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La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm) from Lena, WI
La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm)

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Farm Name: La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm)

Year Farm Established: 1946

Location: Stiles, WI

Years I’ve been farming: 69 years

Animals I raise: None, except wildlife.

Crops I grow: Vegetable gardens, flowers, rye, and pastorage.

Hobbies I enjoy: Feeding and providing habitat for wildlife.

The proudest moment on my farm: For the first time in over 60 years, bobwhite quail was sited on our land.

Pets: Just all sorts of wildlife who visit us daily.

Farm Motto: "All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well." -- Blessed Julian of Norwich


Farm Blog
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  So Here Was My Summer's Evening, Part II
On another such night I dragged the hose down to the segment of the Valley Garden that's being used for this year's vegetable garden and being a decent multi-tasker (for a man); I moved the hose from place to place in order to reach all parts of the garden while I also roto-tilled some fallow plots which I intend to use next year. We've had a heck of a dry spell lately. I've had to water my peppers and tomatoes twice so far and I try to run water down at least some of the rows of the vegetable garden every other night or so. The only reason that I put the section of the Valley Garden under cultivation on the Northern side of it is so I can run my hose down the hill from my outside faucet and give it some help from my well. (Sometime I should do a blog on my family's attempts in the past to irrigate the entire Valley Garden, resulting in disaster.)

Last Thursday night I had almost an hour to spare to putz around outside. With the dry weather, it was another beautiful Summer's eve. The goldfinches were soaring in wide circles, as is their wont during this time of year, and I was made to feel that I needed to save the two pumpkin plants that still survived under the power lines. The soil under the lines is almost pure sand because it's on the top of a moraine and unlike the Valley Garden, there is no loam. Therefore, any cultivated vegetation is extremely susceptible to drought. So on this Summer's evening I brought two five-gallon pails to the Homestead and filled them at the pump in the courtyard. I then took a shovel walked down the power lines about 50 yards to where Big Brother Tommy and I had planted these pumpkins last May. I dug some holes around the plants to act as reservoirs and then I went back and toted out the two pails of water. I slowly poured out one of the pails into the holes and then I sat on the now empty pail and waited as the water seeped into the sand. I had to laugh at myself. The Westering Sun cast my shadow long to the East as I was seated on that green plastic pail, watching water being absorbed by the earth. What an absurd sight it must be to anyone glancing out from a car on the highway on the East side of La Ferme Sabloneuse! They would've seen a pudgy old man in a white T- shirt and blue jeans sitting on a pail, staring on two pumpkin plants. What a waste of time and energy; spending 20 minutes to water two plants that have little or no chance of producing anything; just because it was something that a dead brother had wanted to do a couple of years ago. Still . . . it was a good Summer's evening. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

08/01/2015 08:44.13 PM Report This Comment  
  So Here Was My Summer's Evening, Part I
I would like to describe a typical Summer evening; one that makes you treasure this time of year and also makes you long for Summer's return throughout the long months of Winter. Actually, I'm going to describe a number of evenings so typical of this time of year. Now on this one particular evening I working on the Barn. (You may remember that this Summer's project was to take the old, shredded tar paper off the Barn and pull out the tacks in order to give the old stable a clean, all-wooden appearance.) On that evening I picked a couple of hand fulls of wild raspberries in the thickets between Big Brother Tommy's Homestead and my Home Property. In the past, I would've brought the berries to Ma to eat while she was seated in her chair in the living room; but on this eve I washed them in water from the courtyard pump at Tommy's and then I set to pulling tar paper and nails from the Barn. After some 20 minutes of using the wide pry bar and hammer, the pounding started hurting my arthritic hands and arms and so as I sat on the steps of the Corn-crib and drank well water and ate the raspberries that I would've in the past given to Ma, I sang the old Doxology written by Thomas Ken, an Anglican priest in the 17th century, which is now known to all the Christian faiths:

"Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."

Next, I recited the wonderful prayer written by Garrison Keillor:

"“Thank you, dear God, for this good life and forgive us if we do not love it enough."

It was a good evening. More on My Summer Evening next time. Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

07/29/2015 08:13.32 PM Report This Comment  
  Songbirds
Oh, what hope you have settled in my heart, Gary! It's hotter than blazes down here and so dry the grass crunches in its brittleness. We are ready for an early winter, so I hope you are right about this!

Come visit me, The Farm Wife & Paradise Plantation.

07/26/2015 05:17.13 AM Report This Comment  
  Songbirds and The Turn of the Year, Part II
Last time I was writing about birds and "comme d'habitude", I returned to the subject of Summer flowers. "Neamoins", this blog continues my thread about birds. My dear friend 'berta messaged me recently and said that she'd noticed the blackbirds and swallows have been gathering and flying in large flocks. She wrote that this seemed to be much too early for that type of observed behavior and she wondered if I'd noticed the same thing. Strangely enough, I had. I told her that I would mention this in my blog, but I am made to wonder if this doesn't portend an early Winter. Maybe it's just the First Nation's blood in my veins which moves me to think this but over the years I've learned to listen to the whisperings of my heritage. Neamoins, I've included an edited version of a literary classic on the subject. -- Gary

"In the osiers which fringed the bank he spied a swallow sitting. Presently it was joined by another, and then by a third; and the birds, fidgeting restlessly on their bough, talked together earnestly and low.

'What, already,' said the Rat, strolling up to them. 'What's the hurry? I call it simply ridiculous.'

'O, we're not off yet, if that's what you mean,' replied the first swallow. 'We're only making plans and arranging things. Talking it over, you know—what route we're taking this year, and where we'll stop, and so on. That's half the fun!'
'Fun?' said the Rat; 'now that's just what I don't understand. If you've got to leave this pleasant place, and your friends who will miss you, and your snug homes that you've just settled into, why, when the hour strikes I've no doubt you'll go bravely, and face all the trouble and discomfort and change and newness, and make believe that you're not very unhappy. But to want to talk about it, or even think about it, till you really need——'

'No, you don't understand, naturally,' said the second swallow. 'First, we feel it stirring within us, a sweet unrest; then back come the recollections one by one, like homing pigeons. They flutter through our dreams at night, they fly with us in our wheelings and circlings by day. We hunger to inquire of each other, to compare notes and assure ourselves that it was all really true, as one by one the scents and sounds and names of long-forgotten places come gradually back and beckon to us.' .... 'Ah, yes, the call of the South, of the South!' twittered the other two dreamily. 'Its songs its hues, its radiant air! O, do you remember——' and, forgetting the Rat, they slid into passionate reminiscence, while he listened fascinated, and his heart burned within him." (Kenneth Grahame, "The Wind in the Willows")

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

07/25/2015 07:04.37 PM Report This Comment  
  Songbirds and The Turn of the Year, Part I
It is at this time of year that I know by the lack of birdsong that High Summer is here. It occurs to me as I write this that it's when the songs of the insects overtake the songs of the birds that the Summer has really turned and that we are now descending from the apogee of the season to its gradual progression to Autumn. The cicadas and crickets can be heard every day; and while they're not nearly as melodic as the birds, I still appreciate their song. Now I've related in past blogs at this time of year that the demise of birdsong means that the broods of young have all taken flight and therefore there's no need for the adults of the species to proclaim territories or call after their progeny. Presently, the dominant bird calls are the young goldfinches who are joyously expressing their delight at their new-found ability to fly and soar. I know, I've written about this every year since I started these blogs, but it they were out in such numbers last evening when I was out and about that I just have to mention it again. Regardless of their relative silence, it's heartening for me to see so many gold finches, purple finches, rose-breasted grosbeaks, blue jays, and cardinals frequent my feeders and birdbaths. I must also include the usual chickadees, sparrows and bluebirds who add to my delight.

