Category Archives: Animals

Talking to Mr. Ed — And the Living and the Dead.

Early evidence of animal-talking propensity. Photo by Katie Hutchison, 2008.

THERE IS A HORSE in my neighborhood I am trying to get to know. I talk to him. So far, unlike Mr. Ed, he has not talked back.

I talk to Farmer a lot. He rolls over and looks at me with those big brown eyes, as if to say, “Oh, mommy, stop babbling. Just rub my tummy.”

Lately I’ve been talking to the plants in the garden. They are just coming around after a long hard winter, so it is very important to give them a pep talk. I coach the tiny rhubarb leaves and the hellebore flowers every day, give the shaggy carpet of young chives a pat, and cheer on the arugula that hunkered down and shivered through the winter under two layers of row cover. I tell the tiny sedum buds how fetching they are.

I always talk to myself out loud when I am cooking dinner, even when there are others present. This is partly because I am multitasking (who isn’t when they’re cooking dinner?) and I’m afraid I’ll forget something. Make the salad dressing. Flip the sweet potatoes. Turn the flame down. Spin the lettuce. Grate the Parmigiano. Set the table. Get out the matches. Rotate the chicken. Pour the Pellegrino. Warm the plates. Wipe up those bread crumbs. Don’t forget the nuts in the oven. I smell something burning. NUTS! Refill sea salt. All out of sea salt. Open chile crisp. Stir the shallots.

At night I talk to God. This doesn’t always go so well, because I am tired and my brain is like a Slinky flopping over itself down the stairs, tumbling from one subject to the next. But I try.

I also talk to my friend Judy, who isn’t around anymore. She died four years ago. Sometimes it is hard to remember when someone died, but I know for sure it was the winter of 2017, because one of the last things my friends and I did was gather around her hospice bed (which was set up in her living room), so that she could give me my 10-year sobriety coin (my anniversary having been Christmas Day of 2016, the day I found out Judy’s cancer had spread).

Judy meant the world to me. And to my friends who were there with me that day. And many others. She was the kind of person who made everyone feel special. I could talk with her about anything when she was alive. Lately I have been reminiscing about a picnic lunch we took at Polly Hill Arboretum, about a drive we took around the Island, about sharing her favorite chocolate cake at the Black Dog. Talking all the time, about good stuff and the difficult stuff.  

So I just keep right on talking to her.

For years I talked to my grandmother Honey after she died. I still do sometimes. 

I don’t know if you do the same thing – talk to dead people – but it can be quite cathartic. It’s also rather interesting to think about who you choose to talk to. For me it is the people I think understood me best. And people I loved for their joie de vivre, for the way they lived their life knowing the best part was right there and then.

I have no idea whether they are listening. I am always conjuring visions of the cartoonish ghosts portrayed in George Saunders’ novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. (The novel is fiction, but the fact is that President Lincoln did visit his son Willie’s grave frequently after he died, staying well into the night, presumably talking to him at length.) In the book, the ghosts in Oak Hill cemetery are those folks who, for one reason or another, are stuck in the Bardo, the in-between place between life and death. They are a motley but caring crew, and when Willie joins them, they become concerned when Lincoln’s visits seem to be keeping Willie stuck in the Bardo, when really the young child should be moving on to a better place. And they set out to do something about it.

And I have just finished re-reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved, where the ghost of a child who never moved on (from a particularly hideous in-between) manifests in the lives of her family so profoundly that she is physically present. Yikes.

I’m not sure how I got from the subject of one-way conversations (whether with an animal, a plant, a pot on the stove, or a missing person) to the subject of ghosts. It’s just that I began to wonder the other day why I do all this talking (other than my obvious verbose nature, which I am so stuck with that I’m sure I will be bringing it with me into the Bardo). Why all the talking when there’s (presumably) no one to answer?

You probably guessed already that a lot of it is a nervous habit, a way (yet another way – you can’t say I haven’t started a great list for you!) of soothing anxiety. But I think there are other reasons. There’s an urge to connect – certainly with a horse or the dog, the hope is that it isn’t really a one-way conversation but an introduction of intentions, a way to express affection. With the plants I’m growing or the dinner I’m making, again I think I want to be connected to the process in an intentional and joyful way. I want to notice what miracles are going on, what alchemy is happening, how the puzzle of getting dinner on the table can be solved in a given time frame.

