Monday, August 29, 2016

Rooster Mystery Solved

Last evening, Brett and I were invited to join some neighbors, who live on the dirt road behind us, for pizza.  On our way there, we came upon a large pick-up truck parked to the side of the road and two people chasing after the roosters.  We immediately recognized one of them as the daughter of a neighbor who lives in the area, although not on the dirt road.  As she snagged one of the roosters and carried him to the back-seat of the truck, the man introduced himself as the boyfriend of the girl's mother.

He said that since the girlfriend has a lot of property, she decided to rescue the roosters and let them roam around her place.  I wasn't surprised.  This neighbor and her daughter have been very involved with animal rescue in our community.  They are good people.

As the tail end of a chicken disappeared into the blackberry bushes, the boyfriend grimaced.  "We've got both roosters, that was a hen we brought along to help us catch them."

"Good idea," I said.  "And good luck getting that hen out of the bushes."

We thanked them for taking the roosters and drove on to our pizza gathering.

There we learned that the people living in a small, log rental cabin on the road were moving out.  They had 19 hens and three roosters.  They found someone to take the hens, but no takers for the roosters -- so they just turned them loose.  It explained why we saw one rooster for a day, before it was joined by the second.  I'm guessing the third rooster became coyote food.  No one has seen (or heard) him.

All the residents of the dirt road are happy to see this couple go.  They moved in, with their aggressive dog, less than a year ago.  They blacked out all the windows, and then a steady stream of cars -- driving far too fast -- started driving up and down the road.  Sometimes the cars raced up during the day, and sometimes at night.  They never stayed more than ten minutes.  Neighbors told us that cars driving up in the wee hours of the morning would pull up to the house, blink their lights, execute some sort of transaction, and then drive off again.  In the past two months, sheriff deputies have been at the cabin numerous times.

So, we are glad to see them go and we're happy their roosters (or two of them, anyway) found a home.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Drive-By Roosters

Friday, as I drove home from work, one of our neighbors sent me a text.
"There is a rooster loose on the trail.  R u missing 1?  R (husband) is out there now trying to wrangle it lol."
I told her that I would check our pen as soon as I got home.

Both of our roosters were safe in the pen, as I had expected.  I sent her a text back but her husband was already on his way over, with the rooster sitting on the front seat floor next to a plate full of bird seed.

He rolled down his car window and we told him that we 1) didn't want another rooster and 2) our roosters were taking their job of guarding our baby chick very seriously and would most likely try to kill this guy if we put him in our pen.  Our neighbor sighed, and drove back out the gate.  A few minutes later, we heard the rooster crowing out on the dirt road, so we knew he had been released close to where he had been caught.
If you look closely, you can see our pasture fence through the trees on the other side of the blackberry bushes.

Over the course of the evening, we got calls from other neighbors asking if the rooster was ours.  We heard it crowing during the night and in the morning, he slipped through our front gate and started walking up the driveway.  He was a young Rhode Island Red, beautiful, and not at all aggressive.  I told Brett that I was fine with it being on the property -- but he would need to stay outside the chicken pen.

Kersey, who was at our feet as we stood on the front porch, saw the rooster coming up the driveway.  She launched herself across the dry grass, barking and barreling towards it at high speed.  The rooster turned and ran back to the front gate.  Kersey watched it go, then turned and came back to the porch.  She is fine with our chickens but apparently this rooster fell into the same category as the cats who make the mistake of hopping our fence.

This morning, I learned that there are two roosters out there.  This explains why I heard crowing from one end of the pasture, and then a minute later, much further down while I was mucking.  The roosters are very young and in good health, with shiny red-black feathers and blue-black tail feathers.  In three days, they haven't moved more than a few yards from the same spot, near where the dirt road intersects the paved road.  Further up the road, are a couple of wineries.  I suspect that someone dropped off the two roosters on their way up the hill.  The roosters aren't from around here; if they were, they would have made their way back home by now (there is truth to the saying that chickens return home to roost).  I am surprised that they haven't been killed by the coyotes or raccoons that frequent our area.  We heard coyotes last night, close by, and I thought they would get the roosters for sure.  But, no, they were still crowing loudly early this morning.  This is the second time that an unwanted animal has been left on the dirt road that circles behind our property. rude, ...and so cruel.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Coming Back to Life