Since I've been talking so much about flowers lately I might as well add that the day lilies and hostas are now blooming. I mention this because I love watching the humming birds flit about my Garage Porch, working over the blooms. I'd written in a recent blog that I wouldn't have a garden without cone flowers. Well this goes double for hostas! I love how this plant dies down to nothing (much like the hydrangeas) and then is one of the first to sprout come Spring. It's the perfect plant for Northern climes. Even at this latitude hostas are a shade plant. The green and white-striped leaves are worthy enough in and of themselves; but the purple-bloomed stamens are the icing on the cake. To top it off, the fact that they attract and sustain humming birds make them, to my mind, perhaps the best perennial to plant in a Northeast Wisconsin garden. More about this next time. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

07/22/2015 08:31.53 PM Report This Comment  
  The Best Flowers of All, Part II
I also had an interesting experience with two other wild perennials. Just a few days ago My Ruthie told me that she would like to see some bridal wreaths on the Home Property. Now bridal wreaths are usually considered to be a domesticated shrub, much like the lilac; but the day after Ruthie had mentioned them, I noticed that these same bushes were blooming on the Home Property on the marshy land next to the railroad right-of-way. I took a walk out thataway and saw that they must've "gone wild" and transplanted themselves. I also noticed two wildflowers that I just had indetify. I cut a sampling of them both and brought them home so I could compare them with photos from my field book and find out what they were. So like a naturalist of old, I laid the specimens next to the photos of the field book and I identified them as Queen Anne's lace and Great St. John' wort. Then, like a naturalist of our own times, I googled them and was able to confirm my findings. Heck, the photo of the St. John's wort was almost identical to the specimen that I'd cut. As for the Queen Anne's lace, I've found in the past that it had been difficult for me to differentiate between this wildflower and the Yarrow, but this time, with the aid of the field guide, I was easily able to see the differences. Queen Anne's lace is a smaller bloom and the fioretti, (floret), is much closer to the ground than the much larger Yarrow (also named wound-wort and blood-wort).

So there it is; another post about flowers, both domestic and wild, or a bit of both. I enjoin you to consider buying a field book of your own and joining me in the appreciation of all the flowers around you. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

07/18/2015 08:26.58 PM Report This Comment  
  The Best Flowers of All, Part I
I've been writing at length about wildflowers, but now I want to talk about the flowers that are the most important to every Countryman; the blossoms on his fruits and vegetables. Right now in my own garden, raised beds, and on the berry bushes of La Ferme Sabloneuse, the peas, beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, squash and pumpkins are all blossoming. Every morning now, for probably almost the next month, when I first go outside, I will be able to see the bright yellow-orange pumpkin blossoms in the Valley Garden all the way from my back porch. I'm already harvesting peas and a few cherry tomatoes. In a few days I'll be picking beans and I am checking the cucumbers daily. As for the fruits, I think that most of the berries have all blossomed out and are now bearing. I've already eaten most of the blackcap raspberries that was produced this year on the Home Property, and two out of the four apple trees on La Ferme Sabloneuse have set out impressive amounts of green apples. Tomorrow I will spray the apple trees in order to cut down the losses due to apple maggots.
Now that I've paid homage to the blossoms that produce fruits and vegetables, (of course technically, they would be all fruits) I must tell you of the other flowers that have presented themselves in the past few days. Our cone flowers are now blooming. A hardy perennial, because it is so hardy, it's become one of my favorites. I can't imagine ever having a country garden without them. I've also noticed a few blooms in the Windmill Garden that I've identified as cynthias. This one, like the daisy, can be either domestic or wild; which to my mind makes them all the more desirable. (Please scroll up for Part II, Gary)

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

07/18/2015 08:23.00 PM Report This Comment  
  Appreciating Beauty
Wonderfully said, Gary! It's high time people started to slow down and see the beauty around us. And now it's my turn - I'm 'borrowing' (sorta) from you!

Come visit me, The Farm Wife & Paradise Plantation.

07/16/2015 06:06.40 AM Report This Comment  
  Appreciating the Beauty Around You.
I've been writing lately about all the wildflowers I've been seeing. This may be boring to some, but to me, ever since I've started educating myself on the subject, I find that when I drive down any road I notice the roadside flowers and appreciate their beauty. The last couple of times that I've driven down to Green Bay I reveled in the various streaks of blue, yellow, white, and purple colors rushing past. These in turn, belonged to the bell flowers, sow thistles and black-eyed Susan, daisies (which are still going strong), and Canadian thistle. In my unending thirst to know, when I see a wildflower that is unknown to me, I find that I just have to consult my field book and find out its name.

Now the same goes for birds. It's not enough for me to hear them and watch them; I needs must know their names and be able to identify them by both sight and sound. You may think that this is because I want to be a show-off; but the real reason is that I want to do the species respect by being able to call it by its true name. I've said this a time or two before; knowing their names doesn't make them smell or sound any sweeter, but I feel driven to learn about what delights me out here in my neck of the woods.

Yet again, I feel the same about both clouds and stars. Back when I was in the second grade, Belle Soeur Susie's sister Joann was my teacher. She had me and Mike LeFebre study and do charts on every type of cloud identified by meteorologists at that time, (the mid '60s). Even now, I can tell you what type of weather cirrus clouds predict and the timeframe of its arrival. As for the stars and planets, being awed and amazed by their beauty should be, but just isn't enough for me. It delights me in a way that I cannot describe to learn their names and where and when they appear in the yearly procession of the night skies. To look up and say that the stars are beautiful gives neither the creation nor the Creator the honor both deserves. For me, I want to be able to call the stars by the names the ancients gave them and to marvel each time I'm able to identify every planet that's present in the night sky on any given night throughout the year. The best that I could wish for you, dear reader, is that you will feel the same way. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

07/15/2015 09:14.51 PM Report This Comment  
  High Summer, 2015
Every year at this time I write about High Summer. I suppose this might seem to some of you all to be redundant, as I return to this subject year after year; but I can only repeat my yearly refrain that to a Countryman, each year's repetition of events is a life-cycle of its own and that a Countryman is blessed to experience each and every one.

Since my last post I've finally heard the whine of the cicada, a good two weeks later than normal and all the High Summer flowers are now in attendance. In the two photos I've posted tonight you can see many of these blooms in tiers. In one photo you can see the still-present daisies joined by the quintessential High Summer flower, the black-eyed Susan. Inter-mixed with them are the yellow hawkweeds and the purple Canadian thistle. In the other photo you can see the afore-mentioned blooms along with the unfolding yarrow plants which over-arch the rest. And the late-blooming turkmen's caps that I mentioned last time? Well, they've now joined the pageantry, and we welcome them.

How I love observing and marking the arrival and passage of every wildflower of the growing seasons! You may be moved to write me off as an eccentric bucolic, (a wierdo bumpkin, if you will), but I stand fast in my appreciation of the pageantry of life that takes place once again in High Summer, 2015, at La Ferme Sabloneuse. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

07/11/2015 09:35.57 PM Report This Comment  
  Flower Update
"Flower Update". Now that's a heckuva title for a blog; but it pertains for a true Countryman. Every year for most of three seasons, I go on and on about which wildflowers are in bloom and which ones are coming up in the yearly line-up. The daisies are still hanging in there, I had to mow around them last night yet again; but now I notice that the day lilies and the wood lilies have just come out. The Turk's cap, a true wildflower, will be joining the pageant shortly. The brilliant sky-blue bell flowers are opening up and what I think is cow parsnip has joined the celandine to grace our roadsides. The Sow Thistles are blooming and the first marsh milkweeds are blossoming as well. This is a beautiful time of year for those who have the time and perceptiveness to look around them. I invite you all to do so. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

07/08/2015 08:30.49 PM Report This Comment  
  Independence Day, 2015, and the Day After, Part II
There was a bit of fireworks on the Fourth at La Ferme Sabloneuse; in the form of my .410 shotgun. Around noon My Ruthie returned home from doing errands and she told me to "get the gun!" as there was a groundhog on the front porch. Now I had noticed earlier in the day that some of my pea plants in the Home Garden had been chewed on, but it didn't occur to me that it might've been a groundhog. Anyways, when I finally got the shotgun and some shells and joined her, she pointed out a groundhog (or woodchuck, which is the Algonquin name for the animal) next to the porch. I was reluctant to shoot; I was afraid the nr. 4 shot might ricochet back at me and Ruthie and I was also afraid that it might duck behind the concrete to die and create a bad stench. I gave it a shot anyways (so to speak) and the poor beast absorbed the load of bb's and died immediately.

