Thursday, April 29, 2010

Loss of Life in the Gulf of Mexico - Spill Baby Spill

It had been several years since I drove from New Hampshire down the eastern coast of the United States. The array of harsh toxic smells that choked my airways as I made my way from one busy port to the next disturbed me. One does not need a degree in science to know that the billowing stacks surrounded by seemingly blackish dead water were omitting something bad – a combination of sulfur and rotten eggs. The pungent odors forced me to pull my shirt over my nose and mouth.

I tried to let it go. Right. I was excited to get away from the unforgiving New England winter, wiggle my toes in the white sand and write a novel. The true state of our environment was definitely inconvenient; it was a shock

Spoiled, I come from a pristine world with little or no crime, clean air, safe water and a community that cares about recycling and sustainability. My world does not consist of factories or energy plants and there are no puffs of white steam or black smoke from looming brick stacks or overcrowded highways.

What was I thinking? I missed the clean white snow before I even had a chance to dig my toes into the sand.

I am generally unimpressed by the inland suburbs of Florida. The crime rate is high and there is a great deal of poverty and apathy. I am highly concerned about the toxicity in the water, air and soil, as well as the rapidly growing endangered species list. (There are less than 100 Florida Panthers to date).

However, the beaches are a different story. I absolutely fell in love with the warm turquoise water, the gentle tides and the dazzling shells. I visited 32 beaches and 3 islands during my first winter. Aware of the depleted fish population, erosion and other dangers, I was elated when I discovered that the sea life on the beaches seemed to be thriving.

On my first trip to Marco Island, life was so abundant that all along where the waves rolled upon the shore, small scallops clattered like castanets – opening and closing – reminding me of an old cartoon.

I love to observe the present sea life. Yellow tape marks where sea turtles have laid their eggs. Just last week I saw a large moon jellyfish floating along the shallows at Englewood. Pelicans – like proud squadrons – dive straight into the water, bobbing to the surface with a nice fish flapping in its crop. Ospreys sit on the pilings awaiting the opportunity to snag a fish while black headed gulls wait for a beachgoer to drop a potato chip or sandwich crust. A pair of dolphins swims along the horizon, sometimes stopping to frolic. Great blue herons stand along the shoreline with the angler, eyeing the trough where the baitfish swim in a constant stream.

Everywhere I go, I see long legged wading birds…in marshes, trees, canals and even in large puddles in parking lots. After the sobering drive down the eastern coast of the United States, the presence of the beautiful water birds took me aback. What a relief. The birdlife is alive and well.

I collect sharks teeth, fossils and shells for making handcrafted jewelry. I walk along the beaches for spiritual nourishment and creative inspiration. I always thank the Gulf for her beauty and gifts. I joined many people in their ‘Hands Across the Beach’ demonstration as a solidarity movement against offshore drilling. I learned what Mosaic means and how critical it is to the future of our planet. I pick up other people’s trash.

I was disappointed when President Obama stated that he intended to move forward with the production of new oil wells. I was horrified when I discovered that there are immeasurable toxins sprayed into the skies for more reasons than I have time to explain, by the government for altering weather, scrambling communication satellites and defense testing. The amount of metals in the soil and water are noxious and life threatening to humans and eco systems, but there are no limits, because of Bush giving a free ticket preventing “our right to know.”

Now we have this unbelievable oil disaster. 5,000 barrels a day. Not gallons, barrels. One fire-fighting expert told the BBC that the disaster might become the "biggest oil spill in the world.”

Experts predict that it is probable that the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster that took place in 1989 is going to pale in comparison to this as it continues. Why did this happen? Why did it take so long for the disaster crews to use the protective oil curtain? I am not an expert, but this is beyond tragic. I will join the volunteer effort to clean the Gulf beaches and assist in the saving and cleaning of affected wildlife.
Then there is the pit bull with lipstick chanting, “Drill baby drill.” She needs a reality check. “Spill baby spill” is more accurate. She has no sense, an amazing amount of followers and extreme arrogance. Pit bulls – known more for their ability to attack and kill than for their intellect – should remain leashed.

What will it take to end this suicidal greedy behavior?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Peace - Spare the Rod.

