MONDAY MEMOIR: FOOD FOR THOUGHT

CHICK FIL A BARLEY DARTS

Last week, Keith and I were out of town for a medical appointment.  Afterwards, I got to eat at one of my favorite, fast-food restaurants.  (Yes, I recognize the contradiction.)  Anyway, as I ate, I studied the other customers who surrounded us.  And as I did so, I recalled words from long ago…

“As more families no longer cook and no longer eat dinner together, at a table in a home without distractions, America will fall.”  These were not the words of a radical politician.  These were the words of an elderly and meek professor.  He insisted, “I will be dead when this happens, so write it down now.  I want you to remember I said it.  You have been forewarned.”

The year was 1986.  I was single, 19 years old, and this was the first day of my sophomore classes.  I stared back at the professor wide-eyed, like the rest of the students.  We sat in silence, shocked and confused.  He looked at us with disappointment and seemed to think we were a remedial group.  So, he simplified the instructions and said, “Just write it down.”

We opened our notebooks and gave quick, side-way glances to our neighbors.  Shoulders were shrugged, but we complied and wrote down his words.  However, I was not alone in thinking this old man had lost his mind.  How could my lack of cooking skills, bring the world’s greatest nation to her knees?  It seemed too hard to swallow.

Yet, decades later, his words keep coming back up.  And as a homesteader and mother, I still find myself chewing on them…

 

PLATE VENISON POTATOES SPROUTS BARLEY DARTS

MONDAY MEMOIR: SEASON OF RECKONING

DUCKS ICE DEC 2017 BARLEY DARTS

 

There is a constant drip of melting ice, both outside in nature and inside our decrepit and leaky porch; both are maddening.  No, spring has not arrived.  Spring would offer hope and new birth and sunny warmth.  No, our spring is six months away.  And this weather is a cruel tease.  It’s only a temporary thaw before winter returns with a bitter vengeance.

For now, it can be difficult to see where the ground ends and the sky begins.  It’s often overcast and everywhere we look, there is a dingy mess of melting snow mixed with mud, manure, and spent hay.  Chilly dampness penetrates our clothing, digging deep into our very souls.  And the sunless days, makes one question if it’s morning or late afternoon.  The combination leaves bodies sluggish and minds foggy.

Yet, despite the hazy veil, it is an ugly and brutally, revealing time of year.  There are no colorful distractions like, flowers or camouflaging grasses and leaves.  Instead, it’s a season of reckoning.  A time where the many blemishes and short-comings, both our homestead and temperaments, can be all too obvious.  Every crooked fence post, sagging wire, and pile of scrap metal taunts us.  There are also worn-out vehicles, feed barrels, animal cages, and piles of scrap lumber.  And they’re all out in the wide open, too.  It’s a good thing that we have nothing to hide.

Unlike our neighbors, we don’t have a basement, barn, shed, and garage to shield it all from public view.  While we plan to have them one day, we have had to make do without for over a decade.  Our homestead is still a work in progress.  And despite what others see or believe, Keith and I know there has been progress.  Besides our critters, blisters, and scars, we have thousands of ways to prove it.  Some are already fourteen-feet tall.

Unfortunately, the barriers we have and continue to overcome are seldom as obvious.  And I often wish more people understood “starting from scratch”.  Not only is it labor-intensive, it is messy and time consuming.  Alas, the journey is seldom easy and often slippery.  Meanwhile, chores must still be done.

Twice a day, we slide over slush covered ice and drag through muck, one step at a time.  Personally, I find myself not walking as tall.  Hunching over feels like it lowers my center of gravity and lessens my risk of a fall.  Regardless, I count myself lucky, each time I don’t spill a bucket of feed.  Frankly, I’ve always felt such days can never pass quickly enough.

On such a morning last year, we had just been through two weeks of freeze, thaw, and freeze again temperatures.  It was early and still dark.  And since my aging eyes don’t see as acutely as they once did, it had taken a while for them to adjust.  Naturally, my walking was slower and more cautious.  I started with taking hay down to the goats.  Afterwards, I headed for the chicken shack.

Before I knew it, my right boot slipped out from underneath me.  It, along with my foot, went straight into the air, above my head.  Well, maybe not quite above my head.  My body is also not nearly as flexible, as it was years ago.  Then the rest of my body followed, but in very… slow… motion.  My head, arms, torso, and finally left leg and foot were all air-born.

Meanwhile, I lost my grip on the feed pan in my right hand.  It was hurled to the side and landed in a snowbank.  My whole body was suspended, helplessly above the ground.  Then the law of gravity seized me.  Sadly, I am far from being weightless.  And only the moment before impact became frozen in time.  I clearly remember thinking, “This is gonna hurt!”

There was no time to tuck and roll.  In fact, there was nothing I could do to break my fall or minimize the oncoming damage.  While I tried to relax my muscles, my body only stiffened straight out, like a board.  This ensured that every part of me made full contact, with the unyielding and frozen earth.

The back of my head hit first, followed by my shoulders, elbows and torso, wrists and hips, legs, and finally feet.  As it knocked the wind out of me, I let out a muffled scream.  Instantly, I felt like I was going to vomit.  And as I laid there, I wondered if the stars above me were those in the twilight sky or just in my head.  But it really didn’t matter, because they were all spinning.

As the endorphins kicked in, I rose up onto my left side.  Once there, I got up on my left knee and finally made it to my feet.  Apparently, my right side took more of the impact.  So, I nursed my right shoulder, arm, and wrist.  And as I groaned in pain, I shed some tears.  I also wanted to head straight to the house.  Instead, I retrieved the feed pan and completed my chores.  Unfortunately, they then took twice as long to complete.

