The sounds of swans flying overhead, blackbirds bickering on the lawn and cranes calling out to the world that they have arrived. These are the best bit of spring to come.
We still have some thick, hard snow on the ground, but we are also seeing some of the lawn. That's where the arriving birds gather, to fight over this summer's nesting areas. You would think the principal of "choose once you get there", would apply.
Mindy, Mandy, Molly and My are slowly stepping away from the stable yard and trusting that the last of the snow is not going to attack them. Half a meter of snow is fine, according to our dear sheep but when it's melted down to a thin sheet of frozen slush it's not to be trusted. Only the longing for some brown, slightly slimy grass can make them venture out to the other side. Once there, they start grazing and the look of pure happiness on their faces is another joy of the "almost spring time."
The hens are laying eggs like it's going out of fashion and we are knee deep in omelets and boiled eggs. Ebba the dog loves an egg yolk from time to time so that helps us out a bit, with our egg surplus. Trisha the hen is now broody and has started collecting eggs for herself in one of the nests. She sounds like a faulty smoke alarm if anyone gets too close to her and her collection of own and borrowed eggs.
Dear husband is stacking the chopped wood accompanied by Ebba. On one side of a small apple tree you can find a very professional looking stack of fire wood, on the other side you will find deep holes dug in a neat row. Ebba seems to have read A. A. Milne and is now trying to catch a Heffalump. You really must remember where the holes are, when walking in the dusk or you might end up with a sprained ankle, or worse. (At least the digging has not yet reached bear trap proportions).
Ebba is full of spring light and new energy and pulls even harder on the lead, when out walking. We look like water skiers, trailing behind our engine-like dog, discussing whether days at school would do her some sort of good. We really must make her stop pulling on the lead as it can't be good for her and it certainly isn't good for our backs. My arm muscles are starting to look quite toned, though, so that's something come the short-sleeved summer season.
The clocks changed today and that means that I will spend a week being a complete acorn. I can't get my head around this changing from winter to summer time malarkey, although you would think I've had enough practice, by now. Dear husband knows to expect it but he still finds it amazing that it throws me sideways, every year! So, I'm a knocked over acorn, for a week. The hens follow the sun, the sheep follow their tummies for food and Ebba follows her sleep pattern. I follow them so we could stop using clocks, altogether. Or maybe not. I just should roll through this week and hope to meet up with very few squirrels.
The hawks are arriving, from wherever they have been, this winter. Mindy, our white foghorn sounding sheep has called to warn us, whenever the feathery visitors have been close by. Without Mindy's carrying voice we would seldom know the goings on, in the yard.
When the sheep went out a little later than normal, one evening and Mindy called out her warning call, I thought it was hawks, yet again. I did run out to check and got really surprised to spot a huge Lynx, strolling over the field towards us." No stress, no hurry, just out for a walk", was the image the big cat was sending out. The dusk added to the whole magical setting and you could almost think that it was a puma arriving. Our dear sheep stared so intently at the wild animal approaching that I feared they would have a collective meltdown, there, on the spot.
Dear husband and my dear sister, who was over for the weekend, got to enjoy some wild animal safari from the kitchen window. They both saw their first Lynx and a mighty fine specimen, at that. My sister's comment about it being a tough life for hens, living where we do, felt very true at that moment. It's not a bed of roses for sheep either, if they meet a bear or a humongous cat on their treks. At least everyone sleeps indoors at night, all through the summer.
It is fun, though, how I can get close to all sorts of wild animals, hanging out with our lovely sheep. Maybe my human smell disappears a bit, amongst all that wool, as our visitors seem to be quite calm about me being there. Do vegetarians smell more lettuce like?
So now we have had the bear and the lynx and I've seen a wolverine so we all know who is left to pop in. Somehow, I don't fancy the thought of a wolf popping in, but that's the last of our bigger predators that we have not spotted over here. Let's hope it stays that way.
Happy Summer time to us all! Hope you will cope with it slightly better than I do.... Z z z z z z , What? Z z z zzzzzzz.....
This week we lost a friend.
One of our guest hens started feeling poorly, nothing specific, we just saw that she felt uncomfortable with life. We fed her home-made berry soup and other goodies and she felt better for it, but on Friday morning she went back to curling up like a fluffy ball.
