It was cold outside, barely above freezing, but thankfully the sun was shining, and I soon found myself taking of my jacket,
and then my flannel shirt. With my work only just begun, beads of sweat had begun to form across my brow. I opened up
the roof vents and then the side vents, and I was thankful to feel the sweetness of the cool air that blew across my
forehead. There was much work to be done.
First, I upended last year’s pots of dried dirt into the wheel barrow and trundled several loads of soil and well withered
plants down to the compost pile. There is nothing quite like running full tilt into the pile and tossing up the barrow’s
handles at just the right moment so that the barrow flips over and empties its load quite perfectly.
I then returned to the greenhouse and set to pulling the weeds that had already begun to sprout along the glazing walls.
My barrow was soon filled to the brim with stinging nettle and milk weed. I was careful to wear my gloves, for I well know
that the nettle leaves and stem contain formic acid. I have actually heard it said that the nettle’s sting relieves arthritic pain,
but I have never felt the urge to put this to test. I have also heard folk claim that cooked nettles will lose their sting, once
steamed, sautéed, or boiled, and eaten as a highly nutritious food, but again, this is something that I have never ventured
to try. I simply pulled the nettles and dug up their deep roots, and took them off to the compost pile where they were
welcome to grow if they so desired.
Same with the milkweed. I am happy to let it grow in the compost pile, and along our fence lines, but not in the
greenhouse. I have learned that Monarch butterflies, when caterpillars, will only eat milkweed, and that the butterflies not
only consume milkweed flower nectar, but will also only lay their eggs on milkweed leaves. So, I am happy to let it grow,
just not in my greenhouse.
With the weeding done, I then set to ready the float bed. I start every plant in our three-quarter acre garden, from seed,
floating in trays in the greenhouse. I have heard folk say that carrots cannot be transplanted, but I am here to tell you that a
one hundred foot row of float started carrots has thrived in my garden. Other vegetables, such as tomato, pepper, corn,
beans, squash, and broccoli, all start out every spring, easily floating in styrofoam trays packed with light dirt.
The trays are made up of 126 cells, and into each cell I set one or two seeds and lightly cover it with dirt. Every cell has a
hole at the bottom, through which the float bed water is wicked up to the young seedlings, and which also allows the
plants’ roots to reach down into the fish emulsion fertilized water below.
I float start not only my garden vegetables, but my herbs as well, such as lemon, lime and sweet basil, dill, bergamot,
fennel, calendula, and others. And of course, I plant two long rows of marigold, not only for a natural bug repellant, but
because I love the bright colors, and I can think of nothing quite as lovely as deadheading the flowers while waking down
my marigold isle and breathing in that sweet marigold smell.
So I readied the float bed by tearing out last year’s plastic lining, laying new plastic down and draping it carefully over the
two by eight framing boards. I then pulled over the hose from the frost free spigot, and as the bed began to fill with water, I
readied my seeds, some saved, some new, but all open pollinated. I always plan my garden so that the flowering plants
will be food for my foraging bees.
The sweet scent of dill and basil mingled in the greenhouse air. The sun shone brightly outside. The water shimmered,
and I had no doubt that, yes, this year I would have a most perfect garden. But then it occurred to me, I had thought the
same last year, and the year before, and for as far back as I could remember, but somehow every growing season had
been too wet, or too dry, or too hot, or perhaps a hard frost had come far later than expected … or the weeding had gotten
away from me … or I had been just a wee bit lazy.
I shook my head. Bathed in sunshine and breathing in the heady aroma of my garden seeds, I had to smile. I am an
optimist. Yes, this is the year that I finally, really will have a most perfect garden.
April 1, 2018
TWENTY-FOUR PLUS MORE
One might think that twenty-four are enough. Greg certainly does, but I curiously, do not. Of some, I only have one, and of
others just a few. And then there are those who are older, who stay close to the upper field, and retire early in the evening.
I know that sometime, someday, I will find a still pile of pretty feathers that will no longer follow me clucking her way into my
One of my hens is the color of the deepest darkest night. Her legs are a beautiful green, in stark contrast to her black
toenails. She is a stunning bird, and lays the most perfect turquoise eggs. I call her Shade.
Another sports bright orange plumage, except for her white tipped tail feathers. She is a wonderfully independent bird, but
is also ever so sweet. In the evenings, I often see her foraging way out in the orchard, all by herself, but as soon as she
sees me, she runs toward me at what appears to be break chicken neck speed. Her shoulders puff out and her wings ever
so slightly leave her side. She tucks her head low and literally skims across the ground, not stopping her headlong race
until she is right under my feet. She looks up expectantly, head cocked to one side. I reach into my pocket and bend down
to hand her a treat. Her name is White Flag.
And then there is Peaches. Yes, she is the soft color of the sweetest Florida peach, and her personality matches perfectly.
Somehow, she always seems to know when I am outside, and much like a most trusted dog, she always stays right by my
side. She follows me to my car if I am heading up to town. She pecks at my shoes, as if asking to go along for the ride. I
have to gently shoe her away before I carefully close the door, and even as I drive off, she follows along for a while, just in
case I have a change of heart.
There is one little hen who is decidedly smaller than the others. She has a crooked beak, that makes it difficult for her to
eat, but she is a year old now, and with perseverance she seems to manage quite well. As we scatter the scratch grain,
she shoulders her way through the flock, until she reaches deepest pile of grain, where she has learned that it is easier for
her pick up the treat. She is my feisty little bird. I call her Little Girl.
And then there is Big Foot. We have had several roosters over the years, but never have we known one with such large
feet. Each foot must span at least five inches. Curiously, Big Foot seems to ignore me, but when Greg is out and about
Biggy pounds across the ground, chest puffed out, in a definite challenge. Greg carries a stick. Big Foot’s spurs look
Thankfully, all of our flock have survived this past, bitterly cold, winter, but I know that some of the hens are now too old to
lay. Over time, I have watched as their eggs grow larger and larger, and then disappear. I know that my trusted older
generation has simply stopped laying.
