Old Annie was a dog that lived on the farm some years ago. She was gentle and kind and pleased to have company on a long walk. We would follow Annie through the woods, down to the creek, and all around the farm. Inevitably she’d lead us to a spot and stop. It would be an old stump or groundhog hole. Her tail would wag happily and she’d look up as if to say, ”See? Isn’t this great!”
Every once in a while I go on a binge and read somebody’s blog from the beginning. Like Bumfuzzle, or Gone With The Wynns, or that dude that hiked from Mexico to Canada. These folks are daring adventurers and they inspire me to get off the couch and travel.
This month I’m following the trail of Mr. Quintin Lake on his blog The Perimeter. He’s walking the entire coastline of England. And as if that’s not ambitious enough, he’s photographing his journey along the way.
But what makes his blog so extraordinary is that Mr. Lake is a professional photographer. Award winning, even. And his work is absolutely stunning.
I’ve spent a lot of time studying his technique. He’s an architectural photographer and seems to concentrate on linear forms. Not only is his subject matter fascinating, but the framing of his shots are pure genius.
Now, I don’t have a $6,000 camera outfit like the professionals, but I do have a very respectable compact Nikon (P340) that has lots of manual controls. So I thought I’d wander around the farm and try to copy Mr. Lake’s style, including his square frame format.
Can’t say I’m ready for the pros yet, but I am pleased with how some of the photos turned out. And if I took the time to learn Lightroom editing, well, there’d be no stopping me!
Winter at the Farm
The sun sets low between the knobs this time of year. From the back deck I can mark the progress of the seasons as Old Sol marches southward from his summer resting place. At the peak of August, he lingers long behind the hill to the northwest, lively and showy with color, reluctant to allow Evening her turn. But by January, Sol seems weary and retires with a thin and hurried sunset far to the southwest, as if the effort is all too much.
The corn top’s ripe and the meadow’s in the bloom…
According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, this week marks the official end to the Dog Days of Summer. So there’s hope that these hot, hazy, humid afternoons that fog our windows and send us galloping indoors to the depths of central air-conditioning may be dwindling down to a temperature more in the range of what a human can reasonably tolerate, without risking heat stroke just by walking to the car.
This has been the summer of Steady Bees. The steady bee is a small insect with a yellow and black striped body that mimics a bumble bee. But unlike a bee, they have no stinger and only two wings, which technically makes them a fly. (Bees have four wings.) The peculiar talent of the steady bee is to hover about an inch off a flat surface, which is usually your arm, leg, phone, or any other object in your immediate vicinity. Occasionally the steady bee will land and take a momentary rest, again on your arm, leg, or coffee cup rim, but mostly they hover in place. In fact, the real name for these manifestly annoying insects is the Hover Fly. And we are full-up with them this year.
Steady bees hover around anywhere there is a slice of shade. Under the gazebo, beneath the steps, below the door handle, around the carport. These are all the places that we hover around too, and so we are persistently swarmed by steady bees.
A quick flick of the hand will disperse a posse of steady bees long enough to make an escape and sprint into the house or hustle into a car. And since we are always doing these kind of things, entering the house for instance, or standing under the gazebo which is the only source of shade for a good part of the day, we are in a constant state of herky-jerky arm flailing. If we had flags in our hands we would be sending semaphore signals to the fleet.
As it is, the Great Steady Bee Battle is only a small part of our ongoing war with a vast and insidious onslaught of painful and loathsome rural insects. There are horseflies and wasps, hornets and yellow jackets, bumble bees and sweat bees, and the invisible evil twins chiggers and turkey mites, who launch themselves unseen from the tall grass and burrow under your skin, usually in places unmentionable and terribly tender. And then there’s the ticks. Big ticks and little ticks. Dog ticks and deer ticks. And teeny weeny micro-ticks that are so small they can easily masquerade as a freckle until you realize, often unhappily days later, that you’ve been a warm meal for the little bloodsucker since you walked across that unmown field last Tuesday.
Come to think of it, maybe I’ll just stay on the porch with the steady bees.
Quirky dogs who make us laugh earn an Indian name around here. Previous pooches had names like Kicking Bowl and Nose In The Door. We’ve been calling the puppy Steals One Shoe after an obvious habit.
But today’s events were extraordinary enough to mark the occasion with a new Indian name for Coco – Dances With Fox.