On the way back to the house, I found myself in shock.  It wasn’t from the fall.  Instead, I was shocked to find myself wanting the comfort of my mother.  I wanted to cry a river of tears.  I wanted to run to her, 1200 miles away.  I needed her to scoop me up into her arms and hold me through the pain.  I longed for her to wipe away my tears and tell me everything would be o.k.

Once I got past our leaky porch, I checked my head in the bathroom mirror.  There was no denying that I had a lump.  There was also no denying that I was fifty-years old.  It showed.  And since I was fifty, that made my mother… seventy.  The reality was nearly as unforgiving and painful as my fall.  Alas, five decades had just slipped away.

MONDAY MEMOIR: STUFFED!

GULLS AND HAYING 2017 BARLEY DARTS

It reminded me of Thanksgiving.  But, it was July.  The feasting continued for hours and days on end.  And just like babies and old men, the gulls were alternating eating with napping.  Some had eaten so much, they seemed unable to fly.  So, they gathered in the center of the field and laid down.  Meanwhile, field mice were panicking and they all ran after the farmer’s wife, Keith’s mom.

She was pulling dual rakes and flipping windrows of cut hay.  However, the rakes were also ripping away acres of mice houses.  In an instant, mice were left completely exposed to the elements.  They were dazed, confused, and scurrying to find refuge.  So, when it came my turn to rake, I was happy to be off the ground and high in the tractor seat.

A colony of seagulls jetted overhead.  Their shadows darkened the ground all around me.  It was truly a field day for these birds.  And it offered a free, all-you-can-eat buffet of fresh, hot, fast-food.  As word got out, more gulls arrived.  The poor mice didn’t stand a chance.

Alas, there was lots of competition and some fighting, too.  After all, it was a family gathering.  As the hay rakes exposed the mice, there was always two or three gulls hot on their tails.  One gull would beat another to a mouse, tightly clamping it in a beak.  The other gulls would then try to take it away.  And like the last piece of pie, one only got to keep it, if they held on long enough to swallow it.

Only two types of mice seemed to survive.  Those that got rolled with the hay and those that were dropped, as the gulls fought.  Twice, I was unnerved because the gulls had flown too close to my own head.  So yes, I admit I felt a little sorry for the mice.  However, I was also intrigued by the food chain in action.

After the hay was raked, it was baled.  When the baled hay was removed from the field, the party was over.  Then just as quickly as the gulls had swooped in, they left.  They are migrant birds and foragers, moving from one field of opportunity to another.  Fortunately, they never leave any dirty dishes behind.

 

Shae Hay Rake 1 BARLEY DARTS

MONDAY MEMOIR: THE BIRDS & THE BEES

TURKEY GANG 2017 BARLEY DARTS

I was sexually harassed by some turkeys; literally.  It happened this past spring.  And the perpetrators were all males.  Most of them were known only as “Tom”.  They were not only persistent, they were downright threatening.  So, instead of ignoring them, I took control of the situation.

It all started when both of our turkey hens passed away.  Our toms were even more devastated than us.  They spent the spring and summer pining for their gals.  It was pitiful.  Even Richard, the Pig Guy felt bad for them or maybe for us.  So, last fall, he brought us a gift.  In the back of his pickup, he had two young turkeys.  As far as he could tell, they were both females.  Various critters just show up at his place.  They are attracted to the corn he feeds to hogs.  This time it was two turkeys.

Apparently, some visiting urbanites in Richard’s area had tried raising turkeys.  Then they left and never returned.  For the next year or two, turkeys began showing up at neighboring houses.  Some had offspring and all were on their own.  These two had been eating Richard’s corn and roosting at his place.  When Richard let them loose, our toms readily greeted them.

As Richard and I stood back to watch, I noticed that our toms didn’t greet them as hens.  In fact, both sets of turkeys seemed quite defensive.  It wasn’t a good sign that these were females; neither were their sparse beards.  Only 2-4 % of female turkeys grow beards.  Compared to post-menopausal women like me, it’s about 40%.  We were all disappointed, especially the toms.  Fortunately, their desire to procreate doesn’t burn during the winter.  It’s a time when hens turn frigid and the pressing needs of toms shrivel up.

After a long winter turned into spring, the toms’ pining was four times as bad.  They fanned and gobbled, all-day-long.  They courted their reflections in the bumpers of our vehicles.  They followed every farmyard critter in confusion.  And they stalked me… gang style.  They were cocky and they strutted, all puffed up.  Their faces were embedded with junk and tattooed in blues and reds.  They heckled me in a slang that I struggled to understand.

While three toms pushed me from behind, one of them circled around to confront me.  It was too close for comfort.  Even when Keith and I were together, they tried to come between the two of us.  They were itching for a rumble.  Then out of nowhere, one of them physically challenged Keith.  That was a mistake.  After all, this was our turf.  Besides, we outranked him in Mother Nature’s gang.

Yes, sometimes it’s a real fight to stay at the top of nature’s hierarchy and the food chain.  The revered turkey leader was quickly abandoned by the three younger thugs.  And Keith quickly taught the Alpha attacker a lesson on the homestead pecking order.  I wish I was making this stuff up, but I’m not.  And it was happening with an increased frequency and urgency.  Something had to be done.

I made a few phone calls and then contacted a gal named, Krista.  Fortunately, she said she could help us.  So, I got directions to her place.  It took a while.  Sometimes it appears that I am direction challenged.  While some of you ladies can relate, some men are shouting, “Stupid women!”.  Just know that I’ve always made it to where I was going…eventually.  And I’ve never been as bad as those dependent on GPS.  Besides, I’m resourceful.  I often rely on “KDG”.  KDG is a more primitive form of GPS.  While, GPS stands for Global Positioning System, KDG stands for Keith D. Grund.  True, I’ve always been jealous of what I’ve called Keith’s “built-in compass”.  However, I also take full advantage of it.

