So many deer!!!!

One of the things I love best about living here is all the wildlife. Even Mr. Waddles. When he’s not backing up and shaking his money maker, skunks are awfully cute. Snowshoe rabbits, chipmunks, normal squirrels, flying squirrels… everywhere you look there’s something amazing to see. Although I’ll have to admit I emitted a fairly loud yelp the first time I ever saw a flying squirrel. I was sitting next to the window, enjoying an adult beverage and watching Project Runway, when all of a sudden a flying squirrel hit the bird feeder hanging right outside with a huge bang. They only come out after dark, and they’re huge. Big eyes, bushy tails… fun to watch when you’re expecting to see them. Not so much when they take you by surprise.

When it got cold out, we hung up a bunch of bird feeders. Apparently word spread quickly, because now we’re operating a 24-hour, All-You-Can-Eat diner. Sunflower seeds are the best seller, followed closely by suet blocks. I had no idea the Northland was populated mostly by woodpeckers. There are hundreds of them. Literally hundreds. And now that it’s spring, they’re all claiming their territory by pounding on things. Luckily for them they’re super cute, and aren’t attacking the house. They attack the suet blocks instead.

So first came the birds, then came the deer. When it was -50 out, Gene wanted to make sure the herd stayed healthy enough for him to shoot one or two come hunting season. (While I disagree wholeheartedly with that last part, I’m all about keeping the herd happy). So now I start my day by scattering corn and deer grain and filling the bird feeders. I put peanuts out for the Jay birds, and god help me if I don’t get those peanuts out by day break. I was late one day, and woke up to the loudest screeching I’ve ever heard. I looked out the kitchen window, and there were about 30 angry Jays perched in the pine tree, yowling about the terrible lack of service.

To forestall anymore avian complaining, I make sure to stock all the feeders come morning. And the deers have adapted to the schedule; they show up like clock work. Without fail, just after sunrise, I’ll look out the window to see the younger deers come bounding happily down the driveway, making a beeline for breakfast. The adults come at a more dignified pace, and they all hang out until the feed is gone. Then they come back at dinnertime. So far the record is nine at one time. I’m not sure how I’m going to keep them out of my garden, maybe by putting so much feed down they won’t be hungry for delicious fresh veggies?

Tractor Time!!!

After months of shopping, price comparisons, and dealership prowling, we are now the owners of a Kubota tractor! Don’t ask me the specifics, all I can say is it’s orange. And it’s big. So naturally, I named it Big Orange.

As does everything that happens around here, the search for Big Orange involved Big Drama. It all started when Gene and I drove to Duluth to check out the Kubota place. Gene and the sales guy walked around the lot, talking specs and such, while I followed along behind them, sipping my Americano and browsing the internet on my phone.

When Gene found a tractor he was especially interested in, he’d wave me over and have me check out the view from the driver’s seat. He was excited to have me sit down at the helm of Big Orange, since it was air ride – complete with shocks and everything.

He gestured for me to climb up, so I started walking over to him. Now let me just say it’s a relatively small dealership with a lot of tractors for sale. There was one parked fairly close to Big Orange, and those tires are huge. Like shoulder height huge. Both Gene and the sales guy had walked between the tractor on the left and the tractor on the right with no problem, but somewhere in the back of my head alarm bells started ringing. But, much like that Italian cruise ship captain, I eyed that channel of narrow space and thought, “Ya, I got this.”

If you’ve never gotten your butt stuck between two tractors at a dealership, let me be the first to say it doesn’t get you a discounted price. Sigh.

At any rate, Big Orange was delivered on Monday, and Gene’s already given it a test run! It was just a bit too tall to fit in the pole barn, and rather than take off the rollover bars, he dug out the driveway enough to accommodate the full height. Way more fun than taking the bars on and off!

But the tractor isn’t the only shiny new thing taking up space in the pole barn. We finally got chicks! We decided to turn the dog kennel area into the new chicken coop, as it’s insulated and has electricity.

Since the floor is plywood and chickens are notorious for splashing water all over the place, we decided to line the floor with a scrap of linoleum. Which, by the way, means the chicks officially have a nicer kitchen floor than I do. I also discovered I truly suck at gluing down linoleum. I got it everywhere but on the floor. Gene took over that part, and I moved on to far more fun things – interior decorating.

I decided that since they were going to be stuck inside until it warms up (so, probably July?), they needed an Experience Area. I prowled around the yard, selecting the perfect downed tree limb, and turned it into a Climbing Station. The chicks love it, and most of them roost on it for the night.

