SNAKES AND OTHER LIVING CREATURES

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I’m not exactly afraid of snakes, but I don’t like coming across them accidentally. If there’s one in the barn, okay, I’ll just leave the barn. You can imagine the look on my scientist-entomologist father’s face when I once postulated, with all the wisdom of my 8-or-so years, that women are probably averse to snakes because of that long-ago unfortunate business in the Garden of Eden. My dad actually snorted at such foolishness, and I can hear him still.

Maybe you don’t notice the snake in this photo? The gray coil with the black stripe. No garter snake, this fellow. He unwound to about 3 feet, slowly realizing that he was un-hibernated and a very well behaved dog was watching. (Larry — yes, Larry — even commented that if he ever got a dog, it would be one of this dog’s brothers.)

Her name is Callie, and she belongs to Casey, who was down by the barn setting fence. The snake appeared when Casey pulled a snag tree out by the roots in order to facilitate the farm gate installation. This is where the cows will unload, if and when. But what’s important is that he also, finally, hauled away the tangle of fence post and rusted wire that had been decorating the entrance to the barn.

On the wildlife front, a New Year’s resolution has us walking Llewellyn to the end of Muddy Creek bridge and back, watching the river harvesting trees on her banks, swelling with the rains, and, to our delight, a river otter appearing just upstream from the bridge. Saw us and immediately submerged. Probably a nutria, scoffed my neighbor. Or mink, maybe. People! It was an otter.

Okay, Larry got the orchard trees pruned and then it was time to spray. While Larry has embraced the concept of out-sorcing the more challenging farm chores, he still reflexively goes straight to “I’ll do it” in many cases. And so it is with orchard spraying. However, copper sulfate, the spray authorized by organic farming, is pretty toxic. Must be applied before fruit buds are set, and the ground beneath the trees has to be protected. As you can imagine, no chickens can be present during the operation. So spreading the tarps, managing the fussy spray applicator, took more hours than the day has light. Had to be carried over to the following day, but he did it. Our trees are now safe from the fungal blight that has threatened the very life of one apple, one cherry tree.

Now the fun part. We had a long visit with Bill Peterson, Landscape Guy. We have wanted to add a couple of trees to the entrance gate at the lower end of the driveway, and at the point where the driveway gravel gives way to the courtyard gravel up by the house. Bill’s crew is good to go, we just have to see which trees he can source. Probably Japanese cherry up top and mountain hemlock by the road. Hold on! Just Googled mountain hemlock. Huge. We want an evergreen conifer, but? Maybe there’s a smaller cultivar? Will check. Anyway, the work will also continue on our path through the oak copse. And, just in time, the clouds are gathering. Won’t be as much fun to watch from under an umbrella. Just kidding about the umbrella.

Been thinking about our mission here. The plan is for Ryan to spray the low field along Llewellyn, then plant fescue or other forage. But our sprayed fields have been slow to green up this fall and winter. I begin to wonder if we haven’t strayed from the idea of improving the soil and veered instead to the raising of beef. The point of grazing is to manage the savanna/oak landscape, keep the grasses in check without fire or tractor power. But. How much spraying is too much? Yes, we have to reclaim the land from invasives, but has the cart gotten out in front of the horse? The whole plan is Fish & Wildlife conceived, so we have, in the vastness of our inexperience and stunning lack of knowledge, agreed. I think about our little otter, and the herons hunting frogs in the neighbor’s field, who have not yet tested our new pool but I have seen them contemplating a visit. What’s best for them?

Now Larry’s lovely chile is simmering on the stove. Chile Colorado, a Christmas gift recipe from daughter Jenny. I can hear the first raindrops and smell the bread rising. He prunes and sprays. He cooks, he bakes! Lucky me!

