First Snow for the Chickens

Today it snowed! It doesn’t always snow when they say it will, but today the weather forecasters were right. We have at least six inches and it’s still coming down, which negated our plans to go see the Russian Ballet perform the Nutcracker on stage in Charlottesville this evening. I’m not sure I ever had to forfeit theater tickets before because of weather. But Samuel made his homemade pizza instead and that was quite a consolation.

Even if it wrecks your theater plans, snow is so beautiful.When it first started to blanket the cedar tree in the middle of the circle, I could see from inside the house the white Christmas lights through the light frosting of powder – it was magical. Outside it was very pretty too, but you could hardly see the lights.

I headed for the garden shed to get the snow shovels and realized that this was the first time my chickens have seen snow! They hatched at the beginning of this past March and were indoors for their first 6-8 weeks. How would they like it? What would they do?

What would you do if you were a chicken? Do you see any chickens?? I didn’t!

Oh, there they are! Underneath! I did not expect a snowy day to turn into an I-feel-proud-of-my-chickens day, but it did. I have Smart Chickens! My chickens stayed out of the snow!

The stuff is cold and wet! What did you expect??

Anyway where did all the bugs go?

I somehow expected the Sewing Circle to be this sensible. They are the bigger hens (which does not make them smarter, I know!), and their sheltered area leads directly into their coop. I’ve marked their little door leading inside, or where it starts anyway – it’s behind that post. I watched them and wondered if they would go inside or continue to tramp around in their very small un-snowed-upon area not wanting to get their cold feet. All they have to do is go up a small ramp from where they are and they will be fully sheltered inside the coop.

In no time they went in on their own, not quite sure what to do in there in the daytime. Normally they come in here only to sleep and to lay eggs. Hey, ‘scuse me, pardon me, looking for something to eat here!

To my delight the Bridge Club was also trying to stay dry! There they were, all huddled up in an even smaller un-snowed-upon area.

It’s cold, lady!

And there’s no way inside from here!

We’re stuck!

It’s true. The configuration of the new coop and run is different than the old one. To get inside, these chickens would have to venture into the white, wet stuff and then make their way up a much bigger, possibly slippery ramp. See it in this next photo?

Poor little silkies! You can tell from how fluffy their heads are that they did not get wet first and then seek shelter. Good little silkies! Why is it that I don’t feel as sorry for their coop-mates? Oh, right, that group includes the one that thinks she’s a rooster, croaking out a sickly sounding half-crow now and then, and the one that won’t let you catch her easily, even when you need to, and the one that insists on bullying the silkies every single morning when I let them out! (She still does, yes, and the silkies endure it…)

But one and all were cold and getting colder, so we picked them up (though none seemed the least bit happy about it), and put them inside their coop and shut the door against the wind. None of them had to get their feet wet or brave the ramp. When it gets warm again we should perhaps build them an easier way in, like a wheelchair ramp, long and gradual, nice and wide (well, maybe not wheelchair-wide!) so they don’t worry on their way up or down. Is this necessary? Would you do this for them?

Bored Chickens? Say It Isn’t So!

I asked Samuel to put an ax to a pumpkin yesterday. I did this because my Aunt Vivian gave me an idea. She suggested that my chickens might be bored. Bored??!! We can’t have that! Not in a place that proclaims unboringness to the world.

It had not occurred to me that chickens would be bored, could be bored, though I suppose on an unconscious level that’s possible? Vivian’s daughter Deb, my cousin, also keeps chickens, and apparently has had similar harassment problems among them. Let me assure you of what we all already knew: Chickens don’t learn. Despite her recent banishment because of harassing the silkies, yesterday morning I watched Goldyneck pull feathers out from Whitey’s tail! Just came along behind her for no apparent reason, right after I’d let them out for the day, and snatched and yanked at those fluffy feathers. I did not banish her this time, standing firm as I was (for the moment) in They will work it out. Whitey retreated to the under-coop space and Goldy minded her own business, for a while anyway.

Deb has mitigated the boredom-leading-to-harassment problem by putting a hay bale in the run, giving the chickens something to do. They’ll scratch at it and break it apart looking for something edible or at least interesting within. Okay, I’m on board. I’ll supplement They will work it out with Give them something to do. I had a bale available but remembered the pumpkins on the cottage deck.

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Yes, that thing to the left of the orange pumpkin is also a pumpkin. Some of you may recall my stating very clearly my preference for orange pumpkins back in October when I went to Bob’s Corn and Pumpkin Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Thanks to Sandy’s thoughtfulness, I came home from that trip to a variety of pumpkins decorating the outdoor space at the cottage, including this unconventional, clearly-not-orange one. It’s an unboring pumpkin – I’ll give it that!

