Thursday, June 30, 2011

Open And Shut

It's a clear case of total confusion.  One day it's throw all the doors and windows open wide because of the heat, the next I run around closing up everything because it's cold.  I needed a quilted jacket indoors all day yesterday, and triple digits (plural) are predicted for the weekend.

The rain actually worked in my favor with the pullets.  New chickens in the big pen take some time to get used to the nighttime routine.  Rounding up sixteen skittering pinballs and herding them into the coop as the sun sinks would be a bit of a workout.  The rain, if nothing else, put the pullets in place their first night.  Most of them went in on their own last night, and the few stragglers weren't that much of a challenge.

This is Al, named for Al Pacino in "Scarface" because of the evidence of past fights on his cheek.  He is a daily visitor in the barn, sometimes joining me in the milking room.  He's fearless.  I took his picture on Tuesday, before the cloud cover moved in and while it was still sunny and hot.  He sat and watched for awhile, and then stretched out to get maximum coolness.  He looks like a furry pancake, or perhaps he's doing his Superman impression.  Either way, it cracks me up.

A squirrel is going to do what a squirrel must do.  I can't say how many times I've plugged those openings under the barn walls, nor how many times I've stuffed goat poop down that cavernous hole next to Al.  I still shove dirt and the dirty stuff down the hole every day, but my heart's not in it.  I think it truly is a losing battle.

It is getting light enough to see outside, and I see not cloud one.  I think later I'll have to go around and open windows again.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Perfect Timing

Jupiter must be aligned with Mars or some such, because everything fell into place yesterday.  Getting the pullets moved over when I did was propitious.  After daybreak and before letting everybody out of their coops, I checked the perimeter of the big pen and plugged a couple of potential escape routes.  Even the trash got down to the big road in a timely fashion for a change.  The sun had risen into a cloudless sky, so it was hard to accept the weathermen's prediction of rain for later in the day, but who am I to question those infallible oracles?  To hedge my bet, I did water the vegetable garden just in case.  Star thistle was coming up on the west point and I needed to get it cut down before it set blooms.  After barn chores, a high cloud cover had moved in so I gassed up the lawn tractor and started mowing.  Mowed the west point, mowed the front yard, mowed the side yard, mowed the driveway and down by the road, and then started on the back yard and the section by the driveway loop.  I'm ashamed to say that the latter two had not been touched so far, and the weeds in back were literally three feet high.  It became a race with the darkening sky and the lifting wind.  The greater part of the day was spent going around in circles.  (Who'm I kidding...a lot of my days are spent like that, without the tractor.)  Finishing up about five o'clock, the tractor was put away for a well-earned rest and I, feeling like I'd ridden five hours on a stiff-gaited horse over rough ground, headed into the house for a Jack Daniels on the rocks just before the first raindrops fell. 

The pullets had been accepted by the resident hens without incident.  They'd have been miserable crammed together in the rain had I not moved them when I did.  It would have been days or longer if I hadn't mowed when I did.  As it is, all the chickens are happy, the yards look great, and other than feeling like I'd taken marathon hula lessons, I am well satisfied with the day's work.  It was a good, steady rain all night long and it's still drizzling this morning.  Guess I didn't need to water the garden after all. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Heads Up

Five-fifteen a.m. and I'm sweating like a horse, feeling like I've already done a day's work.  Opening one eye as I rolled over at three-thirty this morning, I had the idea that one end of dark is as good as another to transfer the pullets over to the big house.  It's not dark at night until after nine o'clock and by that time the thought of one more chore is one too many.  Bessie Anne thumped her tail a couple of times from her side of the bed as I got up and got dressed, and murmured, "Knock yourself out, Mom...I'm sleeping in."  A quick cup of coffee and I was good to go.  Sixteen times I crept into the pullet pen.  Sixteen times I grabbed a chicken, checked its wing (clipping those few leftovers missed before), and walked over to the hen house.  The resident hens barely opened an eye as sixteen times I tucked a pullet into a laying box.  May they all live long and prosper.

If the pullets had been able to stay in the covered dog run longer, it would have been better.  They were going to have to take their chances in the big pen sooner or later, and they had simply outgrown their sleeping quarters and I was out of options.  Yesterday morning as I was leaving the big pen after letting the girls out, suddenly every hen turned into a statue and one made a low, guttural sound I can only describe as a warning growl.  A hawk was circling overhead.  The chickens were as still as stones until the danger had passed, and then went on about their chicken business of the day.

Joel called to give me a heads up, too.  The local grape vine (yes, we use that phrase even in wine country) was passing the word that a mountain lion is working our area, having been seen by others in places very close to us, both day and night.  I keep hearing Tire Guy the other day saying as he looked around the goat pen, "Wow, you've got a regular mountain lion smorgasbord here!"  There's not much I can do but watch and listen, tuck the kids in at night, and hope those words were not prophetic.

I'm beginning to feel like an ostrich, with my vulnerable parts stuck up in the air.  Weeding, gardening, trimming hooves, etc., all done bent over.  Yesterday's big job was to give Bessie Anne her summer "do."  While still relatively mild, the heat has been building and she was still wearing her heavy winter coat.  Getting trimmed down with the hair clippers I used to use on Steve is not one of Bess's favorite procedures.  I worked as fast as I could and she withstood it as long as she could.  My back and her patience gave out about the same time.  Bessie is about ninety-five percent done, and we'll have to go back to the deck to finish up the details.  It is very important when giving a dog a haircut to reassure them how pretty or handsome they are.  Years ago, my then-current dog hid under the bed for a week when the Kids made the mistake of laughing at her "puppy-cut."  Dogs are very sensitive about their appearance.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Comings and Goings

I'm surprised there wasn't a traffic jam on our little dirt road yesterday.  At times, my driveway looked like a parking lot.  My son Larry and his lady, Susan, arrived shortly after I'd come up from the barn, followed soon by my daughter, Deb, and her husband Craig.  Knowing that the Kids won't be coming up during the heat of summer, I was really looking forward to this day together.  Then Tree Guy and two sons showed up to take the splitter down to the goat pen to make little logs out of big ones.  Shortly thereafter, a gentleman who'd showed interest came to take a look at my old tractor, a Ford N-8 or 9.  He knows of a couple of potential buyers, so I wasn't about to turn off his stream of conversation.  Isolated as we are, we hill people do love a new audience.  (Everyone we know has already heard all of our stories.)

