The bite of the first wood tick and a glimpse of new red fox kits were clear signs of Spring on the Bluecircle this week. Patches of fleshless groundhog fur and a fresh limb in the middle of the farm showed the young were being nourished by their ever-watchful mother.
Few rabbits have survived the fox’s nightly inspection of the woods and hillsides. The groundhogs have not been spared but are not missed since their excavated mounds and burrow openings can sink an ankle or a wheel.
Threads of green are restoring color to the field but for a few more weeks the dead grass and leaves will provide scant cover for our hungry mother’s prey.
The calendar says Spring. Frosty ground that crunches underfoot and ice-glazed puddles argue otherwise, backed by a stiff north wind. Hat, coat and gloves are still required these March mornings, and even later unless you find shelter in the sun. Or better yet, in a warm porch or car.
It’s the season of poplar cuttings, set indoors with one brown bud just above the potting soil. Fewer are needed now than in years past, but these rapid-growers tolerate Michigan clay and hot summer days better than any of the other plantings. Orders for a few dozen more walnut and norway spruce seedlings are placed; bright pink flags where they will be planted wave in the breeze. Tiny sugar maples and sycamores will fill gaps here and there in the existing pine and spruce plantings to provide eventual diversity.
Neither grass nor weeds have broken the bonds of Winter. On the other hand, the 7 Bluecircle hens are laying eggs again. Their first hours in the run beyond their coop were filled with scratching, pecking and happy cackles.
Paw Paw Lake was flooded and ice-free weeks ago but lake-effect snow squalls from the big lake have lingered. The afternoon sun dims and shines moonlike on the icy water, longing for April warmth.
The days of falling leaves are almost over. A few stragglers remain in the poplar tops and some oaks will keep their rusty decorations till March. The treetops often hold larger leaves than lower branches and a young Burr oak provided some trophy specimens this year.
Burr oak leaves
The Bluecircle leaf “grand champion” was a 5-year Sycamore that blanketed its lawn on North Watervliet Road with fallen giants. Many had a span over 12 inches, and some were larger. It was good that this naturalized area needs no raking – by Spring these enormous remnants of a good tree year will be gone.
Sycamore leaf measures 18 x 16 inches!
One pumpkin vine survived the groundhog chomping in the corn patch and bore a single tiny fruit. Maybe a fairy carriage?
The Red Oak leaves brown and blow on a howling Halloween and the tree farm has reached another birthday. Occasional bursts of lake-effect snow from a lead-lined sky warn of harsh weather ahead, but for now the grass is green. Freed from competition by frost-pruned weeds it’s growing thanks to lots of October rain. It will be left a little long where there are not too many leaves to mulch or move.
A rabbit, or maybe 2 elude the clutches of our resident fox by living beneath the largest Scotch Pines. Those planted as 3-year seedlings are now almost 9 years old. Volunteer raspberry and blackberry vines like the pines too, waiting to grab the sleeve or hat of the guy on the mower. Poison ivy that stealthily made its way up trunks all summer is now bright red and obvious – but only until the next hard rain sweeps the leaves away. The myth that this vine only thrives in shade is busted on the Bluecircle since it’s everywhere the mower blades don’t reach.
Spagetti squash proved to be the champion crop of this year’s garden. The pepper and tomato plants and never fully recovered from a late frost, and a groundhog that tunneled into the sweet corn/pumpkin patch feasted on the young vines. Soon it will be time to clean out the beds, hang up the tools and wait to anticipate the first signs of Spring.
Oaks and pines
Midsummer in Michigan, cooler than many years and mostly rainy enough to keep established trees healthy. The Bluecircle’s older pines now close the rows between them and briars thrive in their shade. It will be a few years before you could lose yourself here, but even now you could stay out of sight in the Scotch pines.
The mixed planting of spruce, fir and pines is susceptible to the white pine weevil. Especially in the sunniest areas this pest has infected some topmost branches leaving then brown, dead and soon broken by the wind. New branches form below this crude amputation but the crooked trunk of affected trees marks the damage.
Both oaks and conifers continue to develop new leaves or needles, often with transient immature colors that contrast with established growth.
Spruce tip on a July afternoon
The advent of Spring at the Bluecircle brings its share of surprises, from a (? last) burst of lake-effect snow to an outbreak of small tornadoes and nightly visits from a portly skunk. Meanwhile, the greening of buds and grasses proceeds. A new batch of hybrid poplar cuttings rests in the greenhouse and awaits more sun and fewer frigid nights. The first bare-root trees of the year are planted and today’s soaking rains are just what they needed to settle in their new rows.
The Bluecircle hens have agreed that Winter is over and egg production is back to normal. They are happy that most of the coop window covers were removed to restore their view of the big world. Fortunately the red fox of the Woodland Conservancy who brought a feathered chicken dinner home as “take out” last week enjoyed his meal a few hundred feet beyond their coop. Now the winds of March have scattered the feathers of this unfortunate prey.
Six hundred or so miles southwest of Paw Paw Lake lies Prairie Village Kansas were you can walk wagon ruts from the 200-year-old Santa Fe and linked Oregon Trails. Beyond the community park that preserves the “Prairie Highway” heritage older, well-preserved homes fill this southeast suburb of Kansas City. Only in your imagination can you see the gently rolling hills spread with prairie grasses, now dusted with a little snow or trampled by freezing rains.
This eastern terminus of the frontier trails to the West is far from the sheltering ring of the Bluecircefarm, but free of lake-effect snow drifts. Visits totaling weeks here have let Sophie establish her daily route of neighborhood inspection and nap times. But she looks longingly at her space in the back seat of the truck and will be glad to leave this one house, two dogs neighborhood.
She’ll be bringing a member of the Bluecircle family to interim residence in the guest house, widening her choice of people to love and protect. I think she’ll enjoy keeping track of a bit larger family. The orange “U” trailer behind us will be as big as the prairie schooners outfitted here in the 1820s but our journey will be shorter, and far easier.