Late Summer Sweetness

I began this blog thinking I would post almost daily about chickens, home, and garden. What I have realized is that summer holds little time for hanging about in front of a computer. This blog was born of long winter days which nurture self improvement plans and time for plenty of reflection. Once the weather begins to warm into growing season, my time is spent almost exclusively outdoors, housework forgotten, sewing projects left ignored, even books cast aside as I become once again ” a bride married to amazement,” as Mary Oliver has said. Knowing this season is short, I want to soak up enough sunshine and color to warm me through those endless days of winter. And now that summer is waning, the sky could not be a brighter blue, the air holds a hint of crispness, and sweaterless nights spent sitting outside in the warm dark listening to the chanting of crickets and cicadas become precious. I have become aware this summer that I am as much a part of our beautiful natural world as the fur, feather and plant creatures which I so love to observe and care for. It is a process coined recently by the term “rewilding.” Which is the process of connecting once again to our wild nature, inside and out. So I have committed to daily sitting by the woods in all weather, soaking in the energy of the trees, and noting the gradual changes which occur as summer begins to wane. It took me a while, but I am beginning to feel that I belong there. I sing, chant, pray, meditate and hope that my relationship with the living things around me is reciprocal.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, the young chickens have begun laying, and I need to take some photos to record how they have grown. Nellie is on her way to becoming lead hen. She has a tall comb and lays an egg almost every day. Daisy, whom I cannot keep from calling Sunshine so I will probably rename her that, is second in command, and dear Maizie has been the last to mature and begin laying. My old girls, Buffy and Yellow Feet are really slowing down, but Buffy is still a regular layer and maintains her place as lead oldest hen.

First Eggs

The garden has been rather mediocre this season. I allowed all the volunteer sunflowers to grow wherever they planted themselves and this created a kind of living fence which my tomatoes definitely did not appreciate. I have had enough to can a few jars but not nearly as many as last summer. One beautiful benefit to having a garden filled with sunflowers is that they have become goldfinch heaven. What a sight to see so many golden birds on the sunflower heads. I have tried all summer to sneak a photo, but they are on to my tricks! My cucumbers came up beautifully, produced enough for a turn of bread and butter pickles, and promptly died almost overnight. The only thing which did really well was the zucchini. When will I learn NOT to plant three hills? We have eaten zucchini bread, muffins, fries, zoodles, sauteed, for almost every meal since July. The peppers FINALLY decided to bloom and produce late in August. I will have to brag that I was able to successfully grow carrots this year, and even one hill of cantaloupe.

The most exciting thing that has happened this summer is that we got a new golden retriever puppy. She is absolutely adorable, and it was pure serendipity that we were able to bring this little angel into our family. Her name is Caitlin, after our Scottish niece. She has brought so much joy into our home already. And Sadie is a great big sister!

I have become acutely aware of the process of transformation in these latter days of summer. So many subtle changes are afoot if one has the ability to pay attention. My “littles” have become growing and laying hens. Our puppy is adapting to our routines, and Sadie has learned to share and monitor puppy play, participating joyfully. Forest undergrowth has thinned, and brown leaves cover the ground as the trees begin to show us how to let go. In our front garden the milkweed I plant each year in honor of my friend Roianne has become host to an abundance of monarch butterfly caterpillars. We are discovering the bright green, gold jeweled monarch chrysalids attached to our fence rail, in our hanging baskets and hidden in our hydrangea shrub. I believe these late monarchs are the ones which will migrate to Mexico. We are carefully monitoring the chrysalids, awaiting the day the butterfies emerge. Now THAT, is where hope resides.

Melting My Way Through July

Henrietta’s Grave

Afterwards

William Stafford

Mostly you look back and say, “Well, OK.  Things might have

been different, sure, and it’s too bad, but look –

things happen like that, and you did what you could.”

You go back and pick up the pieces.  There’s tomorrow.

There’s that long bend in the river on the way

home.  Fluffy bursts of milkweed are floating

through shafts of sunlight or disappearing where

trees reach out from their deep dark roots.