So, I have ordered fifteen chicks, all different kinds, and all different colors. I have readied the spare cattle trough and set it
up in the basement of our log home. I have spread pine chips across the bottom, readied the waterer and filled the chick
feeder with crumbles. I have woven old tobacco sticks through plastic snow fencing and laid it across the top of the tank.
No need to have chicks fluttering across the basement floor. And I have clamped the warming light to the side of the
trough. I am ready for the chicks’ arrival.
And I have to tell you. I find that there is nothing quite like sitting on the front porch swing on a warm spring day with a
diminutive spring chicken snuggled in my lap. Perhaps it is no wonder that my birds will follow me up to town if given even
half the chance.
March 25, 2018
IN TIME WITH THE SUN
We all live with the sun. Our world passes around the sun on its yearly orbit, and with each passing, we grow another year
older, and perhaps, we hope, another year wiser. On grey, sunless, rainy days we find ourselves missing the sun, and
longing for is return, and, as we stand in awe watching the sun dip below a fiery horizon, we find ourselves hoping that the
sunset’s brilliant colors will last just a wee bit longer and not fade so quickly away into darkness.
Yes, we all live with the sun, but it was not until Greg and I set foot in the creek valley, two miles down a single lane country
road, that I came to really understand the wonderful gift of sunshine. No utility lines ran the length of the creek road. The
original farm house, long ago burned to the ground, had been lit with oil lamps and heated with a wood stove. Only the old
tobacco barn still stood by the roadside, close to the creek.
We fell in love with the land. We could not see or hear any neighbors, other than the creek valley critters. We spent our
first few nights at the creek, sleeping outside, and I found myself drifting into dreams, lulled by the howl of passing coyote.
There was no wail of urban ambulances or fire trucks to jar me awake, and we began to dream of building our lives in the
Our first creek home we built completely by hand, even the windows and doors and much of the furniture, for you see the
house was miniature, with a footprint of only 388 square feet. Typical large modern furniture would simply have taken up
too much floor space. We did however, live with all the modern conveniences such as internet, satellite television, cell
phones, lights, refrigeration, and yes, we have lived with indoor plumbing.
Greg designed and installed our solar energy system, and for the past twelve years, we have lived without paying any
electric bills. Typically, several times a year, I will run up town for an errand, only to discover that the town is without electric
due to the last passing storm. Folk will ask how we faired, and I smile to say, “Just fine”.
But as we grew a wee bit older, and collected a few more treasures, we decided to build a somewhat larger, 960 square
foot log home, all built with the energy from the sun, and Greg’s perseverance. Two and a half years later, we are almost
ready to move in. We will still live, however, in our same beloved, solar powered, off grid lifestyle.
I have come to learn that there is something wonderfully calming about really living with the sun. There might be several
loads of laundry that need to be done, but perhaps I do not really feel like doing laundry on this particular day. I smile, for
perhaps it is a grey day, and I know if we intend to use the internet, or watch television later that night, I should wait to do
the laundry another day, and perhaps we should go for a walk with the dogs instead.
I have come to learn that living with the sun is really quite like sailing. When there is a good wind blowing, head up to the
wind, and hold tight to that mainsheet, trimming the sail so the boat flies across the water. And when the wind is calm,
then it is time to lean back, put up your feet, close your eyes, and be gently rocked by the passing waves.
Here in the creek valley, on a bright sun shining day, I can do laundry to my heart’s content. I can charge every electric
appliance in sight, not only the house batteries, but our computers and cell phones as well. I can be busy as my bees,
who are just starting to fly across the creek valley to contentedly land on the first spring flowers.
But yesterday was one of those beautifully muted grey days, and I did not hit a lick. The absent sun was my lazy partner,
lulling me to go slow, but today the sun is shining bright, and with my second cup of coffee now emptied, it is time to get up
and get going. There is laundry to be done and hung on the line to dry, seeds to be sorted and readied for starting, and of
course, my computer plugged in to get a full charge. This evening, after dark, I just might need to browse through a few
marble collecting forums. Best to be prepared.
March 18, 2018
THE BURN PILE
I had been feeding it all fall and throughout the winter. Every time that I thought that it could not possibly handle any more, it
would somehow accommodate my latest addition.
The first layer was easily composed of scrap lumber from the log house. The pile was really not yet even a pile, and barely
reached my knees. I simply loaded up the four-wheeled barrow and trundled the bits and pieces of wood that were too
small to put to other use, out to the stone circle in the upper field. Several trips later the scrap lumber was gone from the
house, but my burn pile was begging for more.
The next layer was made up of rotten barn siding from the old tobacco barn. The good wood we set aside to later plane
down and store for future building projects still in the dream stage, but my pile began to slowly take on the look of an actual
pile. I built a teepee out of the longer pieces of barn siding, and lay the smaller ones up against the bottom.
Then came the winter storms. Several standing dead trees fell from the woods out into the upper field. The trunks and
larger branches were perfect for cutting and splitting to use in the woodstove. The smallest branches I tossed back into
the edges of the woods, but several sections, too small to burn in the cabin, and too large to just toss into the woods, I
dragged over to the wood pile and lay across the teepee. My pile stood proud.
Now Greg and I love to recycle and use old pallets. They serve as platforms beside the frost free spigots. We have made
them into the walls for the smaller, individual goat houses, and we have used them as a base for storing countless farm
items outside, but still keep them off the ground. In time, though, the pallets rot, and over time we had gathered a
collection of useless, even to us, pallets. I dragged these rotten pallets over to the burn pile and leaned them up against
the branch covered teepee. The pallets actually held the branches down, giving the pile a more manicured appearance.
