Monday, November 30, 2009

Good Food, Good Friends, and Lots of Laughter

After dreading a holiday without any family coming, it turned out to be a lot of fun anyway, thanks to wonderful friends. Suue and I were horse-loving buddies in high school, then in college, and forever after. She and friend Kit drove here from Spokane to spend Thanksgiving with us. I had not seen Kit for 25 years. She moved to Maryland shortly after that last visit. Suue told her before they arrived: "Linda has wrinkled, but after awhile she looks just the same as you remember her." Well, Kit had wrinkled too, but after awhile she looked just the same as I remembered her. Funny how that works.

We laughed about old times, about our aging complaints, and about lots of stuff only old friends can laugh about. We laughed so hard our sides hurt.

On Friday, we had our turkey dinner with way too much food, as always, provided by everyone who came: Suue and Kit, local friends Barb and Mark and Irv. More laughter. As some of us walked off our extra pounds through my arboretum, so I could show off my new plant markers, a bag lady approached us and asked if we had any extra food we could spare. Mark and Irv and Johnny had no clue who this person was. I laughed myself silly. Kit looked nothing like I remembered her now! See the photo.

Kit has become a bag lady for Halloween every year since she lost her teeth 20 years ago. I had no idea she had dentures. The ones her dentist made and she modified looked like real teeth. Her dentist grandfather had taught her how to make them just imperfect enough to look real instead of like dentures.

Truly a Thanksgiving holiday to remember. Thanks, friends.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

We celebrate Thanksgiving on Friday, rather than today, in order to give out-of-state guests time to travel. So today is clean-the-house day. But that got old so thought I'd report on the turkey adventure of yesterday.

After having the three selected turkeys penned into the inside portion of the peafowl pen day before yesterday, I thought it would be a simple matter of catching them the next morning to take to the butcher. They thought otherwise. One found a hole in the screen wire we didn't know was there and made her escape to the outer area. That is covered entirely with wire so I was able to crawl back out through the hole that is only big enough for a turkey and chase her back inside. However, we did not realize there was another hole in the screen wire going into the chicken house side. She found that and was out the door and gone. I managed to catch the two toms, who did not find the hen's escape routes, and stuffed them into the giant dog carrier.

With two turkeys safely penned, Johnny and I went around to the chicken yard and attempted to herd everyone back into the chicken house. They all went nicely... except the one turkey we were trying to catch. She flew up onto the roof of the chicken house. Oh well, we had others to choose from and they were inside. After being pummelled by a chicken house full of flying turkeys (while Johnny guarded the door and laughed), I finally caught another hen, stuffed her into the cage, and we were off. By this time I was not feeling so sad about murdering turkeys.

I was a little embarrassed at how small our birds were in comparison to the big broad-breasted things other people were bringing in. But when I went to pick up the nicely naked and wrapped turkeys, the butcher raved about my beautiful birds and said they were just the right size (slightly over 8, 10, and 11 pounds.) He told me that heritage turkeys, like mine, were going for $6 to $9 per pound right now.

We will be cooking the 11+ pound turkey tomorrow, which means it would have cost us between $66 and $99 (not that I would have bought one at that price). I think I'm in the wrong business. I should be raising my free-range, heritage turkeys to sell. But we'd have to repair the chicken wire first. And I'd want to don my riding helmet before trying to catch them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Odds and Ends

In case any of my thousands of dedicated blog readers want to comment, I finally figured out how to allow comments from anyone... but I get to moderate them. Okay, so I don't have thousands of readers. Somebody might read it someday and want to comment and now they can.

Today was transplant-drowning-smoke-bushes day. I'd forgotten how soggy the arboretum gets in winter. Four smoke bushes were in the swampiest portion with their roots in water. Smoke bushes like well-drained soil. So I moved them up to the highest end of the arboretum. Here's hoping they survive.

Today was also get-Nightingale-used-to-the-drag day. She didn't get used to it. But she's better. I can now tow it behind me while I ground drive her. I can even touch her rump and sides with the "shafts" (white pvc pipes). Eventually, after 45 minutes of getting her used to the drag (at first she wouldn't even get close to it), I was able to put the shafts through the things on the harness where shafts are supposed to go (whatever they're called). But when I asked her to walk and the shafts came with her, she freaked out. So it was back to toting them behind her, which she didn't mind at all. I don't know why it takes her so long to get used to things. On the other hand, this was the first day I've had the full harness on her, with crupper (thing that goes under the tail). She didn't mind that at all. Go figure.

