Archive | September 2016

Common Ground Fair

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On the train to the Fair!

Every year for the last forty years the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assoc. (MOFGA) has held the Common Ground Country Fair.  It occurs on the third weekend after Labor Day in Unity, Maine. I have attended several times, most recently with my daughter and two grandchildren.

This fair attracts over 20,000 people per day on its three-day, long weekend run.  The place can get quite crowded, especially the food areas at lunchtime.  Organic growers from all over the state attend to compete, display and sell their produce, livestock and wares.DSC08724.JPG

Compared to most fairs, the Common Ground is more like a very old-time agricultural fair.  There are no loud rides, carnies, sideshows, horse races, professional tractor or horse pulling competitions and NO cotton candy (sigh.)  The trash is guarded by garbage police and separated into cans for regular waste, composting and recycling.  There is no litter.

Arriving at the fair is an adventure in itself, as you may take an old-fashioned train with brightly painted cars to reach the fairground.  The train runs regularly all day, shuttling people back and forth from parking areas to the fair.  Even with the train service, the road leading to the fair is backed up for miles in traffic jams.  The crowd seems to take the highway authorities by surprise every year, leading to very slow going if you try to travel anywhere near the fair.dsc08713

You can find wonderful displays of organically grown vegetables and fruit in the competition barn, several sheds of draft horses, oxen, dairy cattle and goats, pigs, sheep, llamas and alpacas.  The draft animals do compete in amateur pulling contests.  One barn is devoted to rabbits and another to poultry.  The fiber people have a tent full of their produce arrayed for the salivating droves of spinners and weavers moving through.  There is always a woman demonstrating the use of a spinning wheel by taking the fiber directly from an angora rabbit resting in her lap.DSC08736.JPG

Other large sales tents house arts and crafts with basket weavers, jewelers, wood, glass, stone and metal workers, paper making and hand-operated printing presses, cloth and clothing making, beading, leather work, etc, etc.  Several tents are dedicated to fresh produce and seeds, and several more to representatives from various political factions, movements and technology companies important to organic farmers.  A few tents are set aside for daily talks put on by authorities on the many facets of organic living and farming.  There is even a display of working equipment operated with direct solar power to cook food.dsc08747

The aspects that stand out most for me are the general quiet atmosphere, the wide, grassy spaces that are available for people to use, and the sorts of people who attend.  Dozens of fair-goers sprawl on lawns and in open areas, eating, drinking, talking, listening to speakers and even playing musical instruments and singing.  Some of these people are barefoot or clothed in brightly colored wraps of cloth and other bohemian outfits and hairstyles.  Amish people mingle with the crowd, denizens of the large Amish community that has sprung up around the Unity area in the last decade or so.DSC08735.JPG

The grounds are furnished with several permanent gardens to display organic farming methods.  You can walk through small fields of corn, squash, beans, root vegetables, cruciferous and leaf crops and herb and flower gardens.  On one side of the fairgrounds is a large amphitheater for live music and performances with high earthen sides for seating.  Dozens of children grab pieces of discarded cardboard boxes from vendors and slide down the steep slopes.dsc08741

The attractions are eclectic.  One may take a walk through a quiet forest into a glade set aside for poetry reading by Maine’s poet laureate.  Farther into the woods, children who are members of a local wilderness group display their resourcefulness with outdoor skills, camping and fire-starting for any to watch.  Near the amphitheater is an old-fashioned strength competition using a heavy hammer to try and ring the bell at the top of a pole.

Unusual foods are vended.  Offerings such as lamb, falafal, curries, tofu just-about-anything-you-can-imagine, vegetarian foods, whole wheat pizza, teas, hot cider, pie cones, and fresh seafood bring lines of diners.  Not the usual fair fare!  There is a bow to regular American tastes with stands serving hamburgers and fries, popcorn, Italian sausage and ice cream.  The longest line was at the fresh roast coffee vendor’s stand.

Many love the sheep dog demonstrations.  Several dogs perform their tasks using a small flock of sheep and even a gaggle of geese, to the delight of a large audience.  The children are drawn to the livestock pens because most farms in attendance allow people to talk to and pet the animals.dsc08730dsc08725

The young ones also have a large area all to themselves filled with delightful activities.  Twice a day any child may don a costume and participate in the Children’s Parade around the fairgrounds.  In addition to children, the parade features Morris dancers, stilt-walkers and mummers wearing large papier-mache animal head masks.dsc08718

The day always flies by with so much to see and do.  Soon it is time to rush and catch the train for the ride back to the car.  With any luck the shuttle is running close to schedule.  Everyone leaves tired but happy.  This year’s fair hosted over 60,000 visitors in one long weekend.  I hope this extravaganza of folk and country fun continues for many years to come.

