Monday, October 21, 2013
We call it Louie’s worry path. It’s a short path along the paddock fence that runs between the pasture fence and the stable. Louie has made and remade the path over and over again hundreds of times, whether the ground has been muddy, dry, or covered in snow. Sometimes the path is parallel with the paddock fence, while other times it slightly curves along the firmer, drier shores around rain softened ground. I don’t recall any time that some form of the path has not existed. Or that I have seen a day that Lou hasn’t walked or trotted it, gracefully pirouetting at each end and heading back the other way.
I am not so sure if it’s the right descriptive to call it his worry path, but we still do. Lou will walk or trot it when he’s excited to see us, anxiously waiting to be fed, or while playfully tossing his head at Zippy or Pat. My heart always lifts when I begin walking to the stable and suddenly Lou will turn from where he is nibbling grass in his paddock, and begin trotting the path with his tail flagging, and calling to me, happy that I am coming to see him….But there are times when he quietly and slowly trudges along his path with head down, as if he is in some deep train of thought or practicing some form of mindfulness, giving us reason to call it “Lou’s worry path.” Just like Pat waiting at the fence for one of us to kiss his nose, or Zippy sliding his bared teeth across his stable door bar to say “I’m here!” Lou’s path has become his brand, his trademark. It is a part of his personality, a part of his identity.
But lately Lou’s worry path has been ours.
Lou has given us a lot of worries this year. Losing his eye, contracting lymes disease and erchlichia, and then two weeks ago, he scared us with a bout of colic, which in a horse, can be fatal.
We recognized that Lou wasn’t feeling well right away and called the vet. She was on her way to another emergency colic about an hour away, and after she finished there (successfully!), she came out to see Lou. Lou had stopped eating and drinking, his breathe was heaving, his head hung low, and his eye had no sparkle... and the huge masses of muscle that hug his hips were sagging and too weak to hold him steady.
The vet worked on him for hours – working over his intestines, pumping his stomach out and pumping back in fluids and electrolytes, giving him antibiotics, and a good dose of banimine to soothe his pains. Lou was almost too weak to resist any treatments, but had a look of trust in his eye, and he let Kath and I hold him by his halter as he resigned to the tubes being pushed up through his nose and threaded down into to his stomach, the resulting nosebleed, and all the discomfort that must have been coursing throughout every part his body….
After all was done, and Lou was back in his stall, we all sank to the stable floor exhausted. The vet sat down a bit opposite of me and began writing up the records of what had just been done. I turned on my phone and started up Pandora. A song by the Fleet Foxes played and the vet looked up, recognizing the sound, and said it was one of her favorite songs. The moment brought us all to a sense of some normalcy…the tension lifted and each of us sighed.
It was a long night that night, walking out to the stable every few hours to check on Lou, knowing that we could as well find him on his feet as well as on the ground. Each walk to the stable was filled with hesitancy and hopefulness, yet each time, he was on his feet…
It took a couple of days of careful feeding and keeping him hydrated before he started coming around, and another week of slowly reintroducing him to his regular feed and pasture schedule before we really knew that he was, and would be, ok.
Once again, we dodged a bullet. The old guy came through…
I know that Louie has a guardian angel watching over him. Most times I think he has more than one, and they all walk with him on his worry path. It is a path we have all come to share – the good and the bad. This morning he was standing still on his trodden piece of ground, napping peacefully, with the warm sunlight lying across his back…I felt grateful to have this day, having had another reminder not to take another day for granted.
Monday, September 30, 2013
Sometime in late June I stop mowing the small field behind the house and simply let nature take its course.
At first the grasses just grow high while the sedges surge even higher and tower like little skyscrapers over all else. Throughout July it ages and looks like a chaotic mess of weeds and bent over grasses, which would send most other people to the Home Depot for a cart full of tasty herbicides and a new riding mower. But I just let it go…
…and by September, as if it happened in a single moment, the field explodes in white with heath aster, a native, woody, wildflower. It grows not just in the field, but along the fence rows, the wood lines, and almost anywhere that isn’t kept mowed.
Its hard to track all the insects that I find on its flowers, or hiding in its canopy – grass hoppers, moths and butterflies, praying mantis, native bees including the mason and bumble bees, and its hugely popular with my honey bees. At times, the entire plant is softly shaking with the traffic of so many insects visiting it at one time. The other evening on one plant I stopped trying to count the honey bees that were flying from flower to flower as there were just too many.
