Mo Bloggin'

A little o' this, a little o' that

Archive for the category “Miscellaneous – Nature, weather, etc.”

Happy New Year Musings

20161209_091400Happy New Year!  When I look at the calendar and see 2017 it seems so surreal.  It’s such a science-fictiony kind of date for those of us born near the middle of the last century.  But here we all are, still grunting along, with the proverbial two steps forward, one step back still in heavy rotation (one might agree that equation is backwards, in light of the year just past).  There were a lot of “good riddance” attitudes as 2016 faded into history, as there are at every New Year.  Each year deals its own challenges as time and life progresses, be it natural disaster, personal losses, or global events. This year it seemed as if there were more of the “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” type sentiments (as if the turn of a calendar page could transform anything), with several high profile celebrity deaths happening to bookend the year, and in the middle as well.  Our celebrity culture tells us that these celebrities’ deaths are “Breaking News” and social media lights up with mournful responses for each one.  Certainly these people do affect our lives with their talents, entertaining us and perhaps changing our outlooks or inspiring us such that our own trajectory is altered.  Of course even in this, our lives, and life courses, are self-generated, with any course change or goal achieved being of our own volition, or any lack thereof being also our own choice. When people are lamenting the loss of one celebrity or another I remember the Walt Whitman poem “Oh Me! Oh Life!” from his Leaves of Grass, which ends with the potent line:
“[Answer] That you are here—that life exists and identity, That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”  And of course the equally powerful natural follow up to that last, magnificent line: What will your verse be? (And yes, I know, I quote a dead celebrity [in a movie] with this line, but there you have it.)

20161205_094623In other powerful revelations, I maintain my long-held belief that the epitome of civilization, the absolute pinnacle of mankind’s achievements—and I’m not kidding when I say this—is: hot running water from a tap.  I am completely serious.  Go without electricity for a week and you’ll find you can cope. If you don’t have modern central heating, a woodstove does an excellent job (and helps with cooking too). There are several make-do substitutions for almost any of modern conveniences, but running water, specifically hot running water, simply cannot be matched.  I learned this many years ago, when a winter storm left me without power for 5 long days. At the time I did have a woodstove, so kept the house toasty-warm that way. And hot running water was maintained with a natural gas hot water heater. So a delicious hot shower by candlelight, with hair dried sitting on a footstool next to the woodstove, kept things civilized.


Beautiful overnight frost on my windshield.

Here on my little farm though, I not only don’t have a woodstove (the place is so tiny I have no idea where to put it, and the most likely place would require eliminating half of my already paltry living room seating), I’m also on a well, with an electric water heater. So when the power goes out, I immediately begin water rationing, using water sparingly so I don’t run out the tank while I wait for the power to come back on. Or, in the case of this week, when we have long spells of freezing/below freezing weather, the wellhead and/or the pipes at the tank freeze up, and I’m again rationing water until the weather warms up. The temps dipped on Tuesday.  I saw this pattern was coming on Sunday and Monday, so did laundry, filled the sheep’s water trough, and washed my hair in anticipation of water rationing.  We did okay for a couple days, and still the freezing temperatures persisted.  Generally, if it doesn’t get above 32 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and also dips into the low 20s or below at night, the freezing of the water supply is at risk.  We had this all week, with temps in the mid and high teens at night, and barely climbing to 33 or 34 degrees during the day.  By Wednesday I could see the water pressure was waning, as the water coming out of the taps was beginning to slow.  This meant the tank was emptying and not refilling.  Thursday morning as I was readying for work, she gave up the ghost.  No water.  Dang.


Sir Terry, the handsome ram who’s visiting for a few key months, and his harem.

I stopped at the store on the way home from work that night and bought 5 gallons of water (because of course I haven’t stockpiled water).  I used all but one gallon that night, as I boiled up a gallon to bring out to the sheep (poured into their frozen trough, it melted some of the ice and gave them some water until it froze over again), filled the dogs’ bowls (because of course those had gotten low, too), and used some for washing up.  On Friday I stopped and refilled those four 1-gallon containers.  Saturday I was still without water and bought another 3 gallons of water.  Though the temperature was slowly rising, it really needs to get to at least 35 degrees for 24 hours before things thaw enough.  This little hillside is a cold hillside, with negligible direct sun this time of year and both the wellhead and the tank being in perennially shaded areas.  On Sunday the temps were supposed to rise some more, but I was concerned it wouldn’t be enough to thaw things.  It had now been almost a week without a proper shower, and going outside with the dogs for potty was getting old (and a bit chilly!).

I went down to the well head – a little box at the bottom of the pasture.  I threw a rug, still warm from the clothes dryer, over the pump.  And realized I needed to do more.  So I cobbled together no less than 6 extension cords (that last 9-footer made it!) and put an electric heater in the box, on low, and left it for a 45 minutes or so while I fed the sheep and cleaned up the garage.  After nearly an hour it was nice and toasty in the box, but the tank up by the house wasn’t budging.  So I took the heater, with only one extension cord this time, and put it in the tiny shed that the tank lives in on the side of the house.  I kept checking on it, and moved it closer and closer to the piping.  Finally, an hour into it (two hours if you count the time at the wellhead), I began to get water out of the tap.  Hallelujah and happy dance.  Let there be water!


Frosty woods out back. The kicker, to be filed in the “it’s always something” folder, is I absolutely LOVE this weather aside from the frozen water aspect.  It’s been mostly clear, so lots of blue sky and winter sun (yes!), and even when it’s mere 24 degrees out there, I find it comfortable (no wind to speak of, so wind chill isn’t a factor).  The ground is frozen solid, so no mud (HUGE), and it’s beautiful to look at the frost-laden landscape. What’s not to love?

I waited a reasonable amount of time to be sure the water was staying on, and then ran the dishwasher (packed full after a week), and a load of laundry (also full).  Then, when it looked like all systems were go there, I got into the shower for the first time since Monday.  Baby wipes and sponge bathing had kept me reasonably clean, but I hadn’t washed my hair since Monday, and it was wonderful.  I was able to wipe the counters clean with a damp cloth for the first time in days, and really clean things in the kitchen.  Sunday’s temps are rising a little but the ground is still frozen solid, so I’m glad I made the effort.

Hot running water.  Seriously.


Gratuitous cuteness.  My little pack, all tuckered out after romping outside for a few hours.

Autumn excitement

20161018_084137I can’t believe it’s almost the end of October already. The falling leaves and bare branches, cold temperatures and fall rains all seem premature somehow. Every year I am virtually dragged into fall kicking and screaming, not ready to give up summer. But alas, it is here.  The autumn months are beautiful, no question, with the leaves turning and all the fall harvests and ripenings, but after just a few weeks of rain I’m already dreading the three or four months of rain yet to come. I need to make peace with this.

Earlier this month we had a visitor to the farm. I’d run out on Saturday to do my usual weekend errands. I came back home and pulled up the driveway to the gate. I saw one of the sheep run across my field of vision as I got out of the car to open the gate. They normally get excited when I come home and run up to the upper pasture gate as I drive up the hill. But intuition told me something was up and I immediately worried about loose dogs (not my own, which were inside the house). 20161005_172937

I opened the gate and walked over toward the pasture quickly. The sheep were all bunched together, moving, except for that black one up by the…  OMG. That’s not a sheep! A black bear had come to visit! I clapped my hands loudly and walked toward the bear (in the pasture with the sheep, but not really after the sheep, as far as I could tell). “Go on, bear!” I hollered at it. He moved down the hill away from me, toward the NE corner of the pasture, then sat down to chew on his foot (maybe he stepped on a thistle?). He knew I was there, but wasn’t nearly as concerned about my presence as I would have liked.  He went over the pasture fence and headed up the hill toward the chicken coop – and the beehive. I got in the car and drove up the hill quickly. The car driving up scared him a little, and he moved to the edge of the yard to where the grass meets the woods. I got out and walked towards him, clapping my hands again, and telling him to go on (the dogs heard me from inside the house and started barking). He looked at me for a long moment then moved off into the woods, loping to the fence and off the property. Then I went inside and let the dogs out to reinforce the message.


Sorry for the blurry exposure – I was a wee bit excited.  The sheep in the foreground (Minnie, I think) is looking at me to fix this situation.

