Friday, April 30, 2021

April Highlights Reel

Spring Snows & Spring Ephemerals

Spring is my favorite time in Appalachia. But she never arrives lightly. Her weather is turbulent and unpredictable. Snow is to be expected. In fact, there is some old Appalachian adage about counting foggy mornings in the fall (between certain dates) to predict number of spring snows (occurring after a certain date). Whereby "spring snow" dictates enough snow to track a chicken in. 

This "Fools Snow" on April 1 was the most significant of our spring snows
It built up in a hurry on our road
And caused near-white out conditions for some time.
The wind came from just the right direction to blow steadily and consistently through the door cracks and into the barn. This was actually the worst the snow blew into the barn this entire snow season.
The drift above my dry lot and barn reformed in < 24 hours. It was nuts!
It also lasted for days and days and days.

Aside from the return of our migratory birds and hibernating herps, I love seeing the spring ephemerals come into bloom. Each new species gives me joy.

Dutchman's breeches.
Squirrel corn
Ramps and a mountain stream
Spring beauties
Trout lily and ramps behind
The best lil rampin' pony standing amidst a field of ramps. Note the bags of ramps clipped to the saddle.

Stan Turns 20!

Oh sweet boy, I can't believe you're two decades old! Your attitude is so good and your health and fitness are admirable. I sincerely hope we have many more years of fun WV adventures ahead of us.

"Lady. I don't care what my age is. Give me my damn dinner." -Stan, probably
Not taken on his birthday because he was mid-shed and looking motheaten as all hell, but it does show off what great body condition he is! I took this photo a few days ago when Willa and I headed out for a ride. Those dapples are new! I'll be really interested to see if they persist.

Farm Chores

I needed to pick up one more round of hay to get me through until this year's harvest. So for the first time since bringing the horses home, I set off to my hay guy solo to get it, stack it on the trailer, truss it down tightly (didn't lose my load this time!...Yeah, that was a thing last round...whoops!), bring it home, and stack it. The guy I get it from helped with the loading/tying down, but the rest was just me on my own. 

All I can say is OOF. That was a lot. Still, I got 'er done in good time. My only wish is that I didn't [have to] do it the day I received my second COVID-19 vaccine (it was the only time my schedule worked with the weather to get it done). I was racing the clock to get the hay up before my reaction kicked in 10 hours post-shot. But I was really grateful the hay was up and done when my reaction kicked in because it put me down for a solid 40 hours. 

Ah, yes. I'm so smart lol
A row at a time, I'd toss the bales off the trailer onto the ground.
And then I'd bring them in one at a time and stack them. 

Once I recovered from my vaccine reaction, I set about re-doing my ghetto-ass weather walls on the barn overhang. The tarps did their job through the winter so well that I knew I wanted to keep walls on the overhang permanently, but I hated the look of tarps and needed something nicer. 

Enter porch covers from a job Dave worked late last year that the homeowner wanted him to take to the dump! One of the best parts about being married to a contractor who works in an area of second homes is all the nice stuff people deem "trash" for him to get rid of. True trash heads to the dump with all the other construction debris, but nice stuff usually ends up at our house or friends houses.

Still need to resolve the overhang, but I LOVE the light this provides!
Serious LOL to Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum choosing to stand bums to the wind in a short hail storm while Grif did the smart thing and stood under the overhang eating. 
The opposite side before. If your eyes are keen, you'll notice a wee dark splotch below the conduit piping where it comes out of the barn (top right) and runs along the beam to the corner of the overhang (top right). Remember that dark blotch for a few moments...
The part-way through of the opposite side. I took the opening between the vertical post and the barn and put more metal sheeting up.

Except that I had a little glitch when I went to start the second wall renovation. I honestly would never have noticed this fella if I hadn't needed to do work RIGHT WHERE HE WAS ROOSTING. That's right, for the second time in the years I've lived up here on this mountain I had a federally endangered Virginia big-eared bat (VBEB)(Corynorhinus townsendii virginianus) roosting on my property. It's like they know I've been designated the new national lead biologist for their species and just have to spend time with me. While they're incredibly cute, I really wish they wouldn't. This little one caused me to have to delay my work until it headed off to its next nightly roost.

One ear is folded and tucked behind its wing. The other stands erect in all of its glory and demonstrates why this bat got its name!