Also, this was the day to catch the turkeys that are going to the butcher tomorrow and pen them separately. Johnny found it very amusing when one tom insisted on flapping over my head and beating me with his wings. He found it less amusing when one did that to him. We finally got them corralled and separated from the non-Thanksgiving turkeys. I hate this part of the feast. I understand why normal people buy their birds plucked and wrapped and in a grocery store.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Sunny Disposition

I overheard Johnny telling his son on the phone this morning that it looked like it was going to be a nice day today. There was fog, but not rain, so Johnny was sure it would clear up and be nice. I looked out the window. It was so foggy outside I couldn't see the trees near our house. The fog did lift... by noon... and it did not rain. That equates to "nice" for Johnny.

He also told Kevin that the weekend was beautiful. It rained and blew some at night, he said, but the days were clear. Sometimes I wonder if Johnny and I live on the same planet. This weekend we had a violent wind and rain and hail storm, complete with thunder and lightning. True, it was mostly at night, but Johnny and I were both in the horse barn at nine Sunday morning, trying to figure out how to divert the river of water that was pouring through, when it hailed so hard on the metal roof we could not shout loud enough to be heard.

Later on Sunday, as we drove to friends' for a mid-day meal, Johnny commented on what a beautiful sunny day it was... in the five minutes of sunshine we had on the half hour drive there. (The rest of the time it was either raining or just gray.)

I think Johnny has what is called a "sunny disposition." He knows the sun still shines above the darkest skies. What a blessing to live with someone who can remind me what a beautiful day it is, even when it doesn't seem to be.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Last night, as I walked past the old machine shed after dark, headed for the horse barn, a loud clattering in the shed startled me. I shone my light inside, expecting to see something big, like a bear. I remembered I'd left a bucket of apples in the shed after gathering them off the ground earlier that day.

What I saw was a beaver, shuffling away from the spilled bucket of apples, toward the pond, which is inside the shed at this point, thanks to the beavers' pond-enlargement efforts. This beaver was much smaller than the recently deceased guy... one of this year's kits, no doubt. I need not have worried about having a beaver-less pond. As I continued on over the dam, the beaver, from the safety of the middle of the pond, slapped its tail hard.

Today the poor beaver had another scare, I'm sure, when the road crew managed, after two days efforts, to dislodge the branches and mud clogging the culvert under the road a quarter mile upstream. The liberated water came roaring down the creek. The water level in our pond rose very quickly... now I understand what can happen in a flash flood, or when a dam breaks... I worried that the beaver dam upstream from our pond, but downstream from the culvert, would wash out and all that material would clog our overflow, flooding the walkway over the dam.

But the beaver-built dam held firm. The beavers had done a good job of constructing it. They had used our property line woven wire fence that cuts across the stream as their framework.
Once the lake of backed up water on the other side of the road had emptied and surged over our pond spillway and downstream, the water level returned to normal.

It must have been rather frightening for the beaver(s) to have a wall of water suddenly surge through their abode. It will give them stories to tell their grandchildren in years to come. "You can imagine my terror when a Human nearly stepped on me as I foraged for apples, causing me to quickly exit the bucket, which toppled over making an unearthly clatter. The next morning, while peacefully sleeping after my night's scare, a huge roaring sound gave me barely enough time to escape to safety before an enormous wave hit. Ah yes, my children, I lived through great dangers in my youth."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reaching Ten, Christmas Trees, and Birding

Click on the images to enlarge

Lewis' Woodpecker (above) ................Common Mergansers........................... Red-necked Grebe

I'm reading a good book, "Dewey, The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World". It's really a Christmas present for a friend but I feel it's my duty to read every book I give friends to make sure they're suitable. Okay, so that's just an excuse.

Something hit me in that book on page 93. "...Dr. Charlene Bell says everyone has a pain thermometer that goes from zero to ten. No one will make a change until they reach ten. Nine won't do it. At nine, you are still afraid. Only ten will move you, and when you're there, you'll know." The author was leading up to her own "ten", when she finally knew it was time to leave her alcoholic husband. This was before she became a librarian and rescued Dewey from the book return slot.