It was pretty exciting to see a bear like that. I’ve had them come through before (though it’s been a few years) and generally at this same time of year August/September, but in those other instances I just heard them (moving through the brush) or, my first year here, seeing the aftermath (tipped over the empty garbage bin, got into my bird feeder, got into my chicken feed – I no longer feed the birds and keep the chicken feed locked in the garage). This was the real deal, and in broad daylight on a Saturday afternoon. Wow!


A few feathers is all that was left of a good sized rooster.  A stealthy bobcat strike. 

The next day I was out working in the yard and the chickens were out. When I went to check on their feed and water later in the afternoon I saw we were down by one. The rooster obviously got got – a few feathers and a little blood and evidently the work of a bobcat. I found a feather or two by the back fence line, but it was clean and quiet, just like a cat. Dang.

On Monday night I was sitting in my living room, up late and working on an editing job, and heard the chickens squawking. I heard a thump and went to look out the window at the coop. I didn’t see anything in the porch light, but figured maybe it was the bobcat again so I let the dogs out. The barking excitement told me they were doing their job. After a bit Farley and Daisy came in at my call. Pal didn’t. He sometimes will stay out running around for 30 minutes, but considering the activity recently, I started to worry. I called him and got nothing. So I got a flashlight and went out, Daisy and Farley happy to come out for more 2 a.m. fun. I saw a white streak run by in the dark but when I called him he didn’t come, which is unusual for Pal, as he has a pretty good recall. At least he was okay.  The chickens seemed to be fine – a little shaken up and a couple off the roosts, and I shut the coop door and propped it with the fence post (it doesn’t close all the way).  Meanwhile Daisy had taken up barking maniacally at the foot of a maple tree near coop, like a coonhound with a treed coon. I went over and shined the flashlight up the trunk, but I already knew what I’d find, judging by the noise. The bear was back. He looked down on us from a rather flimsy looking branch about 30 feet up, clacking his teeth and bawling every once in a while (the best way to describe the noise – not a growl and not a roar, more like a moaned complaint). I had to physically haul Daisy off to the house. Farley came with us, and Pal now, too. I watched/listened from the bathroom window and after about 20 minutes I could hear branches cracking as the bear lowered himself to the ground and ran off over the fence. I felt bad for the bruin, as he was obviously scared, but hoped that the hazing by the dogs would convince him to move on and that human dwellings weren’t good places to hang out.

There were a couple of hens loose in the morning, so I herded them back into the coop. A quick head count told me we were down one.  I don’t think it was the bear, but more likely the bobcat, come to take advantage of the birds being loose. I left for work. And that afternoon I pulled up the driveway see this.

He was back. He was about 15 yards away and stood watching me. I got out of the car and took few steps in his direction, clapping my hands loudly. (Cue chorus of barking from inside the house.) He thought about it for a few seconds, then turned and left. I kept clapping and yelling. Then, when I was sure he was over the fence, I let the hounds out.  Wee!  So much fun!


Muddy paw marks on top of the gate.  Smelly fly trap to the upper right, and a tipped over water trough just on the other side of the fence. 

Then I went around the property to see what he’d been up to. I’d left the sheep in their pen that day, and from what I can tell, he was maybe IN the pen with them. Or maybe just climbing the gate (I could see muddy paws had been up on the top of the 5 foot gate) and also the other side of the pen. As near as I could tell he was after the smelly fly trap still hanging out there (smells like a dead thing rotting) from the summer. He’d bitten at it but didn’t take it all the way down. The sheep seemed fine – weren’t even breathing hard by the time I got home. And of course there’s this.


Nice.  But there was no honey in this hive, and no stinging bees either. 

It’s the dead hive, with the live hive full of (angry) bees…and honey, right next to it, still intact. I wondered if I maybe interrupted him when I pulled up. Other than that it was just the fence that was taking a beating with all these visits.

I decided to stay home the next day to keep an eye on the place. I was able to work remotely from home, and keep watch while I did so. The bear came back around noon, from what I could tell by the chickens and sheep behavior, but I don’t think he came on the property then. (I let the dogs out to reinforce things.) Then, about 2:30 he was back.  I saw the chickens go quiet and bunch up again. I got up to look out the front window to see the sheep in the pasture all looking intently towards the north/east property line. I went out (without the dogs at first) and clapped my hands.  I heard him move off, and went to let the dogs out again.  So. Much. Excitement. And I fixed the crunched fence sections for the fourth time.

Again, I hoped this hazing (especially the two tries without any reward) would make him decide to move on. He didn’t seem to want apples. And thankfully he didn’t seem to want the chickens or sheep. I think he was young and inexperienced at being on his own, but hopefully heading towards the foothills and a safe place to den for the winter. We haven’t seen him since that day, three weeks ago now, and I hope he’s safe.


Gratuitous cuteness: Pal on his 7th birthday last Friday.  He was worried that this unusual attention (me trying to get a nice photo of him on his birthday) might mean something like a nail trim or a bath. Love this little guy!  (Excuse the fugly tape on the chair – it’s a lost cause, but I try to deter the cats from shredding it more by putting double-sided tape on it.)



A good grass year


Everything is still green and juicy.  Can you see the bird dog on point?

It rained again last night.  We’ve been having an unusually wet July so far, and though I’d normally be complaining, I’m totally good with it this year.  After last year’s drought, and the year before not much wetter, not to mention our freaky, end-of-times heat wave this past April, it feels good, even soothing, to have what is essentially a normal weather year. And yes, it’s great for grass growing on my shade-challenged little hillside. Last year the grass was done by the end of June. Once solstice passes, the whole growth thing shifts. Everything seeds out and if there’s no water the grasses just go dormant. I don’t have the well capacity (or hose capacity!) to do much more than spot watering so these rains are welcome. The sheep are still getting plenty of graze considering the time of year and the flock size. To that end, I’m managing the sheep differently than in previous years, partly because of the number – I just don’t have the grazing capacity, given the aforementioned shade challenges, to run much more than 5-head. And until two days ago, I’ve been running 11. Now it’s down to 9 (my freezer will be full in a week) and that will ease the pressure. So I feed hay pretty much year round, just less of it when the grass is growing. I’m still making decisions with the flock, and hope to breed this fall – it’s been a few years since my last lambs – and I’m culling for both fleece quality and temperament. After Minnie’s twins turned out to be as friendly as two puppies (and have remained so, two years later, bringing their mother along), I discovered how delightful it can be to have easy, approachable sheep. And seriously, on this small setup it’s crazy to do otherwise. So the wild, untamable ones are slowly being weeded out. I still have a couple more out there, but one will likely stay until her natural end (sentimental, plus she’s an excellent mother who produces babies that are not as wild as her) and the other one, well, we’ll see.  After she lambs she may be easier, plus I culled her dam, and I’m hoping without that freak-out influence from her mother she’ll follow the lead of the rest of the flock and at least get close enough to nose-touch my outstretched hand.

The songbird season has also shifted since solstice, with babies seemingly everywhere. And the song is changing. The Swainson’s daytime song has decreased as nesting goes into full swing. It’s one thing to mark your territory with song, it’s another to attract potential predators with them, and setting females and then the hatchlings and nestlings are very vulnerable. Plus the territories are well established now as everyone’s nesting.  The evening song is still magical, though I’ll miss it when it ceases altogether in another few weeks. I can guess where certain species are in their nest cycles by their song: the black-headed grosbeak had been insistent and melodic the last week, so are probably on  nest/brood number two now); the robins are still melodic but slowing down, with probable nesting number three underway, for the last of the season before it’s time to bulk up for winter migrations. The tanagers and western wood peewees are intermittent as well. Everyone is too busy to sing, with all those mouths to feed. And here the rain is helpful too, as it keeps the insect populations bountiful as well, so feeding the babies is easier. The drought last year was hard on everyone, from grass to invertebrates to feathered and woolly residents.


Still filled with song in the evenings.

