Garden of Life

The garden is popping and lively now at the height of summer.  Echineacea and zinnias provide a place for butterflies to convene and sip while sitting.  The zinnias are beautiful.  I love how their petals curl open from the center, forming swirl upon swirl of soft tongues that shape a whole flower head.  Amidst them the zucchinis and squashes are growing bigger than ever, thriving off the straw and shavings we spread in the beds last autumn from in the chicken coop, and the bees are heard and seen climbing around inside their bright yellow blossoms.  Lamb’s quarters are sending silvery powdery seed clusters out and the mint is running rampant.  When we walk through the bed and brush against them, they release refreshing scents all around.  This year the broccoli and cauliflower grew big but bolted right away into bitterness; feels like it’s the year of squashes, beans, cucumbers and tomatoes, as the lettuce did much the same as the brassicas, and the peas kind of grew and dried up really fast as well.  So far, this year’s medicine is showing up as lots of yarrow, Queen Anne’s Lace where ants climb about; less bee balm than ever, hardly any prunella.  Changing climate in these mountains, after eight years of feeling out the growing pattern, it’s shifted.

Eight years it’s been since we found our homestead and moved to make our abode here.  It’s been an experience with much learning and unlearning too.  The past two years we’ve shared our hens eggs with black snakes.  This year we found one had moved in again, and it was eating all the eggs.  We disturbed it enough to keep it going before coming back again and again to the nesting box, eight feet up off the ground in the chicken run; it would lay coiled up hissing and striking at the long pole we’d poke in there.  We’d hoped to scootch it out and into a bucket to relocate, but it got the better of us every time, all seven feet of it lunging out before it would drop and slither away into the underbrush.

While I wrestled with how to get it out of there without ending its life, it sealed its own fate when one day Layla went to feed the chickens and found one of the chicks that Goldie had hatched out, eight weeks old, stretched out in the shape of a snake from head to shoulders; the black snake coiled up above having regurgitated it probably after constricting and attempting to swallow it . . . .was it too big to gobble past the wings or had Layla interrupted it while it slowly sucked, I don’t know, but this was a bit too much for Layla.  She’s been caring for our chickens since she was around seven or eight, and is now, at fifteen, our primary chicken keeper.  When she found the chick in this state, she took the pitchfork in her hand and went for that black snake with murder in her eyes!  She stalked it for a half an hour before she got it, after which Anousheh spotted a second one coiled up in a nesting box!  Layla stabbed that one too, her outrage at the dead chick greater than seven feet of hissing striking intimidation coming at her and this time when it dropped out and tried to get away, our dog Clover had come by to see what was going on, and was on that snake in a second.  Her method is very interesting:: she throws the snake in such a way that it falls hard and is somewhat dazed from the impact.  She does this repeatedly until the snake is too stunned to do anything and then she gets in there and bites it quite dead.  Two snakes in one morning.  We moved their extremely long bodies to a bower of bee balm and yarrow to lay to rest intertwined with respect.

I feel a twinge of regret every now and then, wondering whether there was another way, and then I realize this is part of unlearning and learning:: an attitude perhaps around death and endings and beginnings and life that meets you in your face and shows you that it’s all part of a whole, and how you greet it is where an essence lives, what comes after springs from that, coiling and uncoiling, neither this nor that but this and this and a bit of that as well.  I wrote a short poem afterward, may work on it some more, later . . .

It comes together
At the tip of a pitchfork
Thrust just so and it whips
Like a Rudyard Kipling tale
Wrapped around the tines
Mouth open wide fangs bared
Hissing and striking
Until there’s no more
Thinking, grappling, or hooks
Only dueling
Only deliverance.

. . . . in the meantime I am thankful for the eggs we now enjoy and find it ironic that our hens flew into the peach trees and ate up all the peaches, save the ones ripe enough to pick and ripen a bit more in a brown bag.  They have moved on into the boughs of our laden apple trees, where they’re pecking at the fruits.  Snakes eat eggs and die, do we eat the chickens now that they’re eating up the fruit?!  Fair trade for eggs laid?  Many questions, how many variations of response, is there reconciliation?  Sooner or later we go to the river and swim with trout and in those fluid moments there are neither questions nor answers, just so many leaves fluttering above in layers between us and the blue sky floating by, snakes on rocks nearby sunning, and we are all together in a spiral, dancing with and part of a garden of life.




Amazing Hatching

It was three weeks ago when I went out to feed our hens. We currently have 12 hens and 3 roosters. I emerged from the coop and heard a most suspicious peeping sound. Looking to investigate, I entered the run and, there in the highest nesting box, was a hen with three chicks!

I got them some food and water and put it up on the flat, wooded perches outside the nesting box and stood back to watch. This is a funny time for hatching chicks, but it has not been that cold lately.