I think that pain scale works for lesser pains as well... like the stack of magazines and books falling all over the place in our living room. I keep meaning to sort through the mess but never quite get around to it. (I'm not sure what I'm "afraid" of, maybe that the whole pile will overwhelm me and I'll never get done.) Yesterday, however, I reached the "ten". I wanted to research something in my favorite dressage book, Dressage in Harmony, by Walter Zettl. I knew it was somewhere near my reading chair but couldn't find it. After pawing through the mess on the floor and in the magazine rack, I finally uncovered it. But then the magazines were scattered everywhere. That was my ten. I couldn't stand it any more. I spent the entire afternoon sorting. The ones I wanted to keep went into the magazine rack. The others into a box to take to a local library.

Today I took the huge stack of magazines to the Dallas library. In the past, I've taken my horse magazines to Willamina or Sheridan libraries. But magazines are a bit like zucchini... you have to be careful not to overload one recipient. And Dallas has a lovely magazine rack just inside the door where people are encouraged to reuse and recycle by leaving their magazines there for others. I happily did so.

I also took a trunk full of empty plant pots to Daryll's nursery and some other sorted stuff to GoodWill, all in Dallas. Of course, one cannot do so many good green things without treating oneself to something... in my case an elongated route to get there through birding territory. Whatever carbon credits I gained by recycling I no doubt spent in driving, even though I drive a hybrid.

But what a fun trip! This is Christmas tree harvest season in Oregon and I came upon a helicopter loading operation right by the road. The helicopter made one quick trip after another picking up bundles of Christmas trees and dropping them in a huge pile near the large semi that would carry them to their retail destination. A tractor loader carted the bundles from the helicopter stack to the back of the long ramp out of the trailer, where the bundle was unstrapped and carried, tree by tree, into the trailer. It was fun to watch.

But there were birds awaiting and soon I found them... lovely Lewis's woodpeckers flycatching from the tops of oak trees within earshot of the helicopter operation. I'd never seen so many Lewis's woodpeckers. They are not common in this part of Oregon. From there I drove on through clouds of red-winged blackbirds, many individual Red-tail hawks, Kestrels and Harriers, past a pond full of various waterfowl and then, most exciting of all, to a Merlin sitting in the middle of a field with its crop hugely enlarged from whatever poor bird it had swallowed. Alas, it was too far away for a photo.

One of my favorite spots on the way to Dallas is in Baskett Slough Wildlife Refuge at "The Narrows", a roadway that goes between two big water areas. Lots of Common Mergansers and Canada Geese, among others, were there today, plus one motley looking Grebe that I thought was a Western in a funny molt but my more-knowledgeable birder friends tell me is a Red-necked Grebe. Shows how much I know.

Having my bird fix for the day, I went on to Dallas and distributed my stuff. It was a perfect ten of a day that came about because of Dewey, a library cat, and another type of "ten".

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Requiem for a Beaver

I buried a beaver today. It had crawled out of the water and was lying dead in the middle of our dam yesterday morning when I walked over to feed the horses. I could find no wounds of any kind so I don't know why it died. Or why it chose to do so in the most people-trafficked place in its environment.

I also don't know why its death made me so sad, considering how many times I've cursed the beavers for clogging up the overflow from our pond. For years, I've battled their dam-building instincts, tearing out their night's work each morning. Or part of it. They worked faster than I. But when friends and neighbors suggested I have the beavers trapped and removed, I demurred, saying the beavers had as much right to be there as we did. Surely I could outsmart them.

I certainly tried enough methods. One of the most successful was an electric fence suspended above the water a few feet out from the overflow. The beavers stayed away as long as the fence was on. The instant it was off, however, they had both fence and overflow clogged up. I often had the fence off when working near the pond since I didn't particularly want to be zapped myself. And I often forgot to plug it back in. Hmm... maybe I'm not as smart as a beaver.

Pound for pound, I'm certainly not as strong. It was amazing the size of logs beavers could tow and jam into the overflow. When I dismantled their work, it was not a hodgepodge but rather very carefully interlaced sticks and mud... and as our contest grew more intense, bricks and hunks of concrete or whatever they could find.

I piled the stuff I pulled out into a big heap in the orchard. My grandson told me I should burn it or the beavers would just bring it back to use again. I did burn the pile and then the next pile and the next. But I never saw any evidence the beavers reused their construction material. Instead, they cut down new trees that I'd rather they didn't. We had wrapped woven wire fencing around our fruit trees, a couple feet up, years ago to protect them from beavers, which it did. But they cut down anything unprotected near their pond.

