July 26, 2022

10 Lesson From the Summer Garden

I'm not usually a "let's rush through summer and get to fall" kind of person like so many are. I want to revel in long days filled with swimming and gardening and trips to the beach and and all that good stuff. But this year, I'm pretty much over it.

My garden is not anything close to what I had planned, I've spent thousands of dollars and hours on the pool and have barely swam, and I'm supposed to go to the beach soon, but now that is up in the air due to what was an ongoing work problem. I thought I'd spend July planting a late late summer garden, but at some point in the last week, I just decided to move on. I'll aim for next year. Maybe I'll plant something of a fall garden. Any greens I could grow would save me a fortune on duck and chicken food, and I want to try some carrots, but other than that, I'm reluctantly wrapping up this gardening season.

All of that said, I don't consider this year a total loss, especially when it comes to the garden. Believe it or not, this is actually the first year in my life that I had all the space I wanted to do whatever I wanted with it, and got to plant as many different veggies and flowers as I did. And with that came many lessons that I will keep with me for the rest of my life and that will help do better next year and the next. Here are some of them:

Chickens and gardens don't mix

In the past, when I've had chickens, they've stayed out of the garden. I'm not sure how I got so lucky because this current flock I have is the most destructive crew around. I can't tell you how many times I've replanted sunflowers or had to pull up a broken stalk of corn or tomato plants because they destroyed the roots. That's actually probably the second-biggest reason why my garden is much smaller than anticipated. I did manage to get a fence made with some netting around my main garden area, but they still get into it, and it's next to impossible to mow around it. So, I plan to spend the winter putting up some fencing and creating chicken-proof beds so they'll just be ready for planting next spring.

Advanced planning is important

Aside from putting up fencing, I'm going to plan what I want to plant a little better instead of just ordering hundreds of dollars worth of seeds every time I see an advertisement for something that looks interesting. For example, I eat way more zucchini than I do tomatoes, and yet, I have a three gardens full of tomatoes this year and only two mounds of zucchini. I also want to plan where everything will go a little better, have trellies prepared, etc. I like to make trellises out of found items here, like bamboo and small tree trunks, and that takes some time. And I'd like to invest in a greenhouse or more grow lights, so I can start more seeds early.

Telling my dad where I planted things is also extremely important

Don't get me wrong — my dad is a HUGE help with my gardening and farming endeavors. He takes care of the chickens. He cuts the grass. He hills up my corn. He plants the extra tomatoes when I'm too busy, and they're overgrowing their pots. But if I don't specifically tell him I planted some seeds in a location multiple times and then put some sort of sign up, he'll stomp right through it, pile tools on top of it, or let the chickens dive right into it. In some cases, he'll chop fully grown plants right down for no reason. Just ask him what happened to my grandfather's rosemary and my mother's oregano. Then if you say something to him about it, he mumbles about how it's my fault for just planting random things in random places and how my mother and grandfather used to do that too, and I'm like but that's how this works. Sigh.

Growing from seed > buying starts at the nurseries

This is one area that I really consider a win for this year. We've always bought nursery tomato and peppers starts in my family. Over the last few years, I've experimented with starting them from seed, but with all my parents' health issues, I never got to see them through. This year was different. Almost all of my tomatoes and peppers were started from seed here by me and babied and coddled, and they're some of the healthiest plants I've ever seen. Well, the tomatoes are. The peppers have contracted some kind of bacterial issue, but that's beyond my control. Anyway, every single day I marvel at the idea that I was able to take a tiny seed and turn it into a huge plant that's as tall as I am and producing actual food. I do have a few pepper and tomato plants that I picked up at Lowe's, but they just aren't as good-looking as my little darlings. Oh, and marigolds! I have never in my entire life been able to keep marigolds alive, but this year I started them from seed rather than buying nursery starts, and they are the most vibrant and hardy flowers I've ever grown. I've got one that's over three feet tall.

Flowers are just as important as vegetables in the vegetable garden

And speaking of marigolds, I'm a huge believer in companion planting and peppering flowers in with your vegetables. I've felt strongly about that for a long time, but this year made me even more of a believer. I planted some marigolds and zinnias next to some of my tomatoes, and those plants are thriving. I truly believe the flowers have helped deter pest and attract pollinators. As a matter of fact, I was just sitting out giving the ducks a few minutes of free time when a hummingbird landed on my zinnias. They also really brighten up the place. Next year, I really want to create a cutting garden for flowers, but I'll also be sure to plant them among my veggies.

Regenerating soil is important

I won't get too deep into this one, but permacutlure and regenerative agriculture have become very important to me, and I think if others took these two topics more seriously, we wouldn't be worried as much about some of the environmental topics that we seem to be worried abuot, but I digress. I can only speak for my little slice of the world, and I can tell you that my parents and grandfather didn't take great care of their soil. We've all taken a bit of a break from gardening over the last few years, so some of it is coming back to life on its own, but I've been also been using compost and chicken and duck manure and trace minerals to help make that happen. Next year, I want to focus on some no-till areas to improve it even further. My major at UGA is agriscience, and I'm learning a lot about crop and soil health and sustainability, but I'd been studying the topic on my own for years. If you want to learn more or see a good example of how you can do agriculture right, check out White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia. I've been getting the majority of my beef from them for years and have become a big fan of their regenerative and humane farming practices. Plus, their food is soooo much better for you than regular old grocery store meat.