 

Babies!

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They finally did it!  Mom and Dad angora rabbit are pleased to announce the birth of their three babies on 9/15/16.  After several mis-starts and fails, these three are healthy and doing well.  Mama bunny has provided them with a thick bed of the finest fiber in the world to keep them warm and comfy.

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Proud daddy Marble

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Relieved mom Jade

Born hairless and with their ears and eyes sealed, by the time they can see and hear, the babies will be nearly two weeks old.  They are already able to pop themselves around with powerful hind legs.  If their naps are disturbed, the nest bounces and funny little grunting sounds ensue as the babies involuntarily kick their hind legs and call for their mother.

Mom will feed and clean them once per day.  Rabbit milk is so nutritious that only one feeding is required.  The babies grow quickly.  One little rabbit is larger than the other two.  It gave the mother some trouble coming out.  Such a small litter can lead to the oldest fetus growing too large to easily pass.  When this happens, the entire litter can be lost, even the mother is at risk.

Not sure why this doe has such a hard time carrying babies.  She is only four years old, prime reproduction age.  When I got her she was pregnant and kindled ten healthy fawns.  Since then getting pregnant and carrying to term has proved difficult for her.  I am so grateful to have gotten these three and am hoping for a pretty little colored female to add to the herd.

Crockett Cove Woods Preserve

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In early September my husband and I enjoyed a short vacation in the Blue Hill region of Maine.  While there, we visited Deer Isle and the Crockett Cove Woods Preserve held by the Nature Conservancy.  This little jewel of a park extends along one side of Crockett Cove, a part of Eggemoggin Reach in the Atlantic Ocean.c5c12Many places along the Maine coast are fog forests.  Almost every morning, and sometimes the whole day, the area is bathed in sea fog.  The tree leaves collect the mist and it drips to the floor of the forest.  Resultant growth is verdant and dense, even during periods of drought such as Maine experienced in July and August.  Moss and lichen blanket most surfaces.c17

c18The preserve has limited parking, but we were the only visitors upon arrival.  This place has remained wild.  The only human incursion evident is the walking trails.  Most trails are marked with paint blazes.  The land is composed of thick granite, the remains of massive volcanic upwellings in the area millions of years ago.  Scattered about are immense granite erratic boulders, chunks torn from the tops of nearby mountains and deposited here when the last glacier melted.c10  Over the millenia, successive generations of plants deposited a thin layer of earth on the rock.  The conifers evolved a spreading, shallow root system, allowing survival on a nearly impenetrable surface.  Periodic strong Atlantic gales knock over the tallest trees.  When they fall, smaller trees are pulled down as well.  The root systems are exposed, along with the bare rock beneath the trees.  Fallen trees open a light space with an opportunity for hundreds of seedlings to vie for a spot in the sun.c4

The trees in the preserve are predominantly spruce, fir, cedar, maple and birch.  A walk here is pleasantly shady, with an indescribably delightful scent that might be called floral forest by some perfumer.  The space is deeply silent.  Nuthatches persistent ermp-ermp-ermp calls and chattering from red squirrels seem to be absorbed into the stillness.  The only aural evidence of nearby ocean is the regular tolling of a bell bouy marker in the channel.

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Tiny red maple seedlings display their fall colors amid a bed of moss

c2The granite base prevents water from entering too deeply into the ground.  It gathers in low spots to form bogs and slow moving streams.  The dense trees, moss and ferns and little nooks and dark holes in the rock lead one to almost expect wee forest folk to be about, tiny elves or fairies dancing in shafts of sunlight on the carpet of green.c7The true forest folk are evident in piles of spruce cone hulls, remains of red squirrel feasts.  Birds are ever-present:  nuthatches, chickadees and kinglets.  All survive on the bounty of insects, cones and fruit from various plants.  Low growing bunchberry, wild cranberry and blueberry form thick patches burgeoning with a seasonal fruit harvest.

