Posted by: morrowsl | August 7, 2020

On Channeling My Inner Hippy, Chapter Two

The first batch of calendula flowers I immersed in olive oil grew mold. Since that wasn’t exactly what I was going for, I tossed them in the compost bin and started over. The trick is to totally submerge the flower heads in the oil, leaving no air space and nothing poking up. In the photo you can see the air space between the oil and the rim of the jar. You can even see one flower stem poking up through the oil. Prime location for mold growth. Lesson learned.

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Calendula flower heads immersed in olive oil

Once I got the trick of immersing the flower heads, I set the jar in the pantry, with the anticipated processing date written on the lid. I ended up going over by a couple of weeks, but that really doesn’t matter. The flowers need at least 28 days to properly infuse the oil. More time just means better infusion.

I followed the advice of two women when making my salve.

Morag Gamble is a fascinating person with over two decades of experience in sustainable living. Her video instructions for making calendula salve are simple and easy to follow. She has a three-part series on calendula plants.
Lisa Steele hosts the website Fresh Eggs Daily along with a television show about her Maine farm. I firmly believe her ideas regarding chicken feed to be the reason my girls are healthy and happy. Her method for making calendula salve is on her Facebook page.

And, of course, I called my sister to see if she would make the salve with me, since a) I wanted to include her in the process because it would be fun, and b) who else would indulge me so willingly?

I had not yet strained the oil I made, so we used cheesecloth to do that. I would suggest you buy a cheap strainer for this part. It will go much faster and with a lot less mess.

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Assembled ingredients

We took turns grating the beeswax, since it was slow going. I don’t think it needs to be grated so fine as we did it. You can probably get by with just shaving off curls of it. Just don’t try to melt huge chunks.
After the first batch, we had the entire process committed to memory. We ended up with three batches, which filled all the containers I’d brought as well as a half-pint jar she had to hand. In future, I will likely use more large containers for Sister and myself.

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Melting the beeswax in the combined oils.

Once we poured the liquid salve into the containers, it took an hour or so for it to resolidify. The oils keep the beeswax from getting hard again, much like the water in alcohol keeps your frozen margarita from becoming an ice cube.

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First batch completed.

I had intended to give these containers as gifts, to let people see if they liked the salve and trusted it’s capabilities. I’ve given them to family, and to Director Neighbor Girl, so far. I may include a few tins with my egg deliveries as well.
I want to investigate using lavender and essential oils too, although the coconut oil in this recipe lent a delicious fragrance to the salve. Sister added patchouli to her jar.

So far, I’ve tried the salve on cuts and scratches, a bee sting, liver spots, my saggy elbow skin, mosquito bites, and my and Mike’s toes. It doesn’t help with the itch of the bites, but it did seem to help reduce the swelling. The jury is still out on the liver spots, but the elbow skin (and my hands and arms) are much smoother. Morag swears by its healing properties for “nappy rash” but since I don’t have a baby to try it on, I’ll take her word for that. Another great use I have yet to test is sunburn. But I will be taking some to a fisherman I know, so he can report back on how it works for that.
Best of all, I had just the start of a toenail fungus on my left big toe and a split nail on another toe, both of which are gone now! So, for my uses anyway, I’m calling it an amazing wonder cure.

Calendula Salve
1/2 cup calendula infused oil
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup grated beeswax

Note:
Morag adds cocoa butter to hers and I think that’s how she gets the more pastel yellow color and less oily salve.  Just a teaspoon or two will do.
We added the oil from two gel caps of vitamin E, but that is optional.
You can also add essential oils, but may need to add more beeswax or cocoa butter to make it smooth.

I won’t go into the actual process here as it is well documented by the two references given.

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Completely cooled and ready for use.

Posted by: morrowsl | May 27, 2020

On Channeling My Inner Hippy

There was a time when the idea of making all of my own “stuff” held great appeal. Then I had kids and realized that I could make baby food and children’s clothing, or I could shower and clean the toilets.

