Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Bright and Remedial Lesson on the Present Tense

The "free" chickens are "free" ranging once again.  My guess is that they are thinking, "it's about time."  After a season of frequent snows and high winds that have kept them largely confined, this week's almost tropical foray into the 60's has cleared away all but the most intransigent patches of the covering now.  High winds yesterday helped dry up some degree of the resulting mud so that today, with its bright sunshine and inviting temperatures, it feels almost reminiscent of spring.  And the girls are taking full advantage.  Nooks and crannies of the chicken yard unexplored since November are getting the once over.  If I didn't think the idea completely preposterous I would swear I saw several of them smiling.  Climbing as well as foraging, they have hopped up on straw bales, danced along the parallel bars, skittered across the open expanse, and euphorically fluffed and fluttered their feathers like a dog fresh out of a bath.  After too many days quite literally cooped up, they are having the time of their lives.

Well, at the very least they are taking full advantage of the day.  Neither they nor I had best get carried away.  It is, after all, but the 3rd week of February in Iowa.  With the latest average freeze, according to the National Weather Service, still fully two months away (April 26 to be exact), there is plenty of time for a return of plummeting temperatures, wintery blasts, and more snow.  In fact, I'll be surprised if we avoid it.

Which is fine, I suppose.  I have more straw bales to break apart and spread, and I'm getting the hang of bundling up in order to acquit myself of the outdoor chores.  All that, plus I learned a long time ago after moving to the upper midwest that there is no more beautiful spring than one that follows a long and bitter winter.  I can wait, and the chickens will survive.

In the meantime they are teaching me afresh the precious virtue of celebrating the day -- the present tense with all its glories, regardless of what the future may bring.  While they stretch their feathers and legs, while they roam and peck and climb, I have taken the dogs for a circling walk around the property.  I have rolled up extension chords freshly exposed from their entombment in the icy snow.  I have straightened up, picked up and put away.  I have rearranged the deck furniture long disarrayed by winter winds.  And it feels good.

Though the forecast doesn't predict it, I know full well that it could snow tomorrow.  That's the nature of the season.  But such is tomorrow's concern.   This bright afternoon the sun is shining, I have closeted my coat and gloves, the chickens are playfully, inquisitively, energetically ranging, and we -- yes, all of us chickens, dogs and me -- are smiling; milking it for all it's worth; and tasting, for a change, a whole different part of the yard.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Little Perspective on Something to Do

Fortunately it was only a dusting.

After Tuesday's minor blizzard the snow cover has been thoroughly refreshed after last week's unseasonable thaw.  Sunshine and temperatures crowding 50 had transformed the blanket of white into a soup bowl of mud.  Crossing the road to retrieve the mail became a slog through porridge.  Gathering eggs was a battle against sinking into mucky oblivion.  But if winter in Iowa, once upon a time, was 4-months of an uninterrupted curtain of cold, the climatic seesaw of more recent years means that it's never a very long wait for change.  With scarcely a blink of an eye, Sunday's 45 and sunny became Tuesday's 15 and snow.  Which, of course, turned into Thursday's 35 and cloudy.

None of this really matters, of course, except to the chickens who are about as interested in traipsing through the mud as they are the snow.  Not so much.  And so it was that last week I distributed straw across the muddiest spots to create something of a bridge, and then the past two days more straw over the snow for a more tolerable path.  The girls get cranky when confined to their runs for days on end, and I figure it's to my benefit to invite them out in the open and to provide them means to accept.  However ephemeral may be the sunlight these days, their physiologies can benefit from what there is, and we all need space from time to time to spread our wings.  Yesterday, then, once again I broke apart a square bale and made for them some roads.

And then late afternoon it started to snow.  All I could think to do was sigh.  The seesaw had tilted again.

And then I chuckled.  More snow is hardly a crisis -- it is February, after all.  A "pink slip"?  That's a problem.  A bad diagnosis?  That's scary.  Earthquakes?  Terrorist attacks?  Crop failure?  Now we are talking tragedy.  Snow on top of straw in the chicken yard?  That's not even an inconvenience.  It's merely the next chore in a constantly generated list of benign activities around the farmstead.  It is, in other words, life.  Boredom, after all, is a lousy alternative.  And a little constant grounding in the essential basics of food, water, warmth and shelter can only be a good thing.  And that is why we bought all that straw:  in anticipation of these very days.  And the chickens can use the attention.

And my wings can use some stretching, as well. 

My steps left prints on the front porch this morning -- prints, not dents, which is to say that last evening's snow was, indeed, but a dusting.  No shoveling will be required.  Yesterday's straw toss is not negated.  That said, I may go out and throw a little more...

...just to keep in practice in the midst of these chilly but pretty darn good days.

Monday, February 1, 2016

February's Beckoning Beginning

The sun is rising on the first day of February, and the last day -- if the forecasters are to be believed -- before the next big blizzard of the season after a melting week of unseasonably warm days and nights. Most of the snow is gone, giving the girls an actual range in which to free range. The sun is daily adding minutes of daylight, albeit at a glacial pace, and the flock has shown its appreciation in the egg count -- 7 yesterday where the recent norm has been 2 or 3.

Indoors, the outdoors has inspired excitement for a few more garden seeds, trees, and fruit and nut bushes now on order, and a couple of new planting tools have been delivered and assembled. These recent hints of spring have been a blessed seduction.

And, of course, a wake-up call. There is preparatory work to be done. There is an online Garden Planner subscription to be renewed, a garden planting layout to be designed. In a few short weeks there will be bags of potting soil to unload, soil blocks to press out, seeds to plant, and the greenhouse to organize and tend. That, and those new tools to caress with anticipatory affections.

That said, it is only February 1 with fully a month yet of winter to navigate -- at the very least, with tomorrow's predicted 6 inches of snow punctuating that reality. And single-digit temps later in the week. There will yet be driveways to plow, front porches to shovel, and in the chicken yard straw to scatter. Tomorrow, as likely as not, with 50 mph winds undoing whatever remediation we get done. We'll not let today's 40-degree high persuade us to closet our coats.

But we will relish the day -- the pups and the chickens -- basking in the sun, sniffing into loamy corners, pecking over and exploring expanses of naked ground. And me, chuckling at the beautiful, ephemeral playfulness of it all.

It is truly the birth of a beautiful day. Welcome to February bright sun.