With people who are no longer around, the desire for connection of course intensifies. Not only do I wish those people were still here, but I like to pretend that they actually are and that engaging with them is still possible.

Honey, Uncle Doug, and Uncle Rodney are no longer around. But Dad (in plaid) is.

But I have the great good fortune of still having someone very important to me (and very old!) alive. My father.

And the way I connect with him is by talking. On the surface of things, I talk with him because he lives hundreds of miles away, alone, and I worry he might be lonely. But I also talk with him because I enjoy talking with him. He is smart and thoughtful. I learn from him. He’s always brimming with some new bits of information — a plant he’s fallen in love with, a Julia Child recipe he’s made, a story about our family. I talk with him because I love him. And I talk with him because I can’t bear the thought of the day when the conversation will only be one way. 


Book Recs This Week

Lincoln in the Bardo, By George Saunders

Beloved, By Toni Morrison


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Following the Farm Dog to A Better Day

I picked up Farmer (aka the Farm Dog) at the Barnstable MSPCA 10 years ago.


BAD days happen. We all have them. I had one this week. 

The circumstances weren’t so very terrible; just uncomfortable enough that I wanted to crawl back in my Cancer-the-Crab shell where it would be safe. It’s a tactic I’ve turned to since childhood. You know the drill. 

My reaction bothered me more than anything. The problem was I was angry (rest assured, NOT with my beloved). I haven’t been really angry in years, and I’d forgotten what it feels like. My whole body overheated and my stomach turned on me, as if I had asked it to perform in front of a thousand people, naked. (My stomach has been known to portray my stage fright.) 

And then anger turned to hurt. Nothing like hurt feelings to reduce one to the emotional stability of a tired toddler. My eyes watered. Tears! Imagine!   

Worse, I soon realized I was on the down escalator heading for self-recrimination. Classic – turning the anger inward. This was not good! 

Fatigue, the heavy kind that comes when circuits are overloaded, crept up on me. But it was a busy work day so I powered forward on deadline, through a Zoom and on to the finish line. 

One silver lining to a job like mine is that you learn to write, edit, and package content quickly to get it out the door. You have to focus.

At the end of the day, Farmer was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. Having had his supper, he was ready to go – not just for a walk, but for The Walk, an adventure we discovered during the pandemic thanks to Google maps. It’s a backwoods route that takes us from our house to the water a couple miles away, to the shoreline of Tisbury Great Pond, one of the two largest ponds on the south shore of Martha’s Vineyard. It bumps up against the Atlantic Ocean with only a small barrier beach (sometimes breached) between.

I stepped out the back door and hurried to follow the blur of Farmer’s wagging black tail as he dashed through the woods behind our house.

We made our way across a dirt road, through a shallow wood, onto another dirt road and down a horse path, Farmer dragging his leash along, sidestepping like a Lipizzaner as he skipped along from sniff to sniff. 

We threaded an ancient way between more scrub oaks and pine seedlings, along the southern edge of a large hay field freshly spread with horse manure, picked up the path again, and finally reached the Short Cove trailhead, the start of a Land Bank trail that hugs the hedgerows, the hayfields, and wood lots of Flat Point Farm.

The wind whipped up on the stretch along the big field, Farmer’s nose to the wind sniffing wildly from target to target, landing on the prize of a slowly petrifying dead turkey. Geese honked, lifting off in unison. The farm’s sheep baa-baaed, perhaps in warning, from the barn far across the field where the hazy fuse of sunset blinked orange through the bare limbed oaks. 

Up and down and up again we went, the trail rising into a pine grove high above the first glimpse of the cove, a thick swath of golden grasses nearly obscuring the inky blue below. The soft bed of pine needles beneath us made treading lighter, softer on our feet and paws. 

Into view came the summer shack, surrounded by decades old blueberry bushes and a stately old rhododendron; the shack’s screen door knocking about, the windows long gone. 

