A Tale of Two Summers

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Last summer, fresh and flushed from India, I wrote a long entry to begin this far field blog. Then life took over, and this writer turned to other things. Here are two blog entries I wrote last summer, part one of this tale of two summers:

Perimeters (Summer 2008): The field’s edge, on the far side of the garden, is clearer now that we’ve spent most of the week on what we are calling the perimeter project. We’ve taken down a dozen or so large trees—a mix of oaks, maples and birch. A few small scraggly white pines, trying to find their place under the dense canopy, and lots of glossy buckthorn, have had to go as well. Taking down two dark leafy oak trees yesterday morning freed up the edge even more, allowing more light to fall on the lighter green leaves of the maples. These huge columns of wood, growing out over the field for decades, slowly fell to the ground with a clash of branches and a deep thud. The wall that runs between the field and the creek show the passing of time, too. Once stacked carefully, to last, the stones are now less organized. In places the growth of tree roots has pushed stones to either side of the wall. In other places stones have slipped and lean against the main wall. We’re opening up the field, turning over the soil and then planting with grass more suitable for grazing. Yesterday, D had the big John Deere pulling the plows and the dirt rolled off the smooth metal blades like water from the prow of a ship. He turned up a few large stones and at one point I had to help turn the plow with my smaller tractor when a rock pushed it to the side and one of the pins sheared off and the blades turned over to the side.

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Calling it a Day (Summer 2008): Naming farm animals, as most people know, has its risks. Yesterday, as W was moving the fences and sheep, we lost one of B’s young rams. It happened in a moment when no one was looking. Our favorite young Tetsal, Lighting Bug —a ram who we nursed for weeks in the carriage barn when his mother rejected him—was taken out by one of the older rams in the upper pasture (Buddy? Chilo? Ian? Albert?). At the time we were down digging a hole for the outhouse when W asked us to come and help him move a stunned little ram. As the ewes and Ralph were moved to fresh grass, W had put Bugs in the upper field for a couple of minutes (an unfortunate lesson, he would remark later). During that brief interval of time he was hit in the head—rammed is the word—by one of the others. One of his small horn nubs had been smashed into his nasal cavity. And he was bleeding from the nose. His body, shaking and limp, lay crumpled on the grass. We loaded him into the cart and wheeled him to a stall in the back barn. And for the rest of the day we watched him—propping him up when we could, checking on his breathing, seeing if he might take any water. He remained stunned, breathing regularly, eyes half open, unable to lift his head. Occasionally, his back legs would flail. And then he would go still. W decided to see if he might improve overnight. I walked out to the barn to check on him before dark. He was breathing and still quiet. Later, some time after eleven or so, it started to rain. The night was full of thunder and light and heavy downpours. At dawn the sky was still and the barn was quiet, too. But lighting Bug was gone.

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More Rain (summer 2008) All this last week in July, or so it seems, we have been either drying out or getting ready for more rain. Governor’s Brook is running again and the sound of pouring water puts us to sleep at night. After a winter and spring away from the farm, the culverts between the barns and the house are clogged with gravel and sand. And so I take the good part of one morning to dig out the gravel so the water might flow more freely under the road. We’ve been picking raspberries, blueberries and blackberries and, as they say here in New England, “putting up” jars and jars of berry jam. Weeds are us in the gardens, too, and so I have been spending my share of time in the garden. Yesterday morning was warm and humid—the only really clear sky we’ve had all week—and R and I find ourselves working under the shade of the big maple trees behind her cabin. We’re repairing and righting the outhouse that has been lying on its side for years. We excavated a hole about three or four feet deep, placed a small stone platform along the edges to support the wooden structure and laid the floor with some of the pine boards still stacked in the back barn. Later in the day J and R dropped by on their way from Georgia to Maine. J has a teaching gig at Unity College. We sat at the table on the stone patio out back and ate oversize slices of R’s berry pie, talked about India and then floated on our backs in the pond. The next day I get outside around noon after a quiet morning of academic work. The sky is grey and darkening as I set to clearing glossy buckthorn and small trees between the outhouse and the edge of the lower field (every outhouse should have a view). I’m pulling huge grape vines from the limbs of the maple trees. And more than once I end up on my back as the woody vines break free and I tumble into the soft mud and damp, waist-high grass. After a few hours of sweat and heavy breathing rain begins to fall, lightly at first, and then in a torrent. The dog and I run back up to house in the rain and thunder and call it a day.

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Fowl and the Weather (Summer 2009) It’s been raining since early June. The garden was in before the persistent rains began, greening the fields and keeping the wool of sheep wet into the night. Foul weather, perhaps, but happily bringing the water table up and keeping the pond full. Earlier, in April, we hear the first spring peepers and then the bull horn bass of the green frogs and then, a month later, the ringing of tree frogs—the music we did not hear last April and May in Pune. Salamanders appear, hanging in the pond water as if gravity were a myth. Then the leaves unfurl and the forest is lime green for weeks before a deeper green washes over the forest. Green fields and sunny days in May. And then the coming of rain, as if the monsoons we missed last spring and summer had followed us back to Water Run farm. While the rains continue, we find ourselves back in the presence of fowl—fifteen of them, to be precise, a flock of molting birds about a year old from a farm up in Saxton’s River. We have no coop but know that having chickens should help get that project off the ground. Two weeks pass, with me nervous, and then one morning we look out and see a lone New Hampshire Red standing forlorn on the rock in the pond. Sure enough, the flock is scattered and the one sick chicken is gone. So I get to work on the coop. But the next night, as I anticipate, another chicken is missing. Racoon? Weasel? Owl? Late at night Rebecca hears a wild, wild scream and we settle on a Fisher. (Who has eaten two barn cats down the road this past week.) So, more work on the coop. I’m building it into the old silo on the south side of the big barn. I put in a floor first, and then a ceiling and a wall and a door. I then cut a door for the birds to get out into the yard and head over to Chesham to the fence place to get a 164’ roll of poultry net to fence the barnyard. We end up with twelve chickens, must healthier and happier now, spending the days in the sun, scratching the grass, and nights together in the coop safe from the animals that scream in the night. This week we’ve been grateful for seven or so eggs each day.

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