Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Black snake

I am standing in the yard at late afternoon. The air is cool, the smell of harvest is in the air, a scent like husks of corn roasting over a fire. No wind, no clouds, no icy chill. A perfect fall day.

I look over the fields to the east. In the distance, a long black shape forms in the sky. Weaving, warping, rising and falling over the fields. It's coming closer. I hear a noise like a million sharp voices clammering into one loud swarm of sound. It veers in the sky and heads for our grove. Seconds later the black snake flies overhead and begins to uncoil itself in the upper branches of the trees.

The snake loses its shape this close to my eyes--it is now one massive swarm of black birds, thousands of thousands. My ears are deafened, my chest feels tight. They land in the trees, only to rise again seconds later. Wave after wave they pass overhead.

I am spellbound by the sight and the sound of these birds. I lose track of time. Finally the swarm wanes. The birds let go of our grove and fly toward the west. The snake shapes itself again, a black body writhing against the sky, growing distant and muted.

Words cannot capture this. Neither can a photo. I try to take a video, but it is shakey and blurred, and inadequate. I want desparately to share this moment, to share the awe and the ecstacy that I felt. But I can't, not really.

... But I had to try.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Things going on

No pics this post, sorry. I keep forgetting to take the camera outside with me. No preaching, either - my husband said I was getting too soap-boxy in my posts, so I'll try to tone it down a bit. I won't promise anything, though... So here's an update on things going on around the homestead.

Hubby tilled part of the garden and I managed to finally get my garlic planted. Got about a hundred cloves in the ground covered with straw. Garlic is really easy to grow and hubby suggested we plant the whole garden to garlic and try to sell it locally. It's a thought I've had before, but I like my garden diversity. Maybe someday.

Dawn and Eve are doing well, getting a little fat actually. After a bout with worms in August, Dawn had become quite skinny. She's made up for it since, however. Their pasture is filled with many different kinds of weeds, so they are getting a rich diet. Goats really do eat anything. I've noticed that they are shying away from my old asparagus plants and don't seem to like the morning glories, though. Interesting. Next week Dawn goes to the breeder. Which means that if Mr. Buck does his job right, next April we will have one or two little kids (the goat kind) jumping around the place. That will be fun.

Hubby and Pa-in-Law worked on the barn on Saturday, got more of the steel edging up plus added an interior door. I anticipate two more work days and the barn will be mostly done. The electrician hasn't returned a quote on the trenching line yet, so maybe we'll have to wait til spring for electricity. The windows add a lot of natural light, so I think we'll be fine. I'll arrange to do all the chores during the daylight hours.

The hens are still in moult, have been for about a month-and-a-half since the last dog attack. Did I tell you the county attorney issued the dog's owner a misdemeanor? Well, he did, for animal owner liability. The dog's owner then stopped by the house and apologized for our lost chickens, offering to buy us a few next spring. Well, you can't buy adult chickens, and since chicks only cost about $2 each, I'll probably not bother asking him for the money.

He explained that he uses the dogs to guard his sheep, which are on a farm not near his house. If he skips a few days going out to feed the dogs, then they roam. He told me that if we see them around again, feel free to shoot the dogs. (!!) He said someone else has already shot one of them, breaking its leg. "Guess that one won't be leaving home anymore," he said casually. Amazing. Since then I've seen one of the dogs a few miles from my house, running around in the tall grass, covered with mud and matted hair. Maybe when the snow comes they'll stay closer to their home. I hope they get fed.

We got our ex-hog last Thursday, lots and lots of stuff to pack into the freezer. I rendered half of the lard yesterday and had pork chops for dinner. Yum. (The pork chops, not the lard.)

So, the only fall chores left on our list are cleaning the chicken coop, putting the snow-blower on the lawn tractor, putting plastic on the porch windows, putting a steel roof on our bus stop shelter, cleaning up the yard and coiling hoses, plus several things I can't even think of right now. These past few months have gone by way too fast.

