Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Guest List

The character of a place is, to a great degree, revealed in the guests that visit, for long or short stays. I hope to keep a record of all the plants and animals that, like me, are guests of this 8 acres. Some, like the twin maples on the north property line, have been here over one hundred years. They are likely descendants of the sugar maples that once populated a dense forest blanketing many millions of acres for many thousands of years. Others, such as the red-tailed hawk that perched in the twin maples for a few minutes two weeks ago, stay only a short time.   

Winter is perhaps the best time to start such a daunting project. Many species are still asleep under a blanket of snow, or vacationing in Florida, or Mexico, or even South America. I'll list only those I know, and my poor natural history skills will be revealed to all. Perhaps this will be incentive to finally learn my bird calls, or tracks in the snow, or scientific names. In future blog posts, I will add species with a corresponding number, at the end of the post, thusly:

1. Sugar Maple
2. Black Walnut
3. White Pine
4. Red Cedar
5. Box Elder
6. Mulberry
7. Autumn Olive
8. Yew
9. Poison Ivy
10. Wild Raspberry
11. Wild Grape

12. Foxtail
13. Smooth Brome
14. Quack Grass
15. Reed Canary Grass

16. Spotted Knapweed
17. Pokeweed
18. Queen Anne's Lace

19. Broadleaf Plantain

20. Chicory
21. Burdock
22. Tall Goldenrod
23. Bull Thistle
24. Sow Thistle
25. Common Milkweed
26. Clematis
27. Russian Sage
28. Iris
29. Pigweed

1. Rock Doves (i.e. common pigeons) - resident
2. English house sparrows - resident
3. Woodpecker
4. Red-tailed Hawk
5. Bats
6. White-tailed Deer - tracks
7. Dog - tracks
8. Cat - tracks
9. Fox Squirrels
10. Raccoon
11. Human
12. Snowshoe hare - tracks
13. Crows
14. Mouse
15. Box Elder Bugs
16. House Flies
17. Long-legged Spider
18. Asian Lady Bugs
19. Small black spider
20. Mosquito

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Silo Bowling

Kids say some strange things.

At dinner this evening I heard my eldest son mention something about a bowling alley in a "light house."

"Intersting idea," I responded. "Did they drop the ball straight down or did it bounce down the spiral stairs?"

The whole family looked at me like I was crazy. Not that that is unusual, and hardly worth mentioning, except to say that my son had learned in school today that the "White House" has its own bowling alley.

But I was not to be deterred. "We have a silo. We could drop a bowling ball from the top of the silo onto the pins." My younger son suggested we drop the pins on the ball, which is not a bad idea. Someone (probably me) mentioned a catapult. Soon pins and bowling balls were flying hither and yon across the farm. Someone (not me) mentioned toilet plungers, and how surprised passing drivers would be to find plungers stuck to their windows.

So you see, planning is progressing on the farm.

Friday, February 05, 2010


The old man at title company smiled and said it had been many years since he had seen someone do that. I counted the signatures I scratched into the papers during the closing. Thirty nine times I put pen to paper. Kathy, my ever so understanding wife, just laughed. "He's a scientist," she explained.

After much congratulations and shaking hands, we all left the cozy office. Kathy and I left the city for our new home. A place. Perhaps in another post, I'll write the details, or catalog something (the 1 basement bat is now 3 basement bats). Today, I am content to know that there is place I own on paper, but barely know. In many ways I will not own this place until I know it and it knows me.

I committed today to pay a sum of money over the next 30 years, yes. But I have also committed to know a place, and to be known. That is the real investment: time, sweat, and stewardship.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My Brain Needs Brakes

For several months, as Kathy and I pursued buying an old farmhouse, we kept telling each other that there may be something horribly wrong that we cannot see. Termites. Bad septic. Broken furnace. Something so wrong with the house as to torpedo the sale. We kept telling ourselves not to count our eggs, not to plan, not to get our hopes up until our offer was accepted and an inspector had checked the place thoroughly.

The inspection was last Friday. My heart sank as we entered the house. No heat, and water sprayed from the bathroom wall. No heat, burst plumbing. This was going to be bad... But that was the worst of it. The heat was turned on, the bathroom water turned off. One leak. Other than a few hundred dollars in plumbing repairs, we were seeing a remarkably updated and solid old farmhouse.

So now many months, years, of dreams came crashing in. My mind will not stop. What should we plant? Where? How will we dig up the garden? Do we need a tractor? A truck? How exactly do you use a barn? When should we get goats? No, we need fences before goats. What kind of fences? Where? Do we need barn cats? Dogs? Is eight acres enough? Too much? After months of supression, my mind is running 100 mph, with no brakes. Yeehaw!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Another Naturalist Shops for an Old Farm

Many years ago I purchased a book about a celebrated nature writer, Edwin Way Teale, and his experience in purchasing and then living on an old farm. I enjoyed the book, but more than the book, and enjoyed the fantasy, the dream of owning a few acres of land and an old farmhouse. I knew it was unlikely to happen. I am a bureaucrat by day, and thus lack the luxury of living wherever I choose. I am destined to live near a city, where acres are expensive and farms rare. Public servants are paid a fraction of their counterparts in the private sector. Furthermore, most houses are "new." By "new" I mean built since WWII.

Although I have been in the process of actually purchasing an old farm for several months, it is only in the last few days that the reality is beginning to sink in. Built about 1880 (positively modern by New England standards, but old for Michigan) with 8 acres and a 20 minute commute, it is all I could ask for. There is one more hurdle (inspection) and then closing in a few short weeks. How did this happen?

Let me start at the beginning... the Christian creation story. Setting aside the distraction of the evolution controversy, humans are imitators of an Artist obsessed with creating, especially creating life. This cultivating and creating is something my wife and I enjoy and have turned much of our city lot into gardens and (very) small plots of native prairie. But we want honeybees, and fruit trees, asparagus beds, and tomatoes, and goats, chickens, and turkeys.

Will it happen? Tune in next week...