Moving the Website

June 4, 2010

In an effort to consolodate our online presence, the GreenAcresToday blog has been integrated into our farm website, SoleilFarm.com.

You can still reach my blog at www.greenacrestoday.com.  It’s just part of a bigger website now.

If you go to www.greenacrestoday.com and wind up back here, it’s just because the link hasn’t “propagated” yet.  It may be until June 6 before that’s complete.  Don’t worry.  This site has all the current posts.  There won’t be any new posts until the link is completely functional.

I appreciate everyone who follows my trials and tribulations.

Alan

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Spring Critters – 2010 Edition

June 3, 2010

My wife stood in the front yard and took aim as the killdeer flew over.

“Pow! Pow! Pow!” and a look of satisfaction washed over her face.  Of course, she was only pointing her index fingers at the incessantly squeaking bird – she’d sooner surrender me to Somali pirates than harm the beautiful animal – but her sentiment was genuine.  The damn birds keep us up at night.

The killdeer babies, which are almost full grown and should have summer jobs, seem to love the security of our high-voltage pastures and the bugs that inhabit them.  We love fresh air and keep our bedroom window open most of the year.  Killdeer and open windows are an oil-and-water combination that robs us of sleep and fosters fantasies of avicide (who knew there really is a word that means “killing of birds” – must have been coined by someone with killdeer in their front yard).

We didn’t think it could get worse, until … the frogs came.  Spring showers turned the thin strip of trees along the road into an endless cacophony of amphibian virility.  Picture the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in your front yard, two-thirds of whom gently blow police whistles of varying pitch to some obscure and unpredictable rhythm.  The other third of the choir is gargling with Listerine.

And just when you’ve managed to doze off, they stop all at once, and you’re suddenly awake thanks to the startling and deafening silence.  Your mind races and you imagine some massive predator cruising your front yard.  Your heart pounds until the frogs eventually resume their chorus, slowly building to a crescendo that has you slamming the window down on a beautiful, star-lit night.

There’s nothing quiet about the country.

Last year I bragged about going on a seven-tick hike.  What hubris.  Coming in with seven ticks is nothing.  This year, I spent several hours relocating the goat fence and came in with 52 ticks on my body and clothing.  That’s right, 52.  Even the locals I’ve told say it’s a record.

The little hitchhikers are looking for a blood meal someplace dark, moist and warm.  In the words of a good friend, they are “ball bag bound.”  If the image of 52 ticks affixed to you-know-where doesn’t motivate you to strip and pluck with the utmost expediency, nothing will.

Leslie helped of course, which turned a potentially Machiavellian incident into a bit of (mostly imagined) adult entertainment.  Hey, when you’re covered with parasites, you get your jollies any way you can.

We had a headless rooster fall from the sky the other day.  I’m guessing most people live their entire lives without saying that.  Behind our house and shielded from the road by several pastures of high voltage fencing, we found a fresh, headless, one-winged rooster.  The closest poultry are a mile down the road and no predator would drag a rooster through half a mile of forest to drop it in the open next to our fence.

Locals have seen hawks carry away roosters and chickens, so we’re guessing some butter-taloned bird of prey chewed off a rooster’s head and wing, then flew over our property on his way to put the rest of the carcass in the freezer.  Oops!

Leslie will tell you that I momentarily mistook the headless carcass for small turkey.  Balderdash.  Don’t believe it.  Yes, I was looking at the enormous spurs on the rooster’s feet and may have “accidentally” referred to them as turkey spurs, but anyone can tell a headless, one-winged rooster from a baby turkey.  Geez.

Impressive Rooster Spurs

Impressed with the lethality of these two-inch spurs, I cut off both legs and put them in a bag in our freezer.  And Leslie didn’t object.  After all, we have a goat fetus in a glass jar in the mud room, which was enough to make a visiting extension agent look at me with a combination of pity and fear.

Anyway, after chopping off the feet, I tossed the turkey, er, I mean rooster carcass in the back yard.  It was gone the next morning, no doubt carried off by the fox I’ve been shooting at the last few months.  I can only imagine the fox’s thoughts as he carried off the rooster, “First, he shoots at me, now he’s feeding me.  This guy’s nuts!”

Early this spring, our neighbor across the road came over to tell Leslie he saw a young black bear in his front yard.  A few weeks ago, another neighbor saw a black bear crossing the road only a half mile away.  Great.