Now a woodchuck is the worst of critters to have around a small holding. It can ravage a garden in a few days while it digs up more than a few holes and tunnels for its abode. I was darned glad to kill it and save my gardens. I dumped its body out in the middle of the Valley Garden to see if it would still be there the next day. This morning after Belle Soeur Susie and I were done hoeing the patch of vegetable garden I'd put in in the valley, we took a walk over to where I'd dropped the carcass, and sure enough, it was gone. We think that a coyote must have came along during the night. Well, at least the animal didn't go to waste.

It was finally a hot day today, the day after the Fourth. My corn was definitely knee-high or better and both the beans and pumpkins are sending out runners. I'm hopeful that the crops will make up lost ground after the cool May and June. So that's it for this year's Independence Day weekend. I hope you all had a good time as well. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

07/05/2015 07:18.45 PM Report This Comment  
  Independence Day, 2015, and the Day After, Part I
I've mentioned in the past how this time of year, with its fullness of growth and greenery, leads a Countryman to believe that he doesn't need anyone else's help in order to make his way in the world. Of course this isn't actually true. Winter, and its corresponding hardships, lead a man to the realization that he needs the help of others in order to survive these very same hardships and in return, he also needs to render help to his friends and neighbors in order to validate his identity as a true Countryman. This "self-actualization", as Rogers and Maslow describes it, is to arrive at fullness of what it means to be human.

Heady stuff, but now to the more practical things. On this Fourth of July Big Brother Tommy and I has plans to improve the appearance of the Barn on the Home Property by tearing the ragged old tar paper from the walls and letting just the bare boards of the barn show. I assured him that between the two of us, we could knock this job out in a couple of hours. I've always liked that deflating sense of dull surprise when you realize that what you'd thought was an afternoon's simple task will probably end up being a Summer-long project. The larger strips of tar paper came off okay but the nails and smaller pieces will take awhile. Even worse, behind each layer of paper is a myriad of various sorts of detritus that has been deposited for decades by chipmunks, rats, and squirrels, not to mention the dessicated hulls of maybe a million insects that had sought shelter under the paper. This insect dust alone made the work miserable. When one of us tore out a piece of tar paper, the other got a facefull of the stuff. I once got a nasty pink eye infection from sweeping out this very same sort of insect dust from my Wooden Shed a few years past. After about a half-hour of this, Tommy and I came to that realization I've just mentioned and we left the tools and tarp next to the barn until the next time either of us has the time and inclination to work at it again. This will take all Summer. (Please scroll up for Part II -- Gary)

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

07/05/2015 06:38.14 PM Report This Comment  
  High Summer, 2015
So we're approaching the Fourth of July. It's always a pivotal event up here. It means that early Summer is definitely over and it's when we begin to realize that the first of the harvesting has begun. Of course the first fruits of Summer for us are the strawberries. My own plants have run their course and next Spring I will start up a new colony of berries in a new raised garden bed. In the meantime, I suspect that My Ruthie will have me pick a few quarts at the berry farm just to our South in the town of Abrams. My next post will be on Independence Day, or Declaration Day, or again, as the less patriotic of us will refer to as the Fourth of July.

The blackcap raspberries that I noticed behind the wooden shed are turning red now. I've noticed that the wild raspberries are either blossoming or past blossoming and setting into fruit. Unlike years past, there aren't many blackberry bushes in the front area of the Home Property. Regardless, I am made to think that like everything else, all the wild berries are a tad late.

It's not really High Summer yet. I haven't heard the whine of the cicada (locust) and the daisies and celandine still hold sway over the yearly pageant of Summer flowers. The fireflies are still out in force and I haven't seen a single turkmen's cap or marsh milkweed. The crown vetch have blossomed though, and the dark blue blossoms of the hairy vetch show up in fine contrast to the orange and yellow hawkweed in the old untilled pasturelands of La Ferme Sabloneuse. It's close to being High Summer here at La Ferme Sabloneuse. Each year has its own schedule, and instead of demanding that Nature conform itself to our whims, the Countryman and woman realizes the he and she must conform to the yearly whims of Nature. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

07/01/2015 09:32.54 PM Report This Comment  
  Cutting Firewood and the Woodshed, Part VIII
The frenzied events of the early growing season have put in abeyance this series, but now, during the temporary breathing spell between the year's planting and its first harvest, I have just enough time to insert another installment about cutting firewood. Now the subject of firewood may seem out of sync with the height of Summer at end of June but not to a Countryman. We know that the task of chopping and splitting wood for the stove and fireplace knows no season; so it comes as no surprise that we turn our hand to these tasks whenever we can.
You can never have too much split wood on hand. I knew one man who tried to get enough wood chopped and stack for two years. His reasoning was that if he was laid up for half a year with a broken leg or something like that, he wouldn't have to depend on others for his fuel supply.

We've always used a splitting maul and wedges to split wood. (The two newest photos are of the mauls and the wedges we use at La Ferme Sablonuese.) Only the smaller blocks of wood and kindling are cut with an axe alone. After awhile, you get to recognize where the natural crack lines lay in a block and you place the wedge along one of those lines. You tap it in with the maul and then once it's set, you simply whack it in until you hear the satisfying cracking of the wood; and if everything goes well, you're rewarded with the block splitting sharply and neatly. Of course, everything doesn't always go well. Sometimes you get the first wedge stuck deep in the block and then you have to start a second one. God help you if you get the second one stuck as well. Then you'd have to use a third, hardwood wedge to hopefully open one of the cracks wide enough to pry one of the wedges out. I've been in that fix more than once or twice. Pa, of course, never had this happen to him; or else if he did, he never told anyone. I do remember once getting the wedges so stuck that I had to go and tell him so he could figure out what to do. I thought he'd get angry, but he just smiled. I think it was because he knew that he could show off just how good he was; and he did. He got those wedges out in no time.

Splitting and chopping wood in the height of Summer surely fulfills the adage about firewood warming you twice; once when you cut it, and again when you burn it. As for me, I am made to think that every single time you handle firewood, from felling to sawing to splitting and stacking to the ultimate burning; warms a Countryman some five times over at least. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

06/27/2015 08:06.53 PM Report This Comment  
  Summer Solstice; 2015
"The Willow-Wren was twittering his thin little song, hidden himself in the dark selvedge of the river bank. Though it was past ten o'clock at night, the sky still clung to and retained some lingering skirts of light from the departed day; and the sullen heats of the torrid afternoon broke up and rolled away at the dispersing touch of the cool fingers of the short midsummer night." -- Kenneth Grahame, "The Wind in the Willows".

I was unsure if I had quoted this passage before in these blogs. A quick check told me that I hadn't, but if I have repeated this quote, I beg your pardon. This passage perfectly describes today. The morning had a perfectly blue skies but it turned hot and humid by noon. In the late afternoon it was starting to cloud up as a cool front approached. I took out one of the tractors and the drag and smoothed out the Valley Garden in this Summer's process of preparing it to produce a stand of hairy vetch for the next couple of years. Around 5 p.m. the front came through, with heavy winds and clouds, but no rain. Later in the evening we were able to open the windows and shut off the AC.

Tonight, when I went out to look at the stars, it was very cool and yes, "the sky still clung to and retained some lingering skirts of light....". At this time of year, no matter what time you would rise during the night, you can see dusk turning into dawn along the northern horizon. At 9:30 tonight I could still see to navigate around the backyard as I checked the sky. At 10:30, between the half-full moon and the night-long residual daylight, it was almost just as bright.

I love this time of year. I confess that I will go out on every clear night for the next month in order to observe again and again what I hold to be the magnificent spectacle of "the short midsummer night". -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

06/24/2015 08:53.46 PM Report This Comment  
  Early Summer, 2015, Part V
I was finally able to disk the Valley Garden this week. Big Brother Tommy was home and was moved to come down from the house and watch, (after all, the Home Property is his now). He good-naturedly chided me on the bits of land that I'd missed with the disk, and when I was finished, he helped me unhitch it from Eldest Brother David's 1950 Farmall and patiently waited while I took the usual two or three attempts to back the tractor next to the '38 Farmall in the Tin Shed. Next he and I took a walk around La Ferme Sabloneuse (all three properties, Tom's, mine and Belle Soeur Susie's) in order to find out if the pumpkins we'd planted some two weeks ago had sprouted.