Nonetheless its day had come. After Thanksgiving you have to do something with the pumpkins and other fall adornments you picked up while creating the harvest image, if you have them, which I don’t. (Oh right, I did buy one of those tiny gourds for the little round table in the cottage. I am aware that gourds don’t have feelings, but I still feel bad just chucking it into the woods…)

It is unclear to me why I thought I couldn’t break up this pumpkin myself. The image of Samuel swinging an ax while chopping cords of firewood, the whack of the blade against the hunk of wood, the crack of the splintering fibers unable to resist the force from above, yes, that’s probably what did it. Pumpkins however, especially old pumpkins, are not like wood. It doesn’t take much to break them. Just dropping this one on the ground got things going big time.

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But what the heck. He agreed and it was fun to watch him with the ax. Notice he does not yet have an audience.

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The first whack practically did the job. Had I done this myself, assuming I could lift the ax high enough to come down where it needed to, assuming enough accuracy not to just land the blade in the straw, bemoaning my weak arms all the while, I might have managed a similar split, then flipped it, cut side up, and given the other one to the Sewing Circle – half a pumpkin for each group of chickens, as I did with the watermelon – and stopped there, called it a day.

But no. Whack away, son of mine! The birds began to be curious.

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By the time he was done breaking up half for the Bridge Club and half for the Sewing Circle, there were scattered pieces of pumpkin, a way better situation anyway so that you don’t have them all crowding around one mass of food and possibly competing and showing each other who’s bigger or pushier. This would clearly defeat the purpose of the pumpkin giving them something to do so that they annoy each other less.

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Boring is a slippery slope to me, always has been. I bristled against the word when my children were small. They seldom used bored to describe themselves to me or to complain perhaps because they tried it once or twice (for sympathy maybe, or for a kind of attention?) and when they said it, breathed the very word, I immediately replied with something like, “Here’s a broom. How about sweeping the floor?” They soon learned to occupy their time in engaging and rather more pleasurable ways.

Time is short. We don’t know what’s around the next bend. And the world is so rich, so full of interesting things to do and learn and see and taste and feel and laugh about and listen to and ask questions about and marvel at! How is boredom possible in such a world? We are limited only by our willingness – within our individual capacities of course – to think, to imagine, to stretch, to wonder, to engage, to love, to serve, to explore. And of course by our obstinacy, as in doggedly determining that Boredom will not reside here. Not even in my chicken coops!

Hmmm, what’s this!!??

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It’s a hunk of something that wasn’t here before, sister! Have at it! What a life, eh? Never a dull moment!! 

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The Chicken Conundrum: Part 2

I woke this morning to the sound of rain. It was still dark. I did not immediately remember the small rug I had hung out over the back-deck railing last night because it had gotten wet from the leaking (unbeknownst-to-me-turned-off) freezer – it is surely wetter now. I did not remember the itty-bitty splinters in my hands from when the front porch was wet (and a bit icy) yesterday morning and I had slipped and caught myself by reaching for the rough cedar siding of the house. Instead my mind flashed to the chickens – dry in their coops now, but not for long!

Bedraggled is the best word for them when they have been standing in the rain, seemingly oblivious to it, for even a short while. I can provide them a palatial coop, I can make sure they have space under it to escape nasty weather, but I cannot keep them from getting wet.

Do you see the beginning of what was already a bad hair day starting to get worse? This photo, taken on another wet day back when the leaves were still green, shows the clumps and points and spikes beginning. In the rain, the silkie’s crown of fluffy feathers gets clumpier and clumpier, pointier and pointier, spikier and spikier and ultimately flatter and flatter. Hey, that’s my crown you’re talking about!silkie9.18 (2) beginning of bad hair day.jpg

No offense, Missy, but there’s not a lot of brain in your fluffy head.

Then I opened my phone and saw Claudia’s thoughtful response to my recent Banishment-Harassment Conundrum post. Regarding what to do with Goldyneck, my black copper maran that unmercifully harasses the silkies in her coop, was banished therefrom and subsequently reunited with the smaller hens, Claudia wrote:

Great observation and great metaphor for social analysis. Analogies help us think, they unfold a truth and point out connecting and turning points. But at one point a chicken stays a chicken and a human being – convicted or not – is a human being with the ability to think, feel and change if that human being recognizes a need to change plus receives the needed support. That is the pedagogy and assumption in me. Chickens on the other hand follow their instincts. Goldyneck will be at the lowest level in her new society until someone newer and weaker than her joins. If you keep her at her new place much longer – guess what – I think she will be the new one again and start from the lowest position. Sociology. No logical thinking patterns in chickens, no rational thinking just instincts, NO empathy. That’s where the original analogy ends and where we need to look for a new one that helps us think further and put our findings into understanding. How about a heart: We as humans have the ability to feel and build emotions in various contexts. Chickens don’t have that part – they “feel” pain because of their neural system but they are missing the emotional heart.
Thank you for making us think!

