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June 28, 2007

Saw my first dust devil this week. Actually, there was very little dust involved. Mostly dead kudzu leaves and other plant material that was scattered around from mowing the yard. It was a lazy whirlwind that sent leaves spinning around at heights up to 50 feet or so. A very nice display.

Certainly nicer than actual tornadoes which scare the bejesus out of me - even though I've never even seen a tornado. This fear goes back to when I was a little kid in Michigan. We never had tornadoes in my town - something to do with our proximity to Lake Michigan - but often had tornado watches and warnings. There were also tornado drills in elementary school (which were the same as how we were supposed to react to atomic bombs as well).

I used to think that tornadoes were sentient beings. We were told that we should duck and cover in a windowless room, preferably in the corner of a basement. I considered this to be "hiding" from the tornado. We were also warned not to panic or scream. I thought this was because the tornado would hear you, enabling it to find and kill you.

 

I'm continually surprised by the plethora of plant life up on top of this hill. I thought there would be little other than kudzu. I remember this hill being covered in kudzu thirty years ago. Surely it had smothered all other plants by now. Boy, was I wrong!

Every morning, I am greeted by hundreds of morning glories in hues of white, pink, purple and blue. By the end of summer, I imagine their numbers will be in the thousands. While they are often considered a weed, at least they have pretty flowers. And yes, I am quite aware about what is said about the seeds of the morning glory. I'm sure I'll have something to write about that subject later in the year.

 

There are also daisies, purple thistle, onions, blackberries, strawberries, gladiolus (orange & hot pink),  grapes,  poke salad and a ton of other plants I have yet to identify. Of course, left to its own devices, the kudzu would cover it all in a few months. Hence, my insane devotion to pushing the lawn mower around almost every day. Plus, this weekend is when I get to drive my cousin's tractor up here and clear the back field which is too large to even consider using the regular mower.

 

(Oh my! I just received my second visit from Jehovah's Witnesses. They really are everywhere, aren't they?)

 

The kitten (named Cheechako - Cheech for short) has developed a large lump on the side of his head. I fear this may be from the larvae of a bot fly. Down here, it's called a wolf. And it is horribly disgusting.

This particular bot fly lays its eggs in or near rodent holes and rabbit dens. The egg gets picked up by the fur of the animal and hatches from the body heat. Then it burrows beneath the skin where it grows into a large worm-like creature. It creates a gaping hole in the skin so it can breathe. Eventually, the larvae drops out of the hole and burrows into the ground. It will emerge as a bot fly the following year and continue its grotesque circle of life.

While cats and dogs are not the primary host for this parasite, the larvae will  make itself at home in one that goes snooping around rodent holes and rabbit dens.

A couple years ago when I was here, I saw a cat with a wolf in its neck. While the cat didn't seem to be terribly bothered by it, it looked awful and smelled even worse. If Cheech does have a wolf in his head, he's just going to have to live outside until the damned thing drops out.

Apparently, it can be dangerous to the cat to try and remove it yourself and there is no money whatsoever to take him to a vet. I'm still waiting to have enough money to get him and his mother fixed. (Her name, by the way, is Artemis - for the Greek goddess of the hunt.)

 

I picked about 20 pounds of cucumbers this morning. Guess I should get off this computer and get my ass to making some pickles.

 

 

 

June 24, 2007

Correction: It was not a king snake that was killed the other day. It was actually a black rat snake. I found an identical one the next morning lounging in the path next to the chicken coop. Since I was armed with nothing but a gallon of water and a pail of chicken feed, I just waited for it to slither out of the way. I did have the camera on hand though and was able to snap this photo before it disappeared beneath a pile of nearby barn tin I'm using on the coop.

Sadly, I realize by posting stuff about snakes on my property, my dear friend Sarah in Alaska will never visit me. She's deathly afraid of snakes. All I can say is "Come in the winter!"

Speaking of Sarah, it was two years ago this month we wound up on the cover of Anchorage's local gay magazine. It was a 2003 photo of when we showed up at the pride parade to counter-protest the Westboro Baptist Church people. You know, the "God Hates Fags" assholes.

 

For years we had tried to convince people we were not a couple - or even gay for that matter. Imagine our surprise when we found ourselves as lesbian cover girls! Ah well...who gives a damn what people think? But if I was gay, I definitely woulda hit that! (Love you, Sarah.)

