Dead Raccoons & Fresh Baby Chicks

We’ve had a pretty good turn here on the farm, with the right kinds of life and death.

Among the dead ones is a raccoon, which I am quite confident was decimating our corn patch/garden. The night we caught him, he was returning to finish the job…

Chewed Corn

To start with, Dad found a live trap at Harbor Freight Tools that I simply couldn’t pass up for the price. So he procured it, and brought it up to Missouri. We haggled through the illegible directions and got the thing set up. The next morning, we had snagged this thief:

IMG_3499

I dispatched him with a single .22lr. Sure, some people think it’s cruel. But they haven’t seen the mangled corpses of my baby chickens after a raccoon dug into their pen. Such a sight will rid one of any hesitancy or remorse.

Speaking of baby chicks…

Chiquitas

Two of our hens have felt suddenly maternal, and have spent the past three weeks brooding over two clutches of eggs. Our German Spitzhauben hen—we’ll call her Agathe—sat first, on a group of eggs that I, in my laziness, had neglected to collect for a few days. The eggs came from all, or the majority, of our seven hens.

Our Barred Rock hen—we’ll call her Lucy—took to sitting a few days after she noticed Agathe brooding. Lucy kept stealing Agathe’s nest when the latter got up for a drink of water, so we split the clutch of eggs and put each lady atop one. Over the next couple of weeks, they occasionally switched nests, for no apparent reason. But on Saturday, July 25, the first chick emerged—a full five days ahead of the anticipated “due date!”

Agathe was the first mother. Four chicks emerged, but the other four eggs proved stubborn, and after two days, the chicks hadn’t left the nest and I worried they’d die of thirst while the new mother waited for the other eggs. One chick did perish, though I suspect a birth defect was the culprit. So I moved Agathe, chicks, and eggs from their chest-high nesting box to a ground-level nest on Monday night. The next morning, she’d taken her chicks and left the eggs.

Agathe and her triplets.

Agathe and her triplets.

Hoping to salvage at least a few of the nearly-developed chicks, I tucked the eggs beneath Lucy, and saw that her first two eggs had hatched out little, black fluffy babies. One of the eggs I put underneath her was developing a small hole… and I heard tapping and peeping from inside.

That chick hatched only a couple of hours later.

Talk about "still wet behind the ears"! She/he just emerged!

Talk about “still wet behind the ears”! She/he just emerged!

A couple hours later, and mostly dried off and perked up.

A couple hours later, and mostly dried off and perked up.

Now we have seven chicks, with a couple of days left to see how many more hatch. In the meantime, Agathe has already begun instructing her chicks on the finer points of scratchery and peckery, and Lucy labors over her emerging brood, with the eager expectation of a mother-to-be.

Feeling suddenly maternal.

Feeling suddenly maternal.

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Thieving, Dirty, Rotten ‘Coons

I make no bones about my feelings for those filthy bandits. As I’ve been teaching my four-year-old, “The only good ‘coon, is a dead ‘coon!”

My ire is fresh because of what happened last night…

Saylor has a little “garden” that we planted from some cast-off seeds. It’s a pseudo-raised bed, with marvelous soil that I brought in from the cow corral. Nice and rich.

We planted multifarious corn varieties, and then a couple weeks later planted pole beans and squash. The “three sisters” concept.

It worked well, and his garden fared even better than our main garden!

The corn ears were just starting to look good, and obviously the raccoons thought the same thing.

I walked out to the morning chores today, to see this:

Violated Sweet Corn Where The 'Coon Trampled

Corn Remnants What The 'Coon Left Me

There are maybe 5 or 6 little ears left. And I really hope I get to eat them, but the only way that’s going to happen is if I get that ‘coon before (s)he gets my corn. Who am I kidding? There are probably like 20 of them. A whole ‘coon family tree.

I also found this:

Ripped Open Bag Of Cracked CornThat one was my own fault. I took two 50-pound bags of feed out of the car yesterday before a three-hour round trip to Columbia, thinking they’d only be in the way, and would cut down on my gas mileage anyhow. But I left them sitting on the ground, and didn’t really think about them for the rest of the day. That/those stupid raccoon(s) had a veritable corn feast last night.

I have no live trap, and have been unwilling to spring for one (pun intended, of course). I did, however, buy four foot-snare traps last winter, to catch the evil fox that ate my chickens. Never caught the fox, but did snag a raccoon that ate my poor ducks. Shot him in the head, dead.

So tonight, I’ve set my traps. They’re firmly anchored, and far enough away from my crops that the snared ‘coon won’t trample my plants as it hopes and writhes until I get out there with my .22.

So when I trap him/her, (s)he can be so close to the rest of that corn, (s)he can almost taste it! Almost.

