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Pretty little chicklet before her head feathers grew in. I took this photo the middle of May, before I left for New England.

Even babies like to roost, as this one does in mid May. Look at her sleepy eyes.

I’m taking a break from telling what I did on vacation to update what’s happening at my place lately. It’s a cloudy wet day, so for a change I am not outside working hard. I wandered around with a camera instead, to supplement photos that I did not have already.

First of all, I want to talk about the chicklets, the Lil’ Hussies. They were tiny and cheepy when I left, with fuzzy fluff on their heads instead of feathers. I returned the end of May and almost all the fluff is gone, and everyone has big girl feathers. They eat and drink so much now! I am grateful to Tara’s dad, who housesat and kept all my animals alive while I was gone.

The growing chicks are filling up their cage, but so far still plenty of room for them. There is a box filled with straw in the top, and on cold nights they all huddle together there and stay warm.

The chick on the right is an Ameraucana. The chick on the left is a Buff Brahma. She has feathers on her feet.

The Ameracaunas can get a puff of feathers at their cheeks and neck.

The first thing I had to do when I returned was to mow the property. I should know better than to leave during May – the fastest growing time of year for grass around here. In the weeks I was gone, my land became a jungle. Then I had to mow it! And when I got the grass cut down in the flat areas, I began with the weed whacker and began hacking down the grass along the creek and around the trees, where I can’t mow.

Some deer grazed in the luxurious grass in the back of the property near the bee hives before I had a chance to mow down there.

Looking over the top of my riding lawn mower. What a job ahead of me! Oy!

Time for weed whacking. The grass was literally taller than me.

While fiercely hacking the 6-foot tall grass down to size, I unintentionally exposed a bird’s nest. By the time I realized what it was, I had cleared all the protective grass on every side. Thankfully I did not disturb the nest itself, or the blackberry shrub it is built in. Once I realized what I had done, I grabbed piles of the long cut grass, and laid them against the side of the nest, to provide shelter on all sides, with a couple small holes for the mama to get through to the nest. I hope I haven’t ruined this baby’s chance at life, but I certainly didn’t help. I hope mama comes back.

A bird’s nest in a blackberry bush.

Such a beautiful egg. I don’t know what kind of bird it is though.

I had heaps of laundry to take care of when I got back, obviously. I washed my sheets while I was at it. Racecar, who was not quite ready to let me out of her sight, wanted to be on the bed while I made it with clean sheets.

Racecar is nonplussed when I toss the sheet over her.

Likewise unperturbed when I tossed the comforter over her.

The next morning she burrowed under the covers for the delicious warmth of the down comforter. I got up and left her there.

I left the bed with Racecar still burrowed beneath the covers. I had been working at my computer for two hours when I detected movement. She emerged, and gave her paw a few licks. “Good morning!” I called to her. She immediately curled up and went back to sleep. Yeah, I’ve had a morning or two like that.

Racecar is not yet prepared to face the day.

When I left, the apple trees were blossoming, and the peach, and the plum. My little orchard is still there for me, with one casualty. I had not been able to recall what one new tree was, but it died over the winter, so now I don’t need to remember. I’ll have to pull it out and replace it with something else. I have a green apple, red apple, peach, plum, and pear. What should I have next? A cherry I think!

An apple tree in blossom before I left, and bees happily collecting pollen.

A close up of one of my wonderful honey bees.

The plum a few days ago. Look at all that fruit! (and all that tall grass in the background I still need to cut down)

While cutting the tall grass, I kept staring down the bank at my “dam.” It was created over time. Remember that winter when I lost so many trees? Well, a tree fell across the creek at this spot and is firmly lodged there. I don’t own a chainsaw or a tractor, and have spent the time since just fretting about it, and worrying that it could result in a dam and a flood. Well, it happened. Someone upstream of me must have had their woodpile flooded, because a bunch of cut wood came down the creek and stopped right there at the downed tree. Once the big holes were stopped, then all the little branches and weeds of winter creek flow got lodged into the big pieces of wood, and blocked it up. I had my dam.

