Away we go, into the depths of winter, proceeding at speeds faster than the retreating light. Colds and flu, shovels and snow plows, the dreaded time change and the dark afternoons; it just goes on and on. It seems as if there is little to anticipate, unless we are young enough to remember Christmas. For the rest of us, the gloom feels unrelenting, hard as frozen marble, and dark as Halloween.
However, even in despair there are secret moments of subtle joy, just begging to be hoarded against the coming storm, to be taken out later and savored like red-gold apples piled in a pantry basket.
So what if the solar eclipse was drowned in rainy sorrows? The morning after proffered lemons and oranges, peaches and yellow shades of pear, as it made wild lemonade at dawn. If we have to have Mondays, that is the kind I would vote for, although I didn't see that proposal on the ballot on Tuesday, alas.
Even in the rain, a trip to the orchard to store up some real apples against winter provided not one, but two Northern Harriers, coasting gently across the greens of dormant hayfields, which glowed as if lit from within. The male was resplendent in his bright gray tuxedo. The hen was larger, but more subtle in chocolates and tans, but still sporting the distinctive white fanny of the harrier.
The sheltered valley field, just down the road from the cheerful red barn wherein the apples awaited, was lit up like a Christmas tree as a flock of snow buntings flashed white-and-black wings against the dusty gold of the corn. Of course the thought went through my head, "what on earth are they doing here so early?" I always feel lucky to see a few on the Christmas bird count, and yet there they were, weeks before their time.
The birds of the northeast are all mixed up this year. Reports of the first ever for the state calliope hummingbird recently emerged from New Hampshire. Calliopes are the smallest birds in North America that occur north of Mexico. Although late-migrating hummers are not terribly rare, the tiny calliope is normally a resident of the far western mountains. He is so far off course and out of season in New Hampshire that he really needs to stop and ask directions and soon. He was, by the way, a guy.
And here at Northview there are those crazy Carolina wrens. They are delightful little birds, if not terribly glamorous in feather coats that echo the colors of a cornfield in November. However their cheerful calls of tea kettle, tea kettle, tea kettle, and their busy, inquisitive behavior make them a lot of fun to have around.
However, they are not very well designed to winter in cold climes, and they seem to be a bit too dumb to migrate. I hope they don't all freeze. Again.
The much-hated wild rose bushes are putting on their second show of the year. June brings the extravaganza of blossom and heady scent, brushing the valley with swathes of white bunting and practically bludgeoning us with fragrance. Autumn produces the bright red rosehips, glistening like little lanterns against the darkening colors of November. They are often a flutter with the many birds that eat them, giving us a chance to spot passing fliers that might otherwise be hidden in the shrubbery. And once in a while I taste one myself. If you don't mind seedy, leathery, slightly lemon-flavored rubber, they aren't too bad.
I prefer tasting just one single wild riverbank grape. Just the tiniest nibble of the inside of the skin of one of these midnight-colored bundles of dynamite is enough to light up your mouth for an hour. Sour, fiercely tangy, they taste like autumn looks, hard to describe, but very interesting. We used to make jelly with them, but I am here to tell you, it takes thousands of the darned things to make a batch. And although there are enough festooning our trees and buildings to concoct jam for every Red Sox fan in the nation, it is a lot of work to clean that many berries.
Meanwhile on the business side of things, as soon as the USDA resumed reporting milk production after the government shutdown, U.S. milk production was reported up 1.1 percent in the top 23 dairy states. Generally even modest increases are used as reasons to keep farm gate prices low. However, burgeoning export numbers are mitigating that situation somewhat. According to Jim Dickrell of Dairy Today, "China was the big buyer, up a whopping 170 percent over a year ago. The Middle East and North Africa were up 108 percent, and Southeast Asia was up 55 percent."
This resulted in 15 percent of total milk production being sold overseas. Part of the reason for this is probably our relatively low milk prices. Westpac bank of New Zealand predicted in July that world milk prices could result in an extra $400 million in income there next year. New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra predicted that Chinese demand would bolster prices there in 2014, by a significant amount. However, U.S. milk prices, as usual, are expected to be stable or down.
If you do business with the USDA, be on the lookout. According to a notice from that agency fraudulent letters are circulating, attempting to steal financial data from farmers. This has evidently occurred before, in March of 2012, when similar letters circulated in search of dupes willing to part with private information. Letters carry the signature "Frank Rutenberg." The USDA has asked that anyone receiving such missives not respond to them, but instead asks them to contact the agency.
And on a happy note, the Ram Truck brand recently presented the National FFA with a check for $1 million as promised in the video "So God Made a Farmer," which aired during the 2013 Super Bowl and reached 10 million views. So far it has actually hit 22 million.
Fultonville dairy farmer MARIANNE FRIERS
is a regular columnist. She blogs