Category Archives: farm life

My unfriendly neighbor

He lives in the nearby pond, along with a whole lot of bullfrogs. Every once in a while – usually when it’s stormy out – he pulls himself out of the muck and, for some reason, crosses the street.

Whenever anyone comes up on him, he just freezes in place. He doesn’t even seem to acknowledge any other presence, and so while it may simply be reptilian stupidity, it comes across as stone-cold defiance. I was heading out on an errand, and I tried to shoe him along out of the road, but to no avail. And unlike a box turtle, I’m sure as hell not going to try and pick up a snapper. So I made waving and scooping motions at his butt while telling him it would be in his own good to move along, and he just stared blankly off into space.

I figured I’d grab a shovel when I got back and dump him back into the pond if he was still sitting motionless in the middle of the lane. But there was no sign of him. Just a kingfisher cackling like mad from a tree hanging over the pond.

The walk back to the pond from the cottage wasn’t entirely wasted, though. I found that a clueless employee from the park rangers’ office had come up the road in front of the farm posting approved park activities signs along our fence – sorry, guys, at this point hiking and nature photography are definitely not permitted, at least not without the permission of the people who live here. At times it must seem to people passing by that the farm isn’t populated. But it is.

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Responsibility

And old draft that I was never able to get back to and complete:

There’s nothing like being temporarily freed from a responsibility to remind us of our neglected other responsibilities. The first Tuesday in a while that I didn’t have to be on campus found me walking the fields with the dog and thinking of obligations I had set for myself that I had not met – foremost being the duty to post regularly to the blog on my job search, on writing, and on life on the farm. The first two can wait, as it is the last I’m prepared to do now. But I was thinking about writing in general, too–writing as fulfilling certain goals rather than an end in itself. One of the primary goals of writing is not only the transmission of knowledge, but its acquisition: through the process of solidifying one’s thinking into a formalized sequence of thoughts, that thinking becomes a bit externalized and is itself the object of critical thought, and though that self-reflexive and self-critical process is certainly possible without the concrete act of writing, it is not possible to the same degree. One not only becomes aware of the content of one’s though, but its limitations, both accidental omissions and places where it has not reached–has not reached or cannot reach. Continue reading

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The big snow; the loss of two of the outbuildings

So there was this big snow right before Christmas. December 19. It was lovely. Well over a foot fell in this part of New Jersey, and apparently much, much deeper over at the shore. The last storm this big was already now, what, three years ago? It’s been my impression that New Jersey winters are much less snowy than when I first moved up here. With climate change very much a concern for those who accumulate weather data, you would think that changes in annual snowfall would be something to keep track of – certainly it leaves a major impression on us laypeople. So I thought I’d take a look and see if there was data in easy reach about changes in snowfall over the past few decades. And while a warming global climate might lead one to expect that there will be less snow, certain areas, of which the Northeast is one, are predicted to see an increase in precipitation, which could mean more snow, right?

No. It’s less snow. Although the mean temperature increase for the area over the past century has been 1.8° F, which I believe is pretty much on track with global mean increases, the winter season in the Northeast saw an increase of 2.8°. More precipitation isn’t going to mean more snow if it’s not cold enough. I wasn’t able to get much specific data on New Jersey, but the Climate Change New England people include New Jersey in their regional studies, and those roughly indicate a loss here of around 5″ annual snowfall from the 1970s, when annual snowfall totals began to be recorded on a systematic basis. The loss in New Jersey is not as marked as areas such as the Adirondacks that are getting 40″ to 60″ less snow now. The Northeast region overall is experiencing 16 days fewer of snow on the ground over the winter since 1970, lake ice is melting a week earlier than a century ago, and our beloved lilacs are blooming four days earlier than in 1965.

So we enjoy it when we got it right? Well, it’s not going away anytime soon, if it ever disappears at all, but it seems likely that there’ll be a telling difference in how much of our winters remain snow-covered as the years roll by. It was not so much the loss of snow on my mind the day after the snow fell, though, but the pending loss of some of the remnants of the farm’s glory days. As part of the condition of the sale of the undeveloped land and the fields to the open space consortium, the property manager’s cottage and the tractor shed and bullpen near it were to be torn down. I grabbed a camera, stuffed my jeans into my boot-tops, and headed out.