Back in the house at last, the Kids and I had a really relaxing day.  Some played games, some napped, and Craig and I puttered around in the kitchen.  I enlisted his help to make a batch of feta cheese while I chopped vegetables for dinner, and we had an opportunity to talk.  I'd like to remove the "in-law," as Craig is as dear to me as any of my other sons.  We had an early farm-house dinner, and the last car left before sundown, calls of "Love you!" back and forth hanging in the air as they drove down the hill.  The house never seems so empty and quiet as when the Kids have been here and gone.

It was a good day.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole

"I'm late!  I'm late for a very important date!," said the White Rabbit.  And so am I.  Some of the Kids are coming up early this morning, and I've so much to do before they get here.  I certainly don't want to be stuck in the barn and miss a moment of their visit.

In preparation for moving the pullets over to the hen house, I started clipping wings yesterday.  That was an adventure.  The wire-covered pen is only four feet high, so I'm in there, bent over like Quasimodo, grabbing whichever chicken comes within range as they run, flutter, and squawk like creatures demented.  Bessie Anne gets panicked if her chickens are upset (and they're all her chickens), so she had to stay in the house for this procedure.  Her running around the pen, trying to "help," would have made the chaos complete.  By my count, I clipped wings on ten of the sixteen, but that may be off a bit as the same chicken might have been picked up two or three times.  Learning from experience, I clip only one wing, the same wing on each one.  That makes it a lot easier to check.  Also, I found that with both wings clipped, the little boogers can still get enough lift to fly.  Clipping the feathers on just one side puts them off balance for take off and keeps them in the pen.  I'll try to get the unclipped little girls taken care of this morning.  The big move has to take place after dark, and I don't want to be scissoring away by the light on my miner's cap.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Kind Hearts & Gentle People

There was an unfortunate incident here on Thursday.  Joel, having a little extra time and a big heart, came to disk down my south pasture.  Tootling around on the first pass through the tall weeds, an implement Steve had left in the field caught and cut a big drive wheel on the tractor.  Joel was able to make it back as far as the feed barn before the tire went completely flat, and he had to go on shank's mare down the hill to home.  Changing a tire on a tractor is not quite the same as on the family sedan.  Joel and Tire Guy came yesterday to assess the damage; there was, for a little while, hope that the tire could just be plugged on site.  So much for that.  Those tires are huge, and not only was the cut severe, the inner tube had also been cut.  I had not realized that the tubes were filled with water for added weight and stability.  In the end, Tire Guy took the tire back to the shop, either for repair or replacement.  Joel will be without his tractor for a week or more, and I have a (temporary) piece of yard art.  Heck of a way to repay his act of kindness.

My friend Arden is on grandma duty at my neighbors' down the hill this weekend, and took the opportunity to stop by for a chat.  We are both avid readers, so our conversations always include, "What have you read lately?"  Arden belongs to an organized group, but I consider her my very own book club.  I miss the easy access to Arden's friendship that I enjoyed when she lived just across the road.

Even though we've been given a respite from the heat the past few days, watering the vegetable garden needs to be done before barn chores.  Tending to that yesterday, I found the pea vines are full of blossoms, and some are even pea-ing.  It's hard to remember what it was like before the advent of frozen food.  When peas are on the menu, it takes a lot longer than going to the freezer and then five minutes on the stove.  The peas must be picked and then shelled, and it takes a lot more pods to provide enough for a meal than one would think.  Fresh from the garden, they do not come in uniform size, sorted as the frozen type are.  I always throw a couple of pods into the pot, along with a pinch of sugar, to enhance the pea flavor.  Carrots are up, but it seems they take forever to come to size.  The tomatoes are big, healthy, and starting to flower.  The turnips are growing apace, and the lettuce which was planted first is just about ready for a salad!

Bessie Anne is still taking it easy, but seems to rest well.  She may be moving slow, but at least she's walking.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bessie On Strike

The next time I have to take Bessie Anne to the vet, I shall take along a mechanic's dolly or "creeper."  She wasn't getting any better, so I made a quick appointment for her with Dr. Ric.  Like any dog who's ever been to the doctor, Bessie doesn't like to go to The House of Pain.  This time she staged a sit-down strike.  There must be a bulldog in her very mixed heritage...she is very broad in the chest and, though not fat, weighs fifty pounds.  She plunked down her butt at the entrance and said, "This is as far as I'm going."  Lifting her across the threshold, she again sat...didn't fight me...just sat.  It was fortunate that the floor was slick tiles and not carpet, so I simply got down and pushed her, still sitting, over to the chairs in the waiting area...and then over to the scales...and then into the examination room.  It wasn't that Bess couldn't walk...she would not walk.  Her passive but determined resistance certainly amused the other patients' "parents."  X-rays and examination revealed that she has no broken bones (whew!), but a very stretched ligament in her knee.  Dr. Ric gave her a shot of some heavy-duty pain meds and said "time and a kind word" would take care of the injury.

The waiting room at any veterinarian's office is a mixed bag of people and pets.  Yesterday there was a very large man talking baby talk to the tiny, quivering Chihuahua in his arms.  A well-dressed lady with curly hair sat next to her well-groomed, curly headed cocker spaniel.  A tall man came in with a tabby cat big enough to completely fill the carrier; the cat's name was Oliver.  It all reminded me of a time years and years ago when I was in a vet's office and in came the largest, blackest German shepherd I'd ever seen together with a tiny white poodle.  I must have gasped as the shepherd, as we were waiting, would pick up the poodle in jaws with big gleaming teeth and move it from here to there, and keep it between its paws.  The owner said, "We had to finally get him a toy that he wouldn't chew up."  I wonder how the poodle felt about that.

