Replacing the Light Bulbs in a 384 square foot House full of Chickens, Furniture, and Appliances (aka a magic trick)

I moved to this property over two years ago. I have never changed the lightbulbs in the ceiling fixtures. I’ve switched out the porch light. I’ve switched out the bulbs above the bathroom mirror, but the lights on the ceiling have lasted over two years. Last semester a great many of the bulbs burned out, and then i was really living like a pioneer. If i wanted to read or write anything for school after sundown i had to set the lantern next to my notepad in order to see it. I told myself i would remedy this situation on the break between semesters but in actuality i wasn’t sure how exactly i was going to do it. I had a very heavy, extremely reliable and versatile ladder that was wider than the walking space i had in the house at the time with a stock tank full of chickens, a freestanding closet, and a lap top + desktop monitor in the middle of the room. There was no place to move these things to the side because the bed, the refrigerator, the dog crates, the oven, the rocking chair, and the record player were to the side. Not to mention the washer and dryer machines. I was really unsure of how to change the lightbulbs in the bathroom because the fixture was directly above the toilet. I couldn’t put the ladder directly underneath unless i somehow lifted two of the legs over the toilet. There was not enough room to scoot it over the toilet sideways because the ladder would not fit through the door if turned. One could certainly fold the ladder and then it would fit through the doorway but there was not enough room to angle the ladder diagonally on two legs so that it became short enough for me to reach the giant buttons at the top of the ladder that had to be pressed inwards in order to unfold the ladder, so it had to go into the bathroom doorway unfolded already as far as i could tell.

What happened was that i put it off until i had only 2 more days off work before my semester break was over. I went to work, finished my shift, and finally remembered to buy lightbulbs. I knew i would put those lightbulbs down somewhere and then talk myself out of doing anything with them until the chickens had grown up and gone outside to join the flock. There was a part of me that realized that meant doing a whole semester of schoolwork by lamplight. It would be horrible. So i didn’t put them down. I walked around with the lightbulbs in my hand, unwilling to set them in the shed, until i just opened the shed door, dragged the ladder out into the yard, lugged it to the house, dragged it in the house, and began setting it up. It was heavy and bulky and made plenty of noise which sent the chickens in the house into a squawking clucking angry frenzy.

I bent the ladder into a v-shape (it can be straightened or v shaped) and locked it into place. I stood it up and realized i needed about two more feet of height if i was going to comfortably reach the ceiling. I laid the ladder down again on the floor in the narrow space in the middle of the room, between the stock tank and the bed and refrigerator. I extended each side of the ladder two feet, locked them into place at this height, and turned the ladder back into an upside down v standing in the only spot in the house it would fit. Satisfied that this was the correct height needed, i moved the stock tank as close to the wall as i could get it, causing more upset with the chickens. I unplugged my computer monitor and moved the chair it sat on in front of the lap top on the tv-dinner table. To do that i had to move the rocking chair back against the bathroom door. I stood on the ladder and unscrewed the nut at the bottom of the glass dish of the first ceiling fixture. Once the nut was unscrewed i saw that there was a long beefy bolt sticking out of a hole in the glass dish that was now held to the ceiling only by my hand. I carefully pulled the dish down. It was full of dead bugs which dumped all over my arm and pants through the hole the bolt had been threaded through. I brushed them off and dumped the rest of the dead bugs in the trash can. I set the glass dish on top of one of the dog crates, set the nut on the top ladder rung, grabbed a new light bulb from the box and ascended the ladder again. I unscrewed the old bulb and replaced it with the new one. The place to put the bulb in was just a plastic socket hanging from a wire in the ceiling. It had been clipped in place so that it was facing sideways but was by no means really well anchored to anything. I made a note to myself to disturb this setup as little as possible each time i changed the lightbulbs. The fixture in the bathroom had two bulbs. The two fixtures in the main room just had one each. I liked that the sellers had matched the fixtures to the ceiling. The fixtures on the metal ceiling had silver rims and a silver nut. The fixture in the bathroom on the wood ceiling had a dark brown rim and a dark brown nut. I enjoyed this creative choice. I retrieved the glass dish and threaded the bolt through its hole. I held it in place with one hand while i screwed the nut onto the bolt with the other. Then i climbed down and flicked on the light. Next. I did the same routine with the second light in the main room. The bathroom light was more difficult. The toilet was in the way and the ladder barely fit through the bathroom doorway. This meant that i had to hook my leg in the ladder and hang off the side a bit. I was close enough to both walls to touch them if the ladder ever tipped (it did not). I would hang off the side of the ladder to reach the fixture over the toilet. I had neglected to close the lid and was terrified of dropping the nut (the key piece that held the fixture together) into the bowl of the toilet (despite my fears it did not happen). I managed to change both light bulbs in the bathroom ceiling fixture and get it put back together. Then i removed the ladder from the house, shortened and folded it back up, lugged it back to the tool shed, locked it in, and moved all the furniture in the house back to its place. Immediately afterwards the skies opened up and it rained for hours. I sat in my house with the lights on. Now the bulbs could be on the shelf in the tool shed. Task completed.

The Impossible Task

I had completely let the property grow wild for an entire semester. In my effort to pass my intensive summer course while working at a very physical job i had quit mowing the grass. It had also rained, a lot. The entire 2 acre property was covered in grass that ranged from knee high to mid-torso high. The dogs were sleeping in their crates and sili was no longer allowed in the bed because the tall grass was full of ticks. The dogs were medicated against ticks so they didn’t latch on. They just hitched a ride in the dogs’ fur and then hopped off and tried to burrow into me, a non-medicated host, once inside the house. I had to change pants every time i watered the plants because the chiggers were so prolific. It was not a moment of pride for me. I had really let the property go. I told myself i would fix it during the break between semesters and now it was time to make good on that promise.

I didn’t own a riding mower. I owned two reel blade mowers, an electric weed wacker, and a battery powered push-mower. the grass was higher than 3 inches so both the reel blade mowers in their varied conditions were out. I decided the combination of the weed wacker and the battery powered push mower would have to be used to tackle this job.

Determined not to do this job more than once, i lowered the mower as close to the ground as the notches would let me. This ultimately damaged my blades several times because there are always rocks, stumps, and branches hidden in two acres of tall grass and this ensured that i hit all of them, but i was in a dire state of needing to get this done and not having the time or will to do it again before the onset of winter. I hoped the heat of a texas summer sun would dry the grass out and then the freeze of winter would kill it.

