Anna Maria

Day 197 of 365

Today, I was giving the heels from Ron’s homemade bread to the ducks. It’s true that you don’t want to feed ducks too much bread, but this is whole grain bread. I have seen it help heal an injured duck who wouldn’t eat anything else, so I keep giving them whole grain bread as a snack sometimes. Plus, they love it.

I have noticed, however, that one of our ducks seems to have vision issues, and this breaks my heart. It’s Anna Maria, and she has a very special story. I have been meaning to write it for some time. Today, after watching her struggle, I decided to tell her story.

I met Anna Maria shortly after my Poe died. A farmer friend had a female duck who had been over-mated pretty badly. The duck had nearly died, but they were able to save her. When my farmer friend asked me about rehabilitating the duck, she told me the duck was set to be picked up by someone who culls. If I thought she was too much for me, I could pass.

Culling is a reality for badly injured animals. It’s better than suffering. One time, my Broody Hen was so sick, I thought we might have to cull her. Ron had taken our son to orchestra, and her little head was so swollen. I was Googling the most humane way to cull a chicken. Sever the spinal cord. Quickly. I read about the broomstick method. I decided to give her just one more round of meds and a few more hours. The swelling went down a little, and Broody Hen would live three more years. I tell that story just to say that I have no judgment for my farmer friend considering culling. It’s a reality of farming.

My friend told me the duck’s name was Anna Maria, and before I even met her, I wanted to save her. It felt like it was meant to be. I had just rehabilitated one of our ducks who broke her leg on the ice–Anna Sophia.

But then I met Anna Maria. She looked terrible. She had no feathers on her neck, and her skin was rough, kind of scaly. Her skull had been showing before I met her, but her skin had grown back over her skull by the time I saw her–but just barely. Her skin on her skull was so tight that her eyes were pulled back. She had a sinus infection and bubbly eyes.

I was a little scared. I didn’t know if I could handle it, but when I reached down to talk her her, she just came to me. This is HUGE for a duck, especially an Indian Runner duck. They are skittish ducks. But she just came to me, and then I held her the whole time I was at my friend’s farm. She just leaned into me, so calmly. She let me pet her little scaly head. I couldn’t believe it. It was like some kind of miracle. It was like she knew I was there to save her. What could I do but try? It was like something out of a movie.

Little did I know Anna Maria was setting me up. Of course, I am so glad she did, but the first few weeks Anna Maria came home with me, I was exhausted. Her sinus infection had to be treated. She needed medicine. She also needed soaks to help her skin. And she wouldn’t eat the things our other ducks loved. She was wild, out of control. I could calm her down with classical music but not like with our other ducks. The music just kind of took the edge off. And, oh my goodness, her edge was sharp. She attacked me. She bit me–a lot. I was covered in bruises. And she would run from me when it was time for medicine or soaks. I had to dive to catch her. I was middle aged. It was not easy.

But, somehow, over time, she started to heal. Her eyes were no longer tight, but it would be months before she was strong enough to be put with our flock. Our male duck would try to mate with her, and she had to be strong enough to handle it. Ron built her a little shed and a fenced area next to our ducks. Every day, during the day, she could hang out with them through the fence, but she was protected from our male, Antonio.

One of the things that I noticed about Anna Maria during that time was that she didn’t get into the little duck pool I had for her. Our ducks love the water, so it was confusing to me that she didn’t want to get into the water, but she didn’t. How was that possible for a duck?

One day, I decided to start putting one or two of our females in the fenced area with Anna Maria, so she could start to make friends and not be so lonely. I saw her watching as the other ducks would get into the pool and splash around, but she never got in.

And, then one afternoon, the sun was setting and I looked out the back window just in time to see Anna Maria get into the pool all by herself. I watched in awe as she splashed and splashed. Ducks make a move in the water where they put their heads in and then raise up, and the water runs down their backs. As Anna Maria made these moves, I watched the water droplets glisten in the sunlight. They looked golden, and Anna Maria looked magical. She had healed. It was breathtaking watching her enjoy herself for the first time I had ever seen, maybe the first time in her whole life.

Fairly soon, she was able to move in with the rest of the flock. It was stressful at first, but she handled being mated. And, since we have just one male for six ducks, he moved on. She was in the flock, in the club, and she had good home where she had lots of space, a kiddie pool, and peas every night before bed. Oh, and whole grain bread snacks.

Anna Maria is now the favorite duck. Ron adores her, and she loves Ron. She will come running when he calls for her and quack and quack while she talks with him. She still holds a bit of a grudge against me for all that medicine, but it’s not too bad. She will come to me for treats and knows how to tell me what she wants.

