It’s another three weeks until Solstice, and a couple days past that, Christmas. It’s time to get the ball rolling for all the holiday shopping, and the end of year wrap up and new year goals. I didn’t accomplish as much as I’d have liked this year. I think that’s probably something most of us can say, most years. I’m just rolling off a week at home—I took a couple days of PTO and combined it with the Thanksgiving holiday for a much needed break. I have a list of tasks I wanted to accomplish, and made it through a couple of them, but I also spent a lot of time just taking it easy. I read a couple of books and watched a couple of movies, and spent time puttering around outside with the
dogs, raking a few leaves and doing a little garden clean up. The weather was very cold, with heavy frosts every night, but mostly clear until Thanksgiving day, so it was an extra treat to be home in the sunshine, without constant rain and mud.
Of course with the Thanksgiving holiday I had a nice visit with family, and some yummy food, too. My nephew and niece-in-law (and their adorable almost-one-year-old son) hosted dinner and did the bulk of the cooking. I made a yummy quinoa and roasted Brussels sprouts side dish, plus a beet/walnut salad, using my own beets and onions. It was a lovely afternoon and a delicious meal. And of course I forgot to take a single picture.
Colin the sheep is still here. He’s been enjoying himself, I think, and the girls have all settled down. I noticed he and Minnie were hanging out together yesterday and the day before, so I marked it on the calendar. I’ve not seen any other noticeable attention with any of the other ewes (other than Cinnamon on the first day he came here). Another couple of weeks and we can send him on his way, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed until shearing time that they’re all incubating.
It was especially lovely to have time to spend with the critters. The dogs, the cats, the sheep and the chickens. Feeding the sheep before dark every day is something I’ll miss next week. The hen that the bobcat tried to take last month is doing well; it was a little dicey for about a week, but she’s been out with the flock for a while now and seems to be back to normal. She didn’t molt like she should have; the shock and healing seems to have derailed the molting process, so she’s a dingy brown-gray compared to her sister’s smart grey feathers. The cats were able to get outside regularly, something
they love. They don’t spend much time out there when it’s cold or wet, but at least gets a little of Eloise and Madeleine’s kitten energy expended. I had a little nose work practice session the other afternoon with the dogs which they enjoyed immensely. We’re between classes at the moment—next session starts up soon, and a NW1 trial next month—so they’ve had a couple weeks without it. They all did well, and I did one of Daisy’s rounds unpaired (three hides). She did beautifully, and gave me the boost in confidence I needed. She’s so good at this; I just need to get good at reading her.
The pasture is covered with leaves; the maples are leafless. The mud is here (to stay) and with one frost down, and more to come, the garden is mostly done. It was a big day on the farm, and I spent most of the day outside, after being gone almost all day yesterday. Damn, but weekends are short! I did more carrot harvesting in the garden, expecting to find the mondo cutworms again, but oddly only found one. They must be moving on to some other part of their life cycle and/or the cold and wet has them doing something different. Since I picked off all the monsters from the cabbage a few weeks ago, I have some tiny heads of cabbage developing. It’s Savoy cabbage, and I’m hoping to have enough to make a meal at some point. Tonight I had a baked Delicata squash – a little salt and pepper and butter (everything’sbetterwithbutter) and I’m full and happy.
Yesterday was Daisy’s last nose work class for a few weeks. She was just “meh” for some reason. She and Pal were racing around the woods that morning, so maybe she used up too much energy? Or maybe the search area (on a footbridge over a tributary of the Skykomish river where salmon were spawning) was too much? She’s done brilliantly there before, though, and just seemed off in general. Especially compared to last week, where even her handicap (her handler (me)) couldn’t slow her down. She was so rockin’ on, even through a wild wind/rainstorm, as we hunted outside the local Lowe’s hardware store (in racks and storage area, also in a storage container). I was drop-jawed in awe, and giddy with her mad skillz! My crazy Daisy is my Amazing Daisy.
The next day I volunteered at a nose work trial being held about 40 miles south. There were a few dozen dogs competing for NW1, and I assisted in the afternoon, along with my instructor Marilyn, and classmates Pat and Suzette. I was assigned videographer for the interior searches. I was a little worried (do they realize I’m lousy with a camera?) but it turned out to be a breeze. The judge, Teresa Zurberg from Canada, was great, and very instructive/helpful to the handlers competing.
