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Friday, March 11, 2022

Springtime on the farm is good for the soul

My first lambing season on the farm was January of 2008. That was the same month that my father died, after a brief but intense bout of pancreatic cancer. The numbness that tends to plague many of us in the winter months was intensified for me because of this loss. I was also fairly overwhelmed with the emotional involvement of lambing – the adrenalin, the worry, and the sadness when a newborn doesn’t make it; the utter delight when you see one thriving and bounding around the pen like a springbok.

I barely remember that winter. It’s all a blur.

Springtime, however, was another story. After eight weeks, it was time to let the first lambs out onto the new green shoots of grass that were poking through the last few puddles of snow. We opened the doors to the pens, and the first of the brood poked their heads out into the aisle. Seeing an escape route, the rowdier ones pushed them on from behind. Soon everyone was at the door to the barn, waiting for me to open it. They poked their noses at the cracks in the door, the sunlight peeking through.

As I slid the door open, bright sunshine beamed in and blinded the lambs who were used to the filtered rays of the pen. They shook their tiny, bobbed tails and blinked. Then, one tentative hoof on the concrete ramp. Oh! It makes a tapping noise. Tap, tap, tap. She did a little dance and spun around. Her cousin followed. A tiny mosh pit of lambs was created on the ramp before the first ewe stepped out, stretched her neck up to the sun and gave them a good shove out of her way.

Once on the grass, the lambs seemed energized with a sudden high voltage. They sniffed, bleated, jumped and ran. Some, realizing they had lost their mothers on the outside of the pen, began to run around in circles, butting udders with their heads, in a desperate search for something familiar. They were repeatedly nudged away until, finally, they found the ewe that belonged to them.

The ones that had been on the bottle sometimes needed a top-up at the end of the day, when we brought them back inside. For the most part, though, they forgot all about me. Life was suddenly so much bigger than the soft hay in the lambing pen and the warm sweetness of milk.

Watching those lambs celebrating life helped me to remember that our difficult seasons come and go. Life is a cycle, and death is just one tiny part of it.


Wednesday, March 9, 2022

No arachnophobes in this house


When I travelled to Australia, I made the mistake of reading the Lonely Planet’s guide to the most poisonous animals on the continent. For the first week I had trouble venturing outside as a result – until someone told me that you are just as likely to find a funnel web spider or carpet snake inside as out. That information came in handy when I found out that the thumping in the wall behind my bed was actually a harmless carpet snake climbing up to the loft, where she would slither inside, coil herself around the rafter and spend the night.

It was also helpful to learn that the larger huntsman spiders tend to be harmless. There certainly were enough of them, in the garage and under the sun visor of our SUV, ready to pop out and surprise us at any moment (once our startled driver almost went off the road). I also met the shower spider when I was in Brisbane. When the power went out, I showered the sea salt off myself in virtual darkness. At first, I thought the fuzzy thing that had fallen onto my foot was a facecloth. Until it moved.

When I’m frightened, I go completely silent. I got out of the shower and without drying off, wrapped a towel around myself and opened the door to the kitchen. My host and his uncle were sitting there on the couch, drinking beer. “Did you meet Harry, then?” they asked.

That introduction to the wild world of arachnids was good practice for me, when I became a cottage owner. Otherwise, I might have been a bit put off when I realized a family of wolf spiders (cousins to the huntsman) had taken up residence in the closet. They introduced themselves one day when I was sitting at my desk, by skittering across my laptop keyboard. They made me jump, then they jumped themselves. They are actually kind of cute and they do eat other bugs (like the dreaded mosquito) – but I swept them outside anyway.

The other day I realized that there is a daddy longlegs on the ceiling above our shower. It seems to be catching ladybugs, so I let it remain. The ladybugs are terrible pests – I vacuum or wipe them off the window every day, but they still find their way into my bed – and my water bottle – most nights.

Then the Farmer pointed out that the daddy long legs has a wife. And she appears to be nesting. I don’t mind sharing my bathroom with one bug-eating spider, but I’m not sure I want a whole clutter in there, watching me shower.

Even the robin's flight south was cancelled



I was walking Fergus down the road the other day when he stopped and stared up at a tree. I followed his line of sight up to one of the fattest robins I have ever seen. Even the dog seemed to think it strange to see a robin here in January. Worms are frozen this time of year, yes? I look forward to seeing the first robin every spring, as a harbinger of warm weather and the end to winter. Don’t tell me we have totally messed up bird nature with climate change too.

I’ve seen other people in Eastern Ontario posting photos of robin sightings online. Apparently there are quite a few of them that decided to stay for the winter. Someone even caught a picture of a robin fishing in the open river for a minnow. I did some research and this is what I found out.

Robins are nomadic, so while they may have left your property, they may not have flown south. In the colder month their diet has to change, so they will relocate to a place where they can find berries or fallen apples. And they aren’t actually fat – the bird I saw was likely doing something called “rousing” – a fluffing of the feathers for optimal warmth. Robins have more than one layer of feathers, so they can trap warm air next to the body, to stay dry and warm in winter.

According to most online sources, there isn’t much you can do to help robins in winter. If food becomes scarce, they will simply move on. They won’t eat from your birdfeeder because they have learned that food is found in shrubs or on the ground. You might try leaving out some suet, berries, raisins or chopped apples. But they are pretty good at fending for themselves.

Someone else suggested a warm bird bath might be helpful, because the robin spends most of its energy in winter shivering to stay warm. If it had warm water to drink, this might help.

I don’t know who to believe with this conflicting information, so I’ve got all bases covered. I’ve put out some suet and berries, and my warm water bird bath should be here next week. I just hope it doesn’t attract every member of the winter animal kingdom. I don’t want to look out the kitchen window and see a coyote out there enjoying the spa.

The main cohort of robins is expected to return right on schedule in spring when the ground melts and worms can be found again. That’s one mystery solved. Now what about that huge murder of crows?