Fence Lines…

Last May, I was alone at the farm when I noticed FarmerHoney’s Black Angus herd edging closer and closer to a fence that had been on its last legs for at least a decade.  I think a hearty sneeze from one of the cows would’ve blown that rickety old fence over – it consisted only of some rusted woven wire and ancient locust posts .  An errant strand of barbed wire formed gentle loops at the top of the fence – hardly enough to keep a cow from barging through.  That decrepit old fence was the only thing that separated FarmerHoney’s cattle from our neighbor’s hay field.  And now Doug’s crop was in danger of being run through by a herd of grass-hungry cattle.

Calves at cattle guard 3

The photo above shows an old fence.  A 16-foot gate panel has been secured to the three fence posts above.  (You can see the black outlines of the heavier wire in the panel.)  Extra barbed wire has been placed over the post at the right.  Old fence posts are behind the calves on the ground.

I was supposed to be heading over to the Sites Homestead near Seneca Rocks; the curator there was hosting a quilt weekend and I’d promised to bring my quilts and displays that show how a quilt is constructed.  Instead, I decided I needed to rescue that hay field.

I raced to grab the tractor key and load up a one-ton round bale of hay on the spear that protrudes from the front of the tractor.  (Sort of a tractor-unicorn.)

hay bale being speared

This is a bale spear.

I took that bale over to the cattle, teasing them away from the fence with the prospect of an easy meal.  Once I’d plopped that bale in their round, metal feeder, I quickly retrieved a second bale and placed it in the meadow.  The cattle liked that, because their hay is usually in a feeder.  When it’s on the ground, the cattle can make “nests” in the hay that falls as they feed, resting in it and even playing with it.   Some time ago, I watched in amazement as FarmerHoney’s bull tossed a full bale as if it was a soccer ball.  I prayed that these bales would keep the herd amused, fed, and away from the fence line.

Bale feeder

This is a small bale feeder.

Once the cattle were distracted and had meandered away from the fence, I went to work repairing it as best I could.  I shoved rocks down the holes in the ground next to the fence posts, my meager attempt at shimming the posts in place.  Then, I surrounded each of those fence posts with larger rocks, which kept them upright and steady.  That was slow work, especially when one’s back is rather fragile.  But the job needed to be done and no one else was around to do it.  So I made sure I paced myself and took breaks when needed.

The last bit of fence repair involved the barbed wire strand.  I stretched it as taut as I could and bent the barbed wire ends around sections of the highest woven wire.  I hoped that if it looked stronger than it really was, the cattle might just leave the fence alone.  Farmer Honey calls this a “fake”.  It’s better than nothing!

And the fake worked!  I was incredibly relieved as I had no desire to chase mischievous cattle from that hay field.

I could finally relax.  As I sat down with a bottle of water in hand, it occurred to me that this was not the first time I’d been alone on the farm when fence lines needed repairing.  One winter, bales of hay had been stored a bit too close to the fence.  When the cattle realized they could nudge the strands of woven wire apart and lean in to nibble on hay, the rusted metal fence didn’t stand a chance against the hungry herd.  Not only were cows able to stick their heads in and feed, their calves managed to squeeze through a particularly weak section, seeking refuge among the hay bales from the winter’s bone-chilling winds.

That day – that cold, windy day – it was my turn to face those arctic blasts!  So I dressed warmly,  grabbed a small spool of barbed wire, fence staples, and a hammer, and went out to survey the damage.

It was pretty bad.  One entire section of fence was so badly damaged that cows could wiggle through.  For about 45 feet, the barbed wire strand at the top of the fence line was either damaged or non-existent.  Cows had turned that lengthy section of woven wire into a mangled mess.  The task seemed overwhelming.    But I decided that I just needed to start somewhere and take on a little bit of the work at a time.

First thing I did was install new barbed wire at the top of the fence.  Normally, this is done with a barbed wire stretcher, a tool that sort of grabs the barbed wire and then pulls it taut.  But I didn’t know where it was, so I used a claw hammer instead.  I put a section of wire through the claw, positioned the claw against the fence post and rocked the hammer slowly backward in the opposite direction.  This was enough to straighten the barbed wire fairly effectively.  The trick was holding the hammer steady with my left hand, while pounding in a fence staple with a hammer in my right.  Once I managed to secure one end of the barbed wire, it was simply a matter to going back down the line, hammering in fence staples.

Fence staples come in different sizes.  Some have barbs, others don’t.  And the harder the wood that the fence posts are made of, the more difficult it is to pound in the staple.  As luck would have it, the fence posts on the farm were made from locust – really hard wood.  Now, FarmerHoney and our neighboring farmers can take a staple and pound it two or three times, and the staple’s in place.  Not me.  For one thing, the guys can wield hammers that Paul Bunyan would be pleased to call his own.  And for another, they have more upper body strength than I do.  So what they might have accomplished in an hour or so took me far longer.