And then there were the old wooden chairs, that once sat on the side deck for leisurely people lounging, and then moved
on to serve as pigeon perches beside the pigeon gazebo. The chairs had finally passed the point of use and were wobbly
and unsightly, by even pigeon standards. I hauled them over to the burn pile, as the pigeons watched, and with great effort
I tossed them onto the very top of the pile.
The pile now stood a good eight feet tall and was about to escape the bounds of the rock circle. It was time to set it to
burn. The sun had shone for the past few days, and the wood all seemed fairly dry. Greg suggested that I borrow his blow
torch for ease of fire starting. His advice was wonderful. The layer of branches caught far quicker than I had imagined. I
stepped back to watch.
The sky was blue. The air was crisp. The pigeons flew across the creek valley and the chickens wandered about, out in
the orchard. I was contentedly hard at work watching my burn pile burn, and it occurred to me that this self-proclaimed task
of watching the pile burn, was somewhat like fishing. Watch, wait, and simply enjoy being the outside, until Greg stopped
by, that is.
Greg had been working on our log house, actually building my dream come true, cedar lined closet, and he had apparently
noticed that I seemed to have some time on my hands. I explained that I was checking up on any embers that flew off the
fire, and keeping the burning wood from escaping the rock circle.
Greg pointed to an old pile of firewood that we had left stacked beside the sugar shed years before. The wood had not
been under cover, and was now too rotten to use. He thought that it would be a wonderful addition to my now well burning
pile. Several barrow-loads later, the sugar shed was free of the old wood, and I once again stood back to watch, wait, and
simply enjoy being outside. I will confess though, that for the rest of the day, I kept a wary eye out for Greg, making sure
that I always had my shovel in hand, just in case he stopped by.
March 11, 2018
ALL BUT THE DUCKS
The sun has been shining for the past few days, and oh what joy it has brought. Perhaps the receding mud has been my
very favorite aspect of this recent sunshine. I can once again walk out to the goat yard, gather the eggs, and head back to
the sugar shed, without cautiously testing my footing with each step across the inch deep mud.
I have not had to sweep the cabin floor twice, if not three times, daily, and I have only had to mop once in the past two days.
The dogs actually have dog colored feet once again, no longer sporting the light brownish grey of dried creek valley mud,
and when I rouse our sleeping dogs, they no longer leave behind a pile of fine mud dust that has fallen from their fur.
The chickens seem to have weathered the mud well, but they are certainly enjoying the sunshine. They are no longer have
to avoid the rain, clustered under the rabbit hutches, or under the picnic table on the side deck. They contentedly forage
wherever they choose.
And the goats are definitely happier. Whenever I glance their way, I can see them standing proud on top of their houses or
playfully climbing the fallen trees in their yard. Much like the chickens, they no longer have to seek shelter from the rain.
Over the past several wet weeks, whenever I would pass by their yard, they would call from inside their houses, plaintively
baaing, as if begging for me to please make the rain stop. Today I was happily ignored. Just now as I gathered the
chicken eggs, one goat slept in the sunshine. The others were up on the hillside, contentedly foraging on newly sprouting
The homing pigeons, no longer having to avoid the rain, flew far more than their three or four daily flights. Whenever I
looked up, I saw them circling in formation high over the creek valley. They seemed to fly almost non-stop, returning to the
coop for only a brief respite before heading out to fly again, and it occurred to me that they were making up for their many
rainy-day cancellations. Like the goats and chickens, the pigeons do not care to be out and about in the rain.
I would say, though, that the cattle are fairly oblivious the to the rain and the mud. They eat their hay and grain no matter
what the weather. They even seem to contentedly lie down and chew their cud as the rain falls across their backs, though
it does appear that they like to lie on the older hay piles, or up in the woods, rather than lie down in the middle of the muddy
The little horses also do not care if it is raining or not, but I can see that they will definitely require quite a bit my attention
now. Mud covers their soon to be shedding winter coats and mud balls are clumped on their tails. My comb and brush are
ready. This will be tomorrow’s chore, but for today, the little horses are quite happy. I saw that they were lying down in the
field, soaking up the sunshine, so relaxed and motionless that I actually feared that they were dead. It was not until I was
close upon them, calling their names, that they jumped to their feet and ran to me. They reminded me that there is nothing
quite like napping in the warm sunshine on a chilly spring like day.
There is one farm creature, however, that seems to truly miss the mud and rain, and it has occurred to me that they helped
to create the sea of muck that has surrounded the cabin these past few weeks. Yes, the ducks have still been waddling in
their duck line across the fields, but they have not been pausing every step or two to wiggle their bills deep into the muddy
soup in search of duck delicacies. They have rather been forlornly waddling in search of lost mud puddles that were here
just a few days ago. They pause, and call out in what sounds like rueful laughter, only to waddle on in search of their now
lost, but recently known joy.
Late this afternoon I found the ducks splashing and digging through a dwindling puddle down in the lower field, and I
realized that I actually felt a wee bit sorry for them. They really do love the rain and mud, but on quick tally, I counted far
more of our farm creatures, including two human inhabitants, who enjoy the sunshine, and for now, the forecast is not
calling for any rain.
March 4, 2018
THAT FRAGILE TIME OF YEAR
The weather has been warm, warm enough for the honeybees to break out of their winter cluster and leave the hive. Their
numbers are not nearly what they there were last fall. Many bees have died off over the frigid winter months, their small
bodies rolled to the front of the hive and dropped over the edge by the house cleaning brigade on those few warm winter
Several bees line up at the hive’s front entrance and peer outside into the creek valley day. They are hungry. The hive’s
honey stores are running low, but today the sky is grey and the ground in front of the hive is covered with puddles that
shimmer with falling raindrops. The bees do not venture out.