And then at last a long deep gulp of water view. A heron. Two swans. And a brilliant study of evening light bouncing off the thick brush on the eastern shore.

As we covered that last bit of trail, space opened wide all around us, the low grassy plains of the Flat Point peninsula blending into the dark of the disappearing sun.

Farmer and I found the boardwalk path leading down to the lapping shore, stood and sniffed the rocky beach strewn with spent oyster shells. The roar of the ocean far across the water beyond the cut brought the sea humming back to us.

It was time to turn back, but suddenly everything was very still. And I was very still. I felt completely present and unfettered in that moment, like I had everything I would ever need. I was overwhelmed by a feeling of gratitude. 

It was the kind of gratitude that spiritual writer Cynthia Bourgeault calls a “healing force.” This is not your Hallmark-card gratitude or the stuff on your gratitude list. It doesn’t get its power from tangible things. This gratitude comes from a place inside you. It comes at strange and necessary times, but only in stillness, quiet — here, the gloaming.

Farmer and I made our way home in the cool March twilight, a chill rising from the ground now. 

Once home, I reread Cynthia Bourgeault’s words that have been with me for fourteen years, at first in my little notebook, later on the fridge when I lived alone, now on the bulletin board behind my computer. 


“Yes, it’s easy to be grateful when something good has been done for you.  But have you ever thought about gratitude not as a response but as a force in its own right; an initiating and healing energy that is not dependent on external circumstances but is rather an innate power of the human soul? When understood and wielded in this fashion, it has the power to liberate us from our self-imposed prisons of self-pity and envy and to actually change the energy fields (and hence, the outcome) of our circumstances.

In plain words, we can actually change our reality by being grateful first; not as a response but as an innate way of being.

…Gradually you will come to see that gratitude is not a response; it is a river that is always flowing through you, and that you can learn to flow with. Wherever your external circumstances may appear to be heading, it will always be carrying you inwardly toward fullness and love.”


Work in progress here.


P.S. I saw a meme on Facebook that pictured pets – cats and dogs – with the label “antidepressants” in front of them. I love that, and it reminded me of something else I keep tacked to my bulletin board.


Rules to Learn From Your Dog


Never pass up the opportunity for a joy ride.

Allow the experience of fresh air and wind to be pure ecstasy. When loved ones come home, always run to greet them. 

When it’s in your best interest, practice obedience. 

Let others know when they have invaded your territory. 

Take naps and stretch when rising. 

Run, romp, and play daily. 

Eat with gusto and enthusiasm. 

Be loyal. 

Never pretend to be something you’re not. 

If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it. 

When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently. 

Avoid biting when a single growl will do. 

Delight in the simple joy of a long walk. 

When you are happy, dance around and wag your whole body. 

No matter how often you’re scolded, don’t buy into the guilt thing and pout. Run right back and make friends.

 — Anonymous 


“With gratitude, optimism is sustainable.” 

— Michael J. Fox

WATCH this inspiring interview with Fox for this recent Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival virtual winter event, on the subject of Fox’s new book, No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality.




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Farm Dogs, Fresh Flowers & Ferdinand The Bull

DSC_0331 51gQ1zSyL-L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Picking flowers last night, I looked over at Farmer lounging in the grass and was reminded of my favorite children’s book, The Story of Ferdinand (The Bull). Just like Ferdinand, Farmer likes nothing better than to lie around outside peacefully, watching the world go by and literally, smelling the roses. Poor Ferdinand got hauled off to the bullfights when he accidentally sat on a bee and jumped so high that folks thought he was a lively sort. But it all ended well when Ferdinand refused to fight and simply sat and sniffed the flowers in the hats of the ladies in the arena. It’s a story of contentment and peacefulness, two things that are a bit hard to come by on a busy farm during the high season.

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But now the flowers are coming in. The zinnias and cosmos and sunflowers are blooming, the dill is 6 feet high, the calendulas are everywhere.

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Which means that now, after an exhausting day on the farm, I can look forward to my favorite zen farm chore–collecting flowers in the cool of the evening with my very Ferdinand-esque dog at my side (or rolling in the grass nearby). A most excellent antidote to the day’s stresses!

