In the Country

Autumn “Weeds”

Alfalfa

There’s a haze of misty green in our newly planted alfalfa field this morning.

field with sun rays

There were many steps involved in establishing this new field of alfalfa hay that should last for many years. The longer it lasts the more fertile our soil will become. Alfalfa manufactures its own nitrogen while the plants’ roots develop deep in the soil at least five or six feet down. Small nodules containing soil enriching nitrogen form on the roots of mature alfalfa improving soil structure by loosening the soil and thereby improving drainage and decreasing erosion.

We want to establish a good stand before a freeze, so it is being planted late in summer and many steps are involved:

lime pile

After thoroughly manuring the field (much to the dismay of neighbors) it is limed to form the proper PH.

IMG_4797

Payton is off to till in lime with a disk and cultipacker that pushes stones into the earth to level the ground. Fields must be as level as possible so future hay equipment won’t pick up rocks when cutting hay closely. Seed is then sown.

Gerald in alfalfa field

Here Gerald inspects a field of mature alfalfa to see if it is ready to cut. Ideally, it should be harvested before it blossoms and stems become tough.

deer near alfalfa field

Deer, as well as cattle, love our alfalfa and eat at their leisure. They harvest their own. My grandson Clay captured a picture of this young deer sneaking a bite.

Chaos!

Often people driving by a farm will idealize the rural beauty and imagine a slow-paced country life. I confess, we are lucky to be surrounded by beauty in the country.

corn tassles

It may look pretty, but chopping corn silage is dusty work.

Finishing hay and hauling bales—dusty and hot!  Hay sticks to sweaty bodies on a 100 degree day.

However, the pace isn’t usually as slow as people might imagine. Finishing hay and hauling bales is dusty and hot! Hay sticks to sweaty bodies on a 100 degree day.

Liming wheat fields for next year’s crop—more dust!

Liming wheat fields for next year’s crop—more dust!

Gerald and Jeff are never without their phones glued to their ears as they organize bedlam.

21st Century farmers: Gerald and Jeff are never without their phones glued to their ears as they organize bedlam.

Stress! Tilers are waiting for us to get the corn chopped so they can bury this tile two feet under the soil surface.

Stress! Tilers are waiting for us to get the corn chopped so they can bury this tile two feet under the soil surface.

Beneath the surface of the earth, where once our machinery either got stuck in mud holes or we had to farm around them, these tile will allow us to farm that once-useless land. Soon the heavy wheels of our machines will pass easily over the tiled streams that run beneath the earth and carry excess water to nearby rivers.

So that’s all we have going on outside today when it’s almost 100 degrees.

Oh, and hundreds of cows to milk too!

Hey, don’t forget about us! (Oh, and hundreds of cows to milk too!)

The Ash Tree

Trees guard either side of the drive that goes from the road to our farm. They are all maples but one. For over 150 years, until today, there has always been a tall, solitary ash tree that stood 110 feet in the air. It was slowly dying like most ash trees, and the decision was made to take it down before dying branches fell on cattle and injured them or on close-by electric wires. Since everything revolves around cattle here, they had to be rounded up, put in the barn, and then the fence was taken down to prevent the tree from falling onto it.

Here men decide on the best plan for felling the giant.

Here men decide on the best plan for felling the giant.

This man in a bucket is lifted high in the air to saw off limbs before felling the tree.

This man in a bucket is lifted high in the air to saw off limbs before felling the tree.

Then chain saws are fired up and our guys help with the cleanup.

Then chain saws are fired up and our guys help with the cleanup.

Here lies our old Ash but it wasn’t alone long because it soon became a playground for two of our employees’ children.

Here lies our old Ash but it wasn’t alone long because it soon became a playground for two of our employees’ children.

Juanito especially liked it.

Juanito especially liked it.

Here is our old sentinel loaded on a truck to be hauled away for lumber.  Jeff and Joel have fond memories of it and will use the lumber to make picnic tables for each of their families.

Here is our old sentinel loaded on a truck to be hauled away for lumber. Jeff and Joel have fond memories of it and will use the lumber to make picnic tables for their families.

Show Day

Washing the cowThe big day is finally here! Showday! Last night Jeff had Payton and Cortney lead their cattle into the show ring and practice leading them so it wouldn’t seem as foreign to the heifers today and they would, hopefully, be more at ease. Gerald and I are up and on the road early though not as early as we used to be when our own children were showing. Sonia goes with us with the perfectly clean and ironed white clothes the kids must wear in the show ring. Jeff and the kids have been there for some time washing and brushing animals.

Preparing for the fairMany years ago we kept a camper at the fairgrounds and spent the majority of the week there. That made it easier than traveling twenty miles back and forth several times a day. One year we stayed with four young children while I was eight months pregnant. I’m not sure how we managed, when I look back, but there are sure some fun memories – like whoopee cushions the kids plopped on when people passed by, or stuffing jeans with straw and laying the top under a cow with shoes attached to the jean bottoms. This made it seem a cow had laid on someone. That usually stopped people in their tracks. Today we’ll see friends that we only see once a year at fair time and we’ll relive many old memories and catch up on each other’s families. Jeff and his family are making their memories today. He, Sonia and the kids have worked hard this week to prepare for today. She has run back and forth to football and volleyball practices with the kids and helped keep things under control with the cattle while Jeff was at work. He’s spent evenings at the fairgrounds clipping the heifers just so, so they will be as lovely as cows can be and catch the judge’s eye.

Walking out with the cowThe time is now – Cortney is in the ring with Coco, Jr. and she and another girl seem to be vying for first place. The judge is driving us crazy as I pinch Gerald’s leg in anticipation and Sonia huddles close whispering about what a great job Cort is doing. She is! The judge walks back and forth and has obviously eliminated all the other animals from competition. He stops in front of Cort’s competitor and studies her heifer carefully. No, Cortney’s doing better! Now he stops in front of Cort and she never takes her eyes from his as he studies the two of them. He walks the ring some more, back and forth. Back and forth he goes in front of the two competitors. Back and forth, chin resting in his thumb and forefinger, scratching his chin. Finally, a light tap on the rump of Cortney’s heifer signifying she has won! Yeah! Halleluiah!

She calmly accepts the ribbon as if her whole summer wasn’t devoted to this one moment and walks from the ring, but once outside she breaks into an enormous delighted smile.

Ribbons from the fair

Going to the Dogs

BuckLast weekend our picnic went to the dogs! Between work and weather many farm families have to schedule get-togethers on the spur of the moment. I decided on an impromptu picnic Sunday and invited two of my friends and all of my kids who were available to come join us. We wound up with only around ten people but also had four dogs. Our dog, Buck, (who I wrote about in an earlier post) and Kate’s dog, Lucy, were here: Buck, a yellow Lab and Lucy, a Shepherd. Though both are big, brave looking dogs, they are terrified of storms. In fact, Lucy is on Prozac but it has to be taken two hours before a storm is expected to be effective. Unfortunately, we didn’t know that Sunday we were in for thunder and lightning!

Lucy

While setting up our picnic outside,Bull I heard a truck arrive and looked up to see my son, Jeff, and his family coming around the corner of the house and they were being led by Jeff’s boxer, Bull, who is named appropriately because of his fearless nature. That put us up to three large dogs. One of our neighbors owns a dog that is part Lab and part Rottweiler. His name is Charlie and he often comes to visit – uninvited. He roams the neighborhood when not kept in his house or tied up. Though he, too, is a gentle giant he upsets other dogs and we are afraid he will cause Buck to roam so he is not welcome here. Half way through our picnic Charlie arrived and we had just captured him, put him in the garage and called his owners when I heard –Oh-oh – thunder!

