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Saturday, December 31, 2011

In memory of Sheila

Sheila (far right) with orange ear tag
I regret to inform you of some sad news from Deauville.  Sheila, a 14-year-old, hand-fed doe known to so many of Gail's visitors and friends, passed away on Monday, December 12.

Earlier that day, Gail had seen Sheila, but she didn't look very good.  Still, Gail had been amazed before by Sheila's resilience.  In fact, when I first started filming at the farm in August 2009, Gail introduced me to Sheila but said she worried the poor old gal wouldn't make it through the winter.  Well, not only did she survive the winter of 2009-10, with its big snows and cold weather, but she made it through to December of this year.

Gail found Sheila on Tuesday morning.   She went out to feed the deer as usual, carrying cans of corn into the enclosure and calling them down from the woods.  Sheila was always the first deer to approach, and for some time, Gail had been bringing Sheila a bit of corn and sweet feed (a high calorie mixture enriched with molasses) in her own metal bucket.  Only Sheila would eat from this bucket, and that made it possible for Gail to ensure that she got a good bit to eat every day.  When deer get to Sheila's advanced age, not only are they subject to being pushed around by younger animals, but their teeth have ground down from years of use.  So getting enough to eat can be a challenge.  The one thing Sheila had no difficulty with at all was marching up to the fence to make sure she got food from visitors who offered it.  That's what most people remember of Sheila -- a feisty old gal with an orange ear tag, brave enough to approach for a handout.

So on that Tuesday morning when Sheila wasn't the first deer to approach, Gail knew immediately something was wrong.  She told me later that she feared for a moment finding her in the woods, dying.  That would have meant Gail would have to shoot her -- something she really didn't want to have to do to this old friend.

But then another thought came into Gail's head.  She had a strong feeling that she'd find Sheila in the barn.  She told me, "she let me know she was in there."  Gail walked up the hill and there in the barn, she found Sheila, lying down in a crouch position with all legs folded underneath the body (the way deer will sleep), with her neck stretched out and her eyes closed.  It was a huge relief -- her closed eyes were a clear indication that Sheila died in her sleep.  We should all be so lucky.

It was sad for Gail.  She remembers Sheila as the eldest of all the deer, the only one left from the first year she lived at Deauville with her husband, Alex, the deer farmer.  It's not surprising losing Sheila would bring back memories of Alex.

It was sad for me, too.  Another marker of the passage of time.  The hardest part was telling my boys, because they really liked to feed Sheila.  She "personalized" the rest of the skittish herd for people, and especially for kids.  She was a fallow deer ambassadress, and we will miss her at the fence.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Lioness in Winter

Gail looks great, I'm happy to report.  She's got a healthy glow to her skin, she is outside feeding the chickens and deer, and working in the gardens and greenhouses, and her scar has healed beautifully.  She's behaving just like normal -- complaining about how much she dislikes kids, dogs, and now she's added filmmakers to her list. But the comment that made my heart sing, "I'm going to be around for another 20 years I figure."

She told me yesterday that the the local newspaper, the Mountain Courier, "bumped" her article from the December issue (because it didn't contain Xmas content).  Now, I haven't read the column, but I know that like most farmers, Gail takes her cues from the season, so I find it hard to believe that her column wasn't relevant to December, the winter, something to do with planning for next year's gardens. Oh well.

The timing is unfortunate, though because the presence or -- in this case -- the absence of Gail's monthly column is an 'indicator' to hundreds of her friends and contacts.  She said the only time that she missed doing her column, someone had died in her family.  People worry when Gail's column is missing from the Courier, but she's OK and I'm sure her column will be back next month!

And I hope that many people will see my blog -- back again after too long -- and take heart that the Lioness of Deauville still roars mightily.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Puppy Eggs

Can you believe that dogs love to eat raw chicken eggs?  I guess it isn't that surprising.  At Deauville, it is a tradition.  Sam and Cinder get this reward for their work in the chicken houses.