So when I trap him/her, (s)he can be so close to the rest of that corn, (s)he can almost taste it! Almost.

Two More Traps Another Trap Traps Laid

I know, all of this sounds terribly merciless. And so it is. I’ve seen what those varmints can do to my hapless hens; I’ve seen them dig underneath a chicken tractor to maul chicks, and even eat a sleeping chick’s head off by reaching through the chicken wire. I return their voraciousness with a certain unhinged passion of my own. I don’t take kindly to thieves.

And so I sleep easy tonight, in hopes that a red sun will rise on the local ‘coon population. I’ll update this blog once I find success.

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Summer Mushroom Hunting In The Ozarks

The two-months-long deluge we’ve been experiencing here has been unfriendly to Missourians’ gardens. The tomatoes are blighted, the soil is soggy, and everybody has an easy culprit for this year’s gardening woes.

But while the rain has ruined gardens, it’s brought an abundance of fruit to the forest floor. Saylor and I took a hike through the woods this afternoon and collected a bag full of gems.

The skies finally cleared yesterday, so today’s warmth meant mushrooms were popping up all over the woods. In particularly abundant supply were chanterelles!

We’ve never actually cooked with chanterelles, but we’ll be needing to Google some recipes, because we brought home more than two pounds of mushrooms.

This wasn't even all of them... We brought home about 2 pounds!

This wasn’t even all of them… We brought home about 2 pounds!

The stems are removed, and the first batch is already in the dehydrator (chanterelles spoil quickly, so it’s best to use them right away, or preserve them).

Chanterelles In The Dehydrator

The eating will be divine, but the finding is, frankly, the most fun. Our eyes scan the forest floor, as we stumble over rocks and dodge fox holes. A sprinkling of pale orange suddenly appears, and Saylor rushes to the mushrooms, while I, sputtering, tell him to be careful not to trod on others unseen.

Once you learn the look of a chanterelle, it’s hard to mistake them. But when in doubt (or just for fun), I take a sniff. The aroma is sweet and earthy, like an apricot with a little dirt on it. I’ve never smelled another mushroom like this. And I can’t wait to cook them. Most of the chanterelles we found were the smooth variety, which have tiny ridges on the underside or nothing at all — there’s no doubt about their edibility. We also found some with ridges on the underside, which I was a little nervous might be the poisonous jack-o-lantern mushrooms. But one whiff and I knew we were good to go. Seriously, if you only go chanterelle-hunting so you can smell them, it’s worth the trouble.

Chanterelles

Chanterelles On The Forest FloorA Fresh Chanterelle

We also plucked a couple of pallid boletes, too. I can’t wait to cook them up! They’re related to one of the most prized mushrooms in Europe, the king bolete. I don’t know if they taste quite as good as that much-cherished royal fungus, but it’s the closest we’ve got in Missouri!

Pallid Bolete Pallid Boletes

And Saylor made the find of the day, with an indigo milky! I had found one of these in the woods a week ago, but didn’t imagine it could be edible, with its bright-blue bleeding and less-than-impressive cap coloration. So I had tossed that one, but then later learned they are a choice mushroom! As we were walking along today, Saylor said, “Dad, here’s one!” And there it was. A little past its prime, but not much. They’re unmistakable, and produce a crazy bright-blue ink. Apparently they’re marvelous in scrambled eggs, and turn the huevos a Suess-like verdant hue. Tomorrow morning, I’ll have green eggs and bacon!

Indigo Milky

We trudged back up our mountain, to the house; I had to carry Saylor for the last grueling stretch. Then we finished the evening with pool time in the backyard, a brief tractor ride, and some weed-pulling in the just-barely-making-it rows of bush beans in the garden.

If only every day were so productive.

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A Few Gems From Scalia’s Biting Dissent To The SCOTUS Obamacare Ruling

Justice Antonin Scalia is typically the biting, witty voice of reason when the Supreme Court of the United States goes off the rails. Scalia says what so many of us wish we were clever enough to think. Here are a few gems from his dissenting opinion to the court’s King v. Burwell ruling. (That ruling, by the way, upheld Obamacare by interpreting the likely intent of lawmakers to extend subsidies to all eligible people purchasing insurance through exchanges, whether those exchanges were set up by the state or the federal government — even though the law specifies only individuals purchasing insurance through an exchange set up by a state were eligible for federal subsidies.)

wikimedia photo

wikimedia photo

“Under all the usual rules of interpretation, in short, the Government should lose this case. But normal rules of interpretation seem always to yield to the overriding principle of the present Court: The Affordable Care Act must be saved.”

“(Understatement, thy name is an opinion on the Affordable Care Act!)”

“(Impossible possibility, thy name is an opinion on the Affordable Care Act!)”

“Let us not forget, however, why context matters: It is a tool for understanding the terms of the law, not an excuse for rewriting them.”

