Saturday, December 21, 2013

Make that... snowy December

Suddenly we have snow, about three inches, and everything is lighter and brighter. I'm OK with that. The roads and driveways are still passable, so I don't yet have to get the riding non-mower ready to plow. No work until Jan. 2. Just lots of time to do what needs to be done (make some presents, sleep, loaf, work on a few house projects...).

The barn has become the hangout spot for the big animals. Below, you can kind of see the goatish brat on the wrong side of the pallet partition. I'm trying to get the openings big enough for heads and horns, but too small for fat goat bellies, without getting anybody stuck or trapped. It's a work in progress. I think the barn is a success, though neighbors shake their heads. Yes, I know the foundation is busted and tilted in about four places – but the frame is solid. I think it'll stand (swaybacked) for many more years. We've spent a total of $140 for used metal roofing and $5 in roofing screws. The rest is free pallets, found lumber, and time. Mostly Richard's time. :) And KC's. Thanks, guys.


Above, Savvy uses a fence post to scratch an itch under her huge winter coat. I like the chunks of snow on her back.

The boys and I rambled around a bit to check out the snow.

That's the boss chicken there at the gate, and a huddle of guineas. At bottom, the early winter greenhouse. We'll enclose it and start plants there next month.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Snowless December

That's Tricks, the dark sheep; Mo the goatling; Azul the alpaca; and Earl, the specked dog off to the left. They like the barn, especially the goats, who enjoy defeating my attempts to keep them out of the hay bales and storage area.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Wood and the aftermath

Yesterday was a big wood day. Em and Richard and Autumn came out, we took two vehicles and one saw, and we spent a few hours gathering and hauling and cutting and loading and unloading. And repeat. It was awesome. There's now a great heap of six-foot-long logs on the north patio, and I'm sitting against a heating pad in my recliner; C. likewise. You should have seen Autumn hoisting whole trees out of slash piles and toting them to the cutting pile. And Richard hauling fat logs up the hill to the truck. C. did some major hauling, too. Em ran the saw most of the time. I loaded smaller logs into the vehicles, stepping carefully and lifting with the legs. Still hurts.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

December already

Well, stuff has happened. Time has passed. I guess.

The cold snap is over. It was bitterly cold, down to -2 one night, for the last week, but has warmed up. Nearly 30 today. We just hunkered down and kept the fire stoked all week. Didn't do anything extra. There was pumpkin pie, though, and mashed potatoes and excellent mushroom gravy.

The big animals have access to the barn, finally. Azul is still suspicious but the goatlings enjoy romping in the straw. Not sure what the sheep think about it. They just look at me with those wonky sideways pupils. My friend Terry says that their eyes look like slotted screws that adjust their ear angles. It's true!

C. took some fowl photos today. Here are the two checkered hens in the door of the chicken house - or the chook shack as I'm calling it.

 And here's one of the guineas, mottled wattles akimbo, sitting blandly in the field. They've been going out a little since it warmed up.

The weekend is coming, and we're planning to get wood, wood, wood. The cold spell depleted the woodpile most precipitously.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mushrooming in November

Five of us went mushrooming and wood-cutting Saturday. We spent about three hours in deep cedar and fir woods with lots of downed trees and needle-carpeted clearings. We didn't find anything great - a few chanterelles, lots of russulas and many, many ones we couldn't identify. Fun, though.

Not sure if these are the horn-of-plenty mushrooms that are supposed to be delicious, or some club types that are not. There were hundreds of them.

I didn't pick this one, but I'm pretty sure it's a mouse-pee pinkgill (Entoloma incanum). (No, I'm not tempted to eat anything named mouse-pee.) It's the greenest 'shroom I've ever seen, though.
Here's a spore print, helpful in identifying mushrooms. You just remove the stem and lay the cap gills-down on colored paper for a few hours.

Below, Richard checks out a big one. And bottom, he found a hollow stump with cascades of these lovely little sticky golden ones growing inside.

Monday, November 4, 2013

This truck makes me stupid

I love this old truck, even though it's been nothing but trouble since we got it in June. It's not a bad-luck truck. It just makes me do stupid things.