As you can imagine, there is no PrideFest to attend in the teeny town of Woodland.

Surprisingly, Woodland actually has its own Wikipedia page! Be sure to check out the photo gallery for pictures of "downtown" Woodland.

 

 

 

Anyway, finding the snake so close to the chicken coop lit a fire under me to get more mowing done. The kudzu and other weeds are getting pretty high in many areas. I've been pushing the lawnmower every day - no easy feat when the temperature is pushing 100 degrees. It's a helluva workout.

But it is not feasible to cover all of this land with just a push mower. That's why yesterday I went to my cousin's house down the road to get a lesson in driving a tractor. Yes, this city girl has learned to drive a big-ass John Deere tractor. My cousin is lending me his tractor and Bush Hog rotary cutter so I can clear my back field. Next weekend, I'll be cruising around my place in true farmer-style.

Well, I best get back to work. It's not even 9am yet and it's already 90 degrees outside. I leave you with recent photos of some of my chickens, including one of me and my favorite chicken which I have named The Cheepacabra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 19, 2007

Hasn't been much going on lately. I was a hermit for much of last week, mainly because I'm broke as hell. The only human interaction I had at all last week was when I drove into town to go to the gas station and post office. On the way home I stopped at some man's house to tell him his cow was loose and wandering around on the road.

 

Finally got some good rain. Not enough to alleviate the horrible drought conditions but enough to bring out the bugs. Mostly, bugs that want to eat my vegetables. Everyday, I head out into the garden to battle the insect hordes, armed with only a spray bottle full of soapy water. It's not that I'm some organic granola hippie that doesn't believe in pesticides. It's just that I have no money for pesticides (not that I relish the thought of helping to fill Monsanto's coffers).

The only pesticide I do have is for treating fire ant mounds. Due to the drought, they have been noticeably scarce. But since the rain, they have emerged to build their mounds. A couple days ago, I brought down the wrath of Jackie down on one particular colony that had set up camp near the house.

I noticed the tell-tale signs of mound building and went to get my bag of poison granules. I spread the granules on top of the beginnings of the mound and poured a couple gallons of water over the area to carry the poison down into their network of tunnels. To my amazement and horror, a honeycomb of holes quickly transformed into an opening about 8 inches wide. The water disappeared as if down a bathtub drain.

I've treated a few mounds before and that has never happened. I poured more  granules into the hole and followed that with three more gallons of water. Again the water swirled away, a series of air bubbles gurgling to the surface.

By this point, hundreds of angry fire ants were swarming out to seek vengeance. The trick is to not stand in one place too long lest they start climbing up your boots.

My curiosity was piqued. How much water would it take to fill this hole?

I filled my bucket again and poured another three gallons. And then another three gallons. Each time, the water swirled away out of sight. Little white blobs bubbled to the surface. At first I thought they were ant eggs but closer inspection showed they were fully formed ants - completely white except for tiny dark dots where their eyes would be. Some of the fire ants scurried to save their fetal charges but it was all in vain as another three gallons soon went down the hole.

A couple feet away, I noticed a mass of fire ants escaping from a small hole in the ground. I poured granules on them and followed that with three more gallons of water. This opened up a hole half as large as the first hole, which gurgled as I poured water down the new hole. Pouring more water in the original hole made the second hole bubble up.

All in all, it took 25 gallons of water to fill in their tunnels. When I was done, a small area of the ground's surface was only moderately damp. The surrounding area was littered with thousands of dead and dying ants as well as hundreds of white ones from the the ant nursery.

 

Everyday I seem to find new creepy crawlies - some of which I had no idea lived in Alabama. Did you know there are scorpions here? I didn't. At least I didn't until I found one the other day. Apparently, they are not as dangerous as their desert cousins. Their sting has been compared to that of wasps but I've mentioned earlier how I feel about wasps. Of course I killed it.

Black widow spiders? Yep, they're here. Found one this afternoon. Of course I killed it.

Wolf spiders? Got those too. Found one just before coming across the black widow. I'd never seen a wolf spider before. Had to look it up on the internet to find out what it was. Learned that its bite is not lethal - just hurts like hell. Of course I killed it before finding any of this out. Kill first, Google later - that's my motto.

