Sunday, September 27, 2009

Just call me Dr. Doolittle

Over the last few years, I've picked up a little bit of chicken-speak. I'm not fluent and I understand it better than I speak it. Chickens have a wider range of vocalizations than you probably realize.

I was pleasantly amused at the newfound hen's reaction when I "spoke chicken" to her. Her head whipped around and she got right in my face and just stared at me. Like an ape scientist finding out Charlton Heston can talk. She was flabbergasted. Or, at least she looked flabbergasted. To be honest, chickens always kinda looked flabbergasted.

I've named her Serendipity - Sarah for short.

I also had a cool interaction with a bird of a different feather this afternoon - a turkey vulture. They are very common here. I see them almost daily, up to twenty at a time, lazily circling the sky and playing in the thermals. Since I live on a hill, I often get to look down on them as well.

Today, as I burning off trash outside, a few of the vultures came in low over the treeless yard. When one was almost overhead, I whistled at it. It came to a stop and hovered directly above my head, about 30 feet from the ground. I whistled again.

"Aaaak," it replied without a hint of melody. The huge bird hovered for another second or two before flying off to rejoin the others.

Not once in the almost three years I've been here have those vultures uttered a sound. That was so cool.

Now if I could just get the cats to listen to me...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

It was bound to happen

Today, after locking up the chickens for the night, I walked towards the road to check the mailbox. Imagine my surprise when I saw a white chicken roaming in the nearby grass. All the birds had been present and accounted for when I locked the door. Who was this new hen? I'd never seen her before.

It took me about 15 minutes to catch her. She was in an overgrown area where the weeds are up to five feet high. I wasn't thrilled about traipsing through the thick brush in shorts and flip flops, especially since it was only a couple weeks ago I came across a six-foot rattlesnake as big around as my arm not far from this very spot.

Since I'd already given all the feed in my bucket to the other chickens, I cracked a couple freshly-gathered eggs onto the ground to distract the cats and used the shells to attract the stray hen (chickens love eggshells). I finally got close enough to grab her.

I carried her up to the house and put her in a cage usually reserved for sick birds. In a day or so I will introduce her to the rest of the flock. She's currently munching down on pellet feed, watermelon and blueberries.

She looks young. I'm guessing she's a fryer - maybe six to eight weeks old. Probably fell off a poultry truck headed for the slaughterhouse. Though I'd like to think that word about my place has spread amongst the area factory chickens and Spenardo del Sur is now a terminus on the underground chicken railroad.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Water Woes

My good friend Emil from Alaska has been visiting for the last week. We originally had grand plans to soak up local color with day trips to farmers markets, a local winery, the highest point in Alabama (a paltry 2407 feet), and whatever roadside attractions we happened upon.

Instead, we have been soaking up water leaking from the water heater and making day trips to hardware stores.

While I'm bummed that this happened during Emil's visit, I'm glad he was here when it happened. I know nothing about plumbing. I know how to turn off the water to the house and I can put a pan under a drip. That's about it.

Thanks to Emil, I have running water again. If it wasn't for him, I'd be getting cold water only from the outside spigot until I saved up enough money for a plumber. Oh, say...four months. Believe it or not, I actually have things on my list of things to do that supersede hot & cold running water. Poverty sucks. But a great friend who knows how to fix stuff and will spend half his vacation fixing your stuff is priceless.

So we spent a few days living a rustic lifestyle. Or perhaps it was more like luxury camping. No running water except for the outside spigot. Buckets of water to flush the toilet. Pitchers of water lined up on the counter. Plus, all the flies that got in the house when we drained the hot water heater with a garden hose out the kitchen door. Ah...welcome to country living!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Good work if you can get it

Picked up a little work recently helping to take care of an elderly neighbor. For a frail old lady of 88 years and 75 pounds, she's a feisty one.

If I turn my back on her for a couple minutes, she'll be out the door to weed the flowerbed or in the kitchen pulling heavy cast iron pans out of the cabinets to cook lunch. I'll ask her if I can do it for her but she'll always reply "No. But you can help if you want."

I used to be able to keep track of her by the sound of her walker scraping across the floor. Now she's got those tennis ball things on the ends of it and it's much quieter so I have to get visual confirmation of her whereabouts more frequently. I keep telling her I'm gonna put a bell around her neck.

I'm basically there to make sure she doesn't fall or hurt herself. It also gives her family members a break from having to watch her all the time. And I work a helluva lot cheaper than a real in-home care provider. I'm being partially paid in literal chickenfeed - I get to keep the old food I clean out of the refrigerator and cabinets. For the record, chickens don't really care for Froot Loops.

I do some light cleaning and take care of the ironing (she does the laundry herself). I let her do pretty much whatever she wants (as if I could stop her) and just drop whatever I'm doing when she decides she wants to weed the flowerbed/get something from the storage building/deep fry some okra.

One time she decided she wanted to sweep the carport. I followed her out, explaining that I'd be happy to sweep it. "No. I need the exercise. But you can come keep me company."

So while this tiny old woman held onto her walker with one hand and a broom with the other, I was smoking a cigarette and driving the motorized scooter around in circles, thinking This can't look good.

Sometimes we sit and talk. She tells me stories of what life here was like here when she was a little girl in a flour sack dress. She tells me how horrible it is to grow old and become a burden to your children. I remind her of all the dirty butts and runny noses she's wiped as well as the three days of labor she endured during the birth of her daughter and tell her They owe you. This makes her smile. "They owe me."

We take our blood pressure together and then compare results. Her last reading was 208 over 90 and yet she gave me shit for my 127 over 84. But I don't mind because this is the closest thing I have to health care.