After my call ended with Krista, I made sandwiches to take along for our supper.  In my haste, I’d made turkey sandwiches.  When I’d realized what I’d done, I hesitated.  For a fleeting moment this just seemed… wrong.  Then I smiled.  After all, what could also be more right?  I packed them.  Shortly afterwards, Keith arrived home from work with cash for the deal.

We loaded a crate into the pickup and were on our way.  The trip to get the hens started out pleasant enough.  We had blue skies and almost fifty-degree temperatures.  The roads were ice-free with hardly any traffic.  The drive through the bog was quiet.  It still seemed sleepy from its long winter’s nap, but here and there were signs of awakenings.

About half of our trip was on familiar and decent roads.  The remainder was all new.  Meaning, it was unfamiliar.  The actual roads were far from new.  While, the winding and hilly roads were beautiful in scenery, they were just awful for old and aging bodies; our truck’s and our own.  It made us more grateful for our local roads and road crews.  It also made us plan an alternate route home.

When we arrived, we discovered that Krista’s Place was hidden from public view.  It was at the far end of a dead-end, dirt road.  There was only one way in and out.  About half-way in, the road was washing out.  Keith pointed out that the culvert was frozen and water was circumventing it. As we drove over it, another vehicle appeared behind us.  It followed us closely along the road that winded and climbed.

We arrived on top of a modest hill.  It was the perfect location for their impressive look-out station (or rather, deer-stand).  And hidden cameras were probably used on the perimeter, too.  As we exited our vehicle, Krista pulled up alongside us.  She greeted us and then motioned for us to follow her.  She told us that tucked away out back was where she kept her girls.  At one time, such places were called, hen houses.

Four of her girls were naturally handsome.  The other one reminded me of the stereotypical hillbilly, with a missing front tooth.  Her upper beak was chipped.  To be honest, all of them looked a bit bedraggled, due to their circumstances.  Even though they weren’t locked in inside a dark shack, they were kept within a muddy enclosure.

The encampment was also far from secure.  Physically, the girls could’ve escaped at any time, but they didn’t know any better.  Using their wings to fly the coop hadn’t crossed their minds.  Besides, where would they go?  This had been the only way of life they’d ever known.  It was home.  It was where they had food, shelter, and were mounted regularly by toms.  After all, what more could a girl want?

Krista tried rounding up her girls for us.  They were nervous and weren’t very cooperative.  First, they tried hiding in a huddled group.  Then they scattered and ran, seeking out the recesses of their large enclosure.  It took Keith, me, Krista, and her husband to wrangle them.  Effortlessly, the birds and everyone else navigated tree branches, rocks, and puddles.  I, however, immediately tripped and fell.

My fall was more embarrassing than destructive; others were watching.  I’d been walking on top of downed tree branches when my foot got wedged in the rocks.  There was nothing I could do, but fall.  And it wasn’t a graceful fall.  I fell hard onto my right elbow and shoulder.  My face buried into the branches.  My shirt rode up, revealing the backside of my mid-life bulge.  My baseball hat fell off and my glasses were all cock-eyed.

There was only one thing that could’ve been worse.  No, it wasn’t breaking an arm or an ankle.  And it wasn’t being impaled by a pointy stick.  If that had happened, others would’ve seen only bones and blood.  They’d wouldn’t have noticed anything else.  What would’ve been far worse, was if I had fallen onto my back.  Then the front-side of my mid-life bulge would have shown; stretch marks, varicose veins, and all.

Such a scenario would’ve devastated me, thirty-some years ago.  However, I’m at a point in my life where vanity be damned.  Besides, over the years, I’ve had to come to terms with my inherent clumsiness.  I hate it, but I was born this way.  Sadly, it has never improved.  Just ask any of my loved ones; young or old.  It’s been a family joke for as long as I can remember.  Now at fifty, I blame it on mid-life vision.  And with tri-focals, I can see clearly that I’ll never be graceful.

Admittedly, this was not the easiest or best way to catch turkey hens.  That requires luring them with feed into a shed and closing the door.  Preferably, it happens well before buyers come to purchase.  Unfortunately, Krista hadn’t had time to do so.  It had been short notice for her family’s busy schedule.  Besides, the birds weren’t hungry.  They’d eaten all day.  So here we were, outnumbered by birds that can run 25 mph and fly 55 mph.  And Krista carried the only long-handled, fish net available.  The rest of us had to capture them by their legs.

At one point, the turkeys entered a hog pen and Krista’s husband followed.  He hoped the knee-deep muck would slow the turkeys down.  Alas, it only slowed him down.  He slipped and fell forward.  He managed to catch himself on his hands and knees.  However, the slurry covered him from the elbows and knees down.  Splashes of it also dappled his face and hair.  He wasn’t happy, but I was and I tried to stifle a laugh.  Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t laughing at him.  Truly, I felt sorry for him.  I was just so-very-happy it hadn’t been me.

For a while, it looked like we’d be leaving with only one hen.  It was all that we’d captured so far.  Then things turned around.  The girls tired and we all got lucky.  Five were now in the cage in the back of our truck.  We would keep three and give two to a friend.  As we shut the tailgate, Krista’s son made his appearance.  He talked enthusiastically of mastering his bicycle.

