Animal Tracking

It was right around sundown. I heard the chickens making such a fuss; squawking and flapping about like mad women in the back of the pen. When i went out there they were all facing northeast with their necks stretched long and their feathers poofed out. I went to the area they were staring at but there was no sign of movement. Deer were usually quite noticeable. I wondered if it was a fox, more stealth-like. I could not find any animal but the chickens were insistent that a big threat remained. I went into the house and grabbed Sili. Cashew was the best tracker when it came to animals but i knew better than to use her to track an animal. She’d find it alright but she felt no duty to come when called or even stay on the property. I couldn’t use a dog that wouldn’t listen. So i took Sili directly to the spot all the ruffled chickens were staring at and pointed to the ground. I said, “go git em, git em.” Sili put her nose to the ground and began zig zagging through the brush and tall grass. I followed her. She seemed to have gotten the idea. She was on the scent of something. All of a sudden she stood up real straight and looked at me, then swung her head back to what she had been sniffing. I walked over and parted the grass. There was a brand new freshly laid pile of deer turds. She had her nose right on it and it was right in the direction the chickens were all looking. So Sili solved the mystery. It was a deer. I gave her lots of praise. I was so proud of her. Sili was not historically a dog i used to track anything. She wasn’t genetically driven to do it, but when i’d asked her to get a critter she’d led me right to the turds and helped me identify what kind of threat it posed to the chickens. Cashew may have been the more willing tracker but Sili, i knew, would listen to me. She’s a really good dog. Upon return to the house we were greeted by an ecstatic Cashew wanting to know if we got the animal. The way Sili was prancing about, super proud to be praised by momma, Cashew concluded that she must have got the critter and then both dogs celebrated by wrecking the house.

First Freeze of the Year

After our catastrophic winter storm this spring i figured winter would bring more of the sort but it didn’t. It was the first warm weather halloween i could remember and we didnt have a single hard freeze until the first day of the next year. I saw the forecast a week in advance so i had time to prepare. It was supposed to be 28 degrees one night and 21 degrees the next, then back to 31. In actuality, it ended up being 24 degrees the first night and 18 degrees the second night. I was working the evening shift all week so i prepared ahead of time because each night by the time i got home from work it was already freezing.

My preparations included watering and covering the trees and plants with blankets, bringing the potted plants into the house, moving the sumac berries and laundry detergent from the shed to the house so they wouldn’t freeze, turning the heat lamp on in the well house, covering the spigot with a frost protector, dumping the top two inches of rain water from each container so it would have room to swell when it became ice and not crack the plastic tubs and buckets, placing an abundance of new wood shavings in each nesting box and closing the window to the chicken coop to protect against wind and better keep their body generated heat in, filtering a bunch of well water for the chickens and dumping it in a home depot bucket in the kitchen, saving water for cooking and to rinse a toothbrush and night retainers, and lining a bucket with a bag of sawdust so that i had a makeshift bathroom when the water in the flexible plumbing lines froze solid.

The freezing temperatures made beautiful ice crystals on the car.

Luckily the chickens had finished their molt. They were all fully feathered and on the morning of the coldest night i woke to see them already walking about and was happy all 6 of them seemed healthy and well. Their water was frozen solid for half of the day so i kept having to fill a glass dish with water from the bucket in the kitchen and run it out to them.

Though the middle of the bucket was still liquid, the top three inches and about half an inch around the sides was ice. It did indeed swell. I dont think i needed to dump quite as much as i did but my thought process was that if the bucket cracked we would have no rain water and some was better than none. Ironically, the decade old cooler in the yard with the crack in the lid was still full of water; no ice. i guess it is well insulated even in its old age.

The dogs were ready to go in. They did their potties pretty quick and when i told them they couldn’t come in until they sat, this is what happened. As you can see, they both sat right away and were ready to get back to the warmth of the house. That window unit may be noisy enough that you cant watch tv when its on and a beast to lift but it sure did keep it toasty. Our little tiny house was 74 degrees when it was 18 degrees outside. The dogs and i were cozy. For whatever reason, the electric company did not cut power this time, which i appreciated, because all winter weather preparations pretty much involve electricity and it’d be hard to keep everything from freezing without it.

