How to Handle a Day

I love that the animals don’t need a weather report to know how to handle the day. They went out for their morning constitutional‘s, scanned or sniffed the sky, and were back at the window in less than five minutes, waiting to come in.

They’ve been curled up next to and on the couch in my office for hours. Some mystical meteorologist has told them that something big may be on the way, and a good, solid nap is the only way to handle this kind of day.

Leading with Love

Every morning when we bring out the checks, Katie follows us. She watches and whines, urging us to be careful as we move the growing babies from indoor enclosure to box to the chicken tractor outside. She trails the Big Guy from room to outdoors and hovers as he releases the checks into the tractor.

When the chicks are settled in their outdoor home, she’ll sniff on all four sides, inspect the sky to see if any predators are selling above, and then give a pointed look at Jim-Bob, as if to say, “Don’t mess with my chicks”.

most mornings she’ll lie down next to the coop, watching the chicks scratch and argue over who gets this would chip in that white fluffy flower. To be sure, Katie has her explorations in the woods. From the moment the chicks are in the tractor, however, until the moment we begin moving them back into the house, she lets us and them –and even the cats – know that she is there to protect and serve.

She never growls or bares her teeth at anyone. when she sees Princess Jane get too close to the coop, she will physically move herself between the chicks and arrow little gray huntress, but there are no snarls or parks. When it counts, she firm but always as loving with Princess Jane as she is with the chicks.

No one will ever mistake Katie for a huntress or vicious guard dog, but as a vigilant and caring protector, she’s becoming quite good at keeping the peace.

Poem: Murder Most Foul

I’m thinning basil seedlings.
Eggplant, you’re next.
I’ve killed dozens of pepper shoots,
mourning the products of
seeds that worked so hard,
tossing them out the door.
Only the very best survive.
The cat runs by with a chipmunk who may escape her maul
but will more likely end up in the middle of the yard,
his entrails split over the new-cut grass while she,
without a trace of blood on her mouth
or guilt on her head,
returns to perch on her chair,
and watch me commit murder most foul.

Katie’s Chicks

Katie settles in from a comfortable distance to watch the chicks. She makes a practice of checking on them whenever they move from their indoor house to the outdoor home. She lolls in the grass as Jim tries and talk the chickens into squeezing through the holes in the wire.

The chicks love to visit with Jim, chirping that they’d be only too happy to show him their feathers up close if only they could get through. Visibly cursing the physics of chicken wire, Jim pretends to be distracted by a chipmunk under the car and left.

Jane watches for a while and then decides it’s time for the pro from Dover to put the fear of the Warrior Princess into the chicks. This is when, Katie, recognizing a true huntress, gets to her feet, shadowing her Royal Highness before she gets within 6 feet of the coop.

Karie takes a fair amount of teasing for being a bit of a wimp. It’s safe to say chicks are usually less afraid of the cats than the she is. Ultimately, though, she lives by one overriding philosophy of ”Don’t mess with my chicks.”

I can sympathize.

Lawnchair Psychology

The weather experts kept pushing back the storms’ arrival time yesterday, so we decided to get the chicks out of their indoor enclosure and into the outdoor tractor for a little playtime.  We still get some cold nights, and they’ll go outside full-time when we hear more clucking than peeping. That can’t happen soon enough for all of us because the difference in environment between even a lovingly maintained indoor enclosure and fresh green grass is stark. 

We’ve paired down our flock to a manageable seven. The Big Guy cleans the tank out every other day, and they have room to do gymnastics in there, but, in the tractor, they can actually fly a little. In the tank, they eat their medicated baby food — they’ll go to plain old cracked corn not too long from now. In the tractor but they’ve discovered the joy of chasing and chomping bugs. They get to play “who wants to tease the cat?” When they get tired, they find a sunny spot for a little meditation.

From past experience, we know all this roaming and bug eating makes delicious eggs with rich yolks. And, even though I don’t claim to be a chicken psychologist, from my lawnchair, the outdoor chickens, much like outdoor kids or cats or dogs, just seem happier. 

Speaking of Organic

When we first moved to southern Vermont, we noticed official-looking helicopters frequently flying over our town of 300 at certain times of the year. Wondering what, in the middle of nowhere, could be of interest to any officials, we asked around and learned that at least one property owner was farming 100% organic Mary Jane.

Acres of it.

I get a little giggle every time my grow lights go on, wondering if, once upon a time, the glow from my window that’s keeping my tomatoes and squash happy might have caused a helicopter to hover a little longer. If they did now, they’d discover the two masters of the house chilling in the purple glow, dreaming of the organically grown chipmunks that will soon be trying to munch my squash plants.

