When i first put the chicken area together i knew there were a few problems. I’m still working on ironing out all of them but one problem stood out above the others. I bought orpingtons. full grown, they would be 8 to 10 lb chickens. I had to put the front of the coop towards the door of the kennel so that i could access the human sized door to clean the coop out. However, that left the side of the coop with the chicken sized door in it facing the wall of the kennel. There were only a few inches between the kennel wall and the coop. That meant the chickens had to squeeze through a narrow passageway to get into the coop. They weren’t even half the size they would be as adults. Something had to be done because soon they wouldn’t be able to get in or out through that side of the coop. A small door would have to be cut within the larger door that i used to get in and clean the coop.
I had no idea how to do this. I just figured there was only one way to figure it out; draw a sketch and go to home depot. So i did.
Home Depot made pretty quick sense out of my diagram and they did sell me a saw that i could use to cut through the middle of an existing vertical piece of wood. I had the guy show me how to use it on the display example tethered to the shelf with wire before i left the store. I was nearly drooling as i carried my new tool to the car. Every tool i acquired represented one more thing i could do on the homestead. I thought of all the things i could cut with such a saw, all the projects that were now within my capability. I coveted new tools the way most women coveted their kylie lip kits. I thought of all the different types of interchangeable blades i would one day buy to accessorize my new treasure. One day.
The first problem was actually making the hole. I ended up having to get my power drill and put the biggest bit i owned on there. I then made a series of exactly adjacent holes in the door until i had a line of space that the saw blade could fit through. Then i ditched the drill and took over with the electric saw. It rattled the door too much and it threatened to take it off the hinges so i ditched it and tried the manual saw. I was getting nowhere with the manual saw because the door was bowing and swinging wildly and i couldn’t apply the force i needed to make the manual saw cut without snapping the door in half. So, i went to get the circular saw. I tried not to use the circular saw unless absolutely necessary. It didn’t play. Also, because of the safety, the view of where the cutting was happening was obscured. That meant the user never really knew where the saw was going. It was hard to be precise, though it did make very straight lines. I said a prayer and asked God to keep me from cutting my fingers off. Then i used the circular saw to finish the job the electric saw had started.
To my surprise, the coop cleaning door was not one piece of wood but many long skinny pieces of wood sitting together in a track. That meant, when i cut through them, the top pieces didn’t stay put but instead fell down. I suddenly realized that they were held in the tracks by staples. i didn’t have a staple gun. I used a hammer to try to drive the staples back in but the edges of the staples were not especially sharp and it was the momentum of the nail gun that had driven them in initially. I tabled the fixing the staples idea and decided to make my own. I cut the heads off picture hanging nails and filed them into points with my knife sharpening stone. Now i had two-sided pointy metal sticks. I used the hammer to drive them into the track and then placed the wood pieces into the track and hammered them upwards. It held for about a minute and then they all fell down.
The cleaning door of the coop was now in pieces and i had no way to put them back together, as i had cut a hole in the part that was being held in the track by gravity. Making my own staples had not worked. Perhaps i could glue it. I had only a few hours to figure it out and get the job done and cleaned up so i could put the chickens back in. They were in the stock tank in the back of the shed and around 10 am the temperature was set to become hot. The chickens would fry in the shed. I hustled the dogs inside the house, jumped in the car, and drove to the only store we had in town; the dollar general. There i made a beeline for the aisle with the tools and light bulbs. Sure enough, they had glue. Obviously, i needed something a little stronger than elmer’s glue. I was looking for wood glue but it wasn’t a hardware store and they didn’t have any. They did have gorilla glue. I thought, “that might work.” There was one package of gorilla glue that listed “wood” as one of the surfaces it worked on. It had two tubes of goo, one clear and one yellow. One was apparently resin and the other “hardener”. The customer was meant to dispense equal amounts of each goo into the tray provided and mix thoroughly for 60 seconds with a tongue depressor. It seemed like my best bet. I bought two of them. I rushed home to try my new solution.
I followed the instructions on the package and mixed the resin and hardener as instructed. Then i applied it to the boards of wood and stuck them up in the track where they had been. I had to wedge objects underneath them to hold them in place as it said it took 5 minutes to set initially and 25 to 35 minutes to dry completely.
When i had first realized that i was going to have to make another door in the chicken coop i had gone online and ordered a metal door and track. When the parts arrived in the mail i examined them and set them aside for a day when i had the time and the gumption to get it done. The holes were not pre-deilled. That meant, i had to drill holes in the metal; smaller holes than the size of the screws i’d be using. I drilled small holes through the metal and then switched the bit in the drill so i could push the screws into the holes, pinning the metal tracks against the wood door. The door wasn’t completely flat. There were some raised pieces of wood. So i had to screw in raised scraps of wood around them so the area i was driving screws into was level with the raised boards in the middle. I used the pieces i had cut out of the door since they were the same height as the ones i was trying to match. After i had gotten the tracks on i was quite proud of myself. The glue was holding and everything. However, there was a problem. The metal door kept falling out the bottom of the track. I needed something to catch it. I went to the shed and got a large piece of rectangular wood. It was meant to be a support beam for the porch railing a year ago but it never got incorporated. It was too heavy to put on the door as it was. The tiny screws wouldn’t hold the weight of the big piece of wood and a 10 lb chicken standing on it. I used the manual hand saw to cut a slimmer length of wood from it to go under the bottoms of the metal tracks. I then used the drill to attach it to the coop door horizontally with screws. The ledge caught the metal door and prevented it from falling through to the ground. It also served as a place for the chickens to stand, gripping the piece of wood with their talons.
i put the chickens back in their pen exactly one hour from application of resin to the boards of wood. I felt it with my fingers and it was solidified.
It was at this moment that i let myself breathe and realized what i had done. No instructions, no blueprint…i had gotten an idea in my head, ordered the parts, scrambled around, and made it work. There was nothing i couldn’t jimmy rig now. My mind was made up. If anything ever broke or needed building, i was going to do it, and furthermore, i was going to do it my way. It wouldn’t be pretty or fancified, but it would be functional. Putting a second door on the chicken coop was a learning experience for me. I learned that i could get where i was going if i stayed on the paved road and i could get there just as well if i veered off into the woods. It was the first project i had done without instructions. I had solved the problem of the behemoth chickens and the too-narrow alleyway.