I was never really meant to be one of those moms who baked her own bread while my laundry dried on the line and my barefoot children played happily outside in the shade of my perfectly grown trees next to my lush garden and flowerbeds.

I was more Kitty Forman than June Cleaver.

But I can do that now. Now that my kids are adults and have their own kids. Now that my days aren’t filled with the stresses of a job away from home with its alarm clocks and hot rollers and commute.  Now that I don’t have to spend my evenings meal planning and my weekends getting ready for the week to come.

Now that shaving my legs happens when I want to do it instead of when I have to.

I have to confess, I owe this new mindset, at least somewhat, to the Pandemic. All this time spent at home with no social demands has given me time to consider what I really want to do with my remaining days. I know some people have used their time for reading or learning Tai Chi or home renovations. And I’ve done a few of those things too.

But, I’ve come to realize that “when this is over” means something totally different for me than it does for others.

I’m already retired. I already spend most of my days at home. I’ve spent the last three and a half years getting my home and my garden and my flowerbeds like I want them.

So, on my list of new things will go some of the old things I stopped doing years ago when life was getting in the way of living. Things I have the patience for now. Things that, should they end up failing, will be tried again until they succeed.

We’ll see where it takes me.

For today, I’ve picked some Calendula flowers, allowed them to dry a bit, and am soaking them in a jar of organic olive oil. In late June, I’ll strain the oil and mix it with melted beeswax and cocoa butter and make a salve for healing cuts and scratches on humans and chickens.

Posted by: morrowsl | May 9, 2020

One Woman’s Trash…

My sister has always been one of those women who can open the pantry and find dinner. I don’t know if that’s because she keeps a well-stocked pantry or if she just has a knack for putting things together that taste good. But it is a gift I do not possess.

No recipe, no dinner.

So it stands to reason that my sister is also capable of looking at the odd bit of junk or trash and seeing endless possibilities. Although, sometimes she does just copy what she’s seen elsewhere or learned about from a friend.

Take, for instance, my hanging basket. Sister named her Janira, after the friend who presented the idea.

B and Nira took white plastic laundry detergent bottles and painted faces on them, planted them with plants that would shoot out or cascade, added macrame hangers, and voila!

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Janira, with her purple hair.

Likewise, I recently needed to run down to Sister’s house to deliver eggs. For some reason I can’t recall now, I opened the back of the van and there, where it’s been since Sheli and J moved out of their old apartment, lay the metal caddy that once hung in their shower. Initially, I had thought it would work in my upstairs shower, but it didn’t. Finding no other reasonable use for it, I stuck it in the van to take to the dump.
I held it up for Sister to look at and, almost simultaneously, we cried “PLANTER!”

She, of course, had to do the actual planting since she’s really good at getting succulents to anchor in shallow places. Plus, she has all the really cool bits to decorate with.

All that needs doing is for Mike to mount the hook this planter will hang on!

Posted by: morrowsl | April 6, 2020

Spring Hopefuls

I took a little spin outside yesterday…

And it felt like the flowers were trying to tell me…

Not to fret over all this rain we’ve been getting…

Because the Larkspurs love the showers and will fill the empty spaces.

Posted by: morrowsl | February 3, 2020

A Dream, Revisited

I offered to floor plan the rooms of our oldest daughter’s new apartment recently. They aren’t moving for awhile and they’re gaining a good bit of space, so it will help her better plan what needs to go where ahead of time. It will also save on having to place and replace heavy stuff, thus saving on the cost of the move.

I sort of floor planned the rooms of the Remote house ahead of our move, but we have so little wall space here it was a given that certain pieces were going in certain places. Even with that, it’s been years since I really sat down to a sheet of vellum and a sharp lead.

I realized pretty quickly that it’d been longer than I’d thought.

I can no longer actually see the measurements on my scale ruler. I can see the numbers for each quarter-inch mark, but forget any attempts to find individual inches!

No worries. It’s an apartment, not a museum. I would just round up and she’d have plenty of space.