At four-years old, Krista’s son was learning to ride his new motorized dirt bike.  And he proudly announced that he didn’t “fall anymore”.  His parents disagreed and he argued back.  After all, his pride was at stake.  I just smiled.  I knew a lot about boys and falls, but not much about dirt bikes.  Falls were the reason my dad gave me when only my kid brother got a dirt bike.  Some folks would say my dad was sexist.  Only, my kid sister got to ride it, too.

As soon as the conversation about dirt bikes ended, Keith paid Krista.  He handed her a Texas penny, a couple of Jacksons, and a sawbuck.  He then asked her husband about alternate routes back to our home.  There weren’t many options, but anything else seemed better than the way we’d arrived.  We thanked her and her husband.  Then we wished her son fun on his dirt bike and said goodbye.

When the sun set, we viewed it passing by a lake at 60 mph.  The vibrant colors and reflections were beautiful.  An hour later, we arrived home in darkness.  We got out of the truck, but the hens remained in the cage for the night.  After we completed chores, we headed to bed.

The next morning, Keith opened the tailgate and the door to crate.  The hens were hesitant to exit.  And the four toms were still straddling a fence.  They roost on top of the chain-link chicken enclosure.  However, we knew it wouldn’t take long before they’d find each other.  Their sex lives didn’t need any more of our help.

 

TURKEY FOLLOW THE LEADER 2017 BARLEY DARTS

 

By late morning, Keith had called to check up on the turkeys.  I told him that one hen had introduced herself to the toms.  And I had watched as each of the them put their best foot forward.  There was stiff competition to be sure.  By noon, all the hens were proudly escorted around the farmyard.  Afterwards, the toms wasted no time taking the hens out to dinner and back to their pad.  Unlike Bald Eagles that mate for life, both male and female turkeys are naturally promiscuous.

As evening fell on the hens’ first day here, I hadn’t seen any toms “kiss” a hen.  By the way, turkey kisses aren’t as innocent as they sound.  In fact, kissing isn’t an act of foreplay for turkeys.  It’s how turkeys have sex.  Seriously.  A “cloacal kiss” is how most birds “do it”.  And one kiss can keep a female turkey pregnant, oops– I mean fertile for 10-15 weeks.[1]

Turkeys have no penises or vaginas.  And a turkey hen has sperm storage tubules.   Also, kissing for turkeys doesn’t involve their beaks.  Turkeys have an opening on their rears called a “cloaca”.  When a male’s and female’s cloaca touch together in a momentary “kiss”, the male transfers sperm to the female.  Funny, huh?  Well, not as funny as when teenage girls tell their parents they got pregnant by kissing.

And while we’re on the subject of kissing, ladies think twice before complaining when your man only pecks you with a kiss.  In the turkey world, you just got screwed.  So, grab your cigarette.  Even though it was a “quickie”, our lesson on the cloaca continues.

The cloaca opening is also used for pooping and passing eggs, too.   I see some of you cringing.  You swear you’ll never eat another egg.  Some of you are also moaning, “Gross!”  I had a similar reaction when a young adult explained something they called, rimming.  Just call me naïve.

The Urban Dictionary defines rimming as, “The act of using one’s tongue on the anal rim of another person to gain and/or give sexual pleasure”.  You can also call me a prude. I’d rather suck a freshly laid egg.  Eggs seldom contact poop.  A hen’s uterus turns inside out and pushes an egg out beyond the cloaca.

The rimming definition continued, “Insertion of the tongue is not necessary.  Circular motions in the clockwise directions are supposedly better in the Northern hemisphere, and anti-clockwise ones in the Southern.”  Sadly, some Rimmers are wishing they’d paid more attention in Geography class.  Ha!  I may be naïve, but I’m not the one asking Google if I’m in the Northern or Southern hemisphere.  I know I am in the one with counterclockwise storms and a high-noon sun in the south.  I’m not in the one with clockwise storms and a high-noon sun in the north.  So, there!

As evening arrived on the hens’ first day here, the sun set in the west; both in the Northern and Southern hemispheres.  Then Keith and I watched the toms go to bed.  They roosted in their usual spot.  But, the hens didn’t follow.  Instead, they chose a different route.  They weren’t lost.  The hens were just navigating their own way.  Perhaps they’d choose the fence another day.  Or maybe, they’d stand their ground in a different spot that offered a different perspective.  After all, so much of life is dependent on location, directions, and everyday choices.

[1] (Sasanami, 2013)

TURKEYS MATING 2017 BARLEY DARTS

MONDAY MEMOIR: LEAD & FOLLOW

Cows Eliza and Emma summer 2 2016 BARLEY DARTS

 

It was mid-summer and the local radio station had sounded its weather alert alarm.  Tornado watches were announced again.  They followed the severe storms that had been in and out of our area all day.  This time, when the alarm sounded, I no longer cared.  Statistically, I had already come closer to being trampled to death, than being blown away by a tornado.  Besides, the strong and rapidly cooling wind felt amazing.  It caressed every part of my sore body, still damp from a shower.

I lay at the opposite end and on top of the bed.  My aching feet were propped on the pillows and my throbbing head was hanging off the foot of the bed.  My wet hair mopped the dirty floor.  Frankly, I didn’t care.  I wanted to get my head as close as possible to the west window, where the stormy wind invaded the room.

Meanwhile, I noticed the ceiling fan above me was covered in dust bunnies.  They were clinging for dear life.  Many folks would have slaughtered them long ago, when they were young and tender.  But, maybe if I waited long enough, the dust bunnies would hop off by themselves.  And if I was lucky, they’d retreat into rabbit holes that led to a land, far away.

For now, their plight was insignificant and was added to the very bottom of a long “to do” list.  The same “to do” list that had only one item checked off, while several more items had been added.  It seemed to be an ongoing game of prioritizing everything and never completing anything.

