Thursday, August 12, 2010

Notes from the City Woman...

Jen has written wonderful rural inspired updates on Dreamcatcher. I thought it was time to give an update from the rural impaired member.

I can now use the lawn mower without supervision. Didn’t know how to do that until Jen taught me. I of course can’t fix it but let’s be realistic.

I also am in training for using the tractor-with supervision. There are many things to remember when driving the tractor and we have a check session like they do in the cockpit of a plane before takeoff.  I just can’t seem to remember which way the scoop goes when I raise it. That is kind of important. Otherwise one could do a dramatic tumble when the scoop hits the ground. So after I am given instructions I repeat them to myself out loud. It's great fun.

Also, we use the tractor to traverse the 30 acres of undeveloped land in the back which is a worry. Should we burn it? (Well not us of course! Sedation was almost needed when we finally burned the trash pile). Should we hire someone with a giant brush hog? Should we work on pieces at a time with or mini tractor and brush hog? We toss these options around and ask for input from anyone wearing coveralls.
Speaking of anyone wearing coveralls. I have noticed that seldom is the phrase “I don’t know “uttered by these fine rural folks. Often it is because they have refined the fine art of working with what you have. Occasionally, it seems to me that it is culturally unacceptable to use that phrase. It’s a bit like people who won’t ask for directions. I am always relieved when I can verify something they suggest we do with another source but alas that is not always an option. But I do appreciate their willingness to advise us.

I can now catch the horses and groom them do a little ground work training. About 50%of the time I can even put the halters on the right way. (I don’t know why but I am halter and harness impaired.)

Mowing: I do love mowing. I love the smell of the cut grass and wildflowers as they are cut. I love to see the strips of mowed pasture grow as I travel around the pasture or even watch Jen making the rounds. Most of all I love seeing the finished product of a mowed pasture. However, there are dangers lurking in that long grass and vigilance is important if you don’t want to mow say a huge rock.

Gates: I have learned that no matter what you are doing gates must be securely fastened. You must take into account the guardian dogs desire to wander and take his sheep with him or the horses’ belief that that grass on the other side is much more luscious. We recently came back from town to discover that Willie had led 15 sheep to the road in one of these adventures. On their way out they devoured the flower garden we had put in the length of the barn. Nora saved the day but seemed a little confused as she is not supposed to go on the road and here were these sheep out there.

Sheep: Oh these lovely creatures. I do love them. I can almost identify what is good fleece. I know how to shove worming stuff down them, trim their feet and very tentatively gave my first injection of antibiotic. I have learned that if a lamb gets on the other side of the fence it has no clue how to get back and that getting your head stuck in the fence once does not teach you not to do it again-beautiful little Willow. I know the joy of seeing a sheep who hasn’t been well, recovering. And I know the grief of losing lambs before they have had much of a chance at life. And recently I learned the sadness of losing our BFL ram Michael to this horrible heat.

I have also learned that sheep can in fact bite. This seems to apply to the ones who really like you like our bottle lamb Evie and to one of our outstanding fleece wethers Bob. Why I do not know. They do not bite one another.

I have also learned some practical things like never walk out into a pasture with a bucket unless you have a dog with you. Those gentle creatures will bowl you over in a heartbeat to get at food.

I have also learned that any ministrations done to a sheep will involve their peeing and pooping. I understand in stock yards they have a test to measure stress having to do with how much of this occurs. But here at Dreamcatcher they get little scratches on their necks and that special place on their back where you can almost hear them moan. Nevertheless they still pee and poop...usually right where you've cleaned it up and put down fresh bedding.

Some miscellaneous bits of information include the fact that mice can get in a bucket then can’t get out. They will die there and you will scream when using the bucket. Birds will fly into your face and hair when you are in the lambing pen at night. Some people will laugh at you for this. I have also learned that Coyotes not only like the night but like early morning and how important the LGDs (livestock guardian dogs) are. I have learned it is very difficult to get a LGD to go where he doesn’t want to go. It is like trying to move a Shetland pony against its will.

Birds: As a city person I am used to seeing the usual songbirds, sparrows and Robins. Out here I am grabbing the bird book to identify the birds here. We have bluebirds, Orioles, Finches, hawks and vultures. One day out the kitchen window I saw a hawk that had captured a sparrow in flight and they went to the ground ten feet from the window. The sparrow escaped but it was breath taking. We have Purple Martins who battle the sparrows for the rooms in the Martin house who really do keep down the mosquitoes. And then there are the intrepid swallows who dive bomb the cat, Kit, and sometimes us when we venture into a barn at the wrong time. The woodpeckers also make an appearance and that rat a tat tat echoes out here.

Insect’s mice and snakes: Flies are annoying, irritating enraging and sometimes they bite. They especially are attracted to horses. There is no spray, chemical or those little bugs that can really stop them. You can hang up those bottles to trap them you can move all manure, spray the animals etc. But they persist. They especially like to annoy you when you hands are occupied. They do seem to get inactive at night. And when the first hard frost comes it is a blessing. Hornets look a lot like bees but have a very nasty attitude. They like to gang up on you when you get close to their well hidden nests usually either in the ground or on wood right by where the latch to the gate is. I have learned it is ok to throw any concerns regarding environmental impact and kill them with anything you have available. They must die. I do not care if they are some vital link in the ecology - they must die.

Mice are very bright. They will eventually outwit all but possibly a cat. We had a wonderful little device that when they went in to get the peanut butter they were electrocuted. But eventually through some sort of universal memory they figured this out. We had previously used some poison which they merrily carried all over the house sparking terror that one of dogs would find it. The last effort is a different kind of poison that they can’t carry around so for now no mice. Snakes are a wonderful asset. They eat bad things in the garden and around the house...and they scare me to death. After trying to convince myself how harmless and what little helpers they are I have adopted denial as my best strategy. If I don’t see them they don’t exist. So someday I am going to step on a six foot black snake and I will die of fright.

Hay: Hay is very complicated. It must be dry when it’s cut. Then it must be raked and finally bailed when it is dry. You have any idea how hard it is to hit to hit that narrow target when it rained every other day for months? A field that has the big bales of hay resting on it is so beautiful especially when you have a spectacular sunset to frame it and there is an overwhelming sense of satisfaction to look at those big bales and know the part they will play in feeding the animals in the winter.

Sunsets: Speaking of sunsets-they provide a show almost every evening right before dusk. No two are alike and each is beautiful in its own way. Some are streaks of pink, purple and yellow in the sky, others only lighting up the horizon. It is a time to stop and feel the timelessness of the land and the peace that makes it all so worthwhile.


  1. I am now a devoted reader of your blog...vicarious living has always been a subspeciality of mine....thanks for the mind and soul visuals...

  2. My! you learn fast! I have been doing this my whole life and I just so enjoyed your essay, because you hit every point spot on. It could almost be used as a "primer" for those considering the life. So entertaining, well written and really an enjoyable read, thanks for sharing.