24 October 2009

What a Difference in a Week

When I wrote last weekend, I mentioned that the high was 38F one day. It was densely overcast or foggy most of the weekend as well. Monday night brought a killing frost to most of the farm, even the milkweed was frozen. And yet, when the weather pendulum swung the opposite way on Tuesday, the forsythia and clematis bloomed anew.

The rapid swing from cold to warm triggered a natural phenomenon: tens of thousands of Asian lady bugs (Harmonia axyridis) swarming on the house, attempting to enter. As the USDA site notes:

"Multicolored Asian lady beetles are attracted to lighter colors: whites, grays, yellows. So, light-colored houses, especially on hillsides in forested areas, might serve as “homing beacons.”Once the lady beetles enter the walls of a building through cracks and crevices, they may or may not proceed to the interior of the building. Most stay in the wall spaces."

Thanks to the very poorly fitting screens and windows, hundreds made it inside but then had to run the Hoover gauntlet - I was busy with the vacuum cleaner for two solid days. Now they have left as suddenly as they arrived.

The cold of last weekend may also have served notice to the wildlife population that winter is not far away - you'd better be stocking up on food. The raccoons surely took notice. Our foster cat, "Hodge," has been spending the nights in my shop where he is warm in his little bed and protected from most predators. On Tuesday night, the raccoons tore off the flap of the cat door and had a party in the shop. They tore open every baggy in sight - no matter what the contents - washers, wooden pull knobs, rags, etc. and generally knocked over things, pushing them from shelves onto the floors. You may rightfully ask how I know it was raccoons? Because they leave their calling cards: poop piles. Last night I caught one on the back porch tearing open a huge bag of thistle seeds intended as winter bird feed.

Since Monday's killing frost, the week became unseasonably warm- last night's low was an incredible 65F and it is now 73F.

A storm blew across from the Midwest on Friday, changing the three days of gloriously blue skies to gray - and brought quite a blow as well. That wind is still gusting on Saturday afternoon; up to 34 mph according to my weather station. Its power has denuded many trees of their colorful glory until next year. The wind has been introduced courtesy of a new cold front, and by mid-afternoon, even with a good bright sun, the temperature has begun its downward trend.

19 October 2009

the new addition

I realize now that my description of the new acquisition was so thin as to cause many of our cerebral audience to wonder "if that was all." Yes, the over- whelming motivation was to protect our view and privacy. But indeed there is more...

It provides a far easier (and safer for those not as stable on their feet as they once were) access to Longman Creek which forms the southern bound of Stratheden. It is a state-stocked trout stream of local repute and our bottomless source of blackberries. The new land did not add appreciably to the actual water frontage, however, as it tapers severely as it approaches the creek.

There are a number of large rhododendrons, including a magnificent thicket of dense and quite large specimens. Spring blooms will be dazzling to the eye. As a continuation of our forest, it is an open forest, free of obstructive underbrush, a delight to roam. Mostly, though, the land lies along the small creek and is soggy and rocky but after the years we lived in a desert, the melodious sound of flowing water can not be over-valued.

Our basic acreage had three very small drainages which flowed onto the new land, and form a modest creek which flows into the major creek. The one near the front of the farm is actually the origin point of the water; it does not flow constantly but the ground remains damp at all times. The other two wee valleys, both close to our home, are first small seeps which evolve into ever-flowing albeit small streams. By the time all three merge, the new watercourse is notable for its flow, although not its width or depth, as it dances frivolously over and around the white quartz stones.

18 October 2009

the BIG news

Gentle and refined reader, autumn has definitely arrived at Stratheden. The high temperature today was 38F and it was only slightly warmer yesterday. The region has set record low high temperatures in the past week. The furnace has run regularly to maintain 65F inside.

Some trees are now totally devoid of their leafy decor and yet others cling desperately to both the leaf and the green color. The pasture has made a good recovery from last month's mowing and, perhaps because of the cool weather, the weeds have not regenerated substantially. Soon it will be time to spread lime on the fields to lower the pH and seed the cool weather grasses and clovers. If the weather is just a little better, Mr. Fuzzy will plant peas, lettuce, etc. on the morrow.

The astute readers amongst you have queried repeatedly, what is the "big news" that was promised to be revealed in July? This has not been a deliberate tease or dodge, good and patient readers, but was delayed by shenanigans on the part of the seller and the seller's real estate agent. We signed a contract to acquire the 23 acres next door which specified July 15th as the closing date. The survey was changed, the terms were changed, the state's "Consumer Real Estate Settlement Protection Act" was violated by them as well. It almost went to court several times in order to enforce the terms which had been agreed upon by both parties. Finally, on October 2nd, the deed was done.

You are certain to inquire why we felt the need to become 'land poor' by adding 50% to the size of the farm. Well, rest assured it is not because we will ever farm it. Whereas our original acreage is nearly all ridge top, the new land is all a valley, rocky, damp or even swampy, and of absolutely zero value to any conceivable agricultural pursuit. Why on earth, then, did we buy a rocky swamp? The layout of our original plat is in the shape of a golf course dog-leg; its long and skinny with a bend right in the middle. The acres just acquired fill the inside of that "vee" shape and we looked from one leg of the V across the other acreage to the remainder of our farm on the other side. Now, I will no longer suffer frequent nightmares about a MacMansion in our immediate view.

Another benefit is the great difference in the ecosystem of the swamp as compared to the ridge area. It also provides slightly more frontage on the creek, an undisturbed and nearly pristine riparian area (for which our county is famous). One of the small valleys originating on the ridge runs on to this adjacent area and becomes a year-round tiny stream, fed simultaneously by run-off and seeps/springs. This wee stream then empties into the creek.