2019

Name’s Rhoda. Not Edith, or whatever those humans-slash-people been calling me. Fuck’s sake. What kind of name is Edith? I’m hatched in Rhode Island, which isn’t even an island, in case you didn’t know. Rhode Island Red and proud of it. So I live here with my flock, which is Sally and Henrietta. Sally’s Barred Rock, so, salt of the earth. Good layer, knows which way’s up, so to speak. Henrietta, different story. All right most of the time, but every now and then gets up on her feathers and says she’s French. Gonna fly away from here, go where a bird can tell a grub from a slug, like who the fuck cares.

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Our employees, those humans what work for us, come and go. And it’s just frigging cold and foggy around here, so our water almost freezes. What do they think, we can just lick the dew? What do they think we pay them for? Anyhow, the rooster-human showed up this afternoon right at laying time and damn if he doesn’t leave the door to the big world, outside the orchard where we live, he leaves it open. We’re telling Henrietta here’s your chance, go! Me and Sally were sure she’d make a break, which means, as you know, treats all around when they have to go chase her back. But no. Too cold, she whines. Annoying.

Just remembered something: This human who was around here last week when our humans were not, asked me if chickens have lips. How would I know? Lips? Never heard of them.

Jane here. Apologies to those of you who may be offended by Rhodie’s language. Salty little thing, thinks she’s tough. And of course, she’s right about her name. Edith was totally wrong, and although she probably won’t like me calling her Rhodie, she’s really not tough at all. First one up for treats, but both Sally and Hen push her around a bit. Still, I thought you’d like to hear from her.

And about the question of chickens and lips? I found this archival article in the Times on the subject:

“Some months ago, at a dinner party, toward the end of the evening, a young woman asked a young man, ‘Will I see you tomorrow?’ The young man replied, ‘Does a chicken have lips?’ That was the sum total of their exchange. She seemed to understand exactly what he meant. Was mystified and fascinated. He could have meant yes, no, maybe, unfortunately, impossible, or it all depends on the constellations of the Zodiac.”

Now we know. Or don’t. Maybe.

Larry has been wanting to prune the orchard trees, and, as Rhodie noted, today was his first chance for weeks. We got home from Black Butte at noon, and though it was foggy indeed, he was able to get to the little pie cherry tree before he had to go consult with Grant (Fence Guy) about the plan for fencing around the barn. Grant will start the project tomorrow morning, so the year is off to a good start. Part of the job will be to haul the ugly piles of old fencing posts and wire which have been decorating the approach to the barn all summer. Hooray!

We’ve been wanting to start on the burning piles, but the ensuing fires would be huge. In the past we’ve hired a man with a bulldozer to do the fires, but the current piles don’t seem to meet the threshold for bringing in a professional, at least in Larry’s head. He’s probably right, it would be fine, but Grant told him that the big pile, by the barn, would be too close to the fence. We’d have to build a smaller fire on the other side of the driveway and thus burn the big one piecemeal.
That feels better!

And Larry did leave the coop door open as part of our plan to see if the birds will expand their territory, and if so, will continue to lay eggs in the provided nests in the coop. They’ve been pretty hard on the orchard grass, and we’d be happy to have them branch out. At least so long as they come home at “laying time” and at night. But they didn’t budge this afternoon. And so our education continues.

This evening we ran into town to the bookstore to complete our Christmas shopping, this time for David and Caroline. We think they’re at home in Kailua now, able to retrieve a package. We think. And now Day One of the newest year is nearly over. Fire burning some of our endless oak wood, nice memories of Christmas in Sun Valley, of New Year’s with friends, and with package from Altadena to open.

Cheers!

CHRISTMAS LETTER?

“Hey, you didn’t send out a Christmas letter this year.”

Yes, I know, but . . .

“Why not?

It’s just that . . .

“Your family and friends will think you don’t care about them in this time of love and . . .”

Stop! I love my family and friends. I’m sorry. Will you just listen? Christmas letters are usually about what has happened over the course of the year, and I already wrote about anything interesting. I have no more stories to tell.

“You could have sent cards. Didn’t have to be a whole letter. Just sayin’.”

Okay. You’re right. Merry Christmas to everyone within the sound of my computer, and best wishes for an adventurous, rewarding, fun-filled 2019.

