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!

What To Do With the Roosters!

Chickens fit in my world because they are definitely unboring. For one thing, they are entertaining. They start with being funny looking. This is a young silkie.

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To add to the entertainment, they walk like aliens, sleep standing up, eek out pathetic noises, scratch incessantly to find worms and bugs, and compete hilariously with their coop-mates for every last scrap you throw in there. My carrot peel! No, mine!

Chickens are messy. They poop often and indiscriminately, kick their bedding all around, and redistribute food to all corners of their area. They don’t care if they are wet (yesterday’s ridiculous birds in the rain being a prime example) and they peck you randomly if you hang around in their run, as if your pants leg might have something good to eat on it.

And chickens give you eggs! I know some people don’t like eggs, but most people do, and there are a thousand ways to make them and make otherwise unmakeable dishes with them. For example, macaroni pie – a great thing to do with leftover pasta. Sometimes I make a little extra pasta just to have leftovers, just so I can make macaroni pie. Isn’t language a funny thing? Pasta and macaroni are the same thing. But I make pasta for dinner and macaroni pie with the leftovers of the same thing!

How easy for me to get distracted today by subject of food. I had every intention of continuing the coop construction tale. Instead, I’d rather to go on and on about the virtues of eggs in cooking – not because I don’t want to talk about the coop construction but because I am in avoidance/distraction mode altogether, still struggling with the “relocation” of three roosters yesterday.

Okay, allow me to be more precise: Hens give you eggs! And all I wanted in the first place was fresh eggs. So what do you do with the roosters? They don’t give eggs, they make a lot of obnoxious noise, they boss around all the other birds. Ultimately they make more chicks, which I surely don’t need. If my chickens were truly free range, I could maybe see having a rooster as a kind of protector. But I didn’t want them, don’t want them. The problem is that few people can tell male from female when they are a day old, unless the coloring is different, as with the cinnamon queens. Only the females have the chipmunk-like markings.

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With most chicks, you take your chances and it can be months before you can tell. Sure enough, sooner or later, roosters get bigger than the hens and sprout the comb on top of their heads. This is the biggest brahma rooster.

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Hens don’t have that funny red thing, which is funny, but not AS funny as what turkeys have. What is all that hanging stuff for?!

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This pic is from a recent visit to Yoder’s in Madison, Va. Their petting zoo, by the way, is a favorite spot for me to take visitors. They have goats and llamas and peacocks and turkeys! And you can get an ice cream cone in numerous great flavors (mine is always chocolate, but that is another story) packed full, not a cheap portion, for such a good price.  Their Rueben sandwich is also worth the trip.

See, there I go with food again because I don’t want to face the roosters.

I thought I was lucky because up till a few weeks ago, when the chicks were three months old, I had not heard any crowing or noticed any considerable size difference. I admit I probably overlooked the slow emergence of the red combs on the tops of their heads. What do I know about brahmas anyway? Maybe they are different from other breeds and brahma females have this sometimes?

Once they crow, there’s no denying it. That’s a rooster. Oh no, that’s three roosters! Three out of six. Oh, no! Two of the d’uccles are roosters too! Should I be surprised? How likely is it that out of 32 chicks, none should be male? I had been in dreamland thinking I got that lucky.

Why can’t I be like Renee Zellweger in the movie Cold Mountain? She is the strong, afraid-of-nothing Civil War mountain girl “Ruby Thewes” who comes upon Nicole Kidman, proper young lady of greatly reduced circumstances crouching in terror of a “devil rooster.” Ruby picks up the rooster, snaps his neck and says (perfectly!) “Let’s put ‘im in a pot.”

I can’t do it. I was working my way up to finding a YouTube video on how to kill a chicken (knowing I couldn’t do it Ruby’s way), working up the nerve to even watch the video! I posted an ad on craigslist – I would happily give them away, and that would be way cleaner. I asked every person I knew who might possibly want them if they might possibly want them or knew someone who might possibly want them. Those in the know were clear with me that there are three legitimate purposes for roosters: dinner, lawn ornament and fertilizer of eggs. I want none of those. And no one else wanted them. Every day they were still here, I was aware of the passing of time and my own inability to manage this conundrum.

So yesterday morning, after exhausting other options, I decided to let nature take its course, in a manner of speaking. Chickens are historically jungle birds, I was told, and it’s not a great leap from jungle to forest. I have a perfectly good forest all around my house. We have wild turkeys in this forest – surely these he-man roosters can’t have terribly different defenses. (Note the steps of justification.) So confession time: Before I lost my nerve, yes, the three brahma roosters were successfully relocated about a ten minute walk down my nice trail into the forest to the bottom of the hill.

The forest is full of bugs and other delectables (as well as, I know, predators of all kinds) so these guys would have a good life and a truly free range and a better menu than inside their protected run until… until nature took its course (and a lucky predator came along).

You’d think you could do a thing like this and get away with it. Who would find out? I had no thought of sharing this decision with the world, but I simply do not have luck with such things. In the early afternoon, my cottage guests Hillary and Malcolm said they wanted to take a walk. I went into an autopilot description of the nice trail that encircles my property, then remembered the roosters, then said “Oh, but you know it’s probably pretty mucky down there. You might do better to stick to the road.”

Did they stick to the road? No, they did not. Later they said, “Nice trail! But there were these chickens down there, three of them…” and showed me a picture they took!

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Can I say, “Huh! How about that!” and leave it alone? No, I cannot. I have to admit my part in that scene, feeling guiltier than ever.

“Oh, they looked just fine,” they said. “Very happy.”

Happy until…