A hot summer on the farm, watering and writing

With only two weeks to prepare before my Midwest Writer’s Workshop in Muncie, Indiana, I’m squeezing writing time in between chores in the garden, the barn and the hay field.  Oh yes, and then there’s cleaning all the leaves out of the pool that have fallen from the surrounding trees decimated from the drought.

The mostly alfalfa and clover hay has just been raked and will be baled later today. Not much there, but with all the bugs, it had to be cut to protect the plants.

The hay was raked this morning.  It looks better than I thought it would because, after no rain for weeks, it poured for twenty minutes just one hour after it was cut on Monday. (That leaches out much of the nutrition and color.)  It was one of those oddball cloud bursts that only blessed a few farms with the much needed moisture.  Oh well.  The hay will due–there’s not much of it anyway–and I’m happy for the trees and grass getting a bit of a drink and a reprieve for me because I didn’t need to water my garden on Tuesday.

The new sprinkler heads make it easier to water without waste.

Speaking of the garden, it’s starting to produce.  We’ve had raspberries for months, but they’re almost finished now–the Asian beetles and some little hard-shelled, black bug variety have found their way into them.  The zucchini and summer squash plants have been popping out new veggies to pick everyday for a  couple of weeks now, to the point that to keep them from going bad, I’m making them into a cold squash soup.  It’s great for those days when I come in, hot from weeding and watering, and too tired to cook.  I steamed them with a red onion, blended them with the remaining water, and put it all in the fridge.  When I’m ready for a quick meal, I ladle some into a bowl, add some spice–salt & pepper, powdered garlic, and a wonderful pizza spice I found in the back of the spice cupboard–top it off with some soy parmesan cheese, and sit down with a good book.

I pulled these beans out because of a white powder mildew, but new ones are already emerging.

I made my first cole slaw from my garden cabbage, using the outer leaves only.  Not the usual because they were a much deeper green than what most people use to make slaw, but with the carrot, cider vinegar and soy-sour cream, it was perfect for my taste.  I’m pretty close to being a Vegan now that I’ve given up dairy, but I can’t resist an occasional piece of fish.  Good protein and a nice change of pace from all the soy.

I think one of these is Collard but I don’t know which, nor the name of the other. Can you help?

This is a funny plant on the right. I have no idea what it is, when or how to pick or how to prepare it.

Next, I need to find a way to use my Greens.  Since I don’t eat meat,  cooking them with bacon just won’t work.  I’ve read not to add salt until you’re ready to eat because it pulls out all the water from the leaves and makes it blah.  Also, the internet featured tons of warnings not to overcook Greens.  I’m not even sure which ones I grew.  I know I have Kale and one of them is Collard greens, I think, but don’t know the other two.  That’s what I get for buying plants with labels on the peat pot that has to be torn off in order to plant.  I know, I should have written it down somewhere.  I still have lots to learn in the garden, but it’s a fun process muddling my way through.

He’s getting terribly thin, but he’s still a lover boy.

On the animal front, Bailer (named because that’s where he was born–in the hay bailer–to a ferrel momma cat) is looking pretty sad.  I feed him special can food from the vet on the kitchen counter away from the other cats (though I give them–Tyler, JD and Patrick– a taste of the good stuff off the butter knife that I use to section it out of the can into Bailer’s bowl).  I hope with the expensive food and extra attention, he will put on a few pounds or at least not lose anymore.  When I pick him up, there’s hardly anything left of him.  He’s my “baby boy,” favorite status since Patches died.  When he’s not outside (which is now only in nice weather during the day because he’s so old and I worry), he’s in my lap.  Patrick, the next-oldest cat, likes to push his way in, but I usually make them take turns.  Otherwise, I have claws flying right in the middle of a favorite show, like NEWSROOM.

Have you seen it, it’s the new series written by Allen Sorkin on HBO.  It’s a don’t miss if you liked West Wing or The American President.  Greg and I watch it with cats in our laps and Max at our feet.

He’s my guardian and constant companion.

The storm has passed, the rain has ended.

It has been raining, for more than a day, a nice, steady rain, soft and gentle, a healing rain after a long period of stress, weeks and weeks of drought, with strong dry winds and baking heat. The back of the heat has been broken with an almost shocking coolness, like a death after a long illness.

A peaceful night comes.

The suffering has ended. Transformation has come. The earth has come back to life–greener than green.

The hay in the field cut early from the wet, warm March begins to grow again.  The trees, already fully leafed-out, have their bounce back; lost is the fragile brittleness that the stress of the heat had created. The baby vegetables that had slumped from the harsh winds are perked back up, ready to sprout the fruit and flowers for the coming harvest to sustain me as I heal.

Sunny smiles

For I have been injured too, by the death of my 13 year old Golden Retriever, Sunny.  He was a good dog.  Always happy to greet a newcomer.  Bouncing with joy for any treat.  Eager to be at my side.  I will miss him.

Happy Dog

And Jazzy too, who we lost last year, long before her time.  She had been only seven and horribly sick for over a year when we finally ended her suffering.

Sunny seemed to suffer for only a day, a holiday when our vet was out of town.  So I stayed by his side to offer what comfort I could.