My wife isn’t afraid of spiders or lizards, and she’ll grab a snake faster than a Black Friday bargain, but she has this unrelenting fear of bears.  So, for the last three years, I wake every workday at 0430 to watch my wife climb into her car and go to work.  I told her I probably couldn’t get to her in time to fight off an attacking bear, and she surely can’t outrun one, but she just smiles and says all she has to do is outrun me.  Ain’t love grand?

So, I’m destined to forever be my soul mate’s bear bait.  It would be worth it, if only the bears ate killdeer and frogs.

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Cursing Killdeer

May 11, 2010

Now I know how killdeer got their name.

Contrary to what’s reported in zoology texts, their call sounds nothing like the words “kill deer.”  Whoever came up with that most likely attended the Helen Keller School of Bird Watching.  Killdeer sound more like rusted, squeaking Walmart shopping carts being pushed around your house, 24/7.

For a month, the killdeer eggs sat in our pasture.  We marked the area with stones so as not to step on them.  We kept the horses in a different pasture.  We looked at the eggs daily to ensure they were OK, and eventually the mother displayed only token displeasure when we were near.  We also learned to interpret her different calls, including the one that signaled panic.

Twice at night, the mother’s cries alerted us to a fox in the pasture.  Armed with a spotlight and .22 rifle, I shot at the predator, despite being over 100 yards away.  I had little chance of hitting the running fox, but scared it sufficiently to ensure a few hours of peace.

And then the babies were born.

Killdeer babies, just a few hours after hatching

Killdeer babies are “precocial” which means they’re born with feathers and can almost immediately leave the nest to forage for insects.  They can’t fly, but they run like they’ve been shoplifting at Petsmart.  The mom and dad try to keep tabs on the frantic foursome with constant squeals, fleet feet and aerial acrobatics.

The babies are cute and this all sounds endearing, until you realize your front yard is the killdeer fairgrounds and this avian rodeo is in town for weeks.

Killdeer babies - photo by Leslie Keck

Killdeer baby - photo by Leslie Keck

Picture your next-door neighbor coming home from the hospital with quadruplets.  There are a few “Ooooo” and “Ahhhhh” moments, but after several hours the babies jump to their feet and head for different exits.  One runs out the front door, another the back door and two find open windows.

The mother yells for the father to help and they both run outside to catch the babies.  One infant is running down the street, another is being chased by your dog and two are running around the pool to see who gets dizzy and falls down first.  Everyone is screaming.

Finally, the kids run out of gas and plop down in your driveway.  Mom and dad are so exhausted, they let the babies rest wherever they fall until their batteries are recharged and the noisy circus begins anew … usually just when you’ve fallen asleep.

That’s life with a killdeer family.  They’re in all three pastures and just about everywhere else – all at once, it seems.  Leslie has to avoid running over them when she comes home at night.  They squeal at everything and anything.  I’m over it.

So how did killdeer get their name?  After two months of this, I turned to Leslie and said, “I have the urge to kill, dear.”  Mystery solved.

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Bleatin’ Kids

April 8, 2010

We have more babies.

Last week Leslie and I witnessed the birth of our latest additions to Soleil Farm.  Yes, after living out here for almost three years, we finally decided on a farm name.  Soleil (pronounced so-LAY) is French for, “You’re gonna get skin cancer.”

Anyway, when our doe (Neo, short for Neapolitan, because her coloring resembles the ice cream by the same name) decided to lay down and finally push out the kids she’d been carrying for what seemed like a year, Leslie was right there.  And I mean, RIGHT THERE.

As Neo bleated her imprecations against the father – “You did this to me!  I want morphine!” – Leslie turned to me and hollered, “Go in the house and get my medical kit and some towels.”   She was serious.  I’m surprised she didn’t ask me to boil some water.

Leslie knelt next to Neo and prepared to assist, but I guess her presence was more disconcerting than the labor pains because Neo got up and walked away.

It seems that goats have been birthing kids for many years without the help of a nurse.  Who knew?  So we stood 20 yards away and watched.

For an ex-paramedic who has seen far too many urban babies being born, watching the goats come into the world was rather fun for me.  And I stayed clean, which is always a plus.

A little buck came first and we named him Casserole.  Yes, we’re sick, but we’re fun at parties.  Come on, this is a meat goat.

The little doe is named Oprah.  Now, both Leslie and I like and admire Oprah.  This is in no way meant as an insult.  Just look at the pictures and decide for yourself.

Oprah and Oprah. You decide.

Here are some more photos of the happy family.

Casserole exercises his vocal cords

Oprah poses. Was it Jenny Craig?