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Flowers and dogs are really two of life’s greatest joys, so listen, get yourself one if you don’t have the other.

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Our First Chicken Coop on Wheels

DSC_0016A few weeks ago, I mentioned that Roy had started building our latest chicken coop in the snow (photo below). This was obviously not ideal, and fortunately, we were able to get our chicken delivery (200 16-week-old pullets) postponed to the second week in April. Nevertheless, with so much to do around here (and seemingly so few nice days), Roy went to work last weekend and built the thing in about a day and half.

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We are excited because this is our first coop on wheels. Roy has now built 8 coops for us. The original one, built for our little flock of 8 ladies, was my favorite, because you could reach into the nest boxes to collect eggs from outside. (That design is in Fresh From the Farm, if you are considering getting a small flock of hens.) The next coop, for our first “big” group of 50 layers, was (is) pretty cool, too, because it has a divider with a storage area on one side. But when you start to build housing for 500 or more chickens, the coops have to get bigger and more efficient at the same time, so Roy’s coops have evolved. (Don’t worry, the 500 don’t all live in one coop!)

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This coop is what Roy calls his “super coop” design. It’s the biggest of our larger coops and the second one of this size he’s built. It houses 100 to 125 hens comfortably, with roost bars, nesting boxes, and hanging feeder–plus plenty of room for humans to navigate when collecting eggs.

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The chicken door on the front (photo above) has a door that easily slides up and open and is held in place by pegs. While the chicken door allows the chickens to go out to a protected, fenced grazing area, the human door on the back (photo below) opens outside of the fencing to allow us to easily get in and out to collect eggs or clean the coop without entering the chicken yard. (You can also shoo any birds in the coop out to the yard and shut the chicken door while you’re inside cleaning.)

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All of our older coops are stationery, raised up on blocks, so our chicken yards are created with permanent fence posts and deer fencing. Every summer, we open and close parts of the fencing to get the chickens on to fresh grass, but it’s awkward, as we can never entirely close the main chicken yard off or the chickens wouldn’t be able to access their coops.

But Roy lucked into snagging an old trailer frame not long ago and decided to build the latest coop on it, so that we can try moving this coop around every so often to different areas of the eight acres we have in the back now. That way the chickens will have fresh grass much more often, and we can use them to clear some planting areas! We’ll be investing in portable electric poultry fencing to create protected grazing areas .

After staining the coop and putting the hardware on, Roy took the coop for a test-spin with the truck, moving it part of the way (successfully-yay!) towards the back field.

9I was photographing the whole thing from behind, obviously!

DSC_0012Pretty cool. So far, so good!

When the new chickens arrive, we’ll keep them in the coop for a week or so to get familiar with their new home. Then they’ll head outside to enjoy their first fresh grass, weeds, bugs, and other delicacies. All good stuff for making delicious eggs. Bon apetit!

The Cows of Martha’s Vineyard, or What We Do For Fun Around Here

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This is a bull. His name is Ziggy. Handsome, huh?

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He lives at the Farm Institute in Katama. His job is to make more cows. Good life.

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This is a young calf. Don’t know his name, so we’ll call him Junior. Junior lives at Morning Glory Farm. I’m sure it may seem strange to you, but one of our favorite family activities is cruising around the Island looking for cute (or handsome animals), especially in early Spring. So for Libby’s last day of spring break, we hopped in the car and went cow cruising. We were on our way to Katama when we passed the Morning Glory Farm cows out and about. We stopped to meet this calf, who Libby immediately took a liking too.

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They had a chat.

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And a pat.

DSC_0023 While Libby was talking to Junior, I went over to say hi to Donald Sutherland. He was completely unimpressed by my curiosity. Yeah.

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 LIsten, I’m busy, he finally said to me. Can’t you see that?

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So we drove on to the Farm Institute, met Ziggy, and then checked out the sheep, hoping for lamb sitings.

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Bingo.

DSC_0135Blackie.

DSC_0064Bunny, nice to meet you.

