Monday, April 28, 2014

three notes

I was looking for my smallest circular needle today and found it
tucked into a project bag, in one of my baskets, already engaged:

Isn't this pretty?

I only wish I could remember what I did there. And why. Probably just a swatch, experimenting with symmetrical shaping. (That sounded all good and purposeful, didn't it? Heh.)

Someday maybe I will get better about making notes while I am fooling around with knitting. Or dyeing. Or cooking, even. When I used to do my own darkroom work, I was very good about writing things down, all the time. Every contact sheet and every test print and every final print carried lightly penciled numbers on the back, so I could tell exactly what the conditions and timing had been for that particular print. If I could keep good notes in the dark, hour after hour, you'd think simply jotting down a few knitting/dyeing/cooking notes once in a while would be pretty simple, wouldn't you?
Yep. I'll work on it.


Speaking of cooking, here's a fun fact that may be useful.
If you have a large crockpot/slow cooker, but only wish to make
a small amount of something,
you can simply place a smaller container in the crock
and you're good to go!
I've been doing this ever since I picked up a massive old crockpot
at a tag sale. Easy peasy!

This is a 4-cup pyrex container,
sitting on the bottom of a 7-quart crockpot:

This was an experiment with a sort of baked egg dish.
I did not want to risk a dozen eggs on an experiment,
so this was 5 eggs, a splash of milk, some grated cheddar, and a sweet pepper.

It came out pretty well, I think.
Moist and tasty.
Oh, I just realized:
by posting about it here,
I have already made notes about this experiment!

And as a postscript to yesterday's report about Piper in the woods, I have more recent excitement to share. Very early this morning, Piper suddenly exploded into loud barking - the growly, serious barking that means I am out of bed and in my dungarees before I even know what has happened.
Piper was heading for the back door, so I got in front of her and peered out the window into the dim light of dawn. And there I immediately saw the source of Piper's (ongoing, frantic) outrage.
It was a turkey.
A turkey in a tree.

YOU say turkey. I say Bizarre Levitating DeathMonster. 

I appreciate your effort, Piper, but I like wild turkeys.
I fact, I kind of hope this one will stick around and maybe raise a family nearby.
Let's try to make it feel just a little more welcome, shall we?

Hmmmph. Nothing that big should be in a tree, over our heads.
Waiting to swoop down on us because we DIDN'T BARK AT IT.
You know what? Being your bodyguard is no picnic.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

well that was weird

Yesterday it drizzled all day and all night, except for about two hours in the early evening.

When I saw the sun suddenly break through the clouds after hours of gloom, I immediately whistled for Piper and we headed to the little pond.

There were no other cars in the little parking area, so Piper was off-lead almost immediately, delighted with what must have been a dizzying abundance of scents in the wet air. Everything was so green. Just breathing felt revitalizing.

The sun was low, and light glistened across the pond and through the trees. I tried to cajole my little point-and-shoot camera into capturing the magical quality of what I was seeing, but it was really asking too much.

I told Piper to "go ahead!" while I stopped to take pictures, but instead of racing off as she usually does, she started to run then stopped in her tracks, with a truncated "whuff" that sounded exactly like she had said, "What the...??"

Piper was staring into the woods, toward the pond, about forty feet away. I thought maybe one of the recently-arrived ducks or geese had taken off suddenly, startling Piper, but I could see nothing unusual.

And still Piper stood. Her body language was so odd, I didn't know what to think. She wasn't frightened, but she was clearly uneasy. She wasn't moving to explore whatever she had sensed, but she couldn't just ignore it, either.

Now I'll just say at this point: I am almost always comfortable in the woods. And when I'm not, I pay attention to that feeling. Frankly, I feel far more wary about other humans than I do about any other creature I am likely to encounter. I do keep my eyes open for moose, bear, and coyote when I have Piper with me, only because I don't know how she would react. My guess is, "with wild enthusiasm!" Which would not be helpful.

But yesterday at the pond, I didn't see anything, and I didn't hear anything, and Piper was acting in a very peculiar manner. And with no enthusiasm whatsoever. Her uneasiness began to make me uneasy, so I called her to me quietly and she came right away.

I asked Piper to heel as we retraced our steps back down the familiar woods road, and believe it or not, she periodically took a quick look over her shoulder, for all the world the way you do when you find yourself on a strange street late at night, and you can't kick the feeling that there is something behind you. And you try not to look, but then you just have to look. That's what Piper was doing.

A couple of times when she did that I stopped and turned back, listening for the sounds of something - a dog? a moose? - moving in the woods. Nothing. It was, to be honest, creepy. We were probably less than a half-mile from the parking area, and that walk took ages.

I still have no idea what spooked Piper, but Piper certainly spooked me.

I'll have to ask around a little bit the next time I'm in town. If there's a Loch Ness Monster in the little pond, or a Bigfoot in the woods, I'd hate to be the last to know.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

project notes

Today it's raining, but yesterday was a gorgeous day for working outdoors!