I called the vets a couple of times, during the week but as there was no eggs stuck or any sign of an infection, there was not much they could do for her. Old age comes to us all, eventually and these hens have lived a full, luxury life with their family. Now it was time to go to hen heaven.
I took her to the vet and the dear hen was put to sleep. Then I wept buckets worth of salty tears because that's how I am.
What I learned, a few hens ago is, that a bird in real pain takes ages to slip away to the next life. Their fighting spirit is so high on adrenaline so their body fights back. Being birds, they do not show weakness easily. It's to do with the fact that in nature, predators line up to eat them. So as a hen keeper, you must be really alert to this and help as soon as one shows the slightest discomfort. Our friend slipping away gently, was commented on by the vet as a sign that we got it right. She was a nice hen, though.
As I'm on the subject of old age, Lina and Henrika, our oldest hens’ spring to mind. In the autumn, when I changed the layout of the hen house, it was to keep the hens away from the draft by the stable door. This was something our older hens understood immediately and soon adapted to. Lina and Henrika grabbed the best spot and have stayed put all through the winter. When dusk sets in, you can see two small ladies hurrying through the stable on small spindly legs to settle above the water tap, in the warmest corner. I think they have a bet on, who can hit the tap most times during the night, so I had to make a cover for it. Even small, slightly old hens poo a lot.
The famous five, the youngest hens in the group, are a head strong lot. All through the cold season, they have slept, side by side, next to the front door. All the alternative space in the world and they have stayed put. They tell me it's the closest they can get to winter bathing and, that it's good for you. In order to survive this notion, they have eaten their own body weight in food, each day, this winter. As they are an active, noisy lot I think they might be on to something but you must be young and energetic to cope with their health regime.
Mindy, Mandy, Molly and My are finding the faint smell of spring most invigorating and are getting bouncier by the day. This means that our dear, round balls of wool, jump around for a while and then do a few sprints. After that they need to eat a bit in order to carry on celebrating the arrival of light and warmth. They are very sweet about it but you have to watch out when they start their spring dance. None of them seem to grasp the fact that when they run past someone, they send them flying, as their tummies stick out on the side. This means that they do collide with each other at times, but so far, no casualties to be reported. Fingers crossed.
Dear husband finished his wood chopping and is very pleased with his work. "and so he should be!", said Ebba the dog, who has checked every single log, to see that they all smell right. As they all smell of dear husband, we can report that he did not call in any helping hands. Ebba is a strong, firm foreman but she's generous with her compliments for a job well done. Now all we have to do is stack the wood and as we would like it to be done well, I will not be helping with that, either.
Ebba can't help because she is busy with her new hobby of animal spotting. In the evenings, the moon is bright and the night is cold, Ebba has noticed that hares, raccoon dogs and foxes that pass our house. This has led to frantic gallops through the house in the middle of the night, Ebba running from window to window, commenting loudly about her findings. In the end, we had to draw all the curtains to get her to settle.
Now Ebba keeps a regular check on things and all our furniture is being tested for strength and endurance. Ebba seems to be a dog that does everything whole heartedly and with gusto. This new hobby will probably end abruptly when the first elk walks by. Here's hoping, anyway!
It's been a funny old week, lots of ups and downs but that's how it goes, I guess. My box of birthday treats, sent by my dear sister six weeks ago, arrived! Thank goodness, she did not send me any cheese from the country that knows about dairy. What I did get, amongst a lot of things, was heavenly chocolates. Maybe it was meant to come this week, when it really hit the spot. The new postal service is possibly timing our mail? Six weeks is a long time, whichever way you look at it, but we are glad it arrived. Ebba sniffed through the content of the box to check that all was well so, maybe the customs could hire her? She has enough energy to work two jobs. Security and Sniffer dog. This would cramp her style as the "Best hole digger in the county", so maybe it's not a good idea. I will keep that thought, though. You never know.
Time to let the sheep out and clean the stable. I've had my pot of coffee so will buzz along.
Be well and enjoy spring. Oh, and Finland is voting for it's national butterfly which I find very charming.
If only there would be a time
When everything was fine
When doves could fly and dogs would run
To help the human kind.
No hunters left to kill our friends
No one would kill at all
The world would stop and take a break
And start to love again.
No children would be out alone
No crying in the streets
We all would lend a helping hand
And wish for happy peace.
And builders would pick up they're tools
And start to build again
The teachers would take things in hand.
Fill minds with light and zen.
