Know Your Body – Know Your Feathers

It’s a mild, foggy, winter morning. So far it has been a dry fall and winter. Usually at the end of November, wild and woolly weather has trees toppling over, rain falling like sheets, and rivers overflowing. Some years we keep the chainsaw in the back of the car in case we need to saw our way out of the driveway. Not this year. The Skagit River is running as low as it does in late August.

While raking leaves yesterday, I discovered cedar and fir seedlings. At this stage they are so fragile. It would take next to no effort to pluck them. A hundred years from now, it will take the most ferocious of late fall storms to topple them. Five hundred years from now, they may be the tallest trees on the planet. There is a record of a 465 foot tall Douglas Fir that was felled in 1897 in Whatcom county, a short drive from here.

It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to cut down such a magnificent tree. If you came across such a tree, wouldn’t you be in awe and want future generations to know it too?

The ducks spend hours each day preening themselves. Of all the farm animals, they must know their bodies the best. It wouldn’t surprise me if they couldn’t tell me how many feathers they have. According to Ducks Unlimited, researchers counted 14,914 feathers on a pintail, 11,903 on a mallard, and 25,216 on a tundra swan, which explains why it takes the ducks so many hours a day to preen all those feathers. With 12,000 feathers to preen, you’d have to preen more than 3 feathers a second to preen them all in an hour.

Snow and her brothers often rest and sleep at the edge of the pond, their bodies half in and half out of the water. I suppose this is so they can launch themselves across the pond at any notice. A hint of danger, and they can be off, out of danger’s reach in a split second.

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Chaos Must Work

Winter has arrived in the surrounding hills. The frosty mornings make going out in the morning to let the chickens out an invigorating experience. There is something purifying about the frost. It clears the mind, it clears the air, it clears out the bugs.

Apples left on the tree never go to waste. This morning I see four Flickers having a hearty breakfast pecking at the apples. What the Flickers leave, the Chickadees eat. What the Chickadees leave there are other birds happy to feast. So there’s no urgency in the fall to gather all the apples off the tree.

Under the leaves of a Christmas Cactus, a spider has spun a chaotic web. Try flying through that if you’re a fly. It makes you think the spider closed its eyes when making the web, and let its impulses direct it here and there. But a spider can’t close its eyes. For this spider, chaos must work.

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Not Ready to Grow Up

The first snow of the season has adorned the surrounding foothills. I could see it yesterday through the clouds hiding the mountains. Today with the clouds gone, the snow covered hills glistened in the bright sun.

Two nights ago, Buttercup finally took her chicks up on the roost. Past two months old, it’s late for them to make the move, but they’re not entirely ready to accept that they aren’t babies anymore. Different ones keep hopping on her back, not wanting to grow up. When they are fully grown, will they look back and fondly remember the nights they spent on their mother’s back?

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All Together Now

Not the clearest of pictures, but you get the idea how Buttercup and her brood bed down for the night, in a tight spot between a screen and the wall. Her chicks are two months old now and she still beds down in a corner of the coop with them. She’s got three chicks on her back with the rest of them packed in around her.

I’ve never had a hen take this long before taking her chicks up to roost. Many of the hens coax their little ones to fly up to roost when they are a month old, sometimes before the little ones can even fly up so high. It’s a traumatic event for the chicks, looking up at their mother high up on the roost. They peep loudly, and try to figure out how to get up there to join her.

Many hens have a “sink or swim” attitude when it comes to rearing their chicks. “You wanna sleep with your momma? Then get your butt up here,” is their attitude. Tough love and all that.

It will be interesting to see when Buttercup decides it is time for her brood to roost. At this age, they won’t have any difficulty following her to the highest of roosts.

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After making a tofu delivery this morning, we ran into a flock of swans on the outskirts of Mount Vernon. Swans and snow geese have arrived in large numbers and are settling in for the winter. Both birds are very vocal, and when you stop and listen to them, you wonder what they are talking about all day long.

This is my fourth year at making miso 味噌. It’s a relaxing process, soaking and gently cooking the soybeans. They need to simmer for four to five hours until they are as soft as clouds, and it takes just the lightest touch to squish them. This batch is half soybeans and half brown rice. I made such a batch last year and it was so good I want plenty more of it next year.

All that is left after labeling it is to put a lid and a stone on top of it, and wait, and wait, and wait, and wait. Six to eight months from now, it will be done.

The characters for miso 味噌 are interesting. The first one 味 means flavor. The second one 噌 means noisy or boisterous. It’s a fitting way to describe miso as it does have a very loud flavor. I guess I’d have a lot to yell about too if I was kept in a crock for eight months.

Each mother hen is full of surprises. Butter Ball starting raising her brood on September 18 when they arrived in the mail and I put them under her. They are two months old now and still dutifully following her around, and she is still mothering them. Two months is on the long side for a hen to rear her young. Every mother I’ve had before has had her chicks up on the roost by now, but not Butter Ball. At night, she and her brood still bed down in a corner of the chicken coop, some on top of her.

The one thing I did differently with her this time is that I kept her and her chicks separate from the other chickens for an entire month. Maybe because of that, they have bonded so much.

She is a remarkable mother hen. I’ll try keeping future hens and their broods away from the flock again and see if it really makes a difference.

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All the Leaves are Gone

All the leaves are gone, almost, and the clouds are not grey today. At first it was clear when I stepped outside before dawn to make tofu in the cabin. The fog rolled in when we rolled out of here to make deliveries, but by the time we returned, the sun was back.

I raked up all the leaves underneath this cherry yesterday, and today it’s like I did nothing yesterday.

While planting a bay leaf I encountered potatoes in the ground, a nice pile of potatoes, enough for several meals. Sensible people plant potatoes in well defined rows. My potato planting consists of some definite rows with potatoes planted here and there just so I’m surprised when I go digging to plant something and find a treasure of hidden potatoes. After a few frosts and once the leaves are gone, it’s impossible to know where I planted those wayward potatoes, sort of like a squirrel who forgets where it has buried all its nuts.

This afternoon I spotted some blackberries just blooming. These are blackberries that will never ripen. Speaking of odd things I’ve seen this November, yesterday a big dragonfly buzzed about. Was it one of those species of dragonflies that migrate south, some do, or one of those fated to succumb to winter’s ice? What I do know is that it is not a globe skinner, a dragonfly, Pantala flavescens, that migrates further than any other insect, with some flying across the Indian Ocean. How does a dragonfly fly across an ocean? An amazing feat for a creature so small.

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Indigo Fall

I like the soft indigo color the hydrangea flowers become in the fall. Their sky blue summer hues soften and age to this refined shade of indigo. A warm winter sweater of this color would look sublime.

We are deep into fall. The snow geese are back in droves. I’ve seen the first of the swans flying about. In another week or so, the sky will be full of mute and trumpeter swans who settle in the valley for the winter.

The leaves pile up and up. The rich leathery hues are calming. This year the falls color seem more brilliant than average.

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