Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Eulogy for Two Memorable Chicken Friends

Best Buddies - Miss Chickapea & Sheldon
They, of course, started out as two eggs...one brown and the other blue.  When they hatched, I assume they were cute, little and fuzzy like all chickens.  One was older and a female, the other a male came after the chickens had arrived at the farm.  I don't know exactly how they ended up as student farm chickens but fate brought them to Mary, a budding chicken whisperer.

Araucana Peep
 The female, of the Araucana breed, was not like the rest of the group of chickens that had been dropped off at the student farm...she was, well, interesting, alert, she liked people, she loved to be photographed and hugged.  Mary loved her knowing that as a farmer it is not a good idea to love your farm animals.  She couldn't help it.  Miss Chickapea, as the chicken was named, wouldn't let her think of her as just a 'normal, run 'o the mill chicken".  No sir, she was somethin' special.  Mary couldn't get away from her, she followed her everywhere begging to be loved.  So, Mary did.  Whenever Mary was at the farm Miss Chickapea had special allowances like being outside the pen, riding in her arms or being kissed.  She particularly liked that.  The other chickens clucked and fussed about being left inside the fence but like normal flock chickens they just ran around complaining, doing nothing to distinguish themselves.  They had to stay in the pen.

The student farmers made a nice pen for them, covering it with bird netting to protect against predators and then put a solar electric fence up. Covering the pen with a tarp meant it was cooler in the run during the summer.  The students and Mary were good chicken farmers. They built a roosting box and got a proud, handsome, bold rooster...a Rhode Island Red, they named Jerry.  He was a good protector of his small flock of 10 or so chickens and strutted up and down watching his "girls". 

Soon, another chicken joined the group.  It was another male, who Mary named Sheldon.  He was a tiny, little thing, a Bantam Rhode Island Red.  He was a chicken with an attitude.  Like Miss Chickapea, he was unique.  He was small, he was feisty, he was proud of his black, green glossy tail feathers.  He was a cuddle bug. 

Proud Sheldon
He learned to sit on Mary's shoulder...well pretty much on anyone's shoulder or head until you made him get down. He liked to sit on my grand daughter, Kiah's head.  He was funny! He was an escape artist and once got out of the pen somehow.  He, finally, appeared again by flying from a tree which grew along the barn road.  Mary, was not amused.  But, like the big-hearted, tiny giant he was, he just went back to being happy-go-lucky Sheldon, like it was no big deal.

Miss Chickapea looking at the
camera instead of at who was talking.
Over the next year, Miss Chickapea and Sheldon became the stars of the Purdue Student farm showing up in PR videos and on media spots highlighting the great stuff that was going on at the farm.  Mary and a handful of like-minded students had taken on the Dean of Agriculture and worked with him to create this small farming program.  Sheldon and Miss Chickapea were outstanding examples of animals that could be used as PR reps and teaching props throughout the community...ambassadors for the farm.  Watch until the end, you'll see Mary and Miss Chickapea, Purdue Newsroom - Students experience agriculture, business, research at their farm and here is another example, Purdue Today - Student-run farm to offer learning, teaching, research opportunities .
Here is student farmer, Ashley, posing with Sheldon, http://www3.ag.purdue.edu/programs/studentfarm/Pages/students.aspx

Family visiting the Chickens before Graduation
They were more than just chickens...they were rock stars amongst Mary's family too as we ALL had to go visit them whenever we were there in Lafayette, IN.  We asked about them whenever we called.  Working their way into every one's heart, those two helped us to understand that life, intelligence and personality in ALL species are qualities unique and special to each individual and that when presented with a chance to really CONNECT personally with some animal (human or otherwise) it is always meaningful and special. 

Sheldon & Mary
It has taken me a while to write the ending to the story of Miss Chickapea and Sheldon because it has taken ME a while to process the fact that indeed their story ended both suddenly, terribly and too soon.  Also, I kept thinking that maybe, with time, Sheldon might reappear, flying out of his tree like before, shaking off the attack with his giant attitude that he housed in his little body.  Mary, of course would have scolded him for staying away so long while hugging and kissing him all over in relief.  But, alas, I believe that Sheldon too probably succumbed to the attack and is with us no more.