In the early years of our feud, a beaver would slap water as I crossed the dam in the evening to feed the horses, warning his family that a human was in the area. But they soon grew complacent and ignored me, going about their business of eating the water plants and carrying some into their underground home. But in the evening of a day when I had dismantled their dam yet again, at least one beaver would slap its tail over and over, obviously angry at my dam-wrecking. (To see a Hungry Beaver video, visit FinkLinda's videos on YouTube or try this link:

This summer, Johnny dismantled the electric fence and, with his backhoe, dug out some of the mud that was accumulating by the dam . Where the pond used to be six feet deep, it was now mudded up to the top of the overflow. That desecration of their efforts put the beavers into overdrive. So determined were they to fill in what Johnny had taken out, that I could not keep up with their nightly handiwork. I told Johnny he had to do something. So he did. And it worked.

Johnny sunk metal fence posts into the mud and curved a stock panel in front of the overflow, abutting the concrete dam on both sides so there was no way a beaver could get anywhere near the overflow. That was, apparently, too much for the beavers. Or else they were just too busy working on their second dam, the one they built upstream of our pond to create another pond, mostly on our upstream neighbor's property. Ironically, we may have solved our beaver problem just weeks before the papa beaver died. Perhaps it died of despair since it could no longer clog the overflow.

Our beavers had kits this summer. We saw two of them swimming and, late at night, heard their begging mewing sounds. ( Perhaps they are still there. I hope so. It has been fun having beavers to watch. But I don't miss the work of liberating the overflow and I hope the survivors don't try clogging the stock panel... if there are survivors... we have not seen any beavers since the patriarch crawled out to die.

I buried him in the arboretum. The water level below ground is very high this time of year, especially after all the rain we've had recently, so he is in a watery grave... but what could be more appropriate for a beaver.

May his tribe increase... and may they leave my pond overflow alone.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tears and Laughter

In my bookshelf lie dog-eared copies of Kahlil Gibran's books. "Tears and Laughter" appears particularly well read. In my young adulthood, back in the 60's, Gibran's books were my spiritual oasis.

I thought of that book yesterday, after a day of tears and laughter. Funerals are like that... we cry for the deceased and laugh at the memories of happier times. When Johnny and I were young newly weds we confidently predicted that our love would conquer all; we knew in our heads we would have sad times, but who, before they have endured the loss of close family members and friends, knows how deeply sorrow can bite. What I didn't realize then was that each death brings back every other already endured and thought to have been put to rest.

Yesterday's services for a neighbor who died too young brought back my father's death just one year ago. He, too, had military honors. The firing of the guns and, most of all, the playing of Taps by a single trumpet, brings tears even now as I write this. Who understands how much we'll miss the departed until they depart?

I miss my dad. And my mom, who passed on eleven years earlier than Dad. And so many close friends who died too young. It gets worse, I know, the older we grow. The last five or ten years of Johnny's folks' lives were spent, it seemed, going to funerals. That's the curse of long life. I decided after a round of deaths of good friends some years ago, that I was going to start making young friends, so they'd outlast me.

But, interspersed with the tears, is always laughter. We stopped between graveside and reception at some dear friends who are most definitely still alive and happy. Our kids grew up together. Now we have grandchildren to talk and brag about. And laugh with. The cycle of life goes on.

At the reception, all the children in the neighorhood whom we knew as children are adults now, with families of their own. We met in the same church hall (gymnasium really) where our kids learned to roller skate so many years ago. I didn't recognize most of these young adults. They are the ages their parents were when we moved here. Their grandparents were our close friends and farming partners, long since deceased. The third generation from our neighbor friends were happily playing together in the hall where our own children played and skated long ago... So many memories in that building, so much laughter and tears.

Now the book I lean on is not Tears and Laughter. It is "I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye", by Brook Noel and Pamela Blair. It's really for those who have lost a loved one to sudden death. But all deaths, no matter how expected, are sudden to me when they actually occur. Grief is grief.

One of the suggestions in this book is to frame a treasured photo of your loved one and hang it in a special place. I have an unframed snapshot of my mom and dad laughing together as Dad tries to keep Mom from ducking away from the camera -- she never wanted her picture taken. That photo sits in front of my computer. I see it and smile every day. It helps me remember the happy times. And the love.