Maybe people have to go in and out of shadows

till they learn that floating, that immensity

waiting to receive whatever arrives with trust.

Maybe somebody has to explore what happens

when one of us wanders over near the edge

and falls for awhile.  Maybe it was your turn.

This poem, by William Stafford pretty much sums up how I have felt, much of July. Still very much mourning over Henrietta, I am trying to pick up the pieces and go on. I am trying to float, and accept whatever arrives with trust. I am trying to focus on the happy memories. I continue to care for my little flock of older and younger hens, and hope for the best.

The “Littles” are 17 weeks old, and this past week we put them with the older hens. I had planned to wait, but the older girls were grieving for Henrietta and it was so hard to watch. I decided they needed a distraction. So we put them in side by side paddocks for seven days. The older hens spent their days next to the fence dividing the two paddocks, watching the Littles in their own brand of chicken TV. It was cute to watch. After a week we put them together, and they are getting along fairly well. By this I mean no bloodshed! The most they have done is peck one of the littles on the head or foot, to get them to move out of the way. Buttercup is starting to hang out with the Littles more and more, because she can see that they get more treats. Buffy Orpington, after spending a week calling out for her missing friend, has gone back to laying eggs, and is now the leader of the flock. We have had several long talks about leadership, and I hope Henri is by her side in spirit, encouraging her to be patient and kind. Yellow Feet is less pleased with the newcomers, and has resumed her role as chicken herder. She ushers the Littles back and forth insisting that they vacate any part of the coop, run, or paddock that she would like to occupy. I guess Yellow Feet has given up egg laying entirely and has settled into a rather grumpy retirement. The Littles and the Big Girls are acting like two separate flocks mostly. I hope to see them doing things together soon. The Littles still go up to their roosting area to sleep at night. They have gotten as far as the middle of the ramp up to the big girls’ roosting area before freaking out and running back to their more familiar space. Life goes on.

My dear Patrick made me a bench by the woods. I have been going there each morning for my morning meditation/prayer time. It gives me so much peace to be among the trees. I think as Mary Oliver says:

“When I am among trees, especially the willow and the honey locust,

Equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,

they give off such hints of gladness,

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.”

I do think the trees are saving me. Thank you Mary Oliver. And thank you, trees.

The Little Deaths

I when I lost my dear Miss Roo, this short poem/paragraph poured straight from my heart. I put in on Facebook a few years ago and it touched many people’s hearts. It rings even more true with the loss of Henrietta. Here is is again for you.

Henrietta and I are holding hands. There is nothing like the feeling of closeness when one holds hands with a chicken.

Little Deaths

So what do we do about the little deaths?  The ones very few notice?  The mole dragged from its tunnel by a voracious cat?  Blue eggs tossed to crack on the sidewalk, the cicada interrupted in her mating quest by a too full watering can, a butterfly dragging her tattered wings to the acceptable host plant where she can deposit eggs with the last of her strength? 

The little deaths: one lone cat run down on a country road, one sleeping owner whose side is suddenly cold and empty, one golden hen sporting a jester’s cap comb and a musical trill realizing she cannot make it one day to the feed bowl, or trill, or flap her wings, and stands surprised and stunned.  One master’s joy and lifelong companion who one day cannot rise from her bed. 

These small ones, the ones whose lives do not seem to matter, are yet an integral part of life’s majestic dance until the final curtain falls.

Why should we mourn these small ones?  The spark that is too soon extinguished is the selfsame spark that powers us, who seem beyond, exempt, as if we are the lucky winners of a divine lottery — until we realize that in noticing these little ones, these sweet interludes and endings which wrench our hearts open, we are participating in Love’s creation of itself and the indwelling of the Divine in all creation.