While i was mowing i uncovered what i suspect is a fox den behind the house and what is likely a rabbit den near the extension shed.

I started the process at dawn on my first day off work since the semester’s end. It was in the eighties when i began but as the sun climbed high in the sky temperatures quickly soared to near 100. The problem was that each battery only lasted 40 minutes. I had 3 batteries and 1 charger. Each battery took roughly two hours to charge. That meant that i had to mow in waves, at the beginning of the day, at noon, and at the end of the day. That was when the batteries were available.

Come mid day i enjoyed 15 minutes of mowing in a tank top and with no hat. After that, the kind of sunburn i’d be creating would require medical attention at the ER. So, on went the long sleeved button up that i folded over my hands while i mowed to keep my fingers from turning red. On went the t-shirt underneath my baseball cap to protect my face, ears, and neck. so began the misery of wearing winter clothes in 100 degree temperatures. Your body moves more slowly. As heat-stroke sets in, movement becomes more difficult, requires more focus and planning, and precision is less possible, but having grown up in Texas and lived here most of my life, if there’s one thing i’m well conditioned for it’s functioning through heat stroke. Just drink lots and lots of water and ignore the little voice in your head that starts telling you you’re cold. (Don’t really do that. I don’t recommend emulating any of this behavior. This is a do as i say not as i do type moment.).

The batteries that were supposed to last 40 minutes overheated in 5 to 15 minutes and had to be placed in the house in front of the window unit to cool down before they could be used again.

I began making some headway but the going was slow. The temperature, the height of the grass, and my steel toed boots made it impossible to run. I was walking to cut the grass, and usually had to go over each area twice just to get it cut down to the correct length.

I stopped to admire a wolf spider named midnight that had run down a June bug, pounced on it, and was now going to eat it for lunch.

I thought this would take me a day or two. Between destroying, macgyvering, and repairing the weed wacker and dealing with the overheated batteries, this process took me a week and a half between work shifts. At one point i figured out how to thread rubber coated metal craft wire through the weed eater and just give it half the juice it was meant to have to avoid driving to town to get more line. At another point i mowed the lawn at night with the car’s high beams pointed at the area i was working on, pushing the mower with my left hand and holding the lantern with my right.

I cut paths to the compost pile, the mulch pile, and the trees in the orchard.

I remember finishing this project. I repaired and restrung the weed eater and hacked down the last bit in the dog run. Once it was hacked to a reasonable size i went at it with the mower on the second shortest setting. The temperature was so hot and the sun so blinding that the batteries barely lasted 5 minutes a piece. I had one patch left and all but one of the batteries had overheated. I was so determined to finish this now and not have to wait for the batteries to cool and go at it again. I was pretty delirious from heat stroke and it was difficult to see. I was yelling at the heavens and the mower and the grass…i kept saying “i’m gonna finish this” like a broken record on repeat. I coaxed the mower along and the last battery held out long enough for me to finish that one corner of the dog run. Immediately after i mowed the last blades of grass i let go of the mower and stumbled around the dog run laughing in disbelief and screaming “it’s done! It’s done! It’s done!” Thirty minutes later i was sitting on the floor in the a/c still mumbling “it’s done” in disbelief. I had actually disassembled the mower and the hundreds of feet of extension cord for the weed eater and dragged everything into the shed before i came into the house to sit in the a/c. I don’t remember doing it. That part is pretty much a blur. I finished my task. That was all that mattered to me. I had to finish it. It was done. It was finally done.

the Orb Weavers Arrive

I knew that Willow was a spotted orb weaver like Wilma had been before her, but her legs were grey. They were not the brilliant translucent red that Wilma’s legs had been. The day after my birthday i saw a spotted orb weaver in a web on the fence gate. I can’t be sure whether it was another orb weaver or Willow in different lighting. However, the spider’s legs were the brilliant translucent red that i remember from Wilma years ago. I was so excited! What a present.

As far as i can tell, this is a furrow orb weaver. I’ve named her Rose. She’s very shy and keeps to herself. She sits in this corner all day and half the night. She comes out only briefly to hunt and then scurries back into her corner.

She is a big spider and quite beautiful when she does emerge.

This is Mazikeen. She is my favorite orb weaver this year. I love them all but i always have a favorite. Orb weavers are usually gentle giants. They sit still most of the day and wait for the food to come to them. Once it is in the web they will mosey over to it and start spinning it up. Mazikeen is different. She is not a gentle giant. She is small and fiesty. She is a fierce huntress. She doesn’t typically wait for the food to get stuck in her web. She will construct an elaborate web, sit in it, and then reach out and grab insects flying nearby and stick them in the web. She will then begin spinning them up in her spider silk. She is very active and can take down insects larger than her without hesitation.

Mazikeen

One morning i went outside and there was a huge grasshopper in Mazikeen’s web. It was right in the middle and there she was, turning it with her legs and spinning it up. I was late for work so i didn’t stop to get a picture but i loved Mazikeen from that moment forward. The grasshoppers eat everything in their path. If she wants to eat the grasshoppers, well she can stay forever as far as i’m concerned. What a spider!

Mazikeen at work
Mazikeen
Rose
Rose coming out to hunt briefly

Fowl Pox

I began giving the chickens field trips to fresh grass and bugs in the chicken tractor to boost their immune systems and quality of life.

It was an evening like any other. I went to work, pulled an 8.5 hour shift of sprinting around with a giant metal cart, made the 30 minute drive home… on that drive my muscles have a chance to rest…everything stiffens; the perpetual motion has finally stopped and the aching sets in. I knew it would be agony to stand and walk following the thirty minute drive home and mentally, i wasn’t ready to do it. So i did like i do sometimes and took a moment at the gate. I probably spent 12 to 15 minutes sitting at the gate. I was on the phone. I told myself i would finish my phone call and then get out of the car to go open the gate. However, it was more about my not wanting to face the physicality of the chores that had to be done before nightfall than it was about being on the phone. I wrapped up my phone call and forced myself to get out of the car. I stumbled up to the gate and unchained it. I pulled the car through and put the chain back on. The first thing i did after parking the car was to feed and let the dogs out. The second thing i did was bring feed to the chickens.