I remembered as soon as I started pulling out my tools that two things were missing from my bag, the result of no longer working in the environment where such things were everyday items. I no longer have the card stock quarter-inch graph boards I used to tape the vellum to. Each board was rigid and provided a solid and smooth surface for laying out lines. They were the same size as a sheet of vellum, so getting things perfectly straight was a snap. Nor do I own a sheet of the exceptionally fine vellum used in the studio. It was so incredibly thin you could probably have put on make-up with a sheet of it between your face and your mirror. Not that I ever wore much make-up. But still.

I found a thin piece of cardboard and taped a sheet of quarter-inch grid paper to that. I had several packages of vellum. Apparently I’d spent a bit of time trying to find any thin enough to suit me once I no longer had access to the weight I’d been taught to use. Within the stack of packages, I found an unexpected surprise.

A thirty-seven year old dream, in two parts. What is amazing is how very close to the dream my reality landed.

For years I bought Country Living and Country Home magazines and spent countless hours pursuing their pages, dreaming of owning a home far away from the city. Our farm provided the perfect location, but the economy kept us from making it a reality.
Still, I’d sit for hours combing the photos on each page, looking at the details and dreaming of someday having a quiet little house surrounded by woods and fields.

One issue in particular claimed my heart. Instead of recycling it, I stuck it in a closet. At some point, it found its way into the stack of vellum packages.
The house in the article was a typical farmhouse with a small front porch, a second floor, wood floors and high windows. But it was the two “guest” cottages that drew me in. I could well imagine one sitting just to the side of the pond on the farm and one farther down, near the woods.

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Country Home Sept 1983 $2.50

I loved the kitchen with its gas cook stove, butcher block island, and casement window.

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The cottages and outhouse

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Grandpa’s cottage

 

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The wood stove would keep this space warm.

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Small and inviting.

When we lost my father-in-law to a stroke, it began to look as though the dream might actually come true. I remember gutting each closet of our home of almost four decades, packing all the non-essentials and renting a storage unit for the boxes.
Within an amazingly short time, my sweetheart mother-in-law went into a full-care facility. Alzheimer’s claimed her mind and, eventually, her body as well.
At the same time, we started getting grandkids and the idea of moving multiple states away from them was heartbreaking to imagine.

We toyed with the idea of updating the house at the farm and living there part-time. Summers in the north, winters in the south. It was something Mike had always wanted.
In my stack of surprises I found the floor plans I had started, the idea of a summer home taking shape. I wanted to rework the mudroom and kitchen to find space for a pantry. The long rectangle of the den would become more of a reading room with shelves for books and Ginny’s desk under the window.

At some point, I even reworked the entire house to expand the spaces to accommodate family visits. It had been a perfect space for two, but would never hold our growing family if everyone was there at the same time.
In the end, we sold the farm and said goodbye to the dreams. Thankfully, by the time that happened, we’d found Remote and were starting to make new memories and have new dreams here. And, while I’m sure me in 1983 would never have been reconciled to that idea, me in 2016 saw it for the gift it was and accepted that some dreams are just dreams.

Posted by: morrowsl | January 27, 2020

Red Sky At Night

Driving home about a week ago, I was gifted with an amazing sunset. It was the sort of sky show I will crawl out of bed in the predawn hours to see at sunrise on the Gulf. But have come to expect in the evenings, since we moved away from the cluttered views of the city.

This time, instead of catching the brilliance from the top of our driveway, where the sky falls into the treetops, I had full command straight down to the horizon.

It was simply breathtaking.

 

Posted by: morrowsl | January 12, 2020

Give It A Day, Part Two

I knew as soon as I came awake that it had snowed. The light, when there’s snow down, is so much brighter. A quick glance out the bedroom back door confirmed that it had dusted at some point. A better look out the kitchen back door gave evidence that the snow was just getting started.

The outdoor thermostat read 31 degrees.

In the event this was just a fast moving weather band, I took a picture out the front window and set about feeding cats and making coffee. I sent the photo to my sister.