To which I say:

On the contrary, my friend — you are the one making us think.

Any analogy we make (including the one I had made comparing chickens to humans) goes only so far. Always, always, let us remember that behind every statistic, behind every story, there are individuals who act in certain ways in part because they are genetically programmed that way (we breathe to get air into our bodies, we run from fire because we naturally self-preserve) and in part because it’s what we individually want (for dinner, say) or what we thought would be the best course of action (such as quitting a job or choosing a mate). The thinking part distinguishes us from our feathered friends.

Chickens lean heavily, almost exclusively, toward the actions that are genetically programmed (pick on the little guy to establish pecking order). The image of Goldyneck being excluded from the watermelon circle,

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watching the others play out the who-invited-you? scenario, kept coming back to me, indeed weighed on me. In sixth grade – I remember it as if it were yesterday, there we were in the elementary school gym – as I myself attempted to merely stand with a small group of girls (I was not trying to share the watermelon!), those were the words I heard: “Who invited you?”

Unlike Goldy, who in her chicken-ness is alone but probably clueless as to why, I, being human, felt the pain of that exclusion. It reached my emotional heart and lodged there and over time turned into an understanding of human pecking order, as real as chicken pecking order, and a bristling within myself whenever I see anything that resembles this kind of behavior practiced maliciously.

But as emotionally challenging as my own experience was back then, my ability to reflect/think/reason kicked in regarding Goldyneck. She is never going to learn. And as Claudia so beautifully pointed out, all her relocation will accomplish is simply a different pecking order. Within hours of posting the first conundrum blog I came to this same conclusion, and I put Goldyneck back where she had started, with her Bridge Club, among her silkie girlfriends.

They’ll work it out, I said to myself. In their primitive way, the silkies will find a way to hold their own — as by extension, all of us who are deemed “lesser” somehow will do with whatever emotional and social capacities we have (or don’t have) naturally within us or (let us hope) we have developed over time. There will always be those who are bigger, stronger, more powerful, more strategically placed — and more bent on asserting such. It has never been otherwise, and never will be. We all simply do the best we can with what we have wherever we are. Or at least we should be trying to do the best we can. Regarding How to think and How to feel – let us never imagine that we have arrived at the pinnacle of either, but always know we have a ways to go in improving both.

Upon approaching the coop this morning as daylight increased and rain slackened, I observed the Bridge Club – the smaller chickens just waiting to be let out, curious about me on the other side of the wire. Goldyneck was among them, waiting too, curious too, behaving as you would hope, minding her own business.

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I went around to the other side and opened the egg door. She was the first one out, loaded with energy, scuttling around on her two funny feet. Then didn’t she find a silkie to peck!! She comes up from behind and grabs hold of the feathers on the back of the silkie and pulls a bit. For no apparent reason! This poor thing, the one we call Spot, was the harassed one this time, but she managed to distance herself and find a place of peace under the coop. (Do note her dry head at this time — they had emerged just minutes ago from the coop.)

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The way of the world is not so nice sometimes, but she found her corner. We all find our corners. Goldyneck continued to traipse around the run, but for as long as I stayed out there refilling food and water, she didn’t bother any of her coop-mates again. Who knows what moves her to annoy the others? Who knows why she stops? There are some things you cannot know, some things to just leave alone (until she gets my dander up again!).

When I returned an hour later – after the rain had started up again, after the not-overly-bright birds had stood in it for a while, I saw the natural outcome of small brains + rainy weather. As Sandy so aptly remarked: Punk is alive and well 😊

Hey, that’s my crown you’re talking about!

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The Chicken Banishment-Harassment Conundrum

Pecking order is a very real thing. What should I do with a bully chicken that has been unmercifully pecking the silkies recently? This is the question of the day. I gave the offender, Goldyneck, time-out by putting her in the coop with the big girls, and I know very well that her brain is miniscule and will not in any way connect her new location to her crime. I also know that the tables have turned and she is the one now subject to bullying, shunning and other downsides of her present banishment.

For example, I had a small watermelon in the fridge that sadly I had not been able to get to last week, and it was a bit soft. You don’t want soft watermelon, to say nothing of the vague strangeness of eating watermelon in November, which I could handle better if the fruit were not bordering on mushy. But the combination of too-soft plus nip-in-the-air put me over the edge and the watermelon went to the chickens.

