June 30th, 2010 §
The guineas turned eight weeks old yesterday. Since being moved into their larger enclosure, they seem to have doubled in size. They eat about four pounds of food a day, and drink close to a gallon of water. They are also molting again, turning my garage into a toxic waste dump with their dander. I enter to serve them donned in a face mask and safety goggles after having an allergic reaction to all the dust. I can’t wait until they are in their proper coop and I can reclaim—and clean—the garage.
Speaking of coop, last weekend was again spent in construction mode from almost-dawn to nightfall. We got an early start Friday evening when I had the day off work because of a crazy storm/tornado that came through Thursday night and knocked out power to my office as it decimated a huge swath of town. It was again beastly hot and the weekend was peppered with sessions spent panting, lying prone on the ground from heat exhaustion. I also whacked the heck out of my head on some of the framing Saturday, and ended that day with a sick headache and stars in my eyes.
Physical discomfort aside, we managed to locate windows and install the sheet vinyl floor. The we got all four walls framed in:
I cut rafters and we got those up and nailed in. We waited out a quick rainshower Sunday evening—
—Before starting to put up siding late Sunday night.
We got the front of the coop completely sided before it got too dark to continue working, and then we wrapped the whole structure in tarps to guard against rain until we can again tackle the project. The plan is to side the whole thing and then go back and cut out the door and window openings.
Meanwhile, isn’t it interesting that the white keets have blue eyes?
And did you know, I have a three-headed gorgon living in my garage?
June 29th, 2010 §
Tonight’s project was to clean out the shed attached to the well house. The other day while approaching the house, I was embarrassed to note that all the crap sitting around there made my place look a bit too redneck for my taste. Not that there’s anything wrong with rednecks. They are some of my best neighbors, and in fact, I could use a good redneck right about now. Preferably a tall, ruggedly handsome one who doesn’t talk much but cheerfully throws his rippling muscles into cleanup projects such as these. While I watch from the porch, sipping my favorite summer soda.
But no such hero appeared and thus it was up to me to haul a year’s worth of leftover construction materials—HardiPanel, which is HEAVY, trim board, cedar closet paneling from the old house, bales of wire, cinder blocks, and mosquito-breeding pieces of dirty bunched up plastic—out of the shed.
With a relatively clean slate I raked up a bunch of moldy straw that had been there for almost a year, along with some of last fall’s leaves. I dragged my rake through huge cobwebs and warily ducked as disturbed wasps swarmed about my head.
I felt better as soon as soon as I could see the dirt floor and clean foundation inside the shed. With the recent snake drama around here, and in the well house area no less, I want to eliminate all the scary hidey-holes and piles that dot my property. Thank goodness the only scaly reptile I encountered tonight was a cute black ringneck snake. He didn’t stick around for pictures, but he was perfect and just the size I like my snakes—about as big as an earthworm.
With all the organic debris hauled into the woods and added to my compost pile, and the trash sorted from the usable materials sorted from the bonfire fuel, I reloaded the shed leaving plenty of space to walk around and check for unwelcome visitors. I still wouldn’t call it pristine, if for nothing but the simple fact that I have way too much leftover building material that I need to store somewhere. It was dark, thus no photos, but I think it looks a bit better, and I think it’s progress. Next up: the garage!
June 26th, 2010 §
It was a year ago to this moon that I walked home in the dark from a neighbor’s party. I sat on the porch of the old house and watched this moon blaze up from behind the mountain, making the trees look like they were on fire as it rose behind them. One year later I still find this sight as startling, and as stunning.
June 25th, 2010 §
We got started on the coop midmorning last Saturday, at the beginning of our area’s first summer heat wave. The coop will be 8′x12′ and have a shed roof and a storage room.
First we nailed together the presure-treated base and studs. The whole contraption sits on skids and cinder blocks lest my new house make this country property look too classy. I leveled the base, and then we added floor joists 16″ on center.
Then came three sheets of pressure-treated plywood nailed into the joists.
Over that went a layer of OSB, overlapping the pressure-treated plywood joints for stability. This floor is rock solid! As the light was fading, we mocked up the positioning for the front and back walls, tinkering to get the right proportion and roof slope:
Both Dad and I had worked right through the heat until 10:00 p.m. at night and made ourselves sick. Working in full sun on an almost 100-degree, humid Virginia day is no good. We learned our lesson and planned Sunday’s work day to start at 7:00 a.m., with a break during the heat of the afternoon.
The next morning started nice and early, but already the temperature was in the 80’s. We laid out and framed the front and back walls, using the newly built platform:
We tipped the walls into place and temporarily secured them in order to frame the door and window openings, which aren’t shown below. And that’s when the weekend ran out, at 10:00 p.m. Sunday night.
Monday morning I got up and got ready for work. On my way out, I stopped by the garage to feed and water the guineas. I knew something was wrong when I tried to open the garage door and was met by brief resistance followed by a flurry of feathers. You guessed it. Another jailbreak. So there I was, powdered and perfumed and the clock rapidly ticking toward 9:00 a.m., when I was due in the office…and I was again chasing guineas around the garage.
