Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Autumn Chores

I got married a week and a half ago, and this past weekend John and I went out to Pennsylvania’s really rural north-central section, where we sought out the elk. We’ve both seen them in the Rockies, but seeing them here at home is better. For one thing, some of them are right by the road and easy to get a good look at, but the main pleasure is in knowing that these big old things live in the same state as you. It makes you feel more genuine somehow.

In the days between the wedding and now, the tent was taken down and the borrowed pans and lemonade dispenser and so forth are slowly being returned to their owners. I have been feeling positively nostalgic for the misty past when I used to occasionally think about dinner more than ten minutes before its scheduled serving time. Yesterday and today the weather has been delightful—warmish and sunny and playing off the yellow leaves that are still on the trees and vines, and I managed to take in the garden hoses and drain the spigots, move the water lily to the frog pond for the winter and put out the floating de-icer to keep the frogs’ ice open so they can respirate way down in the mud at the bottom. There’s one frog in there that is either already asleep or just dead. Can’t say for sure. But most of them are a little active in the warm part of the day and apparently senseless by dark, not unlike myself.

This morning I roasted a pan of squash and broccoli and rutabagas that had been standing around in the fridge for a couple days, and for supper tonight I will make them into a fall vegetable quiche. It makes me feel sane to know what is for dinner tonight when it’s barely past lunch yet, and to have my garden hoses in the garage, and my frogs safely plugged in for winter. I like celebrations, and I had a wildly wonderful time at the wedding, but normal life at its best is so sweet. Life is endlessly entertaining if you’re easily amused. And thank goodness I am.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Barnyard Lockdown

The barnyard was attacked Monday sometime in the late morning by an unknown assailant. I came home and let the dogs out, then went out to break up the ensuing fight, and found the corgis with the neighbor dog pinned to the stone wall in the barnyard. There were no chicken corpses in sight, so I took him back to his pen and let his family know he was out again. Then I went back to see where all the hens had gotten to, and found a series of disturbing things—a trail of white turkey feathers in the barnyard, just a handful of chickens and no turkey in the hen room of the barn, two terrified sheep with bloodied throats pressed against the back wall of their part of the barn, making no sound. The third sheep, Joshua, was gone.

I ran back to the neighbors', because he’s a dairy farmer and she’s a nurse, and asked them to check and see whether Harry, the sheep with the badly torn throat, needed a vet. They thought he would be all right, and they and their daughter spent an hour combing the orchard, helping me look for the missing sheep. We found downed electric fence, the rest of the hens way up in the rafters of the barn, and even the turkey hiding in the brush pile, but no sheep, no corpse and no kill site. Joshua had four horns, including two that stuck straight up from his head like daggers, so clearly whatever had attacked was fairly large and serious.

I did not think the neighbor dog was implicated because he had no blood on him. He had probably come down and broken up whatever was going on. I felt certain that Joshua had been carried off by a bear, a bobcat or a mountain lion, all of which are known to be working in the area, probably when he came to defend his twin brother whose throat was so badly ripped up. Harry, the hurt sheep, never says anything and depends completely on his brother to decide how to spend his days. What Joshua decides to do, they do. Where he decides to graze, they graze. Part of the sorrow of the attack was how Harry would ever recover from the loss of his twin.

I took in the electric fence for the season, piled an overturned picnic table against the original pasture gate that has a little gap under it, wired the second gate across the opening we’d cut but not yet finished into the most recent electric pasture, then called for my new husband to bring home a bale of hay from the barn at his mother’s dairy farm, since we haven’t laid in our hay yet for the winter. The two remaining sheep would not leave the barn. That night for the first time since winter, I locked them into their room for the night.

John and I had just gotten married Saturday in a tent not far from the barnyard, and I was kind of struck by how fast normal life comes back. Cold rain, rental return people, predators in the orchard. The works.

Then Tuesday morning before I was completely awake, John jumped out of bed yelling, “I hear him! I hear him!” He threw open the window and I could hear Joshua’s familiar voice calling from the opening where the second gate was now blocking his return. In the barn, roaring at the top of his lungs, Harry was calling in reply.

Joshua was not badly hurt. He’s back to chewing his cud in moments of repose, and even venturing out into the barn dooryard to eat dead leaves. Harry follows. And the electrician is out today, wiring outlets into the barn walls, into one of which I am going to plug the permanent fence charger that will electrify the barnyard fence. I considered heavily armed guard towers at the corners of the barnyard as well, but that may be excessive.

You don’t have to lose many sheep to start understanding the people who hunted all the large predators to extinction in eastern North America. I’m not saying it was a good idea, but I think the farther people get from the farm and the woods, the more sentimental they become about animals, and the less they see the even-handedness with which animals murder one another the first chance they get, humans included. Meanwhile, I am 100% on the same page with the biblical author who wrote about the joy of getting your lost sheep back.