“Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.” William Jennings Bryan

Saturday, May 30, 2015

May 30, 2014





I am not sure what a good memory is supposed to be.

My father passed away recently and friends have said to me that though he’s gone now, I will always have good memories.

I remember a lot of things about my dad. He wasn’t the dad like the ones I saw on tv that always had advice and nice clothes and a big car with tail fins who, in any situation, seemed to always end up on the right side of things, carrying everyone along with him. No, my dad had his faults. Sometimes those faults were the best part of him. Struggling at times just like everyone else, he was human. I think that, although maybe not a memory per se, it describes how I remember him.

He was like a cup- he never leaked, but he could be spilled…

He was human.

He did a lot of things most dads do with his kids…he went to work early and came home late from a job he sometimes didn’t like, put up a basketball hoop for us, gave us chores, yelled at us, took us to see the Pirates every summer, saved enough money to take us to Virginia Beach for a string of summers, made us mow the lawn, had us get jobs as teenagers, taught us to drive a car with a clutch, bought each of us a bicycle or two, chipped in to pay for some of our college, never told anyone of us that he wished we’d  become dentist’s or doctors or rocket scientists but let us mostly  figure out what we’d become by ourselves even if he wasn’t too sure of the path we chose, threw a baseball to us, and was strict with some things while giving in to other things. In general, he was just another dad blended in with all the other dads of the world doing the best he could with who he was and who we were.

Oh, he had a few sayings we’d always remember…”What are you, stupid?” sure we were, what kid isn’t at times. “Get your butts down here”, meaning come out of your rooms and down the stairs where he was waiting to either lecture us or give us good news – we could never tell until he began to speak. “Christ on a crutch”, whatever that meant I never quite figured out (ok, he wasn’t a church goer). And the ultimate ultimatum,” Go out side and play”, which in other words, was a way to say “get out of my hair”, I need a break.

And we always had enough freedom, but there were limits too. We could always use the car but it had better be in the driveway at 11:00 pm, filled with gas, and not smell like beer (although it sometimes did and he let it go)… "Sure, go out with your friends and have fun, as long as the lawn is mowed, front and back"…"you can play baseball in the front yard and tear it up as much as you want, but you better not hit the house with the ball or I’ll…."

My dad was a regular dad.

In three weeks I can’t think of every thing that we shared, good and/or bad, over the last 57 years. It’s going to take some time, and some things will stay forgotten I am sure. A lot happens in 57 years. And some things that I have forgotten, my mom or one of my brothers or my sister will remember, so collectively, most memories can be joined together for a more complete story. Those memories may not all be in one place, but they are all there.

Last night I was thinking about my dad…I was at a small concert featuring an oldie but goodie – Leon Russell. Not anyone I had paid attention to back in the day, nor do I now, but it was a night out and so my wife and I and two friends went to the theater and saw his show. He’s 74 now, and hobbled out with help of his cane from stage right and sat at his piano where he suddenly became a twenty-something again. Maybe it was the memories of the songs from my growing up years that he played, or maybe it was just because this was the first few hours I had to myself since that last hospice day in Dubois, and under the cover of rock and roll piano, I was able to be alone enough to wander aimlessly in my head. Through every song, I thought of my dad.

What I kept thinking about was one thing –Saturday and Sunday mornings as a young kid. Every Saturday morning he would pile us boys in the station wagon and haul us down “the pike” either to the YMCA or to Kennedy’s barbershop. One week it was the “Y”, and the next week it was Kennedy’s. Medicine ball one week and a hair cut the next – the “Princeton” style. At Kennedy’s someone would go next door to the Villa restaurant and get us Shirley Temples for a reason that I don’t know, but it was a tradition nonetheless. Then every Sunday morning, he would make us kids pancakes while mom slept in. He’d make them from scratch and if he was in the mood, he’d make animal pancakes. He’d ask what animal we wanted and he’d pour the mix here and there for a body, a leg, a tail, and a head. Between his imagination and ours, the pancake would come out to be the animal of our choice. Over time, animal pancakes became his trademark - to us, our cousins, his grandchildren, and his great grandchildren.