I learned a TON, and got to hang with Dorothy Turley and Karen Eby, whom I met when I attended the Amy Herot seminar they hosted back in September. Fun! Dorothy hosted an ORT the weekend prior, too, so I’d just
seen her. I entered Farley and Pal in the ORT, and drove down to Lacey that Sunday morning. I wasn’t as nervous as I was with Daisy’s ORT, but still nervous. Farley went first, and nailed it in 7 seconds. It was a good lesson for me, as I called it as soon as he stopped and double-sniffed the hide box. As I did so, and the judge said “yes!” he moved on to the next box in the group, looking for odor that also had some TREATS! I treated at source and he was happy. As was I! My old guy, my heart dog, my amazing ‘there are no coincidences’ dog, made me proud. As usual he got all kinds of compliments on his handsomeness, and even a comment on our search word “Feathers” (I found that at the trial most people use “find it,” “seek,” “search,” or some variation of same; because I have three dogs in training, it’s much easier to use a unique word that has nothing to do with the meaning “search”). He did me proud, and I wished I had more than just liver treats and heaps of praise to tell him how wonderful he was/is.
Pal’s turn came up quickly and I went in feeling excited. As we waited our turn I could tell Pal was in his “bird dog” mode – sniffing the wind, all senses open, not really focused on me or anything as he took it all in. Hmm. We went in and I could see that he was firing on all cylinders but not settling into it. I gave his search word and he
began to search, sniffing the first two boxes. He quickly went off target and began to hyper up, sniffing but not focusing. I gave his search word again (and again) and he briefly dialed in, but was pinging all over the place. It was ADHD behavior; not bad, but definitely not able to focus. I brought him back to the boxes (he was at the end of the lead, looking all around the room) and he seemed to pay attention to one of them. I called it, kind of knowing it was a shot in the dark, and nope, it wasn’t it. The hide turned out to be an entryway hide (first box) and though he sniffed that box as we’d started, he didn’t react at all. Oh well. All he needs is more time to get consistent. He’s awesome when he’s on (as he was in class this past week – A-mazing), but he’s not consistent yet. I love him to bits and look forward to getting his ORT next time!
As I mentioned, today was a big day on the farm. Colin the ram came to visit, and got right to business. He’s owned by my friend Sally, and is a puny little guy with a butter-soft fleece. Being a bantam weight ram didn’t slow him down; he entered the pasture with the confidence of a ram twice his size. He looks like a mini-sheep next to the Black Welsh Mountain boys (not huge themselves) and definitely less threatening to the girls (one hopes). The youngsters – Minnie, Lorna, and Nona – are all in a nervous dither, keeping their distance (especially Lorna and Nona). Pebbles stood her ground and lowered her head “you little runt, I’ll show you!” and Colin quickly set her straight. ”Um, hello, ewe, I’m here at your service and by the way, I have horns and know how to use them.” She quickly realized her mistake and retreated. He wasn’t a jerk about it, but neither was he going to take any guff. Cinnamon, my shy, feral moorit ewe, was the only one who put out the welcome mat for Colin. Timing is everything of course, and she was obviously glad to see a ram. You could almost see the thought bubble over her: “Finally! Where have you been for the past two months?!” Though the mechanics were off (he’s really short and needs to find a rock to stand on…) he’ll be here for the next five or six weeks and I have faith they’ll all figure it out. There’s plenty of hillside here to facilitate height differences.
Sally stayed for a half an hour or so and we enjoyed a good chat while watching the flock to make sure everyone was settling in. After she left with her cute little Border
Collie pup, Gemma (squeee!), I let the dogs out. They were inside to keep things quiet outside (and because the driveway gate was open), and were very excited to see/smell things after Sally left. The boys settled down after the obligatory perimeter search, but Daisy…well, Daisy was her wild self. She, of course, couldn’t leave well enough alone. While I’m sure all three dogs registered the fact that there was a new sheep on the pasture (ram smell!), Daisy IMMEDIATELY zeroed in on that fact, and him, and spent the next two or three hours running the fence line, bark/yipping at him incessantly. Thankfully Colin was nonplussed. He knew Daisy was there (how couldn’t you?) of course, but didn’t freak out or change behavior. He was much too interested in his new ewes. Meanwhile Daisy barked and barked and barked and barked, working herself into a lather. While it didn’t bother me all that much (not sure why?), I’m sure the neighbors were enjoying her high pitched yapping (not!) as she ran up and down the hill along the fenceline. By the time she began to slow down a bit (no exaggeration, it was at least three hours of running up and down),
there was a muddy rut worn into the grass along the fence. The barking diminished after the first hour or so, but she was still focused on this new sheep.
It kind of surprised me that she noticed there was a new sheep—out of 10 sheep (can she count, too?) she was completely focused on Colin—and that she got hyped up to the degree she did. Maybe it was his diminutive size that had her so excited? He’s smaller than she is, no exaggeration there, and maybe she felt he was one she could take on? On the plus side, it gave me a chance to play ball with Farley without her normal interference, and we took full advantage of it. When she finally gave it up and calmed down it was almost dusk, and I fed and watered the chickens and sheep, and prepared to head inside. She’s been sleeping ever since. Ahhh.