As I swung the weed whacker back and forth cutting grass on the hill above the dam, I thought what I had thought twenty times already: that could be firewood if I could get it out of there. So the next day I put on shorts and water shoes and climbed into the creek.

Turns out, those water logged pieces of wood are a lot heavier than they look. I thought I would be able to lift most of it and hurl it from the water. Nope. They will have to be dragged out. And the big trees will have to be cut up. I suspect that I will not be able to put off learning to use a chainsaw forever.

First look at the dam.

After a couple hours of work, not enough difference to satisfy me. How frustrating. I did another hour of work after this and then gave up. All the rest is too heavy for me to lift.

I had to take a shower. All that wood and plant debris held in situ in stagnant water. Phew!

And finally today the rains came, so I had permission to stop working. Instead I ran around taking photos of flowers in my gardens.

Buttercups are supposedly a weed, but they are so pretty. And the deer love them!

Foxglove is one of my favourite wild flowers.

Groundcover doing well in the shade beneath a hemlock tree.

Salmonberry is past flowering stage. I haven’t seen one ripe yet because as soon as they get close, the birds eat them.

Vinca also likes the poor soil beneath the hemlock tree.

I don’t remember what this is called, but the deer don’t eat it. That makes it a favourite plant.

While deer won’t eat rhododendrons, they are happy to eat their cousins the azaleas. Thankfully, these are close to the house and escape the teeth.

These lavender flowers remind me of badminton shuttle cock. Gosh, I don’t think I’ve played that game since high school. Ah, I digress…

This rose is a surprise and a joy. I bought it last year, mostly dead, at a 75% off plant sale at Fred Meyer. It was so cheap it was worth the gamble. Look what happened.

Another plant I bought because it was on sale for being mostly dead. It came to life too, but I don’t know what it is. This is the third year it has come back. I just love those rich red trumpets.

Well, that’s most of the big news. Small news is: no, I have not even started weeding. One of my gardens is so buried I’m not even sure where the actual plants are anymore. I need a warm day, a good audio book, and some sturdy jeans so I can sit my butt down and weed for an entire day and give my pretty plants a new life. Oh, there’s some bad news too: I went to check on my oak tree down by the creek and I can’t find it. That means those bratty deer ate it again. I had the thought before my trip that I should cover it, since they ate it last year too and it had some nice strong stems and lots of big healthy leaves in May. Well, a good idea is wasted if I don’t act on it. Drat. Now I need to find the tree and hope they left enough of the stem so it can try again next year. Grrr. Deer!

Monday morning before sunup I looked out to see that a doe had slept in my yard for the night. I love the idea that they feel safe here, beneath the “Fairy Crossing” sign.

Panoramic view of my pretty yard, with the pond on the left and house on the right.

Another panorama, of just the pond.

Some days it’s just another day. And some days everything happens at once. They say when it rains it pours, but while in early May that rainy idiom is typically applicable in my town of Rainier, Oregon, Monday was unseasonably sunny and warm.

After I took photos of the deer on Monday morning, I put on some boots and clogged out to the chicken house. I saw a pile of red feathers inside the pen and gasped “No!” But it was true. I lost my favourite chicken, Tawny. Ugh. I cannot figure out what’s happening. I thought it was a raccoon, because I’ve known them to attack and kill ducks before. But I had circled the pen and blocked every entrance point big enough for a raccoon. Now I think it’s rats. Rats come into the chicken house all the time to eat their food. Periodically I have to poison them to reduce their population. Before moving here I did not know that so many rats live in the forest. I never had to deal with rats in any city I ever lived in, but out here in the woods, rats are as common as mosquitos. Do rats kill without eating their prey? Why? Why does something keep killing my hens and just leaving their bodies? It doesn’t make any sense to me.

I frequently spotted Tawny under the birdfeeder in front of my office window, as she is here last weekend.

There’s my girls on Sunday. Tawny and Jamie, the only two I had left until Monday, because something is killing them.

See that gap under the door into the chicken pen? I thought raccoons were getting in, so I blocked it with large rocks.