I worked on that fence an entire afternoon.  An old piece of picket fence was enlisted to cover up the badly-damaged section and wired into place.  Since so much of the woven wire fencing had been damaged, I decided to use barbed wire stretched horizontally across the fence, spaced five inches apart.  That way, the cattle would not be tempted to nudge any wires anywhere.  Barbs really hurt!

It was a lot of work, in cold and windy weather, but I felt a deep satisfaction as I checked out the repairs.  I’d used my muscle power in the outdoors; that is not something I did as a teacher!  After years of planning lessons, grading papers, and holding conferences, I’m finding that demanding, physical labor is immensely satisfying.

A few years have passed since that winter repair and the fence is still functional.  But working on fence line is a never-ending chore on a farm.

Last fall, it was decided to rebuild the fence line around the bull pen area on the family farm.  Since I’ve been the one making repairs to the fences, I suggested that a new type of woven wire be used, one that locks the intersecting wires together so cattle can’t nudge them over with their noses.  Since the old fence posts were going to be ripped up and the old rusty fencing torn down, might as well replace it with the good stuff.  Might as well build it so it lasts another 30 years. I was given the task of getting the fence materials, and I was determined to do it right.

So I drove to our nearest Southern States store in Petersburg and talked with the young woman behind the counter.  “We’re replacing a fence and we want to make sure it’s done in the best possible way.  Can you help me out?”  She was very knowledgeable.  From her, I learned that we needed 10-inch pins to insert into the brace poles.  Brace poles are horizontal poles that secure the corner post to the adjacent post.  The pins prevent the brace poles from working loose over the years.  Next, she showed me a sort of ratchet tool that is used to tighten wire connected horizontally from corner post to the adjacent post.  She made sure I understood that a fence staple is used to keep the wire in place while the ratchet part is tightened.  It used to be common practice for farmers to build fence lines with diagonal wire that was tightened with a wooden stake – sort of a tourniquet that would draw the fence posts tight.  Now, farmers are switching to this new ratchet; when the fence line needs to be tightened again (and it will, with all those cows leaning against it!) all the farmer has to do is use a little handle on the ratchet.

I made sure we had two rolls of fixed-knot woven wire fencing, fence staples, brace pins, ratchets, and wire to use with the ratchets.  I was so eager to get this fencing installed!

Calves at cattle guard 5

This is the fence that Doug and Mike finished.  Note the size of the corner post in comparison to the others.  The horizontal brace posts add strength to this section of the fence; pins in these posts will prevent them from becoming loose and falling off.  The diagonal wire in these two corner sections can be tightened fairly easily as needed to keep the fence taut.

Doug, our neighbor who leases this farm, and his farm hand, Mike, who is worth his weight in gold, installed the woven wire in less than one day.  A tidy single strand of barbed wire topped off the row of fence posts.  It looked wonderful!  I watched as Mike pounded in the last few fence staples; he was using only two strokes to drive in each staple.  Two!  True, his hammer was large; mine looked like something Cub Scouts would use to build their first birdhouse.  (Actually, that’s exactly what mine was first used for!)   My paltry attempts to nail in a fence staple seemed even more pathetic compared to Mike’s expertise.  He and Doug had built a very sturdy, good-looking fence.  The experience and proper equipment both men brought to the job had that fence up in no time.

Now, I am definitely lacking when it comes to actually building or repairing a fence.  But I like to think I played a small part in this fence’s installation.  First, I got the right materials – I knew Doug approved when he checked out what I’d brought back from Southern States and said, “This fence will last longer than I will!”  And I’d taken each fence staple and squeezed the open ends together slightly so they were parallel to each other; this makes it easier to pound in the staples.

Well, easier to pound in the staples if you’re Mike!


















Antique Noritake and Vintage Etched Crystal

Yes, you read the title correctly.  True, this is not the typical thing I write about, nor are china and crystal something one might expect to find in a single-wide, vintage 1972 trailer, at the bumpy end of a dirt farm road on what was once a pasture adjacent to an old, fallen-down barn.  When a person envisions “Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia,” images tend to be of a more outdoorsy theme – narrow waterfalls cascading over ledges of bedrock, old log cabins standing guard in a now-deserted meadow, fishermen casting for trout in the North Fork River.

Deerlodge and Etched Stemware

Pictured above is Noritake “Deerlodge” china, pink Depression glass sherbet and, from left to right in the back, Tiffin “Byzantine” liquor cocktail, Tiffin “Byzantine” cordial, and two unidentified etched crystal pieces, also Goodwill discoveries for 99 cents each!