Don't be afraid to try something new

You can plant the same old stuff every year — and I grew up with a gardening family who did, at least in my lifetime — but I personally like to try new things. This year, it was cucamelons. They're trendly little fruits that look like tiny watermelons and supposedly taste like limes (I haven't had any to harvest just yet), and I really wanted to grow some last year for my mom and I to try. I never got to, but I did get some planted this year. I thought they'd grow a bit more like cucumbers, so next year, if I grow them, I won't dedicate such a large space to the plants. They also seem a bit slow to grow, so I will try to plant them earlier next year, but I just love the wow fact of trying new seeds and plants and being able to introduce those items to friends and family.

Take in everything you learn but do what works for you

I'm definitely a student when it comes to gardening. I read as much as I can. I have so many gardening books. I have learned so much at UGA over the last year. And I've learned so much from my parents and grandfather throughout my lifetime. I'm still learning from my dad. But I also bring some of my own ideas to the table, and my own gardening practices have becomea mix of all of those things combined. I guess what I'm saying is feel free to stick with tried and true methods, but don't be afraid to experiment as well. Even when you screw up, you learn something.

I can coexist with frogs

If you know me, you know I'm not a fan of frogs, but I've cultivated quite a little ecosystem within my little garden that I'm quite proud of. And yes, that means I've got a big lumpy toad and several tiny little frogs hanging out in there. I may scream when I encounter one (sorry, neighbors), but I let them be. I imagine they're partially responsible for the lack of pest problems I've had this year. I just have to be very careful when I pick up a rock.

When in doubt, go to the garden

Back in March or April, a difficult work situation came up, and unfortunately, it's been the number one reason why I didn't have my dream garden this year. It seems to have finally come to an end (with a bang, might I add), but by last week, I felt like someone had just repeatedly beaten me. I was in actual physical pain. I think Friday night, I crawled into bed and slept for 11 hours straight, and I woke up wondering if I could ever trust anyone again. In general, it's been a crappy month. I'm still dealing with the fact that I had to euthanize my little cat kind of unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago and missing her daily. Plus, this time last year, I was sending my mom off to the hospital, and I had no idea at the time she'd be there for weeks and never return, so that memory is kind of lingering in the air with these hot late July days. My point is that it's been a lot. And I've had to navigate it all without my number one supporter. I'm still learning to do that. I'm still learning how to plan my life around what I want and not what's best for my mom's health. All of that can be overwhelming.

But I have found that the best cure is going out to my little garden. It may be smaller than I expected, but there is life there. You can feel something there, whether it's the heat of the sun beating down on your back while you pull weeds or the pride in finding a new tomato that's popped up on your plants or the joy in watching the playground you've created for all of the butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and even frogs. It's a reminder that there's a world out there beyond your problems, and it's best to enjoy it rather than get caught up in nonsense. Nature is healing. It can be difficult too, but learning to take it all in as it comes can help you handle the other stuff life throws at you. It's been the cure for almost every bad day I've had lately.

July 14, 2022

On Lily

I'm not really sure where to start. The last week has kicked my ass. I mean, I could say the last year or two or four have kicked my ass, but I think it's all finally caught up with me. Let me start from the beginning.

I've never really been a cat person. I mean, I like them okay, but I don't want pets who require me to clean their toilets and refuse to have much to do with me. But about five and a half years ago, I'd just lost my beloved dog, Gabby. My mom had just started dialysis for kidney failure. My grandfather and uncle and my parents' dog had died in the year or two leading up to it. I'd moved back in with my parents. We all moved into my grandfather's house. It was a lot, and I just wanted something young and fun around the house, so I ended up adopting two kittens.

It took me a while to adopt these kittens. Every Saturday for a month or so, I'd go hang out at PetSmart and see what the rescue groups bought, but none of them ever really jumped out at me, and I wasn't even 100% committed to this task anyway. A couple of days before Christmas, I was actually out shopping with my mom when a rescue group posted a list of the kittens they'd have in the store that day. I was sitting in the car, waiting for my mom to finish up whatever she was doing, and that's when I saw the cat I wanted on the list. I ran back into the store and told her to hurry up because we were going to PetSmart. We had groceries that would ruin, but I didn't care. I had to have that cat.

We got to PetSmart, and the kitten I wanted wasn't there yet. So, we waited. And waited. And the lady who was running the adoptions kept calling the person who was supposed to bring her. I was determined that I would have this cat and no one else would. Finally, she showed up, and they took her out of her little carrier and handed her to me, and I was ready to take her home.

"You can't take her by herself," my mom said as I held onto this little kitten for dear life. And she was right. Because inside that little carrier from which they had pulled my cat was another, smaller, more fragile-looking kitten who was quite obviously scared to death and sad without her sister. And that's how I ended up with two cats: My Annie Cat that I just had to have from the moment I saw her on Facebook and the other one.

Little did I know that "the other one" would turn my world upside down.

I named them Annie and Lily. Annie for the Edgar Allan Poe poem "Annabel Lee" and Lily for one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts." Annie was going to be my baby, and I told my mom she could have Lily.

When I got the kittens home, they did some kind of personality reversal. Annie, who was so sweet and playful and outgoing in PetSmart, wouldn't let anyone come near her. She hid. She totally disappeared for days at a time. You'd think she was feral if you came to visit. Her only motivation is food. I don't call her Little Fat Annie Cat for nothing. And socks. Annie steals socks any chance she gets. It's some kind of weird fetish she has. I literally have to hide my good Nike socks from her or she will find them, and I'll wake up and find socks all over the house. On the other hand, Lily, who had tricked us into thinking she was so pitiful and lonely so that we'd take her home, was the life of the party.

