Although we have been surrounded by chaos and uncertainty on all sides, things within the Farm's boundaries have been relatively peaceful. There are no tar balls in the field and no oil sheen on the pond. There were no tropical weather systems to wreak havoc. And all this is good.
Like many businesses, plans for new activities and projects have been put on hold hoping things will stabilize. We'll see.
Even with the difficulties that many still endure, it is good to lay the misery aside and focus on the positive aspects of life. Ignore the negative, at least for a short while. And the time to do that is approaching.
Christmas is coming once again. Its meaning and purpose seems extra important this year. So, we hope to see each of you very soon.
Shady Pond Tree Farm
Christmas Tree Varieties:
a stately beauty from England.
a unique tree from the Orient.
a selection from New Zealand.
the aroma of lemon and mint.
Maintaining livestock at Shady Pond has been shunned for many decades now, and for good reason. Caring for the animals is very demanding. It is an endless task that can, and usually does, escalate to crisis levels at the worst possible times. Avoiding livestock has become an unbendable personal rule.
It was late spring when a request was made that I agree to accept a duck as a permanent resident here. I instantly remembered the rule as well as our arrival here in the mid-1950's and the collection of water foul and other animals that came with the farm. It was a package deal. The purchase included the land and buildings, of course. But it also included the Herefords, the Chinese geese, ducks, dogs, and Guinea hens.
The geese were so large and aggressive that their tenure here was really never in question. But for the ducks, perpetuation of their kind at Shady Pond was a significant challenge. Each spring they would religiously prepare their annual nest and in a few weeks the new ducklings would emerge and follow mama duck into the pond. This proved to be a fatal mistake for most of them. One by one they would vanish from the surface of the water without a trace. We soon learned that they were becoming food for the pond's abundant turtle population. This unpleasant lesson clearly demonstrated the balance of nature that is so very important. With these realities in mind, I decided to bend my rule and accept A duck believing that the bird would never complete the summer. Wrong!
What began as a single duck that spring morning expanded into three before lunch. Nonetheless, I still had unwavering faith in the turtles. The baby ducks were raised and one of the three did vanish but not as turtle food. It was a hungry hawk that did the dastardly deed.
As the ducks grew into adolescence, the pond became an irresistible draw. They would make their way into the shallow water near the bank but would rarely swim. At the time, I thought they were afflicted with some avian learning disability. But in truth, these two were proving to be highly skilled survivors. The turtles could only dream of having them for lunch.
Swimming was only pursued when the perceived threat on land was greater than the unknown threat in the water. Actually, it was their first encounter with a Louisiana Heron that tipped the scale in favor of the open pond. Their deliberate flight and size makes Louisiana Herons majestic and imposing creatures. And surely from the point of view of an inexperienced duck, the shape and length of the big bird's beak makes it an attribute to be reckoned with. As the Heron approached on its usual glide path and dropped its legs for landing, the ducks decided that a quick relocation to the deepest part of the pond would be a prudent move. They actually seemed relieved when the giant Heron was standing on those skinny legs and working his way along the pond bank in search of aquatic goodies.
Once it was clear that Shady Pond's turtles had met their match, the ducks had earned a substantial level of respect. With bits and pieces of information, I finally identified them as Cayugas (Anas platyrhynchos domesticus). Accurate information on their origin is hard to obtain. Many believe that the breed was developed on a mill pond near Cayuga Lake in New York. But according to research provided by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, the mill pond story is a myth. In fact, it was John James Audubon who unwittingly supplied the details needed to reject the commonly held story.
The in-depth work of the Conservancy revealed that they actually originated in Lancashire, England being bred from English Black Duck stock. The birds were brought to the Finger Lakes region of New York by John S. Clark circa 1840. The female at Shady Pond sports a 'top knot' on her head as described by Clark over a century and a half ago. The ducks were named for the Cayuga Indian Tribe, a member of the Iroquois Confederation. They were breed in large numbers in New York until the 1890's. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy classifies Cayugas as 'threatened' although not by the turtles at Shady Pond, for sure.
Cayuga plumage is black with iridescent green and blue tones that are visible in direct sunlight shining at just the right angle. The curled tail feathers are a male only characteristic.
Flying has proven to be a bit of a challenge for the ducks. Actually, being airborne is not overly problematic. Landing is the hard part. It's really ugly and could hardly be described as 'landing' at all. They just seem to fold their wings and fall to the water in a belly-bust. It creates a miniature tsunami in the pond. But they exercise the wings regularly to keep them in shape. The female's flapping is particularly intense. Her wings whistle.