“Who would ever have dreamt that ‘Exchange established by the State’ means ‘Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government’?”

“It is bad enough for a court to cross out ‘by the State’ once. But seven times?”

“(Contrivance, thy name is an opinion on the Affordable Care Act!)”

“The word “such” does not help the Court one whit.”

“The Court’s next bit of interpretive jiggery-pokery…”

“The Affordable Care Act spans 900 pages; it would be amazing if its provisions all lined up perfectly with each other. This Court ‘does not revise legislation . . . just because the text as written creates an apparent anomaly.’”

“Pure applesauce.”

“‘even the most formidable argument concern- ing the statute’s purposes could not overcome the clarity [of] the statute’s text.’”

“Only by concentrating on the law’s terms can a judge hope to uncover the scheme of the statute, rather than some other scheme that the judge thinks desirable.”

“No law pursues just one purpose at all costs, and no statu- tory scheme encompasses just one element. Most relevant here, the Affordable Care Act displays a congressional preference for state participation in the establishment of Exchanges: Each State gets the first opportunity to set up its Exchange…”

“This Court, however, has no free-floating power ‘to rescue Congress from its drafting errors’…It is entirely plausible that tax credits were restricted to state Exchanges deliberately—for example, in order to encourage States to establish their own Ex- changes. We therefore have no authority to dismiss the terms of the law as a drafting fumble.”

“The Court’s decision reflects the philosophy that judges should endure whatever interpretive distortions it takes in order to correct a supposed flaw in the statutory machinery. That philosophy ignores the American people’s deci- sion to give Congress ‘[a]ll legislative Powers’ enumerated in the Constitution. Art. I, §1. They made Congress, not this Court, responsible for both making laws and mending them. This Court holds only the judicial power—the power to pronounce the law as Congress has enacted it. We lack the prerogative to repair laws that do not work out in practice, just as the people lack the ability to throw us out of office if they dislike the solutions we concoct. We must always remember, therefore, that ‘[o]ur task is to apply the text, not to improve upon it.’”

“More importantly, the Court forgets that ours is a government of laws and not of men. That means we are governed by the terms of our laws, not by the unenacted will of our lawmakers.”

“The Court’s revision of the law authorizes the Internal Revenue Service to spend tens of billions of dollars every year in tax credits on federal Exchanges. It affects the price of insurance for mil- lions of Americans. It diminishes the participation of the States in the implementation of the Act. It vastly expands the reach of the Act’s individual mandate, whose scope depends in part on the availability of credits. What a parody today’s decision makes of Hamilton’s assurances to the people of New York: ‘The legislature not only commands the purse but prescribes the rules by which the duties and rights of every citizen are to be regulated. The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over . . . the purse; no direction . . . of the wealth of society, and can take no active resolution whatever. It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL but merely judgment.’”

“We should start calling this law SCOTUScare.”

“And the cases will publish forever the discouraging truth that the Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to uphold and assist its favorites.”

“I dissent.”

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Ode To The Groundhog In My Garden

Groundhog

Greetings, groundhog.

It’s good to meet you; I’m the grower of that garden.

It’s less green, from your gnawing, and that grieves me.

Your greed, groundhog, goes against my grain.

Put simply: your gut got you caught.

I found my gentle growths grabbed from the soil.

You grazing ingrate: you woodchucking, whistle-pigging, tail-less beaver! My greens are gone and I’m galled.

I’m through with groveling, groundhog, it’s time to go,

For me to grab my gun and get you to your grave.

Guilt? Me? I’m guilt-free: I gotta do what I gotta do.

Because the only good groundhog is… well… you can guess.

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Innovations Indoors And Out

Just Peckin' Around

No, I did not forget about this blog.

How could I? I love words. The search for the perfect moment, the rhythmic syllable punctuating a painstakingly crafted movement… the playful alliteration, carefully coy, like a laughing daffodil dancing in an early-spring snowstorm… the concrete imagery neither too sparse nor pretentiously purple.

I criticize all the writing I read or hear. Even my own. The task keeps me hopefully humble and ever searching for the perfect moment—for what C.S. Lewis would call “the thing itself.”

I write and edit for a living. It’s one of the best jobs I could imagine having. But sometimes the topics can be tiresome and I long for the farm… to dirty my hands in it, and then to take my hands to a keyboard to try to paint it, the way I paint.

This blog is a place for me to test my writing: to paint my favorite subjects. And it’s a useful way to watch our farm and family grow and change.