Clearly Miss Goldyneck is being left out here. C’mon, girlfriends, let me have some!

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She circled around and tried to come at it from the other side.

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Forget it, sister. No one invited you. They are not making room for her, no way. Finally she gave up and walked away.

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Not only that. I went in later to give them some other food – fabulous picked chicken carcasses that my local deli manager ok’d me taking home. (I was at the deli and saw that they had pulled the meat off the rotisserie chickens for chicken salad. Those carcasses were just sitting there… I asked for them and they kindly gave them to me and my mother said, “You have no shame.” I said My chickens will love this stuff! They will pick every possible bit of what’s edible off these bones! It’s protein. They eat bugs!)

Anyway, I went in to give them a portion of these bones that I brought home and didn’t see Goldyneck. A slight moment of panic was followed by a glimpse of black feathers.

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No, she wasn’t dead, she was hiding under the coop. I scattered the carcass bones such that she could get to some of them without problem. There was enough to go around. (Thank you, my deli manager!) My poor offender got some, no doubt.

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You don’t know what it’s like for me! These monster chickens are always bothering me! Save me! (So I can go back to bothering the silkies!)

Are you feeling sorry for her yet? Part of me does, I admit. But I am torn. This is the same chicken who was harassing my silkies in the other coop. While saving the silkies from harassment, I am subjecting the harasser – who has no capacity to see reason – to the same. In protecting victims, I create a victim. The obvious parallels to our human prison systems do not escape me.

Chances are also good that in the silkies are now being harassed by the second most aggressive chicken in the Bridge Club, who is relieved that Goldyneck is gone so she can practice her own techniques. I might not have made anything better. I don’t know if this is true, but it could be, and I will continue to watch this drama unfold.

Last night I went to check on them after dark and found the shunning continuing. There she is, by herself, under the roosting ledge, alone in the world!shunned 2_LI (2).jpg

There are no easy answers to this situation, but your thoughts are appreciated. I don’t know what to do!

Chicken Time-Out

It isn’t every day you get mad at a chicken. But today, on this cold Thanksgiving morning (32F), while other people are already basting the birds in their ovens, I was trying to discipline one in my coop. I had to – again! – put Goldyneck in time-out. Do chickens learn? Will she cease and desist her bullying if she gets a taste of her own medicine?

Probably not. Like people, chickens are who they are, and some of them are nastier, pushier, more aggressive. Some are meek and go about their own business and don’t randomly peck other chickens on the back! I have never been able to tolerate a bully.

This is the culprit.

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She’s very pretty. The chicks we got in March included this one, a mix – part silkie, part black copper maran – and no other chicken I have has visible traits of both. You see the bad hair day going on – though not as bad as the silkies – on top of her head. And of course the shiny black feathers of the maran, though hers are fluffier than the other marans.

Goldyneck does not pick on the other marans. They are bigger than she is, being pure maran (her silkie half means she is smaller). The other day I caught her pecking at a silkie. In particular she was pecking at One-Eye, the silkie we almost lost to an eye infection when she was just a few weeks old. Bullying is bad enough, but bullying the weakest among her group was too much for me. I’ll show her a thing or two about bullying.

I banished her. I did not go so far as to relocate her to the woods – I’d have to be really mad for that. But I put her into the other coop I call the Sewing Circle because they almost all have distinctive feathers circling their necks. Here she would have to mix with the brahmas, Rhode Island reds, cinnamon queens and the lone old gray auracana – all of which are bigger than the marans. I wondered what would happen.

Sure enough, a few hours later I came out to bring some scraps to them, and all the Sewing Girls came toward the door, eager to see what I might bring. Goldyneck was right there with them, but the space there is tight. She is smaller and was closest to the door, closest to me, and within seconds not one, not two, but three of her coop-mates gave her a peck on the back – a very clear signal. Move, sister! Move to the back of the line! You do not rate the front of the line! Back she went!

Later, when all had put themselves to bed after dark, I went to check on them. Another form of you-do-not-rate was in effect – shunning! Here she is, farthest back, apart from the rest. Hanging her head no less!!

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I let her spend the night in this purgatory and in the morning decided she could rejoin the Bridge Club, her own group so named because most of them are bantams (smaller breeds of chickens). B for Bantam. B for Bridge Club. (Sewing Circles and Bridge Clubs are both groups of ladies, and we must differentiate. We must help our brains with tricks!)

I was hopeful, as I am ever hopeful, with most things, though a friend did say Chickens Don’t Learn. A full day went by. I was busy and did not spend much time in close observation. I was busy enjoying my cottage guests who were enjoying my chickens. How it thrills me when people – especially young people – hold them, watch them, have fun. The silkies are especially docile and love to be picked up. Okay, maybe loved is too strong a word. They graciously tolerate it. Most of the time.

