Upper Delaware Magazine

Milanville days

By ED WESELY
Posted 7/29/20

In recalling our days at a small Milanville farm, I’ve focused on the 1990s when glacial winters and mellow summers created a bracing climate we haven’t enjoyed in a decade. Selections …

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Upper Delaware Magazine

Milanville days

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In recalling our days at a small Milanville farm, I’ve focused on the 1990s when glacial winters and mellow summers created a bracing climate we haven’t enjoyed in a decade. Selections are from Barbara Yeaman’s “Christmas letters,” and from mine where indicated.

Readers may like to compare their own calendar notes with ours from the 1990s.

Winter, 1994: “Winter began as I watched a bear fishing on the edge of the ice near the Damascus Bridge. Son Bill, and Ed and I drove up to count the wintering geese and watched as Mr. Bear lumbered off the ice and scrambled up a steep PA ridge—a rare and wonderful sight.”

Early spring, 1995: “A big female eagle showed up at the meadow sporting a wing tag and two leg bands... with a strange wire protruding from her shoulder blades. Turns out that she’d been fitted with a very expensive transmitter that sent a continuous signal to an overhead satellite, which was bounced back to a receiving station in France and relayed back to Maryland. This bird had spent the summer of ‘94 along the Atlantic coast near the Maine/Canada border.”

May 1995: “Hummingbirds returned on the 14th, already scrapping for territory in the apple blossoms. At 6:30 a.m. on the 19th, a fox stole our little bantam hen, the one with a black beak. A second fox would have claimed more had it not been for a crow’s alarm calls.”

June 1995: “On the 10th, our first monarch caterpillar fed on milkweed in my garden, and five days later we found five more with two ready to pupate.”

From my notes: “Imagine my surprise when I learned from the University of Kansas that a monarch butterfly I’d tagged on a visit to Massachusetts in September had been recovered in the El Rosario monarch preserve west of Mexico City. They estimate it flew 2,250 miles.

“I’d found its egg on a browsed milkweed along River Road near the farm and reared the caterpillar in our “Butterfly Barn” nature center. [It was] one of 465 monarchs that local children helped me to care for and hatch in 1995. Eventually, I carried its chrysalis along to Massachusetts, where it hatched.”

July 1995: “A pair of yellow-bellied sapsuckers are using the telephone pole for a snare drum. Ed and I took Frisbee Goat to the Lordville’s Fourth of July parade, where someone gave him a bandana to wear—he looked splendid. To celebrate the re-opening of the Lordville Bridge, there’s always a parade on the 4th, and Frisbee likes to pull young children across the new bridge span in his goat cart.

“Many green frogs have also gathered at a little artificial pond we dug this spring. On the morning of the 25th, more than 100 eggs floated from a mass of submerged plants that I moved to an aquarium near the pond for safety. They soon hatched into lively tadpoles, but they all disappeared a few days later.

“By July adult frogs are tame enough to pick up by floating your hand under their bellies and gently lifting them. Often 30 or 40 sit in-and-around our five-by-nine-foot pond waiting for insects.”

August 1995: “We continue to catch critters in the vegetable patch with a no-kill Havaheart trap. The August tally is seven chipmunks, three raccoons, a catbird, one wood thrush and two woodchucks… which makes 11 chucks for the summer. We release the birds here, and Ed transports the chucks, etc. to habitats beyond settled areas.”

“This summer, July and August were very dry and unusually hot, but we had a good time swimming and canoeing on the river. There seem to be more and more rafts and kayaks at Skinners Falls, but we feel most at home in our scraped and dented aluminum canoe.”

From my notes: “August was also a unique month for barn swallows, including a dozen or two reared in our barn. On a given morning, around August 20, they and others would gather in legions to chatter on the barn roof, a kind of ritual before taking wing to South America. And next morning the place was still.

“In September, at the start of the 21st century, over 200 second-graders visited the farm each year, about two classes a day for a couple of weeks. They’d explore the Butterfly Barn and watch monarch migrants glide south across our hay meadow near the river.

Best of all, each one received a cracker to feed Precious, the goat, before the class ran with her to the river.”

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