It’s officially Fall…

Well, not according to the calendar, but the weather has definitely turned around here. The last of the monarchs just hatched and flew off, bringing the count officially above 30. All but two hummingbirds have headed south, the leaves are turning yellow and red, and we’ve had our first frost already!

The frost actually touched off a mild panic on my part, since some of the Pollies don’t have their legs yet. They’re still in full on tadpole stage. The original group have all turned into the cutest frogs ever, but the new ones are rapidly running out of time before the snow starts flying. So we (and by “we” I mean I) figured it would be a good idea to heat the tank to speed up the process. There happened to be an extra fish tank heater lying around, so now it’s in the bucket and the Pollies are happily swimming around in 70+ degree water, even when it’s 32 outside. Plus, we still have the huge 150 gallon tank that Gene said is too big for this house, but it’s not to big for the shop! Worst case scenario, the Pollies can winter in there.

In other tank related news, I finally got to set up a tropical fish tank in my office! It’s just a 20 gallon, since Gene was adamant that 150 gallons of water is far too heavy to house on the first floor. I was lamenting that fact to my friend Jennifer, who sagely observed that I don’t fall into the basement every time I take a bath, and the tub holds *way* more water than that. I pointed that out to Gene, and he said I’ve just been lucky so far.

But a small tank is better than no tank, and it’s perfect for a school of neon tetras. I spent the evening setting it up and decorating it, and Gene had the brilliant idea of running the hose through the window so it was super easy to fill up. After the water has cycled, I’m going to drag him to World Of Fish in Duluth. It’s a two-hour drive, but so worth it.

Other than all that… the only other news of note is that the barn swallows have fledged. Now they’ve taken to sitting on the cable line that runs from the shop to the house, and shrieking for someone to bring them delicious snacks. (Not unlike the sounds that emanate from my office, come to think of it…)

They’re really cute to watch, but mama swallow is even more protective of them now that they’re out of the nest. Whenever I walk under the cable, which is often, she’ll fly directly at my face. Lucky for her I’ve got cat like reflexes and she’s only gotten my hair like four times, tops.

I can’t figure out why I don’t get more done…

I try not to let 3+ weeks pass in between posts, but in my defense I’ve been dealing with *a lot* of distractions lately. The weather has been so beautiful, it’s hard not to want to be outside. And that’s exactly where all the critters want me to be. It seems like whenever I get into a writing groove (since I can’t ignore deadlines for that long), I’m faced with this:

Puppy eyes are my kryptonite. Who could deny her a romp around the yard? Then I’ll come back inside, sit down and mentally steel myself to write something witty while simultaneously being informative, then decide I need a cup of coffee. (Or, in all honesty, yet another cup of coffee).

On the way to the coffee pot I’ll glance out the deck door, and have to rush back outside to save my potted veggie deck garden from 3 hungry geese. So much for the baby gate, apparently they’re smarter than your average toddler.

rampaging geese

Even Charlie is in on the “let’s keep mama from working” plan. Whenever I have a note I want to jot down on the legal pad by my keyboard, I’ll have to go hunt down a pen to write with. Not only does she flip them off the desk, she grabs them and runs off to cache them away somewhere. It’s also open season on paper and binder clips.

charlie pens

And don’t even get me started on the hummingbirds. They hover by the window and glare inside at me if the sugar water drops to what they consider to be an alarming level. You know what else has a powerful glare? Baby swallows. There’s a nest of 4 of them in the barn rafters, almost directly over where I milk Cocoa. Not only does mama swallow come flap in my face, she’s taught her babies how to creep me out:

gargoyle swallow

Seriously, some church in London is missing its gargoyle. They’re also experts at giving me the stank eye:

vexed swallow

So now I try to milk, hay, and water as quickly as humanly possible considering I’m outnumbered.