DSC_0096Oh, now we’re talking. Little bitty guy.

DSC_0071Even littler! A baby goat. Hey Kid! Had a hard time dragging Libby away from him.

DSC_0110Though once she met this fellow, all was well.

DSC_0101In fact, as I followed my two animal lovers out of the barn, I heard some talk about getting a goat or two, maybe just a couple female pygmy goats…in the fall maybe. Dad promised daughter. I heard it. It’s a done deal. Oh my.

DSC_0144Bye Ziggy. You’re cute, but I guess we’re goat people.

 

So What’s It Really Like To Be a Chicken Farmer in a Blizzard (Or Any Day)?

DSC_0020The answer to that question—“So what’s it really like to be a chicken farmer in a blizzard?”—is, “Not as bad as being a chicken farmer the day after a blizzard.”

At first, I thought to answer the question this way: “Not as bad as being a cow farmer,” because cows have to be milked twice a day, no matter what, whereas chickens can be supplied with food and water, locked in their coops, and left for the duration of the storm (sort of). But then I realized that the cow barn is usually closer to the house than a whole bunch of chicken coops (seven coops, housing now only about 450 birds but will be 700 come March).

Unlike backyard chicken coops that tend to be located close to the house, our coops are way out in our back field because each one is integrated with a large fenced portion of the field so that all the chickens can have lots of room to roam around. (Photo below taken Monday, pre-storm.)

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Every morning, Roy goes down and unlocks the small door on the front of each coop, allowing the chickens to go out. He then refills all of their feeders with heavy bags of grain he carries to the feeders from a central feed storage shed he built near the coops. Then he refills the large vessels of water out in the yard. This time of year, though, the hoses and the water vessels are mostly frozen, so we use axes and hammers to break holes in the ice for the chickens to access the water. (In bad storms, we’ve experimented with bringing water buckets inside the coop, but the hens tend to either knock them over or mess them up pretty quickly. So you can see that getting water to the chickens—who, like all livestock, must have regular water—is probably winter’s biggest challenge.)

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During the morning and early afternoon, the hens (in normal weather) go in and out of the coop at their leisure to lay their eggs in nest boxes inside the coops. When evening comes, most of them also naturally gravitate back into the coop and get up on their roost bars. When Roy goes down to close and lock the doors (thus protecting the chickens from raccoons, feral cats, and other critters that might get in during the night), most of the chickens are inside, though during warmer weather and longer dusks it can take some encouraging. Inevitably, a few will jump into some of the trees in their yards and sleep there overnight.

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People ask if the hens are warm inside the coop this time of year. Generally, yes. Their body heat, combined with the layer of poop and shavings that we leave on the coop floors during the winter to help insulate the coop (we layer on fresh shavings), raises the temperature. They tend to cluster together on their roosting bars, too. (Outside during a normal cold winter day, you’ll see hens happily hanging out in the yard because they have the ability to puff up their feathers, which traps air pockets and keeps them warmer.) However, since coops have to be ventilated, there are plenty of places where wind and stray snow can blow through in a blizzard. Wind will make the coops colder.

But obviously, your first decision in a blizzard is to forgo letting the chickens out of their coops in the morning. Keeping them inside roosting together is the only way to go.

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The other daily task, of course, is egg collecting. Roy and I go down with buckets between 2:30 and 3 (when we’re sure they’re all finished laying) and collect the eggs out of the nest boxes. We enter the coops from a back door—a people door; the hens use the front door. You have to be sure to pull or hook the door shut once inside so that hens don’t push it open and go out the back. All of the big coops with outside latches have a wire you can pull from the inside to release the latch—without that, you’d risk the possibility of locking yourself inside the coop. (Which I did once in fact, do, in a smaller coop. But that’s another story.)

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The hens tend to gather around your feet, peck at your pants and shoes and make a lot of clucking noises. It’s certainly not the worst task (cleaning the coops ranks at the top of that list by a mile), as long as you’ve got on your “chicken clothes” –thick boots, crummy jeans, thin work gloves, and a jacket you don’t care about since it’s going to get poop on it. (All of these clothes live on the mudroom floor.) And once you get the hang of it, it doesn’t take too long. But the buckets are heavy.