I saw a fat baby robin fly after its parent down the driveway as I was leaving for work one morning. And the other day I came home to a juvenile crow hopping and poking around the driveway as my car followed it slowly up to the gate. It finally flew up to the gate rail, then up to a low cedar branch when I got out of the car. There weren’t any screaming parents around, or any other crows at all, which was odd, because although it was fully feathered, it shouldn’t have been alone. I wondered if maybe it got bonked by a car as it flew too low across the road, and maybe lay stunned long enough that the parents left it for dead. Even that would be odd – crows are excellent parents and don’t give up easily. I was bringing the yard waste and garbage bins up from the road, and he watched me nervously from his branch. I picked some thimble berries from along the driveway, and pulled a little bit of meat off the rotisserie chicken I’d just purchased at the grocery on the way home, and put these on top of the yard waste bin, close to where he was perched, and left him there to go up to the house and unload the groceries. An hour or so later I went down to check. He was gone, and the meat and berries still on the top of the bin (Farley was right there for the meat). I hope he found his way back to his crow family.

A brown creeper nested in the loose bark of a cedar tree along the driveway.  I couldn’t get a good shot of the parent bird coming in or out, but coming out the view was akin to someone trying to get into their skinny jeans, as she squeezed out of this impossibly small space to go get more insects for the babies.

And then there are my dark-eyed juncos, a.k.a. Oregon juncos. In early June I was trimming some overgrown salmonberry branches I’d cut from behind the fence line, walking over to dump them into the pasture for the sheep, when a bird suddenly flitted from underneath my feet. I looked to see a junco on the fence, tsking madly at me. I turned to where I’d just walked. Juncos are ground nesters, usually tucking their perfect little nest beneath a fern or hidden in a bit of weedy overgrowth.  But there was nothing nearby…or was there?  It was all grass, but I saw a larger tuft of grass and walked back and…sure enough. This seemed extreme, even for a junco. But really, what better camouflage then  “in plain sight.” The only problem with this, aside from the fact that I’d nearly flattened it walking to the fence, is it was perilously close to Pal’s flight path – he runs down the driveway multiple times a day at breakneck speed (Farley too, though he’s not as fast as he once was), in the grass just to the right of the driveway tracks. If he didn’t find the nest with his mad bird dog skillz, then surely he would trample it by accident. And the sheep run down there too, grazing on the grass and sometimes galloping and leaping and tossing their heads in sheepy exuberance, sometimes being rounded up by an exuberant Daisy. No one would see this nest in time. So I added this bit of attractiveness to the landscape – the junco kiddie corral. (click on the photos for captions)

Judging by their size and feathering, I figured them to be a few days old when I first found them. They fledge (leave the nest) in 14 days, so it wasn’t too long before they were gone, off with mom and dad to the safety of the pasture and woods, with their little calls a zippery sound that’s hard to describe; it almost sounds like tiny chains being dropped. The male kept watch, flying and singing his song, helping feed the kids and warning them of any dangers.

A week or so later another pair were up by the house, the male trilling loudly from the corner of the roof, boisterous and animated, and, with a little anthropomorphism thrown in, one could say proudly. And the female was nearby, letting me get remarkably close as she hopped around the driveway, picking up bits of dried grass and dog hair so she looked like she was sporting a bushy, 1880s-style mustache. She’d fly off furtively and disappear with her beakful of nesting material, but I knew it had to be close. I finally was able discover its location by watching from inside the house. The pair would land on the railing of the back porch frequently, setting the cats to chittering at the window in feline excitement. So I hid in the door of the closet to watch them and saw the female duck behind a tuft of grass at the bottom of my retaining wall. Voila!  I checked it for several days in a row – the sheep ate a large fern leaf that was providing much of the cover – dang. First it was just the nest, looking completed, but no sign of the pair, no scolding. Maybe they abandoned the site? The next day there was one single egg there. The following day, a second egg, and a day later, egg number three and then she was setting on them. Time to put up the Junco kiddie corral again. This one would have to protect against the chickens too. The first nest was further down the driveway than they usually wander this time of year (plenty to eat up by the house), but this nest is within a few feet of my back door and if the chickens found it the eggs, or hatchlings, would be quite the delicacy (the chickens love stuff like this and regularly eat the cats’ abandoned hunting trophies: shrews, mice, small voles).

The fence against the wall would deter all but the cats. I could add some netting over the top, to prevent the most obvious access (the wall is about 4 feet tall here), but the cats can squeeze through the bottom openings of the woven wire fence too. I could put up chicken wire around the bottom (and with all this construction, I worry about disturbing the juncos enough that they abandon the nest). So the solution is total cat confinement for the next few weeks. The female began setting on June 29, which means the babies will hatch around July 10th (nothing so far) or 11th, and they’ll be fledged by July 25 at the latest. Then the cats can start going out at night again. Maybe. In the meantime it’s a bit of a circus keeping them from darting out the door every time I open it. They begin to get stir crazy after a while. All my area rugs are bunched up in the mornings, as they attack them and chase each other around at night, batting found objects around (something clicky/draggy last night – have no idea what it was). I found their cat carrier pushed across the floor of the loft one morning – not sure who was doing what up there, but sometimes living with cats is like living with monkeys – they get into everything and everywhere, sometimes literally climbing the walls, but certainly the window screens and clawing up the furniture.


One of my favorite field guides.  My ex-mother-in-law gave it to me many years ago, and I reference it often this time of year.


The dawn chorus and my annual amnesia


Summer Solstice Eve

It’s happening again, and I’m fully aware of it. I work harder each day to remember the whole year, the mud, the rain, the unease, the borderline despair that I feel during our long, wet Pacific NW winters. Those dark and dreary days, with the paltry 8.5 hours of “daylight” between sunrise and sunset times (we never see the sun, so I take it on faith that it’s out there) marked by sludgy grey clouds that even when they’re not leaking oppress and depress. The lights are on in the house all day long, the dogs come in wet and muddy on most days, and feeding the livestock in the rainy dark after work the chickens look miserable and the sheep look bored and as full of discontent as I feel.


These are the skies I long for in December.

But I knew it would happen. It always does. After 7 months of rainy, dismal weather, and epic amounts of mud we’ve come into our season of splendor. We’re just moving out of jungle season (also magnificent) and now it’s settling into the rhythms of 16 hours of daylight (squeeee!) versus its opposite in December, and all the wonder and abundance of a fecund spring. Never mind that today (it’s the last few hours of summer solstice as I write this) is pretty much the saddest day of the year. Sure, it’s the longest day of the year, but it’s also the turning point where the days start to roll back, getting shorter and we begin losing daylight by increments, heading back to that dismal darkness. But for now we will dance in the sun and revel in the song and forget about that long, stressful winter. Instead, I will spend my days here soaking up all the goodness, settling into my wonderful little hillside on a sunny day like a broody hen settling onto a clutch of eggs, content to just sit and watch and listen to the glory of creation as it unfolds in panoramic vision—the bees being probably the most joyous visual expression of what I feel—and all of it to a exaltation of surround-sound. For it is Songbird Season, and I love songbirds.


The package hive has been going like gangbusters, and filled their deep so I added a super so they have more room. 

Even now, with the windows only opened a crack I hear them.  Though today was warm, it’s been chilly for the past couple weeks—a normal, gloomy and damp PNW June—but I keep the windows open just so I can hear the birds. The calls, the chirps, and the songs.  Oh, the songs. The thrushes have all the others beat as far as melody and pleasing (to the human ear) song, though the Black-headed grosbeak and Song sparrow aren’t too shabby.  I think the Swainson’s thrushes and the robins (also a thrush) just can’t be beat though, for not only are their flute-like songs beautiful, they are positively incessant throughout the day (and they seem to be the most abundant). None of the other birds save the Dark-eyed juncos (a raspy tweee, not too melodious but not unpleasant) do much more than a few songs throughout the day.  Or maybe they’re just drowned out by the thrush songs.


Red huckleberries – the robins, Swainson’s thrushes, and Western tanagers love these, and I’ve got lots of them to share.

The dawn chorus starts at about 3:30 a.m., just as the sky begins to lighten, with the twittering of the swallows, already out flying after several hours grounded.  The Swainson’s and robins chime in next, along with the grosbeak, Western tanagers, chickadees, song sparrows, towhees, and dark-eyed juncos. Other birds I hear throughout the day but don’t seem to sing much: the hummingbirds (a sharp chip-chip), Steller’s jays (wik-wik-wik-wik-wik!), crows and ravens (rawk), and the woodpeckers—hairy, downy, pileated, sapsuckers and flickers—plus the occasional raptor – osprey, red tailed hawks, and eagles (the vultures are pretty silent), or duck from the valley.


