Tag Archives: Animals

Falling Into My Lap

All weekend, Hansel reminds his dad about what will have to happen in order to actually get a puppy.  “If one falls into our lap, that’s what you said.  If it just falls right into our lap.”

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Hansel’s father is a fair man.  Their last dog, when they still lived next door to us, was a wild thing that got cancer at age 3 and had to be euthanized, so he is justifiably wary and put the issue — his three children’s deep and constant yearning for a puppy — into the realm of the Almighty.  “If one falls into our lap,” he had indeed told Hansel all autumn, and now it is January, and the Almighty has spoken.

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All week the Bearded One and I revel in the decision to move to Hawaii.  We take stock and clean out, things we might have done anyway after the New Year we tell ourselves, as if we haven’t really decided.

Never mind that we’ve talked to a realtor neighbor and have considered whether to include the goats to make it an already-stocked-farmlet, or to advertise the goats on Craigslist just like the ad we responded to two years ago.  Arly sniffs through the piles of files, boxes of art supplies, and bags of clothes, absorbing all the stories.  He shreds the Bearded One’s flop.

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“Are there Flop Trees in Hawaii?” the Bearded One asks me on Sunday night, and I laugh.

I’m on the couch and cuddling Arly’s solid little chesty 21-pound body, kissing his velvet ears.  He licks the lotion from my neck.

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Hawaii has a pet quarantine law of up to 120 days, which is four months, which is how long Arly has been alive on the planet.  Too long for a pup, so if we are really moving, finding a new home for him sooner rather than later seems the way to go.  Better for him.

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Garfield is seven, but since our idea is to rough it in Hawaii for a few months and explore, we need to re-home him as well.  On Friday I emailed Hansel, Gretel and Batman’s mom asking if they would like to adopt Arly.  And now, on Sunday, they’ve accepted.  This is our last night together, and I’m enjoying the best part of having raised this sweet puppy for two months.

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Hansel, Gretel and Batman pile out of their car.

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Arly races to meet them.  Hansel crouches to pet the wiggling puppy.  Gretel presents me with a gift, a drawing of a chicken —

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— which matches the button she gave me the last time they were here, and which I’m wearing at this moment.  Gretel notices and smiles, showing her emerging two front teeth.  Batman clings to his mom, since Arly scratched him on the chin last time.

We all go inside to talk and get Arly’s luggage.  His favorite pillow, his bag of food and treats, bowl, leash, basket with shampoo and nail clippers, and a couple of our favorite dog picture books…Good Dog, Carl and Hideaway Puppy.

There are boxes everywhere, including one with oodles of office supplies — paints and markers and construction paper and tablets — and I offer the whole pile to the kids.  Seven-year-old Gretel beams.  “I always wanted a clipboard!” she says.  There are two clipboards, and Batman seizes the other one.

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Batman, too, has had a dream come true.  He smiles and says that Arly, who perches on Hansel’s lap on the couch, is better than last time.  Calmer.

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Hansel is in charge of Arly, and he takes him out on the road on the leash while we load all the puppy and art supplies into the car.  Then we help buckle Batman into his car seat.  Gretel climbs into the middle of the backseat and immediately continues work on a new chicken series on her clipboard.

Finally Hansel walks back into the driveway and offers Arly up for us to say good-bye.  I’m so happy for Arly — he’s been rather bored this week since Roger left — that I can hardly be sad.  I’m full to overflowing.  This is a giant step into the rip current taking us to Hawaii.

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All of the theoretical obstacles to a big move are falling like dominoes. The Bearded One grins, and pulls me to him.

Hansel gets into the car next to Gretel, his long legs cramped, his smile lighting up the world as he pulls Arly into his lap and says, “YESSSSS!”

Goldilocks and the Three Goats

The stroller has a duo-cab, thick rubber all-terrain 10-inch diameter double wheels, and a cup holder.  Our new neighbor pushes it and its two precious children through the cedar arches of our front gate and down to the cabbage patch.  The little 3-year-old girl has crystal blue eyes and a glittery barrette in her curly blonde hair and I think of her as Goldilocks.