Then the rain begins to fall in earnest and the bees retreat inside. It seems as though the entire hillside behind the apiary
has turned into a shallow waterfall. When the water reaches the slopping upper field, it flows between the blades of new
spring grass, before heading down to the lower fields and the creek just beyond. The creek roars.
The downpour does not last long. The bees return to the hive’s front porch. The rain stops, but the creek continues to rush
wildly south to the river. First one little bee, and then another, takes flight.
They head out from the front entrance in a bee line, straight as an arrow and banking slightly upwards, until they are about
ten feet away from their hive, and then they veer off. The beekeeper smiles to herself, remembering her mother, many,
many years ago, telling her to make a bee line, and march right upstairs and clean up her room without any dawdling at all.
The beekeeper walks out across the upper field, looking at the ground. She walks down to the creek, searching for signs
of the first spring flowers. She knows that the bees love the early spring dandelions. She has watched as a bee lands on
a dandelion head and throws herself down into the flower petals to emerge covered in precious orange pollen, but the
beekeeper does not see any signs of dandelion. Not yet.
The beekeeper walks along the edges of the fields, peering past the prickly multiflora rose vines that seem to reach out
and grab at her clothes. As much as the beekeeper dislikes the sharp thorns, she is still thankful that the bees love to
gather the yellow rose pollen as they light on the white flower petals. The beekeeper looks, but sees no signs of swelling
flower buds. She knows that there will not be any rose blooms for the hungry bees for perhaps another month or two.
The beekeeper looks for signs of emerging phlox, snowdrops, daffodil, and bluebell, but sees none. Not yet. This is that
fragile time of year, when the bees’ honey stores run low, but the valley flowers have not yet bloomed.
It is that fragile time of year when the beekeeper keeps a careful watch on her hives, if necessary feeding the bees just a
bit of last years’ jarred honey. Too much easy food would encourage the Queen to start to lay brood, and with laid brood,
the worker bees would not return to their protective cluster in a cold spell. The workers would rather try to keep the brood
warm, and expend needed energy, and both bees and brood would die.
So the beekeeper maintains her careful watch as she and her bees wait patiently for spring. And yes, it is raining again,
and the creek still roars.
February 25, 2018
The Perfect Night
The rain had been falling all day, and all throughout the day and night before. With dinner and my evening chores done, I
settled in at the cabin’s table to contentedly sort through my marbles. I was separating the cat eyes by both color and the
number of vanes that ran through the clear glass. Greg stepped outside to get the night’s supply of firewood, but it
seemed that no sooner had he left, then he was back, with a big grin spread across his face. He stood in the doorway.
“Get your boots on. You’ve got to check this out.”
I stood and grabbed a jacket and ball cap. I really do not like looking through rain speckled glasses, and my ball cap’s bill
seems to provide just the needed eyewear protection. I pulled on my rubber boots and followed Greg down the cabin’s
It was amazingly dark. None of our outside solar lights were on. There had not been sufficient sun to recharge their
batteries for the past several days. Greg turned on his high-power flashlight when we reached the bottom step. He took a
few paces forward and then stopped. “Listen”, he said.
I listened to the rushing sound of the rain swollen creek, and then I heard the oddest slurping noise. It seemed to be
coming from all around us. We stepped cautiously forward as Greg shone the flashlight on the ground ahead of us, and
then I saw what it was he had wanted to show me. Everywhere, every two or three feet, were the longest, fattest, worms I
had every seen. Whenever we would take a step, they would somehow sense our movement and suddenly slither back
into their worm holes and make that slurping sound.
We stood still, and I watched in amazement as Greg shone the light across the muddy ground. Some of the worms were
easily one-foot long. There was a large ringed segment closer to one end, and that end was decidedly a darker red than
the other, flatter end of the worm. I later learned that the darker end was actually the head of the worm. I found that I did
not want to make a move, for fear of stepping on them. They were simply abundantly ubiquitous, but with every footstep we
took, every worm within a few feet of us would quickly retreat back into the ground with that odd mud slurping sound. We
figured it was safe to walk.
The rain continued to fall. The worms continued to crawl, but in time Greg and his flashlight ushered me back up the cabin
steps before Greg turned to resume his errand retrieving the night’s supply of firewood.
We have called the creek our home for the past fifteen years now, but it still seems that every season of every year, I learn
something new. I have certainly encountered nightcrawlers before, but it is usually when I turn over a rock, or pick up a log
from the bottom of the wood pile. On occasion I have encountered a few on a rainy night, but never have I seen so many,
and never have I heard the night filled with that odd slurping sound.
Greg and I figured that it was because weather and season had combined to make it the perfect nightcrawler night. It was
too early for the spring grass to have started growing, so that the ground around the cabin was quite free of green. And
then, the past several days of continuous rain had turned that bare ground into a thick muddy porridge. I found myself
cringing with every footstep whenever I left the cabin, and with each step, the mud would ooze out from under my boots. I
stepped ever so carefully. The thought of slipping and falling into the copious brown soup was nothing short of terrifying.
But on this particular night, the worms had reigned glorious. I knew that I would no longer think of our creek valley soil as
simply soil, or even mud. With each step I now knew to be thankful for the plentiful creatures who live below. Yes indeed, I
really do know that the valley is the very well populated home of some curious creatures who are content to help us till and
fertilize our soil.
February 18, 2018
THE FINE ART OF PLUMBING
For the past several weeks, Greg has been running the vent pipes and water lies throughout our log home. It has
suddenly occurred to me that there really is so much more than often meets the eye. The world is filled with things that I
really do not understand and simply take for granted, such as indoor plumbing. I now know that plumbing is no easy task.
