October 2013


 

We began noticing
missing animals
a couple of weeks ago.
First,
an adult guinea
living at the Pond House
disappeared,
mid-day,
without a trace.
We knew then
we needed to begin
to take autumn and winter
safety measures.
Soon, the Pond House guinea family
would have to move to the barns
at the Farm House.
Then, a kitten disappeared
from the barns at the Farm House.
That morning,
one of the alpacas
was wearing skunk perfume.
We quickly secured the part of the barn wall
which we had opened last spring
to let the Barn Swallows fly in and out
to nest, raise their young ones.

The cat population
had already dropped dramatically
last winter.
This spring, one cat had a litter of four
and only this one kitten had survived.
It was one of only four cats around the barns
and there was only one cat—
rescued from the road this summer—
at the Pond House.
“Dot” was partly house cat, partly outdoor cat
and we knew the time was coming
to keep her indoors.
Then, two days ago,
she disappeared.
We were heart-broken,
yet not regretting that we broke a rule
to not get emotionally attached.

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Dot

Every year,
come colder weather,
predators—coyotes, hawks, raccoons,
skunks, possums, owls—seek out
the smaller animals and barnyard fowl.
It means limiting the animals’ freedom
and we always wait until the last possible moment
to do that—
or past the last possible moment.

All the guineas are now in the barn
and it may be a few days—
until further winter security measures
can be taken—
before the fowl can be let out again
to free range.
We will have to keep a close eye
on them when they are out of the barn—
and shut the barn door
as soon as they go in for the night.
There is nothing we can do
to protect the barnyard cats.

I’m not sure why the larger animals
are so soon hungry.
But, come to think of it,
we haven’t seen many wild rabbits
or mice
along the roadways all summer.
And, glad as we’ve been
for more rain than recent summers,
we are still in a drought.
How soon has come
this change of seasons…
how slow we are to face
the winter ways of,
and our place in,
the great web of life.

While we’ve been living in autumn light
for weeks,
the air now feels like autumn air.
And with the cooler air,
Ann can now bring in autumn’s harvest:
pecans,
sweet potatoes.
The sweet potato harvest is her best
ever.
After last year’s bumper pecan harvest,
this year’s (and maybe next’s)
is expected to be much smaller,
and it is.

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After a full year of gardening
in the high tunnel,
we now know
that it is a great tool
for gardening in Oklahoma
in this era of changing climate.
All winter,
Ann grows gargantuan greens
as well as cold-weather crops,
sometimes using a little extra cover
over the plants
when the temperature dips to freezing.
Already,
her winter greens are growing beautifully.

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This summer,
protected from heat by a shade cloth
and cooled by a solar-powered fan;
saved from destructive bugs who didn’t find their way
through the rolled-down sides of the high tunnel;
watered by a drip system
from collected rain water,
plants produced fruits aplenty.
She is still harvesting herbs, peppers,
eggplants and tomatoes.

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Of course,
that leaves no off-season
down-time
for the gardener.
So we offer our deep gratitude
to Ann
for her dedication,
hard work
and passion for producing
lovely food,
naturally, organically.

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Ann giving a tour of the high tunnel garden, including the large community of Red Wiggler
Worms that create rich soil to enhance the beds

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There is a beautiful
autumn…
mild temperatures,
sunny, cool, slightly breezy days,
chilly, clear nights,
bright air,
a cloudy hour here and there,
a little rain…
The first freeze
was three days ago.
Frosty white grass
and 32 degrees at 7 a.m.
But it’s been warmer,
sunny mostly
since.
And with a little more rain,
grass is still greening,
while dried tall grasses
drop their seeds,
silently planting
for another year.
Crickets still sing
in low places.
There are still Cicadeas!
in the Willows.
A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
perches atop a dried sunflower
in the pasture.
Cottonwood leaves
wiggle and whoosh
in the wind.
Some kind of cocklebur
turns from silver
to purple.
Soft mounds
of wild white asters
flow beneath the fence line.
There is a new,
prodigious,
crop of tiny grasshoppers
and I also disturb
pairs of small yellow butterflies
that flutter up out of the grass
as I walk through the prairie,
touching home.

