Highly seasoned.

As a Midwesterner marooned in SoCal, it took me decades to accept what passes for seasons here.

January through December, all I saw was weather that was never too cold but never quite warm enough. No, of course it doesn’t snow (so what are you complaining about, asks every sane person in a northern climate), but if you plan on sitting outside for dinner, even in August, you’ll have to take your Patagonia puffer vest. That phrase “marine layer” is simply a euphemism for bone-chillingly damp.

Here’s what was served up this year: May Gray which flowed right into June Gloom; a glum July that made me cry, followed by a month of frankly AU-disGUSTing weather. Overcast and foggy every single morning. Yes, the skies would eventually clear – just in time to watch the sun set.

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Thank goodness we have chickens, for they keep their own seasons and remind me to pay better attention to the nuances. In the upcoming darker winter months they will cease to lay, fluff up their feathers and chow down the cracked corn.

Come March and April, they are one the move again and Egg Season will commence with a vengeance.

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Broody Season comes next, usually starring Bella,

And then Baby Chick season. Who cares if the sun comes out when you have these cuties to watch?

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But it can’t all be fun and games. Lately, the sun has finally shone, but now we are in Molting Season. Nugget took it the hardest this year.

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No matter how often you broom up the mess, there are feathers everywhere.

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There’s no time to miss the traditional segue of the seasons when all this is going on. Next up: Acorn Season, where the oaks will shed their fruit and pelt the hens on their little noggins. I guess it makes up in entertainment value what we lack in fall color…

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“California, where the spring comes in the fall and the fall comes in the summer and the summer comes in the winter and the winter never comes at all.”  — Inez Haynes Irwin

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Loquat-ious.

Do you ever wake up feeling utterly useless?

No, of course you don’t. Because you didn’t stupidly fall recently and pulverize your arm and do who-knows-what kind of violence to your back.

Ugh. A lost summer.

The arm is coming along, kind of. The back, not so much. So here I sit, fuming, impatient, pretty much useless.

The CE is not useless. Look what he did this week! He made a sweet little garden path:

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The back side of his garden path is set right next to our loquat tree. Which, as it occurs to me now that I’m on the subject, began as the definition of useless.

It was merely a stick with a few leaves, a shabby four-foot volunteer on the parched west side of our property. This was what, fifteen, twenty years ago – probably courtesy of a passing crow who dropped its fruit and somehow, inexplicably, it managed to take hold in a patch of dirt. Exactly the patch of dirt we were about to dig up that day.

The CE had his saw out, ready to cut it down, but at the last moment, grabbed his shovel instead. The sad little stick of a tree had somehow made its way this far; it didn’t seem fair to take it down. So he lugged it over to some other misbegotten, unused part of our property. Called it a “survivor”, dared it to survive yet again.

And somehow it did. In fact, it flourished. Grew a couple feet or more every year. And that ignored swath of our property eventually became the domain of our hens, generations of which have sheltered beneath its branches. A hawk sounds, they run under the loquat tree. A squirrel scolds, they scurry beneath the loquat tree. A puppy bounds toward them – head for the loquat!

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It fruits reliably every spring and the hens gobble it up:

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Admittedly, it’s still not much to look at.

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But it has managed to have a presence, and a purpose. And, while I don’t usually think about it other than as a place to search out the hens, the lowly loquat popped up in my reading this week. Penelope Lively mentions it not once, but twice, in her charming horticultural memoir In the Garden. According to Lively, the loquat has a presence in the gardens of North London! She explains that the tree is actually native to Cyprus and was brought to London by Greek Cypriot immigrants. Our tree is not shabby – it’s an international jet-setter!

So today I am feeling quite proud of that useless little stick of a survivor. And thinking that maybe, if I take the dare and just simply survive long enough (without falling down!!!) the seasons will go ’round and bear fruit.  Holding onto the hope that usefulness is just around the corner…

 

 

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Teen Angst.

As if we hadn’t dealt with it already x 4, we’ve got teens in our midst.

These two are getting their combs and feeling their oats:

Edith, the Buff Orpington:

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And Willa, the Salmon Faverolle:

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At two months of age, Edith is now not that much smaller than Bella!

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They still stay close to mama…

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And look to be about to enter their “awkward” stage.

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There is much flapping of wings and skittering around the chicken yard.

Which is not helped in the least by teen #3:

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After a few leash tutorials, the CE declared Lily good-to-go as a flock guard, meaning that he is reasonably sure she won’t eat her yard-mates. She keeps a very keen eye on them, but I’m not 100% convinced it is completely benevolent, so I keep a very keen eye on her. As I recall, that’s what you have to do with teenagers.

I’m watching you, Lily.

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Even the adults are a-flutter. I rarely feel empathy for bossy Nugget, but the poor thing is in a massive molt. Feathers everywhere!

