Quacklings

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I’ve wanted a flock of laying ducks for YEARS.  Supposedly, they are gentler on a yard and garden area — chickens tend to really disturb their free range areas since they dig for bugs and dirt-bathe on a regular basis — but I’ve also read that ducks lay larger and creamier eggs than chickens do.  How delicious does that sound?  We have a great duck habitat here at the farm with a really beautiful, deep pond that’s crowned with an enormous weeping willow (which we call Grandmother Willow).  I can’t wait to watch them waddle and paddle about our property.  They’re going to thrive here.

What stopped me from having laying ducks in Pocatello was a crazy and omnipotent next door neighbor who may have had a screw or two loose with special regards to animal care habits.  She made it her day job to monitor how everyone on the street was tending to their pets and animals and reported everyone in the neighborhood to the police at some time or another for “animal cruelty and animal abuse” — it was never warranted.  She also trespassed in our yards to tend to our animals while we were away from our properties (on trips to the grocery store or jaunts to different states or countries).  She poisoned plants in my yard that she didn’t like.  She threw loaves of bread over the fence between our properties because she didn’t think I was feeding my dogs enough food.  The list of weirdness goes on and on and to be frank, one of the reasons we sold our property in Pocatello was simply to get away from her.  As some of you know, we were very fortunate to privately sell that property to good friends of ours and they’re now having to deal with the same neighbor issues.

This neighbor also had the habit of buying chicks every spring, or new chihuahua-mix puppies, or kittens, or button quail and she’d have them for a while and then they would mysteriously disappear and be replaced with some new baby critter.  I don’t know what she was doing with them, maybe she was drowning them in her bathtub or simply putting them in her dumpster?  She’d also come over and ask Robert to dispatch the animals she was through with, even if they weren’t sick or injured or suffering.  She’d simply get tired of tending them and want someone to kill them for her.  She once asked Robert to take her sick, blind chihuahua somewhere and shoot it because she didn’t want to pay the vet to euthanize it!  I was horrified on a regular basis.

This is all to say, I was afraid to get a batch of laying ducks while living in Pocatello because I knew this neighbor would find them adorable and get some for herself and then ask Robert to kill them in the fall once they were full grown and she no longer liked them or had the patience to care for them.  I loved our little Pocatello farm house with its incredibly prolific yard and its immediate access to the City Creek trail system but I tell you what, I felt a sort of spiritual oppression while we lived there and it was all because of this crazy neighbor.

Anyway, what I’ve noticed so far about ducklings is they are very active, taking only short sleeps every now and again, they consume a shocking amount of water and I’d describe them (no matter the breed) as eccentric!  They’re hilarious!  Our flock now has 3 runners, 1 Swedish black, 1 pekin and 1 khaki campbell — a beautiful assortment.  The pekin and the khaki campbell are straight run (unsexed) so I’m hoping that one of them is a drake.  We’ll be able to tell as their feathers come in.  Keep your fingers crossed for me that one of those quackers has curly tail feathers!

I have to go to Colorado for work this weekend and I’m excited to go but I’ll be so sad to miss a few days with our baby critters.  They’re already such a part of me.

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Baby Announcement

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Sometime in January, Sugar Baby had an affair with a manx tomcat from a neighboring farm.  Then she ballooned up.  Then she became restless.  Then one morning, Rob walked into the studio and there were four wriggling kittens under a shelf in my studio.  Imagine that!  Four came out — two tabby and two pinto, a manx and long-tail of each coloring.  The tabby long-tail was a fader.  So let’s talk about that first.

I had a choice to simply let nature take its course and let the fittest survive and the less fit die but instead I chose to feed that sick little kitten with a dropper for a 24 hour period before she finally died, it caused some major sleep deprivation and worsened the influenza I picked up while at home in Saskatchewan but I don’t regret putting that kitten on an hourly hand-feeding schedule.  Here’s why:

  1.  I don’t know if there was something wrong with her physically that caused her to be a runt who fed well at first and then dwindled until she died or if her fade-out was because the other tabby kitten who thrived more quickly than the rest continuously pushed her off her nipple while she was feeding thus inducing her fade.  Was she born a runt or was she made a runt by her litter mate?  Who the heck knows?  But she was certainly our little Wilbur.
  2. I think my job as a keeper of animals is to always do my best by them.  If they get sick, I tend to them.  If I need help tending to them, I take them to a vet.  Simply put, I make myself a factor in the survival of my critters.
  3. I never want to regret NOT taking action for my animals when they are unwell.