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Dusting, not even visible on the grassy spots.

I am very much my daddy’s daughter. He could never resist snow. He would don his boots and jacket and get out and drive around any time it snowed. Slipping and sliding his way down the road in his truck. An hour later, he’d come back with a jug of milk as if that justified his adventure.
I didn’t bother with a jacket, hat, or boots. I slipped out the back door to have a good look at the first real snowfall I’ve witnessed in several years. My first one since moving to Remote. The sound of snow coming down is unmistakeable. It is almost as soothing for me as water lapping on the shore. Or a building thunderstorm after a hot day.

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Coming down with a purpose now.

When I finally turned to come back inside, my slippers tried to stay outside. The wet soles had frozen to the mat!

Inside, I decided to forgo coffee until I’d checked on the chickens and greenhouse. I dressed realistically this time, a thin sweatshirt over my tee shirt, sweats over my jeans, full-length socks, the cowl Jen made for me under my hoodie, the toque Mo made for her dad that is too thin for his bald head but perfect for my thick-haired one, my good outdoor boots that Sister gave me for my birthday.
I decided, last minute, to put out seeds for the wild birds too, and had to spend some time dumping the 40-pound bag into my rolling container. My strained back prevented me from just picking it up and dumping it, which probably would have ended with a floor full of seeds.

Outside again, finally, I realized that the metal seed feeders were frozen closed, so I dragged the dish from a bird bath out and filled it with sunflower seeds. The little birds were landing on the limbs closest to me in their rush to eat!

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Goldfinch snacking down on sunflower seeds.

The run of the brooder coop had drained quite a lot, but the straw was still really soggy. The feeder had gotten drenched in yesterday’s downpour, so it had to be cleaned up before I could fill it. And the waterer was, of course, frozen solid. I made a mental note, not for the first time, to invest in heated dog waterers for the chickens. Breakfast prepared, I opened the door of the coop and the Crazy Eight were totally nonplussed by the cold.
I raked straw from the lower level of the coop, opening a spot on the floor for the feeder to sit. The girls would likely spend most of the day in the lower level out of the wind. They would appreciate having their food dry as well.

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The Crazy Eight are not dismayed by snow.

Out the gate and back to the apartment to fill a pitcher with water for the big girls.
Mike had a freeze-proof spigot installed outside the big run, but the hose still freezes. So, I haul their water from the apartment kitchen. It generally takes two trips. Thankfully, the water had a thin crust of ice, so all I had to do was dump it out and refill it.

The feeder in the big run hangs under the covered roof, so it stays mostly dry. But sometimes the feed will get damp enough that it can’t be eaten and has to be dumped. Thankfully, fat chickens don’t leave much behind.
I carried the feeder down to the barn to refill.

Along with their usual food, to which I add herbs and supplements, the big chickens get daily treats. Usually, I toss out sunflower seeds for added protein and vitamin E. But, when it is cold, they also get scratch. Chicken scratch contains cracked corn, which takes a lot of energy to digest, therefore keeping the girls warm as they process it. This morning, they got a good scattering of seeds and scratch.

Finally, with all my bases covered, I went round to open the coop door, calling good morning as is my habit. I was greeted by ten chickens, clucking a chorus of “Oh Hell NO!”, at the sight of the snow-covered dirt.

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Silly chickens too scared to come out and eat.

Back to the door to fetch my hay fork. I shooed the girls back inside and commenced tossing straw out onto the snow. Of all the older birds, the Sussex are by far the biggest. It took almost no time for Bernice to realize breakfast was served. I expected the others to follow, but she ended up dining alone.
I spread a good layer of straw around the coop door, the feeder, and along the pathway to the water container. I went back to the coop to check for eggs. There were none. Which was a surprise of sorts, considering I’ve been getting a daily egg for at least a week with the occasional second egg a few times. And lately, I’ve witnessed submissive squats!

Scolding the lot of them for being silly, I left the girls to figure things out on their own and made my way up the hill to have a look around.