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I know how she feels. There’s nothing more feather-ruffling than dealing with teenagers! This, too, shall pass, I tell her.

 

“But Mom, I’m such a good girl”!

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I need a wake-up call.

Morning is a relative term, I thought, as I woke today with a start and realized it was already past six and the sky was growing light.

After all, just a few days ago, we were still in Kauai, and morning began, well, right at cock-a-doodle doo. This could be at 4 a.m. or some days even earlier, depending upon the whim of the rooster residing somewhere just to the east of our hotel. “Morning” was a movable feast and entirely up to him. Chickens are as common as coconuts on the island of Kauai, where feral flocks roam without fear of predators.

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And so, I thought of Maurice. Remember him? Back in July Maurice the rooster had run “afowl” of the law on the French island of Oléron. His crime? Being a rooster!  Neighbors had claimed Maurice was a nuisance and that one way or another (a fricassee comes to mind…) he had to go. Petitions were signed, lines were drawn, and there was much crowing to be heard – mostly from politicians, since Maurice, apparently stressed out by all the commotion, had mostly ceased his “cocorico” while he awaited his fate.

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Happily, Maurice will live to crow again, according to The Washington Post, which reported earlier this month that the court ruled in Maurice’s favor, and even ordered the plaintiffs to pay $1,000 euros in damages. (I see, perhaps, a fancy new coop in Maurice’s future.)

Maurice’s cousins in Kauai face similar complaints, often from tourists who discover, like I did, that kakahiaka (the Hawaiian word for morning) can often begin in the wee hours of the night. Fortunately, the spirit of aloha seems to prevail, and after all, an early wake-up call gives one a chance to watch the spectacular Kauai sunrise. Now that’s something to crow about!

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Here in California, the sun may be out but I’m still in a time-zone fog. Where are those roosters when you need them?

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Heavenly.

I’m pretty sure that in the final moments of the Sixth Day, just before He rested, God smiled, gave a wink and dealt out the Hawaiian islands just to give us a little foretaste of heaven. And I’m just as sure that He added a little flourish at the southern tip of the northernmost island because Poipu, Kauai has to be the closest thing to heaven on this earth.

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My idea of heaven: coffee at 5:30 a.m., two-mile walk at sunrise, with requisite cats mewing greetings along the path.

This guy has shown up in his tuxedo every morning we’ve been here:

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His distant cousin is less formally dressed but no less welcoming.

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The words come back to me. The words we never say in California or New York, but which bespeak the magic of this place.

Plumeria.

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Francolin. Their sweet cooing is a hallmark of every morning, as is the crowing of the roosters that roam the island.

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Because, of course, there will be chickens in heaven.

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The food there will be healthy. Like the “summer rolls” we share for lunch every day. And the seafood “lau lau”, steamed and wrapped in a Ti leaf.

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I don’t know if God will be serving mai tai’s. He may have figured we’ve had enough of those on earth. But I suspect there will be sun showers and full moon rises and blue meteors hurtling through the sky to the ocean (the CE saw one last night!). There will be luxuriously long sleeps to the sound of waves crashing against the sand. I don’t have photos of these things because they simply don’t don’t replicate. God has copyrighted and trademarked them for the time being. You’ll just have to take it (and a lot of other things) on faith.

But I can show you the plants so garishly red they are divinely whimsical.

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Paths and places so serene I think they must have been divinely inspired.

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We are enjoying every minute of it. At the perfect pace.

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In Hawaiian, hemolele is the word for perfect. It also implies holiness. This week has been like that. Holy, and wholly perfect. Feeling very blessed.

 

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There’s a beautiful orange glow on the Rainbow Bridge.

Look carefully, you’ll see it. Because Dodger was very, very orange and on Thursday he left us and stepped onto the bridge, leaving his earthly suffering behind.

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He came to us in 2007 as a very sick little kitten. Taylor discovered him in a Lompoc shelter, christened him Dodger (after the artful Oliver Twist character, not the baseball team) and brought him home to us. One eye was completely swollen shut, his fur was strangely mottled and our vet was furious. Said such a sick cat should never have been adopted out. Said there was no guarantee he would survive.

He survived.

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He joined a crowded field of siblings and tried to make his way. Always sweet-natured, he wanted to be everyone’s friend.

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But that was, shall we say, complicated. Cody, who’d been relegated by senior feline Dizzy to second place in the cat line-up, was determined not to be in third place, and he never ever let Dodger forget it.

Dodger tried hard to be his friend.

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But Cody wasn’t having it. They got off on the wrong paw and things only went from bad to worse. There was what we will euphemistically term “acting out”. Carpets were replaced. Draperies were replaced. To be quite honest, for a long time the CE wanted Dodger to be replaced. The lines were drawn: you were either Team Dodger or Team Cody.