Chicken Love
Ok, by now you realize that something bad happened to our lovely, unique chicken friends and you are right.  Due to a cascading bunch of decisions brought on by an injury inflicted upon Miss Chickapea, they were attacked and killed by SOMETHING.  I believe it was the SOMETHING that took Bella, the duck away last year.  I think its a fox, feral cat or a loose dog that has decided to roam the farm looking for easy food.  After much thought, I believe it's the dog.

Woods beyond the chicken coop
For a few days, due to Jerry's behavior and some odd noises from the woods beyond the chicken pen, there was a tiny ray of hope that Sheldon might have survived.  His body was not found inside the cage like Miss Chickapea, just some feathers outside near the chicken coop.  I think, like Mary does, that Sheldon, with his fierce attitude and protective nature towards Miss Chickapea, was fatally injured protecting Miss Chickapea.  But, those of us that loved them will never know for sure what happened that night.  All we know is that they are no longer around to amuse us, to show us what life is like through a chicken's eyes, or reflect the eternal 'intelligence' that nature shows us everyday. 

Me - Out & About
photo credit: Jim Davis
And maybe I am exaggerating a little...I am a Naturalist, Environmental Educator and an organic gardener myself.  I know that humanizing animals is not a good thing...animals are not humans and have specific behaviors and intelligence within species.  Mary would be better able to tell you exactly how they affected her...but from the couple of times I met them and the happiness they brought my girl, I believe that there was something special going on there and only time will tell what lessons we learned from their short lives.  I bet if you'd had the opportunity to look into their wise eyes and seen the eternal wisdom contained there, you would understand.

Rest in peace, memorable chicken friends...you will be missed by many.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Graduation Day

If you haven't heard me brag about my daughter's graduation from college, well, here I go.  She is the youngest of my 3 children, all who are well endowed with brains.  All have launched themselves into the world and are swimming along just like we all do when we reach a certain age.  Matt, my oldest, is in the Air Force Reserves and flipping houses while raising a family.  He and his lovely wife are whacked....caught in that middle age between..whoo hooo and yikes.  Katie, the woman in the middle, holds 1 of my 4 grand babies hostage in Indiana, goes to school and works ...a full plate which she balances in the air like the true professional she is.  Mary has spent the last 3-ish years at Purdue studying botany and getting Purdue to start a small, organic farming program. 

Purdue just happens to be my Alma Mater also. I bleed black and gold...my dad went there, Mary's father and her Aunt went there, my brother and Matt went there.  Mary stepped into a family tradition of Boiler pride.  Hoosiers have 2 choices..you're either a Boiler or an IU fan...we chose the only Indiana University...:) Its a joke, ok..

I am a proud mama and was thrilled when she passed all her finals and then was accepted to graduate school there too.  We all headed to Purdue over Mother's day weekend to watch her walk.  I expected the trip to be full of memories of my own graduation but did not expect it to be as emotional as it was.

 Seeing her in her gown, walking around campus taking pictures, hearing the bells play the Purdue fight song...all that rushed through me catapulting me back to when I was she, she was me, we were...and my heart burst with the knowledge that she has no idea what her future holds.  Sky's the limit and already she has packed so much into her life.  

And as I watched the big screen TV, finally, I saw her.  She took her graduation certificate and stepped up to her Dean with the biggest smile upon her beautiful face that I had ever seen. Eyes alight, smile broad and ear to ear, she grasped his hand quickly, shook it looking into his eyes and at that moment I knew that she will make a difference. 

She turned and walked to the edge of the stage, paused for a moment looking out into the large auditorium not knowing where we were and pumped both her arms up into the air and said something...I think it was, "WHOOOO HOOOO!"

Monday, May 21, 2012

Welcome to Trail Days!!!

