Monday, August 13, 2012



IN BIRDLAND WE'RE STILL IN A DROUGHT, BUT ONE MORE FLOWER IS BLOOMING ANYWAY. Thistle, of course. I always leave at least 3 of them wherever they care to pop up in the yard, because they are a favorite of butterflies when they bloom. This year one has come up, majestic and brave, as tall as I am, and prickly to match the weather, and has finally sent out tight, purple blossoms. Some are blooming and some have already gone to seed. I've been seeing more goldfinches this year than ever, and they are drawn to my thistle. Today one perches on top, its weight making the whole plant sway. The bird can't wait for the second bloom of the downy thistle, when the flower opens a sphere of ghostly snowflakes. My goldfinch digs into the still closed seed head. One by one shots of thistledown float on the hot breeze as the bird's head jerks and pulls at the down, extracting its lunch.

White, puffy clouds sail overhead, but promise no rain. We did have a little yesterday evening. I was watering my poor garden, as I do every day, and noticed a dark embankment to the Northwest. We were on the sunny side of the storm, and it seemed as if the edge would pass just a few miles to the north. But then the wind changed course and before I finished my cycle of watering, the storm was heading for us full steam ahead. It was getting to be chicken dark and I put away my hose and turned to the chickens who perch on top of the coop every night as the sun gets low over the dying corn.

Earlier generations of chickens used to put themselves to bed at the appropriate time. All I had to do was remember to shut the door of the coop after them. This flock, like kids who try to delay bedtime, sits on top and I have to scoop them up one by one, and toss them through the door of the coop. Usually a few jump off and begin to circle the coop, but Ursula stands ready to help me herd them in. My dog hasn't always appreciated her role as chicken-herd, but now I think she understands. She actually taught herself to do this by watching me. One night I didn't remember to put the chickens to bed until way past twilight. It was a night of no moon, and pitch black. I was feeling for chickens in the dark and got most of them in, but sure enough, a few jumped off and had to be herded in. I was doing the best I could in the dark, when I heard a rushing rustle and Ursula was after one that I didn't see escape into the weeds. I heard her catch the chicken, heard its mournful cry. I shouted at Ursa to let loose of the chicken, and ran to feel around in the brush in the dark with no luck. Meanwhile I saw Ursula run back toward the coop. I finally decided to leave the probably wounded, possibly dead, chicken alone, and bring the dog in for the night. Next morning, I counted the chickens when I let them out, trying to figure out who was missing...but everyone was accounted for! When Ursula ran past me in the dark, she must have had that chicken in her mouth. She knew just where it belonged. Since then, I have let her help me herd them in at night, talking calmly to keep her relaxed.

As we put the chickens to bed last night, the wind was whipping the trees into a frenzy, and fat, welcome raindrops were hitting us, dampening the dust. I shut the door and we ran for the house to watch the storm from inside. The storm hovered over us, raining furiously for about 15 minutes and then moved back north again. The gauge measured 2/10 of an inch. My rain barrel is ¼ full. They say it takes an inch a week just to keep the drought from getting worse, but at this point, anything is welcome. We'll just keep looking at the sky and praying for rain. 

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