I was excited to see Aunt Maureen and Uncle Ted for the first time in 2 years. Though we may not be related by blood, they could not be more like “family” to me. Having first met more than 3 decades earlier, Mom and Aunt Maureen are soul sisters, sharing a special bond that rivals what they have with their real sisters.
So, with Uncle Ted being very ill, it was only natural for my parents to want to offer emotional as well as physical support. My Mom is a strong believer in “signs”, so she was convinced us having no concrete travel reservations or volunteer gig lined up was divine intervention, a signal from the Man Upstairs that going back East to help at Misty Lee Farm was where we were meant to be.
Misty Lee Farm is 6 wooded acres, a small natural haven within the 1 million acres known as the NJ Pine Barrens or Pinelands. The Pine Barrens span through 7 of NJ’s 21 counties, accounting for 22% of the State’s land mass. The Pine Barrens are known for its trees, its sandy, acidic soil, and its blueberry orchards and cranberry bogs. And I would be remiss if I did not mention its legendary resident, the Jersey Devil! It is said this unlucky 13th child born in 1735 to Mother Jane Leeds, though looking like a normal infant, eventually sprouted hooves, bat wings, a goat’s head, and, of course, the forked tail of a devil. After causing injury to any and all in its way, the Jersey Devil escaped through his house chimney and supposedly lurks in the shadows within the Pine Barrens. There have been many reported sightings of the Jersey Devil for centuries. But despite my stealth reconnaissance, this Rambling RV Rat found no evidence of the Jersey Devil’s existence.
Though there are animals here, Misty Lee Farm is not your typical farm. You see, most of the farm residents are rescues—cats, dogs, and horses that would have been destroyed but for the generosity, kindness, and caring nature of Aunt Maureen and Uncle Ted.
For example, Magnum is a 34-year-old standard bred who was adopted 15 years ago along with Dignity, whose eye was beaten out of her on the harness racetrack by an abusive handler. Dignity died last year after many loving years on Misty Lee Farm. Magnum was once a fine racing horse, too. But as he aged, his owners relinquished him. He then was selected to be a police horse. But when his sight diminished, he was retired again. That’s when he came to Misty Lee Farm. Though blind, arthritic, aging, and suffering gastrointestinal problems, Magnum is a gentle giant. Valentine is the newest equine resident here. He came to Misty Lee Farm last year at age 24 after his retired Newark, NJ police partner got sick and could no longer care for him. Valentine’s got some Jersey attitude and a whole lot of spunk. He has a mind of his own and is smart as a whip. Mom nicknamed him FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), since he found it necessary to observe and investigate EVERY move we made and to be involved in EVERY barn project we undertook.
|Valentine (AKA FOMO) investigating what Dad was doing with the Kubota.|
|The boys greet Mom--here come the chuck wagon!|
|The boys look like bookends!|
There have been many dogs rescued through the years by Misty Lee Farm, but it is Hershey and Boomer who currently reside here. Raised as brothers, their original owner got sick and said he could no longer care for them. (Ironically, just months after the brothers arrived at Misty Lee Farm, the owner got two new pets.) The owner wanted the brothers to stay together, making it difficult to find them a new home. But Misty Lee Farm always has had a soft spot for animals like Hershey and Boomer that are hard-to-place and/or with “special needs”, whether because of age, ailments, or behavioral requirements. (I swiped these photos from Misty Lee Farm Facebook page, 'cause these canines didn't sit still for me long enough to take a nice photo. Anyway, it shows them in their "angelic" moments.
