Sunday, January 31, 2010

Wildlife on the move

The recent snow makes for an interesting stroll down our quarter-mile driveway.

All sorts of wildlife leave their tracks, and it's fun to try to sort out what and where they were headed.

It's easy to spot the tracks from deer hooves (photo), and with a little examination you can tell where they crossed the creek because the hooves are much deeper when they jump. Rabbit tracks are also easy to identify with their small but elongated mark.

Squirrels, coons, groundhogs and skunks are a different matter. Their tracks are small and inconsistent. Incidentally, we smelled our first skunk in Deerfield last night. We have never seen one around here although we have an idea that the skunks are responsible for raiding the many yellow jacket hives in Deerfield.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Anticipating a heavy snow

The top portion of our dog run in the backyard is a giant mess of mud and weeds, but I'm hoping to add some grass with the help of the approaching winter storm.

I sowed about 20 pounds of grass seed on the plot yesterday. I was told by my late father-in-law that the best time to plant grass seed is just before a heavy snow. The snow pack drills the seed down to an appropriate level which lets the seed germinate in the spring. The grass is healthier because it grows from a natural depth.

That's the way its supposed to work. We'll see in the spring.

There's a story behind the gazing ball in the photo, but we'll save that for another day.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Woodstove focus group

Those of you who read my dissertation last week on Woodstove Economics will be interested in a focus group I conducted with the two respondents seen in photo at right.

Both respondents said they didn't give a flip about the economics, just keep a fire going in the stove and push their beds up as close as possible.

At least, I think that's what they would have said if we could have roused them.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Who was that crazy man running in the woods?

It wasn't the 55-degree weather that called me out to the woods. Nor the bright sunshine, although it was the first we've seen in weeks. It was the call of the pileated woodpecker that beckoned me.

Two of the giant woodpeckers live in separate dead trees at the back of our property, but they usually roam far afield. Yesterday afternoon one of the woodpeckers teased me by coming near our front porch. I put my long lens on my camera and stepped outside. It immediately retreated about 50 yards. I followed. It retreated again. I followed. This went on for a good 30 minutes in which time I had walked most of my wooded acres.

The cagey bird would never let me get close enough even for a telephoto shot. The photo above is from my post of Jan. 6, 2009. If you ever get close enough to study a pileated, do so. They are as tall (17 inches) as a red-shouldered hawk and slice through the woods like a missile.

The call of the pileated is akin to what an effeminate rooster might sound like. When they bang on dead trees for bugs it can sound almost like carpenters framing a house.

I did get some needed exercise chasing the rascal. How about a new reality show for TV: Are you smarter than a woodpecker?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Woodstove economics

As I wheelbarrow loads of firewood in from the woodshed all hours of the day and night, I pause to wonder if all this trudging through the snow and freezing temperatures can be worth it.

I got out my receipts book for an analysis of three years of electricity bills. We have three heat pumps to heat the house. The first winter I used the woodstove very little. The second winter a smidgen. This winter I have tried to keep the stove going 24/7, although I have missed a few hours here and there.

Here are my findings:

I estimate that during the four months of the coldest weather (Nov.-Feb.) I save $125 per month with the woodstove. That's $500 each winter. I also save a little on the months on the either side of winter, but I'm throwing that in to the mix. For this savings I have to keep the stove fired up continuously.

But the $500 yearly savings is not the only value of the woodstove. In addition to the heat, I get:

* Much needed cleanup of the woods around the house.
* Plenty of good exercise.
* Time to engage in solving the problems of mankind while cutting, splitting, hauling and stacking wood.

Annie Dillard, author of "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek," says a woodstove warms you twice.

My neighbor utilizes two strategically placed woodstoves in his house. He has not turned on his heat pumps for two winters.

My conclusion has to be that all the muss if worth the fuss. I just have to keep telling myself this as I go out to get a load of wood when the temperature is 11 degrees.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Famous pumpkin is vandalized

Readers of the blog will remember the mystery vine that appeared in the summer and then grew into a nice fat pumpkin. The big green ball turned into granddaughter Keaton's "punkin" and its story made it onto our church's Advent calendar. We have had the pumpkin on the front porch since early December.