I walked into the pen and two chickens greeted me but they did not seem interested in the pitcher of feed i had. They were a bit standoffish and ran around the side of the coop when i tried to pet them. When i unlatched the door to the coop i first noticed a chicken sitting in the nesting box by the window, looking at me. My eyes then fell on the lump lying in the shavings. On the floor of the coop was a dead chicken. I knew immediately that she was dead. Her comb was purple instead of red and her skin was pale. Her visible eye was closed. People have told me not to touch my chickens without gloves and certainly people have given me a tongue lashing for touching a dead chicken without gloves, so i don’t recommend that anyone do what i did. However, in that situation, i wasn’t thinking; dead chicken. Those chickens are family to me. I raised each one from a tiny chick. They each have personalities and quirks and they do show affection and attachment. They will run to you when they hear your voice, sit in your lap, and nuzzle their heads against your shirt while making a sort of purring noise if purring were mixed with a vocalization. In this moment i was overcome with devastation and i wanted desperately to know who it was. I wanted desperately to understand the severity of the situation. Who had i lost? With ringing in my ears i returned to the pen and had a look at the two chickens who were standing in the pen. I recognized Rosie’s signature crooked feet. It wasn’t Rosie who was dead on the floor of the coop. My stomach opened up; Daisy, where’s Daisy?! I searched desperately for her floppy comb but the other chickens in the pen had combs that stood up. I ducked back into the coop and turned to the chicken in the nesting box. There was Daisy’s signature floppy comb, turned over on itself and dangling down the side of her head. Oh thank God! It wasn’t Daisy on the floor. Who was dead? Who was on the floor? And why…how? Daisy looked at me from the nesting box, followed my every movement with her eyes, but made no attempt to get up. It was eerily quiet in the chicken pen. Nobody squawked. Nobody clucked. I examined the carcass. I didn’t understand. I knew chickens to be cannibals. I knew they would eat any chicken that appeared to be dead or injured. Yet, the carcass was fully intact and untouched. Pristine shiny buff colored feathers. She looked like she was sleeping. Her feathers were so beautiful, it looked like i could just stroke her and she’d get disturbed and stand up. Her purple comb told me she was dead but her beautiful untouched shiny buff feathers with the cream colored ones shuffled in tricked my brain into thinking i was seeing something that was alive. She hadn’t been picked at. She wasn’t bloody. She wasn’t skin and bones. My heart ached as my brain toyed with the possibility that she would just stand up at any minute and walk about the pen. I knew on some level that was not going to happen, but she was still so pretty. She was so pretty, lying there with all her beautiful cream and buff feathers. She looked just like her sisters, with the exception of her comb and her slightly pale skin about her head. My instinct was to just get her out of there. I had to get her out of there, as soon as possible. Daisy was watching me closely from the nesting box. It was uncharacteristic for any of the chickens to be in the nesting boxes at this time in the afternoon. It was not close enough to sundown for them to be roosting and it was late enough in the day that all eggs would have been laid already. I recognized that Daisy had sat nearby and kept her sister company up until the point of death. That was also very uncharacteristic for a chicken. They typically have an urge to kill anything that seems weak or hobbled. I was astonished she hadn’t disturbed the corpse or made an attempt at eating her. I could tell the chickens knew their sister had passed. They were being unusually quiet, standoffish, and not interested in food. I wasn’t sure what they made of the death. I just wanted to get her out of there, away from my remaining live chickens. I didn’t want to traumatize them any further and i didn’t want to give them a chance to rethink cannibalism. I grabbed her tail feathers and lifted her body from the floor of the coop. In that instant i realized why none of the other chickens had eaten her. She had just died, literally while i sat in the car finishing my phone call at the gate. Her body was not warm but it was not yet cold either. Her comb was purple but her body and neck were still limber. It was not stiff yet, and the chicken’s bowels had not yet released. This chicken had not been dead for 10 minutes. As i carried it from the pen the other chickens ran around the side of the coop and hid. Daisy remained in the nesting box in the coop. While i walked the deceased chicken’s head flopped this way and that. This broke my heart to pieces. It reiterated the timing of her death. If i had gotten out of the car instead of procrastinating because i was sore and i didn’t want to open the gate, i would have happened upon her when she was still alive. I could have helped her, or at least held her while she died. Instead she died alone sitting on the floor of the coop. This traumatized me in a way that altered my behavior. I never again sat at the gate upon arriving home unless i could count all 4 chickens present and upright in the pen. If i couldn’t see them all, i went immediately in and found the ones that were hidden from my view. The first thing i would do upon arriving home from then on was check on the chickens.

Her little feet were curled beneath her but her neck flopped about in such a limber way. My brain would not comprehend that she was dead. I knew a dead animal to behave in a different way and so my brain did not compute. I sat in the yard looking at her. I had laid her in the grass in front of the house. I checked for wounds or bite marks and found none. There were no signs of a struggle or a fight. She was in pristine whole condition. Her pretty feathers ruffled in the wind. After a few minutes her body began to stiffen. Her neck was less flexible. My brain was willing to believe it now. This animal was dead. I stood and began to think about what was next. Dig a grave? I went to the shed and retrieved the shovel. My mind raced over the layout of the property. Where to dig? Where should i put her? I was overcome with grief and physically doubled over at the thought of burying her. It somehow made it final that she was gone, the thought of putting her into the ground. I couldn’t do it. Her feathers were so shiny and beautiful and well kept. How could she be gone? I kept having to check and confirm again that her comb was purple and body still stiffening. She was just so beautiful. I thought, for sure she was just sleeping, silly thing, this is all a big mistake and she’s gonna get up and run about the yard now, any minute. Her body continued to stiffen and the progression of it scared me. I wanted it to stop. I wanted to rewind and alter reality. I wanted a different outcome. It had been a record-breaking rainy year. The chicken pen had been poopy slush for most of the year. I hadn’t visited them for cuddles as often as i used to simply because no one wants chickens to roost on their legs and sit in their laps when their feet have been trudging through muddy poop slush all day. I only let them sit on me when the dirt was dry in their pen. Otherwise they would paint my pants legs with poopy chicken tracks. I had been neglecting them because of the weather, and now one was dead. It was either Lily, Petunia, or Buttercup. I was lucky it was not one of my two favorites but i was heartbroken to lose any of them. In the end, i put her in a bag and placed her in the freezer. I threw all the compost material i had been keeping in there on the pile to make room for her. I just couldn’t put her in the ground. I wasn’t ready for that. I wasn’t ready for the death of this chicken to be real, so she went in the freezer. The dogs watched me do it with interest. They seemed to sense something was going on. I put them in the dog run for the remainder of the day while i ran through the possibilities. Had she succumbed to heat stroke, gotten bit by a poisonous snake, a spider? I combed the pen and coop for signs of a predatory intruder. I looked up every spider i found. They were all harmless, though some of them an impressive size. I mourned the loss of one of my feathered children, but beyond that, i had lost a resource. I used eggs to barter and to repay debts. I used them often in trade. I had three people that i was regularly supplying with eggs and four chickens meant nobody was going to be getting a full dozen. I was now kicking myself for rehoming Ellis and Oakley.