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Goldilocks sits directly under her mother with a view of her new 4-week-old brother and sucks her pacifier.  She doesn’t get to see much except Baby, who sucks his own pacifier.  I’ve heard her outside playing, so I know she has a voice.

The Bearded One and the dad linger at the new deck construction,

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and the mom and I stand next to the stroller by the onions gone to seed and the cabbages

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and talk about childbirth, the stress of moving, and eating healthier.  I can’t keep my eyes off of the glorious Goldilocks, and she never takes her eyes off of her brother.

Then, quick as lightning, Baby loses his pacifier and Goldie crams it back into his mouth.  He winces.  “Gently!” says the mom.

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I bend down and chop a big green cabbage at the ground so there’s a long stem left.  I snap off the outer leaves and, “Voila!” I say, “A cabbage balloon!”  Goldie watches quietly.  She is not impressed.  Or the pacifier is really really good.   So I lop off the stem, the mom thanks me and tucks the whole thing into a lower back compartment in the SUV stroller and we head up to the goats.

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The men follow us up the hill, and I hear the Bearded One telling about how weasels got all of our Cornish Rock meat birds four weeks ago.  The new neighbors have chickens, too, they say.

“Would you like to pet a chicken?” I ask Goldilocks.  She casts her sea blue eyes upon me and sucks, uninterested.

“She’s been around chickens all her life,” the dad explains.

Still, I go and fetch Leah, our Rhode Island Red and one of our best acts.  She is such a beautiful red color and always up for a petting.  “Ta-da!” I say, as Leah dutifully crouches down to be picked up, and I pet her like a cat.  The dad is smitten, but not Goldie.  She turns her head away and studies the inside of the stroller before resting her eyes back on Baby.

The goats are scared to death of strangers and hightailed it across the upper pasture when we first crested the hill.

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Now Pearl stands atop Goat Mountain, a four-foot high cement hill the Bearded One made.

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The neighbor mom is charmed by the goats, and, behold, Goldie has noticed the goats and is interested!

“They are wild animals,” the mom says to Goldilocks, as she peers around the high padded side of the stroller.  All three goats stare back at her.

“Let’s see if we can get one to come over to the fence, though,” I say, and Goldie looks me in the eye — Hop to it.

In the barn we keep a jar of almonds, the most delicious treat to our goats.

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I fetch it and shake it and all goats freeze.  I walk back outside the fence, stand next to the stroller and shake the jar again.  I open the jar and all three tremble with desire.

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Sage is the biggest and the leader only because Pearl hasn’t had a baby.  Mama goats are supreme, but in our herd it’s Sage, then Pearl a close second, then LaLa comes in last.  Sage ventures straight over but stops halfway.  Pearl steps off of Goat Mountain, and then stops.  LaLa moves laterally, behind a group of cedars, and then zooms in ahead of Sage.

Goldie watches as I hold a nut through the wires.

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LaLa’s soft lips quiver around one nut and then another, and then, glory be, Goldilocks cracks a huge “just right” smile out the sides of her pacifier.  Her eyes crinkle and I hear a wee little giggle.

“Oh, LaLa!” I say, “You have such big lips!”  He nibbles as many more as he can before Sage arrives and plows in for his due share.

It’s getting dark, we say our good-byes, and the new neighbors are almost to the easement, when I decide to give it one more try.  “Good-Bye, Goldilocks!” I sing out.

“Bye!”  I see a flash of blonde hair as she looks back over the side of the distant stroller.

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Strawdust in my Eyes

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There’s a bale of hay and a 50-pound sack of dry cob goat food under a tarp on the driveway that need moving up to the barn. The Bearded One usually does this sort of job, but I’m craving an outdoor break between all the jamming and summer cooking, some little task where the beginning, middle and end all fit nicely into twenty minutes.  I open the junk drawer under the bread-dough counter and grab the tractor key.