Yet glass production is part of the Mountain State’s heritage.  Blenko, Fenton, Fostoria, Hazel-Atlas, Morgantown, Seneca Glass, and Weston Glass, are just a few of the companies that called West Virginia home.  Production skyrocketed in the state between 1900-1940.  As tastes in glass products changed, West Virginia’s glass companies kept up with their consumers’ demands.  Pressed glass, blown glass, colored glass, crystal, etched pieces all emerged from the state’s numerous factories.

China and pottery manufacturers made their home among the mountains as well.  Perhaps the most well-known company is the Homer Laughlin China Company, which relocated from one side of the Ohio River to the other, to Newell, West Virginia, around the turn of the twentieth century.  Here, the company was able to expand its operations to meet the growing demands of the market.  And after 1927, when Frederick Hurten Rhead was hired as design director, Homer Laughlin would need ALL those new facilities.  Rhead was responsible for designing Fiestaware, the company’s most prolific line of pottery.  During World War II, production lines were churning out pottery needed for the military.  But after the war ended, Fiesta’s consumer lines resumed and continued to grow in popularity; Fiestaware helped Homer Laughlin reach its peak production year in 1948.

Following the war, imported china began to encroach on the markets of U.S.-based companies.  It was difficult to compete with these china lines because they were priced so economically.  Of course, labor costs overseas were considerably lower compared to those of American products.  Many domestic china factories simply could not compete and were forced out of business.

But not Homer Laughlin!  Company directors saw what was happening in the industry and switched gears a bit.  They’d always had commercial lines of china which catered to motel, hotel, and restaurant industries.  Homer Laughlin decided to put increased emphasis in this area and ease off on the production of china for the home.  Their strategy worked and kept them afloat during very difficult times for less far-sighted companies.

However, the Fiestaware line was eventually phased out, stopping production of the colorful pieces completely in 1973.  But Fiesta lovers are a loyal and determined bunch!  (I hear cheers in the distance!)  Popular demand from fans of the china helped bring back the line in 1986; this time, the glazes used on the ware were lead-free.  This met with approval from environmentally-minded consumers as well as those with young children.  Folks with a taste for nostalgia and those who loved the clean, bright designs of the china were more than happy to add Homer Laughlin’s Fiestaware to their kitchens.

China was not the only thing adorned with Fiestaware’s Art Nouveau shape and crayon box colors.  Table linens, silverware, colanders, refrigerator magnets, napkin holders, picture frames, all sorts of items drew styling and colors from Fiesta.

When I was a girl, I loved eating at Grandma Powers’ home.  She had the original, lead-glaze Fiestaware (somehow, I survived meals in Medina) and it was always a much-anticipated surprise to see what combination of colors she’d use to set the breakfast or lunch table.  It was fun to have an ever-changing array of dishes – we didn’t have all those colors at home!  Grandma also had these sort of oddly-shaped glasses that seemed to perfectly complement the Fiesta. I remember the glasses having a curvy shape, wider at the base than at the top, a thick base, and fairly thin.  Like the Fiesta, the glasses were different colors, changing the tint of a glass of milk from blue to green to pink, depending on the hue of the glass.

About five years ago, I was slowly cruising the aisles of my favorite Northern Virginia Goodwill.  I’d do that several times a week, using it as a sort of physical therapy following my car accident.  It sure beat heading to a gym or therapist’s, which was out of the question for me, and the items on the shelves there were constantly changing.  I used to hang onto one of those small-scale grocery carts; they were light enough for me to push and maneuverable enough to make my way through the store with ease.  There was always something new to look at, always something really unusual to check out, occasionally an object that made me wonder why anyone would have purchased it to begin with, and when I needed to sit, there was always a couch or chair to rest upon.

On this particular day, I spied a familiar shape nestled among objects in the orange-colored section at Goodwill.  It was a Fiestaware “Tangerine” cup and saucer – 99 cents each!  Feeling nostalgic, I added it to my cart.  Then, it dawned on me that there were probably more cups and saucers, in different colors, hiding among other stuff.  So I checked out each section, delighted to add “Periwinkle Blue”, “Sea Mist Green”, and “Yellow” (a pale, creamy color) to the first cup and saucer.

Bringing that colorful Fiesta home was such a treat for my eyes.  It was as if Grandma was there, sharing a meal at my home.  The cheerful colors also helped lift my sagging spirits.  That began a pursuit of Fiesta china in other spots, too.  I eventually ended up with about 8 place settings of the pastel colors.  I loved using them.  So did my son.  And when I needed to downsize prior to moving, he asked if he could have the Fiesta.  I gladly gave my collection to him, thinking how the china would be a little taste of home, a bit of nostalgia, as he transferred wherever the military needed him.