I am so sad to lose Tawny. She was my sassiest Hussy, a Rhode Island Red. She was bold and pecked me without reserve, but not maliciously, just to get attention, or to tell me they’re out of food. She would always come running to me when she spotted me, and hovered inches from my legs at all times, and would let me pick her up, or just pet her soft feathers. She’s the one that always broke out of her pen to go directly to my flower beds and begin tearing them up. It would have been more of a problem except that the way to catch her was merely to call “Hey pretty girl!” and she’d come running right to me and I’d scoop her up and take her back to the pen. She laid ginormous dark brown eggs.

Ohh, my girl. I am so sorry I couldn’t protect you.

I’m also worried that I won’t be able to protect my Lil’ Hussies when they grow up and move into that pen, until I can solve the mystery of what is killing them. I am so frustrated.

Just as I finished disposing of Tawny’s body, the bee people showed up. It’s time for bees again! I host them on my property every summer and fall, and get paid in honey.

Bees moved this year to a different place on my property so that they get more hours of sunlight.

Foklift moves hives from the truck to the grass.

The new bee colony at the very back of my property.

Ooooh! Look at them all buzzing around and getting their new home in order. Click the image for a larger version and you can see them.

I went back into the house to my office to do some computer work planning for my upcoming trip to New England, and spotted two more visitors. Hello? Were you two invited?

Squirrel discovered the bird seed. I am used to a tiny grey squirrel and a tiny black squirrel I call the Squirrel Ninja. This one is big and has probably been eating the bird seed at someone else’s house too.

And then right before my eyes, the neighbor cat came hurtling into the garden and up the tree, after the hummingbirds. You could film an episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom at my house. (Ooops, did I just expose my age again?)

Then it was time to clean all the rat caches out of the chicken house, and block all their nasty holes and entrances. The caches are cubby holes they pack full of stuff they want to keep. This time it was pineapple tops I had thrown in there, straw, chicken food, and naturally, rat poop. Then I fed them poison because I needed to do something for my broken heart.

For good measure, I then grabbed my poisoned worms that had recently arrived in the mail, and baited 20 mole holes, those little bastards.

Moles were tearing up my yard all winter.

And that reminded me to poison fleas. So I grabbed Racecar and dosed her in flea killing oil. Once a month I dab it on the back of her neck to keep the fleas away. She hunts chipmunks and birds and mice so she collects new fleas from her prey. In answer to your question: No, no she does not hunt forest rats.

It makes me shudder to think of all those toxic chemicals I just put into the world on Monday, but I was mad. And also….I haven’t found anything effective that eliminates these pests without toxic chemicals.

Raccoon paw prints on the cat carrier.

Done with my office work I went back outside and spotted another pest. The cat carrier no longer hosts chickens, but was still sitting on the porch because I hadn’t put it away. A raccoon’s paw prints show that a raccoon was on my porch last night, investigating. Grrrrr! Luckily I can’t prove the raccoon is getting my hens, or I’d find a way to poison it too.

I was mad again and a good way to deal with that is to go to work, so I hauled out the weed whacker and filled the tank and checked the string and harnessed myself up and off I went. I went at it for four hours. It definitely helped. By then I was exhausted and my back was killing me.

I took down the tall grass all the way around the pond, and around all the trees on the far side of the pond.

Me getting dirty. I think it’s so hilarious how splattered I get with what I call “weed guts.” Green glop gets sprayed from top to bottom, coating my glasses, sticking in my hair and onto my face. I guess a person can’t expect to be glamorous when she’s working on the farm.

I went to check on the Lil’ Hussies to make sure at least someone in my realm was ok. They were ok.

Babies had a great day and they are doing fine over there beside the horseshoe pit and the apple tree in bloom. But what is that in the distance by the pond?

Great Blue Heron is hunting the frogs in my pond. I’m cool with that. You do you, beautiful bird.

This is one of the rare times I’ve ever had a chance to photograph this bird properly.

Enough for one day!! It was time for dinner and some pomegranate cider. I have to make my salads look amazing to trick myself into eating them, ha ha.

