Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Two days on the farm

Got a belated Christmas present: an invitation for a visit from a friend who was traveling until Christmas Eve. Never dreamed we'd be able to connect after she had driven for almost 2 weeks solid. But she invited us, so we loaded up the car and off we went!
She lives on a lovely farm in Virginia and it is always a retreat setting for me. And a reminder to count my blessings. Every piece of life there is a challenge. Want to be warm? Have to convince strong boys to split firewood, have to carry said firewood in, have to make sure that the wood stove doesn't go out. Want to eat? Must plan ahead. With 7 people in their family and 3 visitors, a single box of Mac and Cheese won't do. And Believe me- it takes at least an hour to cook a meal for the crowd. Mealtimes are wonderful. No matter what you fix, not a scrap is wasted. Leftovers from one plate are quickly shuttled to another. Cleanup also takes a while. Best to pour a cup of tea as you wrap up the kitchen. Want to entertain oneself? Must have good book or knitting or good DVD- TV is not an option. As a result, good conversations are had and minds are enriched. Children play imaginative games like dolls or Monopoly or Scrabble. Then run riot in the snow, tramping all over the property. Allen only fell in the creek twice: once he broke through the ice and fell in a puddle up to his knees. Then he slipped off a bridge and fell in the creek up to his armpits. No serious damage done and a memorable boyhood experience obtained. I threw him in a hot shower and fresh clothes and he was back to playing in no time.

Because my friend was just back from traveling, barn chores had fallen behind. We were able to pitch in and help clean it out in preparation for the birth of two calves. My kids NEVER face such work at home and it was a tremendous reminder to them that their lives in the "country" are extremely easy. We mucked manure and straw for well on two hours before we retired in for hot showers and Motrin. Got the best night's sleep that night that I've had in 6 months. I lay in bed, listening to the wind howl through the valley and shove at the old farmhouse's seams. My friend had blankets hung over all the doors to repel the unwelcome visitor and the house was cozy and snug as I fell asleep. I was thankful for day-long playtime for my kids and glad for friendship that includes you in all the aspects of regular life. I would feel so much worse dropping in for a lightning visit if my presence would mean freshly waxed floors and freshly starched sheets. I got a tremendous amount of knitting accomplished and was even able to teach her girls a few starting pointers. Such camaraderie sitting in front of the fire, passing knitting back and forth as they figured out the basics and asked where a stitch had gone wrong.

I'm back to my lovely warm home now, catching up on laundry, grateful for a functional washer and dryer. (Did I mention she's been managing without a dryer since June?!) I miss the smell of the fireplace, miss the cheerful bustle of the home. Only the knowledge that we'll aim our trusty van that way again soon keeps me from being sad. It was truly a lovely visit.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Reluctant Rooster

It is pouring rain outside. Has been all day. Hovering at 34 degrees, trying not to snow. The chickens have huddled, miserable, anywhere they can find shelter. Only gave me 14 eggs, instead of their usual 30.

So as I dashed through the dark cold to tuck the birds in for the night, I decided that to check that there were no birds trying to spend the night in the fig tree. (A group of 3 birds had taken that up as a habit.) Surely in this weather, they would have more sense. Nope, no sense. One rooster. High up in the leafless fig tree. So I stashed my flashlight in my pocket and grabbed him by the feet. (What else could I do?) "HELP!! MURDER!!! ABDUCTION!!! BODILY ASSAULT!!", he screamed. (Actually, more like SCRREEEK!! SCREEEEK!!) Wish I could have let him know I had kindly intentions. He flapped violently, making it hard to pull him down through the branches and I was terrified that he would dislocate his hips or knees. Eventually I got him contained in a firm football grip under my arm and we slipped and slid to the chicken house, where I gently tossed him in. He finally ceased screeching and walked up to a nearby roost as if that were his plan all along.

I hope in the morning all will be forgiven. I just honestly couldn't face losing a bird to stupidity and exposure.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mom, WHAT are we doing?

I walked into my chicken house the other day to find a very confused guinea looking out at me from a nesting box. Which confused ME. Guineas don't use nesting boxes to lay eggs. They find a nice secluded spot on the ground, usually in the woods. Then I noticed the hen in the nesting box next to the guinea and it all made sense. It was the guinea's momma hen. You see, when I got the guinea at the beginning of the summer, it had been hatched and raised by a mother guinea. So when I got it home, I gave it to a hen who had just hatched out about 4 baby chicks of her own. She didn't bat an eye at the newcomer, just tucked it under with the rest of the babies and they have been inseparable ever since. The rest of the baby chicks have grown and are now leading independent chicken lives in the flock, but not this guinea. She follows her mom around everywhere, even though she's bigger, softly trilling to her, commenting on food or the day, or whatever. I love watching them. So I guess it should not have surprised me to see them together in the chicken house. Momma hen has moved on with her life and resumed laying. (Mother hens I have learned do not lay eggs while hatching out a nest, while brooding baby chicks or while raising the young into adults- they just don't have the extra time and energy I assume). Usually at this point, I was expecting the guinea to notice that there were other guineas around and that she looked and acted a lot more like them, causing her to join their group. But no, devotion dictates to this guinea that mom must be followed. I hope one of my brood ends up remaining devoted to me in such a fashion.
By the way, the other time this guinea had me in stitches was when it started scratching at the ground before it ate just like a chicken does. One of the reason guineas are so good around the home is that they just peck at the bugs and seeds they eat, but this one picked up on it's mother's scratching behavior and continues it to this day.
And it seems like the other guineas might be a bit jealous. When I tucked the birds in to bed the other night, there were five guineas inside the hen house instead of just one. Seems some of the guinea flock have followed this girl inside (from the tree tops), which will certainly keep them all a lot safer.