Babies for Bella!

It has been a long, sleepless night and this midwife is tired!

Yesterday noon we picked up two darling peeping chicks at the feed store, a Blue Cochin and an Ameraucana.

Cochins are the Asiatic breed fancied by Queen Victoria. Her passion for them set off a spate of “hen fever” that spread from 19th century England to the United States and had enthusiasts bidding hundreds of dollars – up to thousands in today’s currency – for breeding pairs. Eventually the passion cooled; this little one cost me just $5 and that probably included a hefty mark-up from the feed store:

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Ameraucanas are popular because they are known to lay a light blue or green egg. Whether this little one is a pure Ameraucana or an “Easter Egger” mutt, I did not bother to ascertain. If she comes through with pretty eggs, I will not inquire too indelicately of her heritage; after all, I, too, am a mutt.

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The CE, one-armed since a recent shoulder surgery, somehow managed to rig up a temporary “hotel” for them in an upstairs bathroom: a cardboard box with a heat lamp suspended overhead. First order of business was to make sure the little ones ate and drank. I dipped their beaks in the water and showed them their food. They caught on very quickly! The rocks in the waterer are precautionary. Baby chicks can sometimes topple into a water trough and drown.

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We even did an early introduction. Soho heard the peeping and became very concerned, so I let her in on the secret. She promised not to tell the cats.

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The afternoon and evening hours wore on. I noticed that the chicks were positioning themselves as far from the heat lamp as the small cardboard box would allow, so I tried raising it, and raising it again. Then I turned it off for a short period of time and returned to find them lodged together in a corner, presumably huddled to keep warm. Heat lamp on; heat lamp off, window open, window closed. It all reminded me of why it is so much better to have a broody hen do the work, because the temperature under her wings is always just right.

Under cover of darkness, around 1 a.m., we crept into the coop with a flashlight and the two chicks, and tucked the little ones beneath Bella. She croaked and shifted, but quickly settled and all seemed well. But I am a worrier, and thus, I had to stay up and check again and again to make sure nothing barbaric had transpired. I have heard tell of broodies changing their minds at the last minute and chicks not surviving to tell the tale.

I finally dozed off for an hour or two, and awoke to the faint light of dawn. Dogs out, coffee started, check on the chicks! The other hens seem to know that something is going on; they had assembled like a Praetorian guard, and Nugget even invaded Bella’s nesting cubicle to lay her morning egg. Bella will have to protect her chicks from this crew:

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No sign of the little ones, and I, of course, could not leave well enough alone. I reached under the hotly protesting Bella and scooped them out for a photo op:

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She clucked at me angrily, and did peck at them, but it seemed more like “get back where you belong” pecking than infanticidal pecking, so I quickly tucked them back under her wing and left them to it.

Well. Not exactly. I am still checking on them every fifteen minutes…are they eating? Are they drinking? Are they bonding?

I’ve read that when a hen hatches chicks from a clutch of eggs she keeps them under her for a day before introducing them to food and water. This is why, if you are “grafting” chicks to a broody, you need to make sure they are well fed and hydrated before you slip them beneath their adoptive mom. Also important: “adult” layer crumble has too much calcium for baby chicks so any food in the coop that they may access must be switched out to the higher protein, lower calcium balance of chick starter food.

Keeping my fingers crossed that Bella will be a beautiful mama. It’s been fifteen minutes…off to check on them again!

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Countdown to Mother’s Day.

Bella and I are thinking about Mother’s Day.

“It’s the most important thing you will ever do in your life”, I whisper to her. She growls at me and then shrieks as I pull her off her nest. Bella, my Buff Orpington hen, is now two weeks broody, convinced that the golf balls she sits on are potential chicks. She sits and she waits and waits and waits. This is what mothers do. They hand their lives and their hearts over to their children and never look back.

I cannot tell if Bella will be a good mom. I drag her off the nest twice a day to make sure she gets a drink of water and something to eat and she protests loudly, which is a good sign. And she always returns to the nest, which is another good sign. I think she’s lost a bit of weight. She looks tired. Yeah, motherhood can do that.