Now last year, on Memorial Day, I'd pushed a wheelbarrow with some seed and a trowel and planted a pumpkin seed or two in each of the tiny patches of plowed ground that Eldest Brother David had prepared in order to do the same the year before. (If at all interested, please see the blog-posts of May 24, 2014, "Honoring the Dead" on pg. 4) Unfortunately, none of the seeds sprouted that year; so this year I took out that same Farmall and hooked it up to the tractor trailer. Next I drove it up to my property and put in half a yard of black soil, some left-over pumpkin seeds, a shovel, and some chemical fertilizer. As I was loading everything up, Tommy, who had heard the tractor, walked over to see if I needed help. I certainly welcomed his company; so he drove Eldest's 1950 Farmall and I sat in the trailer just like I used to do as a kid when Pa drove us around the property in order for us to help him way back when.

We went out to the deer tower at Susie's, the tower next to "Wayne's Pines" on my property, and lastly out under the power lines in front of the tower on Tommy's property. At all three locations I laid down some black dirt and fertilizer, then dropped in the seeds. Finally, I covered everything with more black dirt. Goodness, it was fun! As a matter of fact, during the course of the evening I was moved to shout out to Tommy on the tractor the very same thing. He understood. My memory hearkened back to once when Tommy, Wayne, and I were riding in that very same trailer with Pa on the tractor, the hitch-bolt had popped out and the trailer tongue fell, digging into the sand and abruptly stopping the trailer. We boys all shouted out to Pa and he, looking back, laughed like hell, and then turned the tractor back around to pick us up again. It was certainly a poignant memory; one that was all the more remarkable because it was a pleasant one with Pa and Wayne.

Anyways, in our walk, Tommy and I saw that a few of the many seeds that we'd planted had sprouted and seemed to be doing well. We think that the rest of the sprouts were eaten by the deer. Next year, I expect, I will had some wire fencing to the mix when I go out again to try to maintain Eldest Brother David's legacy. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

06/20/2015 09:54.29 PM Report This Comment  
  Early Summer, 2015, Part IV
I mentioned the black-cap raspberries a week ago. Since then I'd noticed a new bush near the Wooden Shed at the Home Property. It was full of young berries. For once, I may have the chipmunks to thank. In-spite of my relentless persecution of the little beasts, they still populate La Ferme Sabloneuse in droves. I've related in the past how they've transplanted petunias through their consumption and digestion of the flowers. They very well might've done the same with the black-caps, although I prefer to give the credit to the birds.

The white daisies are now in full bloom! The PFR's know how much I love these flowers. As I've might've mentioned before, I always leave them untouched when I'm mowing if I see them budding. I especially love watching the rabbits eat them. As with other long-stemmed plants, the bunnies nip them off at the base and then chew them up stem first, continuing all the way to the flower at the top. Watching them do this reminds me of a tree barking machine that the lumber companies use.

Joining the white daisies are other member of the daisy family, the flea bane and daisy flea bane. The former have purple-pink petals, the latter, of course, have white petals. Both closely resemble their daisy "cousins" the fall asters. The other roadside flowers most noticeable now are the orange and yellow hawk-weeds, white campions, and what I think are starwort and celandine. As with the other wildflowers that I'd named in the first segment of this series on early Summer, these are ours to enjoy in the lush, fresh, hopeful onrush of the new growing season for only a very short time. More on Early Summer, 2015 next time. -- Gary

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06/17/2015 09:28.39 PM Report This Comment  
  Early Summer, 2015, Part III
"Comme d'habitude", early Summer means that the jobs pile up and a Countryman must prioritize his work. Just like the reports that I read from Casa Smith-Coushatta, we're having a wet stretch of weather here in NE Wisconsin. It was finally a clear and sunny evening here last night at La Ferme Sabloneuse so I took advantage of it by working until sundown. First I hoed this year's vegetable patch that I'd set aside from the rest of the fallowing Valley Garden. It might've been an exercise in futility as the soil was still wet from all the rain and I was basically re-planting the weeds, still, it was nice at the end of the evening to look down on the garden from the top of my backyard hill and see the clean, green rows of young plants in contrast to the dark surrounding soil. Next, I did about an hour's worth of mowing around the trees at the Home Property, and finally I took out the weed-whacker and cleared out the new sumac growth on the South side of the garage.

There's still so much to do. Tomorrow I will have to spend some three hours mowing at the Home Property and, if I still have the energy, I will weed the raised beds in the Home Garden and then transfer clods of turf dug out from our flower beds to the many bare spots on our backyard. We've been trying to introduce grass to our sandy hilltop in back of our house for some 29 years now and we've made a good deal of progress, but I suppose I'll be transplanting sod and spreading grass seed, lime, and fertilizer 'til my last day at La Ferme Saboneuse. More to come in a few days. -- Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

06/13/2015 09:44.53 PM Report This Comment  
  Early Summer, 2015, Part II
I've said it before, but it bears repeating; while Autumn is my favorite season of the year, I hold these precious few weeks of early Summer just as dear. It's at this special time of year that we not only can delight in the long awaited and welcome warmth of early Summer, but we can also revel in the knowledge that there are months of Summer yet to come. I've grown to find this time of year so transient, even so ephemeral, that I find that it pains me to see it pass. I think that's because as I grow older, I realize that there are fewer early Summers (and accordingly) fewer Autumns left for me to enjoy. While I comfort myself in the knowledge that these parts of the Seasons will always remain for others after me to enjoy, I am saddened to know that they are no longer in unlimited supply for me. Knowing this, however, just makes this time of year all the more enjoyable.

The snowball tree is shedding its blooms now, and, like I described last year, the ground around it is a carpet of delicate white. As I was sitting out on the garage porch for a little bit earlier this evening, both a bunny and a chipmunk came to sample the soft, silky petals. (The rabbit ate for free, I made the chipmunk pay the bill.)
The raspberries are in blossom here at the Home Property and across the road the blackberries are as well. When I went down our hill to do some tasks at the Homestead, I noticed the black-cap raspberries that had transplanted themselves from the old canes that Grandma Truckey had given us some 40 years ago were blossoming too. With all the rain we've been getting, it looks like a good year for berries. (Bytheby, if any of my newer PFR's would like more information about these berries, I invite them to check out my post of some three years ago on the number 10 page of my blogs.)

The early Summer flowers are blooming, the gardens are doing well, and I am already planning ahead for this Autumn and the 2016 growing season. Check back with me Saturday evening for my the next installment of Early Summer, 2015. -- Gary

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06/10/2015 09:41.35 PM Report This Comment  
  Early Summer, 2015, Part I
I was on vacation this past week, which allows me to catch up on the work that needs doing at La Ferme Sabloneuse, and more importantly, to have time to observe life unfold during this still-young 2015 growing season. We're behind this year, "comme d'habitude" (as usual). We've been having late Summers for years now here in NE Wisconsin and this one is no exception. As a result, the garden is still just coming up. Yesterday I'd thought to replant the gaps in the corn and bean rows only to uncover seeds that were still just sprouting under the surface. Replanting is something that I imagine can be done easily in the Southern climes of Julie Murphree and Ms. Kate; but up here, it has to be done by the end of the first week in June in order to be worthwhile. I do remember one year back when I was a boy that Pa had us planting the pickle field on June 8th. As I remember, we had a decent crop that year.

Every year on these blogs of mine, I report on the succession of wildflower blooms in my area, and every year I comment on how each year it's the same procession, but different. The lilacs are all done and, like every year, I mourn their passing. I've written in the past how I wish that these blooms would last longer. I suppose I should be admonished to "man up"; but I stand by my sentiment. Of all the shrub-produced blooms, these should be the most-revered, "a mon avis" (in my opinion). In their place, the early Summer wildflowers such as the wild geraniums, columbines, anemones, saw toothed sunflowers and the first white daisies are now taking center stage. I've chosen to post the photo taken today by my son Andrew of the columbines near the property of our cousins the Youngers. More on Early Summer to come. -- Gary

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06/06/2015 08:08.24 PM Report This Comment  
  Spring Poetry, Part III
The year’s at the spring,
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven—
All’s right with the world! (The Year's At The Spring by Robert Browning)

At least a few of my PFR's are probably put off by my predilection for "mushy" poetry but it's part of who I am and I will not apologize for it. A perusal of "The Family Book of Best Loved Poems" will show you just how many poems are dedicated to nature, home and hearth, and the frontier days. We Countryfolk love to read and write poetry. It's to my mind very ironic how the folks with the least time on their hands turn their hand to creating poetry in order to describe their love of nature and the lives they lead. Excellent examples of Spring poems are those by William Wordsworth and William Shakespeare, who both wrote about daffodils, and of A.E. Housman, who wrote of the blossoms of the cherry trees and laments that at the young age of twenty he can only expect some 50 more years to see them blossom:

"... And since to look at things to bloom,
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow"

Those readers who have pin cherry trees on their properties know just how transient the blooms are and just how quickly we must then resign ourselves to wait until the next brief blooming. I feel the same way about the lilacs here at La Ferme Sabloneuse. Neamoins, I celebrate the "down-home" poets; those who, regardless of their training or talent, fulfill their desire to express their lives in rhyme.

