Autumn

Autumn is my season. There is nothing I dislike about it. The colours, the smells, the holidays, the promise of cozy nights ahead….

I was courted by my husband during this time of year. I have vivid recollections of that time. Shamelessly in love, sitting next to him on the front seat of his old Chevelle, his hand on my neck. Rain falling on the windshield, a wet leaf clinging on despite the wipers as we drove the back roads.

We got married in the fall as well. A small gathering in the country; cold wind and champagne.

“You are my autumn”, he said. These words, spoken to me recently on the anniversary of our marriage, mean more to me than my husband can imagine.

A stroll across my property is magical. Apples trod upon underfoot send up the sweet and sour aroma of damp earth and decay; little rubies partially-hidden in grass that needs to be cut but was left to grow in expectation of cold weather. Leaves are still falling: golden ochre, reds, pinks and brown are littered across the ground. Piles are made and jumped in and left to scatter in the wind. Dying grasses, thistles, burs and plants breathe new life into the landscape and rustle with the wind. The air is crisp despite the hot sun and blue sky above.


I lift my face toward the light, eyes closed, and give thanks. It’s hard to imagine the change in weather on days like today. We are well into October, and while the nights are cold, our days have been sunny and warm. It feels like summer doesn’t want to leave quite yet. And who could blame her? This time of year is spectacular to behold!

The change of seasons in the country is always incredible to witness. Subtle at first, and then one day you are startled by the harsh transformation. It’s hard to imagine winter is coming on days like today. I am drawn to the outdoors. Soon, winter will be here and my strolls through the property will become less and less. The geese are busy, flying in loud gatherings overhead. Flocks of little black birds – sometimes in the hundreds – burst out of the long dried corn stalks in beautiful precision. I am saddened by the report of gunshots in the distance, which signals hunting season. We don’t hunt and I always worry about the animals on our property. Last year, we saw a beautiful elk bull that had found his way to the neighbour’s field, and spent his days grazing with the cows. He was magnificent. Silver and black, with big antlers. He had managed to make it to full adulthood. Our neighbours watched in fascination until hunting season opened. Then they shot him.


I confess, I am anticipating the cold weather. Our winters can be harsh so I face them with mixed emotions. But like most things, I’m inclined to romanticize the season. There are things about winter that I love: that feeling of stepping out of the cold and into a warm house; the sudden relief of warmth on your frozen cheeks. The smell of cooking or baking in my warm kitchen. The flicker of candlelight when the evening comes early. The cozy blankets to snuggle under and big socks to keep your toes warm. The fire in the wood stove flickering bursts of light in the darkness of a quiet house, wood cracking and popping in the silence; kids asleep and cats stretched out in every chair of the living room.

Our mornings come early and it’s always dark and freezing when we wake up. I have to stoke the embers in the wood stove and get the fire roaring to chase away the chill. It is a challenge to drag myself out from under the warmth of my duvet and into the cold air. My son will sit in front of the fire and have his breakfast, or on my lap, wrapped in my sweater. I love this. He curls his little body around me, pulling all the heat from me with his cold little fingers. I breathe him in, my face buried in his hair. Weekday mornings are rushed so we can catch the school bus, but there is always time for a quick snuggle. I drink a cup of coffee, letting the hot mug warm my fingers, sometimes even lifting it to the tip of my nose to warm it up. The sun is just beginning to rise by the time we have our winter gear donned and are out the door to catch the bus. There are some mornings we have to trudge through knee-deep snow to get to the top of the lane. Our little bus shelter will keep the biting winds at bay while we wait for the bus that always seems to be late on these bitter cold mornings. Better yet, the buses will be cancelled and we get a snow day!

The chickens and turkey are still let out of their pen in the winter, but they don’t stray too far. They will find a patch of sunshine and burrow down under the overhang or outside my living room window on the front porch, looking at me. If the day is dangerously cold, I will let one in. But don’t tell anyone! It’s usually Henrietta, and she goes straight for the cat dish and then sleeps in the basket by the stove. The horses seem impervious to the cold. Their shaggy coats and horse blankets keeping them warm.

Today though, winter still feels far off. I am heading out to finish piling the wood that will heat our house for the winter. I’ll enjoy this autumn day. I am autumn, and I am filled with nostalgia.

– EKR Schlegel

 

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Ladies night

I have added two more chickens to my flock. I have a soft spot for the traditional “brown hen” and am channeling my inner Beatrix Potter.

The brown hens are historically good layers, and they’re so pretty to look at. On a more practical note, I have family coming for the summer, and could certainly benefit from some more egg production.

A neighbour has kindly offered me two of her hens. And this is where the fun begins!