I had four n95 masks in my possession. I was reusing them and would have to do so until september when the ones i’d bought on back-order were set to arrive. During hot sunny days i locked them in the car and parked in the sun to sterilize them with heat. During overcast days i placed them in a steamer basket in my instant pot and steamed them for 10 minutes, then hung them up to dry. I did the same with my buffs and my cotton shawl that i was using as a head scarf. The community was angry that healthcare professionals were wearing their scrubs to the grocery stores after work. I highly doubted they’d appreciate me wearing my n95 mask i’d worn all day at work to the grocery or post office as well. However, i didn’t own a sewing machine and though i knew bungee cords held elastic, i was not domestically gifted in the least. I did not know how to sew a mask out of fabric and bungee cord. Women in the community began making cloth masks out of whatever fabric and opened bungee cords they could find. They were of varying sizes and shapes. Some were too narrow to cover the nose and mouth at the same time. I noticed this right away and vowed to look for one that was wide when the opportunity arose. You see, the women would make these masks, drop them in bags at the front door, and ring the doorbell. However, we rarely got our hands on them before management confiscated them to manage the resources in an orderly fashion. People were trying to take four or five masks at a time, so, management confiscated all of the masks. Eventually they stated that everybody could pick one mask. So everybody got to pick one cloth mask but they did it on a monday (my off day) so i missed it. Finally i got a hold of the bag and was able to pick and sign that i had received my one cloth mask. After we all got one we expected they’d let us pick another mask from the bags and bags of cloth masks the women of our community kept sewing and leaving on our doorstep. However, they came down with the decree that we could work on locating and purchasing our own masks; that the cloth masks were to be given to the patients and used exclusively by them. So, as the community continued to make and donate more masks on the doorstep, we had to turn the bags in to the company and keep distributing them to the patients. The patients didn’t need 7 masks. They were on lockdown and couldn’t leave their rooms. The majority of them had dementia and didn’t wear the masks. They became alarmed when we tried to put them on their faces, refused to keep them on, and didn’t understand what we were trying to do. The patients who did understand what was going on were not handling things much better. They were constantly losing or leaving the masks behind. They didn’t want to wear them as they said it inhibited their breathing. The treasure these women had slaved over their sewing machines for days to give us was kind of lost in translation. I picked a pink cotton mask with tan flowers on it. It was loose enough behind my ears and wide enough to cover both my nose and my mouth. I wore that to the post office and the dollar general store. It allowed me to keep my work and community ppe separate. However, i lived in fear of the elastic breaking. I had ziploc baggies that held each one of my masks. The cloth one was kept in a ziploc in the center console of my car. I was grateful to whoever had sewn my cloth mask. I knew i’d never know or get to meet them, but i was grateful that someone had put the tiny white stitches into the textured pink fabric. They had come down with an order that everyone in the city was to have their mouth and nose covered when in public. That meant i couldn’t go to the gas station, the dollar general, or the post office without a mask. I guarded the thing as if it were gold and fretted to no end the one time i put it on the seat rather than the center console and thought it was somehow gone. At this time my sister began contacting our family members. She asked who needed masks. She said she had some fabric and was going to try to sew some. None of us wanted her to go to the post office. She’d been working from home and we wanted her to stay safe from possible exposure to the virus, but she wouldn’t hear of not going. She took tally of how many family members needed masks, got to work with her sewing machine, and divided the total number of masks created between us. Then she placed the masks into bubblewrap lined envelopes and sent them to us in the mail. She sent me 3. As i opened the package in the post office i realized she’d sent me a resource better than gold. And they were good thick masks too. They were nice and rounded so they covered the nose, mouth, and chin all at once. The straps tied around the back of the head, making them adjustable. My coworkers all wanted to know where i got mine. They were better fitting and more well made than most of the cloth designs we were getting our hands on. I had a coworker offer me 50 dollars for one mask. As for my n95s, i actually had a coworker offer me 100 dollars for one of those. She told me she had kids and to think of her baby that she was going home to at the end of the day before i decided whether i would sell her one of my four n95 masks that were supposed to last me until september. I didn’t need to think about it. The answer had to be no, for one reason. Everybody had kids and i didn’t have enough for everybody. If i sold to one person, all the others would want to know why not them, what about them and their babies? I began hiding my masks and my hand soap and refraining from admitting i had them as people offered me more and more money for the little bit of hand soap i had. I wouldn’t sell the masks my sister had made me either. She had made them for me with her own hands. People became jealous of the masks and started to get upset with me. They asked each other, “How come she has that kind and we only have these?” My frustrated mother replied on a phone call one night, “because you have a sister that loves you.” Indeed, my sister did love us, and from her own state she had created and sent these masks to make sure that we had some to wear in the community. I was proud of her for taking care of our family and i was grateful. I no longer worried about not having a mask to go to the post office in. She was doing her best to keep us safe.
Over the next few weeks people would find some of the people sewing masks in the community and go directly to them to buy some. It became the new quarantine job to have with everyone out of work. People began selling cloth masks for 5 to 7 dollars a piece. After people started getting some better fitting cloth masks in a variety of colors and patterns the masses forgot about wanting my sister’s masks and i relaxed a little bit. In times of scarcity, desperate people seemed capable of surprising things. I made a note of that.
With every season change i would usually buy a 1 or 2 dollar decoration from the dollar general down the street and hang it on the front door of the tiny house. With everything that was going on in healthcare and the economy as a whole, i wasn’t getting my full hours anymore. That meant i wasn’t bringing in as much money as i used to. On top of this, all the supplies i needed were marked up, including food. Even just a dollar, it didn’t make sense to spend it on something frivolous like a decoration. However, the porch looked very bare. Last year i had hung these beautiful red bougainvillea from hooks on the ceiling of the front porch. They had looked stunning against the sage green paint of my little tiny home. This year there were no flowering plants in hanging baskets. It just didn’t make sense to spend money on something that wasn’t going to eventually produce food. Though i had taken this position on the matter it didn’t stop me from realizing how uneventful the porch looked. I wanted to do something to acknowledge the arrival of spring. I picked some wildflowers and bound them together with a twist tie. I then placed the little bunch onto the hook on the front door. I didn’t have to worry about switching things for the next season either because when the flowers dried in the hot sun it signified the arrival of summer.
I have always been the type of person that’s good in a crisis situation. I have a very analytical mind. Things are very black and white for me all the time, so too in a crisis. Its usually pretty clear to me what needs to be done and what needs to be prioritized in the middle of a disaster and if ever there was someone good at damage control, it would be the type of person that doesn’t quit until there’s no more breath in one’s body. The problem with people like the one i just described is that once the crisis has passed or the immediate threat has been handled, the come-down from that type of go-hard energy can be devastating. I let it debilitate me for many years. In the past i dealt with the blanket of darkness that followed each period of high-energy go go go by self medicating with vodka and wine. When i bought the property i promised myself alcohol would never cross the driveway. If i wanted to relapse and screw up my life, i would have to do it away from home. This rule proved to be rather effective at keeping me sober as i was a staunch introvert and i really wasn’t interested in obtaining alcohol if i had to socialize to get it.