"Presently the tactful Mole slipped away and returned with a pencil and a few half-sheets of paper, which he placed on the table at his friend's elbow.
'It's quite a long time since you did any poetry,' he remarked. 'You might have a try at it this evening, instead of—well, brooding over things so much. I've an idea that you'll feel a lot better when you've got something jotted down—if it's only just the rhymes.'

The Rat pushed the paper away from him wearily, but the discreet Mole took occasion to leave the room, and when he peeped in again some time later, the Rat was absorbed and deaf to the world; alternately scribbling and sucking the top of his pencil. It is true that he sucked a good DEAL more than he scribbled; but it was joy to the Mole to know that the cure had at least begun." (Kenneth Grahame, "The Wind in the Willows")

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06/03/2015 08:54.59 PM Report This Comment  
  Spring Poetry, Part II
Last Winter I posted a parody by Ezra Pound of "Summer is Icumen In". The original poem was written in the Wessex dialect of Middle English in the mid 1200s.

Svmer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu
Groweþ sed
and bloweþ med
and springþ þe wde nu
Sing cuccu

(Translation)

Spring has arrived,
Loudly sing, cuckoo!
The seed is growing
And the meadow is blooming,
And the wood is coming into leaf now,
Sing, cuckoo!

While some scholars have claimed that the song itself was a sort of parody, most of us "rank-and-filers"appreciate it simply as a celebration of the return of warm weather and life. The sentiments of this English poem certainly correspond with a wealth of later English literature:
"The pageant of the river bank had marched steadily along, unfolding itself in scene-pictures that succeeded each other in stately procession. Purple loose-strife arrived early, shaking luxuriant tangled locks along the edge of the mirror whence its own face laughed back at it. Willow-herb, tender and wistful, like a pink sunset cloud, was not slow to follow. Comfrey, the purple hand-in-hand with the white, crept forth to take its place in the line; and at last one morning the diffident and delaying dog-rose stepped delicately on the stage, and one knew, as if string-music had announced it in stately chords that strayed into a gavotte, that June at last was here. One member of the company was still awaited; the shepherd-boy for the nymphs to woo, the knight for whom the ladies waited at the window, the prince that was to kiss the sleeping summer back to life and love. But when meadow-sweet, debonair and odorous in amber jerkin, moved graciously to his place in the group, then the play was ready to begin." (Kenneth Grahame, "The Wind in the Willows")
More on Spring poetry next time. --Gary

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05/30/2015 07:14.21 PM Report This Comment  
  Spring Poetry, Part I
"Here bygynneth the Book of the tales of Caunterbury

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with OPEN ye,
So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.... (Geoffrey Chaucer, "The Canterbury Tales".

About two-and-a-half years ago I did a series of posts on Autumn poetry. For some reason I was made to think about poetry again this Spring; so I decided to do a series about Spring poetry. You have to understand, we are moved to write poetry about the things which strike us deeply in our hearts; hence all the love poems. As for us Countryfolks, I think that each of the seasons have in their turn a special place in the Countryman's heart. It's just that Autumn is so beautiful and so full of a sense of accomplishment and plenty; and it comes at just the time when a Countryman or woman starts to have the time to reflect; that it is the subject of so many poems. Winter too, has its share of poems, and I suppose that I will get around to doing a post on that subject sometime in the future; but there's a fair amount of poetic celebration of the arrival of Spring and the return of life to these Northern climes.

It's understandable of course; the relief and delight of a Countryman and woman to see the Sun returning high in the sky and the renewal of the growing season. It's not for nothing that so many cultures celebrate this rebirth with various fertility-based religious festivals. Easter eggs, the Easter Bunny, along with the gods of the mystery cults of Mediterranean civilizations serve only to underscore this.

One of the most well known poems of Spring, of course, is the beginning of Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales", quoted above. Some of my PFRs might remember during my series on the poems of Autumn that I'd talked about how so many of the relatively uneducated men and women I'd known in my childhood were proud of the fact that they could still recite the poems they'd learned in grade school. The farmer I had worked for when I was in high school could recite the prologue to "The Canterbury Tales" in its Middle English when he was in his forties. More on Spring Poetry next time. -- Gary

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05/27/2015 07:20.08 PM Report This Comment  
  Odds 'n Ends, Late May, 2015
Once again, it's been a late Spring here in NE Wisconsin. We used to plant corn on Pa's birthday, May 10, but nowadays I wait until after the middle of May to plant our gardens. Just last Thursday I finally put in the vegetable garden down in the valley below me. Sure enough, the next couple of nights there were frost warnings.
The lilacs are in full bloom at La Ferme Sabloneuse. Every year I make sure to go around to check out and smell the blooms around the Home Property. This year the lilac blooms along my driveway are especially noticeable and the row of lilacs that we'd planted in the mid '80s with saplings taken from Ruthie's mother's property are just splendid! Malheureusement, this is the first year that I will not be able to cut blooms from Ma's giant lilac bush in the front yard of the Home Property and present them to her, whether at home or at her bedside at the nursing home. Her lilac bush produced well this year, as always, and she would've been pleased. It was Ma who'd taught me just a few years ago to trim off the previouis year's growth in order to facilitate better growth the following year. The amazing thing is that she'd told me this while she was well into the midst of her dementia. She had read it somewhere and it was important enough to her to retain it. So.... every year when I clip off the dried up old blooms sometime in late Summer, I thank her.
An update on our bunnies; on the day that I observed the mother rabbit tearing her fur out, I saw her and her split-eared mate at Tommy's (the Home Property). Just a couple of days ago, when mowing at Tommy's I scared up a single tiny bunny that was hunkering next to the house in the long grass. It ran off okay, but I was hoping that it would make it back to the big lilac bush in Tommy's front yard. A day or two later, Tommy looked out his kitchen window and saw a crow on the ground trying to get to the lilac bush, and big mother-bunny was standing in its way, matching its movements and preventing it from getting to her offspring. Tommy (to his everlasting credit) immediately lumbered out into the yard and yelled at the crow, causing it to fly off. This reminded me of the same scenario described in Richard Adams' "Watership Down", only Big Brother Tommy was Bigwig. The comparison surely would fit. --Gary

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05/23/2015 07:35.42 PM Report This Comment  
  Cutting Firewood and the Woodshed, Part VII
It was on a day in late February, 1986 that my cousin Ray came by with his massive chainsaw and first took down the hung up Norway pine, and then sawed down the ten or twelve needed in order to clear a path for my driveway. I told him that I could cut up trees myself; I just needed them felled. By the end of March that year, I had stacks and stacks of pine blocks for firewood. Now anyone who know anything about firewood knows that pine is not good for burning. Being a soft wood, it leaves creosote in chimneys which leaves them susceptible to chimney fires. Pine logs are also a great target of termites and other bugs. During the Summer when I would walk past the stacks of wood I could actually hear the bugs munching and crunching. Needless to say, I didn't bring any pine wood into the house to store next to the fireplace. I ended up giving all of it to Eldest Brother David to use. He either burned it in his shop or in The Old House at the Homestead.

When my Ruthie and I were first married, we lived in a top-of-line mobile home. It even had a fireplace! I bought a load poplar and birch wood from a friend to burn in it. Both types of wood burn fast and hot leaving little in the way of coals. This way I could set up a fire in the evening and it would be well out by the time we went to bed. How we enjoyed that fireplace! Ruthie, being the inveterate decorator, had a ball decorating the mantel. After Punky was born, she would sit in my lap and watch the fire. I don't know how many times after the others were in bed, I would stay up and watch the fire burn down.

