The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Cooped Up August 11, 2013

As I suspected, this morning things looked a bit brighter. Nothing like chickens to lift your spirits and make you forget any grudges you might be holding onto. Yup, I love my chickens – and my goose too. I might just become the crazy chicken lady in my aged years – hell, I might already be the crazy chicken lady. Cuz I really do love my flock. They have spunk and charm. And while I would completely understand if you didn’t believe me when I said that they each have individual and distinct personalities, I can assure you ┬áthat you’d be wrong if you thought so. They are the best entertainment for a weary heart and the gentlest companions. They’re nutty, they’re pushy, they’re maternal and many are a lot smarter than you’d think. And some are horny all day long (boys, eyeroll). They never cease to distract me from whatever thoughts might be consuming me in the moment. They make me smile, and those silly birds make me grateful.

I spent most of the morning in the garden weeding and cleaning up the property as best I could with a meager pair of hand clippers, and then devoted my afternoon to cleaning and repairing the coop. (That cordless 18 volt drill was the best gift I ever got myself. I shouldn’t have waited til the age of 50. If you don’t have one yet, get one. Biggest quality of life upgrade ever.) To the background of the local reggae radio show I measured, drilled, cut, shoveled, and fussed around in the coop, knocking just about every chicken-related ‘to-do’ item off the list. Between my cleaned up run, the new pond, the garden and front walkway I just finished, I am feeling quite satisfied with myself. Just about ready for the year-as-usual to start back up again. Maybe not quite, but almost. Still got a few child-free days left. Gotta make hay while the sun shines.

Garden August 2013 052The nesting boxes. My goal today is to change the position of the top row to discourage overnight roosting (they poop inside the nesting boxes when they spend the nights perched on the edge. Too much mess in with the eggs.) Gotta configure some sort of cover that makes them unable to rest on the sides.

Garden August 2013 061Here’s Madeline. She’s an old-timer. She looked like a sparrow when she was born. She’s the only gal with a tiny rose comb on her head and ‘makeup’ around her eyes. She’s the first to escape an enclosure, the first to get back in. Clever girl.

Garden August 2013 080Here’s Bald Mountain. Must have been in a fight, as he’s lame in one leg and missing a spur. In spite of his limp, he rules this roost, making the other two roosters run the other way when he approaches. He sits much of the day, likely to rest his bad leg.

Garden August 2013 082Ok, now this can look a little strange when you see it in person. This is a hen taking a dust bath. They do it instinctively to protect their skin from mites, but also it gives them relief from the heat. Notice how her nictitating (lower) eyelid is closed as she fluffs and beats her wings into the dirt. ┬áSometimes I’ll see a dozen girls all laying on the ground, wings splayed out and eyes closed – and they look positively dead! But no. They’re just having a good dust bath. An essential part of being a healthy, happy chicken. She’s enjoying herself to be sure.

Garden August 2013 085Here she is flinging the dust onto her back.

Garden August 2013 096She’s really getting into it now.This is the good life.

Garden August 2013 136Here’s the new river rock I put down to contain the mud. I had thought this would deter the girls from pecking around on the ground – after all, there’s no dirt anymore. They must have memories of tasty bugs here, cuz they were so persistent in their scratching that they actually pushed the rocks to the side and exposed swatches of ground. !! Wow. Naughty but impressive work, girls. !

Garden August 2013 133Max really likes to chew on things. He has some dog toys he likes, but that doesn’t stop him from finding other goodies. He loves brightly colored Crocs and will head right for your toes if you’re wearing em (he likes bright pink the best).

Garden August 2013 002Maximus has discovered our new pond. I have given up trying to prevent him from getting in. Hey, the pond is no less pretty for the little bit of goose poop he might have left behind. Life is for living, and ponds are for swimming.

Garden August 2013 026He’s getting absolutely worked up. I don’t think he’s ever had this much water to move in before. And he is a water bird, after all. This is in his very DNA.

Garden August 2013 025Around and around he went. Joy, joy, joy.

Garden August 2013 022

It’s even deep enough that he can put his whole head and neck straight down.

Garden August 2013 047Happy goose, happy, crazy chicken lady. What a perfect summer day we all had. Think I’m ready for Monday now…

 

Santa December 5, 2011

Santa visited us here in Greenfield the other night. There were very few kids in attendance, perhaps because so many had seen him at the Victorian street walk in nearby Saratoga just the night before. Santa gave each child, as he does each year when in our tiny town, an unrushed, generous turn, engaging each child in thoughtful conversation in a way I doubt many Santas do. I drove by the small community center to check the line before I zipped off to pick up Elihu, who was at the moment, making gingerbread houses at a friend’s place.

When we returned, Elihu was pleased to find his classmate Jack, the other book-loving kid in his class for whom Star Wars was also of no interest. The two boys giggled and ran around on the lawn outside til I called him in for his turn. As soon as he approached the chair Santa called out to him. “Elihu! It’s so good to see you!” Elihu has come to expect that Santa will not only remember him, he will also recount in lovely detail his observations of the birds he sees while flying in his sleigh. And so the conversation begins. The room is full of chatter, and it’s hard to pick out exactly what is being said. Hoping not to ruin the mood, I catch a little on video. I keep wondering if this is the last year. Jack’s mother and I share our concern and wonder if living in Greenfield might not help extend the magic. It’s hard to know; we are not so isolated from the world as we might hope. I myself have searched Elihu’s face, his physical language, his tone of voice for signs of doubt. I think this year Elihu is still truly on board. As usual, Santa shows no sign of needing to wrap thing up. They continue to talk, and I back away, letting the moment be.

Soon it is time to light the town tree. As he does each year, Santa leads all the children out the door and around the corner to the large tree in front of our tiny town hall. He sings as he walks, ho hos and such, chatting with the kids who run at his heels. When he gets to the tree, Santa tells us that with enough holiday spirit he can light the tree, but first we must show him how much we have. He bends to a child in front and asks if they have the holiday spirit. He then touches their nose and his index finger lights up. He touches the noses of several children before he turns to address the small crowd. He asks us all to shout in chorus “Merry Christmas!”, and when we do, the tip of his right index finger glows red. But it flickers out. “Ho ho! Come on now! I need all of your holiday spirit!” He leads us again, and this time we’ve done it. Santa sweeps his arm upward and points to the giant tree with his glowing finger and it bursts into life. The large, colored bulbs turn on and the crowd claps, every face smiling. But what’s this? Do we hear sirens? Could it be already? Yes, it’s time for Santa to get back to work. He must leave Greenfield now, and the fire truck is coming to whisk him away. The hook and ladder truck pulls up alongside the gathering, lights whirling and sirens blaring, and Santa picks up his pack. He turns to wave at us once more as a fireman, clad in his working gear, gives Santa some help getting up the stairs and into the front seat. His finger still glowing, Santa waves goodbye to us as the truck pulls off into the night.

When Elihu was six, and we’d just come home from lighting the tree with Santa, a tiny blossom had opened on our paper whites. We’d waited for weeks for that first flower. He was beside himself. “Look, mommy!” he said, stunned. “Look how much Christmas spirit we had! We even had enough to make the flower bloom!!” He was thrilled. He was pure belief, pure joy. That was year before last now. He may still believe in Santa, but he and Jack had just discovered that there was a giant electrical box under the tree, and they just knew someone inside the building had turned the tree on, not our Christmas spirit. That jig was up. Gone too, no doubt, was the idea that spirit had once opened a blossom. “Come on, tell me, what did you guys talk about??” I asked after we got home. “Well,” he started quietly, “he told me he sees the geese when he flies. He’s actually flying right next to them in the air. He says the setting sun looks beautiful shining off their bellies. Can you imagine that? That must be amazing.” I wait a bit, then ask – what else? “Did you tell him anything you wanted?” I ask Elihu. “No” he said. “He asked me, but I just told him that I already have everything that I want. I told him I had everything I needed. I just told him that I was happy.”

Me too. Thanks, Santa.