As I watched, one of the chicks hopped out of the nest and fell right through the slats of the wood! It peeped feebly on the ground and I moved forward to pick it up. Just as I reached it, the mother hen clucked angrily from above. She jumped out of the nest and landed furiously on my head! She pecked and clawed until U shook her off and backed away from her. The mother hen then picked up her chick using her beak and claws and flew back up into the nest with it.

There are two brown ones and one black one. The next morning when I went out to feed the chickens, the mother hen had transported all her chicks to the ground (I personally think she just pushes them out of the nest. They can obviously survive the drop). I blocked off the hole leading from the coop into the run and shut the run door so she could not get out. Our dog would eat the chicks if she saw them.

I feed her in the run now, and she stays in there. The chicks have lost most of their fuzz and have wing and tail feathers. They can fly and hop short distances and, at this time of year I feed the hens cracked corn; the chicks could eat it right from the day they hatched. We still have all three and they still peep. When they sound like hens and they are bigger, then I will let them out of the run and we all hope they are hens, not roosters!

With three roosters, a fight is guaranteed soon and two someones are going to end up in the stew pot.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!





One of our chickens, a Silver Hamburg to be exact, had been acting funnily for some time: puffing up and squawking whenever any one came near her; chicken, dog, cat or human.  Of course I had no idea of what to make of it so I left her alone. Now we also had a broody hen, a Buff Rock, that we moved to a big tub where she sat on a dozen eggs. The tub was covered in metal wire.  She is a hen that we hatched out a few years ago, as is the Silver Hamburg, and the roosters too.

A few days later I went out to care for our chickens and I saw the Silver Hamburg strutting about and behind her were two little fuzzy blobs. They were chicks! I was very excited!  Me and my brother and sisters chased the Mama hen and her two chicks into the run and locked them in so Clover, our dog, could not get to them and eat them up. The hen had hatched out the chicks under our coop, going unnoticed by everybody all this time!

One day the broody hen in the tub hatched out eight chicks; she had sat on the eggs for about twenty days. They were fuzzy and very sweet. The next day I went to check on both Mama hens. The Silver Hamburg still had her chicks but the Buff Rock had no chicks at all!!!! I searched the tub and found no dead bodies. They were not outside the tub and they could not have flown out at two days old for they have no feathers at that age. It was a mystery.

Several days later I spotted a huge Black Snake in one of the nesting boxes in the run! It gave me a start! It was at least ten feet long with black scales and a yellow underbelly and beady, milky grey eyes. It was looking straight at me as well.  Turns out Black Snakes eat eggs and . . . . . Small Chicks! We believe that the Black Snake ate our chicks and eggs from the coop because eggs had been disappearing and we had assumed it was Clover. It appears that it was both snake and dog.

We gave the Buff Rock more eggs to sit on because she was still broody. Three out of thirteen eggs disappeared from the new batch of eggs.

I saw the Black Snake again. It was stretched out on the roof of our nesting boxes in the run.

And so the Silver Hamburg hatched out chicks unaided and remained safe while the Buff Rock stayed safe and had her chicks eaten. It is amazing!

As it turns out the Black Snake is still there in the run, hiding in the straw. Sneaky thing!! We thought it had left long ago. But it has not. I poked at it with an old broom. It is all coiled up in the nesting box. It flicked its tongue at us and moved. It is fun watching snakes move. We all like it.


When 14 is not enough: Cock’s Fight

Two roosters and fourteen hens

Seems like there’s plenty to share,

But those roosters just don’t care

To divide between them seven and seven,

Neat and tidy, half and half

No sense of humor they won’t even laugh,

Instead it’s to  a cock fight they go

Swaggering and shaking their feathers you know,

While they tuck their heads down then jump up high

Spurs digging into necks, pecking at eyes!!!

~~~~~ poor rhyming verse aside, it’s amazing that they won’t divide up the bounteous booty and feel the need to have it All to themselves.  We’ve got one rooster (a mix of silver hamburg and delaware that a broody hen hatched a couple of years back) locked in the garden for now with two brahma’s and two buff rocks that are too heavy to fly over the walls, and the other rooster (copper maran mix up that the same mama hen hatched, so they’re Brothers y’all!! . .. . ) is out and about with the golden and silver hamburgs, auracanas,  and speckled sussexes . . . . yet this morning the white rooster had escaped through a crack in the gate and Monkey Eyes found them in their 4th fight, so he caged the one and they KEPT ON FIGHTING through the cage!!  For real??  So we’ve patched the gate and he’s back in the garden but there’s something up I tell you . . . . other than cocks a fighting . . . . here’s a photograph Monkey Eye’s got before we re-gardened the one rooster . …