Carrying the buckets through thigh-high snowdrifts is a good deal more cumbersome.

And that has been the worst part of the blizzard. That, and an interminable amount of shoveling (interminable, as in not done yet) to get a path to the coops and to remove drifts. I, in fact, haven’t been all the way down to the coops since Monday. I’ve been halfway down, but Roy (and our nextdoor neighbor who’s been watching) tells me some of the drifts down there are six feet high. So you can imagine what it has been like getting the feed around, breaking the ice, and collecting the eggs for the last two days.

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We lost one chicken (frozen, but it’s hard to tell if that was the cause of death—chickens sometimes just keel over), which all things considered, is not bad. And we lost probably about $100 in eggs because we were not able to collect eggs Tuesday afternoon during the worst of the storm, and by Wednesday morning, many were frozen and the hens in one coop had managed to knock over one row of nest boxes. We collected again yesterday afternoon.

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We’ve now washed and packaged all the eggs from the last two days, and shoveled a path to the farm stand, which was completely snow-covered. Eggs are in the farm stand fridge, and we’re open for business.

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It’s hard to say how much snow we got (maybe 18 to 20 inches?) because it blew constantly (occasional gusts over 60mph, but mostly in the 30 to 35 range I guess) and everything is essentially a drift. There are bare spots and sculpted towers. The inside of the farm stand—where we process everything in warmer weather—was covered in an inch of snow. And of course, the driveway was completely obliterated.

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We don’t have a regular plow person, but Roy thought to call Keene’s Excavation right down the road from us, and a truck came right over—Hallelujah! We had been shoveling our way down the (very long) driveway in the meantime, and neither one of us was looking forward to doing the whole thing.

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We’ll be shoveling more, and collecting eggs again later this afternoon. I guess the one thing all farmers buy into is the “daily” in daily chores.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if you’re a chicken farmer or a cow farmer or a sheep farmer—or even a strictly vegetable farmer—a blizzard is going to make your daily chores a lot more difficult, and/or it will likely cause some damage to your infrastructure. (Our hoop house is still standing, but we know of others who’ve had damage to barns and greenhouses. And only this morning I saw that the plastic cover over our arugula and spinach bed had lifted off, despite my doubled-up effort to weight it down.)

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It sure looked beautiful out there (still does), but we aren’t too thrilled that another storm is on its way—tomorrow!

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P.S. I did get down to the coops this afternoon to help Roy collect. Shoot-dang, it is DEEP out there! But I took the iPhone with me, and coming back, the light was beautiful on the snow, coming through the hoop house.

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Garden and Fence Hopping on a Clear Blue January Day

photo-367One of the mildly annoying things about writing for magazines and books is that I can’t really reveal what I’m working on while I’m working on it, as that would, you know, spoil things. And I’ve never really been the spoiling type. My sister was the one who would find all the hidden Christmas presents ahead of time.

But I wanted to talk a little about a piece I’m working on, because today it made me think that sometimes my “job” is hardly work at all. More like fun. Of course my “job” changes constantly, depending on what hat I’m wearing. But during the winter, if I’m lucky I get some writing assignments I can complete before the busy farm season returns. Better still is a writing assignment that requires me to go outside and poke around in our beautiful winter landscape—and to visit with some of my friends and neighbors.

So today I had Martha’s Vineyard Magazine to thank for a lovely morning spent in lovely company. The company was the talented Fae Kontje-Gibbs (below), and the mission was to visit a few Island gardens that Fae will be illustrating for the feature I’m writing on kitchen gardens.

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The idea behind the article is that everyone (who wants one) should have a vegetable garden, no matter how small. No big plot needed. In fact, small is good, tiny is wonderful, and medium is dandy if you can swing it.

greens on steroids To that end, my editor and art director decided to use real-life Island gardens as inspiration for three sample garden designs.

Today was Fae’s birthday, so maybe the karma was just good to begin with. And Fae is certainly one of the most positive-seeking persons I know. Also, it didn’t hurt that we began our morning with a visit to my neighbor and friend cook-gardener-quilter-hen whisperer Katherine Long, who is simply one of my favorite people on the Island.