We all gathered food and picnic fixings and carted them inside when a wild storm hit. Just as I set down my load of grilled burgers I heard a heavy thud and realized panicky Buck had decided to open the door and come in too. We have lever door handles and he opens them easily. One stormy morning I opened the bedroom door to find him laying just in front of it.

CharlieHe opened three doors to get there. Unfortunately, just like children, he doesn’t shut them so they stood open all night. Luckily, no night creatures took advantage of his open door policy. He’s supposed to stay outside and keep coyote and deer out of the yard and he knows it but he looked up at me guiltily and gently wagged his tail so I forgave him. So, I wasn’t too

surprised when he decided to join the party, tongue hanging out and panting in terror with Lucy right behind him in the same traumatized condition. Bull stood just outside the door and watched in fascination. I could just read his mind as he looked from side to side and then at the open door, cocked his head sideways and thought, “Oh the door’s open. Might as well come in too!” That made three hyper, big dogs rushing around the house (two of them having mental breakdowns) and Charlie locked outside the kitchen in the garage jumping on the door and barking that he would like to join the party.

As soon as we corralled all three and banned them to the garage to spend time with Charlie we sat down and ate our cold burgers and beans. We had exactly four burgers left: two for the fearful dogs, one for brave Bull and just one more that we gave to bad Charlie.

August

Queen Anne's LaceI open the kitchen door and walk outside into the August oven. August in the Midwest is hot and dry. Now, as almost always in this summer month, the countryside is parched, overgrown, and rank with grasses gone to seed. Today I walk over crunchy, dry grass and am rewarded for my perseverance by the sight of Queen Anne’s Lace; wild, rank and regal, it overwhelms and covers roadsides and fields. Its delicate, doily white blossoms are dust covered today from cars passing on the dry road. The haze of heat hanging over everything causes waves to appear over the highway, while a steady hot breeze stirs trees and roadsides. Trees are begging for rain to wash off their dusty clothes, while dust lays like body powder in the drive.

Wild CarrotLater, today our crops are blessed by a baptism of rain. I’m going out now to collect a bouquet of the “Lace” or Wild Carrot as it is also known. I will put it in water that has a several drops of red food coloring added and over the next couple of days will watch the white flowers turn a delicate shade of pink.

Crawling

red tractors

What are those red tractors doing on our farm?!?! green tractorWe had a field day here today and a machinery dealership brought in these big tractors and demonstrated different kinds of tillage equipment in one of our fields. Farmers who were interested in how the machinery worked came and watched their performance and are now better able to judge which machines they would like to purchase. Men and boys alike had daydreams of driving them. Our boys had to spend the day in the field making hay with our green tractors.

fruits and veggies

I’m slowly crawling my way back from a sad place. 28-1 copyToday I pulled beets, pickled and canned them. They look like little jewels in the sunlight. When our kids were growing up they always had to take, at least, a small bite of everything on the table and they learned to like some vegetables that their friends didn’t – like beets.

Cabbage to be cut, corn to be frozen, fresh peaches are here and big, fat blackberries to pick in the evenings (with lots of mosquito repellent on) and tomatoes coming on strong – all to be eaten this winter when we will have one less mouth to feed. Glad for once there’s not much time to think.

Sometimes when I’m having an especially busy time, I remember my mom doing all the above and much more. Here my brother and I model two little outfits she made us when her fingers were young and busy.

In Love Again

hauling hay

Gerald was in high spirits when he came in for lunch. They’re chopping hay and he had a chance to run the chopper. Unfortunately, the boss doesn’t usuCortney and Coco Jrally get to spend much time in any of the nice equipment on the farm. Usually, someone else has the honor of just driving up and down a field and enjoying the feel of powerful machinery at his control. Gerald and Jeff are usually directing traffic here and there and overseeing job performance or doing business on the telephone.

We made homemade ice cream tonight and Jeff and his family stopped in to help us eat it. Always a nice treat on a hot summer night. Later, Payton and Cortney loaded up some hay for their cattle on a gator and we all decided to go down to Jeff’s to see the new fair heifer. At first Cortney didn’t want anything to do with her but after everyone left she stayed at the barn for two hours coaxing her and talking gently. She has a gift, because after that time she was able to walk up to her. She’s named her Coco, Jr.

I’m afraid she’s falling in love again.

Firemen’s Festival

Hats off to our fire department’s men and their wives for continuing to provide Greenwich with a fun Fourth of July every year. Here are a few of our village’s hardworking firemen preparing a fire pit for Greenwich’s annual Firemen’s Festival.

firemen

This year they dug a pit in our pasture and spent one day feeding the fire until there was a bed of coals hot enough to roast 2000 pounds of delicious beef and pork to sell this weekend to those of us who wait all year for a taste of their famous sandwiches. During the day the meat is cut and the men’s wives season it and double wrap it in foil before it is put in the pit to roast.

roasting trenchOne of the firemen said that when roasting the meat they have a pretty tight schedule that can only be changed by “The Man Upstairs”. This evening just before time to lay the packages in the pit, “The Man Upstairs” delayed their schedule by letting loose with over an inch of rain on the burning coals. When the rain let up, though a constant drizzle continued through the whole process, the men finally decided the time had come to put the meat in the pit. This shows the assembly line as packages are tossed quickly on the burning coals. It is so hot that two firemen suit up in their gear while standing in the trench.

The wrapped meat, atop the coals and three inches of sand, is then covered with metal sheeting, structural pipe and finally dirt, and then the whole thing is covered with a tarp to keep out rain. firemen in pitAfter over 20 hours of roasting time, everything is removed and the men begin shredding meat for sandwiches while their wives are busy making potato salad, baked beans and lots of luscious desserts and pies.

When I first attended the festival many years ago, I spent most of my time corralling little children while pushing a baby in a stroller. Over years I’ve watched my sons and grandsons grow and compete in the much anticipated truck and tractor pulls. A few years both my sons competed in the demolition derby, and one year the only three cars left in the championship round were my two sons and their best friend, who was like a third son to us. It was impossible to cheer for any individual, so we rooted for all of them knowing we had a winner no matter what.

loading pit

Friday the midway opens at 3:00 PM. There will be truck pulls, tractor pulls, a community church service, fireworks and much, much more. Hope to see you at the annual Tri-Community Joint Fire District Firemen’s Festival–many in my family will be there with trucks a-roarin’!

boy working on truck

Payton’s always happy under the hood of a pulling truck.

What is your favorite Fourth of July memory? Share your comments below!

Wild Raspberries

old barn

This is where wild raspberries grow:  Around old buildings and fields, in ditches and up and down ravines.  If you want to teach your children endurance, take them raspberry picking.  Do it when they’re young, because when they’re older they will definitely rebel.

boy picking raspberriesGerald and I picked them alone this morning without any whiny kids wondering if we had enough yet and why did they have to do this – NONE of their friends did such STUPID stuff!  Still, each summer I took them out on sweltering summer days, which is when raspberries ripen, and they had to pick those little tiny, wild things because I told them they were “pure” and more “delicious” than the big, already-picked ones they saw in the grocery store.

Some crazy thing in me needs to take advantage of all the blackberries and raspberries that grow around fence rows on thorny buggy canes. Even now, my poor husband gets dragged out when I can possibly talk him into it.  He’s not as whiny as our children used to be but he does usually think of more important things he should be doing.  He’s probably right.

I’m not showing a picture of the finished product because by the time I had picked, carefully washed (wild things have slugs and bugs that those sprayed ones don’t) sugared, frozen extras and made shortcake I was to tired to do anything but eat!

boy with raspberries

The work… and the sweet reward!