Bessie Anne is snoring at my feet, sleeping off the rest of her drugs.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Another Chore

There's a big-time job waiting for me in the goat pen this morning before I can let the girls out of the barn.  Going down last evening at dusk to close the gate between the two pens and put the kids to bed, my foot got caught, and then caught again.  Stumbling around in the almost-dark, I realized they'd pulled the hot wire that ran inside the fence line loose and it was coiling around my ankles with every step.  I imagine they'd had the same problem all day.  Fortunately for me, when Fence Guy cut the wire to open up the gate it broke the connection to the solar battery so I wasn't getting zapped.  There are few things in this life that scare me like electricity and I detest getting shocked...even a little bit.  My Kids knew this and, when they were a lot younger, would shuffle their feet across the carpet before giving me a kiss, knowing sparks would fly and I'd yelp.  I'm the only mother I knew who would ground herself before smooching those dear faces.  At any rate, there's probably a thousand feet of wire to pull and roll before milking today.

There are a couple of names on the sick-and-injured roll this morning.  A couple of mornings ago, Frank came in after a night out and obviously wasn't feeling well.  He didn't eat all day and hid out downstairs.  The next day I found the punctures and of the wild things had gotten him good, but not seriously.  He's recovering well, and he comes in every night.  Bess likes to hang out on the porch after accompanying me during night chores, enjoying the cool of evening on the porch.  She took off after something in the dark last night and came back limping big time.  This is the dog who broke her leg in two places as a pup and later chipped a bone in her heel.  I've never had such an accident prone dog in my life!  I am hoping it's just a strained muscle.

The pullets are growing faster than I can keep up.  It hasn't been even two weeks since Helper Dude and I moved them into their pen.  Tucking them in last night, it was more a case of stuffing them into the dog crate.  Transferring all sixteen into the hen house; that will be another chore.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Yes, We Have No Bananas

I wouldn't ordinarily think of bananas as a trigger for memories, but it turns out they can be.  Years back, there was a banana getting dark and speckled on the counter.  Too soft to enjoy eating out of hand, I thought to make banana bread, and I'd found a recipe for banana bread pudding that sounded good.  But it called for more than one banana.  My friend Doris was running the little mom-and-pop store in Fair Play then and sometimes stocked fresh produce.  Yup, she had a bunch of soft bananas.  I bought them and set about making the banana bread for the pudding.  But then I had bananas left over, so I made a banana cream pie.  This was all on the same day, and there were only Steve and me to eat it all.  I called two couples down in the valley who were always up for impromptu invitations and asked them for "dinner."  Thinking that they'd turn yellow from just bananas, I hurried and made an apple pie for a little variety.  There's a saying, "Life is short; eat dessert first."  I'm not sure what the ladies thought, but there were three very happy men when they found out that all there was for dinner was dessert!

There's one more banana on the counter.  Hmmm.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wading In Jell-O

Everything took longer than of those days when it felt like I was wading through Jell-O, going against the current, moving ahead but not getting there very fast.  The thermometer down in Diamond Springs announced triple digits.  Summer has indeed arrived.  I must have blinked and missed spring entirely.  Going to the grocery store just once a month has its drawbacks.  Just as with the rapid onset of summer, one can't gradually acclimate to the rising prices, most evident in the produce department.  There was a bin of the most delicious-looking just under three dollars a pound!

I was spoiled as a kid because my mother had planted an orchard full of plums, peaches, figs, cherries, guavas, oranges, lemons, a loquat, and apricots.  Fresh fruit was there for the picking.  In the summer, we and my sister's family would go down to Huntington Beach in southern California where there was a picnic area on the beach.  There were gas stoves that a couple of quarters fired up to cook dinner.  My niece and nephews and I would play in the sand while the grownups fixed the meal.  The menu was always the same.  Halibut fresh from the sea from Sam's Seafood, crispy fried potatoes, steamed green beans, and apricot pie.  My mother and my sister each made one, and I was hard pressed to say which I preferred.  Mother's crust was thin and flaky; my sister's was thicker but with more flavor.  Both used lard and butter.  Apricot pie with whipped just said Summer.

Standing by the apricots in the store, those childhood memories came flooding back.  But three dollars a pound?!  Besides, I was running late.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Me Against Them

A couple of running battles are going on here, and I'm not winning. 

It wasn't bad enough that the blue jay was taking samples from the ripening strawberries.  I could cut out his beak marks and salvage a taste for myself.  Now the dirty booger plucks the whole berry and, just to rub it in, takes it up to the deck railing where I can't miss him as he stuffs it down his gullet.  Strawberries are not a fruit that one can pick early and let ripen on the counter.  The only thing the jay and I agree on is that under ripe strawberries aren't good eating.

The ground squirrels and I have had a tentative detente working down in the barn.  If they burrow up in an area where the hole causes no problem for me or the goats, I leave them be.  They outnumber me by the dozens, and I've learned to choose my battles.  When they, for their own convenience, have come up in a not-so-good area, I stuff the hole with goat poop and excavated dirt.  It might take a week of daily refills before they get the idea; then they retreat and we go back to life as usual.  An exceptionally stubborn miner has tunneled up right in the middle of the girls' sleeping area...not acceptable.  Every day I fill in the hole.  Every day there it is again.  This has been going on for a long time now.  He'll get tired before I run out of goat poop, so I think this campaign might go in my favor...some day.

And then there are the weeds.  I surrender.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Touched With Gold

Once in a great while, when all the atmospheric conditions are just right, there will come a moment at sundown when the world is suffused with pink and touched with gold.  There was just such a moment last night, and when it happens, it's breathtaking.  We get many beautiful sunsets, viewed behind the silhouette of the pines on the hills to the west, and sometimes the sky seems on fire, but the magical, rare pink-gold glow must come from some refraction of light that transforms mundane objects into something beautiful.  No picture could do it justice.

