Silence of the Ducks

It was raining.  In fact, it seemed that it was always raining.  In typical fashion, the chickens complained and the ducks thrived.  The Englishboy was visiting for Christmas and I asked him if he would put the ducks away for me.  I was tired of digging out my umbrella and struggling in and out of my wellies twice a day to trudge down the hill to the garden, the grass bubbling up with warm mud.  "They will probably be in their house already so it should be easy," I told him.

The Englishboy couldn't locate the ducks.  They weren't in the garden or their house.  They weren't on the pond.  They weren't in the neighbor's yard.  In fact, he couldn't even hear them which was unusual because they were constantly quacking to each other.  He feared the worst fate had happened to them.

I teetered precariously over my wellies and managed to get the hem of my pajama bottoms tucked neatly inside.  I clutched an old umbrella and grabbed my flashlight.  Carefully, I sloshed to the center of the back yard and called out "Ducks....".  Silence.  "Ducks?!" I yelled with less grace and certainty.  They answered me promptly with loud quacks and I could hear their feet slapping against the wet brick path.  Relieved, I rushed over to see them waddling into their house, all neatly in a row.  I closed their gate and bid them goodnight.  They had been hiding from The Englishboy, yet they still came when I called.  I supposed that they did appreciate me after all.


The Cloak of Invisibility

Chase is a white dog and easily spotted in the yard on any dark night.  He is quite aware of this handicap.  If he doesn’t want to come in when called, he freezes, hoping he won’t be spotted.  He also knows the phrase “I can SEE you!” which then convinces him that he will be in more trouble if he doesn’t comply with the earlier command calling him in.

At the beginning of the year, The Englishman and I were in American Apparel and discovered, to our delight, a selection of dog shirts and hoodies.  I purchased a classic sweatshirt complete with the single pocket and zip up front for Chase.  It was a perfect fit and he refused to allow us to remove it for five days.  Warmer weather soon arrived and the hoodie was stored until the cold returned.

Summer turned into fall, bringing endless rain.  I dressed Charlie and Molly in new turtleneck sweaters and zipped Chase into his hoodie.  It was his super hero outfit.  It allowed him to spend longer periods of time in the yard, protected from the stinging rain and wind.  He lounged near the fire, perfectly bundled in the soft, black fleece.  He slept in the hoodie, swaddled in its’ warmth.  He would not allow anyone to remove his hoodie and one night I discovered why.

Chase followed me outside into the inky dark to check on the ducks and chickens.  I had a flashlight that dimly lit a small area in front of me.  Chase poked and sniffed near the edge of the driveway.  I whistled and assumed he would follow me.  Ever-obedient, Chase had disappeared when I returned less than a minute later.  I peered into the dark but could see nothing.  My dog had used his main super power:  The Cloak of Invisibility.  I whistled into the night.  Nothing.  I called for him, pleaded with him and offered treats.  Silence greeted me.  I returned to the house and gathered several more flashlights.  

I scanned the front yard and the street.  I imagined the lost dog posters and the embarrassment of adding “last seen wearing a black American Apparel Hoodie” to the description.  I could hear the whispers of the neighbors: who puts clothing on a dog?  I had just turned back, defeated and planning to seek assistance from The Englishman when I heard galloping clicks from the street.  Out of the darkness came a slice of white fur racing down the driveway.  Chase  dodged me and ducked quickly into the house through his dog door.  Panting heavily, he lapped the water in his bowl as The Englishman and I searched the American Apparel website for a new hoodie…in white.


Chicken Little

My youngest chicken, Willow, was broody.  She firmly planted herself in a nesting box keeping company with two golf balls.  When I checked on her, the feathers on the back of her neck rose like fine, reddish-brown needles.  She was cranky and solitary.  She wasn't laying eggs.  She wasn't granting entry for the other four chickens during the day.  I would force her out of her solitary confinement each day to make sure she had access to food and water but she promptly returned to her nest to guard the golf balls.

