Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Snowfort, aftermath

We started out piling snow by hand, but Emily wondered if we had any buckets...so with a snow shovel and 2 buckets we whipped out this fort in about an hour, despite having only about 4" of snow on the ground. The snowball fight afterward lasted about half as long. I don't know if the fort will last the holidays, but now that we've got the method down we should be all set for the next little snow, as long as we don't need any zoning permits for it.

Of course, within seconds of coming in the house, it looks like a war zone by the door. But, still, it is pretty colorful, and in the absence of a mud room, this is as good a way as any for everything to have space to dry out.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The First Present of Christmas

Friday night we had our first big snow of the year, which beautifully reflected our holiday lights, the first we've put up outside. The chickens, for the first time, stayed in the indoor upstairs of their coop despite having the door open and being free to go out. They didn't like the snow on their feet, though they pecked snow from snowballs, as eagerly as a child eats a snowcone (though presumably without the ice cream headache from the cold on their top beak).

Also yesterday, I put in a box - a nest box - with a fake blue egg in it, to encourage laying. I'd read about this in Storey's guide to raising chickens (apparently the classic on the subject), and figured it couldn't hurt to try. Gabby had been acting for days like she was ready, digging and sitting, squatting when I raised my hand above her back to pet her.

This morning when I went down to given them their cracked corn, check that their water was still unfrozen, I did a double take, because I thought at first that the blue egg had been moved, and then I wondered who would have put an egg in the chicken coop to fool me. But when I picked it up, it was still warm, already dry, and with bits of leaf litter stuck on.

I'm sure I'll enjoy whatever presents I get this holiday - I always do, having never been a finicky gift recipient. But I think this one will be hard to top. I've never gotten a Christmas present from a chicken.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Walking in the dark

Since beginning this blog, I have noticed that December is my most challenging time to write about being outside. Though by January I've gotten used to it being cold and am sometimes able to muster up some energy to go outside, in December I just want to stay in. I get outside during the day at work, but just because I have to cross campus, and many days I like the sunshine through my office window enough that I don't even care to head out. The slanting sunbeams are beautiful, even if they do bring the unwelcome news that by the time I see my daughters, it will be dark.

Lately, my routine is this: I get home at about 5, or 5:30. I put the chickens' water and food up into their indoor coop for the night, move their ladder, and, once they have roosted - right at dusk or soon after - I close the door and hope they can keep warm. Brian improved their quarters with a light and an extension cord, so that they now have a source of heat in addition to their well-feathered bodies. They seem content (and recently, I found Gabby roosting right next to the others, suggesting that they have finally accepted her, or perhaps that she isn't quite the bully by night that she is over food, by day).

Though I'm mentally done working by the time the chickens roost, Emily and Hazel don't want to come home until 6, when afterschool is closing, their teachers and friends leaving. So even if I walk there in the dregs of daylight, I generally wait there for them, and we walk home together in the dark.

I don't want to overstate the distance or adventure of this walk. We're not out there long, and the total distance we cover would only be considered exercise for a toddler at best. Still, I'm realizing how rare this is in modern childhood: a regular, nightly walk in the dark.

At first, I brought headlamps or flashlights. Then, eventually, I realized that we might be *more* likely to trip with these, because the shadows are stranger. Better to learn the footing, and get used to what we can see.

To Know The Dark
by Wendell Berry

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

And, at first, the girls complained, just as they did this time last year. "We are *walking* home? You didn't bring the car?" But I never bring the car, and they know it. The complaining lasted only the day or two of the shock of how early dark comes in December. Last night, Hazel and I walked alone, Emily already gone to prepare for a choral concert, and Hazel hardly changed conversations as we went outside, except to notice the wind for a moment. She didn't grab for my hand. I noticed last night that walking home in the dark was now normal for her.

I still haven't made myself go out for a run in the blowing flurries of today, nor did I go out for exercise in yesterday's ferocious wind. I still want to just hole up in my house, and eat comfort food and write in the abstract about how great it is to be outside. But at least, my seven year old is not afraid to walk home across an empty playground, by her favorite child-sized woodlands, through her own backyard, on starless windy nights.