One of the great sequences I think I got for the film this past weekend was Sam and Cinder doing their ratting work.  These days (because there are quite a few rats) they can't wait to get inside the chicken yards, and they immediately get to work, trying to startle a rat or mouse so that it makes a fatal mistake. They focus, nearly obsessively, on the rafters of the house, attempting to capture a rat using sheer, determined will.

Once Gail finishes her morning routine feeding and watering the birds, she usually picks up a rake and starts banging on the walls of the chicken house.  The rats run and sometimes scramble to the ground where these feisty hunters await.  One bite and they kill the rat, drop it on the ground, and focus on getting another.  It's just amazing to watch.  Dust flying everywhere, Gail banging and yelling "over here's another one!!!", and through all this excitement, perhaps the funniest thing is that the chickens just happily go about their business, disturbed not in the least.

The problem with rats in the chicken house is that they compete fiercely with the hens for the expensive organic chicken feed that Gail provides. As Gail yelled to me over the commotion, "I refuse to claim rats as dependents on my tax return, too!!!"

So, after the dust settled, I shot a lovely interview with Gail as she sat on the steps of Chicken House #2 (where the new birds live).  Sam is still hard at work in the background.  During the entire interview, she's sitting just behind Gail's shoulder, nose pointed at the ceiling, fixated on the rafters.  Her concentration is extraordinary.  Every so often she casts a sideways glance at Gail, though, as if to say "Boss... can't you see?  We've still got work to do here!"

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Whirlwind at the farm

Gail feeds deer a sunflower plant
I invited my friend Javier Sagredo to come out to my lake house this past weekend with his girlfriend Isis, and her brother Alberto.  So we experienced two incredible days of exposure to Gail's early summer garden, and rich, seasoned wit.

Javier is a dear old friend and a talented still photographer (his hobby, he says, but he is sufficiently talented to succeed professionally).  He is responsible for many of the photos I have of Gail's farm, since he has visited there several times and loves it (and Gail) as much as I do.

Two fawns above a sea of spots
We have often come out with our kids since our sons, his Pablo and my Aidan, were best friends at Haycock School.  Pablo lives back in Spain now with his Mom, so when they visit their Dad in the summer, we always try to get them together, and often that wonderful reunion takes place at my lake house, and Gail's farm.

Gail:  what the heck does she want from me now?
So... I asked Javier to come out while the fawns were young and the garden is so new and vibrant.  It has been difficult for me to keep up with my still photography of the farm in addition to videography.   So this weekend, while I ran around with my video camera, Javier shot stills -- I think probably somewhere around 2500 of them.  Thrilling for me.

Sunday was a feast of fantastic experiences -- which I hope I managed to capture.  Since the stills are more readily available to view, I've included a few for you to enjoy.  In my future blogs, you can assume the stills are Javier's work, unless I indicate otherwise.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Deer, Chickens, Dogs... and a Skunk

I've been filming since Sunday.  Am pretty tired, but have to get up again tomorrow at 5:30 to get to Gail's just after the sun rises over the hill to the East of her deer pasture.  The light at that time is spectacular.  

Gail's dogs, Sam and Cinder, got skunked the other night.  We heard a loud sort of wailing-yelp from the chicken house.  Gail looked up from what she was doing and said "that's the sound they make when they've caught an animal... probably a rat."  (The hen houses have rats -- and these dogs are incredible at catching them -- otherwise they eat too much expensive organic chicken feed.)  A few minutes later, the two pooches came running to us.  The scent of skunk was immediately obvious.  It was so strong that I felt my sinuses burn.  Gail and I searched the hen house but there was no sign of any casualties.  Apparently the dogs slept on the porch that night.

Skunk fix:  Gail mixes hydrogen peroxide with baking soda and wipes it onto the dogs coats with a wash cloth -- to neutralize the skunk's spray in their fur.   I thought people used tomato juice -- Gail says that doesn't work. So there you have it.  I realized I'd never experienced a skunk like this before -- only the lingering scent of one that's been run over on the highway. 