Please don't spank your children. Spanking is a violent act. When you spank a child, your message is that it is okay for an adult to solve issues with violence. It is simpler than you realize. When you are not angry, sit down and devise an alternative plan of discipline.

I raised three children and never spanked them, not once. They grew up to be balanced, productive members of the human race. When one person strikes another person, the moment of anger outlasts the event that triggered the violent reaction.

I was quite strict; my word was the final word. I used various levels of discipline, such as removal from the situation; a thinking place. Taking away of privileges works and following through is key. Empty threats never work; they weaken your character and trust.

There are many alternative forms of dealing with unacceptable behavior. Remember, we are teaching our children how to live and deal with life. It really matters. After emotions simmer, it is vital to discuss the troublesome behavior with the child so that he or she understands the reasons why it must end or change. If the child is too young to comprehend, explain it. “You do not quite understand now, but in time, you will, and you will be grateful. This is the way it is. Trust me; I love you.”

Good role models are becoming an endangered species. We need a kinder, gentler world with logical and solid, consistent and safe boundaries.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Tree and Me

I walk along the road. There is no living person within sight or sound. The murmuring icy water spills over the rocks of the millpond, hesitating in autumn’s wistful pool, quickening with each second, eager for spring, leaving winter upstream.

Chickadees tease; I long to be closer than they allow, but they do not know me as I do them. Petite black and white beings, playful against the limitless sky, flutter paper wings in rapid dance, flitting between branches, caught between mating call and celebratory song. I smile; the younger ones have more time before they must attract a mate. Ah, to be young and in love.

I sense trembling. Within the womb of Our Mother, life is about to unfold, to leap from the earth. Trees shake fistfuls of curled up buds holding promises of the future, ready to burst into the greenness of existence. Waiting is challenging, but we mustn’t be impatient. Whether we are the unborn or one who seeks; we must endure and trust. The time is right.

A winding stream passes through the woods. Musical tones mixing riffs with mud and ice, carry the wasted past of decaying leaves and twigs to a place of newness, transforming life from death. I wonder where it begins and where it ends. Perhaps it is infinite and carries the secrets of the universe.

The finches follow me. I do not see them, but hear them in the trees. “Do you know?” “Do you know?” They implore me never to stop seeking answers, as they question the questioner.

I want to take a photograph of the crow that flies overhead, but the telephone poles and wires are in the way; so I don’t. I hear him call to the others. “She is here.” I know this.

The woodpecker’s bright red nape catches my eye. He hops up higher and higher into the giant dead pine tree, circling as he nears the top. Pecking and peeping, pecking and peeping.

I pass an elder of the woods– a proud maple tree – boasting a long life with its enormous breadth. I stop to pay homage. Tears fill my eyes as I make a remarkable discovery. Centered near its heart, it holds an image of a sapling; a blueprint of its essence. It is unmistakable. A beauteous vision etched carefully and framed within the bark. To know of this wisdom, is to know of Sophia and the miracle of life.

Today is an important day for the tree and me. I am a witness. I share her vision and shall carry it with me for all of my days. Never forget from whence we came and for where we are going. Honor Thy Mother.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Mother's Plight

When I arrived in the present season, I was delighted to see the Robins bobbing in and out of the shadowy green grass rooting around for worms.

The soft pink morning called for rain. I stood on the upper deck and watched as one took flight. My smile turned into horror when I realized that the bird was diving straight at me. I thought that she was going to attack, but she turned away abruptly at the last second. My heart throbbed in my temples as I continued to visualize the peculiar and frightening scene.

She dove at me again; I ducked and covered my head with my hands. Running and hiding was not an option; I am a long time bird enthusiast. I tiptoed to another area on the deck and she came at me again from a different angle. This was out of the ordinary. All I ask for is common civility.

Later that day I discovered a nest beneath a beam of the upper deck in the corner. Knowing that this was her nesting place, I stayed away. I admired her and felt a curious bond, being a protective mother as well. We were in that world of doing whatever it takes to keep our young safe.

After a few days, I walked quietly down the steps and saw her perched on her roost. From a safe and respectable distance, I politely snapped a photo, using my zoom lens of course, keeping my affection within bounds.