I gave most of my Lenox “Holiday” china to my youngest daughter, who insisted I keep four settings for myself.  (So glad she did!)  I’d fallen for the classic pattern when I was just 15; Mom and Dad gave me my first “Holiday” cup and saucer when I turned 16.  I do love the “Holiday” but I am happy to know it will be put to good use in its new home!  However, I could not bear to part with a single piece of Grandma Powers’ antique Noritake and the memories that come with it.  I just love using that china and I do not save it for “special days”.   My three children used to take it out of the china hutch v-e-r-y carefully first thing in the morning on Mother’s Day and set the table with it.  Even the youngest member of the family knew how to handle the china.  He may have growled like a tiger at times (really, he did, it was embarrassing), but he was as gentle as a kitten with his great-grandma’s dishes!

Lenox Holiday and etched stemware, depression glass

 Pictured above are Lenox “Holiday”, green Depression glass sherbet, and in the back, Tiffin “Byzantine” cordial and liquor cocktail. 

Now, those dishes reside in a mahogany reproduction dining chest in the front room of our home.  I can – and do – access them frequently to use on the table in the kitchen.  There’s no dining room, no dining room table here.  But that won’t stop me from enjoying those dear old plates!  Sometimes, I’ll serve fruit and yogurt in pink Depression glass that goes nicely with the Noritake Deerlodge pattern.  My newest additions – 10 pieces of Tiffin etched crystal – look right at home with Grandma Powers’ china.  She would’ve approved!

Dining chest

This is my “treasure chest” – a mahogany reproduction dining chest.  Doesn’t it look like it’s an antique?  I just love it!  The barn print above it is by David Knowlton; prints of his paintings adorn the walls of our home.  Yes, that is a tapestry curtain over the front door; it’s very heavy and quite effective at keeping out drafts!  We hung its mate across the entrance to the hallway, in this same room.  Those drapes greatly improved our comfort last winter! Both stockings were made by a talented eBay seller from old “cutter” quilts. The gold-framed photograph near the lamp shows my maternal grandmother, Alma Ramming, on her wedding day in 1926.  The chair is from her home, but I’ll have to save its story for another time!

I’ve heard that people are increasingly reluctant to purchase china or glassware that needs to be hand washed. Such a shame!  Perhaps that’s why it’s been relatively painless to find some great bargains on antique china and crystal.  Grandma Ramming used to say, “Tea tastes better from a china cup.”  I quite agree.  Last fall, I found six pieces of Tiffin etched, optic crystal stemware in the “Byzantine” pattern at a Goodwill store.  I have loved etched crystal since I was a girl, when my grandmother would set her formal dining room table with pink-and-clear etched crystal.  Now I had no idea, when I spied it at Goodwill, who’d made the crystal I’d come across or what it might be worth. I just knew I loved it and I wanted to set my table with that etched crystal stemware and Grandma Powers’ old Noritake china! Fortunately, the asking price was something I could afford – 99 cents each. So I took home four cordials and two liquor cocktails, washed them up, and have loved and used them since. I don’t drink alcoholic beverages, but eggnog – just about anything! – tastes better when I drink it from one of those gleaming pieces of stemware!  FarmerHoney gifted me with four juice glasses in the same pattern for Christmas, and I keep them nearby in the kitchen. It’s a little thing, a simple pleasure.  But to have juice from vintage crystal first thing in the morning is a wonderful way to start the day!

Unlike contemporary trends, I do not find it a hassle to hand wash china or crystal. It gives me more time to enjoy each piece.  On the other hand, it IS a hassle hand washing everyday china (also Noritake). My kitchen attests to that fact at the moment!  (And no, I am not about to photograph my messy kitchen.  You’ll just have to take my word that it’s really, embarrassingly untidy!)  I had been doing just fine until we’d run out of dishwasher pods for our portable little dishwasher and well, it’s just amazing how quickly dishes pile up! 

Hmm…maybe I should simply bring the formal china and etched crystal into the kitchen and use them all the time. It might be a better way for me to keep the kitchen clean!


(Audible sigh from author…)  Looking through these pictures has given me the inspiration needed to start tackling the state of my home!  This is our dishwasher, a purchase I resisted but one that FarmerHoney was smart enough to make anyway.  It holds everything we need to clean for over a single day’s use.  It’s designed to accommodate a lot of dishes in a small space.  There’s also a spot for water softener salt – we need that, we have well water.  This little dishwasher is so much quieter than any dishwasher I have ever used.  Typically, my hands dry out and my fingertips crack each winter from doing dishes – but this wonderful machine saved my hands this winter.  I love it!




Lightning and Thunder in a Mountain Valley

I have never heard storms like tonight’s thunderstorms.  But then, I’ve never lived in a mountain valley before.  Friends had told me storms here would be different, but I didn’t know quite how different until this evening.

