Friday, March 29, 2013

Near miss
Zebra on the side of a U-Haul truck
We have been abuzz at Bent Barrow Farm for some number of weeks with the prospect of Going Elsewhere for Work. There was a certain Elsewhere, and certain Work, under discussion, and the particular Elsewhere in question would have been fine—very nice, full of grasses and farmlets and things. It would have beat the sort of Big City Elsewheres that are sometimes mentioned when humans talk of careers and professions and what not. It would not, however, have been Bent Barrow Farm.

Of course, a mule who is privy to news of such vague prospects would be indiscreet if he mentioned it on his terribly famous blog, so it is not until today that I feel at liberty to tell you about my near miss. I came within a hair's breadth of being taken away from Bent Barrow Farm in my Granny's gooseneck trailer, a pony mule on one side of me and a crotchety goat on the other, with the humans, rabbits, dogs, cats, cockatiels, and chickens caravanning behind.

Today, it has been resolved once and for all that we are NOT leaving Bent Barrow Farm at the present time. I admit, I could have gotten behind the idea of some extra carrot cash and a chance at new adventures, but here is the good news: Wickersham is green and delicious this time of year. FarmWife is continuing to work mostly as a contract editor and stay-at-home-hay-tosser, which means she is at my beck and call just about all day, every day. Her office window is right up there, at a perfectly bray-able distance, and about to be dappled in green by the newly unfolding leaves of the tree outside it.

There is no place better than Bent Barrow Farm on a sunny spring morning, and FarmWife-who-did-not-take-a-new-job-today would be well advised to soak up some of the beauty, joy, and freedom that abounds here.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Complaint retracted

Well, I feel a little sheepish. After my complaints about the fickleness of spring, I've had nothing but one beautiful day after another. The season of rebirth is still in Wickersham, after all.

FarmWife is not sure whether this summer promises any riding for us. I'm only 18, but she's gotten so used to thinking of me as "pasture sound" that I might as well consider myself retired. That said, I'm doing well—I seem to have worked out the kinks of my hock injury (resolved for over a year now), my hoof abscess (never drained, but fully sound), and my white line disease (responding well to treatment). If you want the stories, look back:

I am gaining weight after having done a Powerpac (double dose of Panacur dewormer for 5 days in a row) on the vet's recommendation, and so perhaps it was encysted strongyles giving me trouble this winter after all. FarmWife is expecting to get my teeth floated in the next week, and then who knows? Perhaps I can officially be considered a healthy, sound young mule again! I would like to join Miss Arrietty on the trail. I could pony her. We would make a beautiful sight!


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Thanks, GNW

Thanks, Grow Northwest, for featuring my garlic photo on your April cover! And thanks, neighbor Paul, for the really great garlic strain! I've been growing it for six years now and it's better every year. 


This, if you would believe it, is an unfertilized, unseeded, unweeded, unaerated, largely untended lawn. This is a lawn which has never suffered any care except weekly mowing from March to November. We do not spray, weed, water, nourish, or otherwise pamper our lawn. It simply IS.

We are lucky to live in a region where a lawn like this can spring up out of nothing, of its own accord. That's not entirely fair, actually: the previous owners probably planted this lawn, sometime around 1986, or at least worked somehow to encourage the growth they wanted at the expense of the growth they didn't. When we came into ownership, it was deep and weedy and untended. It shaped right up.

We own a gas mower and a push mower, and my husband and I both feel better about using the latter. It doesn't leave quite so finely manicured a finish, but I'll take ragged grass over dirty air any day.

We've been gradually mulching and replanting areas of lawn: some, to the east of the house, with vegetable beds and others, to the south and west, with bulbs and shrubs and native dogwood. Less mowing suits us, and there's a limit to how much lawn a family needs. Even here, where grass grows easily.


Ahem. Excuse me? Spring? My turn?