As the weeks ticked on i felt that familiar dark blanket creeping over me. My patients at work were dying. There was nothing i could do to keep them alive. All of my favorites but one were gone. I spent every day of my new life wrapped in whatever ppe i could find to purchase myself. It cut into my face. It bruised my cheeks and nose. It made it hard to breathe. As the co2 built up in our masks we had to remain calm and know that the immediate breathlessness that we were feeling was due to the mask, not covid. I watched as colleagues panicked and hyperventilated over the sensation, ripping the mask off their face. I knew never to do that. I knew never to panic so much that i ripped my ppe off in an unclean area. However, the conversations i had with myself inside my head were similar to the ones my overwhelmed colleagues had demonstrated outwardly. It was hard to function and guide patients in therapy treatments and self care tasks while silently panicking about the pain in one’s face, the difficulty breathing, and the feeling of suffocation under all this stuff one had to put on just to get out of the car and go to work. As the company began to put restrictions on the breaks we could have, the feeling of panic became louder and more frequent. We could no longer go sit in the car and take the mask off for a couple minutes just to have a moment to blow our noses and breathe normally. If we were heroes, it didn’t feel like it.
Many of the patients didn’t understand why we were wearing ppe at work. Others did and just enjoyed the opportunity to cause torment. Every day as i walked down the halls patients called to me, asked me when i was going to take all that ridiculousness off, asked me if i had converted to islam because my head was covered and suggested if i had i was going to hell. One patient told me daily what a shame it was that i had decided to wear all this on my head as i used to be so pretty and now looking like this what man would have me? I realized, i was working in a small town and these people were used to sharing their opinions in a way that people don’t feel comfortable doing in such a hurry in the city. However, it was draining dealing with certain people i was charged with caring for who only had the same negative and critical statements to repeat over and over. I almost wished they would come up with something new, even if it happened to be more biting or hurtful, just to escape the loop of monotony i was in.
The ppe had pressed against the frames of my glasses and the lenses had cracked. So i took my glasses off and the world became blurry. It didn’t matter. I could still see enough to write, type, and walk. Life went on without them. However, it was a physical manifestation of what had happened to us as a country when all this started. There was so much misinformation out there, some purposeful, some not. Nobody knew what to believe. What was once clear was now blurry, for me in several senses.
My hands were filthy. I was struggling to grow my own food, repair my own disasters and appliance breakdowns, and forage food for myself and the chickens at the homestead. There was always either dirt, oil, or tar under my fingernails. The patients at work told me my hands were dirty and i shouldn’t be working in the healthcare field if i couldn’t keep my hands clean. I knew they were right. I would be in trouble if corporate could see the state of my hands. I stood at the sink every evening scrubbing and digging underneath each fingernail, trying desperately to remove the evidence of the work i’d done on the homestead so the patients would feel i was clean in the morning. In actuality, the dirt on my homestead was quite visible and the deadly virus we were combatting at work could not be seen. I felt that peoples’ understanding of the word “clean” was somewhat misguided.
On my days off i did chores. When the chores were finished i tucked myself into the rocking chair my grandmother had passed down to me, hung my knees over the side, and rocked. I stayed like this, rocking in silence for hours. I knew there were projects that should be done; trees that still needed planting. I remained glued to the chair, rocking back and forth. I just wanted to be still in the silence. Over the next few weeks many things would happen. I learned to never say the words “how much worse could it get” because the devil would hear them and view it as a challenge. Once the governor got on the television and told everybody it was healthcare workers that were the main carriers of the virus and that we were infecting all of our patients and people in the community, we lost our human rights. I found an alternative last minute, after weeks of feverish prayer, and i took it. Then i watched as my colleagues lost control of the right to make decisions regarding their own bodies. We didn’t belong to ourselves anymore. We belonged to companies. We belonged to state governments. We were not viewed as people but potential threats and mainstream opinion was that the ends justified the means. I called a therapist who i’d known for 7 or 8 years. She let me call 2 or 3 times a year to schedule a phone session whenever i had something really heavy to work through. I knew nothing about her. She’d kept her life private and separate from our sessions. I liked it that way. 1 hour with her was always a cathartic experience and for a week or two after, i felt the lingering notion that the weight of a thousand elephants had been lifted from my shoulders. It didn’t change what was going on, but it did change something from within me. That night i slept 5 consecutive hours when for the past two months the most i had been sleeping at night was 3.5 with an average of 2. The following night i slept 5 hours again and the night after that i slept 6.
Sili tried her best to cheer me up. She was so sensitive to anxiety and depression. She could pick up on a mood change from across the room. She buried her head in my neck and tried to insert herself into my lap. She got as close to me as possible during any opportunity that arose. I loved both Cashew and Sili dearly and cherished Sili’s cuddles, but most of the time what i saw when i looked at them was mouths that were my responsibility to feed. It reminded me that i was running this fort, i was driving this ship, and i needed to constantly find new ways to go out and get the bacon and bring it back. At present, i wasn’t bringing home a steady amount of bacon and that scared me.
At the tractor supply store there were these food logs. They often had mealworms or crickets in them along with seeds and other dried veggies. You could buy bags of dried dead insects for your chickens to eat. I didn’t see the point in this when the live ones were all over my property. I also knew, the more bugs i could catch them, the quicker they got full. When they had been given insects there was more feed left in the dispenser at the end of the day. I needed to try to supplement their diets with insects caught on the property because feed was expensive and hard to come by during a time when everyone was panicking and buying it up in 20 bag increments every time the truck arrived. So, i got good at insect catching.
The june bugs were attracted to light. If i stood in the yard with the lantern they flocked to me. Sometimes i would catch a few on the way to the gate in the morning. I would club them, lay them on the floorboard in the car, and feed them to the chickens when i came home from work. However, the most effective way i caught junebugs was to leave the porch light on at sundown. When the bugs came out they were attracted to the light. As they buzzed around it i would trap them between two plastic cups and add them to my stash. However, the chickens had already gone in the coop for the night at this point so i had to store my catch until the following day after work. For a few months my refrigerator always contained a cup of june bugs on the top shelf.
This was my pill bug trap. Pill bugs are actually crustaceans. They have gills and they need moisture in the air to breathe. They will stay underground when it is dry. The chickens love pill bugs. So, i planted some little plants in a muddy area and purposely overwatered it daily. The plant material at the base of each plant became soggy and began to rot. Pill bugs are known for eating dead or rotting plant material. So, when they showed up to munch on the soggy parts of the plants i collected them in a cup and fed them to the chickens. Because i kept the spot over-watered and damp, if one lifted up the pieces of the plants or nearby rocks or leaves, pill bugs could be found in the area for several hours each morning and evening.