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Then this morning, immediately upon letting the Bridge Club out of their house/palace, didn’t Goldyneck immediately start pecking on a silkie! It got my dander up, so I moved her again. She was clearly confused. In this image, she is perhaps appealing to the marans on the other side of the barrier fence in her own chicken way.

Hey, how come I’m over here and y’all are over there? Wait, this isn’t right. I’m all alone!

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Not for long. Surely having heard the hullabaloo, the Sewing Circle then woke up.

Oh, no, here they come. Help!

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It wasn’t long before they started showing her whose space this is. First a red, then a brahma. The pecking happens really fast – definitely a peck-and-run technique – so these images, blurred as they are, will have to suffice in showing what I mean. Better move!

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Goldyneck tried to get out of the way, but she stuck close to the fence that divides her from the chickens she would love to be with/dominate. The reds are after me! Do something! Then she turned around and a brahma gave her that proverbial taste of her own medicine. Gotcha!

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Generally I am a tender-hearted person, and I am aware that this action of mine may forever affect your impression of me. The good and the bad will be weighed, and then someone will say Yes, but remember that time she left that poor chicken in with the big girls! But let it be understood that I also removed the offending chicken from those she was bullying! And then I walked away. I did. We will see what happens….

A Silkie Walks the Plank

Finish the coop, for crying out loud! Then we’ll go in!

This, possibly, is what half of my chickens were thinking for the past four months. I know it’s unlikely. The MO of chickens in general does not include much thinking. But I stand firm with the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, firm in believing impossible things, especially before breakfast.

           “Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”

            “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

In any case, they finally – most of them, most of the time – go into the finished coop at night.  Yes, it’s finished. We put the chop saw away.

Possibly now that it’s colder the birds are further incentivized – it was 39F when I went out before breakfast this morning. The half of my chickens that I refer to is my Bridge Club — the silkies, d’uccle and black copper marans. (The Sewing Circle – the old auracana, Rhode Island reds, cinnamon queens and brahmas – have gone into their own coop at night from the start, though possibly the old girl led them.)

What’s funny is watching the Bridge Club come out in the morning. As I approach the coop area, I see them through the large window on the side. Do you? That’s Miss D’uccle standing front and center.

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As I get closer, I see her competing for the window space with a black copper maran in front of her and a silkie behind her.

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To let them out, I lift the door that slides up and down behind the egg door by way of a string attached to an eye hook inside.

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They’ve seen me. They hear me. They are waiting with bated breath.

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C’mon! Hurry up!

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Out! Freedom!

They can hardly get out fast enough. In a matter of seconds they are out the door and on the ground. They don’t go down the ramp. They jump off the platform with wings out. They land. They keep going. Move, sister!

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Hey, I was first!

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We’re coming too!

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All except for one.

One white silkie is not so sure. She does this every day. Hey, where’d y’all go?! It’s really quite cozy in here. Can’t we stay in a while longer?

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Again today, she stayed and thought about it. She shuffled. She hemmed. She hawed.

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Finally she ventured. Sort of.

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The others were by now busy fanning forth, finding food, feeling fine, facing fate, flaunting feathers, fluttering fancifully, forgiving faults, fostering friendships and formulating fragments of fowl facts for future fame.

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Not Whitey. She’s still fearing, fussing, fretting, frowning. Fully two minutes after the others impatiently poured out, she finally stuck her head out. The following photos show the next two more solid minutes that it took her to get to the bottom.

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But it’s cold out here!

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Fine. All right. If I have to.

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But I’m telling you, I don’t want to. Why can’t we just stay inside?? Oh, seriously, now you want me to walk this plank!

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Are you kidding? I’m going to break my neck!

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Okay, I’m coming. See, I’m two steps down already. Don’t rush me!

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I told you, I’m coming. Hold your horses. Save me some food. I’m coming…

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This is the bottom. Almost. Now I suppose I have to keep going. Bother this daytime routine. Hmmm. Anything interesting happening over there? Yeah, don’t worry, I can see it from here just fine.

Oh, wait. Do you think I’m sexy? What about if I stretch out my neck like this?

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No, no, I’m not posing. I’m not in any way enjoying the attention I’m getting from the human who keeps clicking something. I’m just thinking about my next move. I’m just showing my sisters how it’s done, how you make a grand entrance, how you show the world you’re worth waiting for.

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What are you looking at?

It’s not so easy, you know, being me.

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I could step onto that straw right now if I wanted to. I just don’t want to. Not yet. What’s the big deal about straw?

