You can take the girl out of Spenard but you can't take Spenard out of the girl.











Rancho Archivo 














































March 27, 2008

I was really dreading writing this update. The last week was incredibly difficult and I left me feeling like an utter failure in my recent incarnation as a farmer. But Tuesday brought much needed good news and I'm feeling like a little less of a loser.

It started last Thursday morning when I found one of the nanny goats, Hypno,  had died. She'd been ill for a couple days and, while her death wasn't a complete surprise, it was still pretty depressing.


Later that afternoon, I had a housecleaning job and was gone for a couple hours. I returned home at 5:30pm and went to feed the remaining goats. The first thing I noticed was that Preacher wasn't around. He is rarely far from the nannies and he ALWAYS comes running when I'm pouring the feed. Something was obviously wrong.

I opened the gate and started searching for him. I searched until sundown - about an hour and a half. The fenced area only encompasses about 5 acres but it's not flat pasture. About two acres are covered in trees. There's also hills, large rocks, waist-high brush and numerous places to conceal a small billy goat. I could find no sign of him.

Over the next two days, I spent hours combing the property for him. I carefully listened for any sound that might be him. I traipsed through the briars, climbed over and around fallen trees, peered in animal burrows and covered every square inch of those five acres. He was not there.

I wondered if someone had stolen him but that just didn't make sense. Frankly, he's the least valuable of the goats. There were unused fence posts laying on the ground next to the gate that are worth more money than Preacher. I printed out a couple fliers and posted them at the goat auction Saturday just in case.

That morning I also killed and butchered one of the new roosters. I had to channel my anger and frustration somewhere and I took it out on the poor cockrell. As much as I hate killing chickens, this was the first time I didn't cry while doing it. It still sucked though and all I could think of was I still had half a dozen roosters to cull after this one.


That afternoon, after returning from the goat auction, I took the generator and electric chainsaw down to a patch of woods I'm working on clearing. The trees stand between my house and the goats & chickens. I want to be able to have a clear line of sight between me and them. Also, there's a small spring in there that I'd like to get cleaned out.

An electric chainsaw wasn't my first choice. I wanted a small, girly chainsaw (which the electric one is) but I had my eye on a battery-operated one. The battery will only run the saw for an hour at a time, but I loved the portability. My father insisted that an electric one would be much better. Since he was offering to pay for it, I didn't argue (besides, it's pointless to argue with him).

So instead of being able to grab the saw anytime and do a little impromptu wood cutting, I now have to lug this heavy generator around and spend a good twenty minutes just trying to get it started. My first day of using the chainsaw, I cut through six pine trees and one extension cord. I knew that was going to happen. Anyone who knows me could see that coming from a mile away.

So, anyway, Saturday afternoon I lugged the generator & saw down to the woods along with my tape-repaired extension cord (it's my only one). After struggling for about twenty minutes to start the damned generator, I finally proceeded to take down a rather tall tree.

The tree was tall enough that I thought it might actually block my driveway when it dropped. No problem, I thought, I'll just immediately cut it up into logs that I can stack up near the house.

I cut a wedge out of the west side trunk - the direction I wanted it to fall. I then started slicing through the east side of the trunk. Just before my slice met the open wedge, the chainsaw stopped. Quit cold. It was still plugged in so I figured that my splice and tape job on the extension cord was not as good as I had thought.

I turned off the generator and walked back to the house where I re-repaired the cord. I returned to the woods ready to finish the job but now I couldn't get the generator started. I gave up after about 15 minutes and grabbed an axe. There was only a small portion of the tree trunk that was still intact and I couldn't just leave this 60-foot tree hanging by a thread, threatening to crash down at any given moment.

A half hour of swinging the axe did nothing. The tree was still standing. And I gave up. I could swing no more.

The only thing I could do at that point was to sit down in the middle of the driveway and cry. I couldn't cut down a fucking tree. I couldn't properly repair a fucking extension cord. I couldn't start a fucking generator. I couldn't kill the animals I was supposed to and I couldn't keep the other ones alive. I was an utter and complete failure as a farmer. What the fuck had I done to my life?


