Saturday, January 27, 2007

Thanks to our fair feathered friends

This weekend we found out what mistakes cost. We’ve been in our house 14 months; we’ve had livestock, chickens, about 10. The girls are my boy’s project, although I do my best to support him – he never complains about letting them out or putting them in, but I do seem to be the memory bank in the family. Only, this Saturday, Mark had a big engagement and everyone was all aflutter and somehow we missed closing the door to the chicken coop. It’s never happened before. We’ve had near misses, where the door slammed shut and by the time we got out there, the chickens had roosted hither and yon and one or two just couldn’t be found. But we were always lucky.

Not this time.

This time, we failed to protect those we’ve promised to protect and a life was wasted. Some would wonder at such care about such a replaceable life, but the loss of our first hen has been a tough lesson for us all. We all knew it would happen one day, of course. You don’t keep free range chickens, running all about the place, without some inkling that loss will be a part of the picture. But, you hope, and expect, that yourself will play no role in their death.

We forgot. The first time in something like 300 days, but the fact is, we forgot. We forgot and poor Feather paid with her life. The implications exhaust me. Her feathers are strewn about, in clumps, all over the farm. It is impossible to piece together her last moments. I thought the raccoon went this way with her, but then found a new clump of feathers and now I’m not sure. Did she die right away? Did she struggle much? Did she feed a family or just a bachelor? Will that family now look to our farm as their local restaurant? I can’t bear the thought of losing them all – they have become so much a part of me, of us. But, I can’t bear to cage them in either. Do I instead take aim at the raccoons? And what would that look like?

Raccoons are somewhat protected, by city folk who still view them as cartoon characters and lovable ambassadors to the wildlife world. But, on an island like Vashon, raccoons and deer flourish, and they flourish on the bounty of small family farms in the absence of any predators whatsoever. In theory, I love raccoons too. But, I also understand that they have overpopulated many areas and once they find a convenient food source, like my chickens, no end of troubles ensues.

So, I wonder. What to do. I can’t abide a family of raccoons hanging about waiting for my next slip in conscientiousness. I can’t live like that. So that means either caging my birds or taking action with their predators.

Our stopggp measure is asking Jessie to spend the night outdoors. He’s good at this. Once before, and again last night, he was vigilant against the onslaught of raccoons, chasing them away again and again impressively. He may be dumb as a post in many ways, and possess more than a few fiercely frustrating traits, but his insistence on protecting this farm and all its inhabitants is nothing short of awe inspiring. I’ve never formally asked him to, and yet he has taken on this charge with a seriousness that is unusual in our modern world. He just knows. He knows this is what he can give us, and so he does. I lie awake these nights, last night, and hear him charge, over and over, off into the woods, his “raccoon bark” on full tilt.

I never knew he had different barks until the first time we found raccoons under our porch. I put Jessie out overnight and listened. It was nothing like the bark he used to announce and terrify visitors. It was something different entirely. He was deadly serious and all propulsion. It was actually then that I realized that awful bark that scared so many people was just show. THIS was his “real” bark. And it was truly frightening.

So. I am sorry Feathers. I am sorry we didn’t protect you when it was our obligation to do so. I am sorry that you felt safe and yet went unprotected. I am sorry that our life intruded and your life was the cost. I hope it means something to say that losing your life has taught me that taking the everyday as routine is a dangerous and tragic mistake. Thank you for being a part of our life and I promise to honor your sacrifice with increased vigilance and new life here at Stop Sign Farms. Your life will not have been lost in vain.