Tag Archives: country life

Geese I know #Countrylife


Here's looking at you kid.JPG2(‘Here’s looking at you, kid.’)

With my new photography craze, I’ve taken to stalking the barnyard geese, aka Pilgrim geese (an old breed). They’re squawky, easily spooked, and difficult to capture on film. I creep around corners, freeze when they spot me, and attempt to hang out with the gaggle to win their trust. Not gonna happen. When I toss grain their way, they fear I’m throwing stuff at them and flee. Not overly bright, but fun to watch. I’ve gotten a few good pics and many of their retreating backs.

'I think we're alone now'             (‘I think we’re alone now. There doesn’t seem to be anyone around.’)

These geese have been on our farm for decades. They began as two pairs. The breed is so long-lived, I suspect we still have the originals. If they were better parents, we’d be overrun, but they’re absentminded and forget where they left the goslings. We’ve retrieved distressed peepers and restored them to the gaggle, but only a few reach adulthood out of those successfully hatched. A lot of them don’t even make it out of the egg. After four plus decades, we have about two dozen in the flock.

geese counting cows(Geese counting cows, only they don’t count very well.)

They roam all over the farm, frequent the pond, the meadow, the barnyard, shady grassy spots when the sun’s too hot, and of course, the barn itself. They keep company with the cows and dislike dogs. Cats are ignored. ***Note, these are not attack geese. They fuss and carry on, but will take off when threatened unless defending their nest. Don’t get too near nesting geese of any breed.

“Ego: The fallacy whereby a goose thinks he’s a swan.”

***Images taken by me in July.

The poetry of the earth is never dead. ~John Keats


We’ve had a lovely garden season this year with rains enough not to need the sprinkler. This may change, as higher temps are in the forecast and no imminent showers, but weather can turn around overnight, so we shall see. Meanwhile, we’ve been blessed and I’m sharing July pics of the farm and garden with you.

A parade of poppies by Elise(A parade of poppies by daughter Elise)

_MG_0679_copyright (1)I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in. ~John Muir (1838–1914)

I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright. ~Henry David Thoreau

I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes. ~e.e. cummings  (Cone flowers by Elise)

Good heavens, of what uncostly material is our earthly happiness composed… if we only knew it. What incomes have we not had from a flower, and how unfailing are the dividends of the seasons. ~James Russell Lowell

poppies and alyssum by EliseI know the thrill of the grasses when the rain pours over them.
I know the trembling of the leaves when the winds sweep through them.
I know what the white clover felt as it held a drop of dew pressed close in its beauteousness.
I know the quivering of the fragrant petals at the touch of the pollen-legged bees.
I know what the stream said to the dipping willows, and what the moon said to the sweet lavender.
I know what the stars said when they came stealthily down and crept fondly into the tops of the trees. ~Muriel Strode, “Creation Songs”

(Poppies, sweet alyssum, and bachelor’s buttons by Elise)

July 5th evening light in between rain storms

(Grazing cows in the meadow taken by Beth)

Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. ~Rachel Carson

Happiness flutters in the air whilst we rest among the breaths of nature. ~Kelly Sheaffer

barn in sunset                                              (Barn against sunset by Beth)

If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere. ~Vincent Van Gogh

All I want is to stand in a field
and to smell green,
to taste air,
to feel the earth want me,
Without all this concrete
hating me.
~Phillip Pulfrey, from Love, Abstraction and other Speculations, http://www.originals.net

I can still smell the green of the grass crushed beneath me. Feel the damp of the dew on my elbows. Hear the birdsong. ~Kristina Turner, The Self-Healing Cookbook, 2002, originally published 1987

Garden shot by Elise in July

(our garden by Elise)

God’s handiwork is all about me,
As I sit on the porch and gaze
At the far-off peaks of the mountains
That are touched with the sun’s bright rays.
~Gertrude Tooley Buckingham, “In the Mountains” (1940s)

farm pond with cow(Our meadow with pond and hills beyond by Beth)

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order. ~John Burroughs

A setting sun still whispers a promise for tomorrow. ~Jeb Dickerson, jebdickerson.com

Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.
~William Wordsworth

Brilliant coreopsis and Queen Ann's Lace by Elise(Coreopsis Tinctoria and Queen Anne’s Lace by Elise)

There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough to pay attention to the story. ~Linda Hogan

Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain. ~Henry David Thoreau

morning garden along the road(Bee Balm, white Phlox and other flowers in front garden by Beth)

All Things Bright and Beautiful


The Shenandoah Valley is one of the loveliest places in the world. I call it ‘the Shire’, for good reason. Given the darkness spreading in America, my aim is to share the simple goodness and beauty that still exists in my green valley.

