Dog Charades

Essex Farm Note

Week 12, 2014

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Hello, spring. My, you’ve changed! This new look you have is so cool. White is the new green, eh? I think I liked your old style better. We are proceeding as if warm weather is coming, despite the forecast, which includes several nights of single digits, and days that don’t crawl much north of freezing. The propane truck came yesterday, delivering a load of canisters for the greenhouse, which look to me like giant cans of money all ready to be burned up. Aubrey has begun filling the flats with soil blocks, and the little electric heater is on in the germination chamber. First seeds hit dirt this morning. May they conjure the weather they need in order to grow.

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Miranda learning to make soil blocks on Aubrey’s knee. Aubrey is so patient!

We had Donn Hewes here for two days this week, as an Essex Farm Institute Fellow. Donn’s great passion is working horses and mules, and teaching others to do it. He and Scott Hoffman worked some of our greener horses in the round pen, and then hitched four up (two in front of two), to practice driving with two sets of lines. Later, Donn taught a group of beginners the basics of hitching and driving a team. When discussing a detail of harness, I heard him say: “When I’m not sure of something, I look to see what the Amish are doing. They have thousands of horses working every day. If they do something a certain way, it’s for a reason.” Donn has many Amish farmers among his friends and neighbors. It reminds me we are lucky the Amish have preserved this knowledge that has been lost to the wider culture.

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Donn Hewes breaking it down for the next generation on a cold muddy day.

Jet is wearing his superdog cape this week. After dinner on Wednesday, I noticed he was doing his best to quietly block my way with his body, and his head and tail were low and still. The way he was eyeballing me, it was like he was playing a game of charades, where the answer was, Something Is Wrong and I was a particularly stupid partner. Then I noticed that Mary, the seven month old pup, was not with him. I went outside and called, expecting to see a black-and-white streak cruising up the driveway. Nothing. “Go find Mary,” I said to Jet. This is not something he is trained to do, but he ducked his head and off he went, looking back at me every few yards to make sure I was following. When he trotted out of the farmyard and turned down the road toward the pastures, I decided he must be wrong, and headed back to the house. I checked the granary, machine shop, basement, the office. Nothing. Jet followed me around with great patience, then stood in front of me, insistent. “OK fine,” I said. “I’ll follow you.” He ran this time, in the same direction, still looking back to see if I was with him. He went past the barns, past the round bales, and started down the hill, toward the pastures. Then he turned and bounded through the deep snow in front of the guest cabin, which hadn’t been used since last fall. He stopped, front feet on the steps, and wagged his tail, and looked at me. Then I saw a little black and white ball inside, bouncing up and down in front of the window. Mary. Mark had taken some visitors for a walk that afternoon, and briefly shown them the cabin, and hadn’t noticed that Mary had slipped in and not come back out. Good dog, Jet.

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Jet in his prime.

Farewell Mike Intrabartola, who is off to Greenland to build research facilities on the ice sheet.  It was great to have you here, Mike, and we hope to see you again. And that is the news for this equinox 12th week of 2014. -Kristin & Mark Kimball

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