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When we arrived, she was outside letting her hens graze a bit on fresh grass, and we were immediately drawn into a beautiful circle of chickens, and then into a conversation that spanned everything from the merits of roosters to the study of cell biology. Fae got out her notebook and did some rough sketches of Katherine’s colorful chickens and of her garden—a place where practicality and efficiency combine with charm and whimsy in the most delightful way.

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While we were there, Katherine took us into one of the chicken coops to see two baby chicks, recently hatched out by Silkie hens, who are wonderful mamas and don’t seem concerned that January may not be the best time to hatch chicks.

After leaving Katherine’s, we went on to a larger garden where we gently trespassed into a family’s personal sanctuary (with permission) and then drifted over to the neighbor’s fenceline (without permission) to take a peek at some large animals grazing on the other side. They turned out to be alpacas, and one large chocolate brown fellow (or gal?) came to greet us. While Fae gently spoke to him, I tried to photograph his amazing face. Then suddenly he decided to drop to the ground a do a roly-poly, like Farmer does several times a day. I gasped—I’d never seen an animal that large just decide to lie down, roll over, and scratch his back for fun. (Although I do remember being on a horse in a shallow river when the horse decided to roll over.)

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While Fae finished up some rough sketches of a bird bath, a watering can, a pathway and a hand trowel, I simply stared up at the tree limbs etching the blue sky. Stared and stared. As much as my mind likes to travel to unnecessary worry and forethought, I just couldn’t think of anything wrong with our morning, anything to make me fraught. I just thought about how blue the sky was.

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And that I really should spend more time toddling around. Serious work, you know.

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The Year in Photos: Green Island Farm, 2014

January

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2014’s best moment: Little Barney comes in from the cold

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February

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Paulie’s last stand.

March

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photo-12Egg production picks up big-time in spring.

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Turning over the new veg field in the “back four.”

April

10171130_10203818806489450_6846942003228336987_n DSC_4091Onion and potato planting in the damp new days of spring.

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May

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11 may photo-291 photo-293 photo-294And we’re off! Baby kale, Baby bok choy, radishes–and lots of seedlings.

June

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It’s all happening fast now–berries, basil, carrots, and…plenty of daylight

July

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Blueberries, black raspberries,  yellow pattypans, purple eggplants, sunny sung olds, cheery calendulas–June is color at last.

August

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Tomatoes, of course. And new chickens. And lots of ribbons at the Fair, oh yeah!

September

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Serious harvest time.

October

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October is the best.

November

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December

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photo-308 photo-305photo-307And to all a good night. Cheers to 2015!

Strange but True — Chickens Chasing Fireflies and Pumpkins in the Piggery

DSC_6695Funny, strange, unexpected things seem to be happening a lot on the farm these days. Never a dull moment, as my father likes to say.

We found a birds’ nest in a tomato plant yesterday. (Four beautiful eggs; Mommy is a fox sparrow.) Farmer found (another) nest of baby bunnies (six of them) in between two rows of onions last week. Then yesterday, he unearthed a pack of snails under a cosmo plant. That’s in addition to the robin’s nest he found a month ago with newly hatched baby birds in it.

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There is a frog living in the pea patch.

At night, two owls talk to each other at opposite ends of the farm. The sound is loud and disconcerting and space-alienish, especially with a full moon on a misty night (like the one we had tonight, above).

There is a group of hens who won’t go into their coops at night, because—get this—they’re having too much fun chasing fire flies. Roy did an imitation of them the other night after trying to corral them, and I was in stitches. Apparently the hens get really confused and practically fall over each other dancing around after the flickering lights.

The ducks—and the Aracaunas—are taking turns sitting on a nest of duck eggs. (We have one male duck, so ducklings are, theoretically, a possibility. A couple of the Aracaunas like to brood on their blue eggs constantly, but little do they know, with no rooster, there will never be any baby chicks.)