“God made the country, and man made the town.”  ~William Cowper, The Task

Farm Pond with Geese(Image of our farm pond by daughter Elise)

“To a brain wearied by the din of the city, the clatter of wheels, the jingle of street cars, the discord of bells, the cries of venders, the ear-splitting whistles of factory and shop, how refreshing is the heavenly stillness of the country!” ~Olive Thorne Miller, 1895

“I roamed the countryside searching for answers to things I did not understand.” ~Leonardo da Vinci

Cosmos, sunflowers, and barn.jpg1(image by Beth of old red barn that’s now white with cosmos and sunflowers)

Daylily wet with rain(Daylily and larkspur wet with rain by Beth)

“Anybody can be good in the country.”  ~Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

“It is not easy to walk alone in the country without musing upon something.” ~Charles Dickens

butterfly in evening garden by Elise(Silver Checkerspot Butterfly in Garden by Elise)

“The sunrise and sunset of each Summer’s day,
The song of the birds and the flowers, so fair,
And all the beauties of Nature everywhere.” ~~Gertrude Tooley Buckingham, “A Leaf from Memories’ Book” (1940s)

“As much as I converse with sages and heroes, they have very little of my love and admiration.  I long for rural and domestic scene, for the warbling of birds and the prattling of my children.”  ~John Adams

Elise herding geese(Elise herding geese–image by Beth)

Geese in front yard.jpg1(Geese in my front yard–image by Beth out the second story window)

“Nor rural sights alone, but rural sounds,
Exhilarate the spirit, and restore
The tone of languid nature.”
~William Cowper

“The city, no matter how small, is corrupt and unrepentant, while the sun shines brighter in the country, making people more wholesome.”
Lori Lansens, The Girls

Another bright corner(Bright garden nook by Beth)

Ferny asparagas covered with dew(Ferney asparagus and flowers covered with rain in the early morning by Beth)

“Let yourself fall in love with something that simply makes you happy. If there’s a place for it in your heart, there’s a place for it in your home.” ~Mary Randolf Carter

“Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat.” ~Laura Ingalls Wilder

garden, yard, and old barn.jpg1(Garden, yard, and old barn)

Old-Time Remedies from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia


With all the colds and flu about, and slipping on the ice, I thought this post might come in handy.

These cures are recorded in Shenandoah Voices written by late Shenandoah Valley historian and author John Heatwole.  I knew John and much admired him.  He’s left a wealth of information behind in his books. He interviewed country and mountain people and compiled their remedies. The images are from the valley and mountains and all taken by my family.

Early spring in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia
‘For a sprained ankle take catnip, sprinkle salt on it and bind it to the ankle.’

‘Mullein tea’ was also used for sprained ankles. The leaves of the mullein plant were boiled in vinegar and water and the ankle was bathed in it while it was still warm.

Turpentine was also rubbed on a sprain. You never covered it or it would burn.

Catnip tea was made for children with the colic. I mix a little catnip in with my mint for tea. It’s good and soothing.

Queen Anne’s Lace made into a tea is said to relieve backache. (You don’t want to confuse Queen Anne’s Lace with poisonous hemlock.)

summer hills and pasture in the Shenandoah Valley

Sage and honey tea is a good brew to give to someone with pneumonia. Drinking tea made from aromatic sage is said to keep a woman’s hair from turning gray prematurely.

Lobelia tea was used by Thomsonian herb doctor Gabe Heatwole as a purge. Lobelia is an annual or perennial plant of the bellflower family. It’s very pretty and does not want to grow at my house, prefers a moist creek bank. *Lobelia is also called ‘the puke herb’, thus the reference to its being used as a purge.

