Hen Pecked

November 14, 2010

 

Most people who keep chickens around here only keep hens. There are a lot of problems with roosters. Not just the crowing in the middle of the night. They don’t live that long. They are vicious and jealous as well, When my wife and I affectionately pet our three hens (who are now all laying eggs), they all “assume the position”; that is, they squat down so the rooster (which they think we are) can mount them.

If we had a rooster and he observed us petting our chickens (which we do affectionately) he would be outraged and likely attack us in a fury. “That’s one of my harem you blankety-blank!” he would scream. An outraged rooster can do a lot of damage.

Lots of people around here keep chickens; most of us avoid having roosters. For various reasons lots of people hatch or purchase small chicks that turn out to be roosters. It’s hard to tell the difference. People also become very sentimental about their chickens; they don’t want to eat or cull the roosters.

I dropped off some stuff today at a local recycling center. They often have chickens wandering the center. Hmm…they all look kind of big; they look like roosters, I thought today.

I asked the manager, “Don’t you lose some of your chickens to predators, letting them wander around free like that? I have some chickens, but they are really safely caged in.”

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “Those these have been around for a year or so; that’s pretty good. My hens at home are well protected, but I don’t worry about the roosters here at the center. People hate to kill their roosters, so they just drop them off here at the recycling center.” Her shrug eloquently said, Where they have to survive on their own.

So remember when you drop off a nice couch at your local thrift center; it better be able to take care of itself when the coyote, raccoons, and eagles come around and start scratching the furniture

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Dear Random Granddaughter,

Grandma and I are looking forward to seeing you and Mama and Mommy this weekend. I hope you will bring the sketch of the chickens, Big Mama, Moll, and Little Peep, you drew. I hope that Big Mama will lay an egg for you as payment for the commission, but chickens are like cats; they don’t necessarily do what you tell them to do.

I have another commission for you, though this is a research project rather than an art work. It has to do with pets. When Grandma and I were married, we thought about getting a cat, but then we had a baby. We named the baby Random Daughter. Yes, the baby grew into your Mama. We thought both a baby and a cat need a lot of love and attention, so we decided to concentrate on just one at a time. When Mama was about two years old and still learning to talk, she had a babysitter named “Mrs. Nagy.” Mrs. Nagy was French and she had several cats. When the cats played with each other, Miranda thought they were fighting. When we brought her home from a day at the baby sitter, she said to us, “Kitty fight!” Those were some of the first words she said after “Momma” and “Daddy,” and “craggie.” (“Craggie” was how she said, “cracker” when she was first learning to talk.)

When Miranda was older, about 11 or 12 years old, I think, we were living in Portland. We still didn’t have a cat of our own, but a Siamese can who lived across the street came to visit us. There was a famous cartoon at the time about a cat looking like a meatloaf, so we called this cat “meatloaf.”
Mama always wanted a cat when she was a little girl, but because I am allergic to cats we never got one. When Mama and Mommy went to New York, they got two cats of their own: Tommy and Lulu. After Tommy and Lulu died, they got Sebastian and Sylvie. Sylvie is still alive, and may be the sweetest cat in the whole world.

When I was a little boy, we had many different cats. One was named “Twinkletoes.” At first she was kind of mean and scratched us a lot, but after she had kittens, she became much nicer. Later, we had a cat named “Fuzzy Wuzzy.” Fuzzy Wuzzy was not very brave. One day my mother saw a mouse in our compost pile. She brought Fuzzy Wuzzy down to the compost pile and said, “Catch the mouse, Fuzzy Wuzzy.” But Fuzzy Wuzzy saw something running and thought it might be dangerous, so he ran away. My mother was very angry. “Scaredy cat!” she said.

When Grandmother Christina was small her family had a dog, named “George,” and a cat, named “Perry.” She thought Perry was her special friend. When she felt sick and stayed home from school, Perry stayed in bed with her and comforted her.

Now we are wondering, what kinds of pets should we have? We have chickens. The chickens are a lot of fun, and they talk to us, and they lay eggs. On the other hand, they are not very cuddly, they don’t sit in our laps, and they don’t purr. Also, they are difficult to house train, but perhaps there is a special kind of litter box for chickens.

Both Grandma and I are somewhat allergic to cats, but we both like cats. There is a kind of cat called a “Siberian” cat which is supposed to be better for people who are allergic to cats. Should we get a Siberian cat?

It is rather dangerous for cats where we live. There are animals such as coyotes and raccoons that might eat a cat if we get it. There are birds such as eagles, owls, and hawks that might be dangerous for cats as well.

