April 2013


When we incubate chickens or guineas,
or buy babes at the farm store,
they are first housed in an indoor pen
at the Pond House.

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Ann keeps them fed, watered, dry, warm
until they’re old enough to graduate
to an outdoor pen.
There is quite a flock of chickens now
in the indoor pen;
and a group of teenaged-keets
have graduated to a pen in the barn
at the Farm House.

20130427_083902Teen-aged Guineas

There are mature chickens
free-ranging at the Pond House
and another batch of mature chickens
free-ranging at the Farm House.
Our oldest domestic birds
are six Guinea fowl, who
have been free-ranging
a couple of years.
(Everyone comes home into the barn
or pens at night.)

The rooster and three hens
that have free range at the Farm House
were first housed with some Guinea keets,
but only one keet survived.
And now, instead of joining the flock
of its own kind—
the other six Guineas—
this lone Guinea stays with its original family,
the rooster and three hens.
All day they wander the farm together,
Rooster steadfastly keeping an eye
on the hens;
Guinea tagging along.
They are the family.
Sometimes Guinea even joins them
in their in-the-barn-coop
for the night.

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And then
there’s the cat who runs with the chickens.
The gray, white and peach-colored cat
isn’t always with the fowl family,
but spends part of his day with them.

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Recently, I watched Rooster and two hens
waddle off toward the compost pile,
while a third hen,
busy scratching in the grass,
stayed behind.
Cat seemed to notice this
and stopped, watching the hen
until Rooster noticed she was missing
and hurried back after her.
Chickens, guinea and cat
then continued on their rounds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHens, Rooster, Guinea
and Cat Who Runs With Chickens

Finding a gentle, loving space
in Sunday worship,
I unexpectedly
can’t stop weeping.
There are good reasons,
once I begin to think about it:
recent losses and sufferings
for people I love.

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In the afternoon,
the air is warm,
the breeze soft and barely cool,
birds are singing,
greening is
everywhere.
It is an exquisite
beauty of a day,
so rich,
it requires
nibbling.
So I spend the day,
ingesting a little at a time
this scrumptious beauty.

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My Sit Spot
is on the porch
under the big old Hackberry.
Soon I notice
two Red-Bellied Woodpeckers
courting.
They chase each other
along tree branches,
flying,
fluttering head to head,
singing their throaty “whirr.”
Meanwhile,
another Woodpecker
pecks a hole in the Hackberry.
It’s excavating wood
on a thick branch,
making a hole
the size of itself,
and a few babes.
I watch it disappear into the hole,
its tail feathers barely sticking out
as it enters,
to excavate deeper,
then pop out,
shaking its head,
wood chips flying.
Sometimes when it goes in,
it turns around
and sticks its head out
to spit out the wood chips.

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Red-Winged Blackbirds,
sitting in the Hackberry
and other nearby trees,
sing loudly
as Woodpecker works
constantly,
all afternoon.
Another Woodpecker comes to vist
sometimes
and they hop up the limb together.
I don’t know
if this is the courting
Woodpecker couple
or another couple.
Dove couples
and Yellow-Headed Blackbird couples
and Harris Sparrow couples
sail by,
courting too.
The Barn Swallows fly in and out of the barn,
where they are building nests.
A Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
whirrs up to a nearby branch,
then to the feeder,
its green and red feathers
shining in the sun.
When Mockingbird
comes close and starts to sing
I’m not sure my heart can take
so much beauty.
I sit tight,
watching,
watching,
breathing,
breathing
into this rich diet.
Excruciating as it is,
I need
to help my heart entrain
to this exquisite beauty.

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We gathered a lot of fossil wood and after supper made a big fire, and as we sat around it the brightness of the sky brought on a long talk with the Indians about the stars; and their eager, childlike attention was refreshing to see as compared with the deathlike apathy of weary town-dwellers, in whom natural curiosity has been quenched in toil and care and poor shallow comfort.

After sleeping a few hours, I stole quietly out of the camp, and climbed the mountain that stands between the two glaciers. The ground was frozen, making the climbing difficult in the steepest places; but the views over the icy bay, sparkling beneath the stars, were enchanting. It seemed then a sad thing that any part of so precious a night had been lost in sleep. The starlight was so full that I distinctly saw not only the berg-filled bay, but most of the lower portions of the glaciers, lying pale and spirit-like amid the mountains. The nearest glacier in particular was so distinct that it seemed to be glowing with light that came from within itself. Not even in dark nights have I ever found any difficulty in seeing large glaciers; but on this mountain-top, amid so much ice, in the heart of so clear and frosty a night, everything was more or less luminous, and I seemed to be poised in a vast hollow between two skies of almost equal brightness. This exhilarating scramble made me glad and strong and I rejoiced that my studies called me before the glorious night succeeding so glorious a morning had been spent!

— John Muir, Travels in Alaska
(“In 1871, Muir began exploring every canyon and peak in the Yosemite region. No one knew of the existence of living glaciers among these mountains. He discovered them.” The Wilderness World of John Muir)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHummingbird Returned

The Barn Swallows returned
to the animal barn
last week.
I noticed them flying up to the barn
so Ann opened the wire
at their usual place
near the ceiling—
just enough
for them to fly in and out.
They’re building nests now.

Sunday morning,
as I was driving a few miles from home,
a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
flew low
over the road
in front of the car.

A Hummingbird
has been at the feeder.

This morning a Phoebe
sat perched low
on the Desert Willow
outside the bedroom window.

Usually,
about this time,
as summer birds arrive,
I clean winter’s bird feeders
and put them away for the summer.
So this week,
I did clean out the thistle feeders,
scattered the remaining
dark, slender seeds
on the ground beneath the Hackberry.
The little birds
ate very few during the winter;
now the sparrows
are feasting on them.

I’m going to continue
to scatter thistle seed,
since I still have a bag full
and the seeds will be too old
next fall.
In fact,
I’ve decided to continue
to supply some seeds
for the birds all summer:
the thistle,
a few Black Oil Sunflower Seeds
and a Wild Bird Seed Block
(from the farm store.)

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This morning
during breakfast
I watched Woodpecker
stand atop the seed block,
his beak slightly,
threateningly,
parted,
as a big Blue Jay
stood beneath,
staring up at Woodpecker.
When Blue Jay
sneaked a peck or two
at the side of the block,
Woodpecker hopped over to the side
and tried to peck Blue Jay
on the head.

I don’t know if the birds
need to be fed all summer.
I hope there is plenty on the prairie
and along the creeks
to keep them fed and healthy.
But having them up in the yard,
keeping an eye on their communities
brings great joy.

Too, I am inspired
by Phoebe’s close visit—
why was she so close?—
this morning;
and the day a couple of weeks ago
when guests were standing with us
in the meadow south of my house.
We stood in silence,
looking at the beautiful meadow,
listening to the sweet song
of the Meadowlark.
A new friend,
a very dedicated permaculturist,
finally spoke,
plaintively,
bringing chilling echoes
of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring:
“I’ll be so glad
when I can hear birds again
on our farm.”

Scattering seeds
isn’t the answer—
at least not most of it.
Abandoning the use of herbicides and pesticides,
planting habitat
are the biggest factors.
Our friend is growing beautiful habitat
on his farm these last 20 years,
but there’s a whole neighborhood,
an entire ecosystem
to consider.
We are fortunate that the south meadow
is surrounded by other prairie,
away from cropland,
which is more often sprayed.

So I’m going to offer
summer treats
to the birds this year.
Not only do they bring joy—
watching them;
aware of their good work—
they keep us apprised
of the health
of our ecosystem.

 

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpring Greening, Along Doe Creek

 

Following a mild winter,
spring has been unseasonably cold.
We have learned
that we should plant the garden
earlier
than our historical April 15 last-frost day,
because last frost has been in March
the last couple of years,
and because summers are so hot
photosynthesis quits about mid-day
beginning about July.
Just when we thought
we’d figured out that planting earlier
would give us a full growing season,
we have a different kind of April.
The air was freezing yesterday morning—
27 degrees—
and this morning, 32.
April 24 and April 25.

Plum, apple and pear trees
are heavy with blossoms.
Big, older trees
are budding.
Bushes are leafy.
With rain—
three-quarters of an inch this week—
grass is greening.
Chickens and Guinea Fowl
roam the farm all day,
finding bugs.
Despite the freezing mornings,
and except for the delayed planting in the gardens,
it’s almost pastoral
around here now;
idyllic,
even.
The memory of  exceptionally hot, dry months
the last few summers
has faded.

Yesterday,
I had a lovely time,
preparing the garden
for today’s vegetable planting
(after last freeze this morning—
right?)
Sunshine, no wind,
mildly warmed air.
Chickens and guineas wandered
through
now and then.
Pastoral.
Idyllic.
At one point I lifted my head
from the soil work
for a moment’s rest
and looked up
and out to the south meadow.
There,
standing strong
in mid-afternoon,
looking intently at me,
a coyote.
It was sobering,
unnerving—
I looked around
to see where the chickens and guineas
were.
This morning,
Oklahoma Mesonet sent a message
about our drought status.
Recent rains
have put a dent in the drought:
in our part of the state,
instead of an “exceptional-extreme” drought,
we are now only “severe.”
I thought again
of coyote
and wondered what—
hunger?—
—thirst?—
would bring it out
into the afternoon,
so close.

Some have asked right out
if Earth is giving us a message.
Many,
I would say,
including:
Remember.
Take nothing for granted.
Stay alert.
Be flexible.
Keep asking why.
Pay attention.
Listen.
And, learn.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHowling Coyote
June 2008, at Turtle Rock Farm

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Preparing Trenches for Asparagus

I like the idea
of perennial vegetables.
Finding the ones
that grow in our ecosystem
and aren’t invasive
requires some study.
The one we know
and love,
the one that grows well here,
is asparagus.
Living in a culture
where instant gratification
is the order of any given moment,
waiting three years
to harvest the first asparagus crop
just doesn’t compute.
But knowing how unsustainable
and unhealthy
only-things-instantly-gratifying
is;
and,
being the daughter of a man
who planted a pecan grove
when he was 73,
I decided this year —
the year I turn a mere 65 —
is the year to plant asparagus.
And I’m going to enjoy
every fine, ferny, feathery moment with it,
until one cool spring morning,
three years from now,
I can snap a delectable, tightly-woven bud
emerging out of the generous soil,
for breakfast.

 

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These are birds
that get your attention.
Even people who don’t always
notice
who’s flying overhead,
perched above,
notice.
Migrating,
this flock
has been feeding
on the seeds we scatter each day,
scouring the prairie,
hanging out atop the Hackberry Trees
and evergreens
for a week now.
Their song is decidedly
unlyrical
and gets everyone’s attention:
“What are  those?”
They’re Yellow-Headed Blackbirds!!!

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