Friday, June 12, 2009

Less-than-Preferred Ways to Find Out What Color Eggs a Chicken Lays

Seriously, this is why I haven't started a blog before now. I miss a day, then there's so much to write that I put it off, then there's three days worth of exciting stuff I can hardly skip, so I put it off... pretty soon I have another addition to my collection of gorgeous, hand-bound journals in which the first four pages are crammed with writing and the rest is blank.

It's the feeling of obligation. I don't need something else to be obligated by. There are enough duties. But I start writing in the hopes that the collection will show something of myself and my life, will paint a picture (for older me, usually; in this case it's weirdly different). How can I paint a half-assed picture, leaving out important stuff? How can I not?

The blog is vastly different from journaling. It's pretty, formatted all slick, and I get to add pictures. Links and shit even, if I were to want to. But who knows who's reading it? Parents, friends, strangers... Do bloggers gloss over the dirt in their lives? Maybe most people's lives aren't as dirty as mine. Ha ha. Writing for an unknown public audience--or perhaps not exactly for, but in a situation where said audience is perfectly able to read--makes one self-edit in a way that journal pages certainly don't. I'm not talking about shit or fuck here, I'm talking dirt, like fights with the hubby (no, not lately) or bad-parent moments. Stuff from the heart. Do I want to just vomit it all up here on this screen for anyone to see?

Not sure about that yet.

In the meantime, I would like to go on with the garden-variety news about our lives here on the fram. Fram cause it's not exactly a farm, right? Perhaps that's too precious.

To recap, then, quickly, so I can get on with my life!

The raccoon was back Sunday while Natasha was here, boldly loping across the driveway in broad daylight, and chasing the chickens again. Right then and there Gabe jumped up and went into the city to buy a gun. He came back a couple of hours later with a .22 rifle, complete with scope, as well as a hard, locking case and 500 jacketed hollowpoints. (Holy shit!) Perhaps detecting the air of determination which permeated the area, Mr. Raccoon did not reappear that day.

Monday I was out with Todd while Jezebel got stung near the eye by a bee or wasp while traveling in the Tortuga with Gabe. Her eye swelled mostly shut and stayed that way all the next day, only very gradually returning to normal. G says she only cried a little bit. She's tough, that one; probably because of the abuse she receives at the hands of her older brother.

Tuesday, Tuesday. What happened Tuesday? This is what I'm talking about! It's only Friday and I can barely remember Tuesday. Normal, uneventful day... Oh yeah, and we got a DOG! Sheesh.

The kids and I went into town Tuesday afternoon and met up with a guy named Nate, with whom I've been emailing for a week or two, and his family. Gabe had gone into the city earlier, and he met us at the park. Nate was the "person" of Ty, the Great Dane mix we'd come to meet. He's mixed with something much smaller, because he's really very small for a Great Dane, which is to say that his head still comes up to Rhone's head and he's bigger than a lab or my mom's Golden Retriever.

Nate said that Ty liked to chase cats, but we both shrugged, not having any at the exact moment, although we want to get a couple of mousers. Nate said he didn't know how Ty would react to the chickens. We discussed a plan of introducing them gradually--leaving the chickens in their coop for a few days so he could get the smell of them.

We adopted Ty and took him home. The drive provided a great example of how far out of reality I usually live. As soon as we were all in the van (Gabe would drive the Tortuga back seperately, later), with the kids in their car seats and Ty wandering around sniffing everything, I realized that we would need some water. It was very warm, I was thirsty, I knew the kids were thirsty, and I figured the dog would be, too. I had no water and I had no cash. As I drove toward the ferry, I mentally explored the possibilities. I didn't want to leave the dog in the car and haul the kids into a grocery store, but maybe I could find a store with a vending machine outside. Oh, wait--no change, either. Shit.

As I was considering, Rhone said, "Mom, look!" and pointed at the nice, neat pile of barf the dog had just made.

I pulled into the Safeway parking lot, hoping to see a vending machine outside the store--I hoped I could scrounge some change from the car, although it was just detailed so this was highly unlikely. I cleaned up dog barf with two paper cups and a tissue. Finally, as I was putting the car in drive again, it came to me what any normal person would do in this situation: go to a drive-thru, dumbass. Sigh.

When we got home, Ty seemed to acclimate very well, sniffing around and checking out the scene. The chickens were already in their house and he didn't seem to pay it any mind. He slept downstairs, and barked like hell at Gabe when he rolled in a few hours later. Good dog!

Wednesday: For some reason, the kids were up at the fucking crack of dawn Wednesday. Maybe they were just so excited about having a dog. Meanwhile G had come down with a nasty cold and felt like hell. So I loaded kids and dog into the car and we went down to the Point Robinson beach. It was very still, with no wind, and we had the beach entirely to ourselves. Ty ran and ran, Rhone climbed trees, and Jez played with rocks. It was just lovely.

Instantly upon our return, Rhone opened the chicken coop, and Ty began to chase the chickens around and around their house. They would retreat into the brambles, where he was reluctant to chase them, but as soon as one popped out, he'd be after it. This was not good. I thought the interest might wear off after a few hours, and it seemed to.

That afternoon we were all up in the front yard. The kids were playing in the wading pool, which I situated on the dryest part of the lawn, and I was weeding in the flower garden. Gabe was sweating out his cold by planting things in the garden. We both heard the mad ruckus of chickens at the same time and flew down the hill toward the coop. Ty had been patiently allowing fireman's-helmets-ful of water to be dumped on him by Rhone and Jezebel, so we knew it must be the raccoon.

