Tag Archives: farm life

The Lost Hat

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“I have lost my hat,” says the Bearded One.  He stands by the empty hook on the wall near the front door where his ancient, stained, filthy and beloved Tractor Supply Co. hat usually hangs.  I do not feel sadness or alarm.  This happens roughly once a week.

I’m at the kitchen sink doing the dinner dishes with hot water I heated on the stove.  Our hot water heater finally bit the dust this week, but not before melting something in the breaker box, thus requiring the services of both an electrician and a plumber and stretching out the ordeal for a week.  We’ve learned to help each other take surprisingly satisfying pioneer baths, which has greatly helped me in my efforts to not view this as a real hardship.

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But I am keenly aware of cleanlines, and the Bearded One’s hat is easily the dirtiest thing allowed in the house.

This afternoon he wore it to our neighbor’s graduation party.  Granted, it was a backyard picnic, but the Bearded One has a clean new Tractor Supply Co. hat sitting in our closet specifically for shindigs.  Neither of us thought of it.  I should have noticed before I was standing in front of Edeltraut as she fumbled with her camera — “I got your heads anyvey!” she said.  I apologized to her and assured her that he usually doesn’t wear this hat to parties.  And that it certainly was not allowed at our kitchen table.

The Bearded One has now searched the entire house to no avail.  All of the great outdoors awaits.  He stands behind me and says nothing.

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I turn around and see how hang-dog he is working to be.  Blatant flirting.  He’s not even interested in the ripe strawberries I’m cleaning in the sink, or the gorgeous pile of just-harvested kale, broccoli, and snap peas piled on the counter.  He only has eyes for his hat.

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“Did you leave it up at the meat birds?” I ask.  Our 60 Cornish meat birds arrived last week —

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— the same day our hot water heater and breaker box made the melting-down smell.  One or the other of us has been up at the brooder every few hours or so during the days since then, refilling water and chick feed starter.

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They have already doubled in size.

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It’s unlikely the Bearded One would even take the hat off up there, but where else could it be?

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He doesn’t respond.  He stares into space, pretending to think hard.

“The last time I saw it it was full of eggs,” I say.

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“One was decorated with a crust of chicken poop.”

He is bereft.  Lobotomized.  The loss of the hat is a deeper hardship to him than hot water.  I hope he finds it.

And within seconds he does.  “Found it!” he says, ecstatic.

I turn around to see where, but he’s already popped it onto his head.  The color returns to his face. As if he has had a pail of luscious hot water tenderly poured from the bucket of the finest bath wench ever seen.

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“Where was it?” I ask.

“Under the kitchen table,” he confesses, “on the fourth chair where I put it during dinner.”

No wonder he couldn’t find it.  The hat is not allowed at the table.

Kissing Jokers

It’s 9pm now and still completely light out, dinner is over, and I wring the dishcloth one final time.  The hot water heater is on its last sparks and now offers either lukewarm water or scalding hot lava.  The plumber comes later this week.  I pour myself a cup of raspberry tea.  We’ve decided to play a hand or two with our 20-year-old cards.

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I’m not a card shark, but I can shuffle.  I can make a bridge with the cards after I shuffle, and I’m almost always the dealer.  Our two decks of red Bicycle cards are so old they practically shuffle themselves.

We’re usually too exhausted to play cards in the summer, but this year His Majesty is here before his last year of college and we have been enjoying a game together more nights than not.  The game is Shanghai, a series of gin rummy games of sets and runs that my grandparents played and I’ve played my entire life.  His Majesty has also played his entire life — 22 years — and he knows all the idiosyncratic home-grown rules, but he can’t shuffle worth a dern.  He has huge hands.  A basketball and guitar playing dream come true, the Bearded One has long said.

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But they’re awkward with a deck of cards.  He’s on the couch mindlessly practicing now.  Shuffling’s one of those things you just have to do a million times ’til you can do it in your sleep.

I stroll into the living room and observe for a brief moment or two.  His Majesty has been staining deck joists all week, and his fingernails show it.  During last night’s game, he told us about his recent dreams of needing to finish staining huge piles of lumber.

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“What is the problem here?” I ponder out loud, as the cards in his large hands stick together and collapse.

“You’re watching,” says His Majesty, and grins.

“Let’s play,” I say.

The Bearded One is already at the kitchen table, working on jam labels.  Our oldest daughter is getting married on August 24 and I am making 200 jars of jam for guest gifts.  The labels are the Bearded One’s job.

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His other wedding job is creating the cedar arch the happy couple will be married under, including the logistics of transport to and assembly in Seattle.

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His Majesty places the cards in the middle of the round table and sits down in the rocker to my right, his usual seat.  I’m between two tired guys.

The Bearded One moves the label project onto the empty fourth chair and sips his Coke.  A jar of 24 wishbones is the only thing left on the table, our tribute to last year’s meat birds.

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This year’s 60 Cornish Rock broiler chicks will be born tomorrow down in Oregon, and shipped to us two days later, on Thursday.  The brooder is ready, as is the entire meat bird pen.

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The Bearded One is worn out, but is rousing himself for the sake of competition.

“Ninety nine percent of good shuffling,” I say, splitting the double deck, “is setting them up right.  It’s all positioning.”  I begin the shuffle and thank goodness, it works, each of the 104 cards falling into place.

“Make the bridge, make the bridge,” chants the Bearded One, and I oblige, cupping my hands so the arched cards fall down over each other into a neat stack.  The men applaud.

“What’s the game?” asks His Majesty.

“Three sets,” says the Bearded One, and I groan.  I hate three sets and the Bearded One knows it.  This is blatant flirting.

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“Two runs,” says His Majesty, as he always says.

“Two sets and a run,” I say.  The men agree, as they must, and that’s that.  I deal 10 cards to each of us, snapping each card into place, and then give the Bearded One an additional card.  “And the Bearded One gets the discard,” I say, as we each fan out our cards.

Kissing jokers is an idiosyncratic rule descended from my grandfather, one of our many crazy rules, and I kiss the single joker I’m dealt.  The poor, joker-less Bearded One growls.  Literally.

Then His Majesty, who has always been lucky, smiles and kisses his wild card, too.  He’s got a good hand.  No poker face at all.  He’ll be shuffling in no time.

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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 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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Batman rushes over to my kitchen counter with his two older homeschooled siblings, Hansel and Gretel, but his 5-year-old heart is not into looking at the grossness of the kefir grain globs, or even smelling the luscious cream cheese I made from it (He will melt later, though, when I give him some fresh kefir bread).  He twitches and dances in place, his mind outside on the trampoline, on the joy of jumping.

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“This is Science,” says their mom happily.  They are here for a total of just twenty minutes — a blissful break from their routine — and then the piano teacher, a high school senior who comes to their house and charges $5 a lesson, will arrive at 3:30.

After about five minutes, I pronounce the kefir lesson officially over and the kids bolt for the door as if they were going to Disneyland itself.  Their mom and I slowly follow them out and stand together on the deck in the sun, and I try to take in the scene through their eyes.

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The chickens and all three goats are down in the lower pasture enjoying the piles of flick weed we’ve thrown over the fence for them.  I’m brushing out Sage’s fleece in great gobs now, and saving it in a bag, but you couldn’t tell it from how fluffy he still is.

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A mourning dove coos in the forest.  At first I think it’s an owl, but the sound is softer and less punctuated.  The Bearded One hears it now, too, from where he sits watching the kids jump.

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All three kids jump at the same time, a first for Batman.  He’s always just been too small.  He is elated.  Empowered.  He whoops and hollers.  He just got the training wheels off his bike two weeks ago.

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“MOM!”  Hansel sees us standing on the deck and runs over.  “You have GOT to come with us!  PLEASE!”  He’s headed toward the hoophouse.

The thermometer on the hoophouse reads an incredible 80F degrees on this 50F degree day.  The kids want to escort their teacher into a humid jungle she will never forget.  The heat will bake you! they say.  You can’t breathe!

Any sunshine at all magnifies the heat through the plastic.  I just watered this morning, so the humidity is intense.  Water drips like after a rainstorm.

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“PLEASE!” the students beg, but their mom says she has to stay up on the deck and watch for the piano person.

The kids are entering the hoophouse now.  Hansel and Gretel run the length of it, but Batman stops at the door and dramatically clutches a hand to his mouth, indicating that the sheer intensity of the heat has fried his lungs.  He backs out, then steps back and waits a second to cool off.  He can’t wait to be overwhelmed again.

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And then the young piano teacher drives by on her way up to their house.

Hansel’s lesson is first, but Gretel wants to go with him.  The two siblings race across the yard to the back gate and the secret forest trail to their house.

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Batman instantly realizes that all the trampoline competition has just run off.  This has never happened before.  He swings into action.  “Can I jump ALONE?” he asks.

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“Yes,” his mother says, “for a couple of minutes,” but he hears no time restraint.  He beelines for the trampoline and sings out, “Doink,” on each of the seven log steps.

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And then he begins to jump.  Higher and higher.  He stops and skips around the perimeter, feels his weight in his legs.  He shouts Hee-Haw and shakes his booty and yells for us to watch this and watch this.  Finally he lays down flat on his back in the middle of the trampoline universe, looks up into the cedars, and sings out again, “I can do it.  I can do it.”

His mother smiles and wonders out loud if there is actual piano playing going on over at her house.  “Time to go!” she says and takes her kefir grains and the jar of cream cheese and her littlest student home through the front gate as he says he wants to stay for ten hours.

A good day at school.

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Time to Come In

It’s 7:45pm and very dusky and the Bearded One went for a walk an hour ago, seems like.  We work later and later these spring days, but he’s usually in by now.

Our dinner, fish and rice, is out of the oven and I just put a kefir cheesecake in fifteen minutes ago.  The house is beginning to smell sweet and custardy. I fed Ruby a couple of hours ago.  She hardly goes on the evening walk with him anymore, staying put and pretending to sleep.  She’s 12.

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I’m not a worrier, really.  The Bearded One is very careful.  He has survived in the Alaska bush.  We have safety protocols for our toothbrushes.  He can imagine the most outlandish possible catastrophes as only an experienced lawyer can.  So I’m not really worried, more just curious what has delayed him.

I step out onto the deck.  It takes a minute for my newly-bifocaled eyes to adjust to the dark as well as to the distance in the backyard.  It’s extra dark because of the new moon this week.  Venus is out, and I can’t read the temperature in the hoophouse any more.  I whistle.  Our standard “Where are you?” whistle.

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It is immediately returned, and I turn to locate the Bearded One clear in the back corner of the yard by the apple tree.  His hands have been in his pockets, and he’s been looking up, studying, but now he steps back and waves.

“Comin’!” he shouts, shoves his hands back into his pockets and starts the trek in.  Past all the tender young vulnerable baby plants in the gardens.

Past the new no-dig potato garden — layers of newspaper, compost, minerals and straw — we put together late last week, and I’m hoping is free of last year’s scab.

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Past the onion and garlic garden I planted just this afternoon, all just watered.  The ink is barely dry on the stakes identifying their date of birth.

When I was planting the little round onion sets, the Bearded One worked on the lower pasture goat toy, and we both listened from our side of the forest to the sheer intensity of the distant neighbor children — 5 years, 7 years, or 9 years of concentrated life — and their visiting friends whoop and scream.  An indignant 5-year-old voice, clearly reporting to an adult, rang out, “HE TRIED TO CUT OFF MY HEAD!”  The Bearded One and I looked at each other and both laughed.  We lost our heads years ago.

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Now the Bearded One opens the hoophouse, which is full of inch-tall, cool weather seedlings — radishes, broccoli, turnips, cabbage, kale and fava beans.  Every day and evening he patrols for slugs.  This morning he removed one trailblazing slug on the inside, halfway up the plastic.  I lined the beds with Diatomaceous Earth, the fossil flour that theoretically they can’t cross without dying later on.

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There’s a dark truth to spring, I think.  Young things everywhere are in jeopardy.  We try to protect them, but slugs get in.  And so do chickens.

The sweet pea teepee is still surrounded by a chicken wire fence initially installed to keep a temporary backyard chicken out of the slender, infant peas.  We adopted the young Amerucana Sweet Tart and for a month, while she healed from a dog wound, she roosted at one end of the hoophouse and had the run of the backyard.  It was quite idyllic.

Until she got through the hoophouse partition — I left it ajar — and scratched around in the seed beds, wiping out a section of turnips and broccoli.

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That night we put her up in the coop with the nine other hens and she has integrated beautifully.

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Now the sweet pea teepee chicken wire keeps Garfield out.

The Bearded One closes the hoophouse door and crosses the small lawn, which needs mowing again, but it rained all weekend.  It’s full-fledged dark when I open the deck gate and meet him.

“The apple tree,” I say, and smile.

“Every branch is in a different stage,” he says, serious and enchanted as a toddler.  “Some just barely budding, others goin’ gangbusters, leafin’ out.”

“Yep.”  I hug him, and hustle him safely inside.

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Fresh Apple Bark

The Bearded One has been troubled this week by the prospect of pruning the top off of our Spartan Apple tree, which is full of little green and pink buds.

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I’ve watched from the window as he’s studied it, taking pictures from every angle with plans to send them to tree specialists on-line.

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“All I want is to walk around the tree and pick the apples,” he says.  He is very serious.  “I could really mess it up, stunt its growth.”

I can’t believe the big deal he’s making over this.  There are two 6-8 foot branches sticking straight up beyond the reach of Goliath, and every intuitive cell in my body says to just cut them off, the tree will be fine.  “Just cut ’em off,” I say.

He then explains the octopus shape he envisions, that it’s just a 4-year-old tree, that he’s not ready to cut yet.  It doesn’t get enough sun here to be super hardy.

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I am a natural cutter and trimmer.  When I head into the yard, I grab the hand pruners to cut some huckleberry or salal for the goats.  I am the one who usually mows.  I trim my fingernails regularly and I use my kitchen scissors almost as much as my knives.

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The Bearded One is a digger, and goes for a shovel or pick every time.  He likes to dig and plant and build and is a whiz with the hose, lassoing it down calmly into the grass.  He doesn’t like to cut anything, though.  He wants it all wild.  He needs lots of reassurance.

If I even mention the possibility of cutting my long hair, he says he will cry in the night.  Likewise for perms.

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He himself hasn’t had a haircut since we got together in 1996, and he hadn’t cut his dark brown hair for a couple of years before that, when he left the law practice for good.  The kids, who were ages 6, 10, and 13 when we married have known him only as a long-haired hippy.

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And now he’s a goat-whisperer, gray-haired hippy, the only person on the planet who can actually pet and brush the wild goat Pearl.

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All three of the goats’ fleece is as long and thick as it will get, but it’s still freezing some nights and they need those coats for another couple of months.

The Bearded One patiently brushes each goat every day with hopes that we never have to sheer them, that we can just pull the fleece out with a brush as it sheds.  I like that idea, too, but mainly because I don’t want to restrain them.  I’ve read that it’s possible to pluck Angora cashmere and mohair fleece.  We’ll see.

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If we do nothing, they’ll just rub it completely off by endless scratching and shoving against the fence.

Before I have a chance to download the apple tree photos, I look out the window again and see two long apple tree branches displayed on the grass.  The Bearded One waves happily for me to come and see.

“What happened?” I ask, and step out on the deck.

The Bearded One is so pleased he doesn’t seem to even remember the tree consultant idea.  “I saw Lou on the road and he said to just cut ’em off.”  Lou has a nice orchard.  He knows stuff.

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“Yay!” I say, relieved that he is relieved.  And then I notice all three goats peering down the chute to the lower pasture, watching the Bearded One carrying around fresh-cut apple tree trimmings.

He holds them up and waves them at the goats.

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They have superb eyesight, and it’s the Kentucky Derby in an instant.  Down the chute they race for all they’re worth.  Anything for fresh apple bark.

A Little Grass is Good

“It’s blowin’ in the wind,” says the Bearded One, and I know as well as he does that if we wait too long, it’ll be hell to push through.  I usually mow, just because of the exercise, but I’ve been cooking all morning and want to sit.  Mowing takes about 20 minutes, and the smell of the cut grass in the sunshine is intoxicating.

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I sit on the deck and pet each animal in turn.  Sweet Tart the chicken, who continues to heal nicely from her dog bite wound, is as insistent as Ruby.  And Garfield loves on everyone and everything in sight.

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Schmidt is our antique mower’s name, because that’s the name of the nice man I bought it from four years ago after seeing it advertised on Craigslist.  It has a plaid catcher and a wooden handle, and is more than 50 years old.

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The Bearded One just dragged it out from under the house and is mowing for the first time this year.  “The first cut is the deepest” goes the song, and we’re mowing a good three weeks earlier than last year.

The sun shimmers on the blades like water.  All three animals bite at the slender grass, working their tongues and beaks.  The Bearded One whirrs past.

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“We don’t water or fertilize it,” I explain later to a friend online who is surprised we have a lawn.  “We let ours go brown and die each August.  And it keeps the dust down.”  Which is all true.

But my deeper truth is that, in the spring, I crave our little patch of soft Kentucky blue grass between the deck and hoophouse on the back side of the house.

It’s full of moss, which we also love.

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We harvest lots of moss from our forest, pulling it up in big sheets for transplanting into moss gardens at different places.

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The only place we fight moss is on the roof, and sprinkling laundry soap up there does the trick.  The moss in the grass is neon green and fills in all the dirt places.

The Bearded One kept hurting his shoulder starting our ancient motorized lawnmower —

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— the rope-pull gizmo locked up mid-pull every fourth or fifth try — and I hated the noise, so we gave it to Virge the village mechanic and got Schmidt.  Our lawn tractor could cut the grass, too, but we took that attachment off long ago.

Our lawn slopes gently downhill to the biggest circle garden where the new blueberry bushes are budding and the rhubarb is up.

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The broccoli, cabbage, and radish seedlings in the hoophouse are up, too.

The Bearded One has finished the patch in front of me now, and he empties the catcher into the compost pile, which is still in the shade and cold.

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Here at the Equinox, as we hand winter over to the Southern Hemisphere, the sun is just making it above the surrounding forest.

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Suddenly Ruby nose-dives into the sweet just-cut grass.  She rolls on her back, flopping and rubbing and clawing.

Garfield flits by then, and he, too, plows into the grass headfirst, turning to show his tummy.

Sweet Tart’s tush twitches as she marches down the slight incline, clucking and burbling, and I can’t stand it another second.  I want to eat the greenness, but lying on top of it will have to do.

I crawl off the deck on my hands and knees and finger my way into the blades.  I dig my nails into the rooty mesh beneath the soft strands of freshly cut grass, and then, closing my eyes but still seeing the sun, I press my spine into the earth.

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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.