It was almost 30 years later, this last Winter, when I had a good-sized poplar that was too close to our garage. It was definitely too close and too awkwardly shaped for me to try and tackle. (I think I'd mentioned this in an earlier blog.) I saw Raymond in church and I told him that if he would drop it some Sunday morning after Mass I would buy him breakfast at Jo-Jo's Diner. I told him that I would cut up the tree myself; I just needed him to fall it. Raymond gave me his typical Younger response: "You mean you'll buy me breakfast for just five minutes of work?" I told him that it was well worth it.
So after Mass on a Sunday soon after, Raymond stopped by and using the chainsaw that I'd borrowed from Big Brother Tommy, he proceeded to cut down that tree. Raymond admitted to me that this tree was a tricky one. He told me to push on it as he cut it, to make sure that it fell well away from the very garage that Raymond had built for us back in 2001. Neamoins (nevertheless), when the tree finally fell, it just missed the South wall of the garage. Raymond looked up at me, and with the very same expression that he'd given me since back in the day when we were boys up to no good, exclaimed, "Whooo Hooo!". As usual, the Younger luck held true and we had dodged another bout with disaster. -- Gary

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05/20/2015 07:39.48 PM Report This Comment  
  Cutting Firewood and the Woodshed, Part VI
As I'd mention a few posts back, one of the things that could go wrong when falling a tree was to have it hang up against another. Due to my lack of expertise in the Winter of '86, this happened a couple of times. The usual thing to do then is to cut sections off the bottom of the hung up tree until it is shortened to the point where its weight shifts and it either rolls off the second tree or gets small enough for you to physically pull it off yourself. The trick was not to get the chainsaw pinched in the cut. It was definitely tricky for this neophyte to cut upwards against the trunk with Pa's undersized saw.

It was sometime late in February of that year when I hung up one large Norway pine and after a few cuts, I knew this was beyond my ken. In addition, as we had completed the space needed for our prospective home and were now at the point of clearing out a path for a driveway, I also knew that I needed an experienced hand at dropping that last bunch of trees. The man I turned to was Dave Younger's brother Raymond. Good ol' Ray knew how to do about everything, and we Truckeys always contacted him when we needed someone who could do what we could not. The beautiful thing was that back then, Raymond was such a free spirit that he was usually available to work for anyone for a day or two. Back in '81 he, I, and a young high schooler from Wausaukee spent a weekend hauling over a thousand Christmas trees from that area down to La Ferme Sabloneuse for storage for eventual sale in Green Bay.

In Spring of '84, Pa hired Raymond to help us plant Norway Pines on La Ferme Sabloneuse. Pa had secured the use of a tractor-pulled tree planter. The poor bastard on the planter had to sit with his legs spread apart and pull apart pine seedlings one at a time from a bundle and lay them down into the furrow at a regular interval. Raymond had this job because he had almost super-human strength. I, being of sub-human strength, drove the tractor. I do remember (from experience) that while most "day-laboring" jobs at that time paid three or four dollars an hour (under the table), Pa (from his own venerable experience from his youth) paid Raymond five dollars an hour for that day of work. He was well worth it. More on this next time. -- Gary

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05/16/2015 08:12.52 PM Report This Comment  
  Cutting Firewood and the Woodshed, Part V
So I am caught up (for the moment) on Springtime tasks. We're expecting almost a week of cooler weather here in NE Wisconsin and once again I have the time to write about Cutting Wood. Back in 1985 and 1986, after Pa's demise, I had to clear out some 40 or so mature Norway pine in order to clear out space for my house and driveway at what is now the Home Property. The nice thing about Norway pines is that they are straight, no heavy limbs to skew your estimate of where they'll drop. I remember that during the hottest days of late Summer '85 my cousin Dave Younger and I took a bunch of pines out. Dave, like his brother Raymond Younger, is an old hand at dropping trees. At that time I worked nights tending bar at a French Restaurant and we could work during the day for a few hours. Dave dropped the trees with his big chainsaw and I cut them up with my Pa's smaller one. After awhile, I learned how to (more or less) correctly drop a tree. Later on, when I had a day job working at the boat factory, I would spend Saturday mornings by myself, dropping at least one tree and sometimes two; and then cutting them up. A few times Eldest Brother David helped me, but more often it was My Ruthie who was at my side.

It was still dangerous dropping those pines. The snow got deep that Winter and I wasn't all that great at gauging the wind and how the tree would fall. I learned to stop mid-cut and see how the tree was leaning. Any experienced tree cutter would be disgusted at reading these words but I have to be honest. I would often have to get Ruthie to push against a pine as I was cutting. Mostly, it would work. One time, however, I glanced up while cutting and saw that the tree was starting to lean towards Ruthie and she was shooting me a desperate look like poor Max the dog leaning against the sleigh in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". I couldn't hear her above the humming of the chain saw but Ruth said later that she was whimpering like a nervous puppy. Fortunately, we were both able to scoot around the other side of the pine and let it fall the opposite way I'd intended. More on this next time. -- Gary

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05/10/2015 07:19.35 PM Report This Comment  
  Sitting on the Porch, Spring 2015, (Part II)
As for the fur pulling, I had read about it, especially in Richard Adams' "Watership Down"; but this was the first time I'd actually seen it, and from just three feet away. Again, it was hilarious. The rabbit would lean its head so far over to its side that it would fall over and then quickly get back up. Then it would stop and stare right at me with a big tuft of fur sticking out of its mouth. (Did I say that this was hilarious?) I noticed that the fur kept disappearing inside the rabbit. I couldn't tell you whether it was being stored in its cheeks or actually being ingested. I had known that does who are either pregnant or in a false pregnancy will pull out its fur in order to line a nest for its kittens. A quick check online told me that rabbits will also pull their fur out as a means of grooming and even to aid in shedding, whether in Spring or Autumn. My research says that rabbits do ingest fur when grooming and pet rabbits have been known to have hairballs.

Regardless of the why's and wherefores, I thoroughly enjoyed the encounter. Already I've seen baby bunnies around the brush piles at the apple orchard that I'd made last Winter. Tonight, my sister-in-law Mare-Mare saw another near the Home Garden. Yet again, (and forgive me for the repetition) I am gratified that I am able to fulfill the mission of La Ferme Sabloneuse; which is to provide "feeding and providing habitat for wildlife." -- Gary

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05/06/2015 09:34.04 PM Report This Comment  
  Sitting on the Porch, Spring 2015, (Part I)
So when I embarked on the multi-part thread about "Cutting Firewood" I had said: "... at least two weeks of cold weather ... precludes any discussion of any new developments regarding this year's growing season. In the meantime, I shall avail myself of the opportunity to talk at length about a topic near and dear to any Countryman and woman, cutting firewood." Heureusement (happily), the events of this Spring have unfolded at a speed which requires me to suspend further posts on that subject until I get caught up on this growing season's developments.
During this last first really warm weekend at La Ferme Sabloneuse I was able to spend a lot of time sitting at the Garage Porch. As I might have mentioned before, this porch looks out upon the Bear Garden and then down to the Valley Garden, Bill's Shack, over the entire backyard of the Home Property. Even better, from this vantage point I can watch the visitors of three birdbaths and a bird feeder. Last time I had written of the arrivals of our feathered guests. This time I write of an intimate and special encounter with the bunnies.
My PFR (precious few readers) know already how much I love the cottontail rabbits that live here. I love them so much that I could eat them up, (which I do from time to time, literally). Last Sunday afternoon, as I was porch-sitting, I was surprised by two bunnies which rounded the corner of the garage and made themselves to home just three feet from my chair. The larger of the two spent almost the entire time pulling fur from its sides and belly with its teeth, pausing only to play "the jumping game" with its smaller companion. (The "jumping game" can only be understood if you've seen the game yourself. One rabbit charges at the other and the second jumps high in order to let the first run under it. It's wildlife playfulness at its best.) The smaller bunny then went to stretch itself flat on the ground on one end of the flower bed while the larger one continued to pull at its fur. It was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud.
(Please scroll up for Part II)

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05/06/2015 09:30.56 PM Report This Comment  
  Welcome Back
You're right, Gary. I've often felt we can converse as we travel our separate paths. In fact, it is you that has me paying closer attention to the birds lately. I've always loved them, but now I seem to be searching them out. So far this year, we've seen killdeer (my first time to see them scurrying across the pasture), bluebirds, cardinals, sparrows (I don't know which one),and gray doves. The most fun sighting was an Indigo Bunting, and Randy saw a Blue Heron on the pond. We often have the white one, but the true Blues are rare around here. I just hope he comes back for a visit, but in all honesty, we aren't too wild about them living here, as they can out fish us in a matter of a couple of days, and we won't have any more fish in the pond. We've seen pelicans flying over (our state bird), but so far none have landed. That we know of. The one bird we truly wait for each year is the Purple Martin. Although we do see the scouts in January, when they all flock to the houses we have provided for them, it's our assurance that Spring really is on its way!