The coop has plenty of room to grow into – Gene built cascading roosting bars (so no one gets a poo shampoo while sleeping!) and even better, a chicken swing! It’s a roosting bar that will hang from hooks in the ceiling, so they can swing to and fro should they feel like it. I can’t wait until they get a little bigger so we can install it! Right now the heat lamp is in the way, since we had to hang it low to the ground. I also have grand plans for adding a Dusting Station and a Treat Station, plus a fully fenced and covered outdoor living area once they get their feathers in. The trick will be prying Gene off the tractor long enough to install it….

Sawin’ & Sugarin’

Now that Gene’s retired, he’s been looking for things to do outside the house. Mostly to escape the 9-page list I’ve given him of what needs to do be done around here, like building window perches in every room for the cats (reinforced for Chunk, of course). A few weeks ago, he started helping our friends out by peeling the bark off of logs they cut with their sawmill. The second time he did it, he called asking me to bring him his hiking boots, since his muck boots were too hot. I took one look at the draw knife, the partially peeled logs, and the huge pile of bark shavings and wanted in.

Good pay, exercise, AND you can make a mess? Heaven. Even better, it doesn’t hurt my hands because I can do it without bending my wrists. I hold the draw knife steady, then just lean back and let my body weight do the work. Let’s just say there’s a lot of power generated when I lean back. Not to brag, but it’s like someone turned on a wood chipper. The only downside was discovering the hard way that I’m allergic to pine. Snuffling, snorting, eyes-swelled-shut allergic to pine.

Being the stubborn sort, I wasn’t about to let a pesky allergy get in the way of something I love to do. Gene took me to the hardware store and I equipped myself with nerd goggles (safety first!), plastic gloves, and a mask. The next time we did it, I popped two Claritins, then donned my gear.

Not so much as a sneeze. Of course, I could barely breathe, and I sounded like Darth Vader moonlighting as a lumberjack. Gene has since bought me a respirator-style face mask that makes getting fresh air much easier. I’d post a picture, but the folks over at Lumberjack Vogue said I couldn’t spoil the May cover.

But finding a new career option isn’t even the coolest thing I’ve been up to. Gene and I have been making our own maple syrup!!! Our friends let us check the taps in some maple trees on their property, and keep what we found. Can I just say that A) maple sap looks and tastes NOTHING like maple syrup and B) bugs. Moths love them some maple sap. So many floaters.

It also takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup, and we just had 4 or 5 gallons of sap to start with. So we spent about 8 hours patiently straining, boiling, and minding the sap, only to end up with 1 pint of syrup. Totally worth it. I could have “taste tested” the entire batch, but Gene made me quit dipping my spoon in even when I told him it was strictly for quality control.

Gene started the batch off outside, in a large pan on the propane camp stove. Because you’re evaporating such a huge quantity of water, if you do it inside you end up with walls that are coated in sticky residue. Since the Northland is plagued by flies when the ground isn’t frozen, the last thing I want is sticky walls. That would be like living in a giant fly trap. Shudder. I can’t even.

So anyway, we decided to only bring the syrup inside when it’s close to ready to being finished. We started fairly late at night, so Gene ended up being out there around midnight, watching the Northern lights and making sure the sugar didn’t burn. Turns out wolves like maple syrup too, because pretty soon they started howling from about 100 yards away. When Ceri started growling, he decided it was probably time to come back in the house.

We finished cooking it the next day, and it turned out amazing. I really hope we’ve got some maple trees on our property, because a pint isn’t going to last long around here.

Yay, we don’t have to move!!!

Gene and I were walking back from the beaver pond this afternoon, after unsuccessfully stalking the swans with my camera. It’s really windy today, so they’re probably bedded down somewhere. As we got near the house, I noticed a leaf that was moving around the yard. It wasn’t blowing in the wind so much as it was drunkenly staggering around. When I went in for a closer look, I realized it was a HUGE beetle. It was over 2″ long!

Naturally, I took about 75 photos of it as it lumbered about. He seemed like a friendly enough fellow, even though I was fully prepared for him to tire of my sticking a camera lens right up in his face and decide to do something about it. I was having a hoot, right up until Gene came over and said, “Wow, that’s a huge cockroach.”

I’ve never backed up faster in my life. And despite it being Easter, I was fully prepared to call our Realtor and demand to know why the presence of a giant cockroach WITHIN TWO FEET OF MY HOUSE wasn’t disclosed prior to buying the property. Because file that under “dealbreaker,” you know?