These bats are only known to five states on the east coast. Most of their numbers are in West Virginia. They're an incredibly stressy species, meaning that they're ridiculously sensitive to disturbance and handling. We have regulations in place in our state that these bats cannot be in hand for more than 10 minutes and cannot be held in captivity for more than 30 minutes. They'll become so stressed out that they die. I've seen it happen and it really sucks. 
Interestingly enough, the disease that has absolutely obliterated so many North American bat species, White Nose Syndrome (WNS)(Pseudogymnoascus destructans) doesn't affect VBEBs. In fact, since WNS began affecting WV bat populations in 2007-2008, VBEB numbers have steadily increased each subsequent year! This is due in part to more caves being gated and protected from human disturbance, but also because so many other bats died and left habitat available for VBEB to move into. (Just a quick visual for you: when WNS hit my state (and the same is true for many others), our most prolific species, the little brown bat - which is known across the country - population was decimated. Absolutely decimated. Their population died back in our state by 98% (i.e., hundreds of thousands of bats). When biologists entered caves to do annual hibernation counts those first few winters WNS was present, the biologists had to literally climb over piles of dead bats. Absolutely tragic.)
And while I'm on my bat soapbox, let me just remind you that bats are incredibly beneficial for us. They eat oodles of bugs every night and save us hundreds of thousands of dollars on pest control - especially farmers - by eating those bugs. Since WNS was brought to the US in 2006 causing massive die outs of bats across the country, pest control costs have increased. Anecdotally, cases of West Nile have also increased (at least in WV) during this time. I don't know if that is correlation or causation of the bat die off, but I find it fascinating nonetheless. 

The next chore on my list was to re-do the path down to my barn. My brother did an amazing job with it last year, but he even mentioned then that the best thing to do would be to churn up the earth and replace the rocks so they'd be more stable. I borrowed my friend's tiller again to create a few more flower beds and took a few minutes to churn up the path, too. (Tillers make dirt work SO SIMPLE, omg.)


And finally, while not a "farm chore" per se, it directly contributes to horse fun - I scored a sweet high-top cap in great condition for my truck for next to nothing! While I'd one day like to get a bigger trailer, the way life currently stands I won't be getting one any time soon. Knowing and accepting this, I decided I really wanted to get a cap for the truck so that I could build out a bed in it to minimize the amount of gear I take horse camping. 



Last but not least, I made a last-minute whirlwind trip to Maryland to visit Miss Austen this month. It's always so much fun - and such a nice change of pace! - to visit her and play horse over there. 

Lyra. How do your bones let you do this?
Look! Finally the perfect Taiga and Lyra comparison. 
Two wee pocket huskies.
So similar!
Both good girls.
And the husky pack is reunited again. 
Bastion ears!
These dorks.
Look at that old red man movin' out so happy.
Austen is always working to orient me to the area. With each visit, I learn the trails better. It's so fun!
Maryland horse country in the spring is so damn gorgeous.
Like seriously though. And my favorite part about Austen's barn is that these pastures stay this amazing no matter the time of year. They do such an amazing job managing this land for the horses.
Such a gorgeous evening!

Thursday, April 1, 2021

March Highlights Reel

The Great Thaw

Winter this year in Canaan Valley and the surrounding highlands was one of the best we've had in a decade (maybe more). The weather was cold, remained cold, and the snow that we received slowly built up and up and up. It was amazing to have such a solid base in the woods in areas that hadn't been skied in so long. 

But then, it was as if someone flipped that proverbial season switch we all joke and wish we had. On February 28 the rain began, the temperatures warmed, and through the next three weeks, all of the snow melted. In fact, much of March was classic spring weather for these parts. Mild at times, but almost entirely seasonable in a way that never seems to happen. It's been like something out of a storybook with how perfectly slow and deliberate the landscape is waking up and coming back to life.

Ah, look. There's ground under all that white!
The dry lot thaw is both my favorite and least favorite thing. Favorite because it means easier times are on the way so far as mucking go. Least favorite because all of that "melted" manure is a bitch to clean up while the thaw is ongoing.
Neighborhood pond starting to thaw. Still ample snow! And yes, some evenings I grab a beer and meander bareback around the neighborhood.
The impressive drift around the barn began to recede. 
Almost all melted in the dry lot!
Drift was still hanging on though. 
But not for long! I believe this is March 18.
Slowly shrinking.
And only this wee bit was left on March 20.
Bye bye, friend.

Kenai Turns 11

How did we get here? How?! Where did the time go?! I'm not sure I'm okay with my best fella being 11!

