Always On My Mind


The goats bask in the lower pasture, the sun gleaming off their silvery new fleece, and I think — Pearl looks dead.  I turn away from the window and see Ruby flat-out on the wood floor as only an old Golden Retriever can be, and wait, and wait, and wait, to finally see her breathe.

Ruby on floor 003

I wait for Garfield to come in at night.  I hear a cackle up the hill and I race to the window, saying, “Did you hear that?”  Surely the weasels are back for the ten layers they left untouched a little over a week ago, when they killed our 58 Cornish meat chicks.  I’m thinking about critters dying a lot.

“How many animals have died here?” I ask the Bearded One when he walks into the kitchen and starts to say something.

He stops, and I can see his face soften as he decides to indulge my need to process.  Again.  “Since we moved here in 2007 and started this farmlet,” I say, “and not counting rats, moles, birds and bunnies, which are legion thanks to Garfield.”


“One dog,” says the Bearded One.  Jake, our 8-year-old Golden Retriever, three-and-a-half years ago.  I found him on the morning of November 17 here in the kitchen, over where the chest freezer is now.  Dead, in his bed with his sister Ruby looking on.

“One cat,” I say.  Tex, a 10-year-old, other-cat-aggressive Maine Coon we adopted, went missing in mid-July after living here almost a year.  He couldn’t climb very well.  He was huge.  We got Garfield the next month on Craigslist.  He climbs like a squirrel.


The chest freezer is now empty of last year’s chicken harvest, and it doesn’t look like it will be refilled any time soon.


If and when we do it again, we’ll fortify a new kind of enclosure with 1/2″ fencing or hardware cloth, but that’s expensive and down the road.  Right now, we’ll eat a lot less chicken, which is okay.  We ate a lot of it last year.  We went grocery shopping yesterday and I couldn’t bring myself to buy any of that chicken.

“A raccoon got Blackie.”  The Bearded One gets a cookie from the cookie box.

I have to think carefully to recall the names of the other two banty hens that we lost.  These are all laying hens, so we keep them for years and they get names.  “Dusty and Marilyn,” I finally remember.  “Eagles took them.”  I remember crying about Blackie, but not for Dusty or Marilyn.  Maybe because Blackie was the first.

“Then there were the 55 Cornish chickens we raised last year,” I say, “but we harvested them up the road.”

The Bearded One and I have offered each other various thoughts regarding the weasels.  In nature, everything eats and is eaten, we say.


Cornish meat birds are purposely bred to grow fast and big and we accept that as a good thing as long as they have plenty of room and sunlight and fresh air.  The weasels haven’t gone up the road to our neighbor’s yet.  All our layers are alive.  Still, I need something more.  Some symbolic closure.  Anything will do.

“I’ve got an idea…” says the Bearded One.

“Does it have to do with animals dying?” I ask, suspicious that he might be trying to change the subject.  I’m not finished with all this just yet.  I wish I was.

“Maybe it’ll help you shut this down in your head,” he says, and smiles.  “Maybe we can mark the meat bird grave with the avocado trees.”

Two brown avocado pits the size of golf balls sprout in jam jars in the window sill by the empty freezer.  One has a sprout a foot high, another about four inches, both split open with roots and stems.  “They’ll grow, but never make fruit,” I say.  “It’s perfect.”

I feel the closure I need, draining the water into the sink, whisking the tiny trees outside and up the hill, as I gently remove the toothpicks and press the huge seeds into the mass grave.

Goodbye Meatbirds.


17 responses to “Always On My Mind

  1. Love this. Avocado trees growing in a jam jar – back to the beginning of memory almost. Especially like the weasel’s gingham bib.

  2. Wonderful. I love the Bearded One’s idea.
    We’ve lost many animals in our 21 years in the woods; sometimes we had resolution, and sometimes, like when our hound Blue up and ran away, we did not. But we remember them.
    I do remember worrying about the banty hens we had when I was a kid, because they’d fly up and roost in the trees, and I always thought the eagles would get them, but they never did.

    • Our hens are roosting on perches we set up outside the aviary since the weasels came — and all predators have left them alone, a miracle I am laying on to my barred owl friend. Thanks for sharing your experience, Becky. It helps. 🙂

  3. Err…I don’t mean to alarm you Christi but Willie Nelson has apparently invaded your blog post and he is entirely nude apart from a pair of red, white and blue gumboots! The B.O. has managed to make that image of the weasels and their dinner table look cute! Sort of “Wind in the Willows” style. I am sure that there are books waiting to be illustrated by the B.O. out there… “Weasels in the hollow” ;). The B.O. is wise. Planting those avocados on the mass grave will give new life to them, they will be fertilised by the chicken bodies and will grow strong and entirely weasel proof. Don’t be surprised if you actually do get some avocado’s from your trees. My friend’s mum has a large tree in town. She lives in a particularly dark and cold part of town and gets regular harvests of avocados from her tree. Tassie might not be as cold as Olalla in the winter but it gets down there… -6C is pretty cold.

    • We love Willie. 🙂 And, regarding avocado trees, I wonder about the fruiting issue…the B.O. thinks it’s a seed vs. graft thing, and that with avocados you can’t get fruit from a seed. Is this true, Horticulturist Fran?