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The three kittens that remain are healthy, squawking, roly-poly beasts of love.  They’re eyes should open this weekend and then they’ll become trouble.  Precious, darling trouble.  They’re starting to get mobile and it’s remarkable how strong they are.  I watch them scuffle with each other already and sometimes I help them find their way to nurse and the others will kick at my hand and push with surprising force against my fingers.

It’s been fun to watch a mammal transition into motherhood.  Sugar Baby operates fully on instinct.  She had no midwife.  She didn’t read ten books on what to expect while pregnant and get a ton of (unwanted?) advice from all the women in her life (and total strangers at the grocery store).  It’s amazing to me that she gave birth to these guys on her own, chewed through their umbilical cords, consumed her own placenta for what would have been a huge energy boost for her post-delivery (most animals consume their afterbirth), behaves in a protective manner and guards over them fiercely, slips away once they have fallen asleep to go for a quick hunt or bathroom break, cleans up after them (the kitten nest is totally clean, no urine, no poops, she cleans their bottoms as they “go” with her sandpaper tongue)…it’s remarkable to watch her instincts in full bloom.  As these babes become mobile it will be interesting to see how she changes the way she cares for them and monitors them.

Watching her do this motherhood thing has me wondering if women have these same kinds parental instincts?  How many of our parenting habits stem from reading informational books before we give birth, how many stem directly from our instincts?  When did we stop wandering off into the forest to give birth by ourselves, like a cow dropping her calf in a string of aspen on a mountain slope?  I’m not a mother.  I don’t know how these things work.  I just hear moms go on and on about how you haven’t loved until you’ve loved the child you give birth to.  How much of that love and care is purely instinctual, hormonal, written into female DNA so that there’s hardly any way to undo how we care for our offspring.  Plenty of you are mothers (and fathers).  Tell me about it?  Did you feel any degree of instinctual override when your babies came into the world?

We’ll keep one of these kittens (the pinto manx).  The tabby manx is going to friends of ours in Boise.  The long-tail pinto was claimed by a neighbor.  And that’s that!  I tell Robert every day that I want to keep them all, but I know I can’t.  Fortunately, we have a tsunami of critters arriving here over the next few weeks.  Tomorrow we’ll pick up our ducklings from the post office.  Then our chicks will arrive.  Then our turkey-babies will arrive.  And then, we’ll pick up our bees.

BEES!!!

A lifelong dream of mine!

Pinch me.  Is all of this real?  Every single day Robbie walks into my studio in the afternoon, runs his fingers through his hair and simply states, “I’m just outside living the dream, living the dream.”  We had our immediate neighbors over for an official we’re finally moved in dinner on Sunday and one of them asked me if I am happy here and I replied, “I am happier than I’ve been in a very long while.”  And while I haven’t been unhappy, I feel like the cat who got the cream on a daily basis.  And that is that.

7I9A3386[applewood for the smoker]
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[morning in the kitchen]
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[new peach trees for the fruit orchard]

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[Here comes the cavalry!]

We had friends come to dinner last night.  I was so excited to see them.  I feel we’ve been in renovation exile here!  After they left I started thinking about our main group of Idaho friends.  We first met these guys nine years ago when Rob was on a hotshot crew with them in Pocatello.  I think it’s safe to say this crew of boys will always been our life and to our great delight, one by one they started getting married and we love the ladies they’ve brought into our posse, too.