Perhaps we should think about getting a dog? We have some friends, Bill and Sherine, who have a big, brave fierce dog called an Akita dog. This kind of dog would probably be too strong and fierce for coyotes or raccoons to hurt it. Perhaps it could protect the chickens against any animal that would want to eat them. However, the dog would have to be convinced not to eat the chickens.

This is very complicated. Perhaps you have some ideas about what would be the best pets for grandparents to have. Perhaps we should just stick with our three chickens? What do you think?

Chipmunks are very cute. They are cuter than rats. Nobody considers rats cute, so nobody minds if we put out rat traps. Some people consider squirrels cute, but quite a few people spot them as rats with furry tails, so they are at some risk of being shot. Also, squirrels have a lot of attitude, and scold a lot.

My former hairdresser’s father-in-law was so irritated by a scolding squirrel that he grabbed a rifle and shot at a scolding squirrel in a tree just outside his house. unfortunately, he shot through a window he thought was open but he had forgotten the window was closed. Naturally, that was entirely the squirrel’s fault that his window was shattered, The squirrel even lived to scold another day. Perhaps it was a female squirrel, now that I think about it.

Not every land has chipmunks. As far as I know England and Australia have no chipmunks, though at least one pet store in Australia sells them as pets. Beware!

There are lots of chipmunks in America, and a few in Siberia, who wander south to lands like Japan and Korea, perhaps to escape the Siberian tigers and the snow leopards who probably think they make nice snacks, rather like the lynx David once observed.

Chipmunks are very cute, thus in great demand as cartoon characters. Chipmunks eat raspberries and blueberries and boysenberries, thus the Friendly Neighbors and the Randoms trap the chipmunks with rat traps. Once the trap is sprung, they are no longer cute. They are dead rodents.

A few days ago, Mrs. Random and I went into town on a few errands. In particular we needed to get a new land line telephone. Out ancient telephone was putting out a lot of static. The last time Random Daughter called she expressed a lot of concern about the static. I hope she realized that the static is coming from the phone and not from her dad.

Although we are now old fogies, Mrs. Random and I both own cell phones (mobile phones). However, mobile phones don’t work on our five acres. They don’t work because there are not enough cell phone towers on our part of the island. There are not enough cell phone towers because people who want to preserve nature would rather look at hills covered with fir trees than at cell phone towers. The cell phone companies build towers to look like hills, but the preservationistd are not happy with imitation hills.

Anyway, we needed a new land line telephone, so we found ourselves in a store owned by Radio Shack, a company I once worked for for a bit, part time. (You don’t want to know. However, we parted ways peacefully, not always the case in many of my jobs.)

While we were examining cheap wired land line phones, a woman in her fifties came into the store in some distress. It took a while to make sense of her ravings, but eventually we realized that she had seen a chipmunk in our truck. Puzzled, my wife and I followed her outside, where she pointed at a chipmunk’s head . Actually, it was under the truck with its head pointing out through the grill under the hood. Indeed it looked very cute. It was obvious to us that one of the many chipmunks on our property on our five acres in the woods had crawled up into the engine and hitched a ride into town.

One of the employees, an agreeable and helpful young man in his twenties, offered to catch the chipmunk and free it from the truck.

“No!” cried the woman in distress and indignation. “Don’t touch it or handle it any way!. It doesn’t live here!” Obviously, she was worried that the chipmunk could not survive in town.

It was clear that the woman was very sentimental about chipmunks. What she wanted us to do was drive back the five miles to our property so the chipmunk could safely dismount and return to its nest.

I politely thanked her for her concern and we went inside and bought a new phone (which seems to work fine).

I did not tell her that when we returned home we would set out a rat trap for the cute chipmunk. Actually, when we got home we examined the engine of our truck carefully using a flashlight. There was no sign of the chipmunk. I presume it had dismounted in town. I hope it followed the woman home. Obviously, they deserve each other.

The Friendly Neighbors are not home right now. They are traveling in Germany on a church tour visiting religious sites with fellow church members. They are very religious and kindly people and they do many good deeds on a daily basis. However, the Friendly Neighbor is 1/4 Sioux Indian. One of his ancestors was Crazy Horse, a famous Sious Warrior. This may account for his skill and fierceness in hunting creatures who consume his berries, such as bunnies, chipmunks and robins.

When the Friendly Neighbors return from their trip I will tell them story of the chipmunk and its ride to town under our truck and the concerned woman. I am fairly sure they will be as wickedly amused as I am by the entire incident.

