From One Year to the Next

Our friend Susan Regan, a retired AP photographer turned goat farmer whose pictures you have seen repeatedly, whether you know it or not, has become a good friend and neighbor to us here at the farm and she took this and the other animals pics in this posting. She has the ability to capture something of the should of animals on film; here Guns gives thanks for his daily bowl of goats milk.

Well, it has been a long sojourn from blogging, and I have little excuse. This fall I was off from teaching and things have been more than quiet. No sooner did I get the cover crop in than the rains came in late September. We had our usual beautiful October weather, but then mid month the weather grew mixed and I took off for a long over-due visit to see friends back in Maryland and Pennsylvania. The weather back east was gorgeous for the most part, and I had a great time visiting for a week with my friend Bob (see the post below!). Then it was back home and into the goop! It started to rain in November and did not stop until Just the past few days in early February. We had 54 straight days of rain, and the days without were not sunny, let me tell you da hoo da hoo da hoo! So lots of rain, lots of cider drunk, lots of raw days in front of the fire, lots of guitar played, lots of books read . . .

LOTS of books! Oh the places I’ve been! Let’s see, there was Mary Beard’s The Parthenon, Barry Cunliff’s The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek, James Shapiro’s The Year of Lear, Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve and Will in the World, Adam Nicolson’s Why Homer Matters, the first nine plays by Shakespeare (I haven’t read him in thirty years and LOVE him, so I’m working on his complete works this year – Oh a Joy it is to be a Man of Letters!!!!!), in addition to reading Greek and Latin daily (right now it’s Homer’s Odyssey and Horace’s Satires over morning coffee, with lots of Tacitus over afternoon coffee or an early evening cocktail or toke). On top of that I also taught my course on Ancient Greek History intensively this past January, so I had, as always, to keep up with the reading list for that as well (lots of Homer, some tragedians, a couple of comedies, Thucydides, Herodotus, and some Plato as well, all in four weeks!)

Guns is a sucker for belly rubs. Start behind his ear, then move to the shoulders and he goes down for the count; continue to his ribs and he’s out in under a minute, and, as you can see, loving it!

Once we got through a rainy November we segued into a rainy December. The first week of the month Lori and I headed up to the San Juans and spent a few nights on Orcas Island. The islands reminded me at different times of the Norwegian fjords, the coast of Maine, and the Swiss Alps. We entered in the early evening when it was already dusk and by the time we exited the ferry onto Orcas it was dark; much of our ride on the ferry from Anacortes to Orcas was shrouded in fog, mist, and rain. It was only the next morning that we had a chance to look around and view the surroundings, when we finally got a morning of sun. We drove around the island, which was lovely, though we only had one morning of sun with rain and fog most of the time. We took a brief hike – as much as the rain would allow – and had a chance to walk through some very verdant rain forest with beautiful horse-tail waterfalls cascading along the trail. Then we headed back to our room, and apart from some outstanding meals and awesome hot chocolate at the local restaurants and shops, pretty much stayed huddled near the fire watching the hiemal storms rage against the windows and contend over the grey grizzled waters.

This was about the only sun we saw on Orcas Island, except for the morning that we left! All the same, it is a beautiful little spot.

Sunrise on Orcas from our window on a lovely, brisk December morning.

But we were smitten – I think we both agreed that this is a great place for a winter break. We stayed at the Outlook Inn, an old historic residence that has been around since the late 19th century. It was only upon departure that we got the full scope of how beautiful the place was. Since we arrive in Anacortes in fog and low clouds, we did not realize that the place had as its backdrop the northern Cascades, which are as stunning as any of the Alps. They served as a backdrop for the sound as we headed into Anacortes after having left Orcas, and we could see them throughout most of the ferry trip back to the mainland; it was as though an imposing fortress of volcanic stone had been set up with studied purpose of creating a deeply inspiring vista. To top off the trip, a pod of killer whales accompanied our ship for part of our voyage.

I told you it was like the Alps!

With little time to recover, we soon found ourselves installing new flooring (finally!) in our farm house, as well as painting most of the interior – all of which looked pretty tired, so we were glad to replace it. Besides, we had little else to do around the farm, perforce, because it poured and stormed all of December. No sooner did we get our floor down than my friend Bob arrived for the Christmas holiday – we had fun hosting him and a number of others for Christmas Eve and Day dinner, in fact, I think by consensus it was one of the most enjoyable Christmases any of us had ever had. We’ll see if we can beat it next year, but damn, were it not for Nancy going back east for the holiday, we would have had seven people for dinner (a big crowd for us, by recent Christmas standards). The surprise hit of this holiday season was the cheddar that I made back in October – it finally ripened and aged enough, coated in red wax, sitting in the wine cooler at 50 degrees in our barn, and we were absolutely thrilled with the result. Raw goats milk cheddar is one of life’s purest pleasures, perhaps only second to home brewed hard cider, which, by the way complements the cheese very well.

Sad but true, my two best friends in the world are a boar named Guns and a little Gloucester Old Spot named Snug; you can just get a peak of Bottom snuffling Guns in the back.

From there we segued into a relatively quiet January, though I was quite busy, as noted above, teaching Greek history intensively at Linfield. On the farm side of things, all hell is about to break loose: We finished our pig barn that we built last fall and are hoping that Guns finally completed the task and got Rosey pregnant – time will tell. In late December we brought home two Gloucester Old Spot pigs that we adore, two weaner pigs that we have named Snug and Bottom (I told you that I was on a Shakespeare kick!), that we will harvest in time for a big family reunion that Lori, Nancy, and their family are planning here this spring. We are also about to get another hundred chicks next week that we will raise as layers, and in April are set to get more turkeys and laying ducks. In the interim, it’s pretty likely most of our girly goats will have given birth – seven out of our eight girls should give birth this month. And, as usual in late January and early February, fruit trees need to be pruned and sprayed, and starts need to go in the green house (at least for our cool weather crops).

Smokey sizes me up for a good ramming head butt in between bouts of rain.

In addition we continue to do renovations on our big red barn in order to accommodate our growth and our changing needs – pretty soon it will livable so that we can house farmhands in even more space. That will be great: more farmhands means less work, and more books!

One of the great things about what we do and about Susan’s photos is that we experience, and she captures the spiritual side of animals. Smokey is a particularly beautiful animal and it will be hard to harvest him this summer, but we will soon be breeding our ewes and have lambs on the way.

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