It’s the last day of April and I am forced to write about a busy and wet month.  It has been a little like a roller coaster.  One day you’re up with the sun eager to mow and weed, and then the next day you’re down on your knees planting in the rain and mud.  It’s difficult to get a rhythm going and I feel my moods mirror the skies: gloomy with a chance a rain, or sunny with energy and optimism.

The farm too has had its share of up and downs.  Our calves were born recently, which are always a bright spot of cuteness, yet we lost one to natural causes and, for some unknown reason, our cow Cinnamon failed to give birth even though all signs pointed to the contrary.  Fortunately, the little guy pictured above is still with us, as are two others, and now the herd is out on grass and often knee deep in water.  For April was one of the rainiest months on record and our fields turned into a lake for a week.  Happy ducks again, yet enough is enough.

A voice in my head cries out, “Well you shouldn’t live on the floodplain in the first place.”  Yep, that’s pretty much what I thought when I grew up on the Mississippi River.  Easy judgement to cast while we lived in town, protected by enormous levee wall. . . Foolish farmers living in the floodplain.  They should just move.

Different river, different time, but the same mentality prevails.  Some of the reasoning is true and justified.  Don’t live on a river or floodplain if you don’t want wet ground and flooding.  Understood.  We also understand, like my neighbor puts it, it’s the beauty and the beast.  Often a peaceful and pastoral place with gentle flowing river in a green valley, and then occasionally a raging river, unpredictable, threatening and destructive.

For the most part we know the risk and take our chances.  However it is ignorant and unfair to assume the burden of responsibility rests on our land alone.  The urban and suburban landscape, (which replaced the agrarian or natural one), with it’s large homes, sprawling lawns, blacktop driveways, strip mall shopping and adjoining parking plots shed water with engineered efficiency.  Simply tap into gravity and look the other way.  Where does it go?  Not my problem.  But it is.

The same logic that causes big rivers always to flow past big cities causes cheap farms sometimes to be marooned by spring floods. Ours is a cheap farm, and sometimes when we visit in April we get marooned.    —Aldo Leopold

Different river, different time, but the same mentality prevails.  Leopold goes on to write about the peacefulness of flooded isolation.  To this I can relate.  Winter floods, (Western Washington’s typical flood season), inundate local roads and silence train travel.  During those days a sublime quiet, we are stranded on a thin strip of land that braces the Snohomish River.

Yet that is winter.  When the goings-on of the farm are reduced to the home, barns, and an occasional foray into the orchard for pruning.  In April, however, Spring has taken center stage just as Summer seems ready to steal it and farmers are very eager to get to work.

So too, as they say, is the beaver. Soon after the waters retreated, I found my cows sloshing around in a foot of water.  Turns out the beast had damned a drainage ditch and flooded my fields again!


Castor canadensis

Here is my Moby Dick.  How I rant and become, as Melville put it, monomaniacal about this oversized rodent.  The clever constructor started its project right where my fence ended, and then proceeded to log the upstream forest (which I planted, see January).  It showed no good judgement of species succession or the value of shaded streams for salmon.  Instead, the uncouth miscreant ruthlessly whittled willow and evergreen alike.  It even had a good sized cottonwood girdled and ready for falling.  (Whereas Ishmael may have gone overboard with The Whiteness of the Whale, I can digress deeply into The Building of Beavers, but alas, I will resist the temptation as this blog’s intention is to increase readership.)

When you walk through a forest of toothpicks it’s hard to remember and admire the wetland works of wonder this bugger does.  I tried to remind myself of this fact as I respectfully “lowered” the damn and watched the water pass by.  Now, now, please don’t lament the beaver’s loss.  I have a feeling this underdog will have his day and at some point I, or some tired sot, will resign themselves to the losing battle of beaver and too much water.  After all, I’m sure Noah was smart enough to keep them off a wooden ship and still the heavens could not drown them out of existence.

Not that I want such a thing.  For who was Ahab without his whale?  A grumpy salt stinking of blubber.  Bless the beaver that I am more than green thumb with hints of manure.





It’s raining, a common theme for this blog as wet weather typically drives me indoors, yet precipitation for March started out slow and only now, late in the month, has it drizzled all day and given me time to struggle on writing this post.  Thankfully, all the apple trees are planted.  Which lead me to this flashing blue enigma alighting on a row post, a Mountain Bluebird.  It was flitting around in the raspberry/apple orchard.   Down from the mountains I guess, as its name and range map suggest.  Perhaps the slightly colder temperatures and recent snow pushed him down to lower elevations.  Local birders may attest to a different domain, but I was excited because it’s a new species for me!

Coincidentally, Aldo Leopold’s March entry from A Sand County Almanac mainly deals with the spring return of Canada Geese to his native Wisconsin.  (For me in Snohomish County, Washington however, it is the departure of Snow Geese that signals Spring is here.)  His observations on the comings and goings of Canadian Geese far surpass what I can say about this lone bluebird.  Nevertheless, I am very appreciative at how this blog has opened my eyes to new wildlife out my back door.

