Winter Has Arrived

Overnight we received the first measurable snow of the winter.  I’d guess it’s about 7″.  The stuff really came down for a few hours.  I especially like the way the heavy snowfall dampens the sound of traffic on the road running past the farm.  After a while, the highway empties and the road noise of any stray slow moving vehicle is muffled.  I can almost imagine we live in the country and not beside what has become, in my lifetime, a major thoroughfare.

This may look chilly, and the ground beneath is frozen, but the air temperature is nearing 32F.  With a ten-day high of 38F forecast for today, it looks like the snow may be here to stay.  Next week the weather prognosticators call for more snow.  Several days of snow.  Yesterday my husband and I worked from mid-morning till near dark to finish all the little chores that must be done before snow arrives.  We sat, smugly content, and watched the white pile up.  Now I look forward to a long winter’s rest disturbed only by a few barn chores, some snow plowing and the occasional jaunt outside for cold weather exercise.

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Whaleback Shell Midden, Damariscotta, ME

Just off Route 1 in Damariscotta, Maine, where the road crosses the river, the remains of prehistoric shell piles are visible.  A quiet little place named Whaleback Shell Midden State Historic Site awaits visitors on any day of the year.  A five minute walk from the parking lot to the river side brings a visitor to what remains of a giant pile of mostly oyster shells left by prehistoric Mainers.  The pile was created between 2200-1000 years ago.  At its extreme, the mound was once up to thirty feet deep and extended over 400 feet up from the river.  All these shells are the evidence of more than a thousand years of Native American feasts.

The photo above is from the State of Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands website, showing the Whaleback Midden in 1886 after mining had begun.  The pile got its name from the striking resemblance to the back of a whale, probably a humpback.  Once Europeans arrived in the late 1500s, the huge shell pile became a resource.  Settlers ground the shell up to make lime and to create roadbeds.  Then, at the end of the nineteenth century, full scale mining of the site commenced.  The huge pile of shells was ground up for chicken feed supplement.  What remains today was preserved beneath the mining buildings.

There are still a lot of shells in the area!  I picked up pieces of oyster shell and considered that the last person to touch this before me may have been a prehistoric native.  When the shell pile was mined, an historian did his best to record what was discovered during excavations.  The remains of fourteen humans were found and several dogs.  Artifacts such as painted pottery, stone tools and weapons, and many animal bones were turned up.  The natives apparently also consumed various mammals, fish and birds in addition to oysters by the canoe-load.  Some of the oyster shells were over a foot long!  It has been determined that most of the shellfish feasting took place in the winter and early spring.  

The Damariscotta River in this area is brackish and tidal.  During the midden period the river was less saline and  home to what seems a massive oyster bed.  Today the water has a higher salt content and no longer supports oysters.  It is still a beautiful waterbody rich in aquatic life.

Directly across the river from Whaleback Midden is another huge pile of oyster shells that is untouched since the days of the native mollusk eaters.  Glidden Midden (I kid you not!) is on private land and so far unsullied.  The bright white of the shells sets up a blinding glare in the sunlight.  Most of the pile is overgrown with trees.

 

 

 

Antique Noritake

I just had to share these beautiful plates.  They are hand painted Noritake made in Japan.  The porcelain is thin and fine with gorgeous encrusted gold floral crests and scrolls.  The hand painting is amazingly well done.  The plates measure 7.25″ in diameter.  They have minimal utensil wear and some loss of gold to the center and rim bands.  I don’t know how a human could create such meticulously perfect detailing.  The scrolls are all so uniform.

The backstamp is in red and dates to right around 1918, making these plates antiques next year.  I was surprised to find the beauties in a thrift shop.  They were a set of three, but one had a good-sized chip.  I made that into a very fancy underplate for one of my african violets.  The other two plates are for sale in my eBay shop.

Little Bunnies One Month Old

Moonstone’s three babies are achieving maximum cuteness at one month of age.  The angora rabbit fawns are little bundles of fluff that fit neatly in your hand.  Two are white albinos with red eyes and one is a chocolate point with blue eyes.  I believe the chocolate point and one white are female and there is one boy.  They are still so young that I can be fooled when sexing babies.  I’ll check again in a month.  At that age their sex will be fairly obvious.

By copying what mother does, the little ones have learned to eat pelleted feed, drink from a waterer and bowl and nibble grass, hay, fruit wood twigs and apples.  Young rabbits have big appetites.  We go through a lot of pellets when there is a litter of rabbits to raise.  Happily, there are only three this time so the feed bill won’t be as big as when there are six or eight to grow.  

I talk to the babies and handle them frequently so they will be gentle and accustomed to humans.  As they enter four to five weeks of age, the fawns develop a natural curiosity and are moving away from the protection of their mom.  This is a great time to socialize them with humans. 

