Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mysteries at the Homestead

So far its been Sherlock Holmes mystery month here at the homestead.  July came in rainy, and humid, making the garden grow in leaps and bounds, the sunflowers standing tall, guarding the youngsters at their feet, including the unwanted visitors that were not invited.    These tall guardians of the garden were not planted by human hand, but came up from the seeds of their ancestors of last year.  Each year, I routinely plant sunflowers in rows, only to have them wither and die, while the wild ones come up to taunt me in the rows, outside the rows, daring to be pulled. Some lose their bet, others I leave in the rows to reach out to the sky, and play with the clouds.

Tomatoes are ripening faster than I can count, earlier then ever before, corn has tasseled, peppers have peppered, and the vines of squash, pumpkin, gourds have hidden the fence on the pasture lane, mixing in abandonment with each other, leaving the bees to wonder whose flowers belong to whom.  The potato beetles have given up the battle, and herbs have been drying.  First mystery, everything is so early, weeks early, my farmer neighbor down the road can't keep up with the ripening oats, multitude of hay, and the corn 6 foot high by the 4th of July. Everything has become almost too fertile for the fields, including this homestead.

Lynn down at the other end of Scotts Lane always comes every year for a few dozen eggs to set for new laying hens.  This year however , she came early, as a family of raccoons went out on the town and stopped by her chicken pen and dined on her hens.   So I gave her three dozen, usually out of this about a dozen chicks or less hatch out.......THIS TIME...32 hatched out..SURPRISE...And back here on our homestead....a biddy hen walked out from somewhere with one chick.....never missed her while she was sitting for a few weeks. Meanwhile Avi, our bloodhound husky, kept trying to dig under the old shed, even tho I kept putting pallets on the ground to discourage her.  Upon listening carefully, I heard peeping coming from inside the shed......low and behold there was another chick, sitting inside a barrel of alpaca fiber all by it self....chirping for someone, anyone, to come and rescue him.  Now how he got in that barrel at two days old is mystery number two .  Picking him up and placing him with the "one chick" hen mom, they all went happily about their business of pecking the ground for food.  But the story doesn't end there, message came thru......".do  you want some of the chicks?, we have way too many for us here".....Lynn  asked.  This was to be the year, I wasn't going to raise any little down we went and came back with 15 cheeping, noisy black little dots, depositing them into the greenhouse, went back into our own pen, located now "2 Chick" Mama hen, put her with the 15 new arrivals, providing her with a proper and full family of 17 black dots, running around pecking at everything she shows them.  They are happy, quiet, and content even tho they can not all fit under her wing at night and must take turns riding on her back,  learning the trade of the chicken world. They will stay there, exploring the lawn around the greenhouse, the wild flower garden, and the wood line, till they have feathered completely out, and no longer need the older hen to show them the way....and then all will be moved into the fenced alpaca yard, along with the older generations of hens and roosters that was the start of it all.  Circle will be complete.

Earlier in the month, while out separating the weeds from the earth in the garden, a loud, humming, buzzing  noise got my attention fast. Looking out across the yard in one of the tall oaks there was a spiral commotion of  activity flying fast and free, and with one find the queen.  It was a sight to behold, a swarm of bees, hanging from one of the trees, at least two feet or more in length, swirling, circling, black cloud, finally settling slowly on each other in the quest for ....the queen mother.  We thought that maybe one of our hives had swarmed, but they were fine, cept for the few drones that were now leaving to join the party.  Mystery No. 3...and a few days later, I heard the same music coming from the woods in back of the garden, tho could see nothing.   Within a couple of hours another swarm flew in and took their place in one of the apple trees in the yard.  This one much smaller, but just as noisy, and dramatic, even the dogs kept their distance.  By the morning all were before......where they  came from, what their destination was, we will never know......but it was definitely a first for this homestead.  Meanwhile , our own hives are doing a good business as more rooms were added to both hives, and the honey is rolling in....minus a few drones.

The wood line across the hay field has become a stage for the proud peacock strut of a huge buck, still in velvet, as he prances across the field in search of a tidbit of clover growing again after the first cut.  Behind him two more bucks come into my line of vision, smaller, more timid, but holding their heads high, cautious, frantically trying to keep up with the leader, all the while snipping a leaf or two here and there.  This is the first time in five years we have seen any bucks come across the treeline into the fields, usually its the does and their fawns playing in the sunlight, but they have been absent this summer or the hay had grown too tall for them to be seen.  The Sandhill cranes couple, have emulated into three couples this year, as they come back to the same nesting place along the tree line between the two fields.  These  majestic birds take their time looking for food in the cut hayfield, gracefully placing one long foot in front of the other,  marching in tune to the rustling oak leaves, lead by the swallows gliding on the sails of the wind, and the hummers swinging from one flower to another, while the loons call from the lake across the ravine.  Its cool early in the morning, the only time to search for food or garden before the sun sends its hot rays to chase in all but the most brave by noon.

Well, the rhubarb/strawberry and raspberry jam has been made, ready for gift giving in December, the peas, and cauliflower have taken their place in the freezer, along with the broccoli and kale.  Potatoes must be dug, and onions will be ready in a couple of weeks to pull and dry. This doesn't usually happen till mid August. The pole beans have hidden their supports, and the honey bees have taken permanent residence on all the flowers now in full bloom.  The rain clouds keep a comin, and the moist heat hastens the delivery of produce beyond my control. Tomatoes will be canned, cucumbers pickled, all in July, along with the corn, beans, and herbs.  The Organic Gardner says that by the end of this century, New Hampshire is predicted to have summers similar to what we currently see in Virginia or North Carolina.

