Sunshine, Twisters, and Thunderstorms

“There is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside of it.”
– George Elliot, Middlemarch.

February

It isn’t as warm as yesterday, but I cannot call it cold.  As of morning chores, the thermometer was flirting with 50 degrees, unseasonably warm for Midwestern Februarys.   Walking to the barn in just a sweatshirt is a rare treat.  The day is overcast; my weather app tells me that it will drop back down into the 30s tomorrow.

The squirrels seems to be celebrating this momentary gift of warmth. I watch two of them flitting through the trees like little furry ninjas, taking aerial leaps from tree to tree, branch to branch, that I wouldn’t have thought possible.  I can’t help but laugh aloud, pausing for several minutes to stand and watch them as they chitter back and forth, oblivious to my presence.

The horses, llamas, ponies, alpacas, chickens, and even barn cats are likewise “feeling their oats.”  They all seems especially enthusiastic today; whether playing or eating or just napping in the sun, they are going about their business with a little bit of sunshine in their step.  So am I.

It’s temporary; I know, but when February gives you light, you let that light in.

March

The day has been gray.  The weather forecast warned me that rain is likely, but things are warm and dry as I go about most of my day, and I forget about the impending squall.  The text from my mother warning me about the oncoming storm stops me in the middle of cooking dinner; I run to the barn, hoping to settle the animals in for the night before the thunderstorm makes it to the ranch.  The storm begins to blow in as I run up the barn lane. My solitary set of winds chimes tolls a panicked warning; they ring out loud and angry and dissonant.  The same wind rattles my aluminum gates in their hinges, creaking and crashing.  The trees swayed back and forth, deep roots digging in against the front coming out of the west.  I wonder briefly if any of them will fall.

Rain comes down cold and heavy on my shoulders as I roll open my barn doors and begin ticking chores off my list.  Shut the barn cats inside their tack room.  Shut the chickens into their coop.

Sirens begin blaring as I fill hay nets.  That means that a tornado has been sighted in the county.  I glance outside; the sky bares no tell-tale signs of a twister. The heavens are angry, to be sure, but dark gray, not green.  The wind is frenzied.  My Midwestern upbringing has taught me that the sky to worry about is a calm green one.  I glance at my weather app and confirm that the touch down was on the other side of the county, miles and miles away.  I make hasty work of the last few hay nets, and, comfortable that everyone is as well set to weather the storm as I can make them, I run back through the downpour to the comfort of the house.

The sounds of the storm wake me several times throughout the night.  Hail pinging on a metal roof, thunder crashing in the distance, wind and rain railing against every corner of the house as the winds shift direction.  I lie in bed and pray for my creatures, hoping they have the sense to go inside.  Hoping that no trees fall and take down fences.  Hoping no more twisters are born of this storm system.  I fall back asleep as the rain continues down.

April

April showers are said to bring May flowers, but so far they are only bringing me mud.  The two horses in the main barn have churned up their paddock so badly that I have ankle deep mud to contend with every time I have to get to the chicken coop.  Of course, that’s inconvenient, but the bigger problem is the way they tend to slip around.  I picture them falling, and worry that someone will get hurt…whether that someone would be one of them, or me, is yet to be seen.  I decide to move them in with the other horses in the back pasture to keep all of us safer.

My world is wet and damp.  The rain is unrelenting from the end of March through the first part of April.  Everything is more difficult in the mud, from chores every morning to keeping my tile floors clean against the dogs’ muddy paws.  The mud makes me irrationally angry every time I have to slog through it. There’s a crack in my rubber boots that lets cold, mucky water in when I step.  I really need to replace those…

If I were to begin building an ark up here, high on the ridge above the Illinois River, no one would even blink.  The animals barely step out of the barn, and they are as cranky as I am.  The forecast says that the rain will end soon, but it feels like it will keep falling down forever.

The daffodils are up along the farm road.  Yellow and bright against the new green grass that I’ve been waiting for.  The sun is out, and the animals spend their time outside.  They are decidedly happier than they have been in weeks.  I still need to replace those boots, but the mud is no longer deep enough to seep in through the crack.  Things are warming up, sprouting up, waking up, and coming to life all around me.  The warm weather wakes me up too.  Months of cold and damp and dark are coming to an end.  I feel lighter.  The anger from the mud is wearing off as things dry.  Of course, the storms will still come–they always do–but when April give you light, you let that light in.

A little bit of kindness and a tiny chicken

Let me be crystal clear: I didn’t NEED any more chickens.  Cluckingham Palace is currently home to 11 laying chickens, 1 lavender turkey hen, and, of course, Arthur of Camelot.  I currently collect more eggs than I can personally use, and I’ve been pretty open about the fact that eggs cost more to raise than to buy.

