Quiet moment at home with Burnsie

Funny thing happened on the way to the corral this week. ‘An ‘empty nest’ experience for a ‘Mother Hen’, you might say. Let me explain.

Regular readers will remember I refurbished my chicken coop and fenced chicken yard a few months back and added six hens to the ‘family’ at Las Golondrinas. I chop and shred fresh ’salad’ for my Girls every day and in turn they’re keeping me as well as friends and neighbors supplied with fresh eggs. I confess, I’m something of a Mother Hen. I’m enjoying looking after my ‘Girls’. There’s much that’s endearing about six ‘young ‘uns’ rushing to the sound of your voice, swarming eagerly over the food you prepare. Must be like the endorphin rush a mother gets watching her family chow down on her home cooking.

Anyhow, after thorough orientation to their coop and nesting boxes inside the sizeable fenced chicken pen, I changed the entry gate to the pen to allow chickens access while keeping donkeys and the goat OUT. I want my ‘Girls’ to free range over my two acres as much as they want — but return to the coop for roosting at night.

Took my Girls no time to discover the big wide world outside the chicken pen. I was glad to see them scratching up chicken bliss outside their fence. But there are Great Horned Owls around my place and occasionally coyotes and stray dogs. It’s risky outside the coop.

But how to get chickens up to speed on the Farmer’s agenda: leave in the morning, come back before dark? Um-hm. If you know chickens, you know they’re not the sharpest knives in the Cosmic Drawer. Hence, ‘empty nest’ anxiety at Las Golondrinas.

So, one day this week, when I called the birds at feeding time, I counted only five Girls following me into the chicken yard for salad greens. One was missing. I called and called. Number 6 was conspicuously absent. I said to myself with resignation, “Well, this is your choice, Mr. Farmer. This is the risk and the reality: you cage them, or you let ‘em go.”

Rather sadly I finished up in the chicken pen and headed around the well-house to the corral and barn to feed my donkeys and goat.

I stopped in my tracks at sight of a sizeable ‘lake’ in my lower corral. I knew instantly what had happened: I left the watering hose on overnight that fills the large water trough at the barn; the all-night overflow ponded in the lower corral. Absent-minded mistake; distraction; trying to do too many things before taking off for karaoke in Albuquerque; not keeping focused on the task.

But right in the middle of my growled Self-talk about ‘absenBlogger's 'lake' overflowt-mindedness’ and ‘empty nest’ risks my mood shifted radically. Standing ankle deep in the make-shift lake, having the time of her life pretending to be a duck, was my hen #6. It was 97 degrees outside that afternoon and the little red hen was having too much fun wading in the pool to come to the chicken pen for her dinner!

It’s true, most of what we worry about NEVER happens. In my case, not only were my fears unfounded, my little red hen was exercising her freedom and having the time of her life. She was living her joys, not her fears. That’s as good as it gets for any of us.

Blogger's hen playing 'duck'That little hen taught Burnsie and Me a useful lesson. I know risk is real. I know. Maybe the little hen knows too. I know my story of the missing hen could have ended in a carcass and pile of feathers. But call it what you will, ‘joy’, ‘bliss’, whatever, watching that young chicken explore the ‘miracle’ of that chance pool, seeing her fixation and absorption in her discovery, made me see there is a risk in life greater than death; there is the sadder risk of an unlived life.

Life at its best, whatever one’s age or circumstance, is discovering Life’s ‘pools of pleasure’ and wading into them without looking back!

Joseph Harvill, Scottiephile

Contemplative moment at home with Burnsie

It’s Father’s Day this weekend. Time to remember Dad and the ‘fathering’ that mattered.

There is much that matters as I reflect back on my Father. There was little formal education available for him. As a Missouri farm boy in a family of nine kids during the Great Depression he was lucky to finish the eighth grade. But he was a lover of books and reading and a man determined that his son would be a “college man”. No discussion. No maybe. My education, the more the better, was a ‘done’ thing from before my birth. So I gratefully acknowledge my debt to Dad for my love of learning, my appetite for good books and reading, and my life-long life of the mind.

It matters to me, thinking back on it, that Dad was a generous man. He was generous in the standard sense of tithing a meager income to his church, but he and Mom were generous in a far deeper sense: they gave themselves. I remember young sailors, away from home in the post-War 1950s, stationed in the Oakland, CA., Bay Area, finding warmth and home cooking at our house. More than one young man made a “home away from home” at our place in central Oakland — strangers, really — young men who showed up at church looking for friendly faces, who were befriended and sheltered by my folks. I remember an old man spending a winter with us — someone else’s unwanted “Senior” — and his fascinating stories of sailing days when he wore a young man’s clothes. I want to believe I got some of my Dad’s ‘generous gene’. Wish I’d gotten more.

It matters to me that Dad and I shared a love of cars. From the beginning, as I neared my 16th birthday, Dad was active in this boy’s dreams of special automobiles. Granted, I was a wierd kid. In 1960 I wanted, not something new and flashy, but a 1936 Ford coupe. Not a hot rod, but a stock ‘36 Ford. I loved the look of that Ford, its curves and lines. Dad and I looked in the classifieds and scouted out one or two, but we found only junkers. I settled on something even older as my first car: a 1930 Ford Model A coupe, all original except for modern wheels. Dad helped me with the down-payment. There were other ‘wheels’ during my college days: when I needed something more reliable or more economical, Dad was always vigilant and there to help. I don’t know that “Bert” ever harbored a passion for sports cars as I do now in my ’70s, but I know he’s present in me in my ear-to-ear grin over the “va-a-r-r-r-oooom” sound of my chili red 1964 Austin Healey 3000.

Blogger's Father and Blogger as a boyIt matters to me that my Dad loved animals, especially dogs. As a country boy he grew up with hounds; as a city boy I grew up with any and every dog I could muster. The folks were always sympathetic to the “strays” I dragged home — except, maybe, the cat that brought ringworm into the house. I know my love of dogs is a legacy from my Father, leading directly to 19 years of Great Scots Magazine and Tartan Scottie, to publication of two books celebrating Scottish Terriers as companions, a video, a set of audio cassettes of dog stories, a CD of dog humor. Dad’s deep love of dogs as teachers and friends is behind it all. Every laugh and every tear, every unforgettable moment I’ve known with great-souled dogs is traceable to my Dad’s ever open heart to dogs of the world.

So on this Father’s Day 2016 I have memories that matter as I remember my Dad. He’s been gone 17 years now. But in ways deeper than calendars he’s more present to me than when he was alive. I see him more and more in my morning mirror as I age. I surprise myself hearing “his” comments in my voice and tone. And I know who’s smiling the broadest in heaven when this retired egg-head son, the college boy scholar now 72 years old and an unlikely ‘farmer’, puts on bib pants and heads for the chicken coop and barn at feeding time with Burnsie at his side. I know who’s wearing the widest grin.

Thanks, Dad. You were larger than life to me as a little kid. You’re larger than your life to me now. Thanks for all the large and little stuff you left me. It all matters.

Happy Father’s Day!

Joseph Harvill, Scottiephile