The pain to cease, the hurting end
And rain would fall again
The sun to dry where need would be
For crop to grow once more.
It's good to write off happy times
It's fine to be naive
If no one speaks, then no one sees
What happy times could be.
Nina 5 years old, going on 50
I wrote this poem one morning, this week, after reading the news. Ebba thought it was fine and dear husband was impressed that I had done it at the age of five.
You really have to love a man so completely supportive, and a bit tired! When I was five years old I rode around on a black Shetland pony at the local riding school and could not even spell my own name. My feet were short and the pony slightly circular so I could not even ride very well. My husband, though, thought I was a poet, albeit, a very bad one.
We are having yet another winter storm today. It blows in from the sea and the wind is so cold that it takes your breath away. Our dear sheep found it refreshing and Ebba took me for a brisk walk/slow sprint, over the fields so that I really could enjoy myself. The good thing with Ebba's walking style is, that even in arctic conditions you soon feel hot and over-dressed. It was lovely, but I can't tell you much about the scenery as the snow blew into our eyes. Good exercise, though, and the walk did not last that long so there's was plenty of time for other stuff.
On Sunday morning, I slowly drank my morning coffee, reading the paper. Ebba ate one half of a small mat. Today I, once again, vacuumed the house and Ebba chewed a hole in my duvet cover. (Our dear dog believes in shedding her coat on regular basis, so we really feel that she has arrived).
The more our Ebba grows, in size and confidence, the more mayhem she creates, albeit in a very polite way.
We bought a very simple chest made from pine wood, many years ago. It has been handy as a table for pot plants, filled with my knitting wool. It is a square box, four sharp corners on the lid and that's about it. Now it looks slightly surprised, as someone has rounded one of its corners. Ebba had not seen the culprit.
My, our sporty sheep, has got an idea in to her head that has now stuck. She is a bit stubborn that way and usually it's no big deal. This time it is, as the clever lady found some hen food in the manure heap that I had swept out with the goo. Now she goes through the manure heap like a metal detector in search of Viking treasures, when my back is turned. It's not healthy for her and we have had words. Half the village heard us today, due to the storm.
We also had one of those perfect comedy moments today, thanks to one of the guest hens. I went over to feed the sheep and to check on the hens. The hens were all busy turning over a huge heap of hay I had given them earlier. Very busy. I decided to give them an extra hour before changing to the evening light and went home to feed Ebba. Our lovely dog has really started eating like a big dog should and it's a pleasure to watch.
When I returned to the stable and opened the door to the sheep pen, out stomped a muttering, mumbling hybrid hen. She is quite a large hen and loud when upset, I now know. She walked passed me, head held high and disappeared into the hen house, without looking back, or taking a break in her mutterings. The dear hen can't have been locked in with the sheep for long but boy was she uptight about it. Mindy, the hen's number one fan, looked sad to see her go.
The hybrids are "man-made hens for egg laying purposes" and can't lift like a helicopter, like our smaller once do. She must have missed her landing on the partition wall and ended up visiting four surprised sheep, instead of landing next to Monty, for the night. It was just so funny to see her Hyacinth Bucket walk of shame, when really, it could happen to anyone. No one laughed but I must admit that I giggled all the way back home. (Yes, I have a small life.) I also lifted her up to her place next to our sleepy cockerel.
Dear husband has started learning his lines for this summer's theatre play. It sounds like a good one, but Ebba thinks she will still be too shy to go on a cultural outing. Maybe next year... I loved the play that needed a false tummy, a few years ago. I got to make it and dear husband ended up looking like my childhood friend, the Shetland pony. It was a very funny production and Mr. Chip even came with us to see it. Happy days.
Now it's time for Ebba and me to face the dark unknown, yet again. For quite a large dog to be so frightened of a few white hares is mind boggling. Still, on the bright side, we don't hang about anymore, out there in the cold. Small mercies and we take them where we find them.
Have a nice week and be well. Five weeks to Easter! All that chocolate...
This winter has been very odd, to say the least.
Very cold, very warm, extremely wet and now cold again. Ebba's play area is partly under water and her diving has made her shiny and clean. Our dog seems to be a creature from the sea, she will now have to take up ice skating.