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All over the farm, plants are growing where they weren’t planted. We have two  really healthy pumpkin vines in the old piggery. Poppies and tomatoes in practically every garden bed. (We moved a volunteer tomato into Libby’s garden, and it has the first ripening Sweet 100). An entire row of sunflowers and calendula we didn’t plant. There is dill in the chard bed. And cilantro absolutely everywhere.

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There are even blueberry bushes in a chicken pen. That’s right, our new group of 125 pullets (18-week-old chickens) are the lucky owners of a huge wooded parcel of land (fenced off by Roy) that includes wild blueberries and black raspberries that we can’t even get at through the thick growth (and ticks).

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And weeds? We have more weeds this year then we’ve had total in all previous years. I am completely confounded by this.

And that’s just the critters and the plants. People at the farm do funny things, too. A nice couple stopped by the other day just to give Farmer a present. They were leaving the Island after three weeks and apparently (unbeknownst to me) had bonded with Farmer. Farmer, in fact, is a Rock Star. He has all kinds of fans who ask for him to come outside if he’s not around. Who knew?

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Because of the crap-shoot nature of farming, the surprises are often not pleasant. But it seems, often as not, the unexpected is lovely, even joyous. Bionic summer squash! A towering volunteer sunflower! Peas, peas and more peas. A gift of freshly baked bread from a farm stand customer…chocolates from another…dog bones for Farmer.

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A customer told me the other morning, “It makes me so happy to come here.” That’s the kind of unexpected surprise that makes my day.

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The Lion and The Lamb

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You can just forget about those beautiful little bok choy seedlings I showed you in last week’s blog. They are, well, dead. As are four of our original hens (the “Ladies”) including Martha, Opti, Sugar, and Oreo—whisked away by a mysterious predator. You know that I usually take the high road in this blog, so, like Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.

Except for this one other thing: If October is my favorite month, March (especially this one) is my least favorite.

But there is an antidote to this frustration. And I am freely availing myself of it. Quite simply, it’s baby lambs.

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The lambs were all I could think about when I was flying back from Chicago on Monday. I love Chicago—the architecture, the people, the music, the food—and I loved getting to see a lot of my Fine Cooking magazine pals and other old friends at the annual International Association of Culinary Professionals Conference. Heck I even got to listen to the most famous chef in the world, Ferran Adria, and to eat fabulously awesome food at the Girl and the Goat. I navigated the subway to the airport and back without getting lost, managed to pack as light as I ever have—one carry-on bag—and didn’t have too much trouble slipping back into the meet-and-greet mode.

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But it was noisy and over-stimulating and crowded (especially with St. Patrick’s Day revelers tumbling tipsily in and out of the hotel lobby and elevators) and, these days, I’m really not into drama and buzz anymore. In fact, that’s why I originally came to Martha’s Vineyard six years ago (in February, and it just happened to be a lovely sunny winter that year!)—to quiet down my over-stimulated brain.

DSC_3709Wouldn’t you know it, I hadn’t been here a month when I encountered this phenomenon of baby lambs. Not only are they ridiculously cute and fascinating to watch, but they show up all over the Island right about the time little green shoots of chives and grass are popping up. (You know rhubarb and asparagus won’t be far behind.) By the time the daffodils are in bloom, most of the Island lambs have been born. And if you’ve never seen a grassy field of daffodils and frisky lambs, well, you can only imagine how good that is for the soul.

 

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This year (this weekend) Roy and Libby did the first lamb visit without me. We’re lucky to have newborns less than half a mile up the road at Whiting’s Farm. Their mommies are handsome Cheviot sheep, so they’re quite a site all together, munching and snuggling on fresh hay, with the beautiful sheep barn behind them. Roy and Libby gave me the report over the phone on Saturday, and as soon as I could this week, I spun my tires through the mud to get up there and gaze and photograph.

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Soon our friend Liz Packer will have baby brown and black lambs (extra cute), so we have those to look forward to. Since I turn around and go away again in two weeks, I guess I’ll think about Liz’s lambs as a treat waiting for me when I get back. It will be April by then, so good riddance to March. It certainly lived up to its reputation, coming in like a lion. Let’s hear it for going out like a lamb!

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