Lily was the more dominant of the two, which I think had a lot to do with Annie's personality. She groomed her and took care of her and made sure she ate. She also ran up and attacked her from behind, leaving marks all over her, but that was Lily.

Lily loved everyone here: dog, cat, human. Duck. She wanted more attention than my dog does. She fetched. She sat when you told her. She seemed to understand every word you said. She greeted me every time I left and returned, whether it was to go grab something to eat or leave the country for a week. She was especially clingy when I would go out of town. She wanted to be with me 24/7, and when I was home, she was. Cleaning? Lily will help and then get into the empty box afterwards. Working? Lily was on my desk, chair, or shoulder watching me type. Cooking? She sat at the stove and begged for food that she would almost never eat. One time I left the kitchen for a few minutes and came back to find her on the counter throwing raw bacon down for Annie. Every time I laid in bed to read or watch TV, she joined me. When I woke up in the mornings, she'd come join me again if she hadn't slept with me that night, and we'd play. I got some nasty bite marks and scratches because it got pretty rough, but we both loved every single minute of it. If I so much as sneezed or sniffled, she'd run to me and start patting me with her paws or rubbing her head on my arm.

My point is that if I was home and in the house, Lily was right there with me 90% of the time. I can't lie and say it didn't annoy me at times, but she could read my moods and would back off when I asked her to. Most of the time. We just had that kind bond that I've really only ever had with one other pet, my late dog Gabby who I mentioned above.

It's been about 10 months since my mom died, and times have been tough since then. It seems like a lot of weird, unusual things have happened that have made my life a little more difficult, but even worse, I've had to navigate them without my main support system. My mom was my bestie. I consulted with her on everything, even if we were mad at each other and even when I didn't necessarily agree with her advice. Just having her around to talk through life's difficult moments is something that is hard to learn to live without.

That's not to say I don't have a support system now. My dad would do anything I asked him to. I have a few assorted friends and family members who have been great. But I have sought a lot of comfort in my animals over these past few months, particularly the ones in the house: Annie, Lily, and Sadie, my dog. Those three are my little dream team, even silly shy little Annie.

Last week, I was pretty stressed out for a number of reasons, so I probably didn't give any of them the attention they deserved. If I could go back in time…

On Thursday morning, I woke up, and Annie and Sadie were in my bedroom, but Lilly was missing. I called and called and called her, and she finally came up and drank some water and laid down by the water bowl I keep in there. This wasn't really like her, but I didn't think much of it at first. Lily has always been a little sickly. While Annie is robust and a little chunky, Lily has always been smaller. She gets cold easily. She has allergy issues. She had a little neurological thing. I've had to take her to the vet for issues with her eyes that she's had since birth and treat that on and off since I've had her. As a matter of fact, her eye looked pretty rough that day, so I just assumed her allergies had her down and treated it as such. I fed Annie some treats, and Lily ate a few, so I figure as long as she's eating and drinking, there isn't much to worry about. And later that day, she perked up. She was chasing some kind of flying bug that got into the house.

On Friday, she seemed a bit down again, so I went out and got her some meds and some brothy food, which I figured would help if she had a sore throat. I called my vet to make an appointment for her, but they couldn't see me until Tuesday. I called several other vets in every county north, south, and west of Atlanta. They couldn't see me until Tuesday. I asked Lily why she couldn't do this on a Monday rather than a holiday weekend. She did not respond.

On Saturday, she didn't seem any better or worse. I called a local emergency vet, and they seemed overwhelmed. They told me that as long as she was drinking water, not having trouble breathing, and not having seizures that she should be okay until Tuesday, but that didn't sit right with me. A friend of mine suggested another vet that is open 365 days a year, and I called and was thankfully able to get an appointment for Sunday afternoon.

By Saturday evening, I was a wreck. She seemed weaker, and she wasn't really eating. She was still drinking water, though, which felt like a good sign, but by now, I knew something was up. I got her into my bed that night and wrapped her in my soft robe, and we snuggled and watched TV for a few hours. I'm so grateful for that time.

At some point in the night, she got down from my bed. I slept terribly, but I had this intense dream that my mom appeared to me, and we were in this beautiful place that was lush with plants and flowers. I can't even describe it. My mom poured some cat food in a bowl, and Lily and this other cat I'd neer seen went to eat it, and they were so happy and healthy. I told her to let Annie get some too, but she told me it was not time for Annie.

I woke up in a panic. I just knew I'd find Lily dead somewhere. I looked all over the house and finally found her under my bed, alive and looking at me like I was disturbing her. She came out and drank some water and laid down outside my bedroom door. I tried to feed her again, but she wasn't having it, so we got ready and headed out to the vet.

The trip to the office was actually quite a drive because I didn't want to get on the expressway and for some reason, my GPS took me through a gazillion backroads. I prayed and prayed the entire way there. Lily meowed and tried to figure a way out of her carrier. She doesn't like car rides. I tried to pet her and talk to her and navigate the way, all while shaking with nerves that were absolutely shot. We got to the stripmall where the vet's office was supposed to be. I unloaded Lily who was in a heavy awkward large dog crate because my cat carrier is broken. It was 92 degrees. Parking was a mess because Atlanta. I finally got her up to the door, and it was locked. I asked someone next door where the vet's office was now, and they told me it had moved across the street. So, I loaded her back up, and it took about 15 minutes to get across the street because Atlanta, and I unloaded her again and took her into the new building.

She seemed okay, and I was still praying. She hissed at a dog who came and sniffed through her little windows, and she was still meowing. I got a tickle in my throat, which led to a five-minute coughing fit which probably led to everyone in the building thinking I had COVID. When they took us to a room, a tech came right in, and he looked just like Ben Folds with darker hair, and I felt like this had to be a good sign. It wasn't, but he was nice.

