A lingering fall allowed us to get many projects accomplished. By us, I chiefly mean Pat who was able to spend long, warm days outside. After a metal roof replaced the leaky one and insulation was sprayed in the loft, Pat painted a new coat of green on the barn. This was the final step in securing the barn for many more seasons ahead. It was fortunate to use David's sturdy ladders--still stained with drops of mustard paint.
The newly emptied loft became my studio just in time for a mural project that required lots of elbow room.
We rearranged the bottom of the barn to make room for for our bunnies and ducks for the winter ahead.
It felt good to get the barn prepared for the cold that was coming quickly (and which we are presently experiencing). The trees were sending us messages of its deliverance through each dropped leaf.
These photos look so alive on this grey January morning! Whenever I take a walk, I'm struck by the textures, colors, and persistence of life in the woods and in our gardens. Sometimes life expresses itself in ways that our less desirable for us such as when a critter ate the pumpkin before we had a chance to pick it, but it's life just the same. In writing the captions for these photos, I find myself second guessing my species identification. I've always wanted to be able to fluidly identify any bird, plant, or set of tracks. I'm slowly adding to my knowledge bank and hope to spend more time this year sketching and studying the lives around me. For now, I put together a slideshow that will hopefully warm you up and remind you what is on the other side of winter--which will arrive sooner that we think!
Our ducklings arrived via mail at the end of May. We kept them indoors and under a heat lamp until all of their adult feathers had replaced their duckling fuzz. The adult feathers shed water (like water rolling off a duck's back) allowing them to trap warmth near their body. Luckily by this point in the season, the temperature was sufficiently warm, and Pat had finished the portable duck house. The ducks were ready to venture outside for the first time! We were ready to be rid of their stink! Because ducks are messy and stinky, we move their house and electric fence--about every 7-10 days allowing our feather friends fresh plants and insects to feed on. At night, they waddle inside their house, and Pat locks them in for protection.
At the point at which these photos were taken, the ducks had been fully grown for a few months. After observing them, I realized that everything they say about ducks is true. They are fuzzy when they are ducklings, They shake their tail feathers. They are often silly. Due to weak legs, we've had a couple lame ducks. One of which resulted in death. Because of flock behavior, the ducks won't go anywhere unless all are lined up in a row. They moderate themselves. And finally (and sadly), they are in fact sitting ducks!
One Saturday in September, we were busy preparing to go to a birthday party, when Abraham (9 years old at the time) heard a mad squaking coming from the ducks. Now, the ducks are noisy and will squak at our cats and at me or anyone else pereceived a threat, but something in their tone indicated real distress. So, Abraham ran up to the meadow to check on them. As he approached he saw a massive raptor--probably a red tail hawk feasting on one of the drakes. The fallen drake was likely the guard duck who protects the rest of the flock by staying a bit on the perimeter of the group watching for predators. As Abe came closer to the flock, the hawk flew off leaving the prey-too heavy to take with him. We removed the duck to minimize traumitization, and put him in the woods knowing somebody would find a happy dinner later. If I'd had more courage, I would have cooked him for ourselves, but I'm ashamed that I have not reached that level of comfort with our animals. For a couple of days the ducks would not come out of the house. Pat had to put their food and water inside. For weeks they were nearly silent, but eventually their behavior restored to normal. Our electric fence which keeps the fox, raccoons, coyotes, cats, and dogs away failed in keeping out the raptors. The loss was shocking but not unexpected. We live in the woods afterall. We found some consolation in that it was a drake. It's better to have more egg layers and fewer testosterone fueled males.
We've talked about possible protective measures for the future including training a flock guardian dog or acquiring guard geese who apparently keep raptors at bay. Until then we keep our ears peeled and our eyes focused on those shiver- causing shadows cast by our huge red tail hawk, who also lives in our woods.
Much of 2016 took me in a direction away from Spring Bird. Often, there were days that I spent more hours at work and commuting than at home. This rigorous scheduled left me with little time to notice, peruse, drink-in, meditate-on this place let alone do much caretaking, gardening, and planning. Pat and the kids really held down the fort while I was away. Nonetheless there were happenings and highlights that I captured here and there, and I'd like to go back in time to document them in the blog--chronologically.. So, bare with me as I return to 2016. . .
Many of my 2016 mornings started at 5:45 AM. I was out the door by 6:20 AM and arrived at work by 8:15 AM. One morning in May, I noticed a deer walk past my bedroom window. I greeted her in my head, "Goodmorning deer!" When I later flew out the front door and skipped off the front stoop, I froze and back-tracked in order to assess a brown blob in the middle of an arborvitae bush. The vinca groundcover was in full bloom under the newly leafed Oak, and in the corner of this parcel of land--which I imagine as an "island" since it is surrounded by driveways and walkways was a chestnut brown oval. It was an animal as I had instinctively guessed, and as I cautiously inched closer, I audibly gasped when I realized it was a fawn. I couldn't believe that the mother thought it wise to have her baby so close to the house. Afterall, she new there were cats here. I felt so honored to witness this newborn all curled up and asleep, and then, I realized that it must have been the weary mother whom I saw earlier on her way to get some water or food.
Quickly, I told Pat to keep an eye on the fawn and to watch so that the cats don't harm it. Pat took this photo, above, when the fawn was strong enough to lift it's head. He told me that our cat Marbles, spent a good two hours laying down on the path watching it. Around noon the baby had found its legs and wandered into the woods with its mother. I still can't believe how lucky we were to have seen a newborn fawn--let alone so close to our threshold. Now, when the herds of deer pass by to nibble on the honey locust pods, I look for the smaller ones and wonder.
Anna Lentz, artist, writer, and creativity coach who blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.