Monday, December 31, 2007
On June 3, 82 baby chickens arrived via the local post office where their exuberant peeps resounded off the walls. We were instantly in love. Although indistinguishable in the early weeks, the chickens were 3 kinds, 2 old varieties which are heavy breeds (Buff Orpingtons and White Plymouth Rocks) plus a freebie described as a rare and unusual breed. About 50-some were roosters (birds we intended to eat); the remaining hens and a few roosters were to become the laying flock. In early September, Richard harvested the roosters, thanking each and every one.
The chickens are now 7 months old. The Buff Orpingtons are much easier to tell apart because of distinct variations in color patterns and combs. Most are named and they have distinct personalities. A few White Rocks have names but mostly we call them the "Rockettes" because they are harder to tell apart. They are all a joy. The following write-up introduces you to the chickens of Butterfly Hill Farm.
Glinda named Lacey because of the lacy pattern of her feathers. She was the first to lay eggs. She is a sweetheart of chicken. Now, she is very broody, which means that she is ready to hatch some eggs. Since this is the middle of the winter season, this is not a good idea for her or for baby chicks. We continue to pull her off the nest 3 or 4 times a day to make sure she eats or drinks. When we pull her off, she is none too pleased and fluffs up like a porcupine.
Tupelo is so named because she is the color of honey, not because she is from Mississippi. As she matured, Melanie noted that she had something wrong with vision. She would always eat 1/4 inch down from where the food was, so Melanie would often feed her from her hand. Needless to say, she is quite a spoiled chicken and likes to be around her humans. Tupelo stays in the upper left hand corner nest box.
Freddie, or Sir Squish-A-Lot, is the squishiest rooster ever. He is a lover, not a fighter. He is the chicken we get out when the kids and the big people come around. He just sits there. He loves the attention.
Penny is so named because of her distinctive voice which sounds as if the sky is falling. She is probably the biggest hennie we have.
Melanie named Kayte after Melanie's cousin who had her golden birthday on August 11. A lot of folks around here do not know about golden birthdays. Kayte turned 11 on the 11th. In honor of this occasion, we named a golden hennie after Kayte. Kayte (the hen) is probably the smallest of the Buffs and she has a distinctive inquisitive voice. Whenever Melanie gets down low at chicken level, she will come up to her and you can almost here her say: "Whatchya doing?"
Melanie got the name Marshmallow from Kayte, the human.
Pinchy pinches. 'Nuff said.Twisty is a White Rock. When she was younger, another chicken pinched her comb, resulting in some damage to one of the points. Pinchy perhaps? As her comb healed, it has a distinctive twist.
We could write a book about Etta and maybe we will. Etta was the freebie; he is the rare and unusual breed which we now know as a Silver Spangeled Hamburg. We really wanted Etta to be a hen, as excess roosters were about to receive a different fate than hens. Etta's full name is Henni-Etta. And then one day, he crowed. In fact, he crowed first of all the 50 some roosters. We did consider possible name changes: Edda, Otto, Eddie. But Etta stuck and he responds to Etta. Etta is a very good rooster. He takes very good care of his hennies and is always on the lookout for danger. He and Freddie are quite chivalrous, offering food first to the hennies. Although approximately half the weight of Freddie, he is dominant. His only vice is that about every 2 weeks, he needs to be reminded he is in charge of the hennies, not the humans.
Shy Sally was pretty shy at one point.
Butterscotch became Blackberry at her own request.
Helen was named after someone Melanie knew in college. She is such a sweet henny. She is very stately in her carriage. She is one of the larger hennies. Melanie wonders if she and Penny are sisters. She is one of the 3 hennies whose voice Melanie can distinguish.
When Brownie was younger, she was the brownest of the bunch. She started off with a brown beak. In fact her first name was Brown Beak. Then we noticed she had brown feet and that her feathers were the brownest of all the Buffs. So her name became Brownie.
Black Tail was so named because she has a black tail, although you cannot see it in this picture.
These are some of our stories of the chickens. We wonder what kind of stories they would tell of their human friends. So far, we have not been able to find the address of their blog.
In the late 1990s, I found myself face to face with a chicken (a cow, pig, and turkey too). The gifts of so many animals for my wellbeing, my sustenance, was a blessing I could not avoid. Surely I had some responsibility in this circle of life. And yet, I looked at the treatment of the animals I consumed and I was appalled. I just could not participate in what I saw. So I tried some different things. These are steps along my path.
