Horsefeather Haven: High-End Chicken ICU

May 11th, 2018

Farmer Nyel Puts Finishes Touches on Horsefeather Haven

Farmer Nyel spent a good part of yesterday converting his newly acquired horse trough into a double-roomed intensive care unit for our ailing chickens.  After a thorough cleaning, he covered the trough bottom with wood chips, divided the space with chicken wire, fashioned extra food and water containers, and made a removeable chicken wire lid.

“If they wanted,” I worried, “they could still get at each other through that chicken wire.  Don’t you think that the partition between them should be a solid wall?”

“They’d get lonely,” Nyel countered.  “And besides, I don’t think one of them would put her head through and leave it there to be pecked by the other.  They aren’t that stupid.”

Chickens In Their Very Own ICU

I’m not so sure.  We have no evidence that there was a struggle when the feather-pecking transpired in the first place.  On the other hand, I was touched by Farmer Nyel’s concern about them getting lonely.  I’m not sure the avoidance of chicken loneliness would be high on my priority list. But Nyel’s softheartedness often comes through when it comes to animals and little kids and even, occasionally, to plants.

The feather issue plus the repurposing of the horse trough naturally led to me to think of the new establishment as ‘Horsefeather Haven.’   Horsefeathers is a term meaning ‘nonsense’ and was coined in 1927. Though there is no nonsense involved in this Chicken ICU, it seemed an appropriate name, somehow.

I also discovered when I looked up the term just now that Merriam Webster has an online site listing, by year, when terms and words came into usage.  ‘Pecking order’ is also listed under 1927.  Obviously, the name ‘Horsefeather Haven’ was meant to be!

Sometimes there isn’t any good answer.

May 10th, 2018

Oysterville Church Vestibule

It isn’t every day that I meet someone at the church at 8:30 in the morning.  And never has such a rendezvous been in lieu of a midnight meeting!  But, there I was yesterday standing in the doorway to avoid the early morning drizzle, waiting for the reporter from the Tacoma PBS radio station. Actually, he was someone known to me – a local man on a freelance assignment.  But still, it was a little weird.

He had called me a few days earlier saying that the radio station was doing a series on “sacred places.” They were interested in the Oysterville Church because it is open all the time.  “Twenty-four/seven?” he asked.

“They actually suggested that I conduct the interview at midnight,” he said.  I think I laughed – at least a little whoop of incredulity.  “Why?” was my response.  “It’s not like listeners could tell the difference!”

Church Doorknob

But I told him “whatever…” and mentioned that there are no lights in the church.  I also asked if this was a ploy to talk about ghosts.  We’ve turned down ghost-chasers before. “Not at all,” he said.  “They were just curious.” And he suggested we meet in the early morning before visitors began arriving.

He decided that the vestibule was “less echo-y” and so we stood there for twenty minutes or so – he holding the small recorder close to my mouth and I trying to keep my answers to his questions concise and on track.  He had warned me about that – in a nice way.  “I know you could spend an hour or two on any one of the questions I ask,” he had said.  “But it’s supposed to be a fifteen-minute interview.”

Oysterville Church 1902

He asked about the history of the church, why my family was so closely involved with it, how its use has changed since my childhood, and how I feel about the church.  And, of course, why it’s open all the time.  All his questions were easily answered except maybe the last one.  I think the simple truth is, there is no one available to lock and unlock it every day and, thus far, no one has felt it was necessary.

Still and all, the whole thing seemed a bit odd to me.  We could have been sitting across the street at my house in warmth and comfort, instead of standing in the chilly vestibule.  It stretches credulity that such authenticity is needed for a radio interview…  Maybe it will become clear to me when I hear the (edited?) broadcast – presumably next Sunday or the Sunday afterwards.  As they say… stay tuned.

Mean Girls in the Halfway House

May 9th, 2018

Big Girls at the Halfway House

Judy Eron of Double J and the Boys has written a number of songs that I absolutely love.  The chorus of one of them __ “I picked his plum tree bare” – has been rocketing around in my head since last night when Nyel came inside after locking up the chickens for the night.

“Well,” he began, “we have one bald-headed chicken.”

“WHAT?  WHY? IS SHE ALL RIGHT?”  Although I doubt if I was that articulate.  All I could hear was the chorus of Judy’s song but with different words:  “They pecked the chick’s head bald…”

We had been noticing a feather-disappearance problem for several days with the two smallest girls, still under the heat lamp in the back forty.  The black chicken, slightly smaller than the white one, appeared to be losing feathers on the back of her neck and Nyel suspected that the white chicken was pecking and pulling at them.

Black Chick’s Neck

“And EATING them?” was my rather horrified question.  There certainly had been no stray feathers visible in their little temporary coop.

