Thank you, Whale Eyes

Gertie, shortly after arriving at The Quarry Farm.

Gertie, shortly after arriving at The Quarry Farm.

In February of 2012, shortly after Anne and I came to the conclusion that we shouldn’t take on pot-bellied pigs at The Quarry Farm, we took on our first pot-bellied pig. Such is the way of things. “No, never,” has a way of morphing into, “Absolutely. Today? Bring her on over.”

She came to us by way of the Humane Society of Allen County. They, in their turn, came to have her by way of the Lima Police Department, who called the good people at HSoAC when they found Gertie and a number of other animals huddled around the body of the woman with whom they had lived for all of their lives. There was nothing nefarious about her death; she was simply an elderly woman whose passing left a host of animals bereft and homeless.

When she arrived here, Gertie was understandably morose. The only home she had ever known was gone, as were all of her companions, and she was in the company of strangers. We had built her a shelter, her own pen, under the stairs that lead between the first and second floors of our home. We lined it with blankets and that is where she insisted on staying, pushing her head out of a cocoon of fabric just long enough to eat and drink. She slept 22 out of 24 hours, ranging out only when we forced her out, hauling her kicking and screaming from her sanctuary, out the front door and down a ramp we had constructed just for her, using a blanket as an improvised sling. While she was housebroken, this was no house she recognized. So, three times a day, this was our routine. Until, that is, the day she stood at the gate to her pen, waiting. She walked out on her own that day, out and through the front door and down the ramp, grumbling the whole way. Pigs are intelligent animals, intelligent and sensitive, and Gertie was a pig’s pig. It took her all of three days to work out her new situation, despite having had her world turned upside down.

001Gertie’s state of mind was only the first in a litany of issues that threatened her well-being. Though it was apparent that Gertie was loved in her first home, there were fundamental areas of care that had long been neglected. She was grossly overweight, weighing in at nearly 200 pounds when she first stepped through our door. And that was the least of her physical problems. Despite their infamous cloven hooves, pigs move about much like horses or donkeys or goats: that is to say, on their toes. Gertie’s toenails, her hooves, had never been trimmed, not once in the estimated seven years she’d been alive. Instead of walking on the tips of her toes, her hooves, extending out over a foot from each toe, forced her to move about on the pads of her feet. It took nearly two years to whittle her hooves back to the point where she could even approximate a normal posture.

001Anne and Gertie made friends fairly quickly, though even Anne had trouble at first; Gertie charged her the first time they met. She was much slower with the rest of us. It took her the better part of six months to accept me and even then usually only when I was in the kitchen, and it was nearly a full year before she came to accept her new place as home. I have no doubt that the introduction of Beatrice, better known as Little Pig, played a role in Gertie’s recovery. A new companion with whom she could see eye to eye finally gave us all the opportunity to meet the being with whom Anne was already familiar.

Gertie and Beatrice

Gertie and Beatrice

I’m stymied now. There are a million anecdotes that I want to share, but the details are gone. What I do remember is her expression. She went from guarded and flat to completely open, no matter her mood. Mostly, she was amused — at us, at what she had just done, at the antics of the other animals in the house — and it showed up in her eyes. Anne referred to them as whales’ eyes: expressive and deep. Though already thin, a few months ago Gertie started losing weight. Ulcers began to bloom on her sides and on the ridges of her spine. Dr. Kathleen Babbitt, Gertie’s doctor, diagnosed uterine cancer. On Tuesday, we took her in for one last visit, then brought her shell home and laid it in her favorite sunning spot.

I’m confident that the stories will come back, but even without them, I’m blessed. I’ll always have her expressions.

Gertie's happy face

Gertie’s happy face

 

Spring 2014 newsletter

2014 Spring Newsletter-2

 

 

 

This latest issue is packed with information about wild spring babies (and what to do if you find one or more) resident news and announcements for upcoming events on The Quarry Farm Nature Preserve and Conservation Farm.

Click on the cover to the left and read for yourself. Hope to see you on the trails as we search for wildflowers, salamanders, constellations and photo opportunities.