Flavors of Empathy

August 10, 2010

Recently, Mama (our daughter) and Mommy (her out of law partner) celebrated their 18th sort of being married anniversary.

As we are the nearest grandparents (geographically speaking), we were invited to the celebration. We celebrated with lunch and dinner. At lunch, Mommy served vegetable frittatas. Random Granddaughter made faces. Mommy insisted she eat it. She ate it slowly, continuing to make faces, but eat it she did. RG is slowly joining the land of adult life, where we do things we don’t want to do, politely.

Mommy told me that my daughter had not passed her exam in graduate level statistics. (I checked with Mommy because I figured my daughter did not want to talk about it.) She has to retake the year of graduate work. However, there is another Masters degree program, with a slightly different name, she can probably complete if she does not succeed with the one she is in at present. My daughter is getting older, but I think she can still land on her feet.

RG has been taking piano lessons. Mommy, her birth mother, studied violin at Oberlin, with the intention of becoming a concert violinist, but decided to get a life instead of becoming a musician. RG, currently planning on becoming a painter, has decided to study violin instead of becoming a pianist. Undoubtedly, she will have many lives.

Mommy also told me that RG is having trouble developing consideration and empathy for the feelings of others. She described a visit from a friend which turned into arguments, door-slamming, and sulking in her room.

At dinner, the mommies served salmon. Food fusser RG likes salmon. However, half way through her meal, she began asking about the life cycle of salmon. Then she said, “It bothers me that we eat the salmon we catch as they return to lay their eggs.” Apparently, RG is developing empathy, but for fish instead of human beings.

However, when I told the story to Mrs. Friendly Neighbor, she said (as always an optimist and always a person who looks for the best in others) she said, “She is working on her priorities, and getting it all sorted out. She will get there.”

As we were talking about this, the Friendly Neighbors had a guest, Wayne, the team leader of the “wood ministry” from their church. Wayne is a former Marine and fairly expert on fire arms.

Wayne and Mrs. Friendly Neighbor discussed raccoons and their depredations on chickens. “We were driving by the beach and we saw FIVE raccoons,” she said in disgust. She and Wayne then discussed the best weapons and ammunition to use in shooting raccoons. Raccoons lack empathy for chickens. Mrs. Friendly Neighbor said, about chickens, “They are so curious, they will walk up to a raccoon, apparently to say, “Here I am. Eat me.” Mrs. Friendly Neighbor does not have much empathy for raccoons.

In some places and times, the world is divided up into paupers and aristocrats. RG, while not quite a pauper, is closer to the paupers than the artistocrats, but getting closer and closer to the aristocrats. As it is dangerous to talk about aristocrats where their  guards might hear, I will continue in email with some trivial and boring gossip about the aristocrats of her world and my world.

Pet Escalation

July 9, 2010

The Friendly Neighbors have an old cat, ducks, and quite a few chickens. Random Granddaughter and her mommies have Sylvie, the world’s most extroverted and adorable cat. After 44 years with no pets, Mrs. Random and I have three hens: Big Mama, Moll of the Bad attitude (who pecks our fingers frequently), and Little Peep, who is small,  spunky, and clucks to a different metronome than the rest of the flock.

I once complained about chickens not purring. However, they do have a sound that seems to fill a similar ecological niche: compelling humans to become their slaves. Every once in a while, our three hens will all freeze and make a little “chirring” sound. They all do it together; they all seem to be frozen (as if they are taking a little nap); and after a few minutes they will return to going about their business.

The other day, we heard them clucking in alarm. Looking up, I saw a large owl (I believe the variety is called “barred owl”) gazing speculatively at the chickens from a tall fir tree. It was watching the chickens intently. However, after a few minutes they stopped alarming.

Today, the owl landed on our bird feeder and later landed on our porch railing. Owls are probably mor e interested in chipmunks and squirrels than in birds. The chipmunks are pests who eat our strawberries and our peas. I will see if I can train the owl to eat a chipmunk out of my hand.

(Part 2 of the visit to Mary from Peru.)

Random Granddaughter is beginning to integrate with adult society. Although RG was appalled and horrified by the delicious Peruvian food Mary prepared for us, she politely took a bite of the vegetables and rice Mary served in her lovely apartment and ate some of the cilantro’d chicken Mary served.

Although she was bored by the adult conversation, she sat politely, merely helping herself to use one of Mary’s combs to use to comb her doll’s hair as she ignored the adult conversation. As the doll is based on a Williamsburg little girl, RG’s distraction was a deft way to bring the conversation around to her recent trip to colonial Williamsburg (while visiting her “East Coast” grandparents). As a budding artist, our granddaughter was most interested in watching how they made red paint. RG found it charmingly gross that they crush 70,000 cochineal beetles (from South America!) to generate a useful quantity of red dye.