Of course, it never pays to be in *too much* of a hurry around here, since this is what happens if you do something like leave the truck door open because there’s more to unload:

truck

first PollyWhenever I need a few moments of Zen, I’ll head over and visit the Pollies. They’re in various stages of development, and just doubled in number since I acquired most of Jennifer’s remaining tadpole stash as well. They weren’t getting enough protein in the trough, so we made the executive decision to re-home them.

The ones I’ve had since the beginning are already starting to turn into frogs and find new homes in the garden! So that’s one mystery solved – they’re tree frogs. And super cute, the size of my pinky nail.

cocoonOf course, they’ll grow up to eat Monarchs, but that’s what the Sanctuary is for! I’ve lost count of how many adults we’ve released now, it’s more than 25.

There are 7 more chrysalises waiting to hatch, and then we’ll be done for the season. I’ve already got grand plans for expansion…

Speaking of rapid expression, with Jennifer’s help I managed to solve another mystery. In the last few weeks, I’ve noticed whenever I go outside (as we’ve established is often), I rapidly start to sound like Darth Vader after running a lap around the Death Star.

Jennifer came over the other day, and asked what was growing underneath the bird feeders. I’d originally thought it was daisies, but when they never blossomed figured they were some kind of pretty weed. I left them alone (and occasionally even watered them) because the chickens LOVE spending the day nestled in their little forest. Plus it cracked me up watching the weeds sway back and forth as they ran around looking for dropped sunflower seeds – totally reminded me of the velociraptors in Jurassic Park.

At any rate, she broke a length off, took it home, and looked it up in her book. Turns out it’s ragweed. According to my allergy test, I’m allergic to its pollen. But they should have amended the results to Ragweed, Vicinity Of, because it hasn’t flowered yet. And when I went to yank it all out, I had to pop 2 extra Claritin just to stop wheezing. I was smart enough to wear gloves, but next time I should think about long sleeves as well. Sigh.

Pride Goeth Before The Fall…

As the resident lawn mower around here (by choice, there’s something that’s just meditative about it), I get in plenty of practice. I like the grass short as it keeps the ticks at bay, plus I keep trying (and failing) to mow those perfectly straight lines.

I was even getting more comfortable with mowing the steep hill part of the lawn! And therein lies the problem… I got so cocky I even drove the mower one handed, since the other was occupied with the sandwich Gene so thoughtfully surprised me with. I had literally just started to think that I could probably mow with my knees, and thus free up the other hand for an ice cold Gatorade, when disaster struck. Not of the “I tipped the mower over” variety, but it was definitely close. Hills seem a lot steeper when you’re sideways on them, with only half the mower making contact with the ground whenever you shift your weight.

On the plus side, by that time I had finished my sammy. On the down side, getting off the mower involved jumping over a bunch of thistles, and convincing Gene that he should be the one to extricate it. Which he did, but managed to lecture me about “respecting the laws of physics” while pulling it out. Sigh. Just once I’d like an entire week to pass without getting a power tool related lecture!

So that was a bit stressful, but luckily I’ve got a brand new place to meditate. As I mentioned before, I’m rearing up a frog army which currently is still in tadpole form. They’re doing great in their huge red bucket, and I check on them multiple times a day. Some people stare at the ocean or a beautiful water fountain to achieve a Zen-like state – I’ve found a bucket of tadpoles works just as well, if not better.

First off – they’re super cute. They’ve got beady eyes that follow you everywhere, and even when they’re just floating around they look fat and happy. They also seem to have their own individual personalities, which is pretty impressive, considering. Some of them like to lurk under the broccoli leaf pieces, calmly munching away while staring reflectively at the sky. Others like to breach the surface and blow bubbles at the clouds, only to sink back down into the depths to do some heavy thinking. And then there’s the handful that are straight jerks – and yes, those are my favorite.

I’ve watched them headbutt their siblings to get the choicest bites of food (insect wings are a favorite, shudder), submarine them from below, and assume ramming speed, seemingly just for the hell of it. Total, complete Zen.