The raccoons are apparently back because they dug into the still-healthy pumpkin last night just like they did with all of our Halloween pumpkins. Apparently 'coons like pumpkin seeds. They also managed to ravage all of our bird feeders.

We don't mind co-habitating with 'coons at Deerfield, after all, they were here first; but they need to be less destructive.

'COON WARNING: I still have my live trap in the garage.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Old is 3/4s of Cold

The TV weather folks say we are in the middle of the coldest East Tennessee weather in 10 to 20 years. We have been below freezing essentially for a week and another deeper freeze and snow are on the way from the north.

I have flaunted cold weather most of my life, saying I've never been TOO cold but I'm always TOO hot.

Well, I'm too cold now. I dread every trip to the woodshed. I dread walking the dogs. I dread warming up the Hooptie in the mornings.

When sweat is pouring off of me this summer, I hope I can remember how cold I am now.

I vow never again to scoff at winter vacations to Florida. Sign me up.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

When Ma Nature "rolls" your yard

Walking along my driveway, I looked over at my neighbor's yard and thought he had been "rolled." That seemed highly unlikely in Deerfield because we have much more practical uses for toilet paper.

Upon closer inspection I saw that the dainty white puffs were actually thin ribbons of ice. Larry took some photos for me.

After some research on the Internet, I concluded that what we saw is a phenomenon known as "frost flowers" or "ice flowers." Wikipedia has a complete explanation, but basically it happens when sap in the stem of a woody plant freezes and expands. Thin cracks open along the stem and when the sap hits the cold air it freezes into these ice ribbons.

As someone who has been rolled numerous times over the years, I'm thankful that Ma Nature will take care of her own clean up when the first warm day hits.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Just a looking for a home

Neighbor Larry found this bevy of ladybugs hibernating in his woodshed on one of the coldest days of the winter so far.

Ladybugs hibernate until the night-time temperatures rise above freezing for several days in a row. In the spring and summer ladybugs lay up to 1,000 eggs in the course of a season. A ladybug can live up to two years.

How did the ladybug get its name? Here is the answer from

In Europe, during the Middle Ages, insects were destroying the crops, so the Catholic farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary for help. Soon the ladybugs came, ate the plant-destroying pests and saved the crops. The farmers began calling the ladybugs "The Beetles of Our Lady," and they eventually became known as "Lady Beetles." The red wings represented the Virgin's cloak and the black spots represented her joys and sorrows.

Do you know what a male ladybug is called? Ladybug. Now that's politically correct.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

Today marks my 250th post since starting Deerfield Diary on Jan. 1, 2009. Much to my surprise, I have been averaging 35-40 unique daily visitors to the blog.

Perhaps this is a good time to restate what Deerfield Diary is -- and what it's not.

First, I don't pretend this blog to be great journalism or titillating commentary on the state of mankind. It's just daily notes and photos about the goings-on at our few acres in Blount County, Tennessee. I dash out these posts rather quickly without a lot of forethought. There's not much editing either as I look back aghast at some of the posts.

Some readers have asked why I don't have more family photos or vacation shots. This is not intended as a family blog. The centerpiece of the blog is our 10 acres in the Deerfield community of Louisville and its flora and fauna. I log my occasional victories as I try to create gardens, maintain or build structures and generally muck about the place. You will probably read much more about my failures.

I try to keep family updates and personal prejudices out of the blog, or at least warn you when I'm lapsing into such. (I should note that if you desire a good family blog, go to where you will see a record of the grandest granddaughter in the world.)

Looking back over my 250 posts with a critical eye, I find that on several occasions I strained a little too hard to come up with entries. I resolve now to write only when a valid subject comes to mind. There is far too much blather on the Internet for me to add to it.

At one point, I considered giving up the blog because, after all, who is really interested in my small blueberry patch or the swarming yellow jackets that chase me around the hills. In the end, however, Deerfield Diary is a small way I can give some semblance to my day and pay back in a minuscule accounting for the privilege of being able to bumble about on these hills and gullies.

Best wishes to you for 2010.