I became increasingly aware. On routine trips down our interstate highway in eastern North Dakota, I would pass large, extremely cold, open air, prison-like trucks stuffed with chickens, turkeys, pigs, or cows. I remember seeing little piglets trying to look or crawl out. The socialized voice in me kept saying: "Do not get attached. Do not pay attention. That is what they are for. If you let your heart bleed on this one, what will you do? There is nothing you can do. Besides, you are too busy to spend your important time on such things." But my heart was opening. I just had to do something. So I began to thank the critters for their gifts and thank myself for my growing awareness and struggle. Figuring out what to do would follow.
Simultaneously, I noted the proliferation of enormous containment facilities for these living creatures on rural landscapes and the effects on people who lived around them. These families who often lived in places of long family history described the stench of the air and pollution of waterways. Plus, small farmers could not compete in a society which valued "big" and "cheap" over all else. Rural landscapes were emptying of family farmers. Their homes and communities were blowing away like dry and brittle leaves in the fall. Nevermind a lurking question: What were the effects people who worked there?
Many years before, I noted meat I bought did not look right and did not taste right. We quit buying ham and bacon because it did not taste right. Plus, it made my husband sick. Purchasing chickens was "iffy"; increasingly we were getting bad ones. Sometimes leftover meat simply went bad in the fridge; we could not bring ourselves to eat it.
For a while, I became a vegetarian. I would like to say that it worked. It didn't. I simply needed meat. My body and spirit felt more grounded and vigorous when I ate meat.
Over the course of one's life, many lessons unfold. One of my greatest teachers was my husband's mother, who passed in 1991. Ethel was a farm woman raised in an older time and practicing in a more traditional and sustainable way. She and her husband John raised most of their own food, meat included. In the mid 1960's and 1970's, she was out of step with what I knew. I was a town kid after all. As time passed, I am more and more in awe with the simple yet highly sophisticated things she knew. She was ahead of her time. She was incensed with "store-bought" food, which she described as "not fit to eat". Whenever we were passing through on our family visits, she give us packages of eggs, chicken, beef, sometimes pork, grape juice, corn, whatever she had and all she had grown. These were all things she had grown. And she was concerned about what we ate. I remember she would describe at length how the eggs didn't look right. None of the store-bought food tasted right in her opinion either. After all these years, I can say she was right.
So what to do? In this period of transition, we went to great lengths not to waste meat. It was the flesh of living creatues. We bought only what we needed. I went to Amazing Grains, our health food store in Grand Forks. As the store and demand by consumers grew, more options were present. I bought organic turkeys for special occasions. It was more expensive than conventional store-bought. If that was our own criteria, I would have headed back to our former practices. But it was not and I feel privileged that we had a choice about these things. Purchasing organic meat was more consistent with our values. I was more at peace. We bought only what we would use. The meat was delicious and was no comparison with meat from large corporate farms.
We also bought beef from a local farmer through Amazing Grains. Terry Jacobson and his wife were well known in organic and small farming circles. He told me he wanted to make sure the animals had a good life which included being pasture fed. When he sent the animal for processing (that means slaughter), he thanked each for his/her gift. This traditional approach was on target with our intended practice.
After being hooked on the organic turkey, we recognized the turkey was not local, I wanted to support local farmers. So we began to contract with organic farmers Mike and Mary Pat Klawitter for turkeys and chickens. At this stage, we had purchased a small freezer to support this change in life style practices. We were delighted when their 16 year old son Matt began raising pigs and counted us on the list of one of his families for pork. We even went to the farm to visit the animals. We liked what we saw.
Since then, we have moved to our own small farm. We now raise our own chickens for eggs as well as meat. The learning curve is huge. I had never known I would fall in love with chickens, but they are just amazing. We want them to be happy. We thank them every day for their gifts.
In coming face to face with a chicken, I also came face to face with myself. We are walking our talk. We are concerned about what we see in the world and we are doing something about it. Isn't that what we are supposed to do?
Photo: Our first baby chicks arrived June 3, 2007. This little peeper is about 10 days old. What does s/he see in me?
Thursday, December 27, 2007
In special moments in our lives on our spiritual journeys, we are presented with magical gates. In those moments, we may dance around looking for some kind of opening. Past decisions and paths seem less than fulfilling. We are unsettled. We know we need to move on. The more we cling to that former path or try to make it work, the more unsettled we become. Something needs to change. But what?