Looks like Spring has gone elsewhere to visit her blessings upon the less fortunate. Here, in Wickersham, she popped in for an early visit. (February was nice. We had some sun at the beginning of March.) Now she's gone skipping away again, touching the branches with her blossom fingertips and kissing the earth with her daffodil lips in places more desperately in need of beautification. We've been left with heavy cloud cover, temperatures in the high 30s, and a steady downpour of rattling hail. 

I cannot complain. Spring is a fickle mistress, and she often bestows more than our share of her graces upon us. 


The grasses are coming! The grasses are coming! 

Monday, March 18, 2013


FarmWife is beside herself with excitement because some poisonous little roots that she planted two years ago have made some poisonous little flowers that I am NOT allowed to eat. I, for one, do not understand the purposes of horticulture if there's not some gastronomical reward at the end of one's labors. FarmWife, on the other hand, says, "oh, aren't they lovely," and, "surely spring has sprung." On that note, here's wishing for an easy passage to spring for my New England friends. Here's hoping your snow falls lightly, melts quickly, and leaves crocuses in its wake.

Pictured: ground-driving Arrietty, just one of Spring's little pleasures.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

What vibrant colors you render, Mr. Camera!

My two youngest human fillies riding Woodland Park Zoo's 1918 PTC
carousel. Long-time readers will know that FarmWife has a wee carousel
fetish, and you can assume that she was all a-twitter about this one.

I know what you're thinking. "That isn't the sort of dark, blurry photo that FarmWife could have taken with her cheap camera phone." No, it isn't, and do you know how this is possible? A dear friend of the Muleness read my recent disclaimer (the one that read "pardon the outdated photos, our camera is broken") and sent FarmWife a new camera with which to capture all the beauty that Bent Barrow Farm can afford! Can you believe it? It is a splendid gift. 

We haven't had a truly beautiful day in Wickersham with which to capture my splendor since the device arrived, save for one which the family squandered by going to the zoo, but at least now I can reassure you as to the state of things that have transpired since the old Canon went kaput. 

Here is my youngest human filly admiring a Woodland Park Zoo donkey,
who was one of the most cheerful and uplifting inmates. Some might
find it funny that the family left their mules for the day to go see
wild creatures and spent half the time ogling the domestic equines,
but what can I say? I've made longear lovers of them all. 

Here is Arrietty leading her legion of schoolgirls on an after-school weight
loss hike. (Hopefully, the girls won't lose weight: 'Etty is the only one of
them that can spare a pound or two.) As you can see, Arrietty knows that
all athletes require adequate calories for peak performance. 

This is me, looking a bit more dejected than I actually feel, demonstrating
that my weight loss has been reversed now that I am
eating a calorie rich diet of my own. 
Missy says she will open a kissing booth to help pay for
my senior feed. "Mwah!" If you've never smelled goat
breath, give it a chance: it smells like a nice hoppy IPA,
since their rumens are like little breweries. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Panacur addict

This is the pipeline trail, where I used to go with Jasper Jules and where Arrietty now goes with a legion of after school hikers. 
Well, Arrietty is going to be awfully sad that this five day Panacur Powerpac business is over. She really likes the stuff, as evidenced by the fact that yesterday she stole a full tube that had been lying close to the fence (the better for to deworm ME with, once I was haltered) and slurped down 500 pounds worth before FarmWife could stop her! Luckily, the vet assured FarmWife that Panacur is tough to overdose on. Arrietty is going to have to stay off the stuff, lest it take control of her life and leave her strung out, wasted, and washed up.

As for me, I'm not really liking it a bit. I have loose stools today, which has FarmWife in a state of hand-wringing worry. She hopes that it is evidence of an encysted strongyles infestation (dead, now), which is something one can't test for in a fecal egg count. Anyway, she's glad this five day treatment of strong antiparasitic drugs is done now. She is nervous about using such strong medications.