 

The snow had just about stopped and I had been really careful to walk in the same tracks so I would have pristine areas for photos. I have wondered, since moving to Remote, what it would look like with snow. The possibility is much greater just an hour north of the city, not only because there’s far less concrete. I was not disappointed by what I saw.

Back at the house, my coffee cup was calling. Mike would be up and aware of the big event. I wanted to send pictures to the kids, wishing Justin’s winter break had ended a week later so he could have enjoyed this snowfall. Hopefully, it will not be so long until the next one.

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The little birds wasted no time finding the suet and seeds.

Posted by: morrowsl | January 12, 2020

Give It A Day, Part One

Twenty-four hours ago, I was rushing around the house in absolute panic, having had two warnings, back-to-back, to take cover from an approaching tornado.

My hero of meteorology, The Delkus, had warned us all that the weather would go to hell in a handcart around noon. As usual, he was spot on. Eleven o’clock brought a downpour, followed by bright sunshine, followed by unrelenting rain. We lost power at least three times in as many hours, which made maintaining my watch on local radar impossible. Luckily, my sister-in-law and Captain Neighbor Boy were having much better luck. Both sent warnings about the tornado allowing us about a ten minute heads up. Mike called me from the shop to let me know what CNB had said. I shared with him what Linda’s text said. We agreed we should probably take shelter, but he wanted me to look at the radar for our area first. I started the website loading as I began gathering stuff.

Thankfully, I’d already done a bit of prep work after hearing the forecast from Delkus the previous evening. I’d brought the cat carrier downstairs and packed towels and snacks in a bag. I’d swept the cobwebs and sand out of our in-ground shelter, checked the batteries in the lights (all dead), had Mike bring down replacement batteries along with a five-gallon bucket, toilet paper, and paper towels. We’ve had a case of bottled water and two chairs down there since the shelter was built.

Prior to yesterday, I’d been in the shelter only a couple of times. The idea of it creeps me. But the idea of living in a tornado-prone county without a shelter creeps me even more. A few days after the installation was completed, I told Mike I wanted to get in the shelter and close the door so I would know what that felt like before I needed to. I could see myself making it to the first step and freezing in absolute terror. Not a good idea if someone is behind you, moving with intent. The four steps are steep and the head-knocker is about four inches of solid concrete. A definite recipe for an accident.

At one point, my sister and I discussed painting the interior to look like clouds above and a beautiful garden below. I toyed with underwater scenery, but then it would feel like drowning.

Back to the tornado.

The weather reports gave an ETA of 3:39pm for Decatur. We’re about ten minutes northeast, but I had no way of knowing what the exact track of the storm looked like. I pulled on my rain jacket and cinched the hood around my face. Frio, our older Tuxedo cat, was lounging nearby. I snagged him and, with minimal objection from him, stuffed him in the carrier. Tippy, the younger Tuxedo, did what Tippy does best and vanished like smoke. No amount of calling or coaxing was going to bring him out of hiding. Distraught but determined, I took the carrier and bag out to the back steps. I called Mike on the way. No answer. He’d just called me, so I knew he had his phone and a signal. I ran back inside for Tippy, who I was hoping had come out to see where Frio had gone.

He had not.

I took off for the shop.

Here I need to add that, had this storm happened on Monday instead of Friday, I’d have dragged both cats into the mudroom bathroom and made the best of a plan gone south. For the last week, I’ve been babying a badly strained back and the idea of carrying anything heavier than a heating pad was pretty much the stuff of nightmares. But, I’d had four days to rest and was riding on a shot of adrenaline no six dollar cup of coffee can match.

Mike was sitting at his desk. I think I shouted “GO” or something equally frantic and slammed the door. I took the carrier and bag to the shelter and went back to look for Tippy one last time.

By now, it was about zero minus a minute or two and still pissing down rain.

Mike met me inside. I was in full-tilt meltdown over Tippy. He went to the pantry and I was thinking, “you’re going to eat?” when he came back out with kitty treats.

Brilliant!