I learned a tremendous life lesson from that duck. I learned about loving others on their own terms, not mine. It was a lesson I was going to need very soon as a mother. I like to think that Anna Maria came into my life to teach me that lesson. Hopefully, I have been as good for her as she has been for me.

I am heartbroken that she is having such terrible vision issues. Ron and I started to suspect she wasn’t able to see very well this summer, but today, when I threw the bread snacks right in front of her, she couldn’t find them. In about 20 pieces of bread I threw at her feet, she got one. I just wanted to hug her. Of course, she would hate that.

I looked it up today, and apparently over mating can lead to vision issues. I couldn’t find anything related to long-term vision issues and blindness, but it makes sense that the damage could cause problems later in life. She does well getting around and knows where the peas are. Hopefully, that beautiful duck who has been through so much, even if blind, can have a long, wonderful life.

Water Buckets

Day 194 of 365

This morning marked one of our annual milestones on our little farm. This morning, the outside water was frozen solid, so it was time to start hauling water from the house to animals. We use five gallon buckets, fill them up in the tub in our guest bathroom, and haul them all over our property. The chickens live near the front of the house. The ducks live at the back of the house. So we haul water every which way.

I used to feel worn out from carrying all of that water. I looked it up, and a 5 gallon bucket filled with water weighs 42 pounds. That’s not a little–at least not to me. But, over time, I have built up strength, and I am able to carry them without too much trouble, well, except for the trouble having two curious cats and a curious puppy cause. Oh my goodness! They were all three in the middle of everything all morning. Still, I try to remember to enjoy them and their curiosity.

I also have come to find a kind of joy in the service in relation to my water carrying–a task I will be completing for the next four months or so. I love bringing the warm water to the ducks because they love the warm water extra. They have a little tub we fill up, plus their 3 water dishes. I love when the just jump into the warm water and seem so happy.

The chickens aren’t quite as grateful for the fresh warm water, but they are some too. It’s the gratefulness you can see on their faces, especially those ducks, that really keeps me going in the winter. I have found that I am the type of person who will give and give and give as long as I feel appreciated. And the animals are endlessly grateful. They have a pretty good existence here. I have learned how to “listen” to our animals when they try to communicate with me, and it helps a lot. They have come to understand how to best get my attention, and I have some to understand that I need to pay close attention to such things. But they are always so grateful. It’s like a never-ending well of gratefulness with them, so I am a never-ending well of giving for them.

It has made for an interesting and wonderful life.

Here are some pictures from morning chores today, on this milestone. It will be another milestone on the farm when we can, once again, use the hoses for the water in the spring.

Puppies and Ducks

Day 178 of 365

It’s Thursday night, so I have many essays to grade, especially this Thursday because, well, puppy.

But I have a quick story that I am going to try my best to capture on video if it happens again. And I’m guessing it will happen again.

Boudica is starting to really chip in and help with Bairre. This morning, she baby sat for a good two hours. I was so thankful. I got so much done. Still, even Boudica gets worn out from him, and she looks at me like, “Yeah, I’m done.”

This afternoon, they were both outside with Ron while he worked in the duck yard. We do not leave the puppy alone with the ducks yet because he does chase them, and we don’t want a duck to get hurt. Since Ron was outside with them, I didn’t worry, but then I heard a terrible duck commotion. I ran outside just in time to see the ducks going one way and Bairre going the other. I also saw Ron laughing so hard.

“Did you see it?” he asked.

I told him I did not. He said it was too bad because it was hilarious. He said Boudica has been trying to keep in between Bairre and the ducks, but after a bit, she was just done. Ron said Boudica looked at Bairre like, “Go ahead, little boy.”

So Bairre started chasing the ducks when suddenly our male duck, Antonio, turned around, put his bill down low, and just charged the puppy. Ron said Bairre looked terrified and started just running and running with his tail tucked under. Apparently, Antonio chased him for a good bit before moving on and returning to his girls.

Ron said it was the funniest thing he had ever seen. He also added that Boudica thought the whole thing was pretty fantastic too.

PS You see what I see in those eyes, right?

Cello Mom

Day 154 of 365

Tonight, I am writing my blog post while I am sitting in the back of a large church listening to an orchestra play Beethoven—and oh my goodness, they play it beautifully. They are mostly kids. There are a few adults, but these children are serious little musicians. They talk about Bach on their breaks. They are my son’s people—or at least as close as he’s been able to find so far. 