i waited for the chickens behavior to return to normal before deciding who it was that had died. Nobody was circling around behind me, pulling my apron strings, and pecking at the backs of my legs. This meant that the chicken who had died was Buttercup. She was the only chicken of the flock that committed this behavior. I was eternally perturbed about it. She was notorious for sneak attack pecking. She had been the rooster’s only friend and the day i killed him she watched the whole fight that led up to his death. The pecking behavior started shortly afterwards. I always figured she held it against me for ending her friend, but she had her moments where she would come in for a cuddle with the rest of them. She wasn’t evil, just ornery. Secretly, and maybe this is evil, i had hoped it was Buttercup. I tolerated Buttercup but i loved the others genuinely. The others were very bonded to me. Buttercup was the chicken that it would have hurt the least to lose. So God took my chicken, but he took the one i was least bonded with. I was thankful for that. I said a little prayer that she rest in heaven with the angels and God welcome her with open arms and that she have free range of a grass field with no hawks, coons, or foxes and all the bugs and melon rinds she could dream of. So, Buttercup left us. I was haunted by the fact that i did not know what killed her. I drove myself crazy trying to figure it out. I spent a lot of time in the chicken pen investigating and mulling over theories. I had to entertain that it could have been anything, in order to keep the others from sharing in her fate. I threw out all the old shavings and started new. I got rid of their old water container, got them a brand new one, and placed it on top of an extra large breed dog bowl turned upside down. This elevated the water dispenser so that when they kicked dirt and poop up with their feet scratching for bugs, it was less likely to land directly in their water supply. I refused to use rain water any longer and gave them only filtered well water, worried that bacteria might have grown in the sitting rain water i stored in toy boxes on the property. I began leaving the door off the chicken coop at night, worried the ammonia from their waste might be collecting in the coop and what if it was not properly escaping through the ventilation? What if i was trapping them in their with toxic fumes? I didn’t get my answer about what had killed Buttercup until a week later. It had been raining a lot, like for months. The pen was very muddy. The chickens appeared to have globs of mud on their faces. I didn’t think much of it, until i tried to wipe one off. It wasn’t mud. They were scabs of dried blood on their beaks and faces. I knew immediately that this was not a coincidence. The flock was plagued with something and Buttercup had died of it. I had to figure out what it was!

After researching, i was pretty sure the chickens had fowl pox. This was confirmed when the chickens developed bloody sores that scabbed over on their faces, the edges of their beaks, and their combs, had swollen bumpy areas on their legs, and then developed little oval shaped yellow mucusy spots on the insides of their beaks….made visible when they panted in the summer heat. All the reading i had done on fowl pox stated there was no treatment. There was a vaccine that could be given as a preventative measure but there was no known treatment for it once the chickens were infected. If a chicken survived fowl pox they could never again in their life become infected with it. However, survival was not guaranteed. It was transmitted via mosquito, which we had a lot of due to all the rains. Then any chicken who drank the same water the infected chicken did could contract it. There was wet fowl pox and dry fowl pox. You wanted your chicken to have dry fowl pox as it became massively more deadly when it shifted to wet fowl pox as the chicken could end up with pneumonia and die of respiratory distress with mucusy oozing sores all through its airway. The only known way of combatting fowl pox was to keep the chickens environment dry and not moist, keep the chickens calm, and give them extra vitamins to boost their immune system.

You can see the sores on their faces and combs.

I stopped putting the door on the chicken coop at night. I had buried the wire fencing of the pen under the ground and it did have a roof so they were somewhat protected. I left the door open so a cross breeze blew through the coop at night, keeping the shavings from getting stale and humid each time it rained. I made sure to give the chickens organic vegetables every day, even if i didnt have any scraps, i would just give them something i had intended to eat myself, for the sake of them having the vitamin content of fresh food daily. I put on old clothes and squatted in the muddy poopy chicken pen daily for a cuddle session to keep the chickens calm. They each hopped up on my legs and nuzzled their heads in my shirt, sighing and making purring noises, relaxing their heads and leaning them on my arms. I was not going to give up on them. I prayed every day and i kept up all the measures i had put in place to get them well. i hoped with all my might, that they wouldn’t let this thing get the best of them. It was heartbreaking to watch them break out in sores, knowing i couldn’t do anything to stop the progression. Sometimes the sores would fall off and then the chicken would be bloody until a new scab formed. I watched as all my chickens began developing sores inside their mouths. I watched as they tolerated the heat less and less and seemed to be working harder and harder to breathe. Their legs became raised and swollen. Their combs were gnarly and scabbed. I furiously shoveled organic foods their way, especially kale stems, carrot greens, and whole sweet potatoes. If i was cooking i would almost be purposefully careless when chopping the vegetables and if anything fell off the cutting board for even a second it went to the chickens. If they were looking especially bad i would just go into the refrigerator and get the greenest vegetable i had and put it in the chicken pen. Twice i gave them two whole stalks of broccoli. It meant i wouldn’t be eating the broccoli. I would be eating rice and beans when i gave them my greenery, but i didn’t care. I just wanted my chickens not to die.

It was so rainy this year i put the water dispenser on an overturned dog bowl to get it out of the muck.
Chicken cuddles
Daisy, my favorite chicken.
Daisy
Resting her head on my shoulder

During this time my friend started talking about getting her friend to bring Oakley and Ellis back. I told her that was mean and i couldn’t ask for the chickens back. What was done was done and they were her chickens regardless of what was going on at my house. She said we could just ask her what she thought about the idea…that her chickens had still not accepted the two little ones into the flock and so they were not assimilated yet. I decided she could ask as long as she let her know that i’d be fine with it if she wanted to keep them. She said that i could have them back if i wanted. So, the decision was made to bring Ellis and Oakley back to the homestead. I realized that this was a huge kindness on the part of Cindy’s friend, as she had spent a lot of time and effort trying to get her flock to accept the two little chickens and here i was rendering the effort all for nothing. So i told her that her kindness would not be forgotten and that each time i harvested resources from the land like agarita berries or sumac, i would prepare her a portion of the harvest and leave it at Cindy’s house for her to pick up at her next weekly visit. This was important to me. She was giving me a valuable resource and i wanted to make her whole and have the effort she spent be worth while. To start over hand-raising and socializing chicks would be a time consuming and horribly long and hard process. These chicks were already hand raised. Half the work had been done. A lot of effort goes into making them social like dogs. They don’t come out of the egg like that. You have to put the effort in.

