Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cottonballs with legs

Hello Junko, here are more stories about chickens and such. I had a quiet day with the chickens, neglecting my other duties. I worked on finishing the baby pen. The little chicks look like black and white cotton-balls with toothpicks for legs. Short toothpicks. The babies are very curious and get into every nook and cranny of their environment. They need a world that is smooth with small openings. Today one of the babies got in between the wooden crate that they sleep in and the fencing. The crate was very close to the fence with just enough of a narrow passage to inspire a curious baby to explore. It soon found out it was a one way alley with no way to turn around. The exit was in view when it got too small for even a cotton-ball to pass through. It struggled and pushed managing to get its leg stuck in the mesh of the wire. I was working in another part of the pen at the time but my "mothers intuition" kicked in and I went to check on them. I had this funny feeling something was wrong. I checked and only saw two babies. I could hear an occasional peep but couldn't see where it was coming from. Their little peeps have a ventriloquist quality. It jumps all over the place making it difficult to pin down where they are. I moved all the rocks holding down the bottom of the fence but no baby. I searched for 5 minutes but couldn't locate it. It quit peeping so I couldn't zero in on it. I'm the good shepherd and didn't give up and finally noticed a dark spot near the bottom of the crate. I gently moved the crate and waited for it to run off. It stayed by the wire. Then I noticed a tiny little foot stuck through the wire. I went and got my wire cutters and did some very delicate cutting. After about 6 careful snips it hopped free and seemed none the worse for the experience. It didn't have a limp which is a relief. I moved their bedroom out away from the fencing and looked the whole pen over for possible problems. I think we're in good shape. Tonight I noticed that the mom is sleeping in the corner on some soft grass I brought for them so tomorrow the crate is out.

After I mow the lawn I rake up the grass and spread it around the chicken pens. They love to eat the fresh greens and spread it around with their chicken dance. It also makes good nesting material. The mothers make wonderful, cozy nests to lay their eggs in hatch their newborn chicks.

This evening I went out and sat with Hiromi and Helena, our geese along with Nancy the duck. It was dusk and the night sounds were starting. I watched Hiromi listen to each sound with caution seeking to sense any danger. He doesn't yet know how safe his world is. I'm hoping in time he'll know and relax into a deep goose sleep. They nap a lot during the day with their heads tucked under their wings. They feel safe when I'm there.

Their world has all the essential elements of the human world but without the maliciousness. I love my time with them. The work is hard but satisfying with amazing moments like when a chicken decides to perch on my shoulder or take a rest on the back of my leg while kneeling to fix something. It's a joy to spend some time with some chickens. It takes a little time for them to accept you. They're suspicious but they learn to trust us and in time find all sorts of handy uses for us such as moving rocks so that they can eat the bugs hiding underneath. When I'm walking around the farm and find a grub or bug I grab them and make a trip to the chicken pen. They all come running. It's a wonderful feeling to be the star of a small world. Well, time for me to hit the nest. Bye for now. Wally

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Hawk Came Back

The hawk came back It got one hen in the morning. We found the hen dead inside the coop and at first we weren't sure what had happened. In the evening I went back to close the chickens in for the night and all the chickens were outside the coop staring at it. It reminded me of the scenes you see where all the neighbors are in the street looking at a house where some crime has happened. I went in and the hawk was inside. I shut the door behind me and called to Amaranth to bring a fishing net. The hawk was doing his best to escape but he was trapped. Amaranth brought the net and I netted him. It was at that point we saw that it had killed another hen. It only ate their heads and left the rest. Seems it was some sort of a gourmet. I carried the hawk out and planned to put it in a cage to relocate it. I'd only gone a few steps when it cut a hole in the net and escaped. It ran up to the plastic mesh fence and managed to slice the fence and escape in a flash. I was furious because I knew he'd be back. I didn't sleep well that night because it upset me to think of our hens dying in such a manner. I also was trying to figure out what to do.

The next day I started remodeling the pens. I kept all of the birds locked in their houses and went to work on covering the pens with chicken wire. I've spent the past week working from dawn to dusk and they turned out wonderfully. Now all of them have large areas to sleep and eat. I'm also going to cover the area in front of their pens so they'll have a huge area all enclosed. The hawk will have to go to MacDonalds for lunch from now on.

