blogging


We have been lucky enough to have a pair of American Kestrels hanging around our property.  Also called sparrow hawks, these beautiful little birds of prey are favored by falconers.

Their favorite perch is the electrical wires that run the length of our property, and the ornamental pear trees that form an alle’e along our 900 foot driveway.

They will fly away as soon as the car approaches, almost racing it down the driveway  to the house.

In mid January, I was very surprised to see one of the pair sitting on our deck bird feeder. They have never come this close! In fact, the whole time the kestrel was puffed up in the falling snow, a tiny junco was underneath, on the floor, literally not moving– and doing his best to remain invisible! The kestrel diet consists of mice, voles, other small rodents, larger insects, and the occasional small bird.  I could almost see the junco heave a giant sigh of relief when the kestrel left!!! The junco can be seen  in the photo below, in the lower pot hanging on the railing.

The kestrel sat, surveyed the scene, and called to its mate.   I was very glad to have been able to see it up close and relatively still.

About a month later, as we were leaving the house, my daughter went out first, then came back in telling me there was something outside that, in one way,  I was not going to be happy about, but in another way, I would!

I followed her outside, and there outside the garage door, between 2 vehicles, was one of the kestrels, dead.

She was right, I was very sad about this, but happy that I would be able to inspect one at close range.

Being a bird of prey, it is against the law to keep him, but since he was right in front of the garage door, he had to be removed. I did take this opportunity to photograph, measure, and weigh him (for a future watercolor) .

I should have been a naturalist, I am fascinated by all things in nature, dead or alive. Death allows closer inspection.

This (and future posts) will include these discoveries- so if you don’t like dead things – heed my warnings, and go no further!!!

This poor kestrel, appears to be a male – males have a  spotted breast, females, streaked- another thing you can’t really see as they go zooming by!!  His dead weight was 3.8 oz, and breast bone was not pronounced, so he did not seem to have been starving. His weight fell on the lighter side of their usual weight range of 80g-156g, but still within the parameters.

After watching a documentary on falconers, it was interesting to learn that the handlers weigh their birds before each hunt, because if their weight is a tad too high, it will affect their hunting abilities.  So, as in the wild, the falcons have to be careful not to overeat.

Upon closer inspection, I discovered the beak was split in half. At first glance, I thought maybe he had crashed into the truck or garage while diving for food, but the break appears to have been there quite a while. Despite this deformity, he seemed to have managed quite well, up until that day!

The claws were quite impressive – for clutching dinner on the fly!

He almost appeared to have a lower lid that would come up to cover the eye.

Not a large bird, the kestrel measured 10″ from head to tail, wingspread from shoulder to shoulder was 6″ , wing tip to tip about 14″. Shoulder to wing tip was about 7  1/2″.  He had about 8 or 9 tail feathers, his lower leg from elbow to toe was about 2″.

Except for the split on the top, his beak seemed fully functioning and in good shape.

It looks like a total of 7 primary flight feathers on each wing.

A beautiful little bird,  I would have loved to preserve him – but it is against the law to have one, dead or alive, without proper license.

Since his death, I have not seen his mate. Hopefully, if she survives, and finds another life partner, she will return with him to our property.

 

*********************

All is well, and never dull, here at Mountain Meadows this bright, sunny March morning……………………..

This  is a phrase that is well known to all -“raising a stink”.  My dad used to use it all the time- but out here, it takes on a new meaning!!

A dear elderly man from the area, who recently passed away, would always say, “Gotta go raise a stink now”. Now, I know what he meant……..

This is the time of the year when our hay fields are fertilized. That fertilizer has a very distinct aroma that assails the nostrils, and is hard to shake from your senses!!

My one dog has taken to sneaking away when my back is turned, to run far afield and search for delicacies left in the fertilizer- and of course, to roll in it!!!

I am talking about chicken manure! I can’t think of a fertilizer more FOUL (pun intended), except maybe fish emulsion!!!

Our neighbor tends our hay fields- cuts and bales the hay during the summer, and spreads manure from his chicken houses in the fall. He may even spread it in the spring, I don’t recall.

