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Category Archives: country life

Entropy

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Life tends toward chaos, and nowhere is that more evident to me than life on a little farm.  Weeds take over the driveway.  Grapevines grow through the woods and try to choke out the trees.  Poison ivy climbs the fences.  Mulberry trees and black walnut trees sprout up everywhere.  Tree branches hang low.  And of course, the grass grows.

Summer is when I work to beat back entropy.

Last week I discovered that grape vines were not just in our woods (something we knew when we moved here), but actually growing on the corner of the house.  I pulled them off, cut back the walnut trees that had sprouted up amidst them, and tidied that area.

When I walked over to the neighbor’s house to let out her dog (she’s got a new job that requires her to be gone for long hours), I noticed that the side of our barn had weeds and grapevines, plus an overgrown maple tree that needed trimming.  So while Boomer (the neighbor’s dog) watched, I took care of all that.

Poison ivy is sprouting up on fences and trees and around Husband’s wood shop.  I took a bottle of Round Up to all that I found.

A few days ago, I noticed that our 80-year-old neighbor, as he mowed his back field, struggled a bit to mow around a mulberry tree whose branches were sagging all the way to the ground.  I called over and asked his wife if it would be okay for me to cut it back for him, and she said that would be just fine.  So I wiggled through the woods and over the fence with my nippers and cut down some sizable branches.

Then I made my way back into our woods where I knew the grapevines were going crazy.  I cut a bunch of them off and hauled out what I had energy for.  Vines are still hanging from the treetops, but they’ll die since they aren’t connected to the ground anymore.  Someday I’ll get back in there, yank them down, and pull them to the fire pit as well.  I wish I knew a way to kill the things.  They are so darn resilient.

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There’s a big pile of stuff to burn now, and as soon as it all dries out, I’ll light it up and take delight in watching it burn.  It brings a little order back to the place.

Until it all grows back.

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Fairy Finder

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A Bernadette Smart Adventure

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They call her Beena the Fairy Finder.  She wears overalls and a straw hat, but keeps her feet bare.  “If a fairy sees giant shoes coming, she hides more than ever,” Beena said once in an interview.  “Fairies are terrified of shoes, for some reason. Maybe it’s because they don’t wear any.”

Today, Beena’s search takes her to a strawberry patch.  She is especially fond of Fruit Fairies – those who live amongst strawberry plants, blueberry bushes, and orchards.  When the fruit ripens, Beena has found, a careful hunter is more likely to find the fairies. “They assume you are looking just for the fruit,” she explains.  “So they are less afraid and more bold.”

Beena carries an aluminum sieve with her to gather the strawberries.  She has rolled up her pant legs to avoid brushing against the plants and startling the fairies.  Quietly, quietly, she enters the strawberry patch. It’s the end of May, and the ripe strawberries are abundant, their fresh aroma on the breeze.  Beena begins to pick the bright red fruit, keeping a sharp eye out for those for whom she is really looking.

It takes a while before she sees one.  Even on their most careless days, Fruit Fairies are secretive and difficult to spot.  Finally, Beena sees a shimmer in the corner of her eye. “Ah ha!” she thinks, but makes no sudden moves.  She continues with her task, but half her attention is now directed toward the place where she saw the movement.  Now, a slight flutter beneath a leaf. Beena works her way toward the tiny creature. “Tika tika tika too,” she sings softly.  Another movement. “Nikatee pop!” she says.

No one knows how Beena learned to communicate with the fairies, and she says the language is impossible to translate to English, but somehow she makes the fairies understand she is no threat.  “Teedle-dee nick-swop!”

A rustle of leaves.  A flitter of wings. Two eyes peer out and blink.  Beena smiles, moving slowly toward the fairy. A young one, she observes, with wispy red hair and light, green, chiffon-like clothing, and a wee green cap on her head.  For a moment, the fairy hides again behind the jagged strawberry leaf. Beena reassures her again with another “Tika tika tika too,” and the minuscule creature, brave but cautious, inches out.  “Beena neewalla,” Beena the Fairy Finder says.

Perhaps because she is young, or perhaps because she is unusually courageous, the fairy unexpectedly comes out from under the plant.  “Berrah neewalla,” a tiny voice replies. Tiny, but rich and sweet like honey, not a bit tinny for all its smallness.

“Ah, Berrah!” Beena breathes.  It is incredibly rare for a fairy to introduce herself to anyone, and Beena relishes the moment.  She begins to reach out, ever so slowly, to Berrah, when something suddenly startles the fairy, sending her flying across the strawberry patch.  Beena turns to see a sleek black cat trotting toward her.

“Oh, Mr. Wiggles,” she sighs.  “You scared her away.”

“Mrow,” Mr. Wiggles apologizes.

“Oh well.”  She scratches Mr. Wiggles under the chin.  “Maybe I’ll see her again. For now, I’ll finish picking the berries.”  Bernadette smiles, knowing there will be strawberries and cream for dessert tonight.

The Stick Farm

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In that photo, past the snowflakes (!!), you might just be able to see some sticks protruding from the ground.  This is our little orchard — soon to be a much bigger orchard!