It’s a lovely 75 degree afternoon, the sky is blue, and when I pull back the camouflage tarp, the sweet hay smells warm and summery.  When I march down the trail to the tractor, bright light filters through the cedars and firs and birds chirp and tweet.  The breeze is from Puget Sound, which is just up the road.  Farm livin’ is the life for me, I hum to myself.

I lift the hitch on the trailer with one hand and pull the pin out of the back of the tractor with the other, and then I force the two together.

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And crunch the knuckle on my left middle finger so hard it turns purple as a squashed berry.  But the tractor starts right up and I shift into Gear 4, ease off the choke button, lift my left foot and the tractor lurches forward.

I crank the steering wheel left and make the sharp turn out of the covered parking spot onto the trail, zoom around the tool shed, past the storage shed and out onto the driveway.

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I can’t back up with the trailer — I can never make it work — so I circle out to the easement and get it all lined up just right.  Then I turn the noisy machine off.  I fetch the dolly from beside the garbage cans and recycling bins.

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My knuckle is hardly throbbing at all.

Hay is baled with baling twine so tight it snaps like a whip when you cut it with a knife.  I try to move the bale by wedging a finger — not the hurt one — under the baling twine and can’t, so I tilt the sofa-sized block of dried grass onto the foot of the dolly and then rock the dolly back on its wheels and push.

Flecks of hay poke into my clothes and whittle on my skin as I plop the bale next to the trailer.  I slip the dolly out and away and then crouch down, grab the hay bale’s huge bottom and heave it over and into the trailer.

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No problemo.  I don’t seem to have hurt myself.  The dry cob will be nothing compared to the bale, I think.  Just a few moments of dead-weight lifting.  We move a lot of 50-pound sacks around here.

And then — so what if I pull my gluteus maximus a wee bit — I get the sack into the trailer.  A small price to pay for victory.

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I pile the dolly onto the top of everything hillbilly-style and limp around to the driver’s seat.

It’s a heavy load and I have to shift into Gear 5 to make it up the hill.

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The dolly falls off halfway there, when I’m going downhill before I go uphill, so after I park the rig at the upper gate, where all three goats and most of the chickens watch, I hobble back down the trail to fetch it. And then I unload the hay.

Only now I’m also watching the gate and Leah, the Rhode Island Red hen who is fast, curious and persistent.  I angle the monstrosity, I mean the hay bale, on the dolly through the gate and then through the barn door and then through the interior gate until I finally wrestle it onto the platform.  The goats press in as close as possible every step of the way.

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With sweat dripping down my face, I cut the twine, and the hay bale explodes and sprinkles me with strawdust  flecks which will swim laps in my eyes for the rest of the day.

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Back to the jam.  Break’s over.

Always On My Mind

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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.

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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.”

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Something in the Woods

Ruby is doing that growling thing again.  It’s not her normal grumble at all.  She’s all frizzed up as she stands on the deck with an aggressive posture.  She lifts her nose to sniff the air with a purpose.  Something is in the woods.  Something new.

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All ten hens are screaming bloody murder at once.  They usually freeze and go silent.  This is different.

The goats are in the same alert place.  All three run in wild circles and stop on some cue to stare in the same direction for long seconds.  Pearl, the head goat, leaps up onto our concrete goat mountain and stamps her foot repeatedly.  Wait a second — has anyone seen the cat?  Where is Garfield?

MamaRed, an oversized and rusty-colored coyote we spot occasionally on the road, is always suspect, because she’s always around.  We worked on coyote-proofing the fencing for years because of the coyotes.  The cougar that killed a goat about a mile from here is heavy on our mind.  That’s been a couple of weeks ago.  We don’t really worry about the bears.

But it makes us wonder about Hansel, Gretel and Batman.  They’re out in the woods.