As Carol Staudacher, one of the people quoted in this book, "I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye", reminds us, we grieve because we love. "There is only one way for you to live without grief in your lifetime; that is to exist without love..." And since I have no intention of living without love, I live through grief by finding things to laugh about. Laughing is therapeutic, just as is crying. Fortunately, life is full of things to laugh about... as my mother well knew.

Looking at the photo by my computer, I can hear Mom's laugh... it was infectious... deep and uncontrollable... almost like a donkey braying. Really, the intake of breath was as loud as the exhales that are audible when most people laugh. Mom laughed coming and going. Sometimes I laugh that way, too.

Tears and laughter. That's life.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

More On Apple Grinding...

Kevin commented and asked a question. Johnny thought others might like the answer and we couldn't figure out how to add that to the previous blog. (Duh... )

Kevin's question:

That's quite the gear ratio between the motor and grinder! Is the plunger designed so it doesn't quite reach the grinder teeth?

Johnny's reply:

Top pulley is 14 inches in diameter. Bottom one is 2. After you eat the pi on both sides of the equation, the top axle runs 7 times slower than the bottom. Haven't computed the speed of the stainless steel grinding teeth yet but it's about 4 inches in diameter x pi x 1740 revolutions per minute divided by 7. The rule of thumb is to not put your thumb down there in the first place!

The plunger is made 1/4 inch shy of the depth to the teeth when the plunger handles are flat against the top pan.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Johnny's Projects

After much cogitation, constructing, reconstructing, adapting and revising, Johnny has his newly motorized apple grinder operational. He tried it out today for the first time and it works very well. Except, of course, when he dumps in a whole barrel of apples at one time and jams it. But his home made pipe gizmo, applied with enough pressure, unsticks them rather quickly. I turned off the video camera before he started beating the apples to make them go down.

The still photo shows the apple washing technique (apples and water in a wheelbarrow), the motorized grinder (he bought a hand-cranked grinder and then spent endless hours figuring out how to motorize it efficiently), and the cider press the kids bought him several years ago. Notice the llamas supervising in the background. They are very curious as to what Johnny is doing with their apples. Apples, they believe, are for llamas. But they'll get the grindings after the juice has been squeezed out.

Most of the summer, Johnny has worked at organizing and filling his new machine shed (photos above). The filling was no problem; the organizing took endless hours. Notice how neat and tidy everything is. Now.

A new machine shed became necessary when the old one began falling into the pond. It wasn't originally close to the pond but the resident beavers have enlarged their swimming hole dramatically. They also thought it was pretty cool to have a shelter under which to excavate their homes. Unfortunately, the roofs to their homes (the floor of the shed) tend to collapse regularly and our shed along with them.

A neighbor plans to tear down the old shed for materials. I hope he does so soon... before it lands in the pond.

...The video below shows the grinder in action....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sharp Shin and Sore Back

The Sharp Shin is really a Sharp-shinned Hawk. I don't know what's sharp about his shins but I know what's sore about my back. Twenty-eight smoke bushes are what made my back sore. I planted them all yesterday. The young Sharp-shinned Hawk was a nice diversion in the morning, as it spread it's feathers to dry from the morning fog.

Sharp-shins, or Sharpies as birders are apt to call them, are jay-sized raptors, ferocious little things who don't take any guff from bigger birds. After drying itself off, the Sharpie flew to another tree where it was harassed by a crow. But not for long. The dive-bombing crow quickly exited when the Sharpie lunged. In the blurry photo attached, the crow is veering off as the Sharpie prepares to nab him. This is a hatch-year bird with its coarse brown streaked and barred breast and light line over the eye. Next year it will have the pretty orange barring on its breast and gray back of an adult.

Also pictured is one of the many Smoke Bushes I now have planted in a line of sorts through the arboretum. Some are leafless. Those tend to disappear in the tall dead grass, so today I planted stakes next to them, stakes decorated with rather hideous orange duct tape that clashes with red leaves. I couldn't find the regular tree marking ribbon. Oh well, at least I'll be able to see them and not run over them with my mower... So long as I keep looking where I'm going and not at Sharp-shinned Hawks and other avian distractions.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Too Much Fun

Yesterday was a day packed full of things I love to do: a jump lesson on my beloved Mr. Smith (Rogue Hill's Skybird), a trip to a nursery to pick up plants I'd ordered... on sale... incredibly cheap!... plus the usual things I love to do... like milking goats and feeding horses and feeding birds in front of the barn. But sometimes, there can be too much fun...