But everyone in our house is healthy and doing well. Owen is happy and doing well in school. Graham is happy and being a big stinker in school. Benjamin enjoys the alone-time at home when both his older brothers are at school. (So do Mom and Dad.) Time to get out the wool socks, winter coats and snow boots. Jack Frost is on his way.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

One man's trash

Lookie lookie what I found in a dumpster last week:

Why was I looking in the dumpster? Long story short - I was picking up a bulk food shipment from a drop-off point behind a window store, got there early and was killing time looking around at stuff. I found an employee and asked him if I could have the window. Sure, no problem. Hooray!

My mom is an antique dealer, and has no qualms about digging through people's attics, basements, dumpsters, etc. She's rare in the antique dealer world, in that she feels morally obligated to pay people a fair price for what they have. If she goes to a garage sale and she sees someone selling a $100 bowl for 50 cents, she'll offer to pay more. I think it's the thrill of the hunt that she enjoys, not the actual profit-making part of it.

When I told my mom about my window treasure find, she was so proud of me. She also told me to go back to the window store and offer to pay them $100 for any other stained glass windows they would otherwise throw away. I guess they sell for over $200 in antique shops.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the window. The broken pane is easily repaired by any stained-glass hobbyist. We don't really have a good existing window space to hang it, and I'm not sure I want to knock out part of a wall to make a new spot. We'll see.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Two weeks ago our family went on an apple picking excursion. A friend of mine has some trees in her yard which were laden with beautiful apples. She told me to go ahead and take some, and just bring some eggs to her sometime for swap. Free trade is alive and well in rural Minnesota.

I had envisioned this outing the way I normally envision family outings; the five of us skipping merrily along the garden path with our baskets, the sun shining glorious above us, the boys happy and eager to reach up and pick apples, giggling happily and singing songs. I live in a fairy land sometimes.

Graham lasted about three minutes before he began complaining about the tall grass scratching his bare legs. Benjamin was too little to reach the branches, so he started picking up rotten apples from the ground and tossing them into the bags. After about five minutes of that, he got bored and went off with Graham. I watched them play Extreme Ring-Around-The-Rosie. If you don't know what Extreme Ring-Around-The-Rosie is, then obviously you don't have little boys in your family. Imagine ESPN Extreme Sports and apply it to children's games. It involves a lot of yelling, grabbing, spinning, sailing, falling and laughing.

Owen stuck it out the longest, and tried his best to carry the heavy sacks of apples back to the car. We got three large grocery bags of apples out of our excursion.

Three big bags of apples (minus the rotten ones, which went to the chickens and goats) now equals fourteen quarts of sliced apples and 8 quarts of applesauce on our pantry shelves. Note to self - don't leave the applesauce cooking too long without stirring. And try to explain the tiny black bits in the sauce as extra 'flavoring' to the family.

Porkchops and ...

I spent a cold hour the other night with a chisel and a paint scraper. I could have taken the easy way out, and just defrosted my freezer the way normal people do it: put all your frozen food into a cooler, then open the door to your freezer and turn off the power. A pile of towels on the floor should soak up the sloppy mess.

But no, I did it the hard way. Sitting in front of the freezer, chiseling frost and ice away from shelves and walls, scraping it into a small mountain under my chair. Using a snow shovel to toss it outside onto the grass. Then sorting and rearranging the various frozen foods back into the freezer.

I did all this because next week we are getting our hog. Well, ex-hog. About 150 pounds of frozen pork chops, pork steaks, ground pork, bratwurst, breakfast sausage, smoked ham, fresh ham, pork roast, pork hocks, spare ribs, bacon, liver and lard. From a hog raised on a local, organic farm who lived a happy life, who was able to go outside every day and see the sun and the clouds and feel the wind, who was able to roll in the mud and lay in the shade of a tree with his mother and brothers and sisters. Who was fed milk from happy cows and grain from happy fields. (Okay, maybe I'm going a bit far with the 'happy fields' bit. But they're certainly healthier fields, biologically speaking.)