After two weeks of this behavior I decided that she needed a nice, warm bath to distract her from her broodiness.  I filled the kitchen sink basin with warm water and carefully placed Willow into the water.  She shook her body like a dog and flapped her wings which gave me a bath, too.  It seemed like she was okay with this new adventure because she settled into the warm water fairly quickly.  

When I was ready to remove her from the sink, I faced the challenge of wrapping a towel around her.  I needed two hands to hold Willow and keep her from trying to fly.  I looked down at the floor and saw a perfect space between the sink and my sleeping dog, Molly.  I dropped the towel to the floor, plucked Willow from her bath and set her in the center of the towel.  Willow turned her head to the left and screamed.  Molly had woken and was staring back at the dripping chicken.  The Englishman ran into the house and asked "Are you okay?"  I assured him that I was fine and that it was the chicken screaming.  The Englishman scoffed and said "I was asking the chicken, not you."

I wrapped Willow tightly in the towel and carried her into a patch of sun on the deck.  I sat down in a chair and held her in my lap.  She was peacefully basking in the sun until Chase approached and nudged me under my right arm for me to pet him.  Willow stared at the dog and then screamed again.  Her screams were loud, obnoxious and echoed across the pond.  I decided that I couldn't have the neighbors call the police so I patted the chicken dry as best as I could and returned her to the coop.

When I checked on her an hour later, she was dry and happily keeping the golf balls company once more.


The Pain of Rain

It's raining again.  The dogs don't want to go outside at all.  I push them out the door into the rain and try to offer encouraging words about going to the bathroom.  I'm waiting on the SPCA to arrive to give the final approval on fostering a dog.  Three dogs snooze and ignore the arrival of two strangers.  Car doors close and the doorbell rings.  Three dogs do not react.  I stare at them in disbelief.  I invite the two ladies inside.  Three dogs approach them like they are long lost relatives.  I continue to stare at these dogs, positive they do not belong to me.  The SPCA employees greet the dogs with plenty of petting and hugs.  They are at my home to see where the dogs sleep and to make sure we are not “dog hoarders”.  I remind them that I have three dogs, pretty sure they can count.  Apparently I am not a hoarder of dogs.

We move into the living room, standing on the new hardwood floor.  Chase jumps onto a couch.  Charlie begs for more attention.  Molly pees an entire river next to my foot.  Awkward.  I tell the ladies that the dogs don’t like to go outside in the rain.  They nod, and share a few stories of their own.  Out of the corner of my eye, I see that Molly has done more than just pee.  Chase uses this moment to try to start a conversation with the two ladies and I hope they don’t notice the pile that Molly has gifted me in the corner.  

Pleasantries over, they approve me for a foster home and leave.  I grab the mop, a bucket and some cleaning supplies and pray for a weekend of sunshine.  I still have to drive to work.  As I lock the house I hear the flap of the dog door and see two dog noses peek out.  Charlie and Chase watch me leave but they won’t come out.  It’s raining even harder and my dogs still don’t want to go outside.


Risks of Renovations

Chase was pink.  A lovely, yet distinct blush color had covered most of his previously white fur.  The Englishman and I pondered and argued over his new hue and finally settled on the unfinished Brazilian walnut hardwood floor we were installing.  For more than eighteen months the house was under renovation while we continued about our daily lives. 

Aside from the loud noise at times, the renovations did not seem to bother the dogs.  In fact, they seemed to enjoy the changes.  Did I just sweep a pile of debris and nails?  Molly insisted on walking right through it, tracking dusty paw prints as she continued through the house.  Did I leave a strip of insulation on the floor?  Chase preferred this to any expensive dog bed.  Did we try to nail, saw, measure or do anything low to the ground?  Watch out because Charlie was right there, ready to lick you or just be underfoot. 

At the end of the day, though, it all washed out.  Dirty paws can be cleaned, dog kisses wiped away and even a pink dog can become white again.