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The kids are 9, 7 and 5-years-old, they have a fort in the forest between our neighboring houses and they like to spy on us.  We see their bright red shirts darting from bush to bush, and hear them giggling as they watch our 22-year-old son build a new back deck.  They know they are welcome on our trails.

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“They’re just now getting into the woods and we’re moving,” their mom told me this week, when I told her about the mysterious noises around here and how Sage the goat had actually growled.  Then I stopped in my tracks.  “Moving?”

“At the end of the month.  To save money.  It’s not our first choice, believe me.”

I am stricken.  We love these kids.

The next day, Hansel and Gretel appear at our front door to return an egg carton.  They are here saying goodbye, or at least one of many goodbyes, and I get them all to myself since the Bearded One and His Majesty have gone to Home Depot for lumber and cement.

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I give the kids another dozen eggs and a jar of jam.  Then we walk around to the deck building site and I show them where the former deck stairs gouged the 150-year-old cedar tree next to the house.  Gretel bends down and runs her hand gently along the scar.  She says they don’t know anyone in their new neighborhood.  Hansel says he goes to work on the new rental house with his dad, and Gretel says, ah, excuse me, she goes to the new house and works, too.

“Tell her what happened last night,” Gretel says excitedly.

“OH, BOY,” Hansel says and rolls his big brown eyes.  He tells how the whole family went to Godfather’s Pizza for dinner, and there was an old lady, maybe 70 years old, who had fallen on the floor with blood on her face!  They had come to her aid and called 911.

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Gretel nods enthusiastically.  Then she tells me that before that they went to a ton of garage sales and got a 1000-piece Lego set.  Hansel even knows the price.  Ten dollars.  A very very very good deal.

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Finally we talk about the fort and the woods.  They’ve heard the coyotes, and seen the deer and the owls.  But have I seen the bees???  “I’ve been stung at the fort TWICE,” Gretel says grimly, lisping between her missing teeth.  “Want to see?”

She means see the fort, she says, and I squeee with happiness.  I have just been invited to see their inner sanctum.  The fort!

“I’ll follow you,” I say, and Gretel heads for the gate.  Hansel brought his bike, so he’ll ride around and meet us at the fort.

Gretel carries the eggs and jam and leads the way across our backyard, past the potato garden, and I open the gate for her.  She marches ahead of me up our trail, chatting away but I can’t really understand her.

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Finally we turn off onto the fort trail and I see it.  A huge old stump.

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Their sanctuary, complete with its own bee colony.  Gretel turns and smiles big, showing it off, but then they start to swarm.

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Something in the woods, indeed.  Bees.

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The Dogsology

Ruby starts a nervous rhythmic licking in her bed, which is right next to the couch where I read.  Lick lick lick lick lick, her tongue shoots out like a snake.  Air licks.  Very loud.  She’s a mostly deaf twelve-year-old Golden Retriever and she can’t help starting these tics.  But she can stop.  I just have to catch her eye.

It’s early and she’s nowhere near ready to get up.  She usually stays in bed until the tens, and then when I’m cooking and the Bearded One is reading the newspaper, she peeks out from her bed under the stairs and rises.  It’s the same most every day — a ritual.  Front paws extended, she stretches, then the back legs.  Then she shakes.  “It’s Miss Ruby!” sings out the Bearded One.

But that’s still hours away.  Now she’s in a sleepy trance that I hope I can break without getting up, dang it.  Lick lick lick…

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“Ruby!” I whisper-hiss, because the Bearded One and His Majesty are still sleeping, and then I start waving.  I know she can’t hear, but I say her name anyway.  I wave wildly.  Sign language is the way in, but her eyes are getting a little cloudy lately and movement really helps get her attention.

Most every morning, after the Bearded One officially greets Ruby, she wags her tail vigorously (she adores the Bearded One) and walks over to the couch where I now sit, and where we congregate for the singing of the ritual morning song.

Good Morning to You!
Good Morning to You!
We’re all in our places
With sun-shiney faces
And this is the waaaaaaaayyy
Ruby starts a new day.
Ahhhhh — MEN.
 