The greenhouse disaster stung. It was hard to look at the mess lying in the grass. However, i remember that during assembly the grasshoppers were attracted to the moisture that collected on the plastic panels. When i went to get them, they often couldn’t see me coming as the light reflecting off the moisture on the panels seemed to momentarily blind them. It did me too if i wasn’t careful. I began laying the panels out flat in the yard and when they were wet with the morning dew, i would wait for the sun to hit them just right and then go slap whatever grasshoppers had stopped to get a drink. As my hand got closer, they realized what was coming and tried to jump, but by then it was too late and i usually got around 80 percent of the ones i went after on the panels. I chose the biggest one if there were two present on one panel because as soon as the second one felt the vibration of the slap on the panel he would hop away, seemingly sensing bad news.
There were thousands of grasshoppers. It was a travesty for outdoor gardening and rearing of crops, but, at a time when protein was hard to come by in the stores they were a welcome food source. If they were going to wreak havoc on our lives, we might as well get something good out of the yearly infestation in the area. Some of the larger ones were as big as my hand from the edge of my palm to the tips of my fingers. However, those big ones could jump so high and take off so fast, i never got my hands on a giant one. Only the little ones were inexperienced enough to fall victim to my plots.
The wasps were busy making nests hanging from the roof and the shed roofs. They also put them in the plant boxes over by the fruit trees. I kept an eye on them. I let them build the nests up. I let them put their larvae in there. Then i waited some more. Before the larvae hatched, however, i would take them down, limiting the population of adult wasps i had to contend with and getting the chickens a nutritious snack. I would wait until the mother wasp was away from the nest for a while. Then i would get the broom and knock the nest down. I’d pick it up and take it straight to the chickens where they would make a fast snack out of the little white grubs waiting in their cozy slots.
My tomato plant on the porch served as a good collection station for caterpillars. Butterflies and moths laid eggs on the underside of the leaves. I checked the eggs daily and when they hatched i would make note. I would let the caterpillars eat for a while, until they were fat and juicy. The tomato plant was big and could stand to lose a few leaves here and there. Once the caterpillars were a decent size i would pluck them from the plant and toss them to the chickens.
There were a couple other types of bugs i collected for the chickens that i don’t have pictured here because they required more effort to catch and stopping to photograph them wasn’t really on my mind while doing it. I caught crickets for the chickens sometimes. Unlike the grasshoppers i had no problem picking up by the legs and carrying across the yard to give to the chickens, the crickets were greasy and slippery to the touch. They were not my favorite to catch but the chickens found them tasty so of course i was going to provide when the opportunity arose. They were often found in the garden in late spring. They would hide under leaves and walk along the perimeter of the tent. Occasionally i’d spot them in the grass in the yard or next to the porch steps. I would then stomp them with my boot and deliver the still somewhat intact morsel to the chickens on a leaf. They were thrilled. The chickens really liked cricket. I just could not understand, for the life of me, how an insect was achieving “greasy”. I mean, it was like these things were rubbed down in olive oil.
The other thing i would catch for my chickens on the regular was walking sticks. They would cling to the sides of the house, the sheds, and the well house, up high near the roof. I would get my broom, slap the walking stick, and it would fall to the ground, arms flailing like a boxer ready to fight. Then i would smash and smash and smash the walking stick with the broom until it was fatally wounded and guts were peaking out. I would grab a leg and carry it across the yard and call “Here chick chick chick chick!” All of the chickens would come running but it was Ira who would go berserk when he saw what i was holding. Walking sticks were Ira’s absolute favorite. He loved them more than all other things i fed them. He would fight the chickens to the death to get his hands on a walking stick, though he seemed only slightly interested in everything else i threw in, and the chickens knew it. Most of them just stayed out of his way and let him have it when i threw in a walking stick as it wasn’t worth the bodily harm that would be inflicted if he missed his opportunity to gobble down his favorite snack. Ira would eat these things whole. The chickens tended to peck them apart and eat a single limb or mid-section at a time. Ira just grabbed it, folded it, and swallowed. I think walking sticks were how he got so much bigger than the chickens so quickly. He was all grown up and ready to make little chicks thanks to a steady diet of giant walking sticks bigger than my hand. The chickens would need another couple months to catch up. They had not yet hit puberty and Ira had. One very sexually frustrated rooster would make my life a living nightmare until those ladies caught up with him.
There were scorpions. They could be found underneath rocks. I would flip a rock over, then stomp on the scorpion with my boot. If i was feeling nice i would cut the stinger off before i threw it to the chickens. If i was tired, i let them chop it off with their beaks. I kept a number of large rocks over by the orchard so i could weight down blankets in the winter. Now, in summer, they became scorpion traps that i checked weekly. Getting stung was always a possibility so it was not a daily hunt like with june bugs on the porch. Hunting scorpions was something i did when other food sources were scarce, when it was too dry for the pill bugs and the june bugs hadn’t shown up in a few days.
I found earth worms when i went digging for wild onions for me to eat. There were earthworms and grub worms/junebug larvae that i unearthed with my shovel. I put them in a cup and when i was done digging i’d empty it in the chicken pen.
My mind turned every insect i encountered into an opportunity to feed the chickens. I was pretty good at catching things in the moment but i also began setting traps that i could consult if it had been a slow day. I took a number of plastic cups and stacked them together. Then i set a rock in the bottom of each cup, lifting it up just a little bit, creating a space between the bottom of the cup and the ceiling created by the cup on top of it. Curious bugs would fall down the sides of the cup and then be met with the ceiling formed by the cup on top of it. Flying bugs hit the ceiling each time they tried to escape and crawling bugs found the sides of the cup too slippery to climb. So i had this stack of cups with a few bugs sitting in various levels of the stack each afternoon when i came home from work. I often found june bugs in there. Sometimes i found beetles or moths. Occasionally a scorpion lay curled in the bottom of the cup. Nasty suckers. But, the chickens loved them.
When i left in the darkness of the pre-dawn morning i could see on the radar that it was going to storm before i returned. 60 mph winds and hail were expected. The radar screen was alive with color.
As i sat in the darkness of the chapel during another one of our thursday meetings i could see the storm was now hitting my home on the radar. The little blue dot was engulfed in red. I had an overwhelming desire to get up and leave, to drive home and manage the homestead. I wanted to be there as it faced the storm. I had finished my work already but alas, it was Thursday. Everyone had to be present in the mandatory after-lunch meeting. It would be another 45 minutes before i could even start towards the door. I watched as the storm hit my little town, enveloped it, and then moved on. I was vaguely listening to the warning about extra long lunch breaks and the reminder to write thorough notes and keep all work spaces neat and tidy. All i could think about was that my property had probably not weathered that magnitude of a storm without incident…especially without me there to secure and brace things.