But Gene said before I started packing, I should look online and make sure that’s what it was. And, thank goodness, turns out it’s a Giant Water Bug! The largest bug in all of Minnesota. How cool is that? It eats tadpoles and small fish! That’s respectable. Apparently they’re attracted to light, so it had probably left the beaver pond to check out our porch light. Although I have to say, I’m somewhat glad I didn’t see it buzzing around the porch at night while I was here by myself. That would be way worse than zombies.

2 Swans A Swimmin’…

About two weeks ago, I made a most magical discovery. Gene and I were walking the dogs in the afternoon, and we heard what sounded like honking. Like freeway noise honking, which under normal circumstances would be super annoying. But when it’s coming from a beaver pond, it’s downright perplexing.

As we turned the corner on the path and we could see the pond, 2 huge Trumpeter swans glided into sight! They are some of the most beautiful birds I’ve ever seen (flamingos top my list, because pink!!!). With jet black beaks and feet, and snow white feathers they’re very visually striking. And also loud. Very loud. Their honks and beeps are audible from the house! I love listening to them, they sound quite joyous.

Gene waited until a day when they were hanging out in the upper beaver pond, and he set up his portable hunting blind for me. So a couple days a week I go out there just before dawn, armed with my camera and travel mug of coffee, and lurk. So far I’ve seen an otter, a pair of wood ducks, the swans, and a bunch of geese.

Of course, the very first time I sat in the hunting blind, I had delusions that I would instantly be the next world famous wildlife photographer. I donned my camo coat that’s heated with a battery pack (like all the other famous photographers no doubt wear), put an extra camera battery in my pocket, grabbed my camera & coffee, and headed out the door well before sunrise.

I watched the sun come up from my swivel bucket seat, shivering and impatiently waiting for something to move. You know what isn’t comfortable? Sitting on a five gallon bucket with a lid covered in a half inch foam pad, even if it does swivel. That’s only fun for the first five minutes. (Note to Gene: All the other famous photographers have assistants that tote around upholstered chairs, I’m just saying. That, and I need a bigger bucket.)

Not pictured: everything.

Fast forward 15 minutes… and nothing. No swans, no wood ducks, no beavers, no otters… nothing. And then the wolves started howling. Loudly. I couldn’t see them, but they were just on the other side of the trees, well within about 200 feet of my very thin walled hunting blind. With my oh-so-fragrant (and delicious!) cup of coffee. As I’m listening to the eerie chorus of howls echo over the beaver pond, that stupid “Should I stay or should I go” song popped into my head. Then I started thinking if that’s the last song I hear before a wolf eats me, I’m going to be really vexed. And yet again, Gene was going to be pissed that I opted for coffee over my gun. Sigh.

After about 15 minutes, the pack moved on, and I decided it was time to leave my nest and head for the lower beaver pond. Which ended up to be perfect timing, as I snapped a ton of shots of the beaver I wrote about last post!

 

Disney led me to believe they’d be cuter…

One of the very first things Gene and I did upon moving in (after the whole moving truck debacle, that is), was take a walk along the trails through the back acreage. He wanted to show me the beaver ponds, so that’s where we started.

I was beyond crushed that there weren’t any actual beavers in the pond, happily paddling around or munching on a tree while looking adorable. But there were TONS of downed trees, with the stumps looking like sharpened pencils sticking up all over the place. And the sheer size of the dam was impressive, to me at least. It had to be 8 feet tall. Gene, on the other hand, started muttering something about traps and sniper scopes. Apparently the pond had significantly risen since he had toured the property back in June.

So anyway, seeing a beaver became my new goal in life. During the dark days, when Bess Bess came to visit, she caught Beaver Fever with me. We researched the prime beaver activity times (dawn/dusk), and found out they’re mostly nocturnal. So we started heading down to the pond every day at sunset and dawn, hoping to catch a glimpse. After a few trips, all we got was a near heart attack when one of them thumped its tail in the water to scare us off. Of course, it did it from behind their massive lodge, so we couldn’t actually see it.

Then we got the brilliant idea of sneaking down to the pond at midnight, when the beavers would least expect it. (Rum & Cokes made this seem like a fine idea). We used our cell phones as flashlights, and set off through the woods in a fashion similar to characters in every horror movie ever. I think our grand plan would have worked too, had we been able to keep even remotely quiet. By the time we go to the pond, literally not a creature was stirring. I think all the night life was too busy staring in shock at the pair of bumbling, giggling, cell phone sporting/flannel pajama pants wearing beaver stalkers who were invading their peaceful pond in the wee hours of the morning.