He shook the bag and Tippy appeared as if by magic. It took both of us to actually grab him and I stupidly made an attempt to just walk out the door with him. A toenail to the midsection killed that idea.

I remembered some wise soul once told me they stuffed their frightened cat in a pillow case to take it to the vet. I yelled at Mike to strip a pillow and we stuffed Tippy inside.

Once in the shelter, we put Tippy in the carrier and took off our wet jackets. My feet were soaked to the skin and freezing. I pulled one of the towels out and wrapped up in it. I was able to get enough cell signal to send a text to our family and neighbors that we were in our shelter with the cats.

Outside, it just sounded like rain.

And then voices.

I pushed open the shelter door. Captain Neighbor Boy and Oldest Little Blond Girl were sloshing across the driveway. She had two fists full of toys. He had their newest family member, a handsome Silver Labrador pup named Burton.

I was a bit shocked to find it was only about zero minus ten minutes. CNB had no idea if we were actually in the tornado’s path, or even if there was still a tornado to be worried about. But Oldest Little Blond Girl had been concerned. And Youngest Little Blond Girl was being held at school until all danger had passed.
So we huddled together in the chilly cement box with water dripping and the sound of rain pelting on the vents until we were bored and certain all danger had passed.

Much later, Mike and I made our way outside again to check on the chickens and get the heat going in the greenhouse. Delkus was promising snow, or a wintry mix at the very least, and we wanted the assurance that we’d done what we could to avoid surprises.
The run of the new brooder coop was fully underwater. The little chickens were up on their roosts, looking a bit wet and confused. Their food was soaked as was all the straw in the run. But the straw on the coop floor was dry and I knew they’d cuddle up and keep each other warm. I told them it was going to get really cold. Then closed the door.

Likewise, the entry to the big run was full of water. The first few steps inside were super slippery but the covered area is between the door to the run and the entry to the coop, so I didn’t fall. The older girls were tucked up for the night as I knew they would be. One had left an egg, so I collected it and bid them goodnight. Again, I explained that cold weather was forecast.

We moved on to the greenhouse and lit the propane heaters. It was still in the sixties out, but the temps were likely to drop fast with the setting sun. Then we slogged our way back to the house to dry off and warm up.

In all, we measured over six inches of rain. I don’t know exactly how much time passed but, if I had to guess, I’d say that rainfall lasted about six or seven hours. Possibly longer. Once I came in and took off my soaking clothes, I just didn’t care to see rain again. On my way to bed I checked the temperature. It was forty-one degrees. Down twenty degrees.

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Tippy (front) and Frio, no worse for wear, stalking birds flying in for seeds on the porch.

 

Posted by: morrowsl | December 16, 2019

Silent Night

Yesterday was one of those rare and wonderful days that settle around your shoulders at day’s end and bring you a peace you’d forgotten possible. Our family gathered around a big long table to share our Christmas meal, then again around our little tree to open Christmas presents. I had not thought it possible for us to ever do either again with even a shred of unforced laughter or kindness toward each other.

I am wonderstruck by the impact of my mistake. And by the depth of my gratitude.

Several years ago we suffered through a series of events that brought about a near civil war. The details are unimportant, but suffice to say that it is the sort of thing confronted in the family dynamic that tests every person’s tolerance and trust. Each time we came together, the tension was palpable. The stress of trying, and failing, to bring about any resolution left me in tears, and oftentimes angry enough to disown the whole lot.

So, when I asked if we might find a day to hold our family event, I did so with a lump in my throat and a knot in my gut.

Within ten minutes of my outgoing text, we had a date and a spot. We would meet in town for our meal, then assemble at Remote for presents. All the while I shopped and wrapped and cleaned and decorated, I did so with a nagging worry that this would be yet another failed attempt to mend our family fences and see cohesion and harmony. I hit the first snag when I called to reserve a space for our party of eleven and discovered the restaurant closed at exactly the same hour we’d planned to eat.
Again, within minutes of sending the text, it was all resolved. We’d eat earlier in the day.

