Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Holiday Pause for This Is Us

Yesterday, the forecast was for epic rainfall—and we got a snowstorm instead. An unexpected snowfall at our place often brings concern, and this one, so close to Christmas, was no exception. My anxiety mounted as first the Internet went out, then the power. As the inches accumulated, a cottonwood tree bent sideways over our narrow private lane, blocking the roadway. I not only had to bite the bullet and cancel a needed trip to town, but fret about the soon-to-arrive Northeaster.

Then last night, after the power was restored, I watched an especially tender and heartrending episode of “This Is Us,” a moment when a man gently held his dying father’s face between his hands. The older man was frightened of what was to come, but his son just held him, telling him to breathe. 

Wrapped in an afghan, the Christmas tree lights glowing nearby, I was reminded of how small my afternoon’s worries were. Whether you’re focusing on everyday troubles, or your heart is breaking, you can take a moment and simply breathe.

Berryridge snowfall on the grape arbor
In that pause, you might notice small wonders. They say the devil's in the details, but perhaps it's the divine that's in the details—like the slanting winter sun through the trees, the kindness in your neighbor’s face, the gleam of a meteor shooting through the midnight sky. The Irish in antiquity were so attuned to wonders that they built a tomb, Newgrange, with an extraordinary design: sunlight can penetrate into a special passage and illuminate an inner chamber only at the time of the winter solstice.

Even if you’re giving traditional winter holidays a pass, what’s not to  love about celebrating the end of the darkest days of the season, and the beginning of longer daylight hours? Happily, snowstorms or traffic snarls or holiday stress, whatever it is, shall pass. So, as darkness falls on chilly these December nights, put your mind and spirit on pause, and just…breathe. Take in the marvels around you. And may you enjoy every moment of the season.

If you like tender father-son stories, you'll find my free short story, The Secret Well, at here's wishing you all the best for 2018! 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Chickens Back at the Little Farm

I was afraid to hope too much.

For chickens, that is. I know that’s the reason I put off cleaning out the chicken run and yard. But when our hen-owning neighbors invited John and me to come by and check out their flock--a few of which we'd be buying soon--I knew time was getting short.

I moseyed over to Art and Ginny’s place during a break in the rain. First, they showed us a half-dozen full-grown turkeys hanging around a pen with a shelter on one end, the whole space covered by heavy fishnet.

Another fenced area held ten or so older chickens and twice as many young birds in a variety of breeds. To house their chickens, Art and Ginny had two well-built coops that looked straight out of a homesteader magazine. One of the coops was a brand-new, airy, A-frame structure built off the ground, with a protected space beneath where lots of the little birds were taking shelter. A large fenced run with a few stacked straw bales gave both flocks lots of room to roam and climb. I was so impressed--it was like a hen heaven.
New flock checking out the feeder

When Al proposed that we pick up our five chickens in a couple of weeks, John and I were like, “Yes!” Yet as I thanked Art and Ginny and headed home, I felt kind of inadequate. The chicken amenities at Berryridge Farm weren’t new or pretty or clean like theirs. And the weed-choked areas only made our set-up look worse. But it looked like John and I really were going to get chickens. 

So no more excuses.

The next day, John fired up the wood chipper so we’d have nice clean bedding for the birds, while I started clearing out the run. The weeds weren’t the daunting part. It was my fear that I’d find years-old chicken remains. After I finished the exercise area, I stepped into the run to yank and clip the six-foot high weeds. I’m happy to report that after clearing every inch of the place, I didn’t find any bones.

As the days flew by, John hand-sawed the coppices off an old maple tree that had taken over the entire area—the resulting stump would be our birds’ jungle-gym—then made a few tweaks to the fencing. Just before we were due back at Art and Ginny’s to pick up our birds, I brought in bucket after bucket of fresh wood chips for the coop floor and to spread around their run. At last, we were ready!

Art and Ginny were waiting for us, and had separated out the young birds we'd take home: 3 black Sexlinks, 1 Buff Orpington, and a reddish chicken that looked just like the breed of chickens we had before. John, being sort of a “hen-whisperer,” captured the birds easily and put 3 in one box, and 2 in another, then Art helped him pack the boxes in his Ranger. “So” I ventured to Art, “what do we owe you?” We hadn’t discussed the price of their chickens.

Art mentioned a far lower amount than I expected, so John and I persuaded them to take several dollars more for each bird. Then after more effusive thank yous, we headed back to Berryridge Farm, chickens in tow. After more than 4 years since our first flock was killed, John and I had chickens again.

The little birds were very skittish the first 3 days or so, and mostly stayed in the coop, even during the daylight hours. But they slowly became more comfortable in their new home, and now they come running whenever John and I go outside.

Hanging around the chicken run
Our birds aren’t hens yet, or even pullets; Art and Ginny said these young ones may not lay for a few more months. Still, it’s funny—it feels like these “girls” have always been here. Of course we’ve given them names: “Buffy” is the blond one, and the one I started calling “Red” turned into “Red Rosie.” However, the three black chickens are almost impossible to tell apart, and we were stumped for a while. Then one day, we were outside the pen, watching the girls peck at the scratch I’d just tossed out. All of a sudden I thought of the three “girls” on our favorite show, “The Big Bang Theory.” I turned to John. “Hey, what do you think of Penny, Bernadette and Amy?”

He got the joke immediately. “Amy Farrah-Fowler?” We had a good laugh, then John headed back to his wood splitting stump, and I ducked into the coop for its twice-a-week cleaning. I've jumped back into my chicken-wrangling routine without much trouble, but if you have any chicken tips or wisdom, I hope you’ll share it here!

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