It was an overcast weekend, kind of misty slash foggy, and decidedly chilly without the sun in attendance. Though there was no rain to speak of (a little overnight on Saturday/Sunday) it was damp and nippy all weekend. I’m thankful for the no active mud part but am already tired of the cold, dreary grayness and chill. I don’t know if it’s an age factor or just timing—this year marks my 40th year living in the greater Seattle area—but damn, it’s only October 20, and there are easily six more months of this…
The weekend was short, as the majority of them are. Since I’m nose work obsessed these days, my Saturdays are dominated by nose work classes. Daisy did well at the outside location our instructor chose—Harmony Animal Wellness Center—and was her amazing self for the first search or two. We had lots of interruptions with clients coming and going, so it was hard to stay focused. “You named a Rottweiler ‘DAISY’?” one woman said with a smile. I loved that she ‘got’ it. I pulled Daisy off that search—there was just too much going on and we restarted after things settled a bit. MY focus was off, never mind hers, and I never regained it. Still we got in some good searches, then again with the boys in their class later in the day.
After class with Daisy I headed over to the Monroe fairgrounds (a mile or two away) for the 2013 Fiber Fusion show, a trade show and fiber extravaganza for those who grow and work with animal fibers. Today was the third year for FF and the best yet, I think. It had more vendor booths than ever this year and I had a great time looking at the wares (getting ideas) and talking with the vendors. I had one woman VERY interested in my Shetland fleeces (have her name/number and need to call) and really enjoyed talking with several who are doing things with wool that I’m still hoping to (time!). I went over to the other building where the wool show was being held, just in time to see the Shetland fleece judging (if I’d known in time I would have entered a fleece or two). I was pleased to meet up with two fellow Shetland friends—Sally, who has the lamb-daddy, Colin, who’s coming to visit my ewes next month, and Franna, the person I first talked to about Shetlands, and who graciously invited me out to her farm and talked sheep with me before I’d purchased my girls. It was nice to “talk sheep,” and especially Shetlands, with them for a bit, and also to watch the fleece judging with them.
And the good times continued when I won a spindle in one of the raffle drawings I’d entered. I was also hoping for the carders, but the spindle is wonderful, since I’ve been wanting to get one for a while. Now to get on Youtube and start spinning some wool!
Sunday was just as chilly and damp, and I indulged with a couple hours in bed reading before I got up for the day. I went out to do some work outside mid-afternoon. The leaves are falling in earnest now, and the pasture is covered with them. It bums me out in that the guy I talked to back in March about harvesting trees for firewood never called me (though to be fair, I never followed up with him, either) after he took my riding mower (a pre-trade for the tree work we discussed). I need to call him and see if he’s still interested. If not, I’m going to place an ad on craigslist and see if I can get someone decent to take down some of these maples this winter. It still sucks to have all the leaves to rake—part of the reason I want to take the trees down is to reduce fall leaves (and decrease canopy/shade on this north-facing hillside) and I was hoping to have less to rake this fall. Ah well.
So after I filled the yard waste bin (96 gallons; all of 15 minutes of raking) I went up to work in the garden. I let the sheep and the chickens out and began to clean up and harvest. Bo was on the other side of the garden fence waiting for all the discards I tossed over (lots of cabbage and kale leaves) as I went through and got rid of the dead and dying squash plants (and harvesting the delicata, pumpkins, and daisy gourds). I found a TON of cutworms all over the kale and cabbage plants. The frass on the cabbage has been huge but I haven’t been able to find the culprit
until today. The cutworms I found living on them—with a little poking and searching—were so huge they gave me the heebie jeebies. Most of the pest control I do is of the pick it off and squish it variety, or, in the case of slugs, pick it up and toss it a dozen yards away into the sinkhole behind the beehives. So picking the giant cutworms out of the pocket of leaves had me a little jumpy (they were MASSIVE). I then ground them under the heel of my boot, along with several of those gross slimy slugs that don’t grow big enough to toss (but who wreak havoc with the leaf munching they do). I squished a couple dozen cabbage worms (picked off the kale) with the end of a stick. Lots of protein fertilizer going into the soil today! Normally I like to toss these critters to the chickens, but I so wanted them dead that I didn’t trust the chickens to get them all, plus the fact that the cutworms were so huge I think even the chickens would have been intimidated.
Then it happened. The squawk and kerfuffle that told me something was after the chickens. The dogs had been quiet; Farley was nearby, waiting for me to toss the toy he’d selected; Pal was off along the fence line somewhere, and Daisy was munching on sheep dung since the pasture gate was open. I looked over to see what the chickens were alarmed about and was shocked to see a shape moving off toward the understory with a purloined hen. It took me two beats to realize what I was seeing. A fat bobcat was making off with one of my hens. I processed several things at once. First, where the heck were the dogs? Second, this is the reason for the mysterious kerfuffle last month.
