Thursday, December 24, 2009

Winter 2008 to winter 2009

These are our best farm photos of the year set up as a slideshow.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Days getting longer

Today is the "official" first day of winter, but also the first that will be longer than the one before. By a matter of minutes, but every little helps. I never understood that "official first day of winter thing" since everywhere I've ever lived was always at least four weeks into solid winter by the middle of December, this place no less than any other.

Everyplace except one: I spend a year in coast-side northern California, Half Moon Bay area, where this was the sunny season and very pleasant.

Where else have I lived? One of those in-your-head tottings-up:

South Yorkshire: Growing up. The hills above the west part of Sheffield.
Buckinghamshire, in the RAF at RAF College Halton. Studying to be an airplane engineer, marching to school in formation every day. Motorcycling on weekends.
North Yorkshire: Leeming, Leeming Bar, Bedale, Linton-on-Ouse, Skelton, York. Training Bases, rescue bases.
Fife: Darsie, by Cupar. Fixing Phantoms, "Spam Cans," climbing Highland mountains, flying in Sea Kings.
Morayshire: Findhorn village. With the New Agers. Nuts.
Half Moon Bay, as above. Emigrating, being a mechanic. Commuting to the big city to work in the Mission district and eat burritos everyday for lunch.
Trout "Crick" Montana, also Thompson Falls. Living in the woods, being a wilderness ranger and guide and trouble youth counselor.
Missoula. Biology student. "Gradual student" in the Forestry School.
Sandy Spring, Maryland. Going to UMD College Park's Policy School. Being a social scientist.
Garrett County, Maryland, where I began to get to know the Amish.
Tilghman Island: Studying Maryland fisher communities.
Royston, Georgia, and Athens, at the Institute for Ecology.
Unity. Maine, learning to teach.
Belfast, Monroe, and finally Jackson, Maine, living on the land. And building. And teaching.

I don't know what the point of this was. Sometimes I make other lists in my head too. Obsessive, I guess.

I notice, though, that of all these places, the only ones below 40 degrees latitude are very short term, and of those only one winter was spent not in a wintry place, the one in California.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cold skies are clear, deer and meteors

I woke up earlier than usual and took Haggis the dog outside to piddle, but had to bring him back in right away to wait for the deer to clear out of the area. Whitetail deer have invaded our clearing lately to dig up apples from the snow below the apple trees. They generally only have the temerity to do this in the wee hours.

This happens every year, but this is the first I can remember that we have had so much snow before Christmas, although I'm probably wrong on that. One thing I do know is that the snow was so deep it changed the noise the deer make. Usually the noise you hear when you disturb the deer in the night is the typical "buck snort" that a whitetail makes when confronted. These deer just kept on digging snow; their exertions making so much noise they couldn't hear me or Haggis.

I don't want Haggis chasing these critters, not because he would take off -- he won't -- but because this time of year dear have to conserve energy to survive. I put Haggis right back in again and waited for them to clear the area calmly, which they did.

We have polite deer. And they're welcome to the apples. The sheep had every chance to eat them.

Then I happened to look up and saw the biggest shooting star I've ever seen, a big red one that seemed almost to reach the ground before it burned out. The weather has been cold and skies very clear lately, and I remember Charlie, our college chef and resident amateur astronomer, sending out a bulletin to expect shooting stars. This one was particularly spectacular.

Orion is now well to the west before it sets. The Pleiades are even further so.

Orion is our winter constellation, and I always notice it more than any other this time of year.

They'll all get further west before the weather gets warm again. It's been fairly bitter recently, with nights well below zero degrees Farenheit, 20 below Celsius. It will get colder than that before Orion leaves us and before the deer get to eat green grass.

Winter is hard in Maine, truly harsh and hard to take. But beautiful.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cyclone Mick?

I expect that this is the way some folks think about me. But unlike my namesake here, I do try not to hurt anyone.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Snorri go home and Christmas tree time

Here's our Christmas tree this year, being admired by Charlie cat.

The Womerlippi family tradition is, one or two Saturdays before Christmas, I declare "I'm going to go get the tree now" or something like that.

Aimee groans.

I say "only a little one."

I march off, usually with Haggis the dog, into the woods where we have many balsam firs who are growing too close together. Growing like that, nine out of ten will die whatever happens. I find one I like. I cut it and carry it home.

It's always too big. (They always look so much bigger in the woods.)

I cut it down, but it always brushes the ceiling. Aimee groans again.

