Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

Archive for the category “Micro Farm”

It Began

It began with a cup of tea.

Well, I suppose it began with an herb garden long dreamt of and finally constructed that now houses the plants harvested for that cup of tea.

Although really the herb garden dream was a natural offshoot of holding regular circles on that bit of earth.

And of course the circles came to pass once I opened to and claimed my witch-self.

Which unfolded as it did because of Rapunzel.

Whom I met when I birthed a baby and joined a playgroup.

Which happened because Thor and I moved across the country and created life here.

We chose exactly here because Florence offered to rent us her house. We chose this part of the world because my dad moved here years before and we came to visit and loved it.

He chose here after he exhaustively researched ideal places to live.

He did that research in part because he was beginning to live a broader, more wholesome life and wanted a location that would foster that growth and in part because he was tired of Wisconsin winters.

His broader, more wholesome approach to life evolved after the wakeup call of a marriage in ruins.

A marriage in ruins from two people unable to evolve past the disparity between their current disconnect and their earlier happiness.

Their earlier happiness which brought me into the world.

But I digress.

I mean, arguably it began with the dawn of time.

But it is also true to say it began with a cup of tea.

What began?

My morning ritual.

I have long craved a morning ritual. Certainly for my entire adulthood and probably my entire childhood as well. And yet I’ve never managed to form one.

A couple of years ago I felt the tug to begin an evening ritual and it is still with me now, constantly evolving to meet my needs.

This month I felt a similar urge, and instead of either talking myself out of it or beginning with an unsustainable attachment to detail, as I had in the past, I found myself choosing anew each day to harvest a few leaves of hyssop for morning tea.

To leave the house in the morning is pure joy, even just for a short walk through the obstacle course yard and back. It calibrates my day subtly yet completely.

A few days ago, I found morning yoga happening on a daily basis almost without impulse, a natural next step.

Yesterday I began to compose a new piece of music before I’d even finished yoga, and even managed a shower afterward thanks to Thor holding down the kiddo fort.

Bliss.

Rewiring

Our culture hardwires us believe that we are destined to find a soul mate to complete us. A family to complete us. Friends to complete us.

We have a different approach to plant life. Conventional wisdom says that the needs of plants are important but not more so than our own; we take care of them when life is good and forgive ourselves for not tending to them when life is difficult. We applaud their beauty, respect their longevity, and begrudgingly admire their tenacity, considering them “scenery,” a backdrop that might influence our lives but would never be permitted in the director’s chair.

I am inclined to believe we have our wires utterly crossed.

Imagine a culture that absolutely encourages its people to support their partner’s, family’s, friends’ needs — but not forsake their own. That offers ready forgiveness when one is unable to tend to the other in difficult times. That promotes lavish admiring of one another’s traits but ultimately expects each individual to sit in their own director’s chair, influenced by but not relinquishing control to their loved ones.

Appealing?

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Now imagine a culture that believes that animals and plants are destined to complete one another. Where just being together fulfills the primary need of both. A culture that overflows with manuals, mantras, and workshops on forming a more perfect union with one’s garden. That writes poems, songs, and dramedies about the primal dance of oxygen and carbon dioxide. The way each nourishes the other — even beyond death itself, the two merging into one. 

How one will die without the other.

That’s the world I choose to live in. Are you with me?

Our summer solstice circle this year

Bitty Bouncy Bunny Bronwyn

A little over a week ago we took our rabbit speed-dating.

Autumn had been gone for a week. Leopold was still noticeably muted in behavior aside from an increased eagerness for petting and cuddles. Normally one big frolicking stomach, he would eventually finish a carrot but without much visible joy.

We packed him into a carrier and took him with us to one of our nearby shelters. I love the look on all the shelter volunteers’ faces when they realize the people with the carrier are here to get another pet rather than surrender the one they’ve brought with them!

They set us up right away in a (clean) single-occupancy bathroom, brought in an x-pen (think portable animal corral), and asked us who we’d like to meet first. Rabbits on average prefer opposite sex partners, even when both are spayed/neutered, so we decided to start with the adult females before moving on to the males (two males are more likely than two females to bond).