I had another fabulous ride on Tex this morning.  He lined himself up at the mounting block and waited for me to settle in the saddle and give the signal before walking off.  We are learning to speak the same language.  Our first halt was not very harmonious.  I sat deep, engaged my core (nothing), light half-halt (nothing), and finally had to squeeze the reins a couple of times before he went, "oh, you want me to stop."  We'd stand a minute and then walk off again.  It was pretty dusty in the arena (Flash and Brett were walking around in there too), so I took Tex out under the shady oaks.  He is okay with the arena, but he really likes being out in open country.  We crossed the dry stream bed a few times and Tex just motored along.  He did stop, raise his head and give a hard stare into the girls pasture at one point -- Kersey was swimming in their water trough.  The last few halts of our ride were very soft; a slight tensing of my ring finger and then, the last one, just from me sitting deep and still.

Later that morning, on our way back from the peach orchard down the road, Brett and I were talking about Tex and how well he did with me.  Brett noted that when we first bought Tex, four years ago, he was fine with being groomed, and saddled, and being ridden.  "Yes," I said, "but he was a different horse then.  He had so many protective layers over his heart that he was more like a robot than a horse.  He was shut down."  Brett had to agree, Tex had no personality when we got him.  Tex wasn't trained; he was broke.

After four years, Tex has learned to trust us enough to gradually peel back all those layers of protection.  He had to work through his fear and come out the other side.  Now, he nudges my arm as we walk, he leans into me when I kiss his neck, he negotiates with me about how close he needs to come before I will give him the apple I'm eating, and he tries to figure out what I want under saddle.

It's not a bad life, living here at Oak Creek Ranch.  Tex has gone from shut-down, to fearful, to happy.  We feel pretty darn good about that.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Random Friday

1.  The chick, christened "Dixie" by Camille (get it?  Dixie Chick), is still very much alive and running at top speed around the hen pen.  Every so often, a grumpy hen will peck it on the head when it tries to get a bite of the extra yellow squash I toss over the fence.  Other than that, it is well tolerated by the flock.  The rat zapper traps have been very effective -- seven or eight big rats so far.  The first few days we caught one or two rats each day.  Now, the traps are most often empty and, more importantly, there have been no more instances of rats dropping from the garage roof onto the ground next to me and scurrying away.  Talk about giving you a start!  It reminded me of Willard.  Eek.

2.  My foot is doing so much better.  It has been almost four months since it was crushed under Finessa's foot.  Last week I tried (again) to get around without my walking cast.  I bought some stiff leather work boots and my foot was pretty comfortable in it so I'm wearing them all the time now. I'm even wearing them to work; not exactly corporate attire -- but better than clomping around with a boot that looked like Darth Vader. We are going on vacation next week and I'm planning to leave the big walking cast at home.

3.  Yes, we are going on vacation.  This is the first vacation I've taken -- other than long weekends here and there -- since I started this job three years ago.  We are going to Alaska and we are going to be gone almost two weeks.  We went on an Alaskan cruise a number of years ago and loved the quiet grandeur and raw beauty of the bits and pieces we experienced then.  This time, we are taking a train inland, spending a few days at Denali, and going up to the Arctic National Park.

4.  Brett has been busy with his new project -- creating an obstacle course in the second arena.  We rarely use the arena and Brett would like to incorporate sensory work into his rides with Flash; since the two of them love (and excel at) them so much.  Earlier this week, Brett bought a big blue barrel to use.  He told me that Flash watched him unload it, and then started vigorously nodding his head as Brett took it into the barn.  (Tex watched from a safe distance, non-too-sure about the whole thing).  Brett said to me, "Flash sure seems happier, perkier and more engaged since I rode him the other day."  And I replied -- "of course, he does.  He's catching all that happy energy from you and he knows something is up."  Brett can't see it, but the way he is interacting with Flash has changed.  He points at him, in the manner of "you're next; I pick you" and Flash knows that signal well.  And Brett's energy is about "doing" something, instead of just "howdy and hello."  Flash knows.  He hasn't been Brett's partner for 16 years for nothing.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Recovering From the Weekend

My good friend, Nancy, has been feverishly working on a quilt for the bed in Camille's room.  She knew that the kids were coming to visit this weekend and she wanted to have it done before Camille arrived.  Many months ago, she came over and looked at the valances over the windows in Camille's room.  Then she poured over quilting patterns, showing me "potentials," and then went shopping for fabric.  Nancy has an amazing eye for color and she loves incorporating applique into her quilts, stitching in highlights and detail.  She made the portrait quilts for us of Flash and Kersey.  She finished up the binding last week and I went up to her place (they are neighbors) and picked it up Thursday after work, chores and dinner.  Then I put it on Camille's bed and took some pictures.  It's gorgeous.  She even made matching shams.

