I lay in bed this morning, watching the sunrise, listening to an essay titled The Beautiful Institution. We often have a streak of brilliance to the east until the sun rises above the mushroom cloud that is our special birthright by location close to the lake. This morning it kept rising and rising into clear cerulean atmosphere. When I got up, Olivia had already staked out the sunny corner of the couch to ease into her morning reading. It didn’t take long for the more northerly windows to light up too, spreading a palpable benevolence into the room.
After I had gotten the girls started with school, and seared a pork butt to slow roast with chipotle peppers for our supper, and cleaned up the kitchen, it was time to go check on my hens. Fellow sunshine lovers, they were milling in a beseeching crowd at the door of the coop. When I take them table scraps, they think they are getting treats. It feels a little cheap to me, considering what they give in return. Today there were bits of pork fat mixed in with banana peels and stale crackers. The bossiest among them grabbed a sizable piece and dashed for a private spot behind the tree, with two others in hot pursuit. They came to their senses pretty quickly, mashed on the brakes, and tore back to the smorgasbord where there were plenty of good bits for everybody. Whenever I watch my chickens snatching and refusing to share, I do not admire their character. Pecking order is a very sorry way to rise to importance. But this morning there were five eggs, beautiful pearly things, nice and clean because the mud is frozen.
I put the eggs into the capacious pockets of the old blue Columbia coat that I got at the thrift store because it was actually made with capacious pockets and a hood and large enough sleeves to wear a sweater layer. Sure, the lightweight down puffer coats retain heat so well that you don’t need the sweater, but what about when you get where you are going and want to take your coat off and then you don’t have your sweater? Or what about when you take your dog on a walk through the jaggerbushes to see what the creek is doing these days and you snag the fragile fabric on a multiflora rose that is reaching out over the trail? And where are you supposed to stow the eggs in those tiny pockets?
Lady found her ball and laid it at my feet in supplication. I don’t pick up drooly balls, but if she places it right where I will trip over it, I will kick the ball obligingly and she will retrieve it with unbelievable energy, once more nudging it at my feet. We played this game for a while with a fun variation as the ball bounced in unexpected directions on the frozen ground.
I took the garbage out to the shop and then we did our inspection of the property. The trail down to the creek was crossed and recrossed with rabbit trails. All these prickly bushes are perfect for them when they want to evade predators, although we have little evidence of any except hawks and occasional foxes moving through. On the other side of the creek is where the wild things are, where we hear the coyote chorus and occasionally see signs of mink or bear.
Lady switched to a stick instead of her ball. I took it from her and threw it immediately, my gloved hand contacting the stick about three seconds, and yet she found it without fail, even when I accidentally threw it into a thicket of similar sticks. I wonder how distracting life would be if I had that capacity for scent. This dog is speedy! I can’t throw the stick far enough to keep her occupied for more than the time it takes to walk a few paces. We made our slow way down to the water: throw stick, walk ten steps, throw stick, walk another ten steps.
The creek was chuckling clear and fast, but low enough to cross if your boots are watertight. I didn’t risk it, not relishing the feeling of ice trickling down to my feet if I misstep. Lady was not deterred in the least and splashed in willy-nilly if she thought there might be something interesting in the water. At the edges the bushes that trail twiggy branches had icicles accumulated in fantastic crystal bobbles. They dipped in and out, in and out of the water under their own weight, reflecting the brilliant sunshine like magical chandeliers.
I followed a rabbit trail to the spot where the Japanese privet has volunteered into an untrimmed hedge. I like these bushes, even if they aren’t native. They are bare, straight shoots now, but in spring they will bloom white, with bright waxy leaves, and I can hardly wait! I use the leaves for foliage in bouquets all summer, and then in fall they turn rosy, purple and rust all on one stem, with deep blue berries. The berries are all gone now, harvested by birds who do their best to spread the seeds. I don’t mind these mildly invasive bushes. They aren’t prickly or ugly or stinky, so I won’t be destroying them like I would Japanese barberry or Bradford pear.
It’s no wonder the birds are so diligent at the feeder these days. As I walked back to the house, I saw that the rosehips are gone and I doubt there is much left in the sumac seedpods after all that diligent mining the chickadees have done. There was a Carolina wren on the back porch, and I marveled at the persistence of such a tiny creature that prefers to eat insects to survive. Where do they find their food? Not only that, they roost in pairs to keep one another warm, which means if one dies, the other will have a very difficult time to make it to spring.
Just before I went back inside the house, I took a picture of a young sycamore with a cluster of fantastical seed pods against the blue sky. This is definitely a day when I will force my girls to go outside for recess, no matter how they may demur!