A Sad Day

A Sad DaySummer progresses and, while May and June were lush with rain, now July hangs thick in the air. In July, it’s normal for heat to build and rain is usually scarce as the dry month of August approaches. I’m sitting on the porch after dark as I wait for Gerald to come in from the field. In the hayfield across the road hundreds of fireflies alternately flash. When Gerald comes home the film of dust that follows him on these hot, dry days will cling to him. The aromatic clover across the road that the fireflies are flitting in, the scent of petunias released from the pot beside me, and the sweet smell of earth clinging to my husband on summer nights are the essence of this hot season.

I’m clinging to these comforting thoughts this evening because today was a sad day. Today was the day we all had to finally give up on Coconut’s recovery. Cortney came, said a sorrowful goodbye, and watched as the vet gave another of her doomed pets a shot to relax all of her bodily functions. Cort knelt in the straw and stroked Coconut’s head as her breathing, labored and raspy for so long, slowed, her body stopped its incessant, tedious twitching, and she peacefully shut her eyes. After a few minutes her heart stopped beating.

Jeff and his family left for home.

Cow Heaven

hay rake

Our cows are belly deep in paradise. This pasture grass needs cut before it goes to seed and becomes woody, but for now the cows look more than content to lay in it on this sunny summer day. Later today, we will mow and bale it but cows lying in grasssoon more grass will grow back to take its place.

Some of what we mow will be placed in those long, white plastic containers that snake through the country side. This relatively new way to preserve hay is labor-saving for hard-working country boys who much prefer driving powerful haymaking machinery to loading wagons in the hot summer sun.

Still, there is always some that has to be baled the old-fashioned way and unloaded from the wagon to store in the hay mow. I remember my sons from their teenage years covered in scratchy hay chaff and exhausted on days like this after lugging around heavy bales in 90-degree humidity. I felt sorry for these boys working today in the hot sun and took them a treat to cool them off.

silage

The new way…

workers baling hay

…And the old way of making hay.

Lemonade

LemonadeIt’s kind of quiet around here today. They’re putting hay in the mow at a farm down the road. We are racing rain that is supposed to come this afternoon and, though we need it, it always seems to come when we have hay on the ground. We cut and bale it at least four times throughout the summer. It’s just like grass and grows all summer but we let it get taller than grass before mowing. It can’t be too tall, though, or it will be woody and the cows won’t eat it and thrive.

I did have some company this morning. Courtney and her friend, Morgan, came roaring up the driveway on a 4-wheeler. They wanted to work. I had a bowl of lemons on the table and they decided to make fresh-squeezed lemonade. That was fine with me because it doesn’t even begin to compare with the kind that comes packaged dry. They washed, cut and squeezed lemons, mixed in sugar and water and, finally, we had a delicious, fresh drink for lunch. My floor got a good share of the juice and sugar, too – Pretty sticky! Now I know how those flies used to feel when they flew into one of the old-fashioned fly strips my mom hung from our kitchen ceiling. I don’t care. They had fun and I had so much fun watching that it was well worth shoes sticking to the tile.

They went out to love on Coconut afterward.

I try to live by this quote of E.G. Guest’s:

“I like a spotless house and clean Where many a touch of grace is seen, But mine is often tossed about By youngsters racing in and out.

And so unto myself I say; Be mine the house where youngsters play. Oh, little girl, oh, healthy boy, Be mine the house which you enjoy!”

Strawberry Morning

rose bush and buggyEarly this morning I drove to my Mennonite neighbor’s for strawberries and found three of her daughters still picking them. I love when I can get my groceries this way. The setting is a bit more picturesque than my local supermarket with the roses blooming next to the shiny black buggy and the girls in their calico dresses picking the berries.

Idyllic setting aside, freshly picked strawberries are entirely different than any I’ve ever found in a store (actually I never buy them since I’ve experienced the “real” thing.) They’re so sweet you can almost taste the sunshine in them. I use them for shortcake, pies and freezer jam. Sometimes I just serve them with a little sugar stirred in, but none are better or fresher than those I snitch out of a quart sitting beside me as I drive home from my early morning visit!

girls picking strawberries

Multiflora Rose

multiflora rose

Multiflora rose decorates my picket fence.

As I was working outside this morning, I realized that when I wrote about spring flowers a few weeks ago that I missed one of the most aromatic ones. Multiflora Rose grows wild and sweetens the morning air when I walk. It was introduced to Ohio by Pulitzer Prize winning author and agrarian Louis Bromfield, and spread rapidly throughout the state.

Though it was introduced to serve as a wind break, natural fencerow and habitat for wildlife, it’s now considered invasive because it grows and twines so aggressively over every available surface. My husband calls it a noxious weed and a (somewhat literal) thorn in his side because it loves growing in his pastures and invades fencerows. But being the impractical, weird person I am, I just call it lovely.

Masses of Wild Daisies Foam Over The Landscape

Tree and morning fogIn late June white daisies, yellow daisies and day lilies line road ditches making beautiful wild flower gardens. As I look out my kitchen window and admire them stretching down road ditches I see the familiar sight of a bicycle, pedaled by Cortney, coming up the drive.

She is here early this morning and goes straight to the sick cow pen. I can see her lay by Coconut in the straw, pet her and rub her head. Afterward, she comes to the house and lays her head on my shoulder with tears flowing. The heifer gets weaker each day and if it were another one she would have been put out of her misery by now but everyone on the farm is rooting for a miraculous recovery. Even some of the wizened older men are giving her extra attention.

Bridge Out

Rain and haymaking do not mix!  We had two hundred acres of hay on the ground and the weather man suddenly decided that, instead of the lovely sunny weather he predicted before we cut hay, we were to expect two days of heavy rain.  On the assumption that he may be right, we hired a custom machine to come in and chop the hay while we trucked it from the field to our bunker silo.  A bunker is simply a huge concrete box that we pack with silage and cover.  Making our race with the weather more difficult was the fact that a bridge is out for repair between the two farms we are working in. The two farms are  less than one quarter of a mile apart.  Because of this, the chopper worked in one farm and our trucks frantically drove four miles, almost back to where they came from, to unload and pack the hay in the bunker silo.

farmer leaning against truck

Coordinating the chaos

After two days of chopping, loading, trucking miles and miles over dusty, bumpy roads, unloading again and packing silage boys covered the silo with plastic and slung old tires on to keep the plastic in place.  The rains came.  We made it!

Chopping silage

Making silage requires synchronizing. Our driver in the truck keeps pace with the custom chopper as it shoots silage into the truck bed. When one truck is full the driver heads to the silo to unload and another pulls into place and the chopper shoots silage into it. We are chopping corn silage in this picture. Our silos hold a variety of crops, including corn, hay, wheat and oats.

Tractor packing silage

Here are just a few loads that have been unloaded and a tractor is beginning to pack them solidly for better preservation.

full bunker silo

The silo is full here and tractors drive precariously close to the silo edge as they continue to pack silage.

These boys have covered the silage with plastic which will keep out air and help to preserve it.  They are now laying old tires on it to hold the plastic in place.

These boys have covered the silage with plastic which will keep out air and help to preserve it. They are now laying old tires on it to hold the plastic in place.

Gator beside silage

Here is an employee taking a Gator ride along a mountain of older, dark silage. We use a loader to take silage to cattle. If you look carefully you can see tires stacked on top of silage.

girl on ATV

Cortney smiles after a long day and a job well done.