It was the same weird scenario last month—high alert, attack calls from the other birds, but with little fuss otherwise. A hawk would have them squawking and running for cover; the dogs or a coyote would be the same—lots of noise and running. This was weird, though, a high alert situation but short-lived and eerily quiet. Last time I didn’t pay much attention, figuring a hawk flew by (though they really weren’t acting like that) or perhaps the dogs. A couple days later I did a head count in the coop at dusk and realized I was missing a hen. I found several piles of feathers in the grass—an obvious attack of some sort—and blamed the dogs. Specifically, Daisy, the one most likely do go after a hen. Yet it still didn’t jive—not enough noise and though I was able to follow the trail of feathers for a while, I never found a dead hen (it was one of my two Welsummer hens, older and not a huge loss, but nice layer of a dark brown egg). Now it all came together, including the flock’s generalized but not over-the-top response. As a wild cat, the attack was swift and stealthy–none of the woohoo fun of a domestic animal. And they would have made much more fuss over a coyote. As it was, this cat probably looked much the same as the two housecats (Eloise and Madeleine) they see out there (and who don’t bother them).
The bobcat was about the size of a Cocker spaniel – fat and sleek, and as I yelled and began to run after it, moved into the understory and brush piles out in the CAO designated area of my property. I hollered for the dogs as I ran after it; surely one of them could help me intercept the cat before it made it over the fence with the hen. Farley heard me and loped over, but didn’t really engage much, and certainly not like when I was chasing the bear a couple of years ago. I kept bushwhacking through the understory (normally I follow the paths established by the dogs) and yelling but by the time I got to the fence I had pretty much given up. I didn’t see the cat and couldn’t see any kind of feather trail. (Last month, and also this past spring (also blamed on the dogs/Daisy) I was able to follow the feather trail to almost the fence line.) Damn. Pal finally showed up about then and seemed to hone in on a section of fence, obviously noting some sort of “other” passing, but too late to do much. A woodpecker began calling an alarm in the woods an acre or so over; the bobcat was long gone.
Then, miracle of miracles, I heard a tentative cluck-clucking. Farley did too, and showed me where the hen was hiding. The bobcat must have dropped her in his escape. I ran over and caught
her—it was one of my Dark Brahma hens. She’s older (3 ½) but one of my favorites. The two Dark Brahma girls are huge, stately and sedate, and are regular layers of a jumbo, light brown egg. She was dinged up – bite marks around her head (why do they scream like I’m killing them when I pick them up but when the bobcat had her not a peep) and two inch-plus gashes on her breast in the crop area. I put some hydrogen peroxide on the bites, and did a “farm suture” on the two incisions, though they might have been fine without… She seemed a little shocky, but probably more from my handling than from the bobcat attack. I put her with the flock and watched her. Sometimes they do better with normal routine and flock buddies. At dusk she was on the floor over by the nest boxes – still shocky but not too bad off. Still, I took her and put her in the infirmary (garage with heat lamp) until she’s feeling better. Fingers crossed she recovers.
Meanwhile, good to know I have a brazen bobcat about! I saw Madeleine a short time after I’d caught the hen (was checking the hen’s wounds) – her tail looked like a bottle brush, so it was obvious she was aware of the bobcat’s presence. The dogs had little reaction to the cat; my guess is that a) it’s probably a scent they smell every day and b) it smells like a…cat. Nothing new. There are domestic cats that I’ve seen in other areas of the property, and with their own four, nothing too new and certainly nothing to alert on. The bobcat was sleek and beautiful and looked quite fat and healthy. I saw one when I first moved in here—before I even had the property fenced—but haven’t seen one since, until today. Now I know better and while it’s a thrill to know I have a healthy bobcat in the vicinity, I will take more care, especially with lambing this coming spring (the Shetland lambs are smaller than housecats). And though I never blamed, and certainly never punished Daisy or any of the dogs for the two previous disappearances, it’s also good to know that they’re definitely not the culprits.
Though it wasn’t planned, I essentially took the entire summer off from blogging (and writing of any sort, to be frank). Here I sit, on the last day of summer (for the northern hemisphere) and thankful it turned out to be a beautiful day. The weather forecast was for rain all weekend, and it started pretty much on schedule (per forecast) last night at dusk. Let the mud begin, sigh. Then this morning I saw a few peeks of blue sky through the clot of clouds. Farley and Pal had their last nose work class for their beginning odor session and we headed out to the park with our liver treats, leaving an unhappy Daisy behind. By the time class was over at 11:45 it was downright hot, the sun having been out in force for two hours. Yay!
