Thursday, August 17, 2017

November Hill farm journal, 35

I have more adventures to share but wanted to check in about farm stuff today. We had several weeks without rain and the pastures became quite dry. This week we've had three good rains so things are going green again. The most recent rain came with a thunderstorm and the worst lightning strikes we've had in several years. Fortunately nothing was hit and the horses and donkeys came in to the barn and finished out their night under shelter.

Yesterday the gravel guy came and fixed the pothole in our driveway, as well as the drainage issue that was creating it. Our temps have gone back into the 90s so he brought the gravel earlier in the day but came in the evening to do the work. After my own sweat-lodge style chore session mid-day, I considered doing the same thing until this heat breaks!

Today my farm helper is putting gravel underneath the front porch to create a tidier surface under there. Once he's done with that I'm going to repaint the lattice boards and we'll put everything back together for now. I'm still pondering the cat space and how to do it.

He's continuing to clear the fence line, which is looking wonderful, and once he gets to the barnyard gate we'll move to the other side of the property to get the fence lines clear for the new perimeter fencing. That is I think going to be an easier job for him but it's all hard work and I'm grateful he's willing to do it in this heat. He prefers to start early and finish at 3. Most of what he's doing is in shade so that helps! But we're both ready for fall and cooler weather.

The gravel guy is returning this afternoon with a load of mulch to put on the path that goes from our back yard gate to the barn. That path was always a bit of a drainage issue when we get a lot of rain, but over time as other, higher areas have eroded some, it's gotten worse. He looked it over with me and said while gravel might make it tidier he didn't think it would do much to stop the flow of water. His thought was to mulch the area and stop the water, absorb the water, and maybe in the process help out the oak tree that's looking very sad in that same area. We are wondering if its proximity to the well is the problem - not getting enough water at the roots due to the well pulling from the water table - and he thinks maybe the mulch will create some water retention that might help. It's worth a shot. I hate to lose that oak tree but there's one ten feet up that is thriving, so if it doesn't make it, we'll use the wood for the wood stove.

He has a plan to mulch the path and create a bed where I can plant stuff or just leave it plain. I'll need to think about some horse-friendly plantings since I do let them in the barnyard! Any ideas are welcome. And we're thinking maybe slate stones on top of the mulch for actual walkway from gate to barn door.

This will get done today and then next week he's going to work on getting the arena topped up for me. Then we'll take a break until early fall when the horses are out of the barn. That project is going to be a much bigger one. We'll be clearing the shelters, stalls, and barn aisle out and putting in gravel, stall grids, and a layer of screenings on top of that. And creating more of a lip on each end of the barn aisle. Re-doing French drains at each end and then hopefully that will be that for many years to come.

My hope is that with fencing done in September and the barn work done early October, this phase of projects will be over just in time for riding and enjoying the season!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Adventures: Ithaca

I'm woefully behind on blog posts, but for good reasons - a series of adventures that started with helping my son move to Ithaca for graduate school. We set off near the end of July. He drove his car and I drove the U-Haul truck.

I was fairly confident - I think this is the largest truck (at 15') I've ever driven, but it was almost brand new and ran well and although I was a little nervous, I was also excited.

With Google Maps set on "avoid tolls" off we went. The initial part of the trip into Virginia was on familiar roads, the same route I take to my beloved writing retreat, the Porches. My destination that first day was Hagerstown, Maryland. The landscapes were gorgeous - lots of farm land and working farms on both sides of the road. It was only the last hour that was stressful - a lot of traffic going 70 mph. Drivers were courteous but I felt very boxed in and my visibility was severely limited in the truck so changing lanes and merging onto the freeway after rest stops was harder.

The hotel was a Ramada and although old and sort of dated, the restaurant itself was good. We had chicken fajitas and I had a homemade blueberry mojito that was amazing and perfect after a day of driving.

The second day Google Maps seemed to have a mind of its own. After the first hour I found myself on "way off the beaten path" roads that were completely devoid of any other vehicle but mine. Normally I love this kind of driving but the roads were narrow, winding, and with stop signs in places where I had to make left turns - and it was impossible to see out the right window of the truck if it was angled at all. A few times I got behind horses and carriages and had to pass them! I was totally worried that the big white truck would spook the horses but all seemed very much used to it.

The landscapes were beautiful. I'm looking forward to driving this route again but in my car!

I have never been more happy to arrive at a destination - Ithaca! - but worried on my way into town that our hotel parking lot might be hard to navigate in the truck. Fortunately for me there was plenty of space to back in and with my son already safely there, all my anxiety disappeared.

We stayed at the beautiful Argos Inn:

I highly recommend the Argos. The rooms are gorgeous as are the public spaces inside and out. And the Argos bar is amazing. I'll do an entire post on the inn but suffice it to say, that night, upon arrival, this bourbon sour was my reward:

The next day we moved my son in. His apartment is wonderful. It was such a great feeling to take this photo at the end of the journey:

Monday, July 24, 2017

Diary of a Cutting, in Riverfeet's anthology, Awake in the World

My essay, Diary of a Cutting, appears in Riverfeet Press' new anthology, Awake in the World. It's a lovely book with a wonderful selection of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction about nature in all her glory. Just out in June, it's available for purchase HERE

Diary of a Cutting is about the timbering of what I call the "hundred-acre wood" behind November Hill. It's actually 103 acres and for most of the time we've lived here it was a forest. The cutting of trees around November Hill began on the morning of the day our sweet black mare Salina died, so the screaming of the cutting machines became a sound that pains me in more than one way every time I hear it. 