For instance, last month I mentioned a few ducks that I spotted in my fields, yet I failed to catalog a lone duck with a redhead.  At first, I just assumed it was just that–a Redhead, but it turns out Redheads are diving ducks and not likely found puddling in less than a foot of water.  So, I pocketed that error and went about my life wondering, what was it?

Well, a couple of weeks later I was given a second chance as I happened upon that duck in another field a couple of miles from my farm.  It was mingling with the usual company of Northern Shoveler and Pintail, Mallard, and American Widgeon.  After a suspect U-turn in the road, I zoomed in with some binoculars and noted some key features like the redhead, but also a white band near the black rump and a slight, creme colored mohawk above its bill.

© Jack Moskovita

By now avid birders have their arms raised and waving, “I know!  I know!”  Yet most of us would not recognize it, let alone notice that there were ducks there in the first place.  In the March post of A Sand County Leopold, Aldo too points out the ignorance of modern humans.  His example has to do with a well educated lady who has never heard the geese proclaim the coming of Spring, nor their farewell exit in Fall.  He begs the question,

“Is education possibly a process of trading awareness for things of lesser worth?”

I venture to answer that it is, yet there is a philosophical rabbit hole to this question, which stems mainly from one’s concept of education, awareness, and worth.  Taking that aside, Mr. Leopold finished his thought with,

“The goose who trades his is soon a pile of feathers.”

In other words, a goose who flies north in the spring, oblivious to the signs of winter’s waning, is likely to die cold or eaten.  Whereas humans are now on a completely new trajectory.  Our awareness of weather, water, air, beasts, and birds is less and less.  In fairness, we hardly need any more perception than what’s in front of our face.   Most of our daily self is wholly consumed by our technology.  We’ve traded consciousness for comfort.

Don’t get me wrong.  I succumb to the easy-out: the radio, smartphone, TV, social media, etc.  What bothers me is not the knowledge I gain through these devices, but the insight I lose when I’m so absorbed in them.  On the flip side, what is the cost to Nature when one more admirer goes missing?  I am reminded of Dr. Seuss’s Lorax and I ask, Who speaks for the trees?   Or rather, to rephrase Aldo’s intro quote,

Who teaches awareness so that we can find value in Nature?

Obviously, a rhetorical question, yet not one I asked with great intent–I understand that most readers do value Nature and actively learn and teach of its importance.  What I’m getting at is the need for people to continue exploring their natural world.  To know it, and value it, because if we are not aware that a Mountain Bluebird is in our backyard.  Then, we won’t care when it’s gone.

You can’t lose what you ain’t never had. –Muddy Waters

A true blue lyric, full of sadness and defeated longing, yet I’m optimistic, which is why when I glimpsed the duck above I already had field glasses in my car and of course my phone.  So, after carefully examining the bird’s features, I searched up “redhead duck” and found, not far from the top, Eurasian Widgeon.  What a thrill!  Another species added to my list.  Another new life to value.

I’d like to conclude with a proactive, forward look to Aldo Leopold’s quote:

Practice and teach awareness so that we can discover, value, and preserve Nature.

Now, of course, close your device and get outside.  Despite the rain, I’m going out to finish wrapping blackberry canes.  Maybe I’ll see the bluebird again, or a flock of snow geese heading north.
















In February, when the hunter’s guns are cleaned and returned to the gun case, ducks grace my fields.  Of course there is more to it than that.  By this time of winter it seems that rain water has run out of places to go.  The earth is saturated, the river banks are full, (In some places, spilling over.), and being that we are near ground zero–mere feet above sea level–our fields fill up to create a small lake.  So, until the tides return and allow the trapped runoff to exit our dikes; it is duck paradise.

For me, they are a bright spot within the gloom of so much rain.  Typically, I see them from a distance as they pond hop from one ephemeral pool to the next.   Today, however, I walked out under the cover of darkness and crawled into a thicket of shore pine and canary grass.

Initially, my goal was to take some photographs for this post.  Settling in, literally kneeling in the water as my legs cramped, I waited for the birds to return.  At first, most kept to the open water fringes of the hay fields and avoided the forest edge where I was hiding.  In the growing light, I could see Northern Shoveler, Mallard, and American Widgeon.  A few widgeon, like those pictured above, ventured out in the open water and within range of my lens.  It’s fascinating how the different species of ducks behave in this habitat.  I never realized how much they specialize in their feeding.

Specifically, the widgeons tend to peruse the shallows in an active criss-cross pattern.  Their necks arched with head and bill pointed downward as they scan the water.  When something catches their eye, they plunge their heads underwater and pop back up just as quickly.  Whereas the mallards and shovelers dabble for a longer period of time, their rear ends exposed like a fishing bobber.  Later on, flocks of Northern Pintail landed near the green grass and mostly stuck to that depth.  Seemingly, preferring the terra firma, fresh grass, or exposed earthworms.

