For the Coyotes

Last night I heard the coyotes calling.  It began as one and quickly grew to a high-pitched chorus rising through the forest, up into the trees and then to the open sky.  I put down my book and listened.  I couldn’t remember the last time I heard their voices—a few weeks ago, perhaps.  Their sounds entered the yurt and circled around me, as though the coyotes were just on the other side of our lattice wall, serenading the sugar woods.

On yesterday’s walk, I came across six different coyote scats on the trail, though I may have missed some when I took a detour to follow deer tracks.  It’s the most I have seen in one area, and so it seems the pack has moved away from the south field.  A few weeks ago, my co-worker told me to stop skiing with the dogs there, on the edge of the south field where a dead cow was laid at the end of a compost pile.  We—Pebble, Nobee and I—had been skiing a loop from the yurt, through the northern woods, and around behind the cemetery to access the hayfield.  It was a nice flat end to our outings, skiing the perimeter of the field, where the view opens up to Elmore Mountain, Hunger Mountain, and Camel’s Hump, and even around to Mt. Mansfield and the Sterling ridgeline.  The dogs would run in and out of the woods, plunge into the snow snout first looking for mice, and follow my trail when they wanted a rest.  At the southern border we’d come to the cow, whose body had been eaten down to skeleton around the ribs.  Coyote and bobcat tracks led from the forest to the cow, and crow tracks bounced around the body.  The mottled snow was packed down around it from many animal visitors, and over the course of a week, I saw the hind leg pecked at, then dragged away, and then the bone marrow exposed and sucked out.  The dogs would sniff and pee, and after a few minutes we’d move on to complete our route.  So I was shocked when I learned they’d put out coyote traps, and I heard the words, “I’d hate for one of them dogs to get hurt out there.”

So would I.
I’d hate for my dogs, and for their cousins, the coyotes, to get hurt out there.

I went back to ask when they’d be taking the traps down, and it was my co-worker who spoke, “I’m gonna keep throwin’ bate out there as long as I keep catchin’ coyotes.”  It’s true, we lost half our turkeys to the wild dogs this summer, and it’s true that I, too, would look out toward the field at night, scared for the birds when I’d hear the howls and hope our electric fencing and locked turkey house would be enough defense.  It is also true that coyotes respond to predation by increasing their uterine cycles and litter size, thus giving birth more often to more pups.  Killing coyotes leads to a higher population of coyotes.  When I related this information, my co-worker’s response was, “Not if I kill them all first.”

“You can’t get ahead of them,” I said.  “They’re smart, and they’re faster than you.  Let me know when you take the traps down.”

I don’t know how many they got, if any at all.  I haven’t asked, and I haven’t been told.  Instead, I feel a small victory each time I see traces of the pack, and lately their presence has grown stronger here on the northern side of the farm, where the forest extends down to the Green River and further on past the farm boundaries.

Farmers and coyotes…is there more tension between any other species?  Is a farm not wild in its own way?  Can there not be a concession?  Coyotes would rather eat rodents and stay out of sight of humans than venture into open territory; maybe the answer is to pasture the turkeys in a more protected area away from the forest, maybe the answer is to not raise turkeys; whatever it is, if we want fewer coyotes, the answer is not to kill them.

I once wrote that wildness lives in the places that overlap, and wild is found in the meetings of animals and people, and in the moments that hold stares without thoughts.  That was true in Alaska.  Can it be true in Vermont?  Can there be harmony between an animal farm and predators?  Can we see the harmonious balance, even if we cannot understand it?

Alaska to Vermont: Eloping with Edge!

We made it back in a 1988 Subaru DL wagon, all the way from Alaska to Vermont with no GPS (not really a problem since we drove on the same road for half the trip) and no cruise control (a bit more of a problem since our right butt-cheeks got sore from continual pressing on the accelerator).  Besides the engine’s tendency to overheat, causing us to always have the heat on and the windows rolled down a bit, the trip was smooth–especially after buying two new tires in Whitehorse.

The day before we left Fairbanks, we decided to honor our love through marriage, so on the morning we left the Viking Lodge, we drove back through Tok and, with the town librarian and judge’s assistant as our witnesses, we said our vows and became husband and wife.

