Saturday, June 23, 2012


THE SOIL IN MY GARDEN IS AS DRY AS BREAD CRUMBS. MAKE THAT CRACKER CRUMBS. Birdland got a nice rain earlier in the week, a quarter inch, which would have been respectable if we hadn't already been in the midst of a drought. But here we are, and now the ground is warm and dry as dust even in the shade. Luckily it's fairly cool. But even though the sun is not scorching every drop of moisture out of the earth, the grass is brown and even native plants like Jerusalem Artichoke are wilting. 

A wooly bear caterpillar has succumbed to the dryness and lies as still and stiff as a fuller brush. I pick it up to make sure it's not just playing possum, but its bristles break off in my hand. It has shrunk itself into half its usual length. I turn it over and its six arms are curled inward, the claws still sharp enough to cling to my thumb.

We water the garden every evening, and the seeds I poked into the beds last week are sprouting: cucumber, beans, and peas at the edges to climb up the chicken wire that coops the chickens out of the garden. Tomato and pepper plants are growing very slowly, but the tomatoes have their first blossoms. In the beds between the tomatoes, thousands of tiny sprouts show green, and I'll have to wait a few days to see how many of these are weeds mixed in with the beets and lettuce and chard I planted.

I'm sitting in the glider under some mulberry and choke cherry trees, enjoying the breeze and the view. A smooth motion catches my eye: it is the chicks, sweeping in one group across the yard from the shelter of the lilac to the shade of the big ornamental quince. They remind me of cartoon birds, tiptoeing to hide behind first one tree, then another. Ursula roots up something in the yard, oblivious. After a few minutes, the flock begins to leave the shelter of the quince, and graze and cheep in the yard, but one of them startles and they all run under the pine tree to perch in a line on a low branch. They are all such copycats. The chicks are growing suddenly bigger, the Lavender Orpingtons a few weeks behind the rest. I bought all but the Lavender Orps as pullets, but I'm beginning to suspect that a few of them are actually cockerels. 


One of the Rhode Island Reds, and one of the Auracanas have suspiciously red combs. All chickens of either sex will have combs of some kind, but some breeds have prominent combs and wattles, and others have just a hint of these. Hens have red combs when they are laying, but a pullet who has not yet come into lay, will have a pink comb. The first sign that you may have a rooster, is a comb in a young chick just beginning to show red. The comb of one of the lavender orps seems a little red, but I bought them as straight run (unsexed) and the best possible combination for them would be one cockerel and two pullets, because then I'd have a laying pen, and could breed more, so seeing red on the little lavender may be just wishful thinking.

Ursula pounces suddenly, crumbs of earth spray up behind her, her snout buried up to her eyes. I get up to see what she has found. It is a mole, now lying on its back in the grass. My dog sniffs and then trots away, head high, tail wagging, amazingly abandoning her quarry. 

The mole has a thick, grey pelt and a strange, elongated nose—almost a tiny trunk, no visible eyes, and big, flat, pink hands, like paddles, with long, tough nails. The hands are turned backwards, awkward-looking to us, but suiting its life of swimming through the earth just fine. I know an unearthed mole doesn't have much chance of survival, and within minutes it is dead. Our yard has been free of moles for many years, and now we trip over mole hills at every turn. I'm not exactly sorry that it's dead, but I stand for a moment and bless its solitary life, burrowing, burrowing through the earth, always searching for something.

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