The music is mesmerizing to me at times. Joyful at times. And, as a teacher, I love that the conductor is first and foremost a teacher. He explains things so well. He compliments often. He provides feedback with careful kindness. The coolest thing is when the musicians are not quite giving him what he wants, and he will tell a story to describe an emotion or grab a violin and demonstrate or sing notes. And, then, just like magic, this large group of child musicians gives him what he was hoping for. It’s absolutely a treasure to me as a teacher to watch great teachers in action. Because of my son’s cello journey, I have been able to watch a couple of master teachers in action—and I am a better teacher, parent, and human for it. My son is fortunate to have come into contact with such masterful teachers–but so am I.

When my son was in preschool, he started begging to play the violin because he heard a violin at his school. We dismissed this, thinking he was too young, and he was a rowdy boy. When he was seven, because the begging had continued off and on for over two years, I Googled violin lessons in our area and called to make an appointment to get a rental violin and lessons set up. I knew nothing about such things. I grew up in a culture without classical music, except for in the cartoons I loved. My husband, Ron, had played piano as a child but rebelled against it while he was busy rebelling against everything. I was so nervous about taking our son to classical music lessons, but I could see this fascination he had was something

Less than a week before his first violin lesson was set to start, our son decided he really, really, really needed to play cello instead. He had been sitting in the car with my husband listening to classical music, and some cello piece came on the radio. And that was it. He needed that sound. 

So I called and changed the violin lessons to cello lessons, and my son’s journey began. He’s been chasing a beautiful sound ever since—only it was my journey too, really a journey for our whole family, one that impacts every aspect of our lives, from the way I do my work to the number of animals Ron and I are able to manage on our little farmstead. 

Early on, our son was smitten with that cello. He was pretty squeaky, of course, but not as squeaky as I thought he would be. His teacher at the time mentioned he had seen very few students learn as quickly as our son was learning. Still, it seemed our son was at such a disadvantage because there is a language and a culture to classical music that was completely foreign to all of us. I didn’t even understand at first that you needed a music stand, so for the first two months, I stood in front of my kid holding music. 

It didn’t take us long to learn that our kiddo was pretty serious about the cello. One night, when we went to tuck him into bed, he started to cry. He didn’t know how to tell us without disappointing us, but he didn’t want to be a farmer like his daddy when he grew up. He wanted to be a cellist. He was just seven years old, but it seemed like he really meant it. 

So I started reading everything I could and learning as much as I could. I found this blog written by a cello mom who also teaches writing, though her son was an extra level of serious. He got into Julliard’s pre-college program. Our kiddo is not that serious. I learned there were some sacrifices I was not willing for my son or our family to make. Still, I could see from the blog there was a culture to learn and that parents of little classical musicians had to be pretty devoted to the music as well—and to driving. 

This summer, our son was at a camp on the coast of Maine. We would stay in the little town, sometimes, just sitting the car working or reading. I noticed other parents doing the same. I smiled so big when another cello parent got out of his car one day at the end of the day and said to us, “I need a chauffer’s hat. I’m really just a chauffer.” It’s true. There is a lot of driving.

There’s the driving. There’s the practicing. Thankfully, our son is just completely willing to practice his cello, but he also has to learn the piano if he really wants to be a musician. My son does not have the same love for the piano that he does for the cello, and sometimes, I have to be the nag about piano practices. I hate being the nag. Interestingly, once he starts, he will usually play and play. There’s also the keeping up with a schedule that seems to get more and more intense as he gets older—right when I am hitting menopause and can honestly barely remember what day it is from the menopause brain fog I am sometimes in. There’s snacks for orchestra. There’s making videos for auditions. There’s the constant worry over if he’s doing too much for a kid.

Thankfully, Ron and I are in this together. We make a good team. He drives the long distances. I drive the short distances. Ron also gives our son this kind of belief that anything is possible if you just work hard and believe in it with all of your heart.

And it’s all the most magnificent thing in the world to me. I have fallen in love with classical music and have found the cello speaks to me in a way other instruments do not. I guess my kid inherited this from me. The music has become one of the greatest joys of my life. It literally heals me. When I take my son to his cello lessons, I just sit and soak in the cello playing. I will literally feel a certain feeling in my arms, my legs, in my chest. I remember reading one time that the resonance of cat purrs is healing to both cats and people. Truly, the cello has this same power, the same kind of range of sound–or something—at least I am convinced of this. 

And Ron has been changed for the better too. He plays classical music to his plants in the garden every summer. And the music is a part of the centering of ourselves that we both needed for so long. 

The music brings me peace. It helps me connect to that magical thread that exists in the universe that only some of us are able to find some of the time. But it’s there. 

