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Spring on the Old Farm

Sunday, April 10, 2016

April 10--the day in 1994 my Dear Old Dad, or DOD for short, finally got free of his lymphoma-wracked earthly body and took off to fly with the hawks (and hurl a few down at me). Every year, I try to do something life-affirming on that day, something that he'd enjoy. Often it's potting up the bonsais, or planting the peas, turning some rows in the garden, or poking around an old farmstead. How about that last one? Let's go to the Becker farm!

It's not every day you see falcate orangetips mating. These jittery little bugs are among my favorite first butterflies of spring, right in there with the (increasingly scarce) mourning cloak and much more common spring azure. I thrill to the incandescent satsuma orange of their wingtips, and will them to settle, which they virtually never do.

But this trio was preoccupied and let me get close with my little phone camera. Out of focus, but it gives you that orange flash. Two males are trying to mate with the same female.

She's not having it, though, and wants to hang with just one.
Male left, female right (larger abdomen).

While they're engrossed, I get to appreciate the checkered border of those lovely fairy wings. 
Like a race flag! No wonder they never sit still unless en flagrante delicto.

And the delicately marbled undersides! Who knew? Wow, what a treat. Thank you for making more FAOT's.

Falcate orangetips, or FAOT's as I write in my notes, using a shorthand adapted from bird bander lingo, use the early cresses and rockets (mustards) as their broodplants. You'll see them flying low and bouncily along meadow borders and roadsides. 

The other one out early around here is the cabbage white. I snuck up on this one, hoping it would be a West Virginia white, but the dark patch on the wingtip and little dots on the forewing say cabbage.

This cabbage white is feeding on deadnettle, a creeping Eurasian plant that turns fallow bean and cornfields into a haze of purple this time of year. It's a lovely phenomenon from a bad weed. Its major virtue is that, like all mints, it's pretty easy to pull up.

It was a dreary gray day in what seems like an endless string of them, but I knew that would make the forsythia positively sing, so I decided to head up to the Becker farm to see that.

We passed the Toothless Lady. You may remember the white woman's slip that somehow got caught on a nail after a windstorm. I had plans to get it down and try it on. Alas.

When it finally slipped down low enough that I was able to reach it with a long stick, it was so thoroughly tangled around several nails that I had little hope of getting it. I tried, but it was anchored there for the ages. 
The wind has torn and tattered it until it's no more than a bunch of bandages, hardly fit to wrap a mummy. There will be no ghost slip selfies from me!

I still find it beautiful, and enjoy photographing it in changing light.

I could be wrong, but that warm russet color in the wood might indicate that The Toothless Lady was built of Osage orange. I have it on good authority that her attendant, a small toolshed to the south, is built of that wood. And the protected parts of it are that same beautiful orange color. For that alone, she should be an historic treasure. Not too many Osage oranges around that are big enough to saw into lumber any more. That, and the fact that I love her so. I hereby propose Historic Treasure status for many tumbledown buildings and trees on my routes. Things Zick Loves. Thou Shalt Not Cut or Destroy.

Out the back of the same barn, there is a trail of old clothes stringing down the poison ivy vines. This puzzled me momentarily, until by scanning carefully with binoculars I figured out that they issue from a squirrel's nest at the eave.  That squirrel's been busy, raiding the boxes I would love to look through, but will never be able to reach, thanks to the barn's utterly rotted floors. I am imagining the vintage clothing, chewed through by mice, sorted by squirrels, and crapped upon by 'coons.

Their colors remind me of the Buddhist prayer flags that fly in the Himalayas, starting out red, yellow, blue and white, then fading to gentle pastels.

Whipple Prayer Flags. Squirrel prayers.

The Toothless Lady continues to delight me in all the oddest and best ways. I fervently hope I am not around when she's finally torn down.  There would be rending of garments and tearing of hair.

We forged on to the farmstead.

I'm not sure what colors Chet can see, but he sure gave the big forsythia a long look. I was interested to see that the farm's caretakers, while letting the house slowly deliquesce in a squirrelly mess, decided to trim the drooping wands off the bottom of one of the forsythias this winter. Chet used to crawl under the cave they made to cool down on hot summer days. Sometimes I'd throw a cup of cool well water over his back before he flopped down. 

I walked a circle around the farmhouse, looking for flowers growing unseen. It was too early for the wild red columbine someone transplanted there years ago, but I did find a bit of hawk down caught on a grass tip and blowing in the crazy April wind. 

A little calling card from DOD. I'd bet it was redtail down, being sparkly white like that.

Then I went to see the pheasant-eye narcissus that are growing a little down over the hill. A telephone pole always spoils my composition, but I shoot anyway.

Spirea, or bridal wreath, was just going crazy in the hedge.

Chet went out into the lawn to graze like a miniature Angus x Hereford. Standing there like a cow.

