Saturday, August 30, 2008

Living Under Bees

Remember this hornet's nest?

Since my last post, I've done some research about hornets, "white-faced hornets" to be exact. Evidently, this football-sized nest can house up to 700 of the little beasties. They eat flies and other "meat" but will also eat rotten fruit or whatever. Usually, hornets are peaceful, but if the nest is disturbed, watch out! Unfortunately, they chose a maple tree rather prone to disturbances. And chose to live rather low in said tree, beside the chicken coop and barn.


In light of these details, Dan and I did some soul-searching. He is a live-and-let live kind of guy and I aspire to be his equal in going with the flow, not worrying/being happy, etc. Okay, I was willing to give the hornets a chance.

After all, I reasoned, life is always tenuous. However we humans try to minimize threats they exist just the same. We dodge bullets every day, bullets we may not ever be aware of.

Unbeknownst to us, the hornets' nest in question was dangling right above the slip-n'-slide at Joe's 5th birthday party, dangling above a wild water balloon war, kids against adults, dangling above the cake and candles and present unwrapping. I shudder to think of what could have happened that day.

But there are always could-have-happeneds. Near misses and moments of grace as well.

Having experienced the lightning strike of sudden tragedy in the past, I can sometimes dwell on these possibilies. Threats seem very, very real to me. So I thought I'd approach the hornets as a lesson, a case in point. I could live under threat of bees. After all, the bees are just one of a countless nasty possibilities made manifest. They could teach me to loosen up a little.

But then, one of the hornets dive-bombed me as I walked down the hill to do the chores. Now, it didn't sting me-- Did I mention I am severely allergic to bees?--- just bounced off the top of my head. And all this philosophy, the live-and-let-liveness and in the moment, no-worries zen-ness I thought I was cultivating, flew out the window.

I went inside and called an extreminator.

We do live under all sorts of visible and invisible threats, and yes, anything can happen at any time and being okay with that-- if you can manage it-- is a real gift. But I'm not quite there yet, not willing to live under threat of bees.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Each Peach, Pear, Plum

It's getting to be that time again.
The apple trees sag under burdens of almost-there apples, the grass looks tired and scrabbly, lush, summer leaves are ever so slightly losing their glorious green. Autumn whispers in the wings.

This year has been a strange one for our fruit trees. Last year saw some major pruning and this year, as if in protest, every third tree has refused to grant us fruit. Hopefully they'll cheer up by next spring; but apple trees have long memories and not-always-forgiving natures.
Our more forgiving trees are weighed down with slightly rosy macintosh and mitsu and jonagold lovelies. But we have to wait, and wait, and wait.... and when they finally ripen, there'll be a veritable avalanche of apples!
With fruit, it's feast or famine, or famine then feast anyway!

In other orchard news:

Our three pear trees, always finicky and frail, crapped out altogether this year. No pears at all.

The peach trees are chugging along. Although, sadly, a huge, peach-laden branch broke off one of them during the monsoon-like weather of July and early August. Very sad to see those still-green peaches wither on the vine, so to speak.

The plums, however... plums trees must adore the monsoon because they have blessed us with a real bounty. The red plums have come and gone. And the yellow ones, slower to develop, sweeter and, in my appreciative opinion, most beautiful, just keep coming and coming....

Unfortunately, most of them are very, very high up. We've collected all we can hoisting the children onto our shoulders and instructing them to "Reach!" And still they dangle and wait and if I can get it together, I'm going to make some jam this year. (Um, I believe I say that every year...)

Here's another thing that's grown on our trees this year:

a hornet nest, not far from the barn or coop. I pass under this beauty every time I go down to check on or feed the animals. It's a little scary. But we are going to let nature take it's course, the nest will hang in this maple until late fall, and then it will come down. I'm trying to appreciate the hornets and their place in the world, but did they have to make their place so close to ours?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bye Bye Batmandu

While we were away last week, our top-dog rooster, Batmandu, decided he didn't like children any more than he liked puppies. He attacked our daughter's friend while her mom was over taking care of things in our absence.

Attacked her as she ran away.

Attacked her seriously enough to draw blood.

So now, we must say adieu to Batmandu.

Lucky for him, we found a wonderful child-free farm. A farm with 20 hens and no roosters at all.

Batmandu was not so keen on being crated and-- when my oldest felt sorry for him and in trying to give him a treat, set him free-- he was not so keen on being captured and re-crated either. He was equally unfond of the long, twisty mini-van ride to Peru (Peru, Mass not the country in South America) He was not keen on the car-seated children beside him, the musical selection or the constant reminders by these children that at least he will not be soup.

But he will be very keen on his new life without said children underfoot or pesky rooster underlings.

Pesky rooster underlings like the gi-normous Stellar:

Stellar, who now finds himself the top-dog rooster in our flock. Maybe Stellar will relax a little and go the respectful route of his old man when it comes to the hens rather than the commando-style tackles and general abuse that marked his second tier status.

Stellar hasn't shown any interest or aggression towards humans as yet. Likely, though, we'll have yet another mean ol' rooster on our hands before we know it.