As I had written last spring, I think that too many fields and wild areas are gone, cut down, or sprayed to death, and for those reasons there are not enough wild flowers to support healthy populations of honey bees, native pollinators, or the hundreds of other insect species that rely on pollen and/or nectar for food. I have to wonder where all these insects that are visiting these asters would go to feed or hunt if I had cut them all down to keep “appearances”. I think they just wouldn’t be, or at least, there wouldn’t be as many.
And then I wonder, how many more insects could be sustained if I had given my whole property over to nature? It comes down to the point that doing anything, even just a little, is better than doing nothing at all.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
Fall is coming…each morning as I walk out to the stable, I see that Orion has inched up over the eastern tree line just a bit more. The horses and goats are growing out thicker coats, getting ready for cooler days. Sour gums are showing small, hanging berries and red leaves, and the sassafras leaves are turning yellow at the lobes. Evening’s light is growing shorter, while the morning’s darkness lingers on long past my awakening.
I love this time of year. It’s all of subtle changes….and it brings sentimentality to the summers end and I think back…
A fallow year on the farm…Lou’s eye and Lymes disease…seven new chicks…harvesting honey…bluebirds and grackles…rain, and more rain…mud…digging potatoes…broken ribs…Martha.…strawberries…poison ivy and chiggers… baby sitting a friend’s chicken flock…pulling garlic…first time riding English style, leaving my western boots at home…Lou ambling over to hang his head on my shoulder, as close to a hug as can be…waiting for Cherokee Purples to ripen…discovering the Stable Song by Gregory Alan Isakov, a farmer/ musician…Zero 7…Margot….our vet, Tanya, coming to the barn at 11pm for Lou, more than once…Paddy waiting for me at the fence corner each morning…losing my religion…peas and eggplants out growing the hoop house…first summer without any kids at home…a rained out concert…letting the back yard grow into a meadow…watching kids that visited touch a horses nose for the first time…Topsy…Zip running laps in the pasture, kicking his heels at the wind…friends who showed up just when I needed to break out of my silence.
Overall, it was a good summer, but I am looking forward to fall’s slower pace and maybe, if I am lucky, napping in the hammock for an afternoon.
Monday, July 29, 2013
Sex in the hoop house hasn’t been so great. I thought it would be, and I thought it would be really fun, but that’s just another one of those fantasies that come true in friends drunken stories and in books and magazines but not so much in real life, or especially at least in my real life. It’s been so bad I had to ask for advice, search the internet, and do some experimenting. Its embarrassing for someone like me who usually takes it for granted, but at times, not everything goes as easily as planned, and at my age, it gets a bit frustrating.
The problem is getting the pollen to the stigma. The eggplant and the tomatoes just don’t get it, or just can’t get it right. Although the plants are huge and full of flowers, there hasn’t been any developing fruit.
Tomatoes and eggplants don’t necessarily need bees to pollinate them. They don't need a match maker. They are considered self pollinating since each flower has both male and female parts; pollen doesn’t have to be carried from a male flower to a female flower. Mostly they rely on air and a little wind, and insects and bees to a lesser extent. Last year when I did my first hoop house tomatoes there wasn’t any problem at all- I set up a fan to keep a breeze on them that gently swayed the flowers back and forth enough to dislodge the pollen from the anthers so it would land on the stigma for the trip to the ovaries, and I was happy with the amount of tomatoes I harvested, but this summer, the fan isn’t doing the trick at all.
Stacy gave me some advice – she told me to try a brush and to pollinate the flowers myself – going to each flower and brush the pollen from the anthers to the stigma. I would be an artificial wind and/ or artificial bee (lets forget I have 100,000 or so honey bees hived a few hundred yards away that could do this for me through all the vented openings) ….so I found a soft makeup brush in my daughter's leftover things (when kids leave the nest they leave you with all sorts of stuff that looks like junk until you need it, then its sorta not like junk anymore) and I began the process of brushing each eggplant flower. All of them. And every day. Or at least every day that I could and can, just adding another hour job to my day!
It seems to be working a little bit as I do have a few pregnant eggplants, although there are not as many as there probably would be if the plants were outside, according to my past experiences. Sex out doors is definitely better!
