Spring has now arrived with full force, and it matters not if human-kind has re-opened or not, the world of wildlife is ready for business. Oscar, the largest of the resident snapping turtles, returned to the lake in our back yard this week to spend the summer as he always has. He comes up the driveway in the muddy ditch line, then crosses the side yard and climbs up and over the bank around the water. It’s only by luck that we ever witness this silent quest, and in our 20+ years here, we’ve caught the crossing maybe three or four times. I believe the local goslings are perhaps now big enough to avoid becoming his dinner, but that remains to be seen. The parental geese still are keeping the young ones off the water for the most part, so perhaps all eight young (five from one nest, three from another) will survive the season.
Some who read this column will remember that our last hen went missing in December as we were visiting family in Virginia. Winter is not a good time to start chickens, but the moment the quarantine hit, I ordered more hens. Nothing like a pandemic to make you feel like you need your own supply of eggs. I know some people order chicks by the hundred, but I selected four hens of select breeds and paid extra for them to be sent at 6 weeks of age. I’ve named them Sassy (Buff Orpington), Lacey (Silver-lace Wyandot), Coco (Easter Egger), and Simone (Australorp). Frank has been working to increase the fortitude of our chicken pen against ground and sky predators. We also purchased a battery back-up for our automatic chicken door, having realized that there are enough power outages here to skew the timer on the door and cost chicken lives.
Our beehive caught us off guard this week, producing three swarms in three days. Two swarms gathered low in a raspberry thicket along the garden fence and were captured. The third swarm took to the air and very quickly moved across the field, around the barn, and off into the wilds of Bear Fork. Keeping bees is more challenging even than keeping chickens. Some predators and diseases can wipe out a hive in just a few hours, and the warm-cold-warm-cold tendencies of West Virginia early springs can be tough on a hive. We thought we had lost our last hive in March, but now we have three hives in place again.
We are starting the garden late this year, but I have peas and lettuce in pots on the porches and have been harvesting asparagus for a few weeks now. Once “serious” gardeners who worked from home, we now do the best we can in the spring and wish the garden luck. Our jobs prevent us from winning most of the battles against weeds and invasive insects, and typically by late July, we have lost the war. As long as we get to have a few tomato sandwiches, I’m happy. I notice the asparagus patch is thinner this year, and also that my patch of chives is thin this season as well. Perhaps the winter was too wet? Either way, I will attempt to place some new plants in each of the patches. We love asparagus, and I am accustomed to constantly harvesting fresh chives throughout the growing season.
A deer came through one night and nipped the buds off of most of my Asiatic lilies, my most prized and beautiful spring blossoms. I typically spray them with a mixture of dish soap and water a few times in the spring (along with my hostas) but I got sidetracked by other quarantine projects and was too late. I will have to be satisfied with the more fragrant blossoms of the peonies which will bloom soon, but the sweetness of their flowers draw ants, and I have to shake out the insects before bringing cut blossoms inside to place in a vase.
I am glad to have these diversions from national and worldwide current events. The chickens do not care if I’m wearing a mask, and the bees are not out to murder or infect anyone. Even seeing the snapping turtle, Oscar, as grouchy as he is, was like a reunion with an old friend. I can sit and watch the chicks for hours, mesmerized, like watching a fire, a lava lamp, or a fish tank. I’m so grateful to be in rural West Virginia, especially now. I feel protected from “the outside world” here, and the world outside my door offers entertainment, distractions, and opportunities for restoration and calm.
Next week, the world re-opens even more, to a new normal, a world that requires safety measures and sanitization. But today, this weekend with the sun shining warmly on my shoulders, it feels so good to get my hands in the soil, to scrub afterward to wash away poison ivy oil and not some infectious disease. I can almost feel my body absorbing Vitamin D from the sun, my immune system building a defense against the stressors of life. Somehow, I find myself believing that everything, at some point, will be all right.