Wednesday, July 30, 2014

wiped-out wednesday

guess what?
My helper came again today.

I wish I had taken a "before" picture of the Very Raised Bed
(hereafter known as the VRB).
Over the past week, I have carried many, many trugs
of mucky hay from the barn to the VRB,
and spread it into a beautiful, thick layer.

Now covered by a layer of saplings and branches:

It may not look impressive compared to
the heavy layer we built last Wednesday,
but here's what you can't see:
after I pointed out the area to "harvest" from,
my helper picked up and carried every stick
and arranged them for (we hope) maximum stability.

He also carried 500 pounds of oats from my car to the barn.

I like this helper!

Meanwhile, while he was doing all this work,
I waltzed around my gardens like The Queen of the May,
snapping pictures of daylilies:

and singing: La-la-la-la-la-la-la....


Okay, not really.
Really, I spent the day cleaning the barn and
working on a sturdy divider and gate.
I can't post an "after" picture, because I ran out of hardware
and didn't want to make a special trip.
(Spent a couple of hours in the car yesterday,
and am not in a hurry to do it again.)
But here is what it looked like when I had taken down
the original, temporary divider,
and started building the new, more permanent, one.
That upright post is one edge of the gateway.

Experimental Project Alert!
I made one section of the new dividing wall
into a little hay feeder.

The goats are eating a LOT of hay now,
and that's fine, but they are also wasting a LOT.
Every trough arrangement has been claimed by the kids within minutes,
as a lovely, edible bed.
And THAT would be fine, too,
except goats tend to wake up, stretch, and...pee.
Wherever they happen to be.
Like, in the hay.

So I've made a tall, narrow "hay wall,"
using 4' high, 4"-square, woven wire fencing.
It's only 4 inches deep - the width of the roughcut
framing of the dividing wall and gate -
so the goats won't get into trouble
trying to cram their heads through the fencing
to get to more hay.

I hope.

Here's a view from the top:

And here's the arrival of the Review Committee:

While I was sitting on that bench with my camera,
Dara, LeShodu's son, noticed that I was sitting.
An empty lap means only one thing to Dara:

Full disclosure: when goat breeders talk about behavior issues,
I have always taken the line,
"If it won't be cute when they're 60 pounds,
it isn't something I'll encourage when they're adorable babies."

Erm. Yeah.

Thing is, I've never seen kids as gentle as Azalea and Dara.
(If they weren't also playful and rowdy, I'd be worried!) 
Even when she was tiny, Azalea, Lily's daughter,
instead of jumping on me the way all baby kids do,
would slowly raise herself up on her hind legs and balance
until I picked her up.

Now, when she's too heavy for me to pick up,
Azalea will sometimes come and lean her shoulder against me
and just stand quietly for a minute or so.
It's very unusual behavior.

And Dara!
Most babies, from a couple of days old, will leap up on a person in a chair.
Then they will then jump right down again.
(This is a perfect example of the kind of thing I don't encourage.)

But Dara does not want to jump right down.
Dara wants to lean back, quietly chew his cud, and doze.

I have witnesses.
They couldn't believe it either.

I usually end up putting him down
because I cannot sit for long periods of time.

Today, when I was sitting on that bench with my camera, legs bent,
Dara hopped up, observed that my lap was apparently broken,
and gently squirmed his way under my arm and across my legs anyway.

What would you do?
I took a picture.
This goat is 9 weeks old.
Now you are all witnesses.

Because I feel confident this behavior will be self-limiting -
that one day, Dara will suddenly decide,
"gosh, this is no longer a comfortable position,"
and that will be the end of the Amazing Lapgoat -
I am ignoring my own "rule" about discouraging any behavior
that won't be cute in a yearling.

"Don't worry. One day I will be a Grown Up Goat,
and this will all just be a memory
that makes you smile."

And now, all that waltzing and singing
has really worn me out.
Time for evening chores, then an early night!