Goldenseal and Comfort Root (Pinelands Hibiscus or Cut-leaf Hibiscus) teas are good for an upset stomach.

If you have kidney problems, swamp root tea can be used for relief. *Swamp root is one of those old patent medicines that originated in the late 1800’s, akin to snake oil.

fallpix

Greasy mustard plaster was used on the sufferer’s chest for a deep cold. To avoid being burned by the mustard, this plaster was made with lard and spread on a cloth that could be laid on the sufferer’s chest without burning. Another non-burning plaster was made with mustard, lard, and egg whites.

A family in Singers Glen used a mustard and lard poultice for pneumonia. When the patient’s chest started to turn red, it was removed. The patient was washed off thoroughly, and then a hot onion poultice was applied.

My very country mother-in-law spoke of using mustard plasters on the chest laid over a piece of old flannel.

Old Home in the Blue Ridge Mountains

For a bad cold or pleurisy, they’d put lard on your chest with salt sprinkled on it of a night.

A tea made of peppermint leaves will stop a stomachache. *I drink peppermint tea for my stomach and it really does help.

Pennyroyal tea was used to break a fever, for upset stomach and to treat the common cold. It’s of the same family as mint and yields aromatic oil, but it has health cautions. *Never Ever imbibe the essential oil as it’s deadly. The leaves may be brewed into a tea, but do not drink pennyroyal tea if pregnant. It can cause miscarriage. Go easy on pennyroyal in general.

During the Civil War, some Valley soldiers chewed slippery elm bark when in battle or on the march. It was said to relieve thirst and hunger.

Miss Gray Pifer of Mt. Crawford said that ‘horehound grew down near the creek. Mama made a horehound syrup with brown sugar for coughs.’

I love horehound drops.

Owl Cat in the garden

(Owl Cat in one of my flower/herb beds)

In Page County a woman said that her grandfather smoked a corncob pipe, and if a child in the family had an earache, he’d blow smoke in the ear as a cure.  She also said for spider bite, you should cut a piece from a new potato and hold it against the bite. Eventually the potato will turn black as it absorbs the poison.

*I was bitten at night while sleeping in my bed by a spider. Fortunately it wasn’t poisonous, but it really stung and I was up putting on witch hazel, rosebud salve, aloe, Benadryl, and, and, and. Forgot about using a potato. Never did find that darn spider.

Our Summer Garden in the Shenandoah Valley


pink bee balmFlowers bloom and veges grow in a riot of beauty, despite the heat, humidity, and rampant weeds I make efforts to contain. Feeble efforts compared to the power of Mother Nature. My goal is to have more veges and flowers than weeds, but the pretty weeds stay. Even the marginally pretty ones. Beds stretch like islands in our yard, filled with reseeding heirloom flowers, wildflowers, and perennials that return from bulbs and roots. Herbs are interspersed throughout. We also grow heirloom vegetables.

Salad garden.

Being an organic gardener means we have a lot of bugs, good and bad. Occasionally, I spray organic brews around to discourage rampant bugs and leaf fungus’s, but the cats were licking seaweed/fish emulsion fertilizer off the leaves. Not a good idea when it’s mixed with the brew. So I’ve quit using fish based fertilizer.. We also have our own farm compost to put around plants to mulch and nourish them. Worms are a gardener’s friend and they thrive in it.

flowers near garden

Our goal is to have a wildlife sanctuary. Butterflies flutter from blossom to blossom and we have bees. Not as many bees as we used to have, but some murmur on a summer’s day. Bumble bees buzz happily and hummers dart. Our resident fairy expert, my niece, Cailin, says the flowers fairies love our garden(s). So do the kitties, both the inside cats gazing out windows and the outside felines stalking around like miniature jungle cats.  Gold finches sing and eat seeds from the sunflowers that reseed each year. Most birds survive, despite the cats. Maybe because I feed the kitties, and they’re on the lazy side.

