As I went out to start my morning round of chores on Friday, I heard an unfamiliar noise coming from the direction of the pond in the pasture. It sounded most similar to the call of our Coturnix quail, but a quick glance in the direction of the quail pen assured me that the door was still closed and I could see a good number of them hopping about in the grass. After taking water and food to the various pens of poultry and rabbits, I took a short walk to the pond to investigate. As I came close, I could see hundreds of black eyes starting back at me, floating on the surface of the water. Frogs. Not the itty little spring peepers, whose call is so loud it seems impossible for the frog's body size, but not big ol' bullfrogs, with their deep throaty calls, either. These were the mid-sized, shiny green frogs that the part of my brain which must have been paying attention in high school biology wants to call leopard frogs. The kind that leap to the water as you approach the bank of many small streams or ponds around here. The noise I was hearing was apparently the mating call of hundreds of these frogs, which had taken advantage of the summer-like weather to gather in our pond to lay eggs. I stood on the bank for a minute, admiring the sheer number of these little guys (and gals!), and watching the ripples dance across the pond from the places where some had gone under the surface of the water as I had approached. The little ripples expanded in ever-widening circles, reflecting the overcast sky like a living mirror. But, as always, spring days bring lots of things on the to-do list, so I didn't stay long.
As I closed the gate behind me, I heard the unmistakable honking cry of Canada geese. As I watched, a pair descended and came to a splashing landing in the pond. The frogs shut up ever so briefly. We are usually graced with a pair or a small flock of these birds on spring days. The pond seems to be a rest area on the northward migration, at least for some small groups. Often, a pair will stick around for a few days to a week or so. I always hope they'll build a nest, either by the edge of the pond, or a short distance further up in the pasture field where there is shelter provided by a few small trees and some brush. But, each year they move on. While we have barnyard geese, (Toulouses) who will hatch their own goslings and swim about the pond, I still like to think that maybe this year, their wild cousins will settle down here for the spring. They have such a grace and beauty to them, and I love looking out my kitchen window and seeing them outside.
Lunchtime came, and as I was inside fixing myself a sandwich, the turkeys began to gobble incessantly. They are loud this time of year, but this went on without pause for 10 minutes or so, which was unusual. Some of it seemed to sound like it was coming from across the road, but when I looked outside, I could see both gobblers near the turkey house, where they belonged. I have learned that sounds will bounce around here, off of buildings and the surrounding landscapes since we are in a valley. Often, something sounds like it is coming from the opposite direction than it actually is. So, I ate and then went back outside. I saw our Royal Palm hen on the road, obviously coming from the other side back to the farm. I went to see what she had been up to, as some of her sisters had used the brush pile across the street as a nestbox last year, and I wanted to discourage any notion of using it again this year. As I crossed the road, I saw something shiny and blue on the footpath ahead of me. It was the two yearling peacocks, who live a free-range existence with the turkey flock. So I started down the path to try and round up my birds, who were staring down the path, looking deeper into the forest. Then I saw a bronze shadow flitting between the trees, headed away from us. It was a wild turkey. A male, another gobbler, and as best as I could judge, bigger than our own Gobbles, and with a longer beard. (A turkey's beard is a hairy thing that hangs from the chest of the males. Longer = older bird.) It must have been he who got my domesticate birds so vocal...and why it sounded as though something was calling from across the road, because he was! It was like magic to watch him run down the path and out of sight. Although we live surrounded by the forest, we don't often see its wild inhabitants. They come by at night, leaving us to find footprints or signs of last night's dinner in the fields.
I try and look for the signs of life all around, and for that I was rewarded one more time that day. As I began my evening chores, something orange caught my eye. A small orange & black butterfly floated past our woodshed. While not unusual to see on a summer's day at the farm, it is still the middle of March.
I've always been proud of how, on our farm, we work as much with nature as we can. Of course, farming is always linked to nature with cycles of seasons, weather, creatures being born and dying. But there is something to be said about working with the larger ecosystem to the greatest degree possible. This does not mean that we will happily allow the local predators a free pass to dining on our poultry, nor do we want to see groundhogs building ever-larger holes in the hayfield. (These holes can break a horse's leg if stepped in. Since we make hay with the horses, this is a concern.)
But the stream that runs through our pasture, that supplies our livestock with water, supports a breeding population of native trout downstream, a fish that is very sensitive to pollution and water quality. Dan and I have planted a crooked row in the garden so as not to disturb the nest of a killdeer. She and her babies do us a valuable service, as they dine on insects that would otherwise dine on our crops. Avoiding a small nest in the garden costs us nothing, but we are rewarded many times over by her insect hunting services. I think about how chemical fertilizers and pesticides would silence the frogs' song coming from the pond, how so many bird populations suffered the effects of DDT over the years, how so few people will ever know the excitement of unexpectedly seeing a wild turkey crossing their path. I know how lucky I am to have these wild encounters on a daily basis, and I try not to ignore them, nor take them for granted. It reinforces my commitment to farming the way we do, caring for the soil and water in a responsible way. It reminds me that I do this not just for me, or my family, or my customers' families. It's for them too- the bees and the bears, the whitetails and the warblers, the turkeys and the trout. And also for the ash tree, the lady's slipper flower, even the skunk cabbage. It's good for all of us. And really, isn't that the kind of place you wanted your food to be coming from anyways?