It's a big old stick-shift, so it's awkward to drive and to climb up into. It's noisy, and the passenger's door opens only from the inside. The driver's door opened only from the outside, which meant I had to roll the window down to get out – until I managed to fix it with a bit of wire. But the passenger door is beyond my sad little mechanical abilities. The seat is missing a great chunk of foam where I sit. The seat belt chews into my neck.

It's a good runner, though, and mostly willing. And I like driving it – sitting way up there, downshifting (dugga-dugga-dugga), knowing I can haul most anything. And – most importantly – it was cheap. $650. Yes, I am cheap.

The first incident of vehicle-inspired stupidity (unless you count buying it) was continuing to drive it when it wanted to die in first gear and reverse. I had to keep it revved up, which makes for some exciting driving in tight quarters. We went to pick up a load of goat manure for the garden, up some curvy country road. We pulled up to the house, and the harried goatherd sent us back down the driveway and back down the road. She ran down the hill, removed a stretch of electric fence and sent us into a field among ponies, up a grassy hill, through an obstacle course of trees and alongside a fence. I was supposed to nose down the hill and back up to the fence. I tried. It went badly. I became cranky.  I lost all my stick-shifting confidence. I parked the truck alongside the fence and we pitched forkloads of manure over the fence and mostly into the bed. Truck stupid #2: I let the goatherd decide how much my truck could haul. "Half ton? About up to the top of the bed," she said. "Looks good," she said. So we drive off, revving furiously through the ponies and coming to a dead halt several times. Finally, out on the curvy road. It handled sluggishly, but the bed didn't sag. It looked OK. We had about six miles to go. Halfway home, we began to bottom out on bumps. The bed sagged, and sagged some more. I kept driving, wailing, "I'm destroying my truck!" Got it home, unloaded it immediately, the leaf springs rebounded. Whew.

I hauled a big load of old straw for the garden. No problem. I drove the beast to work, and hauled some fencing from the Ancestral Home. No problem. I drove it to work again and it died in traffic and would not start. Managed to get a jump from the saintly security guy and get it into my office parking lot. Got a new battery, and it seemed OK. Whew. Still wanted to die in lower gears. Have to take it in to the shop one of these days.

Truck stupid #3: I let the grandson who destroyed everything when he was younger move it 30 feet. He ran it out of gas and ran the battery down trying to get it going. I assumed he'd been messing around under the hood and was pretty mean to him. (Sorry, KC.) I should have moved the damn thing myself since it wasn't working right.

So there it sat. 
But I was hypnotized by this truck and knew it would heal itself if I just believed. Or something equally stupid. 

Meantime, summer is fading and we need wood. The truck would start right up but then die as soon as I quit pumping the gas pedal. I called the nice fellow I bought it from who had offered to help out if I had any trouble. He'd kept the thing going for something like 17 years, mostly doing his own tinkering. We looked for a loose vacuum line. Nothing. Tried some other stuff. Nothing. Talked to a car-savvy guy at work. He said clean the carb. I took the carb off. I was pretty sure I couldn't get it back on, with all those linkages and tiny parts. But (and here's a big stupid) the guy who hauled my hay said he'd rebuild the carb for me for $50. And he'd put it back on. That's the selling point right there. He'd put it back on. And he'd do it Thursday. That's just a couple of days away. Well, Thursday came and went and I spent the next couple of weeks calling him and calling the hay people he delivered for and asking other folks to call him and he finally showed and put the carb back in. And it started right up, and died as soon as I quit pumping gas. Shit. And fall is here and we need wood. 

So I snapped out of it and took action. I got a recommendation for a mechanic from a guy at the next pump at the One Stop gas station. He was driving a Dodge and had a big white hippie beard, which qualified him as a expert in my book. (I bet you thought this was going to be another truck stupid, but actually it worked out rather well.) I made an appointment, and, with help, got the truck there. It took some heroic driving by Richard, who actually kept the truck running and drove it the three miles to the highway, pumping the gas the whole way. Four of us pushed it across the highway late at night, and left it like a big ugly prank in front of the mechanic's shop.