On the same day the 2 hens were killed one of the new chicks was also killed but not by the hawk. I think one of the grumpy hens got it. I've seen her give them a good shake when she can catch them. I made a new, fully-enclosed pen for the babies to keep them isolated until they're a month or two old. They're happy and can have their rice and special food without the other chickens getting it.

We are going to start planting our vegetable gardens this week so I need to finish "Chicken World." Well, that's about it for the news. We'll keep you posted. Wally

Monday, October 19, 2009

Now Renting

I finished the new chicken house and the tenants are all moved in. If I were still a bachelor I'd be sleeping in the house with them. It's really cozy. I also wired in some branches so they'd have more places to perch. Tomorrow I'll put in another ladder. Some of the chickens tend to park on the ladder blocking traffic. One of our 6 teenage Costa Rican chicks is a runt. It's always peeping around. I think it misses its mother. The other chickens run it off when it's chow time. I'm going to build it a box and feed it in there. I'll get some special food so it can eat at its leisure and maybe catch up. In the wild it would probably just die but we want to give it every advantage. At night I always have to give it a boost so it can get into the roost. I worry over it like an old hen.

Today, about 4:30 in the afternoon, I went back out to put the finishing touches on things and when I got over by the goose pond I noticed a commotion. I thought it was one of the chickens acting rather oddly. It turned out to be a goose-size hawk. He was on the far side of the pond trying to figure out what chicken wire was. The geese and the duck were on the opposite side of the pond watching intently. The hawk was very beautiful. It had gray, black and white stripes and bright yellow legs. I edged around the pond and directed it out the way it came in. It waddled up the hill and gracefully took off. Three or four years ago another hawk showed up at the chicken pen looking for dinner. It attacked and killed a couple of baby chicks. When I got out to the pen the mother hen had it pinned up against the wire. She'd back up and then explode towards it. The hawk had little bloody spots all over it where she'd pecked it. It was on the ropes. I took off my t-shirt, covered it and took it out of the pen. The mother hen still wouldn't let up. She was so wonderfully brave. I grabbed some thick leather gloves as I passed the bodega and took the hawk down the hill. When I removed the t-shirt it perched on my hand still a bit stunned. I looked it in the eye and told it not to come back because next time I might not be there to rescue it. That one took my advise. I hope this one is as wise.

We're in the process of building an enclosure for the geese and duck so they can sleep soundly at night. I guess we'll have to speed up the building program. Goose condos coming right up. See you tomorrow. Wally

Sunday, October 18, 2009

chicken condos

Last Monday we got home after dark and I headed out back to put the chickens to bed. I had them all tucked in and was headed for bed myself when I heard a lonesome "peep peep peep", I'd counted the babies and they were all in their pen so I couldn't figure out what was up. The peepin' was hard to locate. I finally tracked it down to the Costa Rican pen. I looked all over and still couldn't find the source. Finally I noticed a white mushroom blooming in the middle of the pen. I stared at it for a while and it finally moved. It was a new baby Costa Rican chick. They're as small as a bonbon. I couldn't figure out where it came from. I got in the pen and picked it up. I then heard another peep and saw a little black chick pop out of a small hole in the ground. I picked it up and then heard something above my head. The mother had hidden herself in the wire under the pen. I ended up finding 4 babies. We took them in the house and in the morning I started on a new pen. I moved the last batch of babies in with the adult CR chickens and moved the junior members into the nursery. They need a space by themselves as the moms are very protective.

For the past week I've been building a deluxe new house for the adult Costa Ricans. It'll be done tomorrow. It has 7 nesting boxes and 7 sleeping boxes. The new house is built to last. I loved building tree houses and forts when I was a kid and apply those skills to my chicken houses. I make them places I'd like to stay. The chickens climbed all over me while I was trying to work. They are completely at home with me.

We have a hurricane headed this way so we're expecting some wind and waves.

Well, time to hit the hay. Got lots to do tomorrow, including painting the stairs. A pretty good trick with all the traffic we get during the day. It'll mean they'll be closed until we eat at 1. I try to get it done early so the smell doesn't linger into the evening.

Fashion for farmwomen...

I just found 6 mud cocoons stuck to my apron. Two were empty. I was curious what kind of creature was inside and found that each one contained a folded-up spider. I had noticed two in the kitchen yesterday and they were as large as silver dollars. Now I know from whence they came. This apron is multifunctional. Whenever I have a little chick or duckling with an injury or in need of TLC I carry it with me in the pockets of my apron until it's stronger. I'm a cross-species marsupial.

Speaking of aprons - aren't they wonderful? I love wearing them. I took my mother's favorite which was getting threadbare and cut out a new one using it as a pattern. I chose a fabric with giant creamy white peonies on a wine-colored background with silver-green leaves. She wears it everyday and especially when she eats because it protects her clothes if she's dressed to go out later. It's an apron/bib.

I have a little daydream of being an apron designer and starting a movement to bring style into the kitchen. Picture it: sassy, normal-size women, maybe with a wooden spoon or a rolling pin making the fashion walk in half and full aprons, with pockets, ruffles, and crisp bows tied in the back. Every woman would want one!

This little number in the photo was a gift from my friend, Janice. It's from Oaxaca and the design is embroidered. She also gave me another favorite: a Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo - World Championship Bar-B-Q Cook-off apron. Picante!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Coo-coo for cocos...

Coconuts are a mainstay of our diet. Wally planted coconuts about 16 years ago and we recently planted more. Many people think that coconut milk is the fluid inside the coconut but actually it is a milk made from the meat of the nut and it is blended with water into a rich, white milk with thick cream that separates and rises to the top. You never tasted anything so delicious as freshly made coconut milk. I use it in soups, curries, puddings, tamales, ice cream and our favorite: sticky rice. Wally likes to mix half coconut milk and half passion fruit juice for a "passion colada".

Making coconut milk is a lot of work. First there's the task of cutting down the coconuts. Wally uses a pruning saw but around here you can hire a kid to climb the trees to cut down the cocos with a machete. Cocos are a tough nut to crack! Everything is done with a machete here. First we drain the liquid into a cup and drink it. It is full of electrolytes and is the best remedy for upset stomachs and fevers. We have overcome the flu and food poisoning drinking coco water and we brought two dogs through parvo keeping them hydrated with coco water.
Sometimes we find a sprout inside the coco and we gobble it up as a treat. Can you imagine eating the biggest sprout in the world? It's got to be a super-food! Usually Wally harvests 20 cocos at a time and we make a project of cracking them, removing the the nut meats and making milk. I freeze the milk to use as I need it and I keep some to use fresh. I also let some ferment into a rich buttermilk which is delicious in so many things. I like to ferment oatmeal and coconut milk together overnight, heat it and sweeten it with a little agave for breakfast .


Speaking of mangoes...

Wally mentioned that we are coming to the last mango of the year, but he didn't say that our season began in May! This has been the best and the longest season we've ever had for mangoes. Unfortunately, it was a poor year for all our neighbors who complained that their trees didn't bear. This may sound odd, but it is true: our neighbor's trees had branches that hung over our side of the fence and they had mangoes on them and the rest of the tree was bare! This is a mystery. Folks shake their heads and say maybe it's our soil, or our organic methods, maybe it was the time of year that we pruned... For us, it is nothing short of grace. I don't need to understand the science. I'm still caught up in awe and wonder and thankfulness.

For lunch: mango-coconut curry with yam and black beans.

Chickens, mangoes and time

I've been working on the chicken pen for the past week, fixing up the fences. The lower pen has a slope to it, dirt and rocks continually work their way down hill and pile up at the fence, slowly lowering the top of it. I've been clearing away the rubble and raising the fence. I'm going to put some logs at the bottom of the fence to act as a dam, this is how we terrace around here. When I'm sitting down moving rocks and dirt the chickens are working right along side me. They're enthralled with all the food there is crawling around. Most of the chickens keep a cautious distance but one brave hen is right in the mix, the reason I'm sitting down. I tried using a shovel but every time I brought the shovel down I had to stop and move her. As quickly as I moved her she returned. Finally, I sat down and worked with my hands and sometimes a trowel. She was a good influence. I work at a slower, more deliberate pace and I am that much closer to the chickens. We have names for a lot of the chickens but not my constant companion. Maybe I'll call her Constance or Connie , since she's my constant companion. Sometimes I'll spot a grub before she does and I'll start tapping my finger near it. She comes running over and dines with gusto, looking up at me to see if there's a second course. At one point she was right next to me so I reached down , picked her up, put her on my lap and petted her. I could tell she wanted to get back to work but she settled in and we communed for a bit. When I quit petting her she got up and got back to work. So much of the time I feel like I'm in a really cool school learning all about the world and its contents. I know people say that we attribute human characteristics to the creatures around us. My thought is that as we spend more time with our fellow creatures we discover that we have a lot in common. We're both changed from the experience. I'm sure Connie is having the same conversation with her fellow hens. The Roosters are too busy talking about sports.