When I come home from work the birdsong is like a balm, soothing jangled nerves after a long day at work and a gnarly commute. I change clothes quickly and head outside with the dogs, finding myself drawn to the woods, where the high canopy feels like a cathedral, and the songs are more soothing than any choir. It feels similar to the siren song of the old seafaring legends – where you are helpless to resist (though without the dire consequences, thankfully!). I am entranced, mesmerized, rapt, and spellbound, lured ever deeper into the woods to stand beneath the trees by some unseen singer, a bit of bone and blood and feathers, weighing barely more than a couple of medium-sized strawberries. The robins, one of the largest of all the songbird species that habit this patch of woodland, tips the scales at just under 3 ounces, the Swainson’s thrush a whopping 1.5 ounces, yet the woods are filled with their giant song. The robins have a huge repertoire, and there are some similarities to the Swainson’s song, but the Swainson’s, that furtive bit of greenish brown feathers, is the one that I wait for all year, their upward-spiraling flute song stretching an aural web as far as the ear can hear – close and crisp, and distant and haunting, overlapping, echoing and answering, a treasure of acoustic jewels for the lucky listener.


Sunset on the solstice. 9:09 p.m.

In the long evenings I sit on my deck writing, and reveling at being surrounded by all I love, by place. The sheep are grazing the property, moving around in a cohesive flock; the chickens wander around, scratching and pecking, gobbling up fresh greens and all the insects they can catch; the dogs, dirty but blissfully free of mud, snooze like bearskin rugs around me, stretched out at my feet, farm-dog grubby and content. And all of it to the soundtrack of birdsong. The little male junco, in the tree near the deck, tweeeeing. The dapper Spotted towhee in the thick undergrowth, singing his buzzy trill. The robins with their myriad songs and calls high in the maples, and above it all the little prince, the salmonberry bird, my Swainson’s thrush in his deceptively drab olive-brown feathering, always hidden, and always singing, singing, singing.  I am captivated.


Memorial Day musings


A beautiful blush-pink foxglove came up next to the deck this year.

We just observed Memorial Day here in the U.S., the day where we honor our deceased military. It’s a sad day, though most of us look at it, at least initially, as a day off work. It’s a much needed three day weekend for me, as I imagine it is for most of us doing the 9-5 thing, where we have an extra day to sleep in, relax, visit with friends and family, maybe a barbecue, and the start of summer and camping season. Only it’s not just that. The municipal decor (flags and bunting decorating our towns) and television programming reminds us why we have this day off. It makes me sad, as it does most, I guess. We are a warring nation, and have been in one conflict or another for nearly all of our 240 years. Some justified, maybe, but others not so much (including our latest, still going after 15 years – thanks W).


I came home from work one day to see this – a great blue heron perched on the tippy top of a snag by the dairy across the street.  He must have been hanging out with the eagles.

It’s been rainy for the past week or two, and the cool, misty cloudiness has been welcome. But on yesterday the sun was back and the day burst forth. My damp little hillside is slow to wake up, situated as we are, but there was no denying the return of the sunshine. Everything green is rejoicing in it, and the birds and the bees exuberant with it. I’ve been listening to the local Swainson’s thrush, only just returned this past month. There’s one who’s staked out the lower woods, down by the driveway (his song is the first thing I hear when I get home from work each evening and get out of the car to open the gate, and it’s magical), and another at the top of this same patch of woods.  Their song goes back and forth almost all day, a lovely challenge and warning to one another: “This is mine; you stay on yours.”  Why can’t humans do this instead of the awful way we challenge one another, with arms and physical violence?


The woods behind the house, where the Swainson’s thrush sing.  And, the night before I took this photo, a chorus of coyotes as well. 

Of course with the sunshine comes the humans, and the road activity increased markedly compared to the cloudy, wet Saturday and Sunday. During those rainy days I could hear the birdsong so much better, where on Sunday it was just snippets through the lulls in grinding engines and acceleration. If I could change one thing about this place, I think that road noise would be it…(location, location, location) or maybe I’d change the exposure to something more southeasterly – it’s a toss-up.  I took a walk in the woods on the other side of the fence, where the now-trickle of Rasmussen Creek flows. I actually saw a Swainson’s thrush – even when they come close, they’re masters of hiding behind a leaf or a branch – and I must have surprised him/her by being where I was.  S/he flew off to watch me from behind cover, disappearing again. I walked slowly, stopping frequently, and saw a song sparrow in a dapple of sunlight, fluffing and shaking off, grooming his feathers after a recent dip in the creek flow. I found a couple of discarded robin’s egg shells, the mother bird taking the impossibly blue casing (one wonders why the eggs are blue – wouldn’t a brown speckled version be better camouflaged against predators?) and discarding it safely far away from the nest after a successful hatching.


A weather phenomenon over my house in an otherwise cloudless sky.  This HUGE circle or ring is evidently called a solar halo (though it was not encircling the sun) and was so large I couldn’t get a photo of all of it.  It looked like it was encircling my property from above, and was very cool, but also a wee bit eerie.  (Under the Dome, anyone?)

Then it was back to the gate, to Daisy’s obvious relief (“There you are!”), where Farley had been barking at bicyclists all day (he catches glimpses of them through the brush between the fence and the road), and up the driveway.  The sheep were in the pasture, content to stay there grazing in the sunshine and chewing cud in the shade. I heard the song of the dark eyed junco, chickadee, and towhee, the chip of hummingbirds as they zipper past, and the other robin family visiting the red huckleberry, and the towhee and Swainson’s in the red elderberry that twines through it.  The rustling and thrashing in the salmonberry bushes shows me a Swainson’s or a robin picking the barely ripe berries, and I revel in their enjoyment.


Pal’s handiwork.  He’s the sweetest of my three dogs but he doesn’t mess around when it comes to varmints.  Evidently this one was delicious.

The cherry tree is moving towards ripening, though I have a gray squirrel who is decimating the unripe cherries. This frustrates both me and the dogs, though for different reasons. Pal actually managed to get two juvenile squirrels earlier this month – something I’ve not seen him do before, and I was at once squeamish and pleased. He was quite proud of himself (this is a dog who hunts all the time – mostly just stalking behavior – but has never played with toys of any kind, so when he prances up happily with a toy in his mouth it’s a bit of a shock), and I was ultimately glad to have them dispatched (Eastern gray squirrels are not native, crowd out our native Douglas squirrels, and eat songbird eggs and nestlings). I may try live-trapping the one who is prematurely raiding the cherry tree (which means my June visits of canopy birds I never get to see otherwise, drawn in by the cherry bounty, will be curtailed or eliminated altogether), but can’t figure out where I’d release him/her when I catch him. Having live-trapped/relocated in my previous home, I know how aggressive they are (kind of scary when in the cage), but I also saw a resurgence of Douglas squirrels at that property, with ongoing trapping and relocating.


Gordy’s fleece; some really nice wool here, but also some not so nice as well (mostly due to my late shearing this year).

I spent some time skirting the fleeces from shearing earlier this month and there are only a few more to go.  It’s deliciously relaxing, and I listen to podcasts from as I skirt and evaluate.  And also throw the ball for Farley.  Daisy snoozes nearby in a pit she’s dug for herself in the cool earth, her nose adorably brown from her digging and nosing things into that just right shape. Pal runs by once in a while, always checking something out. I’ve been keeping the cats inside until dark, as it’s prime nesting season now, so they snooze the day away in sunbeams on my bed. Life is good.


Gratuitous cuteness: The old guy (Farley) and his wonderful, adorable nose.

Spring Harvesting {or, An Ode to Stinging Nettle}


Future cherries.

We’re enjoying a sunny spring weekend here in the PNW, and the wild harvests are beginning to add up.  Of course the Queen of Spring is the stinging nettle (I was going to say King of Spring for the alliteration, but nettle just isn’t masculine in energy), especially on this soggy little hillside.  Nettle season is winding down now, as the plants grow large and head towards flowering, and though I normally pick and enjoy some of it every spring, I’ve gone a little crazy with the harvest this year.  I feel like Forrest and Bubba in the movie Forrest Gump (and really, was there ever such an unlikely and delightful movie ever made? Sweet, sad, poignant, funny, preposterous and believable all at once.) listing all the things one could make with shrimp, but instead I’m using stinging nettles:  Nettle soufflé, nettle soup, nettle scrambled with eggs (think Florentine), nettle omelet, nettle pesto, nettles in tomato sauce, nettle stir fry, dried nettle, nettle tea…  I don’t think you can barbecue nettle, though I could be wrong.