 

Damn, I need a manicure

It was large and incredibly fast. In general, spiders do not bother me. But fast spiders really creep me out. When I first saw the wolf spider, it appeared hairy and I thought it may be a small tarantula. Upon closer inspection I realized it wasn't hair I was seeing - it was dozens of baby spiders clinging to its back.

 

 

I squashed the spider but the babies were small enough that they escaped, scurrying in all directions from beneath my boot. They are very fast too.

 

A couple hours later, I saw the largest snake I've come across so far - over three feet long. Not really huge by Alabama standards, but big by mine. I was later told it was a non-venomous king snake.

I was at the house of one of the Boomhauer Brothers. I had just stepped out of my truck and was walking to the front door when I saw it. At first, I thought it was just a big stick laying in the yard, perhaps dragged there by one of the dogs. I was only one foot away from it when I realized it was a snake.

I told the Boomhauer Brother that there was a big-ass snake outside his front door and he did what any red-blooded redneck would do - he grabbed his shotgun and blew its head clean off.

I don't know if I'll ever get used to this place.

 

 

June 9, 2007

If you are anything like me, you are no doubt sick to death of hearing about the Perils of Paris. I normally would not take the time to discuss the ubiquitous hotel heiress but something was pointed out to me that I can't help but share.

Many of the "news" reports about Paris Hilton being returned to jail have been  accompanied by this AP photo:

This particular photo was taken on June 8 by longtime AP photographer, Nick Ut. His name may not ring any bells for you but you've undoubtedly seen his work. In particular, this Pulitzer Prize-winning photo taken on June 8, 1972:

 

I'm not trying to make any grand statement with the juxtaposition of these  crying girls photographed exactly 35 years apart by the same man. I'm sure there's a grand statement in there somewhere about media, war, empire,  justice and a photographer's life but damned if I could tell you what it is right now.

All I know for certain is they form some awfully surreal bookends for the lengthy career of photographer Nick Ut.

 

                                    

 

 

 

June 4, 2007

It still hasn't rained. I think it's been a month since there's been any real rain. It's still smoky - some days worse than others. Haven't been able to have a fire for weeks. Since I burn the majority of my trash, this has resulted in a big garbage pile.

One of the younger chickens has disappeared. Noticed it yesterday morning while doing a headcount. I don't remember doing a headcount the night before when I locked them into the coop but I'm sure it happened during the daytime.

Fuck if I know what happened to it. I'm confident that nothing can get into Frankencoop but the outdoor pen I built for them is another story. Guess I'm going to have to spend some time down there taking care of a few security issues.

At first I thought it may have been the raccoon that's taken up residence nearby yet I can find no evidence of a break-in or struggle. Even if it wasn't the raccoon, I can't have him living that close to my chickens. Gotta deal with that real soon.

 

My biggest worry is that it may have been my new cat. She's already established she's a good little hunter by bringing me almost daily gifts of mice and moles. I've actually made good use of these gifts. I've constructed a mini-version of the maggot bucket and am using these deceased rodents as fly bait. Most days, the contraption provides enough maggots to make a small treat for the chickens.

I've placed the maggot bucket far away from the coop. Instead of dropping from the bucket straight to the ground, the maggots are caught in a bowl placed underneath. Then I take the bowl to the coop and feed them to the chickens.

 

Speaking of chickens, I attended my first cockfight a week ago Sunday. It was bloody, brutal and ugly. It was also oddly compelling. Not just for the actual fighting, but also for the rare chance to observe hardcore rednecks in their natural habitat. All you PETA-types may just want to stop reading here.

One of the Boomhauer Brothers picked me up last Sunday morning for the 8am cockfight. They all refer to it as a "chicken fight" though. I don't know if it's a regional thing or if these redneck guys just feel uncomfortable saying "COCK" all the time. I think I only heard the word "cock" once all morning.

I knew ahead of time there was only going to be one cockfight that morning, preceded by a few sparring matches between untried roosters. This was not one of the big all-day "chicken derbies" that occur twice a month. The chicken derby is where the real money is. This particular fight was just a friendly wager in some guy's backyard.

I realized I was in for an authentic Southern experience when we pulled into the driveway and were greeted by a flagpole flying the Confederate flag at half-mast (I guess because it was Memorial Day weekend).

