Gopher Piles and Bathtub Smiles

February 5th, 2009

I had forgotten that in late winter there are some very active critters around- especially underground.  Now I don’t mind a mole or two around the place, they’ve got to live too.  But when the moles and gophers begin to think this is their private little kingdom, then I’m not a happy camper.  After the deep freeze the past few weeks we had a nice warm-up, and I walked around to find this nice little trail of diggings on the hillside below the garden.  These dirt piles are 6-12 inches tall, and would fill up a kid’s beach bucket.

Gopher tunnels on hillside 

These wouldn’t be so bad off in a field by themselves (where they are usually).  But on the slope it causes a great deal of erosion, especially when it rains and the water washes down inside the tunnels evacuating mud everywhere.  I usually squish the muddy hills and tunnels down with the tractor, and the gophers just dig them out again.  We play that game for a while until they move on.  Hopefully I can persuade them to move somewhere else again… not on the slopes, and not near the pond dam!  But if they won’t?  Well, we’re just going to have to figure something out Caddyshack-style…  hopefully with better results!   Somebody remind me why these little critters are useful anyway?!

And what do you get when you ask a dog-and-water-loving-kid to take a bath, and you didn’t keep an eye on your water-and-kid-loving-labrador-retriever?    Well, after hearing unusually gleeful giggles down the hallway, you suddenly look around and notice that your faithful yellow lab is no longer sitting quietly by your side, looking up at you with those big dreamy eyes, and you realize that he has absconded to that playful paradise for kids… the bathtub… much to the boy’s delight of course.  So you get up, get your camera and slowly open the door of the bathroom to find your kid squirting water from a squishy toy at the yellow lab, who loves every minute of it.   Both of them wore great big smiles, and neither of them wanted to get out…

Yellow Lab in the bathtub

Winter Sun and Fun in the Barn

January 13th, 2009

A beautiful sunny day, but cold!  And it’s going to be colder for the next few days.  I’ve been asking for snow, and look!  We actually got enough flurries to dust the ice on the pond.   I like how the trees stand as gray sentinels on the hillside- in summer you can’t see this corner of the pond very well because of all the leaves on the trees.

Fox Haven Pond in winter

The long range weather forecast doesn’t have any snow it in this month- will we go all winter with that one small snowstorm in December? 

Worked in the barn yesterday with the woodstove going- I’ve used it a couple times, but this was the first time I’ve kept it going for such a long time and it was pretty nice.  Why didn’t I put the stove in last year!?!   I had it piled in a corner, but didn’t find the “gumption” to tackle it until last fall.  I’m so glad I did- outdoor temperatures were in the high 30’s yesterday and the barn warmed up to around 50+ and a lot warmer near the stove.  That’s enough to fiddle comfortably with a host of things that need cleaned up.  In the afternoon the boy came home from school and did his homework while laying on cardboard near the stove.  He thought it was fun, and enjoyed the warmth.    

Staying warm by the woodstove

(The picture above was a little fuzzy in the darker light, so I applied some “watercolor” filtering to it.)   But working inside the barn gave me time to move some work lights around in preparation for cleaning up the work bench.  I’m embarrased to say I’ve put it off for almost 3 years!  I use it alot,  it’s just that tools and small items come and go from the bench top and it’s a disorganized mess.  And since it’s an outdoor barn/equipment shed, there’s always a lot of dust and grime.  Maybe, just maybe I’ll get started on that soon.  

But the main area inside of the barn is a different story… I’ve got that somewhat organized to maximize use of the space, and I like to keep the floors swept regularly.  It always feels so much better to keep things in order, and clean up the dust.  With tractors and mowers, dust and grass clippings are a way of life.  Our real work bench is closer to the house in the garage, and it’s in a lot better shape.  Still has a lot of junk piled around it, but at least it’s organized junk if there is such a thing!

