The Chicken Man

For just a second, the older gentleman standing at the base of my front steps had to be wondering, “Is he gonna say something? Why is he just standing there?” 

I was just standing there because I couldn’t remember where to find the quote.  Argh, I hate it when that happens.  I’m in a situation, and I can’t remember the exact wording of the appropriate quote, and–even worse–I can’t remember where to find it. 

Okay, after you’re done reading this, if you’ve never read Billy Collins’ poem, “Forgetfulness,” check it out.  I’ve put the link at the bottom of this post.

Anyway, the quote.  I couldn’t remember the quote.  It’s in one of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell books, and it’s spoken by Sherlock Holmes regarding Mary’s farm manager, Patrick.  Patrick, it seems, is not one to fuss, and Holmes believes not fussing to be one of the highest qualities a man can have.  Wow, it’s a good line, and I could have stood there for a long time and still not have found it.

The quote I couldn’t remember came to my mind (well, almost) because I was standing, rather impolitely I’m afraid, with a man who seemed to not fuss very much at all. 

Mr. Danny (“Just Danny,” he told me) had just put one of our roosters into a cage and was getting ready to leave with it.  No problems, and no fuss.  Danny is a chicken man.

We–my wife and I–have chickens in our back yard.  The flock is only 11 chickens, well, 10 now, and they’re all about six months old. We’ve had different flocks for about 12 years now, and enjoy them a lot.  We don’t eat them as I don’t think it’s worth cleaning up the mess of plucking and processing, but we do love their eggs.  And, we think they’re cool.

Normally, getting a new flock for us involves a trip to the feed mill to pick up chicks (lots of dad joke fodder there).  The chicks we usually buy are “sexed;” we know we’re getting young ladies.  Last fall, though, we decided to do something different and get some bantam chickens in addition to our common, full-sized birds.  Banties, though, are sold in what’s called a “straight run.”  That means you don’t know the gender of the birds you’re getting.  

By the way, there’s no charge here for the chicken lingo.

Not knowing the gender, well, that’s a bit of a gamble.  We did fairly well, or so we thought: it looked like we had all hens.

Then one of our chickens hit puberty.  Roosters really do sound funny as they’re learning to crow.  It’s more of a squawk to start out.  The little guy would give it his best, bless his heart, but he’s good now, as our neighbors can attest.

Then–oh, my gosh–another bird started picking on the rooster.  Okay, that was odd.  Why was she picking on the rooster?  Well, it’s because she was a little boy, too.  Two roosters.

The first rooster, Cruella (he got his name when we thought he was a girl–guess what color his feathers are) has worked out okay, but the second? Not so much.  Remember the “picking on the rooster” thing I mentioned?  He sort of transferred that attention to us, and, well, that’s not going to work.

Enter Danny, the chicken man.

I don’t know Danny at all, but my wife knows he’s the one to call if you’ve got birds that are ready to be passed on to a new home.  He buys and sells birds at the local flea market, and chickens are what he does.

So, after a brief phone exchange a few days earlier, he was at our house just after dark.  Chickens are easy to work with after they’ve roosted for the night, so Danny picked that little guy up from the roost, carried him to the front yard, and put him in the cage for the trip home.  No fuss at all.

That rooster (whose name, by the way, is Rooster…his original name faded away after we knew the deal) is a beautiful bird, and I don’t doubt it will be just a short time before he’s at a new home ruling his little corner of the farm yard.

—–

Here’s that poem.  It’s one of my favorites!  https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/37695/forgetfulness

Hiking Alone

I’m not sure which of these rings the truest for me: I’m not crazy about hiking alone, or I prefer to hike with other people.  I know they both say basically the same thing, but for some reason there seems to be a subtle difference. 

It’s tax season.  

Wow, Tim, you sure did take a left turn there, now didn’t you?

Well, it’s tax season, which means my favorite hiking partner–my wife, Lisa–is working.  She’s working a lot.  She, you see, is a tax preparer.  And if she’s working, she’s not hiking.  Which means I’m hiking alone.

See, that makes sense.  Hiking and taxes?  They’re related; at least, they’re related for me.

That’s why, just the other day, I found myself alone on the trail.  

