Thursday, January 27, 2011


I don't dwell on the topic of beauty over-much, but I do notice it now and then in a striking sunset or a perfect warm breeze. As often as not I find myself arrested by its absence rather than having some heart-wrenchingly gorgeous scene laid at my feet. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the times I stop short because of something I find ugly or repulsive it is due to decisions another person made. Usually I can only guess at the motivation for the decision to create something I find ugly - lack of time, lack of money, restrictions of the State, or most fundamental of all - a lack of care. With enough heart in it the first three factors can in many instances be surmounted.

Rather than delve into examples of ugliness, I'd prefer to share one of my small attempts to create beauty. I believe there is something to the idea of an "archetypal landscape" that breathes a sense of belonging into the human soul. The biologist E.O. Wilson's 'biophilia' incorporates aspects of it, and there are now replicated pschyological studies that demonstrate a landscape that is "most attractive" across all cultures. An occasionally treed grassland is that landscape. The African savanna is a classic example and other images can be seen here (scroll down a little to see images).

And here is a photo of me standing under some Hawthorne trees that I've pruned up. It probably would have been just as fast, or maybe faster, to cut the trees all the way down and push this little corner of scrubby pasture into pure grass. But that would have been less beautiful, and it would have sacrificed the beneficial aspects of trees in a pasture, which included tapping deeper sources of minerals than grasses can reach, shade for ruminants, and wind breaking during cold weather.

This spot is not currently fenced so I don't have cows up here and won't for a little while yet. In the coming years though I look forward to their assistance in shaping these trees into a form I find even more lovely than they now appear.

Finally, no, it is not lost on me that this is one of the less beautiful photos posted to this blog... ;)


Monday, January 24, 2011

When it's 20 below....

It was 20 below last night. Normandy went to start some wash this morning and the pipes had frozen to the laundry room. After 5 hours with the stove cranking and our thermostat set all the way to 55 degrees (I know, it was extravagant) all the ice had thawed and no pipes had burst. I went out to feed the chickens after lunch and peering into their nesting boxes I thought a wayward hen had savaged the eggs. A closer look revealed that each had split down the long side. They had frozen and burst, all but one of them. I propped the carton in the egg mobile and checked their water. Behind me a hen jumped up onto the dozen and knocked it from its perch throwing all of the eggs into the air. That one viable egg of the day went the way of the rest.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Winter bias

Last week I brought my camera along for my daily walk outside. It strikes me that a photograph is the perfect way to capture winter up here. Inherent in a photograph is the bias of the photographer: how an image is framed, cropped, and pointed. Similarly, I find my attitude does much to frame these upstate NY winters. They are at once beautiful, austere, sparkling experiences as well as miserable, chilling, and embittering. One thing is for sure: our cows have not seemed bothered by the cold and snow. It is amazing that their coats insulate them so well, the snow builds up on their backs.

Sometimes I think that winter is just a four month lesson on appreciating the color gray. The pictures above perfectly illustrate that.


Friday, January 14, 2011

The Herd Reunited

Most of our cows are wintering out. We have a large bale feeder that we keep flush with hay and a tank of water that is constantly full, and they move about at their leisure between the two. There is a wedge of pasture that is protected from the wind by two converging hills with thick woods on either side. They go there when it blows. The Kerry cows in our herd have a genetic advantage over the two Dutch belted cross steers in that they have thicker coats and ample reserves of fat. Our best cow, Juno, is maintaining her condition in this weather with a growing calf under her. She is amazing. Her calf has ballooned into a tubular marshmallow overtopping his short and stocky legs. This indicates to me that they are doing fine. But about a month ago, the two steers began looking a little worn and unthrifty. We decided to bring them down to the barn with the younger cows where they could enjoy a more sheltered existence. The following day we saw that Juno's calf had slipped under the wire. We walked up the hill to them, observing his solitary set of hoof prints in the snow. He must have missed his two young companions and ventured off to see where they had gone. He had walked three quarters of the way to the red barn, stopped at the crest of the hill, and then turned reluctantly back to his herd, having seen no sign of his comrades. Meanwhile, they were stuffing themselves with second cut hay, kelp meal and the little splattering of grain we give them from time to time. On top of this luxurious diet we decided to worm them. Then they might really get the upper hand over the microscopic life forms that were keeping them impoverished. A week or two after the treatment their coats had improved in luster and they were lively enough to take turns mounting a cow in heat despite their not having testicles. It was time for them to return to their friends on the hill.

We took some grain with us to coax them along and got them out the side door without any hassle. Taking a small journey on foot with two playful cows made me see the allure of what I imagine to be the shepherd's life. Walking with large animals, moving with them at their own pace, brought such a vital sense of collective well being even though we were only going a short distance.

I brought a camera with me to capture the moment when the steers were reunited with the rest of the herd. It was full of bravado and excitement.

They moo-ed at the first sight of each other and starting horsing around immediately. Everyone got so wound up that they were losing their footing in the snow as they ran around in circles.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011


There hasn't been a whole lot going on at the farm since it got really and truly cold at the start of December. We've been enjoying plenty of time at the table plotting out our garden for next year, pouring over seed catalogs and tracking down sources for our COF (otherwise known as "complete organic fertilizer").

Here is one project I've spent a little time doing and will undertake more of this winter. We have a piece of land that used to be pasture a long time ago, and want to convert back into grazing land. In order to get there I have to cut down a bunch of scrubby trees and bushes. Here is a photo that shows me chipping the branches I cut for chip mulch on the big garden paths and for weed suppression around the bases of our apple trees.