For the most part, i tried to do my business at work or during mid afternoon when the plumbing had thawed, but i did have to use my bucket toilet a couple times. It’s a pretty tidy system. Once you’re done you seal the bag and when its full you take it to the trash can in the shed. the bag lifts right out of the bucket. It’s just a necessary part of life out here. If you’re not going to build yourself an outhouse you’re going to need a home depot bucket for when the pipes freeze. Personally, i’d rather sit in the warmth of my house on a bucket than wonder what critters, insects and arachnids are hiding in the outhouse while freezing my butt off to get it done and run back to the house. However, some family members don’t see the appeal of the bucket and have concluded that i may have lost my mind.

The Drone

I’m so angry. I was winding down for the night, just doing my evening chores. I was on my little two acres in the middle of nowhere. There’s nothing around me but ranch land, a dollar general, and a gas station. My property is surrounded by a ring of cedars and then just woods and yucca fields beyond that. I was squatting in the chicken pen, wearing my pajamas, breaking their table scraps from the christmas meal into bite sized pieces when i heard a buzzing noise. The chickens were all looking at something behind me. I thought i had better check to see what insect was making that noise. It was too loud and whirring to be a bee or hornet. I turned around and there was a drone, not ten feet from my head. I watched it fly over my ring of cedars and then avoid a few oak branches on my property before it dove to about three feet above the ground and just hovered, looking at me. There was a little light on it. As i turned to look at it my face changed from curiosity to anger quick and i stood up to exit the chicken pen. Before i could go after the drone it went straight up in the air and flew rapidly over my privacy border of cedar trees. It was gone just as quickly as it had arrived and it did not return for the rest of the evening. I was livid. I was so seething angry words would not do in this situation. I sat on the porch. I felt very violated. I moved to the middle of nowhere to get away from people, and now people were making videos of me and my chickens via drone and i had no way of knowing who they were or why they wanted to look at my property. Were they scoping it out for theft of resources (the chickens, the eggs, the well water) or were they just trying out a new christmas present? Either way, i didn’t think it was funny. It should be illegal for people to fly a drone onto your property and take video or pictures of you in your pajamas. Here i was enjoying the wilderness and my alone time on my own property and now i have people in remote places looking at me through technology. If i could have got my hands on that thing there would be no batteries in it and the peeping tom would have to come introduce him/herself properly if they wanted it back.

A Howling Wind and a Full Moon

A temperature drop was on the way. I had spent the predawn hours preparing for work and then taking a thirty minute nap in my car amidst a backdrop of lightening and pitter patter rain on the metal roof and windshield. For me, i’ve always had trouble getting to sleep in a house but i’ve never had this problem in the car. I close my eyes and it is the best, most restful sleep i’ve ever had. I recline the seat, ball up my jacket as a pillow, loop the arms of another jacket in the handles on the ceiling and tuck it behind the seat belt stretched around the headrest to make a curtain against the street lamp and have a beautiful 30 minute nap every morning. It is a rare treat that i also get lulled to sleep by the sound of rain.

The storms rolled through all morning and midday. By the afternoon the wind had picked up and the temperature had begun to drop. The storms had gone and were replaced with clear blue sky. The cold wind was bitter and piercing. I hurried to unload the groceries. I took another nap in the afternoon. It was a restless sleep. I could hear the house and trees outside creaking and the wind moaning and rattling the windows. I dreamt of many things, none of them settling. When i woke i did the evening chores as the wind whipped the hair round my face. I made sure the trees and plants were covered and the spigots had their frost protectors on. The dogs were grounded for spilling a whole vat of drinking water and watching it soak into the thirsty dirt instead of making use of what took a $50 filter and an hour to de-sulphur a half gallon of, because they’re brats that dont understand what goes into making well water potable. I watched Cashew emphatically lift and launch the basin sideways, water stretching out sideways in a national geographic type shot, sunlight hitting the beads just right as they flew through the air and then all that precious water was gone in a second as it hit the dusty ground dried by the wind after the storm. Both dogs celebrated the excitement by prancing and bouncing while Cashew tossed the bowl about the dog run. I watched it all happen from afar, a slew of ill advised words leaving my mouth as it flew through the air. Once in the house I opened the doors and into the crates they trotted amidst a harshly worded lecture about resources, survival, and their abhorrent conduct during the afternoon shenanigans. I went to the well with the pitcher and filtered one more half gallon for the next hour so that the dogs and i would have something to drink in the evening.

