Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

Introducing the Flock

If you’ve been following along on the ups and downs of our chicken adventures, you will be delighted to hear we have three new members of the flock!

I sought and obtained vet approval and guidance since we wanted to minimize our chances of losing another chicken (we received results from UC Davis, which performs free poultry necropsies for backyard flocks, and learned that Sparkle Shiny died of Marek’s disease, which unfortunately can linger in the soil a long time but for which a vaccine is available). The vet — the same one we saw at the emergency clinic who was awesome enough to give me his email address to use anytime I had questions — felt it was not unreasonable to add new birds to our sad little flock of one and said our best bet was to go with vaccinated chicks in standard, established breeds who would be the least likely to fall ill.

I read all about ways to introduce chickens to one another, and compiled a list of things experienced chicken owners had found to be effective: (This was one of the most helpful pages, in addition to many discussion threads on Backyard Chickens.)

  • Divide run so they can interact through fence but not reach one another
  • Wipe a little vinegar on each before putting in together
  • Add fresh bedding to coop
  • Add new birds to coop at night
  • (Maybe put new birds in coop first and then add Isbar?)
  • Sprinkle lots of corn on ground of coop at night for them to find in the morning
  • Check on them at dawn and let them out, separate during the day still if necessary
  • Can try introducing in neutral territory

I braced myself for trouble of all kinds. We began with a fence bisecting the chicken yard with the newcomers having access to the coop.

   
The chickens eyed one another through the fence and while all were visibly unsettled (occasional open mouthed breathing and easily startled), no one displayed the slightest aggression.

 
The Buff Oprington (with Owlet, above) calmed down almost instantly, long before the others, and Owlet was even able to hold her several times. Then, after they’d been out for perhaps 20-30 minutes, the Barred Rock managed to push through to the other side of the enclosure! We braced for impact… And nothing happened. So we moved the fence back and let them get on with the business of getting acquainted. No fireworks! Aside from a few light pecks and wing flutters later on and the occasional dash or squawk (all of which our original pair of chickens did to work out their pecking order), they have been extremely docile. I’m sure it it is mainly due to us only having one chicken instead of an established flock to add to and of course also them all being fairly young and roughly the same size and age. But even so, it feels pretty lucky!

 

from left to right: Isbar, Barred Rock, Buff Orpington, and New Hampshire Red

 
And now the best part: names! The black Isbar you may remember is Scratchel Diggy, Platypup’s chicken from our original pair. Owlet chose the Barred Rock as her new chicken (she often says black and white are her favorite colors), since hers died July 4th, and decided to name it in her honor: Sparkle Shiny II. She and I brainstormed names for the remaining two based on the delightfully unusual naming pattern previously established, looking at coloring and temperament, and she settled on Sunshine Honey for the Buff Orpington and Twilight Rosie for the New Hampshire Red.

Platypup thought we said “Toilet Rosie” at first and he laughed and laughed. But he approved of Owlet’s choices and the names have stuck.

It is so nice to hear their soft clucking as they nestle down for the night. And though I apparently wasted my time researching the best ways to make sure they didn’t maim one another on sight, I couldn’t be happier that they’ve taken so well to one another and are already forming a little flock staying close together as they putter around in the dirt and grass. Happy hens, happy kids… What could be better?

In Memory of Sparkle Shiny

On the morning of the Fourth, instead of attending a parade like the rest of the nation, we said farewell to a beloved chicken.

Sparkle Shiny appeared to have injured her leg on Friday evening. I called around but there were no emergency vets open on a Friday night of a holiday weekend who took chickens. She was eating and drinking and not visibly in pain, and with no other options short of driving an hour south, we had to wait until the emergency bird specialist was in the office the next morning. I made her a little nest of towels to keep her upright in front of the food and water dishes and hoped she would improve overnight.

Owlet helps an ailing Sparkle Shiny to food and water

In the morning her breathing was labored and she refused food and water. Our whole family piled into the car and headed to the emergency clinic. The vet, a kind and knowledgeable soul who declared chickens his favorite animal, took one look at her and said, “oh, this is not good.”