But here's the real surprise... at least it was for me.  Apparently skunks are big chicken-killers.  I had no idea.  So the dogs did a good job.   All the hens were safe, and Sam and Cinder were smelling sweet again after Gail's skunk remedy.  It wasn't fun for her, but Gail just takes all of this in stride.

Tomorrow morning I'll be shooting from on top of the higher roof of the second chicken house.   That will allow me to film the deer without fences in the way, and hopefully they won't be disturbed by me. I'll be lying down on the roof with my camera on a "hi-hat" (which Gail's friend Jerry rigged for me today by attaching it to 3 blocks of wood -- for stability and so that my tripod handle clears the ground underneath.)  The "hi-hat" allows me shoot with my tripod head, but it is super low to the ground.  After I get set up on the roof, Gail will lure the deer down with corn, and I hope to get some good images of the baby fawns.  Today Gail counted 21.  They are pretty cute.  And they can run like the wind.

Will let you know how it goes!!!

Saturday, June 25, 2011


One of Gail's heirloom tomato plants in my garden 2011
My garden has exploded in a fit of tangled green this year, thanks in very large part to Gail's guidance.  And I've got the bug.  I can be seen around 6:30 each morning, coffee clutched in hand, barefoot and still in my PJs,  gazing at each plant with near romantic passion.  It's true, I don't get out much anymore, but with any luck, I will have a bumper crop of tomatoes, among a few other things, by mid July.   Every time I go out to film, I learn a couple of choice bits of wisdom from the amazing Gail Rose.  You could call them nuggets of "garden gold."  Maybe I'll share a few of them with you... in just a little bit.

I'm getting ready to leave for a week of filming with Gail, and have the problem of who is going to tend my mammoth garden while I'm gone.  Poor Lisa, my housemate, looked a bit shell-shocked when I asked her to water it.

Squash plant from hell
So today, I'm musing on how exactly I've gotten myself into this pickle.  And there are a few people other than Gail who are culpable.  

Besides bearing the burden of watering, Lisa is a bit overwhelmed by how a couple of this year's plants seem destined to take over her house, if not our entire Holmes Run neighborhood.  Lisa has learned, since she invited me to share the house with her almost two years ago, that I have a great deal of trouble doing things in moderation.  When I cook, I make enough to feed a small village.   I'm certain this is the Ukrainian in me.   Hey -- if you're going to feed a village, you need a few tomato plants....   But what my dear Lisa forgets is that she's the one who really got this started, by giving me a copy of the utterly brilliant Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" on tape (wonderful -- a must read/listen !!!!).  And then on top of that, she encouraged me to put in the raised bed in her yard!!!  No wonder we're in this situation today.

My "wimpy" garden, 2010
And then there was the humiliation I endured -- last year -- from our neighbor, Olvy.  Olvy sauntered over here one warm summer day last year after returning from his daily walk with the 4 pooches, and casually remarked that my garden was "wimpy."   Wimpy!!!! I was bursting with pride when I showed him my newly dug little raised bed, freshly planted with 2 tomato vines, one squash plant and a carrot.  ;) Those of you who know Olvy will smile and hear his voice, saying "Hey, Kathy, your garden looks a bit ... wimpy." And then he just wanders off to his house across the cul de sac... leaving this little bomb in his wake.  Little does he know that -- this year -- my squash plant is sending its vicious little coiled tendrils his way.

But lest you think these recent influences are solely to blame, you must know that the roots of this new passion of mine go way back to Canada... where my dear Mom was the earliest culprit.  She had me at her side every spring, when I was old enough to hold a garden spade, but our focus was bedding plants.  As the 4th kid in our family, she'd pretty much run out of steam for the hard work of vegetable gardening by the time I was old enough to help.  So each year she slapped those snapdragons in the ground, and they were allowed to grow wild for the 20 sec. long Edmonton growing season (okay, it was about 2 months between frosts).  At the end of all this, I knew how to dig around in the rich Albertan clay, but I couldn't do much more.   But those memories are fond ones nonetheless.  (I confess, as a kid, my experience with veggie gardens was in raiding them --the neighbors' gardens that is!  We actually did that -- like little bunny rabbits we'd sneak in and steal carrots and peas!  I'm embarrassed to admit it and hope my kids won't see this blog.)