Obviously, my flock was infected with fowl pox. I couldn’t have Ellis and Oakley outside with them. So, i dragged the cattle water tank back into the house and filled it with shavings. Ellis and Oakley would have to live in the house until winter. I had to make sure they did not become infected and it would be when they’d be transitioning to adult feed anyways so it would be a good time to try to put them in the pen outside with the others who would be presumably healthy by then.

I was surprised when i picked up Ellis and Oakley. Of course they were bigger than i remembered them but beyond that their temperaments had changed. They were both very jumpy and standoffish. Oakley had become somewhat aggressive. Ellis, the sweeter of the two chicks, had obviously gone the other way. The chickens of the flock they had tried to join had pecked a huge hole in her head. She was missing a good chunk of her scalp and i was pretty sure i was staring at her skull. I could see massive scarring where it had tried to heal repeatedly and then probably been pecked open again. Let me just say that this was in no way neglect. Chickens will do this to any new members. They’re not for assimilation. My chickens will probably attempt something similar when the time comes. I have a long road ahead if i want to unify all the chickens as one flock. It’s not a given. As Oakley becomes more assertive i have to decide whether i’m willing to risk Rosie and Daisy’s lives to try to incorporate Ellis and Oakley into the flock. Ellis would not attempt to kill Rosie and Daisy but without Oakley as her ally, assimilating Ellis on her own would almost certainly be a death sentence for her. I decided to get all the chickens healed and healthy and then start putting Ellis and Oakley outside for field trips in the chicken tractor next to the main pen where the chickens could see each other but not touch. I’d judge from there what should be done based on their behavior towards one another. It took me nearly two weeks to get Ellis’ head to heal. I put blue goo on it so that Oakley could not see the red of the tissue and dried blood and want to peck at it. The rubbery substance acted as a scab and new skin formed underneath. Ellis continually thwarted my efforts by scratching her head open vigorously with her claws. I imagined it was itching as it attempted to heal. Eventually it did heal and i could no longer see her skull. The skin is stretched and twisted there. No feathers grow on one side of her head and neck. My boss and coworkers suggested names like baldy and cueball. I ended up naming her Ellis with the nickname of “Resi” for resilient. My boss commented that my name choice was much kinder than anything they were suggesting but that was probably because i viewed these animals as family members beyond resources and i wanted her to have a proper name that she could respect. It took me a few weeks to get them to stop screaming like banshees. These two chickens had clearly been in the fight of their lives, continually battling a flock that wanted to peck them to death. If anything in the house moved or even made noise, these two chickens would fly in every direction and scream like dying animals. It was very loud and very difficult to sleep. I knew i had to exercise patience with them. They had been through a trauma and it was my fault. I had given them to someone who had a large flock. The ratio of old birds to new birds was not great for assimilation. I hadn’t properly thought about what would happen. I now had to deal with the consequences of my actions. I sung to the birds. I spoke to them in a quiet soothing voice. I would engage in socialization sessions where i would pick them up and hold them for a period of time. They would scream the whole time but the goal was that eventually they would realize nothing bad had happened to them and stop fearing all human contact. Neither chicken seemed to remember me or my voice at all. They were different animals now. We were starting over at square one. I had to accept that Ellis and Oakley would probably never be bonded to me in the same way that my four adult chickens were. Oh well.

Once they felt safe i had a new problem. Oakley became quite aggressive and pecked me any time i changed their water or food dispensers. She pecked to draw blood and scratched hard with her feet. At some point my patience ran out with her. I realized they had been through something traumatizing but this was my house and i wasn’t going to have an animal that was actively trying to kill me under my roof, while i fed and watered her so she could try to kill me some more. There were rules. Mainly, don’t bite the hand that feeds you. She grabbed the skin on the back of my hand in her beak and thrashed her head about, twisting my skin in her beak. I took the plastic spoon i was holding to scoop the shavings from her water tray and shoved her. She looked astonished. From then on, whenever she flew at me, beak open and claws ready, i gave her a shove. I would place my open hand on her chest and shove her hard to the back of the enclosure. I wasn’t going to stand for this kind of behavior any longer. She could change her ways or go live at the feed store as breeding stock. That was that. After a few days she just stopped. She left me alone when i entered the enclosure to change their food and water and didnt fuss much when i insisted upon petting them. Every once in a while she would get a bee in her bonnet and decide to challenge me but if i gave her a shove she would back down and behave for four or five days. I filed this behavior away as noted information. Oakley was a dominant chicken. She would really shake up the hierarchy of my current group. She would not sit quietly beneath Daisy and Rosie. She would want to be top dog. This meant that i was not sure i wanted to assimilate Oakley into the flock. There’s still a good possibility that she may end up breeding stock at the feed store. If that happens, it happens. The question is, what is to happen with Ellis? Can i assimilate her without Oakley? Will Oakley get herself together by winter? Or will Ellis have to go back to the feed store by default, even though she has a wonderful temperament, simply because the chickens of my flock would take her apart as a lone addition without Oakley to guard her? Only time will tell.

While the baby chickens progressed inside the house the adult chickens were getting well outside the house. At one point Daisy lost a lot of weight, was making concerning poops, and appeared to be in respiratory distress. I thought i might lose her, but she pulled through. Pretty much all the sores have fallen off the chickens at this point and the raised bumpy areas on their legs have gone down. They seem to have all pulled through. I am hopeful for the future. We will see what i can do to bring these chickens together. Only God can know the outcome.