I could not begin to count the number of times that Greg and I have had to run to the hardware store to pick up a few more
fittings. I have learned patience, or so I think, as Greg reads off of his latest list and gathers up the assorted connectors
that not only tie the maze of piping together, but also serve to connect the piping to the various household fixtures. We
usually walk slowly up and down the aisles, pausing to find just the right fitting that will connect part “A” to part “B”, and
then, fittings duly gathered, we walk up and down the aisles again, just to make sure that there is not a better way to
accomplish the joinder.
Now you might think it odd, but on one recent hardware store outing my heart was truly warmed. We usually cruise up and
down the aisles by ourselves, but on this particular trip, we encountered two other home plumbers. One plumber was a
young father, accompanied by his entire family. A young girl sat quietly on a metal display shelf, while her two little siblings
sat cross legged on the floor. The home plumber’s wife pushed a cart where the fourth, and youngest, child sat sound
asleep, head tilted back. The mother kept a vigilant eye on her children as she patiently followed her husband up and
down the aisles. She would occasionally take whatever fitting he handed her and place it into the cart behind her sleeping
The other home plumber was accompanied by his wife. He would let her know what particular fitting he was looking for
and she would scan the shelves and then pick through the many boxes, holding out what she thought it was that he was
Greg and I settled in between the two other plumbers, looking for the fittings on Greg’s list. After perhaps ten minutes,
maybe longer, the family father smiled his successful accumulation of everything that he was looking for. The group
moved off down the aisle, and around the endcap, no doubt headed for checkout.
Greg and I continued our search, and within a few more minutes had found all that we needed. We too headed off towards
the front of the store, but not before the other plumber’s wife and I exchanged knowing glances. “I think that I once spent
almost two hours in this aisle”, I told her as I passed by.
“I’m pretty sure that I have been here that long now”, she smiled back at me as she looked towards her husband. We
knew that we both shared a patient pride in our menfolk, who could successfully plumb our worlds.
As Greg and I drove home that day, I remembered back to the beginning of our plumbing journey at the creek. At first we
simply built an outhouse, and used it with the health department’s permission while we finished building the cabin’s
indoor plumbing. Once the plumbing was completed and had passed inspection, we dismantled the outhouse, though
we now use it for an animal feed storage shed. It is a beautiful little structure indeed.
I remembered learning the story behind the crescent moon cut into most outhouse doors. Apparently, years ago, men’s
outhouses were marked with a shining sun while women’s were marked with a crescent moon. Thus, men and women
would know which house was intended for their particular use. Well, legend has it that the men folk proved to be true to
their nature and did not keep their outhouses clean and tidy. Accordingly, the sun marked outhouses fell into disrepair and
eventually fell into the holes over which they stood. This left only the women’s crescent moon marked outhouses for all to
visit and enjoy. So today, most outhouses are adorned with the crescent moon.
I was somewhat saddened when we had to dismantle our outhouse, but outhouses are actually illegal in our state. I
thought of starting a movement (pun intended) of outhouse aficionados. I imagined canvassing, and gathering signatures,
and fighting to change the law, but in time, my thought passed. It seems that the older I get, the more I enjoy certain
conveniences, and I do look forward, ever so soon, to moving across the driveway into our log home, where we will actually
enjoy the luxury of two bathrooms.
Still, sometimes I wonder. I am glad that we were able to repurpose the outhouse, but a touch of nostalgia often washes
over me when I glance its way.
February 11, 2018
Life really is such a wonder. As I welcome each new grandchild into my arms, or discover the first seeds of spring
unfurling into tender shoots, I am totally amazed and awestruck. New life is so precious and special, even the lives of our
just hatched, ever so ugly, homing pigeons.
If I were a pigeon mother, it would certainly never occur to me to lay eggs during the coldest time of the year, but I am
obviously not a pigeon. It seems that once again, just after the first of the new year, I found two eggs, neatly laid in one of
the pigeon palace nest boxes. I watched as a fluffed up, fat pigeon father sat patiently on the eggs during the following
three, bitterly cold weeks, and then, right on schedule, on a single digit temperature day in late January, two little naked
birds broke out of their fragile shells.
The weather thankfully seemed to warm a bit, but the nights still dropped to nose crinkling cold. At first it was an easy task
for the father bird to cover his progeny with his warm feathered belly. The hatchlings were no bigger than marbles, and the
father bird simply sat on top of them and kept their naked pinkness quite warm. He only left the nest for brief excursions,
flying off to get food and water.
But baby pigeons grow at an alarming rate, and within a week his offspring were nearly half his size, though still
featherless and covered with a prickly down. The night time temperatures continued to dip well below freezing, and when
the ground hog predicted six more weeks of bitterly cold winter, I grew concerned. The little birds had by now grown too big
fit under their father. He seemed to struggle to get comfortable and still keep his young'uns warm, and from my maternal
perspective, it looked as though he had an impossible task.
Whenever I would enter the pigeon palace, my flock of white birds would peer down at me from their high perches. The
father pigeon would awkwardly adjust his position, trying to hide his young from me, so that perhaps I would not notice they
were there. He looked me steadily in the eye, but he did not fool me in the least.
This morning, I decided to take off one of my gloves, and reach out under the father bird’s belly. He stayed right there, still
trying to cover his large offspring, and did not leave his nest to fly higher up in the coop and join the rest of the flock.
I stroked the oddly giant, baby pigeons with my outstretched hand, and was pleased to find that they were now completely
covered with prickly down, the color of a bright yellow egg yolk. Feather-like spikes were just starting to poke randomly out
across their backs. Without a doubt, these baby birds were far from being soft snuggly little creatures, but they settled
gently under my touch. Even though their lives seemed so very fragile, I realized that their father knew exactly what he was
doing. No feathered coats to keep them warm, but I could tell that their three heart beats combined together to generate an
amazing heat that radiated throughout the nest.