While I'm on this kick of blaming everyone, I'll add my brother Tony to the list.  And our Dad.  And brother John -- he was the one who taught me how to raid gardens, after all.  My siblings will remember how Dad, after he retired and had time to do more than mow the lawn, flaunted his hanging baskets bursting with flowers, and those darn tomato plants.  And then Tony did the same with me.  He started flashing around his planting skills several years ago after he'd moved back to Canada from England.   As the eldest in our family, he DID get the benefit of my Mom's planting wisdom, I'm quite sure.  Or maybe it was something that rubbed off on him in the UK, you know, like powdery mildew.  I won't soon forget that giant squash he had sitting for so long on his kitchen counter that summer I visited -- at least he had the humility to admit he didn't even know what it was.  And looking at his whole set up, I confess I developed some garden envy.   He had it all 'going on' -- a community garden a couple blocks from his home in Calgary, his own backyard plot, and even... a worm composter in the basement!  That little feature REALLY made me jealous.  And don't even get me started on my sister, who owns a whole farm.

Kirsten directs raised bed prep
Besides those humble Canadian influences, I also have my dear Cougar Woods friends to blame.  These are a small group of women (and one brave man) who have done the Haycock Elementary School's outdoor eco-education program with me now for several years.  When I started working with Cougar Woods -- gosh now 7 years ago when my son Aidan started at Haycock -- I still knew ... well... not very much about gardening.   Steve and Kirsten are the worst offenders. They both tackle gardening with practiced ease.  Kirsten even knew what to wear, to garden, for heaven's sake.  Watching her float effortlessly around the Haycock raised beds, I knew I had miles to go before I slept.  And I admit it, I was envious. (By the way, she blames her Dad.)
Cougar Woods - a 3 sisters garden

But the moment that really "frosted me" (as my Mom would say -- and that's a gardening expression, you know ) was when Steve had the nerve to plant his daughter's Gr. 5 garden in the raised bed beside my son Dylan's Gr. 3 bed.  By early June, his bed looked like it came out of "better homes and gardens"... mine looked like we wouldn't survive to next week, let alone the winter.  My son's harvest event loomed in the foreground, but there was nothing to pick except ... two cherry tomatoes, and a bean (yes, one.)   I emailed Steve one day (afraid to ask in person) to find out how to explain the difference between my and his gardens to my son and his classmates, who would surely be crestfallen.  And he said, "Well, Kathy, all you can really do is tell the kids to think about their lessons on Jamestown, you know, when many of the early settlers couldn't adapt to planting in Virginia and died, but the survivors learned wisdom from the local tribes...."  Right, Steve.  Thanks a lot.  (Actually, his advice was brilliant -- the kids thought long and hard about this.)  And he shamed me into being sure we did a better job the next year.

Dylan with carrots he grew 2010
And you know, those school programs create little monsters.  Dylan -- yes, even my 10 year old son -- is partly to blame for this year's explosion of tomatoes and greenery at the Laurel Court House (as Lisa's family home is fondly named).  Instead of planting one seed in his little peat pot during our Cougar Woods planting session at his school this spring, he must have dumped in a handful.  So his 30 or so tomato sproutlings were carefully removed from their 3" wide pot and replanted (under his direct orders and with a modicum of assistance from him) -- twice now, and they will soon need their very own yard.  So if any Holmes Run neighbors have extra space... Olvy???  Actually Dylan insisted all his plants STAY. 