Yesterday was yet another day of pouring rain. How, I worried, would I get Mr. Smith from horse barn to horse trailer in the arena without getting him (and me) soaked? Luck was with me as the rain eased when it came time to get him ready for the 35 mile trip. I brushed him in the horse barn then put on his sheet (lightweight blanket) and walked quickly the long trek to the arena. There, under cover, I spent a good half hour brushing more mud out of his coat. My horses seem to love to roll in mud. Still the rain did not come but I could see the skies threatening in the west. Mr. Smith walked quickly into the horse trailer (he loves to go) and away we went.

Johnny came too, not for the jump lesson but so I could drop him off at the Dallas pool where he soaks his sore back and shoulders and arms in their jacuzzi and therapy pool. It rained all the way to Dallas but quit before I dropped Johnny off and did not rain when I unloaded Mr. Smith at Karen Freeman's stable, brushed some more, tacked up and led him to her covered arena. Life is good.

No one was in the arena when I arrived. It had been recently dragged with the jumps in place afterwards and no hoofprints. I began to wonder if I had the date wrong. Oh well, at least I'd have a dry place to ride. But, promptly at 3:15, my lesson time, Anna came and the lesson began. We worked a long time on bending and straightening. Odd as it seems, a horse must be straight in order to bend correctly.

Anna wanted to ride him at the canter to see why he appears to not push off properly from behind, but rather starts with a leap from his front legs. She did and decided he's just not strong enough or is protecting his hind legs. He does have stifle issues. She suggested I work at strengthening him at the trot mostly, until he is better balanced. She also said she has never ridden a horse that can contort his body in so many ways so quickly. Every instructor who has ridden Mr. Smith (and they all insist on doing so) comes to the conclusion that he is a very opinionated horse and not easy to ride. I find him very easy to ride but that's because I have mostly let him do things his way... which is why I'm taking lessons... to learn how to do things right.

At last we came to the fun part... jumping. Mr. Smith loves to jump. But he does not like to do it with control. His idea of fun is to gallop madly around the course as fast as he can and not listen to my aids. So we do a lot of circling until he is listening to my half halts. He needs to bend properly, keeping his body in line with itself instead of twisting all over the place... tail should follow head in a smooth curve... in order to make the jump approaches smooth instead of chaotic.

As long as the jumps are on a bending line, and I control the bend, he listens to me. But let there be two jumps lined up with several strides between and he's off to the races. Or, as my instructor says, he is having too much fun. Happily for him, she raised the jumps a bit this time. He gets annoyed at jumps so low he can trot over them and sometimes does. We did manage to jump the straight line more or less properly one time.

All good things must come to an end and my hour was up. It was time to retrieve Johnny at the swimming pool. Still the rain held off. Woohoo! We went from the pool to Daryll's Nursery just outside Dallas where Daryll was waiting with my 28 smoke bushes. Hey, for $1.80 apiece, how could I go wrong? I'd bought 5 the week before, planted them in the arboretum, and decided it would be wonderful to have them in a long line through the entire arboretum, marking the ornamental/color area from the regions-of-the-world area. Smoke bushes have beautiful fall color and the ones I planted a week ago are still holding their leaves in spite of being pummeled by rain for a week straight. I mowed that line and called Daryll to ask how many cheap smoke bushes he had. 28. How can you have too much of a good thing? I love planting trees. I said I'd take them all.

The plants are still in the pickup, behind the feed we bought after we left Daryll's Nursery. The rain held off as the feed was loaded, but hit with a vengeance on the way home... all the way home... in the dark... I hate driving in the rain and dark. It was still raining when I led Mr. Smith from horse trailer to horse barn. After supper and goat milking and horse feeding and a shower, I was one tired lady. Last night I realized that a person, as well as a horse, can have too much fun.

But today is another day... not raining yet... I'm well rested... and have 28 smoke bushes to plant. Too much fun...

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Arboretum

The tree markers arrived yesterday! When the mail person honked, I ran down the stairs hoping she would be delivering the markers and she was! I opened the box right away, but forced myself to go back upstairs and finish editing my UCN column. UCN, United Caprine News, is the goat paper I write for. My column is due on the 5th of every month. Yesterday was the 5th. I had written the first draft a few days before but was having issues with the rewrite. Funny how something like the desire to go outdoors and set up my tree markers can motivate a person. In minutes, I declared my column good enough and sent it off via email to my editor.