June

StrawberriesNow, in June, Mother Nature has filled in the blanks where in April bare limbs were penciled against blue sky. Delicate Chartreuse and celery colored leaves that were forming and auditioning for spring are now full-blown stars. Daffodils that were hushed and still in the morning, while sun warmed their night-chilled petals, are just a memory. I tied their foliage, tucked it out of sight and planted bright pink Wave Petunias in front of it. The leaves are withering and, when they are thoroughly brown and have stored strength in bulbs beneath the earth for next year’s blooms, I’ll cut it off.

JuneToday, I was making a strawberry pie to take to a party our veterinary gives each year when the telephone rang. It was Cortney’s mom, Sonia. When an employee was coming to work this morning he noticed a young cow lying in the pasture away from the herd. When he investigated, he saw that it was Coconut. She had been bullied, butted and bloodied by larger animals and laid on the wet, cold grass all night. Sometimes when an animal is tamed and singled out, like Coconut was, it will be ostracized from a herd and that seems to be what happened. The veterinary was working here and Sonia asked me to have him come and check on Coconut.

The news was bad. She’d been badly brutalized so she was loaded on a trailer, while Cortney looked tearfully on, and brought back to our farm where she will be kept in a sick cow pen and, hopefully, recover. I don’t want to see Cortney lose another pet.

Late Spring

flower collage

peoniesBam! As soon as they are brought inside, their sweetness fills a room. Late spring and early summer flowers are short lived but have the most aromatic blossoms.

This spring morning the air is saturated with the scent of peonies, iris, phlox, roses and apple and berry blossoms. What an overload as they assault my senses while walking through my yard. As I sample their addictive aromas I just want to take a gulp!

Today a friend came to my door with this giant bouquet of peonies. Lucky me! A friend who thought of me and the flowers besides.

Fair Preparation Begins

Setting up a penJeff is making a special pen for the fair heifers so they can stay out of the sun, which bleaches their black hair brown. It’s easier for Payton and Cortney to go out and care for them and lead them when they are separated from other animals. Today the men were working on building an open-ended shed to shade the cattle on these hot Ohio summer days. After a backbreaking morning pouring and leveling a concrete floor for the shed, they used some leftover concrete to pour a pad for the fair heifers to be washed on. Now, they can soon be moved out of the herd to their new home where they can get special care.

Kissing a kittenWe took a break this evening to watch the kids work with their fair cattle. After Cortney finished refreshing Coconut on her leading technique she fed her fresh-smelling hay and some grain. Then she took a pitchfork and cleaned up some manure, spread clean straw and loved her up good. Next, she proceeded to her dog, rubbed the dog’s belly and after gently making her lay down, gave her a kiss and went for her cat’s litter of kittens. She lay in the grass and fondled, kissed and loved on them. Finally, after the animals got their share of her abundant devotion, Gerald and I got some more of her kisses and a big hug.

Oftentimes, she has bad luck with her pets. Her rabbits die, her cats get run over and her old dog died recently. It’s not from lack of affection!

Payton is a whiz with his heifer and even though he’s not big he can control her perfectly. He has named his “Wild Thing.” Hope she doesn’t live up to her name in the show ring.

Returning to Our Roots

It seems that those who have moved away from the farm and think they’ve left that life behind often find themselves drawn back. Upon college and marriage, my sister Debbie moved from the farm to various suburbs, but couldn’t leave the farm behind entirely. Now that she and her husband are retiring, they’ve purchased our parents’ farm where she and I grew up. The house was always well-kept by my father, but its 1960s updates hid much of the original charm. My sister and her husband painstakingly restored the 1800s house to its Greek Revival roots.

old house with brother

A summer day in front of the old house

It’s funny to think that during our childhood, in the spirit of modernity our father had phased out many of the “old” touches around the house, stowing away the outdated 1940s furniture in the basement and attic, and pouring a concrete walk and dragging the uneven stones from the old walk back into the woods behind the house.

Debbie in the midst of renovation

In the midst of renovation

Fifty years later, Debbie has dragged it all back out! The old stones from the woods now form the rough-hewn walkways, a refinished 50s metal table creates a gathering place in the kitchen, and an old high chair has been restored and sets out as a reminder of our family having made this house their home.

Turning back the clock was not easy. At one point during the renovation, the house was so deconstructed that neighbors asked me with concern how Debbie was doing after the fire they’d had at the house! Now, after much loving attention and painstaking work, the house is completely restored, probably better than it’s ever been, with nostalgic details like a hitching post, a farmhouse sink, and red enamel appliances.

Debbie and her husband have settled into the country life with chickens, ducks, a huge garden, and they’ve even resurrected my father’s Christmas tree farm. The old red barn still bears my father’s name and with our family still there, no one will have reason to remove it any time soon.

The old house new again

The old house new again

Farmhouses

farmer on porchFarmhouses are more than homes; they’re the hub of a family’s life. Farmers don’t go to an office or lunch at a cafeteria. They don’t go to the gym or the club after work. A farmer’s office is the land around the house; he goes home for lunch and gets plenty of exercise without the unnecessary apparatus of a gym. When he has a spare moment, he unwinds at home, goes through the pile of bills on the desk, or reads the latest farming magazine to keep up with the latest changes. The farmhouse makes up almost the entire setting of a farm family’s life.

Farmhouses tend to stay in a family too. Unlike a regular home that’s a temporary stopping place for unrelated families, farmhouses become part of a family. One of the first houses my husband and I lived in, a tall, white country gothic home on a hill, later became my husband’s father’s home. After his father downsized, my husband purchased the house and surrounding farm again.old farmhouse Over the years we’ve rented it out until recently our grandson Payton, who works at the farm, showed interest in buying it. With years of farm work behind him, Payton has more savings (and probably more maturity) than the average 21-year-old. The house is now his and on its way to being restored to its former beauty.

God Made a Farmer

Like many people, I pay more attention to Super Bowl commercials than I do to the game itself. This year I heard a voice from the past when Dodge aired Paul Harvey’s tribute to farmers. I remember listening to Paul Harvey on the kitchen radio for years as I cooked or the kids and Gerald ran in and out for their midday meals. His tribute to the farmer tells me that he must have known a few in his day because I see my husband, sons, and grandsons in his words.


The Cows Are Out!

Cows FeedingOver the many years I’ve been married to a dairy farmer I’ve helped put in a lot of cattle. They don’t escape often anymore but there are so many more of them when they do. One of my first lessons as a farmer’s wife was on how to put in cows. You don’t run and yell around them because they would be frightened and not go where you want – although sometimes there is lots of running to be done to get close to them. Then we just walk slowly and hold out our arms to guide them along the way. This wasn’t too hard to learn and I was never afraid of them, although I am smart enough to be frightened of bulls. The hardest lessons were learning what they could do to our yard and garden when they escaped- And our neighbor’s garden.

When we first bought this farm we had a nice elderly couple living nearby. They were childless and he, in particular, seemed fascinated by the wild life of their new neighbors who had lots of children and even more cows. Sometimes he just stood at the edge of his yard with thumbs hooked in his overall straps and unashamedly watched us. We were better than television. His pride and joy was his garden and one day our cows got out and trampled his, just planted, tomato plants. As nice as he was, he still didn’t argue with me when I offered to replant them.

Cows in the snowOne time we were awakened to a low rumbling which we quickly realized was the sound of over a hundred thundering hooves stampeding around our house. Another day, we were surprised when we looked out first thing in the morning and the cows all lay peacefully in the yard. That time, while we slept, they had punched holes in the yard with their hooves, ate my garden, flowers and prize rose bush. I was furious and would have given lots to see the expression on the cow that chomped down my favorite rose bush. Bet she had a surprise! I’ve helped chase them in snow and rain and, usually, in the middle of the night. One cold night found me wading through sloppy mud, still in my nightgown, and sporting an old coat and high rubber boots. As I tried to pull myself through the mud I suddenly felt the boot sucked under and there I stood one-booted in muck.