The pork you buy in a grocery store comes from a hog who spent its life inside a factory farm, who never saw the sun or the sky, who never stepped off of concrete floor, who lived in a box 24 hours a day and was fed who-knows-what. I won't even go into the way they are handled by the factory workers. I assume you've all read enough about that in the news recently.

So, I am looking forward to a full freezer this winter. If only my chickens would finish with their moult and start laying eggs again, we could be enjoying a bacon-and-eggs breakfast every day of the week. Cholesterol be damned!

Barn update

Remember back in June when I said the barn-building would take until October? Here's my husband and father-in-law working on it a few weeks ago. Still needs some metal on the roof, some metal things (I don't know the technical term) on the corners, and work on the interior. But the goats are in, and it's basically functional as it is now. An electrician is going to give me a quote to run electric. Hopefully that won't be too much...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Ben and the Beanstalk

The soybean harvest is long since over, and corn harvest has begun on a small, experimental scale. Farmers cut a swath of corn with their combine, and their combine will tell them the moisture level of the corn. I've been told that 13 is the magic number: if the moisture level is above 13%, it's not dry enough. Wait a week and see what happens.

Benjamin and I took a walk a few weeks ago, through our alfalfa to the edge of our neighbor's soybean field. The soybeans stalks were all gone, save for a small strip bordering our property. I pulled out a few beanstalks and brought them back to our house.

I then pulled off the pods and shelled the dried soybeans.

Then while I was trying to take pictures, Benjamin reached his hand in the bowl.

And here is Benjamin rolling soybeans and a few newly dug potatoes all around my kitchen table (and the floor).

Soybean beanstalks don't grow very tall, only about 2 1/2 feet. So there's no hope of climbing one to the clouds to find a golden goose. But some people will tell you that soybeans are magic, nonetheless. Given my nature, I am always suspicious when people tell me things like that. Especially if their name begins with a M and rhymes with Fonsanto.

Soy is big business. BIG business. BIG and SCARY business. Anybody see the documentary King Corn? A similar film could be made about Queen Soybean. If you're curious, do a google search and be prepared to wade through a lot of propoganda from both sides. You'll read that it causes cancer, and you'll probably read that it cures cancer. You'll also find that you can't swing a dead cat in a grocery store without hitting something made from soy. It's everywhere -- you just have to read the fine print on the ingredient label, and know the fancy soy lingo.

The ironic part is that if Jack sold his cow to someone for some magic soybeans today, he wouldn't be allowed to plant them. That's because the soybean corporations have most of the soybean varieties patented, and you can't save seed from one year to the next for planting. Every spring farmers have to buy new seed. If you don't buy new every year, if you try to plant some of last year's beans in the spring, watch out for the soybean police. Yes, they do exist -- and yes, they have caught farmers and taken them to court. Kiss your golden goose goodbye.

In our house, our favorite uses for soybeans are rolling across kitchen tables (see above), and making maracas. Take an empty toilet paper roll, a handful of soybeans, some construction paper, tape and a few splashes of paint and glitter, and you have yourselves some homemade music.

Musical beans, magical beans. You decide.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Finding someplace warm

Hubby and I were working outside a few weeks ago. I was working inside the barn, putting feed and equipment away and moving tools and lumber aside. Hubby was carrying in twenty bales of alfalfa to store indoors for the winter. Next he'll have to haul our 100 bales of grass hay inside the barn. I think he's forgotten about that, and I hate to remind him. Our list of fall chores is still pretty long, even though it's already mid-October.

Anyway, during our barn work we disturbed a few critters that had already begun to settle in for the winter. I found these guys huddled under a scrap of metal siding:

And I found about a dozen of these guys hiding under plywood and nestled in alfalfa bales.

Tis the season for all good things to find a warm, cozy spot to spend the winter. Right now it is cold, wet and windy outside. Our warm weather days have come to an end. Part of me rejoices for the change in season, part of me still dreads the coming cold, snow, sicknesses and shortened days.