We’ve been enjoying a crisp, beautiful fall, apparently borrowed from some other, possibly New England, state, with sunshine, frosty mornings, blue skies. But the rains have come now, and we’re settling in for the winter. Not sure what that means. Settling in?

But the winds have knocked the flower pots off the porch, blown over another two trees that we know of. The rain has begun to fill the “vernal pool” dug by Fish and Wildlife and, we hope, the creeks that feed it. The pastures have begun to green up, offering the hope that the cows will soon be back. The rather astonishing burn piles can be set afire now, soon as we come back from the holidays.

I’m in Portland, but Larry has gone to the farm after our Christmas celebration with the Ederers in Sun Valley. Our friendly neighbor Carl, who volunteered to care for the chickens, reported that he’d collected 10 eggs during his tenure, and Larry has just called to inform me that he’s picked up 10 more. Whew. The egg-collecting apron that Jenny gave me for Christmas will apparently see some good action. Thought chickens were supposes to stop laying in the dark months.

We’ve become addicted to watching the Great British Baking Show, and as a result, Larry has begun to produce some gorgeous loaves of bread. Who knew? Thing is, two people can only eat so much bread, and it might be better if he developed an art form that used eggs instead. Of course, two people can only eat so many eggs, as well, so there we are.

Now we’re off to Black Butte for the traditional celebration with our friends, hoping for some serious snow, lots of good food, laughs, stories, everything that makes the holidays complete. Happy New Year!

DECEMBER

A cold winter morning and the frost lies hard on the land. This is like Minnesota! Larry says, approving. Minnesota is not easy, I think, but keep the thought to myself, because it is beautiful, actually euphoric. I mean, look at it:

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Christmas cookies! The tree waiting out on the porch to come inside and be strung with lights! But first, we need to check on the chickens. We arrived last night after dark, and have faith that the girls are tucked into their warm roost, and that there will be two days of eggs. The girls need a little love in the form of dried corn, so out we go. To find that their watering tray has frozen over. Not good. (Six eggs, by the way.)

Here’s the thing. We have to go over to Black Butte to turn off the water, move the deck furniture into the garage, make the beds and dust the corners, chores that should have been done a month ago and can wait no longer. Especially the water thing. We plan to head on over, but are constrained by the weather report, which tell us that the next few days here in Corvallis will also be cold. Chickens need their water. We break the ice, scatter the corn, and decide to go to Wilco in order to see what solutions they may have.

Which is when we learn that the gate across our drive has stuck open. Sigh. Can’t run off to Black Butte with the gate wide open. Larry calls Applegate to ask for a tech to come by. The “gal” will check with the tech, currently out on a call, get back to us. We decide to proceed to Wilco, with a stop, first, for a restorative pumpkin-spice latte. Larry’s enthusiasm for this Minnesota weather has diminished, one might say, judging from the annoyed frown. Gal comes back on the phone to tell us, with steely resolve, that the earliest we can get tech assistance will be January 4. What! We can’t leave our gate open for a month! We’re going to Sun Valley for Christmas, but Larry wisely doesn’t explain that to her majesty.

Well, one thing at a time. Imagining how we might drag one of the many farm gates, lying about the property, across the drive, secure it with chain and padlocks, we go to the Costco of the farm world. If Wilco doesn’t have it . . . And they do. We are assigned to the care of “Darren” who leads us through consideration of plastic watering jug, which we innocently purchased last summer, versus metal. Of heating bases and/or cubes, of extension cords and their diminishing power over their length (100 yards, in our case). Of water nipples (really) or trays. Will our chickens learn how to use the nipples? Who knows? How would we know? With a sigh, we purchase a new system and return to install it.