Things snagged again when I failed to clarify wether we were meeting at our house or the restaurant. And again when the address provided by the restaurant website took half of the party to the opposite end of town! By the time we walked in, my shoulders were up around my ears.
But everyone arrived within minutes of our reserved time and had a chance to choose their places without much jockeying of chairs. It helped to have the oldest folks in the middle. And to have plenty of choices for great food that none of us was dead tired from preparing. And to have four kids that can’t help being happy about Christmas.

Back home, the youngest grand was counting down the minutes to turning into a pumpkin, so we all took to the stairs and sorted ourselves out around our little pre-lit four foot tree. Each year, someone plays “Santa” and hands out gifts. The youngest seemed a bit overwhelmed by the number of presents he was tasked with opening, but that disappeared as soon as he realized there were toys underneath the paper. The oldest, with his eleven years of experience, tore through paper and boxes in a flash. The girls, sandwiched between the boys in age, took the time to actually read gift tags and look at contents. And the adults carried the day with no comments under their breath. In all, it was the first time since our implosion that I actually felt like Christmas could be a happy family holiday.

When we were looking for a house in the country, I spent a lot of time recalling memories of my own grandparents’ final home. They chose a spot on a hill above the Brazos River where they could have a garden and orchard and where my grandpa would have easy access to fishing. Grandpa built a tidy two-bedroom, one bath, frame house and every Christmas Eve we packed it to bursting with family. If the kids stayed over, we slept on the floor or our family rented a cabin on the next hill over from Grandma’s. There were countless hours spent helling the hillsides with a pack of cousins. In summer we went barefoot and got dirty, our hair bleached almost white in the sun and our skin pecan brown. In winter we brought reality to “over the river and through the woods” as to Grandmother’s house we went. When I looked for a house in the country, I was looking for a feeling that those memories brought to my mind.

Yesterday, I found it.

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Posted by: morrowsl | August 3, 2019

Chanticleer, the Good Father

I knew from reading about them that Carolina Wrens build nests in the most unusual and awkward spots. Still, when I found bits of grass and leaves and sticks poking out from the space between Chanticleer’s tail and back, I had no thought that it might be a bird nest. I even pulled some of the bedding loose before it dawned on me that I was wrecking some poor little bird couple’s home! A peek between the two metal “tail feathers” confirmed my suspicions. Inside was a cup-shaped nest with an overhang.

Chanticleer was going to be a father!

Okay, technically he was only going to act as the site for incubation. But still…

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Initially, I counted four eggs. Carolina Wrens will lay four to six eggs and the mother won’t start sitting on them until the penultimate or final egg has been added. No mother in sight and no fussing from the nearby trees. Apparently, they weren’t finished.

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Sure enough, a check the following day confirmed that mama was still adding eggs.

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But then we had that snake in the chicken coop and I became alarmingly aware of how vulnerable this little nest really was. A check the day after the snake incident caused alarm. There were only four eggs in the wren’s nest. I just knew that snake had snacked.

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When I peeked in the next time, I got a face full of mad Mama Wren and much fussing and flapping from overhead by Daddy. But, thankfully, the little eggs counted five once more. I resolved to leave them alone so Mama could have as much peace as can be had living in a metal rooster tail adjacent to a chicken run populated with chatty hens and one transgender bird who half-crows at odd hours.

It seemed the least I could do.

I was busy enough to almost forget there were baby birds. But, every now and then, I would get scolded for passing too close to Chanticleer as I changed out the water in the chicken run or turned on the soaker hose for the flowerbed. I watched as Daddy Wren did his best to distract me and refocus my attention elsewhere. He was a good decoy!

Then last week, I decided it was time to check on the progress of the little family. In the nest I found several newly-hatched baby birds and at least one unhatched egg.

BABIES!!

Now I began to worry about the predators that posed a threat to the new littles.

