I had this pumpkin sitting in the greenhouse and found out that a rat ate its way inside, getting at the pulp and seeds. A feast for rats. I have too many of them in the barn right now.
Also, I had grain for brewing stored in sealed plastic bins and they gnawed though the plastic to get in. Powerful jaws and a more powerful urge to eat anything. However, rats won’t touch garlic that I have out drying. Maybe there’s something to the idea that garlic can protect you from vermin or vampires.
Ben and Sarah are keeping a couple of steers on our property. One is black and white, and the other is mostly brown with a little bit of white. He’s got short horns that stick out straight from his head. I’m not exactly sure what breed this one is but I’ll have to ask Ben to see if he knows. Both of them bellow when they see us, expecting to be fed.
A lamb was born Friday morning rather late in the season. I carried it from the pasture, fearing it was exposed to turkey buzzards, and moved it to the shed and waited for the other sheep to surround it.
Bad and good karma. Snow and sun. White and black. Pleasure and pain. Life and death. Winter and summer. Being together, being alone. Old and new.
Last weekend I was in Oslo Norway where it was as expected, snowy, cold and dark — and wonderful. The days were short and gray. I wore a parka and snow boots, walking through slush in the street. I took a red train to the science center for Maker Faire Oslo and when its door opened the platform awaited with a blanket of untouched snow. The talk I gave in English about Maker Faire was heard by a 100 or so Norwegians who seemed comfortable in English. I had dinner with 200 makers.
Traveling, especially overseas, is a matter of always figuring things out because nothing is routine. I was checking maps, timetables and currency exchanges, often on my phone. I was usually busy meeting new people all day, which I enjoy, but then I would return to a small, sterile hotel room. I’m alone, and struggling to get to sleep. I have learned to take sleep when it comes and relax as though I were sleeping, even when I am awake most of the night. One restless night in Norway, I tried thinking of morning, and a breakfast featuring herring and salmon. The night before I was to fly home from Munich, I went to bed at 11 pm and woke up at 1:20 am. I could not fall back asleep, try as I might. At 4 am I got up for good, packed my bags and by 5pm I was on the train to the airport, the first leg of a long journey home.
This weekend, I was home, just Nancy and me. I woke to the bleating of new lambs in the pasture. I made my own coffee, the way I usually do. I sat in my usual sunny spot by the window and read newspapers and a history book on my iPad. I tended the sourdough, restarting it for bread I wanted to make. I checked the glass jars of wine vinegar, which are going for several months. I hand-watered the kale starts in the greenhouse. Outside it was warmer than summer, above 70 degrees. California weather is an amazing gift.
The night before I learned that an old friend, Mark Harrington, had passed away in late December. I had not seen Mark in many years but we met through our wives because our kids went to the same pre-school. Mark worked as an OSHA inspector but I knew nothing about that side of him. Outside work, he had lots of interests and he was an energetic and curious person. He was always trying something new, and some of it was hare-brained. He was always encouraging me to join him and I did.
I remember that we built a solar oven together, one with a large chimney. It was a plywood structure that we lined with aluminum foil. We used it to dry apples from my trees but I don’t recall it working that well. Mark also taught me how to graft and we spent several spring weekends grafting trees in the apple orchard. We cut grooves in each end, made them fit together, painted the joint then secured it with a white plastic tape. We cut up old beer cans in strips and used them to label the new grafts. In the fall, I rented a heavy wrought-iron cider press from the feed store and we had a cider-making party. Nancy just showed me a picture of Mark happily working the press.
After Mark and his family left Sebastopol, I fell out of touch with him. I read his obituary in the local paper online. He had become a mountain-bike enthusiast. Over the holidays, on a biking trip with his son in Annadel State Park, Mark had a fatal heart attack. An article in the paper had a wonderful picture of him in Turkey from a recent trip. Mark loved to travel. He had met his wife, Ely, while on a trip to Peru.
As it turned out, the only thing I planned to do Saturday reminded me of Mark as well. I went to the scion exchange in Santa Rosa, organized by the Rare Fruit Growers Association. Members bring in cuttings from their fruit trees and make them available to anyone. You can then graft these scions on to your own trees, making it possible to get different varieties of fruit from the same tree. “I just love my Sierra Beauty,” said a woman, talking about an apple variety that I heard mentioned by several people. There were lots of apple, pear and plum varieties, many of them which are never seen commercially. I was to meet Milo there and found him in a workshop on pruning. A local gardener who was also a teacher by day was leading the workshop. He picked up branches he cut from trees in his yard and shared what might be called rules of thumb for pruning, noting that not everyone agrees with these rules. It’s a craft shaped by many different views, like an ongoing conversation about what’s the right way to do things and when. While the rules look simple, the craft itself is complicated and only acquired through experience.
