Sunday, October 25, 2009

Taking breaks, taking stock, playing goalie

The last two weeks have been thick with activity, from grading midterms, meeting with school administrators, and fitting in a weekend in Ithaca to celebrate Brian's advisor's retirement. Meanwhile the roosters are crowing - not enough to wake us two floors up from their garage home, but enough that we fear they will not be welcome in the neighborhood as soon as our coop is finished - today? tomorrow? Progress slowed with our absence last weekend, but we're getting there. What next for Bolt the Brahma and Chicory and Bluebird, the strutting but diminutive Japanese cochins? We are clearly beyond the point of these being meat birds, but we can't quite grapple with the reality that roosters are a relatively unwanted commodity.

Having raked leaves and scraped 4" of snow off our car in the last week, I'm entirely too aware of the season changing. Yesterday the girls made a fort of leaves in the yard; last Sunday, visiting Ithaca, I felt transformed back to autumns long before our children. I wouldn't alter the course a bit, even if the trip through 36 hours of nostalgia and a lovely drive across the southern Tier expressway were welcome breaks.

Coming back this week, I missed meetings I would like to have attended, and attended meetings I would rather have never heard of. I turned in midterm grades, and made a couple of students happy while making others anxious or worse. I thought of blogging tens of times, and just made it to the computer this morning, still wondering what I could say but only knowing for certain that I have a few images to share.

Yesterday, Emily played beautifully in a tough soccer game, facing down two penalty kicks in a row (the first she caught; the second went wide of the goal under her stare). In the second half, her teammate played goalie and also stared down and then chased down a penalty kick, leaving us 3-2 against an opponent who ended the game with far more shots on goal, but just one fewer shot in the goal.

If I get through the next month without dropping any balls myself, I should be as elated as Emily was yesterday. There have been a lot of shots on goal against me in the last week, and it remains to be seen how many have been blocked.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Decision at school: not final

Apparently the school board is still trying to make a more final decision on the schoolyard herbicide application. Ask if you need more information on who to contact in our district, but seemingly they want a decision within the next couple of weeks - my guess is they're trying to fulfill the terms of their landscaping contract. A poor excuse for exposing children to an organochlorine pesticide, in my humble opinion!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Upward progress: chickens, coop, and a young squirrel

We've been up late at night, Brian and I, working hard on a long-overdue item: a winterized coop. Now fully walled and insulated, we're still working on a door (we have one ready, from Construction Junction), a roof, and screening in the base - an old desk, which had sat in our garage, acting as a home for mice, until Emily suggested we repurpose it as a coop.

Meanwhile, Bolt has started crowing, while Swallow, the lovely white feather-legged hen, continues to be a very cuddly chicken. Taylor (at left, poking her head in the picture) shows her personality daily, and is the first to come and watch whatever we're doing nearby. The little roosters, Chicory and Bluebird, are tiny but amusing in their aggressions, at times leaping in the air to try to assert their dominance over other chickens 3 times their size. They remind me of the pillbugs in Bug's Life. All of them cuddle together wearily in their cage while Brian and I use loud powertools nearby, preparing their more permanent home.

I remember, long ago it seems now, trying to treat chickens as wild creatures, which need outdoor space to roam. I'd love to give these that option, and we take them to the garden on outings as much as we can. But 1 fox, 1 dog, and 28 dead chicks later, I've realized painfully that chickens are no longer wild birds, and that they need our protection. I am sorry it took me so long to see it, but when I zipped through Bob Tarte's Enslaved by Ducks and got to his passage about bird loss to raccoons, I knew at least that I wasn't the only one to hit this realization slowly.

I was thinking about that today, even before I heard a scuffle and a squeak in a pile of leaves just beyond our backyard, and I quieted my steps as I came closer. Up the tree before me came this adolescent squirrel, eyes closed and still ridiculously top-heavy, climbing back up the trunk of the tree, to a worried looking momma above. I almost walked away before I realized I still had my camera, so I had to walk back to the tree for this photo - no zoom needed at all.