One winter a few years ago, one of our ducks broke her leg on the ice. I was devasted. I thought she might have to be euthanized, but I read that healing was possible but would take a long time. Determined, we moved that duck into the house, and she lived with us for eight weeks. During that time, we discovered that she loved the cello. After she was able to walk again, when our son would start playing his cello, she would come from wherever she was in the house and sit at his feet. She loved the deeper tones the best. I am convinced the cello helped her heal.

It was a powerful experience for me, seeing this animal experience music so similarly to the way I experience music was a part of a kind of spiritual journey for me, one that involved connecting more deeply with animals. And, after that experience, every time we had a duck with bumble foot requiring foot soaks in our guest bathtub, to help calm them down, I would play classical music for them. I would play different pieces until I found one that suited the duck. I can say for certain that horns are not appreciated by ducks, but cello is. And Bach is a favorite for sure. 

I have been writing so long tonight that the orchestra is nearly finished with their rehearsal. I Iook up sometimes to watch my son play and am thankful parents are allowed to sit and watch. I’m way in the back, but I can still see him a little. I love the way he sways to the music. I love that he gets to be a part of this big, beautiful sound, of something so much bigger than himself. He said one time he time travels through music, and isn’t that just the truth? Hopefully, he’s learning a skill that will help that empathic soul he inherited from his mom and his dad have some peace, some sanctuary, in a mad world.

And, oh my goodness, I love watching these children make beautiful music. By the way, they are rehearsing in a church named Hope. How perfect is that? 

Spoiled Ducks

Day 53 of 365

We have seven Indian Runner ducks. Six are the ones we special ordered from the best waterfowl hatchery we could find. One is a duck who taught me one of the most valued lessons I have learned in my life. She’s a chocolate runner named Anna Maria, and I will have to tell her story one day soon. It will take me some work to do justice to Anna Marie. She’s special.

But she’s spoiled. All of our ducks have become so spoiled. It happens every summer. We are with them so much they get used to us and start bossing us around. Only, this year, it’s worse. Every year, they get a little bolder and a little bolder. It’s a new level this summer. Today, those ducks sat at the back door and quacked very loudly until we brought them treats–three times. And, I assure you, a group of female ducks can make a lot of noise. So, you give in.

Our neighbors are not that close, but duck sounds carry. Our neighbors have geese and ducks, and when my son and I go for a walk down our road, when the ducks and geese start carrying on, you can hear it for like a quarter of a mile for sure.

So I worry about the loud ducks. So I give them everything they demand.

It’s usually Anna Marie who starts it. She’s extra spoiled. She’s been through a lot in her life. We got her when she was about one year old and have been spoiling her extra every day of her life. Ducks are very smart. They all figured out that everything Anna Maria asked for she got.

Yesterday, we found that some of the ducks were leaning across the fence into a garden area eating the broccoli leaves. Ron went over to them away, and they all ganged up on him and quacked and quacked at him. They were clearly griping at him. Ron had to move the fence farther from the broccoli, and those spoiled ducks quacked at him, complaining about it the whole time.

Tonight, while I made dinner, I took the ducks their nightly greens from the garden. During greens season in the garden, every single night, Ron or I give the ducks their fresh greens.

And I’m not even kidding about this–our ducks will not eat store-bought greens. I have thrown some to them at times when I have bought lettuces in the off season. They’re organic. But nope. The ducks will not eat store-bought greens. They would rather go without. How are they this spoiled?

But they are. And they are so cute they can get away with it. And it helps us on feed bill that both the chickens and the ducks can eat from the garden. I mean, look at them. You can see why they are so spoiled. It’s why every single night I play the duck game.

Duck Game

Day 22 of 365

We have seven Indian Runner ducks (six females and one male), and they are magnificent. We have had them for over four years now, and every night for four years, we all play a game. It starts with peas and ends with a tail shake and many circles around the duck house. I call it our “duck game.”

Before I explain the duck game, I feel I should explain Runner ducks for those who do not know. Runner ducks are suspicious of EVERYTHING. And I do mean everything. We raised these babies by hand, but if I am wearing the hood on my robe on cold days, I cannot be identified and must be feared. They will run, quack, and just in general make me feel like a horrible person who is surely an eater of ducks.

Our male duck, Antonio, falls in love with me every spring and summer. When he hears my voice, he comes running from across the field to see me. He gets pets and snuggles. He stands on my shoes and tells me he loves me. He does this every single time–until I try to video him. Then, there’s the phone–a foreign object that cannot be trusted and may, in fact, eat ducks.

And, of course, there’s the peas. Every single night of my life, I warm up one pound of frozen peas in a medium-sized white bowl, add warm water, and deliver said peas to said ducks before they go to bed. Every single night. Rain, sleet, or snow. When the pandemic first started and everyone else was scrambling to buy toilet paper, yeast, and flour, I was trying to secure frozen peas.

