farm life

Squirrel Numbers

This is the one farmer in our house who is responsible for coordinating squirrel removal:

The one child's winter snow shovel serves as protection against an angry squirrel attacking said-farmer's face, which is what happened to Chevy Chase.  The two hired trappers do not have this fear.  One trapper enjoys his job a little too much.  ("I smell something dead.  I'll follow my nose and see if I can find it...  Found it!  Come take a look!!")  I would much rather not.  But I needed to know where "it" was, so I did.

This is one of six.  As in one of six squirrels and also as in one of six hundred dollars spent on removal.

Here are two men tearing up Squirrel Avenue with the help of a simple machine: a rope, flung over an upper branch, tied onto the branch being cut, in order to guide it away from our neighbor's fence.

One man in his machine tearing up Squirrel Avenue.

The base of this one machine was the best... it looked like a giant grasshopper!  Squirrels should be scared.  Very, very scared.

At the end of the day, one new discovery: poison ivy all over the ground where the grasshopper sat.  This family of four is either very lucky or poison ivy resistant.

The farmer will soon be shifting from squirrel removal to poison ivy removal.

(In England, slugs may be more abundant than squirrels... An English Slug.)


Banner photo by Yigithan Bal from Pexels

Squirrels in the Loft

So often my writing at 3 a.m. on Wednesday mornings is from the hub of juxtaposition. I perch criss-crossed atop the intersection of a funky fence that spikes out from under me in many directions. On a slowly spinning Lazy Susan, I see a myriad of uneven angles resembling those created by cow-path meandering streets of my neighborhood. They make no Midwest-grid sense but perfect early-New-England-get-your-cow-to-the-common-in-the-most-direct-route-from-your-barn sense. And this morning on my spin: squirrels. Down the fence lines, I'm juxtaposed by the sights. My barn. The farm in Iowa. The scope of a .22. The tree tunneled electric wire highway to the big chewed away corner of my barn. The sweet animals playing in the winter snow. The lack of squirrel nests in my maple trees. My barn in flames. (That didn't happen. That is from a futuristic vantage point.) The Chevy Chase movie scene with a squirrel adhered to his face. Opening my email using software titled "Squirrel Mail." The rodents that are anything but sweet. Merely rats with bushy tails.

All these have culminated with the necessary action of squirrel removal from a place that isn't rural to most, but with so many trees is rural to some. A place I call the city, but a place a friend who lives nearer to "the city" refers to as "not the city." A place where squirrel removal doesn't involve my brother's .22, but rather a live trap set by a 3rd party. A man who has a no-nonsense kind of tone to his work. "The radio in the loft won't do anything, unless you want to teach the squirrels to dance." From the state of the pulled down insulation in the barn loft, there were a few too many squirrel dance parties before I even set the radio up.

There are times one must throw money at a situation for it to go away. Tax time. Squirrel time. Forget who you are, where you grew up, or who you know near and far. Call the tree man and call the squirrel man. For we aren't in a timber where we can fell a tree with two people and a chainsaw nor do we have weapons in our home.

Perhaps after this when the dreams stop and the fear of the back corner of the loft subsides, we will take some well-deserved time off. It will be a stay-cation at our own squirrel-free property. The money for the vacation went out with the squirrels and down with the trees.

(Who is your farmer in the family?  One guess who mine is.)

Corn's On!

What will you do or did you do on your 70th birthday? At dusk on the eve of Dad’s 70th birthday, Will, Liam and I were helping Dad pick sweet corn.  We would be “doing corn” the next day, on his birthday.  In the corn patch, which was probably 100 yards long and 20 rows deep, Dad picked corn and filled 5-gallon buckets while I couriered full buckets to the Chevy S-10 and emptied them into the truck-bed.

The corn stalks shot way over our heads and were thick enough to hide Dad in the middle.  I followed his voice to find him and exchange my empties for his full buckets.

The boys and I over-exaggerated the steps we took over the electric fence. It lined the perimeter of the corn patch and was about 6 inches off the ground. The fence stopped the raccoons from entering the patch. If a raccoon family had a midnight feast, then invited their friends to come the next night and the next, a good chunk of corn would be stripped from the stalks in a matter of a couple days.

Shortly, this conversation between Farm Dad and City Girl ensued:

“How many buckets have you emptied?” Dad asked. “I don’t know, maybe 8 – 12,” I guessed. “Haven’t you been counting?” he asked. Then a flashback: yes, for some reason, I should’ve been counting. “No.” “You haven’t been counting?” “No, you didn’t tell me to count.” “We always count, so Mom has enough for 100 pints.” “Oh… well, I haven’t done this in 15 years – I guess I needed a reminder to count.”  Then good-naturedly, "Why, Linda Kay... I can't believe you didn't count."

At dusk...we had more than enough for 100 pints.  We had a truck-load.

 It sat in the drive overnight, and early the next 70th-birthday-morning, Dad and I started husking corn...

...and the boys joined us.

 Amateur corn-picker that I was had dumped corn haphazardly into the truck-bed covering the whole thing. Soon realizing I had goofed up the shucking system a bit, I reshuffled all the corn to the back of the truck to where we could reach it, making room to toss the corn husks and silks to the front of the bed.

“I bet I’m the only one in my school who has done this!” Will said, as we filled the coolers with corn.

Four coolers of corn on the cob equal 100 pints of corn kernels for the freezer. Once we had lined the coolers up in the dining room, Dad’s job had ended for the time being, and Mom took over.

Mom and I lined the kitchen table and floor with newspaper, and set up a de-silking station on one end of the table and an area to cut the corn off the cob at the other end.

Maureen, Mom’s friend since high school, arrived with her grandson and the setting was complete. It was time to “do corn.” The three boys used dish towels to brush off the corn silks... Maureen, Mom and I could start stripping kernels off the cobs.

The magic soon wore off the de-silking process. The boys took breaks when there was nowhere to pile the silk-free corn and came back when we called them. They were all such troopers finishing the de-silking, it was tough going at times, but they did it.

I had seen those piles through the eyes of a 7- and 9-year-old. I remember vegetables and fruit that needed to be cleaned, stemmed, broken, cut-up – they were monstrous. Here, much like walking beans, was the true-grit of farming. Of growing and freezing our own food.  Of sticking to a task until it was finished.

Mom’s job shifted once we had big pans of kernels. They needed to be blanched for three minutes...spread out to cool in front of the fan, then loaded into pint-size freezer bags that were labeled with “2013.”

Maureen and I kept cutting as Mom followed the circuit of those final processing tasks.  Aunt Alison arrived later in the afternoon, "I heard you were doing corn.  I thought I would come up and help."  Aunt Alison stepped into the blanching, cooling, bagging circuit with Mom.

Towards the end of the afternoon, Liam walked through the kitchen. “BLAH! YUCK! What did I step in???” Ah, yes, that feeling of sweet, sticky corn milk on the bottom of your foot and the dragging of newspaper along with you as you try to walk away from it.  My “doing corn” memory and his “doing corn” experience were now complete!

“Mom, there just aren’t many kids who have done this, right?" Will asked again.  "We picked it, husked it, cleaned it and bagged it! We did it all from beginning to end!”

Having the "corn on” during our Iowa summer visit was a gift to this Farm Girl and her family.

Happy 70th, Dad.

(Yet another hot, humid summer memory... When the headlights came looking for me.)