The morning had begun with heavy rain and culminated with marble sized hail.  It ricocheted off our vehicles and metal roof, tormented unprepared livestock, and battered helpless seedlings.  Then the afternoon delivered 90 degrees, piping hot and followed by a side of extra humid.  Nature’s entre for the day: blood.  Every possible biting insect had hatched and was starving.  The air was thick with gnats, mosquitoes, bull flies, deer flies, and small black flies all competing for the same meal.  Combined with our main task for the day, there was always one fly too many.

All afternoon, we had stood ankle-deep, in rich slurry of mud and manure.  Drops of blood and sweat dripped off our bodies.  We all swatted bugs that landed in hard to reach places.  And one attempt after another was made to herd our cow, Eliza and her heifer calf, Emma into the corral.  Even though they were the only two, I felt the odds were stacked against us.

There were so many things that were not in our favor.  There was only Keith and me.  The bovines were bigger and younger than both of us.  They each had four legs and we only had two.  We did not have a cattle shoot, as our fencing and corral system is crude.  While the pasture area where they chose to stand kept ankle-biting bugs away, it was deep in mud.  And each step was a battle to maintain balance for both man and beast.

Since my rubber boots would have been sucked off, my lace up ankle boots that leaked had to be worn.  And I wasn’t the only one frustrated.  Eliza and Emma were skittish from the earlier hail and of us, too.  Instead of working with them a little every day, I had ignored them while trying to catch up on other projects.  And even though they really wanted the sweet molasses treats that I offered, they wanted to be left alone even more.

After multiple attempts and failures, I finally got Eliza to follow me.  As I was walking, the mud sucked in both of my boots and she almost stepped on me.  She got startled and retreated again.  After that, I stomped off, slipped, fell, and nearly ate poop pie.  So, without a word, I left Keith behind and headed for the hydrant.

With ice-cold water, I hosed off the thick mud and clumps of manure from my clothes.  By the time I was done, I was soaking wet.  Then I sat at the picnic table and sulked.  It wasn’t a pretty sight.  As mosquitos nibbled my arms, black flies gnawed through my wet jeans.  And even though our dog came to comfort me, she ended up leaving because the flies were too much.  She returned to her refuge, in the dark recesses between hay bales.  I felt so defeated and had a strong desire to follow her.

In the past, my way of loading the cattle had worked, even though it took more time.  I would coax them along with treats and kind words and they would follow.  And at the same time, I would fuss at Keith for his more aggressive and no-nonsense cowboy approach.  Today, I had failed and I would have to eat crow.  There was no way I was going to get Eliza and Emma loaded into the cattle trailer, no many how sweet treats or kind words were offered.

Just as tears were welling up in my eyes, I heard an engine start up behind me.  My first thought was that Keith had given up and was pulling the cattle trailer out to return it.  When the engine stopped again, I knew better.  My hopes soared.  Keith had successfully chased Eliza and Emma into the corral without me and was ready to load them.

Now, I should’ve just stood back and watched Keith.  But, I still wanted to help; meaning do it my way.  So, Keith patiently waited, while I tried offering treats again.  It didn’t work; again.  So, when Eliza and Emma loaded, it was the cowboy way.  And at that point, triumph surpassed all else including my pride.  I offered Keith the congratulatory concession- his way worked best and then I qualified it with, “this time”.  After I grabbed a mason jar of cold water for Keith, we headed out to deliver the girls for their ménage-a-trois.

At one time, Eliza’s breeding was done here at home.  We had our own Brown Swiss dairy bull, but as Thor grew, our fencing system was not set up to contain his aggressive behavior.  For our safety and his, he was sent to the livestock auction.  So, now Keith’s folks let us “borrow” a Buelingo.

We are most grateful that Keith’s folks have beef cattle.  They’re also set up for their own bull.  When we arrived at their place, we backed the cattle trailer up to the bull’s corral.  Then bad jokes were made, comparing the beef cows with our dairy gals.  Eliza and Emma don’t have the “booty” that Buelingo’s offer.  And I laughed when Eliza and Emma unloaded their skinny asses from the trailer and made their clumsy grand entrance.  They reminded me of teenage girls at a Jr. High party.

Eliza’s and Emma’s awkwardness seemed to make no difference to the white belted black bull.  And he wasted no time in greeting them.  The bull bellowed and stuck his broad nose under Eliza’s tail.  Then with an outstretched neck, he deeply inhaled her essence.  She was not offended and he was captivated.

Shortly afterwards, Eliza proudly paraded the muscle-bound bull in conga line fashion.  In the meantime, Emma looked lost.  Eventually, she followed the bull.  While Emma was new to this dance, it was only a matter of days before she learned her place.  For some us however, learning when to lead and when to follow has taken years.

When Keith finished his shower, he found me stretched out on the bed.  He chuckled and commented that I was upside down.  Then he joined me.  Keith sighed and commented that the breeze felt good.  For a few minutes, we were content to lay in complete silence.  The sun was setting and our evening chores were already done.

At half past 9:00, Keith worked to coax me to the kitchen.  He promised the best barbecue ribs around and a treat of a frozen chocolate bar for dessert.  Then Keith offered his hand to help me up.  I gladly accepted and he lead the way.

Dinner was one of the best reminders of why we do, what we do.  A rack of our homegrown ribs had been slow cooked in the oven.  There were red potatoes from the garden, beside the roasting pan and a small pot of sweet-corn.  The ribs were drained and the broth was reserved for the dog and cat.  They were lightly coated with barbecue sauce (the ribs, not the dog and cat).  The broiler was turned on and the sauce was cooked until candied.  They were coated and candied two more times.