I’m getting a little sick of it–it is some GREEN-ass food—but feel like I’ve done a bit to get my spring tonic, even if I didn’t make a dent in the nettle population here.  I’ve harvested bags and bags of it – a grocery sack packed full in 10 minutes is no exaggeration.  It’s not an easy harvest, other than the speed and abundance, because handling all the way to getting it in the pot must be done with care (rubber dish gloves are the best – impervious and long enough to go up past your wrists), and even then you get jabbed (usually through my jeans as I step too closely to the patch I’m harvesting). This property is prime stinging nettle habitat, even if the rest of us struggle with the damp (mud) and shade.  And this year I feel like maybe nettle is what I need for my health, to combat the dreary wet so pervasive here, and definitely helpful for my lung issues, too.

Harvesting nettle isn’t new, of course, but it still surprises when you do a little reading on it.  Another name for it is “Indian Spinach” (it’s very spinach-like in flavor and texture when cooked), though it’s not clear if this was a traditional use by Northwest tribes or something introduced by Europeans.  Euell Gibbons, the well known outdoorsman and wild foods enthusiast of the 1960s, calls this “one of the finest and most nutritious vegetables in the whole plant kingdom, a far better vegetable than many of those … [laboriously raised in a farmer’s kitchen garden].”

On Easter Sunday I enjoyed several homegrown meals, and thought I would make some nettle soup to go with my first-ever leg of lamb – I had several in the freezer from last summer’s harvest and needed to use them up.  I pulled out a cookbook of my mother’s that I thought would be a good prospect for traditional leg of lamb: an Irish cookbook, because the Irish raise a lot of sheep, called “Feasting Galore, Recipes and Food Lore from Ireland,” by Maura Laverty.  I looked in the index first and found precisely nothing under Lamb.  There was one recipe listed for mutton (a pie), but as I glanced though, the word Nettle caught my eye.  Who knew?  There were two recipes, including one for a nettle soup that was very different from the ones I was finding online.  Ms. Laverty describes “Not so long ago, if you strayed along a country road in springtime, you would find women gathering nettles, their hands and arms protected by black woolen stockings.” And mirroring what Euell Gibbons said, “For many a long year nettles were to the Irish what spinach is to other peoples. And many of us still feel that young tender nettles more than equal the best of spinach. ‘One feed of nettles in the spring will keep you healthy for the year’ is a belief which persists in country parts where the blood purifying qualities of nettles are still appreciated.” I looked in the front of the book to look up the publishing date (©1952 – so that “not so long ago” above, was more than 60 years past now) and found this:


I knew this was here, of course, but “forgot” it too – a sweet, poignant reminder. The fact that she signed her name in it the year I was born is probably the reason I got it versus any of my siblings.

It was odd to see my name and birth year – my mother was also M. Finn for a time, but she and my father divorced when I was 6 or 7, so I didn’t know her as this for most of my life. Then remembering when she sent the book to me, with the inscription, when I first had my own household.  My Irish Maureen – she always saw her brood of five as Irishmen, and indeed, we carry 50% of that heritage along with the names.  But when I look in the mirror now all I see is the Polish/Hungarian heritage, as I look more like her every year.  Nowhere near as beautiful as she was, even in my prime, but the sweet “Little Marian” appellation by my great aunt that somewhat irritated me when I was in my 20s (not only did I not see the resemblance, this brat didn’t want to look like her mother back then), makes so much more sense now.  And now I see it and cherish it, as it’s all I have left of her, other than photos, keepsakes and cookbooks.

So I made the nettle soup to go with the lamb.  It wasn’t technically lamb – I (purposely) didn’t know which sheep I was dining on, the younger of the two taken to the abattoir that day was over about 14 months old, the older was 3 years old.  Growing up, my mother served lamb occasionally, and it was one of the few foods I didn’t like, even as an avowed carnivore from a young age. The best thing about lamb was the mint jelly served with it. But I’ve been pleased with the mildness of the Shetlands’ meat, and decided to take the plunge. I found some recipes for prepping the leg (though they all described leg of lamb as 7-8 pounds – what kind of monster lamb has a leg that’s 7 or 8 pounds?!).  My wee Shetland leg weighed in at 1 pound 12 ounces!  Laughable, but plenty for me.  I rubbed it with salt and pepper and rosemary, made small slits and inserted the slices of a couple of garlic gloves, and tucked it in the oven.  It took longer to roast than the cookbook said – partly because I like my meat more than just “rare.”  I am pleased to report it was delicious!  It went great with the yummy nettle soup I’d made, and provided a homegrown bounty that was both nutritious and delicious.

In the fall maybe I’ll tackle harvesting it for fiber, because yes, it has been traditionally used as a fiber, similar to linen.  Aaand maybe not.


Gratuitous cuteness: Daisy watching me succumb to her charms. She throws herself down, knowing I’m hopeless to resist her. Heart this dog!

Cold weather + frozen mud = happy days!

Frosty fleece

Frosty fleece

It’s been bitterly cold for several days now and I have to say, I’m good with it.  It’s getting up around 35 F by late afternoon, and dipping down to low 20s at night.  For us that’s really cold, especially considering this is the second such freeze in the past month.  But I was good with that one too.

Full to the brim. The mighty Snoqualmie at flood stage 2-ish.

It rained nearly all of last week, coming down in buckets most notably on Friday, where I woke up to the sound of steady, fairly hard rain at dawn, and it came down like that for another eight hours.  And, after a wet Tuesday and Wednesday, which had the river up and brimming and low-lying areas of roadway overtopped with water (resulting in road closures for the Wednesday afternoon commute – you can bet I was singing a song of thankfulness for taking that day off!), Friday was almost worse than all that.  By steady rain I mean solid drops, without slowing down.  Not a heavy downpour/deluge, but not a gentle, old fashioned Pacific Northwest drizzle, either.  I’d planned on taking Daisy for a walk that day, possibly with her cart, but as the morning wore on and drifted into afternoon, the rain wasn’t slowing down.

Squirrel on point.

Shhh, Pal’s hunting. There’s a squirrel. just. over. there. (The mark of a true hunter: stillness.)

I’d had Pal out on Wednesday in the wet but not actively raining afternoon, and Farley out on Thursday, wetter, but still not pouring (though the river was down a bit), but with Friday’s nonstop drops it was looking less and less likely for me and Daisy.  I still hadn’t gone out to check on the sheep and chickens, though views out the window told me they were fine, and I knew the food supply should be adequate for each (loaded up the feeders the night before, as I usually do).  Still, we were all getting a little stir crazy.  The dogs had been out a couple times for potty runs, spending enough time running around that they came in soaked—each trip in was a two-towel rubdown when they came inside, complete with a floor wipe up (Farley especially likes to cover as much ground as possible with those wet paws, slopping wet as he walkwalkwalks back and forth all over the place).

Farley found something as the water recedes.

Farley found something as the water recedes.




It suddenly cooled down late on Friday and I wasn’t surprised to see some snowflakes coming down with the rain.  I was surprised, however, to wake up to active snowfall the next morning.  It snowed until about 9:00; wet slop, but a couple inches of snow nonetheless.  Daisy ran outside in excitement, the boys right behind her.  More towels.  And then it got cold.  The clouds swept away (with enough wind to cause power outages locally, though thankfully I got away with a DVR busting diiiiiip dip dip, but not even enough to “reset” all the LED clocks – whew!) and the sun shone and it got cold fast.  The ground was frozen by Saturday night and as I drove home from a family gathering that night, I was like an old granny on the last few miles of highway (I’d seen it glistening wet in the sun on the way out and was concerned about black ice).  I pulled in the driveway, disturbing the sheep in a group at the top of the drive (I’d left them out that day).  They leave sheep-sized clear spots in the frosty, snowy ground, where their warmth dissolves the freezing.


Cherry Valley becomes Cherry Lake.

Cherry Valley becomes Cherry Lake.

