Elihu has had a fever on and off for the past few days. Reminiscent of his very first day at Waldorf last spring; on his first day of the new school year I was called by the school nurse to come and administer his nebulizer treatment (as I’d not yet gotten this year’s doctor’s slip) and I ended up taking him home instead. He stayed home today too, and good thing. His sleep was deep and long, his fever only breaking just this morning. This needed to be a day of rest. He’d been going non-stop with his father for weeks and had come home with little time to adjust to the new school year. My intention was to give him a day with nothing to do but feel better.
Well, kind of. I did have a secret agenda for the day which seemed like it might work well with my kid confined to the home. I had a pile of clothes to go through which a friend (with boys just ahead of Elihu) had dropped off recently. A boon to be sure, but there was still some labor involved in assimilating and using it all. Not everything would work; the piles had to be gone through. Not all would be the right size; some were too big and would need to be put in bins for next year (and clearly marked so as not to overlook them until they were then too small!), some weren’t quite his style (shirts that advertise ‘Nike’, ‘The Gap’ and that feature the ‘life is good’ stick figure playing baseball aren’t really a match) and some he can wear right away. It just takes some time to assess what’s what. And in a little house like ours there’s only so much room; one can only keep what one will really and truly use.
We did this for about twenty minutes, until Elihu hit a wall. I don’t blame him, I kinda knew I was pushing it. In his incredibly convincing adolescent girl routine, he flung himself onto his bed and wept, and then in his incredibly self-aware young adult persona he paused from his drama to explain to me that he needed to simply cry and be angry right now, he apologized for doing so, and then promptly resumed his performance. I in turn apologized, thanked him for helping as much as he did, then left the room to give him some space.
After a while I came back to check on him. He wanted a hug. I gave it freely. He seemed pooped. Still not himself. I offered to read him a story. He told me he’d like that. After the story was finished, we lay there on his bed for a moment, shifting gears, and then got up and had lunch.
As I cleaned up the lunch dishes, Elihu put on his glasses and headed outside. After I’d finished in the kitchen, I followed him out to the coop to see about some fixes I’d been meaning to get around to for a while now. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. The air just right, on the warmish end but not too bad – that is to say no mosquitoes hanging around – and a nice breeze blowing through. As I began my work in the coop, Elihu began his work of chasing chickens. It was kinda cute to see him zipping past – first right, then left, whizzing by in pursuit of a fast-moving bird. We’d check in with each other every now and then, sometimes stopping what we were doing, each seeking out the other and simply meeting in a hug. Wordless, or perhaps with a simple “I love you” we’d part and go back to our respective projects. It was a productive day for me as I’d finally gotten around to the outdoor to-do list I’d put off for too long now; I zip-tied holes in the fences, screwed planks along the perimeter of the coop bottom to deter under-the-coop-laid-eggs (as well as hunkered down raccoons and such), fixed the timer that opens and closes the coop door, installed a couple new nesting boxes and did a half dozen other little things – all of which added up to a couple hours work.
All this time Elihu was in his own heaven. Birds everywhere, birds tame enough to hold, wild enough to chase, varied enough to be beautiful and fascinating each in its own unique way… And with each of us so close by to the other, yet each of us each so engrossed in our own work, it made for the most perfect afternoon. An afternoon of love, security, joy – and even progress. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. We’d take a moment out, pick up a bird, sit together side by side on an overturned milk crate and spend a full ten minutes marveling over all of its wonderful qualities. The variation from bird to bird is really impressive, and neither one of us is ever bored of bearing witness to it. We admired nearly every bird in the flock; at the end of the day we’ve handled, smooched, praised and thanked nearly thirty birds. Especially the young roosters who will go to the Amish butcher this week. (This is about as long as we can know them and still hand them over…) We know we have one mature rooster too many, but as we’ve had him for over a year now (his name his Judson) we cannot bring ourselves to butcher him too. The young ones go easier…And it’s these quiet, one-on-one moments we share with each doomed fellow that make it easier for us to let them go. They live a good life, and they die a quick death, and they receive our deepest gratitude. As farm animals go, it’s a sweet life.
The hours pass by and it is perfect. Every now and then I try to look up and around at my world; I see the spread of the beech tree branches, the canopy of the white pines, the view of the pale blue mountains beyond. The air is perfect. We are in no hurry. This is a day where not a thing is expected of us. And on account of once having lived a life where there really was a whole lot expected of me, it makes me treasure this moment even more. It’s a good thing to know the companionship of animals, to know the outside air, and to be blessed with unscheduled time – and to experience all of it with my young son makes it even better.
We even got around to burying out old pets today. They’ve been in the freezer for a while now. Some months, and well, yes, some even years. We have our three-legged leopard gecko Sweets – who’d come with us four years ago from Chicago and who’d had her leg amputated by a very kind and generous vet who did it gratis – as our situation was then fresh and dire – and she’d meant a lot to us. When she finally died, the ground was frozen, so we simply put her aside to bury later. Her sister, Stripes is there too. Died on Christmas day of a bored, tank-confined heart. (She got the best gift ever, in my opinion.) Then oh! Here’s King George!! Our beloved button quail. He lived free-of-cage in our house for over a year, every night making his surprisingly loud mating calls sadly to no avail… he pooped very courteously in one corner only, and he was a good companion to a six year old boy. (There are a couple of pics of them together in an album on Facebook which you can see for yourself.) And of course, there is Molly. The white hen who started this whole business. The cute little yellow chick that we found absolutely irresistible as we passed through Tractor Supply ‘just looking’ one Easter season.
I’d dug the deepest hole I could – and it wasn’t big, cuz digging in this particular corner of Greenfield is a job rife with rocks – and we planned on nestling all our little guys in there together. “With white cloth or on dirt?” I asked Elihu. “White cloth”, he answered. He put Molly down first, after we’d admired her peacock necklace and thanked her especially, then the others went in around her. “You know the white cloth is just for us. This whole thing is just for the living – you know that, right?” I said. He nodded. I said a general thanks to all of them for coming into our lives, and I apologized for the things we may have done to cause them distress. Then I told Elihu we should each take a fistful of dirt and put it in to begin the burial. He told me to wait – he needed to say something. Then, in the earnestness that can really only yet be found in a child, he kneeled down and pressed his hands together. He spoke for a while, basically saying what I had, but adding a whole bunch more. (He kinda reminded me of his paternal grandmother – always offering these ten minute long blessings at the start of a keenly-anticipated meal. !) Then, feeling ready, he let me shovel in the dirt. We marked the spot with some large rocks, then placed a couple of daisies on top. We hardly even paused; it was over, and we’d concluded the chapter the best and most fitting way we could. On to more life now.
We meandered down to check on our garden, which by now was reduced to a handful of plants; some tomatoes, peppers and beans. Elihu had pilfered some dried beans from his handwork class at Waldorf and brought them home in hopes they’d germinate. Germinate they did, and so we planted them here. Tonight they yielded just about enough for supper. We harvested an enormous, bright red cayenne pepper too, but learned that someone had beat us to the tomatoes, trimming off all the upper branches, leaving us just a few green ones close to the bottom. Maybe we really do need an electric fence next year. After all, we mean to do this right, and so far this garden has hardly been anything but a rather unsuccessful experiment. Gleaning a handful of a crop ‘every week or so’ wasn’t what we had in mind. Guess a true farmer can’t just get up and go to the Cape for a week, can they now? We’d missed a key week of watering and weeding and were seeing the results. Plus, going fence-free didn’t help. With our dinner in our hands – or rather, in one of my hands – we headed back up the hill.
I find some leftovers and heat em up, and I cook the beans. I’ve got a glass of wine left too; we have the makings of a nice, simple dinner. Tonite it’s kind of a white-trash kinda night; we’ll watch some show on cable about fellas scuba diving for gold in the frozen Bering Straight while we eat. We don’t watch a whole lot of tv – and when we do it’s usually while we eat. I know that’s not a great habit – but even that’s not so much a habit as it is a treat. Just as we finish eating, a truck pulls in… it’s a student of mine and her dad here to return a metronome and to say they’d like to start lessons again when they figure out their new fall schedules. It’s nice to see them again and to hear about their summer. Elihu whisks Katie away to look for frogs as her dad and I chat, but soon it’s time to go. It’s been a long day and we still have to close our birds in for the night. Goodbyes and good nights follow as they pull away and we go out to evening coop duty.
The automatic coop door opener is working again. Maybe all it needed was to be re-set. Who knows. But the door is closed, and all the birds have roosted. Even Max got back into the swing of an automated coop and got himself in before the little door closed. Now we have to close and lock the big door. But not before we count them all, and certainly not before we play ‘musical chickens’. When you simply touch the back of a resting chicken, he or she will emit a little sound – a little ‘whirring’ noise of surprise. Each a bit different; some coo low, some chirp high, and when you get going it’s kinda like a little bird orchestra. Elihu has fun with it. Then he stops, and the place gets quiet again. Head count. Twenty-eight chickens, six of whom are roosters (and going next Friday), one helmeted guinea fowl named Austin whom we love very much and who adds loads of comic charm to the place, and finally, the largest of our flock, Maximus, the Lavender Ice Goose. Thirty birds in all. For now. Elihu and I just stand there, looking, unable to walk away. Soft cooing and gurgling sounds surround us. It’s a peaceful place to be, here in our chicken coop. I know Elihu is feeling very proud right now. I am too. Honestly, it’s not as if we have some special talent here, but what we do have is a group of animals whom we care for responsibly, and whom we love, and of that we have pride.
Our night isn’t quite over. We want to enjoy our screen porch, and Elihu wants to enjoy some time in the darkness when he is free of having to wear dark glasses just to exist. I light all the candles until the porch glows. I sit and watch as he plays. He locates a long piece of PVC which once served as a drainpipe, and he begins to play it like a didgeridoo. Sounds pretty good. He looks around for crickets or mice (he wants a mouse to replace the one he found outside today and then let go by accident inside the house! Sorry, that lil guy’s showing up again tomorrow morning – in a trap…) He runs around back inside and flicks a light on and off, faking it’s a ghost, then asks me if I’d seen it too… Things get silly, then they wind down as I’ve drawn a bath and we need to get down to business. Candles out, pipe down, clothes off.
Elihu enjoys a much longer bath than I’d intended, as I sit down to write a much longer post than I’d intended. He’s certainly old enough to get himself out and dried off, and mostly that’s what he does these days, but in that we’ve had such a day of togetherness, when he calls to me to come and help, I do. Soon he’s in bed. Too pooped for stories tonight. Instead, the room is dark right away. I lie next to him, and lying on his side, he puts his hand on my face. “This was a great day” he says. I agree. We kiss, then lay back down. Oh so soon he is deeply asleep. So am I. It’s not til halfway through the night that I awake to finish the post. But now it’s back to bed for me too.
What a day we had. Such a very happy day at home.