One day last week, her babies hatched. She flew to and from the nest with offerings of worms and such that she harvested from the bosom of our Earth mother. I was thankful for the opportunity to witness one of life’s little miracles.

Life changes in an instant.

Yesterday was a day to lament. The shrill chattering of a mother in distress rose above the spiraling descent of the song of the Wood Thrush. On the stairs lay a lifeless baby chick and the scattered remnants of the nest. I hurried to see if there was a chance of rescue. I was met with an aching emptiness quite void of spirit and life; the other chicks were nowhere in sight; mother flew into the sheltered embrace of a nearby spruce. Once again, the world would be imperfect to me.

This morning I soaked in the golden sun; the sky overflowed with strains from the bird chorus. She hopped silently in the cool, dew-covered grass tugging at persistent worms. I wondered if she had forgotten her babies. My heart withered.
A mother’s plight is bittersweet.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Birds, the Bees, the Bunnies

After the bunnies, life was never the same. We played music, hiked, celebrated nature and all else that deserved celebrating.

Anna was eight years old during the bunny experience. She was also whining regularly about it not being fair that the boys knew about the birds and the bees and she didn’t. I told her that when the time was right, I would tell her.

Finally, on an especially lousy day, I said screw it. I experienced a true moment of temporary insanity. I literally mean sixty seconds. I simply let all of the bunnies out of their cages. Eeeeek does not cover it. I knew during the act of freeing the last bunny that it was a horrible mistake and that I would have to pay for it in unimaginable ways.

They hopped around madly in the yard. It was what one might term a bunny fest. You know what happened. More than a dozen sex crazed bunnies that had been eying each other from nearby hutches for months, went mad.

After an initial romp, they backed up and regrouped and formed a bunny train. I didn’t panic. I froze as I watched them, it didn’t matter if it was brother and brother, mother and daughter…they just piled on top of each other in their train bound for glory. The only possible downfall was being the caboose.

Meanwhile, Anna was laughing and shrieking. "What are these bunnies doing? They’re being so silly!”

The word silly echoed. The fantasy of them fleeing into the woods vanished into the reality of the situation. I bit my fingernails and watched the humping frenzy before deciding that it was okay to attempt to formulate words. “Anna?” I swallowed. “You know how you always ask me about the birds and the bees?”

“Yeah.” She giggled.

“Forget about the birds and the bees, Sweetheart. It’s the all about the bunnies. This is it.”

Her smile faded and thoughts started collecting into a worrisome state.

What was I thinking? This is not rational behavior. Is this PMS at its finest? Of course, they wouldn’t flee. It’s all about sex.

I needed to catch them. I thought that the foxes and other predators (unfortunately that included the neighbor’s pit bulls and rotweilers) would get them. Where were they when I needed them?

The boys and I captured the freshly impregnated and no longer frustrated bunnies and put them back into their bitches. After the shock wore off, Anna pitched in. Some escaped, like Sasha the Angora never to be seen again and about four others would let you get within a foot or so away and then flee.

I felt an odd responsibility for those who tormented me while they hopped around the yard just out of reach. Just when we thought I was done messing up with the bunnies, I managed to escalate the situation. I left food out for them. Why that is such a bad thing? I will tell you.

First, all of the bunnies that were not pregnant before the “Born Free” moment were now giving birth. The population was quickly reaching the 30’s and 40’s and growing. Most of the bitches (hutches) were located outside, so there was a certain scent in the air. This combination of elements attracted two wild Eastern Cottontail Rabbits.

They were pretty, a brownish color in the spring and summer and white in the winter. (We had them around that long). For them it was paradise. The few bunnies that we never caught lived well outside, mingling and doing the train thing blissfully with the wild bunnies.

We sort of got used to bunnies being everywhere. Even my cat Felix often fell asleep on the deck with baby bunnies snuggled into him and he didn’t care. They were like lawn ornaments perched on the steps, the railings and stonewall. They dotted the lawn like bunches of wildflowers.

They were fast, so we gave up trying to catch them. I didn’t put food out for them and they managed to survive in the wild. I had to put Tabasco sauce and foil on the base of the apple trees to protect the bark from nibbling.

I told my neighbors – real natives, a lost art form – that they could help themselves to the bunnies. They came to our farm and caught many of them. When I realized that a neighbor captured a wild rabbit, I insisted that she release it.