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Why am I a chicken? How did I draw the straw to become a chicken? I should be a princess. Then they would listen to me. This chicken business is not really fun. Bugs again we get for food. Corn. Leftovers here and there. Okay, the cantaloupe yesterday was nice, I admit. More fresh fruit would be good. More lobster! Where’s the lobster??

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You have yourself a nice day! I’m going to go get my breakfast now.

A Dead Man and a Pipe

When you want to make a barrier, you have to make it strong. Sometimes you have to use a dead man to hold it fast, to make it stronger than it would be otherwise. Before today, I did not know how to do this. Before today, “dead man” had only one meaning for me. But now I am confident I understand when it makes good sense to use another kind of dead man.

I was up late last night listening to the rain falling on the newly graded front yard that was not yet finished. Joe had said a little rain wouldn’t hurt anything and would in fact make that loose soil more compact, but I worried anyway. I’d spent $500 to rent the mini-excavator for the weekend and wanted full use of it. No rain allowed! No daytime rain anyway.

I woke up raring to go, thinking we’d get as far as digging post holes for the front porch today. I made a bacon/spinach/swiss cheese quiche to have for lunch while waiting for the guys to get here. Sandy and I then started with moving some liriope and rocks from around the big oak tree. When you move a big rock, there are often lots of bugs underneath it. A feast for a silkie! I went and got one lucky chicken. Oh, how we amuse ourselves!

 

This is One-Eye, the hen we thought we lost when she had an eye infection as a very young chick. She did not like the 4x-daily eye dropper with antibiotic, I can tell you. And she looked quite sickly for a while. But she lives and she hunts and she pecks!

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Our entertainment for today also included a native creature, Mr. Toad.

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We got the brilliant idea that Mr. Toad would like to meet Miss Silkie. This did not work out so well. She took one look at him and

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turned the other way. They weren’t the slightest bit interested in one another. You can tell from her dirty face that she has been enjoying bugs in the dirt though!

This photo gives a better idea of today’s work area. The stick laying down on the dirt between the tree and the house is where the new porch will come to, 6 feet out from the house.

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After Joe came, he got on his Tonka Toy and played with dirt for a while, moving it here and there, compacting it, preparing the place where we would put a retaining wall. There is no way we would have accomplished what we did today without Joe, without this machine and without Joe’s skill on this machine.

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Because of the slope of the land and the driveway going down along the side of the house, a retaining wall is necessary. Five 12’ 6×6 pressure treated pieces of lumber would do the trick; anyway Lowe’s didn’t have any railroad ties. The first piece we put in, perpendicular to the house from the corner, we had to move. The porch is going to come out from the corner, and you can’t dig a post hole and pour concrete into it if you have a retaining wall there. So we moved it a foot or so inward, closer to where Joe is on the machine.

Once the first 6×6 was in, level and squared to the house, it was time for the second layer, including (the moment you’ve been waiting for!) the dead man! Why is it called a dead man? Your guess is as good as mine, but that’s the name for a long, buried object used as an anchor in constructing walls. It will keep it from leaning when the weight of earth, especially wet earth, pushes against it. The dead man goes back twice as far as you see; Joe got busy covering it in dirt before I could snap a photo.

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In our case the dead man is part of the second layer of the wall next to a short length of perforated pipe. We put screening across the back end of the pipe; the whole thing will be covered in gravel tomorrow, then landscape fabric, then dirt, and will help carry water away from this area. The pipe was a little taller than the wood, so Sandy used the heat gun to soften the plastic just enough for it to press down under the weight of the third layer.

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Each layer was secured to the one beneath it by use of timberlocks, which are long, heavy screws that sink into the wood so the next layer can lay flat on top.

By level four we were moving quickly both because we could robotically drill-timberlock-drill-timberlock all the way down the line and because my cottage guests had returned and were building a fire in their fire pit and I was worried our noise would disturb them. Drills are loud. But they kindly said it was all fine and asked a lot of questions later about the project. That was nice!

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We decided that five levels would be enough. It’s way more than was there before, and has a drain, which the old wall didn’t have either.

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Next we will fill in the gravel over the pipe, finish grading and dig post holes!! I know (I know!) it’s not normal to get excited about mixing concrete, but in my mind I can see what each step leads to – a beautiful new front porch! – and this makes it very exciting.

I’m not saying I don’t also get a thrill from seeing the incremental changes one by one, from digging shovelfuls of dirt, checking if the board is level, bearing down on timberlocks to get them through the wood (though I wished I was stronger for that task!) and learning about dead men. I do. I love having stared at this area for a long time, wishing there was a nice porch, and now watching it become a reality. I get to not only see the transformation, but also to work alongside and help make it happen. I am so grateful and happy that I am not just watching. For me the same thing happens when a tennis tournament is on TV. I can watch it for about five minutes and then I want to get out and play!

