the barn in fall

the barn in fall

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


When the horses took a late afternoon stroll back to the barn, Code Red looked like this:
A bloody nose in a horse can be a sign of something serious, or the result of a strenuous workout, but one like this is most likely from horseplay - a simple bump on the nose.  Earlier in the day I watched Code Red and Remi nipping at each other's faces in play.  They dodge those nips pretty well, but still, when a thousand-pound animal swings its head around for a playful nip, you'd better be ready to duck.  I'll be watching Code Red to make sure this isn't a frequent occurence, in which case the vet will have to investigate.  But my bet is the cause of this little nosebleed is Remi.  Boys.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Most of the barns around here look like mine - metal pole barns, usually a simple elongated A-frame in the traditional red.  Mine is pretty sturdy, with steel beams and a thick concrete floor, yet I don't expect it to be here a hundred years from now.  Eventually it will rust beyond what can be covered by paint.  They don't make 'em like they used to.

The barns built a hundred years ago are still here.  If they were well-cared for, they look like this,
beautiful, proud structures with dirt floors and heavy oak beams.

Often, after the farms were broken into small parcels, the barns fell into disrepair.  Some still stand, sagging, missing boards, with trees sprouting from their crumbling foundations.  One of those stood about a mile from me until this past week, when it was finally torn down.  For the fourteen years I've been here, the old barn looked the same, gaping holes revealing the last rotted harvest of hay inside.  Nature had nearly taken it when man finally finished the job with heavy machinery.  This is all that's left:

It's hard to see the silo behind the trees, but it's there.  It always is.  It's the last to go, like the barn below that has nothing left but its foundation and silo.

There's something sad about them, and beautiful at the same time.  And if you listen over the birds and the rustlings in the weeds, you can hear the ghosts of the past.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Parenting by Luck and Darwin

I'm a mom.  I know that sometimes you can't turn your back on kids, not if you want them to survive.  There are just too many bad things that can happen.  That's what I think about every time I see something like this:

These twin fawns showed up on the front lawn at dusk (hence the poor quality photo).  They're pretty young for this late in the year - still covered with white spots.  I never saw their mother.  Did she say, "Go hang out under the crab tree until I get back?"  Or did they sneak off while she wasn't looking?  Are they two of those suspicious kids with a can of spray paint behind their backs, or are they the responsible kind who wave goodbye to mom, lock the door, and settle back with a good algebra book?  Is it just luck that fifteen minutes later they wandered off into the trees without having been spotted by a coyote?

The same with that mother turkey I accidentally scared out of a tree in my back yard.  She left five or six baby turkeys scrambling around and finally flying off in different directions until the family was spread out over several acres.  Do they have an unerring way of finding each other again?  Or is it natural selection, culling out the ones who are too stupid to live?  I like to think it's the former.  But nature can be heartless, and bad things happen.  Keep an eye on those kids, damn it!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Horses for Breast Cancer Research

My old horse Fritz eats Equine Senior, a special blend of grain for older horses made by Purina.  I buy it in 50lb bags that are usually reddish-brown and white.  Except the ones I bought yesterday were suddenly the ubiquitous pink of breast cancer research.  So I am pleased to say that even Fritz is doing his part to find a cure for breast cancer.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Plum Dumplings

This isn't a rural tradition.  In fact, I got it from family members who came here from Austria.  I don't know where it originates, but I've rarely met anyone who has had this FANTASTIC food!  If you like plums, this is plum ambrosia, and you can only make it for a few short weeks in Sept. when prune plums are available.

Make dough:  1 cup flour, 2 small potatoes, boiled and peeled, 1 pat butter, 1 egg, dash salt.  Mix and roll out like a pie crust.  Pit about 15 ripe plums.  Fill with 1/2 tsp sugar.  Cut small pieces of dough to completely wrap plums, sealing tightly.  Place in boiling water until they float.  Spoon out into shallow bowl or pan with bread crumbs on bottom.  Sprinkle generously with sugar and roll in bread crumbs until coated.  Brown in melted butter, adding more bread crumbs and sugar as needed.  Indulge until bloated and supremely satisfied.

If anyone has had these, I'd love to know where your recipe came from. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

The End of Summer

There are signs.  These are three I noticed this week:
Wooly bear caterpillars are all over the place, usually crawling on the ground inches from my feet.  Once I see one I can't not look down for fear of crushing one of the furry little things.  Me walking across the pasture looks like step-step-awkward, startled hop-step-step.  I know the caterpillars just turn into plain-vanilla Isabella Tiger Moths (the fanciest thing about them is their great name) but they're so cute.  And I know they would make a big squish.  So I watch the ground and do the wolly bear dance.

