Archive | August 2016


k1When I was thrift-shopping the other day to find interesting things to add to my online stores, I discovered these five little bowls.  They are 4.25″ in diameter and 1″ tall.  The cats are very cute and the bowls appeared new so I scooped them up for 90 cents each.k6  They are designed look hand done, though if you examine closely, you will see the fingertip marks and other “handmade” flaws are the same on each piece.  These were all done in the same mold and the art work, though appearing handpainted, is transfer.  Each bowl has the artist’s first name and seal and the name of the featured cat in English.k2The artist is Hajime Okamoto.  He has Westernized his name by placing his given name first and family name following.  In Japan he would be called Okamoto Hajime.  He goes by Hajime and that’s good enough for me.  I decided to do some research on the artist before listing the bowls for sale.

There is not much information available on Western websites about this artist, although he is fairly famous in Japan.  His cat series is especially popular.  Cats are considered bringers of good fortune.  (Such a breath of fresh air for felines after being associated with demons and witches in the West.)  Hajime was born in Osaka in 1942.  He went to China in the 1980s on cultural exchange to Jilin Province and his work is said to be influenced by his time there.

In 1986 he began displaying his art in China.  By the early 1990s his work was exhibited in Osaka and in 1995 a national Japanese gallery exhibit gained him great recognition.  His art graces calendars, puzzles, bento (lunch) boxes, plastic rice bowls, chop stick sets, an illustrated kids book and ceramics such as these bowls and matching cups, spoon holders and platters.k3In 1998 the cats debuted.  Hajime says his cats were developed while listening to 1960s jazz and he imagined them as laid-back, relaxed creatures living a slow and free life amid the bustle of humans.  They all have names and personalities.  Many of his designs feature inspirational sayings about how to be happy.k4The leader of the cat clan is Kabamaru, a tiger kitty who is always depicted as the largest in the group.  Kaba means hippo and maru connotes young male.  There appears to be some differing of opinion about the origin and meaning of the suffix maru that is used in so many Japanese names including ships.

Some Japanese say maru means round or circular and it must.  It can also signify powerful, a full month, small and round in the face, perfection and purity.  But, I found an interesting post by a thoughtful Japanese named Nangi that I think explains the true origin.  Ancient Japanese were reputed to be very superstitious.  They believed that an evil god or demon named Oni brought pestilence and death.  They hoped to fool the demon into not touching their babies by giving them a name that literally meant filth, excrement or feces.  Like Hajime-maru, for instance.  So maru meant poop.

Over time the suffix took on a broader connotation:  a general charm for good luck.  It was associated with  young boys and also was attached to sailing vessels to help bring a positive outcome for frightening voyages over deep water.  All of this tells us the meaning of Kabamaru cat’s name is young male hippo.  There are other cats such as Momoji, Sakon, Urume, Tango, Musashi, Inari and Shirorin.  I will resist trying to find the translations for their names.k5The cute little bowls are available in select shops and markets.  The prices range from $10-$20 per piece.  Some places they are called plates.  I believe they are intended to be used at meals to hold side dishes, small servings, sauces, etc.  I had no idea I would learn so much researching these simple bowls!  They are currently for sale in my eBay store.

Some links I found researching:



Here are some of this year’s chick hatch, all different ages together in a nice little flock.  They are safely within the wire and net enclosed run.  That’s because we have a fox!

For most of the summer, the chicks’ house has been open so they can go out and free-range at their pleasure or come in the house to get food and water or to roost for the night.  The doorway was covered with wire and had a small opening just big enough for young birds to squeeze through.  That way the adult chickens could not get in. In the morning when I did chores, I would spread scratch grain in their run and call them.  Soon, all the chicks would come rushing for their favorite scratch treat.

About two weeks ago while the chicks were eating their scratch, I counted them.  There are supposed to be twenty-three, but one was missing.  Because the birds move around quickly when they eat, I assumed I counted wrong and didn’t think much of it.  Then I began to have premonitions about a fox.  I shrugged them off.

Four days ago when I fed the chicks, none responded to my call.  I could hear them talking in the hedges and stands of daylilies and within other cover in the yard.  Suddenly, no one wanted scratch.

Then, when I went to tend the horses, I discovered the half-eaten body of one of my young black roosters in the paddock.  I looked the body over and suspected a fox attack due to the nature of the injuries.  That evening, rather than going to their roosts when it got dusky, the baby chickens came running to me.  I’m their mother.  They stood around staring at me and yammering.  I took them to their house and made them go inside.  It was a struggle.  The young birds were afraid to go in.

That’s when I realized a predator, probably a fox, had entered their coop the night before though the small opening and stole the rooster as he slept.  I counted my babies that evening and got nineteen!  Oh no!  I locked all their doors and reinforced the wire fence around the run.

The next morning one more little black hen was waiting outside the coop to join her siblings.  She had hidden in the hedge for the night.  So now I have twenty chicks.  The loss of a black rooster is not such a disaster.  He would have been sold for $2 otherwise.  Sadly, I don’t know what other babies were stolen.  Probably some lovely little pullets, knowing my luck.  I’m glad to say my most prized ones are still with us and not fattening some nasty fox.

Also that morning I discovered the three most recent rabbit graves, one about two weeks old and two dating back to spring, had been newly dug up overnight.  It was obviously the work of either a fox or small dog by the size of the holes.  So, I’m pretty sure it’s a fox.  There was nothing edible in the graves.  That didn’t stop the creature from digging them up again the next night.  Now they are weighted with rocks.chick2

All the chickens must now spend most of the day penned up.  I have no idea when this fox may try another sortie against my birds.  They are allowed to free-range for about two hours in the evening while I and the German shepherds are outside.  So far no fox has shown its face.  The older birds are indignant about the restrictions, but the younger one actually seem relieved.  They happily go to roost in their safe, locked-up house at night.  During the day they act content to be within the protective wire of the run.

Watch out, Mr. or Mrs. Fox.  Your days are numbered.  If I see the animal in the yard, I will get rid of it for good.


Monarch Butterfly Spotted!


So excited to see a Monarch butterfly today!  I was mowing in the horse pasture and this one stayed around feeding from the golden rod flowers.  It waited five minutes while I climbed off the tractor and went to the house for my camera so I could get a shot.  Soon after I took this photo, the butterfly flew high in the air and left the area.

Growing up on the farm, these butterflies were common.  You could find a cocoon and admire the gold beading around the edges.  Or watch a brightly striped caterpillar devour milkweed leaves. In recent years my sightings have dwindled.  Last year I didn’t spot any Monarchs.  I am hoping this sighting is a sign they are returning to us.  I’ve been cultivating wild milkweed the past few years so the caterpillars will have plenty of food if adults arrive to lay eggs.g3

I’ve also sold milkweed seeds all over the country for a token cost to encourage others to plant milkweed for the insects.  The Butterflies and Moths of North America website keeps a record of insect sightings.  It is encouraging to see so many Monarch views recorded.  I submitted my sighting so there will be one recorded for Somerset County in Maine.

Here is a link to the Monarch butterfly page on that website to view the map and table of sightings: Butterflies and Moths of North America


A monarch butterfly visited today, too!  This one was on the butterfly bush by our front door.  Maybe the same insect as yesterday?  Who knows?  I hope not.  I wish there are many monarchs flying around the farm!  I wanted this one to spread its wings so I could photograph the tops, but it didn’t cooperate.b2b1


Garden Bounty


After weeks of drought, we finally got rain yesterday.  There is more rain forecast for today, so exciting!  It is very frustrating to watch thunderstorms go around or evaporate before they reach us.  The poor plants were suffering.  I had to water several times to keep the garden going.  The effort was worth it because we have a bountiful supply of vegetables.

I’ve been eating beet greens, have made some pickled beets and plan to make more soon.  There is plenty of lettuce for salads and sandwiches.  The wax bean harvest is in full swing.  So far I’ve canned ten pints of beans.  More beans are waiting for processing.g3

Growing the sweet peppers closer together in partial shade has really paid off.  The plants are big, full and heavy with fruit.  I got the first pepper last evening.  They are supposed to be red bells, but are delicious when still green as well.  I love peppers on pizza and there’s nothing like fresh pepper right from the garden for supper!  As can be seen, my half of the pizza is veggie.g4

The tomato jungle is not as thick as some years due to the drought.  There are still plenty of tomatoes being produced.  These are so sweet.  Sometimes I make a meal just from one big tomato with some salad dressing.g2

The bonus flowers that I grow along the fence in the vegetable garden are blooming beautifully.  It is lovely to cut a few for a fresh arrangement on the dining table.  The bright colors of the zinnias remind me of candy.   g5

Woods Funk Solved, I Think

My last blog post was about an awful smell in the woods and how its source was a mystery.  I think the mystery is solved.  I did a thorough search in the smelly area with my neighbor who is a hunter and has smelled bear.  We didn’t find any sign of bear and he said the odor didn’t smell like bear to him.  He had no idea what it was.

Finally, I got through to the game warden today after several days of phone tag.  His best guess was porcupine.  He said walking in the woods he has come across a nasty stink and thought, yuck, what is that.  Then he saw it was a porcupine.

Apparently, not only do these rodents have long quills for defense, they also can emit a strong, foul odor when disturbed.  It may serve as a warning to a predator to leave them alone.  So the creatures have the capacity to be really odiferous.