Both the Bearded One and I were raised in Protestant Christian churches where we all sang a prayer song called the Doxology, so, of course, we call this morning ceremony the Dogsology.

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We pet Ruby vigorously as we sing.  It’s a love fest.

Garfield recognizes a good thing when he sees it and wants in.  He’s usually back in bed by ten, but he gets up and comes running.  It’s very rewarding.

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His Majesty, our 22-year-old son, he who is building a new back deck, likes to attend as well.  And this past weekend our daughter the nurse was here and she sang along and then said, “You guys are religious!”

The Bearded One and I both laughed at her word choice — we haven’t been any religion for decades and didn’t raise the kids in one.  We’re not religious, we’re just getting older, like Ruby, and appreciate a good ritual.

Ruby has finally spotted my wild waving and, in shock, has momentarily stopped licking.  We are almost there.

I point my index finger at her with authority.  “NO LICKING,” I whisper loudly.  I shake my finger and lead her to focus on my scowling face and register the seriousness of the issue.  I have her attention.  Now to connect it to the licking, or at least break the pattern.

She stares at me.  And licks.  I shake my finger.  She licks again.  And again.

Her huge ears are cocked up and she looks downright precious as she tries to figure it out.

I shake my finger and point at her tongue.  I scowl.  I send the message telepathically — NO LICKING.  YOU ARE DRIVING ME INSANE.

I love this dog.  She isn’t cuddly like her brother Jake was, but she is an endearing collector of gloves and shoes and chunks of wood, all of which she piles up in special spots around the back yard.  This week she carried one of the Bearded One’s flops out of the man cave den, back through the living room in plain sight of us in the kitchen, and out the screen door.  We were howling with laughter.

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After dinner we found it near the sweet pea teepee, which I just fertilized with fish fertilizer, a smell that could rouse Jake from the grave to dig and roll in.  I’m sure Ruby noticed, but I’m equally sure she resisted the temptation.  She’s old and knows better.  Heck, she even knows she’s not allowed in any garden.  I’ll miss this when she’s gone and we have to train a new dog.

I hope that’s still a couple of years away.

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The Chickens and the Fox

Our twenty-two-year-old son comes into the kitchen and asks if I’ve heard the story of the chickens and the fox.

“You mean a children’s book?” I ask.

He shakes his head no and laughs.  Apparently it’s a true farmlet tale.

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I’m making a batch of muffins for His Majesty, the nickname he’s had since he was five and I switched husbands and the Bearded One first called him that.  Now he’s six feet tall, home for the summer, and designing and building us a new back deck.  His laughing is worth a lot.

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“What fox?”  I stop working.  I think about how a cougar killed a goat a mile from here this week.  Maybe the unseasonal heat is stirring up all kinds of predators.  There’s never been a fox here that I know of, though.  Coyotes yes, but not the littler fox.

His Majesty smiles and tells it.

He’s out in the back deck area measuring steps and otherwise obsessing about stringers, joists and risers,

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when he looks up and across the back yard lawn, beyond the smoldering hot hoophouse into the lower pasture.  At first he just sees hens pecking and scratching as usual.  A couple are molting and look scraggy, but that doesn’t account for the small red animal with a pointy snout and bushy tail.  He adjusts his eyes.  Can it be?

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He waits and refocuses.  The critter is a long way away.  Plus it’s so unseasonably hot, it could be a mirage.  It got up to 88.

No.  It’s there.  It’s real.  There are clearly four legs.  It’s a fox!

He drops the measuring tape and races across the back of the house to the gate.  The Bearded One just helped him with a measurement, and must still be right around the corner.

“THERE’S A FOX IN THE LOWER PASTURE!” yells His Majesty.

The Bearded One instantly drops what he is doing and they silently sprint through the gate, past the sleeping dog and the stretching cat, past the pile of deck debris and wheelbarrow full of tools.  We’ve lost chickens to eagles and raccoons.  Coyotes are always hanging around.  Predators are a big deal on the farmlet.

