Sunday, December 18, 2005

run, run home.


and all the chickens run as fast as they can for the shelter of the chicken tractor.

Somethings up. (I guess that’s an unintended pun).

I’m standing out in the field right next to the chicken pasture and I look. Maybe there’s a raccoon in the bushes.

Or a red fox?

But I don’t see anything.

This, the birds suddenly running for cover, has been going on for several weeks now. I’ll be out doing my chores. Hauling firewood, feeding the chickens and on days like today, getting on the tractor and scraping the remaining snow off the drive.

I’ll be outside, doing my chores when all of a sudden, as if someone said something, or possibly, if there was an alarm siren that I can’t hear, the chickens will let out in one voice a cry and then..


And, instantly, all of the chickens make a mad dash for the shelter of the chicken tractor. Chickens over by the feeder turn and scurry the 15 yards to the shelter. Ones standing around the swimming pool, drinking, stop and without hesitating turn and dart home.

Even the chickens in the far corners of the pasture, far away from the shelter quickly look around and without hesitating run as fast as they can. All the way home.

And its not just the chickens.

The Turkeys, all dozen of them, let out a long gobble and stop their constant bickering and fighting long enough to waddle back to the shelter.

Everything runs for shelter. Everything, that is, except for the geese.

Whatever it is, whatever has scared the other birds doesn’t seem concern the geese.. They don’t even let out a squawk but continue doing what they were doing before the silent alarm went up.

Now every time I’ve seen this phenomena, and this has been going on for several weeks now, I look around.
Obviously, there’s something out there that’s of concern and I doubt if its chicken little announcing the sky is falling.

It’s more imminent.

And real.

Even chickens, can’t be fooled that many times. They obviously know there’s a danger out there.


No doubt a predator.

But what? I’ve looked. I don’t see anything inside the fence. And there hasn’t been any sign of a struggle. No pile of feathers where a fox dispatched chicken little.

Whatever it is swoops down and carries off its prey in one fell swoop.

A raptor! Or maybe an owl.

An eagle, or hawk, a falcon.

Whatever it is, it has to be large. To swoop down and nab a full grown chicken and then jump back into the air hauling its catch in its claws takes strength.

More strength and size than the red tail hawks I usually see on the side of the road waiting for a wayward rodent.

And then I saw it this morning.

I was looking out my office window when there it was. Out of the sky it dropped and landed at the very top of a pine tree at the edge of the chicken pasture.

It was huge.

And when I saw it, the birds must have seen it.

Instantly, all the chickens start running.

One moment they are spread out to the four corners of their pasture. The next, the field is empty. Nothing moves. All the chickens are hiding under the shelter. So have the guineas. Even the turkeys have climbed inside.

I reach up on my shelf and retrieve the binoculars. It’s still there. Right in the very top of the old scrawny pine. It must be two, maybe three feet tall.

It’s beak is slightly hooked but really sort of fat looking. In fact, the bird is sort of fat. At least heavy. And its coloring is brown and white. It looks like someone threw splotches of brown paint. Not a regular marking.

I quickly take down our bird identification guides. I have two. The person’s field guide and the Sibley.

I quickly shuffle through the pages.

Of course I don’t see it. I look through the binoculars again, and then back at the pictures in the book.

It sort of looks like the picture of juvinile Goshawk. But the book says they are rare.

I pick up the binoculars again, point them at the old pine tree and.

And, whatever it was, is gone. I quickly look down at the pasture. Is that it down there in the corner?

And then I see it, Its flying off back toward the forest, carrying in its claws one of my chickens.

I guess the chickens have a reason to run and hide. I guess, also, one of the chickens was less competent than the other chickens at hiding.

Oh well.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Wild Turkeys

It’s the middle of the night and its cold and the wind is blowing and the dogs are barking.

They are up there on the road barking at something in the woods.

I think its those turkeys.

Wild turkeys. Something like four dozen of them. They’ve been up on this side of the mountain for at least a week now. Every night they’ve been roosting in a stand of tall oak trees.

And with the daylight they spread out through the forest, gobbling and scratching at the leaves, looking, no doubt, for whatever it is that wild turkeys eat this time of the year.

Now, I don’t actually know for sure that the dogs are in fact barking at those turkeys.

They could be, instead, barking at almost anything.

It could be that bear. The one that’s been knocking over my beehives for the past year.

How about that bobcat that stole several chickens earlier this fall?

An axe murder?

Or maybe its just moving shadows with the moonlight shining through the wind swept trees?

I could get dressed and go out and see. Put on my heavy coat and carrying our most powerful torch. Go outside and see what’s bothering them. Maybe take a dogbone or two. Give them a pet and tell them they are doing a good job of keeping the night honest. Only,

Only its cold out there and I’d rather stay in where its warm.

