Saturday, August 29, 2009

Trying again

Whatever sense of crazy excitement or optimism August brings, I usually associate this time very strongly with new beginnings, having had an academic-year schedule for at least 32 of my 38 years. So when we were down in Kentucky last week, perhaps we were drawn to the boldness of the idea of another new beginning, this one by choice. Or perhaps we just couldn't resist. But we are, once again, raising chickens.

At left, you see Emily cuddling with one of the most cuddly chickens I have ever met, one belonging to Louisville garden writer and commentator, Jeneen Wiche. This chicken was practically purring while the girls held her, having been hand-raised by Jeneen's niece. That was Wednesday. Thursday found us at the Kentucky State Fair, looking at chickens of all sorts, plus a few odd pens of chicks, at $3 apiece. I was thinking how I wished we could try again, when Emily came up to tell me "Daddy said we could get a couple of chicks!" Given that it was Brian who witnessed the fox's massacre last time, if he was ready, I could be ready.

Each girl picked out two, Hazel two black ones - Japanese cochins, the farmer told us; Emily two yellow, with brownish marks, which she hopes are Ameraucana, like her favorite chicken from our last group. I took it as a sign of both remembrance and healing that these choices reflected their favorites from our last batch.

We did not find out the genders, which would have been nice, but a friend, Stacey, who had just ordered 25 hen chicks for her own daughter offered to share a couple with us (see the tall one at right, plus a black one for Hazel), a bit older than ours. So we know now that each daughter has at least one hen. All 6 chicks (say that quickly now) are safely peeping and chirping in our garage pen.

The best surprise has been the outpouring of cheerful well-wishing support. In addition to Stacey's addition to our brood, a colleague down the hall loaned me a book of chicken coop plans, which the girls and I have drooled through and picked out some likely options. My friend across the hall from my office has offered to help me build one of these coops, hopefully next weekend. Boyd community center's fall offerings include a fall gardening class, which will tell us how to "get the chicken coop ready for the long winter ahead." The girls' friends, some of whom never met our first brood, have come over and enthusiastically introduced themselves, after having heard so much about how much Emily and Hazel loved having chickens before. If we fail in this attempt - our third - it will not be for lack of support. The phrase is now so well used as to be trite, but I have learned it in a fresh context: It takes a village to raise chickens.

I picked up a book today, by Bob Tarte, entitled "Enslaved by Ducks." I could hardly resist, and lamented only briefly that this probably means I can't now write one called "Enslaved by Chickens". I love these silly feathered creatures already.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gun-toting girls

Despite my general pacifism and despite my distaste for gun culture, I believe that a bit of education about firearms has to begin with the idea of them being tools, like fire itself, useful and wonderful when used in a controlled and safe manner. While in Arkansas this summer, I failed to convince Emily to participate in skeet shooting, because she connected it with hunting and she's quite a softie for animals. So when my in-laws got out their old BB-gun air rifles last week in Kentucky, I was thrilled. Even more so, when Emily tried it, and as you can see, liked it.

I know she won't be shooting squirrels for supper any time soon, but still, I want her to know how to point it, and load it, and handle it. When I was about 9 a game officer came to my elementary school to talk about gun safety, and though I don't anticipate that happening here, I'm glad the girls can at least get this education from a loving lap, shooting holes in Coke cans and shooting golf balls off a perch. You never know what skills might come in handy.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Beginning a new trail

Among the activities new students at Chatham will engage in this fall during orientation, one will be an activity that I myself did for the first time just a tiny bit ahead of them - last week. Kerri and Lynne, ever the energetic outdoors-women, are kindly crediting me with the idea of a perimeter trail at Eden Hall campus (I scarcely remember saying it, though I *do* really like the idea), which we'll begin with new students. Kerri took the photo when it was ready to walk, and it looks inviting, enchanting, though the end of the trail is just out of sight.
The symbolism here is rich. College is a journey, and sometimes, like now, the faculty are just a step or two ahead of you on the trail. During their four years, they'll find their own path, and hopefully do some marking en route to make it clearer for those who follow. There will be downed trees and poison ivy on the way. There will also be meadows glowing with golden sunlight at the end of sections of dark foliage and thick branches. Blah, blah, blah.
The reality is this: Kerri and Lynne and I worked together for about 2 hours to make perhaps 100 yards of trail, with hoes, clippers, saws, our feet tramping down the path, our hands picking up litter. We laughed and chatted, a merry beginning to a 5 mile job, roughly 528 woman-hours of work to be done. We had a good time and felt proud of ourselves, academics for once doing a job with satisfyingly concrete and visible results.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Darn the rules

OK, so this isn't me swimming this weekend. But someday, I want to be part of a hardcore swimming scene this cool, so I did some vicarious versions:
1) Emily participated in a Kids' Triathlon on Saturday morning, completing a 50 m swim, 1.5 mile bike, and 0.5 mile run. Lots of fun race bling, including a pair of free Pirates tickets.
2) I swam laps at the pool this evening,
3) I looked up information on a sprint triathlon which was today, but registration was closed already,
4) I did open water swimming at Moraine State Park, from friends' dock to a little island nearby, and back.