The warden said it is most likely a family has taken up residence in the dead pine tree.  They are all stinking away and are up in the air so the smell can travel farther.  This makes sense to me.

There is certainly plenty of porcupine sign in the area:  tree bark gnawings, diggings around tree bases and piles of stool under some hemlocks.  They seem to favor hemlock bark for food.  So, although I have not climbed up in the giant dead pine to see for sure, it sounds fairly likely that the stinky creature in the woods is a bunch of porcupines.

It seems odd to me that I’ve never smelled this before.  I’ve seen several porcupines in trees and walking in the woods.  The critters used to come in my barn and gnaw on the wall boards.  A really big one raided my corn patch for several weeks one year.  I’ve even been very close to them at the vet clinic where I worked because we provided services for a wildlife rescue facility.  I guess none of these porkies were scared enough to let off their stink.

Now that we know what we are probably dealing with, we’ll be careful to keep the dogs near when we walk in that part of the woods.  There’s not much that is less fun than pulling quills out of a dog’s face.

The Funk In The Woods


There is a funk in the woods.  By that I don’t mean some groovy tune, I mean it smells.  Stinks.  Like a hairy, hygienically-challenged creature is in there.  If you walk across the field and down the hill to enter the woods at what looks like a dark opening in the left center of the photo above, you come nose to odor with the creature.

I have lived on this farm and traveled the woods for forty-seven years and never smelled this before.  The aroma is like sour den:  animal sweat and glands and warmth with a little spit and urine mixed in for good measure.  It is so strong, it permeates about 200 square feet of woodland.  The smell has been in this area since early spring, April or so.  On still days it hangs in the air so you must hold your breath as you pass by or be nasally assaulted.

We have been scratching our heads and querying our friends and neighbors, trying to understand the funk.  I even have a call in to the game warden.  Maybe he will get back to me about the “animal smell” in my woods, right after he wraps up the latest poaching ring.

What once used to be my favorite forest stroll has become a source of dark imaginings.  What animal could make such an effusive stench?  How big is this thing?  Are there, instead, several small ones contributing to the miasma?  Where the heck are they?  No sight or sound of this creature is evident, only the olfactory impression.

It does not smell like skunk.  Not even faintly.  Once I owned a descented ferret, for a short time.  Until my husband said it had to go because it was so whiffy.  The creature in the woods does not smell like a ferret.  I presume a larger member of the weasel family, like a fisher, would have a ferrety fragrance about it.

This reek is a conundrum.  It reminds me the most of dog; long unwashed bedding of a long unwashed dog.  Except more feral.  So maybe this critter is actually a den of coyotes or foxes or even a brush wolf?  When coyotes are around, they can’t help themselves.  They yip and howl on a nightly basis.  You know if there are coyotes.  When foxes move in, they tend to stalk my chickens.  No evidence of this so far, knock on wood.  So maybe it’s a brush wolf?  They are rare, almost fabled, in Maine.  They are big.  I may have seen one, once.  It was taller and longer than my 110 lb German shepherd.

Or is the odiferous thing a bear?  I’ve never smelled a bear.  Research tells me bears are not so foul.  You are more likely to smell the rotting groundhog carcass they have stashed for lunch than to catch the scent of Ursa.  I know there are bears on our farm, their scat turns up on trails sometimes or their handiwork in a torn-apart hornet nest.  Seems like if this were bear fetor, I’d have noticed it in the past.

In the photo above, the dead limbs of a very tall white pine are just visible in the top center right.  They look a bit like antlers jutting up.  This tree is huge, at least seventeen feet in circumference, maybe eighty feet in height.  Several years ago it was struck by lightning and killed.  The towering skeleton of wood is an ideal place for many wild animals to build a home.  The dead tree is central to the area of the funk.  Maybe something moved into the tree this spring?  A huge colony of raccoons?  Could they make this pervasive pong?

Raccoon sign has always been common in our woods.  The banks of the small river running through the farm are riddled with raccoon prints.  I have smelled young raccoons when they were brought into the vet clinic where I used to work.  They were not offensive.  Maybe a big nest of them can become rank?

I have investigated the vicinity of the funk as much as I dare.  If it is a large and dangerous animal, I don’t want to meet it.  From a distance, I can spot no holes or piles of brush that might shelter an animal.  The mystery deepens.  I am reminded of tales told in jest of the skunk ape, a pungent eastern relative of Bigfoot.  As I said, the mind conjures darkly and creatively when there is no easy explanation.

Sure hope the riddle can be solved soon.  Perhaps with the help of the game warden?  Right now we are too cautious to venture into our own woods.  A very sad thing, indeed, to be frightened of a smell.