Sunday was just as cold, and clear and beautiful as could be.  Finally it was time for Daisy’s walk.  We went down to the river, as I’d done with the boys, after first walking through town to drop off a library book, and we had a great time.  It was the perfect way to end a week off work.  We came home and while Daisy threw herself down the frozen hillside on her back (she loves to slide down the hill when the ground is frozen) I fed the sheep in the blue twilight, luring them back into their pen with a scoop of grain in the feeder, made sure the chooks had enough food, and we headed inside with the boys to snuggle on the sofa and watch a movie, not a single towel needed to wipe down muddy paws or sop up wet fur.  It was cold and dry and clean and wonderful.

Daisy found the water receding even more.

Daisy found the water receding even more.

It’s a jungle out there

Solstice sky.

Solstice sky.

And it’s a recurring theme for me, the shock and awe I have for this riot of growth. I know it isn’t unique—anywhere that experiences four distinct seasons, and especially long winters, is just as resurrected each spring.  Our daylight hours are running close to peak right now, with the sun rising at 5:11 a.m. and setting at 9:08 for nearly 16 hours of daylight, so it’s no wonder the plants are going wild.  We’re closing in on solstice, so gaining less than a minute more each day until the 21st, when it will begin going in the wrong direction again (shorter days). [I started this draft two weeks ago.] And the riotous growth will begin to taper so maybe I can get ahead of it some. Ha!

These long, long days are wonderful…and wreak havoc on my schedule.  I find it hard to come inside much before 10 p.m. The house is a mess, the garden is half planted (the other half is covered-carpeted really-with volunteers (a.k.a. weeds)), and the green keeps getting greener.  The driveway needs bushwhacking from the road to the gate (it looks like an abandoned property).

Coming home on a recent rainy afternoon.

Coming home on a recent rainy afternoon.

The sheep are doing a decent job of keeping the grass around the house from growing a foot high, and are also sampling some landscape plantings along the way.  They’ve decimated the comfrey and the valerian, and the wisteria (that

Lawn mowing.

Lawn mowing.

last is just fine – the vine is in a poor location and I hacked it back to a stump earlier this year), and have so far left the garden alone, though I saw Minnie nosing the fence the other day (it’s a light netting that can be easily pushed down).  They were nibbling on the hops vine earlier in the year, but now that there’s so much else to eat, they seem to be less interested.  Even so, I have to get the weed whacker out to take down the grass seed heads and the Canada thistle patch – no matter how much I kill off every year it comes back stronger every year.  The bull thistle is nearly as bad, but doesn’t seem to have the same traveling root system (not a typical rhizome, but not just a taproot either), so a well-placed shovel or hoe action a few times a year seems to keep it minimized around the property.

Another recurring theme for me is this constant feeling of not having enough time to do everything, even with these deliciously long days (sleep being one of many things that’s compromised because of it).  I have so much I want to do, so many interests, and so many of things I am already doing.  Just keeping up with the full time job would be plenty, and then I add the second job of maintaining (or trying to) a small farm with livestock, pets, garden (growing my own food) and general upkeep on acreage. Add in an obsession like Nosework, or carting, or the desire to work with Daisy in herding. Her instincts are fabulous and she is SO good, and can be really helpful at times, but when she doesn’t know exactly what I want, and when I’m not sure how to tell her what I want/how to work with her, it can

A recent cart trip to a local park.  On the Snoqualmie River.

A recent cart trip to a local park. On the Snoqualmie River.

become chaotic quickly.  I still want to do Nosework with Farley, since he has such an affinity for it, but have taken a break for a few months (file it under the “something’s gotta give” heading).  Daisy’s work with the sheep is ongoing by necessity and her keen interest. I also get her out with her cart as time allows. Pal seems to be missing from the equation – he’s not bad at Nosework, but his forte is hunting for real.  He never stops hunting, and the only time he stops when he’s outside is when he’s on point (usually a songbird in a tree) or stalking varmints.  I watched him in the pasture the other day, holding a 3-legged point on something in the grass, slowly, slowly, putting the fourth paw down as he crept forward in ultra slow motion stalk. He’s really amazing to watch, though it’s like living with a 47 pound cat at times.  I know he gets shrews nearly as regularly as the cats, and just tonight I found a dead mole in the sheep pen.  I have no idea when he got in there to get that.  Last night when I was wrapping up for the night, filling the hay nets before it got full dark, and Farley and Daisy were still busy with their outside tasks (Farley waiting for me to throw the ball again, Daisy rounding up the chickens), I noticed Pal on the porch, lying on the doormat.  I smiled, thinking he was finally growing up and slowing down a bit (he’ll be 5 years old in October).  By the time I got done with the tasks it was pretty dark, and as I walked up to the porch he got up, happy to see the three of us coming to go inside.  I noticed a rather large object in his mouth.  He’s not much into toys, so I knew it wasn’t one of Farley’s many stuffies scattered around the yard.  A bone dug up?  Or a…rat?  (large rat!)

Pal, my canine cat.

Pal, my canine cat.

Was it a squirrel?  No tail.  What the…?  I was amazed and dismayed to find it was a small (half grown) rabbit.  Quite dead of course, and he was all happy, ready to go inside with his prize.  No. Way.  I was amazed partly because in 4.5 years here I’ve seen a rabbit only once on this property.  I have no idea where he got it (what part of the property).  It was of course adorable, as a juvenile, though I didn’t turn the porch light on to get a good look.  I tossed it into the grass and he jumped down the steps to get it – I heard a bony crunch as he grabbed it and I thought he was going to eat it (a good thing!) but he left it and came inside. Sigh. It was gone this morning, which means that most likely Farley took it off to bury it on one of their late night potty trips.  Farley’s my buryer, in an arcane save-it-for-later mentality.  Fortunately none of the bodies he’s buried have been dug up for later dining (to my knowledge), but there have been plenty of bones (I generally confine him to the house when I feed them raw bones, as he will take every one I give him and bury it, if given the opportunity.  And usually moving it several times before he’s finally satisfied it’s safe from marauders (his housemates).  An hour, a day, or a month later, one of them will bring a blackened gross thing up to the house and it takes me a moment to figure out what it is.

Eloise, a.k.a. Pudge (or sometimes 'weesa).

Eloise, a.k.a. Pudge (or sometimes ‘weesa).

This evening the one of the hens grabbed an odd looking object from the front lawn (lawn being optional, since Daisy has made a large ugly scrape of dirt in front). The chickens regularly glean the mice and shrew leavings from the cats (and the common ancestry of birds and reptiles becomes acutely apparent at these times, as the hen generally chokes down the whole thing, like a snake), but this looked different.  I’d noticed Daisy sniffing something this morning, but when I toed it, I thought it was a clump of manure.  I chased after the hen, realizing from the angles sticking out of her mouth, that what she had looked like a…gulp, bat.  By the time I got to her she had the thing half swallowed, but I grabbed it by the—yup, it was a bat – wing and pulled it out.  Ugh!  I love bats, and was truly bummed that one was killed.  It was tiny—like a small shrew with wings—and had obviously been dead for a couple of days.  Of course I get all heebie jeebie about rabies but when I thought about it, and remembered having observed not only super low flying by bats (only a few feet off the ground at times) and also wild leaps up by the cats to get them, I can only assume it was bad luck for the bat.  I’ve seen them do the same thing with dragonflies – another critter I love and have rescued dragonflies from the cats (and not gotten there in time for others).  Life with carnivores can be hard to take sometimes.

My cute little Pal.

My cute little Pal.

Merry month of May

Here there be faeries. May abundance in the woods out back.

Or, as Edwin Way Teale puts it:

“The world’s favorite season is the spring.
All things seem possible in May.”