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Wild large cranberry, the fruit is about 1/4″ in diameter

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Low-bush wild blueberry

Mushrooms and other fungi flourish in the dim, moist environment.  Skunk cabbage, a relative of Jack-In-The-Pulpit, springs up in wet spots.  This plant generates its own heat, allowing it to melt through snow for early flowering.  Life clings to the most difficult and unexpected places, gathering moisture from the air and nutrients from the minerals released as lichen inexorably break down rock.

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Skunk cabbage

c9c16c6In places the trail is steep stairs formed by granite outcrop and tree roots.  Other parts of the path are carpeted with a thick layer of fallen cones.  The way is picked carefully with a mind to ankle-twisting protrusions.

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Steep steps up over a chunk of pink granite grasped by red spruce roots

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Tree cone pathway

With walkways that have been given names such as Indian Pipe Stem Loop, Bog Trail, Cedar Trail and Fern Loop, the many attractions of this tiny piece of natural Maine are opened to the enjoyment of all.c14.jpg

 

Leash Training Cats

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Cary demonstrates how to use a harness and leash

We’ve probably all heard a task that is particularly difficult and frustrating to perform referred to as like trying to herd cats.  Well, leash training a cat takes plenty of patience.  It will only work with cats who are motivated to go outside.  Fraidy cats that like being indoors may never leash train.

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Cary king of the mountain

It helps to start when cats are young.  They are smaller and easier to control and also tend to be more trusting.  Young cats are very adventurous in general so going outside will appeal more strongly to them than an older animal.

Because we live near a high speed road in a rural area with lots of foxes, coyotes, eagles, hawks and other predators, our cats do not roam.  We want them to live.  They have an enclosed 4 foot by 8 foot cage they access via a cat door if they want to be in the great outdoors.

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Kai is a little more shy than Cary and it takes him longer to decide to explore

Our two nine-month-old kittens Cary and Kai were showing a strong interest in going outside.  Because our home is busy and doors don’t always get completely closed, I began to worry one or both might escape.  If they had no outside experience beyond the confines of the outdoor cage, they were at risk for running away.

I decided to leash train the kittens and take them for walks to familiarize them with the surroundings and reduce the fear that is likely to occur when a cat is suddenly thrust into a novel situation.

The best leash for walking a cat is a double harness.  One loop goes around the neck, another loop encircles the chest right behind the front legs.  The loops are joined along the cat’s back and the leash attaches near the thorax loop.  This configuration is the safest for cats.  They will not be choked if they bolt at a strange noise and if the harness is properly adjusted, the cat will not be able to squirm out of it.  The harness should be fitted fairly snug.  One finger should just fit between the cat and any of the straps of the harness.

A short, solid leash is best, one four to five feet long.  A cat should not have too much room to bolt or it can place enough strain on the harness when the animal reaches the end of the leash that a connection can break resulting in a loose cat.

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Kai hears something!

 

The first step in leash training is to apply the harness while the cat is inside and allow them to wear it for several hours at a time for a few days.  The goal is to have the cat go about his normal behavior paying no attention to the harness.  Once this is achieved, it’s time to try outside.

For the first try, I take the cat to the door, put on the harness, then open the door.  Allowing the cat time to decide to step out removes any stress from that big first stage: leaving the safety of the house.  I continue to let the cat choose the pace of exploration.  The kitty leads and I follow, at the beginning.

Slowly I introduce tug and release to teach the cat to go where I want.  It never works to maintain a constant pressure on the leash.  The cat learns to pull against it, just as a dog that pulls learned it from poor leash training.  Because cats love to explore, in no time at all they will go about with a human, checking out the scents, chasing bugs and trying to catch larger prey.

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Cary hunting big game

The training has already paid off for Cary.  A few days ago, after six lessons on the leash, a screen door didn’t shut completely and Cary sneaked out.  It took me nearly an hour to realize what happened.  When I finally went looking for him, he quickly came to my call, emerging from a bush near the house.

Without his training, I know Cary would have run off, maybe never to be seen again.  During his first couple walks, he was terrified of almost everything.  After a half-dozen sessions, he was comfortable enough to stay close to the house and come out of hiding when I called.  I’m so glad I made the effort to train the kittens!

Cary and Kai love going for walks so much that they now beg me to take them.  This is the down side of leash training.  They are very insistent when they want something.  Cary so enjoys walks that now, when he sees the harness, he knows it’s walk time.  He stands for me to buckle it on him.  Cary completely loves being an outdoor kitty and Kai is not far behind.  Soon I will routinely take both together for walks.  What fun we will have!