It was a victorious day when we saw the last of the bunnies. Yes, they are the silent types, but don’t be fooled.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bunny Mania

We had a bunny problem. I saw an advertisement with bunnies reproducing like crazy. It does happen. Honest. I went to another local farm to get the bunnies. This farm was unique. The animals’ quarters were an abandoned house, complete with ripped flowered wallpaper, winding staircase, cupboards, fireplace and a kitchen sink. It was a bit awkward to be standing in a hallway while chickens and goats amble through. Business as usual.

We came across the bunnies. The farmer, Mona, assured me that all three of the bunnies were female. That was the deal. I was hesitant from the start with the whole bunny thing, but I remembered my grandparents’ quintessential New England farm with the bunny hutch at the corner of the vegetable garden near the lush green pasture.

Wondering how she could be so certain of the bunnies’ miniscule anatomy, I asked Mona one last time, “These are all female, right?”
“Absolutely.” She placed her hands on her hips with the utmost confidence.

My gut told me to run, but each one of my kids had fallen in love with an irresistibly cute velvety creature, ready to bring them home to the bunny bitches that we worked so hard to craft. One bunny bitch was made of a nice old bureau that we took the drawers from and you guessed it, covered the front with chicken wire with the staple gun. We made a cover out of a wooden frame with chicken wire and the staple gun. (During this time, buying stock in chicken wire and staples would probably have been a great investment).

The first three bunnies were Miniature Rexes. Other than their cuteness, they were basically useless, only eating, wiggling their noses and leaving little pellets everywhere. Anna took responsibility for the rabbits.

Everything seemed to be going rather smoothly, which I have learned is when it is vital to be suspicious. Ignoring that twinge of suspicion, I accepted more bunnies into the mix. My girlfriend gave us a huge black Mini Lop; we named it Boodles. (That is where the cliché, with friends like that, who needs enemies, came from.) We thought that if Boodles was male…no problem…we would put him in his own hutch (bitch). He was just too adorable to resist. (I broke into a sweat when I typed this).

I then went a little bit more insane when my other girlfriend – a spinner and knitter – gave us a gorgeous gray Angora rabbit that we named Sasha. I don’t do anything with needles, but I would save the hair for her use.

At this point, I caved in and bought a beautiful hutch from a woodcrafter near our farm. The only bunnies cohabitating were the original three ‘girls’.

Then the day came that changed our little farm forever. Anna hurried down the hill, radiant, braids flying everywhere. “Mopsy has babies!”

News flash. Mona was wrong. Sadie turned out to be Stanley. We were back to building bunny bitches, which were now starting to resemble condos. I separated the bunnies according to what I thought was their sex. Anna was over the moon having tea parties with bunnies and our one cat, Chloe, who would tolerate anything that Anna requested. She carried miniscule babies around in a basket, placed them on her math book, her music stand. Anna was the bunny girl.
After a few more litters of bunnies, things just got way out of control. The bunny condos were spreading like South Beach and no matter how skillful I had become with chicken wire, some of them were master escape artists.

Each morning I sat on the deck trembling and sipping my coffee awaiting the news from Anna after her morning visit to South Beach. “Mommy, so and so has babies.”
(to be continued)…

Friday, April 16, 2010

Losing Elsie

We purchased our goats from our neighbor’s farm; they had a decent sized herd comprised mostly of Nubians with a few Toggenburgs. I dealt with Melody, who seemed to be quite pleasant and knowledgeable. We started with three. Each of my children picked out a goat. Emma was Shelby’s choice, Ginger was Anna’s and Miles selected the Tog and named her Elsie.

Elsie appeared to have the sniffles from the first day we brought her home. I mentioned it to Melody, and she told me that it wasn’t unusual and she promptly sent her husband to our farm to administer antibiotics. He did this a few times. I thought that Elsie would be fine because neither Melody nor her husband showed signs of concern.

After another month of Elsie exhibiting symptoms of ill health, I knew she was failing. Melody and her husband blew it off so I called our veterinarian, Dr. Lester, and he suggested that I bring her in.