Something happens. An arrow, beacon, Light, Spirit, God, Creator, Goddess, whatever name He or She is called, points us to an opening we had ignored before. We may have even run from that place as fast as our uncertain feet could carry us. This was the last place we imagined we'd be. Yet it is present. It's shape and form are more clear. We find ourselves closer and closer to that opening. We cannot ignore it any longer.
O.K. I give up. I am ready to walk through that Magical Gate into that Great Unknown Space. Be kind. Be tender toward me. Let me learn the lessons that I must. Give me the strength and courage to walk this path so that I may fulfill the purpose You intended.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
those here now and those coming,
All depend on our actions now.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
When I was a little girl, my Great Aunt Lu took care of my brother and me. She was well into her 70s yet she ran circles around the two of us. She had a knowing, wisdom, and groundedness beyond the reach of and yet intriguing to her young charges.
Aunt Lu was quite aware of a human tendency in our culture to find fault in others, to see where someone else “should” do something different. She helped us see one more piece of the puzzle and it was a big one. “Remember, when you point a finger at someone else, you have 3 fingers pointing at yourself.” I would look at her seasoned hand with her clipped off middle finger and then my own stubby childhood hand. Pointing that index finger into the world left three fingers pointing at me. Sure enough she was right.
I have chewed on this little teaching for 5 decades. Over the years, it has become a “theme”, “a mantra” for my life. Rather than focusing on the other, I question: “What do I need to do?” As I look at the world around me, it is easy to see things that are wrong. Very wrong. In my earlier years, I would reflect at length about what others should do. As the years went on, I began to conclude the only person upon whom I had any control was me.
In the mid nineties, I noted many people (including my family and me) knew something was wrong, but seemed quite stuck in our ability to do anything about it. It was someone else’s fault after all, while we sat complacently in a space of not doing much about it themselves. After all, what could one person do to make a dent in some huge problems?
One more piece of the puzzle emerged as I examined those 3 fingers pointing their way to the heart of me. Deep inside, we each know we have to do something. We just need to listen to that inner voice, which for me became the knowing of the heart. The closer we are to the wishes of our hearts, the more peaceful our actions become in the world. We become centered and grounded in what we are supposed to do.
As the years have unfolded, I note some distinct changes in myself, my family, and a host of nameless others. Instead of pushing the solution off upon another, we are listening to that inner voice and taking charge of our own aspects of the problem. “I just have to do something.” “What kind of world am I leaving to the kids?” “I want to do the least damage to the Earth.” Those myriads of others, my family and I are checking out of a material culture. We are buying organic, buying local and growing more of our own food. I see people leaving empty jobs that pay big bucks for fulfilling work that pays less but rewards more. We are taking on more energy efficient practices. More and more are volunteering. We are recycling because we cannot stand sending something unnecessarily to the landfill. Some are helping at soup kitchens or wherever they are needed. We have reduced holiday giving; this year we gave money to the local soup kitchen as a prayer “that all may eat.” I heard recently of two young people on the Colorado Front Range who gave up their cars. (I am sure the air and all who breathe it are grateful.) Many are turning off television; we turned off ours in 1996. We moved back to our home county after 38 years of being away. Many such wanderers are finding their way home.
This little missive honors those people who are on their own journeys of the heart, actively showing they care about the world around them. It honors what we are doing: them, my family and me. It isn’t easy and our practice isn’t perfect. We are dropping out of a me-centered world and opening our hearts to a world future generations will be quite proud of. It’s a quiet revolution tucked away from the glaring lights and blaring sounds of that outer world. Aunt Lu knew we could do it. We are doing these very essential things of our time just as we were intended.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
In our journeys to live more at peace with this Planet, we 3 partners have become more observant of her cycles and rhythms. As we watch these things, we are filled with awe, humility and a sense of the web supporting all creation on this beautiful planet whirling in the great cosmic sea.
At this season, our eyes turn to the sun. In the Northern Hemisphere, Winter Solstice arrives on Friday, December 21. Since I was a little girl, I have remembered with a touch of sadness and perhaps fear that this is the “longest night of the year”. A kind of gloom descended. My thinking certainly came from my culture but perhaps it was reminiscent of ancient times past. Then, peoples of the Earth did not know if the sun would return and the winter season lay all around them.