I was tempted, I confess, to pick the little squirrel off the tree, and try to tame it. Brian's grandmother had a pet squirrel for a season before it went free, and I remember it fondly; I have no doubt the girls would remember this one forever and think me wonderful for bringing it home. So it took some restraint to walk quietly away, wishing I could see it make its way up to the nest, wishing I could stroke its fur and take it into my care. But a baby squirrel isn't the same kind of pet as a chicken, and I have no desire to discover another kind of animal which I can't care for adequately without training. Chickens, a cat, and two daughters, for now, are plenty.

However, the rooster situation has led us to make plans, in the near future, to attend a local event called a poultry swap. We don't think the roosters will go over well here, so we're hoping to trade - someone, somewhere, may prefer a couple of young, well-handled and lively roosters over a couple of elderly, quiet hens. But I've heard about the temptations of these kinds of events. I'm not sure next time I will get to walk away so quietly.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Update: Reprieve!

The application got cancelled after all - examination of alternatives to begin. I don't know what the next steps will be quite yet, but in any case, a whole lot of moms yesterday kept on calling when I had all but given up.

Back to rolling down grassy hillsides, as scheduled.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Safe schools

I often joke about being the crazy weed lady, but in the last 24 hours I have really felt like one, a peel-me-off-the-ceiling nutcase, angry and frustrated and inarticulate. 2,4-D will be applied at my daughters' school this weekend.

This weekend is fall break, and apparently the timing (kids out of school for an extra 24 hours) and the urgent necessity of destroying clover have driven the groundskeeper to what, supposedly, has been an once-annual lawn herbicide application. Bees, evil hymenopterans, may indeed enjoy clover - but has anyone ever proved that kids playing on fields with clover were more likely to get stung?

And why should my head be spinning out of control? I can't even articulate the possibilities succinctly, but Beyond Pesticides offers a good start.

Without website links, I'd love to be articulate enough so that every parent who called the grounds department today wouldn't have felt so lost, when the very reasonable-sounding manager answered their questions. I'd love to be able to say in a single sentence why it is that the National Pesticide Database doesn't - and can't - "prove" the safety of any herbicide, especially this one. I believe science can be understood by anyone, and I teach my classes with that belief firmly in mind, but I can't do it in a day, or a few emails.

No matter how persuasive I think I am, no matter how calm I can try to make my strained voice, no matter how many wonderful parents tried today to express their concerns to the district, in this country I am left with this one reality: 2,4-D, legally, is innocent until proven guilty.

This is a great principle for humans. Our justice system fails most dramatically when it breaches this ideal for individuals, whose actions and innocence must be assumed even while the grand jury gathers evidence. I'm even willing to grant this principle to herbicide company employees, golf course managers, and the landscapers who will apply herbicides this weekend, because each human, at the most basic level, is a creature of nature, made by God or Goddess or conception or whatever we believe.

But this principle can't apply to the works of our hands. Over a year ago now, I built a chicken coop. I should have assumed it was flawed, until I tested it and determined it safe - I didn't do that, and the chickens were killed by a fox who simply gnawed the edge of the door off its hook. Product testers and crash test dummies are proof of the wisdom assuming human inventions to have weaknesses, until we prove otherwise. Herbicides, thanks to Rachel Carson and - oddly enough - Richard Nixon, *are* tested, but the paltry and short-term testing we do is such a poor substitute for proof that even the herbicide company scientists know that the correct language, at best, is "no health effects were detected."

But herbicides are still merely human products, and the law about innocence isn't designed to protect them. The interests of industry, Adam Smith wrote, are not in alignment with the interests of the people. Our children, my fellow parents wrote today, like to roll in the grass, and we want them to be safe. A bee, a clover, a dandelion, all are natural risks of sorts, fellow beings which might also be fairly enough determined innocent until shown to be otherwise. But the herbicide is not a natural risk, and it is therefore not a risk I have any interest in taking.