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Waterway extending from water retention reservoir

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We don’t have wilderness
here.
There’s not an inch
that hasn’t been disturbed,
impacted,
changed
by the tread of humans.
But there are places
on the farm
that I don’t go
regularly,
though cattle do.
I hadn’t been down south
around the water retention reservoir
since we’ve had intermittent
rains this summer and fall.
Venturing forth a few days ago,
I discovered that not only is the reservoir full,
waterways wind out from it,
into the pasture.
This is exciting to me;
unexpected water on the prairie
is rare.
It can help recharge
a depleting aquifer.
It draws and spawns
life.

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Six feet wide,
these waterways are already
developing a riparian area
of willows
in one section
and there is much evidence
of wildlife.
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Young Willows along the shoreline

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A Great Blue Heron
suddenly
rose up from the willows,
its wide wings flapping silently,
and emitting its loud, croaky call.
A large white crane
flew in, flapping,
landing softly,
then flapping and hopping
along the edge of the waterway
for a long time
before it lifted and flew east again.
I followed the waterway
and found evidence of its life
there—a crawdad skeleton,
crane feet
engraved in the mud
along the edge.

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I stayed a long time,
walking slowly,
looking,
taking in this amazing
natural evolution
of waterway building its way
through grass and prairie growth.

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As far as the waterways have reached into the prairie

Most of the time
I’m not aware of life here.
And now I’m aware
of my arrogance—
that just because I’m not aware
doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of life
happening.
I begin to wonder what this prairie
would look like
in five or ten years
without us—
the cows,
me.
Seems like
there’s more life—
or, certainly, different life—
where we aren’t.

They arrived from the city
ready
to meet the animals.
We explained
who likes to be petted
and who doesn’t.
And they respected
all the boundaries,
pretty much.

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Meeting the goats, alpaca, Maizey and finding an egg

On fall break from school
in Oklahoma City,
children of families
from Cornerstone United Methodist Church
arrived curious and excited
and open to discoveries
in the natural world.
“It’s beautiful!” they said—
about tree bark,
a Lady Bug,
a sunflower,
a Red Wiggler Worm.
They noticed the colors around them—
orange, yellow, green, brown,
even blue…
Blue?
Where do you see blue?
The sky!

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They were curious
and excited
and free
to explore.
They soon got the hang
of using the jeweler’s loupe
and looked closely
at everything—
seeing things they couldn’t otherwise
see,
and then calling the adults over,
showing us.

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DSCN1770Exploring along Doe Creek, getting to know a 100-year-old Red Cedar, looking closely
at plants and bugs, watching a Lady Bug in the grass, picking a bouquet, showing adults
the fruit of an Osage Orange tree
.

No one liked spiders
or webs—
even the beautiful (they didn’t think so)
Orb Spinners
in their shining webs.
It took them awhile
to accept it was okay
to have wet shoes
walking in grass,
heavy with dew.
They didn’t hesitate to hold worms
or get their little fingers
black with composted soil
harvesting sweet potatoes.

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In them,
in their curiosity,
courage,
appreciation,
freedom
to lead
exploration in the natural world
is hope
for the future health
of the planet.

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Our gratitude to The Disciples of Christ Foundation, which has awarded a grant to Turtle Rock Farm for nature education of young people, for sponsoring the Cornerstone families’ trip. To learn more about bringing youth to TRF, contact us: www.turtlerockfarmretreat.com

 

 

We always serve hot apple cider
during the Prairie Concert
in the round-topped barn.
That marks the beginning
of the hot apple cider season.
There are jillions of recipes.
Here’s ours.

Hot Apple Cider

Gallon of apple juice
(the unfiltered, can’t-see-through
fresh apple juice available
beginning in the fall)
1/2 gallon cranberry juice
whole orange
tea ball full of whole cloves
cinnamon stick

Fill a pot with the apple juice and the cranberry juice. Cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice into the other juices. Then add the squeezed orange halves.
Fill a tea ball with cloves and hang it over the side of the pan, so the cloves are in the juices.
Add a cinnamon stick.
(You can also add rum or fum flavoring, to taste.)
Steep for about 45 minutes.
You can make this ahead, remove the orange halves, cloves and cinnamon stick (or leave them in; the flavors grow stronger), store and reheat.

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Driving west
past fields of dried, broken stalks
of harvested corn
and fields of plump, bronze heads
of maize, ready for harvest,
I gasped in delight
and almost stomped on the brake
at the sight
of the sudden undulating wave of black
crossing the road in front of me.
I slowed,
pulled off the road
next to a corn field
and watched
as the black wave continued to undulate
now on the ground,
in the corn field
like a mythic, giant serpent.
The Red-Winged Blackbirds
are back.

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