He examined her very thoroughly (getting pooped on in the process, to which he responded with good humor) and was able to determine that her leg issue was neurological in origin rather than an injury. Given the amount of respiratory distress she was under, he didn’t recommend prolonging her agony. Unless we wished to put her on oxygen and run a bunch of tests and X-rays, the results of which were unlikely to be good, it was time to say goodbye.

I cried. Owlet cried. Thor misted up a little. Platypup rampaged noticeably less than normal.

We held a little farewell ceremony, there in the exam room. Owlet snuggled her chicken and we each shared memories from her short life. How scraggly Sparkle Shiny was as a three week old when we first laid eyes on her. How she ducked through the fence holes in those early days. The first time she ate from our hands. The massive coordinated effort required by the kids and I to get her and Scratchel Diggy out from behind the bunny enclosure. The awkward way she would flutter to the top of the coop or the lowest branches of the fig tree. Her quite recent voice change to a mature “bukaw.”

Then we sang her a song; Owlet chose “I Love My Little Rooster,” which she had taken to singing to the chickens when putting them in their coop for the night. She and I were so choked up as to be nearly useless at carrying the tune, but fortunately Thor was there to pull us through.

And then we handed her to a vet who clearly understood how hard this was. He cradled her gently in his arms and left the room.

I asked my Facebook friends to share any kid-appropriate stories of pet loss with Owlet. Several sweet folks shared their or their children’s first experiences with losing a beloved animal and others offered condolences. One recommended this book by Mr. Rogers. We read their words together and talked. Thor and I had glossed over the whole vet-(humanely)-kills-the-pet issue in the moment, but later we talked about it, and I believe she understood.

Her face has a new sober look when she is remembering her sweet chicken. It is so hard to see that expression but this is just one of the many challenges life will throw at her that I will be unable to do a damn thing to stop. What I can do is hold her, grieve with her, and answer every question she asks, even if all I can say is, “I don’t know why, baby. But everything does, sooner or later.”

 

A picture I drew, by Owlet’s request, of both chickens watching the fireworks together

  

Love’s Labour’s Won

Summer ignited, soul burst alive
Newly more completely myself
I danced for joy, then realized
By shedding my layers
Down
Down
Deeper
I was also shedding
Connections native to those layers
And you with them.

Autumn creaked in, decaying and hopeless
And all the leaves flared up
Obscuring my vision, making you
Impossible to find, but
Down
Down
Deeper
I was still searching
For a direct line
From my core to yours.

Winter laid all things bare, cooled the air
And you blazed your own path
To the center where the things that matter
Live and grow and dance
Down
Down
Deeper
We were finally reveling in
The true value of ourselves
Individually and together.

Spring fairly oozed with love wrapped in birdsong
All the rose and jasmine and citrus flowers
Prolific and heady and most deliciously
In perpetual bloom
Down
Down
Deeper
We were busily embroidering
The walls with stars
To light our way home.

————–

Thor and I have had quite a year. A partnership unraveling, stuttering toward recovery, and then thundering so far past our previous markers of good, great, and phenomenal that I can no longer clearly recall our former way of being.

We almost lost one another.

No one’s fault, just a simple matter of having drifted away from our own hearts and therefore each other’s.

And now we are found.

   
   

Tiny Adorable Reading Depository in Space

A couple of weeks ago Thor put the finishing touches on our delightful little TARDIS library.

 
I drew up some labels to put on the chosen books, mostly ones we either have duplicates of or were really good but unlikely to read again, and we stocked the shelves.

It is water-tight, which we were fortunate enough to discover on its first day out (California is attempting to chisel away the drought one drizzle at a time… wish us luck), and a great average height for kids and grownups. A few books have already been “checked out” and I’ve spotted my students’ family members reading while they wait outside during lessons. 

It has been particularly fun to watch the elderly dog walkers rubberneck as they pass by! We are already those hippies with solar on the roof and vegetables replacing lawn, so this was really the inevitable next step.

  

Not sure which is cuter, the mad man or his box. :-) Thanks, Thor!

Kuwanlelenta

I adore all industrious souls who, when faced with a problem, craft a creative response rather than uselessly wringing hands.

My friend Frida is such a person. Friend, acquaintance, or beloved institution in need? She is there, plotting, strategizing, donating her considerable talents.