Yesterday was a great combo of rest and work.  After barn chores, I picked up a new book.  I know better.  I should know by now that once I pick up a book, I've shot the day.  A guilty conscience finally gigged me out of my chair along about five o'clock and I went out to work in the garden.  Mr. L. Totem now has a Mrs. Totem, the two of them not happy that I planted more lettuce seeds in their barrel and then watered them in.  I also planted cantaloupe, pumpkin, cucumbers, bush beans, and more peas.  Did more weeding and watered everything.  It's late to be putting in seeds, but what is one to do when summer is so late in arriving?  If Crocodile Dundee were to see this dandelion, he'd say, "Now that's a dandelion!"  The puffball was bigger than Pearl's head.  (I asked her to pose for comparison, but she had other business to tend elsewhere.)  Feeling pretty satisfied with the gardening, I stopped at the rock garden in the front yard and weeded out a five-by-five-foot patch.  It's really quite pleasant to work outside as the sun's going down, a cooling breeze blowing, Bess Anne keeping me company, and the mourning doves calling to each other in the trees.  And the book was still waiting when we went back into the house.

Pearl and I have to come to a better understanding of the house rules.  I can deal with it when she opts to stay out for the night and hunt.  Her "pumpkin hour," however, seems to be at four-thirty a.m. when she comes to stand on the bench under the bedroom window and call in her raspy, broken-squeaker voice to wake me to come open the door.  It's not unusual for me to awake at that hour, but I really prefer to do it on my own terms.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Fits and Starts

My ambition seems to come in spurts...pretty much on an every-other-day basis.  After getting so much done the day before, yesterday was a do-nothing day.  I am becoming somewhat obsessive right now about the danged weeds, and did get another patch cleared before going to the barn.  I pulled some of the tall grasses by the front shed to give to the chickens (not all weeds are good for the hens).  Since the little girls are no longer free ranging, they enjoy the greenery and come running to the fence for their treats.  It took only a little while for the pullets to taste and then devour their portion, never having had that in their diet before.  We're now in the dreaded foxtail season.  If I'm not bent over out in the yard, I'm bent over picking up foxtails from the carpet, brought in by the dog and cats.  There's no getting away from those blasted pointy seeds.  Since the new pen opened up, Bess no longer goes down into the south pasture, so maybe we can avoid the pain and expense of burrs in her ears and eyes this year.

Since yesterday was a day off, that must mean today is a work day...if my ambition kicks in. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Pun Fun

I am blatantly plagiarizing Kathryn's comment from yesterday...I did, indeed, get the Pullet Surprise!  And in more ways than one.  I mentioned that one of the chicks was an oddball.  The large, black-and-white striped one at upper left bears no resemblance to the black-and-white speckled barred Rocks at bottom right.  I have no idea what this fledgling might be, but she sure is pretty.
Growing at the rate they are, it won't be long before the pullets can go into the big hen house, but are enjoying the freedom of their little yard, doing the jump and flutter dance as they tumble out of their little, trash-bag-wrapped crate in the morning.  The Araucanas are taking on their beautiful pheasant coloring.  They're always a little more skitterish than the others; the Rhodies the calmest of the bunch.
Getting a temporary respite from the heat, I got a lot of yard work done yesterday, mowing and weeding.  I took the covers off the window openings in the goat barn for their comfort, as well as my own.  Ninety-nine-degree temperatures are predicted for later in the week.  (Why don't they just say "one-hundred" and be done with it?  One degree isn't going to seem much cooler!)  Nature seems to have equalized the odds for gardeners at altitude.  While we contend with deer and squirrels both above and below ground, we have no snails whatsoever, and I've only seen two or three slugs, and those were the big, ugly banana slugs that ventured out of the forest.  (UC Santa Cruz chose the banana slug as the school mascot...but why?)

Moonrise last night was spectacular, coming up over the hills by Omo Ranch.  Those hills are high enough to require the light tower for low-flying aircraft.  The earth has turned on its axis...this moon was viewed out the door in the living room.  That same full moon in March would be seen far to the left out the big window overlooking the road.  It was a fitting end to a productive day.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


When it works, it works!  Cutting the gate between the two pens required a new routine.  I'd thought about opening the gate when I first went down to the barn, but decided that might not be such a good idea because the girls might not want to come back for their turn on the stand and I sure didn't want to run that field to haze them back over.  Opening the gate is now the last thing I do before heading back up the hill.  Ruthie and Inga, obviously empty, were already lined up and waiting as I was filling the grain dishes for the nighttime snacks.  By the time I let Nineteen out of his stall, the herd had queued up, ready to go to "greener pastures."  Even though brown, anything on the other side of the fence has to be greener, in a goat's opinion.

Better yet, at nightfall the pullets had tucked themselves in the dog crate...every single one!  Bless their little chicken hearts.  (It probably helped that I had left Bessie Anne in the house until chicken chores were done.)

If spring is a girl in flowered skirts, summer is a boy, landing with a resounding thump and stomping around in big boots.  In a week's time, the pastures have turned brown.  There's no ignoring this kid; his presence is made known and he's not shy.  We who were wet with rain a couple of weeks ago are still wet, sweating like horses with the least exertion.  I'm already starting to plan my day around where there is shade outside, and what I can get done before the heat strikes.  All the windows in the house have been thrown open and the comforter removed from the bed.  With little advance warning and no time for transition, there's a new kid in town, for sure.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fly Away

Down in the valley, I could tell it was the first of September without looking at a calendar; flies would suddenly appear where none had been before.  Up here, the pesky things show up in the month of June, and they have arrived.  Do they migrate?  Do they lie dormant?  Flies do not seem to bother goats as they do horses.  Horses in the neighborhood all look like they've either gone incognito or have been invited to a Mardi Gras party, sporting masks of various colors to keep flies from clustering at their eyes.

Once again I was hanging turtleneck sweaters on the clothesline while wearing a tank top yesterday.  Laundry hung out at three was dry by six, with the temperature still at eighty-four in the shade at sundown.  It was fortunate that my recent guests were here during the week or so of spring, because we're dead into summer already.  The tall weeds in the extended goat pen and south pasture are browning in just one week.