When we lived in Pocatello, we were social instigators.  We loved to throw big dinner parties with loads of food and delicious drinks and copious amounts of dessert and after dinner tea.  We would have gladly gone bankrupt just to host our friends in our home and feed them — it was such a great time and it’s something we still love to do, whenever we can.  To have two of those lifetime pals pop by for dinner last night gave our new little home such a great feeling of love and friendship. We took them for a before-dinner walk out on the land and laughed aloud as all the dogs careened through the sagebrush, up and down the riverbank.  We’re now entering into recruitment mode wherein we try our best to convince all of these beloved pals of ours to buy property near to where the farm is located.  We need them all close by once more, just a telephone call away from joining us for a dinner party.  Wish us luck.

With that said, before our friends arrived with their dogs, Rob spent most of yesterday working on a batch of ossobuco with elk*** and some of my freezer-fresh garden tomatoes from last summer.  We took the recipe from Rohan’s cookbook Whole Larder Love — a cookbook after my own heart.  It’s so beautiful to read through and since it was created by a kindred, I can’t help but to respond to the imagery and the ideas captured on the pages.  Actually, if I were to create my own grow/gather/hunt cookbook it would be a lot like this one, except there would be more working dog photos.  By the way, if you haven’t heard of Rohan, I do recommend his blog as well as his Instagram feed.  He’s talks about important stuff.  All the time.  And I admire his photography very much.

Anyway, Rob whipped up this amazing elk ossobuco bedded on polenta and a chocolate cake to go with and we all ate ourselves silly and then sat and talked with tea and a bottle of lovely, extra dry riesling until Laura and Jeff forced themselves to leave for home.  I wish they could have stayed the night but I shouldn’t get greedy about these things.

To our delight, what we had imagined this home could be when friends and family come to visit became an apparent and beautiful reality last night.  We had a cozy fire in the living room fireplace, both kitchen bar tops were handy food prep spaces, no matter where we were working in the kitchen we had a solid view of our guests and a comfortable conversation distances, our dining room table was a pleasure to linger at, our sofas fat and plush.  In short, we are so glad we made this home what we imagined it could be.  I have absolutely no regrets regarding how long our renovations took or the struggles that came with doing those renovations during what has been a hard, hard winter for this part of Idaho — even now, as I type, it’s snowing steadily outside and I’ll probably need to shovel the walkway to get out to the truck when I drive to the post office at noon.

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I have the studio warming up and am looking forward to creating for most of the day.  Have a lovely Monday.  Make it beautiful.

***Rob had a successful (hail mary) elk hunt this year.  He shot a cow over in the Hell’s Canyon region of Idaho  in late November and packed it out in -22F weather.  I am so deeply grateful to have this meat in our freezer this year.  I thought it was going to be a skinny year for us, and we were so short on time for hunting and food getting and the snows have been so deep and treacherous for upland hunting — it’s been a difficult winter, a true winter, for all the critters, including us.  I prayed hard for this elk of ours and even had middle of the night anxiety about our food stores and empty freezer (!!!) for a few weeks leading up to Rob’s success in the field.  When Rob phoned me to tell me he had a cow down and was coming home I truly rejoiced.

 

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One of my best friends is dating a man who survived electrocution and then testicular cancer and I love hanging out with him because he has a knack for appreciating every moment that lands in his life and then, he’ll exclaim about it, voice aloud his delight for others to hear so that they might notice, too.  I love that about him.  Usually I’m the only person doing that kind of thing, I mean audibly freaking out about the shape of the clouds in the sky or whatever beautiful detail that catches my eye about a thing or a person.  There’s always something to catch my eye.  There’s something beautiful about everyone and everything.

With that in mind, this new life of ours in this new space is replete with goodness.  Each time I open my eyes to a new day, every time I stop to put a log on the fire in the living room, when I lay in bed for a moment longer to watch the squirrels in the crowns of the elms through the bedroom window, I find myself exclaiming my delight aloud.  I go out running, hiking and walking with the dogs and the land offers up such treasures every single day, whether it’s the lichen come alive on the stone faces in hues so vibrant they seem otherworldly, to the freshness of the wind as it passes over the river and slaps my face, to the muskrat skull I found  a few days ago and the mismatched four-point sheds I tripped over while running a jackrabbit trail the other night…it’s all here…all the moments are all here and I see them all and I rejoice.