Arrietty, meanwhile, is chipper as all get-out and having a fabulous time on her daily weight loss walks. So far, she has led a gaggle of school girls on several adventures to places such as the pipeline, the concrete bridge, Innis Creek, and the Salmon Pond. (You may remember this latter destination as the place where I discovered a passion for cheese and mustard sandwiches, but do not fear: Arrietty's only gourmet rewards for her efforts are a few timothy pellets and the occasional stolen bite of trailside foliage.)


the spring garden

A homegrown Bent Barrow carrot. (He was delicious.)
I've tried following the seed catalogues' advice about spring gardening, faithfully sowing my little vegetables in trays indoors each February. This hasn't gone well. Through some combination of lumpy homemade seedling mix (I never do screen it, despite advice, and I think that's come back to bite me) and bad weather luck (the June Monsoon is real!), I've often lost most of my more delicate seedlings by early summer. Despite the success I've had transplanting vegetables with my farmer friends John (of Whidbey) and Billy (of Wickersham), both of whom have taught me much, it turns out that my seedlings aren't as strong. This year, I think I will start some trays indoors but I'll do it by the book—I'll follow a recipe, buy the right organic amendments, and screen my potting mix.

I've tried following the much more regionally-specific advice issued in that bible of Northwest vegetable gardeners, the Seattle Tilth's Maritime Northwest Gardening Guide, and that's generally gone better. I've tried carefully plotting my sowing schedule, making beautiful color-coded spreadsheets during the last days of January to see me through September and beyond. I've tried journaling my garden successes and failures. All of it tends to come to naught by June or July, when my interest in the garden is limited to eating its bounty and doing the bare minimum to keep the weeds at bay. It's not my only, or my favorite, obligation, and as much as I am an expert at loving gardens, I am still learning to love gardening.

This year, I'm trying something new. I'm gardening when the whim strikes me, in little bursts of brief, satisfying effort. I'm looking at the garden as a quilt, a patchwork of small opportunities to improve small areas. I'm facing our 1600 square feet of weedy spring soil one square yard at a time, and I'm actually enjoying it.

Lest you misunderstand, 75% of the garden bounty we usually enjoy is the result of my husband's labor, and I don't mean to suggest that I've done any of it alone. I've only agonized, alone, about how to do it better. I'm great at gardening on paper, while he's great at gardening in earth. This spring, I feel ready to take up more of the load.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Fen Bend A Soul

Arrietty and I are on day two of five of a Panacur Powerpac treatment. While I have been on a regular deworming schedule, my vet feels like it wouldn't hurt to knock out some of the sneakier bugs with a heavy-duty antiparasitic regimen, so we're each taking a double dose of fenbendazole every day through Monday.

FarmWife was worried about how we would take it—after all, getting a squirt of nasty paste once every couple of months is quite different from getting one every day for a week! Luckily, we're two days into the treatment and there's happy news to report. Arrietty and I both LIKE Panacur paste! Arrietty, in fact, slurped on the end of yesterday's syringe once it was emptied, trying to lick up every last morsel of the medicine. FarmWife is now sure that she will have no trouble finishing our dewormer series.

By the way, if you ever forget the name of the active ingredient of Panacur you can use this tricky memory aid: just think of me, Fenway Bartholomule, shaping the spirits of my friends and family towards gladness, goodness, and joy—lifting them skyward, making them sing. Fen Bend A Soul.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Funny how that works

A funny thing about this volunteering business: I started walking dogs at the animal shelter because Fenway has been lame, I'm no longer riding, and I thought it would be nice to do something helpful and selfless with my occasional free time. I thought it would be nice to use that time, when my children are at school and my work is caught up, to help someone instead of spending it reading, writing, or relaxing at home.

The funny thing is that my four hours a week at the animal shelter are downright WONDERFUL! I am helping myself, too. I love taking a crazed, maniacal, bouncing-off-the-walls dog out of his or her kennel and bringing back a happy, tired, mannerly canine citizen fifteen minutes later. It's amazing what a transformative effect a walk and some fetching can have on these bored dogs. 
It makes me realize how much we all need to get out and stretch, and how important it is for all of us—human and canine alike—to reset our systems with a daily walk in the fresh air. It's uplifting. 