The first bunny was super sweet with people — she even liked to be held, which is rare for rabbits, who usually range from tolerating to hating being picked up even if they are hugely affectionate sitting on or right next to a person. But her only answer to Leopold’s inquisitive nose poking between wires of the fence was to try to bite it. Repeatedly. Next!

The second was much more promising. They both displayed non-aggressive behavior for long enough (45 minutes, perhaps?) that it was time to see how they would do in the same space. We moved back the barrier bisecting the bathroom and… Immediate fireworks. Not the good kind. We quickly separated them with the x-pen and decided not to rule her out completely but to try the others to see if there was a better match to be had.

By this point, Leopold was clearly wearing out. The car ride alone was a lot for one day, not to mention the unfriendly reception from the only members of his species he’d seen in a week on top of the loss of his partner. The cumulative effect had him retreating to his carrier, completely uninterested in meeting anyone else. So that’s where he was when the third rabbit entered.

The third was a lively little thing who jumped into Owlet’s lap for snuggles moments after being set down without even pausing to sniff hello first. Then she explored her half of the room, sometimes in quick bounds, sometimes with a funny little walk where her hind legs alternated in a way I hadn’t seen either of my rabbits ever do before. She continued to punctuate exploring with sitting in Owlet’s lap for awhile. Leopold maintained fatigued disinterest. I decided this should probably be his last visit for the day.

Finally, after we turned his carrier around to face the new bunny through the fence, he came forward to say hello. He was visibly more apprehensive than he had been with the first two, but she was friendly and gentle. When they startled each other from time to time it was out of nervousness rather than aggression.

After a long series of only positive interactions we finally put them together, tightening the x-pen around them so they wouldn’t just go lie down on opposite sides of the room. No trouble ensued. They weren’t exactly grooming one another yet, but had clearly already formed a friendly acquaintanceship. The volunteer brought fresh veggies for them to share and dropped them into the middle of the pen. Tentatively the rabbits moved closer together under the lure of tasty treats.

Over an hour had passed without rough behavior of any kind, and I felt pretty confident about taking them home together. I filled out the necessary paperwork and after some discussion with the volunteer we decided to load them into the same carrier to facilitate bonding through the stress of the car ride.

When we got them home we set up our x-pen in the backyard so they would be in neutral territory, and they did really well! Fiona immediately named the new rabbit Bronwyn, and Thor, Platypup, Granny, and I all agreed it was a good choice. Our cat Cricket spent a lot of time watching them curiously.

  
    
  

We separated them that night by setting up the pen inside part of Leopold’s home enclosure, put them in neutral territory on the lawn again the next day, and separated again the second night. The following day we folded back the x-pen, and voila! Pair, bonded.

This is that first morning in Leopold’s territory together, the pen and carrier still at the ready in case separation and/or neutral territory was called for — clearly it was not!

  
Much cuteness ensued. Both bunnies are really affectionate with people, and Owlet has been loving it. Below is the first photo I took that really shows their size difference — Leopold is a Rex and big for a bunny, about the size and almost the weight of our cats. And Bronwyn, well, she is what they call a Netherland Dwarf.

 
   
It is so heartwarming to see Leopold fall in love again, complete with all the snuggles and grooming and those bizarre double kicks bunnies do when they are so happy they might explode with joy. 

 

Welcome to the menagerie, Bronwyn!

On Bunny Love and Loss

It is such a simple statement on the surface: “rabbits bond for life,” an undisputed fact found in any basic care guide. And they do — to such an extent that it is preferable to bundle two apprehensive critters into a carrier and take them both to the vet when only one needs to go rather than separate the lovestruck duo for an hour or two.

But a “bond for life” only sounds simple, like “till death do us part.” Homo sapiens is far inferior as a species when it comes to living up to those words, but for those who do, be they cunicular or hominine, the end of term often leaves one half of the pair alive and well — in body, at least.

Such is the case with our Leopold, who lost his beloved Autumn this past weekend.

Autumn was my first bunny. I got her almost exactly six years ago as a young adult rabbit (she had been someone’s Easter bunny). I was just barely pregnant with Owlet at the time but didn’t know it yet. She has watched both children grow from rolling babies to animal-savvy preschoolers and has always been as gentle a soul as one could wish to know. Her spunky little lion’s mane lent her a curious expression and even after injuring a hind leg a few years ago she still skittered around with as much joy as ever. She loved Leopold, and he loved her. They spent most of their time snuggled together in the shade of the house Thor built for them, dozing and grooming one another.