The Difference a Teacher can Make

In the past i have tried my hand multiple times at learning Russian. Each time i start out with knowledge of the english alphabet and nothing else. At first, when just learning the Cyrillic alphabet, the printed words just look like groupings of symbols to me. As i begin to memorize what sounds are associated with each symbol, when i read the sentences over again the symbols start to look like words. I start to sound out the words in my head based on the appearance of the small strings of symbols on the page. Suddenly it all seems to make sense. Nothing has changed about the words on the page. They are the same words, but they are now accessible to me in a completely different way because i’ve learned the Cyrillic alphabet.

I tell you this because it’s the only way i know to describe what happened to me with the GIS course material this past semester. I enrolled again in the course i had to drop last semester. Very little had changed. It was the same course content that was completely unaccessible to my mind just one semester ago, but i learned and now understood the GIS alphabet, if you will, and suddenly everything made sense. I knew what the written definition of “domain” was last semester but now i understood what a domain was, how to create or assign one, and what its purpose was. Now it wasn’t just a definition on a page. It was a real tangible thing within a project and i understood what it was and how to use it. I have a middle-aged father-of-three with dad jokes to thank for that. I lucked out and got one of the more compassionate and encouraging teachers for the course this past semester. He answered my questions in a timely manner, provided good and encouraging feedback, and never said “google it” as my previous teacher had been so fond of doing. I didn’t feel alone in an ocean on a little boat without an oar any longer. One day i realized i only had two days to study before the exam. I drank coffee and ate things with caffeine in it and stayed up to study 20 straight hours and then take a 4 hour nap for two days in a row. I got a 95 on the exam. I began trading my Cs for As. I began doing the twenty hour mapping projects without having to redo them. I stopped having to hire a private tutor. Suddenly the material was making sense to me. In answering my questions, this instructor in a two month time period gave me enough of a base of knowledge to operate from that i felt like i knew the alphabet with which we were constructing words, metaphorically. I finished the course with a score of 92. The real win for me was that during the cumulative exam, twenty questions are written and twenty questions are performance based where you have to go into the software and create something. I got an 85.5 on the cumulative final exam but all the answers i missed were written. I got every point available on those performance based questions and since it was cumulative i got to demonstrate understanding of how to create everything we learned during the whole semester. I may have picked the wrong definition for some vocabulary words but i understood how to use the software to create what was needed to get the answers to questions posed. It was a really good feeling. I may never fully learn Russian but perhaps my experience with the Cyrillic alphabet was meant to prepare me for unlocking the world of GIS. This dinosaur can learn new tricks. The greatest gift this teacher gave me was that when i finally started understanding the material and i knew how to manipulate the software to get the answers to the exam questions, he became tickled pink that i was smiling. He was excited that i had found something to be joyful about in GIS and seemed to be really enjoying myself throughout the exam. I will never forget that. To my former teacher who was so fond of the phrase “google it”…you will never know the feeling of inspiring someone else to rise up in your field, you will never know that moment when you look in someone’s eyes and think “by God they’ve got it,” and “i fostered that.” You are a different kind of teacher from this man; the kind that gains a paycheck and nothing more. This teacher gains a sense of purpose, a little bit of identity, and perhaps an appreciation for how he can influence others for the better in the long run. I wrote him a thank you note, thanking him for making GIS accessible for us this past semester. He wrote back with feedback and suggestions for groups to join to stay current on what’s happening and what software is being used in the industry. The last words of the email were “Fly high!” I began this journey with the words “google it” burned into my brain. I embark on the next path with a different message filed away. I have new words, and they are entirely more productive and insightful. Like a bird, i will leave this nest and fly.

They’re Back

The rains have stopped, which is better for the health of the chickens. It would be better that their shavings and droppings are dry rather than damp, for their respiratory health. However, hotter dryer weather means more scorpions in the house looking for water and a/c. I started hearing noises coming from the sink drain and an hour later this thing was climbing up the bathroom wall. I’m pretty sure it crawled up the pvc pipe from the sink drain and into the house. No matter, it’s dead now. Reasons why i always wear shoes in the house except between the months of november and february.

A Good Homestead Partner

Sili will follow my every command. She minds me without fail. I love her to death. She is and always will be my favorite animal in the world. She sleeps in my bed when its not tick and chigger season and she follows me everywhere. She will look long and soulfully into my eyes until i drift to sleep and she watches over me with great diligence when i am sick. She is a good dog. I find myself very bonded to her. Cashew and i’s relationship is a little different. She’s a bit more feral, wild and unruly. She’s harder to control. She does what she wants at times and frequently gives herself jobs i wouldn’t have picked for her, like relocating all of my extra metal fence poles from one side of the property to the other. However, Cashew is not a bad dog. Cashew is an aussie. She is a dog on a mission, a dog on the lookout for a job. If i am digging up tree stumps, so is she. If i am trimming cedar branches and throwing them in the wheelbarrow, she is going around collecting the branches i trimmed and tossing them in the wheelbarrow. If i am facing an intruder with a machete, she’s about to bite the seat of their pants as they flee through the hole in the fence. If i am chasing a fox, so is she. If i am gathering water from the well she stands guard, scanning the woods while i do so. Today i was trying to kill a fly in the house. I couldn’t get it for the longest time and it was driving me crazy because they’ve come into the house to light on your food after just leaving poop or roadkill. I turned to Cashew and said “get it.” She immediately stood up and started paying attention to where the fly was traveling in the room. Cashew stayed by the sink and i stayed at the back of the house. The fly flew back and forth in circles. When it would land at the back of the house i would swat quickly with my dish towel but i missed. When it landed at the front of the house i would be forced to cross the room and try to see if i could locate it before it took off again. Cashew noticed me looking for it. The next time it landed at the front of the house Cashew stood stalk still and pointed her nose directly at a plum sitting on top of the dog crates. I crossed the room quietly and there was the fly sitting directly atop the plum Cashew had pointed at. I swatted the plum with the towel but apparently missed him because he took off again. Once airborne i went back to my post at the back of the house. The fly landed again in the front of the house. Cashew pointed to the window with her nose. I quietly crossed the room and found the fly on the window. I swatted but missed. Then the fly did another lap and landed on the window unit. Cashew pointed with her nose. I could see it sitting on the window unit. This ends now. I whipped my kitchen towel at it and stunned it but didn’t kill it. While it struggled to take flight again i whipped and whipped and whipped at the fly with the kitchen towel. I got it. It was on its back, stunned on the window sill. I smashed it with my finger under the kitchen towel just to make certain it was deceased and then dropped it into the wolf spider web next to the window unit. It was my peace offering for destroying the webbing he made on the curtains daily. The wolf spider emerged to see what was in his web. I turned to Cashew and patted her head announcing, “we got it. He’s dead.” She and i made a very good working team. There wasn’t any job she didn’t want to be a part of. If i was a full time homesteader i would make such use of her and her willingness to participate. I felt guilty Cashew didn’t get more of a chance to use her talents. It was 100 degrees and sunny outside so the fact of the matter was the dogs would spend the rest of the day inside lying on the cool floor in the a/c in the tiny house. Cashew was remarkably well behaved for the fact that she was a working dog and i gave her very few jobs. In these moments it registered to me exactly how smart she was and what a gem i had in her. Nobody who hasn’t had an aussie can possibly fathom the depths of their intelligence. She is so smart and so willing to take a job; any job. Cashew; the fly hunting dog. I feel lucky as can be to have the both of them.