Seneca Rocks

Forecasts had been calling for severe weather, so I got outside early this morning to rinse off a Weber grill that had been “marinating” in oven cleaner overnight.  The grill looks really nice, very clean.  It’s an old one that was abandoned in the barn – it has wooden handles and three circular air vents at the bottom, the kind you need to adjust one at a time.  The handles need to be replaced, so I figure I’ll make some from locust or oak.  There’s just something about wood that I greatly prefer over plastic.  Wood feels good in my hand.  I think the grille itself needs to be replaced (or, as folks here would say, “…the grille needs replaced”) but the smaller grille that holds the charcoal is just fine.  In a few days, I’ll clean the aluminum legs and remove any rust off the steel sections.  I purchased charcoal last fall when it was on sale, so all I have to do is finish with my cleaning before we strike a match.  Doesn’t grilled steak sound delicious?  Maybe trout caught fresh from the river?

A mid-morning rain forced Snickle-Fritz and I inside but it didn’t last long.  Most of the day, it’s been sprinkling.  Towards dusk, we went outside to guide the three calves that seem to prefer the grass in our yard back over the cattle guard to join their herd before the bad weather set in.  I made a few adjustments to the sides of the cattle guard, hoping that would keep the calves from strolling across.  But once dog and I returned inside, the clouds opened up and it just poured!  I looked out the window – this was just minutes after working on the cattle guard – and most of the herd had gathered near the cattle guard on the road.  The three calves were already back over in the yard!  So much for my paltry attempts at building fence.  For a while, it looked as if the rest of the herd would join them, but at least the cows and bull decided to stay in their pasture!

I was not about to head outside with it raining so hard and I’m really glad I made that decision.  Snickle-Fritz and I hadn’t been inside more than five minutes when this enormous ROAR started at the west end of the valley, miles away, increased in volume, and rumbled right up to our single-wide!  I knew it was thunder; poor dog had no idea what size beast could be making such a horrific sound!  He stood on his chair in the front room (yes, he has his own recliner, but he just uses the chair feature), front paws on the arm, and looked out the window, trying his best to identify the animal that had just roared.  Poor guy was panic-stricken.  And when the next roar of thunder swept up to the home, he – all 65 pounds of him – jumped into my lap, frozen in fear.  I held him tight (he likes that – deep pressure) and gradually, he positioned his chest on my lap but his tail end was still high.  I massaged his back with a firm, methodical pressure and slowly, his hind quarters relaxed.  Snickle-Fritz has these huge paws that he uses like hands – he actually grasped my arm with his front paws and held on.  So sad – how do we explain thunder to a terrified dog?  All I could do was hold him tightly and murmur what I hoped were calming reassurances in his ear.

The third peal of thunder was closer than ever – Snickle-Fritz craned his neck toward the ceiling, trying to figure out where it was coming from.  And then, seconds later, lightning crackled across the sky.  It seemed to jump right in our window.  Poor dog leaped out of my arms and ran to the bedroom.  I think he was still trying to find out what was causing such chaos in his world.  He didn’t find what he was looking for in the bedroom so he came back to the front room, shaken, and lay down beside me on the floor.  That’s where he stayed for the rest of the storm, with occasional recon visits to his chair.  Thankfully, the storm didn’t last more than 45 minutes.

Not long after the weather calmed, Snickle-Fritz jumped into my lap again.  But this time, he didn’t settle down.  Imagine a large hunting dog on point in your lap.  That was my dog tonight.  His head was pointing toward the bedroom.  This is new behavior on his part, but I recognized what he was telling me right away.  Snickle doesn’t bark with us, just when he’s nervous or senses danger.  But if he wants something from us, he will literally guide us to it.  Earlier, he held onto his Frisbee until I’d followed him to the exact spot from which he wanted me to toss it.  If he needs to go outside, he’ll lick my arm.  This time, it was apparent from his stance that Snickle-Fritz wanted us to go to bed.  Me.  And him.  So that’s what I did.  That’s where I am now – I have a little computer spot in an alcove by the bed.  Snickle is stretched out asleep on my side of the bed.  It’s okay – I’ve learned he makes a great bedwarmer, too.

Usually, he can stay awake a bit longer than he did tonight.  Perhaps the thunder and lightning show were too much for him.

I can understand why – storms here take on a life of their own as they dance between the  mountains and skip down our valley!


You’ve Gotta Love Calves!

Our riding lawn mower isn’t working.  We replaced the belt on it, but FarmerHoney suspects at least one spring is missing.  However, without an owner’s manual, we’re kind of stuck.  So, being overly optimistic, I searched online for the manual to our old Quality Farm & Country riding mower, model #475475.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s been on an Internet quest to find this little gem.  After hours of searching – and reading posts from other Quality lawn mower owners, the manual no longer exists.  I wonder if it ever did.  In the past, I’ve downloaded several owner’s manuals for vintage appliances that I’ve purchased, including a 1970 Toastmaster Waffle Baker (thrift store, $7.00) and a 1972 Toastmaster 2-slice Toaster (thrift store, $5.00).  They work perfectly well!  Their manuals were easy to track down.