We’ve decided that Larry will have to go to Black Butte alone while I stay here to monitor the open-gate situation and the chicken-water situation. Honestly, I say, to cheer Larry (this rarely works) let’s be glad the gate is stuck open! We get the watering system installed, and Larry prepares to leave. He will phone me from the bottom to let me know if the gate has miraculously recovered, but I decide to ride down and walk back up instead. We are both astonished to find that, in fact, the gate has indeed repaired itself and is now firmly closed. But will it open to let Larry leave? Yes! Apparently the mechanism has simply frozen, now thawed, and all is well. We decide that Larry will go on without me anyway and I will, instead, work out what to do with the dozen-or-so-and-counting eggs now in the basket.

Ice cream! I find a recipe using 5 egg yolks! A score, because now I will have 5 egg whites I can use for Vanilla Strips, a beloved Christmas cookie involving ground filberts.

P.S., Larry went over and back, and got home in time for a late chicken stew dinner. No, we don’t plan to murder our chickens and turn them into stew when the time comes, though that had been the topic of conversation at dinner with friends Sunday night. They laugh at the idea of Larry wringing a chicken’s neck, or using the hatchet-on-a-stump method. We will see, won’t we?

Now Wednesday morning, I pull on my flannel shirt (thanks again, Nancy) and head out to learn if our new watering system has succeeded. Fingers crossed!

HENRIETTA, ACT II

What? I hear clucking? Not possible. I’m in the kitchen, well, cooking eggs as a matter of fact. So I’m imagining things, right? No. I do hear clucking. I can’t hear the coop from my kitchen, so, what? I look out the window at the coop and see only Edith. Apparently Sally has escaped somehow.

Into my boots, dried corn in hand, I head around to the back of the house, and OMG. It’s Henrietta?!! This isn’t possible! But there she is. Feathers ruffled alright. ??? I coax her back to the coop, where Edith and Sally, anticipating the corn, shrug, move over and let Henrietta’s head join theirs in the cup.

What the hell happened here? No clue. Feathers strewn in the orchard? Maybe she’s molting? But the closed door, the night outside in the frost? Make that three nights for Mademoiselle Henrietta. Really, maybe an owl and she escaped? We’ll never know. Maybe she’s just laughing at us, thinking we can secure the orchard? Has she learned a lesson? I expect Sally may have something to say about all this. We’ll see.

Anyway, who was it who said rumors of his death had been exaggerated? Sorry, everyone. Now, back to the skillet and my scorched eggs. Hooray! ! !

HENRIETTA’S GONE, GOODBYE

This morning I have to tell you that our little French hen has been taken into the Great Chain of Being. I suppose it must have been an owl, though I am not a chicken-crimes forensic specialist. I should not privilege one bird above another, and am glad it was not a skunk or weasel that took her, but I can’t escape a feeling of responsibility. I depended on the work of the automatic door, which somehow failed and left the chickens out in the orchard all frosty night, exposed and cold. Why didn’t I check last night to be sure all was well? Aaargh!

It wasn’t quite daylight when I walked by the far window with my coffee and saw the dark forms huddled against the far fence. What the heck? Slogged into my boots and made the discovery. No body, no blood, just feathers, and two frost-bitten sad survivors, who didn’t run to greet me as they always do. Their feathers were icy, and the door to the coop resolutely still closed. Don’t know how to warm a chicken (no jokes about the microwave here, let’s be sensitive) but called Larry, back in Portland, retrieved the red thumb-push which opens the auto door and teased Edith and Sally inside with some corn. I hope they found their way up to the warm straw-carpeted roost.

Lesson learned.

Now I’ll have to tell Pat. See, the lovely, generous Pat Hills has volunteered to chicken-sit while we’re away in CA for Thanksgiving. She stopped by on Saturday to get the instructions for their care. She had reached the farm ahead of me, and I found her just coming in from the orchard. She’d been taking the chickens for a walk around the orchard, teaching them a song. Seriously, isn’t that the best? We’d thought we’d just depend on the auto-door while she’s here, but now I’ll have to teach her how to manage it manually each night. I hate to tell her about Henrietta, though.