I spend the regulation 45 minutes to an hour unable to find the decorations. Aimee groans again. (But any chance she gets to visit Ten Thousand Villages or similar stores, she always buys more decorations.)

I decorate the tree. Something always breaks. This time it was one of those nice decorations, a white plaster hummingbird.

Rinse and repeat next Christmas season.

Another tradition is the return of Snorri the Rental Ram to his own home farm. That happened today.

Question: How do you load a 300 pound ram in a worn-out Japanese pick-em-up truck?

Answer: With difficulty.

And then you tie down the tailgate with not one but two rope lashings.

But he butts his head against it all the same, threatening to break out.

This picture is of His Snorriness in the isolation pen having his last meal here. For comparison, that's a one-foot wide feed dish that his head almost fills. Big dude.

I'm kind of glad to be done with rams for the year. They're such knuckleheads.

Now we sit back and hope for lots of healthy lambs in March and April.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A whole free day, but cold and windy

Here's pictures of the aftermath of the first storm, last weekend. The next storm dumped a good bit more.

This is the first Saturday in quite a while that I haven't had a big job to do. Last Saturday and the one before was barn work at college. Before that there was car work: Aimee's truck to be precise, which took three consecutive Saturday trips to the auto shop. And before that we were still in harvest and sheep-grazing mode, so there were lots of things to do: get hay, get hay, get wood, put up food, cut meat.



I can think of some jobs I might like to do today, but I'm not going to think too hard. And I'm not going to do anything involving heavy work or outside work except to feed and water our critters.

There's been too much of that cold outside stuff lately, and I'm sore and tired from it.

Also because it's really quite cold, colder than the proverbial female sorcerer's breast out there, and still blowing a gale. Brass monkey weather. Bitter.

About 6 F, to be precise, right now. Minus 15 C. It gets a good bit colder around here, but this is the coldest I can remember before Christmas. The jet stream has bulged way to our south and we're in air that really belongs up over Hudson Bay right now, and is trying to get back there.

Hence the wind.

"A thin wind" or "lazy wind," because it goes right through you.

Blame Canada.

Today would be a good day to make a nice hot chili, which would make good eating next week. I might use up some of our Abraram-burger, getting my final vengeance on that mean old ram.

That's rotten of me.

He was a good ram most of the time. He was only mean in breeding season. But there is the small matter of Aimee's arm that he nearly broke. I don't mind eating him at all. Especially as he tastes quite good, it turns out. Not ram-tainted at all.

So, make hot ram-chili. Bring in firewood. Clean house. Fix up the electrical heater that was out in the greenhouse and got moldy (!). Keep the stoves going full blast.

And wait for this cold wind to subside.

Sounds like a plan to me.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

An easy storm

Plowed out now, by good neighbor Hamilton late last night, and it looks like the plow truck also came back and finally found our turn-around and could see where to go because of Hamilton's snowbanks. This time the town plow drove over our road, not our lawn, and spread gravel and salt as the snow turned to ice and then a little rain.

Glad that salt and grit isn't on the lawn. The salt washes out, it seems, because the grass always grows back, but it's hard to rake up all that grit...

...and just a little snow left to move myself with the tractor later today. No power outage, no roof blown off, nothing really bad. One down, several to go. Six or seven such storms usually, makes a Maine winter for us.

But I'm definitely sick with a cold. Sneezing, eyes running snotty, a bit achy. Aimee too. That's what a rest/snow day does for you!

We didn't get sick all semester, despite all the bugs we were exposed to, but it was because we didn't have time to get sick.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snow day update

About 8 inches and drifty, but not done yet. Dark now. The plow truck just made it up our road, after being snowed in since about noon, but decided to plow our lawn and not our road. Second time he's done that. Must be a new driver. Then a neighbor drove right in the same tracks, bumping over the huge divots the plow truck had taken out of the lawn! Hopefully not losing a muffler in the process.

I tried to catch the plow truck driver to show him where the road is, but he drove right off. I'll have to plow it our myself before work tomorrow, and hopefully the snow banks will tell him where to go next time.

Tractor gassed up, animals water topped off, animals fed, enough wood carried in for two-three days, that last little bit of fence up on the snowmobile trail that needed to be taken down is taken down.

I guess we're ready for winter now.

We'd better be.

Snow day!

Checking my email before going in to work today, there was the following message which I was half-expecting. Not daring to hope, really.