Long before we thought we’d be damaging our children psychologically by using playpens, I’d drop my two baby sons in one at the drop of a hat when I heard my husband yell excitedly, “The cows are out!”

This May Morning

Jeff, our son and partner in our farming operation, opens the gate and lets a cow into the maternity pen. It is obvious she’s almost ready to deliver her calf. I can see into the pen though it’s fifty feet from my kitchen window. Soon a newborn calf will be struggling to its feet and nuzzling for milk. Its mother helps by shifting her hind quarters in the direction of her newborn and pushing the calf toward her udder with her head.

I can also see three young boys, two of whom are my grandsons, and three older men, one of whom is my husband. They are closer to the house and are tugging and pulling on a snowmobile that’s been cleaned and shined in preparation for winter storage. Loading it on a trailer to take to another farm is a heavy job. My grandson, Zach, is dressed in the teenage uniform of today with baggy jeans and a loose sweatshirt. His cousin, Payton, in his school jacket and camouflage hat, is putting everything he has into the lift, too. So is my husband, Gerald, who I wish would just step back and let younger men do the job. That’s never going to happen! Jeff expertly ties the snowmobile to the trailer now that it’s loaded. He does it just the way his dad taught him and I see he’s showing Payton the way it’s done.

It’s a brisk, cloudy Saturday and most of these young boy’s friends are at computer games or in front of a television. These boys might think that would be a better way to spend today, but I’m not as sure as I watch them unknowingly learn how to be competent men. One still sports a hint of adolescent acne, and was so shy when he began his job here that I could never catch his eye to speak. Now he looks me in the eye and says “Hello” when we meet. He’s laughing comfortably at this moment at some joke one of the guys makes. Someone told me once that we must have raised half the boys in our village at our farm. Watching them mature from boys to young men is a privilege. Some leave for college when they graduate from high school but others will stay for many years and they add to our extended farm family.

Coconut

Kisses from a cowIt always seems too early to begin thinking of the county fair in April because it doesn’t roll around until late summer, but tonight preparations began when our grandchildren, Payton and Cortney, went to their first 4-H meeting of the season. Mid-summer we get a slight respite from farm work between planting and harvesting. Though hay making is almost never -ending from June until autumn, in August we do find time to prepare for and celebrate our old-fashioned county fair. For years our own children showed cattle each year at the fair. It was a fun time but when it came to an end we weren’t too brokenhearted because it was also tremendous work. Our boys had to do chores and two-a-day football practices while working with their cattle at the fairgrounds twice each day. Many evenings I’d come to the fair and see them and most of their teammates sitting by their cattle on bales of hay or the trunk that held show halters, soap and brushes. Coaches aren’t very happy when 4-Hers take off for the fair and neglect their practices so penalties were high. They usually imposed extra running on the 4-H kids or had them sit out part or all of a game. It was always a hectic week keeping up with everything.

As I said, we didn’t miss the fair, but when Payton and Cortney were old enough to begin showing small calves it was fun to be back to the excitement and greet old friends.

A friend named coconutLast year, Cortney took a calf she named Coconut. They spent so much time working together that Coconut became her beloved pet and did so well in the fair competition she plans to take that heifer again this year. When cattle trot down off the livestock trailer after a week at the fair they’re still clean and classy looking from daily washings and having their shaggy hair clipped. After the fair, animals are turned out to pasture with other cattle their age and we usually lose track of them over the winter. It’s sad because we grow attached to them as they are trained over the summer to walk and pose the certain way judges like. Cortney cried when Coconut was released last year but came down to see her every day after that. Coconut recognized her and would come away from the other heifers to visit with her. This just doesn’t happen! Dairy cattle running together in large numbers don’t ordinarily separate from the herd or stay that affectionate but Coconut and Cort have stayed buddies all winter and spring.

Farm Pets

There aren’t usually many pets or a variety of animals on large farms. While many people picture a farm having a horse, a few sheep, etc., in reality, we have to specialize in order to make a good living. If I was in charge, we would probably be living on a tumble down farm with chickens, pigs, sheep and many other kinds of animals. I did talk Gerald into getting a goat one time. He brought a little tan and white kid (baby goat) home and the kids and I watched in excitement as he opened the back door of thelivestock trailer to introduce her to her new home in our pasture. As soon as she jumped out of the trailer she immediately went over the fence on her four pogo stick legs. Somehow, we were able to get her back in the trailer after she made many more jumps back and forth over the fence. She was taken right back where she came from and that was the end of our goat.

Another time he let me keep a baby skunk my nephew found in the woods. She was adorable! My children and I petted it, tamed it, and the vet gave her all her shots and de-scented her. Right after the vet finished with her we sat outside watching her play in the grass. Suddenly, out of nowhere, along came our dog and, to our horror, with one big chomp did away with my pet skunk.

Still once more (you think he would have learned by now) he let me get a few sheep. My dad had sheep and I learned to like them at an early age. When I bottle fed them I could never resist petting their nappy wool as they pushed and shoved on the bottle. Baby lambs are often orphaned and raised on bottles. When I was growing up I raised one and named her Sally. Sally became so tame she followed me around like a dog and when the herd of sheep escaped, my dad had me go to Sally and walk through an open gate to the pasture. She was their leader and the rest of the herd would follow her as she followed me. Sheep do that– hence, the saying, “Easy as leading sheep to slaughter.” Gerald and I had our little herd of sheep when we only had two little girls. To teach them responsibility we taught them how to feed the sheep. Though I thought our little sheep cute, I knew great brainpower is not a characteristic of sheep and that they will eat until they die. One morning I went out to care for my new herd of sheep and there they all lay – dead. I knew I’d fed them the night before, but what I didn’t know was that one of our little girls had fed them, also, and later her sister had fed them for a third time. That was the end of our sheep farm.

Over the years we’ve had many more rabbits, ponies, horses, a mule and pigs. Mostly though, we’ve just kept barn cats and one dog at a time. Jenny, one of our dogs, chased cars. Gerald always wondered what she’d do with one if she caught it. One time, in an attempt to teach her a lesson, he hid behind a tree and when a car drove by and Jenny laid chase, he darted from behind the tree yelling and waving a stick in an attempt to scare her so much she would never chase a car again. He looked from her to the car in time to see the shocked look on the face of the driver at the appearance of man and dog chasing him.

We’ve always laughed when we remember that day and wonder what that man told people about the crazy man he saw who chased cars with his dog.

I recently ran across a Food Network cooking show hosted by “The Pioneer Woman,” Ree Drummond, and couldn’t believe that she had stolen my life. Ree, though funnier, cuter and younger, is living the life I live. Granted she lives on a sprawling ranch in Oklahoma and I in Ohio on a dairy farm that’s not nearly as romantic looking. We don’t have graceful horses in our pasture but clunky Holstein cows instead. She’s even using some of my recipes and shortcuts! No fair. Who knew I was living a TV show? I thought I was just an overworked drudge of a wife, mom, calf raiser, photographer and bookkeeper. Those are a few of the jobs I’ve held over the years. I used to let out a heavy sigh when, after getting five children off to school, a little bookwork done and calves fed, I’d step into the house fresh from the barn, to the sound of my telephone ringing. Someone on the other end would invariably ask, “Since you don’t work away from home we wondered if you could bake cookies… help with a field trip… be a den mother… Girl Scout leader… 4-H advisor….

