In which Tracy comes by to clip some wings. Tracy is the former owner of our two new chickens — an engineer at HP who also raises Islandic sheep, and manages her flock of some 30 chickens, all of whom are apparently sufficiently well-trained to free-range about the property and put themselves to bed in their coop every evening. Says she knows how to clip feathers, and agreed to show me how.

She uses a pair of ordinary kitchen scissors, and here’s the technique: you sit down among the birds who have come to you for a treat, grasp a chicken by the leg and soothe it in your lap. Spread out the wing and find the end feathers, clipping them above the shaft, which is still live. You will probably never need to know this. But the intricate beauty of a simple chicken feather is enough to stop your busy life for a moment of wonder.

As we didn’t know which chicken required this intervention, both the new girls were so treated. Tracy says they don’t care. Grace, who has never attempted flight, to our knowledge, escaped Tracy’s attention.

We opened the door to the run, and the chickens quickly dispersed about the orchard. Tracy and I fell into conversation in the shade of one of the apple trees, and were pretty surprised when we saw Miss Clipped Wings strutting by OUTSIDE the fence.

Right. WTF? We brought her back inside and watched her escape again. See the wire stretched across the gate in the photo below? Easy peasy. The simple addition of, yes, chicken wire across the base of the gate seems to have, these three days later, done the job.

Simple, Larry asks?

The drama of life without an oven has come to an end with the installation of our new model this morning. It was only a month, but some of the inventions we attempted were pretty pitiful. Cook one of the frozen left-over casseroles in the microwave? An explosion of cheese sauce all over the oven and noodles of baked cardboard. Yes, I know you’re supposed to cover something you cook in the microwave. How could I have forgotten?

Bake a loaf of bread on the barbecue? Fine, if you like a blackened crust and underdone interior. It tastes okay, once you saw off the charcoal.

We were fortunate enough to score an invitation to dinner from our neighbors, Marjorie and Ted. Amy and Mike, Marjorie’s sister and husband, had come to the valley, and would take home a load of firewood from our endless stash. In return for a dinner Mike would cook, of the game he’d harvested. Goose and pheasant, sauteed in butter, with some special seasonings of his devising. Both these people are wild-life biologists, and we heard, among other things, how it is possible to identify a wolf-kill of, for example, a rancher’s cow. Or find a spotted owl’s nest. Pretty cool stuff.

I thought I remembered picking shot out of a pheasant I roasted once that Larry had shot, back in Minnesota days. He says it never happened. He certainly has not shot anything since. So much for life off the grid.

Life with a simple country garden? Larry’s little acre has been blessing us all summer . . . with, among other successes, at least four 30-pound Napa cabbages. That’s a lot of cabbage to work into the meal plans. I wonder if it will be easier now that I have an oven?

And speaking of life in the country, we were awakened last night, midnight or so, by a furious scratching in the wall behind our bed. Somebody preparing winter quarters, apparently. We checked with our builder this morning to learn exactly what type of insulation had been used, and he said not to worry, nothing could penetrate. Yeah, well. You trap or poison the thing, it dies, and you live with the smell unto eternity? We did a perimeter search this morning and found nothing except an overgrown jasmine plant, which we will trim later, honestly. I know what you’re thinking. It’s one of the chickens, right?


A person likes to think she’s at least as smart as the average barnyard chicken, but this afternoon, that reassuring affirmation was definitely tried. Here’s why:

The newest member of the flock. We don’t know her name yet, and she has a sister, whose name we also don’t know. But it doesn’t matter at the moment because we can’t tell them apart anyway.

I don’t imagine that our grandson, Will, who has named other items of farm equipment, reads these blogs, but if you’re out there, Will, can you think of appropriate names for these two? They are of the Speckled Sussex family, an English breed, but Meagan and Kate won’t do. Larry rejects “Speckles” and “Freckles” and we hope you can do better.

To set the scene, here’s a photo of our one remaining bird, after the untimely death of Madeline “Maddie”, cause unknown. This is Grace:

We have had a little experience, and knew it would be challenging to introduce the chickens to one another, so we proceeded slowly. The S.S. breed is known as one low in the pecking order, and apparently, Grace had done her homework. She began the festivities by attacking both the newbies, to the point that we determined to separate them for a few hours.

However, all of them have to get into the coop by sundown, so we opened the door to the run where Grace was pacing, planning her strategies.

We left them to sort themselves out, and were surprised this morning to find Speckled No.1 outside the orchard, having a walk around the place. The fenced-in, impenetrable orchard. How ? ? ? Maybe she hopped onto the planter box and flew on from there?

A daring capture, featuring a cardboard box and an unenthusiastic Larry ensued. Success, with little injury all around. We relaxed, went off on an errand after lunch, and returned to find Miss Speckled outside the orchard again. Of course, it may be Miss Speckled No.2. How would we know?

An undignified attempt at seduction via corn-scratch failed, and the hen strolled off into the weeds of the back acres, laughing at us. We supposed she would find her way back, but were a little concerned as it’s hot and she would have no access to water. She can get out, but not back in.

An hour or so went by. I found I couldn’t immerse myself in the Isabel Allende I’ve been reading, or even worse, to practice, more about which later. I went back out, found the girl nestling against her sister on the other side of the fence.

Larry and I tried a circling maneuver, he with the box, I with a cup of treats. Aha! We had her penned in a corner up against the coop. Not stupid, she, she attempted to squeeze between two sections of fence, and nearly managed to arrive back in the run where she belonged. Almost. But stuck. Unable to move in or out or underneath. Larry left me with the box, guarding the slot into which she’d inserted herself and went to get wire clippers.

Okay, I do have scratches, from her or the wire I don’t know, but I did get her stuffed into the box, the top secured by the time Larry got back. Hooray for me! We decided to imprison all of them into the run, no one getting out into the orchard, for several days. And, it being dark now, Larry has just come in to report that all three are roosting inside the coop.

Whew. A reminder that our chosen life here on the farm has its unexpected adventures.

Now we’ll have a flash-back. Banjo camp, after all. Why on earth would I want to go to Banjo Camp? Not like I expect to join a band, dazzle friends and family with my skills. Not sure, but here’s one plausible reason:

Last week we went to a pot-luck picnic with an organization we’ve joined, and this was to be the first in-person opportunity to meet the other members. We were lucky and found seats across the picnic table from an ex professor of oceanography and his wife. They entertained us with stories of sailing across the Pacific from California to New Zealand in a 36 foot boat, with a one year old baby. Yikes! Sailed up to Alaska with, this time, the two year old and a new baby. Stories about whales, the barrier reef, storms.

The professor having wound down, another participant looked at me and asked “what do you do?”

Right. I spread my arms wide, leaned back, and said “I play the banjo.”

They were speechless.

I’ll go practice when I finish this.

See? You never know. Camp was fun, but, moving on, this past weekend we went over to Black Butte for the Sisters Folk Festival. It being sister Martha’s birthday, we went to her house for the celebration with my nephew Ben and his family.

Jenny was there while some alterations were being made to her brand new house, so we had some rare daughter-time with her.

The Festival was as advertised — loud bands, banjos, guitars, fiddles, singers, all what you’d want in a festival. We had just the one-day tickets, so came back Sunday. In time to collect the new chickens and begin to write this blog.

If any others of you can think of chicken names, remember Will is busy, please let me know!