 

Autumn died Friday night or early Saturday morning, giving Leopold a chance to spend time with her body and come to terms with her loss. This is very important because the process of accepting a loved one’s death is far more difficult if the dying rabbit is taken to the vet, put to sleep, and the lifeless body is not seen by the surviving partner, who is then left in a state of anxiety, not knowing whether their spouse is ever going to return.

Rabbits grieve the loss of their mate at least as intensely as humans, in some cases pining to death from loneliness. And where a concerned friend might (rightly) hesitate to throw the bereaved back out into the human dating pool too quickly, a concerned pet owner is advised to visit the local shelter for some bunny speed dating as soon as a week later, as the mourning period will last until a new pair forms. (Unless the widowed rabbit did not get to see the remains, in which case a month is sometimes required before a new partner can be accepted.)

With enough companionship from humans and other pets, a rabbit who has never formed a pair bond can live contentedly single. But once its heart has made space for a same-species mate, it no longer beats properly without one.

There appear to be no flings in the rabbit world, no one-night stands or rebound relationships. Just as a bunny mourns with every fiber of its being, as soon as the next mate is chosen, that same devoted little soul will share new love with heart unrestrained.

Thus we head to the shelter with Leopold later this week to introduce him to the adult rabbits available for adoption and see who he gets on with. Rabbits can be very particular, and I would never dream of picking one for him after seeing how clearly he and Autumn chose one another from the moment they met.

I am looking forward to seeing our sweet Leopold meet the second love of his life, shake off his sorrow, and kick up his bunny heels once again. Whomever he chooses will have a special place in our hearts as well.

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

  

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!

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!

Mission Accomplished: No More Placental Procrastination

We have had a placenta in our freezer for over two years.

In that time, we have planted a startling number of little fruit trees, each time failing to remember to include said placenta.

It would turn up occasionally as we scoured the freezer for ground beef or veggies, almost cheekily… a popsicle of a punchline.

I took to scrawling “placenta” on ziplock bags of cooked, peeled, juicy red beets. Thor wrote “not placenta” on some meat destined for the freezer. For clarity.

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It seemed likely we would be those crazy old people torturing our children by refusing to be parted from a fifty-seven year old freezer-burnt placenta. Which they finally would pry out of our feeble hands moments before dropping us off at the nearest nursing home.

Instead, despite several mundane mishaps we miraculously managed to do the deed this time; in thwumped the placenta, along with some hair from the kids’ first haircuts so both would have contributed to the tree’s growth, since we didn’t keep Owlet’s placenta.

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The goods! No, Granny, we did not put all of the first haircut hair in, just a lock of each.

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Action shot! And super cute siblingness.

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Success!

Bunny Love

As long as we are photo-rifling…

Remember my lonely rabbit, Autumn, who had a rough start to 2013?

Last month we finally found her a (neutered) companion! We named him Leopold (Owlet helped choose it — her first suggestion was Scratchel but I felt that would ignite undue prejudice against a very friendly, affectionate rabbit and reluctantly overruled her. I offered Satchel which I thought was close but was rejected swiftly and with scorn. I then nominated several names at once and she chose Leopold).

They had met through wire walls once at a nearby shelter and we returned later for a real “date.” For the first hour and a half or so it was nothing but love. Sweet sweet cuddly bunny love.

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Then they had their first fight (some nipping from both and lots of crazy jumping from Leopold), and I was a little nervous, but the experienced bunny handler at the shelter wasn’t too worried. I decided to go ahead and adopt him, kept them in separate cages close together in a room neither had seen before (our bathroom) for neutral territory a couple days, then tried letting them loose in our outdoor bunny corral. At first there was more nipping, but Leopold had more room to jump and run so he wasn’t trying to do that on top of Autumn, and they settled down quickly, eventually lounging relaxedly on opposite sides of the play yard for a few hours. We separated them that afternoon before leaving the house, and tried again the next day. Minutes later, this was happening:

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And before long, this:

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And this:

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And it’s been nothin but love ever since.

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