After the labors of the day before, weeding was the chore of choice yesterday, but it was higgledy-piggledy, here and there, depending on what section was in the shade at any particular time.  Too early in the morning and the dratted, blood-thirsty mosquitoes that hide in tall grass come out.  Working in fits and starts, I did get the front rock garden exposed by the driveway and down in front of the junipers by the kitchen.  I had a sister-in-law who wore a lab coat at work and so would iron just half of her blouse.  Like her, the yard looks pretty good from the front. 

I made a tactical error at dusk by allowing Bessie Anne, chicken herder extraordinaire, to accompany me to the pens.  Thinking I would leave the Silkies til last so they'd be more amenable to bedtime, I started with the pullets.  The little kids were clustered quietly by the dog crate, and some had even gone in on their own.  This was going to be a piece of cake.  Not.  "I've got this, Mom!"  Bessie darted and raced at the pen and the chicks scattered and squawked, flying every which way.  I'd not locked the chain-link gate behind me, thinking that certainly the chicks weren't going to storm out on their own.  Wrong.  In their panic, the chicks dog-piled in the corner and three were pushed outside.  Then I panicked as Bess dashed to pin down the escapees.  I was able to grab her collar first and throw her into the cab of the truck and turned to try to find three little chickens in the high grass behind the pen.  Fortunately, they were hunkered down in a clump not far away, and I could capture one and herd the others (without the help of my dog) back to safety.  Gratefully, the Silkies, hens, goats and sheep all went in without incident.  Trial and and learn.  Bessie will watch from the sidelines tonight.

Frank stayed out last night to hunt by the light of the full moon.  It was one of those double-take moments when I turned out the light in the bedroom...the room was nearly as bright after I flipped the switch as before.  Didn't keep me awake.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

One Whupped Puppy

Last night I felt like I'd been "rode hard and put away wet."  I was one tired old dog, but what a satisfying day it had been.  Helper Dude is the fifteen-year-old nephew of one of my milk customers, out of school for the summer and needing something to do.  The list of tasks that needed four hands or more strength than I have was getting longer, so it seemed a perfect fit at the perfect time, and I hired Helper Dude for the day.  The kid ran me ragged!  I set him to cleaning out the dog run and putting boards around the base so the pullets would be safe in their transition home, plugging holes around the Silkies' pen, and mentioned that the last pile of brush in the front yard could be moved over to the burn pile.  I figured even one of those jobs would keep him busy without supervision for the hour and a half I'd be down in the barn.  Yeah, well.  Dude had all three done and did an excellent job on each, even raking up the twiggy stuff under the bigger branches of the brush pile without being asked.  We moved the chicklets over to their new pen, then stood and watched as they dithered and clustered in the cages, afraid and unaccustomed to freedom.  Dumping out the last of the scaredy-cats, they started doing the leap-and-flutter dance and then began taking dust baths.  That must be pure instinct, as they'd never touched dirt before.  I think it speaks well of a fifteen-year-old who could take pleasure from watching a bunch of chickens, laughing at their antics in their new world.

After a lunch break, we tackled the board fence around the front pasture, supporting broken posts and nailing back fallen boards.  By this time, we were working in direct sun and it was hot.  My farmer's tan moved quite a way up my arms.  It was me who cried uncle and needed to take breaks.  Dude raised a good-sized blister on his city-boy hand, accepted a Band-Aid, and neither quit nor whimpered.  It took nearly three hours to finish the fence, and that walk back up the hill got longer every time.  The last task of the day was getting a hose reel put back on the barn wall, one of those seemingly small jobs, but one I really needed so I could get the hose out of the weeds.

By the time Dude's uncle came to pick him up, he had more than earned every penny of his pay.  Sweaty and dirty, I'd have supposed he'd be glad to brush off the dust of Farview and see the last of us, but he said in parting that he hoped he'd be able to come back soon.  He was a hard-working, easy companion, and I hope so, too.

My day was not yet finished.  The pullets, reveling in their new-found freedom, had no idea they needed to go into the dog crate for the night.  The pen is only four feet high and covered with chicken wire, so I had to go in, bent like a pretzel, catch those fast-moving little boogers, and stuff them one at a time into the crate.  I hope they catch on to the routine quickly.  Dusk was falling rapidly and I moved on to the Silkie pen.  Good luck with that.  For whatever reason, not one of them wanted to go to bed.  The door to the Taj is a drop down, so I can't close it behind one while I catch another.  Five would go in and three would come out...over and over again.  It was one of those Keystone Komedy moments.  Laugh, cry, or cuss...take your pick.  I still had the big hens to tuck in and then go down to the goats.  Now the stalls were dark, so, of course, they all balked.  Shutting the last door on the last critter, I made my way up that long hill and into the house, where I dropped like a rock...I was one whupped puppy.

So much was was a good day.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Poppy's Big Adventure

A sheep in the field with the goats.  Big deal.  Well, it was a very big deal for Poppy.  For the better part of a week she's been crying, left behind in the old pen, unable or unwilling to go through the gate.  After milking yesterday, I turned the goat girls loose and went to let Nineteen out of his stall.  Poppy was once again bawling, standing alone under the dead oak.  I turned back to get a handful of Nineteen's alfalfa as a consolation prize for poor ol' Pop, and then I couldn't find her.  Circling the barn, I looked over and there she was, grazing amongst the goats as if she hadn't a care in the world.  I was so proud of her!  That pride was somewhat short-lived when later I heard her bawling again.  The herd had moved back into the old pen without her.  Bessie Anne is hell on wheels when it comes to herding chickens, and I started wondering how she'd be as a sheep herder.  Fortunately, Poppy figured it out before I had to put Bess to the test.

