Tuesday, March 12, 2013


IN BIRDLAND THE SAGA CONTINUES. We thought we hit upon a method, if not the perfect solution, then at least a stop gap measure to keep Ursula from eating all the eggs my chickens lay. My dog recently discovered the treasure trove of golden deliciousness hiding in the nesting boxes in the coop. Instead of finding eggs in the coop, I'd find empty shells near the kitchen door, just taunting me. In the morning, after letting the chickens out, we decided to lure them into the garden coop with a big scoop of pellets. They ran happily in and began scratching at what I spilled there, and I went out and shut the door. We originally built the garden coop to protect the garden from the chickens' beaks. It works well for tomatoes, cucumbers and greens, but after the frost, we encourage the chickens to spend some time there to cultivate the soil, eating grubs and bugs and scratching up any weeds that come after the last harvest. It's a great way to get a jump start on preparing the ground for spring planting, and to fertilize the soil. Well, I figured if we put the chickens in the garden coop for the day, they would lay their eggs in there, safe from the dog.

The first day everything was fine. They laid their eggs in the corner and Ursula looked sadly from the yard as I collected them in the afternoon and then let the chickens out to wander a little before chicken dark. The next day, I led them out there again, and all was well when I left, but when I arrived home after work, I was met with 2 half eggshells on the front walk, and another next to the walnut tree. How did Ursula get the eggs out of the garden coop? I went around the house to find the garden coop door was open, the chickens scratching in the spinney of woods nearby. Did Ellis open the door and let them out? He said no, maybe I forgot to latch the door.

The next day I arrived home to a repeat of the previous day—empty eggshells on the ground, garden coop open, chickens at large, dog fat and happy in the sun. Ursula had figured out how to open the door by pulling with her claws, despite a latch. Well, played, puppy. Well played; but the game is not over yet. We needed a new plan. I thought about making a dog excluder in the regular chicken coop. She can get into the coop through the door, so Michael screwed a bar across the opening, cutting the space in half. Still big enough for the chickens to get in and out, but too small for a silly black dog to squeeze through, especially one who has grown fat on rich egg yolks.

I got 3 brown eggs and a tan one that day. All was well. Problem solved. Or so we thought. Next morning was Saturday, and I slept in a little. I let Ursula out and went to make my coffee. When I stepped outside with a scoop of food to let the chickens out, I couldn't believe my eyes. They were about a hundred feet off, scratching in the beanfield. Did I forget to shut them up the night before? No. the door was still shut. I investigated to find that the whole back end of the coop had been peeled away, 2 layers of chicken wire and some fencewire. Did coyotes come in the night? No. They would have eaten not just the eggs, but the chickens. The chickens were all still with us. We stapled back the chicken wire and got out the big guns—our behavior modification system. We have a little device we call the “bad dog egg.” It is how we got Ursula to stop chasing the chickens. It emits a high pitched sound that we can't hear, but is apparently very unpleasant to Ursula. One beep from the bad dog egg and she stops whatever it is she is doing. The drawback is that it requires someone to constantly monitor her behavior. Luckily, it was the weekend, so we could devote some energy and attention to making sure Ursa stayed away from the coop. For now, it seems to be working out. Yesterday's egg count was Mary—3, Ursula—0.

Walk in Beauty; Work in Peace; Blessed Be 


On the road to Birdland.
THIS MORNING'S SILVER FOG HAS ME FEELING REFLECTIVE. In the distance I see the tree line and the highway with trucks carrying their loads, but everything is muffled: sound, light, color. In the distance I see the road curving up over the railroad tracks and up the hill. I have let the chickens out, and even they are subdued by the frost that sugars the still green grass. I stand for a moment and watch the last Auracana hen peep out of the coop. She is a little shy. I don't know what I am waiting for, really. I stand here and take a little time to reflect on the past several years. So often I write these letters about my daily activities. I don't often reveal the more personal parts of my life, but some pretty big things have happened in my life, in my marriage.
At first, I thought I would write about the separation, the difficult months leading up to the sudden sadness and loss, when both Michael and I were desperate to find the best path through the despair and loneliness we felt together. I thought, at the time, that I would find the courage to write about the sudden wrenching of our lives, and the decision to seek an answer in living separately. But there was the fall semester to prepare for, eggs to be gathered and a garden to tend. There were sons urging me to keep my chin up, and friends to talk to and many, many reasons to take note of the sun's rising and setting, and flowers' blooming and fading, and the wheel of the year turned and life went on.
Maybe we tossed one or two to the wind.

Maybe we dropped some in the river.
As my independence sprouted and and I began to relish my new life alone. I adopted a little black puppy. I thought I'd write about learning to live a life of singularity, of remapping my path, forging the way toward joy, of making decisions unfettered by another's opinion. But there was snow to shovel and fires to light, lessons to learn and bills to pay, and a boy to teach that he has the love of both parents, that even if they have to pass him back and forth like a volley ball, they won't let him drop. And the wheel of the year turned and life went on.

I adopted a little black puppy.

When Michael and I divorced I thought I would write about letting go of a loved one and trying ever to do it with grace and respect, of searching for and finding the surprising gifts of the divorce, silver linings in the heartbreak. But there were seeds to plant and sticks to throw and fires to build and trails to blaze, and a young man to teach to drive so he could visit each of his parents in turn. And the wheel of the year turned, and the river flowed, and the seeds sprouted, and life went on.

And then a funny thing happened.

Micheal and I met up again and began to see that we had each lost some of the burdens that had complicated and encumbered our marriage. Maybe we dropped some in the river and let them float away. Maybe we buried a few in the soft earth to mulch and decay. Maybe we tossed one or two to the wind to ride the jet stream. Maybe some burned to ashes in a bonfire and floated up with sparks to the sky. We didn't lose all of them, you understand, but enough that we could remember why we got together in the first place. We began keeping company, learning new things about each other and remembering the little ways that we worked well together. It hasn't always been easy or delightful, but somehow we have arrived back to love, ready to commit to each other again with a little more wisdom this time, and a lot more support. We are engaged to be married when the peonies bloom.

I notice that the sun has burned off some of the haze while I was thinking. The shy little hen has come out and joined her flock. I lift the lid of the coop and find one brown egg in the nest. I cradle it in my palm. It is warm and full of life. And the wheel of the year turns, and life goes on.
Ready for the next Chapter.