I think what I need is a hot cup of cocoa, a warm quilt and a good Louis L'Amour book. Which in reality, means I'll need to make enough hot cocoa for four cups (me and 3 little boys), find a quilt big enough to fit over four bodies snuggling together on the couch, and read "The Monster at the End of this Book" at least three times while listening to little voices cackle after every page. Not exactly the same, but it works.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The root of my psychosis

Some of you may be wondering why I garden, can, freeze, preserve all of these foods when it is so much simpler to go to the grocery store and buy them. First of all, home grown tastes better and is better for you. Those are good reasons in and of themselves. For me, however, it goes much deeper. But quickly, before we begin, here's a picture of a five-gallon bucket of carrots. I wasn't sure if I was going to get any this year (since I barely thinned and weeded them over the summer), but come September I was pleasantly surprised.

Okay, story time. When I was little, one of my favorite things to do was to go into the small wooded area behind my parents' house, build myself a fort, and then gather berries, nuts and leaves for my pretend winter survival. I knew what I was doing: I had the Tom Brown Guide to Wilderness Survival on my shelf, I watched a lot of Grizzly Adams and Little House on the Prairie, and I enjoyed reading books where kids ran off into the wilderness and fended for themselves (like My Side of the Mountain and the Boxcar Children books).

I think all of these influences merged in my psyche to form a mild obsession for self-reliance. And it seems that within the last ten years of my life, this gentle-yet-insistence psychosis has affected my thinking more and more. I've yet to see if this is a good thing, or a bad thing. Time will tell.

I also blame this obsession on the cold war, and the peak of nuclear anxiety in the early 1980's. I vividly remember one night in particular during that time. A few weeks earlier I had been scared out of my skull while watching 'The Day After,' that nasty nuclear apocalypse made-for-TV movie. Why my parents allowed a pre-teen to watch such a film, I'll never know.

On the night in question, I woke up around midnight, hearing the faint sound of sirens. I crept into the hallway, listening, realizing that the sirens I was hearing were the same sirens I had heard while watching that horrible movie. I knew what was happening -- the nuclear bombs were coming.

What do I do? We had no fall-out shelter, no provisions, no plan of action, nothing. I was clutched with desparate fear. Where would the bombs land? Would the impact wave hit our house? When would the fallout begin? Would I die immediately, or suffer through radiation sickness for months before eventually dying a painful death? As you can see, I had a pretty vivid imagination as a child.

After a few minutes of terror, I decide to wake my parents. I go into their bedroom. Mom is absent for some reason, but Dad is there sleeping. I wake Dad up, gently shaking him and asking him to listen for the sirens. He groggily rises, still half asleep. He can't hear the sirens. I tell them they are air raid sirens, for a nuclear war. He says that if that's the case, then there's not much we can do about it. I am shocked by his nonchalance. He goes back to bed.

I am still terrified. I decide to go downstairs, and turn on the tv to see if there are any public alerts with more information. I creep down the dark stairs. The sirens seem to be getting louder. I walk through the dining room and the kitchen. The sirens are louder still. I stand at the small stairway leading into the family room, and see the television already on. My mother is stretched out on the couch, asleep.

The sirens stop. I watch the tv, and find myself watching 'The Day After' again. My brain leaps to conclusions: my mother has fallen asleep while watching tv, and that same horrible movie is being replayed. The sirens I heard upstairs were coming from the tv. The bombs are not coming, it is a night like any other, and I won't have to die from radiation poisoning.

I go to the tv and switch channels, just to make sure there are no news reports. I turn off the tv, and listen to the silence. I go back upstairs, make sure my Dad has fallen back asleep, and then go to bed. It takes me a long time to get to sleep. In the morning, my father remembers nothing of me waking him.

Just one hour of one child's life, but it's tendrils stretch out beyond twenty years.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Pic for the Day

Yes, I know it's been a long time since my last post. I don't really have time to write anything now, either, but I thought I'd let you know we are still alive. We are! So, in absence of anything substantial to read, here's your picture for the day.