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The men breathe hard as they scan the pasture, searching for the fox.  The hens peck quietly in the sun, LaLa the goat scratches his tush on a stump, and all the serenity makes it pretty clear there was no fox in there just a few seconds ago.  The Bearded One suggests gently that perhaps there never was an actual fox.

I imagine the conversation unfolding in the same male octave with the same slow cadence as all their deck planning talk this week, lovely phrases wafting in through all the open windows and doors as they work together — “From here can you see this?” and “The bigger question is…” and “You could always do…”

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His Majesty’s eyes twinkle.  He says he stared hard at the chickens again and again until the truth of what actually happened dawned on him.

“Two hens can line up,” he says, and gestures with each hand representing a chicken, “and look EXACTLY like one red, four-legged, bushy-tailed fox!  They were perfectly camouflaged!”

It’s the first Farmlet Fable, I think.  The moral?  There’s optical illusion and camouflage everywhere.  The title?  The Boy Who Cried Fox.

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The Goat Gig

He’s watching me.  I’m brushing Sage (He-Who-Reared-Up-At-Me-Again-This-Week) and the Bearded One keeps coming in and out of the barn, making sure Sage behaves.

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I’m so new to this goat gig, I know nothing.  I accept the Bearded One’s protector personality and I accept the responsibility of monitoring my own cavalier-tending attitude toward capricious wild animals and I am uber-careful and will not keep brushing Sage after he turns and looks at me.  And in exchange the Bearded One will not mention getting rid of Sage again.

Earlier this week, I was brushing our biggest Pygora goat Sage in the upper pasture when he gave me the eyeball and body language that he didn’t like where I was brushing anymore, but I didn’t quit soon enough because he carefully backed up, then stood on his hind legs and challenged me to a whacking of horns.  It was affectionate and playful, despite the situation.

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Still, among goats, that rearing up is a very short-term prelude to charging ahead and ramming something.  Other goats, barn walls, people.  They can do it way gently or way hard.  I yelled at him to get down, which he did, but the Bearded One saw the whole thing and said, “We might have to get rid of Sage.  Gotta put a stop to that.”

I agree that a solution must be found, but I also know that I was more in control of the situation than the Bearded One credits me for.  And I was untouched.  Still, in a love relationship you take care of yourself at least partly because of and for the other, and my other is concerned.  His own mother was rammed hard by her own billy-goat when she was 80.

He keeps checking on us.  At least that’s what it seems like he’s doing.  There he goes again.  Probably making a crate to transport Sage back to Vashon Island, I think.

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I’m using the new tail-and-mane brush we bought at the feed store.  Sage’s creamy fleece floats above his thick brown guard hairs like foam, and my job is to brush it out so we don’t have to shear him.

Shearing would require buying or renting equipment and restraining the goats, or hiring someone to do it, and since the goats shed their fleece anyway, and since it’s still freezing some nights, we’ve elected to just brush it out.  Then wash it and maybe stuff pillows with it.  Or learn to card and spin.

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We have a good bunch of it this year.  We started daily brushings when we saw them rubbing it off on the fencing.

I pull another inch-thick patty size chunk of Sage fleece from the brush tines and add it to the pile.  And continue brushing.  And pondering my relationship to the goats, how to embrace them without embracing them.

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Both the Bearded One and I brush all three goats now, but Pearl is partial to the Bearded One.  Sage can’t stand to see Pearl being brushed — he can’t stand to see LaLa brushed either — he charges over and butts them out of the way.

So the Bearded One carries a walking stick with him when he brushes Pearl.  He’s never struck Sage with it, he just holds this 5-foot pole in one hand and Sage doesn’t approach.  “He respects the stick,” says the Bearded One.  Which amazes me, but it works.

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Sage’s eyelashes are so lovely and long.  I think of him as my buddy and companion.