And why was I late getting here on Saturday? Larry and I had met at Charbonneau to visit an open-house, our first foray into the inevitable move from the Portland condo. No, dear Reader, we did not like the open-house condo, and Larry has proposed another scenario we’ll have to consider. How about renting a place in Charbonneau? No commitments. Hmm. A visit to the Web reveals a rental option there that doesn’t look terrible on line. Sigh. Here’s the thing. This weekend, Larry has stayed in Portland so that he can get to his monthly Monday breakfast with the boys from Columbia Mgmt. He has said repeatedly that he will not give up his normal Portland life in favor of the farm. That means golf at Pumpkin every Sunday, breakfasts with his friends, Symphony, Center Stage, random visits with our buddies, coffees with various members of the community who look to us for donations. And so on. Just the urban scene. Fine.

But it’s getting harder, as he is, I believe, ever more deeply engaged down here. Now, this stretch of urban life was to include breakfast with another set of old work colleagues on Tuesday morning. But we’d bought tickets to an activity here called Pub Talks (I think. That doesn’t sound right) for Monday evening. Let’s see. Drive down Monday, back to Portland whenever for Tuesday breakfast? Tough call. He gets frustrated and angry. I don’t know how to help.

But here I am, alone on another frosty morning, biting myself on the butt about Henrietta, and I’d still rather be here than anywhere else in the world.

Short post, no photos. Back soon. Love, Jane

ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW

Good morning. It has come to our attention that a certain amount of scratching and scribbling at this site has included observations of our little flock. We think it important to add our voices to this reporting. Let me introduce us. I am Sally, leader of and spokesman for the chicken population on this farm. Edith and I have been together since the beginning of time, and Henrietta joined us at what we call the Great Awakening. We were moved into our present home together, but it has taken some time for us to adjust to the point where we can consider ourselves a flock.

We employ a pair of humans, as I believe they are called, for light maintenance and housekeeping. For this they are compensated with a daily selection of eggs, the purpose of which is unclear to us. The eggs are not living, and will never result in chicks. But the look on their faces as they collect what is owed them is one of reverence. Well. This arrangement is of course, weighted in our favor, as the human’s services are purchased by that which is, honestly,worthless.

Our coop is pleasant and opens onto an orchard in which rather stunted trees of some indeterminate type grow. We mine the soil for grubs and worms, but so far this has proved unproductive. However, there is a structure inside the coop itself that flows with, as it were, milk and honey. The same for water. A mysterious door opens to the orchard, and similarly closes, from time to time by some intelligence undetectable to us.

Our amusement is as might be expected. Scratching, airing our feathers, roosting in the dark hours. But we are gifted in the opportunity to watch the antics of our human employees. They are a rooster (is that the correct term for their species?) and a hen. The hen is friendly enough, and often brings us treats. Now that Henrietta, the little French immigrant, has properly learned her place, we even allow her access to these delights.

Last week, we had a most enjoyable show as the rooster-human crawled around in the dirt, lugging lengths of tree wood up to our garden, cutting it into lengths with a most fearful machine, and placing the pieces along the perimeter of our orchard. The hen stands uselessly by, sometimes offering him a tool of some sort, which he uses to secure the wood to the wire fence. Who knows what the purpose of this exercise may be, but we suspect it’s in the deluded belief that we may be deterred from digging under the fence, and thus expanding our territory.

It was Henrietta who first gave us the idea that there might be better hunting outside the perimeter, but what happened next is quite delicious to tell. Great pandemonium erupted when the rooster noticed her doing a bit of exploring. Yelling ensued, and the hen came from her coop next door with a vessel of cracked corn, which she offered to Henrietta, As she proceeded to open our door and pour the corn inside, Henrietta of course joined us there in enjoying the treat.

As you will imagine, it didn’t take us long to recognize that in this way, we could manipulate the appearance of the treat, at a time desired by us. Isn’t it fun? And here’s what’s so amusing. The rooster with all his log rolling and stapling seems to believe that he is in some way preventing us from exercising this control. Is he unaware that we can fly?