I know all of these things, but I have a mild case of chicken math disorder…which is basically a psychological disorder, and every Spring I seem to manage to fill up a brooder.  There are some very reasonable arguments for doing so.  (Chickens lay fewer eggs as they age.  If you free-range, it is understood that you will lose an occasional hen to predators, etc.)  But, when you get right down to it,  I know that the real reason I keep buying chickens is that I like having chickens hanging around and that itty-bitty chicks are basically the cutest things ever in the history of all time; all of the other reasons are ancillary.

I had debated ordering chicks from mypetchicken again this year–I’ve been wanting a few rare breeds for several years that I know I can get through a hatchery order–but all of that went out the window when I walked into my feed store and realized that they had ordered in more than a dozen different types of chick this year.

You see, as it turns out, I have no real self-control.  Though I admirably resisted all of the cute, little fluffy-butts the first time I saw them, it couldn’t last.  A couple of weeks later, I made the mistake of going in to pick up feed while I was having a bad day; I left the store with two chick crates (10 chicks).

img_7101-1
Chicks Riding Shotgun

Chicks require special care for about a month and a half.  It usually takes about six weeks for chicks to lose the fluff and grow their adult feathers.  Until then, they have to live away from the other chickens and be kept warm and safe.  For my chicks, that means living in my basement for at least that first six weeks.  I settled my new chick-kids into their brooder that afternoon with lots of food, clean water, bedding, and appropriate heat lamps.

img_7103

I don’t worry much about my adult chickens.  Though I have an occasional issue–and I’m lucky enough to have a vet who will treat poultry–chickens tend to be pretty hardy.  Chicks are another matter entirely.  They are sensitive to heat, cold, changes in food, and stress.  Issues can arise pretty quickly, and they can be hard to successfully treat.  So, when I found one of my chicks acting lethargic about a day and a half later, I didn’t waste time.

It was already late when I found little one, but, despite the hour, I picked her up out of the brooder and took her upstairs with me.  She had “pasty butt” which can be a symptom of a bigger issue or the issue itself, so I cleaned her up, offered her some water, and tucked her into my shirt so I could keep her warm and keep an eye on her at the same time.  I didn’t want put her back in the brooder for fear that the other chicks would pick on her (it’s common for them to pick on sick birds), so I held her next to me, occasionally dipping her beak in water so she could drink and hoping she would take a turn for the better.

The two of us watched Netflix until I almost couldn’t keep my eyes open, and at three am, I put her back in her brooder, a small towel around her to give her some space from the other chicks.

The next morning, I awoke groggy and later than usual, but I went downstairs to check on my little one first thing.  She was still hanging on, but had pasted over again.  I picked her up, brought her upstairs, and cleaned her up again.  Then she and I settled into my couch for the morning.

img_7119

I would read between offering her water or food.

She would occasionally perk up.  The cats would act incredulous that I had a chick on their couch.

I called off work to stay with her, and I spent the morning with her, letting her bask in the sunlight.  I took a quick break from my reading and her basking to attend to my barn, but beyond that, I held her for most of the day.

That evening, I asked my sister to come over to “chick sit” so I could do my second round of barn chores.  God bless her, she came and sat on my bed holding a baby chicken for about an hour while I took care of things outside.  By then I wasn’t optimistic about the little one’s chances, but I didn’t want her to be alone.

Little one passed that evening.  She was warm and safe.  She hadn’t been picked on by the other chicks.  She hadn’t died of dehydration.  She had known what it was like to bask in the sunshine.

You get used to losing animals when you do what I do.  Or, rather, maybe you don’t entirely get used to it, but you learn to accept it.  With little one, I had honestly resigned myself to losing her fairly early on–I knew pretty well what was coming–but I had made the decision to keep holding her and to keep trying anyway, because it was the right thing to do, and I believe that matters.

In my mind, kindness matters.  It matters no matter how loud or how quiet it is.  Kindness matters every time it’s given, whether to a person or a stray dog or a dying chick.  And it matters even when it doesn’t make a “real” difference in how things turn out.

The fact that little one knew what it was like to bask in the sunshine matters.  I really believe that.  I think that every good thing makes the world a better place.  Every act of kindness, no matter how very, very small, no matter how insignificant it may seem, makes the world a little kinder.

In a world where you can be anything, please be kind.

 

The Adventures of Kahn

DSC_1049

Kahn was someone’s house cat once.  I’m almost sure of it.  Feral cats don’t come to humans to ask for help, which is just what he was doing when he and I first met.  It was the coldest, darkest part of winter, more than a year before we took over at the ranch.  I was helping to keep an eye on things while the owners were away, doing evening chores and hanging out with a friend, Katie, who had come along to keep me company.

The night was quiet, so we heard the his cries from outside the shut barn door.  Katie slid it open to find a battered-looking, black cat standing just out of reach.  It was snowy, and he was cold.  His inky fur was rough and made him stand in stark contrast to the snow.  He held one foot above the cold ground, obviously wounded and infected.  His right eye was swollen nearly shut, and despite his size–Kahn is a big cat–he was desperately underweight and looked very small.  He continued to cry as we looked on, but skirted us.  Nervous and scared but pleading for help. Continue reading “The Adventures of Kahn”