As i swung open the cow gate a grim sight greeted me. It was the twisted and mangled wreckage of what had once been the greenhouse that had taken me 19.5 hours to build. The 60 mph winds had crumpled it like paper mache. As i ran my fingers along the twisted metal i confirmed that there would be no salvaging the big pieces. The panels were shredded and jagged. The metal was twisted and warped. Only the nuts and bolts were still good. I had a tool that would cut through thin sheets of metal and i would of course repurpose the pieces of the twisted mess for future projects but it didn’t change the fact that i had a problem on my hands in the here and now. I had a lot of sprouted plants and no place to put them. A gust of wind blew and the whole thing creaked and shifted. I realized the heap of metal and plastic would likely collapse altogether at any minute. I needed to salvage as many of the boxes from underneath the mess before that happened. Car still running and in park, gate still wide open, i rolled up my sleeves and began dragging box after box out from under the hanging wreckage of what was once my greenhouse. When i had pulled the last box out from underneath the gaggle of twisted metal the thing collapsed to the ground. As i examined the boxes i realized that every single sprout was still intact. I couldn’t understand how. It had to be an act of God. By definition the plants should all have been torn and crushed by the metal pieces and plastic panels that had caved in on top of them. I didn’t know what i was doing with them but i knew it would be a shame to waste them. I made the decision to place the box lids upside down on the floor of the extension shed and lift the boxes atop them, where i could water them without soaking the floor. They would not receive enough sunlight in the shed and it wasn’t a long term plan for what to do with them, but it would buy me some time. I grabbed the edge of a box and began pulling. The well house drainage area stood between the greenhouse and the extension shed. It was overgrown with waist high thistles and tall chigger infested grasses. This meant the boxes had to be dragged from the greenhouse, to the house, around the well house, and up to the extension shed. They were full of mud and shamelessly heavy. I grunted and huffed as i dragged the boxes one by one through the grass. Two of the boxes had to be left out in the open next to the orchard area as they were completely infested with termites and i didn’t want them in the extension shed. I dug up the plants in them and buried them in other boxes before sliding them away towards the orchard. Once all the boxes were in place inside the extension shed i unlatched and opened the windows to get some airflow. A nice cross breeze tickled the leaves of the tiny plants in the dimly lit shed. I locked the door and returned to the car; still running in the yard. I climbed into the driver’s seat and shut the door. I gave the pile of rubble in the yard one last glance and then released the parking brake. I drove up to the house, parked the car, gathered my things and went inside. It was one of those moments that would have hurt too badly to put words to. It was better left unsaid. I readied the dogs and the chickens for bed.
The lawn needed mowed. I dragged the reel mower out of the shed and began my attempt. I didn’t make it across the whole property but i did manage to get the areas around the house and the sheds. Realizing that a few weeks ago i couldn’t walk from the door to the front gate without getting winded, the idea that i could push the mower without having to stop for breath was exciting to me. I was getting some of my strength back.
I had a running balance on my credit card, for the first time in my life. I knew it was the right decision to make for my little family at the time but it left a lump in my throat and a weight on my chest to know that i had outstanding debts that i couldn’t pay. I had to purchase feed, medicine, and supplies while they were still available. I couldn’t wait for sufficient funds to come in. So i did, with the idea that i’d pay it off a little more each month as the paychecks came in. I wanted to handle this sooner rather than later so i forbid myself to spend any money on food until the debt was paid. For a little over a month i ate nothing but the dry food and prunes that i had in the pantry. I lived on rice gruel, oatmeal, beans, rice, rice noodles, lentil noodles, quinoa, and prunes. It wasn’t too bad at first, but as the weeks stretched on i began to hunger for something green, something sweet, something fresh, something flavorful. I began to ache with thirst for fresh food. Boxed rice and noodles certainly kept one alive and filled one’s belly but it didn’t provide the vitamins and nutrients my body was craving. I told myself, i would pay off the credit card balance and once i’d done that i could go to walmart and buy a bit of food. Well, pay day came and it was not what i’d hoped it’d be. We had fewer patients than usual because of the pandemic. That meant less than 40 hours a week for all of us therapists, and my paycheck reflected it. I did not have enough money to pay off the credit card balance and so i’d have to wait until next month to clear it. I’d have to wait one more month to go to walmart. One more month of pantry food. Then my coworker asked me, “Hey, did you get your stimulus check this morning? I did!” I dropped my bag in its cubby, “What?” He said, “Check your bank account.” I logged onto my mobile app and clicked the account. Sure enough, the irs had added $1200 to my account. I now had enough to pay the balance on the credit card! I could go to Walmart!!! I hurried out to my car where i sat in the drivers seat and paid my credit card bill by phone. I couldn’t stop smiling all day. A huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t have outstanding debt anymore. I was so happy. Nobody knew because my mask covered my face but i was grinning ear to ear, dreaming about green things and maybe bananas, sweet fruity bananas. Oh the possibilities!
After my work day i drove to the walmart in town. I had butterflies in my belly. I had never been so excited to go to walmart. After a month of boxed food only i was finally going to get my hands on some produce. I was so excited i could have peed myself! I tried to pull it together. I told myself i just needed to go into the store and see what they had and i could celebrate later, once i was home.
To be clear, this was back before the governor got on the television and told everyone it was the healthcare workers that were carrying covid-19 and it was the doctors, nurses, and nursing home employees that were infecting everybody. This was back when i could still walk into an establishment wearing scrubs without getting stoned or chased out to the parking lot.
To my surprise, there was not a lot of produce present at the walmart. The shelves were empty. I hadn’t realized that the lines to get in the store formed about an hour before opening time and the housewives and unessential workers cleaned the store out every day while the essential workers manned their posts, so that there was little left by the time the essential employees clocked out and drove over. All of the green items were gone. There were no peas or broccoli. Spinach and kale were a rare find. They were usually out of oranges, though occasionally i got lucky and found a bag during the next month. There were potatoes. There were onions. There were bananas and apples. Over the next few weeks i bought a bag of potatoes, a bag of onions, a bag of apples, and a bunch of bananas. Anything else produce-wise that was still left by the time i entered the walmart, i got that too, but my staples were those 4 things. Sometimes i got lucky and found a bag of frozen broccoli crowns or a plantain that wasn’t solid green. One day i found a bag in the frozen section that had kale, greens, and chard all in one. I grabbed that and stuck it under the potatoes in the basket, worried someone would snatch my find out of the basket when i wasn’t looking. Mushrooms were available pretty often. Nobody seemed to want those, so i took them gladly. They went well with potatoes and onions in a skillet.