Friday afternoon, Camille flew into Sacramento and we hit the grocery store on the way home from the airport.  I bought all kinds of shellfish to make a clam bake that night, and food for the remainder of the weekend as well.  Once we were home, the groceries unloaded, and the chores done, we got to work with Brett -- securing three kayaks in the bed of his pick up.  We have a rack on top of the Subaru that Brett and I use when we go out, but it only holds two kayaks.  Brett has fit four kayaks in the truck bed before, all stacked neatly on their sides.  But three was an awkward number.  We had to make sure they didn't slide out the back (the tailgate was down, with the backs of the kayaks resting on a bar that was hooked into the hitch (you see construction trucks hauling lumber around with them sometimes).  We lashed, and lashed, and lashed some more.  We'd get one secure and another would slide.  After an hour, Camille looked at us and said "I think we need beer."   We finally got it done and I started dinner.  I think we ate at 9:30 pm which is late -- even for us.

Saturday morning, we fed and mucked and emptied the rat trap (woohoo!) and headed towards Tahoe.  We took Camille to our favorite place to kayak, Wright's Lake.  It's very small, shallow and full of boulders so you can't take a motorized boat out.  It is very popular with kayakers.  At the far end of the lake, we paddled up the stream that feeds the lake.  Camille loved it.

After eating our picnic lunch while drifting in a small pond, off the stream, surrounded by reeds, we paddled back to the small launch area.

Brett brought the truck over and we got ready to load the kayaks.  Except that the tailgate wouldn't release.  We ended up lashing the kayaks on top; balancing the fronts on top of his toolbox and the backs on top of the tailgate.  Again, we lashed and lashed and lashed.  Brett didn't speak the whole way home (an hour and a half) -- worried about getting that tailgate fixed.  He worried about the expense but mostly about the possibility having the truck in the shop for more than a day.  During fire season we do not like the truck to be gone at all.  Of course, without the tailgate down, Brett couldn't hitch the horse trailer to the truck anyway (it is a gooseneck) so today he is out getting that fixed.

Kyle and Ana arrived Saturday afternoon, shortly before we got back home.  We had just enough time to unload the kayaks, do the evening chores, and change before going to a cowboy concert and dinner.  We love the venue, long tables under towering oaks; a wooden stage; bbq tri-tip, chicken and beans with pie at intermission.  And Dave Stamey, the cowboy singer, writes songs which are hugely entertaining and get your feet tapping.  Brett and I even danced.  (a very rare occurrence).

The house was hot and stuffy when we got home and, despite opening all the windows wide, none of us slept very well.  Sunday, we took the kids up to Jenkinson Lake where they kayaked some more.  Brett and I ran errands and I worked a bit in the garden, until it got too hot.  We had an early dinner before Kyle and Ana left, taking Camille to the airport on their way back to Berkeley.

I went to bed at 8:30.  I was wiped.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Random Friday

1. I tried to get a good picture of the chick for you but everytime I tried, it ran.  Its a chick in constant motion.

2.  So I gave up and took a short video.

3.  I bought some fancy rat zapper wahoo traps that cost a fortune because I wanted something effective, yet humane.  We haven't caught any rats.  A couple other rodents, but no rats.  Grrrr.

4.  Here is Calvin the rooster who thinks he's an attack dog; part German Shepard and part pit bull.  I'm glad he's protective of the chick and, thankfully, he's been leaving me alone.  Nevertheless, I did not get down to eye level to take this picture.

