October 29th, 2017
Summer has passed and we are well into the fall season and I’m just saying hello. I have been on sabbatical. I might go back on sabbatical after I write this. There are no promises implied by this post!
As I write, the chickadees are having a bird war outside my window. Something has them in a tizzy and they sound as if they plan to fight to the death.
This was a summer of bird wars. Bluebird wars, with three or four male birds in a shouting match and hopping from tree to tree for emphasis. Cardinal wars, the vivid red birds sweeping low across the lawn chasing after each other. Wrens duking it out with little clawed feet.
It’s the males that seem to go at each other with such purpose, although the females are not above throwing a punch in a good scrap.
It’s probably not a fight over food, because there are bugs in abundance. In August the cricket and grasshopper populations seemed on the brink of some sort of coup. They lifted up in great swarms ahead of me as I rode my mower over the lawn.
Even now, in October, the crickets huddle outside the doors and decide to send a forward scout into my house to check out the possibilities inside the walls. I am about to drift off to sleep and the chosen emissary will begin his crickety screech. My eyes shoot open. My arm and leg muscles bunch up in fight response. I silently slide out of my warm bed in search of the offender. He quietly slinks into hiding. I stand like a statue in the dark, trying to fool an insect. He falls for my trick. I pounce. But he is faster and practiced at these games. He eludes me. We continue the game of pounce and hide in the dark until I surrender, return to bed and turn up the fan to drown out his noise. I drift off to sleep, vowing to murder him in the morning. But when morning comes he is nowhere to be found. He has gone to sleep after a long, hard night of our game.
Walking with Sarah in the garden I spy two golden orbs in the crotch of a zelkova tree. An industrious squirrel has tucked two hickory nuts away for a later snack. I keep an eye on them over the next few days. One disappears. The remaining nut must be part of the squirrel’s long-term plan because it is still there.
The turkeys are growing up. It is a grand turkey year, perhaps because we have a bounteous cricket supply for them to feast on. Four or five mom turkeys are raising their families together, so we often see forty or fifty turkeys at a time making their way across our cricket-infested lawn. I try not to frighten them away as I strain to get a better look. These turkeys are very skittish. You must be very still or they will scamper away into the woods surrounding the house. Sometimes I don’t see them but can hear them gobbling in the woods.
For years my husband has proclaimed moss envy whenever we hike at the local American Chestnut Land Trust. Several years ago while my son was home from college he hauled 13 tons of stone dust into an area we cleared in the woods. It has taken these years for the moss to become established. Last summer I read that walking on the moss was an excellent way to spread the spores. I spent time every day last summer meandering in circles around the little clearing, imagining the little spores sticking to the soles of my shoes and finding a new home a little ways away. It seems to have worked because we have significant improvement in moss cover this year.
Work and more work has kept me in the house this summer, so my moss meandering has not been as extensive. I hope to meander more next summer.
Speaking of moss, it has established nicely between the pavers on the back patio and front walk. Whenever I have the men out to wash the outside of the house I have to race to make sure they understand I don’t consider the moss a nuisance. There is something about a man with a power washer that makes everything look like it needs to be cleaned. They seem to think I am eccentric in liking the moss and the stained look of the concrete front stoop rather than a gleaming white concrete.
After years of mowing the back field I decided to let it grow during the summer. I mow sweeping swaths to create a path up and down the small hill, creating a pleasing effect. I’m considering moving the bottle tree from the moss garden to the top of the hill on one side. I mow the whole field just once, just before winter when I feel confident the eastern box turtles have gone into hibernation. Not too many things would make me feel as terrible as hurting a pokey little box turtle unfortunate enough to be wandering in the weeds when I take it in my head to mow. I am hyper vigilant when mowing the lawn to make sure none are in my path, just as I often pause to wait for bumblebees to move along so I don’t catch them up in the blades.
My sweet chickens moved to the neighbor’s house last summer and my garden tools moved from the garage to the coop. I’m happy to have the extra room in the garage so I don’t have to shimmy out of the narrow crack of my car door, but I miss spying glimpses of chickens pecking their way across the yard. Maybe that’s why the crickets are so numerous this year. No chickens to keep them in check.
I still haven’t tackled planting the old outdoor chicken run area. Two beautyberry bushes are duking it out now that they don’t have the chicken wire to keep them in check. The sweet autumn clematis doesn’t have the top of the run to crawl across, but it seemed content enough to climb the roof of the coop. I still don’t know what to do with this area. I have given it little thought as I sit inside pecking away to send emails and write reports.
