Spring Springs EternalĀ 

Spring in Northeast Texas is unpredictable. It can be early. It can be late. It can last a few weeks or sometimes a couple of months. But since Texas is known for unpredictable weather and really hot summers, hope may be the only thing springing eternal at Wildabout Ranch.

A Luna Lesson

This is the fifth post since I started the Wildabout Ranch blog last fall and the first post of 2017. That means I went all winter without posting. To the friends who encouraged me to continue I apologize for taking such a long blog break but also say thank you for your expressions of support.  It was a very busy winter and I will follow this post with some highlights of our first winter at Wildabout Ranch. But let me take a moment to share something that happened February 18 of this year. It had been unseasonably warm that week and we had been working hard in anticipation of the eventual arrival of spring, still over a month away by the calendar. While taking a rest break on the Vista Deck I looked up to see the most beautiful creature on the corner of the roof. It was a Luna moth. I knew nothing about them and sat intrigued by its unique majesty and size. Lime green with eye-spot patterns on the wings and one of the largest in North America, this moth had emerged from its cocoon hours before and was drying its wet wings. We learned that later it would spend the rest of its short 7-day life without food, spending all of its brief time flying for the sole purpose of finding a mate. Think about it. At least for this creature, never eats as an adult and spends all of its time, resources, and energy to create a legacy for one more generation.

Scene One Take One
Fast forward six weeks and at least two things are certain for now: that moth is long gone and old man winter has left town on the train, and it is High Noon. That means lush green growth everywhere. Trees, flowers, fruits and veggies, herbs, grasses, weeds. And then there’s my old iritating nemisis: poison ivy. Although I liked Batman as a kid, I was much more impressed and inspired by the heros of the old Westerns. So let me set this up. I’m marshal Will Kane (I know, its hard to imagine me as Gary Cooper). The peaceloving Amy Fowler will be played by my lovely wife and beautiful princess, like Grace Kelly, and who is truly a “Quaker” when it comes to anything environmentally toxic. Then there’s Frank Miller and his gang, played each spring by the Toxicodendron Radicans. Sounds like an intergalatic grunge band from the 2880’s. It seems like those badboys were behind bars not that long ago and now they’re back in town with a vengeance. Do you see where this is going? The wedding bells of spring just started to ring and the Poison Ivy gang rides into town and takes over the wooded pathways and pastured trails we enjoy here at the ranch.

Do not forsake me oh my darlin’

Today is the day for a showdown and off-the-shelf industrial toxic herbicides are not an option at Wildabout Ranch. So T. Radicans … meet 30% vinegar, salt, and a little liquid dishwashing soap. I’m not joking around when I say be careful when working with this stuff. I’m talking protective safety glasses, gloves, and extreme caution when handling and applying a highly acidic solution. There’s a lot of different views expressed on the internet about this approach but we have a serious infestation each year and need to take some serious measures to address. Most advice says this approach will only work on new, young leaves after the older stuff had been cutback or removed. In anticipation of spring growth we ordered the 30% vinegar earlier in the year. 

The Waiting Game

So here’s the plan. After I post this, I will start the process of elimination on the 100 yard long, twenty feet wide pathway that leads down to Lake Greta, the half acre pond north of the house. That should take about an hour our so. Then after I have finished and cleaned everything up I plan on coming back into the house, popping a bowl of popcorn, melting some butter, opening a couple of Dr Peppers made with Pure Cane Sugar, and seeing if I can find a good Western to watch on Hulu or Netflex. Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and get to spend the evening with Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. As for the results of my attempt to clean up “the town”,  you’ll have to wait for a future post to see if I get to throw down my Tin Star and once again hike down the peaceful winding paths and trails here at Wildabout Ranch. You might even think you hear me saying … How lucky do you feel T. Radicans? Go ahead, make my day! … as I spray. Wait that’s not the right lines. That’s from another one of my good-guy bad-guy favorites!


Goodbye Summer

Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple.

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter, #7)

As a native Texan married to a 30-year transplanted Texan we can attest that our part of Texas does have four distinct seasons. They’re just not evenly divided throughout the year. Often our indian summers can stretch well into late October. By the calendar today was the fourth day of Autumn, but the first cool day for the season. The forecasted high is 70 degrees Fahrenheit  (21.1 C) and the low 61 (16.1 C). So this morning of our first September at Wildabout Ranch IS crisp and we hope provides the perfect opportunity  to taunt Summer adiue!

This is the time of year for fall festivals, lazy weekend afternoons with gridiron match ups, and thinking about long sleeves, sweaters and the holidays. But then it hits us … now is also the time to start preparing the farm for colder, rougher weather. Or is it too late? The trees are still green, the earth is still hard and parched from the summer heat and the ponds bear the scars of a long dryspell. Everything that surrounds us suggests winter’s sting is still a distant stranger. But if we’re not careful that deception could find us ill-prepared for our first January at Wildabout Ranch.