Surprisingly, all these waterfowl spoke in a very different voice.  Only the Mallard says, Quack!  The widgeon has a short whistle, which it peeps repeatedly as it fusses about with its neighbors.  Mallards also like to quack in succession.  Kind of nag nag nag tone to their call.  There were too few shovelers to distinguish from, yet I think the Northern Pintail makes a soft, curt whistle that sounds like pert . . . pert.

I wonder if ducks are bi or trilingual?  There was such a constant chatter.  Do they understand only their own kind, or is it all Duck talk with differences in dialect.  On the simplest level, I guess they waddle and paddle around saying Hi, food, or fly!  Yet perhaps there is more content like, Hey, get off my webbed foot!  That’s my worm! Or, You look lovely this morning.  The grey sky really brings out your eyes.

I don’t know, but now I understand more about the alighted wings that spring forth and return to my fields, I find value in the small specs darting across the temporal lake, and I appreciate the seasonal standing water.  A farm is very much a living thing.  Year round it opens its doors.  No, I can’t charge these U-pickers.  Their value is priceless and buried deeply.  No tool, tractor, or implement can dig up the reward.  Only curiosity, patience, and a willingness to get your feet wet will suffice.

You can have gander at all these sounds and images on YouTube:










In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.

–Shunryu Suzuki

It’s seems cliche’ to begin a post with a sagely wisdom, yet I venture this one because of its coincidental timing.  The quote came from a book I received at Christmas.  The first page of, the little zen companion by David Schiller, is dedicated to the above saying.  Following Mr. Schiller’s Intro advice, I gave “. . . the words time to work” and came up with this New Year post.

Winter cedes time.  With eight hours of daylight–and much of this heavily diluted by cloud cover–the rising sun is a call to action, yet all too soon its setting is a call indoors.  Thankfully, January is a reprieve from the closing door of Fall.  It is hope.  Even when the sun rises above the eastern peaks, only to be swallowed by the shroud of clouds, there is a glimmer.

January is also a lean month.  Increasing daylight gives us peace of mind and thoughts of summer, yet it is test for wild and farm animals alike.  For instance, in November the cows sifted through the hay like a guest surveying an appetizer tray.  Now, they moo and jockey for the first leaf to hit the manger and all forage is gone by the next feeding.  Sometimes, I feel cruel portioning out their rations, yet they are healthy and it must last until the pastures dry out and grass returns.

On the other hand, some creatures I wish I could starve, or at least remove a treat from their tray.  Specifically, native trees (which I planted) and my burgeoning apple orchard.  Beavers, voles, and rabbits survive the tight times by eating my trees.  Sure, beavers create diverse habitats and serve a dynamic role in the ecosystem, but their engineering work is a little premature on this project.  When I come across a new stump I always think of Treebeard in The Lord of the Rings: “Many of those trees were friends, creatures I had known from nut or acorn. . . ”

Meanwhile, voles and rabbits girdle the trunks of my newly planted apple orchard.  Again, I get why they’re there, but the timing is frustrating.  You could make an argument that voles would not be a nuisance if I didn’t plant apples.  True, in my hayfields I enjoy watching the rodents spring across the cut grass as they avoid the tractor.  I give them time to escape and the Coyote time to pounce.

Now, however, the coyote is seen more as a threat.  As the back fields fill with rain and runoff, coyotes are pushed near our domestic border.  This puts our poultry at risk and our Shepard on edge.  Many of our birds and beasts have fallen to the coyote’s constant marauding.  Our loss, though upsetting, is an opportunity to learn from our mistake and next time outsmart this tenacious canine.  Unfortunately, many reach for a gun and seek to erase nature’s lesson that perhaps they should be as vigilant as the coyote.

Yet it is winter, and in the farmer’s defense, a gun represents a problem he or she can solve.  This is a gratifying feeling in a profession that is dictated by nature and often out of their control.

Looking out on my fields I see a calm chaos.  Much is out of my control and I’m ok with that.  Actually, I’m happy.  As much as I like the physical work and the satisfaction of being productive, a rainy, winter day is time for reflection.  Sure there are “things to do,” but they can wait.  If it clears tomorrow and the air is cold and dry, I’ll be out pruning and protecting my trees from rodents.





First blog post

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

Leaving the default title. It’s an undeniable truth and a passive excuse to what lies ahead.

A Snohomish County Almanac was established in late 2017. It is meant to serve as a record of natural history, agriculture, current events, and the times.  For now, the postings will comprise the observations and opinions of one small voice near the southern border, yet I hope in the future others will speak up and add to the blog with replies or postings of their own.

Predominantly, my contributions to this journal consist of contemplations made while walking around my farm.  This author’s mission is one of expansion.  Writing should inspire critical thinking, challenge conventional wisdom, and open the reader’s eyes to a new reality.

Moreover, the concept that this is A Snohomish County Almanac is misleading.  As mentioned above, our property represents the slightest sweep of the second hand on the clock that is Snohomish County.  Rather, the title is taken from Aldo Leopold’s famous book, A Sand County Almanac, and like his book, this treatise attempts to open a window to the natural world.  Furthermore, I hope to instill appreciation in the reader about the stewardship of Nature through an agricultural lifestyle.

Thank you for participating.  Sincerely,