Lights Out

It was stormy and the power was out.  The dogs protested my late arrival home from work.  The dark gray sky was fractured by jagged bolts of lightning.  The Englishman had scattered tiny tea light candles throughout the house which provided a miniature diameter of yellow only an inch from the flame.  As I pulled out larger candles, he complained that it was too hot for them.  This was true, but I did not want to walk into sharp things as we had not finished installing the hardwood floor and tools, air compressors and an assortment of sharp items were strewn throughout the living room.

I left the house with a flashlight to check on the chickens.  I discovered a perfect, tiny blue egg sharing a nest with a larger greenish-blue one.  My newest chicken had laid her first egg and I was thrilled.  Realizing the door to their house wouldn't close without power, I fashioned a temporary barrier for the night.  I returned to our house and began the task of locating and extinguishing all of the candles.  Without streetlights and no stars or a moon, the house was filled with an inky darkness.  I used a flashlight to guide my way to the bedroom and climbed in bed,  The sheets had been pushed to the foot of the bed by the hot and cranky Englishman.

We both heard it before it reached our room.  Toe nails clicking and clacking on the wood floors, onto the plywood subfloor and slowly down the hall toward us.  Three dogs without night vision.  Crashing into tools, walls and each other as they fumbled their way to our bedroom.

Chase reached my side of the bed, first.  He then chose to climb into a chair instead of the dog bed.  I had placed some mail and shopping bags on the chair and they crinkled and rustled as Chase turned and turned in the secret, required number of circles that all dogs seem to know.  He finally flopped into the chair but still wasn't satisfied.  Shifting and flipping and sighing, the plastic shopping bags and now crumpled envelopes were hard to ignore.  I climbed out of bed and cautiously made my way to the chair.  As I attempted to remove the items from beneath Chase, he snapped at the air, unable to find my hands.  Finished, I returned to bed.

Molly decided to let us know how hot she was by panting loudly.  Charlie found something under the bed and began to play with it rambunctiously.  The Englishman was unbothered by the circus and began to snore.  I jumped up, grabbed the flashlight and ordered the dogs to follow me.  I secured Molly and Charlie in their crates.  Chase, ever obedient, was still in his chair.  I returned to bed.  The Englishman woke up and accused me of dog neglect.  I went to sleep.  Soundly.  Until five in the morning.  Three dogs who had been playing all night, including two who had been released from their crates, gathered on my side of the bed to wake me up with barks, cries and whines.  The power was back on but I knew it was going to be the start of a very long day.


Before and After

My last month there were lots of trips to the vet.  I ate mozzarella cheese even though I knew there was a pill hidden inside.  I ate canned food mixed with my favorite green beans.  Sometimes I even ate the moist dog food packets.  I knew the other dogs envied my new food.  I no longer slept in my crate at night but had my memory foam dog bed in the master bedroom next to my mom's side of the bed.  I wore a dog diaper and was able to roam freely through the open dog door at any hour.  I could still bound down the slope in the backyard with my long ears flopping and howl at the sirens in the distance.  The other dogs in my family would join in, too.

My last week I took a trip to Florida to drop the younger English boy off at his new home.  I ate chicken and waffles for lunch outside of Warner Robbins, Georgia.  I rode in my favorite spot in the car, at the very back on my dog beds piled three high so I could look out the window.  I sniffed around a parking lot in Florida but the journey made me tired.  The Englishman found a vet that was open in Gainesville, Florida and we stopped for a visit.  I pretended that I needed to go outside and dragged my mom through the slick, black parking lot in the rain.  The vet gave me a pill and I felt better.  I had sausage and pancakes for dinner.

My last night, I couldn't sleep.  I went into the backyard that shimmered with the silver moon and howled.  My mom came out and got me.  She tucked another pill into cheese and brought me back to my dog bed.  I was restless so she pulled her pillow and blanket to the floor and slept beside me.  I fell asleep with my head on her chest.

My last morning, the Englishman made bacon for breakfast.  I had the lion's share.  The older English boy arrived and I had a video phone session with an old friend from England.  I was wrapped in my blanket and sat on my mom's lap for a final drive in the car.