One thing good about farm life is it gives you time to think and look at the world around you. I never got over that part of little boyhood. I remember being in grade school looking out the window on a sunny day wondering why we were inside. It seemed to me, that it would be better to have school on rainy days.

We're at the end of the rainy season and things are lushly green. I'd like to have a crayon box with all the colors of green we see around us. The rain washes all the dust off the leaves and makes them shine. We have lots of pretty tropical flowers that, knowingly, use the green as a back drop for their colorful splendor. I used to feel a bit sad up north when the winter came because things had a gray hue and a lot of the trees had gone to sleep and lost their leaves. We have seasons here but they're celebrated by the different fruits that ripen. When I was young we didn't always have a lot of food. I didn't dream of being a fireman or an astronaut (there weren't any back then), instead, I dreamed of having lots of fruit trees so I could eat as much as I wanted. My dream came true. I recently was given a book called "The Fruit Hunters". It's all about people with the lovely obsession of seeking out exotic fruit from all over the world. There are so many magical varieties. I wish I'd have known about that in my 20's. What a life's work that would be. I have over 50 kinds of fruit trees here but there's always room for one more. From the time you plant them to the first fruit appearing is usually 2 or 3 years. You only get a few fruit the first year with increasing amounts as time passes. Some trees give their fruit one year and vacation in dormancy for a year. I don't mind, I just picture them storing up energy for a luscious crop. Our lychees are on vacation this year. Amaranth and I have a clean 5 gallon bucket waiting for when next year's offering appears. There's nothing more fun than making a big mess eating fresh fruit. Mangoes are like that. It's wonderful while working on a hot day, too tired to make the trip all the way back to the house for a drink, you reach down and pick up a fresh, golden, Mango and open it with your teeth. You are about to get messy, so dive in. Let the mango juice run out of the sides and front of your mouth. Smile as a nice golden mask of Mango pulp covers your face and hands. It can't be stopped. The uninitiated struggle with this but soon learn to give themselves over to absolute pleasure. It's always refreshing, after the feast, to dip your hands into a water tank and splash yourself clean.

Well friends, now comes the time part. It's time for me to head up the stairs and set myself down in front of a fresh bowl of mango slices, the last of the season. Don't pity me. We have 3 freezers full of tropical delights.

Bye for now. Wally

Sunday, October 4, 2009

We now resume our regularly scheduled broadcast

I can see I have to work on taking time for this. Not quite a year since my last post. I've been busy.

We're near the end of this rainy season and all the creatures and plants are happy and full of life. I started out the week doing some machete work in the lower chicken pen. When I got to the lower left corner I found a 5 foot long boa constrictor stuck in the plastic mesh fencing. It had woven itself through 3 times and finally gotten stuck at the frog in its belly. It wasn't moving so I touched it and it slowly moved around. I went and got a knife and a small screwdriver so I could cut the fencing. I used the screw driver to get between its skin and the fencing so I could cut the wire without cutting the snake. I got two of the strands cut when the snake when all of a sudden it lunged through the fence and bit two fingers on my right hand. It left 12 puncture wounds and part of a tooth. There was a lot of blood but no pain. I went up to the house to clean up the wound and get Amaranth to help me with the final cut. We cleaned up the cut and put on leather gloves. I also brought a large plastic lid from a storage container to use as a shield. Amaranth grabbed the snake by its tail and pulled so I could get to the last strand of fencing. Amaranth avoids snakes at all times but she was a good nurse and did her part. I put the lid between me and the snakes head and got to work on the last cut. I could feel it hitting the plastic lid with pretty good force. It was also making an interesting hissing sound like a tire with a bad leak. I finally got it all freed up and it slithered away.