Monday, July 28, 2014

muddy monday

Lately I seem to spend a large part of every day soaking wet.
Maybe it's been a tremendously humid Spring and Summer,
or maybe I'm becoming even less tolerant of humidity, which has always been difficult.
I don't know.
But even the simplest task, done slowly, soon has me soaked in sweat.
And then, there's been all this rain.
I'm not complaining! Just commenting.
I feel very concerned for those living in drought conditions,
especially in fire-prone areas.
People and wildlife alike.

Today, I was puttering in the barn, doing the daily mucking out
and dragging the big trugs-o-muck out to the Very Raised Bed,
then raking the wet hay and goat pellets down into the piled wood.
It wasn't very hot at all - maybe low 80s - and I had a fan blowing in the barn.
And still, I was soaked.
When I finished up (it's never finished, I just mean when I couldn't do any more)
I came back to the house to switch to dry clothes.
About two minutes later, I looked out the window and saw a wind coming up.
And the sky going dark. Really dark.
Hurricane dark.
I went back outside to quickly add more hay to the feeders,
so the goats sheltering in the barn would have plenty to do without squabbling.
And my, what a rain. It started when I was nearly back at the house,
but water was dripping off my hair and clothes when I got in.

Here's a terrible shot through my bedroom window, of the porch roof:

A deluge, with roll after roll of thunder.
Fortunately not much wind.
I'm hoping no more trees came down.
(There's been a lot of that in recent storms.)

When it ended, the light was dramatic.
This is not a flash picture, but it looked so much like one
I had to check the camera twice:

And amazingly clear air, and sunshine:

I went out to check on the goats, because there had been some
really big thunder cracking right overhead,
and I was a bit concerned about the babies.
All was well. Everyone was eating.
Of course I couldn't get a picture of the babies, because they started
bouncing around as soon as they saw me coming.
They consider me an excellent Entertainment Opportunity these days.
(Fair play; I feel much the same about them.)

But this little snapshot captures year-old Tsuga pretty well:

You can tell from her face in this picture that she is still a youngster.
She is Lily's daughter from last Spring.
I feel really sorry for Tsuga.
She doesn't have anyone to buddy-up with now that Lily
(who was glued to Tsuga every hour for an entire year,
even sleeping with her chin resting on Tsuga for a fluffy pillow)
has her new babies and hasn't got a kind word for Tsuga anymore.

This is typical behavior when a doe has new kids, but it's very harsh.
Very hard to watch.
I remember vividly when LeShodu had the boys, Acer and Betula,
and immediately turned on the year-old Lily and Violet.
It was terribly sad, but as sisters, at least they had each other.
Tsuga's cousin Sambucus is the same age, but has a harsher disposition
and I keep her with her mother, Violet,
because they are peas in a pod. Tough peas.
Even if I put Tsuga and Bui together, they wouldn't really buddy up.

And although I do my best to cheer her up,
I am no substitute for a goat when it comes to company and conversation.
So Tsuga is odd-goat-out until the herd dynamics shift again...
when the babies get a bit older, perhaps,
or when the herd numbers change for one reason or another.

Hang in there, Tsuga. 
It may seem stormy at the moment, 
but this too shall pass.

Friday, July 25, 2014


The first (affordable) cherries of 2014.

In other news of long-awaited pleasures, a project I've been trying to begin for the past year is suddenly underway! It's a new little garden area:

The Very Raised Bed.

This is something I knew I could not do alone, not even on a good day. (I wonder when it will become easier to say that?) So, when friends with a farm in town said one of their teenage helpers was looking for more hourly work, this garden bed seemed the perfect "test project" to tackle.

There's a little spot at the top of my driveway that - unlike 99% of my property - actually gets quite a lot of sun. It's just a scrubby little rock-strewn sloping pocket of sunlight, maybe 30 feet deep and 90 feet long. My plan is to build a very high raised bed in this spot, without modifying the ground at all (which would require a backhoe). Just starting at ground level, slope and all, and building right over the rocks.

This is an example of the kind of rock I'm talking about:

 The last time it moved any significant distance, it was bring propelled by a glacier.