Conquering an old Fear

I checked the forecast that morning. The storm was not set to arrive until 7 pm. My shift ended at 6. I left the rain boots on the seat and locked the car.

The clouds began to gather in the distance around 3:30 pm. They were dark and menacing. The summer storm was upon us as the skies opened up at 4:06. I had asked if i could go to the car and grab my rain boots at 3:40. My supervisor said no. She took me off parking lot duty and sent me on a shopping run so i would stop fussing about going to the car even though i’d already had my 15 minute break an hour ago. I showed my colleagues who were still on parking lot duty the radar on my phone and exclaimed “there’s a big old ball of red headed right for us.” Now everyone wanted to go to the car and get their boots and jackets. My supervisor was not thrilled. She ordered everybody back to their posts. No one was going to the cars. It was just a little storm. It would come and go. Stop making such a big deal about it. I shrugged and embarked on my shopping run. As i pulled the cart around the store and raced down the aisles, thunder shook the floor. Lightening split the skies, visible through the windows and the sliding doors. I looked over and saw that it was raining cats and dogs. It looked like a hurricane blowing through the city. Sheets of rain were creeping sideways in the flooded parking lot, trees were thrashing about, the thunder continued to shake the floor, and the light just disappeared. It quickly resembled evening outside. The street lamps came on and people began to collect in a large crowd behind the sliding doors. Nobody wanted to leave with the storm outside ripping through the parking lot. Baskets dragged by the wind drifted through the water and crashed into parked cars. The lightening was not deemed close enough on the radar so the curbies had to continue running back and forth in the rain, delivering orders to the waiting cars. I thought i was lucky. I was given a shopping run instead of continued parking lot duty. I thought i just might make it to the end of the shift without getting soaked. I didn’t think it would be fair for them to make me go out in the rain and flood waters since they had forbid me to go to my car and get my boots when the storm was first approaching. I almost made it. 3 minutes before the end of my shift my supervisor asked me to get an order ready, saying she’d have someone else take it out once it was in the basket. When i had retrieved the order and the basket was full she told me to take it out. I should have seen that coming. I asked for a poncho. She made another curbie who was about to go on lunch break give me hers. The curbie removed her poncho and then her boots. The boots were meant to go on over one’s shoes but she had taken her shoes off. Now she stood in black ankle socks and took off running for her lunch break. They begin the timer the moment they tell you to leave. She was just trying to make the most of her break. I first donned the giant yellow poncho. They made them all XL or L and called that “one size fits all”. It really just fit the tall people but thats another argument for another day. I stepped into the boot with my shoe and realized immediately why she had taken her shoes off. They seemed to be going the opposite route of the ponchos with the shoes. The boot was too small. I wondered about the brains involved in hashing out this setup but there was no time. The clock was running on this order that had now been in the basket for some time. I yanked my tennis shoe off and plunged my foot into the boot. It was an immediately regrettable action. The boot was full of water. The XL ponchos reached to the ground on most of us and dragged in the water. Then as we walked and the poncho lifted momentarily out of the water it deposited all the water dripping off of it directly into any boots or shoes beneath it. I pulled the boot off my now soaked foot and plunged my foot back into my tennis shoe. I was unhappy about this development as it meant i would have wet shoes for the following day’s shift. As i headed out to deliver the order in the last minute of my shift the head boss arrived with fresh baked cookies from bakery. Apparently we all remembered the supervisor telling us we couldn’t go to the car for our rain boots ahead of time and moral was at an all time low while the possibility of mutiny was high. The head boss sought to fix things with warm cookies. It seemed to work for most.

As i ran through the parking lot pushing the basket with one hand i held the poncho bunched about my waist with the other, hoping it would not drag against the ground and deposit the drippings in my shoes. I confirmed the customer’s order, loaded the groceries, closed the trunk, and headed back to the building. I waited to be dismissed. My supervisor did finally dismiss me. I put up my smart phone, took off the poncho and split. The storm had gained its second wind. I figured i’d shop for a bit and let it tucker itself out before making my way through the parking lot. I was supposed to go to my friend’s house in a neighboring town on the way home to pick up a bag of chick feed and return a borrowed pet taxi i had in the car. My friend invited me to stay for supper. So, i realized at this point that i had to go. It was already 6:30 and it would be at least a 30 minute drive. They would be waiting on me to start dinner. I gathered my groceries quickly and headed to the check out. When i made it to the exit doors the rain was sideways again and all three parking lots were completely flooded; the customer one and both employee ones to the side of the store. I knew i couldn’t go swimming, so to speak, because i wasn’t headed straight home. I was headed to Cindy’s. I sighed. There was only one thing to do; conquer my lifelong fear of umbrellas. We sold them in the store.

For anyone who hasnt heard the story, my fifth grade teacher was struck by lightening while walking from the school to the separate gym building holding an umbrella during a storm. The principle found her when she never came to get her class and insisted she go in the ambulance to the hospital to get checked out. They said she had been struck by lightening that was attracted to the metal umbrella and the only thing that saved her was that her arm was held at a perfect ninety degree angle at the moment she was struck. The electricity traveled from her elbow into the concrete sidewalk instead of continuing on to her heart. I literally never touched an umbrella again.

