Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Raising the Roof

Although we were hoping to put it off for one more year, it became apparent that we needed to replace the roof on the big barn. Not only were the number of Tidy Cat litter buckets serving as rain buckets multiplying along with the corresponding holes in the roof, but we discovered one big  hole far down on one side that had been allowing water to gush through in massive quantities into an interior stall in the lowest level of the barn. Since we have kept this stall closed off from the buffs, we didn't see the damage to the wood until it was too late. Lest we have any more nasty surprises, we bit the bullet. Here are some pictures of the 2.5 day project handled exclusively by our local roofers. The shot that follows is of the initial tear off of the old metal.

I wish I had a shot of the guy straddling the apex of the roof as he pulled up the strip of metal along the peak. My neighbor who lives in the house behind the barn said she was transfixed by the process but had to stop watching the guys running along the top of the barn after the metal was pulled off. A cop and a veteran, she's not lacking in courage but even she found it hard to take watching them work 3 stories up. Not only were they contending with the height and the lack of flat, level surfaces to walk on, they had to deal with many wasp nests in the rafters and some rotten support poles. And August heat.

This shot shows the only way up to the roof. That ladder is long and narrow! Bad enough to climb but to also carry tools and materials???? At least they didn't have to approach from the other side of the barn which would have entailed climbing the full three stories.

This is the barn with the new roof on. In many ways the new roof is not as attractive as the old one (mostly because it lacks the patina of decades of rust....) but it should function much better. The guys finished the 1.5 days before Irene was scheduled to make landfall in NC. Fortunately, it didn't affect us at all but since we didn't know that would be the case, we were glad to have a new roof over our supply of hay for the winter. One big project down, infinity more to go....

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fluffy Buffies

Bleah. There are way too many angry people on Facebook this week. I need something to make me smile. Think happy thoughts....fluffy bunnies--or better yet---fluffy buffies. Here are some recent photos of the buffalo to lift our spirits:

Ah, now that's better. See how happy I am now?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Snake Poop

Although it wasn't in the comments section, I received a very nice request from my favorite nephew for a look at the snake poop. He's truly a boy after my own heart. For those of you with more delicate sensibilities, feel free to skip this post. For the curious and strong of stomach, here you go:

If only they made Tidy Snakes litter, maybe I wouldn't have had to clean this mess off of the plywood floor. I guess I should give the snake some credit for aiming for the litter pail even though it's not species-appropriate.

Here's a closer look:

OK, everyone, enjoy your dinner tonight!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Snake Handling

For those of you who are squeamish about snakes, be warned: this post is actually about handling snakes. For those of you who are squeamish about religion, you can relax. This is a strictly secular endeavor. And finally, for those who don't mind reading about snakes but don't want to see them, read on. There will be no pictures of snakes (but if someone begs for it in the comments, I might be persuaded to add a picture of snake poop).

I just spent the past hour rescuing a five-foot long black rat snake that had become badly tangled in some old deer fencing. The deer fencing is this cheap, plastic netting comprised of 1/2 inch squares that don't look large enough for a snake to get through but apparently it looks otherwise to the snake. We removed all of this fencing from our orchard a couple of years ago and had to cut a few (mostly live) snakes out at that time. I had forgotten that we had a couple of rolls of the stuff still in the workshop. I think I had saved it thinking we might need it to put over berry bushes to discourage birds from snacking before we could harvest the fruit. Stupid.

I should have figured that the snakes living in our workshop (which we encourage for rodent control and general enjoyment) would eventually find the netting. Sure enough, when I went out to the workshop today to work on a small repair project, I spotted one of our Rizzos near the fridge. He/she (I'm not going to try to sex a snake) wasn't moving and seemed strangely looped over some junk--normally they slither along the wall or a shelf. Then I spotted the netting and realized that it must be stuck.

The trouble with the netting and these snakes is that they can easily get their narrow head through the openings  but their bodies are too thick to slide through. Unfortunately, snakes don't do reverse well. They keep pushing forward and in the process get hopelessly entangled. By the time I got there, this poor snake was being constricted (yes, it would be ironic if this were a boa) in about a dozen places along its body.