Also Zen? Hummingbirds. Once I’ve catered to their every need (which involves refilling the selection of feeders *at least* twice a day), I love sitting on the deck and watching them defend what they perceive as theirs from incursions both foreign and domestic.

Seriously – those little guys are in it to win it. Each of the 9 or so that nest around here have “their” watering hold staked out, and woe to anyone else who tries to snack from it.

Including, oddly enough bumble bees. Not only do they grow them big in Northern Minnesota, they grow them greedy. I literally have to kick them off when it’s time to refill, and they’re so sugared up by that point they kind of just sit there and shake. Whoever said sugar couldn’t help you achieve Nirvana?

So much saving going on around here…

So far we’ve released 7 monarchs, and there are 13 more chrysalises in various stages – plus at least 10 caterpillars still munching! I’m pretty sure I saw some eggs on the leaves too.

I’ve added “build an addition” to Gene’s summer to do list. He can even work on it right under the carport, as the overly protective pair of robins have moved on after their last brood fledged.

But monarchs aren’t the only species we’re giving an assist to – thanks to the hundreds of tadpoles my friend Jennifer discovered in her cow’s stock tank yesterday, now I’ve got a Tadpole Nursery!

There were way too many to survive where they were, so we moved about half of them to our house, where they now reside in a huge plastic bucket filled with rain, creek, and well water – in addition to as many buckets of trough water as Gene would let me put in the truck.

Today I gave them a handful of chopped up chard as a treat, and it was a huge hit. So as I’m dining on chicken tenders washed down with a rum & Coke, they’re eating leafy greens. I think we can all learn a little something from nature.

In other news, the geese have found a new favorite basking spot – on the front deck, directly in front of the porch door. Every time I go back into the house, they want to follow me. So they end up just parked there, soaking up the sunshine. The highlight of their day is when I take Ceri and Chupi to check the mail. I end up rolling 5 deep – with a 3 geese escort.

At any rate, I think it’s super cute that they wait for me to come out of the house. Gene, not so much. Instead of letting their love for us melt his heart, he chooses to focus on what they leave behind. Which, in all honesty, is hard to miss. Literally. You have to open the door then try to jump over 3 steps to avoid stepping in it.

I’ve added “hose off deck” to my list of daily chores. Gene got me a professional grade water wand thing that has a really powerful jet on it, and you’d think since my favorite side gig is pressure washing cedar logs I’d be a lot better at cleaning the deck. But since I went nuts with the potted flowers, it’s kind of hard to get a good angle on the piles. I found that out the hard way, when to my horror I pressure washed a huge goose turd underneath the porch door. Shudder. I bet the next time the porch hits 90 degrees I’m going to wish I hadn’t done that…

Guess I’ll cross that off my bucket list…

Finally, FINALLY, I got firsthand confirmation that we do indeed have a bear problem. Every single time Gene saw a bear, I was either sound asleep or down at my parent’s place helping out. It got to the point where I started asking him if he’d seen any bears lately, while simultaneously making that utterly obnoxious “air quotes” gesture around the word ‘bears’. Then as a matter of practicality I just shortened it to calling them air bears. As in, “oooh did you see any air bears out there?”

It’s not that I didn’t believe Gene, it’s that he told me that literally no one whose wives bought them an ATV had a bear problem. Which of course prompted me to ask him if he’d been sneaking outside in the dead of night to break all the bird feeders. Not that he’d have to sneak, I go to bed pretty early.

At any rate, the other night I happened to notice the motion light go off on the deck. Ten minutes later when Law & Order ended, I decided I should probably get off the couch and look out the window to check it out – and IT WAS A BEAR!!!! I was so excited I didn’t know if I should grab my camera or my phone, so I ended up with both. Gene had to yank me back by my hood as I was charging out the porch door, intent on fulfilling my biggest life goal to date – bear selfie.

