The Night Shift.

Home from the hunt

If you look closely, you will see what Kainan sees. One to the far right, one to the far left. The night shift is heading home.

The young couple heads home from the night shift. Traffic is light. Most of the world is still stretching and shaking off the last fog of sleep.

They have had a busy night. They always have a busy night. Their work follows routine, familiar trails where the likelihood of finding field mice, bunnies, and other small prey is high. It’s hard work, especially in the winter, but now the days are a bit longer, and the warmer temperatures mean bounty. Their full bellies will now provide sustenance for the warm, squirming secret they have tucked safely in a deep burrow by the big pond.

Now it is time to rest. Time to recover. Time to enjoy the safety of their haven. Tonight, when the moon peeks above the treeline, it will be their cue to clock-in once again. They will announce the start of their work night with a mellifluous chorus and the neighboring workforce will answer. It’s an ancestral ritual, passed through generations. It is a confirmation of life, of boundaries, of territory.

On this morning, just as at sunrise yesterday, the young coyotes dart carefully and purposefully from the cover of the trees across the open pasture. It is this last part of their path that leaves them open, vulnerable in the morning spotlight.  But they are not afraid. They know this place; they know the others who share their home.

The dogs come rushing out of the house, but the coyotes know they will stop. They have a fence they will honor. The wild ones pause, sitting to watch the silly dogs racing up and down the fence shattering the early morning peace with their frustrated cries. The coyotes know the dogs will soon become bored with this game. They will go back to the house to do whatever it is domestic dogs do.

But they know one will remain. He is different. He doesn’t bark, he doesn’t race around aimlessly. He just watches with quiet intensity. This one both fascinates and unnerves the coyotes. There is something about him that is like them, but also very different. He is huge and powerful in comparison to their lithe, agile frames. Even from a distance, they are able to meet and hold his gaze, for just a moment, before moving on. They know this one.

Often, during their night shift, they sense him there. He lies in the big yard, but he does not sleep like the other dogs do. He watches. He samples the wind with his long snout. His ears remain alert and pinpointed to their every move.

Yes, this one is different. He seems to understand the need that drives the coyotes every single night. He will sit and watch them in rain, snow, or cold. On some level, he seems a part of their world. But no, he is on the wrong side of the fence. He lives in the house.

The big wolfdog watches. Every morning he sees the coyotes cross the field. Part of him wants to race the fence and bark at them with his housemates, but he never does. He sits back and studies. He knows by the scent on the wind that this pair has young in a burrow just behind the big tree on the north side of the pond. He knows they work long nights. It is a job called survival.

On some deep level he is drawn to them. Sometimes he adds his deep howl to their evening chorus, speaking a language that was born to him. He could go. The fence that separates his world from theirs is not insurmountable.

But he doesn’t go. The other half of his brain always wins. He watches as the coyotes disappear into the camouflage of dense brush that leads to their home. Then the big wolfdog turns back toward the house, where he hears the call that puts his wild side to bed for the day and summons the playful dog.

“Kainan! Breakfast!”

My Window Gallery

Image

Many of my friends in the Open Group for Bedlam Farm, an online creative fellowship of writers and artists of all disciplines, have been posting photos and stories about their windowsill “galleries.” This trend was started by NYT best-selling author, founder and chief creative cattle prodder of the Open Group, Jon Katz (and I mean that cattle prodder comment in the KINDEST way). Jon and Maria, his lovely former girlfriend, wife, and partner in all things, curate lovely little art galleries on the windowsills in their farmhouse. As a tribute to Jon, who is offline for a bit handling some health issues in true Katz form, people are sharing their versions of the window gallery. My gallery is, by necessity and design, a tad different. It is not delicate, well-kept, or always pretty. It is entertaining. Always entertaining. This one is for Jon and Maria…enjoy!

ImageMy window gallery is not particularly artistic at first glance. Well, not artistic unless you can visualize images in the layers of smears as if you were studying the sky on a perfectly cloudy day. My window gallery does not feature fragile figurines, delicate bud vases, or lacy sheer dressing. Any such carefully planned display of treasures would be torn and swept to the floor repeatedly; likely shattered in an enthusiastic attempt to be the first in line to see a leaf blowing by.

My window gallery could actually be better defined as performance art. It’s a living, breathing, always changing display of beauty, drama, frustration, and joy. It’s the place where life on the inside, which we refer to as “barely domestic,” is separated from nature’s canvas on the outside by a relatively thin and fragile barrier. It’s a barrier where noses, yes at times mine too, press firmly as if the force exerted against it will somehow allow a better whiff of the activity transpiring beyond.

My window gallery is a place to daydream. It’s a place to sit as the winds whip up a glorious thunderstorm. It’s the first thing I look to every morning, generally over the top of a dog’s head, and the last thing I see through heavy lids at night, again through the frame created by my cattle dog’s alert, perfectly pointed ears. I swear she never sleeps. She just stays right by me on the bed, keeping vigil in case something should stray into our gallery that I might need to see.

windowMy window gallery is a showcase for the birds that come to feast on the bounty that I provide each day without fail. It’s the place where the dogs sound the alarm to let me know that James Squirrel Jones and the other squirrels and bunnies have gathered knowing that I will emerge from our fortress bearing nuts, fruit, and carrots. It’s the place where nimble garden spiders weave artistic webs born of necessity, but delicately decorated by morning dew or frost creating a display that no human hand could mimic.

Sara windowMy window gallery is not something I create, or even control, but it is a source of constant wonder, amazing sights, frequent hilarity (when, for example, one of our delinquent donkeys presses his nose to the outside of the window as an early morning salutation), and occasional over-stimulation (say when a raccoon is out there thumbing his nose at my herd of wolf-wannabes).