Several dead or broken saplings near the gardens need to come down before vegetable planting begins in two or three weeks. The break on this pair of saplings is about 18 feet up:

I managed to take two of them down without hitting that power line,
but could not risk the third, or the one on the other side of that line, without using a rope.

And I could not find a rope!
I know...
it amazed me, too!
How could I not have a hank of rope???
It's like not having salt.
Or a pencil.
Or a toothbrush.

So this job is only partly done, but must be finished soon.
(Note to self: buy more rope!)
The cut saplings went straight into the paddock with the does,
where they met with instant approval.
This is Lily of the Valley and her daughter Tsuga:

They began by nibbling the tiny branches,

but in a day or two I expect every bit of bark will be gone as well.


While I was puttering in the goat zone, I took a look at this spot.
It's tiny; about 12 x 12 feet, with my workshop on the north side
and the Chute to New Adventure on the south,
connecting two little goat paddocks.
Can you see the little bush toward the center?

It is the last surviving high-bush blueberry on my place.
This is why I wrapped the fence around this spot;
to protect the blueberry bush from the goats.

There used to be two bushes in other places, but they succumbed years ago to the increasing canopy cover (= lower light availability) and, on one memorable occasion, to the self-serve enthusiasm of a very happy parrot.

The carpenters who built the little workshop (could it be nine years ago?) were asked to watch out for the blueberry bush. I flagged it, and carefully tied it back to keep it's branches safe from the to-ing and fro-ing of two guys carrying lumber. It made it through the hazards of the building process - hurray! - and for a few weeks each summer since (if I could beat the birds to it in the morning) has provided me with a handful of blueberries for my morning yogurt.

Sadly, two years ago a small tree came down right across the blueberry bush, damaging many fragile little branches and killing one of the three stems. Last year, the bush struggled to survive, and produced maybe twenty berries in total, which I left for the birds.

This tough winter we've just put behind us (whew!) may have taken a further toll on the blueberry bush, but my fingers are crossed. Today, I was thrilled to see leaf buds on a number of branches!

To celebrate this triumphant act of survival despite adversity, I decided to put some effort into this tiny section of ground. Just a bit of clean-up to begin with, moving a pile of flexible drainage pipe up to the loft in the workshop, and cutting down or pulling up a load of old rubus and bittersweet. Next, beginning to gradually dig a bit of earth away from the upslope corner of the workshop, seen below.

The wood was not originally in direct contact with the ground, but after years of downslope erosion and deposition is now in danger of rotting. I'd love to just jack the whole shed up a foot, but that's not a job to tackle alone and my professional shed-jacker-upper is busy fencing at the moment. So, I'll try shoveling. The ground is extremely rocky, so it's a bit-by-bit effort.

The pile of semi-rotted brush below will have to become a design element:

I'd like to turn it into a hill of squash,
but the vinca groundcover suggests there may not be enough light
once the nearby trees have leafed out.
We'll see.


Tsuga had never seen my old work boots before.
When I went into the paddock for evening chores,
she hastened right over to investigate.


Exactly three seconds later,
she walked away...
her work was done.

Tsuga needs a job.

Adorable goat available for photoshoots
and Untying All The Things.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

weekend away

Last week, I had a sudden thought:
wouldn't it be a good idea to revisit the farm where I bought my first cashmere does?

NOT to buy more goats.
Seriously, just not an option.
I am close to carrying capacity on my little piece of property,
which is why I bred only two does this year.
No, just to visit, and ask questions, and "talk goats" with cashmere experts.

So I called the farm.
Then I called my new critter-sitter.
Then I had about 48 hours to get ready for a 500-mile roundtrip weekend in Maine.

"Be sure to arrange for daily hay in ALL our preferred locations!"

There's nothing like picturing someone else doing the chores,
to make you realize how many things you've been meaning to get around to
changing or fixing or writing down.

For example:

As I made a chart of the various blends that each goat is fed daily,
it occurred to me for the first time:
nine different components of goat feed
stored in nine identical orange buckets
is not much of a "system."

And the gate that Betula has been pushing against with his head
every single morning?
What are the odds he will push right through it while I am away,
and release three big goats into the bigger world?
Pretty good odds, that's what.

So I spent two busy days patching, mending, reorganizing, and noting.

And then, because of course I want my goats to look their best for company,

I washed all their collars.

I got 'em.


The trip was a bit of a whirlwind, but certainly fun and productive.

Sorry, I didn't take a lot of pictures - mostly just visual note-taking.
But here is something you may find interesting...

this is the young buck Samson, visiting here in November 2011.
Five months later, LeShodu and Samson's sons Acer and Betula were born.

I liked Samson a lot, and was surprised and delighted to see him again last weekend.

Since making his contribution to the cashmere gene pool, Samson has been wethered,
and is now a companion to a large herd of does. Here he is:

Such a handsome, happy fellow, enjoying a wonderful life.
He walked right up to me for a head-rub, and we had a lovely visit.
It's always a special treat to run into old friends unexpectedly.