Thrift store Toastmaster

I wish our riding lawn mower had been made by Toastmaster.  By now, we’d know where the missing spring should be located and the mower would be operational.  Actually, if the mower had been made by Toastmaster, it would still be running just fine.

In the country, people make do with what’s on hand.  Here, the nearest Lowe’s is over an hour away.  Even the local hardware is 35 minutes away, over North Mountain.

In these parts, most farms have at least one cattle guard.  This consists of  a wide trench that stretches from one side of the road to the other.  It is covered by a set of iron bars that run perpendicular to the road.  Cattle are wary of differences in light and dark where they walk – or so the theory goes – and some roads even have cattle guards painted on them to fool the cattle into thinking there’s a trench beneath the stripes.

Calves at cattle guard 5

I guess our neighbor’s calves are smarter than most cattle.  They have learned to bypass the cattle guard near our single-wide trailer and nibble on the grass in our yard.  I usually don’t mind, as long as they steer clear of our hyacinths and lilac.  Black Angus in my front yard is a novelty for me – never had cattle grazing on my lawn back in Northern Virginia!  Can you imagine the crowd of kids that would draw?  Not just kids, either!  Sometimes, Doug (our neighbor) and his farmhand, Mike, will chase the calves out with their ATV’s.  But like any creature who’s discovered a good thing, the calves always return.

Yesterday, three of the clever calves were grazing in our yard.  But I was going to church and really did not want them nibbling on forbidden flowers in my absence.  So, I donned my farm shoes and headed outside to help them rejoin the herd, which had gathered on the opposite side of the cattle guard, watching the calves, me, and our dog.  The bovines are fascinated with our canine, especially when we’re playing with his red Frisbee.

Calves at cattle guard 1

Probably on any other day, when I didn’t have an appointment to keep, the calves would have walked calmly to the cattle guard and crossed over.  But this was Sunday and I was being picked up to attend church.  I suspect the cattle knew this, for they were not about to be easily guided back to the cattle guard.

One of them, the feistiest calf, trotted off along the woven wire fence.  His mother shadowed him from the other side, mooing anxiously.  (Yes, cattle moo different sounds and farmers use those sounds to judge what sort of moooood they’re in.  Couldn’t resist!)  I prayed that Snickle-Fritz would get the idea and help me steer the calf in the right direction.  No, all he wanted to do was play Frisbee.

So I headed for the more docile calves and one by one they clambered over the bars and managed to get back to the other side.  That left Mr. Personality.  That’s what we dub any animal that is needing extra encouragement.  It’s nicer than calling him, “You Little Dickens!”

Calves at cattle guard 3

That last calf actually stood his ground and sort of “dared me” to take him on.  I don’t take on cattle – even a month old calf can do serious damage to a person.  So I averted his gaze and walked parallel in his direction but with a 15-foot berth.  We sort of played variations of this game for about eight minutes and then, tired of it, the calf stood in front of the cattle guard, trying to decide if he should join the herd or continue bantering with me.  I stood still, about 10 feet behind the calf, giving him a chance to relax and think about it.  (The teacher in me was thinking, “Make a good decision, Calf.”)  Fortunately, I had the Frisbee in hand and gently tossed it to the right of the cattle guard.  When Snickle-Fritz darted after the Frisbee, the calf turned to the left – where I was – and must have decided it was time to rejoin his buddies.  He’d been cornered.  To help cement his decision, I gave a low, soft, moo.  I learned this from the cows.  I just duplicated what sound they make and I find that this particular sound calms them.  A cow trotting away in fear will actually stop and look at me when I moo at her.  I’ve calmed cows with that moo.

Once the reluctant calf hopped over the guard, I’d expected the audience of Black Angus to disperse.  No, they were enjoying the spectacle, evidently hoping for more.  So I crossed over the cattle guard and walked toward them, encouraging them to go.  “Nothing to see here, let’s move out.”  Felt like a police officer at an accident scene.  Most of the cattle left, content to return to grazing.  A few cows were curious about me and stood to get a good look.  I hadn’t showered yet, maybe that was why.

And those three calves still lingered near the cattle guard.  A big old bovine was near the road, so I asked him to make sure HIS calves stayed on HIS side of the guard.   He just looked at me, then walked toward the calves, who scattered at his approach.

I did not fail to notice that as the bull walked up the incline from where the cattle guard was, he became a bit larger, taller, more intimidating.  Thank goodness he’s used to people!  And thank goodness, he didn’t see me as a threat!

Calves at cattle guard 2

I don’t have to go anywhere today.  So I guess that means the calves will stay in their pasture.  I’m debating whether or not to remove some posts that I placed next to the cattle guard as a barricade.  Obviously, it’s not working.  And maybe, if it’s easier for the calves to walk over to our yard, they might bring some friends.

