Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Shiny bugs

We're having a heat wave here, 76 degrees F this afternoon. That brought out the bugs, which made the chickens happy.

I disturbed this Six-spotted Green Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata) today while planting irises. It's small, maybe a half inch long, but the metallic green stands out against the bare dirt. It scurried away quickly, but was persuaded by a hastily constructed dirt dam to pause and pose for a photo.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Another armadillo hole

Last week's armadillo adventure ended when it dived into this hole. It's located in a thicket of locust saplings. Between the orchard and the strawberry bed. Now we have holes everywhere. Big holes. Little holes. Something's going to break a leg stepping into a hole where there wasn't a hole the day before. So how does one go about issuing an eviction notice to an armadillo?
At first I thought this hole under the stanchions in the old barn might be another armadillo bolt hole. The steady level of skunk odor indicates it's probably the striped one's hangout.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Armadillo wars

Another skirmish today, and the armadillo lived to dig another day. The dogs spotted our resident armadillo early this evening when we headed out to escort the cow back to her stall in the barn. As usual, it leaped, bounced, zigged, zagged, then dived down the nearest burrow. Blue, the old Aussie, dug as fast as he could, showing the pup how it's done.
A tree root was in the way, so Blue tried to gnaw through it. Then he tried to jerk it out of the ground.
Bebe, the 5-month-old farmcollie, checks out the burrow.
Bebe, diving into the brush after the armadillo.
The burrow. I could hear a 'whump, whump' sound from the armadillo when I leaned close, but it was too far down the hole to see it. For more about armadillos, click here and here. Or here for some intriguing pictures and roadkill humor.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


The neighborhood pest visited the barn last night. Black body, white stripe, you know the type. It missed me and three of the four dogs. Poor Blue guarded our retreat and took a blast to the muzzle.

Hence the doggie bath scene. Poor Blue.
Blue didn't like the soapy hair horns or the doggie mohawk either.

Deskunking formula
1 pint hydrogen peroxide
1/4 cup baking soda
1 big squirt Dawn dishsoap

Sponge on. Scrub well. Leave the mixture on the dog for at least 10 minutes. We used a double batch for Blue, a 35-pound Australian Shepherd. His collar is soaking in a single batch of the formula.

Sorry, no skunk photos. While I immediately identified it as mephitis mephitis, your standard striped skunk, I recognized that purposeful gleam in its beady little eyes and quickly decided not to further antagonize it with the camera's flash.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dessert for cows

About 4 p.m. every day, the Jersey cow leaves her grazing spot at the other end of the pasture for this clearing near the old barn. Early weed sprouts grow thickly here. Chickweed seems to be her favorite, and she's keeping it trimmed short. Posted by Picasa

Monday, February 13, 2006

Winter blooms

I bought this moth orchid plant last summer on clearance, after it finished blooming, without a tag. I'm really not a 'pink' kind of gal, but I love the pink veins and the rich fuschia throat of this blossom. Beautiful, isn't it? Posted by Picasa

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Still burning

We're calling this the volcano tree. It 'erupted' this afternoon while I was crossing my neighbor's pasture to check on a couple of hot spots left from Tuesday's fire. I heard a loud crackling and looked across the pond just in time to watch the top blow off this tree. Okay, maybe it didn't exactly blow off, but in my sleep-deprived, caffeine overload condition, it seemed like it was blowing off. In slow motion, of course. Flames shot out the top of the trunk, then smoke billowed out so thick that I thought we were in big trouble.

Not so, as it turns out. The biggest trouble is the top of this very large, grandfather oak tree landed directly on the fenceline and wiped out a nice long section. Just one more extra chore for the farmer next door. The fire, however impressive, died down to a manageable level quickly enough. Hopefully it'll burn itself out soon. Hopefully there aren't any more of these quietly smoldering out there. That's been the trouble with this fire, the smoldering embers tucked away at the base of an old stump, or a dead tree, or a dying tree, or one that looks pretty good but has a nice hollow spot started at the base. The fire can spread through it before there's any outward sign. Posted by Picasa
Peeking inside the hollow base...actually, it glowed a lot brighter, but the camera's flash changed the lighting enough to make the ash on the hot embers visible. Posted by Picasa
Same view, no flash. Posted by Picasa
More shadows - voila! Art! Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

This clearing is just across the creek from the house, maybe 150 feet away. It was all on fire when I arrived home from errands Tuesday afternoon. Fortunately a neighbor had already called the fire department, and they arrived right behind me. I grabbed a long-sleeved shirt and a shovel, tied my hair back, and joined them. I'm not sure how much of a difference my efforts made, but there's no way I could stand back and just watch.

By dusk, the fire was out except for a few smoldering spots -- old logs, dead trees, stumps, and what remained of the big bale of hay in my neighbor's pasture. About 35 or 40 acres had burned, but not my house or barn, not the livestock, and it hadn't spread beyond the two properties, mine and the farm pasture to the west. Neighbors made sure I had their phone numbers, and the fire chief made sure I planned to keep an eye on things through the night and would call them if the fire flared up again. For some reason, he thought it necessary to tell me twice that I was NOT to try to put it out by myself.

It's been more than 24 hours, and I'm still keeping an eye on some smoldering stumps. I've washed the ash and soot out of my hair. A couple of naps eased the exhaustion. I keep walking out, checking the sky for smoke, walking the burnt perimeter to check for sparks, dumping jugs of water on embers that dare to show themselves. We've had little rain or snow the last few months, and the land is so dry. I'm nervous. And grateful, so very grateful that the damage wasn't worse, that my home is safe.

A lot of that gratitude is owed to the volunteer firefighters who came, did their jobs well, and treated me with consideration and respect. In the dark of the night, as I patrolled the fire's path, checking for hot spots, alone except for my dogs, I found myself smiling. A lot. I live in a great place, surrounded by great people. It's home. Really home. I belong here.

There's still the issue of how the fire started, and the education of a certain person, who doesn't seem to understand the finer points of choosing an appropriate time for a 'controlled burn'. I'm told he's been ticketed for burning during a drought-induced burn ban. I'm told he's been billed by the fire department for firefighting expenses. I'm told he may build a house down this way and someday be a neighbor instead of a weekend visitor. My neighbor with the burnt pasture next to mine and I discussed all this today. We think it's a path we need to tread carefully. There's a long future to consider. Posted by Picasa
The entire south pasture looks like this.  Posted by Picasa
This summer, the pond was surrounded by wildflowers, knee deep grass, and blackberry bushes.  Posted by Picasa
Looking northeast from the tall tree stand, across my neighbor's pasture. He lost his hay, fenceposts, a retaining wall, and a few months use of the pasture while it recovers. The cattle pastured there escaped injury. Posted by Picasa

Burnt oak grove

West of the house, several acres of mature oaks border a tiny creek. That section now looks like this. The healthy trees should be fine, and I'm sure the undergrowth will recover nicely. Right now though, every step through the trees stirs up a cloud of ash. Posted by Picasa