I pulled myself together enough to walk away from the tree and drag all my shit back up to the house.


Sunday and Monday were fairly uneventful. I couldn't muster the energy to attack the tree again. I just hoped a good stiff breeze would blow down and that no one would be in the way when it happened. I spent a good portion of those two days working on the peacock coop. Carpentry is another thing I'm no good at, but that doesn't stop me from doing it anyway.

Yes, it's just as crooked as it looks. But, believe it or not, it's as sturdy as hell.


Tuesday afternoon, I went down to check on the goats and chickens. While refreshing the goats' water, a disembodied "baaaah...baaaah..." reached my ears. All the goats were standing directly in front of me and weren't making a sound.


I spun around and tried to locate the sound. I couldn't pinpoint where it was coming from. It sounded like it was in front of me, then behind me, then in front of me again. For a moment I thought it was coming from the woods across the street but, as I headed that way, I heard it again. I realized in horror that the ghostly cries were coming from beneath my feet. I instantly knew where Preacher was. He was in the old storm drain that runs beneath the driveway. One end of it is just inside the fence. The other end is just on the other side of the driveway.


The drain, a twenty-five foot long metal tube, is really old. I think it was put in when that section of my driveway was actually part of the old road. Many decades ago, before it was paved, a portion of the road was moved slightly to the south where the terrain is a little flatter. You can still make out where the road went over the hill, across what is now my front yard.

I'd never gotten around to blocking it because I didn't think any of the goats could fit in there. Since the other end was already blocked, I wasn't worried about anything using the drain to get into the fenced area. I had even peered  inside the drain during my initial searches for Preacher, but obviously didn't look hard enough.


I stuck my head inside the tube and - sure enough - saw the ass-end of a goat about ten feet away. Preacher was was wedged in the center of the tube. I ran to the other end and cleared away the fallen branches that were blocking the way out. Unfortunately, over the years, the opening had caved in enough that there was no way he could get through.  He was going to have to come out the same way he got in. And, obviously, he needed my assistance.

I ran back to the truck and drove up to the house. I started throwing shit in the bed of the pickup that I thought might be useful. Pick axe, shovel. Damn it! Where's the flashlight? Oh, nevermind. Driving back down to Preacher, I realized the shovel and pick axe were useless to me. There was no way I was going to dig him out - certainly not by myself. The ground was rock hard and I had nothing to cut through or even bend the metal of the tube.

I ran to the old well and cut loose the rope that holds the bucket. Perhaps I could get the rope around him and pull him out. I tied the rope around the end of the shovel handle, making a loop. I got down on my belly and stuck my head in the old storm drain, waiting a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. I stretched my arm as far as I could but the shovel handle just wasn't long enough to get the rope underneath him. All I was able to do was poke him with the handle which caused him to scurry another foot or two forward.

I didn't dare crawl into the tube myself. I could "comfortably" fit one shoulder inside but was worried if I tried to get both shoulders in there I would get stuck myself. Perhaps if someone was there with me I may have tried it. At least they could've gone for help if I got stuck. But trying it on my own was too risky.


At least I knew Preacher could move inside the tube. If he could move forward, I assumed he could move backwards. All I had to do was prod him with something from the other end. But what did I have that I could thread through the drain? The other side was still partially blocked and whatever I used would have to not only be long enough, but flexible enough to maneuver through the opening at an angle.

I tried to think of anything I had that fit the description. Then I remembered a forty foot length of pliable plastic pipe I'd found in the old barn last year. I ran to the barn to retrieve it, dragging it back to the storm drain. It easily slipped passed the blockage and into the tube. I kept feeding the pipe through until it hit something solid. Since I couldn't peer into the drain from that direction, I couldn't tell for sure if it was Preacher I was hitting. He wasn't making a sound - and he wasn't moving. No matter how good of an idea I thought it had been, this wasn't working either.


I spied a metal pipe in the grass that had once been part of the plumbing in my grandma's old house. It was a couple feet longer than the shovel handle and had a short curved end. I decided to try the rope trick one more time.