5.  When we fill the water in the evening, the chickens all crowd around.  There is something irresistible about the mud that appears around the water bin.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Wednesdays with Tex

Brett told me that you all are going to wonder about my sanity, with all my commentary about conversations that I have with Tex.  I do believe that horses talk to us, if we listen.  Sure, they don't speak in English but they speak to us nevertheless.  I don't know how many of you read Gullivers Travels when you were a kid, but I did (numerous times).  Gulliver visited a land populated by disgusting, human-like yahoos and also with rational, intelligent horses called houyhnhnms.  Initially, the horses were so disgusted by Gulliver that they wouldn't talk to him.  Gulliver was equally disgusted by the yahoos -- and preferred the company of the houyhnhnms.

I think the same holds true today.  Horses speak a subtle language but most of us humans are too literal to hear them.  We behave like yahoos -- pushing and grunting, yanking and yelling, to get the results we want. I've noticed, in my riding, that when I am able to ride softly, with focus, that harmony and communication increase astronomically.  If I'm upset, or angry, or stressed or otherwise firmly distracted by my own world and emotional state, I cannot communicate with my horses at all.  Lucy will pin her ears, give her head a shake, and leave.  She's definitely got houyhnhnms blood in her.  Tex just looks at me sadly, and quits communicating.  Flash ... he tries to bite you.

So, when I "talk" to Tex it is really an expression of my energy, focus and intent.  I look for subtle communication from him: the flick of an ear, the wiggle of his lower lip, and the softness of his eye.  Tex is protective of his thoughts and feelings and, for the longest time, he didn't show anything.

I tend to chuckle or laugh when Tex reacts with suspicion at me rubbing my neck, or the crunching of the velcro on his fly mask.  He jumps away but immediately comes back.  A chuckle means "I'm not mad at you.  You are safe.  Let's try again."

I'm also very verbal and generous with neck rubs.  I never pat Tex; that is too much like hitting.  I rub his neck and tell him he is a good boy, a beautiful boy, and super smart.  When I rode him last weekend, we built on our language.  I chuckled when he rushed.  And when he relaxed, I reached down and rubbed his neck while telling him that he was a good, good boy.  "Look at you!" I said, "What a good boy you are."

And Tex's ears got soft, his eyes shone and he walked proudly forward.

That is how I "talk" to Tex.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Living in Paradise is Exhausting

Today the heat wave continued but we were ready; we had a plan.

We woke early, had the horses fed, and the pastures cleaned, before the sun rose over the top of the hill.

Next up was a breakfast of eggs, fresh from our chickens, and good strong espresso (for me, Brett isn't a coffee person) while we read the paper.

At 8:30 we were back outside, getting Lucy and Pistol ready to ride.  It was already hot -- pushing 90 when we headed into the arena.  Neither Pistol nor Lucy were too thrilled with the idea of trotting in the heat.  We didn't ride long, maybe 15 minutes, but it was long enough for me to test out my back/sciatic and do some basic stretching at walk and trot with Lucy.  I had no pain during my ride and Lucy was too busy trying to negotiate "more walk, less trot" to worry about trolls.  When we finished, my back was a bit tight but otherwise fine.  I was, however, feeling a bit queasy from the heat so I hightailed it into the house where I downed a big glass of ice water.  Lucy was at the water trough, drinking deeply too.

Next, we loaded up the kayaks and headed up to Jenkinson Lake.  The lake was quiet when we arrived, but our favorite cove was wall-to-wall boats, kayaks and paddle boards by the time we left.  Brett got a little unbalanced getting out of his kayak -- in water that was deeper than anticipated -- and decided to fall in rather than trying to salvage his disembarkment.  I have to admit that I was tempted to follow suit -- the lake water was wonderfully cool and the sun incredibly intense.

Back home, we unloaded the kayaks and changed.  We ended the day at one of our favorite wineries, sipping Zinfandel (and eating far too much fresh bread).

Even though I'm not a fan of summer, I have to admit it's pretty hard to beat the lifestyle that this area has to offer.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Riding Tex

Brett wanted to try riding Flash this morning.  Tex and I have reached a place where we are very comfortable with each other; and maybe a bit bored.  He looks at me like, "What's next?" I've asked Tex how he feels about riding and the answer I get is: "yes, but I need to be safe."  So, I told Brett that I was going to work with Tex while he rode Flash.

