Tag Archives: Neighbors

Flightless Birds

By Kate

We are in the midst of a February thaw. The backyard is a sea of mud and ice. This morning, four geese flew fast and low, soaring above the sugar maple. I wondered if they knew which direction they were going. I imagine it’s a confusing week for a goose. A few days ago the world was subzero, frozen solid in an arctic chill, and now a false spring has awoken birdsong and melted the ice into the aforementioned, ever present mud and muck.

Beneath a slate grey sky, my children process through the mud with a blue umbrella and climb upon our chicken coop which stands six feet high, chickenless, strewn about with lumber and fencing. It will be finished this spring, my husband says.

I grew up in the country and I live and raise my children in the city. I never imagined I would do this. When I was growing up and visited towns I pondered how it must feel to grow up hemmed in on every side by concrete and structures and people everywhere. I never really felt I could breathe until we hit city limits on the way out of town. At home, on the roof of our barn, I felt like I could fly.

My mother grew up on a farm in Iowa where the green soybean fields of the former prairie roll out to an infinite horizon. She climbed high into the rafters of the barn and the cottonwood tree. She married my father and they settled on a small farm on a ridge in Wisconsin and she wanted to raise children who were free, and she did, nine of them.

I live on a high ridge in the heart of a city. From our front porch you catch a glimpse of skyscrapers through the trees. Helicopters soar to the hospital on the hill above our home. I am trying to raise children in the city who feel rooted in the land and also free. I do not know how to do this. I do think that having chickens helps.

In Pittsburgh, if you have a bit of a backyard, you can have five chickens or two mini goats. You can have a beehive.  I am so grateful for that fact. The idea that you can live in the city but have your kids doing farm chores warms my heart. We used to have chickens, five of them, and hearing them clucking and scratching in the backyard and hauling hay in the back of the van felt like home. We had a small, stylish, well built coop. Unfortunately, the size of the coop made me feel sorry for the birds, who were trapped in such a small space, not free range at all, definitely caged in and totally miserable. This is where things went wrong.

I felt sorry for my caged birds, and so I set them free. Sadly, I neglected to actually fence the backyard. I optimistically figured the hedge would contain them, which it did, briefly, but soon they had figured out how to squeeze through it and out into the alley, out onto the city streets. “A chicken is wandering Fisk Street!” I read on a neighborhood email, while deeply immersed in writing projects inside my home. My heart dropped, and I raced out to search for my chicken. This happened more times than I would like to admit.

The cold sweat, heart pounding, public humiliation of searching for escaped livestock was actually a familiar one, for the farm I grew up on was somewhat short of fencing, and what fencing there was tended to be rather creative in nature. The children were free, and more often than not the pigs were too. A full grown pig is 7 feet long and weighs 700 lbs and can run surprisingly quickly. Pig chasing was the closest I got to athletics during my bookish childhood.

When my chickens weren’t wandering the city streets, they were roosting on the back porch. They stared balefully through the window at me. Their soft clucks took on a sinister tone. One day, a chicken strolled into kitchen. Right about then, my husband decided it was time to take a break from raising chickens. Send them to your friend on the farm, he said. I’ll build you a real coop, with a fence.

That was three years ago. We hope to finish the fence and get chickens this spring. The new coop has risen slowly, but it is sturdy and solid, strong enough for my children to climb upon the roof and gaze down the ridge, over the valley, across the river. Strong enough to feel like they could fly.

A Horse Clinic of Sorts

By Mary

Fliers have been posted, and the word was out that all horse owners could trailer in their horses to the Viroqua Fair Grounds for a horse clinic of sorts. The days event hosted horse professionals on hand to trim hooves, float (‘file’ in non-horse lovers lingo) horses teeth, do equine chiropractic adjustments, and draw blood samples (coggins) for horses in need of clean health records.

My horse Mars needed his teeth checked and his hooves trimmed, so he was taken to Viroqua with my  teenage neighbor girls’ furry 4-legged friends, Cowboy and Cisco. Don’t they look sweet (and freezing)?

Adeline also came with the neighborhood clique. She called me at 8 in the morning to ask when I was going to pick her up. Seeing as it will be at least 11 more years before she can get her license, I obliged in picking up my little wrangler before we loaded horses. Adeline has been sick with a nasty cold and unable to go to school for the past 2 days. However, she carefully dressed for the equine occasion and brought a Christmas gift bag with chewable Ibuprofen in it- just like any tough preschool cowgirl would, you know?

At the Fair Grounds we found that we were by no means the only ones who had paid attention to the fliers. Publicity for the event had been good  and the turnout was also good.

What was not good was the weather. March weather here in the Midwest can often have a sharp biting chill with dipping temps. Poor Adeline was coughing away, so I banished her to the truck where she had my purse and her gift bag to entertain her.

Beyond the bonus of the warm cab, the view from the truck wasn’t half bad either.

Adeline had a Birdseye view of horses being brought to where a spry and cheerful Amish man was taking on the task of trimming hooves and floating teeth.

I was impressed with the Farriers attitude. When it came time to trim my horses hooves things got a little exciting. Mars reared up twice. The second time this happened both the Farrier and his tools went in different directions. After he nimbly got up and collected his nippers, it was recommended that my horse be sedated before getting trimmed. 10 minutes post sedation, Mars had a hanging head and an absent spirit. This made finishing up the job much less difficult.

After the neighbors horses were filed and trimmed, everybody got loaded up. With the heater on in the truck we were much more comfortable and eager to leave the Fair Grounds, that is after stopping for butter burgers at Culvers, because this is Wisconsin after all.

I am relieved to have my horses feet in better condition and to know his teeth were given a clean bill of health. As for cowgirl Adeline, well all I can say for her is that I hope her ibuprofen and antibiotics are steering her towards a clean bill of health so that she can pester me to give her rides on Devils Hole Red Hot Steeldust, or Mars as I prefer to call him as an alternative to his ridiculous papered name. After all his spirit is back and his feet are in great galloping order.