      On another note, I recently sent kefir grains to our mutual blogging friend Linne’s sister who lives in the U.S., to avoid the long border delays. Linne mentioned you had another friend in the U.S., Florida, named Hannah, who wanted kefir grains. I’d be happy to send her some if you know what I’m referring to and can connect us. It took just 2 days to get to Linne’s sister. Thanks, Fran, and I think the B.O. could illustrate books, too. 🙂

  4. Sorry to hear about your meat birds. My husband has a high security mind and so when we renovated an old shed and turned it into a chicken coop he dug a foot deep trench all the way around, attached chicken wire from the bottom of the coop into the trench and filled it with cement. He was sure animals would get to the chickens at night. During the day they are fenced in with bird netting over the top and locked in at night (but they have windows with screens and chicken wire coverings for air). Sometimes I let them out for a field trip when I can be home to supervise and they really enjoy that. Luckily we haven’t had weasels and I hope we never do. Would it be possible to trap the weasles? I guess you’d have to use live bait, so how would that work? Hmmm.

    Recently we have had deer making a midnight snack out of my husbands sweet corn and nibbling the ears down to the corn stalk and that is fustrating. They’ve come twice, but none in a week. I hope we can salvage the remains and they stay away from the rest of the garden, we need to take some protective measures there. Good luck with the remaining meat birds!

    • Hi Liz — our aviary also is dug 2-3 feet down and cemented around the entire perimeter, and the sides are double chicken-wired. Our meatbird coups, which are low to the ground since meat birds don’t roost, sound just like your shed, with walls and screened windows, but no trenches. We understood weasels to be night-attackers, so thought the birds were safe during the day in the fenced pasture with the goats. Not so! Seems that determined weasels can get through any opening that’s 1 inch wide. That’s hard when you want them to be free range! Next time we’ll probably have 30 or less at a time, like we did last year.

      Good luck with the deer! We have tons of deer, too, but so far our gardens are okay — I lay that onto the fearless Ruby who patrols the fenceline regularly and poops as warning. 🙂

  5. You write so beautifully, it leaves me teary eyed – I feel your pain, I want to make it go away too just like TBO – he is a gem!! Closure takes time, but humour and weasels in bibs with cutlery at the ready helps 🙂 I really want to hear [in a few more years] that those avocado trees grow big and strong and do bear fruit!

    • Thank you so much, Pauline, and you are so right about my gem of a B.O. As he says, “His stock rises and his stock falls,” but he’s a keeper that’s for sure. 🙂 I’ll keep everyone posted about those avocado trees. I just hope they grow!

  6. So sorry to hear about the loss of your meat birds Christi. I would have bawled my eyes out as I tend to fall in love with chooks, heavy and hard. Maybe that’s why I haven’t owned any for a few years now. That and we live in the centre of town here in Albany Western Australia. Might one day get just a couple of big fat fluffy chooks for the odd egg or two and build them a amazing moveable chicken coop ala Gypsy style that I can move about the place 😀 I adore the drawing of Garfield up the tree 😀 I also love cats in all forms. Good luck with the avocados. You never know what you’ll get when you plant them so be surprised!

    • Thanks, fellow cat lover! Fran loves her dogs, and I love dogs, too, but I’m like you, I ADORE cats. I came to this love late in life, in my 50s in fact when I adopted a 10-year-old cat. They are fascinating creatures.

      • I love the way they “tell” you what they want. Mine make a short , sharp mew to get us to fill up their special water bowl. Then a different one for food. Molly likes to have long conversations with us and always gets the last meow in! It is true, we are their slaves! Nothing beats a warm kitty on your knee on a cold night too 😀

  7. Christine Widman

    Yes. Planting seeds is always a sign of life moving forward.
    I love love avocados so hope your trees grow with vigor and produce fruit. Yum.
    I’m so aware that the Farmlet is filled with domestic animals & plants. You and the Bearded One tend to them – feed them, pet them, collect harvest from them.
    Here it is wild animals and birds and lizards and snakes and of course even most of our flora is basically wild. A very different kind of interaction. It is much more a survival of the fittest.
    I am looking out my windows at the Catalina Mountains. Blue and misty – almost like the Cascades – as we have been having a scatter of rain. The moisture brings a softening to our parched summer desert.
    I am thankful that we are part of this rotating planet – you with your chickens, and goats and berry bushes and cedars and the weasels…me with my desert spiny lizards and Harris antelope squirrels and blue agaves and palo verdes and the coyotes.
    R.I.P. to the Cornish hens.

    • Domestication is the word, Christine, and you make me think about what that means, all the implications of control and care and work. It is a good thing, I believe that. As is the wild. It’s living between the two that can make a gal nuts. :0 Love you, as always.

  8. I feel for you, Christi; I’ve always cared for pets until they left me naturally, which means that I also spent some time looking for signs of breathing and all. But I’m the same with new babies and infant anything, really. And now it’s my elders . . . We live so near the veil between life here and life there, don’t we? I’ve had people tell me they wouldn’t have a pet because they couldn’t stand to lose it, but I think they miss so much . . . I’ve always liked the quote, ” ’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”. I would have dogs and cats if possible, even knowing I am very likely to outlive them.

    I love the weasel buffet; your BO really needs to consider a book or ten . . . he’s got a wicked sense of humour . . .

    Hope those avocados are fruiting when I get down there . . . not to worry, it’ll be a while yet . . .

    • Oh, Linne — the zones of life and death, babies and elders — we’ve lived long enough now to have experienced both, sometimes numerous times, and still it’s a mystery! I’m with you, better to have loved. That’s what life is about! And I agree, too, about the B.O.’s stick drawings. He is a funny man, but you wouldn’t know it when you first meet him. As our middle daughter once said, “He’s really sweet, but if you didn’t know him and saw him coming down the road, you’d cross to the other side.” LOL

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