Anything green was heavenly! Especially the bag of kale, greens, and chard. It was like food of the gods. I was starving for vitamins and minerals and this green stuff tasted like a party in my mouth. It was savory and buttery and had a flavor i couldn’t describe. I knew it was just my body playing tricks on me. On a normal day i hated kale, but at this time it was the best thing i’d ever tasted and i was beyond grateful for the find of that bag tucked behind the fish sticks in the frozen case.
These were the last plantains i would taste. After that, people would snatch up all the brown or yellow ones while i was at work and the only ones present by the time i hit the store were solid green. They would maybe never ripen. They weren’t worth the money to take the chance. I left them in the bin.
Quinoa, beans, and mushrooms
This became my quarantine food for a few weeks. A starch, onions, mushrooms, and if it was available, something leafy and green.
One week i found a bag of frozen broccoli florets and it was so good! I cooked them on the stove with vegan butter and salt and i’d never eaten anything so heavenly. I held them with my fingers. As i bit into the soft florets the buttery juices ran down my fingers and coated my lips. The steam smelled like warm broccoli. They were this beautiful color of green. They were the best thing ever.
On “move-in day” i got up early and set the food and water dispensers inside the new chicken coop. Then i went to the shed and got a cat carrier. I transported two chickens at a time in the cat carrier and released them in the chicken pen. It was done. They were finally home.
At first, they didn’t know what to make of the grass and the sunshine. They had been raised in a bathroom with a red heat lamp. They weren’t used to the outdoors. They were especially startled by the sound of other birds. Whenever a bird would sing or tweet they would all crane their necks upward and cock their heads. For the first five minutes all of the chickens huddled together in a group and stood absolutely still. It was a black fly that pulled them out of their trance as instinct took over and they began to chase it. Pretty soon they were all scratching the ground and searching the grass for bugs to eat.
All except little buttercup. She was the smallest of the chickens, the one that had hung out with Ira and kept him warm by sitting with him when the group seemingly rejected them both because they were too small. Ira had grown bigger but buttercup hadn’t and she was now the runt of the flock. She was often picked on or run over by the other chickens and so was a very anxious and overly cautious chicken. She stayed in the coop and hid in the corner while the rest of the chickens searched for food. Try as i might, i couldn’t get her to come out for any significant length of time and decided to just let her get the hang of it on her own time.
The chickies enjoying their new habitat.
Ira the rooster immediately assumed rooster duties for his little flock. In the mornings he would be the first one out the coop door. He would do a walk around the pen, have a look at things, and if the coast was clear he’d call to the hens who would then emerge in a group. At night, right before they went in the coop (unfortunately for me i got late night chickens who refused to turn in before 8:50 pm) Ira would stand guard outside while the chickens climbed in. He would pace in front of the coop and watch the tree line for predators. After about 15 minutes of this he would climb in but he’d sit right in front of the door, facing the exit. A predator would have to go through him first if they wanted his ladies.
The chicken coop was finished but it was by no means ready for the chickens to move into. Before that could happen i would need to erect the kennel around the coop, add a roof, dig a trench around the kennel, cut wire fencing to fit the trench, and fasten it to the bottom of the kennel, then bury it. Having gotten the chicken coop built the day before i sensed a light at the end of the tunnel. The green house was built. The chicken coop was erected. The last big project i had to do in the middle of my symptoms and my hourly regiment of herbal medications was to get the kennel up. Once it was finished i could sit down in the house and breathe for a minute, without the crushing weight of all these do or die projects on my chest. Things would be done for a bit.
So, i woke up early and tied on my bandana. I went to the shed and got out all the panels. I wasn’t doing things methodically that day. I had panels scattered all over the yard and i nearly flipped them many times while trying to carry them against my shoulder because i didn’t have the weight balanced right and was moving too quickly. Gone was my usual calm demeanor and carefully calculated plan. Truthfully, it was fear that was behind my behavior. I could taste it in the back of my throat but hadn’t stopped to name it until that moment. This whole time i had somehow neglected to realize that i was incredibly fearful that i couldn’t get this done. I had been fearful that i wouldn’t recover, fearful that there would be lasting damage to my heart or lungs, and fearful that i would not be able to run the homestead myself anymore. I was immensely fearful that i would falter and not be able to do these 3 giant projects i had in the docket because if i couldn’t, it spoke to my ability to run things in the future. In my mind the mortgage police showed up and slapped the handcuffs on me, brandishing some kind of loophole paper that indicated the property would be transferred back over to the bank since i clearly wasn’t up to running it anymore.
Now, with the finish line looming so close ahead of me, i wanted it. I wanted that feeling of having finished this chapter more than anything i’d ever wanted before. I thought about how good it would feel to know that i had done it and all 3 projects were finished; done. So, instead of calmly going about my last project of the three, i ran about the yard feverishly measuring things, reading instructions, gathering pieces, and shoving tools in my apron pockets.