There’s a family of Red Fox who live in our barn. They’ve denned there for years, making elaborate tunnels under the floorboards, each entrance headed by a heap of soft dirt decorated with paw prints. Lately Coco has been rummaging through the barn in what is the equivalent of a fox garbage dump – odd bits of bones and feathers strewn around the stalls. And each morning she returns with an old dried-up prize – a turkey wing, a turtle shell, a squirrel tail. Leftovers from a fox dinner.
But yesterday Coco came back with a fresh bunny. Not the bones or a bit of fur. The whole rabbit. “She’s stealing from the foxes,” Tim said. We stuffed it in the garbage can and worried that Coco was now actually entering the fox’s den instead of just being content with their leftovers.
Today that was pretty much confirmed as the Red Fox harassed Coco, nose to nose, right out in the open. Nearly the whole afternoon the fox defended her turf while the dog was thrilled to have someone to chase. They were the about same size, 20 lbs apiece, with the fox sporting a long bushy tail held straight out. The two ran circles around the barn – chasing, leaping, pouncing, dancing – all day long.
“Yap, yap!” barked Coco.
“Yorp, yorp!” cried the Fox.
The fox’s bark was similar to a baying beagle, with a slight yodel at the end that signaled alarm. The dog was having a grand time but the fox was much more serious.
Hear the Fox Bark:
I grabbed the camera but only managed to squeeze a long-distance shot as the fox trotted off in a momentary stalemate between rounds.
A short while later Coco came rolling back with another rabbit – this one of the domestic variety. It was certainly the fox’s hard won supper, no doubt pillaged from a neighbor’s warren, and meant to feed her family of kits.
After much cajoling and waving of arms we finally got the thing away from the dog. Figuring the fox family had now been robbed of two meals in a row by our pilfering pooch, we left the rabbit at their den entrance and tied up the dog for the rest of the day.
Which didn’t make Coco happy, but now we know the answer to the popular question –
What Does The Fox Say?
Yorp! Yorp! Yorp!
A wonderful holiday was spent at the farm with all the family in attendance. Folks traveled from near and far to join us for several days of food and merry making. Even Coco the puppy was on best behavior – she managed to hold a sweet temperament for three days!
It was a balmy Christmas, unseasonable warm and sunny, which didn’t raise too many complaints. The windows were thrown open, everyone mingled around outside on the deck, and 4-wheeler rides through the muddy fields were mighty popular.
A record crowd of 10 slept over for a couple of nights – so many that we ran out of beds in the main house. So the motorhome was put into use as a spare suite. It was the perfect solution. Plugged in and turned on, the RV was a great place for two adults and a newborn to snuggle in for the night.
Well we’ve gone and done it – a new puppy has been added to our menagerie of pets. Meet Coco, our new travel companion.
We took a long drive down to Casey County, home to many Amish & Mennonite communities, to fetch a Shiba Inu puppy. The fall foliage was bright and colorful on a sunny day, and the trip was a page-long series of back road turns and twists, with nary a highway to be seen. Amish farms along the way were neat and tidy and we passed many horse and buggies on the road, each offering a friendly wave to us.
The Showalter family of Windsor, Ky has been breeding Shibas for some time, and we were impressed to see the quality of their dogs and the supreme cleanliness of their kennels. Here we were, a couple of strangers, standing in center of a big barn with a dozen or so dogs in tidy pens and not a yap or whimper was heard. These are calm and confident dogs, not given to high excitement, which is exactly what we were looking for.
It’s been almost a year since our dog Shadow had passed, and we were both ready to start again with a new pup. Shadow was half Husky and half Shiba Inu, so the breed and its temperament is familiar to us. Stubborn and Willful! But intelligent and eminently trainable.
Coco will be trained to be our RV traveling companion, hiking buddy, and all-around farm dog. She’s only 7 weeks old now, still very puppy and a bit wobbly. So it will be a few months before I can start taking her on long walks. But already she’s proving to be bright and alert and willing to listen.
The three cats, however, may take a bit longer to get used to Coco’s high-grade puppy energy. They are intensely curious about the dog and hang around draped on railings and over chairs to watch the puppy’s antics. I expect everyone will settle in eventually.
Coco will be a medium-sized dog when grown, about 30 lbs or so. Over the next year she’ll be enrolled in obedience classes to make her well behaved, sociable, and ensure she’s welcomed everywhere. Now if only I could do the same for myself!
