Morning Greetings

When I wake up this morning it is 12ºF. I get dressed and head into the cold. I have things to do outside. This face greets me.

It warms me right up. But not my fingers. I go inside and put my hands around a hot cup of coffee. It’s a fine way to start the day.

Leaving the Hens Home Alone

Sometimes I leave home. On Wednesday my husband, son and I took the train to New York City. We left at 7:30 am and were back home at 9:30 pm. In that short amount of time, we were somewhere totally different than our small, quiet town. I wrote about simplicity in my last blogpost. This is not.

The world, from the top of the Empire State Building, is exciting, invigorating, and BIG. I love it.

But, when you have animals, even easy-to-care for ones like hens, you can’t just travel on a whim. Can you leave them for a day? For a weekend? For a week?

If you are going on a day trip, do the morning chores and make sure that the waterer is filled and you’ve latched the gates. The only thing to worry about is predators. Hopefully, your pen is secure against daytime hunters. When night comes, and you’re away, there’s always the risk that someone hungry will get into the open coop, so it’s best to have the chickens locked in safe. Lots of people I know use an automatic door closer, that shuts the coop up after the hens have gone to roost. I can’t use it, as I never know where Candy will be, and I don’t want her inadvertently closed up in the coop all night. Nor do I want her hopping about outside in the pen. Especially in the winter, I want her in her hutch, cozily sleeping in her bed of hay, protected in her sturdy house from anyone who might want to eat her. In the summer, when it doesn’t get dark until quite late, coming home late from a day trip isn’t an issue. But in the winter, when night falls by 5 pm, I do worry about predators coming by before I get back. If you have only hens, you balance the risks. One option is to keep the chickens inside all day, or you could take your (minimal) chances and close them up when you get home late. That’s what I would have done, but since the trip to NYC was 14 hours, I had to hire a pet sitter for the dogs, anyway. Luckily, Luisa, who’s been caring for my varied menagerie for over a decade, will come and feed and let the dogs out, get them back in, close up the hens, give Candy her nighttime banana chip snack, and convince the goats to get into their stall (not easy!) If you have only hens it’s so much simpler!

That automatic door closer will also open up to let the hens out in the morning, which is great if you’re going away for the weekend. If you have a big waterer and feeder there will be plenty for the hens on the second day.

But, after that, I would make sure that someone comes by to check on your chickens. So much can go wrong. Chickens can survive for many days without food, but without water they can die within 48 hours. Always, when thinking through what your animals need in your absence, imagine the worst. The waterer will fall over. An animal will get injured. A coyote will come skulking by. In the summer, the temperature could soar and your animals get heat stroke, in the winter the door could stick shut with ice. In the winter, too, if it’s very cold, you’ll need either a heated base for the waterer, or someone to bring water to the hens three times during the day.

Besides, there will be eggs in the nesting boxes. In the winter they’ll freeze, in the summer they’ll go bad in the heat. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a friend willing to stop by your coop and collect the eggs as payment for checking in.

We’re taking another trip at the end of the month. This one entails a long flight on an airplane and a hotel stay. We’re going to a joyful wedding. I’ve already arranged with Luisa to take care of the animals. I know she can handle it. One year Lily made Luisa’s routine afternoon visit anything but. Lily discovered the rotten pumpkins that I’d tossed into the woods months before, when they were even too mushy to feed to the hens. Who knew that when frozen that Lily would think them edible? And then throw up all over the house. Luisa got paid extra to care for that mess. (We still had to hire a professional cleaner to finish the job.) Then there was the year that we went away and a foot of snow fell the next day. Luisa shoveled her way to the barn. Luisa was also here to care for Coco when she was ill, and when Lily had a bandage on her foot and needed medicine. I’m hoping we won’t have anything dramatic happen while we’re at the wedding, but I can go because I have competent care lined up. This year there are no pumpkins in the woods. I think that Lily will stay out of trouble.

Back (?) To Simplicity

This time of year we are bombarded with messages that we need more in order to be happy. More electronics, more toys, more food, more decorations, more friends, more parties, more clothes. Whatever you possess could be better, and what you don’t have is out there for the buying. Perhaps you are wishful for a simpler time, like, say, 1916. Back then, people in the countryside still got around with horses. The post office connected you with family, newspapers were the main source of information, and most foods were locally raised and produced.

But perhaps society was not so different back then. I’m reading, “Shelter and Clothing: A Textbook Of the Household Arts,” written by Helen Kine, copyright 1916. This is what she has to say.

A home based on the right principles will be simple. There will be simplicity of living, honesty in the expression of what is offered in the home. No ostentation or living beyond one’s means: simplicty in entertainment in offering freely of what one has to friends, without apology or explanation: simple furnishings, simple, healthful food, simple, artistic clothing, all help to simplify life and give the home makers more time for the family joys and intercourse. It sometimes requires much courage and independence of thought and action to achieve this ideal when one’s neighbors give elaborate dinners which are paid for with difficulty, seek the excitement of moving-picture and vaudeville shows when the can scarcely be afforded, and neglect the allurements of woods and fields and streams, which offer more healthful and simpler pleasures.