I was holding the horses for the farrier a week ago, and heard a tractor in the distance. Clouds of brown “dust” were billowing past the barn door, carrying with them a familiar “fragrance”! It was fertilizing time again! Thank goodness it was not quite warm enough to have the windows open!

Now, along with their usual “snacking” on hoof trimmings and manure, I will have to watch the dogs as they search out clods of chicken poop and bones.

When the horses are wormed, I try to keep the dogs out of the paddock, so they won’t eat horse poop with wormer in it. Now, I have to make sure they don’t swallow chicken bones!! As my daughter says- we now have dogs whose breath is “kickin’ “!

Despite the smell, we are fortunate to have a great neighbor who is willing to work the fields for us and share his manure.  Now, if Mother Nature will cooperate next year, and give us more rain than she allowed us this past season, we should have a bountiful 2011 hay crop of at least 2 (hopefully 3) cuttings!! A farmer’s prayer…..

you can click on the photo for a larger view

The sun is rising, the frost has painted the meadows, a chill is in the air- but all is well, bright and early, at Mountain Meadows this November morning…..

After many attempts to pull this thing off, my son finally rounded up about 15 of his friends, loaded up the SUVs and cars, and made the trek, 3 hours south of DC, to our 47 acre farm!

Purpose? A camp out, of course!!!

The first 2 girls arrived, all decked out in typical city girl finery-leggings, fancy scarves, and finely coiffed hair, topped with sunglasses. They needed to pick up some additional supplies, so asked me to direct them to the “general store”! I was happy to do so!! There was definitely a boost to the local economy that day- with all the items everyone forgot to bring from home!!

A tent city quickly formed in the middle of our back 20 acres. A variety of tents, the food and blankets, and all the camping equipment they forgot, (which, fortunately,  Mr. Green Jeans had stored in the garage!!!) were piled up in the field.

Setting up camp..........

Since everyone showed up about 2 hours later than planned- setting up the tents was an immediate priority- before darkness fell. The tractor came in very handy – the bucket was filled with all their essentials and driven over to the campsite.

One couple brought their adorable little dog. Pixel is a little white ball of fluff, sporting a dyed dark mohawk! Definitely a city dog!!!

Mr. Green Jeans had an old metal barrel that had been cut in half- perfect for their campfire. Since we had just recently come thru a drought – fire extinguishers were sent along – just in case!

We had a collapsible camp picnic table for them to use, and the heavy wooden one from under my tree was also thrown into the tractor bucket and taken to the campsite.

Everyone pitched in, and the tents were up and the fire roaring in no time.

The temperature at night was supposed to get a tad bit colder than expected, so I had to drag out my pile of vintage, thrift shop and auction quilts to help keep the crowd warm. The air mattresses were blown up (they are roughing it, after all!) and stuffed in the tents. Two of the girls had no tent, and were cramming a double air mattress into the back of their SUV! I pulled them aside and told them, if they needed to sneak into the house at night to sleep, that would be fine! The bathrooms in the house were available to all.

Since my son is in a band, and the band members were at the camp out- they had band practice out back!! I love listening to them play- they could only get as far away from the house as the length of all our extension cords! The guys probably would have played later into the night – but at about 9:30pm could no longer feel their fingers in the cold night air!!

 

Playing by the light of the moon, uh,- construction lamp!

 

My son, the drummer

The next morning, Mr. Green Jeans and I made breakfast for 15!! Gourmet flavored coffees (do it yourself), a couple dozen local eggs, bacon, rolls, raisin toast, and waffles, were eagerly wolfed down.

My son took Allie, the one of our dogs who plays well with others, to the river (her favorite pastime), and little Pixel (remember him – little city dog with the mohawk?) gamely followed along – doing everything Allie did!!!! His beautiful white curly hair, was a knotted dirty mess, by the time he was done!! He was, officially now, a country dog (altho’  still on a leash!)