The vet came in, and she was also nice. They asked many questions. Went over their plans for testing her. Gave me some ideas of what could be wrong with her. They did an exam, drew some blood, etc. I kept praying and shaking and petting Lily and talking to her. In the back of my mind, I knew how this would end.

When the vet came back into the room, the look on her face was enough to confirm it. Lily was severely anemic. Like severely. She knew that before the test results even came back because she said she'd never seen blood so thin. We went over a million potential causes, but none of the testing revealed any of that. Her organs were working. No parasites. Negative for common cat diseases. I won't go into all the details, but we went around and around trying to come up with a solution, and as we did, Lily was fading. I kept scratching her under chin and behind her ears like she likes, and I do believe she enjoyed it. She purred and moved closer to me, but she also kept doing other things that weren't great signs, and her fear of being away from home had gone out the window. She didn't care who handled her or what they did to her. Honestly, the last couple of times I've seen that sort of behavior, I was watching my mother and a chicken die.

I had to make the decision as to whether or not I wanted to put her through emergency care. There was a big chance that she wouldn't even survive long enough to receive it. There was also a pretty big chance that the emergency care (blood transfusions, etc.) was more of a bandage than an actual solution. There was a small chance she'd get it and be fine, some sort of freak thing, but there was no way to know. And I'd like to say money didn't play a role, but I was already racking up quite a bill with all the testing, and we were talking thousands of dollars more just for the first night. Not that she's not worth it. There was just so much more to it than I can even type here.

A few friends and relatives checked in on me while the vet and tech were going back and forth delivering test results. She kept asking me if I wanted them to do this test and that and telling me how much each one cost. The vet never mentioned euthanizing, but I could tell it was on the tip of her tongue. She kept telling me that she was "very sick" and needed "lots of care." Now that I think about it, it reminded me a lot of my mom's last hospital stay, but this lady had a much better bedside manner than much of the ICU staff. Go figure.

I really didn't know what to do. I've never had to put an animal down before. As an adult, my pets have all died from old age. I did take a cat for my mom once, but I didn't even live with it and had no real attachment to it, so it wasn't the same. Anyway, my point is that it's just not a decision I've ever had to make. And it's not an easy decision to make. You have to weigh the vet's advice with your gut instinct and the probability of good and bad outcomes if you opt for the treatment and what the quality of life will be for that animal if they do survive the treatment and so on. I used to see death as a very black and white issue, but after all I went through with my mom and some of the issues I've had raising livestock, you start to learn there's a good bit of grey area.

And no matter what decision I came to, I felt like a failure. Lily was only 5 years old. She was supposed to be with me forever. I just assumed, took it for granted that she'd be one of those cats that lived to be 25 or something. I know in my heart that I did the right things for her in the end, but that "what if" game can mess with your head.

And this is where I realized that in the past, I could have called my mom. I could have asked her what to do. She'd tell me. I may not have followed her advice, but she'd help me see the situation more clearly. Even if I didn't make the right decision, she'd support me afterwards. We'd talk it through. We'd talk about Lily for days to come. We'd repeat ourselves, but it would bring comfort. She'd be just as emotionally involved with the situation as I was no matter what else was going on in her life. She knew me the way I knew Lily and knew what I would need to get through this difficult little period of life. My God, that's hard to live without.

So, at this point, I've been at the office for a couple of hours, and the vet came in and sat with me for a bit. She let me know they were closing soon and we needed to figure things out, but she wasn't pushy. She talked to me on a human level. I told her that I just didn't think I could go through with the emergency services for a number of reasons, and I laid them out and she didn't agree or disagree, just supported me. It wasn't anything close to what my mom would have done, but it was what I needed. I could have hugged that woman if I were a person who likes to hug people and we weren't post-pandemic and it had been a more appropriate situation.

"So, are you saying definitely that you want to euthanize her?" she asked finally using the word we'd both danced around for a bit. I told her I guess I did, and she alluded to the fact that she thought I was making the right decision given her expeirence with these types of situations. My dad also texted me and told me I was making the right decision.

And here is where I just lost it. I don't think I've cried in public since I was a toddler. I remember sitting at my grandmother's funeral and pinching my leg and threatening myself when I was on the verge. I barely cry in private, but I sat in that little room and just started bawling. Tears were flowing. Snot was flying. I was apologizing to poor Lily who had no idea what was going on. I kept telling the vet I don't even cry and my mom had just died and she was anemic too and I didn't know what's wrong with me. She probably thought I was crazy as she tried to discuss postmortem options — burial, cremation, etc. — and the Ben Folds-looking guy brought me a box of tissues. I guess I was crying for Lily, but I was crying for my mom and myself too. I was crying because I had to make that decision alone. I was crying because of every bad thing that has happened over the last year. I was crying over work, which has been awful lately. I was crying because I've been so overwhelmed over the last few months. I cried for all of it.

Ben Folds told me I could stay with her as long as I needed before they did the deed, but I told him to go ahead and do it. I'd been sitting there petting her and saying "Oh, Lily," for a few hours now and I didn't see the point of prolonging anything. I know they wanted to get home. It was well past closing time, and nothing was going to change if I sat there for 20 or 30 more minutes. The vet asked me if I wanted to be with her when it happened, and I really wasn't sure about that. I've watched animals die. It wasn't that.