Natural lawn mowers.  No owner’s manual necessary.







What’s a dog good for, anyway?

It’s a little after 7 in the morning here in the mountains.  We had another frost last night – I can hear the frost melting off the roof and onto the back steps.  I can hear it quite distinctly, because the window right above my pillow is still open just a bit, as it was last night.  No, I wasn’t wasting electricity or fuel.  We don’t have the main furnace installed yet and I couldn’t get the space heater plugged in – old oil heater plug plus old electrical outlet equals no heat.  But I truly don’t mind – it must be the old Girl Scout in me that just loves the outside air, no matter what time of year it is!  When I was a girl and my family was on a road trip, Mom used to tell Dad, “Okay, I need some real air now!” as she reached to turn off the air conditioning.  Guess I have a bit of Mom in me, too!

So last night, I piled on the covers.  Nothing quite like snuggling under the weight of several blankets when it’s chilly outside (and inside) to make me feel all is right with the world.  And then I cranked open the louvered window just enough so I could hear Seneca Rocks at night.

Mountain sounds are the best.  I guess some folks would argue that nothing beats the sound of surf pounding on a beach, but for me, it’s a treat to listen to the night creatures and the North Fork River churning its way through the bedrock. Before moving here, my home was fairly close to I-95 and its parallel highway, Route 1.  I mention Route 1 because whenever traffic came to a halt on I-95, as it did a few times a week, every vehicle was diverted to Route 1.  That was within walking distance of my townhouse.  You can imagine the traffic noises I heard constantly.  Sirens screamed frequently as emergency vehicles raced to the next accident on the interstate. Air traffic was ever-present, too, as were the “Sounds of Freedom” from Quantico Marine Corps Base.  It was typical to hear muffled explosions from the base as different training exercises were conducted; occasionally, Quantico’s public relations office would issue a “Noise Advisory” when drills were going to get really loud.  “Residents in the immediate vicinity of Marine Corps Base Quantico may experience an increase in noise as an affect from training or range clearance operations…” No kidding!  I can only imagine how loud it must be when the Marines are close to those detonations.  On rare occasions, it felt like a truckload of C-4 had gone off in front of my home.

You can understand that listening to mountain sounds is a very pleasant change for me.  In the past few nights, I’ve heard fox kits playing beneath a full moon, the river as it tumbles over bedrock ledges in the “Blue Hole”, and on one night, an owl hooting from its perch on Germany Knob.  I’ve never heard an owl hoot quite as loud or as deep as that owl!  In my estimation, judging on sound alone, I would guess that old owl is about four feet tall.  Imagine its wingspan!  (Yep, I do have a good imagination!)

So even when it’s chilly here, I love cracking the window above my pillow open ever so slightly just to hear the night sounds. When I woke yesterday, it was 51 degrees in the house; this morning, it’s feeling downright balmy at 55.

Our dog, Snickle-Fritz, feels every temperature change, I’m sure.  He has a very short coat and gets cold easily.  The dear thing has been known to stand at the side of the bed and try to nose his way under the covers very s-l-o-w-l-y, as if I’d never notice his 65 pound body sliding ever so gracefully (?) into bed. Snickle really gets cold!  I can’t help but make room for him when he jumps on the bed and dives under the covers.  Look at his face – who could resist that?

Dog asleep

Obviously, not me.  Sharing my bed with a big lump of warm dog has all sorts of benefits in the mountains. Not only is Snickle as warm as a loaf of bread fresh from the oven, he curls up right next to me like an enormous, living teddy bear.  I love this!

I discovered another advantage to having a dog under the covers with me on a cold night.  Last night, I didn’t wear socks to bed and my feet were like blocks of ice.  Not wishing to get out of bed – and into the chilly air – to retrieve a pair of socks, I did the next best thing.  I wriggled my feet toward Snickle-Fritz.  S-l-o-w-l-y.  He never even noticed.  So I wormed my toes in a bit closer to his delightfully toasty tummy.  He didn’t stir!  It was heavenly, thawing my frozen feet on Snickle’s warm, soft skin.

Folks know that a dog is good for a number of things – companionship, protection, and around here, bear hunting.  But on cold nights, my dog is better than a pair of socks!






Valentine’s Day in the Field

On Saturday, February 13, 2016, our neighbor, Doug, informed us that the water fountains in the two meadows he leases for part of his Black Angus herd had stopped working.  Doug had called in another neighbor, Dave, and together they’d spent several hours working in the water box the previous night.  But the problem was bigger than just a simple repair.  Dave would’ve been able to do any electrical work necessary – he’s a master electrician.  But he suspected the pump in the well was bad.