Brushes don’t necessarily work for tomatoes because of their flower structure. The flower needs to be
It’s interesting though because I also have pepper plants in the hoop house which are also self pollinating and with no help from me, are producing a good amount of peppers. So why just them? I don’t have an answer. They aren't inhibited and like sex anywhere?
I did read that temperature and humidity are the keys to germination. At high temperatures, tomatoes, etc don’t release pollen. With high humidity, the pollen sticks to the anther and can’t be released. This environment has happened in the hoop house often this summer and I am thinking that maybe I need more ventilation than what I already have. Or maybe after the apex of summer weather passes, these environmental conditions may get more favorable.
Or maybe I don't have the music right to get these flowers in the mood and need to change to another Pandora channel - I hope to God it isn't country music that get's em turned on cause I wont do it. They will just have to like Aexi Murdoch and Zero 7 for now.
I think though, the real challenge to all this hoop house libido is to make the inside more like the outside while keeping it inside. I am confused too.
Its all relative. In the hoop house there are no huge insect populations, nor is there fungus or blights. I can control watering, etc so these plants are the healthiest things I have ever grown, while outside the same plants are weaker and are already showing signs of blight and insect damage and overall are not as healthy. They do have fruit though, but I don’t know for how much longer or how good they will be with all the rain and heat we have been having. Its a trade off now, but in the long run I think the hoop house will still be the better way to get a perfect harvest.
I think that I will eventually get this hoop house sex thing figured out. I think that in time, all the work and the frustration will reward me. And if not, well, it has been fun trying. Like some therapists say, “you don’t necessarily have to be good at it to enjoy it”. That's the way I feel about farming too.
Monday, June 24, 2013
I have been doing my best these last six months or so to get some half decent shots of our horse’s eyes to do a photo series. I don’t think that I have yet to, or ever will, capture what I think will be a photograph that shows all the meaning I see in a horse’s eye. I think it is only possible to come close, but never close enough.
I think there is something special about a horse’s eye that sets it apart from any other animal. To me, a horse’s eye shows a deepness, a spiritual wisdom, and when calm, an indescribable peacefulness. It is mystic…a horse’s eye can draw you into the horse’s being and outside of your own…
I included a shot of Lou’s orbit … he may have lost the eye, but within the recess and the surrounding rim there is still so much expression. It seems that he can still sense the world from that side as if it were seeable. The skin wrinkles with excitement, curiosity and happiness, and relaxes when the world is still and he is contented. It is still his eye…just a different form and just as reactive.
This series will always be a work in progress, so please don’t judge it as an end…I am going to keep trying!
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Nature is rarely kind.
I put up a bluebird house on my raspberry support end pole sometime in early March and was happy to see a pair of bluebirds take up residence in it in early April. I spend a lot of time near the birdhouse as it’s near the garden, the hoop houses, and the compost area – places I am constantly moving in and out of and working in.
A Sunday morning just a few weeks ago I leaned up against the hoophouse and watched and photographed the bluebird couple diving into the garden for bits of straw for nest building, and taking the pieces back to the house. Since then I have watched the pair going in and out of the house, perching on nearby fence posts, and fluttering over the back field where Lou grazes.
Late yesterday afternoon when I went out to the hoop house, two starlings were perched on top of the bluebird house as if guarding it. I shooed them away and when I looked down, I saw the mother bluebird on the ground, life having passed away from her as she must have been doing all she could to defend her nest. I checked inside the box and in the nest were 5 blue eggs.
It was one of those moments that left me feeling somewhat empty. Nature isn’t always kind and it leaves me wondering why it evolved in this way. It seems so senseless.
Lately, I have been wondering why a lot.
Events such as Sandy Hook and the bombings in Boston have left me wondering why.
It seems that no matter how much we gain in knowledge and technology to advance our civilization, we are still stuck with a senseless instinct for violence that is not changed by law or spirituality or social pressures. We work hard each day to hurt each other whether it is done with bombs, guns, or words. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the violence that we create. And it’s all the time. There are just certain types that thrive on the ability and the power to hurt another.
I went back to the blue bird house and taped duct tape over the opening just to feel that I was doing something. The entrance hole to the bird house was made too small for the starlings to fit through, and they would not have been able to nest there anyway. The duct tape was pretty much an empty attempt, but I felt the need to respond, even if in vain…and the starlings flew away, never changed, leaving six bluebirds never to fly.
Seems we are all the same.