Kitty got her first mouse last week. Good kitty!
March 28th, 2011 § 0
March 23rd, 2011 § 0
I spent a great day working outside in the yard, hacking down an old grapevine that I hope to rehabilitate. I opened the guinea coop and a few birds spent a lovely afternoon enjoying the newly green grass. It rained off and on throughout the afternoon, and I left their coop door open. Yet they didn’t rejoin their flock.
Around sundown there were about seven birds still outside the coop, circling madly but not jumping inside. I think they were still traumatized from their last foray out, which ended in a panicked flock right at the door of the coop. I curse myself for allowing that to happen, as I think it undid months of conditioning them to calmly return to their coop.
As it got dark I turned on their coop light, as well as the garage floodlight, hoping that the birds could see their way in and put themselves to bed. I sat on the front porch and watched as the sky filled with deep blue clouds out of the west.
All of a sudden the wind began to blow like the proverbial freight train, sending leaves tumbling across the driveway and causing the floodlights to do a wild shadow dance. It was dark now, and I could barely see the pale bobbing heads of several guineas still outside of the coop. I went inside for my boots, and the wind was blowing so hard it ripped the door from my hands. The power cut off just as I was stepping off the porch.
As huge raindrops began to assault me I approached the coop to find four birds huddled in a mass outside of an open door leading to food and water and the rest of their flock lit up in vital detail by a warm lamp. And yet these birds were camped out together in the dark and pelting rain.
I tried to herd them into the coop. Despite my warnings that, “If you don’t get inside right now you are dinner for the fox!,” they weren’t falling into line. In the dark, and with soaking feathers, they were moving unusually slow. So I did something I’d not done since they were tiny babies. I grabbed one. And, surprisingly, it ended up in my hands. I took it to the coop and threw it inside, setting off a flurry of dust and feathers inside. Pleased with my success, I went back for more.
I grabbed a second bird. It felt substantial. Meaty. I know to admit such brands me a horrible caretaker, but it was the dinner hour and thoughts of fricassee flashed through my head.
I overcame my base impulse and tossed the bird inside with his flock.
The remaining two guineas must have gotten wise to the farmer/predator in their midst. I chased one a bit, in and out of pale light and dark shadows, tripping over tractor implements (which cost me half my big toenail on my right foot) and made my strike. The bird screamed and burst away, leaving me with a handful of feathers. I gave up on that one, and approached the other, able to see only its bright frantic eyes in the flashes of lightning. When this bird headed into the pasture I gave up the chase. My jeans were soaked and made it hard to move my legs. My hair was dripping water, plastered to my skull. The thunder boomed again. Screw these birds.
I closed up the coop, and dashed inside to peel off wet clothes directly into the dryer.
Upstairs I turned on the shower. Nice and hot and sane. I teased grapevine buds out of my hair, and a lone guinea feather slowly swirled down the drain.
March 21st, 2011 § 1
March 15th, 2011 § 0
While weeding the front flowerbed last weekend, I poked around the bases of some dried-up, dead-looking plants and was surprised to find tiny new growth. I am excited that last fall’s landscaping rampage may just pay off this spring.
March 14th, 2011 § 0
Breaking down a winter squash for a most excellent curried squash and carrot soup!
I’ve had this squash in my house since early October. It was a nice decoration for all those months, turning from its original dusty blue to a weird fleshy color. I was getting sick of looking at it, but it was still too pretty to chuck in the woods for the deer. So I thought I’d try my luck with cooking it.
The hand maul was an excellent tool for the job of breaking down the squash. The last time I tried this, I wasn’t nearly as well equipped. I used a chisel and a hammer and my cutting board still bears the scars.
March 13th, 2011 § 1
Yesterday I had the guineas out of their house while I worked in the yard and made some minor coop modifications in response to last week’s entrapment:
I was taking a break on the front porch and enjoying some light weekend reading (The Basics of Shotgun Shooting) when I heard an unholy racket of screaming, alarm-sounding guineas. Because the birds were near the woods at the back of the property, out of eyesight, I figured Mr. Fox had returned to claim his lunch. I pulled my boots on and shot off the porch and toward the commotion.
When I arrived at the scene of the expected crime, I saw this:
The birds had discovered the final resting place of last week’s gold star balloon. And boy were they concerned to find something so amiss on their territory. They were hilarious to watch as they approached in a squawking clump, necks extended to shout at the offending piece of mylar. Then the balloon would move in the wind and the birds would jump back in fright before approaching again. This went on for a good ten minutes until I shooed them back up the hill toward the house. I am very proud of my birds for being such vigilant watchdogs. I hope they display the same reaction to snakes!
But the guinea excitement didn’t end there. Around four I tried to put the guineas in their coop so I could go into town. An overzealous relative was trying to help herd them but succeeded only in panicking the flock and creating the worst round-up experience I’ve had since last summer. We eventually got all but one guinea into the coop, and that holdout was so distressed she flew deep in the woods. After a half an hour of sprinting around the pastures and crawling through barbed-wire fence lines, I said let her go. So we did, and it was with heavy hearts that we went into town to cry in our beer.
I knew the odds weren’t good that at sundown the bird would make her way out of the woods alive. When it gets dark guineas can’t see and just hunker down wherever they are becoming, well, sitting ducks. So I left on all the lights outside of my house, and turned on the light in the coop in hopes that she’d be attracted toward the light and be lured out of the woods, and I also hoped that the birds in the coop would stay awake to help call her out with their cries. That was the best I could do.