About 20 roosters were kept in a large fenced-in area. Each one had its own shelter and had one foot tied to the end of a cord that allowed it access to a six-foot radius of the shelter. Basically, no rooster could get within striking distance of another rooster. Further back, even more roosters were kept in large pens. There were a few hens, some with chicks, freely wandering about.

There's nothing quite like the sound of 50 roosters crowing simultaneously.

There were about ten of us assembled that morning. Everyone knew everybody else. Except me of course - the only female present. I only knew Boomhauer and his son who, for the sake of this story, will be called Boom Jr.

Boom Jr. was the owner of one of the roosters that would be fighting. He's about 19 years old, give or take a couple years. He's fairly new to the sport of cockfighting and had been itching to fight his rooster. At over 6 pounds, his rooster is on the large size (notice I didn't use "cock"). It's not guaranteed that he could find an opponent at a derby as the roosters have to be evenly matched according to weight. That's why this fight was being held this morning.

 

First came the sparring matches between roosters that had never fought before. The owner of the place was trying to determine which new roosters he would be taking to the next derby. He and a friend would go into the pens and bring out two birds, weigh them and then bring them out to a clearing in the yard.

One person would hold the bird while another attached specially-made bands of rubber to the feet (do chickens have ankles?) to cover the rooster's spurs. I noticed their spurs had been trimmed to remove the dangerous pointy ends (I've seen spurs almost three inches long that looked like miniature rhinoceros horns).  It briefly passed through my mind that it seemed contrary to remove a fighting rooster's biggest weapon. Oh my, I can be so innocent sometimes!

While this was going on, Boom Jr. took a rake and cleaned a flat area that would serve as "the ring." One of the men used the heel of his boot to mark opposing lines on two sides.

After their spurs had been transformed to rounded rubber nubs, the roosters were carried to the center of the ring. With one arm around the bird and the other hand grasping the feet, the men brought the birds face-to-face. Two or three times, they lifted the birds so that they briefly touched. The roosters would get all riled up as it is the natural instinct of the rooster to kick another rooster's ass.

The men would step back to their respective lines.  Still holding the birds, the men again lifted them up three times in a motion that looked like they were going to toss the birds at eachother. This resulted in another blustery show of aggression from the roosters. The roosters were then set down on the lines drawn in the dirt and let go.

They rushed each other - a furious burst of colorful feathers colliding in the center of the ring. It was a cartoonish tumble of wings, beaks, tails and feet in a cloud of feathers and red dust.

They really are gorgeous birds - so much shiny color in those long, showy feathers. You could even go so far as to call the battle spectacle "beautiful" and I would not argue with you. It reminded me of watching Siamese fighting fish - except on a larger scale with a lot more noise. I really wish I had photos to share with you but I didn't think it wise to pull the camera out at an illegal cockfight.

The assembled men whooped and hollered, remarking on the fighting abilities of each rooster. I was unable to discern any particular impressive fighting moves - it was all just a polychromatic blur of motion to my untrained eyes.

If the cocks got too vicious in their attacks, the men would step in to separate them. The birds would be brought back to the lines and released again. After two or three rounds of this the birds would be picked up, their rubber spur covers removed and they would be placed back into their pens. Two more birds would be selected, weighed, fitted with spur covers and another sparring match would begin. There were about 8-10 sparring matches in all.

Then it was time for the main event: One of the property owner's birds against Boom Jr.'s rooster. The birds were weighed to make sure they were a fair match. Both came in at a little over 6 pounds but Boom Jr.'s bird had a couple ounces on his opponent.

I stepped up to get a closer look at the fight preparations. While one man held a bird, another attended to the birds feet - taping the leg above and below the the spurs. Again, I noticed that the spurs had been trimmed. Then someone pulled out a box containing two long, thin, slightly curved  metal spikes.

The naive girly part of me that loves all creatures great and small wondered "What on earth are those for?"

The cynical seen-it-all part of me exclaimed "Holy shit! Now those things'll fuck a body up!"

The metal spurs were tied over the roosters trimmed spurs, the tape providing a cushion. The freshly armed cocks were carried to the ring, feet carefully held to prevent the spikes from stabbing man or bird. The ritual of introducing the birds was the same as in the sparring matches. The property owner and Boom Jr. took their birds to the line and let them go.

