Saturday, August 14, 2021

A couple of mid-summer birthdays on November Hill

 Violet and Isobel came to us as kittens with birthdays in late July and early August, and this year they turned 3! They are the youngest of the kit-meows here and bring a lot of energy to this house full of cats. 

Isobel is a very loving cat, but she remains slightly skittish, which is how she was as a tiny kitten. It’s almost impossible to pick her up, and if someone she doesn’t know comes in, she will run and hide, but she is quite a loving girl to her cat family here. She adores Pippin and is often found hanging out with him. She remains close to Violet - while they aren’t sisters, they clearly were kept together at the shelter and became friends early on. We think she may have some “munchkin” genetics, as her body structure looks a bit like that kind of cat. Her legs are short and she is a little fluff-budget. She’s a fierce huntress and in spite of not being able to roam the farm, she manages to catch prey in the back yard and even on the front porch.

Violet is a total sweetheart. She’s also quite an outlier as the other cats other than Isobel often pick on her. She hangs out with the dogs and actually responds more like a dog than a cat at times. She is fearless and persistent and out of all the cats, Violet is the one who must be fed separately because she will go full force at any bowl of food she can get to. 

Both these girls bring much joy to our home and we’re so glad they’re with us. Happy birthday, Violet and Isobel! We love you both! 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

One of the simmering things: conservation easement

 I mentioned that I had several things simmering here, and this is one of them. We’ve been looking for land in the mountains to purchase for our mountain retreat dream AND that’s suitable to be put into conservation easement. One of my dreams is to help protect undeveloped land from future development, and it’s been exciting to look at several large tracts with an eye to doing just that.

We had originally narrowed our first boots on the ground look to three properties. One was gorgeous but nearly inaccessible, with no cost-effective way to get utilities to the top of the mountain. In some ways, this land is in unofficial conservation easement because it would be so difficult to make accessible. We loved it but we passed. The second was beautiful and surrounded by national forest service land. However, its proximity to forest service roads, and a questionable “public” road that ran directly through the middle of it, made it vulnerable to hikers, campers, and long-time hunters who would undoubtedly continue passing through the land. My idea of a mountain retreat doesn’t involve bumping into people with guns on my own land, and given the size of that property it would be near impossible to mark every bit of the boundary. So we passed on that one. The third property was my favorite from the moment we first saw it, and we decided to take a second and more thorough look.

This particular piece of land was part of a much larger tract - 3000 acres - that had been carefully acquired and conserved by a family who live outside the US. They saved the land from development and hired an extremely knowledgeable caretaker to curate the land for conservation. The 247 acres that were on the market had 318 documented native plant species, abundant wildlife, threatened bird species, and a number of very rare native plants. It had grassy balds and old growth forest. It was stunning. Because it had long ago been purchased by previous owners to develop, it had a road system that was professionally engineered and totally sturdy and safe, as well as underground electricity in place. Which meant we could easily choose a homesite and build on a small part of the property, then put the rest into conservation easement. We had already talked with the local land trust group who desperately wanted to conserve this particular piece of land.

We made an offer the day after we took the extensive second look. Shortly after our offer went in, our agent notified us that a second offer went in too, and we spent a few days going back and forth with tweaks to our initial offer. The out of country owners sent a message that they would take final offers by last Friday at 5 p.m. We tweaked again, and our agent asked me to write a personal letter to the owners detailing our plans for this property. I did so, and it was submitted along with our final offer by that Friday afternoon.

We waited. And waited. Finally, on Tuesday evening, our agent called to tell us that the owners were extremely moved by my letter and had struggled with their decision, but ultimately decided to accept the other offer. Which turned out to be a different land trust group who not only purchased the 247 acres, but the entire 3000 acres to put into conservation easement.

I can tell you it is possible to be happy and sad simultaneously. I loved that land, but I am truly happy the entire tract is now safe from development and will serve as a haven for native plants and animals forever more.

The owners have now offered us the chance to purchase a group of parcels they own at the far end of this newly-conserved 3000 acres. These parcels total to 370 acres, 200 of which are already in conservation easement. We need to look at it, and we’ll see if it fits what we want. Our agent has put a few more tracts on our radar as well, so the search continues. 

I really thought this was the land for us. On our recent exploration I glanced down and saw one of my most favorite native plants, one that I’ve only ever seen in books. Indian Pipe. 

I’m happy to know that it will grow undisturbed on this lovely land. And we’ll continue our search for the exact right place for us. 

Monday, August 09, 2021

When You’re Mom To A Wildlife Photographer

You get to see really cool things. :)

My daughter and I visited the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge last week and got to see alligators, bears, and one very amazing barred owl. I love owls and have never had this kind of wild, close encounter. It was  amazing.

My photos are from my phone and simply snapshots of a few moments as we explored the refuge. When my daughter sends me some of hers, I’ll share her very beautiful work.

The refuge is a huge area and has many fields of soybeans and corn planted within it, which the black bears love to eat. A large part of our time was spent driving these gravel roads “tracking” the movement of  a few of the bears as they headed to the fields, always keeping a respectful distance. Periodically this bear would stop and turn to look at us. He really wanted to use the road, and he was fine as long as we stayed back this far. When another car came up behind us, though, he cut into the woods and took the shrubby route. It was fascinating to see the signs of bears moving around inside the refuge - flat swathes of grass left by bears leaving the road to cut through the woods, piles of bear scat, etc. We got many glimpses of mama bears with cubs, single bears like this one, and the very cool sight of bears bobbing through the fields from a distance - akin to a dolphin coming up and going down again in the ocean. 

I would never have seen this alligator were it not for the keen eyes of my daughter. We were driving slowly along the gravel road, adjacent to this waterway, when my daughter quietly said, “Can you stop and back up? I think I saw some eyes.” Back we went, and she was right. An alligator was resting with face barely above the water. Can you spot it here? I took the photo not quite believing it was even an alligator, but her close-up photos revealed its eyes. He was still there when we came back by an hour or so later. 

This next moment was from my favorite time of the day. Again, my daughter said, “Can you back up? There’s an owl.” I was expecting an owl way up in the top of a tree, but this one was very close to the ground and we stopped and hung out with him for quite a while. He was so curious, watching us, watching the many butterflies that were out, and keeping his eyes on the perimeter for, I guess, a meal. It was a gray rainy day with some wind, and the branch he sat on moved when it gusted up. He sat and sat. 

While we were watching the owl, this critter was watching us. I’m glad it’s in the refuge and not on November Hill!

Friday, August 06, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 135

A few photos on the farm as we ended the month of July. The lovely gazing pool made by the little bird-and other critters bath.

Joe Pye alongside the bluebird box (that wasn’t used by the bluebirds this year!)

Green-headed coneflowers have done so well this second year! 

Butterly house in proximity to the bronze fennel which came back after last summer’s planting.  

When the deep fuchsia ironweed comes out it’s lovely beside the yellow. Soon!

 I’ve had a busy few weeks and several things simmering to share, so stay tuned!