Elsie – still a baby – fit in the back of my Cherokee (the ‘mobile manger’), so I put down a bed of hay and sped off to Ashland to see Dr. Lester. He told me that she had a fever and he showed me how to administer antibiotics by injection. He watched as the syringe shook in my hand and explained the significance of conquering my fear if I was going to be a farmer.

Focused and determined, I carefully injected the medicine into our goat twice a day, for three days, still unsure if she was recovering. She appeared to be unchanged.

Early in the morning of the fourth day, I was filling the bird feeders with black oil sunflower seeds when Miles ran down the hill. “Mom! Mom! Come quick. Elsie’s dead!”

I raced to the barn. Elsie was lying against the door of the pen. I reached in and touched her; she was still warm, but not breathing. She must have just died. Miles stood behind me crying quietly. The other two goats weren’t interested in Elsie, they were interested in us and if we were going to feed them or let them out.

This was a first. I simply did not know what to do. I opened the door and crouched down beside the dead goat. The other two goats leaped to freedom and headed straight for the chicken feed barrels tossing the covers off with ease. I stroked Elsie’s innocent soft face while tears streamed down my cheeks. What did I do wrong? I reached for Miles. “We have to bury her.”

“Why did my goat have to die?” He ran his hand over her tawny velvet coat.

“She was very sick, and I guess she was too sick to fight it off.” I got up and pulled the single-minded goats’ heads out of the chicken grain. They bleated in protest, but I shoved them out the door into the yard. “I’m going to call Dr. Lester.” I walked down the path that led to the house with the other two goats frolicking close behind me.

When I told Dr. Lester about Elsie, I started to cry. He calmed me and said that when I brought her in she had advanced pneumonia. He told me not to blame myself. It was hard to follow his advice, but I decided that if I was going to succeed as a farmer, he was right. No more crying. So I thought.

Carrying shovels, we climbed up the steep part of the mountain a little ways behind the barn and found a level clearing with a remarkable view overlooking the valley and the meandering Pemigewasset River. The boys dug a grave; Anna picked wildflowers.

We returned to the house where I got a flannel sheet. I returned to the barn; my three children followed closely in silence and wonderment.

I was surprised at how heavy Elsie was. Miles and I slid the sheet under her body and wrapped it around her like a hammock to carry her to her final resting place. I struggled with the weight, but forged ahead. Every few feet we stopped so that I could get a better grip. Shelby grabbed my end with me and we carried her up the sharp incline. Anna brought her basket filled with flowers (she always had a basket of flowers; she is still that kind of girl) and walked behind us leaving a colorful trail.

We arrived at Elsie’s spot and laid her body in the waiting grave, sheet and all, and the boys covered her with the fresh earth. We sang Lavender’s Blue and at least one other song and the kids each took a turn saying something nice about Elsie before planting a handful of iris bulbs to grow in her memory.

I called my friend Cynthia and cried about losing our first ‘big’ animal. She gave me the best advice that one farmer could give another. Maryjane, when you have livestock, you will have dead stock. You’ll get used to it.

She was right. The cycle of life and death on the farm seemed to be a dance. When something died, usually a day or two later, there would be a sign of the miracle of life.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cloven Hooves

A goat’s characteristics are many rolled into one – the curious nature of a cat, the playfulness and energy of a puppy, the antics of a good comedian and the stubbornness of a mule. With all of that going on, we just had to get goats. We decided to get Nubians and Toggenburgs, not the typical ugly white Saanens.

Nubians have long, floppy ears that hang like a lop-eared rabbit, a roman nose, and they come in a vast array of color combinations, both solid and patterned. Our first two Nubians – Ginger and Emma – had solid brown bodies with black and white markings on the legs, face and ears.

Like a human baby, a Nubian will call for its (mother) owner when it needs something. It will call simply to acknowledge your presence and to engage in social interaction. High pitched and loud, they always sound like they are complaining. Click here for a sample:

Our first Toggenburg – Elsie was a light fawn color with white markings. Toggenburgs are from Switzerland and have a very gentle disposition. They look like deer; in fact, I had to put red bandana collars on all the goats as a safety precaution during hunting season. The Nubians kept neurotically busy trying to get their own and each other’s collars off; the hunters wept when they realized that it was not Bambi within their sights.