No, I can’t have a window sill filled with small treasures that glow in soft light and cast soulful shadows in the golden rays of evening. But what I do have is quite beautiful, always changing, always captivating. I couldn’t and wouldn’t have it any other way. Image

 

You Are NOT Alone.

Image

One of my favorite gorgeous weather activities here on Tails You Win Farm is heading out with my camera for a nature walk back in the still-wild-and-woolly section of our 70-some-odd acres (72.25 for those who prefer to be specific). I generally start my hike by walking through the barn to get to the north pasture and then I head back to the east pasture (yeah, I may appear to have mad directional skills, but not really. I get lost on my own property on a regular basis.).

So on Easter Sunday, a beautiful day was unfolding so I headed out, camera in hand and ready to capture the magic of a new spring. I dove straight in to the woods and brush and quickly realized that I would have made a terrible Indian scout. Light on my feet is apparently also not one of my mad skills. My dreams of photographing wild creatures enjoying the rebirth of the land were quickly dashed by my clumsy feet snapping every twig and crunching through the remaining dry grass.

I flushed three groups of quail. I spooked two groups of deer. All were far swifter than my fledgling could-you-hold-still-for-just-a-moment camera ability. I also tried to creep up to get a closer shot of numerous birds, but the birds just found me flat creepy, and played a fine and elusive game of ring around the brier patch with me. This little exercise in the tall grass resulted in many, many, MANY chigger bites in many, many, MANY delicate places on my body. Hooray spring.

So I kept wandering, thinking that if I found a good spot I should just stop, plant myself and try…really TRY…to stay quiet to see what might stumble upon me instead.

So I did just that. I planted myself. I waited.

Soon enough, I did hear the distinct sound of something approaching. Something on the large side. We’re not talking bunny here.

I got ready. I put my eye to the viewfinder. I held my breath. I was finally going to get that shot of a deer or something equally fabulous.

But wait.

Um. We also have a huge population of coyotes here. Oh…and didn’t I write about wild boars on our land in the not so distant past? Then the reports of cougars cruising around in the area popped into my head. Cougar stories aside, I had personally seen a beautiful bobcat nearby and I’m pretty sure babbling “nice kitty, gooooooood kitty,” would not sooth a startled wild cat.

As the sound of “something” approaching grew louder, I grew a tad bit nervous about just what kind of critter was about to discover me hiding in the brush.

And then…

And then…

Image

Yes, I captured a photo of the rare, wild Iniature-ma Onkey-da (that’s the technical pig Latin term for…well…you get it.) Yes, my mini donkey, Stormin’ Norman proved that he is a far better tracker that I am. Upon finding me, he sounded the loud, yodeling bray that can only mean “tag, you’re it,” and I was soon surrounded by the rest of the players–four more miniature donkeys and our new standard donkey, Delta Dawnkey.

Wildlife photo session quickly morphed into donkey and horse photo session. Eh, sometimes you just have to go with it. They are willing models and WAY less scary than a wild boar.

OK kids, strike a pose!

Image

The mighty Fergus

Image

My 2014 Easter parade

Image

Patty…I’m pretty sure she’s mocking me.

Image

Small, but mighty.

Image

Gorgeous GoGo

 NOTE: I am a very amateur photographer just figuring out my new, fancy (meaning not a cell phone) camera. These photos are raw, have not passed through Photoshop (because I still don’t get it), and are just a result of my shoot-to-learn theory. Tips from true shutterbugs always welcome. 

Mother of the Year? Probably Not, But I’m Trying.

“Aren’t you going to be sad when they’re gone?” I hear that question a lot these days. My answer is quick, honest and always the same. “No.”

This conversation, repeated on a daily basis, is in reference to two small babies that I am mothering right now. I am there for them 24/7. I make their formula. I feed them around the clock—initially every two hours, and now it has relaxed to every three to four hours as they continue to mature.

I’m up with them in the middle of the night. I clean things up when they go potty. I keep them warm, comfortable and safe. I hold them close. I play with them. I worry when they don’t seem to feel well. I celebrate each new stage in their young, tiny lives. I love them dearly.

But when the day comes that they are ready to leave, I will let them go. I won’t cry, I won’t try to convince them to stick around. Once my job as their adopted mom is done, they will go into the world healthy, strong, and without me. I will send them off with the full understanding that it is very likely I will never see them again. And I will sleep. I will enjoy blissfully full, uninterrupted nights of sleep.

squirrel in hand

James squirrel Jones at about one week old

Now before you resend my nomination for mother of the year, and before you condemn my babies as ungrateful brats, you should know that my little ones are squirrels. Little orphans, about two weeks apart in age, who came my way via a wonderful, dedicated friend who volunteers with a wildlife rehabilitation group. She is my mentor and I am grateful for her knowledge and guidance in this amazing, exhausting experience.

Several people have suggested that I turn my cute squirrels into pets, but that has never been my purpose and never should be. These are wild animals. They are not dogs, kittens or even hamsters. They are wild squirrels who just got dealt a bad hand at a tender age and I’m trying to help make things right for them.

I know my babies, now that their eyes have opened, must think that they have a giant, clumsy mom who looks and smells nothing like they do. They’re probably not sure I can even climb a tree (though I can!) But, they do know love and they do have in me a surrogate mom who is fighting for them every step of the way.

Feeding James

Feeding time

The day that I finally get to let these little animals find their way into a tree to chase and play with their wild cousins will be a truly joyous day. It will be a time for celebration knowing that all the weeks of coaxing creatures no bigger than my thumb to nurse from a nipple attached to a syringe was for a good cause.

I know I’m not a great substitute for their real mom, but I’m giving it my very best shot. So yes, I do look forward to saying goodbye to my babies. Goodbye means we have succeeded.

Squirrely

Squirrely Jones at about four weeks old