Instead, he insisted he go first. Well, technically the gun barrel led the way, then it was him, and me dragging up the rear, as usual. I was supposed to be looking for mama bear since Gene always saw them together… and let’s just say I’m perhaps not the best person to watch your six. I was too intent on staring at the bear in front of us, to the point where I didn’t even remember I was holding a camera.

First off, that thing was huge. I can’t believe it was the “small one”. Secondly, they’re very strangely proportioned. In my head I was thinking they were cute, bumbly little furry squares that ambled around eating honey, but this one was had really long legs and could move at a disconcertingly quick clip. So much so that I’ve decided I’ll hold off on the selfie until I find one that’s hibernating.

The only time I was truly afraid was when the bear ambled past the Monarch Sanctuary. I mean he got within a few inches of my babies… and well, let’s just say someone’s gonna see the mama bear come out if he knocked that over.

To date, I’ve had three butterflies emerge! That’s a record already, and there are still 9 more chrysalises and a ton of caterpillars. Taking them out of the sanctuary once their wings are dry is a little unnerving, as their tiny little feet are kinda spiky. I thought they’d be super light, but you can feel their feet dig in.

Speaking of digging in, I spent so much time watching for the exact moment the butterflies emerged that the robins took offense.

One of them landed on my head and grabbed my hair in its talons. (Gene says I really shouldn’t call them “talons” but he’s not the one who had a robin stuck to his head so he doesn’t understand.)

I have zero doubt if that bear ever stands up under the carport, that robin’s going to do something about it.

 

The Sanctuary Is A Resounding Success!

I have to say the Monarch Sanctuary is working even better than I thought it would, and I had pretty high hopes. So far there are 12 chrysalises, and about 10 more caterpillars happily chowing down thanks to a restocking run to Jennifer’s.

Should be a few monarchs emerging any day now, which I’m excited about. I’ve noticed a few hanging around outside the sanctuary, trying to get inside to lay more eggs. I tried putting a pot of milkweed in front of it, which worked great until I looked out the office window and noticed the geese had discovered it and started chowing down.

monarch flyingThe monarch had just laid a bunch of eggs, so that was far from ideal and necessitated a panicked flight out of the house. I’ve also been checking on the cocoons after every rainstorm, but the sanctuary is far enough back that not much water or wind blows in on them.

I’ve had to be vigilant about checking the sanctuary for predators, too. So far I’ve escorted a spider and some weird triangular bug out. I didn’t realize that beetles eat caterpillars, or that they’ll latch onto the cocoons and do terrible things, but I guess that’s nature. I also didn’t realize that birds eat butterflies until Gene pointed out a flycatcher with colorful wings sticking out from either side of its beak. It’s a rough world for butterflies, but at least they’re getting a good start on life.

Sadly, we’ve inadvertently taken out a few ourselves, by way of the F150’s grill. Gene had to pop the hood on it yesterday, and expose the filter that’s behind the grill. It looked like modern art. Wings, striped torsos, heads that were identifiable by species – it was horrible. Festively colored, but horrible. I knew northern Minnesota had a ton of bugs, but I didn’t need that kind of proof.

Much more zen than squashed butterflies, you’re welcome.

I was going to snap a picture because one of my great joys in life is making Bess Bess say “ewwwww”, but I didn’t want the tow truck driver to think I was some kind of psycho who rejoices in the demise of butterflies trying to cross the highway. Gene had been picking up the tiller from Duluth and was on his way home when the truck broke down on the highway, so I had gone to pick him up.

Of course the truck picked the hottest day of the year so far to blow the alternator, so when the tow guy got there he was in a mood most foul. I cheerfully said hello, because who isn’t thrilled when the tow guy finally arrives? He stared at me, then growled, “It’s freaking hot”, except he didn’t say freaking. Then he unhooked our truck, got back in his, and left. Without saying another single word.