While Mr. Teal was obviously referring to the Northern Hemisphere in this sentiment, he’ll get no argument from me.  May is the bomb, to use a dated slang phrase. I adore May, more with each passing year, it seems. It catches me by surprise in a way, even though I look forward to it, anticipating its lush explosion of growth, where the world comes alive beyond all expectations. I think I write about it every year, in my awe: the many shades of green (who knew there were so many?), the green jungle of understory growth, the explosive greening of the trees, the grass growing so quickly, the weeds! I love it all, though I have to admit I also, always, feel a little bit like the White Rabbit of Alice in Wonderland, late, late, late and in a bit of a dither about it as I work to get the garden prepped and planted with my future food. Last year I didn’t get things planted until late June and it showed, with some plants not having a chance to fully mature, others that didn’t produce much since there was little time between maturity and frost. I’m determined to get things done before the end of May this year (less than two weeks away – gulp!).  I have the first third planted, the second third just needs some hoeing and smoothing with a rake and should be ready for planting.  The last third is in pretty rough shape, with weeds (plants I didn’t select, that is) taking over aggressively. But at least it’s all fenced now, so the sheep and chickens are staying out, and the cats too, for the most part. The cats seem to think it’s a giant litter box and recently dug around in my just-starting-to-sprout green beans, making a mess, squared. More watering needed (keeping the soil soggy and less appealing keeps them in the dryer duff under the cedar trees).

So the month is zooming by, as the season tends to when I have much to do. Sunset is at 8:45 now (in my latitude), still a month before solstice, which means I don’t usually get in the house until 9:30 every evening, which puts a bit of a crimp on housework.  (heehee)  The garden and outdoor tasks, and, if I’m being frank, the soaking up, the stop-and-smell-the-roses delight of it all, absorbs much of my time.

The lambs are growing fast. I banded (castrated) most of the ram lambs a couple of days ago (I did Cinnamon’s boy a week or so prior, since he’s 10 days older than the rest). I wasn’t going to do Minnie’s ram, nor Lorna’s, since they’re both small yet, but they had the goods and I was able to grab ‘em. (they can be a bit like watermelon seeds – ram lambs are born with huge scrotum, but the testes take a little while to grow to where you can grab them adequately for banding).  Banding is the easiest for me, but it does leave the lambs uncomfortable for a half day. When I checked on them the next morning they were fine, but you still worry.

Lorna and her babies.

Lorna and her babies.

Lorna’s doing okay, considering her condition. As I alluded in my last post, she’s had a tough time of it. What I thought was a bad carry when she was pregnant (her mother also had triplets, and looked like a pack horse, with the bulge evenly distributed compared to Lorna’s uncomfortable bowling ball on her left look) turned out to be a ruptured pubic tendon—basically the ligament that holds everything in place on either side and Lorna’s left side somehow became torn. My description to the vet and other sheep people didn’t ring any bells, and I wish I’d have sent a photo to the vet – it’s immediately obvious to anyone who’s seen it, like a vet. If I’d known how serious it was going in, I wouldn’t have been so ignorant when it came to pulling her babies. There was basically no way they were going to come out without help.

At any rate, Lorna and I managed to get all the babies out—she was trying so hard, and I know was in some pain as I groped around inside her (as gently as I could, but so ignorantly, too), trying to turn the first guy (all I felt was his back when I first went in – majorly bad presentation) I had to pinch his skin to pull him around, and hope I got the right end pulled around. I got the legs forward, then wasn’t sure if both of the legs belonged to the same lamb. Then his head was nowhere to be found (tucked down between his legs). When he finally got out I didn’t think he’d be alive, but he shook his little head and I immediately started toweling him off.  I put him in front of Lorna and she was interested, licking him so aggressively that I actually pulled him away (she was biting at him with every lick).  With Lamb #2, only one leg was back, so it was a little easier.  I could feel her little mouth moving on my finger, so I knew she was alive. I got her out and went back in to find a third lamb in there, with the water bag in front of him. I waited for Lorna, thinking she could do this on her own (again, ignorance of her condition, as well as learning that once you’re in there you should pull all the lambs). The water bag appeared but she wasn’t making much progress.  I went in again to find his head there, but both front legs back. I was getting tired by then, and I know Lorna was too. I managed to get him out, though without finesse and it wasn’t easy on Lorna. He wasn’t responding when he got out; I rubbed aggressively and even tried swinging him, but nothing. It was too late—I’d waited too long.  While I don’t think she could have handled three babies in her condition, it was still disappointing that I’d failed her. In retrospect, it’s amazing that she survived at all. Not only with the ruptured tendon, but this traumatic birth. I think her devotion to her babies—she adores them and is so attentive to them, always knows where they are and calls to them if she doesn’t—is what pulled her through.

Mother and daughter, each carrying triplets.

Mother and daughter, each carrying triplets.

I looked back at photos and saw she was normal as recently as three weeks prior to lambing. This condition is uncommon, especially in young healthy, first time mothers (tends to happen when a ewe is older and has had many lambs – worn out, so to speak).  It’s not genetic/hereditary, according to my research, so that left me with trauma, and the likelihood that one of the other sheep rammed her. I had my suspicions – the Black Welsh Mountain wethers have been jerks for a long time now.  They bully the smaller Shetlands away from the feeders, hogging the food, and the two horned guys get quite aggressive about it when the mood strikes.  My guess is that Bo or Curly rammed Lorna at the hay feeder and caused this injury. I could be completely off base, and it could all be just bad luck or poor nutrition (not enough supplemental grain for calcium, etc.) but for this probability and a myriad of other reasons, I was done with them. I could list all the reasons, and bore you to tears, but suffice it to say, they just didn’t fit my situation any more. I will list one, and that is they ate, and wasted, hay at prodigious rates.  And yes, by now you’re seeing the past tense on my verbs.

The BWM boys

The BWM boys

My brand new freezer, just a little chest freezer, now chock full.

They’d dodged the bullet for four years (remember, it was “you or the freezer” that got them to my property back in 2010).  A “should be sainted” fellow shepherd friend came over (the same friend who owns Colin the ram, in fact), with her incredibly focused Border collie, Shay, to help me with getting them loaded and off to the butcher.  I picked them up today – 86 pounds of ground, and 8 or 10 bags of bones (some with huge rinds of fat attached) that the dogs will enjoy in the coming month or two.  I always told them, Farley especially (they’d rammed him aggressively, and unprovoked, more than once, and he remains very careful to avoid the sheep when they’re out, though he’s a little less nervous around the Shetlands, who don’t attack for fun), that they’d have the last laugh.  Daisy, of course, had no problem with their propensity to ram, and played them like a matador with his bull.  But they’d gotten their licks into her, too, when they got the chance.  It feels only a little weird to be feeding them to the dogs now.  I sort of miss Bo, the biggest jerk, and the biggest, boldest personality.  But not enough to regret my decision.  Sheep are born expecting to be your next meal (it can be exasperating at times, this ingrained distrust of humans); the three of them were way past pull date in that regard (two of them were 6 years old, one was 5 years old). And, I hate to say it, but it’s reduced the herd stress and me-stress by huge amounts – hay waste has gone to near-zero, and the ewes and lambs are enjoying the freedom of the entire pen, as well as getting out every day for 3- 6 hours – first to mow my lawn and prune back the encroaching forest – then onto the pasture until dark, when I move them back to the shed for the night.  A good routine for me, and they seem to be digging it too. All is well.


Cleaned and fresh straw spread - ready for lambing!

Cleaned and fresh straw spread – ready for lambing!

April was a bit of a blur” said a blogger I follow. I concur, wholeheartedly. She goes on to say “I thought I’d dig through my photos and figure out what I’ve been doing for the last month that so profoundly curbed my writing activity.” I could add March into that, but it wasn’t the blur that April was. And going through a few photos quickly reveals what created the blur. And here were a few nights where the red wine was getting a workout.

In my post of December 17, I mentioned taking Colin the ram home, and hoping he was able to connect in a meaningful way with all my ewes. Shearing day for everyone was March 1, and tipping the girls to shear them it looked like at least three were expecting (based on udder development). As the days of March progressed it was obvious Cinnamon and her daughter Lorna would be first. Both were huge, and I joked that it looked like Cinnamon was expecting triplets.

Mother and daughter, each carrying triplets.

Mother and daughter, each carrying triplets.

Late in the month I could see udder development on Pebbles and Nona too. Minnie seemed to be the only holdout, though a decent view (she was somewhat coy) like a probably with her too.