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As I brush, I want to show affection to him like to a dog or cat.  Not kissing, though.  I haven’t kissed LaLa since I promised I wouldn’t — over a month now.  Sage turns and stares at me with his square pupils.  That’s enough, he’s saying.

I follow him out of the barn, carrying the pile of feather-soft fleece in a plastic bag to take to the house and clean.

And that’s when I see what the Bearded One’s been doing when I thought he was checking on me.

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Setting up to pour concrete as a finishing cap on his latest goat toy, the four-ramped Goat Gig.  There’s not much chance of Sage leaving any time soon.

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Everything Wants to Eat Everything

With every plunge of the shovel I feel some relief.  I’m digging out strawberries, and monitoring the dog-bit hen Sweet Tart, who is happily dustbathing in her newly partitioned end of the hoophouse.

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After three days and three nights in here with Sweet Tart, our newest hen Maybelline tore off Sweet Tart’s scab and drilled deep into her thigh.  The Bearded One saved the day, but he had to throw a glove at Maybelline to do it.  She was in a crazed feeding frenzy, eating raw meat like a ravenous carnivore.  That I subjected Sweet Tart to this torture is weighing on me.  Everything on a farm is life and death, I think.  Everything wants to eat everything!  I can’t get my mind around it, so I’m spending the day digging.  Shovel therapy.

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I’m removing the strawberries that I transplanted from one of the circle gardens last summer.  We’ll give a bucket of starts to Momma Goose and a bucket to the neighbor who gave us Maybelline.  Then I’ll plant broccoli, cabbage and kale seeds.  But first I shovel in well-done chicken manure compost from last year’s meat bird pen.

I’ve read that birds evolved from dinosaurs.  It makes sense.  All chickens will attack an open wound on another chicken.

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It’s just one of those chicken things.  The way it is.  Dig.  Pick out rocks.  Dig some more.  Rake.

The Bearded One finally got Maybelline off of Sweet Tart, who laid there passively accepting her fate, after having been chased around furiously for goodness knows how long.  We re-doctored the bloody wound and moved her back to the house for the afternoon.

Maybelline spent the afternoon in the hoophouse, and then we put her on the roost up in the coop with the rest of our hens that night.  It worked.  They accepted her the next day with hardly any hassles partly because she is enormous.

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Sweet Tart will stay by herself in the hoophouse until she is completely and totally healed.

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I stop working and check her wound again.  It’s a lovely yellowish brown crust of gunk.  I can even make out a little face in the dried skin.  Nothing looks gross to me anymore.

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Since Maybelline has been in with the other hens, we’ve had two pecked eggs in the nests.

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Chickens will eat their own eggs if given a taste.  We’ve had this problem before, but not for many months.  Last time we used plastic Easter eggs to fool and discourage them, and it worked.

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We don’t know for sure which hen is doing the pecking, and I don’t want to blame Maybelline for everything.  The Bearded One says he is fine with blaming her.

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I am actually sweating now, and have to take off my hat.  It’s 55 degrees in here.  40 degrees outside.

I put Sweet Tart down and she flaps wildly then limps out into the sun to peck under the blueberry bushes.  Garfield crouches on the deck, and both Ruby, who is beside the deck, and I monitor him as he acts like he’s not monitoring Sweet Tart, which he most certainly is.

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And then the Bearded One comes out of the house with a plate and a glass.  Bless him, he is bringing me lunch.  He sets a tall glass of water on the railing as he unlatches the gate at the top of the deck stairs, then walks down past the cat, the dog, and the chicken.

Sweet Tart’s partitioned area in the hoophouse has an old picnic table with her nest box at one end.  I brush off the dried chicken poop and then take off my dirty gloves.  My hands are not clean and I don’t care. The Bearded One lays out napkins and the beautiful plate — a chicken sandwich, chips, and orange slices.

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“I don’t hold anything against Maybelline,” I say, crunching a chip.  “It was just too long with a hurt chicken and she snapped.”