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Now that Sally has had her say, I, Jane, will take back the pen and resume this narrative. It’s a beautiful fall day, but I’m stuck inside waiting for my cherry tart to set. We’ve come under the spell cast by the Great British Baking Show, and the thing has invaded even our language. “Mary and Paul would like you to bake a cherry tart. It must be free form, sugar and gluten free, with cherries hand picked by Japanese maidens and . . .” This has to stop.

Meanwhile, Larry is outside sawing away on the so-called heritage site.

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I’ll be able to get out there and enjoy the sunshine as soon as the everlasting tart shows signs of done-ness. Otherwise, cherry tart soup? It happens.

Work has begun on the perimeter fence and path. Adam, Brush-clearing Guy, is somewhere unseen, but heard, working to clear berry vines, branches, whatever, from the outer side of the fencing. He plans to heave them over the fence to the inside, then mulch the debris to become my “boulevard.” Unfortunately, the conservation folk have adopted that phrase and use it to remind me of my pretentions. Okay, laugh, boys.

And now the sun is setting, as have my cherries, and we gather up by the TV to learn the results of the election. Groan. Dread. But let me close with some photos of a lovely fall day before we have to pay attention to, well, you know.

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CHICKEN PEOPLE

It’s ladybug season. They’re everywhere around the house, on screen, windows, etc. Trying to get in, one supposes. Yep, says Dr. Google. “Known as cluster-hibernators, ladybugs swarm because they’re looking for a warm place to hibernate for winter. When one of them finds a suitable place to spend the winter, it releases a pheromone that attracts a couple gazillion more of them.” And why are they called ladybugs? “In the middle ages, farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary to save their crops. Soon Ladybugs came, ate the plant-destroying pests and saved the crops! The farmers began calling the ladybugs “The Beetles of Our Lady”, and they eventually became known as “Lady Beetles”! The red wings represented the Virgin’s cloak and the black spots represented her joys and sorrows.”

Your factoids of the day. Where did the children’s refrain”fly away home” come from. That will be the discussion of another time. Meanwhile:

Here are the Old Ones. They are at least 5 hundred years old, the rings tells us, and are fragments of the Homestead Oak felled when we first planned to build a house in the shelter of this tree. We wanted them set up as a sort of Stonehenge entrance to the path through the forest, but their power is undeniable and they deserve their own, not appropriated, name.

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I’m a little more woo-woo about them than is Larry, but it’s hard to consider them without, at least, respect. And the path is beautiful under our present blue skies and brilliant fall colors. By the way, the oaks are not brilliant. For brilliance we look to the ash and maple among us.

“Jane! Put on your shoes and come out here! I need you!”

Okay, I’m on it, but which shoes? “Do I need my boots?”

“I don’t care! Just come! Henrietta’s out and I can’t catch her!”

Tempted to laugh, I look out and there she is, lovely and elegant on the newly green grass. I grab a cup of dried corn (chicken candy) and head out to the rescue. While Edith and Sally come running when they see me, Henrietta is more aloof. She is French. Larry makes a couple of attempts to grab her while I shake the corn at her. No, thank you, she says politely, and easily evades Larry’s reach. Of course, we do eventually herd her back and into the coop, but this could be a problem. How the heck did she get out? It’s not very chicken-like to go burrowing under the fence, we think. I’ve seen this girl fly and OMG! She Flew The Coop! That’s where the expression must come from, right? But did she do it knowingly? Will she try it again? Time alone will tell.

Way back at the beginning of this adventure, I said that I would like a particular downed oak to remain as bird/critter habitat, and so it has. Never mind that the rancher and conservation people hid their amusement at my naivete, while the thing reached up it’s black arms in, as I think of it, a rather Halloween-ish gesture. It punctuated the driveway as it winds up the hill and even became known as the Habitat Tree. Of course, it’s been a wonderful habitat for the invasive blackberry, the wretched thistle, for all I know, hornets and wasps and snakes. Sure, birds probably liked it too, but for heaven’s sake, we have enough upright trees on the place for them. Time to lose the sentimentality! Away with it! Larry and I spent yesterday and this morning at work on the thing. He saws, I collect and pile the chunks onto the ATV, which we drive to one of the burn piles about the place. It’s pleasing to be at work on an unvisited bit of the property, and to see the morning sun from a new vantage. Makes me feel, again, amazed and lucky to be here. But we couldn’t finish it, and the rains will soon come. Next year!