And the brown beast is running again. The mechanic, who actually boiled the carb to clean it, showed me the parts the hay-hauler had busted and installed anyway. "Don't let that guy touch your truck again," he warned. The repair cost as much as the rebuild kit and the hay-hauler's fee. Lesson learned, though: No more backyard mechanics. Duh.

So I've broken the cycle of truck-inspired stupidity, hurrah!


So it’s the first weekend of November, the truck is fixed and we’re going to get some wood! (It’s about freakin’ time.) I’ve got my $4 BLM maps and my DNR permit, and I sit down and match up the closed-to-woodcutting areas on the back of the permit with the blue squares on the map. The locations are listed by township, range and section so it takes a while. This involves muttering. (They could make it easier, but then everybody would be out there getting my wood.) The closed areas on the map get a big Sharpie “X” through them. But the BLM maps don’t show roads consistently, so I pull up the county assessor websites and zoom in on the remaining blue squares, looking for access roads. OK, we have four possibles within about 10 miles of home. I print out scratchy maps on the pathetic inkjet. Saturday morning we load Early into the car (he fights us because he knows all roads lead to the vet but we prevail) and head out in the Subaru to scout.

Out Blanchard Creek Road we find the access road, but it’s gated and locked and there are a couple of fancy pickups parked there. Probably guys after my wood. We park and walk off through still clearings, bright with tamarack needles, and Earl bounds and sniffs with pleasure. And then we’re surrounded by BIG white mushrooms, dinner-plate sized and laid out in a circle as if somebody had set a 40-foot round table for a really big dinner party. Technically, it was a fairy ring. For giant biker fairies. These are lovely bright ’shrooms, four to 20 inches across, fresh and clean and worm-free. White chanterelles, maybe? This is way better than wood! So we pick pounds of mushrooms while Earl frolics. He stays close, though, and comes galumphing back when called. And I remember it’s hunting season and none of us is wearing orange. And those guys parked at the gate? Hunters, no doubt. So we head home for mushroom identification and orange clothing.

Leucopaxillus giganteus
, the giant funnel mushroom, I think. White spore print. They are edible, but not choice. C. says they could be Russula brevipes, also large and edible, but not choice. Either way they’re good, but not great. We were confident enough to try a few bites fried up with our own onions. Some folks get stomach aches from the funnel mushrooms, but most do not. They tasted pleasantly mushroomy. No stomach issues.

So Saturday was a bust, firewood-wise. Sunday, outfitted with more bags for mushrooms, a bright pink scarf and orange apron, we head out again, this time without Earl. Note: Obtain orange clothing. There are three or four sections of heavily-forested state land south of yesterday’s destination, but access is unclear. We drive up road after road and fail to find a public way in. On to the next spot, up near Camden, stopping at Boondocks for some hideously orange snack food (to repel hunters?). We head into the next county, so my standard maps aren’t much good and my scratchy ones aren’t, either. We end up taking the looooong way, through the Scotia Valley, past Chain Lakes and then south again. C. grumbles about riding in the car for hours when she should be home with mushrooms and tomatoes. Finally, the access road. We creep over ruts and rocks through the ugly logged area. Yes, there is a truckload or two of firewood here. C. finds some purple Russula mushrooms and we head home to get the truck. 

Em buzzes up from town, and she and I head back in the truck for wood! Woohoo! We have maybe three hours before dark. Truck stupid, I have no sand or shovel in my two-wheel-drive truck, but I'm going to get me some wood! We don't bring a backup vehicle. Em has her cell phone, which turns out to be dead. So yeah, the chainsaw quits and we get stuck, all within 10 minutes of arriving. We spend an hour or more creeping up this tiny rise, jamming wood under the wheels to keep from sliding back down. Large snowflakes begin to fall. It is so picturesque I could kill something with a rock. Nearly at the top – so close to pulling free of the mud and slick grass – the radiator boils over and the battery dies. It is dusk – late dusk. The snow has stopped. I am cussing. "It's an adventure," says Em. I give her a black look. We lock the truck and hike the two? three? 40? miles out to the county road, Em's silly wonderful miner's lights strapped to our heads, taking turns lugging the dead chainsaw across the ruts and potholes and rocks. She whistles to piss me off (no – to warn bears and hunters). 