But lo and behold, I got home after midnight and the missing guinea was perched outside of the coop window, pressed up against the wire to get as close to her family as possible. In the light of my car’s headlights I very slowly and calmly opened the outside coop door and walked around the coop with her in circles until she jumped in. Then I closed that door behind us, opened the interior door, and she quickly rejoined her flock. I shut off their light and went to bed.
There’s never a dull moment around here with these entertaining, beautiful, exasperating birds.
March 12th, 2011 § 0
March 10th, 2011 § 5
I came home last night and unloaded my groceries on the front porch before pulling the car back to the garage. As I was getting out to open the garage door, I had the brilliant idea to feed the guineas at night instead of in the morning, when we were supposed to be experiencing a rainstorm strong enough to warrant flood warnings three days in advance. So I let myself into the outside coop door, and in through the interior coop door that separates the guineas’ living quarters from a tiny entry room where I store their food. I fed them their pellets, even adding a bit extra for good measure, and left their area. The interior door is secured by a simple hook and eye, and tonight I couldn’t get the door shut tight enough to latch it. I debated just leaving it, as it was practially pitch-black and starting to rain. But with visions of the winds to come blowing the door open and the guineas trashing the entry room, I kept at it, trying all my tricks to jimmy the hook into the eye.
It just wasn’t working, and it was dark enough that I couldn’t tell what was causing the problem. So, I opened the interior door and stepped into the guineas’ room. I pushed lightly on the bottom of the door, where it seemed to be getting stuck, and as I did, the door sucked tight into its frame, unmovable.
Now this wouldn’t be a problem except that I’d neglected to install any sort of handle on the inside of the door, which is just a smooth piece of plywood. And after listening to my entreaties for a “predator-proof coop,” my master coop builder father had made the door so well that it fit into the jam with nary a gap anywhere except for a tiny bit at the bottom which I realized, with a sinking feeling, had become stuffed with pine bedding and guinea dust in such a way that I was now effectively trapped in the coop.
In the past I’d been able to find a bit of give around the edges of the door and ease it open. But tonight nothing doing. The door was shut tight, glued in place by dust and pine.
I felt a wave of adrenaline-induced nausea. The guineas, disturbed by my unexpected presence, began to cry louder and pace back and forth, their squawks in such close quarters hurting my ears. I knew it was only a matter of minutes until they all exploded in a panic of dust and feathers, unleashing their prehistoric talons with no regard for my flesh or my soft, gelatinous eyeballs.
I switched on the light, that merciful light I’d installed a while back as a heat source during really cold nights. It sure came in handy as I scanned the inside of the coop, looking for ways to escape.
Both windows were covered with hardware cloth, which I’d thoroughtly stapled with a power stapler when I installed it to thwart even the tiniest intruder. And beyond the hardware cloth, each window was covered with a glass storm window I might have a hard time breaking through.
The poop door, though human size, was bolted closed in two places from the outside.
I eyed the chicken door. Even if I could have fit through it, which was doubtful, it too was bolted closed from the outside
I was in a tough spot. I’d pulled my car up to the garage and turned it off, so any passerby would think I’d gone inside. It was now dark and raining and my neighbors live far enough away that I doubt they would have heard me if I would have had to yell. I had the light. I could semaphore S.O.S. But would anybody see? And worst of all, my beer was on the porch.
I felt the pockets of my jacket, searching for a tool to free myself. Thank goodness, I had my keys on me. I could do anything with, keys, right? Even better, I carry a tiny knife on my keyring, just for emergencies such as this. At first I thought that if I could get the knife into the door well enough, it would create a handle that would let me pull it open. But after a few tries I realized the door was stuck too tight for that to work.
And then it came to me. One of my father’s favorite concepts: leverage! While making this farm I have seen him move all sorts of ridiculous things with the simple power of leverage, including a full-size stacked washer and dryer, and each time he told me that leverage was one of the keys to the universe. I rationalized that if I could get enough of the blade under the stuck door to lever it up, maybe I could get it to swing free.
And so I began. The door was stuck so tightly that even the tiny blade of my tiny knife was hard to wedge underneath. I kept at it, fighting panic as each attempt seemed to fail. The guineas roiled around me, screaming and churning up dust that thickened the air. I found my motions growing frantic and had to stop to remind myself that while being trapped in the coop was bad, being trapped in the coop while hemorrhaging from a knife wound to the wrist would be even worse. So I began again, more slowly, with a steadied mind, and eventually worked the blade into the stuck area between the door and the jam. I pried up with a delicate touch, so as not to snap the knife blade, and with my other hand worked my fingers around the edge of the door until I could grasp enough to swing it free.
And so I was. Free to step out of the melee of scrambling, squawling guineas. Free of the feather dust and soiled pine shavings and rising panic.
With my bare hands I clawed the door jamb free of the debris that had caused the jam, slammed the door shut, latched it, and fled. Into the dark, the fresh air, the rain. I was free.
P.S. Happy Birthday, Dad. Thanks for teaching me, among a million other things, about leverage. And you built a damn tight coop.
Image above, before adulteration, © Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment LLC. All Rights Reserved.
March 8th, 2011 § 0
I looked out the window at sunrise this morning to see a strange gold thing bobbing in the far field, right above the old hay. Such a curious sight—what could it be?
How could it not be a great day if it starts with a gold star?
March 7th, 2011 § 0
Forgive the crappy photo, but I didn’t have much time to catch Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird checking out the real estate. I was getting nervous since most mornings last week I’d seen the onerous starlings camped out on top of the bluebird house while the pair of bluebirds watched from the nearby birch. A sad sight indeed.
But this is a good development! I saw both the male and female go in the box, so maybe they’ve got homemaking on their minds?