I miss Salina and I miss all the trees. 

If you purchase before the end of August 10% of your purchase price will be donated to the National Parks Association. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Lots of stuff and a special birthday

It's been a bit of a zoo here since I returned from my writing retreat in gorgeous Little Switzerland, in a tiny chalet atop Grassy Mountain. I was super productive there but as soon as I got home November Hill took me over again and I haven't touched my novel manuscript since! I will remedy that this weekend.

My son has moved out of his undergraduate apartment and is home with us until the end of the month when he and I will take a U-Haul and his car to Ithaca to get him settled into his new place. I'm excited to explore Cornell with him. Meanwhile we are enjoying having him here with us for a bit.

We had a week of heat, then a nice break, and are now heading into a weekend that includes three days of 100 degree temps. I am so not looking forward to this, but what can I do? I'm sure the hose will be in regular use through this coming heat.

A dear friend and colleague passed away last week after a 15-month battle with ovarian cancer. She has been a light in the lives of many and her service was beautiful and heart-breaking. She leaves her husband of 29 years and three amazing children who are just off to college. I miss her and am also dealing with my own issues having to do with how busy I tend to be here on November Hill, often to the point that making time to see friends and extended family is not where I wish it were. Dori's death is a hard reminder to me that prioritizing time with friends and family is so very important.

Yesterday I got so caught up in the day I left the most important chore - getting in some hay to tide us over until next week's big load is trucked in - to the last minute. Storm clouds were forming and I ran to the truck and headed into town. They loaded the hay and we covered it with the tarp I bought in the feed store for that purpose. As I drove toward home it was dark but still dry, but just as the tarp blew off the hay and flew back like a scarf in the wind, still attached by the very back corners, I could see the deluge ahead of me, a gray white blur. I pulled off quickly and got the tarp back on, trying to secure it more effectively, knowing it was probably not going to stay on but hoping. I drove into the deluge and off the tarp came again. I drove home fussing at myself for leaving this to the last minute, not being more careful at the feed store and tying the tarp down, and then I just relaxed and said what the heck. The two large bales on top will get soaked, we'll feed those first and we won't stack any of them. If mold happens I'll take the hay down the hill and use it for mulch on the back path.

Sometimes we just have to give ourselves a break and give in to the chaos, even when, and maybe especially when, it's self-imposed. The herd got flakes from the wettest bale and for them it was a treat - reconstituted Northern grass! All's well that ends well.

And, the birthday! Rafer Johnson turns 10 years old today. It's impossible to believe that he is now in double digits age wise, but it has been a decade of pure joy and delight. He remains a handsome, personable, sweet and also opinionated member of our family. I will fix up some happy birthday tubs tonight for dinner and hope for oh, at least thirty more years with this amazing donkey!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

November Hill farm journal, 34


I could stop there with this post but I'll backtrack a little and lead up to this week's string of 95+ days.

Last Friday I went with a friend to a beautiful chalet in Little Switzerland, NC, where we spent 4 days working on our current novels. It was a nice break for me - part of our deal was that Carolyn made dinner every night, and she's a food writer and wonderful cook so the meals were delicious. I got a huge amount of work done. The chalet is on the top of Grassy Mountain with views of Table Rock and the Blue Ridge, and was absolutely charming - an old stone tower that was at some point converted to living space. The stone walls are two feet thick! The landscape was lovely around the chalet too - with blueberries and blackberries there for the picking in the back. The wildlife highlight was when a huge black bear ambled by the dining room window and left, we think, a nose smudge of the glass of the outer front door!

Back to November Hill on Tuesday and that's where the heat comes in. It is so hot and relentless for the next three days before we dip back to the low 90s. The cats are staying in, the Corgis are on vents for the AC, and the horses are enjoying the shade and fans in the barn during the hot days.

Farm updates:

I got my signs for the front gate, which I need to take a photo of to share, but they are very nice and make it clear that no one should enter without express permission. The surveyors finished up yesterday, revealing some surprises about our strip that goes up to the main road. It's much wider than we knew, which doesn't mean much but does make me wish I'd know where the line was a couple of years ago when an obnoxious relative of the heighbors told me "he owned the road." The truck he used to haul in his ATV to race up and down was actually parked on our property! Oh, well.

One flower bed is neatly covered in cardboard and compost now, thanks to my husband, who did that for me while I was away. It's so nice to see that project starting to take off, even if it does coincide with the hottest week of the year thus far!

The horses are having their feed tubs decreased, as they are getting so much grass right now they are leaving the tubs half eaten. The overseeding we did and continue to do has paid off. I can't say enough good things about our Newer Spreader. I'm finding it to be one of the best farm purchases we've made, ever.

That's about it for now! If you're enduring summer heat, my sympathies. I am so ready for fall!