I could move. Before I started running down the row in its direction it dropped back to the ground.
And took off.
Running, down the row ahead of me.
And just as we got to the fence (I couldn't have been more than a dozen paces behind)
It dove.
Under the electric fence.
Dove under the bottom strand of wire without touching.
And once on the other side it took off running. Down the tractor path.
At the fence I hesitated.
I couldn't climb under the fence like the varmint had done.
Instead, I carefully stepped back and then running, jumped.
A sort of high jump.
Over the top of the fence. Just clearing the top strand.
And there ahead of me was the varmint, still running, but it stopped. turned around. I swore it started at me, maybe even gave me a mocking grin.
And then disappearing,
Disappearing into a briar patch.
I kept on running, but I might as well have not.
Because, when we came to the briars, I had to stop.
Briars, for humans, are pretty much impassible.
But I did mark the place where the groundhog entered.
"I've got your number." I said to no one in particular.
And I've come back to the house.
I now know where that ground hogs home is.
I have several choices.
I can sit up the hill with a varmint gun and wait.
Wait for the pumpkin eating varmint to appear.
And bam. End of story.
Or, I can take on the the Great Pyrenees. Either Andorra or Twain, and I can put them inside the fence right about there.
Or, I have this large live trap. I can take it down to the place where the ground hog disappeared into the briars and I can bait it with bananas and onions and I can wait.
What do you think?

Monday, October 03, 2005

10-3 continuing drought

It is now 50 days without significant rain. (less than a quarter of an inch) But we are doing OK.
In fact, I don't know what I would do with myself if it started raining. I was up at midnight moving the sprinkler to cover the large sweet pepper patch.
Which means that I had to be up at 2:30 to turn off the pump and close the valve on the water tank (It takes just about two hours to drain the 2500 gallons out of the tank).
And then I didn't get up out until 7:30 to move the sprinkler again, this time over the herbs and part of the eggplant. Climb up the hill turn the valves, start up the pump.
And turning it off again at 9:30.
Now I'm getting ready to move the sprinkler to the cemetery field and give the greens (salad and mustard) some water
Which makes it the time to finish getting Wenonah out of the desert and...
If Wenonah isn't lost, who is?
"OK, I'm turning back. I didn't reach the end of the trail but its' getting late. Leigh's probably wondering where I am. I sort of thought he would ride down here looking for me."
"I hardly recognize the trail. Everything looks different. You would almost think I had made a wrong turn somewhere. But that couldn't happen, could it? The shadows are getting longer and longer."
"I wish I'd brought my cell phone. Only I haven't seen a phone tower or any other sign of civilization since I've been back here. No phone reception. What did the ranger say, 'you are on your own. We don't keep track of who is and isn't' in the park. It is your responsibly to take care of your self.'
"You would have thought that Leigh would have finished his bike ride by now and come down here to meet me. Over there you can see Cleoptra's Chair, only from this direction it looks different."
"See the lizard. That's about the only living thing I've seen on this hike. It would be hard to live out here. No food, no water. No sign of life. It must be another mile until the jeep."
"I think the jeep is just around the corner. See how far behind me the chair is? You would have thought that Leigh would have shown up by now. But this won't be the first time. He gets on that bike and goes too far. I probably won't see him until after dark. He'll be peddling that bike up the hill."
"There's the jeep and no sign of Leigh. Maybe he rode his bike back to the camp and is waiting for me there."