Sunday, July 29, 2007

Lost on the mountain (sort of)

I want to dispel any possible rumor you might have heard about one or more hikers having been waylaid by bears while hiking our mountain during this weekend's shareholders pot luck and hike.

It is absolutely not true.

While a number of wild turkeys were sited out in the forest no one saw or was mishandled by a bear.

Yes, it is true that a reported six sheriff's car did show up after receiving an emergency call from a family up by our spring but this didn't have anything to do with bears.

('What area you all doing out here?' the lead sheriff reportedly said with a note of disbelief. 'Hiking?' As though he operated under the belief that anyone taking part in that sort of activity was automatically suspicious).

But the reason why I'm withholding the names of the shareholders involved has nothing to do with what they bears did or did not to them or, for that matter, what they did to the bear.

('Yes you can write about this in the newsletter but please don't use our names,' one of the women in the group said after the sheriff insisted on checking her ID not once, but twice. 'It's so embarrassing.')

But enough of that now. I will go over this weekend's potluck and hike and lack of encounters with bears (but with sheriffs) later on. Right now we have a much more important topics to discuss.

HONEY!

We're going to have honey in this coming week's share. One pound of honey per one or two person share.

Which means you are going to have to bring a jar with you when you pick up your vegetables this week.

Preferably a one pound honey jar.

Your average little plastic squeeze honey bear holds one pound of honey. But rather than plastic (do you really believe that plastic doesn't, overtime, breakdown and contaminate its contents?) why not try for a glass jar.

A quart canning jar holds 3 pounds of honey.

That means a pint jelly jar holds 1.5 pounds.

You bring the jar and I'll pour honey into it. (and if you, alas, forget to bring your jar this week, which from past experience I know a number of people will, I'll attempt to remember to bring the honey next week too).

So, remember, bring a jar for a pound of honey this week.

And now that we've got that out of the way, let's go over a little bit of other farm news before returning to this weekend's potluck meal, hike and non-bear encounter.

We did have a thunderstorm Friday night. It poured out here. Almost half an inch. Thank you for the rain dances, however, half an inch is still not enough. We need two of those cloudbursts a week, every week (and preferably it would be best if it came down much slower, fell in what is known as a 'gentle rain'.

So far July has brought us 2 inches rather than the four we need.

Oh well.

So now to the most asked question of the previous week .

'Are we going to have tomatoes?'

If you have asked this question and I've jumped up and down and started screaming something unintelligible about deer, here is the reason why.

I planted 2000 tomato plants that should have started producing back around July 10th. Only..."

Only as I've said a number of times, our first planting got chomped in half by our wonderfully indigenous white-tailed deer.

That's 2000 tomato plants that were ruthlessly hacked in half.

So the next time you think warm and cuddly thoughts about Bambi or that sweet, dear little fawn with its tender spots, think first about the succulent, ripe tomato that isn't sitting on your kitchen counter.

But besides my deer rage I am doing the best I can to get us a crop of tomatoes. We have now got the damaged plants re-growing. It looks like they will provide us with several weeks of tomatoes sometime in August.

Also, we took every extra tomato seedling in the greenhouse, fortunately we over started tomatoes, and we put the extras, well over a thousand, in the ground any place we could plant them and they, too, are now growing.

Additionally, we have 400 other plants that are now just starting to produce fruit. Those plants were being hurt by the drought. Remember, tomatoes absolutely want and need an inch of water a week and even with our constant watering of all 15 acres of vegetables these tomatoes weren't always getting enough (there is only so much water to go around).

So the tomato answer is, yes, we will have tomatoes but they will be late.

The second most asked question: And the squash?

While I don't scream as loudly when answering this one the answer is pretty much the same. While I hate to be a whiner (but Wenonah says I am about this) deer really clobbered our summer squash crop, too. Again, Bambi and family using the hole that the bear made in the deer fence to climb in one night and eat most of the several thousand squash plants growing in the cemetery field.

Did you know a deer eats about 14 pounds of vegetable matter each and every night?).