“She snacked,” says the Bearded One.

I roll my eyes and take a big bite of my home-grown chicken sandwich.  Everything wants to eat everything — I guess that includes me.

A Chicken in the House

Garfield stares down at me from the balcony, his meow abrasive and cutting.  He can’t relax, he says.  Have I lost my mind?  Do I not see that there is a chicken in the living room?

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“I see it,” I say, and gesture toward the cat carrier on the coffee table in the window containing the new Ameraucana hen a neighbor’s dog delivered squawking and flapping to her backyard two days ago.  “I smell it, too.”

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The neighbor, a young mother who came from maybe a mile away, had been checking with any neighbor she could find.  She was wracked with guilt that her dog had gotten out and snatched someone’s chicken.  “It’s not ours,” I told her, but I offered to take it off her hands just so she could get back home to her kids.  It looked spry enough, and it clucked and chortled charmingly, despite a nasty wound.

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The cat doesn’t blink.  His eyes are wide and accusing.  His objection is absolute.  He’s stunned that the Bearded One is going along with this outrage (frankly, so am I).  He sends a message to my brain — It’s a chicken, for God’s sake, get some perspective here, Woman.

“Don’t use that tone with me,” I say to the cat.

Our nurse daughter smiles from where she sits in my rocker.  She’s been sleeping all day after her night shift and has just gotten up for dinner.  I show her the hen’s wound, which the Bearded One and I cleaned thoroughly with hydrogen peroxide and then coated with Neosporin.  She says, “Look at the proportion of exposed flesh.  That has got to be a terminal chicken wound.”

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“I’m a death-with-dignity person ,” I argue to the nurse and the cat.  “You know that.  I’d be the first person to pull the plug.  She just doesn’t seem like she’s dying.  Listen to her.”  We listen to her brrrk brrrk brrrk from the cat carrier.  I wonder, though, what kind of a lonely life I have saved this chicken for, separated from her own kind.  Other chickens target any obvious wounds unmercifully.  She’d have to be part of a whole separate flock to really have much chance.

“Do you think I’m drawing out the inevitable here?”

“I don’t know,” says the nurse.

“It’s been two days,” I say.  “If there’s no real progress in the morning, I’ll get the ax.”

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The nurse nods, and Garfield gives me the stink eye.

In the morning, the dog-bite gash in the hen’s left thigh, which fortunately is well-hidden by her wing, is covered by a solid membrane, a kind of scab but very thin.  She has no tail feathers left at all.  She is standing and clucking softly.  This is clear progress.

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We name her Sweet Tart because the word “Tart” is written on the cardboard box she came in, and we move her out to the hoop house, but I know she can’t stay there forever.  She’ll scratch up the plants.  Somehow we must acclimate the other chickens to her.  As a single new bird, that can be rough.

Then on Monday, Sweet Tart’s second day in the hoop house, the Bearded One and I are filling potholes on the road when a neighbor stops and offers us a chicken.  Just like that.  “We’re down to one,” she says, blaming coyotes for stealing an Ameraucana three weeks ago.  “And now Maybelline is alone.”

“You’re missing an Ameraucana?” I ask, dazzled.  Could it be Sweet Tart?

I tell the story, we trek back to the house, but no, Sweet Tart is not hers.

The Bearded One and I take Maybelline, though, and Maybelline accepts Sweet Tart with a single peck to her head.  The balance is struck, and all the humans cheer.  They’re a flock.  Two will be a lot easier to introduce to the original flock, plus Maybelline is huge.  Not even Leah will mess with her.

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Garfield sits in a sunray on the deck and stares hard.  He still hasn’t quite forgiven me.

“Do you think we’re in for an early spring?” our neighbor asks as she’s leaving.  It’s cold but the sun is out.

“Well, it sure is pretty today,” I say, and we both are smiling wide.  “There’s a chance.”

“I think so, too,” the neighbor says, rubbing her arms with the chill. “I can feel it in my bones.”

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