One time, I accidentally ran out of peas. I tried frozen blueberries. Ducks love blueberries. But, no, before bed, it’s only frozen peas. One night, I tried fresh peas from our garden. Hard no. Only frozen peas. Early on, I used a different bowl one night. Hard no. All bowls other than the medium-sized white bowl are suspect. One cold winter night, when there had been a snowstorm and the ducks had been hunkered down all day without eating much, I tried to bring them TWO medium-sized white bowls full of peas. Hard pass. Two was scary.

So, yeah, routine is important.

After the peas are devoured, it’s time for the game to begin. We start slowly. We go around the duck house one time, two times, three times. Usually, after round one or two, our one chocolate Runner duck we rehabilitated heads into the duck house. She doesn’t trust me. It’s been three years, but you never know when I might try again to give her medicine. You just never know. (I will have to write more about her soon. Her name is Anna Maria, and she’s a little miracle to me.)

The rest keep going. We go around and around the duck house a few more times. As we go, a few more ducks will peel off and head into the duck house. Sometimes, Boudica helps me, and we can get the ducks into the house in just maybe six or so rounds. There have been times, however, on my own, that I have made over twenty circles around the duck house. I remember feeling dizzy from the circles as I leaned into the duck house to say goodnight and close the door.

Antonio tries to help every single night. His raspy little quack tries to boss the girls around, but there are two girls who like to play way too much. No matter how much he tries to help (and he tries everything, from standing at the duck house door rasping at them to coming back out of the house himself and trying to herd them in on the next round), two girls refuse to be bossed around by him.

They are the last ones up every single night, and one, our smallest duck who is full of personality, is almost always the very last. The first time I realized this might be fun for her was one night, after everyone else had gone into the house, she stood at the door. “I might go in,” she seemed to say. “But I might not.”

I froze. She froze. I was hopeful. Maybe she was going in. But then, she wagged her little tail and took off again around the duck house. “This duck is messing with me,” I said to myself.

Now, after so many nights of this same scene with her, I realize it is absolutely a game. I also realized the tail wag was a good thing for sure when I saw my husband feeding grubs and worms to the ducks as he was breaking new ground for more garden area. The ducks would come when he called for them, grab a snack, and then wag their tails with delight. It’s just about the cutest thing I have ever seen.

Most nights, I love to play the duck game with this little duck. Every now and then, in the rain, I am begging her to please just go to bed. Of course, she loves the rain. Just loves it.

I have thought that I might not know what to do with myself without the duck game. It has become this fantastic part of my life, my routine, and I feel pretty fortunate to know these ducks. I love that I do this every night of my life. In fact, it’s bedtime for ducks. I need to go play duck game.

***

I have a quick Ruby and Kate update. Kate is still broody and doing well. I find out tomorrow if there will be babies for me to pick up for her. And Ms. Ruby is a VERY good mama! I can see there are six babies for sure. There might be seven, as there were seven eggs under her, but all I can see right now is a sea of little legs when I lift Ruby. I hate to bother them too much, but I figure we will know for sure very soon how many babies she has hatched. In a few days, she will be taking her babies on field trips. I love the field trips!

Dog Crates and Duck Eggs

Day 16 of 365

I have no recipe for you today, as today has gone longer than I had anticipated, but I do have a name for that recipe now and will have the recipe for you tomorrow. I think it will be a treat. My struggle with recipes is that I want to tell too many stories before I get to the recipe, which just annoys the heck out of people, so I am trying to figure out how to tell my story about the recipe very briefly. We’ll see if I can manage that tomorrow.

Today was spent focused on duck eggs and dog crates. I’ll start with the dog crate story.

We have two giant dog crates, which are truly just essential for chicken keeping. They are hospital wards and broody hen homes. Two used to be enough–until Juliet claimed one. She has to come into the garage to lay her eggs, and unless I provide her with a proper dog crate, she’s going to either lay her eggs in my husband’s tools or just leave altogether and lay her eggs in the woods. We’ve been there and done this.

Since Ruby has a dog crate now and I need a space for Kate and her eggs, I have been looking online for a used dog crate. I refuse to pay full price for a new dog crate. My frugal self simply will not allow it. Both of our current dog crates were purchased used and have been wonderful. Once you get a good deal on something, how is it possible to then go backwards and pay full price for something? For me, it’s just too painful.

So I have been on the hunt and getting a little desperate. But, today, I found a used dog crate that would be perfect! Ron was in the garden working, so I went out to discuss it with him. He was not a fan of my plan. We don’t really have the room for storing three dog crates. “We need a barn,” he said.