Piper didn't come to Maine, because there are livestock guardian dogs on the farm.
She had excellent company here, though,
and when I got home the last of the snow had melted.
No matter what the weather does now, Piper and I have declared Winter OVER. 
Back to regular romps in the woods!

This picture is after a good run, much exploration, and several plunges through a stream.

One of us was ready for a lie-down.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

tsuga and sambucus

Here's a very special picture I've not shared before:

Lily of the Valley and daughter Tsuga, a few seconds old.

It's been one year today since Tsuga and Sambucus were born.

A "typical" goat gestation is 150 days.
LeShodu, the matriarch, likes to be efficient: she produces her babies on Day 150. 
Thank you, LeShodu!

Her daughters, Violet and Lily of the Valley, were bred for the first time last year.
Those two kept me guessing the whole time.
Had they "settled"?
Had they not?

The nice buck who visited had been very enthusiastic
but his approach was, well, somewhat less than professional.
Directionally-challenged might describe it.


After months of watching, this is Day 150.
Do these girls look pregnant to you?

I know.
I can't tell either.

When you raise animals, it's hard not to look at things with a "sympathetic eye."

Is she looking a bit heavier than a week ago?


Well, not really. No.


"And we aren't telling!"

On Day 149 and Day 150 and Day 151 and Day 152,
I spent some time just watching Violet and Lily
for any changes in behavior.

On the right: Violet.
On the left: me, in a lawn chair.
"Say who is watching who, now?"

Violet could have done this all day.
I doubt anyone has ever won a staring contest with a goat.

On evening of Day 153, Lily seemed...slightly...hmmmm...

so, after evening chores, I kept a close eye on the goatcam. 
With cashmere goats, a "hands-off" approach is recommended,
but when it seemed Lily might be going into labor,
I went out to the barn to be quietly on hand in case help was wanted.

And as Lily was approaching the brink of giving birth,
Violet, watching from about three feet away, went into labor.

Two first-time mamas-to-be in simultaneous labor!

Good times!


Lily was that most wonderful of things:

A Natural.

She easily produced the tiny, compact, wavy-coated(!) Tsuga,
and went directly into mama-mode:
cleaning, cleaning, cleaning.
I even had a moment to snap a picture,
which I almost never do during births.
That's the picture at the top of this post.

Within an hour of Lily, Violet also produced a beautiful single girl, but so different!
A long-bodied, long-leggedy, solid black and velvet-coated Sambucus.
The two kids reminded me of an Arabian and a Thoroughbred;
both perfectly proportioned but built so differently.

Violet did not flip the Mama Now switch as instantly as Lily had.
She had just watched Lily give birth, so she was perhaps a bit boggled
about making the shift from Audience to Center Stage.
"Baby? Lily has a Baby! Baby? Baby! Wait, what?"

No photographs this time!

I directed her attention to the beautiful and squalling kid she had just produced, 
"Look, Violet! Your baby is right behind you!"
and made sure Violet was going to get involved with the initial clean-up.
It was touch and go for a minute (which felt like a year to me)
but she gradually shifted her attention to her own kid.
I started to relax.
I had time to dash into the house and fill two clean buckets
with warm water and molasses.

After each new mama had had a huge drink,
and I was certain both kids were well up, warm, and successfully getting milk,
and each mama had tucked (this is a nice way of putting it; if you saw the way goats move their newborn babies around, it would put the heart across you) her baby into a safe snuggery,
and everyone was settling down for a good nap,
I cleaned up and went back to the house.
Exhausted and relieved.

I kept a sleepy eye on the goatcam.
Not because I was worried; but because now I could enjoy the
"whew!" of a healthy kidding by two first-timers,
and peek in on the maternity ward without bothering the goats at all.

Lily was resting while Tsuga slept under her bench.
Violet was standing with her whole head under the stanchion,
where Sambucus was curled up, sleeping.
(Very attentive, Violet! I was so pleased she had caught on to the mama thing!)
Every now and then I saw Violet pawing
(again, a nice way to put it...paws are soft, goats have sharp hard hooves)
at Sambucus.
Nothing unusual there. Paying attention. Good.

At one point Violet pulled her head back and I could just see Sambucus.
And I realized I wasn't seeing any reaction from the baby - 
not a flinch, not a blink.
Of course, she was probably sleeping heavily.
Nothing unusual there. Full belly, resting up. Good.

But...I am a worrier.
So I dressed and headed back out to the barn.
I quietly said hello to everyone then reached under the stanchion
and gently put my hand on Sambucus.
I was stunned.
She was no longer warm.
She was cold.
And unresponsive.

It had been less than an hour since she was warm, active, and bright-eyed.

I lifted her out, put her inside my down coat 
(to Violet's concern)
and began massaging her gently but briskly, head to toes, all the while
telling Violet, "It's alright, she's right here, I'll give her back, she'll be fine,"
and hoping, hoping, hoping
this would be true.

Well, you know the happy ending of this story.

Happy First Birthday, Tsuga and Sambucus!

Well done, Lily and Violet.