15 October 2009

Martin's Station

As is all too frequently the case, dear reader, I begin this entry by begging for your indulgence for the length betwixt posts.

Last weekend, the Fuzzys packed up their 18th century belongings and headed west to the very extreme of the tail of Virginia where Martin's Station is located. This was their second major event of the year (the prior in May), not as popular as that spring event but perhaps more enjoyable for the relative lack of people present. Go ahead, I know you're thinking it, just say it, "He's such a curmudgeon."

This was Mrs. Fuzzy's first-ever 18th century re-enactment as a participant. She did yeoman duty on the wood fire and complained not of the damp and gray skies which hung barely above our heads. Our arrival was timely; we were still erecting the French Military canvas tent that was our temporary home when the first downpour struck. Friday night brought a spectacular lightning storm and lashings of rain; the fine tent withstood all that Nature hurled.

Saturday dawned (more or less - the clouds so dense that it was impossible to determine whether the sun had indeed risen) with a soaked ground - and what had been our campfire. There seemed little hope of rekindling those water logged faggots so we sauntered down to the main camp and treated ourselves to a morning repast at Govan's Coffee House, sitting at a table under a canvas shelter. There we encountered our old friends, Capt. Titus and the famed frontier artist, H. David Wright also seeking a dry spot and warm companionship.

Mercifully there was no precipitation during the day on Saturday although the clouds seemed to hang just above the blockhouse roof peak. We visited with friends, Mr. Ross and Mr. Delp as well as the site's Senior Ranger Billy Heck, aka Capt. Martin. One of the greatest pleasures of these events is the fellowship and The Station is never shorted anyone in that category. We also performed a perfunctory scout at a couple of the sutler's tents.

Sunday's light and clouds were carbon copies of the prior day. The weather had been quite dynamic during the wee hours of the morn, ranging from a fairly dense fog to crystal clear but the day was dense and colorless. There was celebration to mark an important historical event that morning, however - Mr. Fuzzy had a landmark birthday. In recognition thereof, Mrs. Fuzzy presented him with a spectacular hunter's frock, perfectly pieced and carefully constructed by Julie Hudson of Weeping Heart Trading.

Julie had shown it to the Fuzzys at the CLA meeting in August and it fit Mr. Fuzzy as if custom tailored for him. It was a perfect copy from a 1777 illustration of a colonial rifleman and it was sooo beautiful as well (why can't modern mens fashions possess such a sense of style?) but Mr. Fuzzy had spent most of his allowance already and therefore had respectfully declined to purchase it. Unbeknown to him, Mrs. Fuzzy had purchased it for his birthday gift. In a bit of Finnish humor, Mrs. Fuzzy had given Mr. Fuzzy bag stuffed with something soft to use for a pillow whilst camping - so his head had rested upon the frock for the previous two nights.

Sunday morning flew past and it was time to strike camp and return to Stratheden Farm. It was clear that the same storm which bedeviled us at Martin's Station has also struck the Farm. The winds must have been prodigious as few walnuts were left on their branches. Tuesday was a bit of summer with a high temperature in the mid-70s but yet another storm has struck and Wednesday's high was 44F at 7:00 a.m. The forecast is for the possibility of snow on Saturday and Sunday.

08 October 2009

Our wonderful neighbors at the end of the road offered us the use of their cider press - and their experience. Bless their hearts, they even helped us pick our apples. Our friend Brian was visiting from Vermont and took part in the squeezing party. Our mutsu apples produced a full bodied juice that oxidized very rapidly to a darker color. Just a few bushels yielded nine and a half gallons of heavenly and healthy liquid.

Our gorgeous two weeks of weather is about to come to an end if the weatherman is to be believed. It has been almost cloudless with deep blue skies and rather gusty at times. The temperatures have been warm; today was about 68F and the nights have been warm as well. Despite the warm temperatures, some trees are at their peak of colour right now, especially the maples. The locusts and walnuts are devoid of leaves and perhaps half of the walnuts have been shaken loose by the windy blasts. Its a wonderful time to live in the Blue Ridge mountains.

07 October 2009

Fort Dobbs

Sincere apologies, valued reader(s), for the lack of recent postings. All has been well on the Farm. Our first real visitors to the Farm, Brian & Luasanne, came down from Vermont for a delightful week... Brian was our best man (and obviously a very dear friend) who we had not laid eyes on for three plus years. A week was insufficient to catch up.

The weather before their visit verily defined driech - a fortnight of fog and drizzle. It was beautiful but becoming rather tedious. The day before our visitors arrived a powerful front blew through and brought perfectly clear skies and much lower humidity - perfect for them to sight-see. They were treated to all of the high points of our wee village and its environs including a several hour drive to near Statesville, North Carolina, to the site of Fort Dobbs, one of the most Southerly actions of the French & Indian War (known as the Seven Years War to our European readers).

Nothing exists of the original fort although there are plans afoot to reconstruct it. There is, however, a reenactment of a minor skirmish between the Cherokee (whose land was being stolen by invading settlers) and the invading settlers... the Indian camp was exemplary and attached are some images of the same. The final image is a 'narrator' who described for the tourists the ongoing action of the raid; this is something we had not seen elsewhere. The narration was strongly biased toward the white invaders...

06 October 2009

Sorry for the lack of posts...

We've had wonderful house guests for the last week..... pictures and BIG news coming soon... but first we have to do the laundry and console the cats. Two are traumatized by a week with an extra (extremely polite, social, perfect) small dog and the rest are disconsolate at her departure.