This week, I caught crappy gray chicken. Sometimes you need an accomplishment like that to feel you have a grip on your world.
Crappy Gray Chicken, as I warmly call her, is a young, energetic spring chicken with a crazy fluff on the top of her head. She went wild the first time I let the birds go free so she doesn’t trust me or the chicken pen. Every time I come near she squawks angrily and sprints away on her spindly legs looking like the Road Runner on speed.
As winter crept in, I noticed I was losing chickens at an alarming rate. When food sources are low, every wild creature in a three mile radius decides my flock is fast food heaven. (It’s only taken me 3 years to figure this out, duh.) So, I’ve decided to close my birds in the big pen for the winter. Not like there’s much to eat in the meadow anyway. The problem is, they’ve been given so much freedom that I never have my birds all inside at one time. A handful of them even prefer to roost in a big fir tree by the chicken house at night rather than go inside where they have protection from the elements and marauding creatures.
One afternoon, I was bringing a bag brimming with kitchen scraps to the chickens and I noticed the entire flock had followed me into the pen. I closed the door. Voila. The chickens were in for the winter. But when I turned around, I saw Crappy gray chicken peeking at me from around the corner of the chicken house. I asked Neva to guard the door so the other chickens did not venture out and spent an hour chasing Crappy Gray Chicken, thinking I could scare her into the pen. No luck. Eventually, I gave up and decided I’d just have to catch her another day.
For a week, I tried luring her into this or the other pens, but she wouldn’t come near. Meanwhile, as I went about my chores or drove by on my way to run errands, I could see her hovering around the door to the pen or pressed up against the back side of the wire fence. Obviously she was feeling ostracized from the flock and deep down, she wanted to join them. She just couldn’t overcome her fear of me. I felt sorry for her, but I was perturbed too. Why did Crappy Gray Chicken have to be so crappy? She should trust the girl with the feed, ya know.
After two weeks of trying but failing to capture the wayward bird, I decided to let all the chickens go again in hopes that they would all return (crappy gray chicken too) to the henhouse that night because certainly by now a new habit had been formed and everyone had discovered the joy of sleeping inside rather than roosting in a tree. That night as I went to close the pen door, I spied seven chickens sleeping outside in my fir tree. So much for chicken training theory.
A week later, as I was spreading around a windfall of kitchen scraps from my Christmas feast, the bulk of the flock followed me into the pen again. I closed the door happy for the opportunity to contain the birds yet again before I lost the bulk of them. As I was leaving, one leghorn latecomer stood anxiously at the door. I open it and she ran right by me to be with the group. Now, that’s my idea of a good chicken. I looked at all the hens pecking in the piles of vegetables and leftover stuffing. No Crappy Gray Chicken. She was outside again, peering at me from around the chicken house.
“I can hear your stomach growling, and I don’t feel sorry for you,” I said to the bird. “A hundred hungry beasts are going to be prowling around here tonight and you are the only one left on the menu, so if you know what’s good for you, you’ll get in this pen.
She squawked and ran away.
“You are a Crappy chicken.” I called after her.
I told myself I didn’t care, but it drove me crazy to see her day after day wandering the perimeter of the pen clearly wanting to be with the others.
I offered a cash reward to my kids if they could come up with a way to catch Crappy Gray Chicken, but distracted by new Christmas presents they weren’t much motivated. I was on my own.
I formulated a plan. If I close off the door to the chicken house at night while the birds were all asleep and keep the pen door open with a bunch of chicken scratch and kitchen scraps scattered about, Crappy Gray Chicken will certainly wander in to fill up on the goodies. Then, I’ll just have to sneak down in the morning and close the door without her seeing me. That night, after dark, I went down and propped wire against the chicken coup exit, spread food about and left the big pen door open .