The Cayugas at Shady Pond can only be described as domesticus in the extreme. They love Chisesi ham sliced thin and torn into bite size pieces. They love hose baths on hot days. They love pickup trucks especially the bumpers, hub caps and tires. They love shoes and shoe strings; and nibble them when possible. They love manual human activity if noisy tools are not involved, and can remain mesmerized by it for hours. And they really like digging and inspect every shovel full for an occasional snack.
If you happen to encounter the ducks during your time here, please ensure that any youngsters with you treat them with the utmost respect and kindness. Do not misuse the trust they may place in you.
Stifle the urge to feed them. But if you must, keep these rules in mind. Bread is an absolute no-no. It can cause them to become too heavy to fly. Although flight has been limited, it remains a significant defense against potential predators. Small amounts of duck bite size Chisesi ham is good. Earth worms are yummy. And although I have not tested this, some suggest hard boiled eggs chopped into small pieces while still in the shell as a nutritional treat. The calcium from the shell provides needed minerals for the inevitable brood.
The weekend of May 1 and 2 was really stormy. It rained almost continuously both Saturday and Sunday. Rather than fight the weather, I decided to stay indoors and address some overdue paperwork. I did not leave the house for the entire time.
Monday was a beautiful day, so I headed to the barn to ready one of the tractors for field work in the trees. On arriving there, I discovered that things stored in the hayloft had been thrown out the loft door to the ground below. And picnic benches and old lawn chairs had been arranged in the loft theater style looking out to the open field. It was all quite bizarre. I put the various items back in their respective places and continued prepping the tractor for the day's activity.
Then I discovered that about 200-feet of netting had been pulled off one of the balers and along the west property line. I gathered it together and placed it in the garbage, then headed to the field on the Cub. As I worked my way up and down the rows, I began finding broom sticks lying in the field. ( I save broom sticks and had accumulated quite a stock. Actually I have no clue as to why I do that. I can not remember using even one; not ever. But, I do it nonetheless.) Apparently, the vandals intended to steal my broom sticks but began dropping them as they headed off the property. I admit carry large numbers of broom sticks is more difficult that it seems at first glance. The more broom sticks I found, the more aggravated I became. I mean geez, why would anyone want to steal my broom sticks. This was really dumb.
As I continued work on the tractor, I found a length on aluminum tube that had been taken from the cantilever rack in the barn. The tube had large gouges cut into it. Then a piece of solid teflon rod was discovered. It too had large cuts. Understand the cost of this outing was beginning to mount. The aluminum isn't cheap and the teflon is obscenely expensive.
I worked my way to the tree farm entrance to find that 8-Christmas trees had been cut down with a double bit axe. It must have taken an hour. The axe came from the storeroom in the barn and was still lying in the field. The trees were there too; left to rot. Obviously, the axe was also used to cut the aluminum and the teflon. The evidence the vandals left behind was a clear demonstration of staggering ignorance and unrestrained malice. Since the cumulative cost of the damage they caused constituted a felony, I turned the matter over to the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office. A detective was assigned.
As you may expect, this crime like other similar ones was not resolved by the authorities. The vandals were probably kids with way too much time on their hands and little if any meaningful activity in their lives. Catching them was highly unlikely.
But since there had been earlier intrusions, I committed myself to take decisive action this time to get things back under control. The plan included surveillance cameras located around the property. Moving them at random intervals in a shell game fashion prevents intruders from staying out of range. The current photographic zone is always a surprise.
The plan also included installing signs as seen in the photo at strategic spots around the farm as a warning to those who may contemplate an unauthorized visit.
In truth, I would really rather not catch anyone. It would be far better for them to simply 'get a life', and find some worthwhile activity to occupy their time. But if I do, the action I will take will include little mercy.
Documenting nocturnal wildlife activity has been an unexpected benefit of the cameras. The deer population at Shady Pond is well known but the cameras have shown just how large it actually is. Images of an Owl feeding on its prey just after daybreak were recently captured. But the big surprise is the coyote presence. They apparently prowl the farm at night in groups in search of fresh food. Coyotes are stealthy rugged creatures totally committed to their own survival.
So be assured, the intent of the enhanced security system is not directed at Shady Pond's customers; unless of course, they have been hanging-out in the hayloft, stealing my broom sticks, and chopping down trees.
