I brake for roadkill (part 2)

That other roadkill post dates from July 1. I finished it by saying So surely I had something else in mind when I began this post? Well, yes. I did. Most emphatically.Yet from that very first thought … etcetera.

OK. On my mind that July day? My cousin John. The one in Brasil. The one who used to live in Brasil, I guess I should say; it’s been past tense now since early March. The one who lay dying on March 6. My birthday. Not that that small detail matters much. It’s simply a marker: hard to forget. And I don’t aim to forget.

John’s brain went silent early on the 7th. The next “month-anniversary” on September 7, if so it may be called, will mark the sixth since his death. His family in Brasil grieves terribly. I grieve in my own way, as do my cousins scattered here and there across North America; yet another cousin’s family is far distant in East Asia. Add in my new, yet unmet cousins in southeast Brasil and that’s five time zones, two hemispheres, 16 time zones.

By happenstance on that March 6, I got a call from a colleague, if you will, in the green burial movement. She wanted me to know that Bri Barton, young woman from the Philly area was swinging by Ithaca for a book talk; had self-published Everything Dies, a coloring book for adults, and did I want to get in touch? So I did. Why not? Drove into town as evening fell and found the venue. When Bri was done I bought the book.

But what I was thinking about that whole time was that family in Brasil.

On the way home my headlights picked up a small white body off to the side of the road. “Possum,” I thought, and drove on. I’m rather fond of possums; they leave the most delightful tracks in the snow. And for anyone unlucky enough to have chronic Lyme, know this — possums are tick hoovers. (More on that some other time.)

Then I thought — looks fresh. Go back. Check it out. I turned around. Pulled over on the shoulder behind it and put on the four-way flashers. I was right. The slightest tinge of blood spoke of a glancing blow to its head. It was still limp, still warm. I had a couple of plastic bags on the floor behind the seat. I double-bagged the possum, turned up my road, pulled into the driveway, and slipped it into the fridge.

Which is where I’ll end tonight. It’s been a long day. I’m done. More anon.

what’s on your mind?

How curious that WordPress and Facebook use the same prompt: What’s on your mind? OK. I’ve plenty on my mind, frankly. Who doesn’t? I’ll leave politics alone for now; whatever flag we fly, pretty much all of us have political turmoil on our minds.

And now, having started and stopped and stopped and started this post way too often this evening, I’ve opted to ditch it instead. And offer in its place what I consider to be the one original creative thought I’ve had in my life: that no other animal, given our frontal cortex and opposable thumb, could have done any better by the planet and each other than we have.

 

I brake for road kill (part 1)

Mmmm … let me qualify this. That image — roadkill? Not so much the animal knocked unconscious well off the side of the road, with maybe a little blood oozing from its mouth and yet undiscovered by an army of scavengers and decomposers. Rather the one slammed well onto the road at dusk and nailed repeatedly throughout the night. You know what I mean. It’s disturbing, actually. Unsettling. Because beyond the sheer messiness of it lies another layer — the vulnerability of death, of lying exposed and gutted on hard pavement. Maybe that’s why so many of us swerve to avoid roadkill, should we see it in time.

But it’s not such a good idea, any more than swerving to avoid a chicken crossing a road is, though these instincts are damn hard to avoid. No time to consider the consequences — we’ve already hit the brakes.

I’ve known of people who wrapped themselves around a tree that way and spent the rest of their lives in a wheelchair.

But mainly what’s in the back of my mind since this idea for a post popped into my head, oh, maybe a week ago is … that I should be so lucky. To live in a place distant from all those other places. A place where the occasional road-killed possum or woodchuck or deer is a proxy of sorts for the mass slaughter of scores, hundreds, thousands of creatures. Children. Elephants. Women. Gazelles. Men. Bonobos. Refuges. Babies girls boys nurses doctors  women men males cubs wolves females herds flocks prides fleeing … refugees. Thousands. Millions.

So many dying. So many dead.

Blasted into oblivion.

So surely I had something else in mind when I began this post? Well, yes. I did. Most emphatically. Yet from that very first thought: Mmmm … let me qualify this, the transition from how I began to where I’ve ended up and beyond, back to that idea as I first conceived it … it ain’t gonna happen. Not in this post, and probably not for a while.

brain like a sieve

OK, so for weeks now I’ve kept thinking I’d post again, oh, y’know, after I’d hung out the wash or paid the bills or called my state’s senators about that bill re: Lyme disease … or any number of things, some pressing, others not.

More on Lyme disease and why that bill matters later. I mean, I’ve gotta look into it; maybe they (the Senate) already dropped the whole thing. Which did seem an imminent threat a couple of weeks ago, when I placed my calls.

So here I am, a spinning top with a brain like a sieve. Since I began this bit of blather I’ve already been up a half-dozen times doing scatter-brained things I can no longer remember while thinking maybe I should sift (again) through my folder packed with scribbled notes, each hinting at something I thought would make a really cool post — but I’m better (or so I imagine) at coming up with wacky or way-cool ideas that posting about them. Partly it has to do with the perfectionist syndrome; and yes, if I could just get those stories (some true, some not) whipped into shape and accessible online — which is mainly why I set up this site in the first place — wouldn’t that feel good? And better yet, gotten my act together and added photos that help bring those posts to life? And … um … and have I lost you by now?

Brain like a sieve? Literal proof. Also the first selfie I've ever (intentionally, that is) taken. Not that I'm happy with it. For one thing, it seems that either it's just a tad above thumbnail size or it takes up way more real estate than I want to give it.

Brain like a sieve? Literal proof. Also the first selfie I’ve ever (intentionally, that is) taken. Not that I’m happy with it. For one thing, it seems that either it’s just a tad above thumbnail size or it takes up way more real estate than I want to give it.

Days have gone by and here I am, fiddling with this post again, trying a different pic. Meanwhile, since I seem to have little control over formatting the caption, let me rant on by saying how much I hate centered text. At least this theme (Chateau, should you wish to know, only with the cool little dealie above that first “a”) lets me use itals, which clears one line of text. Or did, until exasperated by the new editor I went back to the old, only to find myself exasperated because … oh, wait a minute. Apologies, WordPress. I’m back in the new editor and hey, it lets me resize the  photo and caption both. Now by rights I should rewrite the caption because the old pic is history, but ya never know — I might plunk the old one back in too, just for old time’s sake. Next? Well, could I learn how to make that cool little dealie over the “a”? Will WordPress even let me?  Time will tell. (Not that I’m fond of this three-word ending, but perfectionist syndrome has gotta go.) 

geese in flight

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Maybe I was at work and someone had a leaf-blower going outside my window. Maybe I was on the bus, the tire noise at highway speeds drowning out their cries. Maybe I’d cranked up the music just moments before. Who’s to say? All I know is that this season I’ve yet to hear waves of geese flighting north.

When I was a child in the ‘50s, those migrating flocks were the only geese we saw. In fall they streamed southward in overlapping Vs, hundreds at a whack. Sometimes their cries drowned out the peepers in the swamp beyond the hayfield or the night train on the far side of the woods. In spring we’d hear them again, Canada-bound, and we’d race outside to catch them before they were gone. Sometimes they cruised easy on a wind out of the south or beat staunchly into a wind from the north. Sometimes they were simply too high to see, masses of unruly gray clouds between us and them.

This was the romance of being a child in that time, that place, beneath the eastern flyway — that geese seemed so many yet so rare, summering way far north or wintering considerably to the south. As for where exactly — the Hudson Bay, maybe, or any of scores of lakes and marshes in Quebec, Labrador, and Newfoundland in summer? The Chesapeake Bay, the saltwater marshes of Virginia and the Carolinas in winter? I don’t think they covered that sort of detail in science class. Because I’m sure, sure I’d have remembered, though it never crossed my mind to ask; I wasn’t one to speak out of place. I was a child.

Anyway. Those days are gone. Back then, true, some geese didn’t migrate, though I had never heard of them. Had no idea that well before the turn of the 20th century and up through the early 30s, hunters captured injured “decoy geese,” clipping their flight feathers and feeding them as needed through the winter. During the early part of that era, plucked geese were easy to find in neighborhood butcher shops.

But that era was long gone when the 30s rolled around. The largest subspecies — the giant Canada goose — was close to extinction. Its slightly smaller kin weren’t doing so well themselves. Decoy flocks, numbering in the tens of thousands, were among the last Canada geese alive. In 1935 hunting with live decoys was banned. When hunters left the decoys to their own devices, conservationists — fearful of losing the geese forever — began swooping them up and releasing them in marshes and ponds across the country.

And think about it. If all those geese knew was the world around their marsh, their pond — the world they got dumped in — it was like closing the one-room schoolhouse and firing the teacher. You get the picture. Thousands of geese scattered hither and yon and no clue where Canada was. Because … if their parents had their wings clipped, it’s as if they did too.

At first it had to have been pure delight; surely for anyone enchanted by watching geese across the water, their little ones trailing behind. In the 30s through the mid-40s, people could no more conceive of goose poo by the bushelful in parks and playgrounds than they could conceive of suburbs.

Just as it was inconceivable to me as a child in the 50s that someday there’d be a year 2000, not to mention a year 2016; that the hayfield across from our place, with the woods and swamp and train track beyond, would sprout an oddball assortment of boxy houses and factories; that I could see geese (and goose poo) anytime I cared to in nearby parks, ponds, playgrounds and marshes but so rarely high overhead, tracing their ancient flyways each spring and fall; that my childhood would vanish forever.

And that telling you this story on a wild spring day would almost bring it back again.

 

a test, only a test

While I mull over existential questions like, uh, do I really want the responsibility of a keeping a blog up and running, WordPress might have answered that for me. Because yesterday I wrote what I thought was my first post in four (count ’em) years — but when I clicked “publish” and looked at the site, the calendar was gone missing. The post was there, only it wasn’t a quite a blog post. Nothing indicated I’d posted it a mere moment before. On the other hand, it wasn’t really an article either.

During the past couple of months I’ve played around behind the scenes with which pages go where and in what order. Did I inadvertently tweak the blogging part of this site into oblivion? Did WordPress’s “improved posting experience” (don’t you just love marketing hype?) play a bit role? Of the two, the first seems more probable. Not that I can imagine how.

Thus this little experiment, crafted with yesteryear’s WordPress dashboard. Yesterday’s so-called post — will it vanish when this goes live? Should I bother with a preview? Oh, what the hey.

PS. What a cliff-hanger! Now, where did yesterday’s post go?

coparenting in the chicken coop

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Back in June I promised I’d tell the story of my broody hens’ transition to motherhood. But … yeah, I let things slide. It’s my site, after all, and my uber-volunteer world claims most of my spare time. Which is fine by me.

But about the chicks. The babes—six altogether—pipped over a two-day span. One needed help; I was sure after I liberated it from the egg that it was dead, but I tucked it under a mom anyway. The next day I had six fuzzball babies peeping out from under their moms.

Within a couple more days it was clear—one mom claimed five babes while the other got only one. Even so, those turf battles over nest boxes and eggs? Forgotten. In fact, I was struck by how content both seemed. I’m sure it helps that hens just can’t count. Let me go further and anthropomorphize for a moment and suggest that each felt completely validated as a mom regardless how many chicks hung tight with her. (I’m happy to attribute this mostly to their pea-sized brains.)

Even so, I was relieved when, two days later, I propped open the door. The moms and chicks hung together all that day and the next and the next and … such a lovely job of coparenting they did. They didn’t wander with the main flock, but they didn’t avoid them either. (Which probably is why this year, integrating the chicks into the main flock went as smoothly as it did.)

Then came the day the mamas quit. A mom always quits about the time the babes are gangly, half-grown teenagers, just starting to fly (to the extent that a chicken can); about the time you start getting a hunch which are en route to roosterhood and the stew pot. And when mama’s done, she’s done. One day she’s protective. The next she’s out of there. The chicks keep their own little flock together a while longer, but when they start checking out the main coop, I close the door to the rabbit hutch for good. By then the moms treat them like the newbies they are—the moms aren’t mean, exactly, but they don’t cut them any slack either.

green cemetery coming to Columbia County?

Last week I zipped over to Columbia County, about the furthest east I’ve been in mainland York State*. Our first real snow fell the night before, though by noon the mix of wind-blown mist and (as the hours swept by) high-breaking clouds had wiped twigs and stubble bare.

I swung through Schoharie and Albany counties — through the mini-burgs of Berne and East Berne, Clarksville and Selkirk — then across the Hudson, onto the Taconic Parkway (for all of a half mile) and down toward the hamlet of Harlemville, where I met my hosts, Jonitha and Paul Hasse, who took me on a brisk tour of several sites that might, just might, make lovely natural burial grounds.

Jonitha runs a tiny rural cemetery just outside Harlemville. Tiny, as in less than an acre altogether: point-eight-eight acres, to be exact. After our tour we held an afternoon workshop on the nuts and bolts of making green burial work in Columbia County—and who the players might be. Jonitha has honed her skills and is ready to ramp up; now she’s looking for companions for the journey.

From that tiny cemetery comes this photo of the most striking headstone I’ve ever seen.

*More on “York State” anon. (If I get to it, that is.)

gone broody

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Chicken moms are devoted to duty from day one. So when two of my youngest hens went broody within a day of each other, coveting the eggs the rest of the flock had laid as well as their own, I trotted up to my neighbors’ to snag their day’s take. They, after all, have a rooster.

Yes, my broodies were peckish (you might say) when I slid my hand beneath them, lifting their wings and even their toes to tug out their infertile eggs and slip in my neighbors’. But an egg’s an egg. They were maybe ten seconds settling back in.

The past two years I’d kept moms and chicks apart from the main flock, housing them in a rabbit hunch mere feet away from the main coop with just a temporary fence between. But each time when I integrated the flocks, the hens with the deepest connection to the pecking order—both the alpha hen and the previous year’s most bullied chick—put way more energy into beating up on the newbies at the feeder than I care to see.

Problem was, keeping my broodies in the main coop didn’t quite work. During her first days on a clutch, a broody hen barely eats, barely drinks. At last, however, hunger and thirst overpower the compelling need to brood those eggs. Meanwhile, a nest chockfull of eggs is prime real estate for any hen. I fed my broodies at the back edge of their nest boxes but had no way of providing water right at the nest. When they hopped off to slake their thirst—well, an older dom would move in and refuse to make way.

One day I came home to find the entire set of nest boxes moved perilously close to the ramp leading down from the coop’s floor. Clearly an epic kerfluffle had happened not long before. An older hen had possession of one 9×13-inch nest box. My two broodies were crammed into the other. And as good care as a momma takes from day one, when they’re competing for prime real estate they’re oblivious to the toll their spurs take on delicate shells; likewise oblivious was the usurping older hen in the other box. Once I got them sorted out—the older hen pushed off the nest, the broodies back in business—four chicks just days away from pipping had died.

So that night I moved the moms into two hastily prepared crates in the rabbit hutch. (Some things are best done under cover of darkness.) Dark as it was, still—the each mom tried to roll the most eggs into her domain, and in mere minutes I saw which of these relatively low-ranked hens was top dog in their little twosome. When I checked a half-hour later, both moms had set up shop within and just outside one of the crates, and the four eggs that remained in the other were left unattended in the chill night air.

How many chicks pipped—and how did they fare? Did accord or catastrophe ensue? Can momma hens coparent a clutch of babes without killing a one—or does one, defeated, join the rest of the flock in the main coop? And … how do the other hens react when two-day-old baby chicks venture into their home turf?

Stay tuned.

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