Beatrice gets a hoof trim

There are two pot-bellied pigs that live with us here on The Quarry Farm Nature Preserve and Conservation Farm. Neither began their lives here, but this is where they will stay. Soon Beatrice and Gertie will be joined by Alphonse, Bob Barker, Grits and Greta, four pot-bellies that found themselves without a home after a cruelty and neglect seizure by a nearby humane organization.

While this video may make you laugh a little, we hope it also makes you think long and hard about the care that smart, inquisitive, stubborn and vocal pot-bellied pigs require in order to live in harmony. Indeed, keep that in mind whenever you adopt. Anything.

On the other hand, piggies are a joy when you are prepared to welcome them into your life.

when the bough breaks…

Somewhere between two and three weeks ago, we went out and brought back our first squirrels of the season: fox squirrel pups, three of them. They were tiny, nearly hairless and had yet to open their eyes.

IMG_6526The call about them came from a friend in the Village of Continental. One of her neighbors was felling a tree damaged at some point over the winter. What came down with the tree, sadly, was an unnoticed squirrel’s nest and the three little beings inside it. Efforts were made to reunite the pups with their mother, but, again sadly, that didn’t work out. So now they’re here in Rowan’s very capable hands, getting the best that we can offer.

Ideally, though, infants will grow up with their own parents. So, without meaning to sound preachy, if you’re going to do tree work, particularly at this time of year, give a thought to the animals living in the tree in question. If you can, wait until the little ones, whether mammal or bird, have grown and left the nest.

On a different, but related, topic, if you happen to find an infant on the ground, do your best to reunite the little one and its parents. If it’s a mammal, keep an eye on it for up to 24 hours before making the choice to take it in. More often than not, one of the infant’s parents will rescue the little one. With birds, try to work out from which tree the nestling might have fallen. If you do, build another nest out of an old butter tub or some other suitable container and line it with paper towels. Drill holes in the bottom of the container to allow rain water to pass through and tack it to the tree as high as you can safely place it. Then, as with the mammal babies, keep an eye out for the bird’s parents. If you don’t see a parent caring for the nestling bird, then take it in, keep it warm and dry, but do not feed it, and contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center to make arrangements for transport.

*A special thanks to Fox Valley Animal Nutrition, Inc., for all their efforts in creating the most effective milk replacement formulas for orphaned and injured wildlife.

Zen and the Art of Chicken Dancing

For those of you who’ve been paying any kind of attention, the fact that I have a singular fascination for one particular type of bird should come as no surprise. Chickens. I’m talking about chickens. For those of you who thought, “crows”, fair enough, but no. While all corvids caught my heart long ago, they’re a different chapter in the work-in-progress that is The Quarry Farm.

So, chickens. And, more to the point, my fascination with them. And, to grind out an even finer point, how that fascination manifests. I’ve spent more than a fair amount of time wandering with the birds that share this piece of ground with us. I’ve fed them, held them, chatted with them, sung to them and simply sat and pondered the meaning of life with them. And they do, in my opinion. Ponder the meaning of life. I assume, anyway, that that’s what they’re doing when they grow still and quiet, their eyes unfocused and staring. They’re trying to make sense of the nonsensical, resolve order out of the chaos that surrounds them. Or so I choose to believe in more contemplative moments.

Chickens. They’ve proven fine companions, a wellspring of calm and the source of a flurry of creativity. They have, and here we get right down to the point, served collectively as a literary muse, even going so far as to inspire a unique style of poetry. It has Asian roots, but its own voice and a distinctive East meets Midwest vibe.

We call it Chaiku.

Chaiku, in its most basic form is nonsense, but nonsense with a direction. Take this piece, entitled surprise and the very first chaiku originating at The Quarry Farm:

buck buck buck buck buck
buck buck breeawwk-uck buck buck
buck buckGAWWWK buck buck

There are, of course, other pieces that fit a more traditional mold. They range from the absurd

unconventional wisdomPriscilla
Angry chickens dance,
feet drumming their dark fury.
A wise earth trembles.

to the comical

a matter of perspective
What is now a hen
was, times past, a dinosaur.
Respect your breakfast.