On April 7 I came home from work on a mild afternoon to find the bees quite active and when I let the girls out to browse,

Cinnamon immediately separated herself out and went to the far corner of the pasture, under the maple and cedar cover, an area I’ve dubbed coyote corner, as it’s where I’ve seen the critters trotting by the property. Great. My feral ewe is loose and ready to lamb. I kept an eye on her into the evening, using the MacArthurs (my name for my giant antique binoculars that look like they may have been in use on the USS Missouri) to watch her from the pasture gate. Behind me the bees buzzed though the hive activity was decreased from when I first got home.  Then I noticed a cluster of bees in the grass. When I peered closer, I could see it was eight or ten workers with a queen. Aha! The hive had obviously swarmed that day and this was the new baby queen. I looked up and around nearby to see if I could spot a swarm cluster anywhere but didn’t see anything. It was likely this queen was a young virgin who’d come out for her maiden flight and hadn’t gone back into the hive yet. Something else to watch over as the dusk gathered.

Just an hour old and strong and healthy.

Just an hour old and strong and healthy.

When it got too dark to see Cinnamon from the gate–pawing the ground, then lying down, then getting up and pawing the ground some more–I put the other ewes back in the shed, brought the dogs inside and fed them, and then went out with a flashlight to check on her. Her eyes glowed in the flashlight beam. And then another pair of eyes glowed below her. I heard a tiny baa and as I got closer I saw not one, not two, but three brand new lambs, still wet and just barely on their feet. Wee! I ran back up the hill to get a laundry basket and some towels. I got back to them and put the lambs in the basket to Cinnamon’s head butting protest, and walked back up to the sheep shed, babies crying and trying to clamber out of the basket, mama baaing and following close behind. Lambing season had begun with a bang!  Two ewes and a ram lamb, all good healthy weights and strong. It was chilly that night and I turned the heat lamp on for them in the shed. Cinnamon is an amazing mother and cares for all three like the champ she is. They’re a month old now and growing fast.

It turns out Pebbles was next, with twin boys presented on a Wednesday morning, nine days after Cinnamon’s triplets. She was in labor when I went out to check on them before work that morning and I was in a bit of a panic. I HAD to be at the office that morning, with a hard copy edit I’d done overnight due that morning. I felt pretty confident that Pebbles would be okay, but it was still hard to leave her and head into the office.  I dropped off my edit, loaded some documents onto my computer desktop at work and headed back home to work on them from home. When I got home Pebbles was fine, and her two boys where half dry already.

Then the real drama began. I checked on all the girls (and new babies) at about midnight that night, as I always do, and it looked

Lorna and her babies.

Lorna and her babies.

like Lorna was revving up for birth (pawing at ground, making “nests”). A side note here – about three weeks prior, Lorna suddenly looked like she’d swallowed a bowling ball. She was still huge, but her belly had dropped on the left, and gotten so huge that movement of her rear leg was impinged. She looked uncomfortable, but not suffering. I posted a note to my sheep group, and called the vet too. My description didn’t raise any red flags (though a couple people asked about bloat, since the rumen is on the left). The vet said to be sure and feed her grain, since they need the extra energy and calcium. I kept an eye on her, and since she seemed okay, I just figured it was a spectacularly bad carry. It wasn’t. I’ll save the entire story for another post, but Lorna also had triplets. I had to pull each one, and unfortunately waited too long in my ignorance and lost the third one, a nice looking ram lamb. Dang. Given Lorna’s condition it’s probably for the best that she only has two to care for (a ewe and a ram lamb).  She’s a fantastic mother, though, just like her own mother (Cinnamon).

After the drama of Lorna’s all night delivery I was spent. It took me two days to recover. It took poor Lorna a few days longer, but she’s doing okay now. It was touch and go for a bit, and most of my recovery was from stress (not a sleepless night) from worrying about her. I called the vet and picked up some injections (antibiotics and B vitamins) and then called again on Saturday to make an appointment for the vet to come out and check her.

Nona and her brand new twins.

Nona and her brand new twins.

I left for dog class on that Saturday morning (Nosework training for the first time in 4 months for Daisy and Farley), having checked on everyone and all was well. Lorna was still not 100%, but she’d at least eaten the fresh browse I’d harvested for her the day before. When I got home 4 hours later the herd had increased by two. Nona, Lorna’s twin sister, had twins! They were still wet, probably about 30 minutes old, and are a black ram and ewe.  That left only Minnie, Pebbles’ daughter, to go. Though I knew she was carrying (udder development), due to her small size I figured she just had one lamb in there. She’s a petite ewe; I don’t want to say it’s her only redeeming value, but she’s not my favorite ewe. Nor is she anyone else’s favorite. I’d put her in the maternity pen with the other ewes and the butt-fests ensued.  Lorna was sequestered in the side pen, but it had been a week and she had recovered enough, and her lambs were big enough for them to go in with the others.  So I pulled Minnie into the side pen and let Lorna go into the maternity ward with her herdmates (not to self: before you breed again, you MUST get more stalls built). Minnie’s small stature is a big plus for me, but personality-wise she’s been a pill (and I’m not so keen on her wool either, black and almost no crimp). If she was going to lamb anytime soon it was definitely only one, but keeping her in the side pen was best, since she seems to cause such rancor with the other ewes. There was a window of two weeks, so she could get bigger.

Five days later I was up and getting ready for work when Daisy got very excited, leaping on

Minnie and her twins.  Lambing season comes to an end.

Minnie and her twins. Lambing season comes to an end.

the sofa to look outside. The Setter boys weren’t on board, so I knew it wasn’t anyone visiting the property, but Daisy was definitely worked up. I let her out and saw her run right to the sheep pen. Ruh-roh. Then I heard the loud baaaaaing. I put on my jacket and went out to find Minnie flat on her side bawling for all she was worth. Shit! I could see something poking out of her, but had no idea if it was the right thing (front legs and nose, like a diver).  I ran back in the house and changed into my jeans, got a few exam gloves (figured I’d have to pull the lamb). I went back out, gloved up and lubed up, and didn’t have to go too far to realize the lamb was in perfect position. Still she bellowed. When he was a little further out I pulled, to assist her in expelling him. A little black ram lamb (he seemed large at the time). I toweled him off as she licked his little face. There was junk hanging from her rear that didn’t look like afterbirth, and OMG, after a short time, number two was out. So it really is true – black is slimming.  No WAY did she look like she had been carrying two lambs.  The second one was a ewe lamb, vigorous and healthy, and a miniature of her sire, like so many of her half siblings. Colin is of a color pattern called gulmoget by the Shetlanders that NASSA says is uncommon, and Colin seems to be on a one ram mission to change that statistic.

Pebbles and her twin ram lambs.

Pebbles and her twin ram lambs.

So here are the final stats: out of 5 ewes I got 12 lambs (more than I expected in my “5 sets of twins” dreams of last December).  Out of those 12 lambs 7 were ram lambs (with 6 surviving) and 5 ewe lambs.  And of those 7 ram lambs, 3 are solid black, one is moorit (brown), one is black gulmoget with a white flecked face (called smirslet), and one is…gulmoget for now, but has blaget markings and will likely lighten to a gray or cream color as he ages. Of the 5 ewes, 2 are black, 2 are black gulmoget (one is kind of a tricolor), and one is moorit gulmoget.  This last one (actually the first one – she’s Cinnamon’s baby) is a definite keeper, and already has a name, suggested by a friend that came to visit: Nutmeg. A perfect name for her color, pattern, and family.

So what I have here, even with the stress and not entirely positive outcome, is an embarrassment of riches. Especially as I watch them now, racing around in a pack of lambs, circling the house at a full gallop once, twice, three times, sweeping by as their mothers graze greedily on the fresh spring grass. The first few times I let them all out I was glad that a) I live in a rural area (and barnyard noises aren’t something to complain about) and b) I don’t have neighbors that live that close. The constant baaing by the mothers trying to locate their babies, and the babies crying to locate their mothers after they’d strayed too far –was a cacophony of sheepy bleating. Not quite music to my ears (to be honest, the cries of the babies – any babies – upsets me nearly as much as it does their mothers). Now that they’re all a little older, the routine is more relaxed and the babies get to know the property, it’s not nearly as noisy.

So my little herd is up to 20 now. I can hardly believe I have 20 head of sheep here. So fulfilling yet it makes me yearn for more (land!). I’ll be deciding who stays and who goes in the coming weeks and months, since I really can’t keep more than a dozen head on this property, but for now I’m just enjoying these little bouncing embodiments of spring, just as Mother Nature overflows with the riches of green growth and renewal that flood the senses in this most wonderful of seasons.

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