Neo feeds the hungry twins

Casserole and Oprah pose

The family poses for pasture paparazzi

We also have another expectant mother in the pasture.  A female Killdeer has made her ground nest only 12 yards from the nursing enclosure.  Why she chose here, I don’t know.  She could have been 100 yards away and much safer from wayward caprine hoofs, but I don’t question a mother’s instinct.

Here are some shots of the Killdeer.

Mama Killdeer sitting on her eggs

Here's the clutch Mama Killdeer is incubating

Mama Killdeer fakes a broken wing to draw predators away from the babies. Amazing!

Mama Killdeer settles down, but still has her eye on me

Casserole and Oprah take a much-deserved rest in the warm sun

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Bumping into Neighbors

April 6, 2010

Do you know this guy?

Preparing for a rural shopping trip

Leslie and I had just pulled into the Food Lion, and we were discussing what she was going to buy.  Out here, you plan your trips to the market carefully.  At almost 30 miles for a round trip to the closest grocery store, you don’t want to forget anything.

As we sat in the truck debating dinner, one of our elderly neighbors entered the parking lot.  Driving a spotless Buick LeSaber and accompanied by a yappy toy mutt, he came down the aisle in front of us, smoothly pulled into the parking space in front of us and then proceeded forward until he smacked into the front of my truck.

Momentarily dumbstruck, all I could mutter was a John Belushi line from Animal House: “That’s good!”

As we watched with somewhat enhanced attention, the elderly driver put the car in park, switched his lit cigarette from his right hand to his left, and then reached for his open Busch beer, finishing off the can in one long swig while we watched in stunned silence.

He never once looked up at us or even seemed to notice that a big, blue Ford logo was just a couple of feet from his windshield.  I’d like to say that he then unbuckled his seat belt, but out here that would surely be fantasy.

Leslie quickly picked up her lower jaw and quietly slipped out the door.  She hates confrontation, but I don’t think she was worried I’d go postal on some old guy.  She simply knew that anything I said would be clearly audible in the store.

Cigarette firmly between his lips and Busch can drained, grandpa stepped out of the car just as my feet hit the asphalt.

“Hey!” I yelled, and paused while the echo died.  “You might want to consider leaving the beer at home the next time you go shopping old man.  You just hit my truck while parking.”

Leslie will tell you that in the last few months I’ve made several female salespeople cry, so you won’t be surprised to learn that when I feel the Shaft of Life nearing my backside, my brain surrenders command to General Testosterone.  Yet, this 5-foot-6, 130-pound AARP reject didn’t flinch.

Incredulous, he took a few steps toward the front of his car and looked over the hood where our vehicles met.  With an almost imperceptible nod he acknowledged the veracity of my claim and quietly muttered, “Sorry,” then turned and walked into the store.

What was I going to do?  Chase him down?  I thought about calling the police, but by the time an officer got there, the guy would be long gone.  There was no damage to report anyway and the guy didn’t really look drunk.  Besides, out here there are several valid excuses for drinking and driving (like going fishing or running to the store for more beer during a NASCAR caution), so I didn’t see any point.

I gathered my fleeting rage and climbed into the truck.  My dear wife then called me on the cell phone laughing so hard I thought she’d pee.

Grandpa felt numb.  Leslie and the other shoppers felt entertained.  All I felt was the Shaft of Life tickling the back of my thighs.

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Farm Physics

March 10, 2010

You gotta love the Internet.  One minute I’m outside scrutinizing a pregnant doe’s woo-hoo, looking for signs of eminent delivery, and the next I’m chatting via e-mail with a quantum physicist from a prestigious Australian university.  I’ve had the pleasure of conducting a minor business transaction with Dr. Andrew White, professor of physics at the University of Queensland, in Australia.

It’s obvious from Dr. White’s website that he’d be comfortable talking shop with Albert Einstein, and his curriculum vitae indicates he didn’t fall asleep in eighth grade Earth science class (mine was right after lunch – what was I supposed to do?).

Corresponding with Dr. White makes me feel a bit like Forrest Gump, but my resume has something Dr. White’s does not: the Eastern Academy Mary Jane Science Award.  By the time I graduated high school in 1976 I had managed to take, and pass, all of the small private school’s science classes, so I guess the faculty felt I was worthy of the award.  Standards were a bit lower in the 70s.  However, the award was sponsored by Norfolk’s Mary Jane Bakery, so I guess that proves that sliced bread really is one of man’s greatest scientific achievements.

The Mary Jane Science Award - heavier than the Nobel

I doubt Dr. White is jealous of my award.  Besides his obvious brilliance, he’s warm and engaging.  So, as one of the few in our county with a subscription to Discover Magazine, I thought I’d help Dr. White with his quantum research.  Rural farms are natural laboratories for physics, and farmers are often defacto scientists.  Perhaps we can contribute to science in ways not found in the average university lab.