The first hours after, we couldn't return to the house so we went to a movie.  I don't think either of us remember it.  The Englishman secured a small orange collar with dog tags dangling like a miniature wind chime around his wrist.

The first day after, the Englishman had to leave on a business trip.  As I sat in the living room, I heard a voice clearly stating "I love you".  Gathering my courage, I went to the kitchen to explore and found Molly, holding a Build-A-Bear teddy bear that George had cherished.  I didn't realize the bear talked and Molly had set off the trigger.  I later found Chase staring at George's crate relentlessly.  I had to move it to another room.

The first week after, I returned to the vet's office and picked up a small box.  I couldn't speak.  I sat in the parking lot and cried.  I then placed the box in the passenger seat and took a slow drive around town with my former friend riding shotgun. He would have approved.

The first months after, the house was so quiet.  Sirens would sound and the three dogs wouldn't even blink.  The silence seemed so loud.  I would return home from work and remove four treats from the jar on the counter, remember and slowly put one back.  My hand naturally held four.  We folded one dog crate and stored it in the basement.  I still had his small pillow at the foot of our bed.  The material still smelled like him.

Ten months after, I heard Charlie start to howl from the deck.  He hadn't forgotten.  I looked at the Englishman and he said, "I was thinking of him, too".


Hobby Farm: A Daily Commitment

I love my little backyard farm and it has become part of my daily routine.  Before I leave for work each morning, I make the rounds with my three-pack in tow.  First I walk down the hill to the pond and check on Richard.  My beautiful male duck greets me with quacks, tail quivers and quick circles in the icy water.  He thinks he is a wild duck but I know better.  He still eats his food from a ceramic bowl.

Next, I trudge back up the hill, glancing at the bee hives.  It's still too early for any activity.  The chickens already spotted me on my way down to the pond and are cackling loudly, lined up by the gate and hoping for a treat.  Berries?  Apples?  Bananas?  If the fountain has iced over into a beautiful fairyland sculpture, I have complaining chickens trying to herd me to the corner to get me to fix their water source.  They watch me break up the frozen water with a small garden trowel and they gobble up the bits of ice that land on the ground.

Finally, I check on my newest duck members.  Two female rouen ducks and three drakes are settled in  the enclosed duck area with my tiny mallard call duck.  They aren't sure of me yet and hide behind Puddle Duck Pub, heads peaking around the corner to see if I am giving them food. 

A similar routine occurs each evening when I return home.  This time, I collect the eggs, too and watch the bees make their final landing into the hive.  It doesn't matter if it's too hot, too cold, raining, sleeting, windy, or stormy.  Keeping a hobby farm is a responsibility as well as a source of happiness and a stress reliever.

I currently am fighting bronchitis and the last thing I really want to do at 6:45 in the morning is my routine.  It's draining.  I'm so tired.  Breathing is a challenge.  So I start a little earlier and take my time.  This morning, I opened the top latch on the duck fence and then stooped down to pull up the latch on the bottom that fits tightly in place.  The spring that The Englishman recently installed to bring the door back into place, creaked open as I entered.  I let the door go too quickly and it slammed into place, startling my fine feathered friends.  I quickly filled the feeder with grain and turned to leave.  The door wouldn't budge.  The top was fine but with dread, I realized that the problem was with the bottom.  I was positive that the bolt had fallen back into place, locking me inside.  I quickly checked my pocket to make sure that I had brought my cell phone with me.  I did not want to call my husband back from the start of his commute because I had stupidly locked myself into the duck compound.  I looked around at his craftsmanship and knew I couldn't escape easily.  Before making the call, I gave the bottom of the gate a little tap with my garden clog.  Nothing.  I was impatient, sick and had six cackling ducks peering around their house at me.  I gave the bottom of the gate the hardest kick I could muster.  The gate slammed open and I quickly leaped out, my thin shawl billowing around me like a super hero cape.  I secured the gate and retreated up to the house swinging my empty bucket.  As I placed it outside the garage, I thought better of that and placed it on the floor of my car to take on my long commute to work.  After all…I still am sick!