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A Day at the Fair

Part of country life is the county fair.

Kyle at the Southwest Washington Fair under a hot and hazy sky.

I go almost every year, even if it is cool and rainy. Despite the hazy sky, caused by forest fires in Canada, the days of the fair were some of the hottest of the year. It was so hot the organizers had fans blowing mist, for the animals, not the humans. Although, I admit to stopping in the fan breeze a couple of times.  

As I walk along the main route of the fair I almost always meet friends. It’s a good time to get reacquainted and they always ask about my latest or next book and, of course, I’m happy to tell them.

Kyle in the cow barn.

I didn’t see the beekeeper display this year, perhaps I missed it. Lorraine enjoys looking at the various cattle, chickens, and rabbits on display. I like those too, along with the horseback events. During my teen years, I was in the 4-H and brought animals as part of the competition. I don’t show livestock or compete anymore, but I still enjoy watching events like the dog show, dressage, and barrel racing. I also like the food.


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Funtime Festival

Stefanie Bridges-Mikota with Kyle Pratt at the Napavine Funtime Festival

I live outside of the small town of Napavine. For the last forty-plus years, they have had a Funtime Festival. Usually, I just see a small part of it and go on with my day, but this year my friend and fellow author Stefanie Bridges-Mikota suggested that we have a booth together with some fun activities for the kids and displays of all our books. I thought it was a great idea. We set up near the Ace Hardware Store and across from the car show. If you live near here you’ll know exactly where we were.

The sky was blue and the sun shined the entire day. I’m glad Stefanie had the canopy for us to sit under. From that shady spot, I was able to watch the parade talk with old friends and new ones and sell some books. Stefanie seems to know everyone in town. She also made the sign I’m holding.

Thanks, Stefanie, for the great idea and all the work you put into it!


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You know you live in the country when …

That title could be the start of a joke, but in this case, it isn't. I live near Napavine, in Washington state. The town was incorporated over a century ago and is growing, but still has less than 2,000 people. I guess you could say that it isn’t growing quickly.

On Hamilton Road and turning onto Hamilton Road

Folks tend to start directions by saying, “Go to the stoplight and ….” There are actually two stoplights in town, but the other one just blinks red or yellow at you.

I know my way around and so don’t usually bother to read street signs; however, the other day one caught my attention. I’ve driven through that intersection countless times, but as I gazed at the sign, I had to laugh. Then I turned off my car, got out and walked into the middle of the road and took the picture you see here.

Some might think such things are all a joke, but to me, it’s just part of living in the country.


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The Deer and Other Animals

The deer spend less time in our backyard now.

Sometimes during the winter, when snow covered every bit of pasture, there would be five or six deer waiting near our backdoor in the morning. My wife would talk to them like friends as she tossed out apples for them to eat. That happens less often during the summer, but they still know that this is a safe and welcome place to come. They often spend the night in the forest just beyond our yard.

My son, James, throws apples to deer in our backyard

Over the years we have seen a wide variety of birds that return to the area every summer. These include eagles, hawks, doves and, pigeons. Just like in California, we have swallows that return each year.  

Rabbits and squirrels don’t hibernate during the winter, but they do hunker down in their homes, try to stay warm, and sleep more. So, we don’t often see them in the winter. However, this time of year they are out in abundance. We have to keep the barn doors closed or they would both be inside eating the chicken food.

Living in the country can be hard work, but I wouldn’t want to live in a city or even a suburb ever again.


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Click on the following links to read my author bio, life in Lewis County or more about my life on the farm.

Surviving the Winter

My bees have survived winter – at least so far.

 Kyle opens the hive.

Kyle opens the hive.

A few days ago the temperature rose into the low fifties. Between rain showers, I hurried out to inspect both of my hives. I didn’t have to open them to know the most important news, as of that day in late January both colonies had survived the winter. Individual bees were flying out and returning to both structures.

Before opening the hives, I cleared a few dead bees from near the entrance. This is normal. Worker bees remove the dead from the hive, but on cold days they don’t take the bodies far. Then I removed the top of the hive. Immediately below the roof is a box with a wire mesh bottom. On top of that is a cloth and resting on that are cedar chips. This collects excess moisture during our damp rainy winters. I was pleased to see that it was dry. 

Deep in the hive below, I heard the buzz of a healthy colony. I quickly returned the moisture box and roof to the hive.

In a few weeks, I’ll open the hive again and add food to tide the bees over until spring.


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Oh, Deer!

The days are getting longer now, but it seems to me that this is the coldest time of the year in the northwest. While it doesn’t always snow in western Washington State it has this year and that brings more wildlife to the house and barnyard area.

Click to Enlarge

My wife feeds the chickens daily, but they hate the snow and usually stay in their house. However, squirrels and an assortment of birds come to feast in both the chicken area and the barnyard. My wife makes sure they are well fed.

Meadows and pastures have little edible grass this time of year so deer are another common visitor to the barnyard. If they arrive early enough they eat bird food with the squirrels and birds. Whenever they arrive, the deer will often linger around the house. We grow some really nice apples, but I prefer my wife not feed those to the deer, so she started buying cooking apples to toss to them.