Better than a treadmill!

The pasture fence is mended, the barn is divided, and we of the barnyard have new routine: after breakfast, Missy and I go graze on the tender grasses of spring while Arrietty paces back and forth in her smaller paddock like a caged tiger. Theoretically, the pounds will melt away under the influence of this inadvertent exercise regime, but it's still a little sad.
Arrietty in the pasture during
less grassy times 

FarmWife feels sorry about Arrietty's restrictions, but what else is the owner of a fat pony mule to do? Arrietty does get the occasional brief adventure in yonder field, but until she slims down a bit we cannot trust her on grass. Letting Arrietty founder would be a tragedy we could not bear.

FarmWife thinks the answer is to take Arrietty on lots of little adventures so that she will be too tired to fret about the abandonment by her herd at home. This afternoon, FarmWife will lead a H.E.L.P.* outing on yonder hill, and I will be the one abandoned. I will bear it with dignity (and with a face full of grass).


*Hiking Expeditions for the Lovably Plump—meaning Clover and Arrietty, our two fat little darlings.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Shelter dogs

Raise your hand if you, too, enjoy shopping Petfinder and thinking about that perfect shelter dog—even when you don't actually have room in your home for another. My girls and I stop at the local animal shelter a few times a year just to look around, rub some heads, play with some kittens, and say a few "I wishes" and "If onlys". I always leave these walk-throughs feeling a little selfish. I get the pleasure of seeing some wonderful pets, all of them beautiful and deserving, while they get only the heartbreak of another missed chance.

One of the shelter dogs I walked last week.
Rumor has it this one found a home!
Last week, I decided there was a compromise between the coldness of "window shopping" and the  present impracticality of adopting. I signed up as a volunteer, and spent four hours on Tuesday morning walking some wonderful dogs. It was GREAT! I got all the pleasure of seeing the wonderful pets and none of the guilt of breaking their sweet little hearts, one after another. I made a dozen dogs very, very happy for twenty minutes each, and left with a dozen new friends. If I'm lucky, I'll see them again next Tuesday. If I'm even luckier, I'll arrive to the news that they've found new homes.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

Reposted from TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2011

Channeling Dr. Seuss

One ear, two ears, brown ears, true ears.
Fine ears, good ears, torn ear, smooth ear.
This one has a little rip, this one has a perfect tip.
This one turns to listen here, this one turns to listen there.
Look—what lovely ears I wear!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Mending fences

My pasture in better days
No, not patching things up with my enemies (enemies? I have none! What a waste of my muleness that would be!), but fixing my pasture enclosure. FarmWife made the devastating mistake of ignoring a blackberry overgrowth, trusting us with a shorted-out electric wire, and turning a blind eye to the state of the fence for a month or two last summer. The upshot? Climbing goats, reaching mules, and leaning livestock turned her lovely tight woven wire fence into a hammock of mangled decrepitude.

Now that Arrietty is safely installed in Fatland, the better for to diet in, FarmWife feels that Missy and I ought to get out on the great green grasses of spring. After a winter of restricted access, we are ready to go graze.

The sad thing is that we have mangled the fence so badly that FarmWife thinks it is a) unsafe, b) unattractive, and c) unsecure. She says that we are not to be loosed within the pasture again until the whole thing is tightened up—if not to perfection (some wrinkles will never iron out), at least to a point where it is straightish and healthful and strung about with electric wire.

It's a tough thing, FarmWife thinks, to look at your lovely, expensive, back-breakingly big fence and see it in a state of ruin. Where does one begin? "Every journey begins with a single step," I told her. "Begin at the beginning, go on until you've reached the end, then stop." (Speaking of which—was Lewis Carroll a Taoist?)

She began at the beginning, and do you know what? She made great strides today. The fence is one quarter mended, which you would agree was rather good progress if you had seen the state it was in.

Good job, FarmWife.