Both gone now.

Max is lonely now.  He’s cousin of Jazzy’s who we rescued last year to help Sunny and me through our grief.   No longer playful, Max huddles at my feet where ever I go in the house, struggling to please me in any way, his dark brown eyes sad.

Lonely now.

I hope to stay near him as much as I can because, for the first time in almost thirty years, we will be a one-dog family.  Max can still chase the cats about the house, but they cannot fill the hole that Sunny’s loss has created.

Goodbye old friend.

So we will mourn for a time and see if we can make due.  Times are hard and traveling is on the horizon.  Maybe next year we’ll think about getting another dog.  Not now.  Not yet.

I love you too.



Morning Horror


All seven

I raised them from chicks.

This morning, I went to the barn to feed.  I was met with piles of white feathers stained with blood, strewn across the chicken yard.  Four Light Brahma egg-layers were dead.  I ran inside the barn and into their coop where I found the other three.  All seven slaughtered.

Horror seized me. I closed my eyes and then the door.  My guilt would not so easily be confined.  I had been careless and had forgotten to secure the chicken hatch to the inside coop.  But I thought I had built in a cushion of safety for hurried nights when the little door was left ajar.  The outside area was completely enclosed with small mesh wire and a roof.  The fencing was intact.  What got in?  How?  Where is it now?

Raccoon, said Greg when I called him on my cell.  Then silence.

He was two thousand miles away.  I would have to deal with this myself.  But not know.  I can’t right now.  I  managed to feed the barn cats, who all seemed unmolested, and the horses who were restless to get out of the barn even though they could defend themselves from claws and fangs with the strike of a hoof.

As I tossed fresh hay out on the flat for them to nibble, I imagined the panic in the chicken coop during the night while I slept comfy and warm on the second floor that overlooks the north end of the barn where my chickens reside.  I envisioned the flurry of feathers and the loud squawks as they helplessly fell to the offender who rejected their meat as sustenance on a less than cold winter’s night.  They must have been disturbed.  had I just missed the chance to save at least one or two?  What a waste.

As I returned to the house, calculating the clean up, I saw the overlapping sheet metal along the bottom of the barn inside the chicken’s outside run.  The foundations stones that held the closure secure had been removed, why I can’t remember.  Stupid.  It was my responsibility to keep all my animals safe.  Am I getting too old to be trusted with their care?  One mistake and terrible things happen.  No more chickens.  They’re too vulnerable, and age has impaired my attention to be sure all is secure each night before we head up stairs to bed.  I’ve left it to Greg whenever he has been home.  Good thing he was gone when this happened.  I would have taken out my anger on him.  It could have happened any night…to either of us.  But it happened on my watch.

It’s why I don’t like to travel.  I don’t trust easily.  Never have.  Experience has taught me well.  There was the time Greg and I went to Florida in the van.  We lived in a house in town then, in Indiana.  We drove straight through, a twenty-four hour drive each way to where my family had gathered.  Mom and Jack were out from LA visiting her sister.  We took Tanya, our sable German Shepherd with us and left behind Beau, our Burmese cat that I found on the day I met Greg.  We left him in the care of a neighbor who promised to come in to feed him and give him fresh water and cat litter.

When we returned home a week later, it took thirty minutes to find him–trapped in a four foot tall empty card board box in the basement.  We had no idea how long he had been in there.  His caretaker didn’t know either.  If only I had taken him to the vet that day. But there were no visible signs of injury and we were exhausted from the long trip.

He was dead by morning.  Dehydration.  Too long without water.  He must have been trapped in that box crying for help for days.  No one heard.  Just like the girls screaming for rescue last night.

No more travel for me.  Not until I have fewer animals and a means to assure their safety while I am away.  Not an easy task to accomplish.  It’s a struggle for me and I really care.  People don’t get my love of animals.  Some do, but they have animals of their own to care for.  So many animals suffer at our hands and need help.  Mankind is  the vermin destroying the natural world.  Arrogant, we only care for our own needs, our own luxuries, regardless of the cost to any of the animals with whom we share this fragile environment.  We need to change our ways.  And I need to find a better way to secure the animals under my care without harming the wild place outside our walls.


Who me?

First I must secure any food in the barn, and return the dogs to their patrol outside.  They’ve been confined to a yard for their own safety, but it’s restricted their ability to protect the property from encroachers.  It’s a difficult balance living in the country, dealing with life and death, but I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

I’ll need a little more time to gather the courage to clean up the scene of the crime.  The ground is too frozen to bury the girls so I am left with the dumpster as my only choice.  I cringe at the thought, but something has to be done to clean up the devastation.  I can’t leave them their to rot and be picked over, even if it is the more natural way.  There is nothing natural about being trapped in a cage with no chance of escape.  My imaginings of their struggle will rob me of sleep for many nights to come, justly so.

I’ll miss my girls…every time we have scraps from the garden or kitchen.  I guess they’ll just have to go into the compost.  I won’t have to worry about blowing grass clipping toward them when I mow.  They devoured the fresh grass.  Maybe I can find a chicken or two who need a good home, but first we’ll have to coon proof their space.