Small-scale farming is again becoming quite profitable because of the popularity of organically grown produce, farm markets and the desire for locally grown food and free-range livestock. As I begin to become more aware of the importance of sustainably produced food, to both our bodies and environments, I will try, in the future, to be more supportive of these farming endeavors.

Finally – April!

Emerging LeavesLike an infant’s fingers stretched across a blanket of blue, the tiny baby leaves are opening in front of an azure sky. Other leaves, getting ready to burst forth, cluster at the end of twigs like chartreuse sweetheart roses.

Farming is a thankless chore some of the time but at other times, as I operated fitting tools for my husband, Gerald, these sights along the edges of woods more than made up for the hard times. If you can’t see these bonuses as you work, you lose out on the real advantages of working with nature and are only toiling thanklessly. Before we could afford much hired help I tried my hand at some outside farm jobs. I milked a few cows now and then, fed baby calves for many years. My husband even turned me loose on tractors when he was desperate for help.

Tractor in the fieldFitting prepares soil for planting by means of a tractor pulling a tool with many disc blades attached. These tillage tools level fields by breaking big pieces of soil into small ones. If a rain comes, you can’t go back and just work the ground you hadn’t gotten to: you have to redo a whole field. Before I did field work I could never understand why Gerald couldn’t leave a field and come and eat a meal until I, myself, was in the tractor seat trying to finish a field and beat a rain. When rain is threatening, you don’t want to leave the field unplanted and start the whole process again after a downpour turns finely fit soil to the consistency of concrete.

Those times, running a tractor back and forth across a field taught me to like the smell of dust and to not mind being covered by it. Amidst the repetitious rides up and down the length of the fields I saw wildflowers carpeting the wood’s edge and trees ready to burst into bloom and form a halo of soft green in the woods beside me.

The dawn and sunset shout for joy. Psalm 65

Radios

Our farm has always been connected by a network of radios, and the base radio sat on the desk in our farmhouse for years. They’ve moved our base radio out of the house and I miss the constant chatter. We have many other handheld radios that are kept in tractors that enable us all to stay in communication. I have always been able to keep up on farming developments from the base and, also, have been able to listen to the funny back and forth of boys who didn’t realize I was hearing every word.

Gerald told me at lunch that Payton and Zach were in a caravan of three loaded manure spreaders that were being pulled by three giant tractors going down the side road. Payton quipped to his cousin on the tractor radio that if people could see them they would be the envy of everyone. I doubt it!!! That was one photo I could have had but missed because I didn’t have the radio close by. I think I would prefer something more like this anyway. These are some of the crocus my Mom planted years ago at my childhood home and left as one of her legacies.

Every spring on my morning walks I marvel at the sun hitting this beautiful old lilac bush. It reminds me that even though our family fortunes come and go, some things are everlasting. Lilacs still bloom in spring; Queen Anne’s Lace runs rampant in road ditches in summer; leaves catch fire in autumn and give us that last brilliant show of color before winter arrives with lovely snowy days.

October

Leaves in a creekNaturalist E. O. Wilson gave a name to the ecstasy sometimes felt when we feel one with nature. He called it “biophilia” and defined it as “the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms.” He says it’s deeply ingrained in our evolutionary past and that’s one reason more people visit zoos each year than all sporting events combined.

As September draws to a close with cooler nights and shorter days, maple trees with their lifeblood, sap, no longer flowing as strongly through them are beginning to lose their sheen. As the month rolls on, leaves will slowly lose their luster until we begin to believe these dull colors will never have the brilliant kaleidoscope of color this year that we usually see. Then, suddenly, almost overnight our lowly Ohio Swing under a treeshade trees burst into flame and gold that rival the best New England has to offer.

God hit the dimmer switch this evening and night fell slowly, turning trees with few leaves, brilliantly lit in daylight, to shadowy forms now illuminated by a full Harvest Moon. We have pumpkins and squash still in the garden to harvest tomorrow, not by that moon, but in the light of another lovely autumn day.

I walked to the pond this afternoon and picked up things that will be unneeded until next summer: Lawn chairs, fishing poles the kids “forgot,” buckets the little girls tried to catch fish in and that the bigger boys kept their fish in (caught the traditional way with line and hooks,) a hotdog roaster big enough to roast several at the same time for our large family gatherings, somebody’s doll, someone else’s cap and an old inner tube. The inner tube was used as a life-preserver and tied to a rope. Not many lives would have been preserved if it had been needed because it and the dog had a wrestling match and the dog won. It’s always sad when a season ends – well, maybe not an Ohio winter! I commit to memory the fun times we’ve enjoyed at the pond this year as I gather everyone’s leftover belongings.

gourds corn

Line Drying

Autumn LeavesSheets hung on the clothesline and dried in the sun by a brisk fall breeze carry an odor to the bedroom that can lull me to sleep with a keen sense of nostalgia. My mother, the original Martha Stewart, would spend a day doing what would take many women several days to do. She would strip my bed and wash all sheets, blankets and bedspread, then take down my curtains and wash them. She hung these on the clothesline before washing down the walls and polishing all furniture in the room and scrubbing the floor. When I crawled into my bed the night after her day of toil, I buried my face in my pillowcase and fell in love with that dried on the line smell. When Gerald and I got married one of the first things I wanted Gerald to do for me was to string up a clothesline. Selling PumpkinsMany days I’m too hurried to use it but I usually dry towels and sheets outside. Back in ancient days when I had my first baby, I felt so frugal when I hung her cloth diapers and little undershirts on my clothesline. They were little flags waving in the breeze signifying my fertility and young motherhood. Towels aren’t usually fabric softener soft when dried outside but are better than a loufa sponge as they scrub my skin with a roughness that wakes it up on the sleepiest mornings.

As I pin clothes on my clothesline this morning I realize that the symphony of birdsong is gone. The songbirds have left for warmer climates and I’m left with only the territorial warnings of a lone crow as he glides overhead.

Autumn

ApplesAutumn’s slipping up on us and it’s a beautiful, gentle day. Green ribbons of hay lay in rows across the field and we should, finally, finish the fourth cutting. PumpkinAfter this growth is cut it will regrow to store up nutrients to survive the winter. Then next spring it will grow and grow and never seem to stop until the harvest of it has sapped the strength of even the strongest bodies on our farm. We had a light rain Hedgeappleyesterday and heavy dew last night so it will have to be fluffed with the tedder. If it’s not dry by early this afternoon we’ll chop it and put it in a silo for heifers and dry cows.They don’t need the high quality feed milking cows do. The twelve thousand Tons of hay and silage Gourdwe preserve each summer help the cows to make an average of 4000 gallons of milk that we ship each day.

School

The sandbox is lonely and feels useless today with only grasshoppers to keep it company. The day is finally here when teachers will begin to tame the wild children of summer. None of our kids are ready to give up their freedom yet but they will begin to adjust and soon become acclimated to school again. It’s an adjustment for me too. I am lonely for them and have to get used to my daughter, who is a second grade teacher, not being a quarter of a mile down the road whenever I feel the need to talk.

The Lonely Sandbox

Kids All Over The Place!

Payton, Cortney, and Zach in the hayFour different times I got cookies and milk out for grandchildren and their friends today. A few times they were in for bathroom breaks and just to talk. I love it! I only have to walk a few feet out the back door and there are men working on machinery. A few more feet and I’m to the barn where cows are milked almost 24 hours a day. I really do enjoy my peace and quite at times but I think maybe I’ve learned to like chaos better. What’s the matter with me?