Wish with me that Jamie stays safe now and that the Lil’ Hussies grow up safe and strong and do not ever have to battle rats.

My friend Curt over at Wandering Through Time and Place introduced me to his friend Bone, the bone, last year. He was telling Bone about my place, and when Bone talked to Curt about a visit, a plan was quickly put into action. He put on his favourite leather vest and came up to northern Oregon for a few weeks last year, and at the time I posted a photo of Bone with my bees, and a little later, Bone in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I intended to do a Bone-centric post and it slipped through the cracks. So, without additional delay, here is the full story of Bone’s visit.

As I mentioned, we visited the bees on my property first.

Here, a bee tells Bone something that I didn’t hear.

Bone really liked my back yard and thanked me for my hospitality. I said I was happy to have such a pleasant guest.

Next, Tara and I took Bone to the coastal town of Astoria. Sometimes people are reluctant to climb the Astoria Column that overlooks the mouth of the Columbia River as it empties into the Pacific Ocean, but Bone didn’t hesitate at all! He was on vacation and wanted to do it all. So I helped him climb the 164 steps to the top.

Bone told me a joke right as Tara took the photo. Lucky I didn’t fall off!

We had sushi for dinner. Bone was fascinated by watching the chefs prepare our meal, but was not interested in tasting any of it.

He never did get tired that day. Bone was hopping around, trying to look out the windows, so Tara let him sit on the dashboard to watch the road as we drove home.

The next week I was in Oklahoma, at the invitation of the Cherokee Nation. The week started off with a three-day conference in Tulsa. Of course, Bone came along.

Inside the Hard Rock Casino in Tulsa, we Cherokees spent the whole time viewing the Cherokee art throughout the facility. Bone and I liked this one by Jane Osti best.

To the bottom left, you can see Bone trying to decide if he feels lucky.

When the conference was over, my group of visiting Cherokees went out to Cherokee country and were treated to up close visits at some important historical sites. At the Saline Courthouse, we walked around till we found an old cemetery. I had not done my research prior to this trip, and inspected gravestones at random, based on how interesting their appearance from a distance. Thus I missed the one that says, “A. J. Colvard. Born April 12, 1858.” and it then lists the date Andrew Jackson Colvard was murdered. It actually says “murdered” on the gravestone! I am so sad I didn’t see that in person. Interestingly, I did get this gravestone, which is linked to Mr. Colvard’s:

Bone likes exploring cemeteries.

Another place we visited was the Cherokee Heritage Center. This center for Cherokee culture, history, and the arts is located where the first Cherokee female seminary used to be. In the 19th century, Cherokee prided themselves on exceptional schools. In the traditionally matriarchal society, girls’ education was as important as boys.’ The first Cherokee Female Seminary was a boarding school opened by the Cherokee Nation in 1851. A fire burned the building in 1887 and all that remains are three columns.

First Cherokee Female Seminary, courtesy Wikipedia.

Bone quietly contemplated Cherokee history as he gazed at the columns.

The heart of Cherokee country is the city of Tahlequah, where the Chief and his administration are based.

Can you see him sitting on the bricks?

While waiting for the speakers to get organized, Bone gasped and pointed. There was Chief Bill John Baker!

We both learned quickly that when Cherokees get together, there will be food.

And before we knew it, our trip to Cherokee land was over and we had to go home. Bone wanted to stay longer with the Cherokees, and so did I, and he was pretty sad while we sat in the airport waiting for our flight.

Sad as he was to go, Bone couldn’t resist watching the planes load and unload.

Bone slept almost the whole flight back. I had finally managed to tire him out. His emotions are hard to read and I’m never quite sure if I can catch a facial expression, but it seemed like he was smiling while he slept. When we arrived back in Portland, I asked him about it. Bone said he was dreaming about Cherokees, and imagined that he got to meet Sky Wildcat, Miss Cherokee 2016-2017 and Lauryn Skye McCoy, Junior Miss Cherokee. He described the two young women so well, it almost seemed like it wasn’t a dream after all.

Bone with Sky Wildcat and Lauryn Skye McCoy.

