The world being what it is

An October morning
The backyard on an October morning.

We expect Armageddon; the Bible has trained us well. We assume either annihilation or salvation, perhaps both. Millennarian beliefs are as old as time; the apocalypse has always been at hand. People have lain quaking in their beds waiting for the year one thousand, have cowered at the passage of comets, have prayed their way through eclipses. Our particular anxieties would seem on the face of things more rational, but they have an inescapable ancestry. The notion that things go on forever is recent, and evidently too recent to attract much of a following. The world being what it is, it has always been tempting to assume that something would be done about it, sooner or later.

— Moon Tiger, Penelope Fitzgerald

Things to be happy about:

  • I am reading again, which makes me feel like myself. I am also reading with the drive to read everything that I own but haven’t read yet. This means I have a lot of formidable, giant tomes to get through (Edith Grossman’s translation of Don QuixoteBleak HouseTristram ShandyThe Charterhouse of ParmaTom JonesThe AmbassadorsThe Gulag Archipelago). Sheesh. None of those sound even remotely fun.
  • Celebrating Lulu, the bride-to-be, this weekend!
  • The weather.
  • Fumiko found a good home! Our dear friends Ethan and Hannah have adopted her into their flock. Here is a photo of her new siblings checking her out (Fumiko is the tiny one in the cage):

Introducing Fumiko to her new flockWe are hopeful that she will survive, but regardless, we are grateful for kind, generous friends, taking in our lone hen. We are going to try again with the backyard chicken gambit next year.

An urban farm tragedy

Home and garden, May 2015
Our fenced garden area. Coop is on the right behind the shed.

On Friday afternoon at lunch, I went to check on our chickens. I could only find one in the fenced garden area, which was strange. All three of them are usually happily pecking around or hiding under the woodpile, especially during the heat of the summer. But I could only spot one, and she was hiding near the shed, curled up underneath the sprawling mint. This seemed odd, but I thought nothing of it. Sometimes they like to wander and do inscrutable chicken things.

An hour later, I went to check on them again, and once more, I could only find one. This time, she had migrated outside the fence to the shade of the neighbor’s boxwood. Still curious. Still couldn’t find the other two, but I couldn’t detect anything awry.

Two hours later. I opened the back door to let the dogs out, and I heard the horrible sound of avian screaming. Serious distress noises. I started cursing under my breath and booked it to the back of the yard.

Breathless, I rushed into the garden fence, looked left, toward the sound of the shrieking. There, to my horror, was an enormous, gorgeous red-tailed hawk on the ground a few yards from our fence. Eating one of our hens.

Red Tail Hawk.JPG
“Red Tail Hawk” by Kfearnside at en.wikipedia. Public domain. Not the killer of our hen, but I wanted a good photo to display how BIG and INTENSE this bird is.

(Insert many more defeated, sad-sounding curse words from me. Like, really sad, morose f-bombs.)

I lacerated my hand trying to open the gate. I scared the hawk away, but it was far too late for the hen. But her screaming sister, who was less than a foot away from the dining hawk, hidden in some brambles, was unscathed. I’m sure the hawk was just eyeing her casually under the foliage and saying, You’re next, my pretty. 

Guion mercifully came home right at this moment and retrieved the traumatized but unscathed hen from the brush. I was convinced at this point that we had only had one chicken left. But when we brought her back into the coop, her sister crawled out from under the shed, where she had apparently (intelligently) been hiding during the entire bloody ordeal.

Survivors Fumiko and Mayumi.
Survivors Fumiko and Mayumi.

So, now we have two, Fumiko and Mayumi. (We have decided that it was Chiye who died. We really can’t tell any of them apart.)

In all honesty, I am impressed that they lasted this long. Backyard chickens in this town seem to have a lifespan just slightly longer than goldfish. I expected a fox to get them first, because I’ve seen a few in the neighborhood. I didn’t anticipate a hawk. I was lulled into a sense of security by the hens’ constant access to the woodpile, the shed, and the coop, which all keeps them out of sight. (They free range during the day and then we lock them up in the coop at night.) Alas. Hawks also apparently like to target bantams because of how small they are. They are much easier to take down. In some ways, it was gratifying to see their beautiful killer. So many have lost chickens to unknown predators.