Now I have to tell you a story about the title of this chapter. Someone told us that we must watch a wonderful documentary called Chicken People. It’s insane. You’ve heard of the Westminster Dog Show? Can you imagine it translated to chicken? People buffing their bird’s toenails. Fluffing their feathers with a hair dryer? The anxiety as the judges grade the little darlings? The absolutely weird and yeah, creepy, hybrid, long legged, scrawny, ugly things that have been bred for this show? Don’t go there. We are not Chicken People.

Yet.

NEIGHBORHOOD PARTY

I know, surprise. We actually have a neighborhood. Terri, the only one we know, had the idea to have a “gathering” after the fire (which I’ve mentioned before). Good idea! We met a couple across the way who raise Islandic sheep, and the wife’s mom who lives in the original, small house on the property. Another woman, who owns a large property adjoining the sheep people, has just built the first home she has lived in for 40 years, her entire adult life. When her husband died several years ago, she sold some of the property, inherited from her family, and built her home. Been living in a trailer on the property those long 40 years. Good for her!

But the best outcome from the party, from our point of view, was the acquaintance of a couple, whose property adjoins ours, who are passionate about chickens. (You knew I’d get around to chickens, right?) The gentleman has volunteered to come over and take care of our birds whenever we want to get away for a while. Like for Thanksgiving, when we’re heading to Pasadena. Hooray! He has met our chickens, pronounced them nice and healthy. This is actually a big deal, as we have been wondering how we’d find a chicken-sitter when the time came.

So, finally, here they are:

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They haven’t seem excited about being “free range.” There they were, the whole orchard open to be explored, and they just huddled around the coop. Back door open, good to go. So Larry and I were pretty surprised yesterday, when out in the orchard ourselves setting mole traps,to find the girls clustered around us, well away from home base. We had been bringing them treats in order to introduce ourselves to them, but still, this was new. Edith, the Rhode Island Red, is the bravest, and will come right up to the little cup I hold to investigate the dried corn within.

This was a fun trick for us. Now when they see us, they come right over. They still won’t go abroad when we aren’t there, though, which is good, as I saw a hawk sitting on the fence post one day. And they are averaging an egg a day among them, which is just the right amount.

But chickens are not the only news around here. A massive dust cloud got our attention the other day, and on examination, we found this monster in the field along Llewellyn:

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This proved to be Mike, employee of USF&W. Seems the permit to build the vernal pool had finally come in, and work is underway. This work, Jarod, our main F&W Guy, explained, is “jurisdictional.” Which means permits were required from the Corp of Engineers, State of Oregon, and Benton County before earth could be moved. Because we’re in a jurisdictional flood plain. Fortunately the permits came in just before the promised rainfall later this week. Here’s what this looks like now:

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When finished, the “pool” will be about a foot deep, and native plants will, theoretically, colonize the space. But it won’t look like a pond, alas, just a marshy wet-land. The aquatic community of birds, salamanders, frogs, however, will love it, Jarod insists, and come January we will be deafened by the chorus of Coastal green frogs, photo below:

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Larry is, at the moment, driving his tractor in the later-this-week rainfall, after a fraught morning when the automatic brush-hog release feature didn’t function. Over to the John Deere folk with a photo of the problem, and, problem solved, but not in time to beat the rain. So here’s a photo of him yesterday when the sun still shone on his vision garden:

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I agree. It is a vision. Good for him!

THEY’RE HERE!

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Here the answer to the age old question: Chickens. The chickens came first, followed shortly by this beautiful egg. OMG.

I have as yet no photo of the girls, their arrival having been a bit too chaotic, the farmer a bit too stressed. As they live behind a wire screen at the moment, photography is difficult. When they are turned into the orchard in a few days, I will introduce you to them properly.