Oh... I promised a few nuggets of Gail's wisdom.  Fish fertilizer.  That's all you get for now.  You're going to have to suffer a bit, just like I did.  :)  And listen, if after all my boasting and whining you were expecting a Deauville--sized garden, sorry.  It's not THAT big.  But I've come a whole long way, baby.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


I think my readers will start to wonder...what's the story here with the farm's name?  Why is the film called something else??  I'm confused!  The names are not the point, perhaps... it's the history that is interesting... here's a brief snapshot as I understand it....

Alex loved birds, too
"Deauville Fallow Deer Farm" is the name that Gail's late husband, Alex Rose, called the property he acquired and developed into a fallow deer farming operation back in the 1990s.  Deer farming had become popular in the USA, although it has long been popular in the UK, Europe, and New Zealand.  In fact, humans have been farming fallow deer since Phoenician times.  Fallow Deer are a distinct breed of petite, relatively "manageable" deer that can't breed with our wild white tails or mule deer, so they have been allowed for farming in the USA. 

Why deer farming?  Alex had retired from the business world in the city and longed for a life in the country doing something interesting, something unusual, and deer farming fit the bill.  He did his homework on fallow deer and spared no expense in building a model operation, complete with a special barn for managing the deer if they needed to be captured for any reason (up on the hill behind the central pasture).  And special wildlife fences that will keep deer in place -- they're really expensive and are very much like the ones I saw for game reserves in Africa.  

Then there was what to call this new operation?  Apparently one of Alex's daughters (by a previous marriage) came up with the name, "Deauville" for her Dad's new passion.  It was a play on words of course (inspired by the does on the farm obviously.)  And she liked to think of the "Deauville" in France, a resort I believe.  

Gail & Alex Marry at Deauville
Gail shrugs at the name and the reasons it was chosen.  After all, it wasn't her name choice; she inherited it.  But ask her of Alex, and she has nothing but smiles and fondness, and sweet memories.  She met Alex at a country auction (she likes to joke that he bid on her) and after courting her for a time, eventually he asked her to marry him.   Gail had already spent quite a lot of time at the farm helping Alex out with the many tasks involving deer farming.  She'd grown attached to Alex and the farm, so she agreed.   In time, Gail also started to add her own little flourishes to the farm... a few chickens here and there (which apparently Alex adored)... followed by quite a few more... some vegetable gardens (Gail's passion as a master gardener.) followed by greenhouses, a giant pumpkin patch, blueberries (another whole story), an orchard.    Bit by bit, the farm as we know it today evolved.  Sadly, Alex passed away before his time.  But he made it clear to Gail that he wanted her to try to keep the deer farm going.  And that is what she has done.

Gail feeds deer for wedding guests
When I showed up and started the film project, I noticed that Gail's license plate on her old white chevy is "doeville."  This, more obvious name, is the right number of letters for a license, which I think is the only reason the plate says this and not the proper name of the farm.  But the visual "Doeville" stuck in my head and then I of course came up with all kinds of reasons why it was the perfect name for the film.

To me, Doeville is about a little town or "ville" that is populated by a lot of hardworking girls...  there's Gail, two female dogs, Sam and Cinder (they're sisters, and yes, Sam is a girl), a female cat named Psycho (watch out, she bites), lots of hardworking hens, plenty of female customers, and yes... a whole lot of does.   'Doe, a deer'... and all that.

Gail hand feeds a beautiful big buck they called "Daddy-O"
I ran this blog past Gail before publishing because there's lots of personal information here that I wanted to make sure I got right, and all she had to say was "Hey, we get a lot of great male customers too!"  And that is true.

So that's the story of the farm's name DEAUVILLE and the film's name DOEVILLE... and that's how the farm came to be. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Welcome to DOEVILLE... THE MOVIE, and the farm

Afternoon nap enjoyed by fallow deer buck and doe in Gail's herd
Hi folks,

At long last, the website and blog for my film, DOEVILLE, are up and running.  I hope you will subscribe so that you can follow the progress of the film, and even better, my updates on Gail and her beautiful farm, Deauville.