I sometimes think there is a neon sign above Aunt Maureen’s property that flashes “fine family home for felines” because the property seems to be the proverbial farm where irresponsible owners dump their unwanted cats and kittens. Aunt Maureen, with her heart of gold, has made sacrifices to pay for spaying/neutering of a multitude of cats so they can be released without bringing other unwanted fur babies into this world. Some of the feral felines like Midnight and Kit Kat viewed us as their newest servants to fulfill their food demands.
|Get that can opener, pronto!|
|Kit Kat and I had a deal. I would feed him and then he would go spy on my parents for me to be sure they were doing their chores in the barn!|
Wildlife is also abundant on the farm, from wild turkeys to deer, from a variety of birds to various rodent species like squirrels and groundhogs. Working on a farm is like being in a Bible story. We were faced with a different plague each day—frogs, carpenter bees, and serpents. But I felt so blessed to witness the beauty and intricate balance of nature, even among amphibians, insects, reptiles, or arachnids.
|Exceptionally woven webs--almost as good as Charlotte's!|
|A trio of frogs living in the barn.|
|Some funky fungi...|
The first month focused on learning about each animal’s personality, its medical conditions, and its special needs. It took just a few days of being around Magnum and Valentine for me to learn the accuracy in the expression, “pissed like a racehorse”.
It was interesting to watch the farrier trim the horses’ toenails and replace their shoes. The farrier has been a Godsend to Magnum, who could barely walk when he first arrived at the Farm. And I was fascinated to watch the equine veterinarian conduct Magnum’s and Valentine’s wellness exams, which included having their teeth floated and their sheaths cleaned (which they enjoyed immensely). Magnum is now 1,055 lbs., a healthy, respectable weight considering his gastrointestinal problems. Valentine, however, was deemed to be overweight at 1,217 lbs. (Valentine is very much like me and my family—he eats with gusto. He loves food, and it shows in his waistline!) The vet says we must cut down his grain intake and let him rely more on hay. Easier said than done! Though we put the horses in their stalls within the barn for vittles, Magnum is a VERY slow eater, hindered by his blindness and lack of teeth. And he doesn’t want to eat his mid-day meal all at one time in the stall. So, Mom would take the balance of his lunch and lead Magnum to the trough outside. Along the way, she would encourage him to finish his yum-yums so his brother didn’t steal them. Dad would stay back with Valentine, encouraging him to be a good boy and stick to eating hay. The messages from my parents, the horse whisperers, were ignored entirely by the boys. Magnum wouldn’t eat and Valentine would steal the grain. When I caught him once and called him out on it, Valentine feigned innocence, grabbing mouthfuls of straw to cover his tracks. He is one smart fellow!
|Mom encouraging Magnum to eat his yum-yums.|
|Dad with best buddy, Valentine.|
Mom became a poultry specialist. She handled feeding, egg collection, and poop removal. Who would have thought a small creature like a chicken could create golf-ball-sized poop! Chickens may look a little dopey, but let me tell ya, they ain’t no dummies. In fact, Loretta the Hen outsmarted my Mom. Loretta jumped into the 32-gallon feed can to help herself to some corn. Mom didn’t see her there and put the lid back on to keep the rodents out. Loretta was locked in the can all night, found by Aunt Maureen the next morning. Not to worry. Loretta enjoyed the unlimited buffet and found the overnight accommodations acceptable enough in which to lay an egg!
|Henna's reaction after hearing about Loretta's lockdown. She warned the other chickens to stay clear of Mom the Bumbling Moron!|
As June approached, I relinquished my role as Chief Muckety Muck to Mom, for now I was needed to supervise Dad on several projects. First off, the chicken coop was in need of repair from exposure to the elements. Dad installed a new chicken entry door and plank, making it ADA accessible for the chickens. The wood floors inside the coop were rotting, having been subjected to flooding and holes from invaders like raccoons and groundhogs. So, Dad decided to replace the wood floor with concrete. After hand-mixing and pouring 42 bags of concrete, we thought Dad fixed the invasion problem permanently. But the very next day, Dad found a groundhog had chewed a hole in the concrete when it was curing overnight. That rodent transformed my Dad into Elmer Fudd! But Aunt Maureen wanted no bloodshed because it was a Mamma Groundhog with 3 youngsters who was causing the damage. This left Dad with limited options. It was a long war, with Dad repairing, replacing, modifying, and outwitting these varmints. After seeing no signs or damages created by the pesky critters for several weeks, we declared Dad the victor. But one week after we left NJ, Aunt Maureen busted Dad’s bubble, reporting that the groundhog family was back, bigger and badder than ever. So, game, set, match goes to Mamma G.