It was a great plan, except for the fact that in the morning it was raining, which meant Crappy Gray chicken would be tucked in a tree or up in the hayloft. I couldn’t keep the birds trapped in the small chicken house for long, because my roosters would fight if confined and as day crested the flock would be frantic for food and water, rain or no. Chickens are insatiable that way. Feeling guilty and a little bit cruel, I forced the birds to wait until the rain stopped and at about 11:00 went down to the barnyard. Crappy Gray Chicken was in the pen! Quickly, I closed the door (I was inside.) Crappy Gray Chicken freaked and ran as far down the chicken run as she could as if I was one of those disturbed neighbors that made all the babysitters disappear in those teen slasher movies.
“You are a big scardy-cat, baby,” I called after her.
I removed the barrier so all the chickens could come streaming out, and they began pecking at their breakfast and squawking at me because they didn’t appreciate their confinement a bit.
“It was a sacrifice you had to make. One for all and all for one,” I nagged back.
So now, Crappy Gray Chicken is with her flock, safe from becoming a winter blue plate special and I have boasting rights as a chicken round up specialist. My final conquest for 2008.
Yesterday was a sunny, 55 degree day. The ground was soft from all the rain we’ve been having, so I decided to plant some bulbs I ordered ages ago that have been left in a box in the garage ever since we decided to put the house up for sale. We recently built a nice stone entrance to the land with a directional marker to the “lodge” so potential buyers will be impressed (la-ti-da, whatever). I decided to plant the bulbs around the upturned earth around this new structure so that our house, if it hasn’t sold by spring (or even if it has) will have a prettier drive in. I also want to get rid of the clutter in the garage.
I opened the box and my jaw dropped. I had 300 big red Empress Tulip bulbs inside. Must have been sipping my own wine the day I placed that sale order on the internet. I rolled up my sleeves and spent the afternoon planting all those bulbs and a few others that people have given me for gifts or that I picked up in clearance. I do that, see flowers on sale and buy them, then leave them in a corner of the barn or garage because I’m too lazy to actually plant them. My intentions are good, but the follow through is often on on a delayed timer.
It felt good to be outside on what felt like a spring day even though it was December, and good to get all these collected bulbs in the ground – kind of promising – as if I was buying insurance. Now, we will certainly sell the house – the heavens will want me around for years to come to witness these bulbs bloom. It’s only fair since I’ve done the work.
I next decided to sheer my angoras. I hate to remove their hair in the midst of winter, because it still gets cold at night and I expect another cold front to roll in any day now. But I’ve been lax and the poor bunnies are matting with huge clumps of felted angora fur hanging off their bodies and catching on the bars of the cage. This is what happens if you don’t dehair them every 12 weeks or so. I spent two hours clipping clumps of fur and trying to make my poor rabbits comfortable again, my guilt raging. This did put a small damper on my Crappy Chicken conquest, but in the end, it was nice to have another task off my to-do list. Today, I’ll work on the other two angora rabbits – can’t start a new year with unfinished chores nagging at the back of your mind.
As I was working on the rabbits, bees kept swarming around my head. I noticed a dozen of them in the rabbit cages crawling over their food. I noticed even more bees in the chicken house crawling on the corn feed. Weird. I guess the warm weather has them out of the hive, but this late in the year nothing is blooming so they’re trying to find sugar in these offerings. Today, I’ll mix up a big batch of sugar water as a late Christmas present and remind them to be patient. In the spring, they’ll have 300 new tulips to visit. They can turn those sweet flowers into honey – an extra bonus for my efforts. Cool.
I’m going back to work full time by September. I’ll discuss my plans another time (since I haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to do yet), but knowing this casts a sense of poignant appreciation for the sweet creatures I spend time caring for now. Will I have time for you all next December? I wonder. Will spending an afternoon planting bulbs be a thing of the past? Will I lose this wonderful feeling of peace and tranquility that fills me everyday when I’m outside doing simple chores, convening with nature and my thoughts? Will this sense of connection with the earth stay with me, or get buried under worldly responsibilities and silly ambition when I rejoin the workforce? What will happen to the books that lie inside me, some dormant, others fighting to be set free?
I guess that is up to me. Remind me of that if I need reminding later.