The boys did well in class, though the hides on the pedestrian bridge were extra hard, with lots of breezy air movement and the salmon swimming upstream in the creek below us (spawning season; we were working over a small tributary of the Skykomish River, which was a few hundred yards away). Pal especially gets distracted; his search word is “birdy” because he is. And with his bird dog brain, it’s hard for him to concentrate on one task. By nature (instinct/breeding), he’s hardwired to hunt, to have all his senses open and processing at once. He’s filtering so much at once that adding birch odor (paired with liver treats I make using the excellent Squaw Creek Cattle Company beef) isn’t necessarily the primary target in his bird brain. He’s a hunter, and once he’s locked onto a target bird he can and does hold point (and focus) for many minutes at a time. Or, in the case of his most
recent target, hours – he’s playing some version of predator/prey footsie with an obliging Douglas squirrel in a maple tree on the other side of the fence. He sits or stands in the same spot for what seems like hours (I can see him from where I type, he’s easily been there for half an hour now) fixed on his target and nearly unmoving (not at point, but definitely hunting). The squirrel will chirrup at him on occasion, but mostly Pal’s just there watching stealthily (methinks Mr. Squirrel has Pal’s number). So yeah, nose work for Pal can be a challenge. But make no mistake, Pal is an AMAZING nose work dog, and when he’s focused he’s as good as they come.
Farley is also very good. He’s old enough now that he can focus more easily. Plus he’s more of a chow hound than Pal. Pal likes his groceries, and eats like a champ, but Farley is more motivated by food. When he gets close to the hide he will usually start drooling, and I often wonder if the slobber he leaves makes it easier for the next dog searching. Far is very methodical, and also a little more bonded to me, so will often look at me when he doesn’t find the odor readily, expecting me to point to it as I do when he loses his ball in the grass or brush. He’s obsessed by his ball, so has a lot of nose work practice built up in his many years of searching for missing balls. He’s very thorough, and learned a long time ago to use and depend on his nose rather than his eyes (a dirty green ball in the grass is pretty much invisible to both of us). This too, is where he has an advantage over Pal, who is still very visual in his hunting (birdy, indeed). It’s an absolute pleasure to watch him work.
Miss Daisy, whose class is on break until October, is my best nose work dog, but she’s also two classes ahead of the boys. She’s done container searches, interior searches, exterior searches, and vehicle searches. Sometimes she’s a little distracted – she’s a very social girl and nose work isn’t necessarily her preference when there are people to meet and greet, and new best friends to win over. We recently entered an Odor Recognition Test (ORT) for birch (through the National Association of Canine Scent Work or NACSW) and I’m happy to say she passed, though it was a little dicey for a moment. Daisy is odor obedient, no question, and has been ready to pass her ORT for a few months now. When this girl hunts for odor (“giddyup!”) she is freaking awesome and it’s a sight to behold when she’s on task.
For a dog of her skill level, an ORT is ridiculously easy. In theory. Besides her handicap at the other end of the leash, there’s also her Achilles heel of sociability. At the ORT location, a dog training center about an hour’s drive south, we were led into the room where the ORT boxes were set up. All the humans were looking at her but not saying anything, and not coming over to say hello. She was a little puzzled at the quiet atmosphere. I held her for a few seconds at the starting line, just like we do in training, then gave her search word. She tugged me down between the row of flat boxes, one of which held a swab containing birch odor. She gave a cursory sniff (I’m guessing) as we went swiftly past the boxes, not even lowering her head. We got to the end and I stopped. She continued pulling – the NACSW videographer was a few yards away, and sitting (an easy target!)– surely this was Daisy’s new best friend! She then looked over at the judge, steward, and timer, pulling towards them. She could win them over, for sure. I held my ground. She was losing focus fast. I looked at the woman I’d mistaken for the judge and asked if I could say Daisy’s search word again (to get her back on track). I was too nervous to remember that I could say it as needed (no permission needed). Yes, came the reply. “Daisy, giddyup.” Nothing (the people spoke! (to answer me) Progress!). “Daisy,
giddyup!” She turned and sniffed one box in a cursory manner. Then another. We went down the row again .
At this point I was thinking “oh, well, not every dog passes, and it’s only $25…” This about a dog who has found hides in places that left me gawping in amazement at her ability. I gave her word again when, as we headed back, she seemed to have a different agenda. At this, she lowered her head and sniffed, then nudged, one of the boxes nearest to us. She nudged it again, nosing it across the floor. With all her shenanigans, and the fact that this was only the third box she’d actually (noticeably) sniffed, I hesitated. Was she just goofing around? A paw slap and mouth crunch would be next. Oh well. I turned and looked at the judge and stewards. “…Alert?” YES! came the immediate and relieved-sounding reply. This was music to Daisy’s ears and as the steward came over to me with her scorebook and time*, she was sure it was her chance to win over another Daisy fan. Normally you treat your dog at source (the hide) when they find it. Daisy had no interest in any liver when her new bestie was on her way over. I kept her from jumping up on the woman and tugged her back to the source box for a treat. I don’t remember if we ever connected treat to source, but we headed out the door with only one more obstacle, the steward at the door – “HiHiHi I’m Daisy!What’s your name?Don’t you LOOOOVE me?!” Whew! Now on to our NW1. Gulp.