Our dear hens have started to notice that they are not allowed out wandering as they used to. Partly because it's still cold but the main reason is that the migrating birds have started to arrive. The bird influensa scare is real, so now the hens must be careful. How to keep them in the outdoor cage until June will be a bit of a conundrum. It is too cold just now for them to stay in one place so they stay indoors, under protest. Monty is happy though, as all his ladies are in one place. He still loves our three guest hens dearly, so having to leave their side would be hard for him. The three serenading hens will move home as soon as the weather turns warmer, so until then he might as well follow them around. I think our guests will revel in the peace and quiet at home after our lot of hens, plus four doting sheep. I'm certain that they will miss Monty for a while, as he is a charming but very loud cockerel. His morning calls are now almost in tune with the rest of the cockerel world.
Friends give us leftover bread that we then dry in the sauna for the sheep. This makes the shower area smell like an upmarket bakery and Ebba finds the whole thing most intriguing. My brain works in mysterious ways which means that when I go into a shop that smells of fresh bread, I remember that we are out of soap or shampoo. More than once I've come home without the bread I went in to buy in the first place. It's good that we have a freezer, otherwise we would be living on dry bread meant for our kind sheep.
Speaking of kindness; our sheep are the best. As it's been raining on and off for days now, the cleaning of the stable has been a bit of a puzzle. As I don't want our sheep to get wet or even damp, I try to let them out in between showers. Sometimes it's started to rain soon after they've gone outside and I have had to call them indoors once more. It fascinates me that they are such polite animals that they walk back and forth, in and out, probably wishing that I could make up my mind. Few dogs I know would be that well behaved. I think that they understand that I'm trying to keep them dry, as they come in so quickly, when the rain starts. Still, they are the kindest animals on the planet.
Ebba's next door neighbors are coming to the village this weekend. They are two dogs that live in the city and here in the country. They have not yet officially met, just said hello on the road but now we might have time to let them play. At least Ebba and the small Staffordshire terrier could meet up. Her friend and partner is a small fellow, a mix between a Chihuahua and a terrier, we think. He arrived on a plane some years ago, and completely stole our hearts. His legs are like small sticks but he is fast and can out walk us all. He loves his girl dearly and he finds life a bit frightening, at times. I worry that the two bigger dogs will run him over, so we will see how it goes.
The Staffy is funny, as she rolls over as soon as she meets another dog. This always confused dear Mr. Chip, who could not understand why she fell down all the time. I did try to explain about it being nicer than her attacking him but he never stopped looking confused. She is not the most dominating dog in the village but there is none with a glossier coat than hers.
We have some completely white hares in our yard, in the evenings. They pop in for some hay and bird seeds, mostly the oats, I put out each evening so that the birds can start eating early in the morning. Our brilliant dog finds these hares to be slightly ghost like and makes sure to do her business quickly and then we rush indoors, once more. We must look like an odd lot, gliding out quietly, madly staring into the forest and then the mad dash back into safety. Anyone could get frightened of the dark, spending time with dear Ebba. If she sees a hare in daylight, she would gladly chase it, if allowed. "It's that floaty, whiteness with big eyes staring at her in the dark!", she tells me.
So, between swimming lessons with the dog, exercising sheep and listening to complaining hens, we try to get something else done. (Now we can start gritting again, oh joy!).
Dear husband has started on the wood chopping, when the weather is a bit dryer. I spend my time in the hay barn sorting out good hay from bad. With this humid winter the hay gets moldy, so buying hay is a complete lottery this year. My dear husband has the patience of a saint so he drives, buying new stuff when I have another meltdown amongst the dust. I sometimes think that there might be more to life than sorting hay, but I'm sure I'm wrong.
I'm also darning wooly socks and mending mittens and some woolly jumpers. It's my new passion and I'm getting better at it. The way we go through socks you would think that we don't lift our feet at all, just skating about the place! Jumper sleeves get caught in Ebba's sharp teeth, when we play and mittens are just a lost cause. So, when I'm not in the hay barn I'm sitting like a little old lady in the woods, needle in hand, contemplating getting a cat. It's a shame my hair is not gray, yet.
Enjoy the birds singing again and remember to feed them as some of them has come from afar and beyond.
Life's little ironies; the following morning, after writing this, we had paw prints from a cat on our step. They say cats can read minds... Maybe I should go disco dancing or something or maybe not. Be well.
A blog about a small holding in Southern Finland. Each original story is accompanied by a stunning watercolour illustration or resplendent photographs.