The Photography of D L Ennis, and more!


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Life on the Farm: Signs of Spring

If you are an urban dweller, we have some signs of Spring in common. Forsythia and daffodils starting to bloom, milder weather, the arrival of birds from their winter vacations down South…

Here on my Blue Ridge mountain farmstead, however I am aware of some subtle and some not-so-subtle signs which you may not be familiar with. Little Blue Eyes is blooming in the grass. If you look too closely, the eerie “eyes” stare up in a slightly freaky way. The fruit trees’ flower buds are about to burst. I hope they’ll wait until after all snow events have gone by so that the fruit crops will not be ruined.

The goats are grazing near the big barn, rather than ranging out over the hillside pastures. They know things about having babies and staying close to home that you and I can only guess about. I see udders developing, but no one looks like birth is imminent. Still, they know best and year after year I’ve noticed this behavior in soon-to-be ruminant mommies. They probably don’t want to be vulnerable out where the coyotes have their dens. I’m glad they choose the barn as the place to have their kids.

Eggs, symbols of eternity, are abundant now. Little hens are getting broody -- there’s one on a hidden nest under a flight cage right now in her eggy trance. One wonders at how dedicated she is, getting off the nest only once a day, briefly and then eagerly going back to hover over her eggs. Some of the others can be put off their hormone-driven efforts at hatching, but soon there will be some hard headed girls who are adamant, and I’ll have to capitulate to their demands and let them have a go at it.

Geese are the worst when it comes to Spring fever. During other times of the year, they march into their night shelter without a fuss. When Spring comes, they are pairing off and want to stay out on the pond to spoon under the moon. Feed goes uneaten and sizeable nests are made where the eggs begin to materialize under carefully arranged straw. The ganders fight for wives, sometimes to the point of drawing blood. Mild mannered fellows turn into vicious attackers of farmers just doing their jobs around the waterfowl yard. When they do decide to come in for the night, there is no way two ganders are going to share the same shelter. It is a trying drama to get everyone tucked in for the night.

In the building where our peacock is displaying his gorgeous feathers to uninterested peahens, I turned over a bucket to find an elaborate mouse nest made of feathers and bits of towel. The industrious (and very cute) little mice have been unraveling the towel I hung near the sink. I wondered what they were doing with it.

Farmers, industrious as well, are interesting to observe during Springtime. I’ve been bustling about clearing and planting the vegetable garden. Seedlings in the greenhouse develop so quickly that it is a challenge to get them into individual pots before they get too large. Stalls must be prepared for kidding. There are hooves to trim and shots to give. Props must be collected for tables at farmer’s markets and plans developed for marketing. Asparagus crowns and seed potatoes need planting, as do peas and lettuce.

Perhaps the most important challenge is to slow down for a minute or two every now and then and appreciate the entire picture that Spring creates on the landscape of the farm. The mountains that surround me now have green visible on their slopes. The sky looks more fragile, the clouds thinner somehow, as trees begin to take on their warm weather shapes once again.


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