I agreed, but I explained that there was really no choice in this matter because of Juliet.

“You’re going to buy another dog crate because we have a spoiled chicken?” he asked.

I confirmed.

So I set up the meet, drove out to a beautiful house on a beautiful pond, and landed the perfect dog crate for Kate. I’ll have to share a picture soon because I am quite proud of myself.

I spent another part of my day washing and then freezing duck eggs. I love chicken eggs, but duck eggs are just extra. To me, they are everything wonderful about chicken eggs–and then some. I love them boiled the most, but they are an absolute dream for baking. Professional chefs and bakers prize duck eggs for their cooking, and I can see why. They are magnificent.

Ours are also beautiful, at least I think so. We have a total of seven ducks–six females and one male, Antonio. He’s both wonderful and terrible at the same time. We originally had just six ducks, but a few years ago, a farmer friend asked if I might be willing to rehabilitate a female she had who had been over-mated. Anna Maria was in pretty tough shape, but I took her on and am thankful. I am happy to report that she thrives now.

She also lays a green-ish egg! My reward for sure!

We have one other duck who also lays a green egg, but Anna Maria’s are the darkest. This morning, after I washed the eggs and was about to crack and freeze them, I decided it was imperative that I do a duck-egg photo shoot.

Aren’t they beautiful?

***

I have a quick Ruby and now Kate update. Ruby is doing well considering. She had some whole wheat pancake for breakfast, and I discovered that she won’t really eat unless I feed her. I put a tiny bowl right under her face, left and did some other chores, and came back to find she hadn’t eaten. When I put the pancake bites in my hand, she ate. So I guess I’m feeding Ruby by hand for the next week.

Kate will be moved to her crate tomorrow, and, then we just cross our fingers that she’ll take the baby chicks next week. I’ll detail the process in a later post. She seems to be doing well.

Everybody Loves Cello

Day 6 of 365

Today was a big day off of our little farm. That’s why I am so late to write. My cello mom work started early this morning and didn’t end until long after dark.

photo credit: Janderson Tulio, Unsplash

Our son is a cellist, and he’s a pretty serious cellist. Today, my husband drove us to Augusta, and we listened to one of the most beautiful orchestra concerts I think I have ever heard. There was the drive, the rehearsal, the making of food to eat in the car, the drive home. It’s a long day at the end of a long season of 10 weeks of driving, eating in the car, sitting in the car during three-hour rehearsals.

But, truly, it’s worth it and then some. If you have never heard The Sicilienne, the third movement of Faure’s Pelleas et Melisande, give it a listen here. It’s magnificent! And I just heard it played live by an orchestra—and my kiddo played in the orchestra. I have no words for the joy this brought me.

Thinking of the cello reminds me to tell you a story about the Eastern Phoebes who have made a nest on our deck. It was just a treat watching them build that nest over the last few weeks. Those birds worked so hard. Thankfully, I learned Eastern Phoebes tolerate people very well. How fortunate am I? I mean, I won’t get too close. I promised the female Phoebe I would be respectful of her space (I have a whole other story to tell about that later), but I am still in for some joy this summer. I read they might raise two broods! I am so glad these fantastic birds chose our deck. 

Last night, when my son was practicing his cello, it started to rain, and I had to step outside onto the deck to bring in some aloe plants I had potted during the day. When I stepped outside, I could hear my son’s cello so loudly and clearly from outside the window, and then I realized the Eastern Phoebe nest was right above the window to our son’s music room. 

For a moment, I worried about the nest being so close to that loud cello music, but then it occurred to me that the Phoebes would have surely been aware of the loud cello music while building their nest. Our son plays cello six days a week for about two hours each day. Maybe, just maybe, Eastern Phoebes like cello music, too. 

“At least that A string,” Ron said when I told him what I noticed. “Yeah, at least that A string,” I thought.  

We have a duck who injured her leg on the ice one winter several years ago. She had to live in the house for nearly eight weeks while she recovered. During that time, we discovered she loved the cello. When our son would start to practice, she would come from wherever she was in the house and park herself right under the cello. She would stay there for the whole cello practice! It was amazing!

I did some research and learned that birds process music in the same part of their brains as we do. How cool is that?   

***

Oh, and I have a quick Ruby update. She’s still on the eggs and took no break today. I gave her some leftover homemade waffles as a treat. She ate them out of my hand very aggressively and then gave me a good hard peck on the hand for good measure. Oh, Ruby! 

I will candle her eggs on Wednesday.

A Scream in the Woods

Day 5 of 365

I have a story to tell today! But, before I can tell it, I think I have to give a little context.