(Looking back to my first sentence, I suppose I prefer to hike with other people.  I don’t have a problem hiking alone; I’m comfortable in the woods, and I’m a phone call away from help if I need it.)

The weather was unseasonably warm for the last day of February, and we’d had quite a bit of rain the day before.  The trail was muddy, but not too muddy, and it was gloriously empty as I started out.  I did an out-and-back hike, and while there were other hikers I passed on the way back, I seemed to have the entire mountain to myself on the way out.  

There’s something about having the trail to oneself, especially if it’s a solo hike. On that day, the quiet was glorious, and more than once I surprised a chipmunk or squirrel as I came around a tree or rock.  I even found myself surprisingly close to a doe who shot off away from the trail as I approached.

There’s still plenty of tax season left, and I imagine that won’t be my last solo hike for a while.  I’m eager, though, to get back out on the trail with my wife, even if it’s only a short hike before she’s off to work.  Am I the only one looking forward to April 15th?

Yes, Tree Farts

“Oh-my-gosh-do-you-guys-know-about-tree-farts?!”

There was, for a second or two, a silence among the members of the group.  Glances were exchanged, weight shifted from foot to foot, lips were pursed, and brows were furrowed.  The only sound was the steady rain hitting the brown leaves covering the ground, and perhaps a bird or two in the distance.

And in that north Alabama woodland, there was curiosity–curiosity that manifested itself in a sudden and concurrent movement toward the tree which prompted the outburst a moment before. 

A large tree, perhaps an oak or maple, was apparently oozing bubbles from a spot on its trunk some 10 or 12 inches off the ground.  If the weather was warmer and the foam on a smaller plant, a spittle bug might have produced the phenomenon we were seeing. But the weather wasn’t warm, and the plant bearing the foam stood above us some 40 feet off the forest floor.

“Yeah!  I was listening to a podcast about it just the other day.  It turns out that trees absorb methane and other gasses from microbes in the soil.  The gas travels up the tree through the xylem and comes out from breaks in the bark.”

There it was, right in front of us: foam that appeared, indeed, to be tree farts.

“But, it looks like this might be coming from water running down the trunk of the tree.  Maybe it’s a physical thing, those bubbles that are forming.”  This insight came from another member of the party, her eyes mere inches from the trunk as she knelt there on the humus and leaf litter around the tree. 

So we all had to take a close look, one after another, at the foamy mass.  

We were a group of eight educators, out for the morning to explore the oak-hickory forest on this Alabama hillside just a few miles outside the city of Huntsville.  Our gathering was an event held as part of the state’s environmental education association’s annual conference.  This year, given the circumstances of the pandemic, it was an “unconference.”  No group meetings, no dinners, and no large-scale socializing with friends from around the state.  As an environmental education group, though, we were able to keep our field trips as they’re all held outdoors.

Environmental educators being the people we are, we weren’t deterred by the steady rain falling over the northern third of the state.  Truth be told, I believe some of us took a strange pleasure in being out in the inclement weather, but that’s just my opinion.  

The steady rain, the result of a slow moving weather system, gave us a forest filled with the sounds of running water.  Without it, we wouldn’t have experienced the boisterous creeks and ubiquitous rivulets of water that flowed around us as we walked.  More often than not, the limestone trails we trod upon were those rivulets, and I walked more carefully than I normally would.

I’m not sure we ever came to a consensus on the bubbles.  Later that day I did a bit of reading and learned that trees do carry gasses such as methane and carbon dioxide that were produced through microbial digestion in the soil.  Those gasses are released through breaks in the bark of the tree, and, well, if methane released through a crack isn’t a tree fart, I don’t know what is. 

But the bubbling could have been a result of water traveling down the trunk of the tree.  Later during the hike we observed a similar occurrence, though higher off the ground; this time, it did appear to be more of a physical process.

That’s why we were there, though: to learn, to explore, and–perhaps most of all–to be curious.  As our group broke up sometime in the early afternoon, one of the participants proclaimed her joy at being with like-minded people.  I couldn’t have said it better, and I can’t wait to go again.

Most states have an environmental education group of some sort.  Here in my state, we’ve got the Environmental Education Association of Alabama (https://eeaa.us).  To find an organization in many of the other 49 states, you can check the North American Association for Environmental Education’s affiliate directory at https://naaee.org/our-partners/affiliates.