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05/03/2015 04:49.09 AM Report This Comment  
  Welcome Back, One and All (Part II)
Now I realize most of the birds I have and will name tonight are year-around residents of La Ferme Sabloneuse. It's just that during the long months of Winter, while I still provide seed and water, I do not have the time nor daylight available to sit out on the porch and watch them. It's always dark when I leave for work and then return. I only see the chickadees, finches and cardinals through the bay window on Sundays. What is so special now is that I can sit out on the porch and really get to observe them again. Yes, the goldfinches still grace the thistle seed feeder, newly resplendent in their Summer yellow, and while the cardinals are most wary of all our bird visitors, you can still see them swing by to see if I've left the porch yet; but now I'm able to see the birds that like to feed off the ground, like the juncos, and notice for the first time in months the nuthatches; which to me, are as pretty as bluebirds with their own subdued variation of blue and orange. There was also an unexpected guest, a hairy woodpecker. First I heard a short, piercing call, one that I knew that I'd heard before, and then it flew up onto the side of a nearby oak and called again. It is an impressive bird.

Of course, the real reason for deciding upon this subject is the arrival of our migratory friends. As I sat on my own perch, so to speak, I saw a brace of mallards fly past the garage and then re-appear going in the opposite direction. I can only hope that this pair will find a place close by to start a family. Even more thrilling for me was the osprey I spied gliding just to the East of La Ferme Sabloneuse, well away from the Oconto River. Later, I saw it again, and it appeared to me to have taken off from the top of a mature white pine on Big Brother Tommy's neighboring property. Again, I can only hope that La Ferme Sabloneuse will be the host of a family of Ospreys this year. I know that my Pa would've been thrilled to have such a variety of wildlife as rightful guests on his land. -- Gary

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05/02/2015 09:09.07 PM Report This Comment  
  Welcome Back, One and All (Part I)
I'm interrupting my series on Cutting Firewood for "breaking news". Spring has finally arrived at La Ferme Sabloneuse! Yesterday it got up to 71 degrees and today it was up to around 74. Once I got home from work I started putzing outside. (Basically, this means that I kept finding things to do so I could enjoy the evening. With all the windows open in the house, I was still able to converse with My Ruthie as her path inside the house, and mine outside coincided, either through the kitchen window, as she was washing dishes and I was using the outside faucet to fill water buckets for the birdbaths, or through the living room bay window, when she was at the desktop computer and I was either filling the bird feeders or doing the annual Spring chore of raking the gravel off the front lawn that the snow plow had deposited last Winter. I have to laugh. It's typical of the relationship between a Country husband and Country wife, as certainly my fellow country blogger Julie Murphree would attest. We share a sense of togetherness and common purpose even as we each do our own work. I am reminded of the words of Khalil Gibran, "My path is not thy path, yet together we walk, hand in hand."

But I digress. Tonight I spent a good hour on the Garage Porch welcoming back old friends. I had the guidebook on North America birds at my side and of course, my trusty pellet gun for the red squirrels and chipmunks, and I welcomed all (or most) who came by. It was quite a gathering, although they came and went singly and in pairs. My favorites, the chickadees, came by first and most often. They know me well enough to sit on the nearest branches as soon as I come by with the water and birdseed. They put up quite a commentary. I don't know if they are thanking me or remonstrating me for my tardiness, but I appreciate their input. Next are the sparrows. After years of close observation, I still can't tell if they are chipping sparrows or tree sparrows. Either way, they are a close second behind the chickadees for my affections. As I've mentioned as far back as three years ago, I love how they go after the flying insects. Next came a newcomer to my eyes, a dark-eyed junco. Tonight was the first time that I was able to identify one by the book, though I've seen them many times before. I've also noticed what I think are song sparrows. They don't have the red cap that the chipping sparrows do but I like the streaks of black, brown, and white along their bodies. (Please scroll up for Part II)

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05/02/2015 09:04.05 PM Report This Comment  
  Cutting Firewood and the Woodshed, Part IV
As I'd mentioned earlier, the saw rig operation was only part of the whole process of cutting firewood. After the sawing was finished, what remained was the splitting and stacking. But first, the tree had to be felled, limbed, and cut up; or if it was a windfall, it still had to be limbed and sectioned out. The first Winter after Eldest Brother David came home from the Air Force, and was on full disability while he and the Veterans Administration waited to see if he would survive Hodgkin's disease, he and Big Brother Tommy worked to cut up an enormous oak tree which had fallen West of us on our friend's Christmas tree plantation. David and Tommy used Pa's enormous crosscut saw to section off the massive oak trunk and as I remember, David drove out his tractor and trailer each day and used the maul and wedges to split up the gigantic rings of hardwood. At the end of each day he would drive back a load of split wood.

Sawing down a tree is tricky business. I never liked doing it. I personally know only a few fellers who were able to fell a tree with skill, (pardon the pun). To saw down a tree, you must be able to gauge by sight how the tree leans, its center of gravity, the wind speed and direction, and the lay of the terrain. If you make a mistake, the least of your problems is that the tree becomes hung up on another; worse, the tree falls on a building, and worst of all, it falls on you and kills you. In my own lifetime, I've read in the papers of at least a half-dozen men who've been crushed by a tree that they've cut.

Now my Pa was pretty good at felling a tree. Poplars were his favorite. While their center of gravity could be difficult to judge, they weren't huge like a mature oak and they were relatively easy to cut for a deciduous tree. I think Pa preferred them for that reason. Also, poplar wood burns hot and fast, perfect for a fire in the Sears stove in the Old House, Pa's workshop. A few blocks of poplar wood made the building warm long enough for Pa to finish his work and then burn itself out in the evening when Pa was done for the day. As for a mature oak, Pa preferred to just capitalize on a windfall rather than to try and tackle such a large and dangerous tree. More about fellin' trees next time. --Gary

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04/25/2015 09:50.03 PM Report This Comment  
  Early Spring II
That's one of my favorite quotes as well, Gary, and we only dream of being able to do that one day. If you love checking out the animal tracks so well, why don't you come down here and help Randy track those skunks that have been hiding out in the barn? He ran six off, but this morning I got another solid whiff of it when I went to feed. Um...we'll even let you go first!

Come visit me, The Farm Wife & Paradise Plantation.

04/23/2015 06:07.28 AM Report This Comment  
  More on Early Spring, 2015 (Part II)
So on Friday of last week, as I was roto-tilling the plot I'm using this year in the Valley Garden, and later, as I walked the tiller back to Belle Soeur Susie's garage, I took note of the animal tracks I saw. In the Valley I saw the usual ubiquitous deer tracks, but I also saw coyote tracks as well. On the way to Susie's I noticed turkey tracks, and when I stopped to inspect a nearby sand dune in order to see if our local red fox had made a den there, I saw her tracks, but no den. Later, as I was talking with Big Brother Tommy about the wildlife we have this year on La Ferme Sabloneuse, he mentioned the gigantic rabbit he had coming out from the lilac bush in his front lawn each evening to search for new grass. At the Home Property, we've seen a similiar big bunny out to "silflay" in the evenings as well. Tommy also told me of the three or so deer he sees frequently in his headlights many evenings when he comes home late.