I’m going to take Farley and Pal for their ORT at the end of next month, but don’t anticipate this social rodeo with them. Farley’s not a hugely social dog, and Pal is polite and demure. Fingers crossed.
*You get three minutes to complete an ORT; Daisy did it in 46 seconds (that felt like three minutes), when it usually takes her less than 10 seconds.
It was a sweltering hot day here in the PNW, our third in a row (with another week to come) and a total treat! At midday today pretty much everything (except humans, judging by the road noise) was down for an afternoon siesta. The cats ran out the door the first chance they got this morning; I try to keep them in, but they are enamored of the out-of-doors, and Madeline and Eloise seem to be dedicated to slowly working their way through the shrew population. I’ve discovered shrews are a little dopey when it comes to self-preservation, and when trapped they tend to roll over and kick instead of squirming and running away. It’s kind of cute, as they are fat and covered with a plush mole-like fur, but it’s not going to improve the population count, seeing as they aren’t much bigger than a quarter (25 cent piece). But even the cats are quiet now, all of them finding a shady spot to snooze the day away. Blackcap sleeps in the pot of thyme on the deck, underneath the now-full canopy of wisteria. The half of the pot that’s not completely shaded by the wisteria vine is overflowing with blooming thyme, and though I planted chives in the other half, they either failed to sprout or Blackcap’s habits crushed them as they sprouted. I’ll have to look for another spot for chives (front garden, after I fence it off from all the critters).
I made an omelette for breakfast this morning, though it turned into a frittata by the time I got done chopping vegetables. It was delicious and
filling and was basically all I ate all day. It’s too hot to cook, anyway, so it worked out fine. A lot of the veggies were locally grown, as the produce is coming in fast and thick now at the farmers market. It makes me feel bad that I’m so behind in my gardening. My pathetic, half planted garden is just sprouting, and I still haven’t planted my dozen or so squash plants in my squash patch (mostly pumpkin, but also zucchini, delicata (I get so tired of Word auto-correcting that word to ‘delicate’), some gourds and butternut). I planted some more potatoes late this evening, once the sun dipped behind the trees, and also repaired the damage from the @#!%&*ing! sheep. Pebbles and her goaty children (there was a time when I seriously wondered if Pebbles was a pygora goat and if I’d been duped by the person who sold her to me), Minnie and Fergus, leaped over the fence while I was inside the house for a short time and managed to prune two rows of bean seedlings and a bunch of my onion transplants, not to mention all the volunteer borage plants. They
trampled my beet spouts and ran through my sprouting lettuce patch too. And of course did a number on the fencing as they ran to get out (who knows how they got in, whether jumping or scrambling over). It frustrates the heck out of me as now all free-roam privileges are on hold. If they are out I will literally have to sit guard at the garden patch, and I don’t really have time for that.
If I were a morning person I could have gotten a lot more done out there if I’d started before 10:00 a.m. today, before the sun got high enough to create serious heat. But I’m not. Instead I brewed some tea and read a novel on the deck. It was a perfect morning for it and I was able to finish the book – The Blessings of the Animals by Katrina Kittle. It would probably be called ‘women’s fiction’ (but not chick lit or romance) if you wanted to fit it with a label or genre, and I enjoyed it immensely. It’s not often you read a novel that really gets the animals right (behaviors), and rarer still that the animals play a meaningful role in the lives of the humans (unless the book is about this issue precisely). This was a novel about human characters and their sometimes messy lives and relationships, and, without saying it, how the animals make our lives better. The title is the most overt, and pretty much the only, declaration of this throughout the book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s the second novel I’ve read recently that has a female veterinarian as the lead character. The previous book, while enjoyable, was more of a chick lit book than this one.
At any rate, it was a lovely way to spend a sunny summer Sunday morning. My eyeballs hurt afterward, though. It’s the same kind of ache I used to get as a kid, when me and my little brother would wake up early on Saturday mornings to watch Saturday morning cartoons for a few hours. Our eyes would be fixed on the screen for so long that rotating them to look to the side or up would hurt, as the little eye muscles cramped in place. Evidently reading isn’t much exercise for the eye muscles either. Ow.
