Thursday, October 25, 2007

Near miss -- and a loss

Last night I was in the basement when I heard a screeching bird. I wasn't even sure which type of bird -- chicken or turkey? I didn't think it was a duck or a goose though. It was definitely a bad sound, but I knew that by the time I got up the stairs and out the door, everything would be over. Luckily Katherine was closer to the situation.

It appears there was a scuffle in front of the barn. There were turkey feathers on the ground, and there was a very upset turkey hen sitting on the fence with only three tail feathers that looked "slobbery," according to Katherine. She also said there was a goose stuck in the fence. As she was freeing the goose, she saw something out of the corner of her eye run into the woods. I don't know what spooked it and caused it to give up on its turkey dinner, but I'm glad it decided to move on.

Two weeks ago, another goose wasn't so lucky. I was eating my breakfast, looking out the window at the pond, loving my idyllic view. Then in the glass of my china cabinet, I saw a reflection of something large and brown struggling with something white. I jumped up and ran to the dining room door in time to see a coyote dragging off a goose. I threw open the door and started screaming. I heard a scream coming from an upstairs window, and a moment later, Katherine was on the deck with me. She informed me that she was going after it. Mike and I have both tried to track coyotes with prey and have had no luck, so it seemed pointless to me. I felt defeated.

After 15 or 20 minutes, Katherine emerged from the woods carrying the goose. It was easy to tell that it was quite dead. Its long neck was hanging down from her arms. I wasn't sure if I was happy or not. The goose was dead, and there was still a hungry coyote in the woods.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Long night

I felt like a slug, sliding out of bed at 8:30 this morning, but I'd only had about five hours of sleep at that point. My body ached. Was it a hangover, or did a truck run over me while I was sleeping? Neither. I'm one of those people who needs her eight hours every night. Last night, I was awakened by our barking dog and yipping coyotes around 1:30. Just as I was about to fall back asleep, they started up again. Then at 3:30 a howl sounded like one was right outside our bedroom window. I shrieked and was on my feet running for the window before my brain could even register what my body was doing. With only half a moon lighting up the landscape, I couldn't see much, and I didn't see the coyotes. My husband was on his way down the stairs and out the back door.

Shoving open the window, I realized there were two packs of coyotes. The loudest ones were just to the east of the pond, and they seemed to be competing with a pack to the southwest and a bit farther from our house. That's the direction of the goats that are across the creek. They're being guarded by the donkey who tangled with coyotes a month ago. How could I go to sleep with all of that racing through my mind? I was also thinking about finding the sheep to the east side of the pond two nights ago -- and hoping they'd had the good sense to stay in their pasture last night.

At 8:30 this morning, my husband called from work to wake me up. Margaret answered the phone, and he asked her to go check on the sheep before waking me. Luckily, she was able to report that they were all safely in their pasture.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Life on the farm is slowing down. It usually slows down this time of year because the weather forces us inside, but this year, the weather has been unseasonably warm. We've tried to keep pushing ourselves to do all the things we want to do, like building a potting shed. It is just not happening. We're tired. I am beginning to understand the wisdom of the seasons. We work, then we hibernate. Even though the climate is changing, we're not. We still need our rest, our hibernation. It's hard to explain how it feels to keep trying to push ourselves. Somehow our bodies or our subconscious minds just know that the working season is past.

The leaves are finally starting to change. Normally they change much earlier. The first week of October is usually a beautiful golden, red, and yellow display of color in the woods. Here we are, almost three weeks past that time, and we are starting to get a few brownish-yellow leaves on the hickory trees. The leaves on the oak trees are still green. A couple weeks ago, temperatures were hitting 90 degrees, and this weekend is supposed to be in the upper 70s again. We still haven't had a freeze. The part of me that loves fresh food from the garden is happy about that, but I know there is a much bigger picture here. Climate change is happening, and I'm seeing it on my own little piece of the earth. Every year our pond is frozen for fewer days, but seeing the change in fall foliage is more startling.

The drought has also caused problems. Our hay field pretty much died. At least everything useful died. It is now filling up with weeds. If it had a good fence around it, it would be a perfect place to put goats. They love weeds! But there is an old rusty barbed wire fence around it, so it's worthless as a pasture. The price of hay has gone up, but I should consider myself lucky that I was able to find grass for $3 a bale and alfalfa for $4 a bale. More than one person told me that they've heard of $6-7 a bale. Just a few years ago, it was $2 a bale for alfalfa.

A couple days ago we got our second rain in six weeks. Remember, six weeks ago we had two floods in one week -- or was it eight weeks ago?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Centuries collide

Today would have been a great day if I didn't live in the 21st century and if my only obligations were on this farm. I made cheese yesterday, which of course, migrated into today, because it has to drain overnight. Then this morning, I blanched and froze nine pounds of tomatoes. It was when I started making soap that the day turned to ...

My first batch of soap seized, and it was totally my fault. For the non-soapmakers out there, seizing is like winding up with mashed potatoes when you want pudding. Imagine trying to get thick mashed potatoes into a mold. Doesn't work. You need a pudding consistency to pour into molds. Mashed potatoes don't pour. So, how did I wind up in self-deprecating pity and angst? I was trying to teach my youngest how to make soap, and I should have been paying closer attention. She got the oils so hot that we should not have been using them to make soap. But after an hour, the oils were still 120 degrees, and I was impatient. Using the fragrance oil that I was using, I knew that I should not start mixing until the oils were down to 100 degrees, but the day was wearing on, and I started mixing. As predicted, I had mashed potatoes in no time. I was freaking out. Katherine asked me what to do, and I said that I had never had this happen so badly before. The soap was hardening in the pot! I had read about rebatching, but I've never done it -- and it's probably been three or four years since I read about it. But I added a cup of water to the pot and put it on stove. In no time, I had a soupy consistency of soap. Katherine stirred for a few minutes, and we poured it into molds. It will be interesting to see what we wind up with.

For the second batch (plan was to make four batches today), I got all the oils measured and melted except the olive oil, and I got the milk measured. When I went to weigh the lye, the scale stopped working. I thought it was the battery, but I put a new battery in there, and it still didn't work. I saw water in the display, and upon further investigation, I discovered that Jonathan had WASHED the digital scale. It's kind of amazing that it worked at all. So, I am stuck with a bunch of mixed up oils that are now getting hard.

I had a long list of things to do today, including farm chores and school assignments, as well as grading for the classes I'm teaching. I was so excited about the prospect of today. I thought it was going to be one of those days that ended with a huge feeling of accomplishment. Instead, I'm just frustrated. And as I'm typing, I hear the coyotes howling outside. I thought that was yesterday's news, but I am starting to wonder if they'll ever leave.


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