 Mystery No. what happens to the summers in the southern states....will they have hot sandy deserts, or will they have fallen into the oceans?  We of course will never know....but it definitely leaves much to the imagination of this homesteader.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The sad days of July

As I sit here, listening to the first throes of a thunderstorm, and watch the rolling clouds over head, the cries of the  Sand hill cranes woeful calls match the mood of this homesteader. Its been a raw month, the end of June and the beginning of July.  The heat has been excessive, and the rain a plenty...draining the mind of logical thought, and the senses become dull.... reality blurred. News spread quickly that day.... as down the road a bit, there was a horrible accident killing three area people, and injuring three more.  A mother and her son, plus a young girl in the other car took their eternal flight.  The driver of the other car was a visitor from Australia,.... we may never know what happened....but the sight of the Mayo clinic helicopter flying very low over our field, left an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach... churning... as I knew there must have been a severe accident somewhere, and it was...just 1/2 mile down the road. The  rare, angry sounds of  ambulances wailing in all directions sent shivers down the spine... they came from the three small towns around, along with country sheriff's squads hoping not to find what came across on the radios.  One more helicopter slices the sky, and then silence.  Later the late evening news told the grim tale that cemented it firmly in my mind. Now a wreath marks the spot so all will slow down at the corner of death.

Little did I know that there would be more sorrowful news in the future, with a text message early Tuesday morning, stating that my Mother in Law,( from a previous marriage had died).....she was in her late 80's and in poor health, but somehow I thought she would make another summer. She lived in the town a few miles down the road, and tho I rarely made it down to see her, I made a point to call her at least once a week.....and we would kibitz on what kind of summer it would be and how much rain, or snow we would get. Our birthdays were 2 days apart in the same month and we would congratulate each other for making it another year.  Life becomes so fragile, when we are made to stop and listen to the tears. To make things even more delicate, she donated her body to Science, therefore there will be no funeral, no closure to celebrate her life here in the heartland.  It is a new reality to life that I must sift thru and set right in my mind.

Turning to a softer side of life, on the way to town a few weeks back, we saw a huddled dark spot on the side of the road......turtle, duck?...we didn't stop to find out, as we needed to take our weekly 10 dozen eggs to the food pantry, before it opened, and as usual we were late.   On the way back that dark spot was still there so we stopped to investigate, as curiosity took over the best of us.   Tim bent over and picked up this little black spot, and it quickly picked and pecked at him as he returned to the car.   Feisty,  soft black down became a ball of jostling energy, as Tim cradled it in his big hands......It was a baby Loon,  perched on the side of a busy country road, to fend for its own..on a busy day.  We surmised that he had somehow been left behind by his parents, a long way from the water, well for him anyway....and had gotten lost and finally grew tired and just stopped on the side of the road.  Now the dilemma was what to do with him...since he is a protected species, and we didn't have a pond to put him in.  Finally , with much heavy thought , we took him down to the neighbors, whose land bordered the lake he must have come from, and made him  promise to take the little one to the lake shore.  It was fine with Jeff, as he said he knew that there were a couple of pairs of loons on the lake, and he would walk down thru the woods and set him in a safe place, where hopefully the furried friends would not see him, and he would have a chance to get back in the water.  We had a severe thunderstorm and rain that night, so I don't know what became of the little one, but in my imagination,  he lost his down and grew feathers and is echoing the calls of his parents, on the lake where I know he came from.  No closure here either, except the imagination of the  mind taking over the sensible, practical , logical ways of this homesteader. The ways of the land are cruel, and  hard sometimes, and ones... I have not managed to overcome in the seven years here in the woods, yet everything seems to balance out somehow, sometimes in a few hours, or days...making life more masterful, and powerful then before. Understanding may never become a project fulfilled, but one that will keep my imagination rolling on like the hills never ending, never stopping.
Balance here on the homestead, means getting away for a couple of days.  We traveled for a family gathering along the boundaries of Wisconsin and Michigan. Seventy was a warm friendly highway, gently curving into the Chequamegon National Forest, where the landscape begins to take on new direction.  The swamps are filled with sentinels of the peaked, pointed spirals of pine trees,  watching over the waving tall grass, hiding the forest creatures that are going about their various duties. The highway was dressed for the holiday, wearing miles of yellow BirdsFoot trefoil flowers, with fringes of black eyed Susan's, and white daisies gathered in ruffles along the wood lines. She is proud, beautiful in the early morning dew, quiet, empty, with the sun rays fondly kissing the tips of the trees with silent adoration.  By the time we reach Minoqua, the traffic has picked up, and we become aware of the holiday celebration enthusiasts, with bicyclists on the path, ATVS, roaring down the side roads, and runners on a jaunt to nowhere.  For a brief two days, with three dogs in tow, we enjoyed walking barefoot on the piney crusted ground, the towering majestic pines, and the laughing of family members playing games on the lawn. We were entertained that evening by my son-law's, Blues band, and people dancing on the wooden floors at Goouches bar and restaurant in Boulder Junction.  Brian plays the guitar and sings the songs with an abandonment only a dedicated, artist can , making the night more precious in memories. We drove back the next day, in the rain, ready to get back into the harness of everyday work here on the homestead, renewed, looking forward to the mondain energies of everyday life.

So maybe there is not to be closures  or endings, we must flow with the streams, rushing down the mountain into a continual force of energy, dancing like the raindrops into new realms of dreams, never to be forgotten.