Sometimes my kids took their kids (goats) for walks on dog leashes. It was more cool and challenging than purposeful. Since my kids are free spirited and goats have minds of their own, it was debatable as to who took whom for a walk.

I gained many valuable lessons from the most unexpected experiences on the farm. The goats were no exception. And yes, what you see in the cartoons is true; goats eat cans, flower pots…you name it. Goats will eat anything.

At first, the goats had a separate ramp leading from the barn into the yard enclosed by a nice white picket fence. They roamed around with the chickens and our very freaked out cats. We were inside the house engaged in a homeschool project or doing what people do, when we would hear the clip clop of cloven hooves on the back deck followed by two short intense bleats.

We raced into the kitchen to see Emma and Ginger pressing their Roman noses into the screen on the back door, their bleating rising in both pitch and frequency at the mere sight of us. Gentle Elsie stood behind them watching and waiting. My kids would then lead them into the yard. Pathetically, the goats always beat them to the back door. It was no contest.

A picket fence? Wow. What was I thinking? Nubians are originally from the mountains of the Middle East and North Africa. Not only did they hop that picket fence effortlessly, they could scale the woodpile and make their way onto the roof in less than thirty seconds.

I tried rigging chicken wire on the top of the fence to increase its height. As much as I am an advocate of chicken wire and staple guns, it is not even worth explaining the failure of that idea.

The following afternoon, we heard the clip clop of cloven hooves, only it was on the hardwood floor of the kitchen into the living room. Emma (I am guessing, as she was the ringleader) came up with the idea to chew through the screen and crash our party. Nothing a little staple gun action couldn’t fix, but the boomerang goats needed a solution.

My three children went to a homeschool camp three times a year in Vermont. The session lasted for a little over a week. I always had a creative or monumental task planned for this time off. It was time for the carpentress to erect a fence.

What took a skilled carpenter a day or two to complete, took me ten days. I built a fenced in yard for the goats just outside of the barn, off the ramp. I was proud and relieved that it worked.

The goats added a completely new level of intensity to our farm.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Rooster Named Elvis

Spring reminds me of the farm. This is when the babies are born; I loved that part of it...walking around with a tiny baby bunny or fuzzy yellow chick in my flannel shirt pocket…being followed by a baby Toggenberg goat small enough to stay in a box in the kitchen while she is bottled fed.

I visualize the small red Cochin – aptly named Pretty – strutting around the yard with her three babies following her even though they towered over her. In case you don’t know what a Cochin is, it’s a miniature breed chicken. Pretty had feathery legs and feet and lay eggs the size of a poppy marble.

Pretty was a broody hen, but she did not lay eggs on a regular basis. Her strong maternal desire was obvious as she tended to the other hens and sat on their eggs. I decided that it would be rewarding for Pretty and for our farm if I allowed her to be a surrogate mother. I selected three eggs from a few of my favorite hens and tucked them in her nesting box when she left to eat. She was a very good mother and sat on her eggs for the full incubation period of 21 days. It was exciting to see her with her three babies. She was proud and attentive. Soon her babies grew bigger than her, but they continued to follow; it was a pleasing sight.

Most of our flock consisted of exotic chickens. We had many Arucanas – an ancient Chilean breed – they lay blue, pink, yellow and green eggs, the original Easter eggs. The roosters are magnificently colored with feathers that are shades of deep iridescent red and green and gold, while others are black and white.

We started out with six hens and one rooster – a Bard Rock that we named Elvis. After a while, Elvis became quite mean. He was very protective of his flock and started to attack my twelve-year-old son Miles– who was very good with all animals and carried the hens around. This posed a problem. Elvis started to view Miles as competition and began to attack him. It was my first experience dealing with a mean rooster.

Miles mentioned this to me, but I didn’t quite comprehend the dilemma until one sunny afternoon when he was in the far corner of the field and Elvis was strutting down the ramp from the coop. He stopped, whipped his head around and glared at Miles. I was between the two on the back deck of the house. Miles let out a yelp and then Elvis made a beeline towards him. I was stunned on many levels. I didn't know that chickens could run that fast, I had never seen a rooster in attack mode and I had no idea what to do.