A great deal of wood will be incorporated into the Very Raised Bed: chunks of storm-damaged trees, or sections of trees that were cut down but which I could not split into stovewood, branches that have fallen or been pruned, saplings the goats have girdled, and so on. Coarse woody debris (CWD) is what forestry folk call this material, and it is important stuff in forest ecosystem function. There is so much coarse woody debris on my property, I feel very comfortable channeling some of it directly into garden substrate. Long-term compost, so to speak; first giving structure to a high raised bed, and as it very gradually decomposes, generating warmth, retaining moisture, and making nutrients available to plants.

Gardening with wood is not a new idea at all - in fact, it seems to be quite trendy and google-able under the uselessly uninformative term "hugelkultur" - and I've done it before, but never on such a large scale. This bed will be about 22 feet long and about 5 feet high along a central ridge, sloping down on both sides. Ultimately, there may be room in this sunny spot for two or three such beds, which is why I decided to align this one roughly east to west on the east-rising slope, instead of going cross-slope, which may have been a safer choice, erosion-wise. Time will tell, and we shall see! My present goal is to get this southernmost bed constructed completely before deciding whether to add others. When it comes to labor-intensive experiments, I prefer to work out possible problems and improvements on a prototype. This method has worked out well for other things. Remember the little floored goat bungalows from last Autumn?


On Wednesday afternoon, my new helper showed up on time and ready to work. I marked out the border of the first bed, explained the entire idea, pointed out the sources of heavier materials for the border, and we were off and running. Well, not quite "running," as it turned into a hot and muggy day. But steadily chugging along for three good hours.

A "Before" picture:

For scale, the opening on the right is where I park the Little Green Sportswagon. And for a reference point, in the middle of the above snap, do you see that horizontal stack of little bits of scrap lumber, surrounded by what looks like a round shrub? That lumber (which will end up inside the new bed) is temporarily piled on a maple stump, just outside the northwest corner of the bed. That leafy globe is all stump sprouts; maples are masters at stump-sprout regeneration. Those sprouts will also end up inside the bed. The stump will remain. I like to think it will become a seat where I can rest after picking pounds and pounds and pounds of vegetables from this garden next year.

The picture below was taken less than an hour into the job, and from another angle - those stump sprouts are now on the left. My unrecognizable (and therefore bloggable) helper is lining up chunks of timber along the northern edge of the bed. You can see the southern edge, already complete. We checked periodically with a 5-foot stake to keep the bed a fairly even width for its entire, pleasantly curved, length.

Three hours and a couple of gallons of water later,
we had the base of the Very Raised Bed: 

The outline is complete, and an initial layer of woody material is in place. Much more will be added in various sizes ranging from small trunks to twigs. Along with the coarse woody debris will be many (many, many) trugs of slightly-used hay from the goat barn, bedding from the Poultry Palace, pulled weeds and the like, eventually topped off with a layer of soil. Even a thin layer of soil will be much harder to come up with than all the other materials combined.

I know it may not look like much in these pictures, but I wanted to share a glimpse of the very beginning of the process. It is a first step, and exactly what I have been envisioning every day for a year. I will take more pictures next week, when my helper is scheduled to return. He made a very good first impression, and I'm hoping to have him here for at least a half-day each week through August. Many small but useful projects have been hanging fire for lack of physical strength or a second pair of hands. Making progress will be very satisfying!

And while I've been typing this post, I have eaten all the cherries.
Also very satisfying.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

drawing august

Decisions, decisions...

I'm trying to choose a sketchbook, sight unseen. It's exciting. A little scary, even.

(By the way, I don't draw.)

Thanks to the suggestion of the very kind and talented Jean Stevens of Somerset, England, I have selected the manufacturer (Stillman & Birn), and have now narrowed my choice down to two sizes of spiral-bound sketchbooks: 7x7" or 10x7".

(I used to draw when I was little, but that was a looooong time ago. If I was a good "draw-er" I probably would not have become a photographer.)

I "met" Jean earlier this year on twitter, where she is @JeanStevens4. Jean is an artist and a printmaker, and she was posting progress shots of a woodcut. Since woodcut/linocut is one of my all-time favorite art forms, I found her work immediately captivating. Plants. Animals. Birds. Landscapes. Seascapes. All: Wow.

