Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Thirty One

It was well past dark when I walked back to the farmhouse, flashlight in one hand and a trio of chickens in the other. I had the last three surviving American Bresse inverted in my left hand my fingers between their feet like scaly chopsticks. I had come to a decision as night fell on the farm; they would be spending the night inside with me and the dogs. I had a woman driving two and a half hours to pick them up the next morning and I was not going to disappoint her. I came inside with the silent trio and placed them in the dog crate in the living room. Annie was sitting in front of the fan and didn't even attempt to snatch them. She's dealing with heat and a big hotspot on her face that makes her look like an extra in the Walking Dead. I am medicating it but it doesn't look good. She sniffed at the dog crate a while and then went back to the fan. A half-decade of chickens can really take the drive out of an old dog. Air at high speeds was far more interesting.

I was worried Annie might feel a little more vigorous later in the night, or the cats might start moonlighting as part-time chicken terrorists so I made up the daybed in the living room with sheets and some pillows, turned on the Fellowship of the Ring on DVD, and decided to have a living room chicken sleepover. I fell asleep to the sounds of cooing and woke up to the scents of chickens living in a cage for 8 hours….

Happy Birthday!

Yes, today I turned 31. I woke up to the smell of chicken poo and dog slobber. Outside, in the morning rain, my present was waiting for me in a cage by the chicken coop. A raccoon stuck in a havahart trap. You know, the kind of special something every woman dreams of waking up to some day... This was probably the critter who killed 24+ of my poultry over the past few weeks. Most likely he and his friends had been feasting live thieves of the worst sort. Hundreds of dollars of imported European rare breed heritage fowl down his stinking maw. I went inside to get the .22 and loaded it as I walked back to the cage. I took a long breath, aimed it right at his brown-eyed sad looking face, and put my finger to the trigger.

I couldn't do it. I know it was foolish, but I couldn't. I threw the trap in the back of the truck, drove away from the farm and released him. I didn't want to start my birthday shooting an animal, and certainly not a caged one. It's one thing to take a shot at a free fox leaping through the forest with a chicken in his teeth but a coon in a cage might be the saddest looking animal in the world. I am a chump.

The rest of the day went smoothly. The Bresse were picked up by a cheery and kind looking woman who took them home to New hampshire. I went to work at my part time job in Manchester, teaching a group of people from a corporation in a team-building event how to shoot recurves at 10-yard targets. A mighty thunderstorm came through the valley and I got caught in it. I hid from the worst of it in a Mews/weathering area outside the main barn and office at the Falconry School. I watched the rain come into the world in waves, beautiful and angry. To hear thunder on my birthday is always a gift. Before I left my boss Rob asked me, just politely, "So what are you doing tonight for your birthday!" I told him I didn't have any plans, and you could hear a pin drop in that room. "So you're going to be alone?" a coworker asked. I said yes, not thinking being home alone on a weeknight that odd, but I guess it sounded kind of pathetic. If I wanted to run over to Mark and Patty's or set up a dinner with friends in Saratoga or here at the farm it could have happened. I avoided it though. This birthday is a hard one, and I'm not exactly sure why. I didn't want to celebrate. I just wanted to take care of things and be needed. I wanted my farm. I wanted the goats asking for dinner, Merlin's big whinny for hay. I wanted to saddle him and run up the mountain. I wanted to hug Gibson and ask him for the ten thousandth time if he was getting all the love he needed? That's what I wanted: Cold Antler. For better or for worse I didn't want to think about the people who are supposed to spend birthdays, our selfish little holidays with us, people like spouses, boyfriends, or family. Those are not things I have up I here. So I wanted what I did have, these 6.5 acres and the work that comes with it. All anyone wants in this life is to matter to the people she cares about. And I didn't realize how much I mattered until I got home...

I returned home to Annie, looking sadder and sorer than ever. What had been just red marks and falling out hair had turned to scabs and pus in a few hours. These hot spots were beyond my home-care routine of washing and creams. I called the vet (a mile from my house) and asked if we could come down. They squeezed us right in and I spent my birthday evening with a sedated, overweight, siberian husky in a dark room. I was to pet her until she zonked out so they could shave her sore body down and treat her wounds. For two hours they took care of her and I helped. I went home with a pile of meds and instructions and a drunk dog. I had totally missed evening chores and went about the work of them. I'm inside now. Annie is asleep. I still have office work to do and some other odds and ends but the day is old now and mostly behind me. Early start tomorrow, around 4:30 to get extra work done before my editor arrives to talk about the next book.

Here I am. Thirty One. I just want to matter.