It was a week of little round things. Years ago, Michael made a sculpture out of tires for a show in Elgin, Illinois featuring spheres. My husband is mostly a painter but sometimes he makes sculptures as well. After the show the tire sculpture landed in our yard and after many years of weathering is now more of a dome than a full sphere. This morning I came away from the coop with the scoop in my hand and spied one of my lavender pullets settling herself down under the dome of tires. I didn’t want to alarm her, so I bided my time, walking the brown dog, Cullen. It was his turn on the leash while Ursula ran free. And when we circled back around to the tire dome the little pullet was gone, but she had left a cache of eggs. There were eight of them! Either she had help, or she has been successfully hiding her a little nest for over a week. I picked up the eggs and laid a couple of golf balls in the nest to fool her. If I take all the eggs and leave nothing, she will stop laying there. But whenever I find a hidden nest, I try to encourage my hens to keep using it, so I don’t have to hunt up their new hiding place. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: chickens can count, but only to three. If I leave two golf balls in a rogue nest, she will lay a third every day. If I sneak the third out of the nest, she will be none the wiser.
In the house, I found another little round thing on the kitchen floor. It was neither an egg nor golf ball, but a little white potato. Puzzled, I picked it up and took it to the kitchen shelf where we have kept small potatoes in a red bowl on the second lowest level for years. Imagine my surprise when the bowl was empty. Yesterday it was full enough that I decided against buying a bag of new potatoes at the grocery store. Who would have thought that little raw potatoes would be a tasty treat to steal in the morning? I can only think of one person in this household. Ursula what are you doing now?
The black dog, Ursula, is training us, but not very well, to stop leaving food out on the counter, to shut the pantry door where the garbage can is, and now, apparently, to not store potatoes on the low shelf in the kitchen. When will we learn?
Today is bright and sunny—a welcome respite after several days of chilly overcast drizzle, which was itself a welcome respite to the drought. I thought I had hung my last laundry outside, but today seems like the perfect day for one more load. Maybe I will soon need to take down my bamboo laundry tree for winter, but not quite yet. I look ahead to the preparations: wrap the chicken coop in tarps before the winter winds hit, bring in the finches from the aviary. And just this very minute I had an inspiration. Once we wrap the chicken coop and turn on the warming lights, we could put the finches’ cage in the corner of the coop instead of the house. It’s fun to have them inside in winter, but that always involves several weeks of training the cat with a water gun to leave their cage alone. The temptation of tiny birds in her house is too great for our cat, and this way is less stress on her and on the birds. We’ll see if the finches and chickens can peacefully co-exist, but I’m betting they will, considering the sparrows that like to fly in and out of the coop all day.
We just got word from our county health department that we should now avoid gatherings, and we’re thinking ahead about Thanksgiving. Since we can’t gather during a pandemic, I’m trying to decide on a package of treats to send to my boys—something that will mail well. Pumpkin scones? Gingerbread? And two of my boys have birthdays that always fall on Thanksgiving week. We can send treats with more homemade masks along with their presents. We can be sad about missing these milestones (both birthdays are big ones—a decade and a half-decade) or we can realize that this pandemic is teaching us patience. What we do now will protect future birthdays and holidays and weddings. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I have faith in science and in knowing that our boys are being equally careful—wearing masks, avoiding gatherings, getting tested. I have faith that one day we will be able to gather again to celebrate and hug and until then, I am finding other ways to let my boys I love them.
Gather Beauty; Collect Peace; Blessed Be
Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. If you’re missing your weekly dose of Birdland Letters in the News Gazette, you can still read them every week in the Piatt County Journal Republican. Consider subscribing to support your small-town newspaper. You can see pictures of the tire dome chicken nest on Instagram @BirdlandLetters. Mary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via snail mail care of the Journal Republican, 118 E. Washington St., Monticello, IL 61856. She wants to thank her friends for writing and will answer you all soon.