Right off the bat there was a problem. I wasn’t sure how to hold the fence panels in order to secure them in an upright position. I knew my best bet was starting with a corner. Once fastened together the panels would then hold themselves up and i could go about attaching each new panel to the already existing cluster. However, getting those first two panels together without a second person to help would be a challenge. I had a very heavy ladder which i used to prop one of the kennel panels against. However, i didn’t have anything tall and heavy to prop the second panel against. The two panels had to be fastened together with additional pieces of metal and nuts and bolts, so i couldn’t be holding a panel up while also fastening the pieces; i needed both hands to work on the nut, bolt, and two curved metal pieces around the bars. So, i decided to get creative. There was a sign zip tied to the front of one of the panel pieces. It had a picture of the finished product and the written dimensions of the kennel on it. I placed a wooden chair against a plant in front of my work area. Then i tipped it until it was wedged firmly underneath the laminated cardboard sign which was zip tied to the panel. This proved to be the wrong decision. Everything was going swimmingly and i had the bolt half way through the hole in the middle of the curved metal fastener when the zip tie tore through the cardboard sign all the way to the corner, freeing itself. The sign moved, freeing the chair, which fell to the ground. Then in slow motion the panel began to tip. Still holding the panel i had pulled away from the ladder to fasten to the other one, i reached out with my free hand, intending to recover the panel, to catch it or stop it from falling into the dog run fence that it was headed for. On a good day i would have had the strength to do so. On a good day i could have used my biceps and abdominal muscles to strain and pull the panel back into an upright position. But, this was not a good day. I was stupidly operating as if i had the strength in my body to do anything to keep that panel from going where it was already headed with building momentum. The slow motion effect vanished and i watched as the panel yanked itself free of my grasp, the metal tearing through my shoulder on its way down. It hit the dog run fence with a crash and landed with a thud on the ground. I examined the dog run fence quickly. It seemed to have taken the blow well and remained standing and intact. Then i turned to look at my shoulder. The blood was already running down my arm and staining my shirt. I ripped the shirt off in an attempt to save it and for a while was walking around the yard in nothing but pants. I was looking for the gauze pads. I cleared out everything under the sink in the kitchen and the bathroom. I moved everything from under the bed. There were no gauze pads present. I wondered where i had put them. I went to the extension shed. I threw everything on the floor, looking in this bin and that, toy box after toy box….none of them held the gauze pads. At this point i was angry and covered in blood. I wanted to put the flap of skin back where it should be and i wanted to hurry up and get back to my project. I had a very real problem to solve and i couldn’t get it done until i had some kind of bandage and a shirt on. I ripped open one of the toy boxes full of clothes. I grabbed a tank top and laid it on the porch. I held it down with the elbow of my bleeding arm and cut it with my knife. Once i had a rather rectangular piece of the garment i used my teeth and my free hand to tie it around my bleeding shoulder. The edge of the panel had gone across my chest, to my arm pit, and down the side of my shoulder as it flipped top to bottom. I tightened my tank top bandage, double knotted it, and threw the lids to the toy boxes together in a heap on the shed floor. I locked the shed and went back over to my project. As best as i could tell, i was going to have to hold the panels up while also fastening the metal pieces around them. I couldn’t use my hands to hold the panels so i would have to use my body. I would have to use my hip, my torso, and my elbow to hold each panel upright while using my fingers to fasten the pieces of metal around the bars of the panels, locking them together. If i failed to hold them upright, they would either fall inwards, crushing the chicken coop that i had just painstakingly built, or outwards, flipping up and grazing the chicken coop with the bottom of the panel and probably the dog run fence again. I wiped the thought from my mind and hoisted the first panel up, leaning it against the ladder. I hoisted the second panel up, resting it against my hip. I reached for the panel against the ladder while still holding the other one against my hip. I felt the weight of the panel i was holding shift as the metal lifted from my hip and i released the panel i was grasping for, knocking it back against the ladder, just in time to grab the panel and mash it down against my hip before it flipped into the chicken coop. I sighed, arms numb and legs shaking. My body was tired. The panels were heavy. Really heavy. I didn’t see a logical way that i could do this. There wasn’t one. So i stopped thinking and just decided to do. I began balancing the first panel against my body while reaching for the second only to find that i was losing control of the first and abort. I did this 6 or 7 times, until i was getting tired. I was getting tired but with each new attempt i was getting angry, until i was furious and gunning for a fight with the panel that had maimed me. When i felt the weight of the panel shift as it lifted its bottom off the ground to flip i shouted, “Oh no you don’t you little ******. You ****** ****** you stay right the **** there! Don’t you ******* move!” As it tried to shift and lean away from me i threw all my weight into pulling it back while still holding the other panel upright. I was shouting profanities at it and using every muscle in my body. I was channeling rage into energy somehow, and i pulled the panels both upright to a point where gravity was doing the work for me for a split second. I could feel that the weight from each of the two panels was not against me. They were perfectly upright. As long as there were no slight breezes everything would be fine. I jammed my hand into my apron pocket and swiftly produced the little rounded pieces of metal. I carefully held them against the panel bars. With shaking fingers i threaded the bolt through the hole. I began fastening the nut on the other side. By the time i felt the weight of one of the panels shift the fastener was on. The weight shift pushed the metal against the nut and…the nut held. The panels were upright at a 90 degree angle from each other. I stepped back from the panels and threw my hands up, “Woooooooooo! It’s on there. It’s ****ing on there ****** ******! We did it!!” I ran into the dog run and grabbed up Sili’s paws. She danced with me as i jumped around in the grass. Cashew wanted to join in the excitement too. She jumped and flipped in the air as i danced holding onto her sister’s paws. I let go of Sili and ran about until i couldn’t breathe and collapsed on the ground. The dogs came over to me and sat in the mulch nearby as i struggled to catch my breath. I could reach out and touch both of their warm fur. I was in the ants but i didn’t care. I didn’t care about anything in that moment except the sight i was looking at from where i lay; Two upright kennel panels standing in the yard. What a sight.
Once i got the first two kennel panels fastened together the rest was just a matter of lifting and carrying each panel to where it needed to be to connect it to the others. One by one i fastened each panel into place until i had the chicken coop completely surrounded. At this point i believed i was almost done. I had forgotten about the trench i had to dig and i figured putting the roof together would be a little like assembling tinker toys. I figured i’d just snap the pieces into place and lift it up on top.
As soon as i had the roof piece assembled i knew i was in trouble. It was a lot heavier than i had anticipated. The frame of the roof was heavy enough that i could barely lift it to my waist. There was no physical way i was going to lift it above my head. I sighed. Somehow i had to get the roof piece up on top of the panels. I tried and tried and tried. I tried from the ladder. I tried from the ground. I tried holding it from the middle. I tried holding it from the edge and pushing the roof frame up the side of the panels until it made it on top. The problem i was running into was that the roof frame was the exact size of the top of the panels, so, if i didn’t have it lined up exactly right, one side of the roof frame fell in. I needed a surface that was larger than the roof frame to slide the roof frame up atop the kennel panels. I wracked my brain. I couldn’t think of anything i had in the house or the sheds that would be large and flat enough for the task and light enough to hoist in place above my head. Finally i remembered that the day bed i slept on had come with a trundle bed to slide beneath it. The metal trundle frame was still somewhere in the tool shed. I tore through the tool shed in an effort to find this bed frame i hadn’t thought of for over a year. Then, against the west wall, behind the scrap wood; there it was. I hoisted it against my hip and tried to carry it across the yard. It was heavy and i was tired and i eventually resorted to dragging it through the yard while i scooted backwards on my butt in the grass, determined to move this thing forward, to finish the project.
I filled my apron pockets with zip ties and climbed up onto the wooden chair. I hoisted the trundle bed frame against the panels and slid it up on top of the kennel frame. I stood on my tippy toes and zip tied the trundle bed frame to the top of the kennel. Then i climbed down and had a look. I was pretty sure i was on the right track to something here. I was pretty sure it was doable now. With the trundle bed secured in place i was pretty sure i could slide the roof frame right up on top of it without it going through. So i did.