The most fascinating snippet of conversation I have ever overheard in my life. (OK, my life is dull. Dull is sometimes good.) Overheard at the gymnasium as I was getting dressed in the locker room after taking a shower.

 

Gym member #1: “A friend of mine once saw a 16 foot great white shark.”

Gym member #2: “Oh? Where was that?”

#1: “He was surfing off the Oregon coast. He was just getting ready to ride a wave, looked down–the water was very clear that day–and below him he saw the shark.”

#2: “Did it have its jaws open?”

#1: “No. It was just swimming below him. Then he caught his wave and rode it in to the beach. He said that for the rest of the day he just stayed in shallow water close to the beach.”

#2: “He stayed in the water? If I saw something like that, I would be on solid ground a mile away from the water and wouldn’t go nearer to the ocean for the rest of the day.”

Indeed.

Social Occasion Part 2

February 4, 2009

Speaking of International Relations (as David just did), one of the impossible tasks of modern life is to arrange a social event by email. It takes about 57 emails before schedules can be reconciled. I was trying to arrange a date and time when Mama and Mommy and Random Granddaughter and Mary and S and F can all have an international social occasion at the mommies’ house.The date Mary set doesn’t work for S and F. We arranged a week later.

I thought, dinner. The mommies said, how about brunch at 10 am? S and F said, we have an appointment and can not arrive until eleven. I said, how about 11 am? Mary said, that would be fine; I sleep late on weekends. The mommies said, that would be late because RG must take her nap by 1 pm. I said, I am making an executive decision, we will meet at 10:30 am.

Then the mommies asked, what about food preferences? T(hey have had guests who wouldn’t eat this or that.) I will email the guests today and ask what they like to eat and what they don’t like to eat. They are very polite people so they probably will tell us they eat everything. Nobody eats everything. RG hardly eats anything. (She will be the first five year old to suffer from anorexia.)

Mrs. Random is concerned I am taking advantage of the mommies to be my diplomatic social hostesses (which of course, I am), and said, we [Grandma and Grandpa] should pay for the food. The mommies said, don’t worry about it. Of course, Mrs. Random, in her Martha Stewart alter, is fretting about it.

Now RG is on deadline to learn Quechua and Romanian in three weeks. And the mommies said, RG may get bored with all the adults around and wander off and do something else in the middle of the social occasion (and perhaps provoke an international incident).

At the last minute, somebody will probably not be able to make it. I will sulk because all my careful scheming has come to naught.

Then there’s Bunny, the killer rabbit masquerading as RG’s favorite stuffed animal. He may decide to wreak revenge on me (for my bunicide in the woods) in the middle of the social occasion, ruining the mommies’ best tablecloth with bloodstains.

This is the first week I don’t have to go to work. I have a list of 10,000 things I need to do. Mrs. Random has a list of 10,0020 things I have to do. The 20 have to come before any of mine. Perhaps her 10,000 things come before my 10,000 things.

 

The members of the Survival Pod, bearing heavy packs of scavenged tools, weapons, ammunition, and medical supplies, as well as keeping weapons at the ready, climbed down the bluff leading to the beach. Mia clicked a signal light in the dusk: three clicks, stop, three more clicks. From the inlet by the beach, RG, in the boat, clicked the confirmation signal: two clicks, stop, two clicks.Highly intelligent, obsessive-compulsive, and controlling, Mia was the chief strategist and tactician for the group. She and RG frequently argued vehemently, but once a decision had been taken and it was time to take action, the pod willingly put themselves under Mia’s command.

 

As civilization seemed to be sliding downhill, Mia decided to turn their financial resources from securities and paper money into gold coins. Many people had decided to leave the island; others, including the pod, began to prepare it as a survival headquarters.
The Survival Pod had taken over the two adjoining meadows next to RG’s grandparents’ old five acres, and planted grains and vegetables as well as additional fruit trees and nut trees, and they were raising chickens, ducks, and goats. The pod had also become skillful hunters, collecting game such as squirrels, chipmunks,, rabbits, and deer from the woods at the back of their land.

They had arranged a self-defense pact with the few remaining neighbors to keep an eye on each other’s properties if one group of homesteaders traveled to the mainland for additional supplies.