|Dad getting ready for battle against the groundhog.|
|Digging trenches for water drainage and to fill invader holes.|
|Dad armed himself with 42 bags of concrete--that should do the job!|
|Dad's stirring that cement with the gusto of a witch with her brew!|
|Elmer Fudd in action!|
|Intruder alert! No sooner did Dad finish pouring concrete, than that Mamma Groundhog had the audacity to chew through the cement as it was curing!|
Another top priority was for Dad to build a new chick hut. Baby chicks must be raised separate from adult chickens for at least 4 months. I found his finished product to be quite satisfactory, but we will see how well the next shipment of baby chicks like the accommodations.
|Dad's masterpiece. Looks pretty good and tucks in nicely beside the newly-installed coop entry door.|
Speaking of critters, Mom unknowingly evicted about 50 of my rodentia cousins when she moved a feeder in the chicken coop that served as a condominium for mice. It was quite unsettling to watch my brethren scrambling to avoid being caught by the chickens who would catch the mice in their mouths and peck at their tails! At least Mom saved one little guy who fell into the feed can.
|That feeder on the left was "home" to at least 50 menacing mice!|
|Mom spared this mouse getting captured by the chickens!|
The chickens weren’t quite as impressed with their coop renovations as my family was. But the chickens settled in eventually and grew to appreciate the redecorated digs, as evidenced by their increased egg production. I gotta tell ya, these gals’ eggs are the bomb--fresh, flavorful, and nicely-sized.
July included some grounds-keeping tasks. Having had extensive experience when we volunteered at Escapees Rainbow’s End RV Park, Mom worked diligently to remove/haul sticks, tree branches, and limbs from the property while Dad used the John Deere to cut the pastures and mulch leaves. Magnum and Valentine began eating leaves off the trees in their pasture, which can have an adverse effect on their digestive systems. So, we did a bit of tree trimming as well.
|One of three huge piles of limbs/branches/sticks that Mom collected and hauled.|
|Yours truly escorting Aunt Maureen back to the house as I go unload more tree limbs for Mom.|
I referred to my family as “The 3 Muckateers” since many of our chores revolved around poop pickup. We spent an entire day in July dismantling a pile containing close to a year’s worth of cat/dog/chicken/horse poop. Dad had a grand time backloading with the Kubota (Boys with their Toys) while Mom used the spreader attached to the tractor. It was a stinky job but an important one. And with its deep, dark color, this fully decomposed poop was now an excellent quality soil, rich in nutrients.
|The 3 Muckateers|
|Dad playing--I mean using--the Kubota.|
|Mom on the tractor spreading the nutrient-rich "soil".|
Dad had two more projects to tackle: Repair/Re-roof 2 horse shelters on the other side of the property and build emergency exit ramps from Magnum’s and Valentine’s stalls.
|Dad tearing off the bad sections of shingles and OSB plywood...|
|You can see the rotted sections.|
|Wood replaced and new shingles installed on the horse shelters. Improvement noted!|
|Dad's completed exit ramps....|
|...Pull the pins and down they come.|
Meanwhile, Mom took over all mid-day animal chores. She even helped Aunt Maureen bathe the boys. Both were very well behaved during their baths. But the moment we finished, Valentine was back rolling in the dirt/sand, making our efforts null and void. Seemingly, he subscribes to the mantra, “I don’t get mad, I get even!”
Suddenly, it was our last day at the Farm--hard to believe that 3 months had transpired! Aunt Maureen and Uncle Ted treated us all to a delicious lunch at Red Lion Diner. I am gonna miss Aunt Maureen and Uncle Ted and all my furry friends at Misty Lee Farm. But I leave with fond memories, delicious fresh eggs, and the warmth and love of a long, true friendship.
|Valentine and yours truly saying good-bye.|
I’ll talk to you again soon to tell ya all about the fun activities we did when we weren’t working on the Farm.