Here I am at either my 10th or 12th Trail Days...I cannot remember which.  I've been coming to this festival for many years.  Trail Days is an Appalachian Trail hiker Fest held every year on the 3rd weekend in May.  It's a lot of fun.  Usually I have very little documentation of the actual event because its too much fun and I forget to take photos....I'll upload a few from years past.

Five or six of us remain as participants and gather every year of what was once a group of about 15.  We miss those that do not come anymore and we talk about them behind their back's saying things like, "I can't believe they didn't come" or "Do you even know if they are still alive" or "Are they still in TX?".  Long time friends don't ever really leave you but are ghosts living in a closet whose door you open every once in a while to peek in at.  You just want to see if they are still there hoping that they come out of the darkness fully fleshed to visit. 

The streets of Damascus, Virginia, a lovely mountain town where the AT runs down main street, are filled with the hellos, sounds of hands slapping backs in hugs and wahoos of congratulations for finished AT thru hikes and questions of "So what are you doing now after the hike and where are you living?"

People who are not involved in the Trail community or ever stood on top of a mountain looking back with nostalgia at where you've walked from, purple-blue mountains stretching on in front of you to the horizon line, have a hard time understanding why my friends and I find this particular weekend inviolate.  Its a you do not miss weekend.  The miles, the smiles, the trials and the tears and laughter echo over, around, within, out from the mountains that surround this lovely little town.  Their welcoming warmth is an image of how we, the hiking community feel about our time on trail and the friendships made there. 

Through rain, wind, lightening strikes and hurricanes, snow, drought and injury, there are our trail peeps walking beside us, with us, kicking our butts, holding our heads/hands/hearts....you make friends out here with names like Buzz, Sherry, Creaky Sticks, Keystone (just met!), Marta & Liteshoe, Judy and Amy, DeLee, Bronco and Wingheart, Krewzer, Sue and Rabbit, Hutch and Sparrow, Suzanne, Lone Wolf and Gypsy, Razor and Red Hat, Bahlpack, Sherlock & Circuit Rider, Journey, Hopeful,  ....friends who even though you see only a few times a year hold similar memories of what it means to walk miles with your home on your back and reflect in their eyes the same understanding of the strength it takes to to walk the AT.  They understand that it is not the things in your life that make you who you are but what you chose to do and who you chose to do it with.

Cheers to you all, my lovely hiking friends....may the miles be kind and limitless...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What's Goin' On?

A friend asked me the other day if I had abandoned my blog....I told her, no, I had not but I do admit that I am busy.  It's late spring here in NE Ohio and it is just a busy time.  The trees are out, the soil is dry, the weeds are growing.  There are gardens to plant and acres to mow, trails to walk and pictures to take.  Birds are migrating in and out and this year, the first in a several years, I've actually been able to take the time to participate in one of my favorite hobbies, birdwatching.  Last week, I snagged a sighting of a Baltimore Oriole, one of the first sightings in my area. 

In my effort to gain marketable skills, I've also taken on some extra writing projects and am managing the Portage Park District's Facebook page.  That takes time.  Hopefully, in a couple of weeks I'll lead some hikes, right now I'm busy. 

Then there are the trips...one very soon sends me to Indiana to my daughter's college graduation ceremony then another right after to an annual get together in Virginia for AT hikers.  This is an event where I see long time friends, friends I see only at this event...there is a lot of talking and rocking on the front porch of the Hiker's Inn, laughing, wine drinking and walking...that's Trail Days.  I can't wait.  I am busy.

No one really ever thinks of time until there isn't enough of it or if you face an event that reminds you that there REALLY never is enough.  Recently, I bought something that has a 20 year warranty ....standing there I did the math and realized that wow...20 years...I'll be an age that I never even thought I would get to when I was young and now, gosh it is only 20 years away.  An age where my health may not be so good, where I will no longer be a great gardener or able to walk very far in pursuit of that great bird, when no longer will I enjoy riding the lawn tractor over the bumps in my yard nor ride my bike on the Tow Path.  These thoughts make me vow that starting now, I'll enjoy each moment and do the things I need to do to stay able to do those things I love for a very, long time.