It’s a Fair Day

13aug_fairpie2_smsmIt’s County Fair Time again!

Fairs: you either love them or… it’s expensive, it’s hot, it’s dusty, it’s crowded, the food is bad, it smells like animals, all the vendors are con artists, and my feet hurt…

All of those things are true.

I love the County Fair.

County fairs are a cheerful remnant of simpler times, when people came together to sell, to buy, to share their work, to compete a little, and to perspire in common under the summertime sun. At the fair we can eat overcooked corn on the cob, sausage on a stick, sugary lemonade, and pie from the Methodist pie concession. We get advice from the County Extension booth, and admire the gigantic tractors,

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or sit on them,

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or drive them.

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We gaze upon the patient cudding cattle mothers and marvel at their size,

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and we eye the flat-backed steers on their way to the judging ring,

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overseen by the haughty llamas, superior in every attitude

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to the slumbering pigs,

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the smiling, slumbering pigs.

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Who cannot love a sleeping pig?

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At the fair you can learn how to milk a cow.

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You can admire the curls of the visitors.

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You can buy a thrill,

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or try your hand at winning a — whatever that was,

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and eat pink stuff until you are ill,

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and you can save your soul.

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Or you can sleep it all off with your friends.

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And then you go to the crafts hall to appreciate the prize-winning handwork which sometimes shows a fine sense of humor!

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And some of it is lovely and detailed.

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And you look to see whether you won anything with your own entry. And you did! You won a blue ribbon on the brown wool sweater in the front of the case!

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So you take your tired feet back across the parking lot, and you drive home remembering that you didn’t actually ride the thrill ride, and you didn’t eat any cotton candy or a sausage, but you did have a piece of pie.

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And since it came from the Methodists, you will probably not be punished for it later.

 

 

Published in: on August 17, 2016 at 1:31 pm  Comments (20)  

A Gathering and Departure of Gray-striped Cats

I think it is the Christmas letters flying back and forth: I am nagged upon at this time of year, pushed, and urged and reminded that friends look for my blog posts, and complain that there have been no new ones and they are tired of the old ones. And I admit: it’s been a year, about, since the last one. An annual blog post does seem like fairly little effort.

But what to write about?

In the last, I spoke of the several cats that had come to us, an abundance, it seemed, of gray-striped cats. Cats are desired on a place. A place with a barn needs cats to keep the rodents down. A place with a garden needs cats to keep the gophers at bay. In the interim between cats, when our beloved, efficient Yellowcat 10mar_yellowcat1  had expended all of her 9 lives, and the new cats were not yet established in their art, I lost a well-grown Benjamin Britten rose, a young lilac, and lot of dahlias from the garden. I lost tulip bulbs, and daffodils. Strawberries. Daylilies. Carrots. A place needs cats.

We had meant to have Gollum’s Precious and two from her litter to stay with us. Yellowcat’s standard of performance was so great that we thought it would take more than one cat to match her. But Gollum’s Precious, who had come as a wanderer and had what I thought was an uncomfortably large territory, made a mistake one day in regard to the road. So she used up all her lives in a moment, and left us. The kittens were on their own by then, two had gone to another farm home. That left us two for ourselves: Cobweb and Moth, little brothers in mischief.

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In the fullness of time, we took them to the doctor for their exams and alterations. The vet told us, with actual tears, that Cobweb had a pretty serious heart murmur and would not be with us long. Well, we thought philosophically, he’s with us now, and he’s a happy little barn cat, 14jan01_Cobweb1_cr so it didn’t seem like we needed to take any action in the matter. It wasn’t long, though, before I found him one day,  curled as if in sleep in the soft springtime sun beside the path. He wasn’t asleep really, but had gone on before, leaving Moth to take care of the gophers.

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This one cracked me open a bit. I am, for the most part, stoical about farm losses. When we lost Gollum I was angry, because that was the fault of a careless veterinarian. I was resigned when we lost Gollum’s Precious on the road, but we knew she was a stray when she came, and she had found a good place to have her litter, and then strayed again. I was philosophical when we lost a ewe a while before; she got herself rolled down a little hill next to the fence and couldn’t get upright, and I didn’t find her in time. I was even able to be calm when a dog raided our rabbitry and we lost 2 bucks and a doe.

But now my sweet, happy Cobweb cat had died and, though forewarned, I was tearful.

But we have Moth, who is ready, curious, underfoot, and … hardworking.

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So, at the end of this year of cats, I would like to offer an homage to the lineage of Moth as we know it:

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Gollum, feral visitor.

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Gollum’s Precious, lady traveler.    

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Gollum’s Precious and her kittens, the issue of two wanderers.

So, friends afar, here is at least one little blog post from me. I think, a year ago, I promised to do better. It almost seems superfluous to do so again. But… all right. I’ll try to do better.

 

 

Published in: on January 2, 2016 at 3:07 pm  Comments (16)  

A Winter Day in the Greenhouse

14dec_treelights_cr_smChristmas mail has made it clear to me I am a very bad blogger. “We miss your blog.” “No updates on your blog.” “So sorry you’ve stopped blogging.” OK. Truth is, I haven’t stopped blogging. I just haven’t done it lately. (And I’ve blogged at least as often as I hear from my Christmas correspondents.)

It seemed after a while that the farm things must be getting a little boring to you, dear readers. After all, every year the same plants grow, or don’t. The animal procreate, or don’t. The rain falls, or sometimes doesn’t, and we complain either way.

All right: Here is what I am doing today: I am trimming up the over-wintering geraniums in the greenhouse.

The greenhouse turns out to have been useful for a number of things. Last fall (a year ago), I moved a number of my zonal geraniums into the greenhouse to hold them over. I usually start them from seed in the spring, but I thought I’d see how they did inside. I remember my mother wintering hers over in the garage with little light and hardly any water, so I thought the glassed-in beds would be good for this. It was:

15jan04_geraniums_sm They got a little out of hand. And I didn’t, actually, get them planted out into the garden in the spring. So we have had a forest of happy geraniums in the greenhouse, though there was room for other things until summer advanced and we noticed they had fairly taken over the world.

It was nice in there in the spring and summer with the blooms, the scent of geraniums, and the everlasting nosegay. In April we had a bottle lamb from the sheep flock, one whose mother did her best but died when the lamb was a bare 3 weeks old. So Folly, as we called her since she was born on April 1, moved into the greenhouse where it was more convenient for us to meet her feeding schedule.

14apr_greenhousefolly1_cr_smShe enjoyed the geraniums, too. Folly has since then returned to being a sheep and lives with the other ewes.

In summer we had another blessed event, one we would have avoided if we could’ve. But when you live in the country, Providence brings you cats, and it happened that She brought us both a feral tom and a sweet, fertile queen at the same time. In a longer story than I will tell here, Gollum the tom, is no longer with us. But he left a little bit of himself behind. That’s Gollum’s Precious and her 4 grey-striped kittens.

14jul_kittens1_cr_sm We found a good home for 2 of them, and 2 have stayed with us. For a short time, while their mother was recovering from her female surgery, they all  took up residence in the greenhouse, which had been vacated by Folly, and where they learned essential gardening skills.

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So the greenhouse has been successful for animal husbandry as well as botanical experiments. But really, really, those geraniums need to be taken in hand. Hard as it is to whack something so thriving, if we intend any use of the greenhouse in the spring, we have to do it. So here I am today, whacking:

15jan04_geraniums3_smThe mask is for the clouds (clouds!) of old pollen falling from the dried blooms.

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There are benefits to this exercise: I’ll recover planting space, the geraniums will be, I hope, in splendid condition for planting out in the spring when they will have put on new growth to their now compact limbs, and: I find things! (I knew that trowel was in there someplace!)

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It’s raining outside, and I could complain about that, but this is nice way to spend a winter afternoon in the garden. I once had a university professor who said, in regard to plants, “You have to hurt them to make them thrive. Cut them back!”

Published in: on January 4, 2015 at 4:12 pm  Comments (7)  

In Which We Update Many Unrelated Things

This post is a miscellany. And how time does fly! I promised to be more diligent here, and haven’t lived up to my word.

Blowin' in the wind

Hay is just in. We admire the loft and barn floor full of bales, but in the run-up to the job, frankly, I always feel a little nauseated. Every time, it’s a juggling act for the date as you watch for weather and wait for the call from the baling man. And then begins my major sustained physical effort of the year. It is to be expected that when the call comes, the weather will be hot. It had better be, since the hay would spoil in the field if it weren’t good haying weather, but the tax on the aging body is increased by some predictable ratio of effort to temperature.

There are pleasures in haying: the world smells wonderful. The scene is beautiful with either flowing windrows of raked grass or beaded lines of finished bales strewn across the fields. The afternoon or morning sun casts patterns of shadow over the landscape. The sound of field machinery is on the air, intermittent as tractors run over a hill and out of range, and then back again, or a baler stops for adjustment, or the crew just stops, for water or lunch. Hawks balance on the wing over shorn fields, looking for that now-exposed rodent who only yesterday sheltered in the stems. Crows stalk back and forth across the acres, picking at whatever can be found in the newly revealed world of cuttings. Haying time is beautiful.

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Haying time is filled with challenges, too. Last year our clutch failed as we labored uphill in the evening with our trailer load of bales. This year, we suffered a flat tire on the trailer when it was loaded with two tons of hay. This year we found the trailer wiring ripped apart in crossing a field, and made repairs before hitting the road for home. This year the pulley belt on the hay elevator required loving attention before it consented to drive the chain and raise the bales. This year we mired the pick-up in the mud where a spring rises in the pasture, and spent 45 minutes or so digging it out and shoving boards beneath the wheels. It seems it’s the normal thing in farm work, to lose time to trips for parts or tools, to break-downs, and repairs. The halt to the music of work and progress is always anticipated, though unknown until its moment.

But we got it in. It’s like appreciating a pantry full of jars of peaches, when we look at the barn loft full of sweet-smelling, square-baled grass. And I admit to some self admiration when I reflect: One more year. I can still do it.

This year, last spring, we rolled out the old potato barrel from storage. I’m not sure why we put it away. It’s given us loads of potatoes in the past. Here it is on planting day, back in April:

The potato barrel

This is a food-grade barrel. You don’t want to do this with a chemical barrel, so shop well. Sometimes you can get such things from bakeries or food-preparation companies, or restaurants. Or you can find them at container re-sale outfits.

We put in a good bed of rotting hay and manure from the sheep pens. See the worm? Earthworms are good news!

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… and then a layer of seed potatoes:

Seed spuds going in

to be lovingly covered with more good compost. “Compost” of course is the polite word for rotted barnyard manures and bedding, as well as household scraps and garden waste. If you don’t have a ready source of sheep bedding and rabbit pellets, you can make excellent compost from your kitchen. As the potato plants grow, we add more bedding material, carefully arranging it among the emerging stems and leaves, as if we were heaping soil along the rows in a conventional potato bed. We keep doing that until the barrel is heavy with soils and growing plants. I like to use small, whole potatoes with several eyes for seed instead of cutting up larger ones. It saves having to treat the cut surfaces against rots and infections. The skins of the little potatoes do a good job all by themselves. And, since you buy seed potatoes by weight, it’s my theory that you get more eyes (sprouts) for the weight this way.

In time, the growing potatoes push themselves out through the holes in the barrel, and set flowers…

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and eventually, when the plants die back, we will tip the barrel over and retrieve our potatoes. We’re not quite there yet. Here is the barrel last week:

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It seems to be doing well. Anybody with space for a 55-gallon barrel can grow a long row of potatoes this way.

Look who stopped by for a look-see while I was out feeding one morning:

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We each stood still and looked at the other for quite a while. Then the little cottontail decided that if she couldn’t see me, I couldn’t see her, either.

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Last fall I put in bulbs of the beautiful Angelique tulips. I had quite a drift of them years ago when we lived in Portland. Last fall I saw some in the bulbs bins and suddenly remembered how much I had enjoyed them. Seems I am not alone. Look at this stunning pale green spider making a home in the bloom. We chased each other around and around a few times before I could get a good photo; the spider must have been wondering what that lumbering giant had in mind with its one eye flashing a red light every now and then.

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By now, of course, in July, the tulips have passed on. The seed pod of the Angelique is beautiful all on its own, though:

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One of the hens has gone broody. All she wants to do is sit on the nest. So I’ve marked the eggs she’s collecting and will let her have her little family if she wishes. You can see these are not all the eggs of one hen. As the offspring of tulip seeds, these chicks will be a mix of the characteristics of their parents. The likely father of this brood is a Maran rooster. In the nest I see Maran eggs, Americana eggs, and Barred Plymouth Rock eggs. Chickens are without prejudice. She will accept any chick that emerges as her own.  How much easier to let her bring them up than to raise a batch of chicks under lights in the attic, move them out to the barn when they grow too big and stinky for indoors, and then grow them to a suitable age and finally let them loose with the rest of the flock. After all, chickens know how to raise chicks!

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July is seeping into August now. It’s dry here, and hot. I remember when summers lasted forever, and the hot days were of no real bother. I remember when the chief concern of summer was skinned knees. Just now I look down at the scab on a shin I barked against a gate yesterday, and I think, very little changes as the seasons unroll in order. Very little changes, but it’s all new again every time.

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Published in: on July 28, 2013 at 12:11 pm  Comments (4)  

Whoops

Yesterday it smelled like spring for sure. Catch the scent of new grass, and violets in the air!

I can hear those fresh lambs bleating in the yard.

It’s the season of blossoms and babies.

But this morning, my gracious,

an April snowfall has come!

One expects rain in April, and a certain amount of hail, and an occasional all-destroying frost. After all, the plums are in bloom, which is reason enough for a freeze-to-kill night in these foothills.

But this gentle snowfall morning, who might have expected it?

Perhaps the nodding daffodils knew.

Published in: on April 7, 2011 at 1:53 pm  Comments (2)  

It’s Here! (Spring, I Mean)

Nothing speaks of spring like this:

Meet Penny Rose, the first lamb of the year. Isn’t she the perkiest thing you ever saw?

This is busy time for ewes, what with bearing and feeding and keeping track of youngsters. It’s suddenly a big responsibility for an animal accustomed to spending her time eating, lounging, and growing wool.

Here is Ida with her new twins, who immediately demand  feeding. Childbirth converts a lazy sheep into an attentive, conscientious mother who knows, from the first moment, what her new job is. Her voice changes. Her manner changes. She has this important thing to do now, and that’s all she is about.

Someone noted to me that this ewe mother has a lot of fleece on. Yes. While some shepherds shear just before lambing, I have always felt it puts unneeded stress onto a heavily pregnant ewe to set her on her butt and shear her. I do go in and give them a little haircut around the relevant areas, called “crutching,” to make sure the path is clear and the teats are available. I will shear later, when everyone has gotten over the excitement of lambing and new duties.

Meanwhile,

the daffodils are emerging from their winter’s sleep. Other than the sound of a lamb bleating, what can so strongly fill you with Spring as the scent of a Narcissus on the breeze? This is the Double Campernelle daffodil, a quite old variety, known in gardens from 1601.

And the Hellebores still nod, heavy and sensual,

nearly indecent with their fulsomeness. What floozies.

And what else?

We have had the Spring Fiber Sale, the first of the year’s gatherings of spinners, knitters, weavers and shepherds, the market days where we greet and exchange goods and envy. It’s been a long winter and we show off our work to one another.

See what can become of that woolly sheep when her fleece is cleaned and spun into fine yarn, worked by skilled hands into a pattern of lace?

This lovely shawl, seen at the Spring Fiber Sale, is done in the classic Shetland pattern known as “Old Shale” or, if you were a speaker of Shetland English some time ago, more probably “Old Shell” in meaning.

Here’s some winter’s work of my own,

done from handspun wool and knitted into a simple, thickly warm wrap.

And, speaking of spring, Sock Madness is underway! Sock Madness is the annual, March, sock knitting eliminations game, run online, on Ravelry – a knit and crochet community.

Here, for your enjoyment, are my completed Round 1 socks:

And my Round 2 socks:

I’m still in it. I await the Round 3 challenge…

Published in: on April 4, 2011 at 12:29 pm  Comments (4)  

An Autumn Congeries

Ah, the foul weather has come, and we are shuddering and building fires in the stove. We had our first snow last week, gone now and turned to mud in the yards.

But there are fine things going on anyway. The young ram is courting his ladies. And courting. And courting. Being he’s just a youngster, he seems assiduous enough in his amours. He’s fairly polite about it all. When the mood for love strikes, he sniffs the air for confirmation, and trots toward the lady of his desires. He bumps her gently on the hips. She steps away demurely. He’s sure by now, so he turns toward the action end of things. At first she may walk away from him. He follows. He reminds her he is there with an additional few nudges. By the time he decides to consummate things, they are in agreement over the matter, and she pauses, presents herself to him, and… it’s done. It takes longer to work out the deal than to perform the act.

Our woods are damp and chill. Across the road and along the path up the Butte, Fall is as good as its name, with foliage littering the way. The scent of autumn in the woods is earthy, moldy, tannic and fungal. It’s a good scent.

All our complaints through the long wet summer have given way to joy: the yield of mushrooms in the woods has been good this year. Here is the beautiful Chanterelle in its native home.

And here it is in my home:

In several collecting days we bagged around 15 pounds live weight. Done in the skillet, in their own nectar, packaged and frozen into serving-size portions, they will come out for later use as fresh as fresh.

The scattering of fungi all through the woods is a wonder to the eye. Here are puffballs, spent of their puffs and looking like chimney pots.

And here, you see, the fairies are back in the woods. This is where they have been a-dancing overnight in the woodlot.

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In the barn we have two litters of rabbits all warm in their nests. The doe pulls hair from her coat to make the softest nursery you can imagine. There are seven little ones in here, snuggled next to each another. Mom hops in and out with what seems like careless disregard for the babes in her way, but none seem to get smashed.

Here’s proof: that’s a tiny black rabbit in there.

They’re not into petting at this age. The little buggers are so wiggly and reluctant, it’s impossible to get a good photo of them.

Here are some 3 week-olds. Eyes open, they’ve come to the cute stage. Really, really cute. They fall over one another as if no one had bones or nerves.

They’ve trampled that beautiful nest into nothing, but by this age they snuggle for shared warmth, and that’s enough. Those rabbit skin coats they wear are remarkably warm. In summer, when they don’t want the insulation, their big ears serve as radiators.

These little ears require some growing before then.

And as I speak of warmth and weather, what better time is there to sit by the fire and work wool into garments? Here’s a beautiful batt of blended wool and silk, carded into color layers, ready to spin.

By selecting gobs (that’s a technical term of art) from different parts of the batt, spinning the varied colors, and then making a 2-ply yarn, the hues come and go through the yarn in partly intentional, partly unpredictable changes.

The passages of color are long enough to create broad bands in the knitted garment. Five balls like those above, make this:

Warm as a bunny’s butt.

Published in: on November 28, 2010 at 2:23 pm  Comments (2)  

Pretty Toes

As we are on the subject of mules, here’s a bit of the mule maintenance schedule.

As equines go, a mule is pretty easy keeping. He has good sense, believe it or not, and isn’t so prone to the ills associated with over-consumption as a horse is. For instance, a thirsty mule coming to water will drink: enough. Not more. He doesn’t tank himself so full he’s ready to erupt. He doesn’t indulge in rich foods to the point of distress. He’s smarter than some of us in that regard. He is wary on the ground and sure-footed so can be let to inhabit the Fourteen Acre Wood on his own. He reports in at the barn forecourt morning and evening (for feed treats to be sure, but it’s a schedule he keeps to reliably).

A few regular things need to be done to keep a mule healthy and happy. He needs West Nile shots a couple of times a year, worm medicine now and then, occasional currying to de-dust his coat… The latter is almost hopeless. Given a nice brushing, William will go at once to his dust wallow and repair the damage. His only pampering consists of provisional shelter in the worst of weather, shelter which he usually ignores in favor of standing outside to admire the landscape.

And his feet: a mule’s feet need tending every now and then. For this job, we engage a professional. Some folks do trim hooves on their own, but the possibility of doing real damage to him is greater than we want to risk. Like anybody, a mule wants his feet not to hurt him at the end of a long day. So today William had a pedicure.

Here we see his delicate digit before trimming:

He’s chipped on the edges, and a little overgrown. While long nails are fashionable among primate women and guitar players, they’re not considered good for equines.

The farrier comes with a tidy kit of tools for the job. They’re like nail and cuticle tools for us, but a little larger.

The treatment has its indulgent moments. What could be more like an afternoon at the parlor than this?

It also has its less dignified aspects. Sometimes you just have to make a mule give it up:

Notice that, though he looks like he’s manhandling the client, the farrier’s hands are relaxed. He really isn’t forcing much, even with a fairly stubborn critter in his grasp. That’s a confident embrace he has there.  You can’t hear him from here, but he keeps a constant, low-level conversation going: “Hey, mister. Let me in there. Whoa, buddy. Move over, big boy. Pick it up. Foot, mister. Give it to me. There we go. Thank you, mister.”

Here’s a look at a just-trimmed hoof, ready for filing. A nail job on William is much like one on yourself: you trim, then you make the edges nice.

It doesn’t take that long, at least between these two. Within half an hour William was standing on fine feet again. Here’s one, freshly done. It’s almost pretty enough to want enamel.

The farrier’s tools consisted of his leather apron, hoof nippers, a hoof pick, and rasps. William goes barefoot so all he required was a trimming. If he’d needed shoeing, the farrier would have had his iron-working kit, making up the scene you imagine with anvil and nails and hammers. Here are some of the farrier’s tools (the source of this illustration is http://eventingnation.com/home/classroom-1/):

1. Shoe puller or pincers                   5. Clincher

2. Hoof trimmers or nippers           6. Clinch cutter or buffer

3. Rasp                                                      7. Hoof knife or draw knife

4. Farrier’s Hammer                           8. Pritchel

The only really mysterious item here is  a Pritchel which, I find, is a punch. I love specialized tool names. The pritchel makes the holes in horse shoes, so of course I wouldn’t have seen it in use.

From the same source, here is a diagram of the bottom of a horse’s foot.

1. Heels                5. Sole

2. Cleft                 6. Wall

3. Bar                    7. Frog

4. White Line    8. Commissure

A mule’s foot is similar, though smaller overall, not as round, a little taller in proportion, and denser. The farrier needs to know the differences and take care to treat the mule as the individual he is.

As in all matters of personal grooming, a farrier and his client develop a certain intimate familiarity.

Published in: on August 15, 2010 at 2:39 pm  Comments (10)  

Poo

At last we are given permission to do some landscape repair! The big feet have finished tromping on the north-side border of the house, the various machines of construction have finished compacting the soil there, the piles of assorted cast-off but perhaps valuable materials have moved onto the parking area, the wall has been painted, and I heard the words, “Sure, you can put in some plants.”

Easy to say. Here is what they left us to work with:

Much as I have chafed and fretted for this day, it was not with a glad heart that I looked on the wreckage of soil north of the house. Was this topsoil? Bottomsoil? Upsidedown soil? Who could know? Given its red clay base and adobe-like qualities, we decided to launch right into renovation before planting. Nothing is as discouraging as a garden planted in poor soil, and nothing is as difficult as repairing it after planting. So we fetched up the tiller from the vegetable garden and went to work on a dirt cocktail.

What are your ingredients, ask the mixologists? They are some good manures and a dash of salt. The salt comes from your brow as you mix.

Here, for instance, is mule poo in its native environs:

William, our mule, is an able producer of this material.  Unlike horses, who drop their leavings wherever they happen to stand, a mule has a tidy way of arranging skeins of apples in latrine areas. It makes collecting so much easier! The quantity of product delivered is impressive. Here’s an illustration of the processor:

This year’s mule manure has an assertive grassy nose, with a background of barnyard, and a faint air of fungus underneath. Earthy and dark, its overtones are firmly equine, but the careful connoisseur will detect the difference: a mule is not a horse, nor is it a ass. This age-worthy product is unique and pleasing in its bouquet.

Furthermore, it’s full of little, partly digested-up grassy bits.

Aside from the usual components of fertilizers (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium: NPK), the grassy bits in equine manure are wonderful for soil texture. So, after we had raked off the surface gravel, and picked up the nails, screws, hunks of re-bar and other mysterious objects, we wheeled in barrow-loads of mule manure.

Here I am, delivering a measure of mule poo from our woods.

One at a time, barrow after barrow. I note: the house is uphill from the woods. The wheelbarrow is empty going down, loaded coming up. This is the wrong plan, but I’m not sure how to fix it.

Once sufficient jiggers of mule had been brought to the bed, we tilled it in. This is shaking and stirring all at once. We were cheered at the result. The rear-tine tiller breaks the manure apples and digs deeply. By the time we had finished, late in the day, the soil was looking lose and serviceable. The shovel sank to its shank with an easy push. We smiled at each other.

The cocktail is not finished, however. In the area where each major shrub will go, we bought in a shoveling of rabbit pellets. All manures are not alike, you must know. Rabbit manure is much higher in nitrogen than the mule manure, and is rich in phosphorus as well. The first is good for green growth, the second for flower formation. As it happens, we have a ready source of rabbit droppings.

Here is recent production, a sort of fumier nouveau for the discerning user.

It is entirely more assertive than the vintage we examined above. In the nose you will find a distinct aroma of ammonia. Some might call this an austere character, but its simple herbal sweetness refined by a grassy bouquet rescues it. As it is a nouveau, we expect a certain greenness, but rabbit is never harsh.

And there you have it. By the time we set the young rhododendrons in place as foundation plants to future development, the dash of salt had been thoroughly worked into the recipe. Dig well, improve tilth, provide nutrient, and irrigate deeply, and those rhodies should have a good start.

(There will be a hydrangea at the far end of the bed, but, frankly, we were too pooped to put another plant.)

Published in: on July 26, 2010 at 1:54 pm  Comments (10)  

Mid-Winter Observances

Here we are, more or less  half-way through to spring, waiting to see whether a rodent peeks out and perceives its shadow, and pretending to believe in the rodent’s effect on the length of winter. As February swings into view, we find ourselves a little desperate for clues to life outside the drabs of winter.

I see a few signs of wakening in the world. Here is the youngest of leaves, not yet unfurled, the very first sign of life in the

gooseberry cuttings made in early winter.

And these are narcissus bulbs pushing bravely into the chill.

Yellowcat finds the odd moment in the sun, though the sun is fugitive and unreliable:

It has always seemed illogical to me that the groundhog curses us with a long cold season if the weather on February 2 is fair, and conversely, if the day were foul, we might rejoice in the assurance that mild days will follow. Recently, however, I read an account of Imbolc, the ancient Celtic festivity that takes place (how coincidentally) at the same time as our silly Groundhog Day. Scratch a most minor holiday and you will often find a seasonal ritual behind it.

February: the gloomiest of months, it seems. Not yet spring, yet not quite winter still, it is gray, damp, and hopeless. It is the least favored of the months. Note that the beginning of February falls at the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Such a position in the calendar must be observed in some way. Give us a cause for frivolling! Let’s light some candles! Let’s see what the weather has in mind.

Imbolc is a festival of northern hemisphere agrarian people. No matter what the weather on the day of Imbolc, the fact is, the sun has done its sitting still for winter and is edging toward spring. In the hope of a fruitful season coming on, folks look for indications of the farm year to come. At home by the hearth, if indications are right, bright fires are indulged, and lights in the home. Traditionally, snakes come from their  holes on this day, and badgers from their burrows. And, just so, they may tell us what to expect in the next weeks.

As with our bastard version, Groundhog Day, the rule is, should the badger see his shadow (as to the snakes, I cannot say; are they tall enough to have a shadow on a day in February?), the oracle says winter will be another six weeks longer.

Is there sense in this? Only if you also know that on this day the Hag Cailleach comes out from her hut and has a look around. She intends to gather her firewood for the rest of the winter. I suppose it depends on her mood whether she decides on a long miserable season or a brief, hopeful one. If she favors extended misery, she’ll arrange a good day for wood gathering: a sunny imbolc day gives her plenty of time to bring in her stores before sunset. On the other hand, if she looks favorably on farmers and spring days, she won’t need so much wood to get her through, and the day might as well be gloomy and chill.

There you have it, my children. The truth of prediction based on groundhogs.

May your Groundhog Day be clouded and drear.

Published in: on January 31, 2010 at 9:54 pm  Comments (4)