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the farm is sold; long live the farm

The 100-plus acre farm on which we live has been for sale for some time. It’s a huge chunk of land, and the restrictions on subdivision for this area are quite strict. Land cannot be subdivided into lots smaller than 13 acres, so it’s not the kind of parcel to move quickly on the market, and certainly not in the current real estate climate. The owners were hoping either someone would buy up the entire property for a horse farm or as an estate property, in which case we and the other farm tenants would likely be eventually turned out to the street, or that they’d be able to sell enough to open space that they could keep and maintain the main house and the barn and cottage apartments in which the tenants live. The latter is what has come to pass, with the official transfer of the fields and the woods to happen with the new year. A lucky break for the owners, and for us.

The unlucky ones were the family that had taken over the late property manager’s cottage a ways back in the woods. That house stands on the property that will be open space, and so it has to come down as a condition of the sale. The late property manager, who had lived there for somewhere around fifteen years, was very well liked around here. To be true, his duties as property manager were a little murky, as I can’t recall him concerning himself with anything to do with the apartments – but then, no one has: out here we largely take care of ourselves, and have the bill sent to the landlord if it concerns things like furnaces that are likely to outlive our tenancy.

What he did do, other than, or so he claimed, arrange for our dumpster rental, is run the hunt club. The hunt club paid an annual rent for the privilege, which was not inconsiderable. The property manager was a local guy and lived his life entirely for two things, lonely old women and hunting. He knew how to work the system. Because it’s a private farm, he and his friends were able to secure permits that enabled them to hunt around the clock and throughout the year. As he let on to us, there was some hedging going on as to what and was not a legitimate kill: infrequent pickups with camper shells would drive by late on the way down to his cottage, and he would later let on that some contraband trophy had been brought from elsewhere to be tagged here.

In any case, while hunting did continue more or less throughout the year, the tenants had pretty much unimpeded access to the fields and woods in the warmer months, and in colder months, when the pace of the hunting increased throughout the official hunting season, we knew to check and see if anyone had come down to hunt before heading out, though we could fairly well assume that we shouldn’t venture in the wilds during the day midwinter. The hunt club nominally continued following the death of the property manager, but the amount of hunting and the number of hunters declined. Oddly enough, this didn’t translate to increased access to the fields and undeveloped acreage, since the decrease in hunting activity meant an increase in the unpredictability of its timing, and, truth be told, the family that took over the empty cottage, and ostensibly some of the duties of management, made it evident that they were not particularly interested in socializing with the other tenants, and so we we simply did not know what was going on out there. Over the past few years, the fields in winter had become practically inaccessible.

That family is gone, and so has the hunt club, and so, for the first time ever, we have largely unimpeded access to the woods and fields year round. The first day of regular season the farmer showed up with his son to hunt, but other than that, this winter the woods belong, so to speak, to the tenants. So last month we decided to exercise the privilege  and headed off along the farm road.
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A fall hike with things falling

It’s been a few weeks now since we took the hike I wanted to write about. The grading and lesson plans have completely taken over my life, and the guitar is going unplayed, the dishes are piling up, and the writing’s not getting done. Mid-semester fall is about the worst time of year work-wise for an academic, and it’s a pity, as it’s definitely my favorite time to be walking about with no definite purpose other than to absorb the what’s there to see. I had wanted to talk about falls colors, since for us ruralists – well, us arboreal mid-Atlantic and New England state ruralists – the fall transformation that so many city-dwellers and suburbanites seek out as car-touring eye-candy is no less a spectacle and a prompt to reflections on beauty, mortality, and the value of the natural world, even if it does fall somewhat into the rhythms of the typical. Then the colors were only starting to change, and that change was mostly to the deep reds or pure yellows of shrubs and vines, with additional notes of yellows and purples provided by late-blooming wildflowers. Now the maples with their monochromatic but grandiose show have gone fire-orange and nearly done, with the top half of the trees fairly much blown out by now. Even the massive maple in our backyard, which is for us fall’s biggest diva, going dramatically yellow before gracing us with two days of a constant rain of color as the leaves drop, has this year shed all its leaves without our noticing.

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