For instance, physicists are always on the lookout for Dark Matter, theoretical matter than may make up the majority of mass in the universe.  There are three general classifications of Dark Matter: Hot Dark Matter, Warm Dark Matter and Cold Dark Matter.  Well, I’ve found them all.  It’s goat poop.

Goat poop is everywhere.  Really.  And through careful observation and new batteries for my HP 12c calculator, I’ve determined that a large herd of goats can produce enough poop to account for most of the universe’s mass.  It’s created hot, becomes warm on the ground, and transforms into Cold Dark Matter on the bottom of your work boots overnight.  You be the judge.

I’m willing to theorize that in the outer reaches of our solar system, beyond the Kuiper belt, is the Caprine Feces belt, an orbiting ring of goat poop comprising a googleplex of marble-sized caprine excrement, so massive it could engulf a million suns.  So how did these countless goat balls get out there?  Why, they were ejected by millions of miniature black holes, of course (come on, you had to see that one coming).

Another vexing physics problem is the search for the Theory of Everything, a universal equation that would bind Einstein’s theories of General and Special Relativity with Quantum Mechanics.  Newtonian physics says that an object cannot be in two places at the same time.  Quantum Mechanics theorizes it is possible at the sub-atomic level.

This is heady stuff, unless you have horses.  They’re the bridge between the known physical and quantum worlds.  Take the horse hoof – it can be directly under the horse while at the same time on your foot, even though you are several feet away.  You may think this is a flawed observation, but I know that when gravity draws the mass of the horse onto my foot, my toes are changed at the quantum level.  If we can understand gravity and the horse, the Theory of Everything will become apparent.

And, if you’ll notice, the Theory of Everything is abbreviated TOE.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Farmers also have a keen understanding of the equation E=MC2.  Einstein got the equation right, but got the terms wrong.  “E” is the number if equines, while “MC” stands for mashed cuticles.  Therefore, to determine the number of horses a person owns, calculate the square root of the total of his mashed cuticles (toes and fingers), and voila, you have the number.  If a farmer has only one mashed cuticle, his wife is probably tending to the horses.

I’ve noticed that physicists love particle accelerators.  The world’s most powerful is the Large Hadron Collider, operated by CERN on the boarder of France and Switzerland.  That’s certainly something to be proud of, but rural folks have particle accelerators too.  We call them shotguns.

At LHC (cool, scientist-speak, eh?) they accelerate sub-atomic particles to nearly the speed of light (that’s almost as fast as my wife drives), in opposite directions around a large loop and crash them into each other.  I’ve seen graphics of the resulting collisions and it’s impressive.  But not as impressive as buckshot from a 12-gauge ripping into a warm bottle of Budweiser at 10 feet.  Now THAT’s a particle collision.

Quarks, muons and leptons.  I always thought these were new shapes in Lucky Charms, but they’re actually the names of sub-atomic particles.  There are also gluons, which I thought were similar to Klingons – those tiny little slivers of rolled toilet paper that collect near Uranus (I never pass on a Uranus joke).

Anyway, country folk are quite familiar with sub-atomic particles.  In fact, as we age, anything smaller than a marble is deemed sub-atomic if you’re not wearing your reading glasses.  And they are all named “damn things,” as in, “Where’d that damn thing go?”

One of the biggest challenges for the physicists at LHC is finding the Higgs boson, a theoretical sub-atomic particle thought to be responsible for all mass.  I haven’t found the Higgs boson, but an eccentric farmer down the road has a bison named Higgs.  He’s definitely massive, and a prodigious producer of Brown Matter, Dark Matter’s bovine equivalent, and an element that constitutes the majority of every politician’s cerebral cortex.

Another coincidence?  Noooooo.

I hope Dr. White can use some of my research.  I’d be satisfied to simply get an honorable mention at his Nobel ceremony, but even if I don’t, I wish him all the best.

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Winter Goats Photo Montage

March 4, 2010

Pregnant/Nursing does and babies feast on fresh-cut pine

Our bottle-baby, Ducky, a.k.a. The Duck

Babies Bobbie Socks & Rogers scratch themselves in the sunshine

Your Sister smiles for the camera

Bobbie Socks uses Big Pa as playground equipment

Bobbie Socks snuggles with Big Pa

Heidi smiles for the camera

Bobbie Socks does her runway walk

The Duck tries to eat solid food

Daisy Mae smiles for the camera

Three babies sampling the pine

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