“Maybe,” said the Farmer, “and her poop has been runny.  I think those feathers are giving her diarrhea.”

So, he took that mean girl out and put her in the Halfway House with the three other adolescents.  Mean Girl is all feathered out and he thought she was big enough to be with her older sisters. That would give the little black hen time to recover until she, too, could go outside with the others.

I hasten to add that Farmer Nyel had been researching and, having learned that some chickens peck the others because of a salt deficiency, he had added the recommended amount of salt to their water.  Apprarently, this behavior is not all that uncommon among the chicken population.  However, the added salt did not appear to help.

Bald Chick

So… for whatever reason, once out with her big sisters in the Halfway House, the little white hen became the victim.  Nyel brought her in, put her back under the heat lamp with the little black hen, and went online again to learn how to doctor her. In a few minutes, he headed for the back forty armed with the tube of Neosporin.  Today he will make a separate hospital room for her using our newly acquired horse trough and we will hope for the best.

Both the injured girls seem to be in fairly good spirits and they huddle together affectionately whenever we go out to check on them.  If they are distressed by the feather-pulling they certainly aren’t saying so.  Chickens may be cannibals but they aren’t tattlers.

The Honorable Jean Marie de Montague

May 8th, 2018

Jean Maries Near the Coop

My father really knew what he was doing when he chose to plant Jean Maries (as we call them for short) in our garden.  I’m sure he chose them because of their brilliant scarlet color.  And maybe for their name – he was always impressed by a title… even an honorary one.

I think it was just a serendipity that the Jean Maries are usually at the height of their glory on his birthday, May 12th.  Dad would have been 109 on Saturday.  It’s hard to believe that he’s been gone for 27 years.  Especially since our entire garden celebrates his birthday every year!

This year, thanks to a crew of volunteers organized by our friend Jay (when Nyel was in the hospital last year) plus a lot of tender loving care by Beach Time Landscaping, our garden is in better shape than at any time since Dad left us.  The garden was his passion and when he wasn’t working on behalf of the Oysterville Restoration Foundation or acting as the “Mayor of Oysterville” (a title bestowed upon him by neighbor Eddie Freshly), he was outside working with his dahlias and roses and rhododendrons.

Jean Maries in the South Garden

He usually had help with the heaviest chores.  In the 1970s, in the days of push mowers, I think Chris Freshley did the mowing for Dad.  When Nyel came into our lives in the early eighties, he took over the mowing and a lot of the weeding.  Then Hank Batten came along and he and Dad worked side-by-side trimming and fluffing and keeping things looking fabulous.

My father inherited that love-of-gardening gene from his mother, right down to his interest is dahlias and roses.  I don’t think Nana’s garden in Boston included rhododendrons, though.  Those were a love affair Dad began even before he and mom retired here — when he became acquainted with Dr. J. Harold Clarke and his amazing nursery on Sandridge Road.

I love the garden and I love the flowers and I love the memories of my dad “puttering” (as he called it) among the blossoms.  Unhappily, I didn’t get that gene of gardening passion. But if I had, I surely would have developed a gorgeous rose or rhododendron or dahlia and named it The Honorable William Woodworth Little.  And everyone would call it “Bill” for short.  Except me.  I’d call it “The Honorable Dad.”

You can always use a …

May 7th, 2018

Horse Trough

Just when I thought we were making progress on cleaning out the garage and back forty, Nyel went funny on me.  Anyone who has a husband who can’t resist a whatever-it-is in a junk store or at a garage sale or from a friend who is downsizing knows exactly what I mean.  This time it’s a horse trough!

“Really?  A horse trough?” I asked.  “Why?”

“You can always use a horse trough,” came the not unexpected reply.

I consoled myself that we were doing our part to help friends move from a house into an RV.  It’s difficult to justify hauling a horse trough around the countryside when space is so limited.  Especially since they have no horse.  Maybe more especially since they are already traveling with four dogs and three cats and the paraphernalia that goes with that menagerie.

Bitty Redell, Rodeo Queen, with Amber, 1947 — Ann Anderson Collection

But I am not hoodwinked one bit by all those “helping out our friends” nonsense.  We don’t have a horse, either.  And I very much hope this isn’t the excuse to get one!  It’s one thing to have a gigantic-galvanized-tub-that-neither-of-us-can-budge right in the way of everything.  Having a horse would be a whole other kettle of road apples.

Actually, we would have room for a horse.  In good weather.  And if we built a fence around the meadow.  And got all the neighbors and the county and god to agree.  I don’t think we are zoned for horses here in Oysterville anymore.  But it doesn’t seem that long ago that everyone in town had a horse.  In my mother’s childhood, every household had several horses and, here in Oysterville, several boats.  How else could you get anywhere?

