A Farm Life

Counting Your Chickens During COVID

Buff Cochins: sold out. Barred Rocks: sold out. Light Brahmas: Sold out. Not a hen of my choice available this year from Murray McMurray, the hatchery in Iowa where I’ve ordered peeps for 30 years. This has never happened before, but due to coronavirus, suddenly everyone wants to be a chicken farmer. I had no …

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The Invincible Elder

“Judas was hang’d on an elder…” —Biron in Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” “What shall we do with it?” Ron Weasley asked Harry Potter and Hermione in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows.” “It’s the elder wand. The most powerful wand in the world. With it we’d be invincible.” Who knew that the lowly-looking shrub perched …

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Ramps

At Greene County’s 29th Annual Ramp Festival on a sunny Saturday last April, a party atmosphere was in full swing with crafters, wood carvers, metal workers and a band. But the main draw were about 15 vendors selling ramp chili, ramp sausage, ramp cookies, ramp mints, ramp butter, ramp wine, ramp hardtack, ramp pancakes, ramp …

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Trying to Save a Horse

There have been phone calls in my life I wish I’d never received. I was cold and wet from swimming in an Irish lake when I returned to the house to see my husband standing in the driveway. Waiting for me. That wasn’t normal. My father had called. My mother was dead. She was unloading …

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Hunting Ginseng

“In passing through the mountains, I met a number of persons and pack horses going over the mountain with ginseng.” —George Washington’s Diary, 1784 I am grateful for the locals who taught me so much about rural life. Our mail carrier showed me morels, our babysitter taught me about “onion snow,” and last fall, Gary, …

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Beavers Don’t Get Headaches

“A beaver sits on the riverbank watching all of this unfold.” —from “Cairo” by Sara Miller In my small and random survey, people know, at the very least, that beavers chew wood, build dams, have big teeth and large tails. That’s about all I knew, until beavers moved into our farm pond. Turns out North …

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The Cicadas Are Back

“I think they’ll miss the party,” said John Wenzel, director of Powdermill Nature Reserve when I sent him these photographs of a cicada nymph shedding its skin. The nymph hatched too early, he told me, and will have difficulty finding a mate. No doubt my photos were commonplace to an entomologist, but I had never …

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Cigars With Wings

“But one day the swifts are back. Face to the sun like a child You shout, ‘The swifts are back!’ ” —from “Swifts,” by Anne Stevenson At first I thought they were bats, and I was thrilled because bats are nearly nonexistent on our farm now. But something wasn’t quite right. How high they flew. …

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Wild Bones

My daughter brings home bones and piles them on the driveway: femur, rib, jawbone with a few flat teeth attached, dozens of thin arced parts. —from “My Daughter Brings Home Bones” by Jennifer Richter The American photographer Sally Mann, controversial in the 1990s for the photos she took of her naked children, has a fascination …

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The Mysteries of Feral Bees

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, One clover, and a bee, And revery, The revery alone will do, If bees are few. —Emily Dickinson I am a failed beekeeper. I had two hives. One died the first year and the other lasted about five, from which I got beautiful honey, …

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The Secret to Finding Morels

“I can’t seem to give ’em up I just like morels too much I like other ’shrooms and such But I just like morels too much Oyster mushrooms mighty fine Seafood and some nice white wine Chanterelles’re tasty too In a wild mushroom ragout Storebought shrooms can be a crutch but I just like morels …

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Making Maple Syrup

What is this?—syrup, maple syrup in a quart jar, syrup my grandfather made twenty-five years ago for the last time. I remember coming to the farm in March in sugaring time, as a small boy. He carried the pails of sap, sixteen-quart buckets, dangling from each end of a wooden yoke that lay across his …

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Winter Patterns

“Where, twisted round the barren oak, The summer vine in beauty clung, And summer winds the stillness broke, The crystal icicle is hung.” —From “Woods in Winter,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Walking our woods in winter, I see the natural world differently than in the warmer months. Distracted by neither color nor blossom, I instead …

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Seeing Autumn Through a Spider’s Web

“I had never paid much attention to spiders until a few years ago. Once you begin watching spiders, you haven’t time for much else—the world is really loaded with them. I do not find them repulsive or revolting, any more than I find anything in nature repulsive or revolting, and I think it is too …

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A Belted Kingfisher

“From the porch at dusk I watched a kingfisher wild in flight he could only have made for joy…” —Wendell Barry (from his poem “Before Dark”) One summer day not long ago, I sat on the front porch of our farmhouse. It’s a log house, built about 1860 and added onto over the years—a happy …

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