On the road, we catch a ride from a nice fellow in a posh truck (seat warmers!) all the way home. He really was great, and we didn't have to shoot him. (We had that going for us.) Footsore and peevish (on my part), we head back out in Em's big SUV with jumper cables and tow chain, drive up and down and around and back on the track that loops through these 160 acres and finally come to the truck. It's safe and locked up tight, and I'd never locked it before so it took a while and some key-wiggling to get it to open up. We jump it, it fires right up and I climb out and take the cables off and hook the tow chain up – and the door locks itself behind me. We're in the dark in the middle of nowhere, locked out of a running truck. I've had just about enough of this particular adventure.

I smash the rear window with a hammer, unlock the truck, and Em
, bless her kind, helpful and tolerant heart, pulls me over the top of the rise and we creep out onto the county road and eventually, home.

It's a good truck, really. It just makes me do stupid things. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Mutant vegetable

That's the bulbous stalk of a big weird Brussels sprout plant there (with Earl for scale). We bought several starts from the plant woman up the road and the others were normal enough, but this guy is just not right. It made those weird little tassels but no edible sprouts. Suits me fine.

The boys and I went rambling this evening. We tried to take Annie, Kewp and Jasmine, but Annie busted out of her harness and went weaseling off to kill guineas (I captured her before she could do any damage) and Kewpie and Jazz kept wandering off unless I reminded them constantly to stay with the group. Walking along calling "Kewp, Kewpie! Jazz! Come here!" is not my idea of a relaxing tramp. So we ditched the girls and wandered down by the pump house and the old foundation of the older Elk school, then up into the old ball field. The grass – must look up that grass – has turned a rich gold, the ferns brown and Oregon grape deep red. Pretty. I'll try to get down there earlier tomorrow and get some decent photos. Jack is sitting on a big old log carved into a couch. I wonder if that was part of the ball park seating?

Caprine Towers

We have soooo many things that need to be done, so I took an extra day off work this week and built the goats a play structure. Probably should have moved the paint to the basement, or worked on the furnace install or glazed some windows, but that's not how I roll.

Below, Mo is testing the materials. The thing is five pallets cobbled together with a few boards. It cost nothing (even the nails are recycled). It is not beautiful, but I hope it keeps Mo out of trouble. A bored goat is a bad thing.

They can clip-clop up the ramp and across the bridge, tap dance on the main tower bit, then do a tightrope walk over to the brick pile where they play king of the hill. Or they could look in the window at us and make snarky comments.

We did get some paint moved to the basement so it won't freeze. I rigged a heavy-duty kid's sled with a cargo box and long rope, loaded it with paint, and slid it down the 20 steep concrete stairs where C. unloaded it into the boiler room. It's slow, but not as slow as stumping up and down those steps with armloads of paint cans. Now just to do that a hundred more times before it gets really cold out there.

Sunday – there's a nasty cold wind blowing outside, and it's supposed to get down to 22 tomorrow night, and 19 the next. Guess who is moving cans of paint over the next 24 hours? The goats! Right. 

I'm wondering why I didn't get more done when it was warm and balmy out. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

October projects

It's still Indian summer here – frosty nights, beautiful clear blue days in the 60s. It's the best season of all and we don't get it every year.

Below, C. is simultaneously improving the drainage in the big-dog yard and laying a brick path to the locker room door. Loads of gravel have been dumped along here for parking over the years, making a high spot which sent rain and snowmelt into the crawl space. The new drainage channel will be a huge improvement. And the path will be, too. Replacing all the window glass is on my list, and C. is sanding the door in preparation for paint. I don't know what color she'll pick – maybe her favorite color, cream. (Weird, I know.) Most of the woodwork and doors in the place are faded turquoise over cream. A darker turquoise would look good against the brick, and so would dark green. Or cream. My personal vote is for NOT PURPLE.