Meanwhile, do you recall reading about the wood-splitting adventure of several days ago? After the long hot summer, we learned that burning was again allowed, from 1pm to 5pm on Thursday. Larry thought it a good opportunity to burn the pile of un-splittable chunks, and spent the afternoon standing by the rather formidable fire. I looked out at one point to see him swinging a golf club. Well, one way to spend an afternoon.

But it isn’t clear to us if the 5pm deadline means that we have to extinguish the fire, or simply refrain from starting a new fire, at that point. It was to our advantage to presume the latter interpretation, and so we did. But at 10:00, our fire was still pretty hot, smoldering if not actually aflame. We took the flashlight out with the intention of hosing the embers down, but, on examination, decided that, on such a still night, they were safe to leave. The moon just then rose behind the oak woods, mysterious as always, and at that moment, the first coyote sang. Eerie enough, but when he was joined by his pack, which seemed to be circling behind us with their polyphonic song (I always think the coyote song is what the aurora borealis
would sound like, could we hear it), it felt like church, or what church should feel like. Sorry, long sentence.

Fine, right? But I worry. So, when I woke up at 2-ish I had to go look. Out the window, I mean. Damn. I saw actual flames. Fuckdoodle. If it hadn’t been for that fire in the woods next to us, while we were out of town, but which we have been made to feel was somehow our responsibility (yes, even from the middle of the Baltic), maybe I would have been able to go back to bed. Should I wake Larry? He’ll think I’m being ridiculous, but, being Larry, will find his slippers, look for a jacket, and I will have to beg him not to go out there. Which means the fire . . . Okay. I’ll go. Damn it. I’m kind of scared, but I get the flashlight, pull on my boots, climb through the fence, find the hose, and put out the fire. The moon is full, high overhead. It’s so quiet. No coyotes. Just a few peeps and a whistle. It’s so beautiful. You should have been there.

I get back in bed, filled with righteousness. A lovely feeling. Ha. But you want to hear about the chicken acquisition. So Saturday was the day of the Corvallis Poultry Swap (aka Poultry Faire). I had to get to band practice, but the event opened at 10:00. Who knew how it would go. Would all the best chickens be snatched up by early swappers? Haven’t been to such an affair before, so we decided that Larry would go on without me, and when I could get back by noon, he’d show me what he’d found, and we’d choose our chickens. As with most plans, that didn’t work. By the time I got back, the chicken supply had seriously dwindled, and Larry had been forced to buy the two remaining chickens of one vendor. A Rhode Island Red and Barred Rock. By the time I phoned in, there were but two remaining Novogens, a French breed. We thought a French chicken would be a nice touch. They were bred to be good layers, so perhaps our lovely egg is hers.

The distaste on Larry’s face was so funny it would go viral if I could have captured it when, upon opening the box and attempting to put the birds in their coop, one flapped away. The one we have named Sally. Larry had to go after her and honestly, it was hilarious. Of course I didn’t dare laugh, but I’m laughing now.

We got the three of them into the coop part of their cage and watched as they timidly looked out the little door to their stairs, thought about going down. We knew this bird was Sally when she shoved the others aside. I will go first, and when I get down, you may follow me. Took her awhile, though, and eventually she just flew down. But she’s the largest bird, the Barred Rock, very sure of herself, in control, obviously very smart, and thus reminds me of my own beloved Sally, who takes care of me in the way Sally-bird seems to take care of her flock. Okay, now I’m going to bore you, but when it was Henrietta’s turn to come down, she moved, elegantly, one graceful toe at a time. I’m serious! Right now, it’s such fun.

And that’s it. We went out to dinner — found a super Italian store-front — I had their special, slow-roasted lamb with grilled Brussels sprouts and some yummy potatoes, while Larry had a pizza. A really good pizza, but when I asked him why he’d ordered that when there were such good-looking pastas, he said “where.” He didn’t see any pastas on the menu. Too bad. But at least we found a fun new place to eat. We’ll take you there next time you come.

G’night!