The plan:

Like a thief in the night, I will be infiltrating their current home and snatching the chickens while they sleep (if you’d told me a year ago that this is the stuff I’d be doing living on the farm, I’d have laughed). I know my neighbour has at least one rooster in her hen house, and with my new fear of roosters thanks to the epic cock fights between Henrietta (girl name, I know) and I in the barn, (picture the rooster lunging at me with his big neck feathers and talons sticking out and me kicking and screaming over and over again until my foot finally makes contact with his head and he backs off…), things might get a bit hairy.

While I fancy myself to be brave in most situations, a strange hen house in the dead of night, with roosters and only a flashlight between me and god knows what, I have some trepidation as to how things will go down. Maybe I’ll bring my daughter along for bait….

The thinking behind this midnight abduction is that, if the chickens are moved while they are sleeping, when morning comes and they find themselves in new surroundings, they just think that they’ve been there all the while. Are they really that dumb? Quite possibly, me thinks.

With nervous giddiness, I await nightfall.

To be continued….

So that was not scary at all. What I wasn’t expecting though, was how sad I felt. At nine o’clock last night we all traipsed into the dark towards the hen house, flashlights in hand, the element of surprise on our minds. The little roost was quiet until we opened the door and shone our lights inside. Inside, the rooster and his girls were all perched for the night and obviously rather displeased at us bursting in and disturbing them.

My neighbour picked up the first hen within reach and plopped her into the waiting carrier. Then, the next one followed. The birds were obviously unnerved, and I felt terrible! And while, logically, I can’t compare our actions to those of some dark, clandestine subterranean strike force, there was something disturbingly deceptive in our actions. I know: they’re just chickens. But still….

We drove home and wrangled them out of their cages and up onto the perch next to their new family. We closed the coop door, sad but determined to do our best to help them along in their new home.

This morning, although they’re roaming the property in two distinct groups. “The ladies” – my existing brood – are coexisting in relative harmony. Henrietta, the rooster, is a bit out of sorts, running from one flock to the next like, well, like a chicken with its head cut off! He is trying to sort it all out, and has his hands full with two new additions that seem to have fallen from the sky.

Meanwhile, life goes on at the farm. I have one eye on my dishes and the other on the ladies. The kids are fighting over their choices of names. The dense fog that we awoke to this morning is starting to lift, and coffee is brewing.

Life is good!

chickenbums
A windy day! “The browns” finding their way around their new home.

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Hobby Farm- phase two: Goats

After much hammering, sawing and sweeping, the back corner of our barn has been transformed into a cosy pen for our two latest residents.

Beginning stages of building the stall.
Beginning stages of building the stall.
All done!
All done!

Meet Stella and Beulah. Named respectfully after two great-grandmothers.

Stella and Beulah
Stella and Beulah

Our 7 week old “kids” arrived last week from my friend Robin’s farm. Robin is a local farmer and paramedic who I went to school with from Kindergarten right through high school. When these two little twin girls were born she texted me that they should be mine. I, of course, could not agree more!

The cats are having a difficult time accepting that the pen was not being built for their pleasure, and that there are now creatures in their universe that they are unable to kill or intimidate. It’s quite funny to watch them face-off. The goats are unfazed.

George and Tom meeting the goats
George and Tom meeting the goats

Phase One: chickens, has gone smoothly. The “ladies” aren’t as eager for their kisses anymore, but endure them nonetheless. They are fully grown now and quite beautiful. Check out this picture of Henrietta (who is not typically welcomed into the house but snuck in  by one of the girls)! They will be laying for us by the end of summer.

Henrietta
Henrietta

Now, it’s time to find some work clothes. I can’t be mucking out pens in my summer dresses and sandals!

Or, can I?

Hobby farm – phase 1: Chicken Update

 

The "ladies" in the orchard.
The “ladies” in the orchard.

Well, despite the odds of being raised by novices in a house full of cats, our “ladies” as we like to call them, have grown into healthy and obnoxiously lovable creatures.

We nearly signed our divorce papers trying to assemble the pre-fab chicken coop. I’d like to go back to the Co-op and slap the pimple-faced kid behind the counter for telling me it only takes about 20 minutes to put together! I suppose if the morons who “pre-fabed” it knew their way around a measuring tape and how to use a level, it might have only taken 20 minutes. And that’s a big “might.”

Assembling the chicken coop from hell.
Assembling the chicken coop from hell.

It looks OK, but I’m thinking a raccoon would have no trouble unlocking it. We’ll have to do something about that. Raccoons in the country are a species unlike their city cousins. City raccoons are so dignified in comparison. These country guys? They will eat a dog.

So, the ladies are now able to graze free-range style in the orchard by day, and will be cooped up at night in the outdoor coop. They adjusted well to the transition. They even joined us for our picnic the other day, running over for scraps and hugs!

At the picnic.
At the picnic.

Rob was not impressed.