to the truly zen

scratch
Hungry red chicken
stalks the yard in fits and starts.
Too late, cricket jumps.Big Girl

and

evening
red and purple sky
horned owls stir in cottonwoods
in the coop, silence

and

morning
little yellow house
staccato taps on white door
chickens are restless

Audrey, Too and Anne

Audrey, Too and Anne

Postscript This winter, eight new chickens, four roosters and four hens, joined the flock that calls The Quarry Farm home. They were part of a larger seizure of dogs, ponies, horses, pigs and fowl carried out by the Allen County Humane Society in the middle of what climatologists called the Polar Vortex and that I simply thought of as The Damned Cold Days. Suffice it to say that the conditions all of the animals were in were inadequate. The chickens came here skinny and dehydrated and while all bore signs of frostbite, some were missing toes and pieces of toes. One, a big white congenial rooster, didn’t survive the winter: a consequence, we believe, of both age and injury. So now there are seven: Wesley, who we suspect to be a bantam rooster cross; Audrey, Too, a red hen who has developed the habit of leaping to our shoulders or onto our arms; and two white roosters and three spotted white hens who have yet to reveal their names. At present, the individuals in the flock total 31, though with Easter on the horizon, that number is likely to rise.

perhaps Spring

Coburn's Bottom

Coburn’s Bottom

This Winter past was tenacious, a Narnian epic of cold and ice and snow that took heed of D. Thomas’s advice to “…not go gentle…” Even so, Spring arrived this past week, though with very little fanfare, very few signs to tell the difference between Wednesday’s Winter and Thursday’s Spring.

There are hummocks of snow on the leeward side of slopes, dirty brown and coarse with thaw and freeze. In what some locals call Coburn’s Bottom, there is still ice where we would expect to find clear vernal pools, and ice on the quarry as well. Near the Cut Off we would ordinarily see signs of spring wildflowers: at the very least, their tender shoots breaking ground. But not this year, not yet. No trees that I have seen are budding and even the bane of The Quarry Farm, Japanese honeysuckle, seems lifeless and brown.

But as obstinate as this Winter has proven itself to be, Spring is equally resolute. The signs are there if you look sharp and keep your ears open.

Skunks and raccoons and squirrels all shriek and whistle and bark their intentions, whether amorous or combative. Turkey vultures are making their way back, riding what thermals they can find and woodcocks, too, those strange little baseballs with wings and beaks, buzzing and whickering in the night. I have seen a killdeer or two and heard a red-winged blackbird. And there is duckweed on the quarry and Canada geese and mallards and wood ducks.Turkey vulture

So, rather than the raucous, slippery immediacy of Cumming’s in just-, we’re experiencing a different sort of Spring, something more along the lines of…

Spring Is Like a Perhaps Hand
By E.E. Cummings

Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look(while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.

The first run of the season

Today was the first day of the plunge into the season of animal rehabilitation calls. An hour or so after arriving at home, a call came in about a Canada goose that was reported to have a broken wing, and spent three or so days frozen to the ground amidst field stubble out on Old 224. I met up with Mum so that we had a better chance at catching the creature.

We drove out toward the area where we were told we would find the goose. We parked in a driveway that once belonged, presumably, to a house along Old 224, approximately one hundred and fifty yards up the road from where we had spotted our target. The two of us laughed helplessly, looking out at the goose, which sat across one of the many impromptu lakes created by the melting of the snow. In fact, it was more like an impromptu creek, being connected to the Blanchard River at its head and base, roiling at both.

The snow made the drop down into the field look gradual, but my first step toward the bottom proved that assumption to be false. My right leg plunged down into the snow, burying itself up to just above my knees. Chuckling, the both of us tread more carefully down into the field.

Upon approaching the spontaneous creek, the Canada goose stood up, displaying a slightly off-looking wing, and took a few hesitant steps away. It had had no need to, as unless we were going to miraculously acquire a boat or full-body waders, there was no way we were going to reach the other side of the waters.

We stood on our side, looking right and left for a break we could cross, when the goose took off, running and throwing open its wings. It caught a bit of wind and rose higher and higher, gliding west through the river corridor. Turning, we strode back up to the road and back to the car, shivering in our sweatshirts. Two vehicles stopped and inquired as to whether we needed help (thank you!) and chuckled when we informed them that we were returning from a literal wild goose chase.

And so, for us, the year begins. Hopefully, this first call foreshadows the course of this year, with concerned fellows and the positive turn of events.