My plan was to have no plan and no expectations.  I wanted to groom him at a minimum but I didn't know how saddling, or mounting or riding would go so I gave myself permission to stop at any point.  I also didn't know how my foot would feel -- I obviously can't ride in a walking cast.

Tex is fearful of the tie rail, and panics when tied, so I dropped the lead rope to the ground about ten feet from the rail and groomed him there.  He stood perfectly still while I thoroughly picked his feet, curried and brushed his auburn coat, and got the tangles out of his mane and tail.

Brett, meanwhile, put trail boots on Flash and got him groomed and ready to go.  I asked Brett to hold Tex while I put on the saddle pad.  Last time I put a saddle on him, he didn't like the pad coming at him.  I let him smell it (which I also do with each of my grooming tools; I show it to him before I use it so he knows what I'm doing).    He took one big sniff and then was fine as I settled the pad on his back.  I asked Brett to swing the saddle onto Tex's back -- Tex is tall, the western saddle is heavy and I wasn't sure how my foot would feel.  Brett got himself disorganized somehow and it wasn't exactly a smooth landing, but Tex was pretty good despite the less-than-perfect execution.

Brett and Flash mounted first.  I didn't want to mount until Tex nailed the mounting block line-up skill I taught him back in March.  I figured we might not get past line up.  Flash was so happy and excited about being ridden that a he forgot his manners and marched off as soon as Brett was in the saddle.  He walked out fine in the arena sand and looked more animated than we've seen him in years.  Brett retired Flash before we moved here so he had never been ridden in the dressage court before (but he has walked through it on his way to the top pasture a ga-zillion times).  Brett kept it to a walk, but he and Flash had a grand time together.

Meanwhile, back at the mounting block, I stood at the top of the block and asked Tex to come over.  Tex lined himself up almost perfectly on the second try.  I said to him, "I could probably get on you from here, but it would be a stretch, not graceful, and not good for either of us.  Could you move just two steps forward for me?"  And he did.

Once I was in the saddle, he marched off.  You know, the cowboy style -- they swing up and, before they are solid in the saddle, they are off and running.  I stopped Tex and said, no, we do things more chill here.  You wait while I mount; we take a few minutes to get comfortable; and then we walk off at a relaxed pace.  Tex flicked his ears at me -- I don't have to rush?  Or perform? Or go, go, go?

Nope, we just chill.


I asked him to relax at the walk -- he was rushing and worrying and not sure what he was supposed to do.  Walk, I said.  Walk and relax.  And halt.  Relax.  Walk.  Back.  Turn.  ...Tex relaxed and stayed relaxed the rest of the time.  He doesn't know how to halt from my seat; he barged through my hands the first time.  But, he was definitely softer by the time we finished.  Today we worked on relaxation and halt.

He looked around a few times while we were riding; at the dirt road, or the trees, or trolls.  But, that's all he did: look.  He didn't tense or worry or spook.  He just looked, curiously and calmly.  I have to learn to relax about that and trust him.

After our work in the arena, I rode Tex back to the barn.  He liked that.  Me, too.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Random Friday

1.  Brett took Flash to the vet Wednesday.  He's been moving slower and slower and we wondered what else could be done to make him more comfortable.  Brett gave him a bath before loading him into the trailer and off they went to our vet's clinic, a bit more than an hour away.  Flash was happy, alert and ready to go.  When the vet asked him to trot, Brett figured he'd take two or three steps and stop.  Nope, he went around and around and around.  In the end, she said that, yes he has a decent amount of arthritis and his days of trucking up and down hills are over.  But, at 20 years old, he is a horse who still has the desire, and the need, to be used.  Her prescription: put shoes and pads on the front and then ride him.  Motion is Lotion, she said.  Don't ride him hard and keep it on level ground.  But use him.  Brett called me from the truck on his way home and was almost incoherent with happiness. Words cannot adequately describe how much he loves that horse.

2.  It's been a quiet week with Tex.  The weather has been warm, but not hot, and fly masks were not needed.  Tex and I have just been hanging out together at the pasture fence, not doing anything in particular.  He seems to have turned a corner of some sort; his energy is relaxed and happy.  He wants to be in our company.  I told Brett that when he rides Flash, I'd like to ride Tex.  I plan to ride him at the walk and not do anything more than that until we are in sync, relaxed and happy.