In 2019, we had our first hawk attack on our chickens. I was in the house and heard a loud scream from the chicken area, but I didn’t run out there right away. We had 8 young chickens, who were about 9 weeks old, and they had just been out with the “grown ups” for a few days. I watched them closely for the first couple of days to make sure they weren’t picked on too much. They weren’t. We have a pretty peaceful flock. But a couple of them just screamed and screamed at the slightest peck on the head. They had some melodramatic leanings for sure. One was a little rooster, and he was as cute as can be–and such a mama’s baby. When his mama said he had to be grown up at 9 weeks, he took it hard.

Given this situation, I took my time getting out to the chicken area when I heard that scream. When I opened the front door and saw the reason for the scream–a hawk on the back of one of my original Rhode Island Reds, Lucy II, I was devastated. I ran upon the hawk, but I was too late. It was truly one of the most devastating experiences because I could have saved her. I felt like the worst chicken mama in the world, and truly, that day, I was.

I vowed that would never happen again.

And it hasn’t. I am now extremely in tune with every sound, every call, every bit of talking. At the slightest potential sound of distress, I drop everything I am doing and go check. Without fail. Every single time. For nearly 4 years. I’m going to be honest, I don’t know if it’s good for my nerves, but it is what it is.

I have become so adept at figuring out bird calls, I feel part bird. This has been helpful in keeping my chickens safe, but we live in the Maine woods, and in the spring and summer, this means I also hear, with far too much detail, the calls of the birds in our woods. It’s mostly wonderful, but being awoken at 4:00 in the morning because a wild bird is upset about something does get old. And the worst is when I hear a baby distress call. The very worst is when I hear a baby distress call that goes on and on and on and on. I know something must have happened.

That happened last night. I was cooking a very late dinner because Ron was working in the garden until dark and I had some final grades due for a class. As I was cooking, it was starting to get dark outside, and I heard the distress call. I kept hearing it and hearing it and hearing it. It’s heartbreaking.

When Ron came in, I told him about it. And then told him about it some more. I knew there was nothing to be done. I could tell it was in a tree very near our house, but I had no idea what tree, and what would I do anyway? Climb a tree?

Ron got up and shut the windows. “There,” he said. “No more outside noise.”

We finished dinner, and then I got the duck’s peas ready for bedtime. I opened the back door and stepped out to greet the ducks and was also ready to listen carefully to see if I still heard the baby bird distress call.

What I heard instead was a scream that sounded just like a human screaming in terror, and it was coming from right above my head.

I just froze in panic. For a few seconds, my brain had no idea what I had heard. I had this instinct to drop the peas and run, but I also had the instinct to run to my ducks to protect them. I couldn’t move a muscle. And then, about 30 seconds later, I heard “who cooks for you?”

photo credit: Richard Lee, Unsplash

Oh my gosh! That’s a barred owl, I thought to myself, and I could breathe again. Of course, then I realized I had better get the ducks into the house, as that owl was right above us. I watched far too much of a video one time about what an owl does to a duck head. Thankfully, the ducks didn’t play their games too much last night and went into the duck house fairly quickly. As I circled the duck house for a few short rounds of the duck game, I realized I also didn’t hear the baby bird in distress anymore…

It could be a coincidence, but the sounds were definitely from the same area. And, as sad as I am for that baby bird, I know an owl has to eat, and it’s better this way than that poor baby starving to death.

Nature.

When I came inside to tell Ron about it, he didn’t seem to understand the weight of my fear of that first scream. He probably would have known it was an owl immediately. I did not. I hear a lot of owls, but I had never heard that particular scream that close to me before. I’ll bet it was less than 15 feet from me.

My adrenaline must have gotten up so much from the scream that I ended up with a terrible headache, and, of course, felt silly for being so scared. I guess, for about 30 seconds, I thought Stephen King was right and there were terrible things in the Maine woods.

Thankfully, it was just a barred owl, but if you have never heard the scream, you must listen to it here. I found it by Googling “barred owl scream.” And when I searched for it, one result come up “owl that screams like a human.” Here it is below. Listen at 0:07.

If you think it’s terrifying too, please leave a comment because I think Ron thinks I am ridiculous for being so frightened.

***

And I have to give a quick Ruby update. She took a break from her eggs today and didn’t want to go back again. She flew over into the main chicken area and was just having a party with everyone else. I had to run her down in the chicken run after an hour of her party, which made her stress–and everyone stress. I honestly can’t believe I caught her again. She’s so fast! But she ran under a shrub and thought she was hidden from me, so I scooped her up. When I took her back to the eggs to see if she was going to get back on them (I was starting to think I was maybe going to have to give her eggs to Kate, who has also gone broody now), she went straight to them, wiggled her little self on them, and then screamed at me for getting too close when I checked her water. That chicken.