Age aside though, Kenai is doing wonderfully. He's peppy, happy, and more vocal than he's ever been for whatever reason. I guess he finally got the memo at 11 that huskies are usually rather talkative. (Neither of mine are.)

While Kenai may have some gnarly osteoarthritis in his stifles, it doesn't stop him. He's been the more rambunctious version of himself this month, putting any worries I may have had about his age to rest. He's come on more rides this month than I expected him to, and stuck with me through more of those rides instead of taking one of his many shortcuts back home when he's over it. (Which will never cease to make me chuckle.) 

He still struggles with bouts of odd skin issues that result in temporary hair loss in spots around his body, but he isn't digging at himself, licking, or scratching incessantly, so I'm just letting it go. We're due for another round of bloodwork to double-check things, but I'm not too concerned as every vet that has ever run a blood panel on him has remarked how perfect it looks. 

All in all, Kenai is doing fantastic for a senior fella with Alopecia X and a history of many CCL surgeries. Cheers to more happy years with my favorite guy. 

Older photos from earlier in winter, but I just love him.
Kenai and snow magic.
Right after he'd had his head/face buried in snow. 
I call Kenai's floofy feet his Grinch feet.
Double stacked beds in the foreground, Big Barker 7" memory foam bed in background (which the old bastard won't use despite me getting it FOR HIM). He isn't spoiled at all...
Giving me lip because he really wanted inside and I wasn't hustling enough to fulfill his desire.

Big Spring Chores Around the Farm

With the thaw came an onslaught of chores and upgrades around the farm. A lot of work? Yes. But I thoroughly enjoy all of it. 

Up first? Evicting the fluffy mops from the tack room. They've got more than enough insulation to keep themselves warm sleeping in the hay. No more tack room for these kitties! They routinely roll and flop about in the shavings in the stall and hay. All of that nonsense sticks to their fluffy coats and is then brought into the tack room. UGH. And so, I toggled the cat door to only let them out if they sneak in while the human door is open; but they will otherwise be unable to enter the tack room. I built them an elevated shelf in the barn aisle for their food so that I don't have to worry about dogs or other critters indulging in it. Arya and Sansa were a bit confused at first, but adjusted to the new setup within about 48 hours. 


Once the cats were evicted, the tack room got a deep clean and a few upgrades like a shelf for the TV finally!

So fresh. So clean. So temporary lol
Such a happy little space.
Built the shelf, stained it, put it up, and turned on the TV and DVD player to find that Gilmore Girls S1E1 was queued up. This show is my comfort show. I haven't watched it in years for whatever reason, but it seemed so fitting that it was what was left in the DVD player from when I moved up here four years ago.

Next up, I cleaned the trailer thoroughly with a broom and blower to get it ready for adventures. I still have plans to recaulk it (it's almost as old as I am and requires lots of little maintenance like this) and have the tires and such double-checked by a shop.

Spic and span! And new shipping boots for the horses waiting for adventures.
Still hope to add some more organization things to this little wall.

The first labor intensive chore of the spring was getting 2½ tons of stonedust to help level out the area under the overhang where the horses spend most of their time. 

All in all, the dry lot has held up  beautifully since the horses moved home in August 2019. They obviously spend a lot of time under the overhang though, as a result that area of stonedust became more compacted than other places. Not a surprise and not a big deal...until you take into account that heavy rain events can result in water sheeting over the saturated dry lot and flowing downhill...into the stalls and barn. Yikes! Fortunately, it was a simple enough half day of work to fix. 

Step 1, back this giant ass trailer + truck into my dry lot through my odd catty-corner gate.
My feelings on backing said trailer through said difficult area.
But really, it wasn't too bad. I'm getting pretty damn good at backing trailers effectively with minimal issue.
Time to dump 'er out!
The 0.5 zoom contorts the image some, but you still get an idea of how big that trailer was. Say hi to Grif observing from his stall!
So. Yeah. Picked up the stone the day before in some of the thickest fucking fog possible (aka moisture) and left it in the trailer overnight to fuss with first thing Saturday morning. Except it went below freezing over night and the moist stonedust adhered itself to the trailer in frozen rebellion against gravity. 
So I got to enjoy a bit of extra manual labor as I used my ice scraper to beat the stonedust free.
Freaking finally.
Now for the hardest part, shoveling and spreading it under the overhang by hand.
Phew, there we go. Spread and ready to compact! It wasn't too bad all things considered! And with my revamped body (improved posture and awareness of muscles and how to activate them thanks to PT and a PT-focused workout regime) I didn't even suffer an inkling of a sore back or anything. 
Except the compacter was being a wee bitch. So my friend who loaned it to me came to my rescue. Fuel line was fine. Fuel was good. Turned out the spark plug just needed a bit of TLC.
BOOM. Bangin' on all cylinders now. Whack-whack-whack. (Dunno about y'all, but in WV this machine is more commonly referred to as "the whacker" than a plate compactor. *cue giggles*)
Badabing, badaboom! Beautiful! And done with time to still get in 2 hours of wonderful spring skiing.
The last photo of it looking perfect before the horses went back out.