Spirea makes a rather loose, messy hedge, but oh! is it beautiful in spring.

And back of the house, an old peach was blooming as it fell. Here's to blooming as you fall.

On our way home, we stopped to examine a sofa someone had left on the corner. Why would you do this? Hoping someone will like it well enough to lug it home with them? Not wanting to pay dump fees? 

I'll be curious to see if it's still there, three days later (I don't get out much).
Update: Someone hauled it away! Amazeballs.

We stopped to greet the new cattle at the Harris farm. This mama looked at me like I was dropped from Venus. That's how I knew she'd never lived here. That, and I didn't recognize her.  She has a very nice angel on her chest.

Her fat little girlcalf (look at that potchy brisket! That quadruple calf-chin!) looks as much like a sheep as any calf I've ever seen. Slitty eyes. So, so fat. Mama must make good milk. I'll be anxious to see the regular crowd come back from their winter quarters. I miss them. I heard a rumor that Bully will be sold, or perhaps already has. I hope it's not true. I'd miss his marcelled hair and his white-ringed ears, and the way he would oooof at me when I came up to the fence, then let me touch his always-wet pebbled leather nose. I'm still hoping to see him this spring.

Bully, July 2015

And of course I'm anxious to see Spotify and see if her new calf has The Triangle. They always make my day. 

These are the rhythms of rural life, the growings up, the fallings down and the yearly coming around.
Happy Free Spirit Day, DOD.


Love the downy feather from your dad! It reminds of a story I wanted to share with you from my mother. A couple months ago she went on a long awaited and very spiritually rewarding trip to India. One day while she visiting some temples she kept seeing these black and white birds all around the place. She didn't know kind of birds they were at the time (we looked this up later, "dhyal thrush" or "oriental magpie robin"), but thought they were the neatest birds and wished she could show them to me. (She knows I love birds.) Sometime later, not long before the end of her trip, she saw them again. She stood underneath a tree while one sat perched on a branch not far above her. Phones and cameras weren't allowed in the temples, but she was wishing she could take a picture of him for me. She said she was just standing there, looking up at the bird and thinking about how lovely he was, and thought to him (not really intentionally), "I really wish Heather could see you." And just as soon as she thought that, he looked down at her for a moment, then lifted his wing and dug his bill into his feathers and plucked one out. Then dropped the feather right into her hands! She was amazed and said it felt just like he said, "Here you go!" I just love it. She gave me the feather and I keep the gift in a special spot. :-)

Posted by Heather McC. April 10, 2016 at 10:15 AM

That's the loveliest spring poem I'm likely to read - ever. I know your dad is smiling.

Lifting my cuppa in a toast to you and to your DOD. Here's to blooming as we fall!

Posted by Gail Spratley April 10, 2016 at 12:44 PM

That hawk tuft reminded me of dog fur from my Chorgi( chow/corgi) I load it into suet feeder & birds flock to it - have reloaded 3 times Lucklily she sheds a bushel undercoat!!

You have a way of making me feel as if I am right there with you on your walks. However, if I was with you, we'd be playing dress-up with whatever vintage clothing was left behind in the Toothless Lady by now, rotting floors notwithstanding. Why should the squirrels have ll the fun?

Posted by Anonymous April 10, 2016 at 6:20 PM


You've turned the passing of your dad into something lovely. Mine passed away when I was 14 and not prepared for it. Nor were we allowed to grieve but I did anyway, in weird ways that didn't help me get through it. So now, I think I'll take a page from your book and find ways to honor his passing on November 27th, five days after the sudden passing of President Kennedy. So many years of being all puckered up can be eased by a lovely day like yours. Thank you for such a gift.


Thanks for teaching me two new things today – the name and family of one of the weeds I am always pulling up!

@Heather McC, I love that story more than I can say. And have little doubt spirits were at play there! They LOVE to use birds as messengers.

@Cathy, thank you. So much to enjoy in spring, and April 10 is always special.

@Gail Spratley, YEAH let's keep blooming as we fall! And crumble! And crack in pieces!

@Mimimanderly, now THAT's an image. Believe me I would LOVE to find an old mirror and hold some vintage clothes up. But we would both fall through the floor. Bad.

@Dan, ain't that DOD?

@Susan Campbell, you have truly made my day, to think that this has helped you deal with a still-fresh grief. I think it's perfectly natural to be sad on that day; you hardly had any time with him, and it must have been the end of your world as you knew it. But doing something actively, to honor him, is the best way out of that sadness. Doing something actively is always the best way out for me. Just remember this next November, OK? And any time you fall into the sadness. That's what he wants you to do.

Thank you so much! May your days of memorial for your dad give you so much relief! I am planning on the same activity come November and will include my sisters, if only via Internet. You're such a wise woman.

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