After we filled our plates, we sat at the table.  It didn’t take long for us to eat our meals.  And as Keith added a little more butter to the last bite of his potato skin, I licked the barbecue sauce off my fingers.  Then forks were placed on the empty plates.  Cloth napkins wiped our sticky mouths and hands.  And a few moments of quiet contemplation followed.

I thanked God for our families, livestock, our ability to work, that the hail had not damaged more of our garden, and so much more.  Then leftovers were packaged for Keith’s lunch for the next day.  And dishes were washed, dried, and put away.  The cool broth and rib bones were relished by the dog and cat.  By the time we finished, it was quite late.  So, I took Keith by his hand and headed for the bedroom.  He was willing to follow.

MONDAY MEMOIR: MIDNIGHT MESSAGE

MOON BLOOD BARLEY DARTS 2016

 

Decades ago, Dr. Erich Klinghammer was my professor for Ethology.  It’s the study of animal behavior.  He was a naturally handsome man and tall with a beard.  It appeared he wore only natural fiber clothing, and socks with sandals.  When he spoke, I detected a slight German accent.  He was unlike most of my professors who arrived at the classroom well before their students or habitually late.  Instead, he entered the classroom each day, right on time.

The first day I met him, Dr. Klinghammer asked if his students had purchased the assigned textbook.  Without judgement, he said that if anyone still needed the book, he would bring them a used copy.  Dr. Klinghammer responded we would use it as a reference book. And yes, the one book would be enough.

Oddly, his class required only the one book.  With just twelve chapters and a mere 210 pages of text, it was my smallest hardback.  The price I paid for the book was a meager $25.  Each of my other classes had more.  Sometimes three and four, very thick and expensive books that cost $100-$200 each.

Next, Dr. Klinghammer gave an overview of the class.  He announced there would only be one exam for the semester.  He wrote on the blackboard, “Do wolves play?”  That would be the one and only question, for our one and only essay exam.  He boldly announced that he was not going to babysit us, flood us with trivial homework assignments, and waste his precious time grading them.  If we wanted to pass our exam and class, we needed real life experience for real life answers.  To do that, an outdoor classroom was required.

As it turned out, we would study at Wolf Park, on the rural side of town.  Dr. Klinghammer explained that a bus would take us there.  He stated the bus would leave promptly at the set time, with or without students and without exception.  I was impressed.  This man was serious and I liked how he set firm boundaries.  And if memory serves me right, at that moment three students stood up and left the small class.

Perhaps, for those students the class was not going to be an easy A.  After all, lazy students knew it was harder to cheat on essay exams.  This class would require their real work.  Maybe they were not interested in real learning or capable of critical thinking.  Or maybe the concept of an outdoor classroom was just too much for them to handle.  Regardless of the possibilities, I thought their leaving had more to do with the boundaries that had been set.  As for the rest, they would soon learn the boundary between physical life and death is often separated with only a fence.

As the “almost” students left, Dr. Klinghammer smiled broadly.  I smiled, too.  After all, I was majoring in Psychology and it was obvious that my new teacher was skilled in weeding his garden and culling his herd.   He then said something to the effect of, “Now we can get on with our learning.”  He was an intelligent and confident man.  While he was no no-nonsense, he did a sense of humor.  He was also humble and generous.

One afternoon, I stopped by his office during lunch time.  As we were discussing my questions, he opened his sack lunch.  From a cloth napkin, he pulled out a living sandwich.   He also had corn chips that were blue. He insisted that I sample them.  I felt guilty eating half his lunch.  But, I am so glad that I did.  Even the chips were nothing like I had ever had before.  They were thin, light, crispy, and not oily.  And the flavor?  Oh, they were amazing!  They had been made with fresh, stone-ground corn.  It was all very satisfying and unusually, filling.

As my professor ate with gusto, he asked if I had ever eaten sprouts before.  Just by looking at me, I think he could tell that I had not.   I responded it was my first time.  His sandwich was packed with them.  He smiled and highly recommended all kinds of sprouts.  His brown bread was thick and homemade with seeds and chopped nuts.  It was the best bread I had ever tasted.  Little did I know, I had shared lunch with a world-renowned scientist.  And some thirty years later, I’d see his very real contributions.  In fact, I’d watch a pack of them in our own backyard, near the Canadian border…

The autumn evening started out cloudy and it quickly turned pitch black.  As the clouds moved eastward, dapples of moonlight set the stage.  The peaceful slumber of the world around us was penetrated by a distant, solitary howl; shrill and prolonged.  There was a short dramatic pause before another howl answered.  More followed and joined together, in a climatic chorus.  Their revelry announced the forthcoming of their shadowy presence.   When it ceased abruptly, there was absolute silence.  Not even the leaves on the trees rustled.  It was an eerie, suspenseful, wait-for-the-scream, time-stands-still, dead silence.

After what seemed like an eternity, they marched in from the south.  I detected two grey wolves walking briskly in tandem.  Their light color made them easier to see in the dark.  They passed in a tight formation within yards of our secure spot.  Others traveled the perimeters.  I had goosebumps.  As I was watching two meld into the shadows, a solitary one took me by surprise.  It was just there and directly in front of me.  It’s gold eyes locked with mine and they pierced my very soul.   My heart pounded wildly.

He or she smelled my presence and was so close that I watched its exhaled breath vaporize into the cool night air.  After a few moments, it turned away and continued its journey north.  I then realized I had been holding my own breath.  My sniper had been well camouflaged in a midnight black coat.  That’s why I had not seen the wolf’s approach.  But, it’s up close and personal visit proved that it was a very large timber wolf.