The road trip turned into our honeymoon, and as we traveled through the yukon, Jasper and Banff, Idaho, down into Southern Utah, across Colorado and Kansas, and all the way to the east, we reveled in the landscape and sank deeper into our love.

As we drove we saw birds: osprey, bald eagles, ferruginous hawks, geese, arctic tern, grouse, magpies, ravens, chickadees, red-winged blackbirds, swans, ducks, a boreal owl, peregrine falcons, gray jays, blue jays, woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, and more we left unidentified.

We saw animals: buffalo, moose, elk, caribou, deer, a black wolf, gray fox, coyotes, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and wild horses.

At night we sought out campgrounds, or took a few turns down quiet roads to hidden pull-offs where we could park for the night.  In the morning we made chai, ate granola, and packed the car again for the next leg of the journey.  Our days were casual with steady driving and spontaneous stops to look at birds, take pictures and stretch our legs.

We spent two days in Southern Utah hiking and climbing before making the final push home, aided with chocolate and maple syrup.

Now we are back in Vermont, living and working on Applecheek Farm in Hyde Park.  In the first week we have milked cows, witnessed the birthing of calves, been pooped and peed on, put up a yurt, planned our bean and corn plantings, waited out the rain so we can plow the field, and become part of the daily chore rotation.  As the season progresses, we will also be helping to develop the farm’s educational programs, sell food at markets, work in the 2-acre vegetable garden, and of course, with all this milk, we will make ice cream.

I am happy.  I am so happy.
To be living in a yurt.
To be living on a farm.
To be living with my love~

Eat, Farm and Be Dirty: a review of The Dirty Life

In 2003, Kristen Kimball drove to State College, PA from New York City to interview a young farmer for a story she was writing.  That farmer, Mark, would eventually become her husband, and the story would be just the first string of words that led to her new book, The Dirty Life. In the book’s prologue, Kimball sets up the scene for city-girl-turned-farmer, writing:

“I’ve slept in this bed for seven winters, and still, sometimes I wonder how I came to be here, someone’s wife, in an old farmhouse in the North Country.  There are still moments when I feel like an actor in a play.  The real me stays out until four, wears heels, and carries a handbag, but this character I’m playing gets up at four, wears Carhartts, and carries a Leatherman, and the other day, doing laundry, a pair of .22 long shells fell out of her pocket, and she was supposed to act like she wasn’t surprised.”

During her transition from Manhattan’s East Side to a 500-acre farm in Essex, New York, there are many surprises Kimball faces, and she shares the trials of the first year with Mark and their farm in four sections: Leaving, Winter, Spring, and Summer.  As much as this book is about farming, it is also about love—finding romance and a relationship with a man and with the land, for it is not just Mark that draws Kimball into the dirty life, but also the small act of hoeing broccoli, the emotional demands of butchering a pig, and the deep rewards of eating a meal she began preparing long before it reached the kitchen.

Each experience Kimball shares is told with fearless honesty and deep love.  She allows the reader to feel the push and pull of dreams and reality as she tells of the quick courtship between her and Mark, and their plunge into a new life.  In the Winter section, she describes returning to Essex Farm for the second time, ready to move in and begin their operation: “During the weeks we were away from it, and in the excitement of moving, the farm had gotten better in our imaginations.  In theory, it was an adventure.  Up close, it was frightening.”  Every step toward their goal of a full-diet CSA that would include meat, grains and maple syrup was a new step for Kimball, who had never even grown a garden before, but her feet moved just as fast as the pages turn in this book, which compels the reader to keep going past each page break and new section.

Despite the hardships, or more rightly because of them, Kimball discovers the peace that comes with working the land, and she offers this bit of insight early on: “Farming takes root in you and crowds out other endeavors, makes them seem paltry.  Your acres become a world.  And maybe you realized that it is beyond those acres or in your distant past, back in the realm of TiVo and cubicles, of take-out food and central heat and air, in the country where discomfort has nearly disappeared, that you were deprived.”  When you read this book, you will see why Kimball is right, and you’ll be waiting for the spring thaw when you can reach your hand into the soil and get dirty.