Wednesday, August 31, 2016

For hope there must be imagination

photo by Amber Walker

There must be imagination...

 “I hope we find some bones.” (They did.)
“I hope we can dig this tree out of the ground.” (They did!)
“I hope we can find our way back to the house.” (They did.)

We have spent the summer playing with grandsons and we have had such a good time. Six years old, five and three, they play with chickens and lambs, cats and dog.  They run the fields, explore the woods. They build forts in the pasture from old branches. They do archeological digs where ever they find a piece of metal. They excavate rocks from the driveway using the hose and shovels. They strap on backpacks and take their lunches on adventures.
In addition to a week at the farm, their great grandma took them to see Pinocchio at the Children’s Theater, a version of Pinocchio that required a lot of imagination. The actors were all dressed as house painters, their scenery hung from construction scaffolds. The boys were entranced.  After the play we all went out for dessert.

“I hope we get ice cream.” (They did.) 

Across the street from the ice cream shop, was this wonderful piece of graffiti. For hope, there must be imagination.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Bridge to joy

My husband Dave built me a bridge for our anniversary, a simple hump backed bridge from our east hayfield, over the drainage ditch, to our prairie. To me, it's a bridge over a stream, a bridge from work to joy.

The hayfield is definitely work. It means worry about weeds . Will the thistles overtake the alfalfa?  Is the leafy spurge taking over? Is that shepherds purse or hoary alyssum? It means worry about the weather. When is the next rain predicted? Is the alfalfa dry yet? When can we start cutting hay? It means the absolutely exhausting work of baling.
Will we have extra help? Can we do it by ourselves? When is the next rain predicted? Will the tractor keep working, the haybine, the baler?

There is joy during baling - the blooms along the edges of the field as we  roll past on the hay wagon, the swallows that follow the baler scooping up insects suddenly deprived of their cover, the joy of night fall when we can't bale any longer and we get to lie down and not move for eight hours, and the biggest joy of lifting the last bale off the last wagon load and sitting down in the alfalfa leaf dust on the wagon, sweat running down our faces, through with baling for six whole weeks.

On the other hand, the prairie is all joy. When we converted 10 acres of hayfield to prairie it meant we had ten fewer acres of hay to bale. Our friends with prairies have assured us that the few remaining thistles will eventually give up and die. And every time we walk through the prairie, we find something new. Narrow deer trails wander seemingly aimlessly. Dried purple cone flower seed heads harbor blue bodied dragonflies. Bright green yarrow leaves force their way through last years dead grasses. A bobolink balances on a dried sunflower seed head, singing its heart out.

It's not that I hate baling, it has it's moments, but when I see that simple bridge from the hayfield to the prairie, I smile.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


We took lamb number 52 to the vet. He was old enough to get his vasectomy and become a permanent part of our flock as a teaser, the ram who was responsible for getting the ewes ready to get pregnant.

Our truck had had a close encounter with a wild turkey and was in at the shop having a new windshield installed the day of 52's appointment, so we transported him in the back of the car. Specifically, we transported him on Dave's lap. Number 52 was a bottle lamb. He was easy to catch and fairly easy to hold in the back seat (at least from my point of view). He didn't complain until I took the corner at the end of our road a little too fast, and that was just a small bleat.

Every one at the veterinary office was impressed by him. They slipped a leash around his neck and he followed them happily down the hall. Three hours later, after he recovered from his anesthetic, Dave picked him up and held him in his lap again. We stopped at our friends Budd, Marguerite, and Kate's house so that he could get some head rubs and scratches. There he sampled dandelions, yard grass and a few flowers.

"What's his name?" Kate asked. "If he's a permanent part of the flock, he has to have a name."

We all looked at Budd because he knew number 52 better than any of us having spent numerous hours bottle feeding him. "George," said Budd. "He looks like a George."

One more good bye scratch and then Dave, George and I climbed back into the car. George was about to meet his destiny. We opened the gate and let him into the ram pasture. Three huge rams ambled over to sniff him. George baaad. The rams turned aside. He was no threat to them. George wandered to the fence and gazed longingly at his friends back in the lamb pasture. "Baaa." He would be back with the ewes in three short months, but for now, he was bonding with the rams, learning what it took to be a George rather than just a number.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The first flowers

When spring comes, I search for flowers. I have to look hard to find the pasque flowers in the Lake Region Electric Coop prairie. Their buds are the same pale parchment color as the dried debris of last years prairie. If the old stalks hadn't been cut and raked, I wouldn't have seen the pale purple petals just inches off the ground.

The pasque flowers aren't flashy; they don't overwhelm you with bright color or scent or their vast numbers. It's the persistence of the plant, the fact that it forces its way up through ground just barely thawed, that impresses me. Any plant that blooms while the nights still freeze regularly and the days hover around 40 degrees must be a survivor. And yet, the pasque flowers just barely survive. They don't compete well with sod forming grasses. They need prairie grasses that grow in clumps, leaving space for the prairie flowers in between. They need the prairie grasses that emerge when conditions are warmer to allow the early spring sun to reach the pasque flowers, heating their patch of soil and building sugars in their roots.