So I've been hauling bricks from a pile over on the overgrown patio to the north. Some previous owner was bricking up the gap between the two small vinyl windows that replaced each single 8x22-foot steel-framed original in each classroom. I think the too-small windows, brick columns and white-painted OSB look pretty bad – like shit, in fact – and I don't care how energy efficient they are. Don't get me started! We'll figure out something that respects the building and the architect, and doesn't cost much. So, anyway, I'm hauling bricks after work with help from Earl and Jack. And deep in the stack I find a little pile of seeds (cherry pits?). Interesting. Who would have left those? I've seen no squirrels. We do have pocket gophers. Do gophers cache seeds?

Em and Richard are coming up tomorrow to finish the barn roof. Then I'll extend the pasture fencing around it and the big fuzzy animals will have winter shelter. That'll be great. I sure appreciate all their hard work around here. (Em and Richard's hard work. Not the fuzzy animals' hard work. They basically eat, poop and grow hair. I guess I appreciate that, too, but not as much.)

And the truck is going into the shop. It'll be handy to have it running again – we have a firewood permit, and a whole lot of old moldy drywall to take to the dump.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013

October at Ladera del Wapiti

Wonder what the Spanish is for elk?

Horns come in handy when you want to scratch your back. That's Mo in the front, Pants in the back. Mo has taken to hopping over the fence into the little-dog yard when he wants something. Annie the dachshund intends to eat him if he keeps it up. It hasn't occurred to him yet to use those backscratchers on his head for defense. Below, that's the harvest moon coming up over the fall garden.

Below, they were hungry! Azul and the sheep dive into our $230-per-ton hay. Poor Azul looks like a cartoon with his weird eyes and doofy teeth. Honestly, he's a very dignified person.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A country "ewww" experience

Annie caught a mouse this week. She had it on the rug in our home room. She's a skilled mouser, as well as an effective kittener (ewww No. 1). So she had this dead field mouse. Then Earl had it, and when C. went to take it away, she found this large, black, revolting grub thing near it. Like an inch long and a half-inch wide and legless and very much alive. A bit like the Michelin Man, if he were a stubble-covered almond, and had fangs but no face. So, of course, we took pictures. That's how we roll.

C. said it had come out of the mouse. That was absurd, and I told her so. The thing was as big as the mouse's head! Besides, it looked clean, not covered in zombie slime. (I shot this video with the USB microscope – now you can see the zombie slime, as well as the spiky hairs that secure it inside the host.)

So I went to the internet. As a childhood bugologist, I figured beetle larva. Maybe pine sawyer beetle? We'd found a couple of those big beetles around the place. They're so big they look like hummingbirds when they fly. But wait, beetle grubs are long and narrow and have faces and legs, and they can move pretty quickly. This was faceless and writhing and pulsating, more like... a maggot (ewww No. 2). I hate maggots. I really hate maggots. Gah.

C. said, "Bot fly." I said, "Nah." Hey, I'm the bugologist here. Bot flies are pests on cattle, not little mice. The adult fly lays eggs under a cow's skin, and the nasty maggot grows there and splorts out as a big ol' fly. They leave holes in cow skin and ruin cow hides. I read that someplace, in the olden days, in a book.

So I look up "bot fly larva" and, sure enough, it's a classic rodent bot-fly maggot. They infest mice, squirrels and rabbits. The big, weird fly lays eggs along rodent trails, the rodent comes boobling along and the tiny larvae climb aboard and enter the nose or mouth. They find a cosy site inside, just under the skin, and grow. And GROW. After a month or so, they pop out of their puffy irritated home site 
(the "warble") on the host, drag themselves off by writhing and hooking their creepy fangs, and pupate into a big weird fly. The host generally recovers, but has nasty dreams. (I've lost count of the ewwws here.) 

Cattle, horses, sheep and deer can also host bot flies. People, too, in Central and South America. But the ones that feed on little mice are just as big as the ones that parasitize us large mammals. 

Nature, she is a big pervert.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Green tomatoes in the rain

I work in town all week so my country life is confined to the weekends, mostly. C. keeps the garden and animals in good shape all week, so I try to give her a break on the weekends.

