Sunday, October 21, 2007

A slum for chickens

Several weeks ago when a woman who keeps very pampered chickens said she needed a home for her two Polish hens because the larger hens picked on them, I said, “I’ll take them. I just have to figure out some kind of housing and it’s easy to build a pen with metal posts and wire.”

It is easy to get metal posts into the ground here, unlike my previous house where you had to break the hardpan with a pick. That was the only easy part. After a few weekends and many trips to the hardware store, I have built a slum for chickens. The slum has sides of chicken wire reinforced with hardware cloth, as a normal chicken pen is supposed to. But the wire sags. The wire draped across the top of the pen sags. There’s a creative use of scrap wood and branches around the sides. The coop is a small hutch I ordered from Murray McMurray hatchery. It gives the hens a place to perch at night and is dry inside but that’s about all it offers. On the upside, the pen did not blow down in the windstorm of a few days ago that left all the neighbors’ poplar leaves in my yard with a litter of broken branches.

The Polish girls have definitely come down in the world from their previous abode where they perched in a generously-sized coop that was painted and decorated like a child’s play house and had a separate nest area. They spent the day in a professionally built chain-link enclosure that no dog, coyote, or raccoon can break into. The first evening they were here, they grew very restless in their little hutch as the sky darkened, as if wanting to get out of there and go home. I understood their feelings.

Fortunately, chickens have short memories. Unlike me, they have now forgotten all about their previous quarters and spend no time at all comparing their current circumstances with the past.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK

I cut all the branches from the fallen sumac tree and made a brushpile (in the background). After cutting a section off the thick part of the trunk and seeing how green and moist it still was inside, I decided to let it die some more before I cut up the rest. It didn't seem right to cut up the part still breathing. I am not, of course, sentimental. Not sure what I'll do with the brush pile but the chunk of trunk is at the foot of some evergreens where it can become a nurse log if it wants to.

"I like to dress in women's clothes...."

Friday, October 12, 2007

the curse of the dead spouse

Some people enjoy building things or enjoy the feeling of satisfaction after building something (it feels so good when it stops). I enjoy neither when I don’t know how to do what I’m trying to do—like building a chicken pen. Outdoor work on a sunny fall day, working up a mild sweat, preferably without injury, these are great; but standing there staring at a wooden play structure and trying to figure out how I’m going to incorporate it into a secure fence with a top is almost panic-inducing. Putting together the particle board bookshelves that wanted to fall on me and the rabbit hutch trying to pass itself off as a chicken hutch were a cinch by comparison. The hutch kit, by the way, was missing a few bolts and wing nuts. Everybody knows that a building project requires three trips to the hardware store but I was naively appalled that an “all inclusive” kit required the same.

My one shot at learning construction was a long time ago. I enrolled in shop class the summer I took drivers’ training but had to drop out because the dust made me sneeze so much that I couldn’t see what I was doing. They were probably glad to see me go. In those days, girls didn’t take shop class.

When you work with words, you can figure out what you’re doing as you go along. You can change and delete. Doesn’t work that way with wood and wire. You’re supposed to plan in advance. Problem is, you have to know how to plan in advance or be able to figure out what you want to plan.

This is why, every time I have to do one of these projects, I curse my dead husband mightily. He used to do the building and, while I’d help, I didn’t have to be in charge. He had done the Boy Scout projects, the shop classes, the tool-using and cursing afternoons with Dad. He knew how to plan and build chicken coops and fences. Not to mention that, being bigger and stronger, he could wrestle the fence wire into the place where it needed to be and move the bookshelf without knocking a dent in the wall. It’s logical to be mad at him for checking out before at least showing me the way.

I was never one of those spouses who’d bring a long list of past grievances into an argument. I didn’t hold grudges when he was alive. But I do now.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The dog's chemo

We have settled into a pattern. Each morning after breakfast the dogs know they will get peanut butter on bread. Inside Keeper's peanut butter are 40 mg. Prednisone, half a tablet of acid reducer, and 50 mg Benadryl. Being Airedales, they gulp down their treats without chewing, so it's easy to medicate them.

Right now the only sign of Keeper's illness is shortness of breath within less than twenty minutes on our walks. During the walks, I worry that the tumor will degranulate, releasing histamines into her bloodstream and causing a sudden drop in blood pressure, followed by collapse. I can carry a 60-lb dog only so far.

Because Prednisone, a steroid, makes dogs thirsty, I let her out more often. Still, she has been taken by surprise a few times, leaving puddles in the kitchen and once on floor pillows she was lying on, plus a couple of accidents on the carpet. What with the two pee accidents from Keeper and two barfs from Darwin, the living room carpet has been trashed in only a month.

I had a friend whose mother kept the couch and lamps covered in plastic, taking the covers off only for company. She did this because she wanted to keep them looking nice and she feared she would not be able to afford to replace them when they grew shabby. She died young from ALS and my friend tore all the covers off the furniture, swearing she'd never protect objects just to keep them looking nice for some indefinable future that may not arrive. Better to use what you have, even if you wear it down to nothing.


Walking out in a morning drizzle, I remembered the beginning of a poem Carolyn Street brought to Nelson Bentley’s workshop at the University of Washington over thirty years ago:

“This fucking, fucking rain….”

Our esteemed professor said, “Visualize your metaphors.”

It was the advice he gave whenever we came up with ridiculous metaphors. In this case, he made Carolyn’s line famous, remembered by everyone who was in the class. That line couldn’t be called poetry and I don’t remember anything about the rest of the poem. It’s more like a single-scene comic: simple, obvious, impossible, yet true.