The boy who stayed at our house last night last night informed me, after the kids had been sacked out for ten minutes, that he sometimes starts coughing when he's asleep. "Not too often," said Ralph [not his real name]. "Maybe once a week, or twice." This didn't seem important enough for all three kids to get up to tell me.
"Okay," I said.
"You don't understand, Mom," Smedley interjected.
"Yeah, when Ralph coughs he needs water right away, Mom!" said Sparky. Still no reaction from their unconcerned mother (me).
"And if he doesn't get water, he passes out," Smedley offered. Passing out while lying in bed -- what's the problem?
"All three of you have water, right?" I asked.
"Yes, but Mom? If he doesn't get water in time, he passes out!" Sparky reiterated.
"I heard that," I said, but I was cut off.
"And I could die," Ralph stated flatly. Then he coughed.
"He could DIE, Mom!" chorused my daughters.
"Really," I said, but I was thinking, that would just be our luck, right? "Well, how do you handle it at home, Ralph?" I asked. This would have been good information to have a handle on before 9:30 p.m. And he told me that one or another of his siblings was always in the room with him, to wake him up so he could drink water so he wouldn't pass out so he wouldn't die.
"Oh," I said.
"I have a plan, Mom!" Smedley exclaimed. "When Ralph starts coughing I'll throw my inflatable ball down at him -- the one with sand in the bottom that I got at the circus? -- because I'll be up above him in the bunk bed."
"Good plan," I said. It's good to have a plan. "Okay, goodnight everybody. No coughing, no passing out, and no dying tonight, okay?" A chorus of goodnights.
All three kids were at the table for pancakes this morning. I like to think it's the lure of my homemade pancakes that kept Ralph alive, but I think it was probably just a bye week for Death.
We've gotten a lot of rain recently. It may not be enough to stop this year's rationing of irrigation water for farmers, but it has certainly given our lawns and trees a needed shot in the arm.
The rains have also brought the ducks back.
At least one pair of mallards currently hangs out on Sometimes Pond, a giant puddle in the field across from our house. Sometimes the view is romantic when the light is just right . . . sometimes . . . but mostly it's just a big mud puddle. The ducks love it, though, and show up immediately for the bugs, worms, and serenity. I could watch them all day.
See the reflected heifers? They're practicing to be cows. A lot of standing and staring is involved.
I think the worst start to a day would be rushing about grabbing clothes in a huge hurry and accidentally grabbing the pair of undies that should have been tossed out when the dog chewed through the crotch but not having enough time to find better ones in the clean laundry pile that looms in the corner of the bedroom and having to wear those largely crotchless undies anyway
We had two hens of this breed, until a few days ago. Their names were Penny and Not Penny, but your guess is as good as mine which was which. They were both terribly ragged, with clumps of feathers missing -- victims of Chicken Dinner, The Rooster I Never Wanted (he was dumped upon us by The Chicken Fairy, and you can read that story here). Neither Penny nor Not Penny was particularly photogenic in their beaten-down state, so I opted to use a photo of the supermodel pictured above.
Penny had had a bad year; she was never the same after being mauled by A Beagle Who Shall Remain Nameless last summer, and almost dying. Against the odds Penny survived, but ever after all of the other hens picked on her (probably sensing her weakness) and she became a loner. She avoided the coop during the day, preferring to lay her eggs in the storage room or behind my car tire, and she wandered far afield by herself and seemed to enjoy the solitude. Last fall I was driving down our road with my sister in the car, and there in the middle of the road was Penny, not budging. I pulled the car up inches from her, rolled down the window, looked down on her bedraggled head, and said, "Go home, Penny." To my sister's great amusement, Penny went home.
When Chicken Dinner, the aforementioned rooster, matured in the fall, he began to bother Penny, so Penny started bunking on a four-inch shelf in an open-air shed, five feet in the air. It couldn't have been comfortable, but she preferred it to the coop. I knew something was wrong and started paying attention. One evening around dusk I plucked Penny off the shelf while she dozed, walked her into the coop to gently put her on a perch, and locked her in. Within a few minutes Chicken Dinner had roused himself from sleep, hopped down from his perch, chased Penny into a far corner, pinned her to the dirt on her side, and was savaging her for no discernible reason. I marched into the coop, picked up the terrified hen, backhanded Chicken Dinner, and whisked Penny back outside to the shed to sleep on her shelf. "I'll never make you go in there again," I told her, and I didn't.
That shed shelf bedroom would be Penny's undoing. Penny always rose with the sun (unlike the rest of the chickens, who stay locked up until midday so at least some of them have to lay eggs in the nest boxes instead of the garage). She would hop down to start her endless search for seeds, bugs and veggie scraps. The other morning our new fox neighbor was waiting for her.
This is all that remains of Penny.
Or, it could have been Not Penny -- I'm not sure. Either way, they're both gone, and so is the Buff Orpington hen who made a beeline for the pasture every day. I don't know why she did that; chickens must have their reasons. In any case, McGillicuddy also became a to-go meal for the fox.
Just after sunset tonight I saw the fox from my kitchen window as he trotted west along the berry hedge. He disappeared behind the big hay barn, but on a hunch I went outside and stood by our fence, watching. Sure enough, in a minute he reappeared, trotting toward our yard. He was coming surprisingly close for a bright orange animal in the half-light of dusk. I called to him.
"No chicken tonight," I taunted. He didn't hear me and kept advancing. "Go on, beat it," I shouted again. This time he heard me, and froze in his tracks. One more word from me and the fox sprang back toward the berry bushes, covering a great distance in a few leaps. He's gone, but he'll be back every day until he gets all the chickens. I'm afraid their carefree days of freedom are over, poor babies.
Except maybe for Chicken Dinner. I think I'll let him out nice and early.