When i woke from my second nap i went to the shed and filled the orange pitcher with chicken feed. I had to use our container of laundry detergent as a weight to hold the shed door open so that the wind did not whip it into the railing with force and take a chunk out of the wooden board as the door handle made contact. I brought the pitcher to the chicken pen and called the chickens. I used food time as a way to socialize the chickens and cement our bond so i placed the pitcher on the ground and grabbed a handful of feed. Some chickens ate from my hand. Others dipped their heads into the pitcher. Most of them gathered around me and i got an opportunity to pet them and inspect their feathers, legs, and skin. I checked for sores, poop plugs, and any glaring problems per the usual routine. Ellis and Rosie are fat on chicken feed. Lily, Oakley, and Petunia are average. Daisy is alarmingly thin. I’ve always had trouble keeping weight on her, but i suspect she needs to be dewormed again. I asked my relative in the city to pick up a couple organic squash and i’ll go up to get them around Christmas and give Daisy the seeds. She’s the only chicken that is trusted in the house periodically because she follows me so i won’t be trying to get her down off the stacked washer and dryer unit with a broom handle in a flurry of squawking and feathers as she dive bomb poops the furniture. I will cut the first squash in half, scoop out the seeds, place them on the floor boards next to my rocking chair, and then have her into the house to eat them away from the other rowdy chickens to ensure she gets them all. Then i will likely let her pick at the squash halves for a bit before returning her to the pen where i will place the remaining squash halved in front of the flock and let them all collectively eat the thing. Rosie and Ellis will probably get most of it. They are the dominant eaters. They’re both huge as a result. As i fed the chickens by hand before dumping the feed in their dispenser i tried to get Daisy to eat by offering her little pieces of millet, her favorite part of the scratch. She cocked her head and stared at it and then snuggled into my neck instead. It was cold and windy and her frozen comb was like ice against my skin. I hugged her to me and shielded her against the wind. I wrapped my arm around her and clutched her like a football while i used my free hand to hold the pitcher upright for the other chickens. She wouldn’t eat until i had dumped the feed in the dispenser and left the pen. Then she would go in and pick all the millet out of the feed. My picky chicken. For now she was just interested in cuddles as the other chickens stuffed themselves. She buried her head in my sweatshirt and leaned into me. I tucked her in against me, squatting with my back to the wind, pressing my cheek against her feathers and exhaling into the feathers around her head and neck. She seemed to like the warm air from my breath. I pressed her comb against my cheek until it was no longer ice cold. With Daisy thawed she made her happy cooing noises to tell me thank you, i decided if i waited any longer the other chickens would eat all the feed, i dumped it in the dispenser and left the pen. Without me to shield her from the wind my lean little Daisy headed for the shelter of the hen house and to pick at the millet in the feed dispenser.

As i headed for the house i noticed something bright peeking through the trees. I stood on the wooden porch railing and held onto the post for balance. I could see the beginnings of a bright moon rising just above the horizon through the trees.

As night fell i realized i had been looking at a full moon. It was so bright you could see the whole yard and make out every tree and blade of grass. It didn’t even look like night time. This was a good thing because soon i would realize the porch light was out and i would use the light of the moon to make my way to the mouse infested tool shed by the orchard to get a light bulb. There were two left in the box of 8. I grabbed one and placed the box back on the shelf. Then i careful picked my way through the cardboard and styrofoam nests the mice had constructed from packing materials in the shed and made the trek back to the house.

Once at the house i used the moonlight to see what i was doing as i placed a chair underneath the porch light and unscrewed the screws that held the jar in place over the light bulb. I unscrewed the old light bulb, screwed in the new light bulb, and placed the jar back over it. I put the screws in place and tightened them up against the sides of the top of the jar. I got down off the chair and put it back where it had been on the porch. I flipped the switch in the house and the porch was immediately overwhelmed with fluorescent light.

They dont sell regular light bulbs anymore. The grocery only carries those energy saver, good for the environment kind now. Instead of the gentle orange glow i was used to, these bulbs emitted an incredible amount of bright white light that reminded me of the fluorescents in a government or public school building. Though i wasn’t fond of the color, i did note that i could see all the way to the chicken pen from the porch since switching the bulb out. I headed into the house with the dogs to hide from the impending freeze. The chickens were already in their coop, huddled together on their roosting bars. The door was pulled to but not latched. The temperature change and precipitation had made the wood swell and it no longer lined up. But, that’s why the pen was fenced with heavy metal panels and buried wire fencing. I had given them scraps of pear cores and asparagus stalks upon returning to the property. Hopefully the table scraps would act as fuel to keep them warm through the night. So, with the chickens and dogs fed, the plants covered, and the porch light changed i made a pot of miso soup with purple sweet potato noodles, tofu, and seaweed and prepared to take another nap before waking at half past midnight to go open the store again. I figured i’d be seeing more of that brilliant moon.

Distress Call in the Night

i was sitting in my rocking chair writing when all of a sudden the night time silence was pierced by a racket of intense and noisy screaming. The dogs were immediately on their feet and ready for action. My first thought was “a fox has a chicken.” I grabbed my machete, slipped on my shoes, and headed for the door. The screaming was mixed in with a racket of whining and whimpering from my dogs. I couldn’t make out exactly what noise i was hearing because they were making their own racket. I left them in the house and stepped quietly onto the porch. The chickens were silent. They were all asleep. No feathers, no intruder with its tail sticking out the fence. I wanted to hear the noise again but i struggled at how to provoke the animal into talking as i wasn’t sure what kind of animal it was that i had heard. Something told me to whistle. I thought this sounded stupid. What animal besides a dog would answer a whistle. But something told me to so i did. I whistled in the darkness. The noise came loud and clear to the right of me. The close proximity of the noise maker startled me as i realized it was in the yard to the right of the house, close to the tool shed. I recognized that it was not a chicken. This was not one of my animals. This was a wild animal. Either a coyote or a fox had it but it was in grave danger and probably a lot of pain and its distress call was clear. “Help me” “help me”. With a sinking feeling i returned to the house. I had a good idea what it was, but i wouldn’t be sure until i consulted the internet. I stood at the front door, my dogs all excited and just bursting to go find this wounded animal. I whistled again. The animal answered me. It answered me 5 or 6 more times, each scream louder and more urgent than the last. Then there came a point where i whistled and there was no answer. I whistled again. Only silence. The animal was dead. I knew it was not my place to take wild prey out of the mouth of a wild predator. I had to worry about the animals i was responsible for and leave the wild ones to them. For if i started taking mice and rabbits and possums out of the mouths of coyotes they would need a new food source, and what would be left but my animals that i was raising. So, i didn’t interfere when coyotes took down a deer in my yard or foxes chased down rabbits. However, hearing that dying animal answer me in the darkness, i couldnt help but feel it was talking to me, screaming for any intervention possible, and i did not appear. I had no intention of intervening and still i answered it, provoking scream after scream to leave the body of what would turn out to be a jack rabbit. I wondered if it was Josie. She was a wily sneaky rabbit that ate everything i planted even when i tented and netted and fenced the heck out of it. She was clever and she’d always find a way in. For this reason i didn’t love having her in the yard, but, she would always sit nearby and watch me as i did the evening chores in the summer and i grew to think of her as familiar even if she did annoy me with her appetite for all things i was trying to cultivate. I wondered if i had just listened to Josie die. I wondered if it was a coyote or a fox. I figured fox was most likely since i did not hear any howling or yipping and the coyotes tended to tell one another about their kill when they got something. Also, the fox den was behind the house and the rabbit den was beside the shed. It was bound to happen eventually just because of the proximity of the dwellings to one another. I found a video clip of a man making a distressed rabbit call trying to bring in coyotes so he could shoot them. The dogs and i agreed that this was exactly the sound we had heard and the dogs went ballistic trying to get inside my phone where the noise was coming from. I turned the video off. Listening to that noise made me feel like there was a rock in my stomach. To live in the wild without ruining it you have to resign yourself to take a hands off approach to what goes on in the woods. I was committed to this approach but it did not mean i always found it easy to carry out.

