Saturday, May 30, 2015

When the Rain Comes

When the rains come, the world becomes a magical place. It's spring...again. How quickly the seasons seem to fade into each other. I remember the year we had six double rainbows in one season. We called it the "Summer of the Rainbows".  We rarely see a rainbow here and we certainly don't see double rainbows very often at all. So to see six in one year was pretty magical.

The sun pops out, warming the earth. This sight, in and of itself, is pretty magical, too. I don't need much to make me happy. I can be quite content doing very little or nothing. I am very pleased being outside in nature, snapping a few photographs, thinking and daydreaming. You are never too old to daydream. Let your thoughts carry you away, to other places, other times. Dream of all you long to do and make plans for how you may do them....even if only someday...even if never.

Grass seems to grow before your very eyes. Instant green, thick and lush. Beautiful weeds and flowers dot the hillside. We welcome the wild, for it provides for our bees. We have a hive and are very excited about harvesting honey in the future. For now, our swarm of 25,000 is busy gathering nectar and feeding the bees-to-be. 

 Our small john boat floats lazily in the water. Children can often be found at the pond, dipping their nets in the water or looking for tadpoles. We hear the deep, rhythmic calls of the leopard bullfrogs. The sounds resonate within me, instantly taking me back to my childhood and summers at my grandparents' house. Grandma and Grandpa did not have central air conditioning, so the windows were kept open all day and all night. Cool breezes, if you were lucky, stirred the curtains and drifted into your room. The sounds of crickets and frogs and a diesel on the highway in the distance lulled you to sleep.  I will never forget. I don't want to forget. When I hear those sounds, even now, many years later, I am transported to another time.

I always knew in my heart that I would have land of my own someday. But to have a small pond was just an extra bonus. Can you guess what is in the picture above? It is not fish eggs or even frog eggs, as we first thought. No......we are so lucky to have spotted salamanders living at our pond and these are their eggs.

And these are them and aren't they really cute? I adore them. If you do not touch quickly or roughly, they will let you hold them. However, they will emit a poisonous substance from their glands if they feel threatened or harmed in any way. It is a milky white liquid that oozes from their skin. We have never seen one do this. We always wash our hands very well with hot, soapy water after handling them. They are the things of fairy tales...I am thinking of Beatrix Potter and Elsa Beskow stories. There is always a newt or salamander in them somewhere.

We also have snakes, thanks to our pond. It attracts all sorts of wildlife. Here is a list of some of the wonderful creatures we have seen or captured on our land: Bobcats, foxes, coyotes, deer, raccoons, 'possum, armadillos, wild rabbits, snapping turtles, blue herons, ducks. This particular snake happens to be a very harmless black rat snake. They eat mice, so we like them. Because we have chickens and other animals, mice are abundant. Unfortunately, these snakes also like to eat chicken eggs and we have seen them do that a few times. This is what it looks like when you capture a black rat snake who has eaten a few too many eggs: 

(see the egg still inside?)

Red-eared sliders are the most common turtle but when we first moved to this place, many, many years ago...I saw a giant snapping turtle trying to cross the road and come onto our property. I felt sorry for it, as I was afraid a car would hit it. So I attempted to save it. BIG mistake! Never mess with these ancient-looking beasts...they are strong! When I grabbed his shell, making sure to keep my hands well away from his chompers, he slammed his body down so hard, it almost dislocated my elbow! Ouch! I learned a hard lesson that day. An old man was driving down the road and saw me standing next to the turtle. He was laughing as he stopped, put his truck into park and got out. He said in a thick, country accent, "This is how you move a snapper, " and he grabbed it by it's big, thick tail and drug it across the road and literally chunked it into the grass. It was probably over 100 lbs. but he managed just fine. He got back into his truck and drove away. That was my introduction to life in the country.

I have to say, I have learned a lot over the years living here. We have tamed the land somewhat and are growing an orchard. We plant gardens and have animals. A barn is in the works but not completed. But it's still wild in places and we prefer it that way. Wild like my heart.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Helper

 There will be times when you feel you are facing something insurmountable. There are boulders on the path, making you tread carefully, dodging them as you go. Gravel crumbles and gives way beneath you. This body, that you always thought was so strong, so fails you. You grasp and clutch at the trees, pulling yourself upwards, out of this darkness. You push against those solid trunks, heaving yourself off of them, higher. You think if you can just go a little further, just a will make it. But more stumbling. You fall. It hurts. You bleed. You pick yourself, you crawl back up and dig your feet deep into the earth. You again heave. You pant and blow. It's much harder than you ever thought it would be. It seemed like such a small hill from the distance, but here, in the thick of it, it's a looming mountain. A giant. You don't know if you can do this. You start to feel shaky with fear. But up see something!

