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Homestead happenings: 4 kids, 2 dogs, 1 sheep, 1 bunny and a gazillion mosquitos

July 12, 2011

So, I don’t know what kind of summer goals you have, but I’m proud to announce that I’m getting over my squeamishness with the aphids that appear on our greenhouse lettuce, which is to say…the cute little bright green ones? I might be eating them, only, you know, accidentally, dressed in vinaigrette.

Also, the earwigs that burrow into the lettuce folds only to wriggle out—gasp! alive and shiny black—as I part the seas of salad with my fork? I am not eating them, they do give me the heebies, but they are not ruining my meal.

who knows what lurks within?

Ladybug larvae: beloved and fierce aphid predator.

“Put him outside!” Col, crusader for insect-rights, insists when I carry an earwig to the sink to drown it. This is the same boy who perches in our apple tree, ready to catapult himself into the potato patch below to nab a grasshopper (who’ve been munching the potato flowers. Does anyone know how this affects the potatoes?).

“Looky this big one I got!” Col exclaims over a fat brown grasshopper. I suggest he throw it to the chickens, alive, gladiator-style. But, Col is more likely to build a Shangri-La of a grasshopper habitat (“do you think the grasshoppers would like some hollyhock leaves, Mama?”), from which the winged bandits eventually escape…back to the potato patch.

Friend of the insect people.

So, I’m hoping to become less squeamish, to follow the lead of my children who chow deer liver, who last Sunday ate 10 trout eyeballs each, and who casually hold crickets in their cupped hands while wiry black legs probe their delicate skin.

*** ** *** ** *** ** *** ** ***

So, you’re wondering how we spent the weekend with the strange brew of creatures?

We woke up Saturday morning at 10,200 feet to robins singing a summery tune, Glenn strumming his fiddle, a lone sheep bleating, and a sheepdog circling its charge, trying to lead her back to the flock.

I've had a black bear amble through my camp at dusk and a grouse perch on my head, and even a fox once ran through camp chasing a snowshoe hare, but never a domestic sheep baa-ing in camp all morning like her babies had been stolen.

Every summer, about 7,000 sheep get moved up into the San Juan Forest to graze, which can be hard on wild plants, but is a continuation of a rich history. (Dan has a dream of spending the summer cataloging the aspen tree “graffiti” – the words and drawings carved into aspen trees decades ago by lonely, hispanic sheepherders. Living history that will live just as long as the individual tree – anyone want to sponsor him?)

This picture is for Glenn's mom, who reads this blog. Hi Kathy! We love your son! He makes the best dutch oven meals.

The lone sheep eventually joined her wooly family over the hill, but “Hearts,” (the name Hazel, age 6 going on grad school, gave the dog) inexplicably stayed with us. 

Our camping compadres, Kristi and Glenn (who also appear here) recently bought a little pull behind camper and now they have room for more toys, extra blankets, Daisy the bunny! Daisy loved nibbling on wild grasses with four small children trailing her like secret service.

I have nothing to say about the mosquitos, except that back at home when a certain 30-something year old mother was whining about her copious bites, a certain 6-year old boy said “Mama, mosquitos have to live too. Also, they feed birds and spiders and trout and that’s how they’re good.”

Bodhisattva Jedi Knight who does not advocate for the killing of any insects, ever, and also whose slingshot may be surgically attached to his hand.

We frolicked and lounged and drank coffee late and beer early, while Hearts the Dog insinuated herself into the fold of families. She hiked with us and accepted our gifts of popcorn and cheese and guarded our tents during nap time. Like mothers do, Kristi and I worried about why the dog was so skinny and where her food and people were and about the bloody gash on her back leg that made her limp. There was talk, when the dog was still with us at dinnertime, (eating her own plate of mac’n’cheese) about taking her home (which was either highly unethical or going to save her life). Even Dan threw a nugget of raw elk sausage to Hearts.

After dinner we took a walk to the spot where we had last seen several sheep and a few horses. We figured if Hearts belonged there, she might recognize her home. The clouds were whipping themselves up into a thick batter.

Hazel and Rose were negotiating a complex trade: wooden kitty for pink stuffed bear.

And Hearts, that old trickster Australian Shepherd with the sweetest blue eyes, loped up to her horses like they were old, familiar friends; and they were. “Thanks for the food and love, suckahs,” she wagged as she bid us adieu.

We made it back to camp just as the clouds poured into the mountain basin and lightning cracked open the sky. Col, Dan and I retreated to our tent like a Kansas storm cellar while Rose played “a game about Yahtzee” in the camper with everyone else.

And another camping trip wove itself into the mental stacks of our family library.

* I am thinking about writing a post on camping with kids, like with tips and ideas. If you have any questions you want answered, you can leave them in the comments.

Andy Goldsworthy-inspired dandelion art:

ps: My camera died and I took all these pix on Dan’s work camera. When I looked for these photos on Dan’s work computer, most of his files were called: big bucks on 32nd st, or, bobcat at cemetery, or, elk calves on Prow Mountain. Love what you love, Right?