The trundle bed frame and the zip ties held as i hoisted the roof frame up the front of the kennel and tipped it until it was sliding onto the bed frame and all the way into place. There was still the issue of the trundle frame where the trundle frame couldn’t be. I had to get it out somehow, but how? How could i disturb the trundle bed frame without having the roof fall into the kennel? It became clear to me as i hurried about the yard, filling my apron pockets with metal pieces, nuts, bolts, scissors, and a wrench. It would have to be done one fastener at a time. I placed the fasteners on at the back of the kennel, securing the roof frame to the panels beneath it. Then as i put a fastener in place towards the middle of the kennel frame i cut a zip tie off of the trundle frame towards the middle of the kennel frame. As i kept adding fasteners, inching towards the front of the kennel, i kept cutting zip ties, inching towards the front of the kennel. Finally, the back and middle fasteners were on, but the front were not. There was a trundle bed frame in the way. I stood on the chair and slid the trundle bed frame out from the side of the kennel. Once it was out i hurried to put the remaining fasteners on. The fasteners at the back and middle of the roof held until i could get the front fasteners on. Finally, the roof was exactly where it was supposed to be and completely fastened in place.
Now there was another problem. With the roof frame in place i could see exactly how close it was to a major branch of the cedar tree i used to hold the laundry line. The kennel was placed where it was because there was a plant in front of it whose roots wouldn’t allow me to move it forwards. The chicken coop was already built where it was. The panels were already erected. The thing weighed a ton now. There was no moving it. The tree branch would have to come off.
It was a bad idea. I was in no condition to cut any part of a tree. Sawing off tree limbs took stamina, precision, safety…none of which i had on my person that day, and i knew it. I was going to do it anyway. It was not a good time to need a hospital either. Hospitals were only taking covid patients and recommended everything else be treated at home. Even at work the doctors were shipping us supplies for procedures that would normally be performed in hospital and expecting the rehab facility nurses to figure it out. To their credit, they did. It was a strange time for the country, and again, not a good time to do something that might land you in the hospital. But here i go. I went to the shed and got my saw. I pulled the chair up to the branch. I made my plan.
The plan was to cut the branch from top to bottom until it seemed like it was ready to go, then push it sideways so it would land next to the chicken pen rather than on it. It was a good plan for someone who was up to using a saw. I wasn’t. I soon found that out. Half way through the tree limb my arms were like jelly. My energy was spent. My eyelids were drooping and i was out of breath. I could feel the branch squeezing against the saw blade. It was pinching it between the branch and the tree. That meant two things. One, the branch had shifted from where it was and was now unstable. Two, i had done something wrong, as the branch was not supposed to be falling in towards the tree. With each passing second, each new gust of wind, the branch was trapping the saw blade tighter and tighter between the two pieces of branch. It was probably partly due to my weakened state but eventually, i couldn’t move the saw blade. The tree branch had shifted all it was gonna shift before it would break. It was now or never. I had to make my decision on what i was going to do to try to control the next phase. I abandoned the saw blade, still stuck in the tree branch. I thanked the lord for steel toed boots. Then i used all of my might to lift the tree branch up for a second, until it cleared the frame of the chicken pen roof, then threw it hard to the left with all the strength i could muster. I heard the wood crack and the tree branch split free from the main piece, falling so close to the left of the chicken pen that it grazed the panels on the way down. It landed with a flop. I breathed a sigh of relief and went to retrieve my saw. That was not how i had envisioned doing things but, i didn’t have the stamina to pull the blade back and forth quick enough to get the job done in a timely manner and i let the branch hang too long where gravity started taking over and the tree branch decided things for me. It was a mess. The important thing was that the branch was down, nobody needed the hospital, and no structures were broken in the process.
As i dragged the tree branch through the yard to the brush pile i realized, it was longer than the car. it was also quite a bit heavier than i had imagined.
With the branch gone and all that out of the way i set about putting the canvas roof on. I stood up on the chair and threw the canvas atop the frame, pulling at each side one at a time as i traveled around, dragging my chair behind me. When i had each corner of the canvas roof where it was supposed to be i began fastening the velcro straps and the buckle straps around the bars to tie the canvas down.
I was so close to being done but not quite yet. I still had to dig a trench. It had been raining and the ground was muddy. Because of this it wasn’t as hard a dig as it could have been. I used my pickaxe to dig a six inch trench, going down until i hit limestone, and i dug all the way around the kennel. As the day stretched on and my time was running out i pressed forward. I hadn’t eaten, had a drink, or gone to the bathroom since i woke up. I was a woman possessed. My eyes were bloodshot. My skin was burned. The ripped up shirt had dried to my skin in the old blood and it was somehow glued to me and pulled when i moved. It was difficult to wield the pickaxe and i was out of breath early on in the digging. I began the process standing, swinging the thing with precision and making a straight line with my trench. By the time i got from the side, around the back of the kennel, i was squatting, holding the pickaxe midway down the handle, and hitting the ground with these mini swings, which was all i could muster. I was in a continuous state of breathlessness, i was covered in sweat, drool hung from my lips, and my trench was now jagged and sloppy. When i missed with the pickaxe i scraped my knuckles on the edges of the fence panels and the metal wires i had threaded through the bars to attach to buried fencing later. Soon my knuckles were bloody and raw. My palms were blistered and beads of moisture formed where i had torn the blisters off to keep going. The moisture made the handle of the pickaxe slippery, which made me even less precise. I crawled in the dirt on my knees, screaming about finishing, finishing, finishing the trench. Finishing the chicken pen. Finishing the projects. Finish, finish, finish!!! I rummaged around in the dirt with that pickaxe, limping to the finish line. Once the trench was dug i had to cut the wire fencing into 6 inch tall pieces, fit it down in the trench, and fasten it to the bottom of each panel in several places with metal wire and pliers. When i was done my hands looked like they’d had a cheese grater taken to them but there was a six inch trench dug all the way around the chicken pen, clear down to the limestone sheet beneath the soil and there was metal fencing in it, fastened to the bottom of each panel, all the way around. I laughed as i suddenly realized the meaning of the saying “blood, sweat, and tears”. All three were in the dirt surrounding this project.
Unfortunately, i literally didn’t have it in me to stand up after digging that trench. I left the pickaxe hidden in the grass next to the house and crawled to the dog run where i let the dogs out and crawled behind them up the porch steps. i left the ladder, the wheelbarrow, and the trundle bed frame in the yard. I called it a night. I made it up the stairs and onto the floor of the house. There i lay while the dogs sniffed and licked me, wondering when dinner would be in their bowls. It wouldn’t be until the following weekend when i would fill the wheelbarrow with mulch and bring it to the chicken pen, that i would finish the project. I shoveled the mulch all around the chicken pen to conceal the buried fencing. Once i was done shoveling the mulch in place i covered the floor of the chicken coop and the nesting boxes with cedar shavings. I was finally done. The greenhouse was done. The chicken coop was done. Now the chicken pen was done. All 3 big projects were finished and i had finished them smack dab in the middle of my 7 weeks of illness. I no longer worried whether i could run the homestead while physically compromised…the answer was yes.