Among other curiosities, you'll learn about Blueberry the chicken, the difference between a Houdon and a Buff Orpington, why Gail doesn't grow orange pumpkins, why fallow deer come in many colors, and why Gail is lying when she says "I hate kids and I hate dogs."  I hope you'll pick up some valuable information about planting and growing vegetables and raising chickens for eggs and deer for venison -- the bits I can convey.  For the real wisdom, you have to go spend some time with Gail.  And finally, you'll learn a bit about what it's like to make a film.

Blueberry with camera
Blueberry, an extraordinary speckled sussex hen

Please note that this blog presents my observations, musings and opinions, not those of Gail Rose, although I will do my very best to convey accurately her work, and to the extent that I can, the motivations for her decisions.

I hope this blog will prove interesting for you -- those of you who know Gail or who have visited the farm will surely be curious.  If you can't get out to see her often enough (I know I feel this way and wish her farm was next door) then I hope I can help you feel just that little bit closer with my updates.

If you don't know Gail and haven't been to her lovely farm in the Shenandoah Valley, then I hope I will inspire you to make the trip.  It's an easy 2-hour drive from the DC metro area.  Painless, and so worth the effort. Imagine, you could soon be wandering rows of heirloom tomatoes, watching your kids collect eggs, and taking home some delicious food to prepare for your family or friends.  A visit to Gail's farm will nurture both your spirit and your body.

_MG_9020 - 2010-09-19 at 16-04-08
Gail Rose at Deauville

doevillexmas 1
Gail and Cinder with my son, Dylan, late December 2010
My updates probably won't be daily, but in these early days of the blog, I'm going to try to write some select memories from the months I've been filming -- since August 2010.  It's been an incredible experience for me getting to know Gail, and making this film.  It's an adventure I've been lucky to share with my two sons, Aidan (13) and Dylan (10).   To see the farm, and Gail, through their eyes too, is a great gift indeed.

For reasons I'll reveal in future blogs, this year is sure to be one of remarkable change, growth and transformation at Deauville... please join me as I document Gail's incredible story.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Chicks Have Arrived!

Araucana chick, about 3 days old
NOTE TO MY SUBSCRIBERS:  This is an historic blog entry that was part of an email I wrote when the baby chicks arrived at Deauville.  I will be adding quite a few historic blogs to this site to tell some of the backstory since I started filming last August 2010.  My blog should have been up and running ages ago...alas, my bad....

February 21, 2011... I'm happy to report that the chicks have arrived!  By some miracle, they came on President's Day, and a very dedicated postal worker received them in the little town of Mt. Jackson, and then called Gail to come pick them up.  Needless to say, we were shocked because we were only expecting them to ship from Iowa on Monday, and to arrive later this week.    Only one chick perished as a result of the stress of shipping -- and thankfully they were in transit for only a couple of days.  So we have 83 live little -- hopefully -- girls.

Doeville baby chicks 28email
I think this is a Houdan -- or a Polish -- crested, anyway!
Yesterday, with all the stresses of the day, they were very noisy for a few hours, but finally settled down for the night.   Today they seem much more settled and most of them are very sleepy.  They literally will fall over from a standing position, fast asleep.  Gail keeps a careful eye on them, checking them for blocked vents (poopy bums), and for any sign that they're not doing well.  But so far so good.

Doeville baby chicks 26
Chicks are happiest sleeping in a little pile
I'm attaching some photos... can't resist showing off our baby pictures.  Look out for the ones that look like they've got a pompom on their heads -- those are the crested breeds -- mottled Houdans (white head with black speckles), and Polish.  The ones that look like chipmunks (golden with brown stripes) are Araucanas -- the South American breed that has green legs and lays greenish blue eggs.  The colors are all off in these pictures because of the strong red light from the heat lamps.  I can't correct completely for it.

These girls will be producing eggs by next October or so, I think.