The new chickens and goats are the first concerns that come to mind. The coop and barn provide covered, enclosed shelter and protection. But after a careful recent inspection we found there are things we must still do to each, some of which we had put off because of the summer heat. Now we must make those changes our priority.  Fortunately we are not just now getting started. Earlier this month we completed a small project that now will get enough power to the coop to have a couple of heat lamps if the weather really gets bad. The goat barn already had power. But there is still much to do. Seams, joints and openings that allowed for air flow in shelters must now be inspected for sealing and closure. Ground that was grassy or hard must now be prepared to handle moisture, ice, or snow for both the animals and their caretakers. We’ve discussed adding stepping stones and gravel paths to areas that would help provide for stable footing in bad weather.

During the summer months we only kept enough hay, straw, food and other daily maintenance goods for our flock and herd to get us through a few weeks. So our storage areas to date have been small and fairly open. As we consider cooler and harsher weather we must make sure we have the places we need to keep these goods dry and accessible. The 4×8 piece of plywood that shields the hay box now won’t work when winds get stronger and the ground stays moist longer.

There is an abundance of green leafy trees at Wildabout Ranch which the goats need and enjoy. Goat are tree and brush browsers, unlike cattle and horses which are grass grazers. Our girls’ favorites (so far) are Post Oak, Honey Locust, and Elm. These are deciduous and will begin losing leaves as the weather cools. Less green leaves means the need for winter storage of leafy grasses like alfalfa and more hay for nibbling and bedding. We need a larger dry storage area that will hold sixteen bales of hay and compressed alfalfa to get us to spring.

With this fourth post we broke away from two patterns we noticed in the first three posts. First, We had been posting every three days but with hectic schedules and much to do at work and on the farm we could not keep that pace. We will try to post at least once a week. Second, the first three posts had five paragraphs each. This one closes with six even though there was no particular reason the others had only five. With that said, we close this post having shared a glimpse of our excitement about enjoying autumn in Texas and outlining that we know there is still a lot for us to do before we can feel anything close to being prepared for our first winter at Wildabout Ranch. Maybe saying goodbye to summer is really about us leaving a season to continue our adventure into the next.

Our Future Fixerupper

Pay heed to the tales of old wives. It may well be that they alone keep in memory what it was once needful for the wise to know.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Do you enjoy a good story? We do!! Add a dash of history, setup a clandestine mystery, explore the supposed site of buried treasure and we’re hooked! Soon after we moved onto what has become Wildabout Ranch we had an unexpected visitor at the front door. Having unexpected visitors in the country is not as common or casual as having someone ring your doorbell in the suburbs. They have to walk or drive onto our fenced property, come up a long, tree-lined winding gravel road more than 200 yards from the Farm-to-Market road on which our property borders. Admittedly we are outsiders in a small rural community but it didn’t take us long to get a sense that most people around us value their privacy. And with wild hogs, coyotes and other threats around we assume they have more than sufficient means for self-protection. So one does not often go on another’s property unexpected or unannounced.

Needless to say the knock on the front door was a little unusual. We cautiously approached a window to discover it was the local rural mail carrier bringing us a package that wouldn’t fit in the mailbox at the property entrance. After we finished the new-owner pleasantries and “delivery” business she introduced herself as having grown up in our recently acquired home. We learned her father had built the house thirty-seven years ago as she pointed to the bay window of the room our mother now claims. “That was my bedroom and my sister had the middle room.” This piqued our interest so we began to inquire about several things we had recently questioned about the house and surrounding property. The most intriguing nugget she shared was about the old original house, unoccupied for years and now dilapidated that still sits near some woods at the center of the property.

She asked if we had heard the story of the old house to which we shook our heads puzzled and in silence. We were aware of the building but had not yet explored it due to its deteriorating condition and overgrown foliage barrier of thorny greenbriar and poison ivy. The single-story house was modest and very old. It has a central room and two adjoining smaller rooms, one of which was probably a hastily added afterthought. There is a small porch and a covered in-ground cistern water well. The high pitched metal roof has some interesting spikes on the ridge and a one inch thick wound cable lays across a section and appears to have onetime been used as a ground wire to protect against lightning strikes.

She continued the story and explained that although their family had used the old building as a barn and its yard as a garden her father had been told it had been used as a “poker house” many, many years earlier. It was a house in the woods where people would secretly gather, gamble and do who-knows-what-else. Her eyes then lit up as she said her father had also heard there was a story about buried money somewhere near the old building. But with an antithetical pause she concluded the story by recalling a conversation she had as an adult with her aging father where he mentioned that he had dug many holes and planted all around that old house but “… never found no buried money!” We chuckled and thanked her for the package and information.