Another sign - my bats are gone.  All summer they dip and dive around the pasture at dusk.  Just for you, I looked up facts so we can all be smarter.  The little brown bat (my guys) eat hundreds of insects each night, which explains why they crowd the airspace over my manure pile.  Lots of flies and mosquitoes there.  When flying insects die out, the bats migrate south and hibernate.  So my missing bats is a sign that summer, with its delicious mosquitos, is over.  But the same guys will be back next year, because bats live up to 30 years in the wild - I know, I was shocked, too!

One more bittersweet sight to mark the end of summer - my neighbor's hay field is finally cut and baled in rolls.  They used to use it for their horses, and then for another neighbor's cows.  But both the horses and cows are gone now, and they just cut it down at the end of the season and take the bales away - I don't know where.  But I know these bales mark the end of the hay season.  Taking the picture at the end of the day seemed appropriate.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Terminator Cats

(All bleeding heart, liberal, no-kill rodent lovers should skip this entry.)

Farm cats kill things.  Frankly, I need them to, or I would be overrun with mice.  I can cover feed bins, but horses drop grain in their stalls.  Chickens have cracked corn and fresh water constantly available - a veritable smorgasbord for mice. 

I love animals - have I mentioned that?  I'm quite willing to extend that love to rodents.  One mouse by itself is adorable, all furry and sweet like Mrs. Brisby from The Secret of Nihm.  A hundred mice - not so cute.  At one time when I only had two cats patrolling the barn and coop, dozens of mice would scatter every time I opened the door to the chicken coop.  It became a game for the two cats who would wait eagerly at the door, then dart inside when I opened it, and run out seconds later with a mouse clamped in their mouths.

There are now three cats living in the barn and two more that cover the perimeter.  The only mice I see are the dead ones that the cats were too full (or too fussy) to eat.  My cats are pros.  The MVP of their team is Frieda, rodent killer extrordinarie.  At least once a day she stands on the front window ledge with a mouse (or shrew, or mole, or chipmunk) dangling from her mouth, muffling her plaintive meows to be let inside.  She wants to share.  Isn't that sweet?  The answer is always no, but she never quits asking. 

I will spare you the gory part.  This is Frieda, Terminator Cat, on patrol:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Trees for the Future

I'd love to live in the woods.  But I also love to own horses, and horses have the unfortunate tendancy to nibble the bark off trees.  Trees don't like that. They die.  So I have horses and broad sweeps of pasture with no trees.

But outside the pasture, I plant as many trees as I can.  This past weekend we added a redbud, a beautiful little tree that came from a local nursery.  I also have my own tree nursery.  A corner of my garden is given over to four two-year-old saplings from one of our crab trees.  And a large flower pot in my back yard became the nursery for four maple trees that sprouted below the big maple in the back yard.  Next spring they'll get transplanted to the tree nursery in the garden.  I probably won't be here to see them grow into big trees.  But someone will.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Feeding Time

Our horses get grain and hay twice a day.  The amounts of each are far less in the summer when they have a few acres of grass to keep them happy, but they still look forward to that grain.  They know when it's time to eat and they never have to be called in to eat.  But they each go about it differently.

Remi, our thirteen-year-old Arabian, is our ADD horse - easily distracted, even from his food.  He raises his head as he munches grain, dribbling pellets out of his mouth as he looks around.  He's also a "beta" horse, happy to follow everyone else's lead.  So even though it's a sure thing that both of the other horses have their heads in their feed with their stall doors closed, Remi has to keep checking to make sure they don't suddenly sneak off to the pasture and leave him behind.  His head is rarely down.  A lot of grain hits the floor.

For Code Red, feeding time is all about getting it done and moving on to his next pressing engagement.  He paws impatiently while waiting for his grain, then shoves his head in the feeder and doesn't come up until every last piece is gone. 

Fritz LOVES his grain and nickers to me until he gets it, then nickers for more when it's gone.  But he's a slow eater - at 28 he's lost several teeth and chewing takes longer - so it takes him twice as long as the others to eat.  If I don't keep them locked in, Code Red would be right in that stall, shoving Fritz out of way, showing him how it's supposed to be done.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


It all looks so neat in the grocery store - cartons of eggs in small, medium, large, and extra large.  You might think they come from similarly sized chickens:  Petite-sized hens laying cute little eggs.  Plus-sized matronly hens laying jumbo-sized eggs.

Not so, back at the coop.

Chickens are pretty lousy at quality control.  A hen will give you a dozen beautiful large eggs, then pop out a half-sized runt.  But hey, everyone's entitled to an off day.  Sometimes even a way-off, really bad day, when a shell just sounds like too much work and the hen says hell with it, a thin membrane is gonna have to do it.  And of course, a membrane doesn't do it, and your fingers poke right into the goopy center.  For obvious reasons, I don't have a picture of those.  But the photo below shows eggs from standard-sized hens of the same age.  The two on the right would go in the "small" carton.  The two on the left are medium to large.  The one at the top center is extra large.  And the one at the bottom center...well, as I'm sure the chicken said, "Ouch!"