Elvis pulled back and then wailed on Miles’ legs with his spurs. Miles kicked him away and Elvis repeated the assault over and over. I was shocked. Thankfully Elvis’ spurs weren’t very developed, as he was a young rooster, but it was still unnerving. Miles got away, and I did the unthinkable. I started laughing. I knew that my son wasn’t hurt, but it struck me as funny.

Well, the last laugh was on me, as it soon got to the point where I was collecting eggs with a tennis racket. It was a learning experience for us in the beginning part of our journey on the farm. Elvis went to the big chicken coop in the sky and we got more chickens.

I used to go to my girlfriends’ farms, pick out the prettiest chickens and take eggs from them to put in the incubator. Candling and monitoring the unborn chicks was a favorite activity in our home school curriculum. It was exciting to watch the chicks peck their way out of the shells and critical to resist the temptation to help them.

Every single chicken on our farm had a name. We had hundreds of chickens, probably no more than fifty at one time. The naming process was a thoughtful one. Since we were accomplished musicians and potters, painters, writers, etc, many of our chickens had such names as Leonardo, Michelangelo and Pavarotti, the white Arucana rooster who crowed with an appoggiatura.

The danger in naming baby chicks too soon is that you have no idea what the sex is for several weeks, when they start crowing. Therefore, we had a few roosters with names like Bonnie and Ofra (after Ofra Harnoy the cellist).

Most of the chickens were colorful although we had a few basic, standard everyday chickens – good laying hens, like Rhode Island Reds and White Leghorns.

We ordered baby chicks from the Murray McMurray catalogue. When they arrived, the postman called me before the Post Office opened. I could hear the little peep, peep, peeping in the background and he would simply hold the telephone up to the chicks. Then he would say, “you know who has arrived.”

Integrating the farm into our homeschool proved to be brilliant. Of course, my carpentry skills were and still are terrible, but my gift with animals and willingness to work paid off. The children and I acquired valuable skills through responsibility and we realized the significance of honoring and valuing life. We also discovered that we could always depend on each other; we were a team. And the most important lesson? Do not give up.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

If I Had a Hammer...[on the farm]...

The worst and greatest moments in my life took place on Carter Mountain. I enjoyed a successful career as a professional trumpeter, amateur cellist, farmer and home educator. My most important role was mother.

I collected the worst memories and recorded them in my memoir – my graduate school thesis – Ballad of a Sandwich Girl – which waits on the shelf for the right time

Why did I homeschool for nine glorious years? I homeschooled based on classical reasons...simply because 'I could'...not because I was anti-establishment (okay, just a little)...I did not home educate because of the religious 'Let's protect ourselves from Satan' mode. I wasn't holed up with 10 years worth of supplies waiting for the feds to come in and do battle. Although somehow those people got my address and supply catalogues about survival and making your own bombs out of fertilizer managed to find my mailbox. I glanced over the articles about how to stock your a bunker...decode government messages...all that stuff ... I wasn’t preparing to go to war with the government, even though they have felt like the enemy of late. I maintained a rustic and self-sustaining lifestyle, but not in the name of revolution.

The blend of farming, home education and music proved to be rewarding and character building for us all. We [children and I] did everything together, including building the goat pens, the chicken coops with roosts and nesting boxes and the bunny hutches (appropriately renamed as bunny bitches). Honestly, that part was quite amusing...Maryjane with a hammer. However, the real lesson in this undertaking was about teamwork and never giving up. If you saw me with a staple gun, which (with chicken wire) I grossly overused, you would comprehend the humor and our efforts.

We worked tirelessly. The result was, well… interesting...but it worked.

After we completed the construction, my crusty ex husband – who had been watching with great amusement since the farm was my sole endeavor by way of agreement – came in, tore the inner structure down, and re-built a beautiful chicken coop, goat pen and feeding station. Thud.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Falling for the Four Leaf Clover

I was stuck on the middle of the hill trying to make up my mind which direction to take. Either way, the grass was greener than I remembered it being for a long time. I looked down by my feet and saw a four-leaf clover. My luck was really going to change. I would pluck it and press it in between the pages of my journal.

I bent down closer and examined just a fraction of a tear on the corner of one of the leaves. That’s okay. It’s still a four-leaf clover. I looked around, just in case someone decided to snatch the only bit of good luck that I had cast my eyes upon in months, maybe even years. I placed my backpack on the ground and looked up at the sky for a moment, it was so blue after weeks and weeks of nothing but wind and rain.