"To employees and students,
Due to the hazardous weather outlook for later on today, the college will be closed Wednesday December 9.
Travel safely, if you travel,


Yea. Snow days are the best. And reasonable. A fairly substantial blizzard is bearing down on New England having dropped several inches to a foot of snow on the mid-west. There are some high winds associated with this thing. Not enough to cause a crisis in Maine, but enough to make you change your plans if you're a sensible person. No job of work you have to get to is worth dying on the side of the road in a snowbank, or getting hit by a plow truck.

It's almost the end of term here, less than a week of regular classes to go, and so the light at the end of the tunnel is visible. But still, we're bone weary and need rest and could also use an extra day or bit of one to catch up on farm projects and housework. The snow is not expected till the afternoon.

The barn is roofed, just in time, and we have a snow day, so time to do a few things around here before the snow actually hits.

An example; Our neighbors called yesterday to ask us to take down some stock fence that impedes snow removal. The only reason the fence is still up is because I've been exerting my remaining energy on the weekends getting the roof on the barn we're building at the college.

Another: The tractor is out of diesel. Can't move snow easily without that.

And then, I think I will wait out the blizzard lying on the couch and reading not a serious book, but a novel.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Knitting projects

Our friends at Colour it Green Diary were asking to see our knitting projects, but I was embarrassed to show them. Since then we've made progress on our skills. Mostly, this has happened since the semester workload has peaked and so we now have a little free time.

Time to try to make some kind of productive and economic and householding sense from the mountain of our own yarn we have on hand.

This is probably none too soon, because word has gotten out at college that we have yarn, and I've sold quite a few skeins and given quite a few "free samples" away. I can't afford the time to sell too much yarn just yet because I'm required to pay sales tax on yarn and am not yet set up for that extra paperwork.

When we sell food, there's no sales tax.

Aimee's first project is the green hat. It was knitted on a circular knitting ring, and as you can see, came out perfectly. That's typical for my wee wifie, who if she cannot see her way clear to doing a thing 100% right first time, may very well not want to do it at all.

Makes me wonder what she thought she was doing when she married me. She must have realized at the time that perfection in family life would not likely be the result!

The blue hat on the right is my first successful project, knit up on the 80's model "Singer Chunky Knitter" in the other picture. It is not at all perfect, but wearable.

The "Singer Chunky Knitter" machine is the bee's knees, the third one we've tried, and the only one that works with this heavy pure woolen yarn. But it works very well, quite smooth and easy to run, not a lot of pushing effort needed, and very few dropped stitches.

It took quite a bit of effort to even locate this second hand machine, which I found gathering dust at a knitting club in Rockland. It cost $300 and has yet to get anywhere close to paying for itself. But it will. We're at the beginning of the production-organizing process here. I expect we'll turn out many of these hats before we're done.

Guess what everyones getting for Christmas!

In fact, if you were to cost out the economist's "marginal costs" of those two hats at this point, each cost around $500. But the next ones, and the ones after that, will divide and subdivide that number up quite quickly because at this point, with the amount of yarn we have saved, the machines and other equipment on hand, and lots of long winter evenings, each new item just costs its own labor.

Also visible in the picture of the machine is my first attempt at a sweater. This is indeed the project I've been working on since I got the machine, but it's a failure -- doesn't fit at all well, and will probably need to be unraveled. Maybe not. I'm trying to decide if I can afford to keep a sweater with six or seven skeins in it that I can only wear when I'm wearing bib overalls, because without the bibs overalls it looks stupid.

But it is warm, and I do wear bibs a lot, and it even covers my butt!

Oh well. Sweaters will need a bit more practice, I think.

My next project will be a hat for a family member in a different color, but almost identical to the blue one. I'll try not to have any dropped stitches in the next one, and try for tidier seams and nicer sewing.

After a few hats, I might have the courage to try again for a sweater!

Aimee's already knitting me a hat like her green one. Only trouble is, she says I'm not allowed to lose it. I always lose my hats, so I'm not sure if I can afford the trouble that will inevitably come if I wear it and then lose it!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Carbon chemistry and honey-do's and computerized trucks

Here's our kitchen stove heating the house nicely and making my breakfast oatmeal today. Hot stoves make me happy.

After about three-four days of sog and fog, it's turned cooler out there, but another rainstorm is coming before the weekend, to be followed by snow. None of which has yet stuck, but it will, soon, and that will be all she wrote for several large categories of work until May.

