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Archive for May, 2014

With foxes we must play the fox. ~Thomas Fuller

I saw a fox the other evening around 7 p.m., carrying off one of my good laying hens. He didn’t choose one of the slower, elderly hens who eat a lot but don’t lay many eggs, either. Not that I would have been any less sad about it. I know that part of country living is sharing space with of all God’s creatures. I also know that foxes need to eat, too, but he certainly could find something else to eat for dinner. The chickens were kept inside for a couple of days, for their own safety, and they were not happy. Who can blame them for not wanting to be all cooped up? It was quite a long winter, after all. They clamor to get out every time they see me. They gather together and push against the door to the run, and if I try to squeeze in, they squeeze out, so now I have to sneak in the back door to feed them. Have you ever tried explaining to a chicken why they can’t go outside on a lovely summer’s day? No, I guess not. Only another crazy chicken person would understand. I decided to outfox the fox. The first day, I let the chickens outside, but herded them back in by 6 p.m. I know Mr. Fox doesn’t have a pocket watch, and one can only guess if he keeps the same schedule or not. We get a lot of fishermen in the area this time of year, and I am sure they wonder just what the heck that middle-aged woman is doing leading her chickens around the yard with a broken off fishing pole. I stick with what works, even if they do stare and pick up speed as they go past the house. The fishermen, not the chickens. Barney the Chihuahua, our guard dog, sits in the window seat keeping an eye out for things he doesn’t like such as squirrels, Blue Jays, and now foxes and lets us know immediately if any are close by. Around 7 p.m., the fox ran through the yard and down the road, and Barney let us know about it by making a lot of commotion, as Chihuahuas tend to do. Just to mess with old Foxy’s mind, I kept the chickens in for an entire day. The next afternoon before letting them out, I circled our large yard, banging on a plastic water bucket and chanting “Go away, Fox, GO AWAY!” in case he was lurking in the woods. Yes, that was me, if you were passing by and wondered just what the heck I was up to this time. I let them out again when HE was mowing, figuring a noisy lawnmower would keep Mr. Fox away. Today, I had outdoor chores planned for most of the day, so I let them out in the morning while I was hanging laundry on the clothesline. My big rooster, A Boy Named Sue, made a loud noise and I looked up to see a bald eagle circling the flock. They scattered to safe areas. Really Mr. Eagle? I am not in the mood for another predator. I grabbed my old metal watering can, and in between banging on it, waving my arms, and hollering “Go away, Eagle, GO AWAY!” I realized that it was Memorial Day, and here I was, shooing off the symbol of our great country. America. Land of the free, home of the brave, and one very protective chicken-loving-fishermen-think-she’s-crazy Farm Woman.

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Benjamin Franklin once said that guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days. Old Ben must not have been a farmer or he would have certainly added chickens to his list of smelly things. Mama chicken gave up sitting on her nest of eggs, so the only way to get new baby chicks around here is to purchase them. Every spring I have to become a surrogate mother of sorts, and the cute fluffy-bottomed little things were given a temporary home in a cage in my laundry room. Baby chickens are sweet and helpless and will drown themselves in their own drinking water if you don’t watch them carefully. They constantly fight over their food and spill it all over the bottom of the cage, then poop in it. I clean the cage twice a day, giving fresh food and water as well as change the paper at the bottom. They squawk loudly and scurry away from the hand that feeds them, scattering water and feed everywhere. Miraculously, the chicks survived despite themselves. After the second week, the babies, although still cute, were wearing out their welcome, especially to HIM, who doesn’t have the same motherly instinct that I do and believes that all farm animals belong in a barn. He started to drop a few not-so-subtle hints such as “It stinks in here!” and “Are they STILL here?” Since the temperatures were still dipping below freezing every night, I wasn’t quite ready for my babies to fly the coop, so to speak. A week ago, they started instinctively scratching, just as chickens are supposed to do. With 10 chickens scratching, they have somehow managed to have a constant shower of the food/poop mixture out of the cage and all over the floor. I sent up a silent prayer for warmer nighttime temperatures and that no unexpected company would drop by and notice how we really live. Only half of my prayer was answered, as a friend offered to drop off some fresh-caught walleye fillets. I don’t know anyone in this world who would turn down fresh-caught walleye fillets, even if they have to swallow their pride and bribe the fisherman to silence with the promise of a Key Lime pie. In a case like this, there will be extra whipped cream on top, too. As of yesterday, the baby chicks are now in the coop with a heat lamp and in a larger cage. It will be a couple of weeks before they will be big enough to join the rest of the chickens. HE will get a Key Lime pie, too, just for being such a good sport. I’ll be sure to make it right before I bring home the baby turkeys…..

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Once upon a time and many, many years ago (or perhaps it was just yesterday), there was a little cabin in the north woods. This cabin was filled with so many memories that it was ready to burst at the seams. It was also filled with the cast offs from parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, and anyone else who might say, “I thought you could use this at your cabin.” The old grandfather who once owned it built it many years ago when he was young and strong. He spent the next 50 years filling it up with everything that the family needed and then some. His wife, the old grandmother, stopped herself from nagging about it for the sake of the children. His daughters, these days rather old themselves, decided something had to be done, and soon. It was time. They cleaned out cupboards and drawers and places where many mice had spent the winter, or perhaps where one mouse had spent many winters. It was hard to tell. They filled bags and boxes and shared the memories as only two sisters can do. They wondered how they could possibly have found enough old shoes to fill a large garbage bag. They saved the important things: The blue pitcher, the lantern, the old grandfather’s hunting cap, the berry dishes that they used to fill with wild blueberries and cream skimmed from the top of the milk. That was before cholesterol was invented. They made room for the new things which strangely enough are the cast offs from parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, and anyone else who might say, “I thought you could use this at your cabin.” They sent a MAN out to the shed who promptly reported back that there was “nothing at all in there that needed to go.” Right. They deliberately ignored what was underneath the cabin. It was a well-known fact and occasional family joke that the old grandfather saved every board and scrap of wood from every project he had done for the last 50 years under there, just in case he ever needed it. Why underneath the cabin? Because the old grandmother told him he couldn’t pile it up in her basement/attic/garage or anywhere else around her house in town. That’s what cabins are for. There’s probably lots of big hairy spiders and porcupine babies and Lord-knows-what-else under there, too. The rather old sisters turn into squeamish little girls again at the thought of things like that. After the cabin was cleaned and the wine was poured, the sisters smiled at each other. There was plenty of room for friends and family who will be busy making more memories in the little cabin. In fact, it was about to burst at the seams from all the happiness inside. I think if you were to look out the window at sunset, way across the lake, you just might see an old grandfather and an old grandmother paddling their canoe. It’s funny, but they don’t look so old anymore. You can hear them talking as the canoe glides out of sight. She: “Dear, look at all the work you left for the girls to do. I told you that you should have cleared it out years ago!” He: “Thank goodness they didn’t get rid of everything! They left all that lumber under the cabin. I told you it would be good for a project someday.”

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