December 23, 2003
Dear Friends and Family,
I hope this letter finds you happy and healthy. 2003 was a relatively quiet year for me, no major new farm projects, no travels, no super excitement, just a lot of work – and the usual farm frustrations and delights.
In January, some of my bantam chickens started to disappear mysteriously. I soon found the culprit – a hawk. It was no ordinary hawk however, but a white hawk with black tipped wings and a red tail. It looked like a Red Tailed Hawk, but with white feathers. Since it didn’t look like anything in the Peterson or Sibley guide, I went to the trusty ol’ Internet and discovered the Raptor Society of Metropolitan Washington. They put me in touch with Paul Napier who came out with his wife to identify my hawk in early February. Sure enough, it was a White Red Tailed Hawk – a color phase that had never been seen here before.
In mid-February, just in time for lambing season, the snow came, and came, and came. Around here it normally snows just two or three times a year, and the snow never stays on the ground more than a day or two. This past February and March, however, reminded me of my childhood in Chicago. The snow kept coming for several days and stayed on the ground. I was snow-bound for three solid weeks. Luckily I had supplies laid in and wasn’t planning on going anywhere on account of lambing season. Still, the barn is a quarter mile from my house, and I had to walk through knee high to thigh high snow drifts to get there. Needless to say, since I check on the ewes every few hours during lambing, I got quite a workout. In between the snow storms 55 lambs were born, the most ever.
In between birthing lambs and hiking back and forth to the barn in the snow, I spent much of March studying for my real estate exam. In April I passed the exam, got my Virginia real estate license and joined the well-known and highly regarded Virginia hunt country real estate firm of Armfield, Miller & Ripley, the local Sotheby’s affiliate. While I’m still working at the World Bank, I’m hoping that my new real estate career will allow me to spend less time in the city and more time out in the country. I’m enjoying the real estate work immensely.
Another attempt at mowing required me to first clear the field of three separate baby fawns that were parked there by their mothers. These baby deer “freeze” so that you can simply lift them up, and put them down in another part of the field without them moving a muscle.Once the snow stopped, the rain began. This year it never seemed to stop raining, and the record books are claiming that we set a all-time precipitation record for this part of Virginia in 2003. May, June and July brought almost ceaseless rain. While it was great for the grass and trees, it made it next to impossible to do any mowing or other outdoor farm chores. When the sun did shine for an hour or two, mowing became problematic for other reasons. One attempt at mowing resulted in my tractor nearly falling in a “cave” that opened up due to the rain. I stopped the tractor and gaped into the gaping hole. Once again I turned to the internet and found the Virginia Speleological Society. They sent a fellow out to investigate my cave – which, it turns out, is an old abandoned gold mine! Unfortunately it obviously was not a very successful mine, but I’m told if I panned for gold in my streams, I might be able to get a small piece or two – however, I’m more concerned with how I’ll fill in the mine shaft that has now opened up in the middle of my pastures.
In May Ceres, the farm cat gave birth to a litter of Jungle Cat hybrid kittens. These kittens looked like little spotted leopards and one, “Nike” has now joined her mother in patrolling the barns. It was also in May that Touchstone Farm became the first sheep farm in North American to become Certified Humane, a program endorsed by the major humane societies in the US.
I was excited to finally be making my own hay for the first time this June, but my perfect hayfield kept getting rained on – and of course, as you all know, you can only make hay while the sun shines, so my first hay crop got delayed a couple of months until things dried out. Visits this summer included Roger and Sophie Scruton from England, Rolf Erhard from California, Mark Lyle from Germany, and Al Zervas and Dennis Cozzins and daughters from Washington, DC.
In August it was finally dry enough to make hay – though my hayfield was completely overgrown by then. Nevertheless, my neighbor Manfred Call and his sons, and a few other neighbors pitched in to make hay and help me stack it in the barn. It’s nice to be able to grow my own supply of winter food for the sheep.
This autumn was more hectic than most. September started out calmly enough, but by mid-month, things got a bit crazy. First was hurricane Isabel, which didn’t do much damage, but knocked the power out for five days. For most of you in metropolitan areas this would be an inconvenience. For those of us out in the sticks, it was a nightmare. Not only do I rely on the internet as my link to the outside world and for all three of my jobs, but electricity also runs my well pump – so no electricity = no water. It’s hard providing water for 105 animals for 5 days when you can’t use the well, much less have anything to drink, and forget about indoor plumbing. To make matters worse I had a freezer full of lamb and other meat all set for the big shepherd’s dinner at the annual meeting of the North American Clun Forest Sheep association which was meeting at Touchstone Farm this year! I lost all the meat, but at least the power came on two days before the sheep people descended on the farm. Luckily my tenant Debra Cooke was able to put together a terrific feast for 20 people at a moment’s notice and the weekend was saved.
October is always a busy time of the year on the farm, and this year more so than most. In between visits from my parents from North Carolina and Mark Lyle from Germany, I made lamb deliveries to all the various lamb customers, got and sold two really nice real estate listings, and agreed to take on several projects at the World Bank. As a result of all this activity, my annual group mountain climb up Old Rag mountain fell by the wayside, but I hope to pick up the tradition again next year. At the end of the month, “Lulu” a cat on “loan” to me from Carlas Smith gave birth to a litter of five American Bobtail kittens. As of this writing the kittens are eight weeks old and three have already gone to new homes for Christmas. One “Ajax” will stay here on the farm, but one of his brothers is still available……so, if anyone wants him, let me know.
November was a quiet month, and things were calm enough for me to take two days off to visit friends Drew Murphy and Michael Golder in Lewes, Delaware for a great Thanksgiving feast on the beach. Also in November a Bald Eagle decided to take up residence near the farm, so I guess my poor chickens will never get a chance to forage around in the open again.
December delivered enough early snow to put everyone in the Christmas spirit. Luckily the snow arrived after the farm had been “tucked in” for the winter months and I could enjoy it. My sister Jennifer and brother-in-law Gunter, visiting from Germany, took advantage of my parent’s willingness to baby-sit to come to the farm for a short weekend visit in the middle of the month. I also got word that my long-standing project to import Clun Forest sheep genetics from the UK was finally coming to fruition.
So that’s been my year. Lots of work, a new career path, and even some fun thrown in. I hope your year was just as enjoyable, and I wish you all a very merry Christmas and the best of all possible new years.