17 Comments leave one →
  1. Growing Flowers permalink
    July 13, 2011 8:00 am

    Oh Rachel -” Col the insect – rights crusader” – how brilliant. Kids feel so deeply for the living things. My daughter, Treska, fought desperately for the tent worms when she was 8. The tent worms were taking over our town and everyone in our town was on a mission to eradicate them. She was absolutely traumatized by it and she would have handfuls of them in her pockets, I would find them in jars in her bed, in the little compartment in the car – she would save them every single day. Finally, after we realized that we could not convince her otherwise, we built a deep hole in our back yard, put a huge rubbermaid in it and let her stash and feed all of her beloved tent worms.

    Good for Col – (kind of!) :)

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      July 13, 2011 6:01 pm

      The sweetness can’t be denied. Just today I was pulling a volunteer sunflower plant which was shading a squash bed and Col said, “don’t pull it! It’s beautiful!”

      Love the story about your daughter and the tent worms.

  2. Kathy Smith permalink
    July 13, 2011 8:19 am

    Thank you Rachel, Your blog put my life back in balance a bit after the tragic loss of a nephew this past week end. We will surely try to see you in September. Love and thanks, Kathy

  3. Ania permalink
    July 13, 2011 9:00 am

    sheepdogs are like that – they will stick with anything that gives them food. We once had a huge dog follow us for a full week in Romanian Carpathians after we had given him something to eat once. Nothing could scare him off, he finally parted with us when we came down to the village in the valley. I’m still wondering if he was able to find his way back and if it was something worth coming back to.

    I would love to read your post about camping with kids, it’s a whole different experience. Even more so we would like to GO camping with you but um… your camping grounds are half continent away from ours.

  4. July 13, 2011 9:43 am

    When my husband and I first married, we did the ceremony, went back to school, where I graduated the following week, and then went our separate ways to summer field jobs in different parts of the country. So when we were back together 3 1/2 months later, and my husband accepted a “finish up the season” job with Routt National Forest out of Steamboat, I came along, announcing to his new boss “Look at it this way, you get two biologists for the price of one”. We spent the next six weeks backpacking and camping in the forest and wilderness looking for rare plants, spruce beetles, counting hare pellets, and various other odd data collection tasks. It was the best honeymoon anyone could have asked for (we were together, and there for Indian summer as the leaves changed). We saw many many pieces of aspen art, and added a few of our own. There are several trees in out of the way places that say Jennifer and Michael. Hugs to your adventuring family. Oh, and I HATE earwigs. Anyone who claims that they are simply decomposers has never had them eat the corn silks or the tops of newly growing basil. They were my nemesis in Colorado, as they come along with the mulch that is so necessary in that dry climate.

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      July 13, 2011 5:56 pm

      What a beautiful, memorable honeymoon!

      I feel similarly about roly-polies, they are not just “decomposers” in my garden, they’ve already taken down a few cucumber plants in the greenhouse.

  5. Ellen permalink
    July 13, 2011 10:17 am

    Thanks for this wonderful post. I feel as if I was there.

    And Col’s empathy with insects is so sweet — and so wise. We can’t always protect animals of different kinds, and we may even eat them, but when we see their suffering as real, it connects us to the entire universe of living things.

  6. ike permalink
    July 13, 2011 10:22 am

    Your wonderful description of camping and the outdoors almost makes me nostalgic to attempt a repeat of long ago camping and backpacking trips.

  7. July 13, 2011 4:47 pm

    try tea tree oil on your mosquito bites. Lucy has a lovely aroma of antiseptic all summer long due to her self-treatment of said bites.

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      July 13, 2011 5:45 pm

      Thanks for the tip! We’ve been using grindelia (gumweed), which grows around here. We make a liniment out of it and the kids swear by it and now all their red splotches are stained green from the herb.

  8. July 13, 2011 7:40 pm

    I am so intrigued with your wild life. I love living vicariously through your blog!!!

  9. July 14, 2011 8:42 pm

    SO fun! but you forget to mention all the treasures you and your little ones found… when’s our next trip together?

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      July 14, 2011 9:31 pm

      Full disclosure:
      We found a pair of kid’s chaco sandals that fit Hazel perfectly, and thus her old pair went to Col, which fit him perfectly! Col needed river shoes in a bad way. Amazing what life provides when you’re too frugal to spend $40 on a pair of shoes!
      Last camping trip I found a perfectly good leatherman!

  10. July 14, 2011 9:23 pm

    I just love it! All your writings, musings, adventures…they make me smile and remind me to laugh at life and relax! Thanks for that:)

  11. Jamie permalink
    July 14, 2011 9:33 pm

    I would be most interested in a how to post for camping with kids! I have two; a two and a half year old and a 9 month old that is trying to sleep through the night. I long to camp but I’m scared near to death by the idea. It seems so daunting considering the amount of junk/necessities I feel I have to bring for just an afternoon at the park.

    My parents took me along when I was just a babe, and eventually had 4 of us to drag around to random mountainous areas – so I know it can be done, I just don’t have a single idea of how to get it happens.

  12. July 16, 2011 11:29 pm

    They were born and raised with fish eyeballs. You were born and raised with Telegraph Ave. A different kind of hippie and I am not sure you can outgrown that squeamishness, but the Telegraph does explain the pee-as-bee sting remedy.


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