Just a little further now...and there is light! Sunshine and open expanse. You are exhausted but you are amazed at how much clearer everything seems now. Only moments before you felt you couldn't go on and, you are basking in the glow. Warmth eases your aching body. Relief floods you. You could stand right here, on this very spot, a speck on the earth, forever. You never want to leave. You want to relish every made it! Such an accomplishment deserves savouring. You are feeling rather proud of yourself...rather amused at the extent of your pain a little earlier. That? Oh, that was nothing. Nothing...compared to this!

But it gets even better. You want more. You slip down to the shore. Closer, nearer the water...oh, yes. This is where your soul resides. Water. Cooling. Cleansing. It speaks. Life. It flows and meanders. It whets your parched lips. It restores peace to your heart. The agonizing hours before, during the climb, seem a far-off faded memory. Did that really happen? Or was it all a dream? But something else suddenly comes over you. Humbly. A realization. You didn't get here on your own. Oh no. Something outside of you...something outside of time, even...helped you in your hour of desperation. You were weak. You needed strength. And suddenly, you had the strength to go on. It was there, in the shadows, watching as you struggled. You were never alone. It was there. Waiting. For you to cry out. And look! You are here now. In this place. This blessed place of calm.


 Your pain will come again. That's guaranteed. You will struggle again, no doubt. You will hurt. You will scream, yell, fall down and weep. But, my dear, you will get up again. You will be able to handle the mountains, for there will always be a valley down below and the promise of something more to guide you there. The hope. A respite from the dark places. A new joy, where the vast sky stretches out above you and the warm rays of the sun comfort you. And the helper will be there, beside you sigh...

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

England's Flowers

Happiness Hill is a lovely little place in Tennessee...but I have had my share of adventures and have travelled a little in my life. One of my most bittersweet adventures (for I was not able to take my family with me) was to England. One thing I particularly enjoy is flowers. And boy, does England have flowers!!

A little bit of thistle by the sea (Whitehaven beach)

Taken on a trail walk through the woods (Bicester)

 Lovely to behold (Banbury)

In someone's garden (Chipping Campden)

 Fluffy thistle after a light morning rain (Chipping Campden)

 Water Lilies (Blenheim Palace)

Compound flower (Hill Top Farm)

 The roses where Beatrix Potter lived (Hill Top)

 Manor House

The flower beds at Manor House spelled out the words "Congratulations Prince William and Kate Middleton" for they had just gotten married when I was visiting. I would much rather capture the simple beauty of field flowers but there is something to be said for courtly estates that boast lavish flower beds. They are stunning. 

In my travels through England, it is hard to say what I enjoyed most. Or which place captured my heart the best. I loved the ocean and the wonderful clean smell of salt in the air. I loved the steep hills and winding valleys of Lake District. I enjoyed traipsing on foot through Chipping Campden and Banbury. We had a lovely meal at a restaurant there, where I tasted bread made with lavender for the first time.

The weather of England is interesting. It rains often, light rains almost every day...but never very hard or for very long. At least not while I was there. People are kind and call you "love" or "dear". Markets are bustling and happy. An old man played violin in the center of the street and people rode around on bikes. I imagine I could live there and be perfectly content. 

But alas, I am home here in Tennesee, where my heart resides...where my family and children are. This is where I belong. I am happy I captured these images to pull me back and make my mind a time and place I will always cherish.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Of Moths and Butterflies

Since it is winter and so cold and wet outside, we will talk about something that is close to my heart and has fascinated me for a long time.

Look at this tree bark. Doesn't it look strange? It is slightly lighter on one section. In fact, it almost looks like a fungus on the tree. It took us nearly half an hour to spot this. We searched high and low but it blended in so well. We walked everywhere, searching the ground, the leaves, the trees. Nothing. Finally, when I was about to give up completely, this bit of fungus stood out. I said, "Look at that" and then my son said, "That's it!" He had been climbing the oak tree out back when this big, beautiful moth landed on his hand. He had let it crawl on him for a moment. Then it flew away. It's wings were so large and it glided so gently through the air, it looked like a small bird.