I went to the house to find my big fireplace gloves (not snake-proof but the thickest I've got) and my best narrow scissors all the while wishing I had the kind of scissors used for taking out stitches. In my haste, I forgot my reading glasses. Those would have come in handy for cutting black netting off of a black snake in dim light but by the time I realized the error, I had two fistfuls of snake and wasn't about to carry it into the house.

It took me a bit of doing just to get Rizzo to where I could work on her. I've decided that this is Mrs. Rizzo since she's about five feet long--definitely smaller than King Rizzo who is a mighty six footer. The first challenge was getting her out from where she was wedged between the fridge and a pail of soil amendments. All the more challenging because I couldn't see where her head was to know if it was trapped or free to strike. I gradually cleared the junk from the space in front of her and tried to lift off one of the two rolls of netting but she was entwined in both.

When I found her head, I couldn't see if her mouth was bound shut but she only had a couple of inches of wiggle room for her head, so I figured I'd be ok if I didn't get my hands right by her mouth. Rat snakes are not venomous so a bite wouldn't poison me--it would just hurt. I tried to lift both rolls so I could move her over to the workbench where the lighting is better but the back half of her was looped through the handle of the pail and wouldn't let go. I had to set her down to try to pry her very muscular tail off of its perch. Clearly she was stressed, probably assuming that I was there to kill her, and so she released the contents of bowels as she released her grip. Once again I tried lifting the rolls only to find that the netting had wrapped around the leg of some shelving. Set her down again and got the big scissors to cut the netting. Last time was the charm. I picked up the rolls with one hand controlling her head and one supporting the rest of her weight and got her to the workbench. Still not sure how I did that.

All the while she's squirming like mad and making things worse. But how do you let a snake know that you're just trying to help? You don't. You just try to work quickly. The last time I cut a snake out of netting, I had my trusty assistant to hold the body so I could have both hands free to work on getting the scissors between the netting and the snake's skin without doing more damage to the skin than the netting had already done. Much trickier when the body is free to move around. And it got trickier the closer I got to the head. The more  I freed of the body, the more that wonderfully muscular creature tried to make a break for it--even going so far as to try to knock stuff off the workbench to distract me. The sad sound she made every time I went to cut a loop didn't help either (I suspect she was trying to hiss at me but it came out like a scared, pathetic cry). But I was focused like the proverbial laser. Having a snake in your care will do that to a person.

And the fact that I had to ditch the gloves as soon as I began to use the scissors. By the time I got near the head, I could see that there was one piece of netting wrapped tightly around her mouth. While bad for her it meant I could safely cut the netting that was located where I'd normally have to hold her head to keep her from being able to bite. Finally, it was down to that last loop. Before I freed her mouth, I did one last check to make sure her body was completely free. Not only did I not want to have to go back for a touch-up after she had full use of her fangs again, if she escaped with a loop around her, she wouldn't be able to digest her prey and she would die.

Made the last snip with her head firmly in my control then picked up the rest of her with my free hand and took her outside. I released her into the grass next to the workshop so she could get to her favorite hiding spots to recover. She looked to be in much better shape than I would have expected given how badly tangled she was. Thankfully, she must not have been trapped for long. Her skin seemed to bounce right back into shape and I saw no lasting effects from the ligatures. Here's hoping there was no internal damage.

I quite like holding snakes. Something about the strength and unexpected weight of the body with that skin that is simultaneously smooth and scaly (it has scales but they blend together so it all feels smooth) is a marvel.  But I don't go around picking up snakes normally. Not only do I lack the quick reflexes and excellent eye-hand coordination of an expert snake handler, I know it would stress out the snake. So, instead, I look at them and try to provide a nice place for them to live. In that spirit, I returned to the workshop and threw away every last bit of that blasted netting. I don't expect Mrs. Rizzo will want to see me anytime soon but I hope I catch a glimpse of her sunning herself in the window one of these days just so I know she's ok. Now, I better go clean up that snake poop.