The bees were wild in the sun and heat, flying out in great spirals all day, and somehow not colliding even though there are so many that they look like they could use a tiny air traffic controller out there. An inspection would be a good idea, but that makes me wilt just thinking about it. It was way too hot to suit up in a bee jacket and veil, and to put on a full pair of pants instead of shorts. Since the Warre hive is the one that I really need to figure out, it’s all a moot point anyway, because I can’t get in there without totally destroying things (comb is attached to sides of hive, so there’s no way to lift out a bar of comb to inspect it without breaking everything apart). As I left for a grocery store run this afternoon I noticed a little cluster of bees on the back corner of the hive. I went out to look and it was a queen, kind of plump, with a dozen or so attendants. By the time I got home from the grocery an hour or so later, they were all gone. Into the hive, hopefully! She was just sitting there; I thought for a minute that maybe she came out because it was so hot in the hive (haha!), but the most likely scenario is that the hive swarmed at some point in the past few days when I wasn’t home, and this was perhaps a young queen readying for a maiden flight. The only reason I think this is most likely is because of that plumpness – most adult queens I’ve seen are sleeker, more slender than this one looked, so I’m guessing she was newly hatched. Also, there have been a ton of drones in the hive (peeking in the observation windows) recently as well as hundreds dead and dying drones around the hive. The hive was very testy today, so I wasn’t able to look in the window at all. We’ll see what the coming days tell us.
Like, where the heck did it go so fast? I looked at the calendar today and couldn’t believe that we’re in the last week of June, with only a week until July 4, Independence Day and a national holiday here in the U.S. I suppose part of the reason it feels like it went so fast is because I’ve been busy, and can hardly keep up with everything. This time of year is a challenge, with the urgency of planting season and pruning back the jungle like two monsters threatening to devour a city, all while working 9-5, caring for a few dozen animals (livestock and house pets), trying to keep up with housework and errands, socializing and the holiest grail of all: down time. I’ve written about the juicy jungle growth of June before; you think I’d get used to it but the explosion of vegetative growth is stunning every year. Right now my driveway to
the gate looks like an abandoned logging road, with the salmonberry, thimbleberry, Indian plum, reed canary grass, trailing blackberry, bracken fern, sword fern, filbert trees, nettles, fringecup, manroot (wild cucumber) and Himalayan blackberry creating a wall on either side of the drive, and down the middle the plantain, grasses, buttercup, and self-heal tickle my car’s underbelly as I drive up (and I’ve already weed whacked it once). It looks totally abandoned.
Inside the gate, though, the sheep have kept everything mowed down and pruned back. The piggy BWM boys’ summer job fell through this year (they were usurped by miniature horses), so having the entire flock of nine on site all summer means that I really have to manage the grass crop. I let them out every evening, and much of the day on the weekends, to mow and munch on pretty much everything on the property. For the first time in the three years I’ve been here I haven’t needed to mow or weed whack the grass around the house. The hillside behind the house is almost putting green short (overgrazed, yes, but I’m not trying to grow pasture there). They keep the grass cropped and sample and prune most everything they can reach. They don’t like stinging nettles (unfortunately, as I have a bumper crop every year) but they do like Devil’s Club – a wondrous, and wickedly spiny, 4 – 6 foot high
shrub that grows in little colonies. Thankfully they aren’t mowing that down (perversely, I love the Devil’s club – it has a magical energy). They’ve learned to walk into all their favorite understory shrubs, pushing the plant down as they walk into it, and lowering the yummy leaves to where they can eat them. They’ve kept the salmonberry and sword fern bordering the open area around the house from making further headway in the vegetative master plan to engulf the house. Everything is pruned at sheep’s head high, and the plants on the edge completely denuded as they employ their new trick. Still, it feels like a jungle out there. We had some rain this past week or so, after almost two weeks of solid sun (loved it!), which will help the pasture to recover and regrow. In the meantime they’re in their confinement area and I’m filling hay nets every day. Ugh. I probably should have pulled them off the pasture two weeks ago, given the dry spell we had, but it’s not hideously overgrazed, so will hopefully recover quickly with the recent rain and coming sunshine. No need to hire the pasture mower this year!
I have the garden about half planted. I think I’m even further behind than I was last year, but I’ve decided it’s all okay. Local farmers are harvesting lettuce and kale and onions already while mine are just sprouting. Tonight the soil was too wet and soggy to work after a week of rain, so I wasn’t able to get out there. This weekend will be perfect for finishing up planting and transplanting, and I’ll have a lovely fall garden in two or three months.
I just spent a deliciously indulgent week off work. I’d planned to do a few around the house projects on the docket, and got to a few of them (unfortunately the wet weather prevented any serious garden work, so I’m once again behind planting and transplanting), but mostly I just hung out with the critters and enjoyed some much needed down time. I read two books this week and finished a third, which is unheard of while I’m working (no time!). And may I just say that Anne Lamott is awesome? I’ve not read any of her fiction, but her memoir/nonfiction is wonderful. Funny, profound, insightful, and geez, I wish I could write that well. The Memorial Day holiday came and went, rainy and grey, as it usually is. The temperatures have been decent though, so that’s something. And the mild temperatures mean the bees can still fly, despite the rain. I’m happy to report that the grafting procedure of two weeks ago (adding the nuc box onto my beehive whose queen seemed to have died) seems to have worked. I did a hive inspection a week afterward and I had both eggs and larvae in evidence. Yay!! RIP Queen Beatrice, long live Queen Celeste.