The National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) and Shady Pond Tree Farm have officially recognized the year 1510 as having the first recorded instance of a decorated real Christmas tree. This tradition was born in the city of Riga, Latvia. Entities all over the world also have recognized this milestone. While there may be others that claim to have decorated Christmas trees earlier than the tree in Latvia, this documentation appears to have the strongest claim. Latvia has claimed this date for many years, and has received no serious challenges.
This year, Christmas enthusiasts all over the world will be celebrating this anniversary of the enduring symbol we know as the Christmas Tree.
Not a lot is known about the first Christmas Tree in Riga, other than it was placed in the public marketplace and decorated by the men of the Order of the Blackheads (a long-time merchant's guild). The men wore black hats and after the ceremony, they burnt the tree.
Legend has it that the first Riga tree was decorated with paper flowers. A plaque marks the spot where the tree stood, though that was arguably placed there at a later date.
The tradition of the first Christmas Tree is sometimes credited to Martin Luther walking in the woods, being awestruck by the beauty of the moonlight on the evergreen trees and taking home the first Christmas Tree to his family. Luther reportedly decorated the tree with candles to recreate the beautiful effect of the moonlight on the branches. However, historians believe Martin Luther's tree was decorated in Northern Germany a few decades after the one in Latvia.
Religious symbolism – Christian and Pagan – inspired many of the decorations that adorned Christmas trees. The evergreen tree itself is said to symbolize Christ, life, nature and the Holy Trinity. Live evergreen trees were often brought into homes during the harsh winters as a reminder to inhabitants that soon their crops would grow again.
The pagans of northern Europe celebrated the winter solstice, known as Yule. Yule was symbolic of the pagan Sun God, Mithras, being born, and was observed on the shortest day of the year. As the Sun God grew and matured, the days became longer and warmer. It was customary to light a candle to encourage Mithras, and the sun, to reappear next year.
The term Christmas Tree first appeared in Strassburg, Alsace in 1604, though Christian families incorporated the trees into their celebration of the birth of Christ much earlier. Paper roses that adorned many trees in the 1500's are said to represent the Virgin Mary. During the 1600's churches used Christmas trees to help teach the creation story, decorating them with apples to represent the Tree of Paradise in the Garden of Eden. In the 1700s, trees decorated with apples, gilded nuts and cookies were often referred to as Sugar trees.
The 1800's brought glass ball ornaments, chains of glass beads and ornaments shaped like toys and other figures. Decorating became much more diverse with the wide assortment of decorations available.
Electric lights were added in 1882. Toward the end of the 1900s, theme trees were popular – trees decorated in all angles, toys, candies, teddy bears, etc. Trees with color-coordinated lights and ornaments have also become popular. NCTA's tradition of presenting the Blue Room Christmas Tree began in 1966 when L.B. Johnson was president.
Trees Through the Ages
Both the trees and the decorations have changed over the years, though in some respects, not as much as you might guess. What we Americans perceive as changes are at least partially the differences in the culture and tradition between the United States and Europe.
The 500th anniversary plans call for highlighting, century by century, how trees were decorated from the 1500's to the 21st century. The photos show how the members of the National Christmas Tree Association envisioned decorating styles during the 500-year period.
Shady Pond joins NCTA and our colleagues in Riga in commemorating the 500th anniversary of this wonderful human tradition.
Trina and Marcie have put together an interesting collection of snacks for this season. They are obviously expecting a cold and dry month with this list. And the rest of the crew hopes they're right.
The girls will also have traditional tree cutting beverages like coffee and hot chocolate.
So be sure to visit Precious Pearls at Shady Pond. The Pearls Girls will be here from 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. November 26, 27, 28, and December 4 and 5.
Access Precious Pearls on the web.
Adam Bruder completed his studies in Mechanical Engineering at UNO. Now that he has graduated, there is more time for fun stuff on the weekends. Stuff like selling firewood at Christmas.
Contact Adam at 985-290-4513 to schedule a firewood pickup appointment. Although firewood selling is primarily a weekend activity, appointments at other days and times may be possible.
Nugget and Murdock from Pecan View Haflingers have pulled Brian Hyde's green wagon at Shady Pond for the last several years. But life's clock has ticked away for Nugget just as it will for all of us. He retired this past summer and now enjoys a life of leisure at Pecan View in Roseland, Louisiana.
Nugget's spot on the team will now be occupied by Dixie. Dixie is one of Brian and Laurie's mares. Hopefully Ms. Laurie will have time to make a special red bow for Dixie to welcome her to Shady Pond this Christmas.
Murdock, Dixie, Mr. Brian, and Ms. Laurie will be at Shady Pond with the green wagon weekends from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. weather permitting.