Friday, April 11, 2008

male grouse, blue birds and other dumb behavior

Outside my window I see our car parked under the pear tree. And there’s a blue bird on a lower limb of the tree.

A male blue bird with its bright shiny blue and rusty red feathers.

And every few minutes, there he goes, up in the air, hovers outside the car window. And then...

He attacks.

Attacking what? I don't know. I'm not a bird, not a male bluebird. I can only make a human guess.

Maybe that bluebird reflection in the window?

All's I can say is, with any confidence, he's nuts,

Male bird nuts.

But then, that's nothing new. this is the season, the time of year for nutty bird behavior.

Back several decades ago, when I was teaching at a local high school, most days I would have to leave the farm around seven in the morning. except though for the nutty bird time of year.

Then, I would have to account for the grouse delay.

Have you ever seen the local grouse? I think it’s called a ruffed grouse (though we always called it a wood grouse). Usually not a very descript bird. (because usually you don’t see it for more than a second or two after you have stumbled across one out in the woods and it has decided to take off, running and flying, just as fast as it can).

From my memory kind of a round bird maybe a foot or two high with whitish specks on his mostly brown feathers.

But it’s a completely different bird I would see on the driveway. This would be a male ruffed grouse in mating season. And a male grouse in mating season, is like our bluebird or for that matter most male birds in mating season.

They have no sense.

Instead of worrying about personal survival they are doing what we always hear big named politicians are worried about. They are thinking about posterity.

So, here I am, late as usual (well I can make it over to the high school on time if I catch all the lights just right and remember, this was before the area’s perpetual gridlock) and as I turn the corner, right where that old maple tree is, right out in front of me is this dumber than dumb bird.

The 'male ruffed grouse in mating season'.

Standing right in the middle of the driveway.

But he doesn’t looked like your usual grouse. This one is beautiful..

He has this large red tail all fanned out.

The feathers around his neck puff up,

for some reason he looks larger and more beautiful than any grouse I have ever seen. His feathers just glistened, his posture was immaculate.

And he’s doing a dance.

Right there in the driveway.

I stopped the truck five feet, maybe ten feet away and he doesn’t see I’m there (back then I was driving one of those little toyota four wheel drives).

Something that should make a wild bird get out of the driveway.

Instead, he doesn't seem to know I'm there. Instead he’s doing, what looks like, an elaborate dance step. Two steps forward, one to the left, two to the right, turn and repeat yourself (or something like that).

He would dip and bow but he wouldn’t get out of the road.

I sat there in the truck watching. This is something to see. But at the same time I need to get to work. It’s time for him to get out of the road.

I honk the horn.

No movement.

The dance continues.

Now, I’m thinking, he’s not doing all this for himself, is he? I mean, there must be an audience.

So I look around. Let’s say this is Monday.

I don’t’ see anything.

Finally, I get out of the truck and walk up to him, forcing him to move off of the dance floor and back into the woods.


Only the next day as I’m rushing to school again. I was on time the day before. (I’m always on time, even if I cut it short) and there again is the grouse. Looking just as beautiful, if not more so, than the day before.

He’s doing the same steps, in the same place at the same time. (heck, maybe the dance steps are more complicated than the day before. I'm no judge of that sort of thing).

And there’s still no audience that I can see.

I get out and run him off.

And the next day. Only this time when I get out of the truck I see something, someone off in the woods. I think its another grouse, only not like the beautiful male. This one is plain like the ones you see out hiking.

It’s a female and she’s apparently watching this dance from 20 some yards away.

But I only get a glimpse of her before she disappears.

And while I do hate to interrupt true love, my principal comes from the city and wouldn’t understand this as an excuse for being late. I scoot the grouse out of the road and leave.

The next day I leave earlier, this time just for the show, and not only is he doing his dance but she has come to the edge of the woods to watch. She is right there. Not taking part at all but apparently being entertained.

And he’s doing his steps, back and forth, back and forth, turning a circle, dipping standing up tall. And his audience, I think, took a couple steps closer and just as she does, the dancer stops dancing and in a flash is was over and he took off running toward her

And she...

