Raccoon Tsunami

“Where are all the chickens?”  It’s just after 8am on a cloudy Saturday morning that was supposed to be clear and sunny.

IMG_NEW

I wish I could answer the Bearded One’s question, but I only see two hens of our nine.  They are usually all outside the coop and pecking around in the aviary by now, ready to be let out.  We’ve been doing it the same way for a couple of years.  “Look at all those feathers,” I say.  Several hens have moulted recently, but there are way more loose feathers scattered around the aviary doors than yesterday.  Something is going on.

And then I see a large pile of dark red feathers against the back corner of the aviary.  I hurry to inspect Anna’s decapitated body.  I search around the back side and find two live hens, Leah and Cheetah, huddled in the far southwest corner.  Dang it all.

Aviary and chainsaw 010

The Bearded One is doing his own reconnaissance and together we figure out that there are five live chickens — Spot, Stevie, Maybelline, Leah, and Cheetah — and one dead — Anna — in the aviary.  Where are Kimber, Sweet Tart, and Danielle?  After weasels killed 58 two-week-old Cornish meat birds this summer, we first suspect them.  But they suck the blood and leave the carcass, and three hens have just disappeared.  Gone.

There are feathers stuck up on the high wires near the tarp roof ten-feet up where there is a gap that can’t be easily sealed.  The water trough is dirty.  Outside the aviary I spot a scattering of Kimber’s feathers, and the Bearded One finds a chicken leg bone with foot attached, both leg and thigh bone chewed clean except for a ruffle of golden Sweet Tart feathers.  Raccoons.  It has to be raccoons.

Aviary and chainsaw 006

I want to linger.  By this time, though, the goats are tired of waiting for their grain and start begging, and the Bearded One takes off toward the barn, and I say, hey, let’s feed the goats together.  The Bearded One agrees but not enthusiastically enough.

The fact that he is here at all is amazing since the morning chores are mine and he is usually still in bed.  He is pure night owl.  Mornings are not his time.  But he was up early — achy chain sawing muscles — and offered to do the chores.  I said that I’d love to do the chores together, and he said okay but not enthusiastically.  And now I’m asking again.  To feed the goats together.

This lack of enthusiasm peeves me, although my heart is breaking over the dead chickens and I don’t yet know it. They were pets.  So I irritate him as he scoops out the grain — “Is that three cups?  I feed them more than that.  That was only two cups.”  He clams up.  Back at the aviary, he suddenly turns and marches back to the barn alone, then eventually returns with a plastic trash sack.

IMG_NEW

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Getting Anna,” he says and opens the aviary door.  I say something about him just deciding what to do here, wanting to discuss what to do with the body.  He turns, says, “Here’s a bag.  You do it then,” and walks away from me toward the upper pasture.

I am in shock. I feel something, but can’t seem to place it. “I am gone!” I shout back at him, and march the opposite direction.  And keep marching.  I walk our road and cry myself silly.

IMG_NEW

Tears roll down my face and threaten to choke me.  Spider webs drip from the trees and the fog rolls in. A lone rabbit on the road doesn’t even run away as I walk by through the mist.

At home, I find out that the Bearded One has put Anna in the trash can, and I yell at him.  I slam the front door, get the shovel, retrieve the plastic trash bag from the garbage and cry the whole time.  As I bury the body I can hear the Bearded One starting the chainsaw to continue with his never-ending, exhausting, wood-supplying operation.

IMG_NEW

Then I go upstairs, realize I haven’t eaten anything all day and don’t care, and cry myself to sleep.  Maybe a raccoon will come and attack me in my sleep.

When I get up, I check on the remaining birds and see that Leah is off by herself, hunkered down.  I pick her up and see that she is wounded.  The back of her head has been bitten.  So I doctor her in the house with hydrogen peroxide and Neosporin and then set her up in the hoophouse so she can recuperate without being pecked.