Doing Nothing Much

January 3rd, 2009

A couple of warm days means a chance to get a lot accomplished.  Even the bees took some time to stretch their wings, and I was glad to see them.  They had not been out for at least 3-4 weeks after the last cold stretch, and they need a chance on warm days to relieve themselves.  And there’s bound to be a lot of new young bees that have emerged.  They look soft and fuzzy, and fly around the outside of the hive to orient themselves.  Only a couple of months to go bees… hang in there!

Bees emerging on a warm winter day

Of course with the heavy rain last week we had to clean up a few areas too.  The gravel driveway tends to wash out during the heaviest rain.  Last year I added two types of gravel on top of the old stuff, and worked hard to pack it level- it has done fine for one side of our dip, but this side still washed out.   The rain was some of the heaviest I’ve seen in the last few years.

 Gravel washout from heavy rain

But I was happy to see the gravel washed straight down the driveway instead of off the side of the driveway.   After using the big rake on the back of the tractor, we all grabbed a few hand rakes to finish it up, and it’s good as new.  We’ve thought about having asphalt put in someday, but those thoughts quickly fade as we remember the driveway’s almost 1/4 mile long.  Realistically the gravel is so much better when the ice comes in winter.  

More rain expected for tonight, but hopefully not too much.  I’m still looking for our first real snowstorm… in the meantime we we’ve been doing various chores including cleaning up a lot of the house, the holiday ornaments, taking the tree down and out and splitting a bunch of older oak rounds for firewood.  With luck we’ll have just enough to get through winter. 

After all the holiday excitement, the boy says we’ve been doing “nothing much” the last few days.  Somehow I’ve really enjoyed doing nothing much.  Oh, except eating of course.  We’ve been doing far too much of that!  This week it’s back to school and back to the routine.  If we have another warm day it will be time to whip the garden into shape.  We’re already thinking of what to plant…


Warm Thoughts on Cold Days

December 2nd, 2008

Kinda cold out there today, but at least the sun is shining.  You know it’s getting colder when the heater kicks on in the morning, even with the wood stove roaring away.   For some reason I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night (time to put wood in the stove…) and then again about an hour before dawn (more wood in the stove).   But a couple of days ago I slept almost all through the night for the first time in months, isn’t that strange?  Last night it was back to my usual routine, prowling the house and stoking the fire.  Maybe I’ll get to see Santa Claus this year while he’s up too.

But it’s been a good week for getting things done, and time again for bringing wood to the house. One of the nice things about the cold months is the little creepy crawlers are mostly gone.   I don’t like keeping wood near the house during the warm months since it just attracts insects.  But now we can keep a nice wood pile right outside the door.


And that little project for the barn is finally finished… getting the stove installed out there. Took a few weeks of head-tilting to figure out how to do it properly, and a few trips to the supply store to make sure it’s up to code.  So I looked at all the clearances, gathered the proper materials, and then finally plunged right in.  I figured I would never do it until I cut a hole in the roof… and then there was no turning back!  

Chimney on top of barn

Hardest part was climbing ladders a zillion times, carrying chimney parts, and getting things sealed up properly.   So now I’ve got no excuse to get the placed organized and a few other chores accomplished too.  But we’ve got time right?  A few long months ahead of us.  Maybe that’s why I like the seasons- it gives you a chance to catch up on things you don’t do at other times.

What Does “Living Green” Really Mean?

November 21st, 2008

The coldest day of Autumn arrived last night with temperatures around 15 degrees F.  The wood stove is a constant roar of fire and warmth, and the little birds outside are clustered around the feeders.  Have I said how much we enjoy the wood stove?  I think it’s my favorite “investment” I’ve ever made… (better than a lot of others recently!). But the thing works really well and we get a lot of use out of it.  Of course it also helps to lower the heating bill and save on electricity.  And it’s a low-carbon emission stove… so what’s not to like?  I figure in four more years, the money we’ve saved on electricity will have paid for the stove itself.

    Buck Wood Stove

I bought a frozen turkey yesterday and since we didn’t have freezer/fridge space, I just left it outside.  Nice to have winter temps to keep things cold.  Along with a pot of venison chili I made yesterday… yum!  It was a little thin, so I’m going to thicken it up today- it was frozen when I brought it back in.   No, I haven’t taken a deer yet this year, but this finishes the last of the frozen ground venison for the chili.  