On the way back from Santa Rosa, I stopped by DRNK Winery to see Katie and Ryan. My daughter, Katie, is seven and a half-months pregnant — and she’s happy that the end is in sight as she’s having trouble sleeping. The baby, which she calls “the creature” because she doesn’t want to know its sex yet, is an amazing thing to think of — that my daughter is going to give birth to another amazes me. The creature will be its own person, creating its own life, and yet also extending ours. The three of us had lunch together outside, and it was just so warm and comfortable, again making us think we were in summer.
When I returned home, something caught my eye in the side yard. When I approached, I saw it was a weasel, lying on its back in a hole in the grass. I moved forward cautiously, not wanting to scare it away and also grab a photo if I could. Just a bit further ahead, I saw another weasel pop its head up, looking perhaps at both me and the other weasel. As I came closer to the weasel, I saw that it was on its back. At first I thought it was just lying on its back, basking in the sun. Then I realized the weasel had been caught in a gopher trap. If it had been a gopher in the trap, I would have been happy. I don’t want to harm a weasel, which despite their name and reputation, help to control the gopher population. I’ve enjoyed seeing them pop up now and then. Unfortunately, weasels move through the network of gopher holes. I could not do anything for this creature, although it was still alive. It made me sad, especially with its mate popping up to look over.
I went to check on the sheep. Three lambs, all of them black, had been born during the week while I was away. I wanted to see them up close and try to get a good photo of them. In the pasture, however, I saw not only the three lambs and their mother but also two more lambs, also all black, and their mother. They must have been born today. I had looked in the pasture this morning after hearing the three lambs bleating and there had only been the three. Now there were five. It is such a beautiful sight to see the new lambs, still getting used to being on their own feet and running back and forth between the two ewes.
As the sun was descending, I worked along the fence line, trying to get a photo of the sheep without the sun in the background. I held my camera phone, fighting the light to find the right focus. The lambs moved back and forth from one mother to the next, and began moving away from me. I leaned forward to improve the shot. I leaned too far and,my elbow grazed the electric wire. The phone fell from my hands immediately and landed on the other side of the fence. I was jolted backward, a bit dazed but not really hurt, just surprised. That was dumb, I said to myself.
We have an electric fence around the pasture because several years ago we had lost all of our lambs to predators. It could have been coyotes or even a mountain lion. Milo had fixed the fence this week after noticing the lambs were born. Well, I can say that it is working now.
I went back to the weasel, which had died. I picked it up with a shovel, its golden brown body in the rusty trap and the low sunlight striking its fur as I lifted it off the ground.
Nancy and I took the dogs for a walk just before sunset. We passed a vineyard that had just been pruned. The canes that produced fruit last year won’t produce any this year and so they were removed, and sat in a pile for chipping. The vines seemed bare but ready for this year’s growth.
Our usual route took us to the edge of town, where we cut through a cemetery and then through Luther Burbank’s Experimental Farm, a historical landmark for the man who was known as the “plant inventor.” We ended up passing through the cemetery again on the way home. As we walked through rows of tombstones, we read names off of monuments, thinking of first names that Katie and Ryan might want to consider, names now carved in stone and dated but names that were waiting to be taken and used again for new people.
The sheep and goat are waiting for rain, hoping to see the grass grow back. Milo stops by to feed them while I’m gone. He says that at least two ewes are pregnant so we should see them soon, perhaps before I return from my trip. I took this picture of them before I left.
I’ve seeing a weasel for more than a year, a beautiful creature running around in the pasture and along the edge of the house. I finally caught the weasel with my camera, seeing it pop its head out of a gopher hole.
I had run out of eggs and so I went out to the coop. I found five perfect eggs in the nest box. I never quite know what I’m going to get. These hens are getting older and less reliable. Five eggs was exactly what I needed for cooking and I felt like I had discovered treasure.
With the eggs, I made lavender ice cream to go with a mixed berry cobbler for the Fourth of July.
I fed the sheep on Saturday and Sunday mornings this weekend. The five lambs are doing well. Add the ram and two ewes plus three others and we are up to eleven sheep. Then there’s the unruly goat who makes sure he gets as much to eat as the rest of them combined. We have to throw one flake of alfalfa for him and another just for the sheep.
Two new black lambs were born this week. Milo took this picture. I noticed them Friday morning. They came a week after the three white lambs were born.
Given that we have lost lambs to predators, I’m worried when I hear anything at night. The lambs are inside a pasture with five-foot tall fences, which are electrified at the top. I hope that keeps out what had gotten in before. Fingers crossed.