(I know someone from Norway and she says one of her more pleasant memories of home is cross-country skiing with friends during one of those long, cold Norwegian nights).

So, instead of going out and scaring away a potential bear. I’ll just stay inside.

Anyway, it’s probably the turkeys. Just yesterday afternoon, Wenonah and I went for a quick walk and we saw over a dozen of the turkeys cross the road in front of us. And then when we looked at the tracks in the snow we counted almost fifty sets of tracks. All heading in the same direction. They had been down foraging along the creek and were now going back up the mountain, were they could fly up into the taller oaks and, well out of reach of the ground loving predators, roost for the night.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Squirrel Attack!

This morning at 8:45 am, while Democracy Now! was playing on the radio, our house was attacked by a suicidal squirrel.

Wenonah was at my computer going through her e-mail, I was staring out the window, listening to the radio, looking up the hill where that large patch of lettuce is (was) growing and Amy Goodman was interviewing someone about something to do with the war.

When, suddenly...

by the lettuce, by a electric pole, there was a bright explosion.

Orange! Flames! Fire!

And then a crackling snap right outside the window.

The electricity went out.

And the computer started smoking.

And then silence.

No Amy Goodman. No lights! No internet connection.

The back-up battery started beeping.

And here we are out on the farm without electricity.

Which normally wouldn’t be so bad.

Our water isn’t pumped out of the ground but instead comes from a spring 200 feet higher up on the mountain side. It comes into the house by gravity.

No need for an electric pump.

And, until last year, our heat was strictly woodstove.

No electricity needed there either.

But this last summer I got all sophisticated on us and installed a wood burning boiler with radiators and radiant floor heat.

Which meant that the heat was distributed more evenly around the house than with the wood stove, but it also meant it needed electricity to pump the hot water from the boiler to the radiators and back.

Which meant, no electricity. No heat. No heat, in the winter means frozen water.

Frozen water means, broken pipes.

Broken pipes means a lot of time spent on my back underneath the house doing plumbing. (which isn’t something I enjoy).

I quickly went around the house making sure all the doors and windows were tightly closed. Let’s save the heat we have for as long as we can.

Wenonah took down the number of our electric company. The local rural electric coop. NOVEC.

And went out to the car with her cellphone. You see, here on the farm there is only occasionally cellphone reception. In fact to actually be able to carry on a conversation you usually need to drive several miles away.

“I have to get going to a meeting in town anyway,’ Wenonah said. “I’ll give them a call on my way.”

Now, imagine if instead of an electric co-op our electricity was provided by our for profit phone company.

The last time lightening struck the phone line and burnt out a box over a mile away, killing phone service for everyone in our valley, it took the phone company a week before they sent anyone out this direction.

No phone service for a week.

Imagine no electricity for a week. In the winter with a heating system dependent on electric pumps.

Shortly after Wenonah left I decided I better be preparing for the worst.

I went out and split two wheelbarrow loads of firewood and hauled them into the house for burning in the fireplace ( even if the fireplace wouldn't keep the entire house warm we could, at least, sit in front of it, wearing sweaters and long johns, and rub our hands over the burning logs).

After hauling the wood into the house, I went into the old living room to see about the woodstove. While it was still there, I hadn’t bothered to connect it to the chimney this year.

I measured how much stove pipe I would need to hook it up and then went out to the truck and started it up with the idea of driving over to hardware store in Marshall for the pipe.

Only, by the time I put up the measuring tape and grabbed my jacket off the coat rack, and by the time I'd walked out to my truck, started it up, turned on the heater and put it in gear. a NOVEC repair truck was coming down the driveway toward the house.

NOVEC, in less than an hour had received our call for help, processed the call. Notified a repairman (actually two). They had got in their truck, left the NOVEC equipment yard on the Manassas side of Gainesville, had driven through Haymarket, down Antioch, turned at the intersection at Waterfall. Driven the truck over Hopewell Gap turned down our driveay, crossed the creek.

And they were there. In less than an hour from getting a call they were on our driveway looking up at the telephone poles figuring out what had happened to cause the electricity to go out.

Wow. Not to make a big deal out of it, but that was something. I’m in awe. Actually having a utility that responds.

I told the guys in the truck about the explosion, the light and they both just nodded their head.

Pointing under one of the electric poles, one of the repair guys spoke.

“There's your problem. See him?”

I looked.

And there, next to the lettuce, by the telephone pole was the terrorist.

A large squirrel.

A large fried squirrel.

The saboteur. The sneaking squirrel saboteur had apparently climbed our telephone pole and, probably, hanging from one wire touched the other with his feet. Maybe even touching the phone line.

And, Bam.

A bright explosion.

A toasted modem and, somewhere, several poles away, a blown line fuse.

'It happens all the time.' the other repairman said. "We'll have the power back on for you in a few minutes."

And they did.