Bees swirl above their hives in the morning sunlight.

A neighbor told me about a local bee company that will pay people in honey for the use of their land. Liquid gold.

I spoke with Yelena a few times and arranged a meeting with Pavel Martynov, patriarch of a friendly Kazakhstani family in Battle Ground, Washington. He showed up with his daughter Anastasia to translate, and we all walked around the property to choose a good location for the hives. Bees need water and they like the sun. Pavel chose a spot that was the exact place I had been hoping he would like. Translation: a part of the property I spend very little time on, and thus am more than generous in sacrificing for bees.

Now I am doing my small part for the bees, the fuzzy buzzing critters upon whom so much of the world’s health and wealth depends.

I’m sure you have all heard about bee population decline. A 2015 report from a United Nations group found that populations are declining for 37% of bee species, with 9% of butterfly and bee populations facing extinction. I’ve been worrying about bee populations for years, and that is amplified by my bee-adoring child, who took an apiary class at Oregon State University last year. Come on, how many of you have offspring who did this to their leg:

Tara’s first tattoo

Despite the news about efforts to curb bee decline, according to the UN, the world’s beehive stock rose from around 50 million in 1961 to around 83 million in 2014. Average annual growth has accelerated to 1.9% since 2009. Worldwide, Argentina produced the most honey of any country in the world in 2005, followed by the Ukraine, the United States, and then Russia. It’s no wonder my new Kazakhstani-American friends chose this business, with a rich history of beekeeping in their ancestral land as well as their new land.

WA BEE Company, LLC (sorry, no website, or I’d link you) showed up Sunday morning with a truck loaded down with hives of sleepy bees. The previous day I talked with Yelena who said to expect them between 7am and 8am. At 6:15am I realized that the mechanical noise I heard was not my usual dream about forklifts (kidding!), but a real forklift outside my bedroom window. I bounced out of bed and threw on some warm clothes to go outside into the chilly morning and watch. (Yes, I’m one of *those* people, who wakes up and is ready to take on the world in five minutes.) (…just don’t try to get me to do anything productive after 6pm)

Bee truck loaded with hives to be delivered.

Pavel trying to keep the hives level while he transports them.

Driving down the slope at an angle, while still trying to keep the bees steady on the forklift.

Only a few more feet and the bees get a little peace.

Pavel and his son (can’t remember his name) unloaded pallets of bees and drove them down the hill to a flat spot next to the creek. His son chatted away to me while his father worked fast, trying to get the bees all settled while they remained cold and still. They unloaded 8 pallets, or 32 hives of bees. By 7am, the whole operation was done, and Pavel backed the forklift back onto the trailer and off they went, a quarter mile down the road, to unload a bunch more at my neighbor’s house. This is his 4th year my neighbor has worked with the WA BEE company.

Since Sunday, I have been wandering down to gaze at the bees when I get a chance. The first beams of morning sun hit the hives directly, and they are bathed in sun for at least 2 hours in the morning (that is, if it’s a sunny day) before the sun moves behind trees. This warms them up and they go from deathly still to cacophony in minutes. It is fascinating to watch them, and I do not tire of it. I get pretty close, because they have an air highway of sorts, and while the middle of the highway is crammed with bees flying directly away from, or back to their hive, if I stand just to the side of the highway, there are very few bees.

Hives in a flat spot down by the creek. They are going to wake up soon, look outside, and say, “Whaaaat just happened?!”

The bee highway goes from the bottom right corner of the image to the top left corner.

I can use the expression accurately: buzzing with activity.

So many trying to get in and out at once, and not a single punch thrown!

They hit the sack pretty early, just like me. Even if it’s a warm evening, and even if there are still late rays of sunshine on the hives, they wrap it up in the early evening. When I go down for a visit I can only see a few dazed and sluggish fuzzy bodies crawling around the holes that are the entrances to their hives. One evening I was inspecting the hives pretty close, walking between them, getting a good look at the little bodies getting ready for bed. A half-hour later I was in the house at the computer and something tickled my leg beneath my loose pants. I shook my leg a couple times, grabbed my pants with one hand to shake out the bug, absentmindedly playing solitaire. I pulled up the pants leg and didn’t see anything, and went back to my game. After a few minutes, the tickle began again, at a different spot.