Husband decided to place a big order this spring, for fruit trees and berry bushes.  We had been adding just a few a year, but he’s impatient for plums and cherries and blackberries and raspberries and peaches.  He decided to splurge this spring and buy a whole bunch of trees and bushes.  When he called the seed company to make the order, he told them that he was going to be out of the country and to please wait until a particular date to ship the plants.

And then he was off to the northern part of Canada.  I held down the fort, keeping fed the dogs, the cat, the chickens, and the rabbits.  One day when I got home from school, I saw a package at the front door.  Since we never use the front door (always going in the back), I forgot about it.  And the next day, I saw it there again and figured I should retrieve it.  Assuming it was probably tools or something that Husband had ordered for his business, I was in no hurry.

Except it wasn’t tools.  It was trees.

And Husband wouldn’t be back for almost a week.  And I had no time to plant trees. Their fate was to languish by the back door until he returned.

So I carted the box to the back porch and hoped for the best.

When Husband returned home, he contacted the seed company and explained what happened.  To make up for it, they agreed to send the whole shipment again, free of charge, and we could keep the original shipment, too.

So, we planted about 10 bushes and 8 trees.

And then when the second shipment of bushes came, we planted those, too.  The second shipment of trees hasn’t arrived yet.

It looks like we are growing sticks out there.  But someday, we hope, we’ll be growing lots and lots of fruit.

A Season of Waiting

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A February sunrise at our place.

It isn’t quite spring, but perhaps the coldest weather is over.  Still, it’s too early to plant herbs or tomatoes or peppers or squashes.  It’s too early to plant berry bushes or fruit trees.  The seed catalogs have come in the mail, and they tempt me with their colors and their promises of fresh, juicy flavors.  The trees are still bare and the grass is still brown, but the birds have started chirping more, knowing that the days are getting longer, and there is just a little time before spring breaks out.

The busiest season of ice carving is coming to an end.  After two months of extensive travel, late nights of barely sleeping, and carving so much his hands swell, Husband sees the light at the end of the tunnel.  It’s nice to have the income.  But it will be nice for him to be able to relax, as well.  And after some rest, the work on the house will resume – the milling, the shaping, the fitting together of beams.  But this week, there will be the catching up on sleep, the organization of paperwork that was neglected during the crazy months, and the preparation for a different kind of work.

One of the busiest seasons of teaching is ahead.  We’ll do state testing this week, and then we’ll have just one more week until spring break.  Then March, April, and May will be filled with students’ research projects, field trips, another round of testing, choosing materials for next year, and all the other craziness that accompanies the end of school. I try to work ahead and get things ready, knowing that no matter what I do, I’m never truly prepared when the cyclone hits.  For now, for just a little longer, I enjoy the calm before the storm.

For now, we wait.

A To-do List

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Split and stack the firewood

Make sure there’s enough kindling

Put the bicycle away, out of the weather

Pull out the warmer bedding

.           the heavy blankets

.            the down comforter

.           maybe even the flannel sheets

Drape afghans on the backs of chairs,

.           ready for evenings of reading, cuddled up

Stock up on cozy teas and hot chocolate

Assess the condition of the insulated boots

.          the long underwear

.          the hats, gloves, and snow pants

Shut the big window on the chicken coop

.          but make sure they have enough light

Give the rabbits more straw, to help them stay warmer

Put some soup on to simmer

And enjoy the winter

The Summer of the Mouse

This cat is the nicest, cuddliest, sweetest cat ever.

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But this summer, she’s been slacking off.

This summer, we have caught fourteen mice in our trap under the kitchen sink. Fourteen! What happened to our fierce hunter? Is this the same cat, who, just six months after we got her, joyfully deposited a dead mouse at my feet on Christmas morning? Is this the same cat who spent the following six months killing mice out in the field and bringing them to the back porch to win approval?

Perhaps we should cut back on her allotment of kibble. Maybe she’s gotten spoiled by evenings on my lap, head rubs, and belly scratches.

After all, just the other day when I was singing her a song, she actually put her paw on my mouth with a look that said, “Hush. Just be a pretty face.”

Perhaps she is spoiled rotten.

But just when I think she has turned from mighty hunter to worthless lap-cat, she kills another mouse, as if to prove to me that she’s worth it.

And the purring and cuddles are pretty nice, too.

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Bernadette Smart is the main character in the middle grade novel I’m writing. She has a vivid imagination that takes her on all sorts of adventures! Bernadette also has a cat. His name is Mr. Wiggles. Next month, I’ll share a story about Bernadette and Mr. Wiggles.

The best day for it

If I had to get locked out of the house in February, this was the right day for it to happen. The sunshine makes the unseasonably warm 58 degrees feel just perfect. The birds are chirping happily, and just beyond the pasture where seven horses graze, the corn stubble simmers in the afternoon light. A perfectly blue sky is a canopy above me.

I admit, I am awfully hungry, and my back aches a bit from sitting in this wooden lawn swing for the last two hours. But all things considered, being locked out of the house hasn’t been nearly as bad as it could have been.

Still, we should have another key made so we can hide it outside.