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I’ve had good luck twice before with broody hens. My first Buff Orpington, Hope, and then our little Belgian Mille Fleur d’Uccle, Pippa, each raised the day-old chicks we delivered to them in the middle of the night, convincing them that their “eggs” had hatched. Other breeds known to be avidly broody are Silkies, Cochins, Light Brahmas, Dark Cornish and Cuckoo Marans.

Commercial breeders have attempted to extinguish broodiness because it interferes with egg production. When a hen goes broody, she ceases to lay eggs. But Buff Orpingtons remain famously and stubbornly broody. Hope was a wonderful mom:

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And tiny Pippa devotedly raised three standard-sized chicks, all of whom continued to try to nestle beneath her even after they were as big as her!

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But you never know who will take to motherhood. I’ve read stories of hens changing their minds at the last minute and abandoning their chicks. Or worse. Some say the key is waiting until a hen has remained broody for three full weeks, as the gestation for hatching eggs is 21 days.

That will be next week. We’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, Happy Mother’s Day to all you mama hens out there!

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Mama Drama.

Just like clockwork, Bella has gone completely, absolutely, magnificently broody. Like Hope before her and in the spirit of the reliably broody Buff Orpington breed, Bella has spent the last week glued to the nest, convinced she is presiding over a clutch of eggs.

She is actually sitting on two golf balls, but we all have to do what we have to do to indulge our fantasies, right?

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How do you know if you have a broody hen? Oh, you’ll know.

  1. She develops a husky, hectoring cluck. Sounds as if she’s spent a month downing gin and tonics and smoking Marlboros. Cluck cluck cluck cluck, she complains with every step.

2.  She takes over the nesting real estate like nobody’s business. I knew we were in for it when I found her sleeping on the nest at night. Everyone else must lay their eggs elsewhere, because Bella is not budging.

3.  And ooh, she is mad! Approach at your own risk. Just a preview of the ferocity with which she would defend her baby chicks.

4.  Plucked and hot. She feels almost feverishly warm. Hormones have raised her body temperature so she can hatch her eggs and care for her chicks. Her breast looks for all the world like a chicken fillet you would buy at the grocery store. She has plucked her own feathers to incubate her eggs and have skin contact with her babies.

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Her fantasy babies, that is. And therein lies the real drama. I would love to give her a few babies to raise, but I was hoping for something a little more exotic than run-of-the-mill feed store chicks. I’ve been all over town and all over the Internet but so far no go.

So we are at the crossroads of making or breaking the broody. If I can’t find her a suitable family, I’ll have to head to the store for some frozen peas and try to lower her body temperature and bring her out of her broody trance.

Dreams come true or bubble burst? We shall see…

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Ear worm, free to a good home.

It all started with the waiter, ever so dapper in his tux, delivering our apértifs along with a tutorial on the evening’s performance. We had scored a table next to the window at The Met’s Grand Tier restaurant, where I could gaze up at the massive Chagall mural or down at the simmering fountain in the plaza, feeling ever so soigné for just one moment in time. Well, until the next moment, when I fumbled in answering the waiter’s polite question about tonight’s program, revealing that what I knew about opera was of less substance than the sugar cube dissolving at the bottom of my champagne cocktail. Outclassed by a waiter again, a common occurrence in NYC.

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He had scoffed lightly at the modernistic approach to the production we were there to see, shaking his head and giving us a pitying look for the travail of the hours that lay ahead. Indeed, the bare set for this performance of La Traviata left us staring at the enormous ticking clock in Act III, wondering if Violetta would ever die. Confession: I would have strangled her with my bare hands if I could have; it was 11 p.m. and I just wanted to be home in my jammies.

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Fast forward a month, home in California, at a book club meeting where a handful of friends have gathered to discuss Daniel Bergner’s Sing for Your Life: A Story of Race, Music and FamilyIt is the powerful story of a wayward young man, hobbled by a broken past and a dysfunctional family, who somehow charts a course to success as an opera singer. As compelling as it is improbable, the story of Ryan “Speedo” Green’s success also gives the reader a peek into the workings of The Metropolitan Opera. Beyond the winking chandeliers and lush red carpets lay an inner sanctum of voice, acting and language coaches and benefactors who labor tirelessly to shape the future of their beloved art form. If the headlines are to be believed, opera may be as critically endangered as the Hawksbill Turtle. Young adults are more likely to attend a rave than Der Rosenkavalier…ask almost anyone about The Ring and they may remember the horror film yet have not a clue about Wagner’s famed opera cycle.