I stepped back, the father bird once again awkwardly covering his young. I was no longer quite so worried. I could still see
various baby pigeon parts poking out from under his big feathered belly, but I smiled, thankful for his perseverance. As I
closed the door to the pigeon palace, I dreamt of warmer days ahead when I would once again start to fly my growing flock.
February 4, 2018
WHATEVER THE WEATHER MAY BE
Even though I check the long-range forecast daily, I cannot seem to figure out what today’s weather will be. When I woke
up this morning, it was cold and grey outside, and sprinkling rain, but by mid-afternoon the sun shone warmly down from a
bright blue sky. I simply wore a long-sleeved shirt when I was out and about. No need for a jacket at all.
Without a doubt, the day had turned absolutely beautiful, and I certainly enjoyed the sunshine, but to be completely honest,
I felt a nagging uncertainty in the back of my mind. I had watched my honeybees fly out from their front entrances in search
of pollen and nectar to bring back to the hives. I knew that their flights would be to no avail. The day was warm, but the first
spring flowers would be nowhere to be found.
My late winter weather hope for my honey bees, is that the cold suddenly gives way to warmth and sunshine, so that when
the bees break out of their clusters, as the temperatures reach the mid-fifties, they will fly away from their hives and find
early spring flowers bursting with pollen and nectar. It is days like today, when temperatures rise, and the bees fly, but
there is not a single bit of honeybee food to be found, that I worry.
And then I think of our sugar maples. Last year was not a maple syruping year at all. The temperatures never dropped low
enough for long enough for the trees’ roots to convert the summer’s gathered starches into sugar. We hardly burned
through any firewood at all, but it was not a good winter for the sugar maples.
In the fall, when temperatures drop below freezing, the sugar maples’ sap flows down through the sap wood, which lies
just below the bark, and deep underground, where it stays all through the winter in the safety of the roots. Were the sap to
stay up in the branches, it would freeze, and expand, and split the life-giving sap wood.
Then, in late winter or early spring, when the daytime temperatures rise above freezing, the sap moves back up from the
roots, and into the branches. Each night, as the temperatures again drop below freezing, the sap flows back down into
the roots, for safe keeping. It is this flow of the sap, rising and falling through the sap wood, that is the “run” that maple
suragers need. Typically, the entire run will last about two weeks, but the temperatures during this two week period need
to continually rise and fall. If the temperatures stay warm, or drop back below freezing, for more than a day, the sap will
stop flowing until the next rise or fall in temperature.
We well know that this past winter was an exceedingly cold in our neck of the woods, and I was happy. Surely, we burned
through more firewood than the winter before, but my honeybees stayed safe inside their hives, not wasting their energy to
fly across the creek valley in search of food that was not there. And the maple sap stayed safely down in the sugar maples’
roots, converting last summer’s photosynthesis gathered energy into sugar. And as for me? I sat warm by the woodstove
knowing that all was well with our creek valley world.
But then suddenly, the weather has turned warm, and it seems to be staying warm. I know that I can feed my honeybees
some of last summer’s honey, saved as either full frames, frozen in the deep freeze, or in jars of honey that I give back to
the bees in entrance feeders. I really should not to worry too much about the bees.
But for the maple trees there is really little that I can do. Most maple sugarers set out a few test taps, to see if the flow has
begun, but if a sugarer waits too long, hoping for a late winter freeze followed by below freezing nights and warm days, the
hoped-for freeze may never come. Last winter was just such a winter. The weather simply warmed, the maple sap stayed
up in the trees’ branches, and there was little, if any, flow.
So, I check the long-range forecast. The next two weeks call for above freezing days and below freezing nights, perfect for
sap flow. I will set my taps tomorrow. But as I walk through the woods I will think about my honeybees. I will keep my eyes
peeled for the first signs of spring flowers, even though I know that it is still too early. And then, after my taps are set, I will
go out to the apiary, and set an entrance feeder, filled with watered down honey, at the front of each hive.
I realize that the forecast is just that, a forecast, and not a guarantee. I fully understand that the weather will simply be
whatever it may. I also know that it is perfectly wonderful to be outside this time of year.
January 28, 2018
THE SEASON OF THE MUD
The bitter cold is gone and the creek is running high, jammed with giant ice flows. Almost all of last week’s snow has
melted into the ground, leaving behind a rich dark muck that sucks at my boots. All I can do is shake my head, knowing
full well that no amount of head shaking will make any difference in what lies ahead. Yes, this is the dawning of the
season of the mud, and I know exactly what to expect.
My rubber boots will soon become my most frequently worn footwear. Several years ago these boots had been blue, but
they now have weathered into a soft shade of beige with just a hint of blue showing through at the toe. They have
transformed into creek valley fashion at its very best.
Thankfully, every last one of my flock of free ranging chickens has survived the single digit temperatures of the past few
weeks. Granted they have not been laying prolifically, but the eggs that they have been laying are beautifully clean, and the
nest boxes have also stayed wonderfully clean. The snow covered ground has kept both birds and eggs quite spotless,
but I know that this cleanliness is about to end. Today, the birds’ feathered bodies still looked bright and beautiful, and as
I looked down towards the feet of my feathered flock, I could still make out their green, yellow, and deep orange legs, but
farther down, closer to the ground, their feet and toes were completely covered with thick dark mud. It almost looked as
though they were taking after me, and wearing rubber boots.
And oh my gosh, what has become of the pasture? It is more like a mud bath than a field. The little horses’ tails drag
across the mire, but the accumulating muck does not seem to slow their prancing in the least. The calves simply do not
care, and lie down in the muck and chew their cud, appearing to be more pig-like than bovine. It has quickly become
difficult to differentiate their varied colors through the mud that now covers them head to hoof.