When we found it again, I touched it and it took flight. It landed on my daughter's pants this time. Wow! What a beauty! One of my great joys in life is finding and identifying birds, plants, flowers and moths and butterflies. It brings me so much satisfaction to correctly label something. We found out this wonderful bark-colored moth is called a Common Lytrosis. What a horrid name for something so splendid.

After admiring her and taking pictures, we let her go. How do we know it's a girl? Her antennae give it away. She has very fine, thin antennae. Let's examine another moth we found several years ago, so you can see the difference between a male and a female.

We found Neon when he was a big, fat, juicy caterpillar. We loved his little "feet", as it appeared he was wearing running shoes. He looks to be praying here. Isn't that sweet?

He was very large, measuring about 3-4 inches in length. We decided after taking pictures, to put him in a bug box and feed him some leaves. He was so bloated, he refused to eat. Lo and behold!, we were pleasantly surprised to find him start a cocoon immediately.

Here he is after he finished his new home. I had no idea how long he would remain as such and after a few weeks, he was still in a cocoon and we figured he had died or something, for he would not emerge. We didn't want to disrupt him, though, so we set the bug box on the porch and left him...and we are sorry to say, we forgot about him. Many months passed. Fall and winter came and went. In the spring, on one particularly warm day, my daughter saw him emerging.

And he was magnificent! We had never seen a moth so large and so beautiful. We took pictures and reported him to a forestry service, who were quite pleased to know of his existence, as there had been no reported sightings of this type for a long time in our area.

Can you tell he is a "he" now? Look at his "fan" antennae! He is proudly showing them off, hoping to attract a female.

We let him go and he flew to a tree to finish drying his wings. His proper name is Polyphemus Moth...another dreadful name.

Now, this...this is a butterfly, of the name Hackberry Emperor. Isn't that a fine name? He is very lovely to look at and is a good mid-size butterfly. Very gentle. See his proboscis? That is what he uses to dab at nectar with. His "tongue", if you will. Here is a wonderful page that describes all the parts of a butterfly for you to learn:

I have to tell you, we found another large caterpillar in the early fall, one of which we'd never seen before. Before I was able to photograph him (her?), he cocooned himself. He had "false eyes" on his backside. We have researched but I cannot figure out what he is. He will winter in his jar and hopefully emerge in the spring, to surprise us with his beauty and reveal his true nature. I am looking forward to sharing pictures of him at that time.

I hope these photos will spark a bit of curiosity and  you will search for some caterpillars. Maybe you will find a chrysalis (or cocoon). I have found many in the past and we always leave them alone. If you touch one, it will shake and rattle and make noises. This is to ward off potential predators. The one we have in a jar used to shake himself inside his cocoon for at least five minutes if his jar was accidentally bumped. He has stopped doing that now. I think he is settling down; turning into a butterfly is hard work!

Enjoy finding and classifying butterflies and moths! Let me know what you find!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Coming to a Close

Oh autumn! Your splendor is waning. The leaves are falling fast, to be trampled under foot. Crunchy leaves piled against an old fence. Children running, kicking them into the air, as the wind so often does. Just a few short weeks ago, such beauty to behold. Now, the trees bend against the strong winds of an early winter. The trees creak and moan. How quickly the seasons seem to pass us by; faster than when I was a child and longed to "grow up".

The leaves also hide secrets. Hidden beside them, in plain sight; a copperhead goes unseen. For a moment. 

Be careful where you tread. They are notorious for blending in, but as such, we have never come across an aggressive one. 

To shake the autumn chill, one must simply collect a bit of dried wood and set it ablaze. The flames, how they dance and leap! Fingers are held over the fire, but not too close. Rub your hands together. That helps. Toes somehow make their way over. I have heard on more than one occasion..."What is that smell?'s my shoes starting to melt!" Yes. Do be careful.

Amazing how the colors turn from red to orange, to yellow, to purple, then white, as the fire slowly burns. One never tires of looking at it. Reflection comes when entranced by it's glow. As the year comes to an end, looking back on our days...were they meaningful? Did we make a difference?  And a hopeful feeling emerges. Of looking forward, to the future. What will the coming year bring?