Siamese tabby mix cat in the window

This spring the local cat rescue people humane trapped and spayed our barn kitties, many of whom were dumped on us, and then reproduced. They fixed and returned 19 cats of various ages, and found homes for the kittens. Some cats claim the old red barn as their domain. Others love the garden and eat from the bowel outside the back door. I mix lysine with their food to boost their immune systems. They’re much healthier now. I’m also buying little cat houses to provide extra shelter in bad weather. Cats hide among the garden plants and shrubs, but when winter comes, they will need more cover. They love the kitty houses.

I think the secret to enjoying the garden, is to not let the failures outweigh the many joys found in the beauty amid the imperfections. ~

Siamese barn kitty in herb bed

“Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination.” ~Mrs. C.W. Earle, Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden, 1897 (Thanks, Jessica)

“No two gardens are the same. No two days are the same in one garden.” ~Hugh Johnson

“I think the true gardener is a lover of his flowers, not a critic of them. I think the true gardener is the reverent servant of Nature, not her truculent, wife-beating master. I think the true gardener, the older he grows, should more and more develop a humble, grateful and uncertain spirit.” ~Reginald Farrer, In a Yorkshire Garden, 1909

Barn with wild flowers

“Let nature be in your yard.” ~Greg Peterson, www.urbanfarm.org

“A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself.” ~May Sarton

“I think that if ever a mortal heard the voice of God it would be in a garden at the cool of the day.” ~F. Frankfort Moore, A Garden of Peace

Cone flower

“Many things grow in the garden that were never sown there.” ~Thomas Fuller,Gnomologia, 1732

“Despite the gardener’s best intentions, Nature will improvise.” ~Michael P. Garofalo

***This is true. Nature improvises all over the place here.

Sunfower in back garden

Images taken by my daughter Elise. Pink Bee balm, Queen Anne’s Lace, Purple cone flower, heirloom lettuce, marigolds, zinnias, daylilies, coreopsis tinctoria, parsley, sunflowers, Siamese tabby mix cats.

Meadowlarks, Pussy Willow, Fussy Geese–Spring in the Shenandoah Valley


“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
― Margaret Atwood

Early spring in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

“It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

Spring is coming to the valley this week, and we’re all ready to kick up our heels after the long winter. The post below is from last year, but it fits.

Grady, soft-coated Wheaton terrior, enjoying spring day

Heavy wet snow fell last night and the trees are laden, my crocus buried. But several afternoons ago after the rain showers ended, the day turned mild and I pulled some overwintering weeds from one of my flower borders. A whole wheelbarrow full. While bent contentedly to my labors, I heard the sweet trill of a meadowlark, my favorite songbird. Silent today. When the sun shines and the weather softens, I will hear it sing again. This crazy weather is typical of early spring in the Shenandoah Valley. A cold snap follows on the heels of a wonderfully balmy day or two. This year has been on the colder side and wet, which is just as well with our tendency toward summer droughts. We’ll take the moisture while we can.

Meadowlark, Eastern MeadowlarkDucks and geese love all the puddles that come with the rain, and our farm pond is finally full again after dwindling to a sad state in the past. Happy quacks resound against the fussy geese fighting over nesting sites. These battles, and the meadowlark singing, are among the first signs of spring. And the pussy willow blooming. I picked a lovely bouquet of pussy willows yesterday. The fuzzy catkins brighten the kitchen in an old mason jar,

Pussy Willow

Back to the meadowlark, my goal is to ever actually see one of these elusive birds again. Theoretically, this shouldn’t be such a challenge, with our meadows and all. Once or twice, I’ve glimpsed a yellow flash and spotted the bird perched on a fence post before it flew. Mostly, they hide in the grass and skim away to another spot before I get a good look, calling all the while from various positions in the meadow.

Beth, Elise, and Cows

Several years ago, my daughter Elise and I were determined to track down the evasive songster and take its picture, like photographing fairies. We tenaciously followed its calls, even climbed over the fence into the neighbor’s pasture and picked our way along the little creek that flows from our pond, but never caught up with that bird, or birds. There may have been more than one taunting us. Unless I catch another rare glimpse, I must content myself with their beautiful trills. Birds like this need tall grasses and untidy hedge rows for nesting. Bear that in mind in your own yard and garden. Keeping everything trim and cultivated robs our feathered friends of habitat. It’s also a good excuse for a less than perfectly kept landscape. A little wilderness here and there is a good thing.