Now, note the photo again - what are these swimmers wearing? Caps, goggles, numbers, and suits. NO LIFE PRESERVERS. Therefore I found it very rude when the park safety patrol interrupted my fantasies of triathlon training grandeur by telling me I had to stay within 15 feet of the dock and wear a life preserver. I'm 38, not easily mistaken for a minor, so that wasn't the issue. It is just the rule, for every single person on the lake.

I believe in seat belts and bike helmets for all, and even life jackets for kids - no matter how good of swimmers they are. But sometimes the whole lawsuit-crazy-culture thing really bugs me, because it stops me from doing something - fun? exciting? risky? stupid? who cares which? - all by myself, at my own risk.

It was one thing when, back in 1995, a park ranger chased Brian and I around the park to tell us we couldn't look down Taughannock Falls by laying on our stomachs on the rocks at the top. We were young and foolish then. Now, I'm older, and perhaps wiser, and my idea of a thrill is to put on goggles in lake water and swim freestyle, and even that, it turns out, is illegal.

Ah well. Emily, in contrast, got to break some rules. After her 50 meter swim, the race volunteers were encouraging her, cheering her, to run to the transition area to get her bike. On concrete. Right past the lifeguard chair, from which, on any other day, you'd hear a lifeguard blowing a whistle and shouting "NO RUNNING". She got to bike on streets, full speed, with sane adults telling her to go faster. She ran in shoes with no socks, without even putting shorts on over her bathing suit, and I didn't warn her about blisters or even about making her shoes stinky.

Triathletes have all the fun.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

12th grade reading exam, revisited

Today's wildlife sighting was this lovely snake, which Emily found on a rock wall - no joke - exactly 1 minute after she asked me "Are there any snakes up here?" and I said "No, just climb on up." Clearly she had a wisdom about this spot which I lacked.

When I was a grad student in weed science in Kentucky, we had up on the wall a joke reading exam for another Southern state, which shall today remain anonymous:
MR Snakes
MR Knot
MR Snakes
(clue: read the letters aloud, don't try to make into words)
Brian sent me an article from today's NY Times about how kids today don't know what happens when you lick a banana slug. The fact that Emily asked me about a snake on the wall makes me really happy; she's got her snake reading skills down pat. Next step is clearly going to be learning to trust her own judgement, not mine, because between her bear sighting yesterday (proven by print) and today's snake finding, she's proven herself to be a good naturalist, one whose judgement - at least about animal sightings - is clearly superior to mine. I can tell you that the weed in the foreground is purslane (Portulacca olereaca), but I don't know the snake, and would never have seen it without her eyes.
(Translation of test: 'Em are snakes. 'Em are not. Yes, they are - see them itty bitty eyes? 'Em are snakes.)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Battle, berries, and bear - oh my!

Today began slowly; we managed to leave the house at about noon for our Saturday adventures. We aimed for Bushy Run State Park, site of one of the critical battles between British and Native Americans in 1763. As it turns out, we arrived just in time for their annual battle reenactment, a type of event I've heard and read about plenty of times, but never seen. In addition to hearing lots of muskets fired with blanks, and looking at lots of men in costume (and a few women), we hiked a bit and looked at the wares and the tent encampment.

But no stream. Though there *is* such a creek, called Bushy Run, our walk hadn't yet taken us to one of the day's goal outings - water. So after a couple of hours in 1763, we returned to 2009 Pittsburgh, to a stream running by the parking lot of an indoor soccer complex 10 minutes from home. En route, we picked a half-cup of blackberries - we left wanting more - and headed downstream.

Two bends in the stream later, Brian commented to Emily this would be a good spot to look for wildlife if she were quiet. Emily takes a step or two around the bend ahead of us, and tells Brian, "I just saw something..."

Brian: "How big?"

Emily: "This big..." (arms wide) "I think it was a bear."

So we splash downstream to where she pointed to get a look. (The girls expressed some doubts about our wisdom at this point.) And here is the print we saw, with Emily's foot for comparison. I have definitely never seen a print that big, and needless to say we all believe now that Emily saw a bear.