Frida’s daughter attends a really wonderful school that is facing serious budget constraints unless they meet their fundraising goals this spring. What to do?

Self-publish a children’s book. Naturally.

And not just any children’s book. Kuwanlelenta is a brand-new myth, inspired by the spectacular Artist’s Palette in Death Valley. Frida’s watercolor illustrations are rich and imaginative, the story is fun and lyrical, and her protagonist is a curious, creative, animal-lover your kids will adore, and more than likely pretend to be… Especially while painting!

If you, like me, know a good thing when you see it, you’ll want to grab one of these books (or several — never hurts to squirrel away a few easy-to-store birthday presents, right?) pronto. $20 per book (plus a few bucks shipping if you aren’t local) needs to be in Frida’s hands by May 15th and your book(s) will make their way to you no later than June 15th — which just so happens to be my birthday! So celebrate me with an awesome children’s book for a great cause… You will totally thank me later.

Contact Frida at kuwanlelenta@outlook.com to ask questions or place an order. Enjoy!

Singing at the Threshold

“Excuse me, Wanda*. My name is Deirdre* and I’m here with Threshold Choir. Would you like us to sing for you today?”

“Hmm?”

“We are here to sing if you’d like.”

Curious expression unchanged.

“Would you like a few songs?”

Slow, impossibly delighted grin. “That would be lovely, yes, thank you.”

And so begins my first afternoon of bedside singing.

Last December, as my grandma’s grip on this world was slowly loosening, my friend and cello student Pythia* happened to mention her mother’s involvement in Threshold Choir. I believe she had referred to it in passing before but this was the first time we’d discussed it at any length. I immediately recognized the group as mine as clearly as if it had borne my signature, and in early January I attended my first rehearsal.

Within moments I knew my hunch was correct. These were my people, a small group of women varied in age, occupation, and temperament all called to musical heart-work. And this was music that spoke to me, a huge, eclectic bundle of songs intended to soothe and buoy the wild soul encased in failing flesh. We sang softly, voices delicately blended together, gently moving from unison to harmony and back again at a slight gesture from whomever was leading for the moment.

To my amusement, I found myself heralded for my music-reading fluency and willingness to carry any part needed. Sometimes I am so locked into the infinite quest for musical mastery that I forget to take pleasure in the skills I have already dialed in. This was a pleasant, welcome reminder.

Over the next several rehearsals I came to experience the singular joy that is singing, Threshold Choir style, which encompasses not only the music-making thrill I remember from my childhood and young adulthood in assorted choirs, but also the companionable silence between close friends, the introspective growth of a therapy session, the quiet devotion of a convent, the spark of endless possibility inherent in casting a circle.

Now this week, nearly four months later, I am “graduating” to bedside singer. Singing to the dying is oddly comfortable. Deeply meaningful, musically satisfying, emotionally strengthening… Just one more of those many little and not-so-little pieces that have been falling into place lately.

  

*names changed, of course

Introducing Sparkle and Scratchel

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We have chickies! Sweet three week old little chickens. The lighter one is a cream legbar that Owlet named “Sparkle” and the darker one is an isbar that Platypup named “Scratchel.”

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Our cats are beyond intrigued, but the coop Thor built will keep the babies safe.

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Isn’t it adorable?

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The kids are terribly impatient to hold them but are otherwise enchanted.

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They were bedding down for the night when I went out after dinner to turn on their heat lamp and despite my presence dozed off while I was watching.

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The bunnies seem unfazed by their wacky new neighbors.

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Come September we will have gorgeous and tasty eggs!

SB277 is not the answer

You may have heard about a little vaccine bill worming its way through the California legislature. SB277, aka WTF (because it goes Way Too Far).

Now, I am not a rabid anti-vaxxer. Far from it — though a couple of my dear friends are. But very few of the parents I know, including many of my fellow pro-vaxxers, follow the current vaccine schedule to the letter, and before you let loose on that nice looking stone you’ve got there, are you 100℅ up to date on your shots? Heh.

We vaccinate slightly behind schedule and omit a handful based on our doctor’s advice.

We vaccinate because the science is fairly clear on the issue and because the risks of complications are slim and the dangers of the diseases themselves are huge.