On this farm, she cares for all creatures, great and small.


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The Farm Pecking Order

 

I confirmed my position on the farm pecking order one morning a couple years ago.

For my city readers, pecking order refers to birds, often chickens. They establish their rank in the flock by pecking on another bird, lower in the social order without fear of retaliation. The pecking order rank establishes who is boss and who gets what food and when.

On this particular morning I rose from bed a few minutes late and stumbled out to the dining room. My breakfast of cereal waited for me on the table, but I couldn’t find my wife Lorraine. Finally, I sat and started eating. Then, the back door opened and she entered.

“Where have you been?” I asked after another bite of cold cereal.

“It’s cold this morning, so I brought warm oatmeal to the chickens.”

That confirmed what I already suspected. When it comes to being pampered with food, my position in the pecking order is below every chicken.

Okay, I admit that isn’t really true, Lorraine has cooked some fantastic meals for me, but she does take very good care of the chickens. They have a large area to roam and forage for food but, as you can tell from the picture (which my wife didn’t like, but after some pleading allowed me to use) she still gives “her girls” watermelon rinds and leftover grapes. If any bread or cake gets dry it doesn’t go into the trash or even the compost, they go straight to the chickens.

They are a pampered bunch of birds.


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Dorky Glasses and the Eclipse

 

What is it about an eclipse that brings out the child in us?

I know it was a rare event, the last one like it occurred in 1918, but several of my friends traveled hundreds of miles and camped out in farm fields just to experience the eclipse totality.

As the eclipse begins.

We read in the local paper that the recent solar eclipse would reach ninety-six percent of totality in this area so; I purchased dorky glasses and invited our sons over to watch from the backyard.

If I made a habit of sitting in the backyard, wearing paper sunglasses and staring up into the sky I think my wife might have my head examined, but on this day she joined me, along with the boys, and we looked like a rather eccentric family having a backyard picnic.

The backyard at ninety-six percent of totality

At first, as the moon moved across the sun, we didn’t notice any change. Even when half of the sun had been blocked we couldn’t tell any difference in the day. Only when the moon blocked the vast majority of the sun did the sky take on the deep blue of evening. As we continued to watch a cool breeze blew.

Still, it amazed me that with ninety-six percent of the sun blocked, it wasn’t even close to dark.

Then the moon moved out of the way, and the hot and bright summer sun shone once again and we returned to the house. What am I going to do with the dorky glasses?


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Hot and Cold

 

I put on a new chain, filled the gas and oil tanks and went out with my chainsaw to tackle a large pile of logs and limbs in the backyard. My tendency to procrastinate had allowed the pile to grow all summer, but my son James had offered to help and this needed to be done. So, on one of the hottest days of the year, I cut wood to use on some of the coldest. We will probably burn these logs in the woodstove around January or February.

Our house has electric heat and in the Pacific Northwest electricity is affordable, but on those really cold days, the woodstove heats our home better than anything else does.

There is a natural rhythm to life in the country. In March as the days grow longer and warmer the chickens go into full summer egg production. In April we hive bees. In May the garden is tilled and planted. During the summer we cut trees (usually the dead or fallen), tend animals and care for the garden. Honey is spun from the honeycomb in September. Also during that month fruits and vegetables are canned and preserved.

Part of that natural rhythm is the cold of January and February. Some years our woodstove will burn for days on end during this time.

By late in the afternoon the chain on the saw had gone dull, but the pile had been reduced to logs and hauled into the woodshed. We were hot and tired, but ready for the cold days of winter.

As I drank a tall glass of cold water I made a pledge to myself. Next year I’m going to cut wood on a cooler day.


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Working hard, so I can rest

I decided to build a patio on a shady knoll beside my home. However, due to my writing schedule and other commitments, it took a couple of months to gather all the materials and find the time to construct it. Finally, on the evening of July 2nd, I had everything I needed.

Stiff and sore, but trying to relax (click to enlarge)

After breakfast the next morning I began construction. It occurred to me that it would be nice if the family could use the patio on Independence Day, but that would mean all the work had to be completed that day.

I worked hard, very hard, on July 3rd. 

July 4th was a lovely warm day here in the northwest. The blue skies were welcome after a long rainy winter and spring. Also, as you can see from the picture, my family and I did enjoy the patio. My relaxation that day was tempered by many stiff and sore muscles. I’m sure I’ll enjoy the patio even more after I’ve recovered from building it.


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Water and Rain in the Northwest

There is a saying that people in the northwest don’t tan—they rust. The coastal region of Washington is well known for ample precipitation. However, most of the rain falls in late autumn and winter. By the time the crops, garden, and orchard are really growing in the late spring and summer the rains have faded to a trickle. That means we irrigate and water.

Kyle checking the hand pump (Click for a larger image)

My place is small, more of a hobby farm than a real one, but watering remains a daily chore. In the picture I’m beside the well house, checking the hand pump. Fortunately, this is just an emergency backup and the electric pump is still working. 