Fast forward to a few days ago, during one of my pre-sunrise rambles through the woods. Gene set up his hunting blind so I could take pictures of the waterfowl on the upper pond (more on that next post!), so I’ve taken to bringing a travel mug of coffee and my camera out there just before dawn, and settling in to watch the world wake up. I take the long way home, which loops me right past the lower beaver pond. Which is when I FINALLY saw a beaver.

Ironically, I didn’t actually notice him at first. I was taking pictures of two wood ducks and it paddled right into my field of vision. I made my way down to the water’s edge while the beaver swam in a slow circle. It was a little disconcerting, because A) they’re strikingly ugly and B) he never took his eyes off me. Then I noticed every loop he made was bringing him closer to where I stood at the water line.

I didn’t get too worried until he made a sharp turn and started swimming right for me. I flashed back to a news story I had read last year, about a kayaker in Washington who got attacked by an angry beaver. It ended up putting her in the hospital, so apparently they don’t mess around. Then I started thinking about how mad Gene would be if I came home with battle scars, and had to explain I’d opted for a travel mug of coffee instead of a gun.

All that flashed through my head in microseconds, then I realized that by now he was only a few feet away and I should probably take the hint. As soon as I backed up, he resumed swimming in his slow, menacing circles.

I think next time I’m going to sneak over to their lodge with my camera – I bet their babies are adorable!!!!

The Really Dark Days….

Let me preface this by saying I am an unrepentant Wattage Hog. Gene is forever grumbling about why I feel the need to leave every single light in the house on. When I tell him it’s because I’m a creature of the light, he responds that he’s a cave dweller, and marriage is all about compromise.

At any rate, I’m not known for my ability to handle service interruptions in stride. When I was in Washington, poor Abigail got a panicked text whenever the power so much as flickered. And I’ll be the first to admit that I did not handle the 6 hours during which our shared neighborhood well was shut off for maintenance with anything resembling dignity.

So of course, the power flickered the very first night at our house. Seeing the panic on my face, and probably wanting to prevent any sort of whining, Gene told me that 80-acre farm mamas aren’t allowed to be wussy. Then he helpfully pointed out that I was about to be on my own for 2 months, and added a spectacularly unnecessary “So suck it up, Buttercup.”

All that being said, no one was more surprised than me when I actually functioned during a 3-day power outage. Not to brag, but I crushed the whole self-sufficiency thing. I melted snow to flush the toilet, I fashioned an apocalypse lantern out of a strand of battery operated lights and glass vase, and I only flipped the light switches out of habit for the first 2 1/2 days.

I spent most of the days playing outside in the snow with the dogs – all 4 feet of it (thus the power outage, it all fell within 10 hours). It’s hard to be stressed while watching Ceri have such a blast. She absolutely LOVES snow. She would play in it for hours if I let her. Her favorite thing to do is bury her orange Jolly ball, dig it up, then bury it again. She turned into a puppy again, it was so cute to watch.

Chupa, on the other hand, won’t be auditioning for lead sled dog anytime soon. I had to excavate a potty trail for him, and even then he’d just kind of stand there looking confused. But once he got used to it he went for a few zooms. Neither one of them had ever seen more than about an inch of snow, so it was brand new world.

In general, though, they handled the frigid winter temperatures fairly well. Ceri got a new blaze orange “Safe-T-Pup” vest that she wears during hunting season, because according to the locals every single person that comes up from the cities to hunt is a total asshat. The couple we bought the house from said they always wear something orange just to cross the highway and check the mail. The orange definitely makes her pop against all that snow.

Chupa got a new pair of booties, which he hates. He tries to walk without putting his feet down, then looks crushed when I can’t stop laughing at him. But his dainty puppy paws can’t take below zero temps – within about a minute he’ll be holding up his paws like they hurt. I even bought him a parka from Petco, which he rocks, naturally.

When it hit 30 below, I decided to try freezing some bubbles. Since no one around here carries bubble solution in November, I made my own with Dawn dish soap, karo syrup, and water. It was really cool to watch – they froze almost right away. As did my fingers. After about 5 minutes I could barely press the shutter button. But watching them solidify and fall out of the air was worth a little frostbite!