Fledgling Season and Bobolinks Part Two

I know they're hard to see, but there are three baby barn swallows on our roof. For the past week we've been hosting flight school. Our neighbor's barn swallows sail all over our yard calling (begging too) and presumably snatching up bugs. When the babies tire, they rest on the roof and beg some more. The parents zoom by and feed them.

I know they’re hard to see, but there are three baby barn swallows on our roof. For the past week we’ve been hosting flight school. Our neighbor’s barn swallows sail all over our yard calling (begging too) and presumably snatching up bugs. When the babies tire, they rest on the roof and beg some more. The parents zoom by and feed them.

I’ve been holding off posting this, but I think it’s safe to say the bobolinks have made it this year, assuming their nests didn’t wash out during all the rain. The hay, more golden each day, still stands. The birds are skulking in their grassland forest, no longer perched on swaying tips singing their crazy R2D2 song. It’s getting quieter by the day as other birds finish breeding too. The robins are still up at 4:30 proclaiming their joy–or at least their address–to all the other robins in hearing distance. The phoebe, who is househunting for a second brood, is right behind him along with the common yellow throat (witchety witchety witchety). The savannah sparrows chime in a little later, but by 6, things have really settled down. On my bike rides I’m still hearing plenty of warblers, but I know we’re past the peak.

Our tree swallows and bluebirds are working their wings off trying to launch their broods. They should fledge within the week.

The bobolinks have stopped singing altogether. Usually it’s more of a tapering off of song as though some invisible hand is turning down the volume. But this year, it was more like someone pressed the power button and shut off the whole show. I think that’s OK. I think it means the bobolinks are no longer so much under the influence of raging hormones and are putting more energy into molting. They must replace their flight feathers for the long trip back to the Pampas where they winter. I can still see their heads when they surface above the canopy, and I can hear their distinctive “check” call in the grass–listening to them right now as a matter of fact–but no more bubbling arias.

The hay, meanwhile, is magnificent, though I know farmers are ready to weep. Though they used to hay in July in the past (which helped grassland birds maintain their populations) science now tells us each day the hay loses nutrition and farmers’ costs rise (they must find other hay or feed expensive grain). I may regret this when I buy meat or dairy products later this year, but for now all I can say is wave on.


Suddenly It’s Summer

When the monsoon finally ended this week (or at least took a break), the calendar flipped to July and the heat cranked up. I have spent the past few weeks reading obsessively about sustainable farming, heirloom fruit and vegetable conservation, and food security, issues that all intersect. I recommend the following:

1. A Place at the Table (OK, not a book, but a must-see documentary.)


It explains the issue of chronic hunger in a country that produces more food than it needs and where a hefty portion (sorry) of the population is obese.  It profiles several people and families as they battle poverty–the driving force behind both hunger and obesity (think about the food you can afford when you have no money and/or access to healthier food because of where you live). Eye opening and sobering.  We made our boys watch it because we want them to understand the issues so maybe we can all do something about it. Plus they don’t always appreciate how much they have or why we care about what they eat. Thank God they don’t need to think about that every day.

2. Greenhorns


A collection of essays and a documentary about young people taking up farming.  I wish I was 20 years younger (for so many reasons) so I could jump in too. Maybe I will anyway. I am an in between generation–too young for the original back to the land movement and too old (probably) for the current sustainable ag wave. Fun to read, exciting to see. Makes me hopeful we can build a sustainable local food system.

3. Taste, Memory by David Buchanan


A memoir about how the author (and fellow Mainer) came to conserve heirloom fruits and vegetables and why it matters for our future. Wonderfully told, I couldn’t wait to hear what happens next even though it’s not an edge-of-your-seat story.

4. The Dirty Life by Kristen Kimball.


OK, I read this last fall/winter, not this spring. But it’s the book that started my farm-ache anew (I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle years ago) and made me long for…something. A sense of shared purpose? To build something important, lasting and tangible? This book chronicles how Kimball set out to write a magazine story about the local food/sustainable ag movement, fell in love with both her future husband and farming, and started a horse-powered farm in upstate NY that strives to provide a full diet: grains, milk, eggs, meat, vegetables and some fruit. They were the first of their kind to attempt this, though happily the model is spreading. Beautifully written, it doesn’t romanticize farming in the least–there’s a reason it’s called The Dirty Life. Best of all, Kimball posts her CSA letter on the farm blog so the story never really ends. I can get a dirty life fix when I most need one.

5. The Year Without Summer: 1816. In progress. It seemed while it was monsooning that we might not have a summer, but after reading part of this, we have nothing to complain about. Snow in June? Frost all summer? Starvation and disease? Ugh.

Do you have any reading suggestions?

And now the farm report from here:

We had a luna moth on the screen the other day, attracted to our porch light. Our moth spent the day, then presumably went off to look for love when I left the porch light off that night. They don’t live very long and I didn’t want this one to end its life on our screen door, its mission unfulfilled.Image

We had other visitors the other day too: a mama mallard and her nine babies. How wet has it been here? So wet that even the ducks were seeking higher ground. No idea where she came from or where she was going. She emerged from the woods at the edge of our property, traversed the lawn, got a little boxed in by the garden fence, but soon got sorted and on her way through the way-high hay.


Here’s one last parting shot of a Timothy grass in bloom, a subtle beauty.