She’s on Day 4 of 21. Sigh.

It’s Weirdly Hot for May in Maine

Day 3 of 365

Ruby is off her nest of eggs right now, and she has just 12 minutes before it makes an hour. I’ve read broody hens can be off their eggs for longer, but an hour is a safe window of time for a break. So, in the middle of writing this, I will have to go check on Ruby. She didn’t take a break at all yesterday, so I know she needs one. Still, I’m hoping she will get back to work soon.

It’s been really hot this week, very hot for May in Maine. Ron has been planting everything early but has been most worried about getting the broccoli and cauliflower going because it will bake in the heat and not produce. It needs our usual cooler temperatures. He did well, he got the plants into the ground, but getting hot this early is a concern. Hopefully, the plants will survive this heat wave.

The heat is hard on our animals too. We have several very old chickens. One is a meat bird, Mary Jane. If she makes it to the first of June, she will be five years old! This is something of a miracle, but she’s very large and very old, and I worry very much about losing her to the heat. Thankfully, our birds have a lot of shade from the many trees on our property, and I take great pains to make sure everyone has access to fresh water and cool treats throughout the summer. Still, a couple of years ago, we lost an older hen to the heat. I try to keep a watchful eye.

Yesterday, my son and I went for a walk on our road, and when we got home, I noticed the chickens looked so hot and dry. Earlier than usual, I went to the shed and got their extra waterer. I gave it a good scrub and put it out for everyone near the dust bath hang out. It was a hit. As soon as I sat it down, several chickens circled the waterer. They still had access to their main waterer, of course, but new is better. They always think this. When I am feeding scraps, I have some hens who will constantly move on to what I am dropping last, even if they are giving up a very good position with very good scraps I dropped earlier. Apparently, these hens do not understand the old saying, “a bird in the hand.” In so many ways, humans are the same.

While I was scrubbing the waterer, I noticed the ducks, who have their own area separate from our chickens. That’s another story in and of itself. We tried to keep our chickens and ducks together, as some farmers do, but it was a hard “no” for us. This meant Ron had to build an entirely new duck area complete with duck house and 1/2 acre fenced area. He’s kind of a miracle, though he doesn’t think so. Anyway, the ducks were watching me closely with the water hose, and one duck in particular, a duck we rehabilitated after she was over-mated at another farm, was making eye contact. Her name is Anna Maria.

I looked at her. She looked at the kiddie pool. I didn’t feel like scrubbing and cleaning their pool, as I needed to go make dinner, and we try to just do the pool clean just once per week to be frugal with water. They have access to large bowls with fresh water every morning, but the pool is pretty big. It hadn’t been a week yet since it’s last clean and fill, but when I looked at her again, she looked at the pool. I got the message.

“Alright, Anna Maria, hang on.”

I scrubbed and filled the pool with the sparkling water made extra beautiful by the fact that the kiddie pool is light blue. The ducks gathered and watched in anticipation. When the pool was filled Antonio, our only male duck, was the first one in. “Come on in, girls, the water’s fine,” he said with the bob of his head. The ladies seemed skeptical.

But after a few minutes, they couldn’t resist, and the girls piled in as well. But not Anna Maria. She waited. I went about my other work, as I knew she would get her turn. Indeed, she did. I came back by a few minutes later, and Anna Maria was in the pool with one other female. They were both ducking down and raising up, letting the cool water run over their heads, and my heart was so happy for Anna Maria. I will have to write more about her soon, but she has been though a lot in her life. Every single time I see her being joyful, I feel like I have done some good in the world.

I feel like I flail around the world most of the time–wanting to do some good, usually feeling helpless. I cannot affect much change in the world. I cannot convince world governments that we need to take action now on climate change, that Maine is too hot in May. I cannot even figure out how to help my children prepare for an ever-changing, more difficult world than I grew up in. I try but feel like a failure at every turn.

But I made Anna Maria’s life better.

And, yesterday, in the sparking water, as the sun shone on her between the trees, I saw a joyful duck, and there, before my eyes, was some good I have done in my life.

***

While writing this, I had to take a break and check on Ruby. Her hour was up, but she was still off her nest. Much to her dismay, I had to capture her, which is no easy task. Chickens are fast! But when I took her back to her eggs, she went to them immediately. She sat her little self down, adjusted her body to spread over the 8 eggs in her nest, and looked content. I guess she just needed to be reminded. She’s on day 2 of 21. On day 7, I’ll candle the eggs!