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Pretty little chicklet before her head feathers grew in. I took this photo the middle of May, before I left for New England.

Even babies like to roost, as this one does in mid May. Look at her sleepy eyes.

I’m taking a break from telling what I did on vacation to update what’s happening at my place lately. It’s a cloudy wet day, so for a change I am not outside working hard. I wandered around with a camera instead, to supplement photos that I did not have already.

First of all, I want to talk about the chicklets, the Lil’ Hussies. They were tiny and cheepy when I left, with fuzzy fluff on their heads instead of feathers. I returned the end of May and almost all the fluff is gone, and everyone has big girl feathers. They eat and drink so much now! I am grateful to Tara’s dad, who housesat and kept all my animals alive while I was gone.

The growing chicks are filling up their cage, but so far still plenty of room for them. There is a box filled with straw in the top, and on cold nights they all huddle together there and stay warm.

The chick on the right is an Ameraucana. The chick on the left is a Buff Brahma. She has feathers on her feet.

The Ameracaunas can get a puff of feathers at their cheeks and neck.

The first thing I had to do when I returned was to mow the property. I should know better than to leave during May – the fastest growing time of year for grass around here. In the weeks I was gone, my land became a jungle. Then I had to mow it! And when I got the grass cut down in the flat areas, I began with the weed whacker and began hacking down the grass along the creek and around the trees, where I can’t mow.

Some deer grazed in the luxurious grass in the back of the property near the bee hives before I had a chance to mow down there.

Looking over the top of my riding lawn mower. What a job ahead of me! Oy!

Time for weed whacking. The grass was literally taller than me.

While fiercely hacking the 6-foot tall grass down to size, I unintentionally exposed a bird’s nest. By the time I realized what it was, I had cleared all the protective grass on every side. Thankfully I did not disturb the nest itself, or the blackberry shrub it is built in. Once I realized what I had done, I grabbed piles of the long cut grass, and laid them against the side of the nest, to provide shelter on all sides, with a couple small holes for the mama to get through to the nest. I hope I haven’t ruined this baby’s chance at life, but I certainly didn’t help. I hope mama comes back.

A bird’s nest in a blackberry bush.

Such a beautiful egg. I don’t know what kind of bird it is though.

I had heaps of laundry to take care of when I got back, obviously. I washed my sheets while I was at it. Racecar, who was not quite ready to let me out of her sight, wanted to be on the bed while I made it with clean sheets.

Racecar is nonplussed when I toss the sheet over her.

Likewise unperturbed when I tossed the comforter over her.

The next morning she burrowed under the covers for the delicious warmth of the down comforter. I got up and left her there.

I left the bed with Racecar still burrowed beneath the covers. I had been working at my computer for two hours when I detected movement. She emerged, and gave her paw a few licks. “Good morning!” I called to her. She immediately curled up and went back to sleep. Yeah, I’ve had a morning or two like that.

Racecar is not yet prepared to face the day.

When I left, the apple trees were blossoming, and the peach, and the plum. My little orchard is still there for me, with one casualty. I had not been able to recall what one new tree was, but it died over the winter, so now I don’t need to remember. I’ll have to pull it out and replace it with something else. I have a green apple, red apple, peach, plum, and pear. What should I have next? A cherry I think!

An apple tree in blossom before I left, and bees happily collecting pollen.

A close up of one of my wonderful honey bees.

The plum a few days ago. Look at all that fruit! (and all that tall grass in the background I still need to cut down)

While cutting the tall grass, I kept staring down the bank at my “dam.” It was created over time. Remember that winter when I lost so many trees? Well, a tree fell across the creek at this spot and is firmly lodged there. I don’t own a chainsaw or a tractor, and have spent the time since just fretting about it, and worrying that it could result in a dam and a flood. Well, it happened. Someone upstream of me must have had their woodpile flooded, because a bunch of cut wood came down the creek and stopped right there at the downed tree. Once the big holes were stopped, then all the little branches and weeds of winter creek flow got lodged into the big pieces of wood, and blocked it up. I had my dam.

As I swung the weed whacker back and forth cutting grass on the hill above the dam, I thought what I had thought twenty times already: that could be firewood if I could get it out of there. So the next day I put on shorts and water shoes and climbed into the creek.

Turns out, those water logged pieces of wood are a lot heavier than they look. I thought I would be able to lift most of it and hurl it from the water. Nope. They will have to be dragged out. And the big trees will have to be cut up. I suspect that I will not be able to put off learning to use a chainsaw forever.

First look at the dam.

After a couple hours of work, not enough difference to satisfy me. How frustrating. I did another hour of work after this and then gave up. All the rest is too heavy for me to lift.

I had to take a shower. All that wood and plant debris held in situ in stagnant water. Phew!

And finally today the rains came, so I had permission to stop working. Instead I ran around taking photos of flowers in my gardens.

Buttercups are supposedly a weed, but they are so pretty. And the deer love them!

Foxglove is one of my favourite wild flowers.

Groundcover doing well in the shade beneath a hemlock tree.

Salmonberry is past flowering stage. I haven’t seen one ripe yet because as soon as they get close, the birds eat them.

Vinca also likes the poor soil beneath the hemlock tree.

I don’t remember what this is called, but the deer don’t eat it. That makes it a favourite plant.

While deer won’t eat rhododendrons, they are happy to eat their cousins the azaleas. Thankfully, these are close to the house and escape the teeth.

These lavender flowers remind me of badminton shuttle cock. Gosh, I don’t think I’ve played that game since high school. Ah, I digress…

This rose is a surprise and a joy. I bought it last year, mostly dead, at a 75% off plant sale at Fred Meyer. It was so cheap it was worth the gamble. Look what happened.

Another plant I bought because it was on sale for being mostly dead. It came to life too, but I don’t know what it is. This is the third year it has come back. I just love those rich red trumpets.

Well, that’s most of the big news. Small news is: no, I have not even started weeding. One of my gardens is so buried I’m not even sure where the actual plants are anymore. I need a warm day, a good audio book, and some sturdy jeans so I can sit my butt down and weed for an entire day and give my pretty plants a new life. Oh, there’s some bad news too: I went to check on my oak tree down by the creek and I can’t find it. That means those bratty deer ate it again. I had the thought before my trip that I should cover it, since they ate it last year too and it had some nice strong stems and lots of big healthy leaves in May. Well, a good idea is wasted if I don’t act on it. Drat. Now I need to find the tree and hope they left enough of the stem so it can try again next year. Grrr. Deer!

Monday morning before sunup I looked out to see that a doe had slept in my yard for the night. I love the idea that they feel safe here, beneath the “Fairy Crossing” sign.

Panoramic view of my pretty yard, with the pond on the left and house on the right.

Another panorama, of just the pond.

Some days it’s just another day. And some days everything happens at once. They say when it rains it pours, but while in early May that rainy idiom is typically applicable in my town of Rainier, Oregon, Monday was unseasonably sunny and warm.

After I took photos of the deer on Monday morning, I put on some boots and clogged out to the chicken house. I saw a pile of red feathers inside the pen and gasped “No!” But it was true. I lost my favourite chicken, Tawny. Ugh. I cannot figure out what’s happening. I thought it was a raccoon, because I’ve known them to attack and kill ducks before. But I had circled the pen and blocked every entrance point big enough for a raccoon. Now I think it’s rats. Rats come into the chicken house all the time to eat their food. Periodically I have to poison them to reduce their population. Before moving here I did not know that so many rats live in the forest. I never had to deal with rats in any city I ever lived in, but out here in the woods, rats are as common as mosquitos. Do rats kill without eating their prey? Why? Why does something keep killing my hens and just leaving their bodies? It doesn’t make any sense to me.

I frequently spotted Tawny under the birdfeeder in front of my office window, as she is here last weekend.

There’s my girls on Sunday. Tawny and Jamie, the only two I had left until Monday, because something is killing them.

See that gap under the door into the chicken pen? I thought raccoons were getting in, so I blocked it with large rocks.

I am so sad to lose Tawny. She was my sassiest Hussy, a Rhode Island Red. She was bold and pecked me without reserve, but not maliciously, just to get attention, or to tell me they’re out of food. She would always come running to me when she spotted me, and hovered inches from my legs at all times, and would let me pick her up, or just pet her soft feathers. She’s the one that always broke out of her pen to go directly to my flower beds and begin tearing them up. It would have been more of a problem except that the way to catch her was merely to call “Hey pretty girl!” and she’d come running right to me and I’d scoop her up and take her back to the pen. She laid ginormous dark brown eggs.

Ohh, my girl. I am so sorry I couldn’t protect you.

I’m also worried that I won’t be able to protect my Lil’ Hussies when they grow up and move into that pen, until I can solve the mystery of what is killing them. I am so frustrated.

Just as I finished disposing of Tawny’s body, the bee people showed up. It’s time for bees again! I host them on my property every summer and fall, and get paid in honey.

Bees moved this year to a different place on my property so that they get more hours of sunlight.

Foklift moves hives from the truck to the grass.

The new bee colony at the very back of my property.

Ooooh! Look at them all buzzing around and getting their new home in order. Click the image for a larger version and you can see them.

I went back into the house to my office to do some computer work planning for my upcoming trip to New England, and spotted two more visitors. Hello? Were you two invited?

Squirrel discovered the bird seed. I am used to a tiny grey squirrel and a tiny black squirrel I call the Squirrel Ninja. This one is big and has probably been eating the bird seed at someone else’s house too.

And then right before my eyes, the neighbor cat came hurtling into the garden and up the tree, after the hummingbirds. You could film an episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom at my house. (Ooops, did I just expose my age again?)

Then it was time to clean all the rat caches out of the chicken house, and block all their nasty holes and entrances. The caches are cubby holes they pack full of stuff they want to keep. This time it was pineapple tops I had thrown in there, straw, chicken food, and naturally, rat poop. Then I fed them poison because I needed to do something for my broken heart.

For good measure, I then grabbed my poisoned worms that had recently arrived in the mail, and baited 20 mole holes, those little bastards.

Moles were tearing up my yard all winter.

And that reminded me to poison fleas. So I grabbed Racecar and dosed her in flea killing oil. Once a month I dab it on the back of her neck to keep the fleas away. She hunts chipmunks and birds and mice so she collects new fleas from her prey. In answer to your question: No, no she does not hunt forest rats.

It makes me shudder to think of all those toxic chemicals I just put into the world on Monday, but I was mad. And also….I haven’t found anything effective that eliminates these pests without toxic chemicals.

Raccoon paw prints on the cat carrier.

Done with my office work I went back outside and spotted another pest. The cat carrier no longer hosts chickens, but was still sitting on the porch because I hadn’t put it away. A raccoon’s paw prints show that a raccoon was on my porch last night, investigating. Grrrrr! Luckily I can’t prove the raccoon is getting my hens, or I’d find a way to poison it too.

I was mad again and a good way to deal with that is to go to work, so I hauled out the weed whacker and filled the tank and checked the string and harnessed myself up and off I went. I went at it for four hours. It definitely helped. By then I was exhausted and my back was killing me.

I took down the tall grass all the way around the pond, and around all the trees on the far side of the pond.

Me getting dirty. I think it’s so hilarious how splattered I get with what I call “weed guts.” Green glop gets sprayed from top to bottom, coating my glasses, sticking in my hair and onto my face. I guess a person can’t expect to be glamorous when she’s working on the farm.

I went to check on the Lil’ Hussies to make sure at least someone in my realm was ok. They were ok.

Babies had a great day and they are doing fine over there beside the horseshoe pit and the apple tree in bloom. But what is that in the distance by the pond?

Great Blue Heron is hunting the frogs in my pond. I’m cool with that. You do you, beautiful bird.

This is one of the rare times I’ve ever had a chance to photograph this bird properly.

Enough for one day!! It was time for dinner and some pomegranate cider. I have to make my salads look amazing to trick myself into eating them, ha ha.

Wish with me that Jamie stays safe now and that the Lil’ Hussies grow up safe and strong and do not ever have to battle rats.

{This one’s for Brian, who asked for it.}

A month ago I lost Phil, one of my Hussies. I went into the chicken house and there she was on the floor, with only a few gouges from either whatever predator killed her, or from the other chickens. I couldn’t tell what had happened. Obviously not something hungry, because no part of her appeared to be eaten. I disposed of her body. I am sad and the death remains a mystery.

Down to two hens, it was time to get new ones. Last year I wanted new hens and waited in the season till hens would be grown up, and went to the feed store to be told, “Good heavens, there are never adult hens left! They are all claimed as chicks!” So this year I knew I needed to be one of the chick-claimers, and to figure out how to make it happen.

I went to the feed store to ask questions and think it through, but accidentally purchased four Ameraucanas. Ooops.

They lay greenish/blueish eggs. I think it will be fun to mix up my light brown and dark brown eggs with the others. I put them in a cat carrier the first two days, because I had no other ideas. Finally I transferred them to a cardboard box. When the weather got nicer, I made a tiny temporary pen outside and let them play in the sun and eat grass during the afternoons, and then caught them all and put them back into the box when it got chilly in the evenings. Most of the time, and on rainy days, they lived on the hearth next to the woodstove so they could keep warm.

Brand new babies thier first night.

Tara came to visit me and the chicks.

I suspect that my cat, Racecar, is both insulted that the chicks are soiling her cat carrier, and wishing she could bite them.

Tara sitting with the babies (and Racecar) outside in the sun. You can see the window screen I used for a top, when there was no one to supervise.

They liked to stand inside their food and water dishes while they used them. Yes, the dishes got filled with grossness very quickly. I cleaned them about three times a day.

Here’s more of a birds eye view of their tiny pen.

Will named them the Lil’ Hussies, which I think is adorable.

Cuties in their tiny temporary pen.

More baby photos.

And more.

And more. Honestly, I tried to pick one and ditch the rest, but they are all SO CUTE.

I’m leaving on vacation soon, and I wanted to get some kind of better setup for the chicks, for when the housesitter (Tara’s dad) comes. Also, after two weeks, the chicks were stinking up the house. Chickens don’t do much more than eat, drink, and poop. And finally, they are growing fast and getting stronger. One day when I reached into the temporary pen outside to grab them and put them back into their cardboard box for the night, one got away from me.

Chickens can’t stand being apart from a chicken who has gone somewhere else because they are just certain that the far away chicken is doing something amazing and they are missing out on amazingness. So they run, fly, shriek and do whatever necessary to get to that other chicken. Such was the case this time. Docile as a group, when they spotted their fuzzy friend two feet away in the grass, outside the pen, they all went crazy and soon there were four fuzzy babies cheeping and fluttering and jumping and scaring each other in circles around the yard. Oh. My. Gosh.

Of course Racecar, who is always nearby because she is such a protective Aunt Cat, (heh heh) wanted to show them how dangerous it was to be out, so she pounced at them! Not on them of course, because I was there and she suspected it would not be approved of. She was right. I gave Racecar my mom voice and said, “Hey!” and she went away. Luckily, the chicks came back to their familiar temporary pen and food and water dish that they recognized, as I thought they would. I caught them all and got them into their box.

Whew! Definitely time for a better plan.

I reviewed images on Pinterest, and found one that I liked. It’s an A-frame, with the nesting area in the top, and yard area in the bottom. It seemed like it could be made small, and light so that it could be mobile, and just might work for chicks. I have very little construction knowledge, but a truckload of confidence and determination, plus a few tools scattered around, so that was enough to get started!

First I went to Home Depot and purchased a pile of lumber in their rejects pile in the back. All kinds of warped and broken boards for 70% off. I did have to buy one sheet of plywood at full price, and I had an employee cut it in half for me (for free!) so I could fit it into the Jeep. Yes, I hauled all the lumber and hardware home in my Jeep, and it only cost me $39. I’m so proud. Then I went to a tractor supply store that also functions as a feed store, and bought poultry mesh (otherwise known as chicken wire).

When I’m used to gossip and fashion magazines in the checkout line, this sight was a welcome change.

I went home and used my hand me down tablesaw for the first time, and borrowed a skill saw, and dug round the shop, and the garage, and the wood shed, and collected things I would need.  I made one more trip to the Rainier hardware store to buy staples for the staple gun. I mean, seriously I do not know what the heck I am doing, and I’m not set up for this. But why should that stop me!!

I began building my A-frame chicken pen. And guess what? I finished it. And it’s cool.

This is about 1/3 of the way through my project. I moved slowly and thought through next steps as I saw what I had in front of me. Totally winging it the whole way through. ha ha!

I built an area for a nesting box, but also installed a board endwise so they could roost on it. Then I installed a ramp so they can climb up. Take a good look now at all this wood and no poop in sight. It’ll be the last time that’s true.

Ok, I think this is good to go. The side is on hinges, so I can access the stuff I need to get to. I moved their familiar box of straw to that platform when the chicks moved in…with a little opening cut into the cardboard box for them to find their way out.

Main problem: the plywood warped. I still don’t know how to fix this problem.

Food installed, water installed. Now all we need is chicks!

I worked on it three different days and finished in the evening, as you see in the photo above by the long shadows that completely shade the lawn. I cannot reach down to the grass from the open door, so once the babies went in, they were going to have to stay in. No more cozy nights beside the fire. Because I am a nice momma, I waited till the next day when it got warm again.

Babies in their new home!

They only took an hour to figure out how the water works. There is a ball inside a tube, and they have to push the ball up with their beaks to get water to drip out.

I had checked the weather forecast in case the worst happened and they did not go up top for the night. It was not going to freeze, but it would be around 40 degrees (5 C) which is much colder than what they’re used to beside the woodstove. Still no idea how to fix the warped plywood, I had thrown an old inflatable mattress over the top which blocked the hole but also trapped the heat from the sun up there. If only the babies would go upstairs for the night. However, I checked on them all day long and for most of the day, only one baby went onto the ramp. As it got darker and colder, a second chick got onto the ramp and began to follow the brave chick up. But they constantly looked down below and the other two chicks were having none of it. They began to settle into the grass for the night. So the two on the ramp jumped down and joined them. “No, babies!!”

I fretted all night, worried that they would freeze to death, or get the chicken flu, or be put out with me.

I went out as soon as I woke up, while it was still cold and foggy and damp, with fingers crossed that they would have found their way to the top, and climbed into their warm box in the night. But no, a tiny huddle of chicks was there on the ground, pressed into a corner of the pen, tiny feathers all fluffed up. It made me sad.

During their second day in the pen, all four of them got comfortable climbing up the ramp to the rafters and roosting. In the three days since, no one has gone all the way back to the cardboard box though, so they don’t have that warm straw to curl up in. I’ve always said chickens are dumb. And, even though I want to forgive these darlings and give them the benefit of the doubt, I admit that baby chickens are dumb too. That evening, as they all began to form their huddle on the grass for the second night, I went out and got them stirred up again and coaxed and coaxed till I got them to climb the ramp. It was chilly in the evening and the wind had picked up, and as soon as they got to the top, they were visibly more comfortable. They stayed up there. Yay!!!

Upstairs/downstairs view of two babies in the grass, two in the rafters. And Racecar, as you see, is never far away.

It’s evening, so will you little ones please stay up here for the night?

I went out to check them the second morning, and they were up and about…pecking food and grass and cheeping vivaciously.

Photo a few days later from the same place I was standing when I took the above video.

Like I mentioned in my last post, my delight with the unusual snowfall was wiped out quickly by tons of rain that flooded my property.

I ran around this morning taking photos of the same spots that were flooded on the 12th. Scroll through and compare. Wow! That was a lot of water!

Now that the water has receded somewhat, you can see what my property is supposed to look like. You can also see logs and other debris (and some trash) that the flood waters dragged up onto the grass. I have some cleanup work ahead of me, but I still need to wait for the land to dry out because it’s still pretty soggy out there.

Also…anyone notice all the mole holes? Grrr…. those annoying little beasts. I hope some of them died in the floods.

The high water closer to the house was more amazing to me, simply because I spend more time in those spots. Anyone who has seen photos of my place before may recognize this scene with the fence posts on the left. You can also see my boot tracks from earlier in the day when I walked through before the water got higher!


The water never got high enough to threaten my house, but it threatened critter houses. I noticed some raccoon tracks in the snow. The tracks went all along the creek on my side, and I could tell someone was trying to get across to their home on the other side. I went out multiple times in the day, and saw new raccoon tracks each time, as the critter tried and tried to find a way across. I never did see the raccoon itself.

Also, I worried about the Hussies in their pen. From my deck it seemed like the water was very close, but when I went down to their pen to check on them, I saw that their chicken house stayed about 5 feet above the water line. In flood levels, five feet is a lot, and I was pretty sure they would be safe. But I didn’t know what would happen in the night. When I got up the next morning, the first thing I checked on was my chickens. Those lucky Hussies did not have to learn to swim overnight. Whew!

Raccoon tracks in the snow.

Someone wants to cross the creek.

View of high water behind the chicken pen, from my house.

 

 

bat+open door = oops

So. Much. Stuff. Happened. Last night.

Except sleep. Sleep did not happen much.

The evening was fine until I got a text from someone who pissed me off. And I could not stop thinking about it. I was mad, mad, mad. I went to bed and stared fiercely at the shadowy ceiling while I tried not to worry about the 6:30 am alarm that would be coming soon.

My cat Racecar likes to sleep on my neck. It’s hard to breathe, but she’s soft and warm and she’s my comfort blanket. Except last night it was 87 degrees and neither one of us could get comfortable. I had opened the deck-side sliding glass door a little, and the window, but there was no cross breeze. Racecar walked across my throat, stepping on a boob now and then, back and forth, back and forth, but could not pick a satisfactory place to curl up on my neck. Too hot. She finally found a place at the foot of the bed and it suited us both fine.

Even with my comfort blanket down at the foot of the bed, the damp sheets, and no cross breeze, I finally fell asleep, who knows when. But I do know it was 11:47 when I heard a “mrrroowr! meeeooowww!” from a strange cat that woke me out of a dead sleep. It had managed to squeeze through the opening in the sliding glass door and got all the way to the kitchen to eat my cat’s food, and then couldn’t find it’s way out. I started yelling and it found the door and skeedaddled. Racecar, worthless cat, was still curled up at the foot of the bed, clearly not defending me from foes.

Then I was awake again.

Ugh. It was so hot. Against my better judgement, I went to the other side of the room and opened the door to the back yard. And opened the glass door wider, trying to bring the outside air in. I figured the strange cat probably wouldn’t come back. I tossed and turned for at least another hour. I was hot and mad, trying to sleep. You know how you silently yell at yourself, “go to sleep NOW!” and it doesn’t work?

Then I started wondering what that fluttering sound was. Such a soft, pretty sound. Probably a moth. Fluttering around and around the room. Racecar got up and started following it around the room. “Good girl,” I thought in my fogginess. “Eat the moth so I can sleep.” Flutter flutter. Moth wings have a sort of fur on them, which must be making that lovely sound. Then there was a quiet “eeeek” on one of its passes over my head. Funny, it reminded me of a bat. Racecar started jumping as the moth swooped close.

Actually the flutter was pretty loud. That must be a damned big moth. I picked up my phone and turned on the flashlight app and shined it up to the ceiling so that I could see into the blackness…and saw a BAT swooping around my bedroom! Shadows cast by my phone covered half the room. Wing shadows, probably teeth shadows, but I didn’t hang around to look. Obviously it came in through one of the wide open doors and now couldn’t find it’s way out.

A bat! A Bat! In my bedroom!  I slunk off the bed, crouched, arms over my head, and duck-walked to the door to the living room. Once out, I closed the door behind me. The bat could find it’s way out of my bedroom eventually, but I needed to sleep in a bat-free zone.

I checked to make sure kitty had come out of the bedroom with me, then padded down the hall in bare feet to Tara’s room (unoccupied while T is at college), and climbed into bed, pretty much awake.

I took deep, slow breaths, calming myself, thinking some more about the 6:30 am alarm. Still mad about that text message, planning all the clever mean things I would text back in the morning. Tara’s room was a little cooler, and the bed is comfortable. My eyes began to close and I began to drift off.

thump I hear from the living room. Thump thump…bump. CRASH! What the?? I sat up and listened. Whack-bump! thud.

Jeeze Louise.

I got up and walked into the living room in the dark and found Racecar leaping from the furniture into the air, trying to get the BAT that had followed us out of the bedroom! I ducked.

I wouldn’t even walk through the living room. I went out the front door of the house, outside in my bare feet, around the house to the deck, opened the living room sliding door so the bat could get out, then through the sliding door into my bedroom again, and dropped to the still-damp sheets. Is this for real?

Fully, fully awake. I checked my phone. 2:12 am. I went to the bathroom and swallowed a sleeping pill. I had to work in the morning. Sleep was critical. It worked after another 45 minutes, and I finally fell asleep after composing a perfect text response in my mind.

There was a time warp and in four minutes, the alarm went off. “Like hell,” I mumbled. Turned off the alarm and went promptly back to sleep, only to be awakened immediately by cluck, cluck, cluck…brrrrr cluck? Clearly chicken sounds, and clearly too close. “Arrrggghhh!” I said to no one, looked at my phone, which said 6:33. I heard it again, cluck cluck?

I got up and opened the door to the living room, and crept in while crouched, eyes at the ceiling. No bat. But there, in the living room, was one of the Hussies. Of course this would be the morning Tawny got loose, and of course she came up on the deck and found all the doors open, and came on in. Because, she’s a chicken. Chickens are dumb, and annoying. I love them, but it’s an honest relationship.

“Come on, chick! chick!” I called, and dumb, happy Tawny followed me out the door, across the porch, down the steps, across the grass, and to the chicken pen. I’m Momma Chicken to her.

Back in the house, I checked for poop (none! yay!), and resigned myself to starting up the work day.

As I settled in at the computer in my home office, I heard CCCRRRREEEERRRR….CCRAAAACCKK! BOOM!

Pretty little elderberry tree by the creek.

Exactly 24 hours later. Can you see the massive tree that has fallen across the creek?

I ran outside, and saw that a huge Alder in my back yard had just fallen. No wind. No storm. It just…gave up and fell. An enormous tree that now lies in the creek. Just last night I had stood there, captivated by glowing evening light on the elderberry bush beside it. That must have been an omen, the light on the bush. Earth was saying to me, “Pay attention and enjoy this moment of peace. Because… well… you know.”

It was pitch black through my nighttime adventures, and I couldn’t get a photo, not that I was even thinking of it. I told a few people today, I’m gonna write a blog post about it, and Allie Brosh will do the illustration. Sadly, I don’t know Allie personally. So I had to do the illustration myself a-la-Hyperbole and A Half.  This is me, crouching behind my bed, arm up as protection against the bat:

In lieu of Allie Brosh.

Here’s another photo of the downed tree. You still can’t get sense of how big the tree is by looking at the photo, but it’s a little better.

All those sideways branches=one tree

 

View of chicken pen and coop from my bedroom window. Look at that pretty little spike deer.

Remember the Hussies? My chickens are still with me. Only three remain (Lacey was hit by a car, and I ate Gimpy), and I love them as much as I ever did. It was high time I demonstrated this.

A friend of mine needed a place to stay and he is not able to pay but is the handiest of handy men. I live alone in a three-bedroom home on a big property and work full time so I don’t have extra time left over to take care of my big property. Obviously, this was a situation that could help both of us.

Josh moved in the end of March and started helping me. (You may remember Josh from our hike last October) The list of improvements ranges from finally having a towel rack installed in my master bathroom to constructing new buildings on the property! One big change is that my chicken Hussies finally have a decent home.

At the beginning of March, I began some work before Josh showed up. I hired some professionals and had a new chicken house built. My poor hussies have been living in a tiny chicken house designed for chicks. For two years they huddled in that tiny house and roosted and nested in the same space.

Original chicken house, soon after I moved here.

The beginnings of the new house lit up by morning sunlight, while the old house remains. You can pick it out behind the workman in blue.

Walls go up.

Roof and siding on.

One of the first things Josh did when he arrived was to finish the chicken house. He installed roosts and nesting boxes. Installed moisture-repellent flooring for easy cleaning. Covered the walls with tar paper (again, for easier cleaning). He painted it. Josh had the idea to cut a little hole in the side and install the old ramp from their little house, so there is a special chicken-sized access door. Now they have a chicken palace, and they roost on the opposite side of the room from where they nest (translation: no more poop on the eggs).

Brand new chicken palace.

Roosts, chicken, pellets, and poop

I can walk right inside! Open the window, fill their feeder, marvel at what a mess they make.

Eggs in the nesting boxes.

Newly painted.

Stay tuned for updates on the landscaping, the pump house, the upcoming kitchen remodel… and more.

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My snowy home on a hill.

I keep leaning toward complaints, but then I simply can’t follow through: this snow is spectacular.

I live in the Columbia River Valley, just 45 miles from the Pacific Ocean. This tends to keep my little piece of Paradise green, even in the depths of winter. But Mother Nature has been on a cold bent lately. Well, heck, I can’t even say “lately,” because it’s been cold and snowy for a couple months now. I’ve lived in very snowy places most of my life, and so this doesn’t compare, but I am still enjoying it.

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Jamie and Phil after the big snow, when they were still interested in it.

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The ladies have had enough snow and are running for shelter.

My chickens seem to be fine with it, but they do not like being cold. They hide in their little home most of the day rather than walk around in bare feet in the snow. They don’t eat much, leaving the chicken feed to the chipmunks. I expect to see some pretty fat chipmunks in the Spring. I need to go out each day, dump out a chunk of ice from their bowl, and refill it with water. They have also figured out that they can eat the snow.

They also aren’t laying, and I do not blame them one bit! Who would want to produce a massive egg once a day in the freezing cold? Not me.

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Looking past the apple tree into the neighbor’s yard.

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Beaver Creek burbles along gaily with no interruption.

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The sun came out for a few days, brilliantly lighting it all up. Those are my tracks in the foreground. I just can’t stay indoors when it’s this pretty out.

My photos aren’t as good as I would like. My camera is still fried from my trip to Chile. I haven’t made it to a camera doctor yet. The weather has been so rotten that roads are sketchy, and it hasn’t been worth an hour+ drive into town. Also, I’ve been sick, sick, sick. Feeling much better now, but annoyed by this lingering cough to clear out my lungs. Sounds like I have COPD.

Anyway, my iPhone camera is picking up the slack. I hope you enjoy the photos. It’s been pure winter deliciousness here.

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Our gorgeous Christmas tree!

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Tara balancing new sketchbooks.

 

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Evening sun making the treetops glow.

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I rarely need to, so I do not own a decent shovel.

I found out that a blogger friend of mine was  shorthanded on, as she put it, “young energetic people,” and I answered the call. Luckily it was pre-major snowstorm, and though cold, we did our work on a beautifully sunny day. The van was parked at the storage unit and we spent the whole day emptying the storage unit and filling the truck. It was windy, and when the sun dropped we nearly froze our patooties off, but we got the job done and went home elated and satisfied. It was discovered the next day that the truck had been loaded beyond legal weight and it had to be dismantled. That day I had to work and couldn’t help.

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TS inside the moving van.

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These tracks just melted my heart.

I’ve got a little good news that’s probably exciting only to me, but I’ll share it anyway. I mentioned in November that I have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from military trauma. I’ll explain more about making disability claims with VA (The US Department of Veterans Affairs) later, but for now I’ll just say that I made a claim in 2008. The claim was denied in 2008 and again in 2009, so I appealed it in 2010. My appealed claim has languished for some reason. It’s still pending. I finally lost my patience and contacted my Congresswoman to stir things up a little, and it worked! Next week I will attend examinations in support of my claim. These consist of super-quick health evaluations not designed for treatment, but to assess the problem, then make an educated medical opinion on whether that problem could be related to military service. Then I wait around for someone to make a final legal decision. I’ll give it another year and then contact my Congresswoman again if necessary. Honestly, I think it has been long enough and my impatience is not out of line. If my claim is granted, any medical condition found by VA to be related to military service is then covered by VA for free. All doctor visits, medications, procedures. There is also a monthly stipend based on any loss of function determined to impact my employability. It would be a help.

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World made black and white.

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Playing with the sepia feature.

 

Sunshine glistens off the water of Beaver Creek on my property.

Sunshine glistens off the water of Beaver Creek on my property.

After the heat of Santiago, I arrived at the airport in Portland to the winter season once more. In a few hours I was home in Rainier, where a thin layer of snow still covered the ground. Over the week that followed, more snow fell. It’s not a lot of snow as far as snowy places go, but for our area it is unusual. And just in time for Christmas!

Winter is not so bad when it's this pretty.

Winter is not so bad when it’s this pretty.

Looking along a different stretch of the creek.

Looking along a different stretch of the creek.

Snow collects on the top of the frozen pond.

Snow collects on the top of the frozen pond.

Chicken tracks.

Chicken tracks. When I arrived home, the chickens were lose and running free through the snow. They missed me and were glad to be led home.

Kitty covering her nose for warmth.

Kitty covering her nose for warmth.

Deer don't mind snow much.

Deer don’t mind snow much.

The view out my home office window. Having a view like this while I work makes me grateful in so many ways.

The view out my home office window. Having a view like this while I work makes me grateful in so many ways.

Tara and I bought a $5 tag from the U.S. Forest Service and went up into the mountains to collect a tree. We didn’t find much in the way of trees, but we had a great adventure. Soon after we entered National Forest land, we came upon a couple of young men trapped in a little car on an icy bridge. They had tried to cross the bridge the night before and became high-centered on the snow berm in the middle, and couldn’t get any traction on the ice. They had spent the night out there and were SO glad to see us! I towed them off the bridge with the Jeep and we pushed the car to help them turn it around and get them out of there. They looked in pretty good shape, but were ready to eat and get warm again.

Waterfall in the forest.

Waterfall in the forest.

Tara bundled up.

Tara bundled up.

Things turned violent.

Things turned violent.

We made it home with a tree from a U-cut tree farm instead.

We made it home with a tree from a U-cut tree farm instead.

front of the old note

front of the old note

back of the note

back of the note

In the chill, it’s obvious my thoughts keep going back to those warm days such a short time ago. I’m still peeling from the sunburn, but the mosquito bites are all healed. Yay! I’ve got the stamps on my passport to prove it really happened. I was gathering some of the money together to send to my brother, who collects foreign currency as I do, and it occurred to me that my Uncle Sean was a missionary for the Mormon church in the 1980s and did his mission in Chile. He sent me a 100 CP note back then and I still have it. The currency has de-valued, and Chile doesn’t even *make* 100 peso bills anymore.img_2697

 Merry Christmas everyone and have the happiest of New Year’s celebrations! My long, annual Christmas missive is delayed, obviously, but I’ve had a really productive December. I spent two weeks on vacation, I finished the Mt. Hood Cherokees newsletter this morning, and sent it out to everyone on the mailing list. I’ve got all Tara’s presents wrapped. The tree is up and simply gorgeous. Santa comes tonight and we are all very excited about it!

My farm is greening up in the Spring weather.

My farm is greening up in the Spring weather.

Not to give a false impression: it’s not really a farm and I’m not really a farm girl. But just give me a little time…

I grew up on some land. We had pigs and rabbits and chickens to supplement our only meat supply each winter: deer, elk, and if we were lucky, bear. We chopped wood to heat the house and to cook on the wood stove. In the early days, Mom cooked all our meals on the beautiful cast iron stove. I learned how to make toast on the surface by sprinkling a little salt, to keep the bread from burning. We used the stove to heat a flat iron to iron clothes because we had no electricity. We took our baths in an big aluminum tub in the yard, beside the pump, because we had no indoor plumbing. And yes…we woke up sleepy in the middle of the night and shoved our feet into boots to trudge through the snow to the outhouse. I am a rare remnant of American history, in that my childhood was from an earlier century.

I’ve been nostalgic for decades, daydreaming of the someday when I could have a farm of my own, and now I’ve got it. But see, here’s the thing: in the meantime, I became a city girl. Not in my soul, but in my experience. Because of my job, I’ve had to live in cities. I’ve only known electric heat and natural gas water heaters for those luxurious hot showers inside my home. When I was lucky, I had a little patch of grass to mow and some dirt in which to bury some bulbs for next season.

Managing a big piece of land is going to be a big job, and I am confident I can figure it all out. I’m also wise enough to know there will be a sharp learning curve. But off I go! Look out world. 😉

The Hussies behind a fence.

The Hussies behind a fence.

Eggs in their proper place.

Eggs in their proper place.

I grew impatient with the idea that perfectly good eggs were being stashed in the forest, as a result of my wandering Hussies. I began a campaign to diligently collect the hens each day and return them to their pen. With a four-foot fence they were contained most of the time, and typically only one or two hens would fly to freedom per day. After one week I had a carton full of eggs and the Hussies were less inclined to escape. Then I contacted a local man I know to come and build me a respectable chicken fence.

Douglas helped me take down the old fence so we had room to put up a new one.

Douglas helped me take down the old fence so we had room to put up a new one.

I was tickled by the official label slapped onto my lumber order.

I was tickled by the official label slapped onto my lumber order.

My boyfriend and I (yes!) pulled out the old fence to make way for the fence guy to build a new one. After two weeks of being returned to the old pen, the hens got into the habit of using their lovely henhouse with perfect little boxes filled with dry straw. So, while they have returned to their wandering habits, they still come home to lay. I am so pleased to be getting daily brown eggs, with thick shells and dark yolks you get from country hens.

I had to pick up two more 4x4s in the Jeep, which is not made for hauling lumber.

My Jeep is not designed for hauling lumber, but that didn’t stop me.

Some feathers to help me remember my Lacey, the sassiest of the bunch.

Some feathers to help me remember my Lacey, the sassiest of the bunch.

Fence-building is currently underway, but we had a tragedy nonetheless. Miss Lacey, whom you met not too long ago in my post about finding a stash of eggs, wandered into the country road and was hit by a car. I researched and decided not to try to eat her. First because she died by blunt force, which likely ruptured her organs, and second, because those organs likely had a chance to contaminate the meat as she laid beside the road all day long before I came home from work and found her. I am sad to lose my Lacey, as you can imagine. I’ve grown to love the bold & sassy Hussies.

The rain let up for a week and the ground dried out enough to begin using big equipment. I backed the riding lawnmower out of the shed and got it running. I had not personally cut the grass since buying the used machine, because I had friends and neighbors who took turns on it last year. It took me awhile to figure out how to get the blades going. I chose a knob that looked promising and gave it a tug. The serpentine belt went flying and the engine cut out.

Serpentine belt came off the deck the first time I tried to use the mower this year.

Serpentine belt came off the deck the first time I tried to use the mower this year.

The grass grows fast in the Spring and it was like mowing a jungle.

The grass grows fast in the Spring and it was like mowing a jungle.

I went online and discovered that I had done the right thing, it just hadn’t gone well. I checked local repair shops and found they were closed for the weekend. And then I looked up schematics for a Husqvarna blade deck and got some tools and pulled it apart and put the belt back in it’s place. I put it all back together and tried again. Viola!

Add small tractor repair to my list of talents.

There is a lot of grass to cut here. The property is 4.3 acres and I imagine the house and pond take up the 0.3, leaving approximately 4 acres to mow. Whew. It took me 5 days of mowing to get it all done. About 14 hours total. The tractor wasn’t running well and I ended up taking it to the shop when I got done. It should be done in a week and I’ll have sharpened blades and I’ll be able to tackle all that grass once more.

I’m continuing with adding a bit of landscaping here and there: rhododendrons and azealas, honeysuckle and camelias, a bunch of hydrangeas from my Uncle who lives a couple towns over, and a few plants my mother gave me years ago: a peony, some irises, and lavender. Each day the place becomes a little bit more my own personal heaven.

Looking across the pond up to the house, while taking a break from mowing the back forty.

Looking across the pond up to the house, while taking a break from mowing the back forty.

Working in a dense and unkempt flower bed, I spotted a solitary egg out in the rain.

Working in a dense and unkempt flower bed, I spotted a solitary egg out in the rain.

Over the weekend I found a nest.

A little background: I have not yet built a proper fence that is high enough to keep my hens penned. They simply lift like multicoloured Harrier jets and launch over the four-foot fence. They roam far and wide, doing their own thing, and get into enough trouble that I have been calling them The Hussies. Only one of them comes home to lay, and till recently, I had no idea where most of the eggs were laid.

My good friend was visiting from Boise and stayed with me for four days. Sunday we were in the mood to do yard work. The weather was wholly uncooperative, and the heavens opened up and poured all day long. We donned hats and jackets and boots (my friend was shocked I did not have Wellies) and went out anyway. We raked muddy leaves and hauled heaps of wet sticks and branches and built up two new slash piles for burning at some future date.

Why did the chickens cross the road?

Why did the chickens cross the road?

My friend doing yard work in the pouring rain.

My friend doing yard work in the rain, in Wellington boots.

The Hussies like it when I do yard work and particularly when I dig, because whenever I come across a worm I make sure one of them gets a crack at it. The ladies were hanging around, clucking, pecking, scraping their beaks across stones in a manner that suggests wiping their chins of grime. They did not alert me to the discovery I was about to make, of a treasure stockpile of which at least one of them was well aware.

As I untangled dead sticks and blackberry brambles from ferns, I spied an egg on the ground, exposed and lying atop some coals discarded from a long-ago fire in the woodstove. I hollered at my friend to come over and see.

He was dripping wet head to toes, with hands stained yellow from the dye leeching out of his sopping wet calfskin gloves. Happy for an excuse for a break, he came over to where I was working, and I walked closer to the egg to show him where to go.

I walked closer and got a new view. Something pale-coloured beneath the ferns. Something light in the dark. I bent down and spotted the motherlode of eggs! There were NINETEEN eggs piled up! Carefully tucked into a nest of decaying pine needles and ferns, was a pile of eggs, laid one at a time in patient confidence. It looked like a turtle nest. I was so excited I was hopping around with glee.

Wait, what is that in the ferns?

Wait, what is that in the ferns?

The motherlode

The mother lode

Look at these brown and beautiful eggs!

Look at these brown and beautiful eggs!

Lacey! Are these your eggs? Thank you ma'am!

Lacey! Are these your eggs? Thank you ma’am!

Egg farmer

Egg farmer

For anyone curious, eggs are laid with an antibacterial membrane, an invisible coating called a bloom, that seals the eggs and protects the freshness as well as holds in moisture. Eggs can be stored at room temperature for weeks like this, as long as the eggs are not washed. Eggs can be refrigerated for months unwashed, and will stay fresh. The weather around here has been in the 40s and up to around 50 degrees some days, so I call that refrigerated. However, with all the rain, they may have been “washed.” We used the egg floating test. Put an egg in a bowl of cool water. If it lies horizontally on the bottom, it’s very fresh. If it tips up, but stays in contact with the bottom: still fresh, but less so. If it floats: no good, throw it out. All my eggs were good! As of this morning, we’ve eaten them all.

One of my many guises

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