But it really isn’t the medicine ball, haircuts, or pancakes that I was focusing on last night. It was the fact that these were the times that he saved each week to spend time with us kids. He gave us time. He gave us his time. Time that he will never be able to give to us again. And time I will never be able to give back.

What is that good memory I keep asking myself…what is that defining, cover every base memory that I am supposed to have? When we talked about my dad’s passing the other day, my doctor said I don’t have to have one. I quit trying for that special one. It’s better this way, because one thing can never define my dad. There are too many things.

As time goes on, I am sure I will remember many, many more of these things.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

March 14, 2015

(Began to write this on March 8, then continued through the week, mostly unedited)

Today marks daylight savings time and it is barely two weeks until the first day of spring – the spring equinox, when the earth is basically straight towards the sun and the time of day and night are approximately the same. From then on the days will grow longer until the “first day of summer” or the summer solstice, when the earth is tilted as far forward as it will, and then the days begin to shorten as it leans back away from the sun. We are told hat daylight savings time gives us an extra hour of daylight. Daylight savings time has nothing to do with the length of the day, although it might seem that way due to the shift in hours. DST only gives us a sense of control. All for nothing.

With the coming of spring come a lot of thoughts.

This has been a tough winter season with record cold temperatures and the continuance of higher that average precipitation. The ground began to get saturated back in November and is still waterlogged. With the coming of spring and warmer temperatures, the trees and grasses and other plants will begin taking up this extra moisture, and along with evaporation, the soils will become workable again. For that we still need to endure what is historically a rainy March.

The cold wasn’t a big deal, at least for me. It does make taking care of the animals and  doing other outside responsibilities more challenging at times, but it doesn’t really change much. Banging ice out of buckets is the biggest challenge, and the animals do require more feed and hay to keep warm. Its just more trips to the pens and barns, but it’s also an excuse to spend more time with the animals!

The worst that happened this winter was Pat’s diagnosis of DSLD – degenerative suspensory ligament disease. I described it in the last post so I don’t need to go into details again, except to say that so far all the  treatments, hoof trimming, and extra care has proven successful. Pat is moving considerably well and he doesn’t seem in pain. He spends most of the day on his feet, rather than laying down. Through January, he had to lie down for an hour for each hour he was up, but now he only lies down occasionally which is more  normal. Some days are not as good as others, but these “off” days are not as often. With growing improvement and stability, our hopes are growing that he will be pasture sound and enjoy quality of life for a long time to come.

For a time, I thought my three hives would survive the winter, yet it didn’t quite work out that way. One hive died off early in January before things got harsh – I think the bees just left at the last minute. The hive was full of bees and honey stores in late December. When I took apart the dead hive, the honey was all there but there were only a few hundred dead bees. I have no clue what happened to the thousands that were there weeks before it collapsed. Something made them leave.

The other hive I lost was very recently. It was a weaker hive and I didn’t think it had a chance to get through the winter in the first place, but since it was still going in mid February, my hopes were high that it could. A week after checking on it and feeling pretty confident, I found it dead. I think when we had a warm day that week, the ball disbanded and the bees spread through the hive. We then got an arctic blast and the bees, separated, didn’t get back into a cluster in time to keep themselves warm, so froze. I think this because of the weather, and when I cleaned out the dead hive, dead bees were on every frame, scattered randomly, rather than in a cluster.

I have one hive left…and I am keeping my fingers crossed that it will get through the next few weeks. I checked it today and it looked ok, but I have learned that appearances don’t always translate well, especially with honey bees.

Lately I have been seeing bald eagles over the farm and gliding to the north over the Tuckahoe River. They have been too far away or circling too high for my lens to get a good shot, but there is no mistaking the wing silhouette and the flash of white head and tail. Last year the state confirmed a nesting site a mile from here and maybe the two great birds that I am seeing almost daily is that breeding pair.

There has also been a Coopers Hawk hunting along the wood lines along the farm borders for the past few months. The other day I was lucky enough to see the hawk waiting on a low branch for a mouse to pass underneath, and then rocket downward, talons stretched, to take it. The hawk took a few seconds to clutch it tightly and then took off to a tall red pine further back in the wood lot to eat. There have also been red tails and sharp shinned hawks around, but as of yet I have only seen them passing over, but not stopping by to hunt here.

