I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Thoreau

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Great Egg-scape

Helga, [hel-guh], noun -A wildly expensive chicken with a mind and a personality all her own!

Friday before last, while I was out with my mom and Sarah, Fred cut down three small trees from the curve of our driveway. These three had been choked by poison ivy and were in imminent danger of toppling during the next storm on to our West Virginia lawn ornament (a Caprice that has not run in almost a decade), or of blocking the driveway. Since neither of us has any desire to use the chainsaw in the next big gale Fred took the preventative measure of storing up a little early firewood.

Louie our dog loves to be where ever the people are. He is a great off-leash dog because he does not want Fred or me out of his sight. He does not wander off chasing scent trails(we are pretty sure he cannot smell), he does not (normally) run off with other dogs and generally he does not chase things unless they are in our yard. It is safe to work outside doing chores or whatever and assume that Louie will stay in close proximity.

While Fred was cutting down the trees, he looked around and realized that he missed Louie. He thought maybe the sound of the chainsaw had scared him so he took a moment to look around. What he saw was Louie at the fence line of the back yard, near the beehives, watching Helga manically tearing up and down the fence line. You remember Helga, right? Bionic, wonder-chicken? The chicken with the bazillion dollar emergency vet bill, the reason we ate brown beans for a week? I thought so. She is hard to forget, with a personality all her own and a quickly compiling biography to rival a VH1 behind the music special, this chicken is really something.

Anyway, Fred thought her behavior was peculiar enough to warrant attention so he laid the chainsaw down and started for the back yard. As he got closer he realized she was on the outside of the fence. Yes, Helga raced up and down the fence line in a red-hot panic as Stacy and Miranda mirrored her maneuvers from inside the yard. She had somehow managed to maneuver herself outside the fence line and could not figure out how to get back in and she was desperate to get back in. Our back yard (where the chickens live) has several pine trees and lots of nooks and things for the chickens to get under (which they love) our front and side yards, by comparison, are relatively barren with little cover and more importantly without her sisters who were all still obediently within the confines of the fence.

Fred picked her up and carried her through the gate without further incident. When I got home he related the story to me and we debated the possible methods of escape used by Helga the wonder hen. Fred seemed to think she had flown over the fence but was not sure. If she had flown over the fence then why did she not just fly back in? Chickens, while not the smartest of God’s creatures, can operate under learned behaviors and once they have done something are usually likely to do it again.

You see, of all the chickens Helga is probably the only one capable of “flying” anywhere. Allow me to pause for a moment and define flying for a chicken, it is a kamikaze run at something, full tilt, wildly flapping wings with a little prayer and a jump. It may get them an extra foot off the ground for approximately a nanosecond before they land with an unceremonious thud roughly in the same vicinity in which they started. The four BJGs are way too large to “fly” anywhere and Mama is much too small to get any real height, so Helga is really the only bird in our flock of a big enough stature and light enough weight to get her butt up off the ground with any significance.

We discussed it and figured it was a fluke. Helga loves people and, much like Louie, always wants to be where we are. Just to be safe, we walked the fence line and checked for holes, we checked the gate and along the ground to make sure nothing had been tunneled through. Everything seemed fine. We chalked it up to an overzealous bid for attention on Helga’s part. We figured in her desperation to get to Fred she had excitedly jumped at the fence only to magically find herself on the other side. Once through the looking glass she had no clue how to return to her own world and without a cake marked “EAT ME” or a bottle marked “DRINK ME” she merely chose to plummet herself wildly along the fence line until Fred rescued her. We check on her several times that evening and throughout the next day. She seemed normal and content within the confines of the yard so Fred and I shrugged and chalked her escape up to a freak accident, a fluke. HA!

Sunday found us arriving home from church to a crisp fall afternoon, a beautiful sunny sky and a chicken escapee once again running the fence line and squawking wildly for reentry. When we got home from church I stepped into the backyard to gather the eggs. As I walked towards the coop I was followed by five of my six hens. Helga was missing. I called for her and could hear her squawking like a maniac. I looked and called and her shrieks became increasingly incessant. As I rounded the corner of the house I could see her. This time she ran the fence line that boarders our front yard. Howling at me and probably convincing all of my neighbors I have a chicken torturing operation in my back yard.

I yelled for Fred and told him where she was. I did not want to leave the back yard for fear she would panic if she lost sight of me and bolt for the road. Or worse, if I tried to go get her all the others would follow and then I would have chicken anarchy on my hand. I really do not have any desire to log on to facebook someday and find myself the subject of the latest viral video, chasing chickens all around the yard like a lunatic. I talked to her and tried to keep her attention as Fred walked around the house from the other direction and picked her up. There was no real fear of her bolting, all she wanted at that point was to get back in the yard.

As Fred carried her back into the safety of the fence we discussed the fact that she was obviously flying out either after something or someone and we needed to put an immediate stop to it before one of the others began trying it or before she got hit by a car or became an expensive snack of one of the local dogs. I told him we needed to clip her wings. Now in theory this sounded great. I mean how many times have you heard the term “clipped wings” in some cliché fashion? I figured how hard could it be? Fred pointed out that neither of us had any wing clipping experience nor did we even know how to go about trimming said wings or which feathers to cut. I pondered this and left Fred to babysit the chickens while I went back in the house to do a little research.

Well what else can you possibly do when you do not have the answers or the expertise? That is right; I Googled and Google took me straight to a do-it-yourself YouTube video, yay for the internet. In three minutes flat I was practically a chicken wing pruning expert. Just to be sure my skills were perfectly honed I watched the video a second time, transferred it to my phone, grabbed the kitchen scissors and went outside. I made Fred watch the video twice to make sure we were on the same page and then I asked, “cut or hold?” Fred responded with a blank stare and I said, “Do you want to hold her upside down or do you want to trim her wings?” He decided he would hold. Lucky for us Helga likes to be picked up and held so we did not have to chase her all around the yard.

As Fred began to flip her upside down she began to flap her wings and screech in protest but as she rotated one hundred and eighty degrees she became suddenly, magically still and quiet. I do not have any idea why and I do not know if it applies to all chickens but something about flipping her over immediately stunned/calmed her. I stretched her wing out and Fred and I had a momentary debate as I almost cut the wrong feathers. Once we had agreed on the proper feathers to trim I unglamorously hacked away at them with my kitchen shears. Let me tell you, kitchen scissors are NOT for feather pruning nor are feather cuticles at all easy to cut through. However, after several minutes of sawing Helga was pruned and her feet returned to terra firma.

She seemed no worse for the wear and so we went about our business. There were no more escapes through Sunday afternoon and as I let them out Monday morning she seemed quite fine and not at all discontent with her new shorter feather do. I fed them and watered them and was a little concerned that Helga might be standoffish with me after having been manhandled the day before, but like a loyal dumb dog she ran up and let me pet her and begged for treats and followed me around the yard as I completed my chores. She seemed perfectly content and normal until later that morning when I went to the back porch to offer them some treats.

I called for the chickens and they came running from all over the yard as usual. Helga was in the middle of the pack. As they bounded up the stairs I saw Helga aim for midway up the side of the staircase, as she jumped and spread her wings she promptly clotheslined herself on the middle step. Oops. Apparently wing-pruning is not without drawbacks. I watched as she tried three more times, knocking herself back each time. I put aside some treats and waited to see if she would figure it out. Eventually she walked back around to the bottom step and, with wounded pride, climbed the steps slowly, one at a time. I hand fed her some raisins for her humiliation and she quickly recovered from her embarrassment.

The other unexpected side effect is that she can also no longer make it to the porch railing to eat from the bird feeder. While I will miss seeing this during my morning coffee break, it is a small price to pay to keep her in the fence and not have to worry that she will become dog food or road kill. She can still hop up on my lap when I sit outside although her balance is somewhat lacking. This chicken body modification has not seemed to tarnish her pride or ego in the least. She still tries to get in the house at every turn and expects special treatment when humans are in the yard. She also has become quite the jealous green eyed monster. If she catches you petting anyone else they are surely in for a sneaky head pecking, this includes the dog (and Fred).

Much love,
Thank you for reading,


Thursday, October 14, 2010

More Abundantly: In Memory of Julie

As many of you who know me in real life know, my aunt Julie died a week ago Monday after a fifteen month battle with lung cancer that had metastasized into her spine and shoulder. Jewel lived a rough life and although cancer was, by normal standards, a death sentence, for her it was a reprieve. That fifteen month gave her time to “put her house in order.” She was granted something that many of us, caught up in our day to day struggles never recognize, she was given a time of reflection. Like the season the Jewish community recognizes between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, she was given her “time of Awe” to look back and make peace with her family; she recognized her past and came to terms.

I will not defame Julie’s testimony by setting her up here as a saint. She lived a life fraught with heartache and wrong choices. Haunted by addiction, cancer brought her to her knees and ultimately to Jesus. I have learned something from Julie’s life and death and that is this: life is preciously short and flimsy. It can be snatched away from you in a moment or it can be wrested out of your grasp by a long debilitating illness. I do not mean to lose the focus of this blog or to totally stray from our mission statement but I will tell you this; a more “God centered” life is not just a pretty turn of phrase for Fred and me, it is the ultimate goal of our lives. Julie made the most of her last fifteen months, she tried, she gave it all over to Christ and she did her best to make amends.

I do not want to spend the last fifteen months of my life scrambling to “live right.” I want to do it now. Part of that for both Fred and me includes doing more to be self sufficient. It behooves us to be better stewards of our lives' and world's now instead of scrambling in the end to make right things that have been neglected. That said since last Monday I have neglected a lot. Short of the chickens, and Fred and Sarah’s stomachs, which refuse to be neglected, I have pretty much gone into zombie mode. I have mindlessly and numbly auto piloted my way through daily activities.

Do not misunderstand I was not shocked by Julie’s death, it was expected. Nor am I in abject mourning. I know that Julie no longer suffers and that it was better for her to die quickly than to linger painfully in the hospital, just like it was better for her to die in a state of grace than one of turmoil. I do not think I have vegged out of life due to some overwhelming grief (although I do admit the amount of loss and death in the last few weeks has been staggering) instead I think that loosing Julie has forced me into a state of reevaluating my life, our goals and focus. I know, many of you probably think, “good grief does she do anything but introspectively reflect?” but I promise I do not sit around contemplating my belly button everyday (the blog just seems like it).

Ultimately, what Fred and I are trying to do, in all of our “green” endeavors, is to simplify our lives. You may think we are taking on way to much work to make things simple but even in hard work there is peace. There is a satisfaction in removing the middle man and of holding a finished product in your own hands, something in which you have a vested interest, not just a buck ninety-nine from the grocery. I can happily say that there are now more eggs in my refrigerator that I can use and I find myself trying to come up with creative ways to slip eggs into every meal. The satisfaction of holding something that represents our goals, as tiny as an egg is, fills me with such joy and gratitude that it is hard to express. I tell you, the pleasure of having a finished product is more rewarding than any career in which I have ever participated. This is a big statement for me, I can honestly say in my career as a firefighter I had a part in actually saving lives, and as rewarding as that was you still went home at the end of the day feeling tired, sometimes let down and often disappointed.

I said all of that to say: I want Julie’s life to be an illustration for myself and others. I want to do it right the first time. I am sure if Julie could tell us all one thing from heaven that would be it. Do it right the first time, do not spend your end scrambling to repair relationships and to atone for things, take your time to slow down now. Be kind to each other. Be kind to the world in which you live. Live each day with meaning and do not let your life become bogged down whether that be with possessions or unimportant details. Live fully and live well.

Jesus told us, "I came that you may have life and have life more abundantly." That is what I want "life more abundantly." What about you? I challenge you today, examine your life. If you knew you were down to fifteen months what would you do? Who would you make amends with? What would you change? What would you live without? Now live like that, live more abundantly!

I would like to make you promises about being back in the blogging saddle but the last few weeks have been so hard I am promising nothing but my best effort. I have lots of things to catch up on here on the “homestead” so the blog may be pushed to the bottom of the pile for now. I want to thank everyone who has prayed for my family and who has supported us in this time of struggle and need. Thank you.

Much Love,