Virtually every morning, when I open the gate to descend to the path around the pond, on my way to feed Possum the sow, I cause a stir of sorts. Possum hears the sound of the latch opening and the gate squeaking and stirs herself to come out for breakfast. The other domestic livestock react similarly. The chickens run toward me for the cracked corn I spread in their yard as soon as they hear the door slide open. The sheep, if they perceive my movement toward the barn, return from grazing in the pasture to gather at the barn door and ready themselves for the “charge of the light brigade” – the race to their morning grain treat.
The wild cohabitants of my space are similarly attentive to my movements, but respond differently. When I open that same gate to head toward Possum, rabbits and squirrels dash for cover. Frogs on the margin of the pond jump in the water. And most mornings for months, I’ve gotten to witness the elegant take off of a great blue heron that seems to spend every morning hunting for the fish that multiplied in the pond.
The heron is an odd creature, It appears fragile and delicate, its body resting on long spindly legs, and its wings, while large, not appearing substantial enough to propel its body. Even though it instantly reacts to the sound of my arrival by leaving, it seems to move with a slow deliberation, its huge wings flapping languorously. It is sort of the diametrical opposite of a hummingbird.
But I don’t think it’s really delicate. Its long skinny beak must be a powerful weapon against its chosen prey; I wouldn’t want to tangle with it. Observing its departure one morning this week, my visiting friend Steve speculated on how “it must be nearly impossible for such a delicate bird to get through the winter”. I told him I didn’t have that impression.They seem quite cold hardy, and I think when the pond freezes such birds hang out at marshy margins, like those along the Hudson, that don’t fully freeze and where they can pick off fish in the shallow waters.
I’m not sure if I’d call the heron a visitor anymore. It is in the same place so regularly every morning that I’d have to say the pond has become part of its territory. The boundary lines on my property deed are not necessarily the ones observed by the animals I share the neighborhood with. The difference between visitor and resident can be a kind of blurry one, and the ambiguity extends well beyond the great blue heron.
A few weeks ago, when Eric’s dog, Lillie, was here for the week, she as usual accompanied me out to morning chores. She immediately started barking and running at the screened porch. I at first assumed she was protecting us from a delivery person. When I saw no truck in the driveway I then assumed she was responding to a skunk, since skunks at times have created burrows under the porch. But when she kept running at the screen itself and barking, I investigated further. There, inside the porch, I found perched on rattan side table a barred owl.
I knew there was such a creature in the neighborhood. This summer, I asked my visiting brother in law Doug, an avid birder, what the weird shriek, which I found so unsettling just after nightfall, was. When he said it was a barred owl call, it made sense to me, as I had at times in the past seen that remarkable looking bird on telephone lines along the side of the road. When I showed the picture of it to a neighbor, he said “I know that owl, it is always hanging out in a tree by my pond, where it hunts.” He thought of it as a resident of his property.
From what I’ve been reading, the barred owl claims rather large territory. It may well principally nest next to my neighbor’s pond, but probably regards my property as its own territory as well. They seem to claim territories as large as 800 acres, which would easily encompass my house, the house of this neighbor down the street, and the telephone lines over on Church Avenue where I’ve seen it roosting before.How it decided to fly through the screen of my screened porch is a bit of a mystery. I assume it saw a rodent or some other prey on the north side of the porch while it was roosted just to the south, and that something about the light at that moment made the screen invisible to it. It swooped in through a spot where the screen was already torn. Once inside, it couldn’t figure out how to get back out.
So the farm is part of this barred owl’s territory. It’s part of the great blue heron’s territory. And it’s clearly part of Lillie’s territory, as she views it as her duty to guard it against any intruders.To say any of these creatures are simply visitors would not, to my mind, really be accurate.
In some sense the blurring of the line between resident and visitor is perfectly appropriate, as the farm’s human denizens are of equally mixed status. Or course, it’s been clear for months that Eric resides here. Not only does he have his own desk, dresser drawers and closet space, but has marked the space as his (to my delight and that of my friends and family who felt the house needed a fresh new look) by reorganizing and redecorating. He’s not here every day, but it is nonetheless his home.
Steve has been contemplating moving in as a roommate, and he, too, has an ongoing presence in the form of toothbrush, pillows, and clothing. If you asked him “resident or visitor?” I think his response would be “undecided.” But I know the ongoing presence of “stuff” means he at least feels at home here, and it makes me happy. And looking around at various kitchen items, booze, shoes and outerwear, headphones and other electronics, he is not alone. It warms my heart to have friends like Paul, Tom, Perry and Matt who feel “at home” here as well.
First real snow of the season 12-11-22 Photo by Mark Scherzer
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK:
Just a few things. Eggs are in hiatus until these new girls get a bit bigger. The old girls are producing just a couple a day.
Lamb is sold out but I’m preparing to send 5 or 6 more off to market. If you want to order a whole or half lamb cut to your specifications at $7/lb hanging weight, please let me know.
Daikon radish, $2/bunch
Salad turnips, $2/bunch
Fresh horseradish root: $4/lb.
Email us your order at email@example.com, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.