Venison chili

Speaking of wild game, this morning was funny- the boy and I are having breakfast and he says, “Daddy, guess what so-and-so brought to school yesterday?”  “Ah, I’m not sure, what?” I reply.  “Well they brought in a deer hoof and a deer tail, and the hoof was kinda bendy,”  he says.  “Hmmm…interesting… What did the teacher say?” I wonder out loud.  “She thought it was really cool!” he said.  I was impressed- his 2nd grade teacher didn’t think it was some weird or strange thing.  

I can’t help but wonder what a teacher’s reaction would have been in a more suburban environment?  For me it was a reminder of the difference between the schools here in the country and those an hour down the road.  In some places they would probably freak out if a kid brought not just a wild animal to school, but parts of that animal, still fresh!  Around here it’s just part of life and the food that feeds the family during the year. 

Living in the country and in small towns is awesome in so many ways (and inconvenient at times and a lot of work). I wouldn’t trade it for anything, at least while I can handle the work.  But in many areas the landscape (of people and places) is changing.  People are buying up the land and building bigger houses in rural areas.  Sometimes it’s called sprawl, with a negative view for unchecked population expansion.  And some of the people moving to the rural areas have a different mindset about a lot of things.  Not necessarily bad, just different.  

Leaves in the barn gutter



(Gutter cleaning time for the barn!  Need to find those gutter helmet thingies to keep the leaves out some day… but the leaves make great compost.  I got lots of exercise on the ladder. Those are the beehives in the background, wrapped for the winter.)

In some cases that population growth brings positive change and affluence to formerly depressed areas.  For now development is coming slowly in our area with the downturn in housing.  I’m certainly not against growth or the choices people make for where to live.  I am definitely for strategic planning and zoning based on community needs and considering local needs and interests in complying with state and federal law. 

I don’t think we should all be closeted away in clones of planned communities near the cities.  That’s fine if you choose to live there (and I might too one day), but I think it’s also okay to move out and find your own place in the country.   Last time I checked it was still a free country, though there’s some debate about what it will be like in a few years…



It also seems like there is a movement of people who want to live a simpler life, with sustainability as the theme.  Gardens, some livestock and natural living- a choice to find balance in life, maybe to “live green”, or to seek a more frugal and independent lifestyle for one’s family.  It makes me wonder how the contrasts and dynamics will play out between suburban and rural values?  Being “green” is quite fashionable these days.  Who doesn’t want a healthy planet?  We all do. But I think some people simply embrace the idea and fashion of a cultural change in being “green” while many others actually make hard choices about living it everyday.  

(Isn’t this a cool picture with the contrast of sky and trees?  The leaves just came off last week, and I’m still getting used to how open the sky feels.)

Treetops bare of leaves against November sky

Sure, lots of folks choose “green values” and adopt the “green movement” with recycling, organic and sustainable food production, and low-carbon transportation choices as leading themes.  And yet I think a lot of folks living in the country do the same thing everyday in ways that present challenges and choices that our more urban friends often don’t understand.  I wish I could speak more for myself in terms of sustainable living or homesteading like Ron’s and Karl’s families do.   We’re not there yet by a long shot, but we’re focused in other ways on growing food naturally, canning, planting trees, managing resources for wildlife, recycling materials on the land…

But the dynamics are so different from that of our friends an hour down the road.  Many of us also use bigger vehicles, engines and fuels to support family, agriculture and farming, we burn wood for warmth and even for reducing the fire hazard of too much brush around the property.  And we have to drive longer distances for schools, shopping, medical care. 

I guess my point (yes, I think I have one) is that it bugs the heck out of me when some ninny half a country away thinks they have all the answers based on the context of their lifestyle choices.  Living a “green lifestyle” can mean different things to different people, with many of the same goals in mind.   While the choices I make might be different from the choices another person makes, we can work toward those same goals for a healthy planet and find a balance with the reality that exists for our family’s needs.  

Now it’s time to go stir those “green” chilies in the pot again…

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