This weekend, the tail end of September, I'm bringing in all the green tomatoes. We had a light freeze earlier in the week and the forecast is calling for dreary rain, more rain, and a hard freeze in the next few days. Summer is over. We had a good long growing season, but it's time to bring everything in. So I spent about five hours hauling pounds and pounds of tomatoes in the rain. Some of them are peach-colored, a few orangy-red, and some of the Prudence Purples are pink-and-green striped. Most are green, though. I rolled them out on an improvised table made of plywood covered with towels. They're sopping wet – so was I – so I'll give them overnight to dry some, then sort them by color onto the tops of plastic bins in the fourth-grade classroom. Those bins are full of stuff we haven't unpacked yet and are perfect for the task. We can watch for ripening and spoilage, and hustle the red ones to the kitchen for canning, drying or eating. There they are. Millions and millions of unripe tomatoes. Hundreds, anyway.

C. has the canner full of jars of tomato sauce. Earlier, she loaded the driers with San Marzano roma-type tomatoes. She made bread dough and I shaped it into lumpy loaves and baked them. Made some oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies, too, but from that bland Quaker Oats recipe. (Must find the better recipe.) I let Earl lick the bowl as he's had a hard day. His legs hurt even with rimadyl and tramadol. Maybe the rainy weather is a factor. Oh, and I went to town to an estate sale. Not a very good one.

That was Saturday. Sunday, we moved the rabbits into the old kindergarten room. It doesn't seem like a natural habitat for them, but I think they'll come to like it. That's Crystal on the left. She's got a gorgeous full coat. Smokey is in the cage. We have to keep them apart until we get him neutered. They'll take turns in the cage until then. Crys was zipping around, kicking up her heels and investigating the wooden boxes, blankets and toys.

I replaced the plastic on the busted studio windows, found more tomatoes in the garden, beefed up the goat shelter – and suddenly realized tomorrow is Monday. Lo. And the dismal rain continues.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

156 pounds of winter squash

Not bad for a new garden! The big ones are green striped cushaw and jarradale, from Pine Tree Seeds. The jack o'lantern pumpkins are from a neighbor, the lone sweet mama from ? and acorn squash from ?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Alpacas like green beans

in case you were wondering. Sheep do not.

The roof is on, and Earl breaks his leg... again

So Craig and his crew have finished the roof. They worked hard and did great. Need a hot tar roof? I can recommend them without reservation. Good folks. The crew included a mini schnauzer named Talulah who bossed everyone around. It's been 90 degrees for days and days, but we're expecting a thunderstorm tomorrow so we can enjoy the lack of leaks. Below, here's an expanse of deck with the leaky, wrinkly layer removed. Then the new paper. Then the interface between new and old sections. And the "kettle" tar-melting trailer, alongside a pallet of packages of tar. I didn't get photos of the smoky, smelly excitement of mopping tar. I know. I suck.

And while Craig and his crew were finishing up the big roof, Richard and I were working on the barn roof. Actually, Richard did it all alone as I had heat stroke. Not sure how I did that. Unpleasant, though.
He got about three-quarters of the west side of the roof all cleared off. And the hay is inside and covered with an awesome tarp - a piece of recycled billboard vinyl. (My friend Tom got it cheap from the billboard company. It looks more durable than the standard blue tarp, and is huge.) So we'll continue peeling all the old shingles and nails and crap off, replace a few of the rafters and a lot of the strip sheathing, and slap some metal up there. And we'll be awash in roofs.

Further adventures with Earl

Earl, bless his heart, is an idiot. And so am I for posting about how well he was doing. Hubris, you know. He snapped the same leg making a leap over the big-dog railing in the living room. Even on that hideous but thick carpet. So he's in another splint and we're to meet with specialist tomorrow or Tuesday to talk about what is going on with Earl because it's not enough that his bones are made of paper.

He likes the goats. They seem to share the same viewpoint. That's Pants, below. He's sooooo soft. He and his brother will eat grain out of my hand and I sneak pats on their soft, soft sides.