The Bearded One returns and we finally talk it out.  “I am sad,” I say.  “I am sorry,” he says.  He says, “I was insensitive.  I am not tired of your company.”  “Tell me your side,” I say.  He says, “I was trying to help you to duck the chore and get away from the hard karma of the moment.  I was also irritated in the barn, yes.”

“I needed to linger,” I say.  Together, remembering.

Poor Sweet Tart, we say.  She came to us back in April after a dog bit her and tore open her thigh to the bone, and now this.

Kimber was our very first chicken, a lovely little banty rescued from an abandoned greenhouse, just over two years ago.  She came with her seven babies.

IMG_NEW

Spot and Stevie are the last left.  Kimber laid our last egg on Friday.

Danielle, Kimber, Leah, and Anna were the core of the Founding Fowls of the Farmlet.  They were all named after our son’s past girlfriends.

So we make a plan in the face of this new level of discouragement.  First, we decide to completely lock down the coop at night.  We set the raccoon trap in the aviary with aromatic pepperoni and Ritz crackers.  We do this together.  “Thanks for fortifying the coop,” I say, noticing how he’s hauled timbers from the barn to block any digging at the entrance.  Then we check on Leah in the hoophouse.  “Good catch about Leah,” he says.

Inside, he makes a fire and then we watch a Netflix movie together.  The miracle here is that I don’t like movies, but tonight I am willing to watch just to be together, and the movie is “The Impossible” about a family of five and the 2004 tsunami in Thailand and how love and compassion is more important than survival or efficiency.

IMG_NEW

The next day, we proceed to be wonderfully loving beings.  There’s a raccoon in the trap when I do the morning chores, and I speak softly to it and feed it some crumbs.

Raccoons in the aviary 001

The Bearded One sleeps in.  When he gets up, we relocate the raccoon together to the wilds several miles away.

Raccoons in the aviary 004

We work out a plan to fortify the aviary roof.  I show interest in his amazing new automatic chainsaw sharpening system,

Aviary and chainsaw 001

and make him popcorn to eat in front of the football game.  And we both check on Leah repeatedly. So she won’t be alone.

IMG_NEW

Advertisements

41 responses to “Raccoon Tsunami

  1. Rich life you two are living.

  2. S/he will be back. Our neighbor moved one so many times they started exchanging Christmas cards. He finally started coding them with food dye when they were in the live trap prior to release just to keep track of who’s who. They will travel several miles to return to their territory….which unfortunately means…your chicken coop.

    • Hi Theresa. We’ve watched that happen to several other chicken folk on our road. But we’ll be ready! The coop is shut tight every night. Now, during the day is another story…. And that food dye story is amazing. Raccoons are so fierce, if you touch the trap they snap like a snake! I guess your neighbor just dropped the dye onto their heads or backs. Thanks for dropping by and commenting.:)

  3. I see what you did there. It looks like it’s about raccoons and chickens. It’s about relationships and communication. You and TBO would recognize Deb’s and my style at sight. One of your best pieces, Christi.

    • Thank you so much, J.K. Coming from you, especially, this means a lot to me. There are so many ways to tell a story, as you know. This time, in this crisis, our relationship was the inside story. Hugs to you and Deb.

  4. Elizabeth McMurray-Hauk

    Oh, Christi. I needed to hear that side of your life this morning. It makes mine make more sense. Hugs.

  5. Love. Loss. Love.

  6. Dear Christi and BO, I feel I want to add my voice to all these wonderful comments – I’m reading this post with empty early morning coffee mug in one hand, other hand clamped across my mouth or brushing the tears from my eyes so I can keep reading………. and in the end I can only marvel at how. from your little farmlet, you encapsulate all that is wonderful and painful and amazing about life, death, love, the universe and everything!

    Now I’m waiting for the movie to be made – maybe Matt Damon [bearded] and Julia Roberts [in a purple skirt for special occasions]………?

    I hope your week is a happier one, that something comes bringing blessings and encouragement and …… joy. You deserve it! xx

    • I love the image of you with your empty coffee cup and hand over mouth, Pauline. 🙂 Thank you for this wonderful comment which still has me smiling. Maybe your movie image is the blessed encouragement you wished for us…we certainly have had enough drama this week. I’m a movie star ignoramus and had to look up Matt Damon, and when I did, I swear, he’s a deadringer for Reese Witherspoon if you ask me! Ha! Hugs to you and Orlando.