Apparently last year Jean started a lovely little twitter thing, called DrawingAugust. People signed up, and drew (or painted, or whatever) something each day, and posted a picture of it with the hashtag #DrawingAugust. No pressure, no competition, no judgments; just a collective spirit of encouragement and an incentive to create something every day for the month of August. When Jean invited the world at large to participate this year, I looked back at some of the work that was posted last year, felt a little flicker of excitement, and thought, "Why not?"

(Perhaps I should provide the context: this was around the time my camera had been in the shop for three years weeks.)

I'm mentioning this here because I know some of my readers are artists, and I imagine many of my readers are non-draw-ers like myself, who are nonetheless a little excited by the idea of exploring a creative path just for the fun of it. And sharing the results with others because that's fun, too.

Here's what Jean said about it on her blog:

Who is interested in doing #DrawingAugust 2014?

It’s the same as last year.  For the month of August, you try your hardest to produce a drawing/sketch every day and post it on Twitter with the # (hashtag) #DrawingAugust.  By using the hashtag, people can easily find your drawing and keep supporting each other throughout the month with comments, retweets, favourites etc.  The whole aim is to get people drawing.  There’s no preset skill level required, it really is a supportive community that wants to encourage others to pick up a pencil, or whatever medium you wish to draw with, and get drawing.

What do you say?
Sounds like fun?

If you are interested, just contact Jean on twitter - or on her blogpost linked above - so she can add your name to the list of participants. The last count was 85, and many have mentioned what good fun it was last year.

Oh, and if you ever need a model for a sketch,
Lily of the Valley has offered her services:


Sunday, July 20, 2014

that's what bilbo baggins hates

Chip the glasses and crack the plates!
Blunt the knives and bend the forks!
That's what Bilbo Baggins hates—
Smash the bottles and burn the corks!

Cut the cloth and tread on the fat! 
Pour the milk on the pantry floor!
Leave the bones on the bedroom mat!
Splash the wine on every door!

Dump the crocks in a boiling bowl;
Pound them up with a thumping pole;
And when you’ve finished if any are whole,
Send them down the hall to roll!

That's what Bilbo Baggins hates!
So, carefully! carefully with the plates!

J.R.R. Tolkien, from The Hobbit, "An Unexpected Party"


Another of my favorite and most useful pots has met an untimely demise.


No point in crying over spilt milk (or broken glass),
but that saucepan - my last big saucepan - will be missed.

I really must pay more attention to the excellent example of 
Miss Ruth Kellogg:

Miss Ruth Kellogg demonstrating correct posture for dishwashing.
1921-26. Div. Rare & Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library
But while I'm off improving my posture
and searching the thrift shops for an uncommon Pyrex saucepan,
I'll be thinking of Bilbo Baggins.
And here is a nifty little half-minute gem for your entertainment:
a recording of the Dwarves' clearing-up song,
sung by J.R.R.Tolkien!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

sunday in the barn

Why is it that 4 hours spent cleaning and puttering in a barn
is so genuinely satisfying...

 while 4 hours spent on housework 
is just one more futile attempt to get the house clean?

One of Life's Little Mysteries.

The crazy screen curtain experiment is working well.
Better than expected.
Throughout the day, the goats tend to rotate in little groups;
spending time on the sun-heated rocks in the paddock,
then resting in the damp shade under the barn
or in the big, relatively bug-free stall.

And goats of all ages enjoy wearing the curtains,
in a variety of creative stylings.

Azalea helping Lily with her veil.

Lily: Goat of Mystery

Azalea, Goat of Sweetness

Campion, Goat of Mischief.

Campion has his sweet moments, too.
Sometimes he even stands still.
Usually it's during the ten seconds right after he wakes up.
His interest in the screen curtains has been mainly focused on
chewing holes in the edges
and trying to tear them down.

It's an exhausting task.
But Campion has a strong Work Ethic.

I have no doubt what the final result will be.
I'm just hoping the curtains will last til Autumn.