I Learn to Hem Pants

I owned 2 pairs of work appropriate pants and i wore them over and over. I bought more pants at the thrift store, but i was having trouble finding someone to hem them. I thought i found someone to do it when i learned a coworker made elaborate art designs with different colors of fabric sewn on top of each other in a manner that made it appear as if a 3D lion or rose was coming out of the jacket or shirt. I asked how much he would charge to just hem pants and he said he’d do it for 5 bucks. What a great price! However, neither one of us could stop mid-shift to hand off the clothes and once he realized it was more than 1 pair of pants he was less enthusiastic about the task. Ultimately, the hand off never happened. My friend Cindy had said she would love to hem them for me so i gave them to her but she was in the middle of a huge family event and then the holiday season…the pants were on the back burner. In the meantime, i split one of the two only pairs of work pants i had all the way across the left leg. Now i owned a single pair of pants. I asked if i could have the pants back unhemmed because i had split my pants and needed to just get pants into the rotation whether they were properly hemmed or safety pinned. Cindy promised to try to sew one pair of pants before my next work day and she did. When i saw it i decided that i could replicate this by hand so i went to the local grocery and purchased a sewing repair kit. I hand copied the pair that Cindy had hemmed with needle and thread and created 4 new pairs of hemmed goodwill pants. They weren’t perfect but they were functional and didnt look half bad.

A Trip to the Asian Market

I love lotus root. As long as it’s not spicy i’ll eat it any way it’s made!
Japanese Eggplant

I had to drive 3 hours to get to the dentist. It was time to go to the big city. I decided that while i was there i would do something i hadn’t done in years, visit my old favorite asian market. Family members convinced me i ought to try the new markets they had built, so i did, but ultimately they just weren’t what i grew up with and lived near as an adult for years. So, i went back to my favorite haunt and found all the foods i had been missing and craving. Longan, durian, sapota, japanese eggplant, persimmons, lotus root, imported peanuts, mung beans, purple sweet potato noodles, dal, and huge bulk bags of brown rice and red beans. I was in heaven. Family made me gluten free muffins and cookies (delicious) and i got to eat take out from my favorite restaurant, which was the best tasting food ever, firstly because the soup of the day was vegan borscht, and secondly because i hadn’t eaten in 14 hours. I was so busy trying to get everything i needed to do done in the city before i had to drive back, crossing town again and again because a matter at the post office across town had to be handled before an item went any further in the shipping process and the post office doesnt have someone to answer the phone anymore, so even though the dentist was right by the market i had to go to the dentist on one side of the city, the post office on the other side of the city, then drive back to the first side of the city for the market…i could not believe people drove in such awful impossible traffic on a regular basis. I could not believe people could stand to do that day after day, to live there. I wanted to pull all my hair out. I willed myself from here to there to there just trying to get everything done and didnt get to visit family until 7 pm though i set out at 7 am. I was so busy driving there was no time to stop and eat. So at 7 pm that food was the best tasting i’d ever eaten, and when i had a cooler full of exotic fruit and muffins and a box full of dry goods headed back to my town, i knew the hunger had been worth it because i was about to stuff my hill country pantry and fridge with items they had never seen before, and probably wouldnt for many years. I could not wait to get into that durian or crisp up some sliced lotus root.