Pixel, after the swim

Now the day’s entertainment began!! Horse riding for the adventurous few. The horses were so unnerved by the activities of the night before, and the tent city – we decided all riding would be within the boundaries of the paddock. My son, for the first time since his last horseback riding lesson at age 6 or 7- got on a horse, at the behest of his girl friend.  That will be made into a poster for my wall – since I doubt that I will see that ever happen again any time soon!!!

Woohoo!

One girl had the time of her life on Cisco, our new quarter horse! She hadn’t ridden in about 10 years, but like riding a bicycle – she got right back into it! My horse, “the big guy” , was perfect for all those who had never ridden and were slightly timid about it. He’s kind, and careful, and rarely goes faster than a walk!!!

Putting Cisco thru' his paces

Everyone got to shoot guns and rifles- I did walk the property later, to make sure no stray bullets had taken out any of the neighbors on the old country road! One guy was quite proud of the fact  that he was going to have a bruise from the recoil of the rifle- something to brag about at work on Monday!!!!

 

Shooting off the deck

All got to try the crossbow- that girl who rode the quarter horse, injured her thumb on the crossbow – but with a cup of ice, she was ready to go again!! Just because she was a city girl – does not mean she wasn’t tough!!! I would have been crying!!!

Crossbow - the target is on the round bales- no danger of losing an arrow!

The last event of the day, was the urbanite guys taking a turn at driving the tractor!! One guy had never even driven a stick shift, and Mr. Green Jeans bravely took him on!! All the guys did well- a good time was had by all, I think!!!

 

Kubota lessons

These were the nicest bunch of kids – not kids, really- all in their mid to late 20’s- I can’t wait til they come back again!!! I think we’ll have to invite them back during haying season!!!

**************************

 

All is well at Mountain Meadows, back to “normal”, and a bit quiet………….

Just a few photos of what I see walking around the property.

Turn here to enter the root cellar

This winter's supply of potatoes

Neighbor's corn field reduced to the pile of silage (on the left) for his cowsThis is the neighbor’s corn field, reduced to a mound of silage, on the left, winter feed for his cattle.

Pearl

Clouds seen from my front porch

Weird, yet beautiful nightime clouds

Dusk visitors return...........

**************************************************************

All is well, and a bit cloudy, at Mountain Meadows this morning.

My husband always said that one of the big differences between being a cop in the big city, and being one in the boonies, is, that in the city,  you don’t often get a call to go check on a ‘cow in the road‘ !

Well, one morning not too long ago, was my turn to make one of those calls!! I was taking the back way, thru the woods and over the mountain, to town, and as I came around a bend in the road I saw a black calf very near the edge, munching on the green grass! He was an accident waiting to happen – and I could not see where he got thru the fence. All the other cows, and probably his mother too, were safely behind the barbed wire fence. I did put in a call to the local PD, but since they are short on manpower, who knows if they made it all the way out there. It is quite remote, and I could not find any houses nearby that might have owned that field.

Apparently, the calf  found his way back in the way he got out, because there were no cows about when I went home.

We have had the neighbor’s calves escape and come over into our field. My van is quite an effective tool in rounding up cattle, as it turns out!!! My horses are quite the “alert” system- since they are none too fond of cows!!!

Last year, while driving home on 42, a rather well traveled road, I saw two horses grazing- right along the edge of the road! Since horses are near and dear to my heart, I quickly made a u-turn and went back. I turned down the nearest road to the horses and started knocking on doors. One woman answered, and she knew all about them being out. She had called a relative to come get them back in. The scary part was, one of the horses was blind- and he had just followed his companion out an unlocked gate to greener pastures!!

We have had two separate instances of horses getting loose, and ending up here- one traveling at least a mile from his home.  I’ve written posts about both incidents- and Little Miss Kitty Comes for a Visit is one of my most read!

We have some hogs across the road from us. Now, my horses had never seen hogs til we moved here. My Fox Trotter, John, the “big guy” , did a total about face and headed for home, the first time he ever saw one!! I was along for the ride too!!

In the three years we have lived here, those hogs have escaped at least once a year. When the creek is low, they just mosey on across in search of new places to graze and root around.