Being a NASCAR fan forces a day of rest.  The races usually take about four hours, and my NASCAR mentors, Dave and Clay, told me early on that it is de rigueur to take a nap somewhere in that time.  Far be it from me to break with tradition.  Even though there were hours of daylight left after the race, I told myself it was too late to start a project.  For once I listened to my own advice and picked up a book to round out a good afternoon.  Poppy going through the gate was excitement enough for one day.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Day In June

"What is so rare as a day in June?  Then, if ever, come perfect days."  James Russell Lowell nailed it, and yesterday was one of those days.  Warm in the sun, cool in the shade...enough work to feel useful, not enough to tire.  It was a day to savor and appreciate.

There is a saying in the theater, "Never let 'em see you sweat."  Working with goats, the saying should be, "Never let 'em see you hurry."  I was late getting to the barn and wanted to finish up before it got hot, but I've learned from past experience to put on the brakes and slow down around the girls.  They are incredibly fast to pick up on vibes, and trying to rush is a guarantee of udder chaos (groan...another goat pun).  It truly becomes a state of "the hurrier I go, the behinder I get," as no one will go where they should or behave as they should, and the whole program gets delayed.  Go slow and stick with the routine, and it all moves on apace.  The girls have developed their own pattern regarding the new pen.  They go in and graze there during the morning hours, but return to the old section in the afternoon and are waiting by the gate for me in the evening.  For whatever reason, Poppy will not go with the herd, but bawls for them and then lies down to watch them from "her" side of the fence.  I don't know why she won't go through the gate to join the others.  She'll either figure it out, or not.

The Lady's Mantle got potted, and everything was watered.  It was so pleasant out on the deck, so pleasant to be outside, period.  It was one of those rare June days.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Green-eyed Monster

I spent yesterday afternoon in the company of delightful friends in Fiddletown.  I had not been to Kit's aunt Tinka and uncle Bill's place before and taking the back roads over the hills (who am I kidding...there's nothing but back roads up here!) took some concentration.  What with the flurry of greetings and then a hearty lunch, I hadn't really had a chance to take in my surroundings.  And then we strolled the property, accompanied by Jackie, Tinka's side-kick dog, and Frank and Mildred, her cats.  (Frank seems to be a popular name for cats up here.)  I have been to Butchart Gardens in Victoria, B.C., Canada, a gardener's paradise.  On a smaller scale, Tinka and Bill's gardens are just as glorious and I was in heaven.  Their gardens are exactly what I'd envisioned here...and don't have.  Just as I envied my friend in Mt. Aukum his barn, I covet Tinka's gardens.  Admittedly, it has taken nearly forty years to achieve her dream, with flowers of every shape, size, and color, interspersed with table grapes and vegetables.  It goes without saying that they have deer fencing.  Bill has constructed fanciful arbors from rebar steel for climbing roses and clematis.  Struggling here as I do to keep anything growing and trying to find the least palatable plants for deer, I have a deep appreciation for the time and effort it takes on a daily basis to keep a garden as perfect as theirs.  Kit, Tinka and I sat chatting in dappled sunshine out on the patio Bill constructed of kiln bricks and I was shown pictures of how the property looked when they first came to Fiddletown...ramshackle, falling-down buildings and trash-covered grounds.  Their lovely home was converted from a bee barn where honey was processed.  Not a blade of grass (yes, they have a lawn), not a flower in sight.  Tinka sent me home with a box of Lady's Mantle plantings.  Perhaps there's hope for me yet.  I'm still jealous.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Step It Up

With the sunshine come more chores.  The morning walk around the deck is now done with hose in hand, watering the potted plants.  This also involves a bit of yelling, as there are a couple of hanging pots and a leaky hose that when I raise it high enough, runs cold water down my arm to my ribs.  That's a wake-up call I could do without!  Watering the vegetable garden is also put on the to-do list.  Mowing, mowing, and more mowing.  I did get the west point mowed down in the afternoon...just the tip of the green iceberg.  Tree/Fence Guy came by.  We stood out in the front yard in the shade of the big oak to talk, and watched a pair of red-tail hawks hunting for ground squirrels in my pens and J&J's vineyard.  The grace of those big birds almost takes your breath away.

I've got to let the chicks out into one pen or another soon.  They've outgrown even the two cages.  They go into a frenzy whenever I show up at the door, yelling for more food, more water, more room!  The nephew of a friend of mine is out of school for the summer, and his uncle is looking for something for the kid to do.  I need help...the kid needs a job.  He's coming on Monday and I'm hiring him to prepare the dog run as a transition home for the chicks.  While they're growing faster than I can believe, they're still of a size to be hawk bait in the big chicken pen.  I know I bought Rhode Island reds, barred rocks, and Araucanas, but there's a stranger in the mix.  She is black and white like the barred rocks, but is much larger.  Her markings are much different, more white than black, and not the speckled feathers of the rocks.  I'm wondering if she might not be one of the Hamburgs.  Since I get the chicklets before they're old enough to be sexed, one never knows how many will be hens or roosters.  Going by the size of the combs, I think I might have lucked out and only have one male in the bunch.  If that be the case, I'll go ahead and keep him as protector for the flock.  If there turns out to be more than one, a decision will have to be made.

A turkey hen was under the oak this morning, with only one turklet.  It's always so sad to see the decline in babies, knowing that their brethren have fallen prey to hawks and coyotes.  This mother's last child stayed almost under her wing as they pecked for yesterday's leftovers...and that's a good thing. 