The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in spring“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”
― A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young

***Images of spring in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia by my mom, Pat Churchman,  Grady, the soft-coated Wheaton terrier, and pussy willow by daughter Elise. Beth and Elise in our meadow by my husband Dennis. Obviously, I had to purchase the image of the meadowlark

Choose Life — Support Small Family Farms


Years ago, after I’d first written Shenandoah Watercolors, my nonfiction book about the joys and trials of life on our small dairy farm in the Shenandoah Valley, Mom showed the manuscript to a local historian. He said I’d beautifully captured a vanishing way of life and that this book must be published. His insistence, coupled with the term ‘vanishing way of life’, gained my attention. I knew it was hard for small farmers to hold on with mounting pressure from the broader dairy industry, unregulated imports, and the growth of mega farms, but I didn’t realize we faced extinction.

Irregardless of our fate, the consumer will always have dairy products, but are they of the quality you desire?

Have you heard of Milk Protein Concentrates, also called MPC’s? There’s scary stuff sneaking into food, we need to become aware of and speak out against.

cows grazing in pasture

(Cows in our meadow by daughter Elise Trissel)

From Food and Water Watch:

“Unregulated imports of cheap milk protein concentrates are driving down the price of domestically produced milk and putting American dairy farmers out of business. And fewer American dairy farmers mean fewer choices for consumers, who are seeing increasing amounts of MPCs’ new, unregulated protein source‚ in their food supply.

MPCs’ are created by putting milk through an ultra-filtration process that removes all of the liquid and all of smaller molecules including the minerals that the dairy industry touts as being essential for good nutrition.

What is left following the filtration is a dry substance that is very high in protein and used as an additive in products like processed cheese, frozen dairy desserts, crackers and energy bars. Because MPCs’ are generally produced as a dry powder, exporters can ship the product long-distances very cheaply, and almost all of the dry MPCs’ used in America are imported.”

Visit the above link for more on MPC’s, not inspected or subject to the quality standards demanded of American dairy farmers. Check your labels carefully.

farmer-field

(Harvesting rye in the valley by my mother, Pat Chuchman)

My question is, do you care where your milk and other food comes from?  Are you concerned about the quality of what you’re feeding yourselves and your families? If so, then support your local farmers. We’re a dying breed.

Back to our farm which has been in the family for five generations. To try to preserve our way of life, we banded together with 20 other farmers in 2013 to form Shenandoah Family Farms Cooperative. Our goal: to purchase our own creamery and sell local natural milk and other dairy products from our farms to appreciative consumers. Nothing tastes as good, or is as good for you, as milk fresh from happy cows grazing in grassy meadows. We’re as picturesque and idyllic as the hobbits in the ShireBut a growing shadow hangs over us.

Farm garden image

(Our farm garden by daughter Elise Trissel)

Marketing our own dairy line was a great concept, and our products were very well received by the public. The work farm families poured into this venture is beyond description, No one could have tried harder to succeed than this group, but the creamery was too costly to run on our own. We failed to gain vital investors and co-packers. In mid-January 2015, after less than one year of actual production, Shenandoah Family Farms was forced to close. Our products are no longer offered. Instead of better helping our farm(s) to survive, we have further endangered ourselves. Our story is woeful, indeed. Barring a tidal wave of support, we’re not going to recover.

children with farmer in meadow

(Our farmer son and grandbabies by daughter Elise)

If you want to help the Trissel farm family and learn more of our lives, buy my book, Shenandoah Watercolors, available in kindle and print with lovely pictures taken by my talented family. There’s also much in here of interest to gardeners, to anyone who loves the country and a more natural life style.

Our beautiful valley. For now. Some things are worth fighting for, some things worth saving. If this isn’t, I don’t know what is.

Image of the Shenandoah Valley in early spring by my mom.

The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in spring

***Disclaimer: I am speaking as an individual farm owner and NOT as the official spokesperson for Shenandoah Family Farms Cooperative. .I am entitled to a voice. This is my post and mine alone.