All this inclement weather is turning my attention back to the woodpile. Despite a poor start because of a last minute community wind job out on the islands, I thought I'd checked the boxes on my honey-do list pretty well over the nine-day Thanksgiving break. Taking narry a day off, I caught up pretty well, including a none-too-soon resurrection of my mechanical training, a tune-up job which turned a somewhat recalcitrant wifely truck into a much better-behaved one.

I particularly impressed myself with the work on the truck. Normally that truck and indeed any up-to-date vehicle terrifies me. Vehicles have become far too computerized and complicated for backyard mechanics and the probability of a mistake turning a hundred-dollar backyard job into a two thousand-dollar dealer-only nightmare is very high. But with careful reading of the Chilton's manual and repeated "pulling" of electronic codes, I was able to run through the diagnostics, fix the rough running, and get it running a lot better.

This will become more of a necessity as this truck ages. We can't afford to throw good money after bad in any vehicle, and our 200,000 mile pick-up will have to be written off completely one day soon. Between now and then, it's best if I save some money by doing as much of the work as I can myself.

Still, I thought I was doing fairly good, as husbandry goes.

Probably I was, but if that pile of wood runs out before May, my husband name will be poop around here.

Firewood has been a problem for us every year on the Great Farm. Not availability: we're surrounded by wood: we own or lease about 14 acres of prime New England woodlot, capable, by the traditional estimate, of delivering the same number of cords of wood each year. Far more than we use. But finding the work time to cut, buck, split, stack and dry the four or five cords or more we should really have piled up each year, that has often defeated me. This year I gave up on making wood during the wet spring when the tractor couldn't move in the woodlot, and instead did a huge insulation project.

So now I have to buy in some more "outside" wood. This means money, which is tight, and work time, which is also tight. One place I know will deliver. I can just have wood delivered to the dooryard in a three-cord dump load for about $600, but that wood generally isn't dry enough. Most sellers also sell stuff that's way too green.

The one place I know of where the firewood sold is actually dry has a fair price too, but I have to pick it up myself in that same tired, woefully small-bed, rice-burner Nissan pick-em-up truck.

It requires three round trips to get a cord. Half a day.

Oy. But it has to be done.

It's right about this time that I realize why I should have had kids earlier in life. When I was a strapping teenager my old man took full advantage of my inherent capacity for labor, and I had any number of chores to perform, both for our house and for our family business (a chocolate shop in downtown Broomhill, Sheffield). I could really put my teenage self to good use around here. Or some newer model Womerlippi.

I could also use a pick-em-up truck that takes a full cord of wood. But not a thirty-thousand dollar new model nightmare. An old two-wheel drive three-quarter ton Ford in good nick would be ideal, circa 1972, no computer, all points and spark plugs and carbs. I could keep that baby running for forty years if I could keep the salt off it.

Or a nice long-wheely Land Rover pick-up. Still a short bed truck, but my, how you can keep those things running. And get a trailer to go with. A trailer that could take a full cord and carry three little piggies to market would be nice and save me some grief.

When we were in the UK service and Land Rovers were ten-a-penny we used to bowdlerize the old Irish folk song, The Wild Rover:

And it's no, nay, never,
No nay never no more,
Will I drive a Land Rover,
No never, no more.

But I wish I had one now.

And a new chainsaw. My two old ones, never the most powerful of saws in the first place, are getting tired and one quit on me last week, possibly for good. The two I have are identical, which was deliberate, so the dead one will become spares for the other, but they're only lightweight saws and so not very quick at making wood.

My favorite farm blogs are also wittering on about firewood. Colour it Green Diary in SW England wants a woodlot. She could borrow ours if she were closer. We'd share, or trade for knitted goods. Throwback at Trapper Creek in Oregon has one, but coniferous. I liked the picture of the deep Oregon woods and the easily split softwood logs because it reminded me of Montana. Although we have conifers in Maine and in fact our woodlot has huge spruces and hemlocks, we think of them as sawlogs, not firewood. We use oak, maple, cherry, beech and ash for firewood. Ash predominates in our own woodlot, one of the best New England firewood trees because it can be burned while still wet.

Our woodlot grows a thirty-foot tall, six inch DBH ash in about seven years. Takes a few of those to make a cord, but it makes for perfect stove wood.

Aberdeenshire's Stonehead and Paul on Raasay both have new snow.

Beautiful, but cold. And makes it hard to shift firewood, especially with a tiny Nipponese pick up. I'd better get moving this weekend, and get those extra two cords in.