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But my book club friends chat easily about their favorite performances. “But unless you have seen it at La Scala…” “Ah, but for the Russians, it is easier to sing in French than Italian” “If the r’s are rolled too much it is all ruined for me…” “My mother’s favorite was Parsifal…

Outclassed again. I have nothing to add except for my recent murderous intentions toward Violetta, and I think better of it. But I am warmed by their enthusiasm and their knowledge and Green’s story and I remember a question I asked our waiter that evening at The Met: “What is your favorite opera?”

He had answered immediately and definitively: “Turandot. Without a doubt.”

And that is the portal through which the ear worm enters.

Turandot, Giacomo Puccini’s posthumous opera based on the Persian fairy tale of a princess whose suitors invariably perish when they cannot solve the three riddles required to win her, features one of the most achingly beautiful arias in the musical canon. I did not realize when I Googled “Turandot aria” that I was opening Pandora’s box, but now it is done, and I can neither think of nor hear anything else. For two weeks Nessun dorma has accompanied me everywhere I go; I hear it even when I am listening to other music. It will not leave me and I’m not even sure I want it to, but just in case, would you take it, please, for safekeeping?

Be forewarned – the point of no return is the ascending line of Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me – hear the great Pavarotti:

 

 

And, just in case you are not fluent in Italian, the English translation:

None shall sleep! None shall sleep! You too, princess,
In your cold room
You watch the stars
Trembling of love and hope…
 
But the mistery of me is locked inside of me
No one will know my name!
No, no, I will say it on your mouth,
When the light will shine!
And my kiss will melt the silence
that makes you mine.
 
(Choir, voices of women:)
No one will know my name…
And we will, unfortunately, have to die, die!
 
(Calaf, the unknown prince:)
Leave, oh night! Set, stars!
Set, stars! At sunrise I will win!
I will win! I will win!

I checked the calendar, and Turandot is on The Met’s schedule in October and November, 2018. Anyone want to join me and my ear worm for a performance? Maybe we can grab that window table again at the Grand Tier and hum a line or two for the waiter…
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And if you can’t make it: go to metopera.org and click on the “Season” tab for the “In Cinemas” listings of HD movie-theater presentations. Almost as good as being there! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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After the bunny.

Spring is awash in amazements.

First, there is the light. For those of us who get up with the chickens, that glimmer of pre-dawn light is almost holy.  I step outside and find that the earliest morning sound I’ve only been half-hearing, somewhere between a rasp saw and a buzz, unaccountably loud, is coming from the tiniest pair of wrens. I want to say they are Bewick’s, but don’t quote me. So tiny. So loud!

And then, before I’ve even had a sip of coffee, there is drama. A familiar anguished cry from above signals that a hawk is already at work, on a foray to raid the crows’ nestlings. A deadly ritual played out each spring, one that has made me sympathetic to crows for their courage and devotion. They mob the hawk, driving it away from the nest. It approaches again and again against a fury of beating black wings. I can hardly bear to watch because I have seen too many times how this plays out.

Perhaps this hawk, though, is young and inexperienced. Incredibly, it desists and flies off, at least for now. All is peaceful again. A bunny skitters tentatively from the hedge. Fresh-laid eggs, still warm, already await in the coop. Spring is gloriously unfurled.

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Bunnies. Eggs. Ah, yes, it is Eastertide. We dyed eggs, we dressed up, we brunched. But did we observe? Yes, we went to church. But did I celebrate Easter? No, not in the truest sense. Neither did Google, by the way. There was a Google Doodle on April 14 for the first day of the Bengali calendar. And another on April 18 for the birthday of Esther Afua Ocloo. But on Sunday, April 16, Google was silent.

Sometimes it is in absence that I finally pay attention.

I squint and hold my breath as I prepare to walk through the cloud of gnats that have materialized by the pond behind our property. A week, two weeks they have pestered every passerby, swarming in a wide swath across the road. But today they are not there.  My eye is drawn upward – the cliff swallows have arrived! They sail above the pond, an armada of gnat-eaters to the rescue.

I only noticed them in the absence of the gnats. I only saw Easter in the absence of the Doodle. Absence. The empty tomb. Be amazed.