Indigenous peoples felt (and feel) stories and actions of the two-leggeds were intimately bound into the cycles of the planet. Humans could actually alter this delicate yet robust balance. At this season and on this day, celebrations were held to call for and express gratitude for the return of the sun.
With the Winter Solstice, the sun will appear to rise and set more to the North and the days will get longer. As I began to focus more on and be grateful for the “return of the sun” at this time, I was filled with hope and joy. As this day passes, I allow myself to rest as the planet rests, while I begin planning for the growing season ahead. Seed catalogues have just begun to arrive and plans for the garden are sprouting like seeds germinating beneath fertile soil.
Yet, for me, another aspect of the sun’s return is apparent. We live in a time of considerable darkness. We seem stuck in a mire of downward spiral. One has only to turn on the radio or TV and watch the steady and almost unspeakable stream of angst of our fellow humans.
Many say however that we live in a time of great transformation. I believe that this is indeed the case. Humans on some kind of elemental level seem to be making a choice to continue on this planet or not. I think the choice is being made to continue here as some kind of benign presence living at peace and harmony with all things. One has only to look around at the myriad of actions where love unfolds and people seek a more simple and spiritual life. Turn off the TV and become a student of these things. Watch them around you and in you. That indeed is our true state.
Here comes the sun.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Community and gratitude: We were launched by a beautiful community who became family. They held us, fed us, expressed gratitude for meanings we had in the other’s life, laughed and cried with us, packed our treasures, traveled to Missouri with us, cleaned corners of our home. The Mehl/de Carle family graciously settled into our former ND home and the Kerbys let us snuggle into the nest they created on Frontier Lane. On arrival, we were hugged and held by family and community. We were met with food, helping hands, supplies, plants, tools on loan (including Homer~the pick-up), and recollections of old ways. Gratitude unfolds at every turn.
Planting: We planted stuff of our dreams, growing our food with the least harm to the Earth and all beings and gratitude for life itself. We planted a big garden (65x 125’) and orchard (UND Biology’s gift at Richard’s retirement). We welcomed 82 baby chicks at the Kirksville Post Office where their joyous peeps resounded off walls. We built and refurbished structures (chicken houses and yards). We sowed heirloom seeds, not knowing how they would grow but having faith they would.
Abundance: Our prolific garden produced armloads of veggies, flowers, herbs. Chickens grew every day, with 50 now in the freezer. We want them all to live happy lives, which is fitting for their gifts. We now have 20 eggs daily. (When we began this letter a week ago, we were at 10. Last year’s coupons are now being accepted!) After 32 years teaching Wildlife Management, Richard hunts with brothers, nephews and nieces. We have turkey and deer (from Richard and Bobby, but mostly gifts of turkey and deer). On our little farm, we can at last see the stars!
Losses and lessons: The adventure came with losses. Glinda’s Papa, who was thrilled with our return and helped every way he could, passed July 8. An outpouring of love and support held us all. Our garden was greeted with new climate, soils, bugs, weeds, diseases. Losses brought lessons and growing. Every day is the 1st day of school. Life is a precious gift. While we are here, we are committed to learn and grow. On our paradise, we watch the big screen web of life. We are all in this together and we are a link in the chain. We are deeply grateful we returned.
Peace, joy, light, hope: We live in extraordinary times. The outer media world presents increasing hopelessness and dis-ease. We cannot change it but we can change us. At each fork in the road, we can choose paths of peace, joy and light. Richard crafts landscapes integrating farming, wildlife, and native plants. He carves meandering paths for meandering spirits through meadow and woods. Melanie brings love, curiosity, and knowing to raising chickens. She deepens her skill in herbal healing. She makes place for kids of all ages. Glinda tends to details of a loving home and expresses art and story of farm. She and Melanie spend precious time with Mom/Grandma. Always community builders, they connect with a growing presence of kindred spirits. In all these things, we see hope.
Purpose: We each come with a purpose on this Earthly walk. We 3 seek to live our purposes. As we see damage to Earth and gaze in the eyes of littlest ones (Isaiah, Whitley, Berkley, Morgan, Posy), we just have to do something. This is our way. We do not force our ideas on others. (If you want to share your path through these things, please do.) We are on our own big adventure. What a ride!
Love: We send our love. Love, after all, is the essence of all things.