A hot dry wind blows through Birdland, and I heard that not too far from here, fields caught afire. Leaves are tumbling down from Hackberry trees already curled up and dried. The corn still stands, but the beans have been harvested. Rosabell, my old lady turkey has molted all her tail feathers, and she looks like the dodo from Alice in Wonderland. The young turkeys stand taller now than she does. And she moves a little more slowly and seems to be shrinking in her dotage. Or maybe it’s just that my two young Toms are growing that much bigger. They constantly primp and fan their tails now, sometimes chest bumping each other. We do need rain. The grass in our yard is disappearing in patches and the earth beneath is grey and hard as cement.

The mulberry leaves are turning a sunny yellow and a leaf falls from the Maple, twirling on its way to the ground. It’s time now to dig out the floor of the chicken coop and fill it with leaves from the yard. I like creating a deep litter for the chickens to shuffle through. They turn over the leaves to find the kitchen scraps I toss out there, naturally mixing the leaves and their poop into compost.

I have a new plan for my vegetable patch in my corner meadow. The soil there is all played out from a hundred years of corn and beans. Well, actually, I believe that in my great grandfather’s day the farm was a little more diversified, but in the sixty years since his death, it has been a crop rotation of one monoculture over another. At any rate, the soil in the yard is rich and dark, while my meadow’s soil is dry and grey. I hope the three or so years of plantings and serendipitous sproutings has improved it some, but this year my vegetable patch yielded only a few tomatoes and squash.

So here’s the plan: I’ll mow over that patch and spread it with a layer of cardboard and newspaper, then pile on the compost from the bins. I’ll put the compost in hills and mulch paths in between, so each hill becomes a bed. One, maybe a three sisters garden of corn, beans, and low growing squash. Another with tomatoes and zinnias from the seeds I’ve collected this year. Still another a stand of kale and onions. Yet another of sunflowers. I saw this plan in a magazine, where a man is helping people convert their front lawns into urban gardens. He likes the natural hilly beds over rectangular raised beds for their organic feel. I’ll let you know how it works out.

Minnie Mae and her tiny chick have been in protective custody in the little coop high on the wall inside the big one. I’m about to let them out so they can explore the yard again. I had to put them there after Minnie jumped over the Mr. Ed door to get inside, leaving her poor chick out in the wild. I came out and saw Minnie without her chick, and thought she’d been taken by a snake or a hawk. But then I heard a frantic peeping, and there was the chick, calling from the asparagus patch. I reunited them but wanted to wait until the chick could fly and get over the door by herself before I put them at large again.

I go out into the yard to take a little break from grading on the computer, and my two Toms are scrapping. Claude, the Royal Palm has his tail spread, with its striking black stripe on a white fan, while Marcelle, the Bronze, stands a little taller and shoulders Claude. They make a big show, and then Claude, who never stopped fanning and strutting, chases Marcelle off. Claude has won, this time. I look for Maude, and find her, oblivious to the rivals, scratching through the leaves in search of a tasty morsel.

Strut in Beauty; Fan in 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 about this week’s post on Instagram @BirdlandLetters. Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of the Journal Republican, 118 E. Washington St., Monticello, IL 61856.

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