Sunday, March 11, 2012:
Spring is putting its nose through the climactic door with the full moon. Today temperatures reached into the sixties, the sky was almost cloudless, and consequently all our winter-bleached faces and arms are wearing red, and stinging just a little. We prepared raised bed number two last week and put hoops over it, and tomorrow we’ll begin sowing spring lettuce and carrots. Baby Belle is due to calve this month, and some of the steers will go out to their summer pasture. Already the south pasture is showing a mist of green, and the animals must be fenced off it to let the young grass get some height to it.
The Sow’s Ear came to us seventeen years ago today.
Some noises can wake you out of a sound sleep. For a mother, one of these is the sound of a child beginning to retch. This can rouse a woman from a sound sleep and materialize her with a bath towel in her hand in a room one floor and two closed doors away, in time to catch vomit from a child too sick to make it to the bathroom. Every mother knows that while it is disgusting catching vomit in a towel, it is much more disgusting having to wash it out of bedsheets at two o’clock in the morning. The ringing of a telephone can move a toddler to light speed, especially if he has previously been forbidden to answer the phone. And for the farm wife, the squawking of a chicken in fear for its life can cause her to rocket from her warm sheets like a rising pheasant and sprint through a dark house vaulting furniture, bringing up barefoot in the snow against the back fence from which she has a more-or-less clear view of the chicken house.
Such was the event of last Friday night.
We straggled in in shifts Friday night, all tired and fuzzy-minded from the second day of pig butchering. Little wonder S-4 and Mom, unofficial custodians of the chicken house, forgot to shut the poultry door. It is an easy matter to close it, most nights, the small door being hinged at the top, and the hook and eye closure being released by pulling a handle and string which run up the back of the hill to the woodshed behind the house. Fifteen steps from the back door, on the west side of the woodshed, and a quick yank results in the satisfying thump of the door closing. It is a model of technology which is commensurate with its job. But, as I say, Mom forgot about it. We washed off the worst of the smells and stains, set all the alarm clocks in the house for an early hour, and fell into our beds and a sound sleep.
Four o’clock ack emma something goes off outside like all the Iroquois in the New World roasting a convention of Jesuits. From vague pig-dreams of scraping sausage casings (find more on this uplifting subject under Pig Butchering) the farm wife passes instantaneously to a state of multiple awarenesses, of her unclosed chicken house door, of her neighbor the fox on the ridge of the south hill, that she is half-way down the basement stairs, and that, once she pulls the string and shuts the fox in the chicken house with the poultry, she is going to have to get a gun and go shoot the bloodthirsty canine. Something she has often expressed, vehemently, a desire to do, but which would go better on a full stomach and a beer, not in pajamas and bare feet in half-an-inch of snow.
She reaches the fence in a state of adrenal shock and leans over the frosty honeysuckle.
The night is silent as the tomb and the chicken door is closed. The full moon would reveal such in any case, but as it happens the timer for the chickens’ night light has gotten bumped and no one has bothered to set it right. The sixty-watt bulb which is glowing through two layers of six-mil plastic sheeting on the windows also shines dimly through the hens’ door when it is open, and it is not open. It is demurely, completely, and properly closed. And, as I say, the night is without a sound.
What am I doing down here in my pajamas?
Already almost asleep again, the farm wife falls back into bed with some notion that the three tom cats who keep our rodent population in submission must have been testing their yowls again. Darkness descends on body and mind, for about three minutes. Then the Iroquois attack is renewed.
Not being taken so completely by surprise, this time the farm wife is able to assess the noise as coming not from the back of the house, but from the west side, and she investigates through a window. The moonlight, as has already been observed, is at its best and brightest, and the front yard reveals two rat terriers in a state of some excitement. Also more of the blood-chilling noises. With a whispered command to the four-year old Sherlock who has joined her to go back to bed and be quiet, she takes the cold stairs for the second time. The frosty gravel drive is like knives to bare feet. The dogs want to play. The noise has stopped again. But, nattering up and down on the wrong side of the white picket fence in the moonlight is one adolescent Rhode Island Red, somnambulating. And nothing to show what she is doing there. She seems to be unharmed, and with a sleepy logic which will later evade me, I shove her into one of the dog houses on the porch, block it up with an abandoned sled, and go back to bed. And, believe it or not, to sleep. I confide my nocturnal adventures to S-3 when we meet over the milk bucket in the morning, and then forget about it.
He returns to the house twenty-five minutes later with the milk and the report that there are in the barnyard one dead RI Red, and one on the injured list. Speculation is that the miniature horse Bridget, who is never happy if she is not annoying someone, must have knocked the chicken door shut in one of her forays into the poultry yard. Fifteen of the layers have spent the night on the chicken house steps. Some local predator, ‘possum being my favorite candidate since the corpse is undamaged, if an undamaged corpse is not an oxymoron, has made a raid on my birds. The dead and wounded may not be the only casualties; other birds may be missing. The chicken which I found sleepwalking on the parking area is still a puzzle; how, frightened from sleep in the middle of the night, did she move herself seventy horizontal and fifteen vertical yards, not to mention at least three fences, to the north?
To those who know chickens, this implies both more decision and more resiliency of purpose than is commensurate with the chicken psyche.
The four hogs hung in at one-thousand seventy-three pounds, and were some twenty-two hours in the processing. The hams and sides are brining, and the freezers bulge with pork. We grilled chops for dinner to celebrate.
We spend our time in funny ways, but we eat really well.