But I’m (mainly) done writing for this post. Here are some photos (with captions) of life lately:

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The Fig Tree

“May you never bear fruit again,” He said to the fig tree.
Most missed that comment, or heard it only as the frustrated outburst of a hungry man.
Amid the day’s excitement—the cracking of the whip and the clinking of a thousand coins on the stone temple floor—all forgot the exchange with the tree.
Along the road the next morning, the sight of a withered canopy jutting from the rocky earth awakened their memories.
“Lord, the tree you cursed… it’s dead!”
Word quickly spread, and a team of Jerusalem’s best scientists soon descended on the scene, roping off a perimeter and quarantining the area. An inspection point was erected, and no biological items were permitted to cross in either direction.
By Friday morning, preliminary results had returned from the lab in Caesarea.
“It was an invasive insect,” the team announced to a clearly-relieved crowd (composed entirely of reporters). “No miracle occurred here. We have determined the tree died of natural causes.”
The scientists, in coalition with local governing authorities, began drafting new standards for the care of fig trees and the import and export of figs. Botanists in Jerusalem immediately began work on a genetic variety of fig tree that might be resistant to such a pestilence.
All grew suddenly quiet as the sun set, signaling the commencement of Sabbath and the Passover.
But, only hours after sunrise on Sunday morning, a press conference was held on the steps of the Jerusalem temple (though still somewhat in disarray from Friday’s earthquake, which had baffled geologists, having no indication that such a seismic disruption had been imminent).
“It’s a miracle!” the scientists cried. “We’re saved!” A new breed of fig tree was already conceived, laced with toxins in its bark that would kill the newfound, invasive pest.
Meanwhile, there was a stir in Jerusalem…

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Too much

It’s been quite a long time since I wrote anything; this has been the busiest time of my life—since February. Our daughter spent five days in the hospital with MRSA, I’ve completed the biggest editorial project I have worked on to date, and I’ve somehow managed to juggle 4 different jobs (one of them full-time).

Sadly, however, we’ve come to a point that I must get rid of Ozark, my English Shepherd.

He has bitten two people this year. Neither bite caused long-term damage; and both were under pretty unique circumstances, when he was extremely frightened/excited and someone took hold of him. But both did cause hand/wrist puncture wounds that had to be immediately treated at the ER.

I simply do not have the will nor the time nor the ability to work with what appears to be a combination of psychological and behavioral issues he has.

I’m not sure how it came to this. I might have been too hard on him at times; on the other hand, he’s always been a somewhat skittish, excitable dog, since the day we got him as an 8-week-old pup.

A traditional adoption avenue is not feasible, as he does not have a particularly stellar history. He is, however, a very fun dog, who just needs the opportunity to be very active with a very strong leader. He’s the most athletic dog I’ve ever seen, and he’s very protective of his home and family. In spite of the two recent incidents, he’s not a dog that suddenly turns on people or attacks; but he is pretty bossy, and I think somewhat prone to reacting with a bite if he gets scared or extremely excited (for example, one a couple of occasions, he was fixating on our ducks and chasing them; I grabbed his collar and he turned and put his teeth on my wrist… no puncture, but a clear attempt to run the show).

It will take a special place for him, and I hope we can find one soon. I don’t want to put him down, as I think he has a lot of great qualities. But I can not trust him around my young children, and I do not have the time or ability to train him properly.

I welcome any suggestions about where he might be placed.

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Spring’s look

It was a very harsh winter, complete with excruciating electric bills.

But all that has ended. The days are warm and bright—we leave the doors and windows open (though screened, to discourage spring’s sudden insects). Hurried trips across icy earth to a frozen car have slowed: I step onto the porch, pause, and breathe deep the sweet smell of spring.

And everywhere we look, well…

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Curing our own bacon!

Good news: We raised our own pigs, on open pasture, and butchered them. I did the butchering with the help of some good guys. Read about that here.

Potentially bad news: We packed the meat in freezer paper, and put it in our chest freezer in the basement. About 175 pounds. That was over a year ago. And there’s still a lot left.

So-far, good news: The meat, as we progressively unwrap it to cure our bacon, is showing little to no signs of freezer burn or other damage! Hooray!

So I’ve been curing our bacon.

I used a basic cure you can find online… molasses, salt, pink salt (yeah, we debated the nitrite thing for a while, but finally decided the “concerns” about it are not really very concerning, and the bacon could likely be ruined without it), Sucanat (brown sugar), pepper. Ya know…

Soaked it (for 7-10 days in a ziplock.)

Smoked it on our bar-b-que grill (not as easy to control heat/smoke as I’d like, but it’s working out)… using hardwood charcoal and MESQUITE!!! (YUM!)

Once it hit about 150 degrees internal temp…

Refrigerated it, then sliced it nice and thin.

VOILA!

Isn't it beautiful?!

Isn’t it beautiful?!

The flavor is unparalleled; and the knowledge of where it came from is complete, and satisfying. Bacon. Yum.

Cooking in the cast-iron.

Cooking in the cast-iron.

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