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My Lovely Henrietta

Henrietta

I lost my dearest hen and the leader of my flock Sunday night. My lovely Henrietta passed away quite suddenly. She was her usual cheery self all day Sunday until I saw her standing to the side when I served my flock a pan of frozen blueberries and water early Sunday evening. She looked a little stunned, and did not come over to eat. However when I offered her the blueberries, she took a couple. I watched her for a while and decided she might be a bit dehydrated because it was rather hot. Sometimes she forgets to go inside the coop for drinks of cool water. So I put her in a crate in the basement with water and electrolytes. I checked on her around dusk and she was just standing in the crate. I got her to drink some water, and gave her a small bit of Meloxicam because my hubby thought she might have been stung by a bee. He found one crawling in the yard. She was also having watery diarrhea. Her comb was still bright red, and she did not seem very sick, just off a bit. So I decided to leave her for the night and take her to the vet in the morning if she was presenting the same symptoms. My husband got up at 6:30 to check on her, and found her dead in the crate. She had laid a soft shell egg, and had vomited. I fear she suffered, however briefly. I had always imagined that I would hold Henrietta in my arms when her time came, and be able to say a proper goodbye. Instead I was sleeping and she was alone in the dark. I have wept for days and have had terrible feelings of guilt that I was not there for her. I know that I was a good chicken momma to Henrietta, and that she had a good life, but it does not take away the feelings of grief and loss in suddenly losing a hen who was loving every minute of her life, and seemingly in very good health. Henrietta has been my teacher. She has taught me a lot of lessons. Perhaps this last lesson is that I too should treasure every moment, enjoy the sunlight and good food with gusto, and accept the final moment when it comes.

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Croakin’ Joe

Croakin’ Joe on the left at about 5 weeks

Last week I lost one of my dear little chicks. Croakin’ Joe was just ten weeks old. Croakin’ Joe died suddenly while he was out with the others in their little chicken yard. Words cannot convey the grief I feel over losing that little spunky guy. My husband and I both witnessed his death. He was fine one moment and gone the next. Literally. I picked him up and rocked him in my arms, begging him to come back, but to no avail. I have no idea what happened to him. My heart is broken. Yes, in a way this solves the problem I would face in integrating a rooster into my flock of older hens. But I had decided I liked the little rooster so much that I would attempt it. He was such a gentle roo, and very attached to me. He loved sitting in my lap and snuggling. He was enthusiastic when I scattered treats. He had just learned to crow, and every morning when he heard my voice on the porch, he would begin to crow. It is like he was calling me to come on over and visit. This all happened about 30 minutes before my ride came to take me over the mountains to a women’s retreat. I had a lovely weekend with a group of caring sisters who gently comforted me. I also spent time in silence and in communion with nature in an old growth forest. It seemed the recurring theme which came up for sharing and discussion over the weekend was how death is a part of life, and it is the nature of everything to die and transform.

Once home, I still had to care for the remaining little pullets, and silently note the spot where Joe died, clean out the broody crate where they spent eight weeks transforming from balls of fluff to small dinosaurs. I still had to live with the fact that I will never know what happened to him. It will forever remain a mystery. I had buried Croakin’ Joe next to a flowering rose bush and scattered petals over his grave. I walk past it every morning and scatter a few more petals, whispering “I will always carry you in my heart, and remember you.” I feel sad that Croakin’ Joe never got to experience his transformation into roosterhood, but I have to let that go and realize that I gave him the best life, even though it was a short one.

One thought that came to me during my weekend retreat was that when I cry over my attachment to my feathered ladies, and fur babies I need to remember that they chose me to be their caring friend, not the other way around. They came into my life to be teachers. They can teach us so much if we respect them and pay attention. Thanks for the lesson, Croakin’ Joe. I bow to you.

Teenage Chicks

In a few short weeks my babies went from this cuddly bunch
To teenagers like this!

Its been a wild ride folks! This is my third time raising baby chicks. The first time, six years ago, I had NO idea what I was doing, and yet somehow it turned out fine. My second attempt was not quite as successful, three years ago. I ended up with a rooster which I had to rehome, and one of my hens died at two years of age. This time all four are hale and hearty and are growing at an alarming rate! I have named them finally now that I can tell them apart. Maisy and Daisy are practically twins and they are gentle and friendly. Little Nellie (short for Nervous Nellie) is rather distrustful and flighty, although she is sweet and possibly the prettiest. I haven’t been able to get a good photo of her because she won’t come too close. Maisy, however, has become fond of sitting on my shoulder, and Daisy prefers my lap.