I got them all caught, one at a time because they are so big they need two hands to secure, and hit the road. Walking into work, I was still picking guinea feathers out of my hair.
Well, my dad sprang into action that evening and when I’d returned from work, he’d whacked together an interim housing solution for the birds using two sheets of plywood framed into a bottomless box set on thick plastic in the garage. These expansive new digs, 8′x4′x4′, were just what the birds needed. He made access doors at both ends for easy cleaning, and I stapled chicken wire to the top and filled the box with pine shavings. The birds love their new home, and are enjoying the chance to stretch their wings and fly from perch to perch. It was really a great idea because they’d definitely outgrown their last cardboard box, and were obviously wanting more space! Plus, it takes some of the time pressure off getting the coop proper finished.
It was very late when I shut the garage up Monday night and headed back to the house. I heard a rustling in the field and with my flashlight discerned two green eyes coming toward me across the field. Some animal, with its head held low, was headed right for me. I got ready to do battle with my Mag-Lite, but when it came into view I saw it was a tiny fawn. Once the creature realized that I was most definitely not its mother, it turned away and slunk around the driveway and off into the night.
June 19th, 2010 §
I came home from work Thursday night to find the hay had been cut in the fields around the house.
As much as I enjoyed the tall hay glowing in the sunlight, I like this fresh and clean look too. And just in time! I was out late last night buying material for the chicken coop that Dad and I are going to start building in the field today. It’s no small undertaking, this structure, so stay tuned for progress reports. Here’s the coop thus far:
Last night, the farmer who takes the hay showed me a photo he took of a gigantic black bear that lives in the neighborhood. I had suspected as much after seeing some incriminating looking bear poo under the cherry tree. A lone bear doesn’t worry me much, but he’s seen mothers with two and three cubs as well, and that’s not a situation I’d want to walk into in the dark of night.
At last count, the predators I am battling in this quest to keep birds include: fox (saw one run though the back yard the other night), raccoons, snakes, coyotes, hawks, eagles, weasels, mice, rats, dogs, and now bear. A more sane person might ask, “Why bother?!!”
June 17th, 2010 §
I was working around the yard tonight watering plants and tending the guineas when I remembered the zuchini bread I had in the oven. I ran up the back porch and was met face to face with the black snake crawling right up the wall of my house next to the door. Nothing like a black snake on a white house for graphic effect. Or for eliciting the expletive heard round the neighborhood. Of course, I’d forgotten to unlock the back door, so I had to leave the snake and run around to the front door. By the time I got the bread out of the oven and the back door open, the snake had fallen off the house and was coiled on the porch.
I instantly knew where this was headed, or should I say, where he was headed. And sure enough, the second he saw me (must have made quite the impression Tuesday night), he slipped off the porch and right into the crawlspace that is so not secure. I tried to pin him with a two by four, but he had too much momentum and disappeared behind the insulation lining the crawlspace. Like the unwitting dupe of horror films the world over, I followed a large snake into a small, dark, enclosed space. Not sure what I thought I could do in there, but I figured I could assess the situation. Which I did for about .5 seconds—just long enough to see a black tail disappear between rustling yellow batts—before I retreated post-haste.
In truth, I may have willed this creature here to help me. Starlings are nesting in my back porch eaves where there should be a ceiling but isn’t yet. They keep churning out babies and pooping all over my nicely painted deck. I didn’t want to finish the ceiling until after the babies had fledged, but they seem to be coming in rounds. I admit to wishing they’d disappear without me actually having to be the one to do it. Cue the black snake, who’s may just be here to to do me a favor.
June 15th, 2010 §
I got home tonight from a busy day at work and thought I’d seek some agricultural therapy. My dad got me a new string trimmer last weekend and I was itching to see if I could start it and wreck havoc on some overgrown parts of the farm. But first I headed to the well house to grab my safety glasses. I was just about to open the door when I looked down and saw this:
“Huh,” I actually said out loud. Truth is, I’d been expecting a snake in this structure since I bought the property. It’s cool and damp and home to mice, and I always felt the energy of a snake whenever I went in it. And here he was.
Unfortunately, he presented me with a quandry. I have a great respect for snakes, and know that they are excellent predators for eliminating rats and mice and other undesirables. But I also keep poultry, some of which are still small enough that they’d be an easy lunch. So what to do? I didn’t really know. All I really could think of was trying to temporarily displace this snake so I could grab my safety glasses and start weed whacking.
I grabbed a shovel that was in the wellhouse and chased him out. It was a laborious process, moving this heavy churning mass with a shovel. In truth, I am grateful to this snake because I’d spent a lot of time today thinking about my yet-to-be-built chicken coop, and by watching how this snake moved, I gained a new understanding of the measures I must undertake to predator-proof my enclosure. I mean, this thing went straight up the wall and could squeeze through the quarter inch between the door and the threshold. It was beautiful, and impressive.