I am grateful for all the years of my life because I am so very slow on the uptake. I have needed each and every year to even begin to understand the mystery of the Resurrection. Each year wheels around to its center, which is Easter, and marks the page. Here. Right here. Look now – the tomb is empty. He is risen.

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It was absolutely pawsome.

I don’t know if all dogs go to heaven, but some of them most definitely get to live a day in paradise. We toasted Soho’s thirteenth birthday with a celebration that was nothing short of divine, thanks to her many devotées and the amazing Tammy Kronen and her crew (especially John Henry, Claire and the inimitable Oliver…)

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Some of Soho’s admirers came from across the street, but others traveled from San Francisco and LA with their own pups for the occasion. Ming and Easton brought Marlowe and Emily and Steve brought Roxy. It was so great to have family members here – thanks Taylor and Angie, Thomas and James for making the trip.IMG_4703

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And, of course, Granny was here, making friends with Marlowe:

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But enough about all of them! Here’s the birthday girl in all her glory:

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We celebrated her with Princess Punch and an array of exquisite appetizers, with cream puffs and éclairs for dessert.

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Couldn’t have done it without the CE and his one good shoulder, magically turning things around after several years of drought. So great to see the fountain going again!

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The flowers were gorgeous – thank you, Kelly Clancy, for finding pink peonies at the last possible moment!

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I’ve hardly begun sorting through her presents, but it looks like Soho has toys and treats to last a lifetime. She also received at least one royal birthday card – thanks to family friend and artist Hannah Stevens Allen🙂

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And our friend Pamela won the prize for best Soho-coordinated outfit:

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Great fun, great party, and Soho is now settling in and planning her next biennial celebration – if she makes it to fifteen, we will, of course, be obligated to celebrate her Quinceañera!

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Posted in Absurdity, All Things Family, Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Big Fun, Spoiled Pets | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The poetry of poultry.

We have a crew of house guests this weekend and last night we all tromped into the coop for hen introductions. It’s really fun to see people enjoy their first face-to-face with a live chicken. Invariably they are struck by the lustrous softness of the feathers, by the hens’ alert sociability and by the voracious interest in a handout of scratch. Those beaks mean business!

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To many people, chicken is nothing but potential stir-fry.  But some of us have had the good fortune of counting a flock of hens among our personal acquaintances, enjoying their affection and their ridiculousness. I am not alone in my admiration of Gallus Gallus. The folks at my new favorite web site tweetspeak have thoughtfully conflated National Poetry Month with their self-declared National Poultry Month, referencing extant chicken poetry and encouraging new works on the subject.

As we stood in the coop last night admiring my pretty hens, I thought anew about that niggling conundrum, the commoditization of the chicken. This lovely bird has the misfortune of being perhaps the most abundant, docile and portable source of protein for the planet and therein lies tragedy for the humble chicken. Here is poet Jane Mead’s powerful take on the subject:

Passing a Truck Full of Chickens at Night on Highway Eighty 
BY JANE MEAD
What struck me first was their panic.
Some were pulled by the wind from moving
to the ends of the stacked cages,
some had their heads blown through the bars—
and could not get them in again.
Some hung there like that—dead—
their own feathers blowing, clotting
in their faces. Then
I saw the one that made me slow some—
I lingered there beside her for five miles.
She had pushed her head through the space
between bars—to get a better view.
She had the look of a dog in the back
of a pickup, that eager look of a dog
who knows she’s being taken along.
She craned her neck.
She looked around, watched me, then
strained to see over the car—strained
to see what happened beyond.
That is the chicken I want to be.

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Slightly less dire is this classic:

Last Night I Dreamed of Chickens
Jack Prelutsky, 1940

Last night I dreamed of chickens,
there were chickens everywhere,
they were standing on my stomach,
they were nesting in my hair,
they were pecking at my pillow,
they were hopping on my head,
they were ruffling up their feathers
as they raced about my bed.

They were on the chairs and tables,
they were on the chandeliers,
they were roosting in the corners,
they were clucking in my ears,
there were chickens, chickens, chickens
for as far as I could see…
when I woke today, I noticed
there were eggs on top of me.

And my favorite chicken poem of all:

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Happy weekend – read a poem! Hug a chicken!

Posted in All Things Poultry, Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Music/Art/Literature/Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment