Thursday, April 03, 2008

coyotes, fires and the state of the vegetables

What should we talk about this week?

1, The mysterious animal that was photographed on two different days sneaking down the driveway at 3 in the morning?

2. The forest fire?

3. Payments for the shares coming due the first week of April?

4. Farm visits and free eggs?

5. Or the state of your vegetables?

Well, let’s deal with them in order starting with the unnamed animal caught by one of our wildlife cameras. What is it? (the picture is up on our website in the same folder with the bear picture) .

I have been telling everyone that it’s a coyote. But then Liz, our amateur animal sleuth says there’s no way to tell. “It’s too dark to make a call,’ ’ she says.

Her husband, though, is pretty sure it’s a bobcat. “just look at it?”

And Wenonah doesn’t know either. It could be a fox. She says. A large gray fox. “I just don’t want it to be a coyote. Coyotes eat cats, and that means we’ll have to keep the cat door closed all the time so ours don’t get eaten.”

Which brings us to the fire and the fire truck that came storming down our road earlier this week. I only heard the siren. My neighbor called to ask if the fire was over this way.

He said two trucks came full blast down the driveway past his house. Stayed for half an hour and then came blasting back with their sirens still blaring.”

And that’s all we heard until yesterday morning when I got another call saying they heard the fire was up on top of the mountain.

(which to me meant right up above our farm, fields and home).

I put on my boots right then. My boots and my rain jacket. It was raining.

A fire? Up on top of the mountain? Right above us on top of the mountain? Maybe half a mile from our greenhouse, where all are seedlings, our plants for the year were growing? (more on that later. You might as well know, though, the seedlings are doing just fine).

I finished with my boots and started up the trail to the mountain top.

For those of you who have gone up with us, we have two trails cut through the woods. One along the water line to the upper spring and then weaving through the forest until we reach the cliffs.

That's the one I took up. There wasn't a sign of anything on the way up and on top, it was quiet.

No people. no noise, no smoke and none of the sound of a raging fire.

Up there there was no sign of anything. Not even a vehicle.

I might as well tell you there’s a jeep trail up on top. I'm not very happy with this jeep trail. It's been the source of a lot of four wheelers and motorcycles over the year. Campfires and trash. (which brand of beer do beer can litters prefer to drink? one brand of beer more often finds its cans thrown out in the woods than any other. Why?)

The jeep trail was made by a bulldozer something like fifteen years ago.

This, also, was the last time there was a fire up on the mountain.

That fire was in August. What used to be thunderstorm season around here.

The time of the fire I remember it hadn’t rained all month. There had been lightning storms but no rain. I remember the storm three days before the fire well. I had stood out in the field in front of the house watching it. Quite a show!

Lightning came in bolts all the way to the ground maybe a dozen times. Moving up and down the ridge. Back and forth. Before the storm finally decided to move over the mountain and down in the valley toward us.

I deserted the field then, and ran into the house for shelter.

After the lightning, there was only a few trickles, hardly enough to dampen the soil. I remembered moving a couple of sprinklers to new locations.

And then about three days later there was smoke. Someone on the other side of the mountain, on the cliff side, saw smoke rising up over the cliffs. I got a call asking it it was down here.

“Nothing down here, but I’ll climb up and take a look.” The fire wasn’t on our side of the mountain at all. It was down below the cliffs..

The precipice of High Point is lined with pine trees. Pine trees and then a rock precipice dropping straight down for several hundred feet. and on the bottom boulders and rock crevices and caves. The caves Wenonah when she was a girl used to climb up and explore. The same shallow caves our goats, the wild ones on the herd, would climb in and hide.

And this entire area would be covered with pine needles. Dry, oily pine needless sometimes several feet thick.

And that’s where the lightning had struck. Where the fire had started. Where the smoke and flames were rising.

Back then the fire was fought by hand.

Volunteer fire departments from far and wide came. Men and what mostly seemed like high school kids carrying packs with containers holding five gallons of water on their backs would climbed up the same trail I had gone up.

They walked up the mountain with their load of water and poured it on the fire. one after another after another.

Five gallons at a time.

They did that for three days until the fire was out.

And that’s when the bulldozer arrived.

Someone working at Vint Hill volunteered a military unit with a bulldozer and it started three miles away over by the mill. Started widening what had been a foot trail making it wide enough to drive vehicles down

Three miles of foot trail from the mill to the top of the mountain widened into a road for jeeps and trucks.

And the bulldozer completed its road to the top of the mountain just as the fire was put out.

That’s where I was standing yesterday morning. Where the bulldozed road ends near the cliffs.

No one was there yesterday and as I stood in the rain looking out off the cliffs. there wasn’t a fire either.

Not on top of the mountain. But I could smell smoke. Wet, distant smoke so I looked around, walked back and forth along the cliffs for an hour. Peered down off the cliff into the crevices with their new layer of pine needles.

Looked down at the remains of the plane wreck. Where a little two passenger plane crashed twenty years ago and where one of the wings still sits and then finally turned around and returned home on another trail I had cut through the woods.

(It turns out the fire was the forest three miles away, right where Thoroughfare Gap cuts through the Bull Run Mountains. Where, now, Interstate 66 does through the mountains. It burned along the ridge and this time, instead of hundreds of young men, and a few woman, each carrying five gallons of water, one person at a time, a helicopter flew over the fire and dumped hundreds of gallons at a shot.

Putting out the fire.

And which brings us around to eggs and farm visits.

The chickens are now laying almost 5 dozen a day (by the beginning of vegetable season they will be up to nine or ten dozen a day).

If you are a shareholder and want free eggs come on out this Saturday between 11 and one pm. If you want to visit at other times you should e-mail first. Often we’ll be out working or, on the weekend, taking some time off.

Which brings us around to the vegetables.

Our greenhouse is now full. That means about 70,000 seedlings. Things are looking good.

We’ve started turning over the fields and have been spreading compost and where it needs it, lime.

We’ve spend a number of hours fixing our anti-deer fence. Besides the usual tree damage and just the normal flukes of nature a couple places have suffered human damage. Someone, for some unknown reason has cut large holes in the plastic anti-deer fence. I can’t figure that one out, but we’ve repaired it and moved on.

We’ve moved the chicken tractor again. it’s getting close to its summer resting place down along the field in front of the house.

We actually did spend most of a day picking up rocks (and had, much to my surprise) some volunteers come out to help.

One of our tractors is at the shop (a tree feel on it) as is one of our walk behind tractor/tillers.

And bees. A friend, a beekeeper called and asked if I wanted to buy a dozen 3 pound packages of bees which I did. These are Italians and I set them up near the herb garden

I’ll have another dozen packages, this time Buckfast out of Texas, arrive in a week.

And that’s about the time our onion and leek seedlings come. Hopefully this will be a good year. I’ve bought something like 20,000.

And that’s it.

Leigh Hauter

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