Mom still nurses her fawns and allows them milk once per day.  Whenever anyone tries to get a little extra drink, she hops smartly away.  At two months she will wean them and the little ones will be ready to go to new homes.  If the chocolate point turns out to be a doe, I may keep her for my rabbitry.  She is adorable!

Pheasant

This guy first showed up here at the farm in early September, a cock ring-necked pheasant.  These birds of Asiatic origin are a common introduced species that lives in the wild throughout most of the US.  They are fairly hardy, surviving on the Great Plains and as far into New England as southern Maine.  But, they have never established a presence here in central Maine due to the deep snow and cold.  When a pheasant is seen running loose in this area it is generally due to escape from a breeder or intentional release for hunting purposes.

Mr. Pheasant is a sociable yet wary bird.  He comes out on the lawn when all is quiet.  If a human is spotted, the bird quickly takes cover.  A few days ago on an overcast afternoon he was right outside the house in the yard, not twenty feet from the door.  I snapped a few photos of him.  The bird could see me moving in the window which is why he is watching me in the pictures.  Quickly he determined I was no threat and went back to scrounging in the leaves for whatever a pheasant finds tasty.

If the weather has become warm enough due to climate change from global warming, perhaps this pheasant is part of a scouting party from down south, come to check out the possibilities.  I heard through the grapevine that there are a couple more cock pheasants running free about two miles away.  It seems more likely the birds were released or are escapees.  If they are able to survive the winter in the wild, a pheasant community may develop here.  The birds are great reproducers.  Since they are not native, they will put pressure on the wild turkey and partridge populations for the limited resources.

I suspect Mr. Pheasant will not make it through the winter.  He is showing an interest in my free-range chickens and may be attempting to insinuate himself into the flock, not realizing that involves being around me.  I have considered trapping him and may still try that.  I would like to see him safe for the winter and not the victim of cold and coyotes.

Hazelnut Harvest

The hazelnut or filbert bushes produced a nice crop this year.  We have three plants.  Two are the same age, with one over eight feet tall and the other languishing with no real growth and about two feet tall.  I bought another hazelnut since it takes two to pollinate and I was afraid the little one would die.  The new plant has put on good growth this season.  I saved some human hair to place in muslin bags and hang on the little tree to try and keep the deer from nibbling it.  That seemed to work last year.  Once it gets big enough, the deer won’t be a threat anymore.

Most of the nuts are from the large bush.  The tiny one made three nuts.  The big one produced a solid dry quart of nuts in the shell.  Hazelnuts form on the plant inside a large, feathery husk.  There can be one to as many as five husks clumped together on one stem.  The bigger the clump, the smaller the nuts.  The husk is peeled away to expose the shell inside.  The shell is cracked to get the nut meat.  The raw nuts in the shell are usually dried for a time to age the meat.  Freshly picked nuts have a higher moisture content and taste slightly different than dried nuts.  I like them either way.  Hazelnuts are my favorite.  I’m excited to finally have decent nut production from my orchard!

Antique Atterbury Milk Glass Plates

Last week I had the good fortune to discover this set of four delicate white milk glass plates at a thrift store.  It is amazing that such breakables have survived with no chips or cracks.  The pieces were made by Atterbury Glass of Pittsburg, PA.  They are marked on the backs with a capital A.  Atterbury was in business from approximately 1859-1902.  So these plates are antiques.  They appear nearly new with just the slightest scratch here or there from a utensil.

The beautiful open-work borders with their S-shape are so prone to breakage that I was very careful to examine the margins for hairline cracks.  My eyes are getting old, but I don’t think I missed any damage.  This sort of work is termed Early American Pressed Glass, EAPG.  It can be distinguished from later glass by the imperfections inherent to the material.  The glass will have flow lines, straw marks, tiny trapped bubbles and roughness around the edges where the pieces were knocked out of the mold.  As time passed and glass manufacture became more technically advanced, these mars were eliminated.  Thus, in this case the age of a piece can be told by its blemishes.

Atterbury produced tons of milk glass, the company was renown for it.  Some of their most popular pieces included hens and other animals on nests covered dishes, cups, and lacy open work pieces.  This S-shaped lace design has a decided gilded age feel to me, perhaps produced sometime in the 1880s.  This is just a guess.  Information about the company’s production, and especially the marks used, is very limited.  After the company went out of business, some of its molds were apparently sold.  Westmoreland Glass later made an identical pattern under its own mark.

Included in the set are three dinner plates measuring 8 3/8″ square and one salad plate at 7 3/8″.  I paid less than one dollar per piece and hope to realize a sale price of ten dollars each in my online shop.  The last similar one sold for $9 and it was a single plate.