Three of our grandchildren, Cortney, Payton and Zach were here doing chores when they all decided to take a break and walked to our pond. Cortney, the only girl, was watching the boys swim. I heard a scream and ran to look in time to see Zach lift her and threaten to throw her in the pond. Of course, she fought until he finally did exactly what she “really” wanted him to and dropped her off the dock and into the water clothes and all. The last I saw of the two cousins Cort was chasing Zach out of sight looking for revenge. She’s been raised with a brother and lots of boy cousins and can give as good as she gets so he’d better watch out.

Today we removed these old gas tanks

I felt I had to capture the layers of rusted and peeling paint on my camera because I can still picture each of our children, and grandchildren in turn, painting them fresh and pretty for summer. It was usually hot into June before there was time to find brushes and buy paint for the annual project. My girls took their turns in bikinis in hopes of getting, not a farmer’s tan, but a farmer’s daughter’s tan. As it turned out they always ended up with little dots all over their bodies. When their friends wondered just how they were able to obtain that unique polka-dot effect they were always a little hesitant about telling them that the dots were where paint had spattered their bodies and when the paint was gone they were left with their one-of-a-kind tan. Two of my grandsons spent much of their childhood sparring with each other. When my husband assigned them the task of painting the gas tanks together I wondered how that could possibly work. I watched them from my kitchen window (I never needed television for entertainment.) They got along good except for the expected splats of paint aimed at one another. It didn’t matter because they were outside and the paint only dripped on grass that would soon be mowed. My only thought was that there was no way those two were getting in my house with that rust-proof wet paint all over their bodies – Of course, they did!

These are the new, spotless tanks that will soon be taking their place on ground that had paint dripping on it for years. I’m sure they’ll look spiffy for a time but soon they too will need a coat of paint and will provide a perfect learning experience for a young first-time painter.

Employees

Our employees are hard working and amazing. Some of them are hard working, amazing and crazy! Pete is the most self-confident and drives our machinery with tremendous assurance. He is famous for never looking back. The only problem is that you are supposed to watch behind you when you are pulling machinery worth tens of thousands of dollars. Machinery parts litter the fields behind Pete as he drives blissfully up and down them. Gerald says Pete’s the only person we employ who can get a sixteen-foot drill through a fifteen-foot wide bridge. Today he tried to take a wagonload of hay through a narrow bridge. Gerald was following and shuddered as bales of our finest hay were swiped into the river and carried down current. Pete never knew.

This gentle giant is Justin. His dad, James, who was even bigger, began working for us when he was just a roly-poly young boy. Soon, after a summer spent on our farm loading and unloading hay and straw, the roly-poly turned into hard, sculptured muscle. He milked one summer with a girl named Diane and they fell in love in our milking parlor, were soon married and, nine months later, Diane gave birth to a son, Justin. When Justin became an adolescent he, too, applied for work on our farm and has been here ever since.

This southern gentleman is John, a true son of West Virginia. He brings me gallons of handpicked blackberries in the summer and has introduced me to ramp, a wild plant that appears in the mountains in early spring. It’s a southern delicacy that I’m still trying to develop a taste for.

Juan worked for us for a year before he married and brought this beautiful girl, Suzanna, to us from Mexico.

We have two Justin’s working for us. We call this one “Little Justin” though he is only little compared to “Big Justin”. He is special to our granddaughter, Cortney, because she met him at our county fair, just like Gerald and me, and they’ve been dating ever since. They both work at the farm on weekends.

Hmm… does this look like working or a paid date?

Girls don’t stay home anymore while the guys go hunting. After a hard day on the farm they are off for a little recreational hunting.

We’ve had lots and lots of employees over the years and I respect all of them. Someone said once that half the boys in our small town were raised on our farm. It’s been fun knowing them.


Historically, people have always been able to move to new and fertile land when the land they are using is exhausted. When we farm we try to be conservation minded because we know that there is no place left to move to if the soil in our country were to become seriously depleted. Many argue that it already is.

In the past, we have baled giant bales of corn residue (the stalk left after harvesting) and used it for bedding our cattle during long winters. This year we are leaving it in the fields as cover to stop erosion of topsoil. It will act as mulch that will allow rain and snow to filter into our soil instead of running into streams and carrying our topsoil along with it. Fuel, labor and wear on equipment will be saved at the same time residue gradually disintegrates during the long winter and adds nutrients back to our land that won’t have to be replaced in the spring with chemical fertilizer.

Growing Up

My shrieking little girls and wild little boys are growing up. The grandsons are still a bit wild, as boys should be, but the granddaughters are more tranquil now and spend time talking quietly among themselves. Over the holidays this little beauty of mine, Victoria, and I went for a walk. We stopped to rest and, since I usually have a camera close at hand, I was able to catch her in this contemplative mood.

Was she wondering about her future, the state of the world – boys? As I snapped the first photo she heard and glanced my way with this dazzling smile that is so typical of her. I was able to capture that, too.

How did they grow so fast and unnoticed from children to adolescents and young teenagers? Wasn’t it just yesterday that I used loaves of bread making towers of “circle sandwiches” for them? As a special treat I use an old biscuit cutter and remove the crusts from bread. The dogs and cats love the idea because they get the rejected crusts. After adding a little peanut butter and jam, the kids had special treat and we packed things up and went for a picnic.

One summer day four of my grandchildren showed up and were hungry. Having just cleaned the kitchen floor and wanting it to stay that way, I fixed tacos and all the “fixins” and ran everything out to our picnic table. We had taco meat, fresh salsa, shredded lettuce, shredded cheddar, tomatoes from the garden and sour cream. It was a good idea because they could drop fillings to their hearts content, the barn cats had a feast and my floor stayed clean. The boys decided they would do an experiment and mix a little chocolate milk with Kool-aide. Of course it didn’t take long for them to dissolve in laughter at the result which they deemed delicious. The girls “yucked” but were soon drawn into the plan and tried the concoction. Even though they told me it was wonderful, I noticed that when they were done there were lots of half filled drink glasses left.

On this frosty winter day while the New Year is still in its youth, its fun to remember when the children were young, too.

Hunting

When harvest is over our men take a break and spend some peaceful time in the woods bow hunting for deer. I know this is a controversial topic but, even though I myself would only shoot them with my camera, my men and boys have a different viewpoint and I respect it. There is a huge overpopulation of deer in our Midwestern state and their numbers pose a serious threat. A young mother from our town was driving home from work recently, hit one and it came through her window killing her. A friend of my daughter’s was riding a motorcycle early in the morning when a deer jumped in front of him and he was killed instantly. We often see deer in herds of twenty or more. Coyotes have moved into our area and take care of some of the deer population and hunters help the overpopulation situation when deer season is open in fall and early winter. That was the serious part of my message, today, but the following was maddening to my long-suffering husband and hilarious to me.

A couple of nights ago, after weeks of nonstop work Gerald, my overwrought husband, put on so much camouflage I could hardly find him, walked to the woods behind our house with intentions of sitting quietly in his deer stand and watching for some deer to appear. Before leaving, he shut our dog, Buck, in the garage and I, unwittingly, opened the garage door, out he jumped, nose immediately to the ground as he tracked Gerald’s trail to where he waited in peace and quiet for a glimpse of venison on the hoof. Deer are very timid and won’t approach if there is any noise, sign or scent of a human or another animal. Suddenly, out of nowhere, came Buck, snuffling with nose to the ground. There was no sense staying and waiting for deer as any sensible one would be a mile away after a dog’s appearance. People have asked me if my husband ever gets mad – they should have been there when he stomped back to the house that night!