Camp Willapa Horses 1940s

By the time of my childhood, adults had a car (and maybe a boat or even a fleet) and the horses belonged to the kids.  Almost every family had at least one horse and the kids of the other ‘deprived’ families had serious horse envy. Until I was ten or so, my grandfather still had Countess – the last of his work horses.  She was too old to enjoy being ridden but, somehow, taking her apples and sugar cubes satisfied my horse itch.  And besides, I spent a lot of each summer at Dorothy Elliot’s Camp Willapa down the road where there were plenty of horses to choose from.

I can’t imagine why, with all the various and sundry left-overs from my grandfather’s cattle ranch days, we didn’t already have a horse trough.  And now… we do.  All trough and no horse, as they say.

The Very Best Kind of Feedback

May 6th, 2018

May 2, 2013

I’m not sure about this title.  Every kind of feedback about my writing (unless it’s just plain mean-spirited) is the very best kind.  But yesterday’s response to last week’s column in the Observer was so totally unexpected and so right-on-the money, that I was about bowled over!

I had stopped by my friend Kay Buesing’s house to drop off a book.  She was expecting me and, there on her kitchen table, was the newspaper folded back to the editorial page.  “Even in our not-so-gigantic gene pool…” was the headline of my Elementary my dear column for May.

“I left that out to remind me to tell you…” began Kay. “…I’ve started a project I should have done long ago.” And she began to tell me about the box of photographs her grandmother had left to her.  “I was the oldest and so I got to go to visit her all by myself, without my siblings.  And I was her favorite,” she laughed.  “She left everything to me.”

Kay told me about playing “behind the dining room table” where she and they could talk as her grandmother worked in the kitchen.  I shared a similar memory… of being able to stand upright under the dining room table and having that delicious feeling that I was invisible.  Two old octogenarians sharing childhood memories.

Buttons! Buttons! Buttons!

We also talked about our grandmother’s button boxes.  I told her that I used to take mine into the classroom and we would have a lesson on sorting and preferences and diversity. Put a pile of old buttons in the middle of a group of four six-seven- and eight-year-olds and the discoveries are unending.  Kay told me about the “story buttons” in her grandmother’s collection.  “There’s one about Rumpelstiltskin,” she said.  I’d never heard of story buttons and we agreed that we need to have a Button Box Date to compare and reminisce.  Soon.

But it was the box of photos that Kay wanted to tell me about.  “Your article prompted me to get them out and start putting the names I remember on the backs.  My girls are coming for Mother’s Day and I think they can help with some of them.  My grandmother had labeled some.  But, sadly, there are those that we probably won’t be able to identify.”  She went on to say that she never would have gotten at it had it not been for what she felt was the “inspiration” of my words.  Yay!  I’m so glad.

And… will that grass be greener?

May 5th, 2018

Wow!  A day and a half and our new septic system is up and running.  There were only ten minutes of “no flushing” during the change-over from the old to the new.  Then everything was good to go, so to speak. As soon as the county signs off on the electrical part, we can think about restoring our lawn.

We’ll also be thinking about those unsightly green covers – three of them – that seem to be a crucial part of this new era of Septic Landscaping.  “Oh, don’t worry,” we were told.  Once your lawn comes up, they’ll blend right in.  No.  They. Won’t.

I was somewhat relived to learn that we can put something on top of those ugly intrusions.  Like a big pot of flowers.  I’m thinking huge tubs.  “As long as they can be moved off when needed,” we were told.  “Maybe by a derrick,” I’m thinking.

But we’ll cross that bridge later on.  I’m not really sure I want tubs of flowers out there, anyway.  It’s not like the placement of the covers was done with an eye to artistic arrangement.  It’s one of those form-follows-function things I guess, and we all know the function of a septic system.  Right now, randomly placed tubs of flowers in the middle (actually, more like on an edge) of the lawn isn’t my idea of appealing.

We’ll have some time to think about it while we watch the grass grow.  I don’t really expect that to go smoothly, either.  We’ve had experience growing lawn grass*. It was a smaller area and it finally looks great, but it took several years and more than one application of grass seed to fill in the iffy areas.  I’m already working on my Patience Factor.  I hope the girls in the coop are doing the same.  It’s likely to be a long spring and summer.  

*(Did you know that if you look up ‘growing grass’ these days you have to be specific as to lawn or marijuana?)

When Perfection Isn’t Good Enough

May 4th, 2018

The Ilwaco Cranberry Exchange

Eleven of the photographs submitted to Arcadia for “Washington’s Cranberry Coast” are not acceptable for one reason or another and need to be replaced.  In the great scheme of things, eleven out of 198 isn’t too bad, I guess.  We are scrambling to find suitable substitutes.  Another deadline!  Yikes!