Taylor came home yesterday, much to the relief of her mother and dad and the rest of her loving family.  One's own pain is so much easier to accept than that of one's children.  Larry tells me she's making a remarkable recovery.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Around Any Corner

There are the most wonderful surprises waiting around any corner here.  Heading back into the house after my morning deck inspection, I caught a flutter of movement down in the oak leaves.  Curious, I stopped to take a better look.  This amazing, huge moth had evidently just come out of its cocoon and was drying its wings in the early morning sun.  I've never seen anything like it.  The wing span was as big as my open hand, close to  six inches.  The "eyes" (intended to scare off predators) are nearly as big as the acorn beside it.  The coloring was perfect camouflage among the oak leaves.  Had it not moved exactly when it did, I never would have seen it.
Starting the morning chores, the first thing always is to throw the grain for the wild birds.  Hoping for a closer look while under the oak tree, I was disappointed that the moth had moved on, but then discovered it had climbed up on a foot-high weed to dry its underbelly, so I could see both sides.  How amazing is that?  Sure started my day on a high note.
I'd spent so much time watching the moth, I was late finishing chores.  The milk wasn't yet strained when Fence Guy appeared at the door, ready to cut in the gate between the two goat pens.  It was going to be a four-hands job, and I had the second pair, so off we went.  He covered the abandoned open well shaft in the new section with concrete first; that was a must before the girls could be let in.  They clustered on their side, supervising the cutting of the fence that would open up the gate.  There were a lot of goat belly-high weeds that had to be pulled before the gate could swing, but the minute it opened, Nineteen was the first one in.  The girls were a little more hesitant, but soon followed.  It surprised me that they didn't head immediately to the oak leaves, but they were so happy with the new flavors of grass that they were content in the field where they were.  Poppy, her leg improving every day, never quite got the hang of it, and stayed in the old pen and bawled at them to, "Come back.  Don't leave me!"  The water trough is in the old pen, and eventually all the goats wandered back.  They were waiting at the gate in the evening, full as ticks, and waddled down to the barn for the night.

It was a good day.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Let the Good Times Roll

I've got to hand it to those SoCal's either their sunny personalities or they're sissy-la-la's who don't want to get way or another, both of my recent guests have brought the sunshine along.  It was so pleasant to stroll out to introduce Kit to the chickens and then to inspect the garden.  The carrots are coming up, and "my" lizard was also basking in the sun, getting fat on whatever insects he's finding in the lettuce barrel.  The afternoon just flew by, words flowing in a torrent as we tried to pack a year's worth of stored conversation into one day.

The morning had an auspicious start when I spied a turkey mom with the first chicks of the season as I took a turn around the deck.  Even better, my son sent a picture of my granddaughter up on her feet in the hospital after a week in intensive care following her surgery.  Poppy's limp was much better as she made her way to the barn in the evening. 

I couldn't have asked for a better day.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Beautiful Morning

How strange it seems to awaken to dawn's early light and a clear sky, to hear bird song instead of rain drops.  Yesterday the weathermen were showing the snow falling at Lake Tahoe (up the road apiece), while predicting eighty-degree weather for tomorrow.  Go figure.  Anticipating a visit today from a SoCal friend, I started a pot of chili simmering while the rain drizzled down in the afternoon.  If the temperature soars today, I probably should have made ice cream!  There's just no way for this frog to know which way to jump.

Poor Poppy.  She evidently stuck her leg in one of the many squirrel holes, and is limping badly.  I'm hoping it's only a strained muscle.  She's a big girl, and the extra weight of all that sodden wool can't be helping.  The shearer works only on weekends, and it's been raining constantly since I called to arrange an appointment.  Poppy can't be wrung out like a sponge and there's no way to clip her soggy coat, so shearing will have to wait until she dries out.  In the meantime, Poppy hobbles about.  Her injury hasn't affected her appetite.  She makes her way up to the alfalfa pile in the morning, and then rather ingeniously lies down in the pen and munches her way through what she can reach, moves to a new spot and clears that.  She takes her place in line in the evening, not about to miss out on bedtime snacks.  Where there's a will, there's a way.

Seeing the sun this morning and knowing I'll see my friend later has sure put a smile on my face.  It's going to be a good day.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Lizard Totem

Who among us can resist taking a peek at our horoscope?  Who throws away that slip of paper in the fortune cookie without reading?  It is not necessary to believe, but there is always that hope for good news.  Tongue in cheek, I have referred to the resident lizard as my "totem," as he seems to have chosen me with very unlizardlike behavior.  Given a choice, I think I would have picked a possibly more glamorous creature, although, with his brilliant turquoise markings, my lizard is pretty good looking, as lizards go.  Becoming curious, and with time on my hands since it was still raining, I looked to see if there really was such a thing as a lizard totem.  And there is.  According to the sources I found, lizards are associated with dreams, awakening the subconscious and relating it to reality, preparing one for change, teaching to trust in one's own intuitions.  "These animals act as guides, surfacing in our lives depending on where we head and what we need at a given moment."  It could be worse.

There was another break in the rain in the afternoon and Bessie Anne and I headed out for more weeding.  This has all the aspects of a painting project.  You see the house isn't bad, but could use fresh paint.  You pick the room that needs it most and paint that.  It looks good.  But then you look around and see that now all the other rooms look worse.  While I'm busy yanking weeds out of one patch, the weeds are busy growing everywhere else.  My personal time clock let me down yesterday.  Evidently Bess felt that the walkway in front needed to be finished before quitting time, so I stayed bent over long after I was ready to stop.  Finally she showed mercy and plopped in front of me.  It took a little longer to straighten up so we could go in the house.  The walks look good...but what about the rock garden?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Him Again

This lizard gets a big "P" for persistence.  (Again, I'm falling back on photos taken on sunny days.)  He evidently has permanently moved into the barrel where the lettuce is planted.  I run into him there every time I go out to weed.  Rather than have him run over my hands as I work, I lift him out...he moves back in.  I'm familiar with the little blue-bellies and the big, ugly alligator lizards around here, but this one, with his iridescent turquoise markings, is a new one to me.  Ohmigosh...I just went back and took a closer look at the lizard who came to sit on my leg some time back in the south pasture.  It's the same type and size, and now I'm left to wonder if it is the same lizard.  Is it possible I have a stalker?

There was no dodging the rain bullet yesterday.  It poured most of the day.  I'm pretty darned tired of pants wet to the knee from slogging through calf-high unmown weeds on the way down to the barn.  When it finally let up in the late afternoon, Bess and I ran outside like kids let out of school.  Too wet still to do much else, I started weeding the front walkway.  Weeds.  Weeds everywhere.  Shaking mud left and right, I got one side done before Bessie said it was time to call it quits.  When she's had enough, she lies down right in front of me and won't budge.  Bessie Anne knows best.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


I find I'm hoarding pictures of sunny days to bring out on the dark and gloomy ones. 