I took just 5 markers out first to see if I could get them into the ground okay. I could, thanks to our soggy weather. And they looked wonderful! (Click on the photo top left to enlarge and read the Fraser Fir marker.)

I had mowed up to the trees I wanted to mark the day before, after the raptor run. Alas, the weeds are high in the arboretum... and the Rocky Mountain Junipers very small. I mowed over one of them. The really sad thing is I had big rocks all around it and I even mowed over those, throwing them every which way and no doubt dulling, if not chipping, the mower blades. The rocks protected the base of the little tree so maybe it will still grow, with a branch taking over the job of leader.

Nineteen of the twenty markers are now in place. I could find no Western Red Cedar to mark. I remember planting Western Red Cedar with Redwoods and Incense Cedar with Sequoias, but my Redwood grove in the arboretum has no cedars at all. I must have planted all the Red Cedars in the Redwood grove by the river. I will have to buy more at the next native plant sale so I can use my Western Red Cedar marker. (Days later Johnny identified a lone Red Cedar in the Sequoia section, so it is now properly marked.)

Next year, I'll order markers for my various Eucalypts... when I figure out what they are...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Raptors and Rhinos

Yesterday was Raptor Run day. One day a month from November through March, I drive a route from my house through nearby areas, 80 miles worth, looking for raptors... raptors like Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, American Kestrels, Bald Eagles, Merlin (if I'm lucky -- I was yesterday), various Accipiters (Coopers and Sharp-shinned Hawks), Rough-legged Hawks and White-tailed Kites. Those are the ones I have a chance of finding in this area. At night, I add whatever owls hoot or appear. Other people are doing the same thing, one day a month, throughout Oregon. The data we collect is used to study trends in raptor population.

I love participating in Citizen Science projects. I started helping with this particular project because White-tailed Kites had recently moved north into our area. But they are now declining in numbers... I know not why. They tend to disappear over summer and return in September. Last year, birder friend Carol Karlen who usually accompanies me on my Raptor Runs and I counted fifteen White-tailed Kites on our November run. This year, I saw none. Perhaps it was the colossal snow and cold of last December. We saw none after that storm. Kites are being seen still south of us, where the storm wasn't. But the kites were declining in our area even before that. Perhaps the Kites moved north too soon, during some mild years. Perhaps the data we're collecting in these raptor routes, combined with historical weather data, will help solve the mystery.

Meanwhile I'll look forward to my December run and hope the kites reappear. It's fun anyway. Johnny went with me yesterday because Carol was busy on another route. Johnny liked seeing a giraffe and white rhino along with the raptors. We drive through friends' 500 acre wildlife preserve... they cooperate with zoos in breeding endangered animals, mostly antelope. The giraffe and rhinos are simply animals that zoos had too many of with no place to put them. The rhinos are very playful... huge but playful. One learned how to push the gate opener button with his horn, opening the gate. They are several gates away from the public road, but he could get into the area around the main barn and office. So they had to take the button off and make people stick their finger all the way inside the little box. This time they had an electric fence all the way around so apparently the rhinos tried knocking the whole thing down to see if that would make the gate open. Nancy (the owner) says they're like big, playful puppies. Very big.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Nightingale is my five-year-old Morgan filly. She is very friendly, but has a mind of her own. She has not been as easy to train as my gelding, Mr. Smith (Rogue Hill's Skybird). Mr. Smith will do anything I ask him once I figure out how to ask. He jumps, pulls logs, pulls a cart, trailrides, herds sheep... whatever. Mr. Smith is 14 and I hope that Nightingale will be able to take over his many tasks when he is too old to do them. But she has not been so easy to deal with. By the time he was four, Mr. Smith was pulling a cart, pulling logs, etc.. He is very smart and very willing. Granted, he was my only horse when he was young and I spent a great deal of time with him. Night has not had so much time spent with her. But... she also has a different personality. She wants constant attention, but on her terms. And she's a bit, well, excitable.

Yesterday, in the lovely afternoon sunshine after my chores were done, I rode Mr. Smith briefly in the arena, working on keeping a consistent outside rein connection, a bugaboo for me. If I do my part correctly, he bends correctly and stays on the bit. If I don't, he doesn't. We're getting better. Or, I should say, I'm getting better which allows him to be better.