We are weighing options. I know murder is just part of the backyard chicken gambit, but I am still sad. You get attached, when you feed a creature every day and concern yourself with its livelihood on a daily basis. Should we let them free range again and risk it? A flock of two isn’t ideal; three is apparently the smallest recommended flock. Should we rehome them to a larger, more protected flock? Should we totally redesign the coop and build a giant wire structure so they can range in safety? Not really sure what tactic we’ll take at this point. We are somber, but we knew this day would eventually come.

The only golden ring time

Flowers from Angela
Flowers from Angela, circa 2012.

Oh, right. I already talked about Vita. But I still want to. If I ever wrote a nonfiction book, I’d want to write one like that — loose, unstructured, pretty little thoughts about a favorite topic, with the liberal dispensation of advice, such as this:

Gardening is largely a question of mixing one sort of plant with another sort of plant, and of seeing how they marry happily together; and if you see that they don’t marry happily, then you must hoick one of them out and be quite ruthless about it. That is the only way to garden; and that is why I advise every gardener to go round his garden now—and make notes of what he thinks he ought to remove and of what he wants to plant later on. The true gardener must be brutal, and imaginative for the future.

Inspired by A Joy of Gardening, when I got home from work last night, I pulled on my Hunters and walked around in the back garden with the chickens for a while, inspecting all of the plants that are slowly resurrecting themselves. I think one of our blueberry bushes didn’t survive the winter; we’ll need to get another little bush soon, so that the other two can have necessary company. The blackberry bushes, however, are thriving, and all three apple trees have started producing tiny buds on their glossy branches. The forsythia is just about to burst into yellow flame. I’ve heard that some high-class gardeners disdain forsythia, but I love it; it’s so fast-growing and hardy, and the fact that it produces that first shock of spring color will always endear me to it. I think I’d like to get a few more, to perhaps balance the yard out.

Newest additions (chickens)
One of our Japanese bantams. Might be Mayumi or Fumiko; it’s impossible to tell.

The hens have become very bold and chatty lately, especially whenever they see me. I won’t claim that chickens are the smartest winged creatures, but they are a lot brighter than people give them credit for. (You can, in fact, clicker train a chicken.) Our ladies have become much more interested in us, especially whenever they see us approaching the gate (because this means FOOD or OUTSIDE TIME TO SCRATCH UP ALL THE BEDS). They’re still quite skittish but noticeably less shy by degrees.

Last night, they were really getting into dust bathing. I’d read that chickens do this, but I’d never seen our hens partake in this particularly adorable and goofy-looking activity. At one point, one of the girls, in a little indentation she’d hollowed out for herself near the apple tree, flipped herself on her back and squirmed around while keeping her neck high, alert for danger. A hilarious, ungraceful posture, but she was having a grand time. The chicken instructional books I’d read said that chickens use dust baths to “clean themselves and socialize,” which delights me to no end. It’s the equivalent of a bunch of ladies taking a spa day together. Treat yo self, chickens. Treat yo self.

(*Title explanation: Whenever someone says something about spring, Guion and I cannot stop ourselves from putting on our best, bass-level Robert Pinsky voices and chanting, Springtime, springtime/the only golden ring time…)

Untitled

I had composed a long post about what it means to be an aspirational reader (versus an aspirational writer) but reread it a week later and realized I couldn’t whittle it down enough to make it sound less pompous. I still want to explore this notion, but I think I need to find another mental avenue.