The first year we were here, I saw one HUGE boar, rooting around a trailer not far from my house. He had traveled quite a ways, and was contentedly ruining the lawn near this trailer. Of course, I did not have my camera with me!!!  This hog was bigger that the three men standing around him, who were scratching their heads and wondering how how they were going to get that pig back home!

Recently 2 hogs  escaped and were down on the road near the creek where they crossed over- DH saw them on the way home and alerted the neighbors, who came and rounded them up – how, I don’t know!!!

The other day, as we were coming back from picking potatoes, I glanced over thru the trees – and there were those darn hogs- out again, and wandering around their property. Up the hill, near the little farmhouse – was a whole front yard full of pink piglets!!! I’m guessing the sow wouldn’t venture too far away- since I don’t think the babies could cross the creek yet. This time, I had my camera – so I passed it over to DD, who got some shots of the wandering porkers.


I was out for my morning ride yesterday, and big John was snorting and prancing (unusual for him) and quite intent on “something” beyond the trees, that I could not see.  I’m wondering if it was a hog!

Who said living in the country was dull- NEVER! There is always something going on!!

****************************************************************

All is well, and quiet, just before the sun rises, at Mountain Meadows this morning……………………………

POSTSCRIPT:  I kid you not, no sooner did I post this story, here we go again!! My dogs, started barking – the sun had just come up, I thought the deer were out.

I look out the window- and there is Pearl the Percheron- again, wandering across my front pasture!!!

I called her owner, and threw some clothes on. Ran out with some grain (after I took pix of her strolling across my front “yard”) and enticed her into the front paddock. Didn’t take too much convincing- where’s there’s food, there’s Pearl!!!

These pix don’t show you how immense she is, but go back to a previous post

to see her winter visit- and you’ll get an idea of how large she really is!!

This visit did not upset my “boys” too much – they were all very interested in her. Altho’, the “old man” got zapped by the electric fence in his excitement to meet the big lady!! Poor guy!!

I walked back over the dry river bed with her owner- I had a bowl of grain to keep her moving in the right direction. It was cold out this  morning – real fall weather! Turns out one of their other horses escaped also – but in another neighbor’s field. So, with Miss Pearl safely behind “bars”, I left  the other capture to the owner, and  went back across the creek to home and breakfast!!


nighttime prayer

Whoa! What is that????

working on the "sanctuary"

Weeds grow well in the drought.....

drought plus aged tree equals only ONE!

vacancy

crow skull discovered

box turtle remains

more

the top layer just peels off, leaving the white carapace and plastron

And, if we hadn’t already figured it out…………Smokey is down the road to warn us:

Only YOU can prevent forest fires......!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

All is well, dry, windy and crispy, at Mountain Meadows this Labor Day weekend.

We are three years into this farming “thing” we embarked on. With a big move 2 hours south of the urban/suburban neighborhood we raised our kids in, we picked up, moved, and  immersed  ourselves in a totally new environment, lifestyle, and way of living.

We now have a pickup, a farm use truck (our suburban pickup in retirement), a soccer mom van turned rolling tack box/livestock herder, and a $30,000 Kubota(that’s  tractor to you- the uninitiated)!

We are in the second year of our vegetable garden and potato patch, 3rd growing hay. We understand fully now, how much work it is, how totally dependent on the weather a real farmer is, and how good it feels and tastes to grow your own vegetables!

We now realize that selling at the local farmers market is harder than it looks, not the money maker it would seem to be, and that there is always alot more to learn. And, that hybrid blackberries, while no tastier than the wild ones, are thornless, way larger, and thus, sell better than their smaller wild relatives! During a dry, hot, almost drought summer, wild blackberries will also NOT produce 20 lbs a day!

We now know that groundhogs are sometimes smarter than the amount of fencing and traps you  put out. They may still be cute, but are not as cute as they once seemed while we were living in suburbia. Their view of “sharing” and mine, are somewhat different, when it comes to my garden!