Sure enough, the damn thing was chasing one of the white chickens, Marco or Polo, across the lawn. "Ty! Get 'im!" I shrieked, not stopping. I grabbed the nearest thing of size with which to beat the raccoon--it turned out to be the plastic baseball tee, with which you'd have to hit a mosquito two or three times to cause damage--and chased after it. Ty first chased the chicken for about two or three steps, then seemed to realize that wasn't right, and turned to the raccoon. We chased him into the brambles, which I then beat ineffectually with the tee.

Gabe and I took a couple deep breaths and did the post-adrenaleine pause. Then we herded the kids back up to their pool, and he went back to the garden.

Just re-read the above three paragraphs now. The raccoon was back within 5 minutes. This time, after the post-adrenaleine pause, Gabe looked levelly at me. I knew what he was going to say.

"Why don't you take the kids back up to the front and keep them there. Ty too. I'm just going to get out the rifle and wait."

So that's what we did. Playing with the kids is one thing; playing with them while listening for shots, re-checking that they're still within arm's reach of you every 2.6 seconds, is another. Paranoia is not always a bad thing. I had coerced them into the little play tent, where I can at least see both of them in one field of vision, when we heard the first shot.

"What was that?" Rhone asked.

I took a deep breath. "That was the gun," I said. "Daddy's trying to shoot the raccoon."

"Oh. Cause he's tryin' to eat our chickens?"

"That's right." Another shot.

"OK. I'm going to go see." Rhone gets out of the tent. I embarrass myself trying to scramble out of the kid-sized opening at light speed.

"No, honey." I explained that he and Jez and Ty and I had to stay out of the way so Daddy didn't accidentally shoot us instead. This made Rhone very serious.

"I know my dad doesn't want to kill me," he said.

"That's right. He doesn't. So we're just going to wait up here."


Another shot, and another, and two more. Then nothing. I figured Gabe had missed and the raccoon was gone, because otherwise he'd say something. But with the way the thing had kept coming back after we'd chased it away, he might be waiting for another chance.

Five minutes later, though, Gabe whistled from the living room and motioned me in through the front door. The kids were back to their pool.

"What happened?" I asked.

"I got him," he reported grimly. He was sweaty but looked pale under his tan.

"You did! He's dead?"

Gabe had missed with the first two shots and hit the raccoon with the next four; he finally had to kill it with the butt of the rifle. (So much for hollowpoints.) But the coon had been in the process of killing one of our chickens just at the time. G led me outside to where he'd laid the body of Polo, one of the original white chickens, on the back table. He confessed that he was afraid he'd shot her, too, and looked horrified to find a bullet wound in her, but I pointed out that her neck was already broken. She'd already been dead.

We conferred quickly and decided that we wouldn't hide this from the kids. Rhone and Jez both came out back and we showed them the chicken. He looked at it with interest, obviously comparing--as I had done--the image of the dead chicken with live one. The dead chicken was very limp and stretched out very long. Her feet looked like they were made of alligator hide. She was missing some of her tufty cheek feathers on one side.

Jez walked over to the table where she lay and reached her hand up as if to pet the chicken, but didn't. "Uh-oh!" she said. "Uh-oh!"

Gabe retrieved the body of the raccoon and brought it up; the kids looked at this also. It didn't look particularly bloody, and wasn't nearly as big as it had looked in life, waddling fatly across the lawn. Its teeth looked long and ugly, as did its claws.

We had a family conference about what to do with the two dead animals. Gabe put it pretty succinctly. "Rhone, do you see this chicken? This chicken was our friend. This was Polo, and she was our friend." Rhone nodded. "But, we eat chicken. So now we need to decide what to do with Polo. She was our friend, but she's dead now. Should we eat her? Or should we put her in the garbage can?"

Rhone didn't hesitate. "We eat her." He jerked a thumb toward his chest.

"And what about the raccoon?" Gabe asked. "This raccoon was just trying to get some dinner, but for us, he was a bad guy. He killed our chicken. Should we eat him too? Or should we put him in the garbage can?"

"Garbage can," said Rhone with certainty. "He was a bad guy."

"Okay, then."

I poured some bourbon and we toasted to Polo. Then we added an L and she became pollo. I mentally worked to use the pronoun "it" from then on. Gabe disposed of the raccoon in the garbage (damn, of course, today was garbage day, I'm afraid it's going to stink by next week).

Details, if you want them; or if you are easily grossed out, skip this paragraph. (See, I'm definitely writing for an audience.) Gabe laid the chicken in a box on the counter while I boiled a huge pot of water. He dunked the whole bird into the boiling water, then took it outside to pluck. This wasn't nearly as difficult as I would've thought. The guts stank quite a bit when he removed them, but as soon as they were thrown away the smell was gone. Gabe showed me when he found five little yolks inside the bird, waiting to become eggs. They were of varying sizes, from a regular yolk size to that of a small pea. This gave us some pause, and made us raise our glasses to her again.

As it turned out, we didn't eat the chicken that night. G had been thinking of roasting it, but soon realized this was not your average twelve-week-old frying chicken: this was a tough old bird! He started a stew instead, and I went ahead with the tacos I'd been planning for dinner.

We ate the chicken tonight in lovely blanquette, with fresh English peas and carrots. It was very strange knowing the name of my dinner. I've eaten pig before that had a name--Gabe's in the habit of naming all the pigs he has slaughtered--but those were not pets. Our chickens aren't exactly pets, but they're much closer than those pigs. I paid extra attention to the awareness of the meat entering my body and being my sustenance. We didn't discuss Polo as a live chicken at dinner, but I know Gabe and I were both thinking of it. The act of eating that chicken was purposeful. As he said when we were considering the idea, "If this was a real farm, there'd be no question."

So often we cook something and then shove the leftovers into the back of the fridge and forget about them. That will not be happening with this stew. We didn't take the life of that chicken, but we were responsible for it. It will not go to waste.

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