As we were talking, a raven alighted on the power line pole on the other side of the Old House. I pointed it out to my brother, describing how it can be identified by its larger size than the common crow, its phlanged wing tips and its deep croaking cry. Sure enough, the raven took flight, showing off its wings and croaking much like a sand hill crane. Tommy was moved to state just how great it was to have so much wildlife on his property. I heartily agree. I understand (perhaps mistakenly) that in Germany, if you own forested land, you must do a yearly census as to the types and amount of wildlife that live there. Most landowners hire a trained professional to do the count. Heureusement (happily) we haven't descended (yet) into that level of socialism. Still, every Countryman wants to know which species of wildlife find his land amenable to life and reproduction. I've noted numerous times how our Pa had striven to make this land a welcome place for wild game populations. I think that one of the crowning achievements for him in this regard was when he took a walk around his land on an Autumn evening with his single-shot 20 gauge and harvested three rabbits in some 25 minutes. I was envious, but proud and happy for him.
That last Friday I was moved to think how this country would be much better off if each family possessed a piece of this nation's good earth to till and preserve. To borrow a quote of Abraham Lincoln (which I copied from Julie Murphree's "The Farmwife" site): "The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land." If only this could be true in our times. – Gary

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04/22/2015 08:07.34 PM Report This Comment  
  Early Spring
To me, the beginning of Spring isn't here until you hear a tractor crank up for the first time. I envy you your Farmall tractors - but feel your pain with their crankiness on starting. We actually use Ether in the winter, as we seem to have 'addicted' tractors. They don't want to start until we give them a good dose!

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04/19/2015 05:10.28 AM Report This Comment  
  More on Early Spring, 2015 (Part I)
Yesterday was supposed to be the last really nice Spring day for awhile, so I made the most of it by prepping the gardens. I borrowed the roto tiller from Belle Soeur Susie and worked up the two garden plots that I will be using this year. I plan on hauling in a load of manure sometime next week and spread it on the Home Garden; most of which I plan on leaving fallow until I plant hairy vetch as a cover crop in late Summer.
After I returned the tiller, I decided that it was time to see if the two Farmalls would start after their Winter dormancy. I deemed yesterday to be a good day for that, since it was warm, (temps in the upper 60s.) When I rode into the driveway of the Homestead, Big Brother Tommy strode out from behind the Barn. I also deemed this to be a good sign, since he was present last year at this time to help me start the tractors. We checked the fluid levels in both Farmalls and added oil to each. It was Tommy who noticed that one back tire of the '38 Farmall was almost flat. Good catch, I might've not noticed it. So, as Big Brother got out the air compressor from the Old House, I went to start the tractor for the first time since last October. As I've related a year ago, the procedure for starting the "old" tractor is to flip the choke switch on, turn the crank one half-turn, turn the choke off, and give the crank another half-turn. If it doesn't start up, you repeat the procedure once more, and then if it still doesn't start, you know that you've probably flooded the two-cylinder engine and now must crank until exhausted or the tractor finally takes pity on you and decides to start. (Yes, I must confess, I often consider the 1938 Farmall to possess a spirit and intelligence, and I talk to it every time I use it, even going so far as to pat it fondly after putting it up and shutting it down.)

In this instance, just like last year, after six months of dormition, the old Farmall started up at the second crank and ran beautifully! (Of course, before cranking it, I sent up a prayerful thought to my Pa and Eldest Brother David for their intercession.) I ran it up the hill and pumped up the flacid tire. Next, I ran it up the road to Belle Soeur Susie's driveway and then back. Finally I plowed one furrow at the East end of the Valley Garden to prepare a place to put in a bed of asparagus later this Spring. Once I put it away, I asked Tommy if he wanted to take out the other "new" Farmall (circa 1950) for a warmup spin. He climbed up and pushed in the starter (this tractor having a battery). It started up after only two tries; much better than last year, when I'd had to play with the choke for quite awhile. Tommy took it up to Susie's and back and backed it in to its place. Just like last year, it was a thrill to be up on those tractors after the Winter layover and see them start up as if eager to get going into the growing season. More on this next time. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

04/18/2015 08:24.23 PM Report This Comment  
  Cutting Firewood and the Woodshed, Part III
Sometime around 1980, Pa got the idea that it would be easier to hall the saw rig to where the logs were rather than the other way around. It was a lot easier to transport blocks of wood to the shed and cellar with the tractor trailer than it was to wrap a chain around a pile of logs and drag them to the Wooden Shed. So Pa peeled the bark from two oak trunks and used the ax and adze to shape one end of each log to where it resembled the upturned prow of a boat. That's what he was making, in effect, a stone boat; two logs with heavy planks nailed across them in order to drag a heavy load, usually field stone. This was also called a dray, according to Wikipedia: "A low and side-less" wagon. Instead of stones, this dray had the saw rig bolted onto the 2 x 6 cross pieces. (I've posted a photo of the rig in the photo section.)

Wherever we hauled the rig, Pa and Eldest would anchor it with thick iron rods driven deep into the earth and back one of the tractors up to fit the belt. Even in the early 80s, as I mentioned last time, Pa did the cutting. I can still see him in my memory; when the sawing was finished, he would disengage the pto and as the power belt slowed, he would pull the belt off the tractor's fan wheel, running along with the belt as he provided the gentle pressure necessary to ease it off the wheel. It was the only time I would see him actually run, quite a feat for a man in his 70s. After Pa had passed, David did the cutting, with Belle Soeur Susie at his side taking away the cut blocks. I was still assigned as the loader, only now I was assisted by one of David's sons. I remember one time, either in the late 80s or early 90s, we had the rig set up on Eldest's property and we were cutting logs for his Winter supply of firewood. I remember the day as being hot. As we were taking a break late in the day, David brought up the possibility of knocking off and finishing the next day. I knew that as inviting as that suggestion sounded, I couldn't face another day of misery. I opined that as we were already miserable, we might as well finish it up today regardless of our fatigue and get the beastly business over and done with. David then told Susie, "That Gary is strong!" I wasn't, of course, but still it was nice to get a positive acknowledgement from the patriarch of the family. More on Cutting Firewood next time. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

04/11/2015 06:09.31 PM Report This Comment  
  Cutting Firewood and the Woodshed, Part II
To properly run a saw rig operation, you need at least three people. One to bring the log to the rig, one to operate the saw rig by pushing the hinged table forward and back again, bringing the log to the circular saw and then re-positioning the log for the next cut; and one to grab the cut blocks of wood and fling them onto the growing woodpile. The person at the saw rig doing the actual cutting had to work the hardest and had to be the most experienced. He needed to be able to automatically gauge the proper length of each and every cut while pulling the log perpendicular to the saw. The "loader" (for lack of a better term) often stayed to hold the log for the cutter until it was short enough for one person to handle, then went to get the next log. Often a fourth person was necessary if the logs were large enough that two people were needed to load it onto the cutting table. It took a lot of coordination between the loader and the cutter to keep the two from pushing and pulling against each other as they pulled the log along for the next cut.

When Pa was alive, he always did the cutting. Even into his seventies, that tough, stocky, old Frenchman could operate that table with a swift, efficient rhythm. Eldest Brother David usually was at Pa's right, throwing away the cut blocks of wood. Big Brother Tommy and I, being the youngest, were tasked in bringing up the next log. I can tell you that when I was a boy, that pile of logs never seemed to get smaller. It was a challenge to find and extract a log from the tangle of timber before Pa yelled at us for being too slow. Perhaps this is why I began to dislike cutting firewood, the yelling of a short-tempered father and the pressure to keep up to the older family members. During my growing years, the saw rig was permanently set up in front of the Wooden Shed, anchored into place by iron pipes and bars wedged in amongst the legs of the rig and driven deep into the ground. Branches, limbs, and logs from harvested poplars, birches, and oaks would be dragged to the left the the saw rig and left to wait for the appointed day when enough manpower was available to cut them all up (usually a Saturday in the late Autumn).

When all the logs had been cut up, there was still much to do. The larger blocks of wood had to be split and then were stacked in the Wooden Shed for use in the Old House and in the basement of the "new house" for the stove in its basement. More on the saw rig next time. --Gary

Come visit me, La Ferme Sabloneuse (Sandy Farm).

04/08/2015 08:55.01 PM Report This Comment  
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