  7. I feel terrible clicking “like” when I just want to commiserate with you and give you a hug :(. I know how horrible it is to lose pets to native animals and the devastation that you feel inside. The bearded one did the manly thing and shut down emotionally. I imagine to myself that without that masculine shutting down so that we women can beat our breasts and wail the ensuing chaos would be more devastating than we could imagine. We all grieve differently and some more slowly than others. I am SO sorry Christi. I loved Sweet Tart and her little story and to lose all of your son’s feathered girlfriends in one fell swoop would leave you asking questions of the universe. That you treated that murdering little raccoon with such respect soothes my heart and soul. We tried to catch feral cats yesterday. They are starting to birth and we are no wiser as to what to do with them all and so we tried. It failed. We had our own shut down and wailing wall episodes and like you, we learned a little bit more about togetherness in the face of being apart. I also learned that we need 4 hugs a day to be healthy. Close Sternum hugs. I only got 3 yesterday and was lucky for those. Sometimes the universe has no answers and only questions. Sending you hugs from the heart

    • I am lucky to have the time and space and loving partner to process these wailing wall episodes, because when I’m there, all is truly lost. I love how you say,”we learned a bit more about togetherness in the face of being apart.” That’s it. And now we have plans to get more hens in the next weekend or so. I found a local hatchery business that also is a pottery studio and plan to make a call http://www.raincreekpottery.com/Pages/Chicks.aspx I’ve got Leah in the house this afternoon. She is still very subdued and Stevie was pecking at her. She’s in the cat carrier by the window, with the woodstove going and Garfield on the couch giving her eye squeezes. Here’s sending you the best cyberspace sternum hug I can muster.

    • Oh, and TBO asked if Steve noticed his new chainsaw sharpener. 🙂

  8. Oh Christi, I’m so, so terribly sorry about the loss of your pets :-(. I’m also sorry about the fighting. It happens when emotions run high and I do believe you live a wonderful rich life out there and that all of this is very normal and helps us to process our feelings. I know you’ll be even closer after going through this. Sometimes it takes a minute 🙂 I used to think raccoons were cute until they were so destructive at my house. They crawled in through my roof vent (very small opening for how large they were) and destroyed lots of duct work in my attic. Since they have hands they can really do some damage. I finally got all the entry points sealed off with wire mesh. I haven’t had good luck trapping them either. One died under my house one time and it was the size of a small bear! I had to hire someone to get it out, the stench in my house was unbelievable! I now hate raccoons. How sweet your heart is that you were kind to the raccoon after he murdered your pets. I am so touched. Sending you lots of hugs. By the way, B.O. has been really into chopping and sawing wood since I’ve known him in the 80’s! Wishing you both peace and healing….

    • “Sometimes it takes a minute.:-)” Ha! Or a couple of hours! You say it perfectly, Susan. Your experience with raccoons would bring me to my knees, too, as far as viewing them as cute… much less extending compassion. They are terribly fierce and smart, but the rest of the story here is that that night we had fried chicken for dinner, and I heard something outside and opened the back door and there were 2 raccoons on the roof! We shooed them away, and haven’t seen any since the trapping of the one, but I felt like a raccoon myself as I gnawed on my chicken bone! It’s all so complicated!!! By the way, TBO was happy to see a comment referring to his chainsawing… lol

  9. You and the bearded one are AMAZING partners, committed to the Farmlet and each other…the love and compassion you showed the racoon is one example of your hearts! I love you both, so sad for the loss…

  10. I’m sorry for your loss Christi 😦 Whilst I have the luxury of liking raccoons as so far they haven’t managed to swim there way to Australia in pairs yet, I understand the huge amount of damage they and their little fangs and paws can do. It’s hard living in a place where the critters are determined to out-eat you via your animals and gardens. I wonder if it’s worth you getting one of those Alpacas as they are often used as watch pets who chase off intruding beasties. You see them mingled in with the odd flock of sheep over here and they chase off foxes etc. Oh and their wool is amazing as a textile too. Big hugs to you and BO xox

  11. Wonderfully poignant story. I was reminded of “A Bear Tale” because of all the layers to it. It also reminded me of my own raccoon story.