Of course even now I wonder if I overreacted; did I just not see eggs (they’re pretty small)? Did I
misread capped larvae cells thinking they were honey? It seemed that by the time I got the nuc box that things were more active in Beatrice’s hive. I looked at the frames, though, before I put the nuc box in there, and didn’t see any eggs or larvae. I have to trust I did the right thing, and know that it wasn’t a waste of time and money, and a queen.
In addition to Celeste and her minions, I recently added to the household menagerie and became crazy cat lady. It was a moment of weakness, though really not much more work than just having Peachy, the only cat left after my annus horribilus 2011, where I lost Cutter and Dinah and Paige to old age issues, and my darling Jasper to the busy road out front. He was only seven and my favorite cat. I still miss him and still feel guilty about his demise. I thought about just not having cats anymore. Peachy’s a senior, and though mostly healthy, he does have kidney disease and is a little arthritic. Once he goes I’d be catless. But I like cats, and I like having cats. And I felt bad for Peach, being an only cat. He loves the dogs, but the three I have now aren’t cat dogs (Cutter was the one all my cats loved) and Daisy can be downright predatory at times, eyeing Peach with intent and playing roughly with him. When he tries to snuggle up sometimes the dogs growl at him. So maybe it was stupid to even think of another cat, especially given Daisy’s prey drive. She isn’t a cat killer, but she is relentless.
But I kept ending up at various shelter and rescue websites looking at cats. And Craigslist and Petfinder. I kept returning to one shelter in particular, over several months’ time (this search spanned the better part of a year). It’s a small, well run facility in a remote part of the state, and regularly makes trips over here with adoptable pets. In April they had a special on their older cats – no fee, in anticipation of kitten season, when they, like all shelters, are inundated with kittens due to the nature of feline reproduction cycles. I looked and saw a half dozen or so I liked. But would any of them be good with dogs? That was my big hangup with adopting an older cat or two, due to Daisy’s persistence with Peach. I had to get cats that were at least used to being around dogs, to minimize chaos.
I filled out an application and wrote to the shelter, explaining my situation and the cats I was interested in. The shelter manager told me which of
the cats I liked might be a good fit for my household, and even did a “dog test” with a cat-friendly dog that happened to be at the shelter at the same time, to verify which cats reacted in a normal manner. When it was all done, I’d selected a pair of 8-month-old sisters and a 3-year-old, and though I cringed somewhat at the idea of adopting three cats at once, I rationalized (?) that having four cats was only one more than three.
I picked them up in late April. The sisters seemed to be pretty calm, considering the trip they’d just had (five hours in a mini-van full of puppies, other cats, and dogs). The older cat, Blackcap, was a little more stressed, and had wet her pants during the ride. We transferred them to my crates and I put them in my car (where my Rottweiler, Daisy, was waiting for us – we’d just finished Nosework class) and drove straight home.
I got everyone unloaded and settled in the cat loft. The two kittens, then Thelma and Louise, were doing okay. Thelma was definitely more reserved than Louise, who had no reservations, it seemed. Blackcap was cautious, but sitting on the floor with her and petting her soon had her rolling around in kitty ecstasy. So far, so good. Within the next couple of hours, Louise was coming down the loft stairs to inspect her new home. It was clear her name had just been misspelled – she was Eloise, and she was as bold and friendly as a cat could be. Her sister, renamed Madeline, was a little quieter, more normal in her reserved response to landing on Mars. Blackcap took a couple of days before she ventured down the stairs. She’s taken longer to adjust to the dogs, and has a shorter fuse with Daisy’s antics, but overall the adjustment period has gone quite well. Peachy’s been, well, a peach, with the invasion of his space. He and Blackcap still don’t like each other (she growls at him on sight, he stalks her to start something) and sometimes Madeline hisses at him, or vice versa, but he’s maintained his place without being a jerk about it.
Eloise is an absolute delight, and reminds me of all the reasons I’ve always loved cats. She’s sure of herself, and though not incautious, approaches life boldly and with curiosity. Madeline, too, is sweet and cuddly like her sister, though her fuse is definitely shorter, and under stress she reverts to angry cat responses; she loves to sit with me while I work on the computer, purring like an outboard against my back. Blackcap is a doll, and rolls around on the dining room table like a pin up girl, head butts Daisy, and is a saucy little cat. All in all I got really lucky to find them, and that they all worked out with the dogs is amazing.