Monday, July 7, 2014

between the storms

We've had some massive thunderstorms lately,
with another due any minute.
There's thunder rolling right now,
and the goats are all tucked in.

But Saturday...
Saturday was perfect.
It was a Perfect Summer Day.
Clear, not humid.
Sunny, not hot.
And breezy.
Better than breezy...
there was a good, steady wind.
Very unusual.
Blowing from the North (of all places!)

As soon as I had finished the morning chores,
I changed my clothes,
Because the baby goats loooove me
and Piper and I headed for the pond.

A tangle of yarrow was blooming by the gate.
Don't you love yarrow? Such delicate leaves.

The tall stalks had been flattened by torrential rain the previous night,
but were slowly lifting up their heads again:

Achillea millefolium

In a little sunny patch along the woods road,
I smelled Comptonia and stopped to take a snap for you:

Comptonia peregrina

Something flew past my face, 
and  landed on that little maple sprout above the Comptonia.
Can you see it?

How about now?


On such a glorious day - especially on a Saturday - 
and the first truly nice day in weeks,
I expected to find lots of other people,
and possibly dogs, and horses,
enjoying the woods.
But to my astonishment, Piper and I were very lucky.
There was no one else around, and no need for a good dog to be on a lead.

Piper explored and rolled and sniffed and splashed
and ran loops around me while I took pictures.
Of this plant, for example. Do you know it?

Medeola virginiana
I remember this one from my childhood rambles.
"Indian Cucumber" is what we called it.
It has an edible root, but it is tiny.
I recall eating one, once, about a hundred years ago.

These days, maybe if there were thousands of these plants in one spot,
I might be tempted to eat some...
I'd find a cucumber in my garden or at a farm stand,
and leave the wildflowers to grow.
Because look how magical:


The wind was so strong and steady, it actually kept the biting bugs away.

It was nothing less than miraculous.

So when Piper and I walked back to the car,
I stuffed our usual post-walk snacks into my backpack,
grabbed one of the small cushions
(my car is full of various back-supports),
and we turned right around and walked back into the woods.

I chose a spot on a slope at the south edge of the pond,
with the wind blowing straight at us.
(There was one mosquito. I laughed at it.)
Piper and I sat down under the trees and shared a picnic.
We had crackers and cheese and a banana and water.

It was excellent.

This was Piper's view: 

And this was mine:



Sunday, July 6, 2014

a little catch-up

Well, I'd hoped to get some great snapshots to accompany this post.
I've been trying ever since the camera came back from the shop.

Here's the problem:
when you aren't able to get pictures until kids are several weeks old,
most of the outdoor shots look like this:

So I did something I rarely do: I used the flash. 
I stepped quietly into the barn whilst the "new" kids were playing, and managed this:

Which is not much of a picture, but at least you can see two kids:
the solid black girl on the left is Vinca.
The black-with-brown-trim boy on the right is Dara.

Even in the barn and with a flash,
getting a decent picture of these kids is tough.
For example, the moment they noticed me sitting there,
here's what happened:

LeShodu's kids were born exactly one week after Lily's kids.
And exactly one day after my camera went for a swim.

These will be LeShodu's last kids before retirement,
and I really wish I had been able to document their first days.
As I watched Vinca and Dara learn to fly,
roughly 2,000 times I thought sadly,
"the lovely blog readers are missing the best bits!"

Because now, as you can clearly see,
these kids are so grown up
you can't really call them adorable anymore, can you?

Vinca fortifying herself
for a confrontation with Mean Auntie Violet:

Dara overcome with excitement during his first
meet&greet with the owners of the buck:

You'll just have to try to imagine that they used to be really cute.


And finally, here's a deliberately obscure snap of their mama, LeShodu:
Matriarch of my little herd, and President of the
Cloud Harvest Cashmere Dramatic Society.

LeShodu is in the middle of a sudden and hormonally-driven hairloss.
She feels fine and is eating well,
but looks quite shocking.
If I posted a more revealing picture,
I expect I would hear from her attorneys.

Then I would have to sell the herd to pay my legal costs.
LeShodu does not always think things through.

But she does make nice babies.