We've now repeatedly repaired the anti-deer fence and late last week we ran a strand of electric wire around the outside so nothing, including bears, can stand too close without getting a good strong shock.

But so much for the bad news. Now the good news.

Cheese!

In years gone by we have ordered some really great tasting cheese form Farmstead Fresh Cheese up in Pennsylvania. It's organic, made from raw milk, and I think it's one of the best domestic cheeses around. I'm about to put in an order for myself but I can add to it (this way the shipping is free).

They sell a number of different types (look on their webpage at http://www.farmsteadfresh.com) If you are interested in buying a five pound block ($40) or a 2.5 pound block ($21) drop me a note and I'll add your order to ours.

If you want smaller cuts, order direct from them.

Now back to the Farm Party:

I want to thank the approximate 150 people that came out. We had a good time and it was nice meeting you outside of the vegetable pick up site.

I especially remembered the evening, just after the meal was over and I was getting ready to give another tour of the farm. Someone asked me about bears and I was telling about the time the bear was standing just a few yards from where we were.

"The dogs were busy barking and the bear was busy dismantling a beehive.

"Did you know that bears really don't care that much for honey. They really," I was saying. "To in to beehives to eat the baby bees. The larva."

That's when the phone rang.

Wenonah walked out of the house with the phone in hand.

"It's the sheriff," she said. "He wants to talk to you about the hikers."

Which brings us back to the lack of a bear encounter up on the mountain Saturday.

Earlier in the day, about 25 people went on the hike up the mountain. It was amixed age group hike. Adults, children, teenagers. The idea was to take one trail up. The trail past the upper spring, go up to the top, sit out on the rocks, on the precipice overlooking our neighbors who live in the estate between us and The Plains, (it's been said that this one Estate is about 25 square miles in size).

The hiker's then, after looking down on the estates lakes and forests and over to the distant Skyline Drive returning to the farmhouse by another trail that meandered along the mountain top before dropping down on the other side of our farm.

Only one group was lagging behind. A few adults and a couple children. They fell behind the others and when they got to the top couldn't see where to go next.

So they started bushwacking straight down the mountain, through the brush and mountain laurel and huckleberries. Taking a beeline course toward the farmhouse.

And probably somewhere in a tangle of greenbriar decided they better use their cell phone and call down to the farm for directions.

Only, they didn't have our phone number.

So they called information.

But, because of the strangeness of how our corner of the world was developed, our phone is not listed in the Fauquier County directory, as our address is. But is listed in Prince William county.

Our address is The Plains, Or phone number, Haymarket.

Which meant that the information operator couldn't find our phone number.

And by now the children were getting cranky, and hungry and the adults, not knowing what to do, called 911.

And asked if there was a non-emergency number they could call for help.

Only, the 911 operator decided that lost in the woods sounded like an emergency to her.

Visualizing the headlines. 'Family with children lost in woods. 911 operator refuses help.' she told the hikers to stay on the line while she called the sheriff.

Now all this time, the hikers kept on walking down the mountain. and while I like to think we are back here in the woods its not like out west. not like Colorado or Wyoming or Montana. Out here in Fauquier County you can't very well walk more than a mile in any direction before stumbling across civilization.

And that's what happened.. The hikers walked a few hundred more feet, crossed the trail back to the house and came on down to the farmhouse.

And the sheriff?

The sheriff, well actually six car loads of sheriffs, were on their way to the farm, rushing down country roads, lights a-flashing, sirens a sirening.

And by the time the first sheriff's car bounced up our driveway the wayward hikers were already at the farmhouse, the children drinking lemonade and the adults (I assume) drinking sangria.

And the sheriff, well he refused the glass of lemonade Wenonah offered him, and instead insisted on seeing the group of wayward hikers, insisted on checking their ID's (checking one woman's ID twice) and then, after expressed his opinion about hiking and the sort of people that would do it, turned his car around and left.

And the bear? He or she never did make an appearance.

--

Leigh Hauter

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