Last week two other couples joined us for a date night across the mountains. We travelled through the Shenandoah Valley on back roads past Mennonite farms with children playing ball in their front yards and women in kerchiefs and aprons forking hay out of the barns. We saw a man and his son washing and polishing three buggies in preparation for Sunday services and pants and dresses flapping from clothes-lines hooked high up on light poles. The air was soft with the last light of day and clouds piled up against the mountains that protected the wide valley. But, we didn’t drive fifty miles just to admire the scenery. We were on our way to a church supper. That’s what country folk do for fun.
After a great tenderloin dinner, we stopped at Walmart before heading home because it’s an unwritten rule that any trip over the mountains ends with a trip to pick up milk or bread or blue jeans, or whatever else we’ve run out of in the last week or two. Finally, just as a light drizzle began to fall, we drove home to the beat of windshield wipers and the sound of stories. All three men in the van grew up together and they spent the hour long trip home outdoing one another with tales from their childhoods. I envy them this shared memory of people and places. While lots of stories made us laugh, my favorite stories had to do with a fellow the guys called Carly. One story was about Carly and his old sow. One day she came into heat, so Carly fashioned a box and attached it to the three point hitch on his tractor. Then he loaded up his hog and headed to his neighbor’s farm where there was a willing boar. On his way there, Carly stopped at a friend’s house and they had a few drinks. Then, Carly crawled back on his tractor and drove on to the farm. When, he pulled up to the pig lot where the boar was waiting to breed his sow, she was gone. She got tired of waiting for him to finish his beer and jumped out and trotted back home.
Another Carly story was about the time Carly went hunting with friends. They were looking to kill a deer, but rather than bringing a rifle, Carly had brought along his old twelve gauge shotgun. One of his friends got to ribbing him about the shotgun and allowed as to how Carly couldn’t even hit the broad side of a barn with it. Carly laughed along with them and then told his friend to toss his cap in the air. The friend obliged, tossing his hat high in the air. All of the others watched expectantly as Carly pulled his gun up onto his shoulder and tracked the cap up into the sky. It reached the top of its arc and then began to fall. Carly tracked it all the way to the ground. Then he pulled the trigger and BLAM destroyed the cap where it lay. That was the last time his friends ever teased him about his gun.
By the time we finished laughing, we were safely home over the mountains.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Today as I chased Henrietta around my yard for about the zillionth time, I realized that I have created the perfect chicken trap. I was sure I had sealed all the entrances through the fence, but Henrietta and a select group of friends keep finding their way inside. The problem is that they won’t find their way back out. So I huffed and puffed and circled behind the chickens trying to force them to escape via their secret path. But, they just waddled ahead of me, necks stretched out, refusing to lead me to their hidden hole. Finally, I gave in and opened the gate, chasing them back to the barnyard. The chicken eating dog tried to help me, but when I caught him hauling one of the biddies around, I hollered and he dropped her. Unperturbed, she strolled about the yard before finally climbing the steps to join the dog on my front porch.
My other activity today was sitting in a chair, taking money from tourists who came to sample pancakes, syrup and mountain hospitality. I am always amazed that anyone would want to travel twenty winding miles over the mountains to stand in line for an hour or two so they could eat a meal easily prepared in the comfort of their own kitchens. But, so many people told me that this is a yearly tradition for them. Many folks told me that they had come to all four days of the festival. So I started watching these families and friends as they were standing and waiting to be served. I realized that syrup is only part of the reason they make the annual pilgrimage. They were all laughing and telling stories both to their own friends and to new ones they’d made while they waited. The Maple Festival is the first excuse of spring to take time away from the cares of daily living. Standing in line is not a chore, but a time of forced inactivity where the only thing to do is to talk to and enjoy each other. I did not see any cell phones (no cell service here) or IPods plugged into ears or kids watching video on IPads. What I did see was a lot of old fashioned fellowshipping and socializing.
Perhaps the chickens and I could learn to spend some happy time together as well. I think I’ll take a lesson from the patient tourists and rather than working myself up, I'll invite the next chicken that climbs up on the porch, to set a spell (that pun was for you, Dad). Hope you'll join us.