And By September…

The geese are calling to each other in their southward journey. The chill in the air made me put on a long-sleeved shirt this morning. My toes are asking for booties. Claudia is making amazing apple strudel. It must be September!

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Yesterday the sun shone and the sky was blue-blue for the first time in a while – all grave danger of hurricane Florence seeming to have stayed distant and now passed. Maybe the rain we did get helped my property look especially splendorous to me recently, or maybe it’s that I’m going away to visit my children and grandbabies and therefore am imprinting images with especial effort. In any case, I am struck with awe not only at the beauty around me, but also at how things have grown by September.

First and foremost, I have never seen coleus get so huge, let alone in my own planter boxes! Planted in April (the ones toward the back with the multi-colored leaves), by June my show-offs looked like this:

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By July:

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Relocated because of the upcoming Big Dig, and placed next to each other, they now look like this:

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Happy plants, to be sure! Perhaps the chrysanthemum is in competition with the coleus. It is a holdover from last year, having survived not only the winter but also being transplanted to a new box. It is close to bursting into color, though I will miss the peak I expect.

This was in May. You can hardly see it, but just in front of the beets, closest to the seat on the end of the box, that’s the mum.

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By last week, Mums Gigantus!

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And today. The bursting of color begins!

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The scarlet flame caladium doesn’t get as much sun and has not even trebled in size, but its colors are glorious.

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Speaking of glorious, this butterfly has a most amazingly delicate transition from blue to black on its wings.

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Fall seems a good time for spots of color. The marigolds were also gigantic this year, as is clear in this photo with Rise about six weeks ago:

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But their splendor is perhaps best appreciated up close.

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The lemon grass also went crazy, but no crazier than usual. I gave it its own bed this year.

Here it is in May, just planted (foreground bed).


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And in June.

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And today. You can’t even see its bed!

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You almost wonder what’s lurking inside there!

What’s lurking is the same thing that’s lurking inside them all – life! Here we are, every one of us, with life and beauty all around us, a gazillion different examples, we and they all enjoying moments, catch as catch can, in the sun, in the rain, no matter the situation. If we have open hearts, beauty will make itself clear at almost every turn.

Lobster Yolks

On Labor Day I went to a Lobster Fest and came home with three bags full of claws, heads, bodies, guts and other assorted lobster leftovers. I give everybody who comes – no, not lobster leftovers! – I give all family and friends and all cottage guests the chickens-eat-everything spiel, so I put it to the test. Will chickens eat lobster? You bet they will!

(For future reference, do note the color of the lobster shell.)

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Let’s be reasonable though, one bag at a time. If I hadn’t been worried about how long it would take leftover lobster to start stinking up my downstairs fridge, tightly tied up though the bags were, I might have allotted half a bag at a time. But a predetermined plan to do that wouldn’t have mattered. By the time I emptied half the bag, I knew they’d get it all. The chickens in most cases get super excited when you give them food (any food will do!) and that keeps you giving them more and more if you can. Poor babies – you’d think they were half-starved the way they beg! Plus, the bag is icky and all you want to do is finish giving the Sewing Circle half the bag and the Bridge Club the other half, and then throw that bag away!

Yes, Sarah, thank you – I love your names for my two groups of hens. Traditionally, ladies sewed in small circles and ladies formed clubs to play bridge together, and my hens are ladies. Besides the eggs that put them in the female camp, I can call them ladies because they are mostly quiet but sometimes squawk, they walk gracefully around thinking/knowing/showing how beautiful they are and they tend to form little groups or clubs among themselves (and not always for benign purposes but sometimes, like Wives of Atlanta or Wives of New York, to establish and maintain pecking order, which is not always pretty, thus the fence between the two groups!). And some of them, like my silkies, are having a bad hair day every day. You may recall.

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I like Sewing Circle for the brahmas, cinnamon queens, Rhode Island reds and the lone araucana (old Miss Gray) – the white ones to the left in the first photo – because some of them (the brahmas and the cinnamon queens) have distinctive darker feathers on their heads like a hood, which makes a kind of circle around their necks. I like Bridge Club for the silkies, black copper marans and lone d’uccle because some of them (the silkies and the d’uccle) are in that distinct grouping of chickens called Bantams (lightweights). My brain, along with everything else it remembers and processes, can make short work of Sewing Circle: circle and Bridge Club: Bantam. I think it’s brilliant.