Besides depending on armed and watchful neighbors, the pod also relied on traps and mines to protect their territory. Yoshi, skilled with the use of surreptitious weapons, had booby trapped the land around the homestead with pitfalls, snares, and mines. They had decided to make a trip to the mainland to see what supplies they could bring back to help see them through the uncertain future. They had brought both cash—in the form of gold coins—and weapons, unsure which they would need.

Circumstances had proven they needed both. First they had gone to a large pharmacy on the mainland and purchased a variety of medical supplies. Then they had headed toward a large sporting goods store to stock up on additional weapons, ammunition, and other survival gear. Unfortunately, as they were in the store, they discovered others approaching with similar goals and little willingness to wait patiently in line for the rapidly diminishing supply of vital items.

Following Mia’s quick-thinking directions, they fired some shots in the air, told everyone else in the store to get down on the floor, and left quickly. As they left town and headed into the woods, they observed several armed people tracking them purposefully. They opened fire on the pursuers. Several fell; several fled. One of the fallen was still alive.

Chad, their interrogation expert, quickly persuaded him to tell how many were in the party. “It looks as if there are three more alive,” he warned the others.

When they reached the bluff down to the beach where RG waited in the boat, they avoided using the trail, instead using their machetes to cut through brambles and berries. Two of their pursuers, thinking to head them off, raced down the path, falling victim to some of Yoshi’s artfully hidden traps.

When they reached the ship, they found RG eagerly awaiting them, with the engine already running and ready to go. Although wind was the main source of propulsion in these gasoline-scarce times, the boat was also equipped with a motor for those times when speed was of the essence.

As they quickly loaded the supplies on to the ship and prepared to leave, Mia called out, “Watch out!” The last of their pursuers had approached underwater and was now climbing over the side of the boat to attack them on deck. RG whirled, kicked, and chopped. Mia fired once; just to be sure the idiot pursuer was really dead; they then tossed the body overboard. They quickly sailed from the inlet where RG had concealed the boat. As soon as they were safely away from the shore, they turned off the engine and used sail to head toward the island.

Chad grumbled, “We’ll have to eat berries and nuts and packaged food from our emergency supplies until our first grain crop is ready to harvest and we can hunt and slaughter some wild animals from the woods.”

“We can do worse than nuts and berries,” replied RG, as they sailed quietly through the night.

 

 

 

RG Picks Strawberries

July 4, 2008

Random Granddaughter and Mommy (my daughter’s Out of Law partner and RG’s birth mother) arrived at 10 am. My daughter (Mama) did not come on this trip. As a teacher, Mommy has summer off; Mama as a wage slave has to be at work. (She is saving vacation for the coming trip back east to Virginia to see Mommy’s parents and to Colorado to meet dad’s partner’s parents.
Although I think our instinctive reactions to RG have usually guided us reasonably well in dealing with her in the past, now that we are more aware of her introvert nature, we proceed a little more cautiously and consciously in our dealings with her, and carefully observe her reactions to us.
When she arrived, she handed me a picture she had drawn. After she removed her clogs and entered the house, instead of heading for the blocks or the train, she went to the toy barn, her current favorite toy at our “farm” and had a brief conversation with the farm animals. After talking with farm animals, she felt ready to deal with grandparents.
I asked her what animals she learned about in dinosaur study day camp. “T-Rex and brontosaurus,” she replied. Seemed like a pretty good start in learning about dinosaurs to me. Those are dinosaurs you would want to be able to identify if they visit your neighborhood.

We all trooped outside to inspect the garden. Mrs. Random handed RG a bowl for strawberries. Mrs. Random removed the net covering the strawberries and each of the pickers went down one side of the row. The strawberries were large and succulent in appearance, meeting with RG’s approval.

Some of the strawberries had obviously been nibbled (probably by chipmunks). RG looked dubious. Grandma explained that the nibbled portions can be removed. RG was obviously torn between lust for strawberries and distaste for eating strawberries wildlife had snacked on first.

However, a few of the strawberries had large holes running all the way through the berry. Grandma explained slugs had eaten their way through the berry. RG looked horrified. I don’t know that RG has begun indulging in religious speculations yet (growing up in an irreligious family), but the expression on her face communicated something compatible with the thought: What kind of God would allow this to happen? She tossed the damaged strawberries into the weeds in disgust.

Nevertheless, she was quite happy to find herself with a bowl of decent fresh strawberries in her hand by the time she reached the end of the row. She clutched the bowl firmly and securely all the way back to the house, just in case a slug or perhaps a T-Rex tried to grab it from her before she got the bowl safely inside our little dwelling.

Next: Ducks