The Ant Colony Living in my Car

It happened after a huge rain storm. It was 3:30 in the morning when i got in the car to go to work. It was dark and i was barely awake. I would not have seen the vast amount of movement when i opened the door to throw my bags and jacket in. Similarly, it was dark when i left the car in the parking lot and headed for my building. Imagine the shock on my face when i returned to the car at the end of my shift and opened the door to throw my lunchbox in only to be witnessing an entire colony of carpenter ants tending to their larvae in the space in between my door and the frame of my car. They were moving about at a furious speed in all directions and the larger ants were moving the larvae this way and that. I closed the door immediately, but then i thought, maybe i imagined it. I opened the car door again. There they were. I closed the car door. But it was so absurd. The idea that they had brought all their larvae and deposited them in this space in between the door and the car frame. I opened the door once more. Sure enough, there were ant larvae. I closed the door. As long as i kept the door closed they did not have access to the interior of the car because the weather proof lining would keep them from entering. I drove around in my car like this for days, hoping they would just silently make their exit once the ground dried and go back to their home. But, they continued to live in my car. It seemed they had adopted my car as their new ant hill. I called a pest control company and told the guy (who happened to be the owner of the company) that i was driving around with a colony of carpenter ants in my car and i needed somebody to kill them. He thought i was joking at first. He had me describe it multiple times and finally send him photographs from my phone. I told him i’d bring the ants to him if he could get them out or kill them but he insisted that i would not want to drive with the poisons in the car, even if i lowered the windows. He was so intrigued that he told me to go home and promised to drive out to my little nowhere town to kill the ants himself because, and i quote “i have to see this.” He did come out to my property. We lined up in front of the door and when i opened it, his face looked like mine when i first saw them. What is a carpenter ant colony doing operating in the complete absence of any dirt or wood, as if everything is business as usual, in a metal car? He scratched his head and said, “this is a new one for me.” We closed the door. He said, “i can kill them if that’s what you want.” I was like, yes, kill them. I mean, i couldnt just drive the ants around town for the next ten years. They had to go. So he scratched his head once more, looked like he’d seen an alien, and then turned to me and asked, “did any of them bite you.” I said, “no. They just seem to move the larvae around and crawl furiously within this little space. When the door is closed they cant get inside the interior of the car.” The guy nodded, strapped a canister of poison on his back, and used a wand to spray all the ants until the entire colony was dead. The ants were all up under the rubber lining in the door as well. He pulled that out and sprayed poison in there as well. I thanked him and paid him and we both walked back to his truck looking like we’d just seen a flying pig. He said to let him know if they come back with more numbers because he’d come out and finish them for free if they did. They didnt. They’re still dead in the door. I didnt wipe them up. Just the sheer number of them alarms me so much. Instinctually i know if i got bit by that many ants i’d be in a world of hurt, so my brain says “danger, danger” any time i open that door. So i just dont open that door. What a car. There’s mud from the tornado and flood waters i got stuck in a year ago all over the front seats and theres a dead ant colony in the back.

A Warm Winter

So, this spring it was 4 degrees in central texas, which has happened….oh yeah, never. Now, in winter, it is 85 degrees. Halloween was not cold…which has happened…pretty much never. It’s mid December and my well house is still full of wasps. The grass isn’t dead yet, and when i went to brush a squiggly piece of grass off my lunchbox with my bare foot (because one can have bare feet in the winter without having to worry about critters) i learned that scorpion season has been extended as well. This winter it was only 30 degrees once for a couple hours and 32 degrees once for a couple hours. Without a sustained freeze all the critters are still awake and very much in my way. I need those wasps to freeze so i can get in there and fill the salt chip barrel. I guess i’ve got to wear shoes in the house year round this year because as you can see, that squiggly piece of grass was my near sighted interpretation of a scorpion. I was seeing the legs.