As previously blogged, the Sewing Circle dove into the first round of lobster leftovers with a vengeance, but the Bridge Club was strangely reluctant. It’s all the same to me. Who am I to say that anyone or any chicken should eat lobster or some other decadent, succulent, protein-rich food? Chickens love bugs. They hunt all day for them, prize them, devour them. And what is a lobster but a big, waterbound bug?

But I think the Bridge Club came around. In fact, I have the idea that one chicken lorded it (ladied it??) over the others and got the lion’s share of the meat, and the guilty party is Miss D’uccle. Here she is. Does that look like a face you want to mess with?

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Why do I think this? Miss D’uccle is small, the smallest of the smalls. This does not stop her from being possibly the most obnoxious of all the birds, yakking all day long. I sometimes remind her that I ousted the roosters on account of their noise! Nonetheless she is a contributing member of the flock, though it stands to reason that she would also lay the smallest of the eggs. Can you pick out which one is hers?

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That’s right, it’s the whitish one near the top next to that speckled one. That’s some variety of color, size and speckledness, no? I think they are so beautiful!

For the contrast, I broke the huge whitish one first (it is actually pale greenish, but my lighting is poor and doesn’t make the subtle difference clear). Then I broke the d’uccle egg. Guess who’s been hogging the lobster! Or maybe just got more than her share?

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I broke three or four more eggs, all of which were more orange that the huge one but none as orange as Miss D’uccle’s. When beat up, however, they made this rich color. You hardly ever see the likes of that when you are about to scramble eggs. (I promise I did not retouch this photo – I’m lucky I know how to insert them!)

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Now I ask you – are my chickens eating better than most chickens? Better than the chickens whose eggs you eat? Granted, lobster for dinner is a rarity, especially for chickens. But we take what we get and I took the lobster. Kinda makes me want to ask for more leftovers, whatever they might be…

Picky Chickens

I have had chickens for a grand total of almost ten years and today I saw something new. Let me back up.

Chickens love to eat. They eat all day long. They are forever scratching around looking for a bug or some crumb they missed the hundred other times they scratched in that spot. When I worked at the hotel I brought them buckets of carrot peels, old bread, cheese ends gone hard, table scraps, slightly wilty lettuce. Whatever the cooks had that would otherwise have gone in the food trash, they put in a five-gallon bucket for me to bring to my chickens. I had the best-fed and happiest chickens ever. I never saw the hens refuse anything that remotely looked green or like protein except what they physically could not manage, like the woody ends of asparagus or broccoli. Those they left. Everything else they devoured.

I went to a lobster fest today. Lobster, mussels, sausage, corn on the cob, salad, watermelon, amazing desserts. While we were making a mess with the lobsters and people were starting to finish up their plates and put them toward the center of the round table, I remembered my chickens. Wouldn’t they love this?

The manager ok’d it, so I went home with three bags full of leftovers. I thought the chickens would pick incessantly at those lobster shells for any remnant of meat left in them – same as they would with a chicken bone (sad but true), a t-bone or a pork chop bone. Some of them did! Good, normal chickens these are.

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But some of them didn’t!

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The silkies walked away, the d’uccle walked away, the black copper maran just looked at it.

Who rejects lobster?? Colonial prisoners protested, this we know. No, not lobster again! It’s true. Back in the day, way, way back in the day, when people committed crimes on Cape Cod and were put into prison, they were fed the cheapest, most abundant food, which at that time was lobster. Apparently the waters teemed with the meaty crustaceans. Lobster was like junk. After a while, the prisoners wanted something else – understandable to me because I’m not exactly a lobster fan myself (the salmon today was delicious!), but that’s not the point! These are chickens! They eat anything!

In the meantime, I do think I have some very grateful DEER! At dinnertime, two deer were grazing close to the house on the same side as the watermelon graveyard!

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Do you see them? I watched, tried to take decent photos from inside so as not to scare them (but failed, I know, on account of the screen and the window between us) and then my heart jumped as the young buck on the right headed straight for the graveyard!

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He must have smelled the rinds I pitched there earlier. (Sandy wanted to take a picture of me doing this, and did, well before the deer came along, meaning I did not expect to be glad for this picture!)

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I’ll see what’s left of the lobster when I go check the chickens tomorrow. Maybe the ones who rejected it just had to warm to the idea. Maybe just before I arrived with my gift to them, they had just found a massive stash of fresh bugs and were full. We’re full and watching out waistlines. Maybe later we’ll pick at the lobster… Maybe they don’t see what the fuss is all about. Lobster, so what? Maybe they realized instantly that it’s soooo decadent they have to eat it in private. No one’s looking, right? I can eat my lobster now??

I wonder what I’ll find…