Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mowing the Meadow: Part 2

Standing to watch for what I'm mowing and what I don't want to mow.

When mowing the meadow I spend a lot of time standing up on the tractor foot rests so I can see down into the tall vegetation. This helps me to spot things I don't want to mow (butterfly weed, box turtles, etc), and holes or mounds I don't want to roll over. Every once in a while the wheels roll over and anthill or tree stump or rock and the tractor lurches up into the air. This is how farmers (and weekend farmers like me) get hurt. So I try to stick to mowing parts of the farm I know well and I often do a walk around before mowing to mark areas to protect or to avoid.

Performing mechanical voodoo on the old MF 135.

At some point in every mowing session, the tractor stops and I have to figure out what's wrong and try to fix it. Living as we do in a remote, rural area, I can't run down the street to the parts store or call up the neighborhood tractor mechanic. Well, I can, but it's about $100 just to get someone to drive out for a look-see. Most of the problems I am able to fix, which gives me a certain amount of pride and satisfaction. After two decades of editing and writing—more of which is always waiting to be done—it's nice to get the hands greasy fixing something that, when you fix it, it's done!

I feel the same way about mowing, plowing, grading the drive, cutting and hauling wood. It's nice to do hard work that has visible, tangible results.

Appreciating the results of a big job well done is something I learned from my dad, Bill Thompson, Jr. As a boy I hung around my dad when he was working on a weekend handyman project, asking him questions, fetching tools, consulting on important decisions. I remember helping him to build an enclosed cart to haul the trash cans out our driveway to the curb. We used spare lumber, old tricycle wheels and the handle from a rolling golf bag holder. I'm sure we could have just gone out and bought a wagon, but where's the fun in that? I remember my dad asking my advice on various stages of the project and somehow I always came up with an answer that pleased him. After the cart was built, we sat back admiring our craftsmanship, Dad with a beer, me with a Frostie rootbeer. Admiring is the best part of a project.
A seven-year old BOTB with BT2 in Florida in 1970.

My Saturday of meadow mowing also involved attacking and destroying some rather nasty patches of Canada thistle, raspberry canes, and multiflora rose brambles. These were in the area between the west side of our house and the orchard, and on the east side of the house, where once there grew a wildflower meadow. The multiflora rose bushes were sprawling: a dozen feet wide and almost as tall. The sparrows and cardinals were a bit bummed out initially, this was the thickest cover near to the feeding station. But they soon adjusted their flight paths to come in via the pines and birches. I was sorry to remove this bit of habitat, but it was beginning to take over the ground and make it impossible to move through or even see through.

Mowing the multiflora in the side yard. Photo by Phoebe Thompson.

This young sedge wren thought our shrubby meadow was the perfect place for a fall migration rest stop.

Phoebe and Chet running out the middle meadow path.

We use the meadow as our standard walking route. The kids run out the meadow paths. Chet chases the deer and bunnies that romp along the mowed paths—all animals, it seems, prefer to go where the walking is easy. We catch regular glimpses of skunks and turkeys and grouse and the occasional fox or coyote trotting along the paths.


An early autumn view of the meadow, viewed from the tower.

The same tower view following this spring's mowing.

After the mowing was done, and Liam and I had a Hotdog Brothers' lunch, I grabbed a glass of cold water and walked out onto the deck to admire the changes I had wrought.

Looking across the yard, past where the wildflower meadow used to be. I hope to plow and re-plant it soon.

By mid-summer the wildflowers will be up and blooming, butterflies visiting the coneflower, rudbeckia, Joe Pye weed, goldenrod, and milkweed. The grass will be thick and green in the meadow. I'll let it grow all summer and through the fall. Next winter I'll be happy to see the field, tree, song, and Lincoln's sparrows, and the juncos, goldfinches and pine siskins feasting on the grass seeds that were produced by a summer of growth following an early spring mowing.

The meadow will look like this next fall after the first hard frost.

And when, on some February morning, the meadow is covered in frost and snow, I'll walk out along the middle meadow path and check for the inevitable growth of brush and saplings, and I'll start thinking about when and where I'll be mowing in the early spring.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Ice Storm Cometh

A tree sparrow waits for the feeders to be refilled the morning after our ice storm.

On the night of January 27, 2009, southeastern Ohio (and parts of the surrounding states) was blanketed with a horrible ice storm. Freezing rain—not snow—fell, despite temperatures in the low 20's and every single exposed surface was encased in ice.

Throughout the night we heard repeated cracking and crashing noises as trees gave way under the weight of the ice. We dreaded waking up to see what the world would look like after the ice storm.

This has been a hard winter, as our winters go. Lots of cold temperatures for days and weeks at a time. Snow that sticks around well past its welcome. This has resulted in many snow days for the kids and quite a few power outages.

We can cope fairly well with the power outages. And we can make fun out of the challenges of no power and no vehicular mobility. But I always worry about the birds and animals which have no heated shelter.

Here are some of the images that greeted us around the farm the morning after the ice storm.

Our ancient pear tree completely iced. The sunlight glints off its clear shell of frozen water.

Martin gourds where our eastern bluebirds roost on cold winter nights.


A forsythia twig, dead flower stems preserved in ice.


The rain came down and froze immediately onto whatever it struck.


Frozen tears on the weeping willow.


White-tailed deer were standing up on their hind legs and pawing at the heavy sumac fruit clusters, desperate for access to any food.

We put out extra food for the birds, deer, squirrels, rabbits, and anyone else in protected spots around the yard. Needless to say we had to replenish these feeding areas several times during the day.

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