Last night he began his relaxing trek through the trees, the comforting crunch and pungent odor of fallen autumn leaves under his boots. He’s admitted to me before that he likes to deer hunt just so he can get a good nap. Buck was tucked safely away in the garage but Bounder, our satanic cat, began to follow him to the woods. Gerald scatted him back toward the house and continued on his pleasant walk toward his tree stand. He reached it, climbed it and was sitting watching a group of eight deer approaching when, all of a sudden, he heard ca-thump, ca-thump coming toward him like a rocket and wondered what it could be. Out of nowhere, bounded Bounder, fast as he could sprint, and he began to climb Gerald’s tree! Out of impatience, Gerald took a switch and swung it down toward Bounder who then scampered off to the tree behind and climbed it to make his own little lookout! Bounder promptly began meowing up a storm and deer (was that the prize buck Gerald’s been waiting for leading the way?) sprinted in all directions. The hunt was off for another night. Gerald trudged back home, furious once more, but began to feel guilty and afraid Bounder (just a little kitty) wouldn’t find his way out of the woods. No need to worry, Gerald drove close to where he left him, and had just opened his truck door to go on a kitty hunt when Bounder skidded up behind him and jumped in the truck for a ride back to the farm.

I hope Bounder doesn’t get a deer before Gerald does.

Fifty Years Ago

broken fence and cornFifty years ago more than half of the population lived in rural areas and almost everyone owned a little land. A farm of 100 acres was considered average then but now those 100 acres are split into many lots where new homes stand. Behind these houses and small lots one farmer typically will farm well over 1000 acres. Years ago, one man, the owner of the land, plowed, planted and harvested the crop by himself. He cultivated his crop in the summer to aerate the soil and destroy weeds.

Most people had at least one milk cow, some chickens and pigs. Leftover dishwater, potato peelings, etc. were recycled by being fed to pigs in the evening. I can still see my grandmother’s dishpan full of scraps being thrown to a pen of pigs that relished every bite. All of these animals and their feed made the farmer his very own organic fertilizer in the form of manure that was spread on his fields and garden. This didn’t result in a terrible odor because it was applied in small amounts, but today with hundreds, or even thousands, of animals being raised on farms that can number thousands of acres, manure can be a very costly liability. Some farmers build elaborate systems to dry and bag animal waste and sell it but that can be unpractical for some who are already overburdened with their workload.

barbed wireToday, people in suburbs and cities fulfill their dreams and buy land in the country only to realize that huge manure hauling equipment and machinery used to plant and harvest must run day and night when ground is either dry or frozen solid. Farmers get used to working through the night when conditions are ideal. As long as there are not homes close to their fields it is no problem if machinery is loud. Where enormous lights on tractors shown on empty fields in the past, now they shine in the new neighbor’s windows. Where once animal waste was an asset used to fertilize fields we now face liability from manure runoff in creeks to odor pollution.

November

In this second week of normally dreary November, we had a visit from Indian Summer. We had been experiencing an unusually long stretch of rainy weather and our men have been working day and night to take advantage of these nice days. Last night I went to sleep to the sound of machinery clanging across the road where they were drilling wheat. Meanwhile, in the field beside our house, a combine finished shelling the last field of corn. While you might think I would find these sounds annoying, they are really comforting and loll me to sleep because I’ve lived with them for so long and, most importantly, they signify that we are beating the race with Mother Nature to harvest our crops.

Neither the combine nor the men have enjoyed a rest: they all march frantically on to combining soybeans before we have rain again.

Just to illustrate the type of weather we’ve been having, I want to show you a picture of this pot of petunias on my porch that is prettier now than they’ve been all year. They’re crazily clinging to warm weather, as we all are, but I know it’s a losing battle that winter will soon surely win.

In Love With Labs

He wanted that “Old Yeller” dog! Ever since the day Gerald watched that old movie he wanted a dog just like the one on the big screen. Life got in the way; he became a man, successful farmer, father and my husband. Still, I’d occasionally catch him looking longingly if we happened to see a yellow Lab somewhere. One day, his dream came true when I opened our screen door and found him holding a wriggly, round ball of soft yellow fur. He lavished all the love built up over years for yellow dogs on her. She was a lady and my husband named the golden dog he’d dreamed of “Goldie.” Goldie was everything he ever longed for in a dog. She obediently followed him everywhere, became a long-suffering and gentle playmate to our children and even learned to ride on the toolbox of his pickup truck as he traveled from farm to farm.

When Goldie passed away at ten years of age our whole family mourned. After a suitable period, he surprised me again with yet another yellow Lab puppy. Buck was his name and he was as unrefined as his name suggests. He was not the easy dog Goldie was. Goldie was a lady but Buck was as wild and obstinate as a rambunctious two year old. The first summer we had him he emptied flower planters as fast as I could fill them. Sometimes he wasn’t content to just uproot flowers and cover my clean porches with potting soil but he chewed the pots up too. Nothing was safe from those canine teeth and his favorite chew toy was one of my husband’s work boots that he stole one day.

Yellow Labrador Retriever named Buck

He soon developed the habit of rambling and keeping him home was frustrating for us, and probably our neighbors because he usually left a large doggie deposit in their yards. Two weeks ago, he came loping in, after a little roam, traumatized, with a bloody, jagged 4-inch wound on his shoulder. We rushed him to the veteranian’s office where he was sutured. The staff didn’t send him home with an e-collar but we were told, instead, to put an old t-shirt on him to keep him from chewing out the stitches. That didn’t work and he chewed out two of them. When he was sewed up again he was finally assigned the collar. Though it inhibited him on his trips through the woods and creeks he was a good sport as it caught on weeds and briars while he dashed, futily, after rabbits. Soon, though, he found yet another way to scratch at those blasted stitches. He began attacking them with his hind leg and tore out three more – hence the sock. While a sock on an indoor pet wouldn’t be impractical, on a farm dog it was, but it did the trick until he laid battle with a racoon this morning and lost.

Today, on this third trip to have his bloody shoulder repaired, he plunges awkwardly into the vet’s office while his e collar, damaged and mended with duck tape, bangs and bounces off the veterinarian’s hallway walls. His left hind foot sports the dirty sock held on with, still more, duck tape. My brave husband leads his smelly farm dog to a chair and sits down. Buck sits beside him like a gentleman, though he can’t quite resist a few gentle sniffs at the Bichon Frise beside him. She has pink bows in her ears and tail and puts her little snoot in the air at his advances. How he wants a chew of those pretty little ribbons! Her mother informs my husband that her registered name is “Mademoiselle Fife of Snowy Meadow.” Fife’s mistress looks down a long nose at our smelly yellow dog and doesn’t even ask his name. “Buck” probably wouldn’t have impressed her anyway!

After his third and, hopefully, last surgery, he lazies back to us through a fog of anesthetic. He goes to sit wobbly in the front yard, e-collar as big as a lampshade and our son gives him the final insult when he drives by and, seeing him there, gives me a quick cell-phone call and asks if I’m going to sell the “Yellow Lamp” sitting in our yard! Never! We love our roving “Old Yeller” and he’s here to stay!


Looking out the barn

Sitting on the hay

4 thoughts on “In the Country

  1. Oh my goodness! I sat down at the computer for “just a minute” as I have much that needs to be accomplished today. However, I landed on this sight – first out of curiosity and stayed out of fasination!
    I can’t wait to get my own copy! Double the fun when you not only know the author but the people whose stories are being told!

  2. Connie,
    Dad called me personally to take a look at your pictures!!! Wow these are amazing!! And i cannot for the life of me understand how you got him to stand so still and take a decent picture!!

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