As the landscape continued to thaw, the grass started to come back to life. Before it could get too far along, I wanted to drag the pastures to bust up manure that I hadn't mucked last fall. In true Liz fashion for all things horse/barn/farm related, I MacGyver'd a drag out of my old truck tires and retired climbing rope. It took a little less than an hour's time driving the truck around the pasture, but those tires busted up almost all of the manure and left the pastures looking a lot better than I had expected! 

Silly, but effective.
No more manure piles! The chunked up stuff you see here is just the earth being torn up from hooves when the boys play hard. ...which is every time I turn them out.
Still rather impressed with how well those tires drug out the pasture.
Like, seriously. I never imagined it would look this good with a MacGyvered tire drag.

And the final chore of March was getting the XC jump area tidied up. This entailed weed whacking the spiky vegetation with a ninja blade, moving jumps around, dismantling/repairing other jumps, and finally *drumroll* digging new beds for perennial flowers that will also double as jump fill / ditch fill. Fortunately, I had a borrowed tiller to get most of this accomplished. Unfortunately, a critical belt in the tiller motor tore before I could finish, so I had to dig one bed completely by hand with a mattock and abandon the other two beds I was planning to do. 

Two or three passes completed with the tiller here. I would do 2-3 initial passes, remove the roots and vegetation, then do another 4-6 passes to churn up that gorgeous topsoil. 
And then I used all the extra treated lumber from fence building to create borders around the new beds.
This little Y is very versatile for lots of exercises. The cavaletti can easily be removed and modified where they sit. This is the current setup though: two 18" cavaletti and one ditch. 
BN trakehner. And yes, if your eagle eyes spy those screws sticking out don't worry, they're not there now. From this jump to the ditch on the Y complex, it is a perfect four strides. 
The pile of posts on the left has since been laid out in an arc of trot poles. The whole complex sorta looks like a bastardized compass from above which was unintentional and kind of cool. The triangle structure in the foreground is the top of the chevron ramp jump I made last year. The legs on it were never done really well so I took them off and just lay the top here until I decide what to do with it. 
Screenshot_20210327-150059_Video Player
Griffin isn't really impressed by my work lol! Cavaletti aren't worth putting forth much effort if you ask him. I've had him out there a handful of times since completing the beds though and he really seems to LOVE having a jumping routine again. I lunged him out there last week and dear god... He was really "up" that day and was a ridiculous jump-seeking missile. I hardly "asked" him to do anything; he basically lunged himself and jumped everything that was in line with his trajectory. I laughed and laughed at his enthusiasm.

An Uptick in Riding

With the thaw has come more riding. A lot more. And even a streak of 6 days in a row, something I hadn't done in what seems like ages. 

After a well-deserved, unavoidable vacation for much of January and February, it was nice to get the beasties out moving again. We're building back fitness right now with our sights set on lessons and more fun travels in the near future.

An uphill mountain march before the snow melted.
First off-property ride of the year!
Evening meander with McStaniel.
Sharing with friends.
This dork... 
Thanks for the listening ear, bud.
Spring on Flat Ridge: horseback rides to get ramps and fresh caught trout! (Peep my all those fish in my brother's hands on the porch.) We had ramp burgers and fresh fried trout this night. DELICIOUS.
Y'all. Look at my lower back. It's so straight (for me). Freaking finally. All of this hard work to reconnect my brain with my body to improve my mobility, strength, and posture is paying off in dividends in all aspects of my life! Yes, this is just one screenshot from this ride, but other than being cherry picked for the point Grif was at in his stride, the majority of the 25 minute ride my posture was like this. I still have a lot of work to do to maintain and build this posture, but DAMN. I'm so psyched.
A beautiful evening meander around the neighborhood with Stan to walk the dogs and send photos to my neighbors of their properties greening up.