    When I lived with Mona in Dublin, CA, which is almost rural, she became concerned about people’s cats eating the wild songbirds, and set out traps to catch cats on our place. Never did catch a cat. Raccoons, possums, and on one occasion a skunk, but no cats.

    Once after catching a raccoon — a young one — I went out to release it from the trap. I know what you mean about them being fierce, but this little guy was just mournful and terrified. He looked up at me with huge, soulful eyes. I opened the trap at the top of an outside staircase where it had been set. He looked at the open door. He looked at me. He looked back at the door. He looked back at me.

    I said, “Well? Are you leaving or staying?”

    He looked at the open door again, and then bolted at a fair fraction of the speed of light, and the poor thing rolled down the stairs. I laughed and felt sorry for him at the same time.

    I might have been less sympathetic to his plight if we’d been keeping chickens, though.

    • They both have traps! I just realized that when you mention it — “A Bear Tale” had awful Krispie Kremes for bait, and we used awful pepperoni and Ritz crackers. I can just see the little raccoon in your story. They are painfully cute. I’m glad he didn’t turn around and give you a quick memory bite before he bolted. And thank you so much for the lovely compliment, Brian. 🙂

  12. Christine Widman

    I know I can’t imagine what this was like…”Where are all the chickens?” Even though you emailed me about this yesterday, I still reacted – feeling my throat get tight.
    Your farmlet stories bring all My Little House book episodes into real life emotion. And show vividly the challenges of having a farm or a ranch – imagine 200 years ago when the crops one grew and the animals one raised were the only food source.
    I so love the process you and the Bearded One used to deal with the sadness, the loss, the what’s going to happen next. And that you shared that with us, your readers…your cheering section.
    Sending healing hopes for Leah.
    Sending love always to you and the Bearded One.

    • You — our readers — are a huge part of the Farmlet “why”, Christine. When tragedy befalls us and we are once again sent back to the charter, you and our loving “cheering section” remind us that you are there, watching, waiting, your hearts with us and interested. It makes a big difference.

      I know what you mean about our ancestors being completely dependent on the crops and flocks. A stress that isn’t ours, thank the gods.

      TBO in particular loves your My Little House comparsion. And yes, Leah is still with us, in the house, but very very slow. It’s still touch and go.

      Love to you and Den. Across the miles. xxxoooo

  13. Oh, Christi! Life is so full of light and shadows, isn’t it? I’m glad you were kind to the ‘coon and that you understand it’s just his nature. Same as us hunting, I guess. But different, too; I doubt the fish or deer (or mushrooms?) I ate meant personal loss in the same way. I love that you share your growing times. Stress and sorrow happen, and often bring conflict; what I like is how you two resolve that and grow closer.

  14. On a farm there is the constant interaction between life and death. You described the emotions that farm families feel beautifully.

  15. Ugh. I’m going to need to toughen myself up a lot more for situations like this at my future tiny farm….
    I just discovered your blog today. You tell a good story and are +1 regular reader 🙂

    • Welcome, Kate! Yes, we’ve been doing this for a few years — built the gardens in 2008-9, barn and aviary in 2009-10, and the hoophouse in 2011. We’ve raised and harvested 3 rounds of Cornish meat birds, but the last one was wiped out by weasels this year in June. We are re-thinking our meatbird approach. But we’ll definitely get more layers. The life and death continues, we’ve gotten tougher and wiser, but we still get our boats rocked occasionally. 🙂 Thanks for the compliment and hope you come again.

  16. A true wordsmith you are, Christi. I am weeping for your chicken losses but, more so, at the way you write about your beautiful relationship. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s