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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Pumpkin Comfort

I have never before thought of pumpkins as comforting. They are not cuddly, adorable or delightful bundles of energy like my darling grandbabies. They do not talk me through struggles like a good friend or warm my insides like a good cup of tea. But traipsing through a patch of these characters this past weekend reminded me of another facet of comfort, one that pumpkins embrace wholeheartedly: With all the changes in our world, it was good to see that pumpkins are still mostly orange.

Duh.

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No, I mean it. For those who play with genetic modifications, it must be tempting to make a purple pumpkin or a red one, or to elongate them like way-overgrown zucchinis, the kind that hide under those big leaves and you don’t find until they are as big as a baseball bat. Someone must be working on a seedless variety that will revolutionize the ritual of pumpkin-carving – imagine if you could draw the scary face on the side and be able to cut into it without having to deal with all those stringy, slimy, seedy guts that insist on adhering to the inside flesh?

Lots of things change in this world. They change at an astounding rate. Isn’t it nice to know that some things stay the same? There is comfort in sameness. Sugar is sweet. Rain is wet. Pumpkins are orange. All right, mostly orange. There are a few renegades in every group.

In Snohomish, Washington, we found a wonderful 40-acre pumpkin patch at Bob’s Corn and Pumpkin Farm. Bob’s grows corn and pumpkins, yes, but they seem to make their money (or at least a fair share of it) on people wanting to come and play amidst corn and pumpkins. They have newfangled, farm-themed tire swings

 

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a “trike track” in one of the barns with lots of little tricycles in many sizes

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a gigantic John Deere for climbing into, tubes to slide down, all sorts of yummy fall treats to indulge in (and take home) and a ten-acre corn maze with firepits and private areas for group gatherings. We will come back to the pumpkins, but for the moment, look at the aerial view of the maze and think about this.

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Their web site says, “We have a total of 18 firepits inside the maze which can be rented for private groups and birthday parties. We provide the firewood and tiki torches. We even build and maintain the fire for you, you get to sit back, relax and enjoy the evening.

“Bring your roasting sticks, food and supplies. Leave them at the group check in area on the north side of Bob’s Country store, and we will transport them to your firepit so you don’t have to carry them through the maze.

“When you are finished, leave them at your pit, enjoy the second half of the maze. When you return from the hayride, your supplies will be waiting for you in the group check in area on the north side of Bob’s Country store! How easy is that??”

I want to know: If there are 18 firepits within the maze, how do you find the firepit that has your name on it or that has been otherwise designated for you? Or do you just land at one and let them know you have arrived, and then they bring your stuff?

Wondering about the firepit protocol happened fleetingly for me. I saw the three staff members at the entrance of the maze (a fraction of the total work force present on the day of our visit), heard them telling some other visitors about this opportunity, registered the comments, thought “wow” and promptly transferred my attention to the forty acres of pumpkins next to the corn. Bradley and Piper and I explored a small part of it. Apparently there are 60+ varieties of pumpkins here.

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You have your Classics, and lots of these. They have smooth skin with longitudinal valleys, as if each pumpkin has its own special time zones. The ones we saw were not monster size, but maybe up to about 25 pounds. They are perfect for carving and setting on doorsteps, lots of different sizes. Bob’s gives you a wheelbarrow, by the way, for hauling your picks. I expect they have strong people who will put them in your barrow for you if you want, and probably then in your car.

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You have your Brights. Perhaps a gen-mod engineer had a little fun with this one (below)? It not only leans toward neon but also is rather flattish.

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You have your Gnarlies here and there.  Okay, maybe there’s more genetic modification going on than I thought at first. Just how do they get the green warts?

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I get that Bob’s wants to mix it up a little, so they throw down some seeds of these crazy kinds. This one has yellow warts, making the orange rind seem to veer toward the yellow end of the spectrum.

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If you showed the photo below to a hundred people, I think you would be hard pressed to find most of them saying quickly and definitively, “That’s a pumpkin.” Beth said it looked like a monkey’s butt. It is another orange that is desperately trying to be yellow instead. Just to stand out. You know how pumpkins can be.

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Most of the yellow ones turn orange eventually, the way you can see this green one on its way to becoming orange.

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Real pumpkins, big orange pumpkins, are comforting not only in their sameness. Think about 40 acres of pumpkins – what is going to happen to most of them? For a few weeks, some will decorate entryways, tabletops, fence posts, schools, hotels, stores and offices. Some will become jack-o-lanterns a day or so before Halloween. A few will become delicious pie – but not many. I wonder how many never leave the field they grew in. Think about what pumpkins say about the abundance of food in our land, that so much space can be given over to a crop that provides such a small amount of actual food value. How blessed we are.

A row of pumpkins anywhere, but especially along a cider donut stand, is one of the joys of fall. Maybe you’d like one of Piper’s donuts? Too late! All gone!

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