We know that weeds will grow, regardless of how little rain comes thru’, and that hay will not! We understand that we are getting a bit too old to “toss that bale”, especially when there are 300 of them sitting in the field! We now understand the phrase “make hay while the sun shines”.  We see how the dust can be flying,  the ground can be as hard as a rock from lack of rain, and the paddocks  overgrazed and not growing – but white capped mushrooms and other plants that horses cannot and will not eat, will manage to push their way thru hardpacked dirt and dot the landscape.

We have learned that wells must be dug deep (and thank goodness, ours is), that hydrofracking is bad for the environment, and rain is important for everyone.

We have come to understand small town way of thinking, and have learned to love and appreciate small town friendliness and helping hands.

We have learned to support locavorism.

We have learned that to grow a garden organically, while preferable, takes alot more work than does spraying a bit to keep away the bugs. We learned that if you forget to put a little mineral oil on the corn silks, you will have gross caterpillars hiding in and eating your ears of corn!

We have learned that while black plastic between the rows of vegetables will keep the weeds down, the intense heat reflected off the plastic will make midday gardening in the height of summer unbearable, and the puddles of water that accumulate there will attract mosquitoes and cause all the cantaloupes to rot just before they ripen!

We have learned that if you don’t keep up with the rototilling, the weeds will grow to be about 5-6 feet tall in the potato field!! On the up side, those hardy weeds are shading the potato plants from the sun, during a borderline drought hot summer!

I have learned to talk to myself (and my horse) as we ride thru the woods- to let the deer know we are coming – so Bambi and his mother don’t jump out of the woods in front of us and scare the crap out of my horse!

I have learned that hunting is a generations old way of life out here in the Gap, and that said – I only walk and ride in the woods on Sunday during hunting season! Oh, and day glow orange is a good color- on man and beast!

I have learned that hounds don’t sleep in the bed with their owners- they are chained out back next to a dog house til hunting season. They also don’t ride up in the front seat of the pickup, they travel in a port holed metal container in the bed of that pickup, heads hanging out, ears blowing in the breeze, excited about going to do what they were bred to do – track and hunt.

I have learned the difference between cows bellowing at dinnertime and cows and calves bellowing because they have been separated to be weaned. It has also dawned on me, that the reason we have milk on the table, is because dairy cows are constantly being bred, and their babies taken away and sold, so that their milk is in constant supply for us humans. I drink more soy milk now…….no offense to the dairy farmers.

I now know that the chicken one buys from the supermarket, is one of a gazillion cute,tiny, yellow chicks that has been factory or family farmed in towns like these, engineered to grow faster and bigger, to be ready for production in 6 weeks. I have also learned that pickup for these chickens can occur anytime- even at 3am !And, I will never get used to what I interpret as the sad looks on these chickens as they are traveling down the highway, crammed in crates, on the way to the factory……….and, yes, I eat less chicken now. I could never be a real and good farmer, feeling about animals the way I do. But, I am thankful that there are people out there who have made farming their life and do a good job at it!

I know, and am  less than thrilled to know, that there are seasons of the fly! Now we are in the bot scraping and large nasty horse fly season. There is NO good season of a fly, in my opinion!

I have also learned that small town folk are the best – willing to help whenever needed, no questions asked.

It helps to have a neighbor with a backhoe when you might want to bury your horse, instead of calling the rendering plant to haul it off. That neighbor might not understand, but he’ll dig that hole.

We have also learned that in small towns, everyone is related to everyone else, in one way or another- so be careful what you say!!!

Small towns are also used to doing things a certain way- it has been done the same way for generations, so why fix it, if it ain’t broke? For this little town, it seems to be working fine!

You can live in a small town for 25 years, but if you weren’t born here, and your family hasn’t been  here for generations back, you will always be an outsider of sorts. There is something to be said, for having family living, literally, a stone’s throw away……………

“Green Acres is the place to be, farm living is the life for me, land spreading out so far and wide, keep Manhattan (or DC), just give me the countryside….!”

There are many more lessons I have learned in these past 3 years, out here on the farm, but I will save that for another time, another post…………

***********************************************

All is well, in the still darkness of the morning, at Mountain Meadows, at 4:47am…………

Next Page »