Friday, May 27, 2011

Happy chickens and wildflowers of summer

Happy chickens lay happy eggs.

It's true.

As spring folds over into summer, our chickens are producing a bounty of eggs daily. They happily free range the mornings away, scratching in the dirt, foraging for weeds and fresh, succulent grasses and arguing over bugs and worms.

It's a fact that free range chickens produce eggs that are better for people: they contain 4 to 6 times greater amounts of vitamin D, are lower in cholesterol and higher in Omega 3 fats (the "good" fats that lower cholesterol), and have 2/3 more vitamin A, 3 times more vitamin E and 7 times more beta carotene than store-bought, factory farmed eggs. (For the full article where this information came from, click here.)

Whew! Pretty impressive little creatures, those lovely ladies.

Other hallmarks of summer abound. Memorial Day weekend. The opening of the beach near the Ranch. Baseball games. The campground near the Ranch filling up with RVs.

And wildflowers. 

The surrounding woods and grasslands around the Ranch are full of wildflowers.

This coming Memorial Day weekend, celebrate the beginning of summer. Before you know it, summertime will be "come and gone, my oh my."

Here at the Ranch, we have some quiet reasons to celebrate too. We are celebrating our 500th post and the beginning of our seventh year of blogging!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Some scenes from the Hessler Street Fair this past weekend

Elise in the Hessler Street Fair bus

Dancers center-stage in the drum circle at Harmony Park

My daughter, Elise, joining the drum circle :)

Face painting at the fair
The end result: butterfly face!

Friends: Stephanie Urban's beautiful son, Finn, and his daddy, Eric at the Hessler Street Fair
I was super happy to see my friend Stephanie Urban had a table set up at the fair with her amazing art for sale. I met Stephanie several years ago when we both worked at the same magazine/communications firm in North Olmsted. She was the graphic designer for several pubs at the company - and was amazing. About a year and a half ago, she launched out on her own as a freelance artist when her first daughter, Kaia, was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. You can find her blog - and Kaia's story - here.

Stephanie's art is made from repurposed fabric. It's unlike anything I've ever seen - so creative and colorful. Please check out her art here.
My daughter, Elise, and Stephanie at the Hessler Street Fair

My 12 year old daughter, Sophie, who is somewhat of an artist herself, had fun making sidewalk art

More fun at the drum circle

Hessler is such a peaceful gathering of art, artists and music. I look forward to it every year!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Spring visitors

Spring brings such a flurry of activity. We all begin cleaning our houses, dusting off what winter left behind. The flurry of activity extends even more so to nature in spring. It is a time of vibrance, renewal, birth, and - inevitably - babies.

We have had several spring visitors at the Ranch over the last couple weeks. 

First, the dogs discovered a nest of 10 day old wild baby bunnies in the long grasses in the field by our barn.

One didn't survive. Alas, this is unfortunately a part of spring too.

But several others did! To keep the rest safe from the dogs, we took them inside and kept them under a heat lamp until we could transport them to a wildlife rehabilitation specialist in town.

10-day old wild baby rabbits were among several spring visitors at the Ranch

The girls enjoyed having the bunnies as our guests for a couple days.  

Elise in bunny Heaven!
Sophie managed to feed each bunny a dropper-ful of Ensure® so they had enough nutrients to last through the night. 

We took them back to the nest initially so their mama could come back to feed them, but she never returned. Mama rabbits return to the nest right at dusk for a quick feeding session before they're off again. Surprisingly, mama's milk is so high in nutrients, this is all infant rabbits need to help them grow.
The baby bunnies were transported to a wildlife rehabilitation specialist who will raise them until they are big enough to survive on their own, and then release them into the wild. 

But the fun was just beginning....

Last weekend, one of our chickens, Reggae, who is featured in this post, caught what she clearly thought was a large worm while free ranging. As the other hens came near her, she ran away from them, quickly defending her prize "worm." I could see from a distance, however, that this was no worm. As I ran up to her, I wrestled the prize from her beak only to realize it was a baby snake!