At first, it was almost the same as the sparring matches - beaks snapping, feathers flying, men whooping and me standing silently at the edge of the action. But vicious attacks were not stopped. In fact, they were encouraged with more whooping.

If a metal spur became stuck in the flesh of a bird, they would be separated. The men would grab their birds, dislodge the spike and then retreat behind their lines. They would take the moment to inspect their roosters. It wasn't long before the man acting as referee started counting "Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen..." He would continue until reaching thirty and then yell "On the line!" The men set the birds on the line and then let them go.

After the third or fourth time the birds had been separated, it was apparent that Boom Jr.'s rooster was hurt. Blood was dripping from its mouth. Boom Jr. asked for water. I handed him my water bottle and he washed the blood from the bird's face and poured a little down its throat.

The ref yelled "On the line!" and the birds were set down and released. Boom Jr.'s bird was slow on the attack this time and was soon overpowered by the other rooster. They were soon separated again and brought behind the lines. It was obvious that Boom Jr.'s bird had been beat.

But after 30 seconds, the ref called "On the line!" and they put their birds back on their lines and let them go.

The naive girly part of me that loves all creatures great and small was confused. "Don't they realize that poor bird's hurt? Don't they see that the other rooster's gonna kill him?"

The cynical seen-it-all part of me told the naive girly part to shut the hell up. "What did you expect from a bloodsport? Besides, you're in no position to do anything about it."  The naive girly part wandered off to a dark part of my brain to have a good cry.

Boom Jr.'s bird just sat there on the line. There was no fight left in him. But the other bird was still going strong. It rushed across the ring and started wailing on the helpless bird. The birds were separated again. Boom Jr.'s bird couldn't even stand. His head lolled to the side.

"On the line!"

Even the cynical seen-it-all part of me wondered if someone shouldn't throw in the towel. Everybody knew who'd won the fight. Was it really necessary to continue?

The wounded bird was placed on the line and remained motionless except for its attempts to keep hold its head up. The other bird attacked and wasted no time in finishing the poor thing off. The fight was officially over.

While removing the metal spurs from his dead bird, it was revealed that Boom Jr.'s bird had broken his real spur clean off during the fight. One of the other men remarked that this was due to Boom Jr. tying the metal spur on too tight. They warned him to watch out for that in the future.

Money exchanged hands and the winning rooster was returned to his pen. Then the property owner grabbed the dead cock by the feet and asked "Y'all wanna see something?"

We followed him down the row of pens and into the fenced enclosure I'd seen upon arriving - the one with all the tethered roosters. He talked about how roosters are so hell-bent on destroying other roosters that they will even attack a dead one. Then he tossed the dead bird at one of his cocks. A fast and furious attack followed.

We continued through the yard, watching as he threw the lifeless carcass in front of each and every rooster - about 20 in all. Each and every rooster  attacked the dead bird. Afterwards , he handed the carcass back to Boom Jr. who tossed it in the box he'd brought it in.

Boomhauer told his son to stop and get some food on his way home. Boomhauer and I stayed to jaw with the owner for a while. After downing a cold beer for breakfast, Boomhauer and I got in the truck and drove off.

As he was driving me back to my place, we passed Boom Jr. on his way back from the tiny town of Woodland. Boomhauer was pissed because he had wanted Boom Jr. to get food from someplace in some other tiny town. 

I know, I know. You're asking "What does this have to do with a story about a cockfight?" Well, I'm getting to that.

Boomhauer dropped me off at home around 10am. A couple hours later I drove into Woodland to get some smokes (no, I haven't quit yet, shut up). About halfway there I saw something lying on the side of the road. Roadkill is really common around here. The roads are littered with squashed armadillos, raccoons, cats, dogs, etc... As I got closer, I could make out feathers. I first thought it was a buzzard eating a fresh meal. But as I passed, I saw that it was a large dead bird.

On the return trip from Woodland, I slowed down as I approached the dead bird. There was no traffic behind me so I stopped next to it and leaned out the window for a better view. The head was hidden beneath the body but I could tell I was looking at a rooster. I bet if I'd gotten out of the truck and looked,  I would've found a broken spur.

 

 

 

Comments? Questions? Spare change? 

Send it to Jackie at RanchoSpenardo.com

 

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