Then I groomed the filthy dirty Night and worked a bit on her very long, thick, wavy... and tangled mane and tail. Night is a big girl. My training surcingle does not go around her broad girth... so I used the Wintec dressage girth on the surcingle, put one of my driving bridles on her (which fits her nicely, thank goodness) and ground drove her. I have been riding her but would really like to teach her to drive so I could hitch her with Mr. Smith as a team. I wanted to get her used to the feel of reins across her rump. That turned out to be no problem. Then I let her loose in the arena and pulled the training cart out. Problem. She was terrified of it.

I spent much time walking around the arena, pulling the cart behind me while she spent much time running away from me and my cart. Johnny came out and asked if Night was training me to pull a cart. Eventually, Night calmed and put her head down to eat grass. It was rather boring standing behind her so I asked Johnny to lead her while I followed. I wanted her to get used to having the cart move when she did and stop when she did. That went pretty well... after a spell of dragging Johnny faster than he wanted to go.

Next time, I'll fasten our home-made drag to her and get her used to pulling something (me). Each step with Nightingale seems to take an age. But I suppose that is just in comparison to Mr. Smith. He was never worried about the cart and never really had to learn to pull... I just hooked him up and off we went. He spoiled me.

Nightingale is teaching me patience, which I've not needed with Mr. Smith. Night's mother, Jessie Anne, teaches me yet other things. Jessie Anne is much too tall to team with Mr. Smith, so I have not tried to hitch her. Unlike her daughter, Jessie Anne is very sensitive to touch. Hypersensitive. Rather than give a half halt before asking for anything, I have to just breathe in and out deeply. That's enough to set her "Omigoodness what's happening" nerves into overdrive. If I used the same half halt and whoa signal on her that I use on Mr. Smith... or Nightingale, she'd stop so abruptly I'd fly over her head. Each horse is different and they each have lessons for me. Working through each of their idiosyncrasies will teach me to be a better rider and trainer. I keep telling myself that as I gnash my teeth over how long it takes to get anywhere with Nightingale.

But oh the satisfaction there will be on the day when my team of Morgans is happily walking down the lane, pulling the buckboard or a brace of logs... or a lovely buggy that I might buy if I had a team to pull it... But, one step at a time...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Scouting the CBC

Way back when, Larry Scofield started a Christmas Bird Count in the Upper Nestucca River drainage of the coast range mountains in northwest Oregon. It must have been in the 70's or 80's. There were not (and are not) many birds in that count circle, compared to the circles with lots of varied habitat and large bodies of water. Mostly, our Upper Nestucca CBC has mountains and trees. But it had, way back when, Spotted Owls. Larry worked for BLM and they needed to inventory those endangered owls. I went on a few of those early counts, but not at night nor in Spotted Owl locale. That CBC was (and is), however, close to where we live. But when Larry left BLM, and when the Spotted Owls disappeared from the Upper Nestucca, as they are fast disappearing from everywhere else, the count was dropped. The last count was held in 1995.

Some years ago (October, 2003, to be exact), I decided it would be fun to start the count up again... because it is just as important to know where birds are not as where they are... and because the edge of the circle is just twelve miles from our farm. So with the help of other local birders, notably Don Albright and Quinton Nice, we reinstated the Upper Nestucca Christmas Bird Count... in January 2004. When birders find a new outlet for their addiction, they organize quickly.

The Upper Nestucca is a challenging count... topography and weather leave us with trees across the roads and snow too deep to drive through some years. Most years, it rains. That's what it does in Oregon in December. Especially in the coast range mountains. But there are no towns, few houses or vehicles, beautiful streams, lovely views, lots of trees, quiet and a few birds. I love it.

Today, November first, Johnny and I scouted our sector of the circle. The count takes place in six weeks. Last winter, we had to cancel the count because most of us couldn't get out of our driveways much less to the count circle. Here on the farm, we had snow three feet deep, trees down across our driveway, and no electricity or water. But today, all the trees that had fallen across roads last winter had been pulled off and sawed up. Roads were clear, skies were sunny, and there were birds! Chestnut-backed chickadees and Varied Thrushes, mainly. But we were not looking for birds today. We were checking out the roads. And they look good so far. If the weather cooperates... Johnny and I will be camping in our sector and getting an early start on birding. Who knows, maybe we'll hear some owls overnight. I can hardly wait!