And because I am friends with enough scientists to know they are not all in on some grand conspiracy. In fact, scientists as a whole are among the least likely to do something of that nature due to their daily pursuit of empirical evidence.

We vaccinate because we have known and loved immune-compromised individuals who need our protection.

If I may pull out my favorite analogy, vaccinations are not an invisibility cloak. No scientist worth their salt would claim them to be. Vaccines are more like camouflage. Healthy unvaccinated folks are wearing normal clothing but generally no flamboyant colors. Immune-compromised individuals are wearing bright orange. This helps explain why vaccinated individuals do sometimes get sick anyway, especially if surrounded by a higher than average number of people in civvies or orange. This also helps explain why some unvaccinated individuals avoid catching what goes around. Those people were lucky enough to dress in earth tones.

Given all of the above, why am I not over the moon about SB277?

Because I’m pro-choice. Because winning people over does not and never has worked by force. And a very selfish reason: who says the latest vaccine to arrive on the heels of this bill won’t be horrendously dangerous or simply unnecessary?

There’s still time to derail this foolhardy, shortsighted proposed legislation. In order of most to least effective, fax, snail mail, call, or email these Senators before April 15th:

Education Committee
Senator Liu (Chair) Undecided
Senator.liu@senate.ca.gov<mailto:Senator.liu@senate.ca.gov
State Capitol, Room 5097
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 651-4025
Fax: (916) 651-4925
 
 
Senator Huff – (Vice Chair) Undecided- has asked for more info
Senator.huff@senate.ca.gov<mailto:Senator.huff@senate.ca.gov
State Capitol, Room 305
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916.651.4029
Fax: 916.651.4929
 
 
Senator Marty Block (co-auth) Supports
Senator.block@senate.ca.gov<mailto:Senator.block@senate.ca.gov
State Capitol, Room 4072
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 651-4039
Fax: (916) 651-4939
 
 
Senator Hancock, Undecided
Senator.hancock@senate.ca.gov<mailto:Senator.hancock@senate.ca.gov
State Capitol, Room 2082
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 651-4009
Fax: (916) 651-4909
 
 
Senator Tony Mendoza, Undecided
Senator.mendoza@senate.ca.gov<mailto:Senator.mendoza@senate.ca.gov
State Capitol, Room 5061
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 651-4032
Fax: (916) 651-4932
 
 
Senator Vidak, Undecided
Senator.vidak@senate.ca.gov<mailto:Senator.vidak@senate.ca.gov
State Capitol, Room 3082
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916.651.4014
Fax: 916.651.4914
 
 
Senator Connie Levya, Undecided
Senator.leyva@senate.ca.gov<mailto:Senator.leyva@senate.ca.gov
State Capitol, Room 4061,
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 651-4020
Fax: (916) 651-4920

The Gardener and the Witch

The gardener grew, as gardeners do, in fertile soil
A farm surrounded by forest, by brambles and meadows and streams
Where property lines are drawn with moss-covered stones.

The witch was cast, as witches are, in earth’s palm
Wild imagination, story-fed, danced from season to season
Befriending maple and toad, cat and fern, lake and muck, stars and stones.

The gardener transplanted, to stretch out his roots a little
Swapping forest for cornfield, trading stone walls for brick paths
Drinking in friendship like sunlight and music like rain.

The witch was drawn by oaks and elms and sycamores
Into flight, and landed where her bare feet delighted in bricks wise and worn
Drinking in friendship like sunlight and music like rain.

The gardener soon saw how well her branches and his intertwined
The witch could feel that their stories together would weave
So he planted love in the ground where they stood and she sealed it with a spell.

Thirteen years later, the gardener is still sowing and nurturing and harvesting
And the witch is beside him, guiding and shaping and protecting
Their home: an orchard of magic and hope, light and love.

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13 to 31

Swap the digits and behold
How child turns to mother
How fragile becomes bold

Maternal cocoon lost, greatly mourned
Daughter once shattered
Now re-formed.

Wisdom longed for
Loving arms craved
Sheltering comfort destroyed

All now spring up
From within and around
A renewable source: heart, re-joyed.

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