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I write from the new studio space at the farm which is brimming with light as though it holds an indelible, inner glow that cannot be dimmed!  Our new home is shaping up nicely.  Naturally, I have a creative itch to scratch so I’ve set aside some organization work to fiddle around at my studio bench instead — mostly finishing up some small scale production work I failed to complete before packing up the house for the move to the farm…but my unexercised mind is racing and I have not be able to resist laying out arrangements of stones and other doodads, firing up the studio and doing some soldering and tinkering…mostly I’m laying out studies in color.  The landscape here is fat on snowmelt and rain but it’s thin on chroma and I suppose gemstones have become a way I can quench my craving for color.

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Already it occurs to me how much I will miss living at the strawbale house on the steep slant of the South bank of the Snake River.  Being able to watch the sunrise over the water and steam, witnessing the waking of the world, one bird at a time.

Did I tell you that in December, from the kitchen sink at the stawbale house, I watched a pair of coyotes stalk a group of ducks that were in a floatilla near shore in a wide eddy on the far bank?  The stalk culminated in a terrific splash attack and the coyotes missed their mark and thereby their breakfast but I think they had a fun time, regardless.  The duo proceeded to make their way upriver, hunting voles in the snow as they went, leaping and pouncing, tossing their live, velvety food into thin air before snapping it in the steel trap of their jaws.  I watched the whole thing while wearing a pair of rubber gloves and pressing binoculars to my eyes — dishwashing was stalled for a good fifteen minutes.

I’m going to miss seeing the herons landing on the island below that house, surprising the muskrats on morning strolls, the flight of the bald eagle and osprey.  I’ll miss being a part of all that magnificent, teeming life.

As I let go of one place, I turn to embrace this new home with great joy in my heart.  I counted the trees in the immediate yard at the farm and there are 34, all mature (this number does not include the fruit or nut orchards, the wind rows or any of the trees in the far hay pasture) ranging from elm to locust to ponderosa pine to Austrian pine, to blue spruce to a single, young,  bristlecone pine!!!  I pet the bristlecone every single day, it’s such a sensory experience.  I don’t know who planted it but thank you, whoever you are!  Thank you!  You’ve made a perfect stranger so glad.

In these yard trees is a heavenly host of birds, even though it’s winter.  I look forward to seeing new nests appear this spring.  We also have barn, great horned and shorteared owls on the premises and walking the lawn is made difficult by the mountains of owl pellets piled beneath the trees — I see rodent bones and the motley, partly decayed faces of doves, small skulls and shards of hide in those pellets.  As always, it’s an impromptu biology class for me, just strolling around this place!  I learn so much just by looking, engaging my logical thought processing and employing my deduction skills.  I feel like the Cinderella of this place, with all my little critter friends, and I sing to myself as I go about my way, dressed in rubber boots and rags (…not really dressed in rags but I couldn’t resist writing that…).

I can’t wait for the tree canopy to burst away into wild greens this spring and the row of almond trees in bloom and buzzing with fuzzy bees.

We’re settling in, puzzle piece by puzzle piece, painting and dealing with finishing details as we go and let me tell you, our space is so lovely.  So lovely.  But let me tell you the most important thing — we arrived home from our southwest trip at 2AM and I stepped into our new house exhausted and hungry.  I navigated through the maze of unpacked boxes and stacked pieces of furniture, brushed my teeth with a broken bathroom faucet and fell into bed to sleep the best, deepest sleep I’ve had in a long while.  If I could choose a word to describe the past year of my life it would be: CHAOS.

If I were to choose two words they would be: UTTER CHAOS.

 With the completion of our move to the farm, all things feel relatively calm and orderly…everything is in the right place (even if it’s still being unpacked).  I think I fell into a kind of hibernation survival mode leading up to this big move and now, my energy has been unleashed fully and I’m humming and buzzing from blossom to blossom in a kind of kinetic, hyperactive quest for nectar.  It’s beautiful.  It’s beautiful to be myself again.

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I look forward to sharing some photos of our new home with you but my camera is broken and in California undergoing a $800 repair so in the meanwhile, here’s the final few pictures I have of the New Mexico portion of our southwest trip.

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