If she had been visibly upset, I would have gone with her. But she was barely awake. And if she became more animated right before they did it, I probably would have second-guessed myself. And I was so tired. I didn't even want to get up off the little bench to go home. Part of me wanted to curl up and sleep there, and part of me wanted to get the hell out and never look back. And then the vet told me a very good story about something that happened to her as a teenager that made me decide not to watch. So, they explained what they would do, step by step, and took her back, and she was so sleepy and out of it anyway that she didn't even care. Ben Folds kept her wrapped in her little blanket I'd brought, and I sat and waited and texted with my dad and a few other people to let them know what was going on.

After it was all over, I loaded up my car with the carrier and Lily, who they were kind enough to put into a box for me, still wrapped in her blanket that she loved. She looked so peaceful. I decided to take the expressway home, and traffic was minimal. I brought her inside, and let Annie and Sadie sniff her to know she was gone. Annie even climbed in the box with her. Afterwards, she went from room to room, looking for her, and then she came back and sniffed the box again as if she had decided that it was true and she was saying goodbye. I also cut a few locks of Lily's hair, which sounds creepy to type out. About that time, my dad texted me and told me he had the grave ready. Looking back, I kind of wish I'd had her cremated as I usually do with my dogs, but it's too late now. We buried her in our pet graveyard where all my childhood dogs and a few other assorted animals are buried. That night and the next day, I really didn't know what to do with myself. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I was exhausted and starving though. It was the 4th of July but I could have cared less about any of it. I'm pretty sure I spent most of that day sitting on the sofa, watching King of the Hill and going through some of my mom's craft supplies.

It's been a week now since Lily first began showing signs of something being wrong. I'm not ashamed to rank it as one of the worst weeks of my life. I still feel like I've been hit by a truck. I'm devastated. I miss her. I still can't process how quickly it all happened. I still can't process the decision I had to make. I know people make it every day, but it was a first for me. In many ways. And it will probably take me a while to get over it.

But at the same time, it might have been the kick in the pants I needed to make some changes. To quit putting things off. Live in the moment. I can't go into much detail here because some of it is work-related, but I really feel like there are some big changes ahead. They might not be easy, but they should be worth it. And Lily taught me that you can't take life for granted. If I could go back to last Tuesday and let her climb all over me while I watched Jeopardy that evening instead of telling her I wasn't feeling it, I would.

I know what you're thinking. All of this over a cat. And a few years ago, I'd be right there with you. But Lily wasn't just a cat. She was my little buddy. We were in sync in a way that's rare. I bond with all my animals, but this was just different. I can't explain it. I had it with my dog Gabby, and I had it with Lily, and if I'm lucky enough, I'll have it again one day. Someone told me recently that they don't have pets because they couldn't deal with losing them. I told her she was right; it will shatter your world and make you question your existence and whether life is worth living. But it's worth it and you just pick up and do it all over again.

I will probably adopt another kitten soon. Most likely after some traveling I'm doing in a few weeks. Honestly, I'm getting it more for Annie to have a companion than I am for myself, but it will be nice to have something young and fun around the house again.

*Note: I wrote this last week on July 7, 2022.

June 01, 2022

A Tale of Two Roosters

The last year has been a bit of a learning curve for me for multiple reasons, and one thing I learned a lot about is roosters. And one thing I learned about roosters is that they can be quite stressful, but you can also love them anyway.

So, last July, I ordered 20 female chicks from a hatchery. I opted in for a "bonus exotic breed," not knowing that they were almost always roosters. But I figured it woudln't be so bad to have one rooster. What I ended up with was a box of 22 chicks, four of whom ended up being males. Two of them I knew were boys from the moment I got them, so how the hatchery made this mistake, I don't know. I don't know how any of that works. Anyway, a couple of weeks after I got the chicks, my mom went into the hospital where she spent nearly a month and never came home, so I was trying to take care of these chicks while dealing with all of that. I do remember telling my mom that I thought I had three roosters — it was one of the last conversations she and I had — and she said "uh-oh, you better hope not." Oh, how right she was.

My initial plan was to keep them all in the flock, but after a couple of months, it became abundantly clear that four boys with 18 girls wasn't going to work. So, I decided I would build a "bachelor pad" for my two more assertive roosters. Well, that didn't work either because the last thing I had time to do was build something. It took me forever to get those chickens outside in the first place. And one of the two boys I planed to separate actually tried to fight with my dog one day. She's 12 years old. She would never hurt a fly. I'll put up with a lot of things from animals but not that. Luckily, I was able to re-home those guys.

That left me with Rudy and Leppo. Rudy was a giant Cochin who was supposed to be a hen, and the only reason I knew he was a rooster was his size and markings. He didn't crow for a long time and was actually like a big teddy bear. Leppo was a little Hamburg who was super nervous and anxious and a little weird, but he and I bonded early on because he was the first one to figure out how to get out of the brooder.

After I rehomed the other two boys, things were pretty peaceful for about a month. But one day my dad was out with the chickens while I was working, and I heard a horrible noise. He later told me that Leppo had attacked Rudy. Over the next few weeks, it happened a couple of more times. Rudy was five times Leppo's size, but he didn't really fight back. One day, I intervened by removing Leppo from the flock for a short period of time, and when I let him back in, Rudy started attacking him. And when I say "attack," I don't mean anything terrible, just some pushing and shoving and hurt feelings. I would have intervened otherwise.

But it got to the point that I wasn't comfortable having them both with the flock. I actually think they injured one of my hens earlier this year, which led to her death. They also seemed to be in competition for mating — I watched Leppo hop on the same girl nine times in half an hour. So, right after that, I ordered one of those awful little prefab chicken coops, and that became Leppo's new home. He hated it initially, but I didn't know what else to do.

