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.
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.