3.  We still have our one chick.  It is growing taller and sprouting wing feathers.

Often, it is flanked by the two roosters and it is never far from Mama Hen.  The other day, it clambered up onto the back of Mama Hen and went for a piggy-back ride.  The chickens are all very vigilant and, so far, they have kept the chick from harm.  Calvin, the barred rock rooster, is a bit too vigilant.  He took some menacing steps towards me in the hen house (baby and mama were outside so unnecessary) and I countered with menacing steps and a kick towards him.  Usually, he backs right down but not this time.  He fluffed up and kept coming.  I screamed at him in my most menacing voice and kept up the counter-attack.  Lord Byron, the head honcho Blue Andalusian rooster, arrived and jumped on Calvin.  While they duked it out, I slipped out the gate.  Calvin took longer to acknowledge Lord Byron as boss, but he did.  I'm hoping he will take on any rats with the same amount of focus and bluster that he used with me.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Lost a Chick

God damn rats.

There, I said it.  I don't swear, as a rule, but I am angry.  It was irritating when the rats ate the fruit in my orchard, and maddening when they took up residence under my tomato plants and took every single tomato.  Now they've gone too far.

Yesterday, when Brett went to the chicken pen to collect eggs, there was only one chick.  He couldn't find any sign of the other one anywhere.  I looked when I got home, as well.  This morning I found the chick's feathers scattered around the mouth of the hole the rats dive down when I catch them in my tomatoes.

We have shown the rat hole to Passage.  She is unimpressed and promptly slips through the garden fence and returns to the barn.

Brett is buying traps today.  I hope the remaining chick survives while we work on eliminating the rats.  I don't know how successful we will be; rats are notoriously difficult to eradicate.  I really thought that with two roosters and an attentive hen, those little chicks were safe.  

Monday, August 8, 2016

Fire Ravaged

Sunday morning, after feeding the animals, we loaded our kayaks onto the top of the Subaru and headed to Stumpy Meadows lake.  Our friends followed with their long, bright red tandem kayak draped over the roof of their SUV, a red flag tied to the back, waving cheerfully in the breeze.  We hadn't been to Stumpy Meadows before and I was excited; the reviews and pictures were stunning.  Stumpy Meadows was described as a small lake, surrounded by dense pines, and quiet; the speed limit on the entire lake is 5mph.

We crossed the American River, outside of Placerville, and started the climb to Georgetown.  As we left that small town (two stop signs) and continued our climb, the pines, redwoods and cedars crowded against the road so densely that we couldn't see into the forest at all.  I squirmed with anticipation.

We finally glimpsed the lake through a clearing and pulled into the day use area.  The west end of the lake, where we unloaded and launched, had trees but the rest of the lake was bare.  Two years ago, the King Fire, which burned for months, reached, and surrounded, three sides of this lake.  All that remained were blackened trees, vast areas of no trees at all, and patches of grass.  The King Fire started near Placerville, in Pollock Pines, and spread to become almost 100,000 acres.  They caught the guy who started it, and he's serving 20 years for arson.  But, that can't bring back the beauty of the blighted ridges, valleys and lakes.

We thought this stump was particularly picturesque.  I'm sure that when the lake was named, many years ago, there was no inkling of how apt that name would become; there were black stumps everywhere.

The view looking back towards the launch was pretty.

But, most of it looked like this.  We paddled up a stream feeding the lake, on the east end, and found a small cascade of water over rocks -- which was beautiful, despite the moonscape surrounding it.

It took some work, but we found a spot to beach the kayaks and have lunch under the shade of a couple blackened, but still alive, pines.