I tried not to obsess over the nest. I would listen closely, or as closely as possible considering the noise my chickens make the moment they realize I’m at the run. I could hear little cheeps but had no idea if they were truly coming from Chanticleer’s tail or if there were other nests I hadn’t discovered nearby. I was only ever fussed at by one pair of adults, so chances are I was indeed hearing the hungry calls from these five. I was determined to leave them be. And have been busy enough to keep my promise.

Then Thursday afternoon I came home late and went out to give the girls some fresh cold water. I went in the coop door at least twice, opening it wide as I came out the first time with the water container to wash out and again when I took it back in to fill. When I came back out, I noticed something to my right just beyond the closing door. It was a baby bird, tiny and distressed, flapping and hopping to get away from me! In a panic, I scooped it up and took off for the the house, only realizing when I got there that my two cats would be more than happy to “help” me take care of this defenseless little creature!

I retreated to the safety of the yard and frantically dialed my sweet friend and self-admitted bird nerd, Judi. Unfortunately, I got her voicemail. I left a quick message and began to think as logically as possible about how to help the newly fledged baby.
I went back to the nest, thinking I’d just shove it in beside its siblings and the parents could deal with it when they returned. Inside the nest, none of the other babies were moving. Again, I panicked, thinking the string of triple digits heat indices we’ve had must have baked these little guys inside their metal framed home. My stomach began to flip.

Thankfully, my phone rang at that exact moment and I retreated to the shade, baby bird still cradled in my palm, to extract advice from an expert.

At Judi’s urging, I found a box, stuffed it with leaves and twigs, and returned to the tree closest to Chanticleer’s bird mortuary. Just as I stepped down into the entrance area of the chicken run, another tiny bird began to flap and hop around at my feet.

GOOD GRIEF!!

At least I had the box to put the second one in. Otherwise, I was out of hands and the chickens had begun to focus hungry eyes on the would-be treat.

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I shoved the box, not ironically a Dos Equis box, into the crotch of the Crape Myrtle and retreated to the porch swing to send Judi a photo and call her back with an update. As I was walking away, I heard the tell tale scolding of an adult Wren and stopped. Sure enough, one of the parents had returned with a tasty bug to feed the babies. It could hear the two in the box calling, but was confused on why they were no longer in the nest. It hopped around for a few minutes until it located them and flew down into the box. When it flew back out, minus the bug, I felt like I’d done all I could do to help and went to the house to call my friend.

As luck would have it, I had to be away from home again on Friday and had only enough time in the morning to feed the chickens before I left. I didn’t take the time to check the nest or box before I had to leave.
I did have time once I got back home so, after getting fresh water for the girls, and not finding any more babies, alive or dead, on the ground near Chanticleer’s feet, I pulled the box down from its perch in the tree. Inside, two sleeping baby wrens – I nudged them to make sure and was greeted with open eyes and lots of scrambling to get away!
I went ’round to have another look in the nest, thinking I’d pull the dead babies out and dispose of the whole mess.

All I found was baby bird poop and some bug wings!

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Still holding the box, I started trying to think where a bird couple might go with their newly fledged brood and why they wouldn’t take the two from the box with them.

From the woods across the dirt lane that leads to the barn, I could hear an adult wren calling and a baby calling in return. I headed that direction and was just in time to see a baby, about the same size as the two in the box, hopping toward a brush pile where an adult was perched and calling out instructions. A bit closer to the brush pile was yet another baby. And in the pile of leaves just at the base of the brush pile, I discovered a third baby resting up.
I started picking leaves out of the box to uncover my two, then lifted them out and popped them atop the leaves, pointing in the direction the others had hopped.

It took less than a minute for the final two babies to reunite with their siblings and parents and, before I had time to pull my phone out and record the reunion, they were all gone.

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I did go back and pull the nest out of Chanticleer’s tail. I told him he’d done a great job, harboring the little family and seeing them safely away to a new adventure. Then I explained that maybe his tail did offer a good nesting spot. Or at least as good as the hopper on the wood chipper or the top of the outdoor lights can boast. He had little to offer on the subject.55783773_10161604961760201_3580915891979681792_n

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