I methodically turned my pant leg inside-out, looking for the persistent crawly thing. Reached up into the folds and couldn’t feel anything. Shook the material, stomped my foot to shake it out, and finally, out popped a small yellow dazed honey bee. It must have crawled onto my foot and rode all the way from the hives back to the house with me.

My POINT is… they aren’t vicious.

I carefully carried it outside and wished it good luck surviving the cold night, 100 yards from the hive. Tara says it’s unlikely it survived the night, but if it did survive, there is no doubt it would find its hive in the morning.

So wish us luck in learning to thrive together.

I’ll leave you with a fun photo of a visitor who went to see the bees with me this morning. If you read some of the other blogs that I read, you may recognize Bone, a travelling bone, wearing a rather flattering leather vest while visiting me in Rainier. I’ll write more about Bone later.

Bone usually lives with Curt at Wandering Through Time and Place.

An orchard viewed from Panorama Point, a drive-up viewpoint in the valley.

An orchard viewed from Panorama Point, a drive-up viewpoint in the valley.

The Hood River Valley is famous for its fruit. The valley is in the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon side. The dominant fruits are apples, pears, and cherries, and orchards have been producing fabulous bounty for over 100 years.

Apple orchards flourished in this rich valley from 1890 to 1920, and Hood River became famous for its apples. In 1919 many apple trees were struck by a killing freeze. Farmers replaced the apple trees with pear trees, and now Hood River county leads the world in Anjou Pear production. {source: The City of Hood River}

Many Hood River Valley orchards are relatively small and operated by families, but together they account for about two-thirds of the state’s pears. Since 1992, the Hood River Valley has branded itself as the Fruit Loop, the brainchild of growers Kaye White and Thom Nelson, who proposed an excursion map of U-pick-it orchards and country stores. {source: The Oregon Encyclopedia}

 

Blossoms draped across the hills

Blossoms draped across the hills

The incomparable Mt. Hood, somewhat less remarkable in hazy skies.

The incomparable Mt. Hood, somewhat less remarkable in hazy skies.

Apple trees grown at an angle. I've never seen this before!

Apple trees grown at an angle. I’ve never seen this before!

The Fruit Loop is popular with tourists here, especially among the day-tourists coming from Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA, both about an hour downstream of the Columbia. The route begins at the river and makes a loop to the south, passing through Parkdale (the terminus of the Mt. Hood Railroad) and back. Along the way you can visit wineries for a little tasting, stop at fruit stands (that sell much more than pears, apples, and cherries), and if the season is right you can enjoy all the best of U-pick opportunities. You can bring home armloads of blueberries, strawberries, lavender, raspberries, pumpkins, and more.

The Mt. Hood Railroad is another attraction of the area, offering sightseeing trips through the valley, as well as murder mystery excursions, a train robbery brunch, romantic dinner excursion, and when the season is right: polar express! I’ll definitely have to do that some time.

Another view from Panorama Point. It's like a sea of white blossoms.

Another view from Panorama Point. It’s like a sea of white blossoms.

I couldn't stop admiring the orchards draped over hills.

I couldn’t stop admiring the orchards climbing over hills.

Mt. Adams, capped in a cloud over on the Washington side of the river.

Mt. Adams, capped in a cloud over on the Washington side of the river.

All of these attractions are bound between the volcanoes Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood, in lush valleys filled with rivers and streams and the mighty Columbia with its famous kite surfing and wind surfing. What a place!

Click the images below to see how much honey bees love this time of year.

Yummy flowers

Yummy flowers

Happy Bees

Happy Bees

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of our tour, we stopped by a deli, picked up an amazing lunch and a couple of microbrews (yet another thing Hood River is famous for), and had a picnic lunch at the beach.

At the end of our tour, we stopped by a deli, picked up an amazing lunch and a couple of microbrews (yet another thing Hood River is famous for), and had a picnic lunch at the beach.

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