That doesn’t sound much different from today, does it? A “simpler” era is never the one you are living in. You don’t have to go back in time to live by the “right principles”, and in fact, there’s no year to go back to. But you can have, as Helen Kine says, the courage to make this here and now the right time for yourself. Simplicity is a state of mind which you can weave it into your own modern life. Every morning, I go out early, these days in freezing temperatures, and am greeted by busy, cheerful, greedy, hungry animals. They get underfoot, they squawk, they chortle, they are grateful for the food. Taking care of their basic needs takes care of mine. Quiet moments, outside, caring for animals, is my touchstone for the life that I strive to create. To make your own simple life, start your day in a coop. If you can’t keep your own hens, I’m happy to share mine at HenCam. I don’t rail against this modern world. Having read about housekeeping in the early 1900s, I am ever so grateful for my washing machine, central heat and electric lights. I’m especially grateful for modern medicine and the miracle of my cochlear implants. But I don’t want to be so immersed in the modern world that I miss out on Mrs. Kine’s fields and streams. The barns in my backyard act as a counter-balance to the technology in my home. My hens provide perspective (and much cause for laughter.) That I can share this simple world through the complexity of a computer is an irony of twenty-first century life. Isn’t it wonderful?

Winter Settles In

Other than the surprise Halloween snowstorm, the weather here has been unusually mild. But winter has settled in. This morning there was ice on the pond, it was brittle and thin like sugar on creme brulee.

Outdoor fish go into a cold-weather stasis. They don’t eat. They somehow stay suspended, barely breathing, barely moving, in the frigid water. As long as the pond doesn’t freeze solid, they’ll be fine. Under that big rock is a safe cave where the Beast has her lair. The smaller goldfish join her. The pump is on all winter. Water cascades down the rock, aerating the open water. Sometimes, in the middle of winter, the ice will be inches thick, and through it’s rippled lens I will see the fish, their fins slowly flipping back and forth, keeping them upright and balanced.

This morning Candy’s water was frozen solid. I was prepared with a spare to swap in it’s place. I’ve also given her extra hay to nestle in.

In the winter, outdoor bunnies need their waterers replaced several times a day. The narrow, metal spouts freeze quickly. But Candy has her own solution. She drinks from the heated chicken waterer in the coop.

The goats, with their thick coats, coarse on top, fine underneath, are all set for cold weather. But, they’ve told me that they need hay in the morning. I’ve been giving them half a flake. The process of digestion in their four stomachs actually generates heat. That’s why I like to feed them their main meal late in the afternoon. Their belly furnaces will keep them toasty all night.

As for the chickens? Don’t worry about them! They do not need heat in their coop, or sweaters, or hot oatmeal. They need what they have – draft-free dry barns, free-choice laying hen pellets, free-flowing water, sunny spots to stand in, and a place to roost, cuddled up with friends, at night.

My Cochlear Implant, My Brain, and Music

I did not grow up in a musical family. The HiFi was never used. My father listened to ballgames on the transistor radio, not music. I listened to The Monkees. I saw music on television variety shows. That was about it. By my early teen years, that age when you start to develop your own musical taste, I was developing a hearing loss. At first it was slight. But every year I’d lose another 3 decibels or so. When my friends were discovering Bruce Springsteen, I was listening to country music. It wasn’t a passion – it was simply what was played at the horse barns where I spent my time. It was easy to hear and understand. Over time I stopped listening to music altogether. I couldn’t. My hearing loss had become severe. Without hearing aids I was essentially deaf. With aids, I could hear, but sounds were muffled, distorted and incomplete.

I’m now in my early fifties. I’d say that I’ve missed about thirty-five years of popular music. Music is not something that I mourn not having. I’ve filled my life and my head with other satisfying things. But a year ago I had a cochlear implant embedded into my skull. This astounding technology has enabled me to hear again. I’m having conversations. I’m hearing cashiers say, “have a nice day”, I’m even able to eavesdrop! All of this new hearing doesn’t just happen. One has to work at it. My hearing no longer goes through the normal pathways. Sounds are picked up by a microphone, and they are turned into electrical codes that are tapped directly onto the auditory nerve. The brain has to learn to make sense of it. Over the course of this last, miraculous, year, my brain has been making sense of more and more. It continues to let in new sounds, and what I hear is fuller, more complete, and more resonant. I wondered what my brain would make of music. Lucky for me, television is rife with reality music shows. I started to watch. And listen.

I have a special device on my television that sends the sound directly to my cochlear implant, so the sound is very clear. I also use closed captions, because despite the volume and clarity of the sound, I can’t always make out the words of the singers. This past summer I listened to a karaoke contest. Recently, I was glued to the set every Monday night for the a cappella contest, “The Sing-Off.” Songs that were touted as “the biggest hit of the 80s” were totally new to me. What was also new to me was how complex the music was. I was hearing the full range of notes, and the bands backing up the singers sounded musical, not the jumbled cacophony that I’d been hearing for most of my life. The more I listened, the more my brain worked and the better it sounded.

I’m one of those people who remembers her dreams. My dreams are complex works of fiction. I can remember dreams from my childhood, dreams from college, dreams from when I was first married. There has never been music in them. But two nights ago I had a dream with a soundtrack. It had a full chorus and an orchestra. It was lush, complex and stirring. I woke up to beautiful music in my head.