This oak in the front pasture is one of my favorites.  It has been falling to pieces for the nearly fourteen years I've lived here.  The heart of the tree is on the ground; only a partial shell remains, but the tree lives on.  The huge, healthy oak in the south pasture broke and fell, but this old girl won't say die...she won't give up.  She continues to shelter squirrels and birds in her arms and gives shade to deer below.  She is a living example of fortitude in the face of overwhelming odds.  I like her.

The early bird may get the worm, but the strawberries go to those who move fastest!  I've been keeping my eye on those berries on the deck.  No...not quite ripe yet.  And then I spied a blue jay taking a taste of my berries.  How do they know when fruit has reached the peak of perfection?  How do they know?!  I dashed out, scared the bird away, and enjoyed that burst of strawberry goodness, perhaps all the sweeter since I'd foiled the blue jay and claimed the prize.

The chicklets have made the transition to the barn in good shape.  The amount of water consumed by chickens has always amazed me.  Wild birds seem to take a sip here and there when they can find it.  The chicks have a gallon waterer in each of the cages, and even the six will empty it in a day.  Talk about hollow legs!

Except for some spitting last evening at sundown, the rain that threatened all day held off.  There is a high cloud cover this morning.  Could it be we'll dodge the bullet?

Friday, June 3, 2011


It must have been perking away in the back of my mind while my attention was elsewhere because suddenly yesterday I had at least a partial answer to the problem of the laundry room chicks.  More rain is predicted for this weekend, so putting them in their own dog run under the oak was out of the question.  Overcrowding leads to pecking at each other and disease.  Cleaning up their prodigious output was getting to be more and more of a chore.  And then it came to me!  I got another cage and divided the chicks, six in one and ten in the larger, and took both out to the hen house.  Now there is room for large waterers and larger feed dishes, and the chicks have space to spread out.  The cages are right next to each other, just in case I inadvertently separated best friends.  They are under cover and can acclimate to outdoor temperatures without getting wet.  The hens all came to check out the new kids on the block.  It might be wishful thinking, but perhaps by becoming acquainted this way it might be possible to skip the interim phase in the separate dog run entirely.  That remains to be seen.  I have my laundry room back!

I find gardening to be so therapeutic.  My granddaughter, Taylor, had an hours-long orthopedic surgery yesterday, and I couldn't sit still.  I got the tomato plants in their barrel, and weeded two others out in the garden.  Working in the sunshine (yes, there was sunshine!) was calming while I waited to hear finally that she was in recovery and doing well.  She is at Shriner's Children's Hospital in Sacramento.  If anyone were looking for a charity to support, Shriner's Hospital would be a great choice.  In this day and age, it's hard to believe but they do not even have a billing department; their services to children are provided free of charge.  A room has been provided so Taylor's mom can be with her for the next week to ten days.  Tay's autism presents its own problems in terms of her recovery, and having her parents close by will be a great help and comfort.

Still waiting for word, I moved on to plant the "Lady Lucinda Memorial Posy Pot" with colorful petunias out on the deck, and then repotted a miniature rose I'd been given for Mother's Day (they never seem to do well for long in the house).  Looking out this morning, I see the hummers have found the petunias, dipping their beaks into the flowers' throat, looking for additional nectar in the light of the rising sun.

Taylor is safe.  The chicks are settled in their new home.  The garden is nearly cleaned of weeds.  The sun came out this morning.  All's right in my world.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Everybody's Talking

No matter who you talk to, the weather is the prime topic in every conversation these days.  This interminable rain is wearing on everyone's nerves...when will it end?  Every time the sun came out yesterday, I'd think about going out to plant the tomatoes, but as soon as I'd get geared up it would start pouring again.  The tomatoes are still on the porch and it's a good thing, because the hail that accompanied the rain would have beaten them flat.  Joel called in the afternoon to commiserate...he worries about my goats and I worry about his grapes.  He's already lost a number of the barbera vines to unseasonal frost and icy nights.  I just went back and reread the entries for last June...rainy days nearly into July, jumping right into one hundred-degrees.  The concern is that this, the second year in a row, is becoming our seasonal weather.

The laundry room chicks' growth is commensurate with their intake.  They're wolfing down nearly two gallons of feed a day, banging on their empty dish like rioting prisoners.  Their "output" is equal to input, and I am oh-so-ready for them to move outside.  It's not good for so many to be confined in such a small space, but how can I throw them out into cold and rain?  I'm certainly not going to turn them loose in the house, crowded though they be!  As I told Joel, it seems the soon-to-be hens and I will go into our sunset years together.

Even were the sun to shine today it would be too wet to mow, but I might get the tomatoes in the ground.  One can hope.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Missed A Spot

The other morning (when the sun was shining) I passed through the living room and caught Frank helping Pearl with her grooming, getting at those hard-to-reach places.  He does the same thing for Bessie Anne, even lifting up her ears to do a thorough job...and she tolerates this.

Both Frank and Pearl are supplementing their diet with voles, those tiny rodents that are even more numerous than ground squirrels.  Once in awhile I'll find evidence of a gopher or mole, but it is mainly the voles whose tunnels create the ankle busters in the walkways.  Voles are larger than mice, yet not so big as a mole.  The cats seem to consider them Farview fast food, and bring their snacks to the front porch for a picnic.  I wish I could get them to clean up their leftovers, as it presents a less than attractive welcome.  It is amazing though, that the inedible internal organs appear to have been surgically removed, completely intact, and bloodless.

Tree Guy and No. Three son came by the other day.  Tree Guy continues to whittle away at the fallen field oak.  The trunk was resting rather precariously on the edge of the stump and I was concerned that it might present a danger to the goats whenever they are allowed into that area.  As he took care of that, dropping the massive trunk to the ground, No. Three son brought his own weedeater and cut down the overgrowth of weeds between the barrels in the vegetable garden.  Now it's only the weather that precludes me from planting more vegetables.  Six tomato plants sit waiting on the front porch.