And then Rudy became a bit on the aggressive side with my dad. I've heard terrible stories about mean roosters, and he was nothing like that at all, but my dad walks around with a bamboo walking stick sometimes outside, and Rudy would attack it. I researched how to stop this behavior, and my dad "felt bad for him" and wouldn't do it. That really made me uncomfortale. The last thing I wanted was to have to watch my back every time I'm outside. He was also pretty rough with the girls. He wasn't as wild as Leppo, but he'd stand on their backs for a long time after mating, was ripping their feathers out, and grabbing them by the necks and swinging them around. Rudy made me realize that I am not a rooster person.

After talking it over with some friends and some kind people with more experience, I decided Rudy had to go. I couldn't have him attacking my dad or mistreating my hens. I didn't want him attacking anyone else who visited either. I placed ads online. Spread the word among people I know. Contacted farms and rescues. In the end, I actually found some great options for him. One would have been a better life for him than I ever could have given him for sure. But I couldn't do it. I could not get rid of him. All I could think about was how terrible it would be drive him up to the mountains and abandon him (at this really great place). Would they buy his him favorite sunflower seeds? Would they call him by his name that he knew really well? Would he miss us?

I made a donation to the place that was willing to take him, and thanked them and told them I had decided to keep him. Plus, I know roosters are treated so horribly and abandonded, and these people are so kind to take them in that I didn't want to use up their resouces. If all of these animal rescues and charities can keep unwanted roosters on hand, I could too.

First, that meant that I had to stop being afraid of him. I'll admit it. He scared me a little bit. I don't like animals that make sudden movements (see: frogs). So, while he never really tried to attack me, I decided I was going to show him I was dominant. I started chasing him every day. If he even looked at me funny or crowed in my driection, I'd run after him for 20 minutes with a shovel in hand until we both got tired. I also started squirting him lightly with a water hose when he'd do things I didn't like, like get too close to me, try to fight with Leppo through his cage, or mistreat one of the hens. Some people do terrible things to assert their dominance over a jerk of a rooster, so don't come at me saying any of this sounds cruel. It actually worked. I became less scared of him, and he learened to respect me when I was in his space. I learned a great deal about roosters through all of this.

But even though we'd learend to live with each other, Rudy was still super rough on the girls. Some of it was just his immaturity, and some of it was his size. My cousin came over one day and saw him and said, "That's the biggest chicken I've ever seen." He'd never fit in a pre-fab coop like Leppo, so I bought a larger dog kennel for him. It took me a while to get it set up, and then my dad was nice enough to cover it in hardware cloth to keep predators and Leppo out. Once we were done, I moved him to it. He actually seemed to like it. I think Rudy was never meant to be the head of a flock. He seemed overwhelmed all the time, and when we had issues with hawks earlier this year, he would run and hide, but Leppo would try to fight them. Long story a little shorter, Rudy actually seemed to enjoy his bachelorhood. Some roosters are fine being on their own, and some aren't.

We got Rudy moved on a weekend, and by the end of that week, I was prepared to start letting him out for free time. As a matter of fact, that Thursday night, I told my dad I'd let him out the next day for a few hours. Later that night, around midnight, I was watching TV, and I thought I heard something, but between the TV and the air conditioning and all my fans, I coudln't be sure and didn't think anything of it. The next morning, my dad called and told me he'd gone to let the hens out of their house, and Rudy was dead.

I felt awful. Guilty. I immediately figured out how a predactor got into the dog kennel, a place with some give that I had missed. I failed that poor boy. Based on the way we found his body, I was fairly certain it was a raccoon. Later in the week, a neighbor had spotted a raccoon on her porch, and another night, I'd taken my dog out around 1 a.m. and heard one in the woods, which adds to the idea that this is what it was. My dad and I both mourned that poor boy. My dad buried him and cleaned up the mess in the scorching heat since I had to work and was also treating a duck injury. It was a dark day around here.

We decided to let Leppo out with the girls that evening to see how he did. If he was okay, we'd move him back into the big house with them. I feel like they're pretty safe in there unless raccoons know how to use keys. But Leppo was a litle overzealous with the girls, and he actually wanted to go back into his little coop at the end of the day. So, we let him. And we spent a good hour or so trying to make sure nothing could get into it. I drilled doors shut. We stacked cement blocks in front of the doors we couldn't drill. I felt condident he was safe.

After I got over the sadness of losing Rudy, I felt a little better about the situation. Leppo is very sweet. He has never tried to attack any humans. As a matter of fact, if he was out of his pen and I came outside, he'd run across the yard to greet me. He was great at alerting the girls to predators. I often let him out with the ducks, and my drakes would go run him off, but he never tried to fight back. He was good with my dog. If he didn't literally fly and land on a hen or try to mate with them backwards, he would have been perfect. My plan was to slowly reintegrate him with the girls. I was hoping after he got to be a year old and we made it through mating season and chicken puberty, he might calm down a little bit.

But I would never get that chance. A few days ago, about a week and a half after Rudy, I was sound asleep, and my phone rang. It was my dad. Nothing good comes from my dad calling me and waking me up early in the morning. The last time he did it was when Rudy died, and the time before that was when the hospital had called him and told him we needed to get up there with my mom. Well, there was another time when he thought someone had stolen my car, but I'd just parked it in a different place. Anyway, he told me something had gotten Leppo.