I think that this coming weekend I will begin planting cool weather crops in the hoop house – arugula, radishes, lettuces, and maybe some early kale. For me, putting my hands in the soil for the first time in the new year is the first sign of the coming spring and the solstice...dst really means nothing to me.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

January 27, 2015





Prayers for Patrick…

It’s been a solemn here at the farm, and to say we that are heart broken doesn’t even begin to describe our emotions. Recently, Pat went lame, and since has been diagnosed with DSLD - an incurable, inherited, disease of certain horse breeds that causes the breakdown of tendons and ligaments throughout the entire body, showing first as hind or front leg lameness. Unfortunately, it is not a survivable disease, but in some cases, it can be managed for a long time. Each horse is different, and some live on for days or months, while others can hold on comfortably for years.

In Pat’s case, our veterinarian decided to forgo western medicine and began treating his whole body rather than the just the pain– she feels that managing the pain with drugs does not help the body fight the disease, but if she treats the body so that it fights the disease, that in itself will relieve the pain and allow him a longer, comfortable life. With this in mind, she immediately put him on gut buffers, nutrients, etc, and a rice bran/ linseed meal feed mix (she plans to add canola to it soon) - no grain, no sugar, no meds. She also started chiropractic sessions and is working with our farrier on his hooves to move his toes back. She also recommended giving him as much turnout as possible, saying that “movement is life”.

Because there is no cure, what we are working for is to keep him moving and out of pain for as long as possible. Our hopes for him are optimistic but guarded…he has been doing well since the treatment plan started (with the understanding that the damage already done can’t be repaired), yet there is no way of knowing if, or how long, this might continue. We have made the decision that we won’t let him suffer, live without dignity, or without quality of life. Sadly, we know that we will have to act on this decision some time in the future. With DSLD, all time is borrowed. All time is a gift.

Many of you may know Pat from visits to the farm, through the blog, or from posts I’ve made on face book. Pat has always been the horse our friends are drawn to first when they come to see the farm. He has always been the most outgoing, laid back, and friendliest. Some of you may have had the chance to ride him. Some of you may have even gotten ‘lipped” by Pat, as he has always greeted people by working his lips across their hand to say “hello”…and if you were brave enough to lean in with your lips, you most likely got kissed. Even now, I can lean in and get a kiss anytime, every time.

It doesn’t seem possible that this horse, who is the leader of our small herd, the youngest, and the gentlest, could be struck so hard and so fast. It doesn’t seem fair at all. It is said that everything happens for a reason…and I have to believe that it is true, even if I don’t see it or understand it now.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December 31, 2014



For this last post of 2014 I came up with the idea to post one picture that I took during each month of this year. These twelve (of over 4,300!) aren’t necessarily the best shots (technically or artistically) that I took this year, but these are ones that stuck with me for one reason or another - mostly because they defined a moment that was in some way special to me, like of Louie standing in the rain looking as if he ruled the world on that day, or the frog that was swimming in the pool with my cousin Sara, or taking an afternoon walk with my wife down the railroad tracks leading out of Tuckahoe-  these photographs are all of moments that I was caught up in, rather than ones I was chasing after. 

(Ps. Clicking on the photo will enlarge it )


January   

February

March

April   

May

June

July

August

September

October

November


December

I wish you all a Happy and Healthy 2015! 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

November 9, 2014



When we first moved out to the farm we’d see deer in the back field along the woods line almost daily. It was so common that I began to give them names based on some characteristic so that I could tell which herd had come. There were about three small herds that would come through, each here a few days, then moving on. A few days after a herd left, another would show. Once in a while we spotted a buck among the does, but not very often; never a trophy – usually a button buck up to a four point, and once, a decent sized six point.

They never became a problem. They stayed out of the hay shelter and the garden / CSA field. Mostly they stayed along the edges and grazed the grasses. Sometimes at night they’d come up to the house and nibble down some hosta plants, but it didn’t bother us much. Growing up on a hillside above a small town, the deer reminded me of the ones that came into our backyard in the early foggy morning. As I was getting ready for school, I’d watch from the kitchen window as they nibbled away at our peach trees. That sentimentality was still with me.