This time of year we water the younger fruit and nut trees in the orchard and all the plants in the garden daily. Each beehive has a water bottle and there are several for the chickens that must be routinely checked. We also have flowers and ornamental trees.

Right now, with both my wife and I working, it takes about an hour each evening to water everything. As the summer continues, and days get warmer, we’ll be doing this in both the morning and evening. But, I'm not complaining, I love the life I have here and wouldn't trade it for anything.


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Hiving the Bees

Spring is bee time on the farm

 Yes, those are bees on the box.

Yes, those are bees on the box.

The bees didn’t arrive yesterday, a warm and sunny day. No, they arrived today when it was cool and wet. We prefer driving to the delivery site in the farm truck. We can put the bee boxes on the truck bed and drive home, but because today was so inclement we took the car for the forty-minute drive. Have you ever driven with ten thousand bees in your car? Our bees were inside two boxes, but it’s still an experience. Some always find a way out.  

On our small farm, we keep bees both for pollination and for honey production, but we lost our last hive during the winter. This video, filmed on April 22, 2017, starts with me retrieving one of our two new colonies of Carniolan honeybees from the greenhouse where we left them while making final hiving preparations.

Lorraine, my wife, went ahead and waited to assist me in the apiary. My son, James, is the cameraman and isn’t wearing a protective suit while he films.

Hopefully, these bees will store up lots of pollen and honey during the summer and survive the upcoming winter.


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Simple Pleasures

In most ways yesterday didn’t stand out from the normal. Dreary and wet are what you get in the northwest this time of year. But living on a farm with forest all around means that you’re going to interact with animals and they often make the day interesting.

Six deer in the backyard

Recent construction required removing part of our backyard fence and I haven’t felt the need to repair it in the cold and rain. One reason we put up the fence was to keep the deer from eating apples from our orchard, but this time of year there’s nothing on the trees.

While I enjoy seeing deer wandering around the farm, the fence downtime has allowed an increasing number to amble into the yard looking for food. They’re welcome to eat the grass and they help themselves to any birdseed or chicken feed they find. Despite my protests that it will only encourage them later in the spring, my wife Lorraine has started throwing apples to them.  

One strolls by while I'm writing

Yesterday was a record setting day with six deer in our backyard at one time. One yearling was camera shy and ran out of frame, so there are only five in the picture.

Lorraine made sure they were fed.

As I finished this blogpos I looked out the window and spotted this deer stroll by the window. I’m going to have to fix that fence before the trees start to bud.


Click on the following links to read my author bio, life in Lewis County or more about my life on the farm.

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Death in the Apiary

We had a week of cold and snow on the farm. 

The weather made for some beautiful pictures, which you can see on the Facebook page, but it got very cold. On a mild day this week my wife came in from outside and said, “There’s no activity in the apiary.”

Author Kyle Pratt checks a hive

I like to keep two colonies, but one colony had died last year. I hurried to my one remaining colony.

Bees are very clean and will not defecate in the hive. So, on mild winter days they fly out to take care of business. As I approached it was clear no bees were busy doing business. I put my ear to the hive. No buzzing.

At that point I opened the hive. Thousands of bees were there in a tight cluster—all dead.

Since I see each colony as being in my care, it really saddens me if one dies. I feel there is always something more I could have, or should have, done.
 
After a few days of mourning, I’ll clean out the hive boxes and order two more colonies of Carniolan honey bees through my local bee association.
 
Hopefully, next winter will be mild. 


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Three Pictures

As I gazed at three recently taken pictures it occurred to me that each had something to say about where and how I live.

Kyle Pratt, and friend Pat, standing in the road.

The first picture is of my friend Pat and me (blue shirt) standing in the middle of the dirt road that passes in front of his house. We were waiting for a friend who had never been there before and the road seemed like a good place to keep an eye out for her. During the nearly ten minutes we stood there her car was the only vehicle that came along.

Kyle Pratt in his backyard.

It doesn’t often snow here, but when it does it’s time to get the camera out. My wife Lorraine took this picture of me in the backyard. For many years I lived on military bases and suburban communities and my backyard looked pretty normal for those areas, small with mostly grass and some flowers. In this picture an apple tree obscures the view of the hen house behind it. The apiary is hidden by more trees and a blind. The greenhouse is out of the frame to my right and additional fruit trees are off to the left, but my backyard still looks pretty normal—for this area.

One of my summer jobs is filling the wood shed (also in the backyard) with an ample supply of logs. I do this gradually as I clear trees that have grown to close, are dead or have fallen during windstorms.

Kyle Pratt keeping the home fires burning

The recent snow arrived with arctic cold and was the first time this season we fired up the woodstove. We could use the electric heaters to keep the house comfortable, but we’ve learned that the woodstove actually keeps the house warmer and, since all the wood comes from our property, it costs us very little.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and perhaps I could write more, but I think these three photos say a great deal about the way I choose to live my life. I wouldn’t change any of it.


Click on the following links to read my author bio, life in Lewis County or more about my life on the farm.

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