I think about the welfare of our hens a lot and tend to tell Guion newsy bits about them over and over again without realizing it. Yesterday, for instance, I apparently told him three times that I had retrieved two eggs. It is not even interesting information. But I relay it with great sincerity and import. I just want them to be happy. They seem happier, now that they get to roam during the day (and I am more relaxed about it since the family men put up chicken wire on the back of the garden fence, so that they are even more protected from the shepherds). In the sun, their black feathers achieve an iridescent emerald sheen. They skitter around the garden, raking up little piles of dirt with their talons, and I think they look fat and cheerfully complacent.

Next month, I am going to participate in the #write_on challenge, initiated by Egg Press, to write 30 letters in 30 days. Care to join me? Revive the beautiful impracticality of snail mail! I relish the foolishness, the costliness, the extravagance of a handwritten letter. In 2015, writing by hand means so much more than it ever has. It makes less and less sense, as technology expands, and that is why I love the practice of writing by hand. It will cost you. Time and money. And thus it is more meaningful: a beautiful and special and un-reproducible practice.

What do you think qualifies a person as a Christian?

Lately, two frivolous things fill my mental space: (1) how much hair I’m going to chop off next week, and if it is an unwise move, as I am still unlikely to wake up looking like Annie Clark, and (2) when my front yard perennials are going to resurrect themselves and whether the lavender, which I feel very emotionally invested in, will make it, and also the tiny hydrangea from Andrew that was brutalized by winter, and the beloved Japanese maple from Kyle. These are things I think about. And the chickens. Always the chickens.

The urban farm grows

Newest additions (chickens)

… with the addition of three Japanese bantams, acquired from the Montgomery family, who also gave us their amazing coop.

Newest additions (chickens)

Andrew is an architect by trade, so you know we’re getting a top-of-the-line construction here. Isn’t it great? These are very trendy hens with a high standard for interior design. I’d like to get them a Bauhaus era chaise lounge…

Newest additions (chickens)
Chiye, Fumiko, and Mayumi.

I’m pleased to introduce Chiye, Fumiko, and Mayumi!

Newest additions (chickens)
Mayumi and Fumiko.

Japanese names were chosen over Indonesian, once I learned their specific breed, which I am clearly thrilled about. I’ve been speaking to them exclusively in Japanese, so that they will feel at home. And I think it’s been working, because we got our first egg last night! Such a darling, cute little egg.

Newest additions (chickens)

I was hesitant to jump on the backyard chicken bandwagon, because of the fact that we house two high-energy chicken predators, but our garden fence serves as an excellent barrier.

Newest additions (chickens)

And we’ve positioned the chicken mansion behind the shed, so the dogs don’t have a clear view of them. We’ll let the ladies run around the garden fence when we’re out there and when the dogs are safely barricaded indoors. No plans to introduce the species.

Newest additions (chickens)

We’re very grateful to the Montgomery family for jump-starting our chicken-rearing dreams with this magnificent coop and the well-reared brood. More to come, certainly, on our continued adventures in urban homesteading and gardening…

Newest additions (chickens)

Always have an artist at your table

Blue with the azaleas.
The Walker's hens.

This weekend, we visited the Walker’s mini-menagerie to walk their dogs, Ginger and Blue. (It was so green and peaceful and provincial–even though we were still in the city.)

And then, Saturday night, I was privileged enough to attend the banquet for the New City Arts Forum. As you can see–even from my blurry photos–it was a magical night.

Meade Hall, beautifully transformed for the dinner.
At the table.

Mallory was the creative genius behind the event’s design. Everything looked just perfect; I was so amazed at the scope of her imagination. I never could have done it. A Pimento very generously donated and made the feast and desserts were contributed by our very own Maddy, of Sweet Madeline, among others. And of course, the whole event and conference was the brain child of the perpetually humble, gracious, and accomplished Maureen Lovett, who is perfect in every way.

Designer Mallory and baker Maddy, with Michael lurking.

Even more blurry photos of the beautiful weekend on my Flickr.

Gay Beery, one of the women behind A Pimento Catering, closed her brief speech about the (incredible) menu with this exhortation: “Always have an artist at your table.” What lovely advice. I think we will always be so blessed.