Since we live in the country, Dave called the local well and pump man, a Mennonite who is well respected and admired.  The pump man delivered the materials Dave thought he’d need to the farm.

Thus began a full day of removing the pump and replacing it, replacing some sort of air bladder that keeps pressure regulated, as well as changing out the electrical parts that make the pump operate. I was lucky to be included in these efforts and eased down 5 feet to get standing water from the space where the air tank goes. Since I was down there, I got to put white pipe goop on pipe threads and attach old fittings to new, warm up hose with a propane torch, and then tighten all the metal hose clamps. I had a blast! It was great to help contribute as three farmers worked to fix the problem. It helped that one of those farmers is also a master electrician!

This morning, I went to check on the fountain near our place. It’s a sturdy plastic box, about 4’x4′ and 20″ high with four round openings for the cattle to access the water. Red plastic balls float into the circular openings when cattle aren’t drinking. The fountain works a bit like the innards of a toilet tank, even has a float.

The fountain wasn’t working. Again. So right now, those three farmers, all neighbors, have pulled out the pump to see what the problem is. The pump is attached to the bottom of about 150′ of rubber tubing. Now they’re replacing a wire that runs the length of the rubber tubing. Hopefully, that will get it functional again. Especially since the temperature is dropping and night is falling.

I’m going to remember all the hours spent fixing that well which, 7 hours later, is still being fussed over. I’ll remember the labors of three farm neighbors who, on this Valentine’s Day, left their loved ones in warm homes while they braved frigid temperatures to get water flowing to one man’s herd. The price of that Black Angus steak doesn’t seem too bad after all.

Pat OShea Man, you guys work hard. Thanks

Sandra Sweeney
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You won’t believe how beautiful they sound.

A YouTube channel released videos of Disney princesses singing in their native languages and it’s incredibly cool.
Sandra Sweeney
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Ağır çekim çakır (atmaca şahini) show.

Slow motion goshawk show.

Sandra Sweeney
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Amazing heart emoticon Watch this Video smile emoticon

This Old Corn Knife

I have an affinity for old tools.  FarmerHoney calls them “rusty junk” but to me, they’re treasures!

Perhaps the oddest old tool in my little collection is a knife that was once used to cut corn stalks.  The blade is about 14 inches long (looks quite lethal from a distance) and the handle is not original.  I think the handle is my favorite part of this knife.  It was crudely (perhaps rapidly) carved from a piece of wood, slit to insert the base of the knife, and then wrapped with wire to secure it.  I’m sure it was much more secure when it was first made than it is now!

Old corn knife 4

I find it intriguing to think about the man who made this knife.  Obviously a thrifty soul, he most likely made it out of necessity.  Had his old knife handle broken while he was working in the corn field?  Did he hasten to find a suitable branch and carve it into a handle so he could get on with the day’s work?  I wonder if he put this together during the Great Depression, when even spending pennies for a new knife handle would have been considered frivolous.  Look how worn the blade is – it would take many corn stalks over many years to wear the metal down so much.  I wonder how many acres of corn he had and how long it took before his back was aching, bent over the corn stalks, cutting with that knife?  Did he gather the corn stalks up in sheaves?  Did he use the corn to feed livestock and, if so, what sort of animals did he keep?  I imagine he had to have a pig.

Since colonial times, pigs have been staples of farm life.  First, they could eat anything – in addition to foraging for their own food, they would consume table scraps that might otherwise go to waste.  Pigs even eat other animals – they’ll eat a nest of rabbits if they dig one up.  During the building of the Erie Canal, work was stopped along one section near Lockport when immigrant workers discovered LOTS of rattlesnakes living in the rock the canal would later go through.  This was long before anti venom, so I don’t blame the Irish for stopping work until the snakes were cleared.   I don’t know who had the idea of bringing in pigs to deal with the rattlers, but it was a magnificent one!  Pigs ate the rattlesnakes and work on the canal returned to normal.

Pigs were also used in trade.  A pig was a bit like having money in the bank for settlers.  Maybe my Depression-era farmer was able to get what he needed for his family this way. I wonder what a pig was worth in trade?  How many bushels of apples?

I guess this is why I just love my old tools, my “rusty junk”.  It’s not just the object itself that I find fascinating.  It’s the history, the stories, behind each item.  And, as you can tell from my musings here, one question, one thought, leads to another!

History is not some dry topic we once read about in school.  Heaven help those who’ve had to memorize meaningless dates ad infinitum!  History is so much more!  Give a child (or an adult who thinks history is boring) an implement used in the past and challenge him to tell how it was made, what it was used for.  Ask him what sort of person might have used the tool.  During what time period?  What does he think the person might have worn, or had for breakfast on a typical day?  Now, history becomes personal. Now, we can relate to other people in other times.

And now, history becomes endlessly fascinating.