BACKYARD CHICKENS, not for amateurs

Henrietta, always our over-achiever, head chicken, mean girl, had been looking unwell for a day or so, back feathers dirty and matted, so we consulted our Backyard Chicken books, and determined that we should isolate her to see if the condition improved. Larry got to work and installed some of the fence sections we’d stored against next spring’s project and created a separate inclosure for our sick chicken. Made a little nest, moved one of the watering systems in — looked pretty cosy.

But Henrietta wasn’t having it, thank you. Chickens can fly, of course, and some new fence wasn’t going to keep this girl away from her posse. Okay, then. We closed the other birds into their run/coop and gave Henrietta the run of the orchard. Thought she’d move in to her new digs as the sun went down.

But as it became dark and the other chickens retired for the evening, Henrietta paced the length of the run, tying to join them. So I couldn’t stand it and let her return to the flock for the evening.

Next morning, though, her wound, or whatever was worse. She was apparently, inescapably, egg-bound. Use your imagination. At least, the problem is not contagious, and I returned to my books. Whew. The suggestions there were, well, think about it. A warm epsom-salts bath for 30 minutes? What, how am I going to keep a chicken sitting in warm water for half an hour? I won’t describe the other remedies, one of which was to contact your local vet. Bingo.

Please try to picture the look on the faces of the young women behind the counter of the vet emergency care facility (the only establishment which treats avian patients, i.e. chickens) as this cute little old couple comes in bearing their pet chicken in a cardboard box. Unalloyed delight, was what it was. Barely contained.

For that matter, imagine how well Larry loved this whole affair. But we were shown to a room. Henrietta was quiet, there in her box, and we were amazed at how well the — let’s see — intern? was able to handle her. Even weigh her. Four pounds, fourteen ounces, for the record. It was a busy morning at the vet’s and an hour later it was our turn. Larry had left for lattes when the doctor entered. Didn’t take long. She’d need a scan, X-rays, antibiotics, possible surgery — STOP! No, despite the expectations of the staff who imagined this was our little pet darling, I’m sorry. Would she recover without intervention? No. And no, thank you, we didn’t want the ashes for a little burial ceremony.

So, she is at peace, we presume. Without pain. And we are again short a chicken. Yes, it is sad. I don’t know how the other chickens will fare without their boss-lady.

We determined to pick blackberries late in the afternoon. We’d collected half a bucket when the worst scenario unfolded. Larry dropped the bucket and the berries nestled, taunting us, in the tangled, evil, spiny, vines at our feet. Damn! Okay, start over. We were both bleeding from multiple sites on hands and arms when we finally gave up with half the second bucket full. The vines are at least twenty feet high, and the thought of one of us falling into the briar patch was sobering, to say the least.

But we could hear the thump of the drum as the OSU band warmed up for the evening football game. The late afternoon sun painted everything golden, and I thought there is no where else on earth I’d rather be.

Now, Saturday morning, as I type, I admire my purple hands and blackened nails. To make blackberry jam, it’s necessary to cook down the berries, then suspend them in a cotton towel and squeeze the juice into a bowl. I’ll have to wash a lot of dishes before my fingernails look presentable again. To be honest, I don’t much care.

Tomorrow is Larry’s birthday. We’re going to Eugene to secure hotel reservations for Amy’s graduation next June, then on to the White-Davis Manzanita cabin for the remainder of the Labor Day weekend.

No photos this time: will do better going forward!

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