This wolf also seemed strangely familiar to me.  Perhaps, it was related to those that stalked the hidden recesses of legendary fables.  Or maybe, I remembered it from my children’s bedtime stories, of long ago.  And aside from the birth of my children, this wolf encounter was the most intense experience of my life.  While, the ebony lobo was the most majestic creature I had ever seen, it was also the most intimidating.  After all, wolves are powerful predators and that by itself will always command my deepest respect.

In 1912, Esther E. Larson wrote, “It is not unusual to hear a pioneer…tell of his early experiences here…not seldom the blood-curdling howls of a pack of gaunt wolves hailed his appearance among trees, the fierce creatures being kept a bay only by the flickering glean of a lantern which they feared to approach.”[1]

Larson was writing about the pioneers who settled the original homesteads here, including the one we live on today.  Yesteryear’s men and women often walked through the dark woods, with only a lantern between them and a pack of hungry timber wolves.  While, I can never know how they felt with certainty, I know how I felt in my encounter.  And I do know my legs were weak and trembled.  If I had been without shelter, I would have been tempted to run.  Alas, even running would have been futile.  Wolves trot at 5 mph and during full speed chases, they reach about 40 mph.

To date, I have seen lone wolves from time to time.  But, I have yet to see another wolf pack.  However, I know they come and go.  And our livestock can sense when they are around.  We also see their tracks and hear their howls.  So far, we have lived together without incident for over a decade.  Yet, some folks say it’s only a matter of time before I share their hatred of wolves.  I respectfully disagree.  While, I may hate to see livestock eaten alive (or ham-stringed and left to die; “surplus killing”), I do not hate wolves for being wolves.  And I do not agree with those that want them extinct.  I also do not agree with those who say wolves should never be hunted or their population kept in check.

Perhaps no one on opposite sides of this heated debate will understand.  All I can say is, I was privileged to study under a man who knew more about wolves than anyone else I know.  A man who spoke their language.  A man who respected them and knew of their important role in Mother Nature’s delicate balance.  A man who spent his life bringing them back from the edges of extinction.  Yet, he was also the same man who was not opposed to responsible management.  He knew it was necessary for both wolves and humans to coexist.

Speaking of management, I saw an antique picture of a dead timber wolf.  It is strung up by its nose to show its relative size.   In the background are birch trees, patches of snow on barren ground, and the corner of a home.  In the foreground, a man is kneeling beside the wolf with a child standing on his left side and child on his right knee.  They are wearing red knit hats with tassels and matching mittens.  Both are staring wide-eyed at the wolf.

Behind the wolf is the family dog.  It is sitting and looking up at her canine cousin.  It’s three to four times her size.  The wolf was as long as the man was tall.  And since wolves average 120 pounds, it nearly weighed as much as the man, too.  The wolf had been harvested near the family home.  The photo is an unnerving reminder of the fine line between predator and prey.

Now 50 years later, many Americans need posted signs that say, “Caution: Wild animals!”  Honestly, how many of these signs can we possibly put in a forest or zoo?  And what good does it do when 75% of our nation cannot read above a 4th grade level?  And those that can will ignore the signs and boundaries anyway. How many times must tourists be told by park rangers to keep their distance?  “No Ma’am.  That is not a kitty.  That is a cougar.  Please step back.”  “Lady, now that you saved the fawn we have to kill it.”  “Yes, Florida has real alligators.” “No Sir. That is not a dog.  That is a wolf.   Not only can it bite you, it can eat you alive.  Yes, I’m serious.  Sir, put away the dog biscuit!”

I’d bet that these are the same folks that require sporks, so they don’t put their eyes out while eating.  They must be the same ones that need a warning that their hot cup of coffee is hot.  And they’re the ones that blame everything and everyone else, but themselves for not watching out for their own children.  Speaking of which, I have chickens with brains the size of peas that do a better job caring for themselves and their offspring than these Americans.

When I hear our wolves cry their acapella dirge, I think of Dr. Klinghammer.  And I think about our lack of respect for Mother Earth and her offspring.  I also think about the ignorance of our supposedly “advanced” society.  A nation where, if people know wolves really exist, some do not know that wolves are not domestic dogs and that domestic dogs are not humans.  I think of hungry wolves and hungry people, too.  Those poor people who have never been fed the brown bread of common sense.  Bread that is sprinkled liberally with seeds of truth, sweetened with the honey of real life experience, and filled with sprouts of wisdom.  And sometimes, I cry along with the wolves,

“A cry of defiance, and not of fear,…

In the hour of darkness and peril and need,

The people will waken and listen to hear…

the midnight message…”[2]

 

[1] (Hirst, 2010)

[2] (Longfellow, 1861)

MONDAY MEMOIR: BUMPS IN THE NIGHT

NIGHT LIGHT SHED

 

It was winter.  I was enjoying a deep sleep, next to Keith.  Suddenly, it was interrupted by a bump in the night.  My eyes opened to darkness.  I held my breath, listening for anything.  There was nothing.  Everything was quiet.  I shook it off as my imagination and rolled over.

Just as I dozed off again, I heard another bump.  A few seconds later there was another.   I sat up in bed and listened more intently.  I heard the dog bark once and then another bump.  My bare feet hit the cold floor and I hurried toward the window.  From the dim light outside, I saw a black shadow passing over the snow.  It was something with four legs and much bigger than a dog.

My first thought was that of a bear.  My heart raced and my eyes strained to focus.  No, on second thought, it shouldn’t be a bear.  Bears should be hibernating this time of year.  Besides, the dog would be having conniptions.  I woke Keith and asked him to look.  As he peered into the night, he shook his weary head.  “Time to get up”, was his only response.  No more words were exchanged.  We each let out a heavy sigh and got dressed.