But what I really wish is that I could teach our dogs to wash their feet at the front door. The best that I can do is try to lure
them out to romp through a grassy area before I let them inside, but alas, there is little grass this time of year, and such
luring does little to clean them off. I end up simply sweeping the mud off of the cabin’s floor the best that I can.
Even though Greg and I are spending more and more of our time staying home at the creek, there are still those
occasional days that I head up town to court, dressed as a lawyer. I have come to learn that the creek’s mud will even
follow me there. No matter how carefully I walk down the cabin's front steps, searching for the least muddy spot on which
to place my lawyer shod foot, I inevitably end up with muddy decorations across my footwear. I try to take my time and step
from one grassy clump to the next on my way to the gravel driveway, but the clumps are spread out here and there across a
sea of chicken and dog scratched mire. My course is anything but straight and I often lose my balance, and to keep from
falling I have to place a lawyerly toe into the muck. I have even found myself stranded without any grassy clumps ahead of
me, so that I am forced to turn carefully around and judiciously backtrack to safety.
Yes, this is the season of the mud. Not a whole lot to enjoy, but you have probably already guessed what I am about to say
next. I have come to realize that there is absolutely nothing in the world, like stepping out onto the front porch and
breathing in the deep dark aroma of the earth. I never knew this smell in the city, but I know it well now, and I wouldn’t trade
living in this muddy creek valley for a mud free life, not for anything in the world. By the way, I have also heard that a good
mud bath is known to relieve tight muscles, condition the hair, and reduce age spots. Perhaps this mud season I will
dance with my long hair down, and I might even consider covering my face in mire to attain a more youthful complexion …
January 21, 2018
DRESSED FOR SUCCESS
My perspective really has changed. When I lived in the city, I would hesitate to make a quick dash to the grocery store
unless my hair was tidy, my jeans were crisp, and my shoes were clean. Now I almost consider it a badge of honor to
head up to town with farm mud on my boots and my hair flying out from under my hat. These are the proud signs that I
have spent the day outside, farming.
When I lived and worked in the city, I remember that I always wore pumps and stockings downtown. I remember how my
heals would click long the city sidewalk, and how my toes would feel the cold bite of winter if I had to walk more than a few
blocks, but I was not alone. Everyone who I passed on the city streets, all hurrying along between the tall buildings,
sported the same attire. We were all dressed for success.
I no longer own any pumps or stockings. This morning, as I dressed to head out to do the animal chores, I smiled to
imagine myself in my pumps and stockings, making the animal rounds. The temperature gage read a frosty .5 degrees.
I first pulled on a thick pair of insulted socks. They would never have fit into my pumps. I then put a fleece vest on over my
turtleneck shirt, which I next covered with a thermal lined hooded sweatshirt. I pulled the hood up over my head, and then
reached for my thick fleece jacket, which I zippered all the way up so that its collar covered my neck up to my chin. I then
pulled the sweatshirt hood down, and put on my ever so warm, winter lined, thermal cap. It has the most wonderful ear
flaps that I pulled down and fastened under my chin.
I was beginning to feel a bit hot inside the warm cabin as wrapped a scarf around my chin and made my way to the door.
Greg’s large rubber work boots were sitting on the rug just inside the door, warming up so that I could slip them on over
my thick socks. I have learned that pinched toes quickly turn cold, so when I wear my super thick socks, I borrow Greg’s
Boots on, and jean legs tucked securely in, I reached for my winter lined leather gloves. I was finally ready to head outside.
With each step I felt the single digit crunch of snow underfoot, but inside my many layers, I was toasty warm. Only my nose
felt the bite of the winter morning, as with each inhaled breath my nostrils crinkled. I remembered as a child back east,
hearing why New Englander farmers are thought to be so taciturn and reserved. What I had heard was that New
Englanders have realized that by not to smiling, that can keep winter’s cold bite from freezing their teeth! Fact or fiction, I do
not know, but when I opened my mouth for an inhaled smile, my teeth did feel decidedly cold. I quickly closed my mouth
and tucked my chin back under my scarf and the collar of my zippered jacket.
In time, the sun came out and shone brightly across the snow-covered creek valley. The world seemed to glisten warmly,
but the outside temperature still hovered in the single digits. Inside the cabin, though, the temperature was toasty warm. I
stripped off my many layers and carefully placed them where they belonged, until my next venture out, dressed for success
in our wintertime, creek valley world.
January 14, 2018
A PERFECT DAY
We set the alarm and woke up long before day break. We planned to get the animal chores done early, and be on the road
in time to make the drive to a marble show in a neighboring state. The morning air was perfectly still, but bitterly cold, as
we upended frozen water buckets, adding to the ice pillar collection that already dotted the upper yard. I crossed my
fingers inside my thick winter gloves, hoping that the water would not freeze before the animals woke up and had a chance
Chores done, we drove down the hill, stopping by the pasture to break the ice off the surface of the cattle trough. The
pasture creatures were wide awake, and eagerly came up for a drink. We climbed back into our heated vehicle and drove
off down the road.
The marble show was wonderful. I met countless folk who were as bitten by the beauty of the small glass orbs as I. It was
only after several hours of perusing the bright displays that we turned to leave. And yes, I did have a few special additions
to my growing collection stuffed deep inside my pockets. I was smiling ear to ear as we began our several hour drive back
to the creek.
Without a doubt we were eager to get back home and check on our animals. With the temperatures hovering in the single
digits, we have been replenishing the animal’s frozen water supplies at least three times each day, but with the drive to the
marble show, such replenishment had not been possible, so on the return trip we did not dally. We were hungry though,
and decided to stop off for lunch in a local diner.