Once the prairie grasses grow, the ephemerals like pasque flowers can't compete for light and they die back, conserving their energy for next spring when the soil warms and the fragile buds push their way up into the sunlight again in a pattern that will continue as long as there are prairies.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Our grandsons, five year old Kieran and three year old Simon helped me feed the lambs.  Two little boys against eight hungry lambs delighted everyone.

After feeding the lambs, we looked for new babies. It had been nine weeks since we had expected our first lamb; there was one ewe left. Dave an I knew that Empress was pregnant. Her udder was plumping up and her abdomen eventually spread outward into that distinctive pregnant sheep shape. She was an experienced mom, but we checked  every three hours, hoping to finally see her with a new lamb at her side. The boys found Empress in the barn lying in an open jug, straining. It was finally time.

I settled the boys in the corners of the pen behind her. Then I leaned against Empress and looked at her back end. "These are his feet." I touched each hoof as I spoke. "And this is his nose." The boys were probably completely confused, the hooves and nose were almost the same color - off white- and covered with a clear shiny membrane.

"I'm going to pull on his foot to help him come out." The boys nodded. Empress groaned.
"You're hurting her," Kieran said. Empress groaned again. "You're hurting her," Simon said.

"We have to get the baby out," I explained. "It's a big baby, so we have to help. It will hurt for a little while and then she'll feel better." I pulled down and out on one hoof.  I grabbed the second hoof and pulled. This was tighter. I eased the legs sideways, pulled. I slid my fingers behind the lamb's head, hoping to ease it out. Empress groaned again.

Then I felt the give as the lamb's head passed through the cervix. Yes! It was a big, big lamb. I dragged it out into the air and swiped my hand across it's mouth and head, clearing the membrane from its nose and mouth so it could breathe. The lamb didn't move. Empress didn't turn to look for him.

This lamb has to  live, I thought to myself. I can't have Kieran and Simon watch me deliver a dead lamb.

I shook the little body. No breaths.

I dropped it gently to the floor. No breaths.  But he did lift his head slightly. I set the lamb down and ran to the cabinet for towels. Then I began rubbing the lambs abdomen and chest, hard. After every couple of rubs I'd pause, watching for breaths.

A flutter. Then another. Yes! As the lamb began to breathe easily on its own, I handed the towels to the boys. "Rub him dry," I said. "He's a nice big, healthy lamb."

I checked Empress for another lamb but she was done. She struggled to her feet and turned to lick her baby. I clipped his umbilical cord, dipped it in iodine and then stripped the milk from Empresses teats, explaining to the boys as I worked.  Then Kieran filled a bucket of water for her. Simon dropped some hay into her pen. I tied the pen shut.

The boys both looked over the pen again before we left the barn. Empress' lamb was standing, nursing. Outside, the bottle lambs mobbed us, hoping for one more drink of milk.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Fresh snow

Dave and I lay in bed this morning admiring the fresh snow. "It always makes me feel like Christmas when the ground turns white," Dave said.
I agreed. "I always think maybe it will be a snow day and we won't be able to go anywhere."

Whether it was memories of Christmas or the thought of the illusory freedom of a snow day when all we can do is curl up and read while we watch the snow pile up foot after foot, we both jumped out of bed in great moods, ready to spend a day walking the paths in the sugar bush - collecting sap, cutting wood, splitting wood and feeding fires. Fresh snow in the spring always means the sap will rise in the maples at least one more day.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Monday morning fog

Monday morning fog. The trees fade into the distance and disappear. The bottle lambs do not appear. They're not out back; they're not in the barn. I set the bottles into a lambing pen and there are the bottle lambs, still in the pen into which we dropped them as they finished feeding last night to make feeding less insane. No wonder there are three ewes in the barn maaing for their babies.

When we finish feeding all eight lambs Dave takes a bucket of water to the rams and I feed and water Amy who lambed yesterday morning. The bottle lambs swirl around my ankles. I know from experience that they will follow me right to the pasture gate and that two of them are still small enough to fit through the wire grid on the gate.  Instead of the straight forward path, I sneak out the people door of the barn and run for the gate.

No baas of bottle lambs in pursuit. I climb the gate and walk the driveway toward Dave who is feeding the rams. He grins and gesture. Lamb number 76 has followed me through the gate after all. I return the lamb to the pasture and tie a hog panel across the gate with baling twine. The wire grid of the hog panels blocks the openings in the wire grid of the gate, but it also keeps me from climbing the gate.

I climb an interior fence to the feed area and then climb the stile, hoping to lose or at least confuse the lamb. She follows me into the feed area and stands at the bottom of our perimeter fence staring at me standing at the top of the ladder like stile. If I descend and start across the yard, the lamb will follow me because our perimeter fences have an even bigger wire grid than our gate.

I stand at the top of the stile hoping that the lamb will lose interest and wander off before I lose patience. "Go back through the barn." Dave shouts. Duh! Talk about early morning fog. I climb back down the stile, walk through the barn, leave by the people door, run across the barnyard, climb over the stile and am out of sight before number 76 stops looking for me in the barn. As long as  Dave is smarter than the lambs, we can still outwit them. The sun burns the fog away before our next feeding.