Bumps in the night are part of homestead life.  They are often rude awakenings.  They can be scary, but usually they are only frustrating and time consuming.  And sometimes they are costly.  I used to think such trials were the “evil and dark side” of life.  However, over the years I’ve consoled myself by calling them “adventures” instead.

These “adventures” test Keith and me.  And all our senses are on overdrive.  For that very reason, they are the memory makers.  These memories then become stories.  Stories that are shared face to face or from one Facebook post to another.  Perhaps, a couple will pass on from one generation to the next.  And maybe they will be recalled with laughter.

At the time, however, I was not laughing.  It was pitch black and cold outside.  I was tired.  I wanted to be sleeping, next to my husband, in bed, and covered in blankets.  Instead, I was stumbling around in the dark and falling through crusted snow.  It hurt and it wasn’t funny.  We had to be the only two fools, in the whole-wide-world, doing such things at wee hours.

As Keith and I walked toward the dark shadow, it ignored our presence.  Keith confronted the shadow using a gruff tone, “What in the HELL do you think you’re doing?”!  The 400-pound shadow snapped his head to attention and squealed.  He quickly trotted toward me and tried to hide behind my legs.  At that very moment, Keith and I burst into uncontrollable laughter.  Like a rogue teenager, Boris our Berkshire boar got busted.

Under the cover of darkness, he had been sneaking out to visit a female friend.   To be honest, we’re not mad that Boris couldn’t resist a freckled beauty.   He’s in the prime of his life.  Besides, he’s just doing his job.  We’re only unhappy that he had jumped the fencing to do it.   In the process, he had torn a rear dewclaw.

There was a trail of blood everywhere he had gone.  Fortunately, it wasn’t gory.  Instead, it glistened like rubies on the snow.   We followed the trail until our flashlights spotted his exit in the fencing.  That’s where Boris not only jumped the fences, but had also torn them down.

We then shined our flashlights into the pig shelters.  They were all empty, as were our naïve hopes.  Keith was the first to locate more shadows by the hay bales.  The sow, gilt, and barrows were all loose.   Every one of them were partying and drunk with excitement.

Count with me now, “This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home, this little piggy had roast beef, this little piggy had none, and this little piggy cried, ‘wee, wee, wee’ all the way home.”  That’s only five little piggies.  At that time, we had six.  And the sixth little piggy shouted, “Hey guys!  How many homesteaders does it take to capture one ton of trotting pork, in the dark of winter?”  Squeals of laughter shattered the night.

Yes, my thoughts turned dark.  I couldn’t help thinking that shooting them would be easier than catching them.  However, we homesteaders know that’s a lie.  It’s time consuming and labor intensive to process one hog, let alone six.  So instead, I shouted back, “I know the answer!  It takes two.  Two homesteaders.”  Why two?  Because that’s all we had.  And most homesteaders must make do with what they have.

It was dark, cold, and we were exhausted.  Yet, we were also determined.  We would fix the problem and hopefully, have the last laugh.  So, where did we start?  By capturing the trouble maker first.  How?  By offering him a sweet deal, telling him lies, and entrapment.

I grabbed some homemade cookies.  “Come on Boris,” I called and I dropped a cookie.  He readily took the bait.  One cookie bought me about ten steps toward the pig pens.  Meanwhile, Keith fired up the tractor to retrieve our hog crate from a snowbank.  Little by little and step by step, Boris followed me.  Once the hog crate was in place, the door was opened.  I called Boris and dropped a line of cookies leading into the crate.  That was the easy part.

 

Unfortunately, Boris hadn’t been crate trained yet.  He really wanted cookies, but the crate made him nervous.  We spent another hour working to lure him into it.  I told him lies, like “It’s not so bad.  You’ll like it once you’re in it.”  Once or twice, Keith and I even resorted to the good cop, bad cop routine.  He eventually trusted us for a fleeting moment.  And that was all it took.  Boris was now trapped.  Once in his cell- oops, I mean “crate”, we checked his wound.  Thankfully, it wasn’t too serious and would heal on its own.  We then added plenty of bedding to the crate.

Next, we sought out Boris’ accomplices.  We lured the sow to her pen and the gilt followed.  Perfect.  Keith did a quick mend of their fence.  Afterwards, we lured the remaining three barrows to their pen.  By the time Keith mended their fence, more than two hours had passed.  At that point, the fences were secure enough to work temporarily, if we kept Boris in the crate.  We agreed that come daylight, we would resume our work.

At sunrise, I found Keith at the kitchen window shaking his head.  All the pigs, but Boris were loose again.  Their tracks were everywhere.  Two pigs were over here, one was way over there, and two were playing tag along the driveway.  I paused to Grow a Gratitude Moment*: I was thankful that we’re almost two miles from the highway and neighbors.

Our scheduled project for the day had to be postponed.  The fencing repairs took all morning.  In the end, we combined all the pigs into one pen.  While this had not been in our plans, it was the best short-term fix.  Boris was released from the crate into the passel of pigs.  They greeted him warmly with snout kisses and squeals of joy.  Happiness had now returned to all Pigdom.

Our afternoon project was rushed, but completed.  The sun set early and darkness fell instantly.  The critters were fed, snug in their beds, and all was quiet.  We finished a few inside chores and made supper.  As we ate, Keith peered wearily into the outside darkness.

At 9:00 pm we checked on the pigs one last time.  It was a quick check from the porch using a flashlight.  The fencing was still intact and all six were sleeping.  Finally, it was our turn.  Lights were turned off and blankets were pulled up only to our chins.  Our ears would remain uncovered.  We would continue to listen for bumps and squeals in the night…