After lunch, we paddled back to the boat launch, against the wind.  I braced my feet, engaged my core, and dug into the water with my paddle.  I reveled in the feel of the paddle pushing the water, and the sight of water rippling away from the front of my kayak.  I felt strong, despite the aching in my shoulders.  Brett was flying, setting a course down the middle of the lake before turning and heading into the shore.  When I reached the launch, we drifted, smiling with satisfaction, while we waited for our friends.  Their kayak is built for comfort, not speed, and they enjoy a more leisurely pace.  When I got out of my kayak, I could hardly walk.  My foot (crushed by Finessa, one of our donkeys, when she stood on it in early May) was swollen and painful.  I strapped on my walking cast and spent the rest of the day with it up.  I'm three months into a six-to-twelve month recovery and I'm pretty tired of wearing the boot.  Kayaking is generally fine; I don't normally do more than casually paddle around.  I shouldn't have pushed it -- but I'm not sorry.  It was worth it.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Random Friday

1.  I wanted to share some pictures of the beautiful fence that Brett and Richard installed last week.  Slowly, but surely, the property is turning into a place of beauty.  Brett is itching to replace more of the fence and I bet that he has started a fencing fund.  He's a man obsessed.  Last night he said "Just think how much fence I could replace if we didn't have to buy hay."  ...of course, that would mean no horses and no need for fences...
The view from the pasture gate towards the road.  The new fence stops even with the large oak tree on the left.
2.  You will notice some orange haze in the sky on these pictures.  That isn't the sunrise; it is smoke.  Even though we are a couple hundred miles from the fire near Big Sur, the smoke is blowing, and settling, here in the Sierras.
The opposite view - towards the pasture gate.

3.  We have been kayaking every weekend.  Last weekend we went to Loon Lake which is located high in the mountains, at the timber line.  The lake is surrounded by granite boulders; the sky is typically sapphire, and the water a matching brilliant blue.  Despite being breezy, windy even, it is one of our favorites.  Unfortunately, last weekend the sky was hazy grey from smoke and the lake was a dull green-blue.  The skies have been clearer the past few days and we are hopeful they will remain so on Sunday when we will be kayaking on a lake we haven't tried before.
This is what the existing fence looks like beyond the point where Brett stopped.  Pretty sad.

4.  I will try to post pictures of the chicks, as they grow, here each week.  I am really hoping that at least one of them is female.  We don't need, or want, anymore roosters.

5.  My summer vegetable garden and the orchard have been an unmitigated disaster this year.  I have been invaded by ground squirrels and rats.  I don't want to use poison because 1) I hate it and 2) our cat hunts in the garden and I don't want her to eat a poisoned animal.  I also don't want her to get caught in a trap so I'm stuck.  The varmits have taken every tomato, every plum, every apple and the one pomegranate that was hanging on my little bitty tree.  Next year, I'm going to plant flowers in the raised beds and buy my produce at the farmers market.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Meet the Chicks

The chicks are three and four days old now.  Mama hen sure manages them differently than we did with the chicks we've purchased to start, and maintain, our flock.  We have a brooder (a big box, basically, with wire sides) and used a heat lamp to regulate temperature and didn't let them out to mingle with the flock until they had their feathers.

Mama Hen kept the chicks in the nesting box for one day.  Then they moved to the floor of the hen house.  She wasted no time, teaching them how to scratch for food.  She took them over to the feeder, where they were able to eat from all the feed that falls on the floor there.

Then she took them over to the waterer I had hung low to the ground for them.  She flicked water onto the ground and onto their beaks until they figured out to drink by themselves.  I think they had that down by the end of day two.

Wednesday, she took the chicks outside where they careened around, never venturing far, and returning to her pronto when she clucked.

The roosters patrol at a safe distance when they are outside.  She swells her breast, beats her wings, and takes menacing steps towards any chicken (or human) that comes too close.

She's a very good mom.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Wednesdays with Tex

Its been a quiet week with Tex.  We had scorching weather through Sunday so the horses spent the days in the barn, where it is cooler, and went back out to the pastures at night.  There are fewer flies in the barn so the horses also got a break from their fly masks.

Tex met me at the gate each morning and walked to his stall on a loose lead rope.  When I removed his halter, in the stall, he politely ducked his head and quietly waited for its removal.  There were a couple of exceptions though and they involved watermelon.  Tex loves watermelon and Brett added a few pieces to the horses vitamin buckets in the morning.  The first time, Tex spotted the watermelon and dove for it before I could get his halter off.  The second day, he started licking his lips as soon as we walked in and could barely hold still for me to get the halter off.  I tried working with him on lowering his head, but he was very impatient with me -- "outta my way, there's watermelon!"