Two golden girls!

Last but not least in any sense of the word, there is the one I suspect may be a rooster. I call him “Croakin’ Joe.” He talks like something is stuck in his throat. I really hope I get to revise that to “Croakin’ Josephine.” I will not really know for sure until he/she is a little older, but the comb and wattles are well developed compared to the others and his/her behavior is quite feisty. Yet sometimes he/she acts just like the others and can be just one of the girls. I will not know for sure until he attempts to crow, which will be a few weeks yet. I hope I do not have to rehome him if it is a roo. It all depends on how he integrates into the flock. I personally don’t think Henrietta will stand for a rooster in her flock.

Croakin’ Joe (left) nestles on top the playpen with Daisy.

Anyhow, these chicken kids are still residents of my basement and they are wearing out their welcome. They were due to go out earlier this week, but we got hit with a spell of cold, wet weather. Their little grow out coop is ready, and I promise to post photos when I get them moved outdoors. Stay tuned!

The Glory of Daffodils

My first daffodil bed

It’s daffodil season on the farm. Glorious daffodil season! I have daffodils planted everywhere: along the front walk, along the path to the garden shed, in my woodland garden, daylily garden, and below the four square garden right before one enters the woods. I love daffodils for their variety and their longevity. Long ago I planted a collection of fifty daffodils from White Flower Farm. http://www.whiteflowerfarm.com

They have returned in glory year after year, increasing in beauty with little or no care except for the planting. I try to pinch off spent blossoms and every couple of years I have been known to sprinkle a bit of bone meal around them, but mostly they are on their own. Another reason I love daffodils is their resiliency. They typically begin to bloom mid to late March and continue until mid April or so. The weather can be haphazard at this time and we endure various snow accumulations, frost and freezing rain. The first spring after I planted my daffodils, I would rush out in tears when bad weather was predicted and gather great armfuls to bring in the house because I thought they would surely succumb to the cold. I quickly learned, however, that the daffodils would merely bow their heads in submission to the weather and jauntily bounce back up when the warm sun returned. What strength and wisdom, I marveled! One can learn a lot about how to weather life’s storms from a daffodil!

I always order a variety of daffodils. That way I have a long season and so many diverse blooms. I have daffodils that look like roses, early jonquils, narcissus, totally white ones, and small doubles that can easily scent a room. I personally am not that fond of the large King Alfred trumpets that one usually sees, but I have several of those too.

My favorite daffodil memory is one of my late mother in her early years as a widow. We always had her out to Sunday dinner, an event to which everyone looked forward. One spring Sunday evening, the daffodils below the four square garden (the first ones I planted on our farm) were in full bloom. She exclaimed at their beauty. After dinner we walked down the yard to view them close up and gather some for her to take home. She delightedly began to clip the stems. Soon she had a large armful of daffodils, and looked up at me with a totally happy smile. She was wearing a blue raincoat, and the evening sun was illuminating her in golden light. I carry this happy image in my heart always. A couple years later she suffered a massive stroke and I brought her out to the farm and she lived with us for many years. Mom and I ordered another collection from White Flower Farm, and we planted a ring of daffodils on level ground not far from the house which she could reach with assistance from me. She helped me plant by handing me the bulbs, and each spring we anticipated the yellow bloom. I always filled a vase for her room, and although she couldn’t talk since the stroke, she thanked me with a happy smile. Every spring I look forward each morning to walking in the morning sunshine to gather daffodils. I have a vase in each room of my home, and carry mason jars full to friends in need of a little cheer.

Perhaps this fall you might consider ordering a mix and planting your own little plot of joy!

To Joy!

p.s. The “Littles” as I call the baby chicks, are three weeks old today. They are all healthy. I plan to post an update soon, plus general garden news. April is such a busy month on the farm. I invite you to please like and follow my posts and do comment below. I love to read your comments!