I Wonder What Would Happen

The great thing about having raised teenagers is that, when your perpetually adolescent cat puts his front paws up on your plant shelf and starts sniffing the various items that are ‘in his spot’, you know exactly what he’s thinking.

There’s a plum tree right outside my window, and the late spring has produced an explosion of blossoms (and hopefully plums) along with a squad of visiting chickadees. A chickadee chirp woke Jim up. He drew himself up into pounce position, turning his head this way and that as the chickadee hopped from branch to branch. Every few minutes he tried the cat equivalent of bunting — pretending to jump at his prey but not really doing anything.

Then the chickadee made a truly bold move, moving to a lower branch with a particularly lovely lunch of blossoms, and Jim had to make a move. I though he might forget that a window lay between them as he launched his front paws on to the plant shelf.

Instead he paused.

I let him sniff for a few minutes and could almost see the thought bubble above his head asking the classic question,

“I wonder what would happen if….”

In this case, ‘if’ was a temporarily forgotten chickadee as Jim tried simultaneously to move a hind leg onto the shelf so he could what would happen if he pushed the squash plant in front off the shelf. But, having watched Thing1 and Thing2 ask (and test) this question at various times about anything that could be climbed, blended, eaten, or flushed, I know when to let the experiment play out and when science is about to run amok.

I clapped my hands once . Jim’s hind foot returned to the poof and his gaze to the chickadee. The bird heard my clap, fluttered across the yard, and, for the greater good, scientific investigation was stymied.

Are You Our Mama?

It was almost uncomfortably warm on Saturday so we let the chicks into the chicken tractor to play while they’re current enclosure was cleaned. It was a good chance for them to really meet Jim, Princess Jane, and Katie.

Jane and Jim inspected the chirping babies and, discovering that the tractor was secured by wiremesh at all sides, spent most of the day feigning interest in a chipmunk hunt.

I sat with the chicks for a while, cleaning some garden implements and getting them used to the idea of me as Mother Hen. Eternally loyal, Katie sat with me. As she moved, the chicks often moved with her. She would sniff at them and wag her tail a little as they chirped at her.

The chicks came out of their eggs at the feed store, so the only “mamas“ they’ve ever known are a heat lamp and the changing hands that feed them. Katie was abandoned to a kill shelter as a puppy, and I doubt she had much contact with her mama.

Something in her past or her nature, however, made her loyal and gentle, more than a little bit of a pushover, and, when she has to be, brave. It seemed fitting that, for the moment, they saw her as the “Mother Hen.“

Ladies in Waiting

Princess Jane was much more welcoming than we expected when we opened the box of week-old chicks and gently deposited each one into the shaving-filed aquarium where they will live until they feather out. She had, after all, just come inside from disemboweling a chipmunk who made the mistake of venturing out of the woods, but it might have been her full belly that made it possible for her to treat the new arrivals — pullets all – as ladies in waiting rather than waiting dinner.

Make Something Happy

Okay, okay, I take a lot of pictures of cats, especially happy cats.


The thing is, I was not especially happy just before I took this picture. I was angst-ing over work or money or a story I couldn’t get started, and then Jim-Bob, who had wedged himself on my lap under the computer, patted the laptop with his paw, and stretched out in the seam made by the afghan over my legs.

“Don’t worry,” he was saying. “I’m happy. Pet my head and you can be happy too.”

So I did, and just like Jimmy Durante promised, making that one something happy, for at least a few minutes made me happy too.

So here’s yet another happy cat picture that will hopefully make someone else happy.

How to be Real Cat

Real cats, according to Jim, don’t drink out of the water bowl. Drinking water, you see, is not really about hydration. Everything you do as a real cat should establish that everything in the place where you reside is belongs to you.

This is why, for example, when presented with a $.10 beer glass won at a fireman’s carnival, Jim preferred to push aside the flowers that were already there, jam his face into the glass and begin lapping at the water until the level is low enough for him to tip over the glass and spread the rest of the water around. This will teach the humans to exercise more care with “their” things that are actually his.

P. S. Jim was repeating this demonstration with a recycled tin can that currently serves as a watering can but got his face stuck inside the can. When I freed him from said can, he indicated in no uncertain terms that taking or posting any pictures of the fiasco would result in him peeing on everything I own. He would like everyone to know that the tin can still belongs to him.

Portrait of a Real Pussycat

Anyone who has watched Princess Jane on the prowl, pouncing on helpless mice and chipmunks, would question the use of the word “pussycat” to describe a laidback or gentle personality. Then they’d look at her brother, Jim, cautiously peering out the window to make sure all the snow has melted before stepping outside the slider and five seconds later deciding it’s too dang cold to be anywhere but a on bed or a lap today.