Sunday, September 30, 2007

Autumn Ruminations

Today was a perfect autumn day. The morning was cool and comfortable, and the afternoon temperature was in the 70s. It was a great day to work outside.

In the morning, Chris and I ventured out to the pasture. I was assigned the monotonous but strangely satisfying task of picking up sticks. There are quite a lot of bits and pieces left over after bush-hogging. As I raked and stacked sticks, Chris expounded on two of his favorite topics:
  1. Which trees need to come down (after his collarbone heals, of course)
  2. Which model of tractor he wants to buy
I have learned after 2o+ years that Chris makes decisions by talking about the subject. My role in all this is to listen and offer the occasional opinion, but mostly let him ruminate. The purpose of the discussion is not to make a decision right then. It's to make a decision at some point. So, having taken down umpteen trees this year, we still don't have a completely clear view from house to pasture. This will change, once it is determined which trees are dead or otherwise unsightly. Second, we have a behemoth of a tractor affectionately called "Ned the Bull," who is old, unpredictable, and far from agile. It is time for Ned to retire; the question is, what sort of young whippersnapper will take his place? I think Chris has worked through enough options to know it will be four-wheel-drive with a front-end loader. But how many horsepower? Will it have a belly mower or a bush-hog? Can you attach a post-hole digger? My oh my, the permutations and combinations are endless. I had no idea. So I listen, and nod politely, and look forward to welcoming a new tractor in the coming weeks or months.

In the afternoon I moved to the front garden and went after the weeds that have piled up around the bushes. This was a solitary task, and gave me time to do some of my own ruminating. It's time I had a project of my own on our property, and I'm going to start a vegetable garden. I've been inspired by our strawberry patch that refused to die despite a year of neglect, and by the "eating locally" movement in general. And today I read this great post, "Lettuce Give Thanks," by A Mark on my Wall, where she is trying to eat mostly food that comes from within 100 miles of her Chicago home.

So I've chosen the spot for my veggie garden, and I've requested a book from the library that came highly recommended by some of my bookworm friends: John Seymour's The Self-Sufficient Gardener. I'll do some prep work as I can during the autumn. Over the winter I plan to read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle which I know will be motivating. And, I'll pore over seed catalogs and other how-to books and internet sites. With any kind of luck, we'll have fresh produce in the summer !!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Moving Day!

We had high hopes for our property when we moved in three years ago. Yesterday one of our dreams became a reality when our two horses relocated to the pasture.

Gracie is a 4-year-old chestnut mare; Bobby is a 5-year-old bay gelding and former racehorse. They've been living at a local stable while we cleared and fenced the pasture.

They've not spent much time together before, since in a stable environment the mares and geldings are typically separated. But they have taken to each other nicely. In fact, Bobby has been following Gracie around all day.

If I stand by the pond I have a clear view of the pasture. What a beautiful sight!

What's wrong with this feeder?

Back in July, in a burst of birding enthusiasm, I decided we needed more feeders. I wanted to bring more birds to the windows outside our kitchen, and make it such that a feeder could be seen from any place at the kitchen table. Also, I'd noticed the cardinals didn't particularly care for the small perches on the tube feeders, preferring to pick up leftover bits that fell onto the grass below.

I bought two different feeders that I thought might be more to their liking: a tube with a circular perch and seed tray, and "The Lodge," with ample perching space.

Initially I placed the two new feeders side by side. "The Lodge" was an instant hit with the cardinals. The other feeder was completely ignored by all birds, even when the rest of the feeders were empty. Meanwhile, on the other side of the kitchen, our traditional tube feeder was getting lots of visitors. So I swapped the tube feeder and the "circular perch" feeder, but the birds kept visiting only the lodge and the tube feeder. After a while, I remembered that the seed I had used at first was a little old, so I tried fresh seed. This hasn't had any noticeable effect either. This poor, unpopular feeder sees only an occasional visitor. I know this might be part of the problem:

However, I don't think that explains everything ... birds frequented the tube feeder in that location (whenever it was cat-free, that is!)

Why don't the birds like the circular perch feeder?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A week of ups and downs for our backyard wildlife

A couple months ago I wrote about one of our ducks' strange meanderings. A few weeks ago this very same duck started spending a lot of her time in the duck house. She didn't even come out for food. It turned out she was sitting on two eggs. While all of our ducks are quite enthusiastic when it comes to mating, and pretty good at producing eggs, the eggs tended to be left lying wherever they were laid: the front garden bushes, deep in the pond, along the bank, you name it. Up to now, none of the ducks seemed to have the faintest idea about nesting.

Well, this mama duck managed to master the nesting thing and on Monday, hatched two fuzzy black ducklings. It was exciting, but we were apprehensive at the same time. Would she know what to do next? Would they get enough food? Would they be warm enough?

We watched them carefully on Monday and Tuesday, bringing water and some ground duck pellets out to the duck house each day. On Wednesday, she ventured forth with her brood. A bit of drama ensued. Mama duck took the little ones out for a swim, and then proceeded to take them to one of her favorite spots for sitting: the pond's overflow grate. Her spatial relationship skills proved even more suspect than her parenting skills, as one of the ducklings fell through the grate! There was much flapping and panicked quacking, which fortunately caught Chris' attention. He realized what had happened, went into the woods behind the pond, crawled through a wet and spidery culvert, retrieved the little fella, and reunited it with mama duck (all this was even more remarkable given that Chris is all trussed up in a contraption designed to heal a broken clavicle ... but that's another story!).

All seemed well from that point. Mama took her little ones out during the day, and retired to the safety of the duck house in the early evening. On Friday night we went out to visit the little ones and enjoyed watching them splash about. But in the middle of the night, we heard a lot of panicked quacking coming from all 8 ducks. This chorus is usually reserved for really scary and threatening situations. In the morning, the ducks were all clustered together on the grate. But the ducklings were gone.

I know the deck is stacked against ducklings born this time of year, since they are unlikely to reach a suitable body weight before the weather gets cold. But they were so cute and fluffy. It's sad.