Herding and Hurting

After my rant about Luka last post, our pup proved herself very useful this week when we discovered one of this year's lambs with an eye injury. I was lucky enough to spot Chloe out in the pasture with her left eye swollen and oozy. It looked, more or less, like the little girl had been punched in the eye. Chloe's Mother, Maya, is one of our most cagey and cautious ewes, and her cute little twins stick to her like glue. Catching the trio in the large, wooded and hilly pasture next door was going to be tricky. We decided to unleash the hounds.

Luka wasn't sure what to do. This was the very first time the pup had been given carte blanche with the sheep, indeed, the first time she had actually been lifted into the pasture and asked to do her crazy little Icie thing. She ran towards the sheep and then, when Charlie, our most intimidating-looking ram, took a step closer to investigate, she came running back towards us. And, for perhaps the first time ever... she was silent. Not a yip. not a peep.

It didn't take her long to turn it around, though. A few encouraging word and Maggie's game if slightly ineffective presence had her rushing off, that trademark bark trailing behind her. And let me tell you, the sheep took notice.

What was most amazing was that the two dogs were able to isolate Maya and her twins and move them into the barn. It wasn't pretty, or quick, but they did it. They really did.

While in the pasture, I worked on Luka's recall. Calling her back from the flock, rewarding her then sending her again. We're getting there anyway. It'd be great to find a herding trainer in our area, one that works with pesky little loose-eyed barking driving dogs rather than stealthy BCs.

Maggie, after all, knows exactly what she's doing. The sheep just don't always care.

Anyway, Chloe's eye is on the mend. It's no longer a thoroughly swollen mess, although the left side of her forehead is still a bit large. She can see out of it now, no problem, and there is no more ooze. We've been treating it with warm washes and antibiotic biotic ointment. She and her fam are enjoying a comfortable stay in the barn, replete with hay and grain, organic apple cider vinegar and extra vitamins. We still don't know what happened to cause it. Most likely is a bee sting, but then the pasture is rife with thorns and prickers and what not. Perhaps she was butted by one of the rams. Hard to say.

Lest we damn Luka with too much praise, this week she also managed to drive our newest escape artist, little Caroline, AWAY from the barn and down the road upon discovering her out and about. She did this twice-- twice! Luckily, while the adult Icelandics scoff at Maggie's apparent lack of gravitas, the lambs respond quite well to her quiet, steely-eyed persistence. I later found Maggie patiently waiting in the barn, a cornered Caroline (On her 4th or 5th escape!) awaiting rescue. She was so happy to see a human, she allowed me to walk up to her, grab her, and hoist her over the fence into the pasture without any struggle at all.

I guess it's all a bit topsy-turvy around here: The little dog works the big sheep, and the big dog works the little ones.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Trouble Pup

This is Luka, our Icelandic Sheepdog puppy. Well.... I say puppy, but Luka is one and 1/3 years old now and still acting-- for want of a more appropriate word-- "puppyish". And really now, it's getting a little old...

We had to go away for a few days last week and while we were gone, Luka wore out her welcome at my sister's house, barking, brawling, taking off unexpectedly. Sigh.....

Now, before I go off on a tirade, I should say that, aside from being adorable, Luka IS quite helpful when it comes to sheep. She can herd like nobody's business, her bark alone could move mountains of sheep and she is fearless and tough. If they try to butt her, she just keeps on keeping on.
And we've worked with her to help her adapt to all the situations on our farm: She comes with to do the chores, she walks the woods and fencelines, she is great with the kids and obeys (most) commands. But, MAN, is she hellacious when confronted with new situations. All her sheepherding smarts make her hyper aware of EVERYTHING: Trucks backing up, other dogs, squirrels, whatever. And she needs to DO something about every one of these things, something unpredictable and often LOUD.

Now, Icelandic Sheepdogs are a really interesting breed, able to herd rough sheep on rough pastures without human support. They are smart and tenacious and slightly more independent of spirit than your average border collie or aussie. They sailed with the Vikings and thrived on challenging Icelandic terrain. They are small but tough, smart, bossy, and-- if ours is any indication-- intense, very, very intense.

Luka is a very, very complicated pup.

In the next few months, we will be working to broaden her experiences. We'll take her EVERYWHERE until nothing seems worthy of her intense interest and concentration. We should have done this a long time ago, but Luka adapted so well to our specific situation we had no idea she'd be such a disaster away from home. So lots of new places, new sounds, new expectations and of course a ton of leadership through all of this.... is that enough to turn an overly-intense bundle of bossiness into a mellow all-around dog away from home?
Any suggestions?

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Yeesh! I've been away a while!

The lambs I wrote about ten (10!) days ago are fully recovered, and all is well in sheepdom. We've had many family members visiting, Joe's 5th birthday party, and lots more rain. I will certainly add some more farmish details when I catch my breath.

Right now, I'm on my way to take a passel of kids berry picking, but I thought I'd write a quick yarn-related post.

This is a batt of gray roving. It doesn't look like much....
But then, it spins into this...

There is an extra-special quality to handspun yarn. I didn't spin this one (I am, um, not so good with the spinning...) but a new friend from the booth beside us at a yarn sale did.

Pretty cool, eh?