I did notice huge improvement in Tex's comfort with me in the stall.  Up until now, Tex has been extremely claustrophobic in the stall.  It was so bad when we first got him that he would snatch a bite of hay and then run into his turn-out to eat it; he went back-and-forth until his pile of hay was gone.  He did reach a point where he would stay in the stall and eat, but only if he was alone.  If Brett or I walked into the stall, he walked outside where he would wait for the halter or to be groomed or whatever we were doing.  Just this week he became comfortable with me in the stall.  The first time, I walked in and he turned to walk out.  Then he paused, and turned, and walked back to me.  I was jumping up and down, doing fist pumps inside, but, outwardly, I just praised him verbally for being an exceptionally brave and wonderful boy.

We stopped bringing the horses into the barn Monday when the temperatures dropped to 90-ish (instead of 100-ish).  Yesterday, before I could ask Tex to lower his head for the fly mask, he did so on his own.  And he kept his head low while I put it on.  No drama whatsoever.  It seems like a small thing, but it was huge for Tex.

He's not "cured" and he never will be.  But, he's holding it together for me.  He's learning to trust me -- and to trust Brett as well.  He still has his moments, and he always will.  Horses are programmed to "run first, ask questions later."  There is no middle step, like we have, that says "wait, this might be safe.  I'll investigate and then decide."  This is particularly true for situations that involve a past experience of pain, injury or fear.  They become hardwired to flee; particularly if their first experience with something was bad.  The good news is that, with time and work, they can develop a bond of trust with a person that is strong enough for them to keep the lid on.  But the flee reflex is always there and if they are with someone other than their bonded person, they may not be able to keep calm.

Horses that are raised in a safe, fair environment don't have many flee patterns hardwired into their brains.  If their initial experience with a trailer, or a halter, or a human is positive then they don't react with flight.  Additionally, some horse breeds and personalities are more prone to worry and "run first" than others.  Quarter horses, in general, are level-headed citizens so Tex is this strange mix of calm and friendly, blended with "holy crap, I'm outta here."

Tex did react with 'flee" twice in the past week.  The first time, I was wearing a light jacket.  I reached my hand to him, he took one sniff of my sleeve, and jumped backwards.  I took a step forward, and he turned and walked away.  I lifted my arm and said "go, then.  Get out of here."  He trotted three steps, stopped, turned and walked back to me.  The second time, I lifted my hand and scratched my neck (bugs, ugh).  He snorted and jumped back.  But, again, he paused and then immediately came back to me.  He's never going to be rid of the initial fearful response, but what I love is how he deals with it now.  He doesn't melt down, he comes right back to me.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Chick Update

Mama Hen stayed on the nest long enough to hatch two of the ten eggs she had been sitting on.  The second chick was actually hatched by another hen who has been tag-teaming with Mama, because Mama had already relocated to the hen house floor with chick number one.  The second chick peeped away from the nesting box for awhile and then made its way to the floor where it joined Mama and the other chick.  We tossed the remaining unhatched eggs and the empty egg shells from the two chicks, one a dark brown egg and the other green, into the garbage can.

We know that one chick is half Cuckoo Maran and the other is half Araucana.  We don't know which rooster is the dad but if I had to guess I would say the Cuckoo Maran's father is Calvin, a barred rock.  He's second in command and the two Cuckoo Maran hens belong to him.  The other ten or eleven hens (I lose count) belong to Lord Byron, a Blue Andalusion.  If either of these chicks are hens, it will be fun to see what color egg they lay.  The Cuckoo Maran chick will be some shade of brown since mom lays chocolate brown eggs and Calvin's breed lays large light brown eggs.  The Araucana chick will be more interesting since mom lays greenish-blue eggs and Lord Byron's breed lays white eggs.

Mama Hen is turning out to be an excellent mother.  She rests in the shavings on the hen house floor with the chicks tucked under her wings.  They come out to eat and drink, under her careful supervision, and then scoot back underneath her.  Most of the time, the chicks are out of sight but every once in awhile we see them.  Mama Hen coos and clucks to her little brood and glares at any other hens that dare to come close.  They have been giving her a wide berth.  Both of our roosters are very protective of their hens so I don't think she will have any trouble from the rest of the flock.

I'm hoping that our little family ventures out more soon so I can share pictures with you.  The Cuckoo Maran chick is black with a little white spot on her head and the other is black, with no spot.