Snake segue



“You have a lot of snakes around here?”

Roofer John asked me that this morning, as I moved hay bales in the barn. He was barely audible over the screech of metal as his crew tore at the roof above.

“Do we have alotta what?” I asked.

“Snakes,” he said, quieter still.

John’s laconic communication leads me to babble like an idiot. “Snakes? Yea, I guess so. I mean, we have one that lives in our cellar in the winter. We don’t see him but we find his skin in the spring — he’s pretty shy. And sometimes I see them sunning by the barn in the summer. Black snakes — they’re good mousers — so we like them. Wait… why are you asking?”

“We found a dead one.”

“A dead snake? Is it small? Sometimes the cats kill corn snakes,” I offered.

John gave a noncommittal shrug. I followed him and spotted the snake on the ground by the barn — its white belly, face up.

I smirked at John. “Very funny.”

But he wasn’t smiling.



I waited for him to break his deadpan.

“John,” I said, casting a sideways glance at Mike, the sentry standing nearby. “You know that’s not a real snake, right? It was on the cupola on the roof…. to keep the pigeons from using the cupola to enter the hayloft. It’s fake. Your guys probably threw it down.”

Anyone else would be embarrassed or appear sheepish. Or express relief to discover a fake snake. Not John.

“Oh,” he said.

“Did it work up there?”

“Yea… it did.”

“So, I guess it should go back on the new cupola?”

“Yea… I guess it should.”

That’s the longest exchange I’ve had with John. Unfortunately, the pigeon deterrent did not provide a smooth segue into prying, personal questions about Amishness. Hey, speaking of fake snakes, why can’t you drive a car when you’re driving that engine-powered boom lift all over the farm? 

It might be time to channel my info-gathering efforts on Mike. The driver.

Chauffeurs are always in the know.


The Roofing News



Happy Thanksgiving, gang. And my apologies, this post is a day late. As you read this, pretend it’s yesterday:

As I gaze out the window at the rain/snow this Wednesday-before-Thanksgiving, it seems like an opportune time to post the latest barn roof news.

The morning’s pelting rain was present in the hayloft — familiar puddles that gather with every storm. But for the first time in years, the tack room was bone dry. Thanks to our Amish roofing crew.

Well, not “a crew.” It’s just a guy. One Amish guy.


John says he’ll bring reinforcements after Thanksgiving and the wedding season. In the meantime, he’s a one-man act.

But he’s astonishingly industrious.

And that’s after a punishing commute — 2 1/2 hours from his home in Pennsylvania. A five-hour roundtrip every day.

Of course John doesn’t drive, because he’s Amish.

(And let me interrupt to address the perplexities of this religion. John doesn’t operate a car because Amish don’t use modern technology. Yet, he has a cellphone. I don’t get that: Amish shun technology, but cherry-pick some modern conveniences. How does that work? Why is it acceptable to use a power drill, but not a zipper? And you can’t drive a car but you can ride in one? So many questions I’m itching to ask. But I don’t want to treat John like a side show.)

Whatever. The point is, John doesn’t drive. A guy named “Mike” drives him around.

And that’s the odd thing about Mike: he doesn’t do anything, except drive John to and from the job site. Sometimes Mike hands up supplies, or retrieves a tool from the truck. But most of the time he stands around like a sentry. (Which of course begs more questions: How much do you get paid to drive someone around? How is that economically feasible given gas prices? And while you’re standing around, how about you do a project for us? There’s plenty to share.)

But I don’t ask Mike anything.

He stands and watches John. I do, too.


Watching John is mesmerizing — he’s got a slow, methodical pace.

He tears off a section of roof like a strip of taffy, checks the framing, then covers the gap with a fresh metal sheet. He’s never rushed or hurried, yet he makes solid progress. The tack room, mouse house and connecting breezeway are done.

Now all that remains is the big bite: the 80-foot long, Dutch, gambrel dairy barn roof.

Replacing that will require a stretch of good weather. And a crew, not just John.

And they may have to hurry.


Beetle Results & Other Housekeeping


Today’s Funny Farm post is all about updates.

First up: the beetle report.

In response to the most recent “name that bug,” contest, I heard from a lot of you dung beetle lovers.

Alas, the mottled insect pictured above is not the poop-slinging variety.

It is Dynastes tityus — better known as the eastern Hercules beetle. Or rhinoceros beetle, if you prefer. And the pinups I featured were both females, as readers Sarah O’Halloran and Lee Miller correctly noted.

Congrats, you two.


Next on the docket: The Chopper report.

Remember when Jazz went Mike Tyson on my arm? (Original post, here.) I wouldn’t say that he’s 100% reformed, but Jazz has repressed his bad behavior.

Thanks to lime juice.

I launched my citrus attack shortly after the big bite. I didn’t wait for an attempted strike; the moment he flattened his ears, I delivered a shot of lime juice. He curled his lip with distaste. After a few sessions, Jazz put two and two together.

As for the injury, the brilliant bruise has vanished but the swelling remains. It looks less like a goose egg. More like a speed bump. And it’s astonishingly tender after three weeks’ recovery.


Jazz: “What, me bite? Pish posh.”


Finally, outbuilding repairs. Last month I mentioned our barn roof woes and debated the merits of scheduling our Amish crew to commence construction in the fall, versus spring. Readers voted for now, not later. And we agreed.

Recently, I signed the contract and cut a check toward materials and labor. Project barn roof replacement starts: