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Lil’ Hussies when they truly were little.

Remember that I adopted chicks this spring? Well they are growing! It took me a while to find a way to protect them, and I lost another since I last mentioned my chickens. But these days they are thriving.

My original group of hens were dubbed The Hussies, and when my friend started calling my new babies the Lil’ Hussies, I loved it. I started with 4 Hussies, and I only have one left. The matron is Jamie. I saved her life a couple months ago when I heard her squawking and I sprinted out of the house and down to the chicken pen to find a raccoon chasing her in circles around the pen. The raccoon was not bothered by my presence, and soon had its teeth around Jamie’s neck and had her pinned to the ground. I was barefoot and unprepared, but I ran over and somehow got the raccoon to let go of her. I put the stunned Jamie carefully inside the chicken house and then turned to the arrogant raccoon, who was not leaving while there was still a chicken that wanted killing.

I was furious and tried to get it to leave by yelling and flailing and stomping my feet at it. It did not flinch. I picked up sticks and rocks and threw them at it, but it watched them approach and then swatted them to the side. I waited, but the raccoon didn’t budge. After a stalemate for awhile, I opened the chicken house door again to peep inside at Jamie, whom I had not yet inspected. She seemed ok.

In that 20 seconds while I wasn’t looking, the raccoon had somehow dashed outside the pen. I had wanted to watch it exit, to figure out how it was getting in. The only thing I could think of is that it is climbing the walls.

At the time of that incident, the Lil’ Hussies were getting big and I had been trying to decide when to bring them into the big pen with the adults – now adult. I realized that until I made the place safer, they could not live here.

First of all I needed to block the gap beneath the front door. I knew raccoons had come through there in the past because they dragged the rocks I placed, out of their way. I had to place a rock too heavy to drag. Concrete is a heavy rock! I bought a couple bags, built a form, then mixed the concrete and filled up the threshold beneath the door. There is no way a raccoon will either fit through or be able to move the concrete. I used the leftover concrete to reinforce the bottom of the walls of the pen in places where the chickens dig holes to take dirt baths.

New concrete threshold. My land is sloped here, so the slanted door and threshold follow the contour of the land.

Next I solicited advice from friends and family, and read articles online and watched YouTube videos, trying to figure out the most reasonable way to protect my girls from the raccoons who would still get inside by climbing the walls. The option I went with was a suggestion from a fellow blogger. The entry point for my girls for 4 years has been a chicken-sized opening into their home. No door. They come and go as they please. I think it was Maureen who suggested putting a door on the chicken house and locking up the girls every night. It was the cheapest and most reliable option.

“Cheeks” I called her for awhile

What’s all the activity about?

New door, held open by a bungee.

Close up of latch.

In the shop I found an old cabinet door from before I remodeled the kitchen. It had been smeared with blue paint at some point, but the chickens wouldn’t care.

Next I needed to get the right hardware. The Internet assured me that raccoons will be able to figure out any latch and the only guarantee would be a padlock. Well…that’s a bit much for now, but I did find a two-step latch with a ring in case I ever do want to use a padlock. I also bought hinges and screws and charged my wireless drill.

I had to remove the ramp and replace it farther down the wall, to allow the door to close. Then because the door was an inch thick and rested on the outside of the wall, I had to attach another piece of wood so that the latch could be mounted level. I needed to figure out a way to keep the door open during the day. I collected all my tools and began figuring it out.

Jamie, the only hen residing in the pen at that time, hovered around me. Like all chickens, she’s nervous of anything new, but also desperately curious.

What, exactly, are you doing to my home?

When it was done I put all the tools away. Now. How to get six excitable middle-school aged hens from the other side of my lawn into this pen? The easiest method would be to wait for nighttime, and that’s what I did. In their separate pen, my babies were still huddling into a cardboard box filled with straw each night. I waited till it was dark and they become paralyzed. I threw a blanket over the top of the box, and carried the whole box into the chicken house. I set the box into a dark corner, uncovered it, and quietly backed out and locked the whole place up for the night.

The next morning I was eager to find out what the Lil’ Hussies thought of their new home. I opened up the door and waited for them to come out and explore. I kept waiting. Then I peeked inside.

The girls had no interest in leaving their home at first.

The chicken house is a big place for the little girls to explore.

Finally they stood in the doorway and looked around.

Jamie is happy to share her home with other chickens again.

I gave up waiting after half an hour or so. I went back to the house and made some coffee and began my day. A couple hours later I went back down the hill and coaxed and coaxed, and finally got them to come out into the world. They were scared of everything, and kept climbing back up the ramp and going back into the house.

Two months later, the teenage Hussies are comfortable and have explored every inch of the new pen. One thing I find very amusing is that they love to climb the tree. Have you ever heard of tree-climbing hens?

Lil’ Hussies are tree-climbers!

Interested in the cedar tree.

Ok, I’ll show you the trick! The tree is sloped.

I think it’s so funny that my hens climb the tree.

The chickens include Easter Eggers (the ones with the cheeks, that were sold as Ameraucanas), Buff Brahmas, and Jamie, who is a sexlink (mixed breed).

The door has worked wonderfully, but the lives of my babies depends entirely upon me. One night, about a week later, I forgot to lock the door. In the morning, one of the babies was dead. Killed by a raccoon. Now there are only five Lil’ Hussies plus Jamie.

The next major challenge is what to do with them when I leave. You know me, I travel! So far, when I’ve only been gone a day or two, I leave them trapped in the house the whole time. I’d rather have alive chickens who feel imprisoned, than dead free-range chickens. Eventually, though, I will be gone a long time. I do not know what to do. I have two neighbors. The next door neighbors I do not want on my property for any reason. The folks on the other side of them are good people, but older and not in the best of health. They have offered to free my chickens during the daytime for an upcoming trip of four days length. But if I’m gone for two weeks in the future, I feel like that’s a lot to ask of people who have much more important things to worry about. I need a mechanical door on a timer!

I like to sit in the pen with my girls and watch them do their chicken thing.

 

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.

 

 

Looking toward Portland along the Columbia River on a typical April day.

Ok, to be honest, it’s mostly still raining. But that’s what the weather does around here: it rains. The trick is to look at the other details.

The sun actually does peek out every so often, and it’s a warm, invigorating sun this time of year. A sun that means business.

One trick to avoid letting the rain get you down: take photos when the sun comes out, however briefly.

The temperatures average in the 50s now, instead of the 30s or 40s. Warmer temperatures bring calm to me. (Maybe it’s simply because I’ve stopped shivering!)

Things are sprouting. Buds are opening. Daffodils are blooming. I thought for sure I’d have a photo of some of the exciting new growth, but alas. I dug through all my recent photos and I see nothing. But the growth is there and it fills me with smiles.

Hummingbirds are back! They are sucking through the sugar water like they’re starving to death! It got me to thinking the other day: how can that be good for them? I’ve always made hummingbird juice by boiling sugar water into a light syrup. But…is that truly what they survive on? There’s no vitamin value in it. I think I will do some research. The hummingbirds have so far been too hard for me to catch with my camera, so have some ducks instead.

Ducks in the pond. This was only a few weeks ago, but already it is much much greener on the banks.

Reflections

I’ve been lucky enough to catch a couple of videos of the critters around here. I hope it isn’t boring to you that I always post new photos of the animals I see. I find unending joy in them. These big beautiful animals so wild and different…and so close to me!

I had been seeing elk sign out there, but finally got to see the magnificent beasts themselves one morning.

Tara came home over Spring Break. It’s always fun and calming to have my kiddo home again. That side of the house gets opened up, and the heaters come on and there is music blasting and the shower running, and ahhh…. all is right in the world.

My college sophomore. Tara has dyed their hair dark green this time (can you tell?). I can never predict what will happen next with that hair!

They kicked my butt at Scrabble, due in part to their word skills, but maybe possibly also due to these rotten tiles? And yes, I posted this photo on facebook and got a dozen great suggestions for what to do with my hand. But it is TOO LATE you people!

I took my friend Vlad into the Gorge and we played in waterfalls in the rain. And why not? Since viewing waterfalls, one tends to get wet anyway. A rainy day is a perfect day to go the Gorge.

Bridal Veil Falls is just one of many astounding waterfalls along the Old Columbia Gorge Highway.

I liked this crooked old mossy tree branch as much as the arched bridge behind it.

The dramatic cliffs around here are, of course, the reason for the amazing waterfalls.

One of my favouritest, most beautiful, inspiring friends was diagnosed with cancer in January. She is another mom with a huge heart and an open mind and an honest gaze upon the world, that I put effort into keeping in my life because she’s the kind of woman I want to be when I grow up. Susie has been through chemo and radiation and is right now waiting to see what the next step is. She lives in Boston and I am so very far away when I want to be there to drive the kids to practice, and pick up some groceries, and mop the floor for her. I can’t do any of that. But I can send her messages of love and messages that don’t say anything about cancer, so maybe for 2 minutes, there will be no cancer on her mind. But I can be a forgetful, scatterbrained friend, no matter how much I love her. So I got the idea to dye my hair pink to remind me to send a note to Suz. It’s temporary dye, so I have to re-dye once a week, and I’ve been doing it since January. And I am proud to report that I have, indeed, remembered to send cards and notes.

Pink! And green! Look at that springtime hue behind me: woo hoo!

One of my many fires on the back of the property.

I’ve been cleaning up the land. Branches down everywhere, accumulated during the winter snows and rains and wind. I’ve been hauling them into piles and setting them alight. It’s a tricky thing to slog through the mud to a pile of wet wood in the rain and set it all ablaze, and I have gradually begun to perfect the art. And…very little chance of wildfire… so there’s that! 🙂

I hope you are enjoying the change in the season, finding your sources of joy, and making a way to connect to the people you love.

Num Num Num

Num Num Num

Arrow points to critter

Arrow points to critter

Guess who I spotted in my back yard yesterday in the full light of midday? A raccoon!

I grew up being told that a raccoon in the daylight is a crazy raccoon, so beware. It could have rabies, or at the very least behave erratically. So… I kept an eye on this one.

Turns out this bandit-faced critter knew exactly what she was up to.

I have an enormous cherry tree in my back yard. The fruit is beginning to ripen and a lot of cherries have been dislodged in the wind and rain during the last couple weeks, and have fallen into the yard. The raccoon was out there eating cherries! Now, who wouldn’t agree with her?

Before I knew it, she was heading up into the branches of the tree in an attempt to get choice cherries. I confess I did not know raccoons climbed trees. I went out to capture it with my camera.

The raccoon is eyeing me warily, wondering whether to continue up for more cherries, or to climb down and escape. I must not look very scary, because she went back to climbing.

The raccoon is eyeing me warily, wondering whether to continue up for more cherries, or to climb down and escape. I must not look very scary, because she went back to climbing.

A pile of unused raccoon stickers just waiting to find a home.

A pile of unused raccoon stickers just waiting to find a home.

Oh! Oh! Oh! I am so excited to get this in the mail, you can’t even know. I am simply giggling with happiness. Hee hee. 🙂

Several months ago I wrote a blog post about a raccoon that had captured my imagination. I searched the Internet and found a webpage from the artist, and I left him a note saying how much I liked the raccoon, and sending a link to my blog post.

Monday I received all this in the mail! A simple manila envelope noting “Jst Productions” as the sender, and I hoped, but wasn’t sure, till I opened it up and found a huge pile of handmade raccoon stickers. I was bouncing with glee. Thank you Just1!

In case any of you are wondering, the answer is “yes.” Yes, I do intend to deface public property. I play the part of a good girl pretty well, but I’m a rebel inside and I am dying to get out into the city and tag something. I am a little disappointed that I didn’t receive the package in time to slap something up in Anaheim. But maybe my partner in crime, Arno, will help me spread them into the Gorge.

The first one goes on my car. This way I can take the raccoon with me all over the place.

The first one goes on my car. This way I can take the raccoon with me all over the place.

This is the first raccoon of its kind I have seen in colour. Art near the intersection of Belmont and 60th.

This is the first raccoon of its kind I have seen in colour. Art and a message, near the intersection of Belmont and 60th.

I’ve been noticing a stylized raccoon appearing in the city around me. It’s been more than a year since I first spotted them, maybe two years. In the beginning, I mainly saw tiny stencils spray-painted onto a wall or a curb, or at the Green Dragon on Belmont – on one of those wooden folding signs that businesses place on the sidewalk during open hours.   The most astonishing find was a giant raccoon face on the side of a soaring red Petco balloon during a store event on Glisan Street. These days I see black and white stickers of a simple raccoon face.

at  my bus stop

at my bus stop

The design is consistent and easily recognizable. There is something about the white eyes of the raccoon that stick with me.

The mystery fades every so often and I think I don’t care anymore till I see another one. Just that face, staring with ghost eyes right at me. Somehow not creepy, but absolutely compelling. What is it? What is it?

In my attempts to find out a back story of the raccoon, I asked many of the people in my life: “You know that raccoon that has been popping up everywhere? What’s up with that?”

“What raccoon?”

I tried describing it, to no avail. When I told my daughter Tara about the one on the Petco balloon, she rolled her eyes. “Well, it’s obviously just a promotional thing from Petco,” she said. But there was no question of that. A person gets a sense of things, and you have to go with your sense because it’s often smarter than your brain. There was a message. And it was not corporate.

When a sticker showed up at my bus stop on Stark & 86th, I finally had something helpful. I took a photo with my phone and showed it to my daughter that evening. She had never seen one.

on Thorburn Street

on Thorburn Street

But didn’t I tell you it’s a remarkable design? One glimpse on a phone, and she could already pick it out. A month later she spotted one. We had turned off Burnside onto Thorburn St, and were waiting at a light. “Mom! It’s one of those raccoons!” I gave her my phone and she got a quick photo of the sticker on the road guard before the light changed.

I could end the post right there.

I could sum it all up with a happy paragraph on how much I love Portland and it’s eclectic inhabitants, a confession of my interest in tagging, or maybe a nod and a smirk to those of you in Portland who will now SEE this thing, because you can’t help it once it has been pointed out. But I am not very comfortable with mystery. I just want to know what’s going on.

Periodically I have scanned the Internet trying to find something else that refers to the raccoon. The first few times I found nothing. Maybe nothing was out there a year ago, or maybe I used the wrong search terms. Then I found a blog that cleared it all up, and the name of the artist, and artist’s Instagram page. I actually feel relief to see a dozen images of the raccoon on line. I’m not crazy. It is a thing.

The blogger is Katie, who wrote a three-part post titled No Schools, No Churches. She is one other person at least, who noticed the raccoons. She was motivated enough to get to the bottom of it. Katie’s explosion of questions was nearly identical to mine:

Why are you doing this? What does it mean? Where did the raccoon come from? How long have you been making stickers? Do you put them up by yourself or with other people? Do you make other kinds of art? Where did you grow up? Is it OK to peel stickers? How do you feel when the raccoon is torn down or scratched out? What has the reaction been? What are your goals for the raccoon? What’s the Portland sticker scene like?

The story is hers, of course, so read her post and see how she unraveled her mystery. She introduced me to the artist: Just1. His raccoon was inspired in part by Studio Ghibli – isn’t that perfect?! I am struck by how many invisible things link people together. (I am also inspired by the art in Studio Ghibli)

I took this photo of a furry dude in my back yard a couple months ago. Afterward I realized the flash caused the same white ghost eyes as the stencils and stickers. Is there a message in that, as well?

I took this photo of a furry dude in my back yard a couple months ago. Afterward I realized the flash caused the same white ghost eyes as the stencils and stickers. Is there a message in that, as well?

In answer to my question, and maybe yours, there is no call to action. No Great Message. But from what I can tell, there are a few deceptively quiet messages that are profound: pay attention and think about what’s going on.  I haven’t talked to the artist, I don’t know anything about Portland  Art except that I love it (examples: Heavy or Wall Art). But the raccoon IS a thing. And I guess I realize now that I made it a personal thing.

I envy Just1 for doing what I want to do with my art: get through the fog. I want to reach out to take the shoulders of people, shake gently till they notice, and say, “Hello.”

“Don’t sleep,” says the raccoon on the wall, in the latest discovery I made two weeks ago, as I gazed out the window of the #15 bus. It crystalizes the message for me. (Did you get my pun? hyuk!) Whenever I see the raccoon, I do wake up. My senses go on alert, I pay attention, I think. I’ve spent time with the raccoon; we have a relationship. I’ve pondered the meaning, looked for more raccoons, and searched the Internet, all because of a black and white face I can’t forget. The raccoon gave me something to talk about, some sleuthing to do, and a story to write.

From now on, when I see a new one, I’ll be grateful for the reminder to engage with my life while I am living it.

One of my many guises

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