We made a long overdue return visit to a friend of ours named Chavela. She lives at the end of a bumpy dirt road many miles up in the mountains. We went up to see her with a couple of things in mind. She knows a lot about medicinal plants. We took a camera and a note pad to record the information she passed on to us. We want to catalog as many of the plants around here as we can. We also want to get to know the ones growing on our land and introduce many more. Chavela also lives by a beautiful flowing waterfall that glides over some smooth boulders into a deep pool. The entire area is surrounded by a magnificent old forest. The only sounds you hear are the ones nature provides. Ahhh. After a good soaking we went back to Chavela's house and had a good meal of nice, fat, hand made tortillas, as well as beans fresh from the pot and a great salsa she made as we sat watching. After a good meal she broke out the freshly made corn tamales. We washed it all down with fresh squeezed lemonaid. Chavela's house is over 100 years old and was built by her father (her mom and dad were both well over 100 when they died). The roof is palm thatched and is replaced every 5 or 6 years. The stove and some of the shelves in the kitchen are adobe and as nice to look at as they are to use. A visit to Chavela's is other-worldly. We spent some time talking about life and nature and other good things, then bid her farewell. We descended into the lower valley as the sun took its late afternoon station. As the road wound its way toward the ocean we caught several glimpses of our home and as always we were excited to know we were almost there.

About a year ago a friend and neighbor of ours was killed in a car accident. We attended the wake and funeral and stop to visit with them often. His wife was very sad because she didn't have many pictures of him and had none of him smiling which was one of his best features. It's a tradition of sorts for people not to smile when they have they're picture taken. The other day Amaranth was going through some photos and she came across 3 pictures of Hilde (the father). They were taken at his 40th birthday party and he had a nice, warm, smile on his face. There was also a picture of Alicia (the mother), and Magnolia (the daughter) together with him around the cake. I don't think Alicia had a picture of them together. It was an unbelievable find. Like pulling something back out of the past that seemed hopelessly lost. When we took them to her she wasn't home but I gave them to her oldest son. I haven't seen her since but I'm glad I wasn't there when she saw them. I'm glad she got to experience the pictures in private.

The rest of the week was full of the normal upkeep a place like this needs. Every day I get to pick from a full list.

We're getting ready to repaint one of the rooms on the second floor. We have some friends who are Huichol Indians. We bought some of their art and want to change the color of the walls to blend in with the magic of their vision.

I'm still working on Aticama's first electric pick up and converting a 95 Land Rover someone gave me from computers and fuel injection to plain old carburetor. The engine is the same design as the old 215 Buick V-8. Land Rover just bought the design and still produces them. I ordered an Edlebrock aluminum intake manifold as well as a performance 4 barrel carburetor along with all the accessories needed to hook it up I also needed to come up with a distributor because the old one was controlled by the computer. I made my own distributor by combining a 78 Chevrolet hei distributor with the old Land Rover distributor. I, simply cut the base off both distributors and had the Land Rover base welded onto the hei upper. The shaft in both were the same so it was an easy fit. Now when I need tune up parts, I just go to my local parts store and get some good old chevy parts which are readily available here. You get a blank stare when you ask for Land Rover parts. I'll dump tons of sensors, computers, relays etc. and turn it into something I can work on. I've come to realize that the old time mechanics, such as myself, could actually work on a car and repair things. The new breed are computer technicians and parts replacers. The art of troubleshooting also seems to have gone by the wayside. A lot of the fun and sense of accomplishment is also gone. Enough of the old geezer talk.

We had a quiet day today working around the chickens. I'm always updating an already cool pen. It looks like the kind of place Tarzan would have built for his chickens. I also like spending time with the chickens, geese, and duck. Like any creatures on this earth, the more time you spend with them the better you get to know them and the more you realize we have a lot in common. Gary Larson wasn't far off in most of his cartoons. If anyone out there runs into him send him down. We have a fresh load of ideas and characters for him.

Well, it's late and the chickens, as well as the dogs will be getting us up around 5. Nite