Then 10 minutes later we managed to lock the keys in the truck while it was running, and had to call AAA again. Gene said if they dispatched the same driver I should try to give him a hug to see if we could make him roar, but it was a different, much more cheerful guy.

That whole debacle took up about 5 hours, so when we got back home I decided to spend some time with the monarchs. While I love watching them, I’m torn because it vexes the robins who have their nest directly above the Sanctuary under the roof of the carport. It’s prime real estate, and they don’t like sharing it. They’ve buzzed my head, and they’ll perch on whatever surface is nearby and screech at me. You may not have known robins can screech, but indeed they can. The pair is on their second brood, and I realized why they’ve suddenly started to mind my presence so much – 3 more chicks hatched!

A Stressful Day For Us Wattage Hogs…

This morning I got up just after 6 to let the pups out, and was surprised to see it was still dark outside. When I stepped off the deck, the wind started gusting, lightning flashing, and thunder rolling. Chupi could not have timed his need to pee any better – as soon as he got done, the sky unleashed. I’ve never seen rain come down that hard. It was like a silver curtain, I couldn’t even see the trees anymore!

And because the universe enjoys messing with me, I had literally just started to think “wow this is AWESOME!” when the power went out.

This was a Bad Thing for two reasons – 1) I was up that early specifically intending to crank out a bunch of writing for work that was due, and 2) losing power makes me fussy. *Very* fussy. Despite having survived (some might say flourished) during the Dark Days when the grid was down for 4 days, I seem to have some residual PTSD.

I lasted a full ten minutes before waking up Gene to inform him that the power was out. When he realized that I was fully committed to hounding him relentlessly until he did something about it, he got up and dragged out the little generator we bought used a few months back. We ran an extension from the driveway to the office, and lo and behold – I had access to the Internet. (And delicious coffee, because Gene told me I could only run two things at once. It was a no brainer.)

The downside to having internet access? I was glued to the power co-ops “real-time” outage map, where I was able to update Gene every 5 minutes on exactly how much progress the work crews weren’t making. He also threatened to hide the car keys after I mentioned how great it is that they show where the crews are actively working – I thought going to find out firsthand exactly what the hold up is was a great idea! On the plus side, after 8 hours of unmitigated whining (his words, not mine), he called the whole-house generator place to get a quote. Everybody wins!

While the power outage lasted most of the day, thankfully the rain didn’t – there’s only so long I can sit and type before the urge to go outside becomes overwhelming. The geese were playing in a puddle, so I was able to swipe Ceri’s Jolly ball and play fetch with her for awhile.

The geese have adopted it, and claimed it as theirs. They nap cuddled up around it, stand guard over it, and I’m pretty sure whisper sweet nothings to it. I have no idea why they’re so drawn to it, but they get visibly upset when I throw it for Ceri. And it’s just the blue one – they couldn’t care less about the orange one.

I’m also happy to report that the monarch eggs and caterpillars I’ve been watching over stayed nice and dry, thanks to the Monarch Sanctuary Gene made! While it’s a bit smaller than my vision dictated – I can’t walk into it and recline on a bench whilst watching my babies munch on leaves – it definitely gets the job done.

Even though I had a few milkweed plants growing on the back deck, the monarchs haven’t figured it out yet so I had to stock the sanctuary with eggs and caterpillars from my friend Jennifer’s house. We spent a happy 30 minutes carefully prowling through her milkweed patch, and I brought home 8 caterpillars of varying sizes and plenty of eggs. Should be just a couple days before the oldest ones start making cocoons.

I have to say, though, I do wish Gene was a little more excited by the miracle of life going on underneath our carport. For instance, when I asked him what he thought I should name the caterpillars, his suggestions were along the lines of “Squishy” and “Stompy”. Not cool. And when I bellowed “Honey come quick there’s an emergency!” he was annoyed that he barreled up the stairs only to discover I was talking about the spider that had somehow invaded the sanctuary. I was completely justified, though – I googled it and spiders totally chow down on defenseless caterpillars.