Once I got the snake outside, I had no luck capturing him in a bucket. So I used my shovel to toss him a few feet at a time toward the back of the property. What is absolutely uncanny is that each time he landed, with a thud that sounded like a thick rope hitting a deck, he was always pointed toward the wellhouse and began immediately to slither toward it. It was baffling. So I kept tossing him, further and further from the building, to the edge of the field. I tried to stuff him in the fox hole, figuring the two could keep each other company, but he wouldn’t go. And then I gave up because I signed up for a hot date with a string trimmer, not a black snake.
With that level of determination, he will no doubt be back. And I am pleased to make his acquaintance. We will just have to find some way to coexist, because I store my beer in the wellhouse and damned if this five-foot long black reptile is going to come between me and my Midas Touch.
June 14th, 2010 §
I stopped by my parents’ house right after work today to go over some of the final billing for the house. The whole time I wanted to get home because I was worried about the guineas in the garage. It was 93 degrees here today and they’ve outgrown their waterers, which are usually empty when I get to them each morning and when I return from work each night.
It was after nine and dark when I got home, and before I changed clothes, I stopped by the garage to flip on the outside light. I opened the garage door, called out my usual, “Hereee chick, chick, chick,” and listened for the soft guinea peeps in return. They were there, so good, the birds weren’t dead of heat exhaustion or dehydration. But then I flipped on the light, and when I looked toward their box I saw a cracked door and a seething grey mass peppered with 32 bright blinking eyes. “Hereee, chick, chick, chick, oh shit, oh chick, chick, crap.”
I quickly flipped the light off and shut the door, figuring that in the dark they’d at least stay calm. Then I headed into the house to pull off my daily Superman routine, changing from my work dress and dainty sandals into grubby pants, a long shirt, and chore boots. I grabbed my leather gloves, figuring I’d need all the protection I could get from those prehistoric beaks and claws when I went in for the Great Guinea Roundup.
When I returned to the garage and approached the birds, they dove for cover. And not in the direction of their half-open box:
So this wasn’t going to be easy. I was worried about causing group panic, because my garage is a pretty hazardous place for a young, dumb bird stupefied by groupthink and high on the instantaneous discovery of their powerful new wings. It’s still full of left over construction supplies—lots of sharp metal and plate glass and rolls of insulation and about a million places to get trapped or squished or beheaded or eviscerated. But while I was formulating my strategy, I did as any parent must and flew through the window of opportunity amidst potential misfortune. While the guineas huddled and scrabbled and cried in the corner of the garage, I cleaned out their box. Which is much easier without the birds in it!
With a nice, freshly papered box at the ready, I set up an elaborate system of other boxes and scrap lumber and grabbed an old garden stake in each hand. Like a conductor of the world’s most ridiculous orchestra, I herded the birds this way and that across the end of the garage, tweaking my maze as I tried to sweep the birds back in the direction of their open box. I wanted them to go as calmly as possible because I knew they were already stressed from the heat and being without food or water for who knows how long, and I didn’t want to imprint them with terror at the sight of me, any more than I already do each morning when I change their water upon first waking up.
Eventually I got the setup just right and the majority hopped back in the box. Once the two stragglers realized they’d missed the boat, groupthink worked to my advantage and a few more sweeps was all it took to get them to rejoin the flock. With all accounted for, I gave them a full feeder and some nice cold water. I know they were hungry because they actually approached me and ate even with my gigantic camera right in their faces—something they’d never done before.
So everyone’s safely home and tucked in for the night. And now their box has a marginally more secure door:
I got the idea from my classy crawlspace door. ‘Cause if it’s good enough for the guineas, it’s good enough for me!
June 9th, 2010 §
It’s hay season, which means my commute to and from work often involves looking at the back of a John Deere while crawling twenty miles an hour breathing diesel fumes. Which, apart from the fumes, is great and exactly why I moved here.
But in addition to all the tractors rumbling past my house, I love this time of year because the pastures surrounding the house look like this.
Each day I come home from work expecting the fields to be shorn by the farmer up the road who cuts the hay for his cows, and each day the golden grass is still standing I am a little selfishly happy.
June 9th, 2010 §
At five weeks old, yesterday, the keets have taken a marked turn away from what passes for avian cuteness toward vulturine. Not even their cute little head stripes can disguise that they are on their way toward a fairly unattractive adulthood. They seem huge to me, with thick meaty legs and stout bodies. Their disproportionately thin necks are starting to lose their feathers—soon to be replaced with a vivid purple teenage skin. I looked at them last week and saw—wait, what’s that? Wattles!
I felt something akin to what a mother must feel upon noticing a slight darkening on her adolescent son’s upper lip.
Last night, as I was cleaning their cage, one bird let loose with a raucous adult alarm call. My pride was quickly tempered by the realization that this call x 16 was not going to be nearly as impressive. Well, it would be impressive in the sense that the county may have to write a new clause into their noise ordinance to deal with me, the Guinea Lady. I can already see the headlines in our little podunk newspaper. Oh, the shame!
But until then, I am happy to say that the best part of my day is after I come home from work and clean the guineas’ box and give them new food and fresh water and very tempting sweet clover and seeded grass. I know one isn’t supposed to grow attached to livestock as a perilous future awaits them, but when I sit next to them and they sing the sweetest happy eating song, cocking their bright eyes to look at me, it’s the perfect end to the day.