What was I thinking? I took my eyes away from the four-leaf clover. I’ll never find it amongst all of these three-leaf clovers. Then I remembered that it was by my left foot. It was easy to spot once, it would be easy to spot again. I bent down closer to the ground and there it was, standing out, quivering amongst the others with its torn leaf.

I plucked it and held it close to my face. Wait. There are three leaves on it, one has a peculiar bump, an oddity that is not only a deviation from nature, but torn as well. How could I have thought that this was a four-leaf clover when in fact it is deformed, damaged and if anything, a sign of bad luck?

I dropped it onto the ground and decided to go up the hill. My eyes swept the ground as I brushed my bare feet over thousands of dewy three-leaf clovers. I thought that I spotted a four-leaf clover and stopped and leaned closer to the ground. I counted the three leaves and noticed an oddly shaped leaf, but it was not torn.

I’m not falling for that again.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hummingbird Trust

A poignant duet of pinkish apple blossoms and heady lilacs beckon the hummingbirds, signaling the time to fill the feeders and hang them on branches and around the fringes of the bee balm and ivy-covered trellis.

When the last blossom reluctantly departs, the migrating birds continue on their journey, planting seeds of inspiration before flying away. The hummingbird, however, lingers well into autumn.

Oftentimes in the early summer, I stand still within the leafy branches of the apple tree while the hummingbird hovers and drinks the nectar. I hold my breath, ignoring the mosquitoes; close enough to kiss the wings of the extraordinary creature. I resist. It is about trust, not giving in to my own desires to have more than what I have been offered.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Birds on the Mountain

Sometimes when my children were away, I would go for days without talking to a single soul. I lived in the woods on a mountaintop. I loved my rich inner life.

In winter and early spring, after the roosters crowed and the orangey sun peered over the rooftop of the barn from the top of the ridge, I listened for the voice of dawn. Gray clouds transformed into endless rolling fields of soft pink, shifting to deep red and transforming into white vapor imaginings. I sat on the back deck in my weathered wooden rocking chair and listened to the woodpeckers. They tapped. I rocked. Each bird brought with it a new sound and each tree returned the favor.

Sometimes my toes were chilled, but I did not care. The next day I would remember my leather moccasins, maybe. After I tipped my cup for the last drop of cold coffee, I pondered over puffs of steamy white breath and tried to decide if another half a cup would be worth it, if I could only tear myself away.

When I caught sight of the sparkling ice that lingered on every single branch, I forgot about the coffee and slipped my feet into frozen, mud caked boots with stiff laces. The ashen snow, left over from the second or first storm crunched when I walked. I sat on the stump that the boys used for a chopping block beneath the apple tree in the backyard. That is where I gained the chickadees’ trust. I could feel the air from their flapping wings as they rushed past me to dine on black oil seeds.

The apple tree became the tree of temptation. I tucked orange slices in mesh nets and draped them over the branches. I waited and watched. Can I fool the Baltimore Orioles into thinking that this is an orange tree? Of course, I would never know what they thought and it mattered not. I only remember that it worked; they stopped by my apple tree and graced me with their presence every year.

They kept good company, because with them came the rose breasted and pine grosbeaks, and the brilliant indigo buntings – elfin bursts of blue. Like the blue jay, that shade of blue cannot be imitated on my palette. I admit I tried, thankful for Sophia’s little miracles and thankful to accept my own limitations.

I walked deep into the woods and collected anything worth collecting. If I decided not to take it, I put it back. I never destroyed anything living, unless it was something to eat or re-plant or if it meant that the thing next to it would thrive. I always gave thanks.

I returned to my rocking chair and sat on the back deck in my flannel nightgown until I felt like it. Sometimes I played my cello to see how the birds and animals would respond, and then how I would respond. I learned that music does affect birds. They stop and listen.

Once I was down by the pond watching a pair of ducks as they swam away from me. I started to sing a sweet simple song by Brahms and they turned and swiftly headed towards me. I continued singing. They stopped in front of me and made reckless and passionate love. I was alone, but I blushed anyways.