Monday, March 12, 2012
The cat and I sit on the patio conspiring. Our enemy is gathering the troops, regrouping after our most recent battle, in which Tip and I ran around the house ten times while the chickens lapped us twice as they avoided capture. The Chicken Chasing Cat is all for another frontal assault. I’m considering enlisting the aid of the Chicken Eating Dog, but whenever he wins a battle, I lose another layer. We must find a way to keep the chickens out of my yard without affecting egg production.
Why did I want this white board fence? When Joe and I first married and I was fresh from the suburbs, I insisted on a white board fence to surround our grassy half acre. Board fences look so pretty from the road, I argued. Normally, my pragmatic husband prevailed, but I won this round. Not only did I win a white board fence, I also won a quarter acre more of grass to mow. It seemed a sweet victory at the time.
White board fences are high maintenance. They must be painted and repaired yearly. They also have a huge flaw that never occurred to me when I was arguing against the more mundane wire fence. White board fences do not keep out livestock very well. Chickens, beagles and lambs can all get between the boards. I thought I would have a white board fence lined with flowers. What I have is a white board fence lined with ragged stubble, courtesy of the lambs. I thought I would have a pristine green lawn, suitable for croquet. What I have is a green lawn, laced with dog poo land mines. I thought I would have flower beds blanketed with mulch. What I have is bare flower beds and mulch scattered across the entire half acre courtesy of the scratching hens. In all fairness, I didn’t have the problem with the hens until I moved Henrietta up from the farm in McDowell. If you recall, she was the chicken who spent most of her days exploring town. Now she spends her days teaching the other chickens to sneak into my yard.
So, I decided to be proactive. I bought forty-five dollars worth of chicken wire and stapled it to the bottom half of the fence where I thought the hens were sneaking through, but Henrietta keeps leading the troops along the barrier until they reach unprotected territory . I’ve run out of chicken wire and I refuse to spend any more money, so I’m recycling some unused items. The chickens snuck under the gate: I wired up a leftover piece of lattice work. They followed the chicken wire to where it ran out behind the shed: I draped an old volleyball net over that section of fence. They tiptoed past the grill: I stapled up a recycled badminton net. They power walked to the pasture: I cut up a bird net and stapled it to the bottom boards. I’ve covered holes with abandoned tomato cages, parts of an old tricycle, black plastic drain pipes and a piece of shower curtain I was using as a drop cloth. I realized that I was probably obsessing when I covered the last hole with a recycled pot rack. But no matter, I won the war.
I finally succeeded in fencing out the chickens. Unfortunately, I can’t see my fence anymore.
Sunday, March 4, 2012
What’s black and white and stinks all over? Around here it’s skunks. And there are plenty of them to smell. It’s skunk mating season and that nose tingling, eye-watering aroma is one of the sure signs that spring is just around the corner.
Skunks are normally reclusive, but during mating season the males become very excitable. When they wake from their half-hibernation, they run about lifting their tails and marking the boundaries of their territories. Then they fight over females and in their frenzy to reproduce they also tend to spray random animals and humans. My pastor friend Les once went for an early spring drive. His truck window was rolled down to take advantage of the soft notes of birds and the warm breezes. As he drove past an opening in the woods, a male skunk whirled and aimed. Bulls-eye! The majority of his spray hit Les directly on his face and beard. Although Les bathed in tomato juice and shaved off his beard, it was a month before those of us in the front pews could no longer smell him.
Female pole cats also perfume the air. They do it to discourage unwanted advances. If an eager suitor goes too far, the female stomps her feet to warn him and then whirls around. SQUIRT! I can think of some times in my life when that would have come in handy. Anyway, overwhelmed with grief, the rejected male apparently runs out to the road and commits suicide. I drove over five flattened carcasses this week. No wonder the morning air has been sulfurous with skunk pee.
But then, this evening, on my way out to the back forty to feed the dogs, I smelled it. That first ripe whiff of wet earth and spring mud. Skunk love lingers on the morning mists, but the evening air heralds my love. The smell of spring is in the air. The piping notes of the peepers can’t be far behind.