The "worm" our chicken, Reggae, found: an Eastern Milk Snake

I took it inside long enough to identify what type of snake it was, then quickly released this little guy back into the tall grasses around our property. It was quite feisty and quick to attempt to strike, despite that the teeth of the Eastern Milk Snake are unable to penetrate human skin.

Finally, we had a visitor of a more domesticated nature.

Meet Ninja, our new Americauna rooster, who thinks he is "all that." Sophie's friend who is involved in our local 4-H hatched this guy on her property this past November. They already have several roosters, and offered us this guy over the weekend. He was hand-raised, and is sweet...once he is caught!

Ninja stepping high beside our barn

Ninja puts on quite a show for our 15 hens. As the lone rooster at the Ranch, he is quite proud of himself and struts around our yard beside our barn boldly, puffing himself up, shaking his feathers and flapping his wings in a valiant display of chicken masculinity.

And, as far as roosters go, he is gorgeous.

I like the novelty of having one token rooster at the Ranch, too.

But don't tell Ninja that. If his ego gets any bigger, he won't fit in the barn :)

Enjoy Spring!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Part and parcel

The rain falls steadily and suddenly, as if God pushed an "on" switch for it to begin. Droplets fall heavily into the dark lake. It is dusk anyway, but with the impending rain, dusk falls with an eerie sort of light, an incandescence that makes the sky appear to glow despite the setting sun.

I paddle fast toward the shore. The hull of my kayak parts the dark water easily, its orange a stark contrast to this landscape. I find respite bobbing next to a moss-covered rocky overhang, hang on to an exposed tree root, and hoist myself up out of the boat. The moss feels luxurious - a soft, earthy carpet - and as my feet make contact with it, I am aware of its cushion of velvet goodness.

It feels oh so good to be here.

My senses are bombarded: the breeze kicks up scent of conifers across the lake; the rush of the wind raises goose pimples across my skin; the trees are so colorful with their dancing display of new life, and then, my pupils dilate to meet the flash of lightning.

Low clouds roll in, like a hoard of teenagers in a bad-ass pack. Together, they huddle, creating an ominous and dramatic presence. They move in closer, sneering at me.

Suddenly, I am keenly aware of how small I am. Here, under this pack of gray clouds, here, on this mossy bed, I am a spec of a splendor that will ebb on long after I am gone.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages."

Give me that wildness.

"Approaching Storm"

Sunday, May 1, 2011

"In Just spring when the world is mud-luscious's spring, when the world is puddle-wonderful...."

Rain, rain, rain. 
It seems to constantly rain here on the Ranch lately. April showers and all that. But, geesh! this is getting ridiculous! The grounds surrounding the Ranch are sopping and wet. The dogs' kennels are full of water; they balance on the pallets under their houses like tight-rope-walkers, tip-toeing so as not to step a toe into the muddy abyss below.
And yet, each day, no matter what the weather, I don my Gortex bibs and parka and head out on the four wheeler to greet my pack. They are my little family. We free-run the seven acres of the Ranch together - me on the four wheeler leading the way, and sometimes eight to 10 dogs at a time.  
Afterward, we are all more Zen.

The "puppies" - now five months old - sunning themselves on the back deck. From clockwise from bottom, Thelonious, Miles, and Brubeck from the "Jazz" litter.
The dogs are good dogs, and I am proud of them. They all fit together like a well-oiled machine, and each has their role to play. Yeti, my main leader, is the clown who enjoys being harassed by the girls and being a mentor to the puppies. Ruffian and Big Brown, the sisters, are silly. Freya is a horse who gives the best hugs ever! Aspen is a wily yearling. Jack is reserved and loves to roam. Kerouac is the big brother for the puppies. Tak is shy and demure. Gwennie loves the boys. Lucy is the eternal puppy. Foxy is the matriarch.

The list goes on and on.

Where would I be without my pack?

When the day has been long and difficult, they ground me. They are real and don't hide how they feel - about each other, or me. "Pretend" is not in their vocabulary. 

So, while we all try to stay dry, we enjoy each other. And we enjoy the dawn of another spring.

Enjoy your spring - and stay dry!