I returned to the store and grabbed a small black umbrella with polka dots. I tried to pick the smallest simplest one there was. I hoped against all odds that it would be entirely made of plastic. I went to the checkout and paid for it. I asked the cashier if he had scissors to cut the tag off and then remembered, silly me, i had a box cutter on my key chain. But at this point the teenage boy had decided his manhood was at stake and was going to hulk-style snap the plastic loop by pulling at it with his fingers. I kept telling him i had a box cutter but he just moved the umbrella further and further out of my reach as his face turned pink with effort. Finally the little plastic ring snapped. Social crisis averted i guess. I thanked him and made my way to the door as he flexed his muscles for the bagger that was decidedly unimpressed with his performance. A little tip; most girls value practicality and intelligence over brute shows of force. She did seem to pick up on the stupidity of holding up a whole line of customers so he could make a point that his biceps worked.

I zipped my phone and keys into my lunch box. I tied my wallet into a plastic grocery bag. I got ready to go out into the weather and then realized…i had never owned an umbrella. I wished they came with instructions. I wasn’t sure how to open one. I pushed, then pried and then tried pushing again, then searched for a button. None was found. Ultimately i had to approach a customer and ask her if she knew how to open an umbrella. She opened it right up for me. Apparently pulling was the motion required. She showed me how to anchor it open. I thanked her and departed. I drove the basket up on the sidewalk and made it as far as around the corner of the building. There i was met with a dismal scene. The rest of the sidewalk disappeared into murky rushing water. The street was flooded and the parking lots on either side of the street were flooded too. There was ankle deep water everywhere. There was nothing to do but wade through it. I took off my shoes and placed them in the baby seat of the grocery basket. I carefully plunged the front wheels of the basket off the sidewalk and into the water. Then the back wheels. I walked through the water pushing the basket in front of me in just my socks. About half way across the flooded street an suv sped past me at nearly 40 mph, kicking the water up so that it drenched myself and all of the groceries in the basket. The car very narrowly missed hitting the basket. I stood there dripping and blinking, holding my umbrella, “great. Just great. Thank you. Thank you very much *** ****.” I made it to the other side of the street and then pushed the basket through the parking lot to my car. I managed to get all the wet bags loaded inside and then i returned the basket to the basket dock. I trudged back to the car and folded up the umbrella. I made it and was only partially wet. The important thing was that the shoes were dry. I drove barefoot in the blinding rain all the way to Cindy’s. I couldn’t see anything and was beginning to worry i missed the exit, and then there it was. I made it to Cindy’s in time to eat supper with them. Cindy’s son Caleb said Grace and then we ate fish, squash, green beans, spinach and mushrooms, and cucumber salad. Cindy told me Caleb had walked in, took a look around, and asked if i was coming.” He said, “Yeah i’m a regular sherlock in that way. I see fish, squash, and vegetables. It’s not that hard to piece together.” Cindy and Caleb were the closest thing i had to family in the hill country. Cindy always fed me and gave me extra to take home and eat the following day. I was invited to all the family holidays, and Caleb never tired of beating us at puzzle or card games with his insane ability to keep track of how many of each piece had already been played. After supper Caleb would pick his teeth with a toothpick and Cindy would make tea and start mixing up the little wooden tiles of the qwirkle game. Caleb always drank whole milk with his supper and Cindy always made the vegetables in the same way. They were my little bit of normalcy. They were family and i loved them both immensely. After supper we watched a few episodes of pinky and the brain, a show i hadn’t seen since childhood. Then i had to go, as i had to study for an exam. I reluctantly said goodbye and headed on my way. Cindy of course made me a to-go pouch out of foil, which i much appreciated. She was an excellent cook. I saw a newborn fawn and a rainbow on the drive home. I hung my socks up to dry and salvaged what i could of the groceries.

Being around Cindy and Caleb had recharged my soul a bit. I felt human again. I wished i could have spent more time with them. I missed our nights of playing games on the kitchen table long into the night while nursing cups of peppermint or berry tea and chatting. I missed watching Caleb’s brilliant mind work effortlessly to build the word worth the most points or place each tile in the right spot to both prevent Cindy and i from making any headway and further his progress, reading his chapter book between turns while he waited for Cindy and i to finish strategizing. I missed Cindy telling me about work and what was going on in the world of healthcare i had left behind. I missed the feeling of peace within those walls. Going back to school in my thirties meant less time for everything. That was how it would have to be for a while. I decided the umbrella would be for low altitude use only…never on the property…too much risk of lightening.

A Basket full of Puppies

Busy busy busy! Everyone is timed! Everyone’s units per hour are compared. Go go go. Only so many employees on the floor. Orders coming due. Down to the minute now. 22 available spots for customers to park at any given time. During the rush 22 customers could show up at once with 3 to 6 of us to tend to them. Go. Run. Bag like the wind! Hurry. Busy. Go go go. Stopwatch. Smart phones. Calling you here and there on the intercom. No time to argue. Bananas without spots. Strawberry yogurts…zero on shelf 126 on hand. Run. Back. Back miraculously, 151 units per hour, 10 orders shopped and bagged. Take this cart. Bulk order, 12. 15 minutes. Yes ma’am…

Time stops. A grocery basket full of tiny puppies enters the room. Soft tiny puppies with velvety fur and little pink tongues. The tan ones are sleepy. I lift a brown and black one into my arms and cradle it against my chest. Its little tail wags and it licks my mask and chin repeatedly, showing its precious milk teeth. This tiny soft velvety puppy is wriggling beneath my fingers and i feel the profound majesty of new life. This little being is potential. This little being is the precursor to a dog, but in this moment, it is a soft helpless baby. It is new and precious and untainted…and unpotty trained of course. The girl pushing the basket asks who wants one. I do not raise my hand. Within minutes they have all been claimed. There is no shortage of people smitten with these beautiful yawning bundles of fur. I am still holding mr brown and black with the wiggly tail, trying feverishly to lick my chin through the mask. His ears brush against my skin and i could bust into tears at any moment in response to the sheer innocence of something that wants nothing more in life than to hold your attention. It doesnt want gold, it doesnt want diamonds, it doesn’t want a car. It just wants you to hold it and look at it and rub its ears….and clean up its wee. I placed the puppy back in the basket with its sisters. I stroked its tiny head one more time and then, though it killed me to trade such a creature for a cold metal cart, off i went for a bulk run. Busy busy busy. Everyone is timed. Orders coming due. Hustle hustle hustle.

Beauty of the Hill Country

When the light painted the clouds in the sky various colors it often painted the yard as well. All the land was awash with pink or yellow light and i couldn’t understand why anyone would ever want to live anywhere else. However, i was grateful they did because i didn’t desire a thousand neighbors in high-rise condos. It would’ve ruined the view.