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I assiduously defended Dodger. Someone had to. After all, I pointed out, he was the perfect Halloween cat.

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He worked very hard every day at being orange. And oranger.

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He amused us with his fascination with all things water.

 

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And when he could make no headway with the cats, he did the reasonable thing and aligned himself happily with the dogs.

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He and Soho eventually became best buddies.

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It might not have been perfect, but it was a far cry from a precarious and highly  uncertain outcome in a Lompoc shelter. And even if he wasn’t top cat, he was not wholly uncelebrated. At one point, our friend Julia found his doppelgänger – you might say Dodger was living an artful life.

The winds shifted in April of 2018 when Cody lost his battle with chronic renal failure. Dodger was suddenly our one and only cat, but attention was focused elsewhere, as both Soho and then Chloe became ill and left us that summer. Dodger was the sole remaining household pet. He could hold his head high.

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Of course, sweet Dodger wasn’t looking to be king of the jungle.  And when we brought Lily home this May, he patiently welcomed her puppy kisses. We looked forward to a long and happy time ahead for the two of them together.

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But a few days after Lily’s homecoming, Dodger had a fateful visit to the vet. He hadn’t seemed  quite right for a bit and, in fact, we discovered that day that things were very, very wrong. A seemingly minor skin cancer he’d had removed had metastasized to his lungs. There was no cure. There was only prednisone, which our vet said might give him a month or two.

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That was in May. Thanks to the miracle of the prednisone and Dodger’s determination to be a companion to Lily, he soldiered on past the expiration date he’d been given. The CE had long since forgiven Dodger the errors of his earlier ways and stepped in heroically to nurture him, carrying him up and down the stairs and searching out every tasty morsel to be found at the grocery to entice him after even the prednisone failed to stimulate his appetite.

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Friends Tammy and Tom (who were always Team Dodger!) kindly kept up the hospice regimen while we were away on a trip in August. And, of course, Lily remained a constant inspiration. Dodger wanted to be here for her.

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In his last weeks, Dodger was showered with love. Caleigh had decided when she visited in June that he was her soul mate. She much preferred his gentle spirit to that wild, unpredictable puppy and she ferried Dodger from room to room, offering him oodles of fish cookies at every turn.

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When she and her sisters visited again last week, they all gathered around Dodger to let him know he was loved.

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Evie even made him a friendship bracelet. Green, to match his beautiful eyes.

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We watched the light go out of those eyes on Thursday afternoon. The tumors were pressing so hard against his lungs that the effort he had to make to even breathe kept him from being able to eat or drink.  He was beginning the painful process of starving to death. We could not let him suffer.

By now I would like to think he has had a joyous reunion with Soho and Chloe, and hopefully made his peace with Cody. If not, replacing the carpets and the drapes at the Rainbow Bridge will be someone else’s problem. We have only good memories of that sweet kitty and we pray that he does go gentle into that good night. Farewell, dear Dodger, you are so loved, you will be so missed.

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Two hens are better than one.

Oh what a difference a month makes: the baby chicks are almost teenagers! While we were away, Edith and Willa grew from this:

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to this:

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Last week, Bella signaled the beginning of the end of motherhood by departing from her nightly nesting spot on the coop floor and marching the chicks up the ladder to the counter top. Sweet little tableau, isn’t it?

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Enjoy it while it lasts, little ones. Because it won’t.

Bella still currently allows them to snuggle beneath her for sleeping, but from past experience, I can tell you the clock is ticking, ominously. In a few weeks, she will hop up to a roost bar on her own at night and pretend she doesn’t know them. If they persist, she will go all Mommie Dearest and peck at them until they retreat to a corner by themselves.

Or at least that’s how it has always gone before.

We have a new wrinkle, however! Just as Bella is beginning to tire of motherhood, it turns out someone else is waiting in the “wings”, so to speak.

There is a signature cluck that a mother hen makes to her chicks, low and insistent, calling them close to her when she finds a delectable morsel to share. When I heard that cluck yesterday and turned to look, I was surprised to see that the mother hen in question was not Bella, but June!

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June is a funny one. Also raised by Bella, she was a singleton, and “only children” do not fare so well in a flock. With no siblings to provide safety in numbers, June was skittish and fearful and never quite found her way in the group. She has remained practically shunned, at the bottom of the pecking order.

June went broody in January but I doubted, given her low flock status, that she could defend chicks, so decided she would have to remain childless. Or so I thought at the time.

I’d noticed in these past few weeks that she was keeping especially close to Bella and the chicks, but now it has become clear that she’s assumed the role of “Auntie”. And Bella seems fine with it. I guess it takes a village…

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I’ve heard that non-broody hens can sometimes take to mothering but I’ve never seen it happen in my own flock. There’s always something to learn about keeping chickens…

We’ll see where this goes but I’m hoping for the best – little June, happy at last!

 

 

 

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