Thanksgiving has passed. Christmas will soon be over. And another year will begin. Another year on Happiness Hill.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Autumn's Chill

Hard to believe that it's nearly November...but the signs are in the air. The fields have recently been harvested of wheat. Billowing dust poured across roads as the combine harvester moved slowly through the tall, waving grasses . Mice scampered from field to meadow, trying to escape the blades. Where we live there are rolling fields all around us...planted yearly with rotating crops of soybean, cotton, corn, wheat, winter wheat and other grains. 

Often-times, if you drive by our house in the early night, you will see a bonfire off in the distance. The bonfire is a time of fun and laughter. We roast marshmallows (or "marshies", as we like to call them) and tell stories and jokes. There is something particularly cozy about snuggling up under jackets near a warm fire, outdoors under a blanket of stars.  Let's see how many we can count. Oh, there's the Little Dipper! The frosty air nips your nose (and sometimes toes) and it's always fun to make spears from long pieces of wood that you have burned the tips off of and gently rubbed until a point has formed.

Hikes are particularly delightful in fall. You can even hike at a brisk pace and feel comfortable. We like to go to state parks for the breath-taking scenery. It doesn't matter what you eat after a long hike...everything tastes wonderful when you have worked so hard to get here!

LBL-Land Between the Lakes


Being out in nature is a balm for the soul. It does my spirit good to sit near a lake or a river, watch the birds flying about or dipping their bills into the water to catch a fish. Big, puffy clouds are always a welcome sight and sunshine is a must. Cool weather, a nice breeze. Quiet. Oh, but to have it all at once.........truly this must be a bit of heaven on earth!

While you sit day-dreaming, you may find yourself surrounded by many friends. If you sit quietly and for a while, you will encounter the most delightful little creatures. If you are loud, the creatures of the forest can hear you from miles away and will leap and bound, to get as far from you as possible. But if you can sneak up upon them, you will startle them and yourself and the surprise and wonder of it all will be an inspiration to your soul!

Crunchy leaves falling down, trampled under foot. Beauty to behold that makes all other seasons envious. A whisper of what's to come stirs the trees. Soon...soon, it will be bitter cold, barren trees and empty woods. The animals will be hiding and we will be indoors, staying warm. But for now, here on the farm, we joyously celebrate the season and all it has to offer. We relish in it's glory. We bask in the last warm rays of the sun, close our eyes to the gentle breeze and sigh with a contentment that only autumn can bring.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

New Buns

Two weeks ago, the sweetest little additions joined our farm. Our wonderful momma rabbit, Queenie,  gave birth to her third litter of kits. She had fourteen babies this time. Of course, they can never sustain that many and so several have met their demise. I am happy to report that, at present, nine are still alive.

There is always at least one who is a runt. So much tinier than the others...barely able to fight his or her way to the front of the line when it's time to eat. Rabbits only feed their young a few times a day and are only in the nest box for a few seconds at a time. Babies have to be strong and fast! The black rabbit, as you can see, is about half the size of the grey rabbit. I hold Queenie in a funny, upright "sitting" position and let the baby nurse at least once a day, so it grows. She allows me to do this, because as I said, she is the most wonderful and loving mother. The baby then has a chance to thrive and grow as well as the others, though it will always be smaller.

My son is currently designing and building new hutches for our rabbits. This was the first hutch he ever made. On the left, where the soda bottle water bottle hangs, is Queenie's pen. You can see her nest box inside. We place the nest box inside a few days before she is due to give birth. She rips out all of the fur on her tummy, exposing her teats and  lines the box with her fur the day before or the day that she gives birth.

Off on the other side is her mate, Sergeant.

This is our pretty boy, Prince Thistledown. Have you ever seen thistle down? It is fluffy and white. He is one of Queenie's babies, from her second litter. He is the most beautiful rabbit I have ever seen. His fur is thick and so soft! He has pretty pink ears and red eyes. He is also very gentle-natured. We found a female mate just for him. She looks exactly like Queenie. When we got her, she wasn't in the best of health, so we have isolated her and are taking care of her...helping her put on weight and get strong before we let them breed. We have named her Princess Tumbleweed.