We went over every inch of his coop and couldn't figure out how or what did it. We finally decided it had to be a human because whatever else it was would have had to move cement blocks and then move them back. And we're still not 100% sure, but I've decided it must have been a raccoon. The same raccoon probably. You see, they can reach their arms in and do bad things. Leppo hadn't been eaten at like Rudy, but he was decapitated. Raccoons are known to snap a chicken's head off. And since he hadn't been eaten at, it leads me to believe the creature couldn't get into the pen with him. On the back of the coop, there's a built-in nesting box, and Leppo actually slept in it rather than on the roost. I'd drilled the top down with four screws, but it's entirely possible that it was pried up enough for a little raccoon arm to reach in and grab him. That wood is cheap.

I hate it. If I'm being honest, I miss those boys, especially Leppo. I stil don't think I'm a rooster person, and taking care of my girls on their own is so much less stressful. Those boys cost me so much time, money, and anxiety over the last seven or eight months. But I have no regrets. They taught me so much about roosters and nature and farm life and even life in general. If I do ever end up with another one... or two or four, I feel more confident handling the situation. For now, I'm good with just my girls and my ducks though.

April 12, 2022

(College) Life Ain't Easy

If I'm being totally honest, I've never been a great student. I get bored. I'm a little lazy. I learned early on that I could do enough to get by and make great grades and get into good colleges without putting in much effort. But since I've been back at UGA over the last 10 months, I've been trying to do better. I'm actually studying topics that interest me now, and, well, when you're paying thousands of dollars a semester yourself, you want to try to get something out of it.

The first semester I was doing pretty well until my mom ended up in the ICU for nearly a month and never left the hospital. I had an A in the class, but I missed a project, so that took me down to a B. I think I did pretty well during the fall semester, especially considering my super-heavy workload. I made an A and a B in my two classes. This spring semester, I'm taking two classes that are pretty interesting but also pretty light. No exams or anything like that, which is good because my brain has been fried for the last month or two. But I knew that towards the end of the semester, I'd have to read a book, watch a documentary about the author of the book, and write three short essays on it. No big deal. I like to read. The book is one I've wanted to read anyway. I can churn out six pages of essays pretty quickly.

The closer to the due date we came, the less enthusiastic I became. A week out, I had read exactly one chapter of the book. My first inclination was to phone it in. Revert back to those high school days when I'd rather drive all over Atlanta to find the video version of a book I had to read for English rather than actually read the book. I had so much other stuff to do. But sometime during the last week, something clicked inside me, and I decided to give it my all.

I carried that book everywhere and read while I sat out with the chickens in the evenings. Eventually, I downloaded the audio version and played it while I worked. I did extra research. I made notes. I underlined the parts I liked. The essays were due this last Sunday, and I stayed up late Saturday night watching the documentary. I actually tried instead of taking the easy way out.

On Sunday, after I did all of my animal chores, I came inside and began writing. I spent most of the day writing those essays, combing through the book, organizing my notes, and re-reading it over and over again to ensure every word was perfect. By the time I finished, it was late afternoon, and I was pretty darn proud of myself. Six pages of what was probably the best essay I'd ever written for school at any age. I read it all over once more, and was in a hurry to get it submitted, both because I was excited about the work I'd put in and because I was anxious to get outside and do some things before it got dark. I saved it. Twice. I converted it to a PDF as my professor requested. I went to the class site to upload it...

It wasn't there.

At first I thought nothing of it. I probably just didn't notice where I'd saved it to. But the more places I looked, the sicker I felt. I tend to work in Google Docs these days and haven't even used Word in years, so I thought maybe there was something I was missing. A few hours of searching, lots of advice from more tech-oriented friends, and plenty of nausea later, I realized that the file had just disappeared when I converted it to a PDF. A friend of mine told me she has that problem when creating PDFs sometimes. The thing is I didn't back it up. I was so proud of all the work I'd done and anxious to get it submitted that I didn't even think about it.

I spent the rest of the night ready to give up on pretty much everything. Honestly, I had to meet with my advisor a couple of weeks ago, and I left the meeting feeling kind of down about the whole college situation. It wasn't especially bad — just awkward. I'm not there to get a job. I'm not there to get a degeree in a hurry. I just want to do this at my pace and have fun with it, and I left that meeting feeling like that's not acceptable. I thought about everything from changing my major to English to quitting completely, but I got over it. This little disappearing essay situation didn't help though.

Despite my frustration, I got up early yesterday and worked for a few hours, did my animal chores, and sat down to rewrite everything. Again, it took most of the day. I'm not sure the second version was as good as the first, but I tried my best, and I saved it all in four different places before converting it to a PDF, which was successful this time. Thankfully, my professor was nice enough to give me an extension.

There are only a couple of weeks left in this semester, and they should be pretty easy. This summer, I'm signed up for two classes, but one of them is precalculus, and I'm thinking about cutting it down to one because, well, one is precalculus. Apparently, the math class I took back in the day isn't acceptable for my degree choice. I'm not sure what I'll do in the fall. I've been doing most everything online so far, and I know I'll have to start attending classes in person soon. There's also the issue that my work is kind of frustrating right now. I've cut back, but I'm thinkig about cutting back even more this summer to start working on some personal writing projects. There's a lot to consider, but I've decided to stop trying to plan ahead and just go with the flow. That's the best I can do for now.

January 26, 2022

Oh, Butters

Despite having a ton of stuff to do today, I decided to go run errands instead. I really don't get out a lot lately, so when I'm in the mood, I figure I better take advantage of it, even if it's just to go buy chicken feed and toilet cleaner. Anyway, before I left, I put the ducks up and let the chickens out — a little early but that's our normal routine. My dad and I both check on them when they're out, and sometimes, we'll sit out and read or do yardwork.