Soon we will begin tearing out the remaining 15 winter king hawthorns on either side of the driveway near the house. After years of beautiful spring blooms and fall red berries, the trees are now diseased and no longer bear the flowers or berries. I will miss the annual visits from the cedar waxwings, which had the astonishing ability to arrive at the same week in February for many years running.
A couple of years ago I purchased a fountain on impulse while in Portland on a gardeners fling visit. It took months and months for it to arrive because it was custom cast and, apparently, the first cast was flawed. When it finally arrived I was horrified to see it lifted off a motorized carrier on a pallet. The 300 pound fountain was crated and packed with excelsior. In the days it took me to find a crew of men to move the fountain into place some corn snakes had taken up residence in the excelsior. The Mexican workers weren’t amused when they moved the straw-like material and snakes slithered out. I tipped them nicely and they have a story to tell at the dinner table. I run the fountain about six months out of the year and enjoy cracking the windows in my office on most days to hear the sound of the water as I work.
And now I hear the crows outside. I don’t know where they have been all summer. Maybe they decided to find a place closer to the water. I have missed their caws and intelligent way of guarding the perimeter of our hay field. I will enjoy having them back this winter. That is, until they begin to gobble up the seed I put out for the little birds. I wouldn’t mind, but crows are as greedy as they are smart. I must look out for the little guys.
The last time I posted here on Bumblebee was to let you know My Precious had died. I still desperately miss my little Sophie. Just last night I dreamed that I was in prison with her and a horrid jailer kicked her with his big ugly boot. I tore into him, pounding with my fists, screaming and crying. It was like hitting a wall. He threw us back into our cell. Sophie was still alive and we cuddled together in our cell. I’m not sure what these dreams say about me. Someone please write and let me know.
I have missed blogging, but am not sure how it fits into my life these days. And so, I toss this post into the digital void.
January 12th, 2015
The story I’m about to tell may make you think differently about me. I feel differently about myself.
It started this past spring. To fill out my coop I ordered six female chicks from My Pet Chicken—two Appenzeller Spitzhaubens and four Polish chicks.
If you’ve never ordered chicks before, you may be surprised to learn that you can order a wide variety of chick breeds online and have them delivered right to your local post office for pickup. Aside from breed and quantity, you have two options in ordering. You can order straight run chicks, which means you take your chances with sex and will probably get a mix of male and female chicks. You can also pay a little bit extra and order sexed chicks, so that you get females.
Anyway, I digress, but this is important background, as you’ll see.
The chicks arrived and thrived. It wasn’t long, however, before I began to suspect that one of the chicks was never going to grow up to be an egg-laying hen. That was an unplanned rooster.
Roosterly behavior begins quite early. Male chicks no bigger than a grapefruit will begin challenging other chicks with shoves and chest thumps. By the time they reach the size of a small cabbage, they are trumpeting their magnificence to the world, beginning with hoarse, strangled sounding vocalizations. Their general attitude of arrogance and entitlement grows until they begin trying to figure out the whole barnyard sex thing.
I generally wait to see how chickens look and act before naming them because I think the name should describe the chicken. So, for example, my pretty, round white Wyandotte is named Pearl. The creamy, caramel and chocolate Polish hen is named Twix. (You know, the candy bar?) The two Appenzeller Spitzhaubens seem to be tethered together as they cruise around the yard. They are Thelma and Louise.
And the rooster? Well, I named him Little Man because he reminds me of some diminutive men I have known who over-compensate for what they lack in stature with outsized attitudes.
When it comes to roosters, I like to think I have an open mind. I’ll give a rooster a chance to prove himself and pull his weight around the coop. My husband, on the other hand, has decided that all roosters are little sadists just waiting to rape, pillage and eventually come after me with their spurs when I am not looking. He began talking about the final solution.
“Give it some time,” I told him. T. Boone Chickens and Johnny Cash were were roosters and two of the finest chickens I have ever met—not overly rough with the hens and standing tall and alert to the sky while the hens were head-down pecking and scratching on walkabout.
On the other hand, Ricky Ricardo was a particularly wicked rooster. Good riddance to that bad boy.
What is it about nasty roosters that they tend to pick on one hen, in particular? Ricky Ricardo had it out for Tina Turner and Little Man hated Dorothy with a passion.
Poor Dorothy could never rest and could hardly eat. Little Man was always chasing her, mounting her, pecking at her and generally making her life miserable. She had lost a considerable number of feathers from his attacks. She had become nervous and twitchy.
I felt so sad for Dorothy. She is not a particularly pretty hen. She has a kind of undistinguished brown and white coat and the kind of facial feathers that resemble a fake Halloween beard. But Dorothy has spunk, I tell you. She is always the first hen to see when I am walking toward the coop with leftover pizza in my hands. Dorothy lives for pizza. She is also the hen who would most like to see the world. Chickens never stray far from their coop when on walkabout, but Dorothy always walks up the hilly driveway as far as she dares to go. I often imagine she is thinking, “I wonder what’s over that mountain. I will go there someday and see for myself!”
Sadly, I eventually came around to Harry’s way of thinking. Little Man had no place in our coop.
Now, getting rid of a rooster is a problem. You can’t hope they’ll run away from home because they never leave the yard. And you can’t give away a rooster. I have seen many ads on Craig’s List for free roosters and no one seems to be taking those ads down. People will go to some lengths to re-home a rooster. I once saw a huge roadside sign that said “FREE ROOSTER!” (Aside: I shared the photo on Twitter and one quick-witted follower fired back, “Who is Rooster and why is he incarcerated?”)
I decided to consult with my very experienced and skilled chicken-keeping neighbor V. V is a no nonsense person. She is not overly sentimental about what needs to be done with bad roosters and has become skilled at the task. If I needed to get rid of Little Man, I could do it myself or she would help. She described to me the method she researched and found most effective—a broom handle over the back of the neck and a quick snatch of the head backward.
I did what I normally do in these types of uncomfortable situations. I procrastinated. I kept thinking that the situation would resolve itself. Maybe one of the people I had asked would miraculously decide to take Little Man into their coop. Maybe Little Man would get religion and become a kinder, gentler Little Man. Maybe the Circle of Life would claim him early through disease, injury or stalking predator.
Hope did not prove to be an effective strategy. Day after day Little Man continued to torment Dorothy.
Finally, one afternoon Little Man pushed Dorothy—and me—just a little too far. I decided that was his final day.
I took the first step. I went into the house and had a glass of wine. Liquid courage.
I took some deep breaths. I put on my Little Man killing gloves and marched out into the yard with my broom. I could almost hear doomsday music playing in my head. I cornered that little tyrant in the coop. He was vocalizing and fighting like, well, I was trying to kill him.
I wasted no time. I took mean Little Man outside. “Okay, you. I’ve had enough of you!” I flattened nasty Little Man on the ground. “You do NOT, repeat do NOT mess with my hens.” (I was really working up a head of steam now.) I put the broom handle over horrid Little Man’s head. “This will teach you a lesson!” I yanked his despicable Little Man head back with a forceful jerk. He went completely limp.
“That’s it,” I thought looking down at my gloved hands. “I have killed with my own hands. Premeditated.”
I put down the broom, with Little Man at my feet. I stood up to meditate on what my fury had wrought…and Little Man jumped up and raced into the woods! He wasn’t dead!
Now I not only had a mean rooster, I had a mad mean rooster.
Time to call in the Special Forces. I called my neighbor V. Very calmly she offered to help.
“But I don’t believe in wasting perfectly good chickens. I can bring him home for dinner.”
She didn’t mean as a guest.
She was here within five minutes. I explained the ridiculous results of how I had tried to do the deed.
“That sounds like the first time I butchered a turkey in my basement.”
(Note to self: Do not mess with V.)
By this time Little Man had made it back to his torture Dorothy location.
V headed toward the coop. I noticed she wasn’t wearing gloves, so I offered mine. She took them, but I got the feeling that she was humoring me.
In no time flat V had snatched up that rooster, held him by his feet, slapped him on the ground, put the broom over his neck and sent him to rooster heaven (or hell). The end.
To reinforce her point about waste, I noticed that V had brought her own garbage bag to put Little Man in. Really, she could have just carried him home by his feet. But I suppose the spectacle of her walking down the road swinging a dead rooster by the feet was too much even for V.
So there it is. The story of how I tried to kill Little Man and failed—and then called in a trained professional for the job.
It’s not how I saw myself behaving when I began keeping pet chickens several years ago. I am still sentimental about them. I give them special treats to keep them happy and extra special treats on holidays. I give them names and mourn when a good hen passes. We bury hens that get sick and die. I have been known to cry over a chicken.
But now I know when to say “enough is enough.” I know when to protect the good chickens from a bad chicken. And now I know how to do it.
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