Merry Christmas, family and friends! We hope you had a joyous holiday, and time spent relaxing with your family and friends. We were certainly blessed by family (Mom and Richard staying with us, and phone calls with our East Coast family), Dave’s amazing cooking (standing rib roast, spinach, mashed potatoes and Yorkshire pudding), and lots of laughs. The boys were so grateful for their presents – they didn’t “Hoover” them in a manic feast but rather enjoyed them one by one and only turned to the next when prodded. They are very appreciative of their blessings. We’ve spent the last two days just relaxing and splitting wood, eating leftovers, chopping more wood, more eating, stacking wood in the rain, chicken coop remodeling (moving a roosting bar to a cozier place), etc. It is raining here and we’re listening to Beethoven now as I write. Tonight I asked Ben something and he said he couldn’t tell me. I asked again and he replied, smiling “I can’t tell you because my back hurts.” Wonder where he picked that up? 🙂
We lost our first hen yesterday to a marauder who took one wing. My farmer friends have voted they think it is a raccoon based on the details I sent them, broad daylight attack, and other forensics which I won’t share. The boys and I came running outside to hear Merlin clucking his alarm call and the hens were all huddled in a corner with him. Sam was the first to notice a hen was missing. I kept hoping we’d miscounted, but sure enough a Rhode Island Red (RIR) was missing. The one with the little pea comb (small comb) – the sweetest of the three. We looked all over for feathers, or for her. We looked in the woods and on the trails. We couldn’t find anything so we thought it was a hawk. Merlin was looking to the sky as some kind of confirmation. Then just as we got everyone settled in and having a scratch snack, some salmon leftovers and soup (chickens have a good life!), we went to the truck to run our errands. That’s when I found her – on her side. Poor thing. So we went in to tell Daddy and this morning before church I dug a little grave and put her in her final dust bath. Yesterday the boys and I nailed a little kindling wood cross together and put it by the corner where we found all the hens huddled together – a way to celebrate lives saved vs a life lost. It was just too morbid to mark the hen’s grave. However, we did name her – Polly – so that she would be remembered. Sam took it really hard – he really understood and said it was so sad that Pecky Becky wasn’t the one lost. It was little pea-comb Polly, the sweetest of the three. After lots of talking and empathy, I gently reminded him that she was really one of the “production” birds, not the pet three, but it doesn’t really matter to a kid who had become attached. And I took it hard, too, feeling responsible for allowing the girls to have unsupervised recess. We had gotten a bit lax, I guess, having not seen any evidence of critters in a long time, not even the resident raccoon we knew lived in a tree right nearby. The hens remained under the coop today, growling in a low cluck. They wouldn’t come out to scratch unless one of us came to protect them. We counted hens many times, still unsure of exactly which predator it had been – coyote, raccoon, possum, hawk, eagle, rat – there are so many of them. We did get to church, and a visit with Santa today. We’re recovering. But I tell you what – the three of us (boys and me) are eager to avenge Polly’s death. We want at that critter. Sam decided yesterday, though, that God gives us predators to teach us about challenge. And Ben has decided the hen is up in Heaven with new feathers on. Wouldn’t you know, their advent calender treats yesterday were two little rubber chickens – one hen and one rooster – with candied almond eggs. Dave and I thought about swapping out that treat for something else but ultimately decided it was meant to be. Tears were shed aplenty yesterday, but we are strong and will persist. This happens in farm life, however micro the farm is.
The most compelling memory I have, though, is one of life: Merlin in front of his hen house, guarding his ladies with all his might, chest broad, feathers puffed way out, and head and neck pulled way in and down like a football player ready to charge. I could not believe it. He was truly guarding. Here is a picture of him:
We missed doing the studio tour today because Dave went in to work, but we kept pretty busy here at the homestead trying to string lights up on a couple 15-20 ft blue spruce trees. Sam was a huge help. My stringing leaves much to be desired at the top of the tree, but I couldn’t reach even with a ladder and an 11 ft pole. After that fun, Ben insisted on chopping some wood. I actually tried the axe today, not just the mawl, and did pretty well. Then inside for lunch and a little of our own studio time – Sam drew a HUGE Merlin, and I did a few paintings. I made one of a hen that my friend loves very much for her Christmas present. A few samples below…I was wondering when my 2011 painting would emerge. I was a little cranky until I exorcised them!