There are two that are going to be difficult.  The emails between the Title Manager (my Go-To-Contact-and-The-Buck-Stops-Here person) have been flying back and forth. Today I’m sending the original 1913 brochure (from which one of the photos came) back to South Carolina for ‘Production Team’ to take a look at.  Maybe, just maybe, they can find a way to use that one.  It’s the only known image of the Ilwaco Cranberry Exchange building.

The other is apparently hopeless.  Sadly, it effects the ending of the book and I’m wracking my brain on how to salvage the concept with another photograph.  The rejected image is also from the early 1900s and is a picture of two women holding the sign for Cranberry Station – one of the railroad stops on the old IR&N.  It’s the perfect photo to make my ending statement and, as far as I know, there is no other like it.  The trouble, according to Arcadia, is “low resolution” and the image will apparently pixilate when reproduced to the size needed.  Total bummer.

Cranberry Station Sign

So, I’m on the search for a period photograph (early 1900s) from Washington Coast that has the word “cranberry” in it and, if possible, shows a bit of context in the background.  And I have exactly a week to find it and re-write the text accordingly.  Oh, yes.  And it will have to pass muster at the other end of things.  Perhaps the Cranberry Gods read my blog and will get in touch with me…

Yard Art?

May 3rd, 2018

Well, I’ve heard of the Ashcan school of art which, according to Wikipedia, “was an artistic movement in the United States during the early 20th century that is best known for portraying scenes of daily life in New York, often in the city’s poorer neighborhoods.”  What was happening on our Croquet Court today wasn’t the Ashcan School.  More like the Outhouse School.

For a fact, it was happening not far from where the old outhouse used to be. Appropriate, I thought.  It could also be termed kinetic – lots of big movement. And noise. And it looked like several things were happening at once.  Dirt coming out of a big hole while sand was going in.  It’s the beginning of our new septic system – a happening right here a stone’s throw from my bedroom window.

It’s one of those love/hate experiences that many of us here on the Peninsula eventually must face up to.  Living, as we do, on a fragile little sandspit with the water table not far from the surface during the rainy times, our septic systems are mega-important.  And, if you need to build one from scratch or even replace one after forty years like we do – mega-expensive.

On the other hand, when your pipes gurgle at you every time you shower or flush and you fear that something may come up the drain at you, the sooner the situation is corrected, the better.  It’s a complicated procedure these days.  There are specialists to hire.  First of all, an expert to draw a plan.  Then the county must approve it.  And then another expert with big equipment and a long waiting list must be engaged to do the work.  It all costs about leventy-leven times as much as it cost my grandfather to dig the hole for his outhouse.

And then, I suppose, there will be repair work to be done in the garden.  But, I console myself that the grass is always greener over the septic tank.  Erma Bombeck said so.  Right now, that’s about the only happy thought I have.  That and the end of gurgling.

Halfway House for the Three Big Girls

May 2nd, 2018

Littlest Chicks – Still in the Box

It was moving day for three of our five new chickens – the three oldest ones.  They are feathered out, getting their combs and wattles, and beginning to strut their stuff.  So, Farmer Nyel thought they were ready for larger quarters – outside the box.  Literally.

They’ve been indoors in a big box under a heat lamp for a month or so now and they were already far beyond peep-dom when they arrived.  Not so their two little sisters who will join them when they get a bit bigger.  Actually, more than a bit.  They are getting their feathers, but they have a way to go before I would call them adolescents.  Or even toddlers.  Maybe another month.

Meanwhile, the big girls are now in the Gated Community where our four oldest chickens have been ruling the roost for quite a while.  But, the newest three have a separate area – their very own halfway house, you might say.  They can see the older girls and talk to them and even rub beaks through the chicken wire, but they are safely in their own area until they get acclimated to being outside.  And, mostly, until the oldest biddies look like they are going to accept these newcomers into their midst.

Gated Community

We’ve had trouble with that in the past.  In fact, one of the red hens actually attacked and killed two new girls a couple of years ago.  It was an experience Farmer Nyel does not want repeated.  In fact, though she has no inkling that she is under surveillance, the guilty hen is being watched carefully.  If there is any indication that her killer instincts are still intact, she will be put in the Halfway House when the others become full-fledged coop residents.  And if she can’t get over herself… stew pot!  She’s a tough old bird, so more likely it will be chicken tacos.

Halfway House

I talked to her about that plan while she was out working with me in the garden today.  She listened carefully, but I’m not sure she understood the seriousness of my tone.  She seemed unusually friendly and I’m hoping this is not some clever hen ploy to get me off guard.  But, in the end, it’s Farmer Nyel who will decide her fate.  Back into the Gated Community?  Forever in the Halfway House?  Or stew pot?  It’s hard to convince a chicken that she has choices!