So, about an hour and a half after I'd left, I had this weird feeling about the chickens and predators. It could have been the general anxiety I have about everything, or it could have been a premonition, who knows, but a few minutes later my dad called and said "Well, Butters is dead."

Oh, Butters. Let me tell you about Butters.

Back when I ordered my chicks from the hatchery, my mom said, "Why don't get some of those little ones with the feathers on their head? I love those." Polishes. She followed some people on Instagram and YouTube who had farms and raised them and just loved them. So, I did. Because at that time I was in the mode to do whatever I could to bring her a little bit of joy.

If you've never seen a Polish chicken, they're tiny little things with a big poof of feathers on top of their heads. They can't see to save their lives. I ordered a white one and a black one, but they were out of black ones, so they sent me two golden-laced ones instead. They were the color of peanut butter when they arrived, and before I had names for anyone, I would call them the Peanut Butters. Fast forward, and that's what I ended up naming them: Peanut and Butters. I also chose Butters because of the South Park character. Their personalities aligned.

So, my mom ended up with three Polish chicks that she never really got to enjoy, which means I ended up with three Polish chicks. After dealing with my mom's lengthy hospital stay and death, my dad helped me finally move all the chicks outside in September, and I noticed right away that something wasn't right with Butters. She laid down a lot, even to eat. She had absolutely no tail feathers. She stayed hovereing in a corner most of the time. The next day, I saw another chicken go after her and then I saw bloody spots, so I brought her back in the house.

Butters spent a couple of nights on the porch to rest and cover. I doctored her up with some stuff to prevent infection and gave her lots of protein. She perked up a bit and seemed really lonely, so we decided to take her back out and see how she'd do with the others. I sprayed some some stuff on her that will help keep the others from pecking at her, and I trimmed the feathers on her head, hoping it'd help her see a little better.

She was so happy to be back with the flock, and she required a little extra help in the weeks after that, but she really started to flourish after a while. Maybe a little too much. Butters became quite feisty and confident. If anyone pecked her, she pecked them right back. Her tail feathers grew back, and soon, she was bigger than Peanut who is kind of a weirdo too. Even so, she still seemed to have something not quite right going on with her. At first, we thought maybe she was actually blind, but then we started researching and decided it was possibly some kind of neurological thing. Either way, she was thriving, despite her disabilities, and everyone stopped picking on her for the most part.

Butters was hesitant when I first started letting them out for free-range time. While everyone else roamed, she stuck close to the coop and run. To be honest, for a while, I debated keeping the Polishes in their own coop. They're not super compatible with free-range time because something can sneak up on them oh so easily. Even trimming their head feathers didn't do much to help with their sight. But I also made up my mind a few years ago when I first had chickens that I'd rather them have short happy lives than spend years cooped up, literally, in a cage. I'll do everything I can for them and anything that I believe is in their best interest, but at the end of the day, God and nature will decide. I did a ton of researching and soul searching, and this is just how I feel about the circle of the life. I think if you ever want to invest your money, time, or heart into livestock, unless you just want to keep a couple as little pets, it's important to decide what mentality about death you're willing to develop because it's an unavoidable part of it... but that's a post for another day.

Back around the end of November, my two roosters got into a bit of a squirmisth. Again, this is another post for another day, but this left my big guy, Rudy, a bit beat up and with some hurt feelings. He sat and moped under their coop for a couple of days, and Butters stayed by his side. For about a week, she followed him everywhere he went. Until recently, Rudy had been one of the lowest on the pecking order, even though he's a guy and easily two to three times as big as the rest of the chickens, and I think Butters understood that and knew he needed a friend. Then again, Butters loves having friends. Anytime she spotted one of the other chickens sprawled out in the sun, she'd run over and plop down beside them. She was just a social little lady who wanted to belong so badly.

Well, over the last week or two, Butters has become quite adventurous. She has a tendency to wander off on her own, but the other two Polishes do that too. I kind of think they don't realize they're doing it. Anyway, we did so much to help her build her confidence, and maybe we did a little too much because she thought she was invincible. Last night, she was halfway into the woods, and I told my dad as went over to herd her back, "That girl isn't long for this world."

I had no idea just how right I was. We're not entirely sure what happened, but it was most likely a hawk or an owl. I've never lost a chicken to an aerial predator. Foxes and coyotes, yes, but the local hawks have never been successful. What seems unusual is that only one of my other chickens seemed scared or acted like she knew something was amiss. We actually thought it had gotten her too until we found her hiding somewhere. The others were all business as usual, even my two roosters who are actually really great at keeping an eye out for predators. But, like I said, Butters liked to wander off by herself, and the boys and the other girls were probably off somewhere else when it happened.

My poor dad is having a hard time with it. Mr. "I don't care anything about farm animals" has become quite the farmhand over the last few months. With my mom gone, him retired and recovered from his health issues, COVID sticking around, and me working so much, he has taken over many of my animal duties. And Butters was his favorite little feathered friend. My chickens aren't crazy about being handled, but he had Butters trained so that he could just pick her up and hold her without much a fuss. He buried her, and I'm pretty sure he didn't eat supper tonight. I told him that my mom had wanted these Polish chickens, so maybe she's finally getting to spend time with one of them now.

So, that's the story of Butters — the mightly little chicken whose 7 months on this planet made quite an impression on my family. We'll probably cut out free range time for a little while, and when they do go back out, it will be mostly supervised. After this weekend, the weather is supposed to warm up a bit, it's about time for fox and coyote mating season, and that hawk or whatever it was will likely return. We'll figure out our balance again and move on. That's just what you have to do.

RIP, sweet Butters.

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