The best I could figure out was she wasn’t ready for the dance to be over yet, or maybe, which is more likely, I don’t understand birds, because she turned and ran. In fact they both took off running, him right behind her, off into the woods.

And was it last year that we were harvesting the garlic and one of the guys picked up four baby grouse and put them in a bucket?

When I saw I tried to let them go. Putting them back out in the garlic, but they were still there the next day. Apparently the mother had deserted them.

We raised them first in a box in the back room and then out with the chickens. Two of them grew up to be almost adult size and then one day, without notice, they were gone. No longer in the chicken yard.

I wonder what happened? Was there some call, sort of like the spring male bird notice, that told them it was time to go off, make a home in the woods? or what?

Anyway, here on the farm its’ that time of year. Work has suddenly blossomed. We could now work 24/7 only for most of this week the ground was too wet to do anything.

We couldn’t even go out and plow.

Finally yesterday one of the fields was dry enough to drive the small tractor over it so we started planting onions. Can you imagine what it is like to put 20,000 spring onions in the ground one at a time? Well, that’s sort of what we are doing, only the onion seedlings are much smaller than the spring onions you’ll find in the store.

And while once we planted them by by hand, first digging a little trench by hand, then placing each seedling in the ground, by hand, one after the other after the other. Then taking a hoe and covering the roots one after the other. and then going back with a hose and watering each one.

We now have a piece of equipment that is pulled behind the tractor. And one part digs a trench, then there is a wheel with a dozen clamps that open and close. Two guys sit on the back of the machine taking the seedlings, one at a time, putting them in the clamps.

The wheel turns and the seedlings are put down in the trench.

On the equipment there is a tank for water and under the tank is a hose that drips water in the trench, watering the seedlings.

And at the end there is another blade that fills in the trench leaving the onions standing tall and proud. Their roots in the soil, water on their roots, and the hole they were planted in all filled in.

In other words, its still a lot of work, but instead of making four passes like we did before. Now with the seeder (I think it originally costs $5000) we do the same thing, only better, and in only one pass. Which I guess means doing it better and four times faster.

But even if its faster it still takes an awfully long time. We worked for 8 hours planting onions yesterday and only planted 40% of them. Right after lunch, and as soon as I get this newsletter finished. We’ll spend another 5 hours planting.

This morning we were hooking up the irrigation system for the onions. Drip tape. Which puts the water right on the onions and not on the weeds growing between the rows.

We also have been planting several hundred rosemary, lavender and French tarragon seedlings that we bought from a plant grower. I never have luck starting rosemary from seed and the plants I do start usually don’t over winter. This year should be different.

And while we have Russian Tarragon, which we start from a seed, French Tarragon must be started from a plant. This will be relatively new for us. We haven’t had Rosemarie or French Tarragon since our old herb garden which was destroyed by construction trucks about half a dozen years ago when we started rebuilding the house.

Eggs? Please come out. (Saturday 11-1 or by arrangement). I think the chickens are up to ten dozen a day.

Asparagus? Not ready. Asparagus, I’ve observed, really hates cold damp soil and just doesn’t come up until the grounds at least dried up some. We moved the geese off the asparagus bed earlier this week and cultivated but there was not a sign of a spear in the large asparagus bed yet.

Payments and waiting list? It looks to me like there might be three dozen openings. Probably I will have time this weekend to go through my database and look to see who hasn’t paid, compare that with who has worked out a payment plan and then I will send out a notice (no one will be dropped just because they spaced it out). So, the people on the waiting list, I will get back to you by the middle of next week telling you if there is an opening or not. And everyone that’s a 2008 shareholder, there is no problem with your share unless I send you a notice this coming week.

I usually start putting seedlings in the ground on April 15th. That’s what I’ve come to think of as the ‘last frost of the season’ Looking at the weather forecast that looks close. They are forecasting a low of 34 degrees Monday and Tuesday nights. That’s a little too close to freezing for comfort.

Which means next week we’ll probably start planting on Wednesday.

And now, let me run out and start planting onions.


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