As soon as we walked inside, I knew that we had entered a magical place. We were greeted warmly as we sat at our
table. Our waitress approached singing along with the radio. Another waitress was singing across the room. One called
out to the other that she really loved this particular song. They were both named Marie. Our waitress then called to a third
waitress and she too was named Marie. As the fourth waitress passed by our table, she smiled. She was also a Marie.
We were the only folk whose names the waitresses did not know. Everyone in the busy diner spoke across the tables and
everyone was smiling, and even though we were still a two-hour drive away from our creek valley, it occurred to me that if
ever I was in need of some cheer, it would be well worth the drive back to dine with the singing Marie’s.
By the time arrived home, the sun was just slipping over the ridgetop and the upper field was in covered in shadow. As we
expected, the usually toasty temperature inside the cabin had cooled off, so I hurriedly put several logs in the woodstove,
and stood back to watch as they took off with a good burn. I damped the stove down, and headed back out to water the
goats, chickens, pigeons, ducks, and rabbits. Greg had already headed down the hill to water the pasture creatures, but
by the time I was done, he had still not returned, so I decided to go see what he was up to.
I found Greg, with a propane tank by his side, and my weeding torch in his hand, running the flame up and down the length
of the lower field’s frost-free spigot. It was clearly not so frost free. I stood with him for a while as he patiently ran the flame
along the pipe, but I was not so patient. I was cold.
I hurriedly returned up the hill and placed two large drums in the back of the pickup truck. I then backed over to the frost-
free spigot by the cabin and filled both buckets with water, before I drove down the hill to the cattle trough, where I once
again, carefully, backed up to the fence.
With the truck in position, I climbed into the truck bed and tipped the first bucket toward the trough, watching as about half
of the water spilled over the truck’s tailgate and across the ground. Greg came up beside me with a smile. The spigot
was finally working. Even so, Greg still helped me tip the second bucket into the trough. I think that he understood that my
water bucket endeavors should not go completely to waste.
By this time, there was no longer any light in the sky, and without a doubt it was bitterly cold. My nose crinkled with each
breath, and my toes were starting to feel numb. Greg suggested that I wait in the warm truck while the trough filled with
water. He did not need to make his suggestion a second time, and in short time we both driving up the hill together, glad
that our animals were all accounted for, and watered.
We walked through the front door of our little cabin and settled in for the evening. I sat on the couch by the stove, my toes
tucked under a warm dog, as I rolled one of my new marbles around in the palm of my hand. From marbles, to singing
Marie’s, and a frozen frost-free spigot, it really had been a perfect day.
January 7, 2018
ADVICE FROM MY SNOW BIRDS
I remember once when I was a child that my father was about to punish me for some infraction. Perhaps I had refused to
eat the brussels sprouts my mother had piled on my plate, or I may have complained that my little brother’s pile of
brussels sprouts was not as large as mine, but no matter what the infraction, I had decided to run away. I remember
dashing to the front door of our city house. I recall fairly flying down the front stoop steps, my bare feet not even touching
the cold brownstone, and heading out across the snow-covered street to the park.
Just as I entered the park, I heard the front door slam behind me, and I realized that my father was in hot pursuit. The
winter wind, chilled even more by my running, felt cold on my cheeks, and I remember the sensation as my bare toes felt
bitten by the snow-covered pavers that lined the park’s paths. I just ran faster.
In time, I glanced over my shoulder, and there was my father, just inside the park entrance. He was bent forward with his
hands on his knees, a huge grin spreading across his face. I stopped my mad dash and turned to watch as he kicked off
his shoes and then pulled off his socks and carefully stuffed one sock in each shoe. With a laugh he called out to me, “Let’
s circle the park … together … barefoot.”
I danced in the cold snow as he caught up with me, and then we turned to run around the park together, our feet flying over
the snow, barely touching down.
When we turned at the far side of the park to head back home, I was amazed to see that my mother and little brother, also
barefoot, were heading down the front stoop. Laughing, they met us at the park entrance, and then, arm in arm, and not
lingering in the least, we all returned across the street and back into the warmth of my childhood home.
I remember that I was amazed that my infraction was completely forgotten, and I knew that I no longer had any desire to run
away. I felt completely loved by my somewhat stern, but ever so silly, adventurous, parents.
And today, as a light blanket of snow covers our creek valley world, I wonder if I should do as my parents did, and join our
shoeless animals as I do my morning chores, completely barefoot. I decide to take a survey.
I ask the pigeons what they would think. They look down at me from their roosts, not even venturing out of their gazebo
palace with the temperature in the single digits. They coo contentedly, puffed up twice their normal size, and cock their
heads quizzically, letting me know that they believe that it would be a very wise idea to keep my boots securely on my feet.
I ask the goats, and they laugh with their “ba ha ha”, as they rub up against my legs, and let me know that to go bootless
would be a silly endeavor indeed. Perhaps I shall take heed, but I decide to ask again.
I turn to the chickens and ask what they would think of a barefoot farmer. They have gathered under the rabbit hutches,
where there is no snow, but I have noticed that when they do venture out for a bit of foraging, they adopt a flamingo stance,
standing on one leg, with the other tucked firmly up under their bellies. In time they change their standing leg, and after
just a while longer they return to the rabbit hutches, standing in close chicken congregation. “No, Christine, not a good
idea at all to go barefoot”, they admonish me. I thank my flock of snow birds for their wise advice.
By the time I return to the cabin, chores done, I notice that my toes do feel decidedly chilly. My thick winter socks and sturdy
leather boots have not kept winter completely at bay, but even though the outside temperature still hovers in the single
digits, I feel perfectly warm by the woodstove, content with my memories of a long ago barefoot dash through the snow.
December 31, 2017