Well, there it is. We now have a backstory for some unexpected and yet to be found treasures here at Wildabout Ranch. We have stories for the moon-lit nights and campfires. We have motivation for greenbriar and poison ivy removal and to create opportunities for youthful exploration. And we have a vision for some sort of restoration that may someday give us our small cabin in the woods, which will probably happen sooner if we find some buried money near our future “Fixerupper”.

Spiders, Scorpions, and Snakes … Oh My!!

I didn’t grow up playing video games. I grew up catching crawdads in the creek and minnows and lizards and snakes.

Blake Shelton

This morning we woke to a scorpion crawling where the ceiling meets the wall. Last night before turning out the light we saw it’s partner-in-crime on the opposite wall-ceiling union. We’ve lost count of the number of scorpions found inside and outside over the past four months. It turns out they really like the dirt out here at Wildabout Ranch. We think our Golden Retriever “Peanut” found the business end of one a couple of days ago. Swelling has gone down on her left front paw and she is more cautious now when exploring the woodpile.

Earlier this summer we found five snakes over a six week stretch. Three Copperheads and two Texas Rat Snakes. I’m surprised we haven’t found more. The Copperheads were all camouflaged among leaves: in the barn, on the front porch, and slithering just after dusk near the potting shed.  My wife found the adult rodent hunter in a workshop drawer and my mother-in-law found a juvenile under the patio cushions. One of the things I’m very proud of is having taught my sons there are two types of snakes: good snakes and future dead snakes, and how to identify the difference. I rescued the Rat Snakes and relocated them to live another day.

My wife taught me to admire the beauty of the Yellow Garden Spider and her intricate web and eggsacks. The spiders are venomous but if left alone not aggressive. There are two we watch daily from the east side kitchen window and the west side back deck. We’ve watched as their partners and other unfortunate victims provided the much needed nourishments for the sixteen watchful eyes of the protective mothers. These are also known as Web Writer spiders. Think Charolette’s Web. 

We are challanged with what to tame at Wildabout Ranch and what to accept and leave untamed. We avoid most pesticides and herbicides. For example Demon WP is an insecticide that would fix our scorpion problem when applied around the foundation perimeter. But it also kills bees and bees are our friends. So we won’t use Demon WP at Wildabout Ranch. It turns out scorpions dislike mothballs. We’ve placed some in the attic and although it’s not an iron barrier, they do seem to help keep inhouse sightings down as we’re seeing less now than before.  I am highly allergic to poison ivy and we recently learned 30% acidity vinegar can be used to make a pond-friendly contact herbicide to remove poison ivy. We have four runoff ponds. UPS delivered four gallons and I’ll report the poison ivy purge progress in a future posts.

Life on a farm is rich in life, and death. Our role as adventurers requires us to look for balance when encountering the wilder side of our shared home while also being smart and responsible. We welcome feedback and insight from others who have learned successful ways to achieve balance and manage shared lifespaces with the responsibility we hope to demonstrate at Wildabout Ranch. We also want to have a place our posterity can come enjoy and explore when they grow tired of video games.

And so it Begins

One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure.

William Feather

And so the adventure begins. April 27, 2016 we bought a farm. No, it’s not in Africa … but in some ways we relate to the characters played by Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. Of course there’s a back story, there always is, and we can get to those vignettes when it makes sense to do so.

We took possession of the farm on May 15th. Today is September 17th, a day before I celebrate my next birthday. It’s a Saturday morning and I am watching our four Nubian goats browse and forage on oak, hackberry, and honey locusts leaves. The two doelings are playfully head butting while the two yearlings continue to chomp on their leafy breakfasts. A broken windmill squeaks in the distance as a periodic reminder we are not alone on our new farm paradise, but the neighbors’ plots are far enough away so we enjoy a sense of solitude and peace.

My wife works in healthcare and I work in technology. And then there is the farm. We were fortunate to find a place that met most all of what we had been looking for. It has a thirty-seven year old house on a hill in need of love and enough acreage to ever so slightly overwhelm us. The previous owners had let the land go wild. We’re also fortunate to have my wife’s mother with us. She’s a strong woman and a critical part of the adventure.

In the past four months we started updates on the house: foundation repairs, new floors, electrical work, wall  and ceiling repairs, and paint. There is still more to do. We also built a chicken coop, now filled with fifteen hens and five rooster (three roosters too many). They started laying about a month ago. Then we added a goat barn with a pen, which with the unexpected addition of the four Nubian goats now qualifies us as a “ranch”. But we still think of our sixty-one acres as a farm. Maybe that’s the romantic in us.

The goats have now finished browsing and I have chores. So with grateful hearts and another day of health today we begin to chronicle and share our story. Our adventure on Wildabout Ranch.