Went to an auction looking for antiques. Bought lake property instead.
Whaaaat! How did that happen?
The morning began clear and bright, perfect for wandering around a farm auction. Tents were set up and household items were set out on long tables. Next to the little brick home, in a choppy mown field, rusty farm implements were spread out in long rows. There was a crowd of 100 or so locals shuffling around, picking through the items. I was browsing for antiques. Tim was in search of a blacksmith anvil.
The auction began promptly at 10:00, with the land and home to be sold first and then the contents. We were seated under the big tent and frankly I wasn’t paying much attention to the auctioneer, as he was obliged to read aloud several pages of legal hoo-haw.
Tim poked me. “They’re auctioning lots at Melody Lake, too.”
I’ve spent most of the summer cruising around Melody Lake, occasionally scamming a swim at their private beach – in other words engaging in some Mild Trespassing. It’s a private resort community – a stunning area with a clean, clear lake and lovely homes dotted around. It had been rolling around in my head to buy some property there, if only to have swimming privileges.
Melody Lake is just a few miles from our house and was developed in the 60’s and 70’s as a waterfront resort. It has about a hundred homes and 13 miles of graveled roads that loop around a 60 acre lake. The area is very similar to lake camps found in the Adirondacks. There’s a beach, campground, swimming pool and clubhouse. And remnants of a one-time golf course.
But sometime during the 1980’s the area fell into disrepair. The contractor went belly up, roads and buildings were neglected, some undesirables moved in and a couple of drug busts occurred. Melody Lake developed a notorious reputation. Owners got disgusted and moved away, the resort floundered, and then the area slipped out of the local consciousness and was mostly forgotten.
All that nasty business was 30 years ago, and since then the community has turned around and become lovely again. But an entrenched prejudice against the place is still present among the local populace. When I asked around this summer about Melody Lake I heard three common answers:
“I haven’t been there since I was a kid.”
“Didn’t that place go bankrupt?”
“It’s all druggies up there.”
But being a newcomer and holding none of the local grudges, I didn’t share this opinion. What I saw was a fabulous lakeside community, neat and tidy and inviting. So I grabbed a plat map from the auctioneer and studied the three lots for sale and found that I knew right where they were – about a five-minute walk from the beach I’d been visiting all summer.
The auction started and the lots were offered for such-and-such per acre. Silence. The auctioneer lowered the starting bid. Crickets chirped. He lowered the price again. No bids from the audience. I could hear people around me muttering: …drugs…bankrupt…when we were kids…
Boldly I stood up and hollered a ridiculously low price for all three lots and the auctioneer slammed down his gavel and said, “SOLD!”
Then I had to go explain to Tim (who had vectored off looking for anvils) that we had just bought property at Melody Lake…Whaaaat!
We spent the rest of the weekend riding around the lake (beautiful), inspecting our lots (wooded), and taking tours with friends (astonished).
Don’t know yet what we’ll do out there. Maybe doze a driveway for the RV. Maybe get a little boat. Or maybe build a lake cabin.
Meanwhile, I’m going to stay away from auctions!
Smitty the Kitty has graced us with a litter of five kittens, all tucked under our bed in a cozy nest of towels.
But I’m ahead of myself here…
First a sad announcement on the loss of our dog Shadow. He passed just before Christmas, a couple of weeks after we moved into the new house.
Shadow was our trusty camping buddy, ever faithful on the trail. He shared every trip with us, starting way back when we were sleeping in a tent up through more recent years of traveling in the motorhome. We miss him terribly, and have beloved memories of the adventures we shared.
His absence left a big hole in our lives, and our neighbors decided we needed a replacement pet right away. A stray cat had shown up at their barn, and even though we said, “No, no!” they brought the cat over the next day.
Smitty the Kitty was young and quite thin, but friendly and in desperate need of company. She endeared herself to us immediately – being gentle, well behaved, and an exceptional mouse hunter. The plan was to keep her in the garage, but sub-zero temperatures seemed too cruel for outdoor living so she took up residence in the basement, save for a couple of fateful nights when she mysteriously disappeared.
A few weeks later I remarked on her expanding tummy which Tim insisted was due to better nutrition. It wasn’t long before Smitty started to look like a bowling ball with legs, and then it became quite clear why she vanished those nights.
So here we are, Dog Lovers, with a box full of newborn kittens. Think they can hit the trail with us?