And then, without any apparent reason, they all disappeared. At first we thought the hunters may have scattered them, and because in the woods behind us, poaching is common, maybe they either were thinned out or scared out permanently. It is not uncommon to hear gun shots year long, mostly in the mornings and early evenings. A few times over the years our local town “newspaper” carried a story about different families that never go to the grocery store, but grow and hunt their own. I knew one of the families, and their freezer wasn’t very big. It all added up to everyone but the authorities….we always laughed it off.

One evening at an event, I was sitting with a local, seasoned hunter/ trapper who knew the wooded area behind our farm and I told him that for years now I have hardly ever seen a deer, and the herds have disappeared. He told me it wasn’t hunting or poaching, but a virus, which later I found to be called epizootic hemorrhagic disease, which was killing off many of the deer in our area. The state had confirmed a localized outbreak in Tuckahoe, and since there are no curative measures, it would have to run its course. He assured me that the deer population would rebuild itself over the years, and the grocery stores would not be so crowded.

This spring the deer came back. We first noticed a doe and two spotted fawns in the little field off to the side of our house, and not long after, another few does and fawns joined them. Ever since, we have seen this herd almost daily either in the back field, the back yard, or the field beside our place. Over the summer the fawns out grew their spots and their coats turned bronze, and now to winter grey. We also noticed that one of the deer in the group was a young, skittish button buck.

On the east side of the back field there is a fenced in area where I once grew strawberries, but is now taken over with white clover. I never mowed it down, but let it grow high. The deer easily jump the fence and I often see them in there grazing the clover in the late afternoon and early evening.

But this new herd, unlike those that came years ago, found my garden and CSA field too tempting. Late at night they have jumped that fence too, and the past month they have eaten two rows of strawberries, the tomatillo plants, and have left the pepper plants leafless – empty green sticks pointing to the sky. Luckily it is at the seasons end, and I can handle the losses. I covered the strawberry plants for the winter (a few weeks early)  to protect what is left of them. Over the winter and before next spring, I will need to figure out a way to keep the deer out, as I am afraid they will leave me with nothing left to sell. I am not sure if a higher fence will do. I rather doubt it, as they can jump almost anything, even from the standing position. They can go straight up and fly forward seemingly without hesitation or any extra effort.

All in all, and even though they are beginning to cause me some trouble (this morning they were eating the last of the leaves from my apple trees!), it’s good to see them around again. It’s not a good feeling when any kind of wildlife disappears.






Sunday, October 12, 2014

October 12, 2014




I took this picture a little while ago and have since watched these same chickens follow Lou through the pasture almost every day, circling his head, sometimes staying close on his blind side, and snatching bugs that are stirred from the grass as he sweeps his mouth side to side, tearing off the green blades.

At first I thought the chickens, being so small compared to Lou, were a bit daring to be near him. Only weighing a few pounds, unseen on his left side, and simply one step away from eleven hundred pounds, they were taking a chance. Now I am not so sure.

Lou doesn’t mind the chickens coming near him like Pats or Zips do. Zips especially will lower his nose to their level and chase them, as if he’s the ball and the chickens are the pins - we call it chicken bowling. On the other hand, Pat will stomp a foot a few times to warn them not to come near. It’s as if these two are protecting their territory and are never in the mood to “share the grass”. Lou doesn’t care how close they come to him and maybe there is good reason.

I think that the chickens offer Lou some protection on his blind side. If something were to come up on his left, the chickens would most likely alert him naturally by scattering or clucking. We don’t have horse predators here, but Zips and Pats sometime like to chase Lou for fun since he’s older and half sighted, making him the beta of the herd. I don’t doubt that Lou has learned that when the chickens start to scramble, one of the other horses, or maybe something else, is coming up on his blind side.

On the other hand, I think that the chickens have come to trust Lou, sensing he isn’t likely to stomp at them or take up chicken bowling, and besides scattering bugs, Lou is a shield and shelter from scavenging hawks looking for easy pickings.

Thinking of it in these terms, I discarded the idea that their relationship is a coincidence. I am beginning to think of it as a natural relationship benefiting them all, whether they are conscious of it or not.