Once again, I was on my belly with my head and one shoulder inside the storm drain. I pushed the pipe through and found it was long enough to get underneath Preacher. Just as I was thinking I might actually be able to get the rope around his back leg, Preacher scooted backwards. The curved joint of the pipe was underneath his belly and, when I pulled back on it, caused him to scoot backward instead of forward.

I kept at it, trying carefully to keep my motions the same and not startle him into moving forward again. Soon he was about two feet from the entrance. I reached out and grabbed one of his hind legs. I started to pull on it and he let out a loud bleat that almost scared me into letting go. Was he injured? Did he have any broken bones? Was I hurting him?

I knew I couldn't let go. Even if he was hurt, even if he died anyway, I had to get him out of that drain. I pulled on his leg again and got him close enough that I was able to grab the other hind leg. His fur was muddy and wet with five days of goat piss. I could feel it squish between my bare fingers. The smell hit me like a ton of bricks. But I kept pulling.

As I got his legs out of the drain, I got up onto my knees and heaved with all my might. His legs were pressed against my chest, smearing me with the odiferous mud. In a matter of seconds, Preacher was free. I have never been so happy to smell so bad.

At first, he was unsteady on his feet. His legs, surely cramped and numb from five long days in the same position, were as wobbly as a newborn's. But he could walk. Happily, there were no broken bones. He'd lost a little weight and was incredibly hungry but, other than that (and the overwhelming stink), he was fine.

He must've been able to get enough water while trapped in the drain. His little beard was stained bright orange from the mud.


Why did Preacher crawl into the storm drain? I don't know. Maybe that damned dog was back, barking and chasing the goats, and Preacher thought it was a good place to hide. Why did he take five days to let me know he was down there? Again, I don't know. I walk within a few feet of that storm drain every single day. I would've certainly heard him had he spoke up sooner. The storm drain is now securely blocked and I'm pleased as punch to have Preacher back.

After watching him for a little while to make sure he was okay, I headed into the chicken coop. It was then I heard the happy first peeps of newborn chicks. I wasn't able to get a peek at any of the little peepers until the next day but - boy oh boy - are they adorable!


As I left the chicken coop, I heard something crash. I looked around but couldn't see what could've made the noise. I shrugged it off, thinking it must've been the clanging of loose tin on the roof of the old barn. Sometimes a breeze lifts up a sheet and drops it against another, making a loud clanging noise.

But when I rounded the bend in the driveway and approached the house, I saw what had made the noise. That tree I'd been unable to cut down had finally gave way and crashed to the ground. And it fell two feet shy of the driveway!

Tuesday turned out to be a very good day. I was in sore need of a good day. Maybe - just maybe - I'm not the worst farmer in the world, after all.




March 17, 2008

Dammit! I hate killing chickens. I understand everything dies. I can deal with that. But I detest having to play the role of grim reaper. I hate it.

I had to kill Elsie, the littlest chicken, yesterday. Of all the new chickens, she was the only one I'd named. She was the only one I could tell apart from the rest. And I had to kill her.

A little over a week ago, I noticed her having trouble keeping her balance. I discovered a gash beneath one of her wings. It had become infected and was turning green. I brought her up to the house in an attempt to nurse her back to health. I cleaned the wing and regularly put an antibiotic ointment on the cut.

In time, the infection cleared up but then something went wrong with her right leg. She couldn't stand on it and it splayed out to her side at a right angle. This caused further problems as her flapping wings would beat against the ground. The tip of one wing became raw and developed a new infection. She was in pain and it wasn't going to get any better.


On top of it all, I'd come to the realization that Elsie was actually a rooster. Turns out almost half of the new chickens are roosters. Which means I have to get rid of them too.

You can't tell the sex of a young chicken just by flipping it over like a puppy or kitten. Experts can tell on the first day they're born. But if you don't figure it out on that first day, you have to wait until the secondary sex characteristics start to show.

Why did I assume all the new chickens were female? Hell, I don't know. I guess I figured B.J. Boomhauer knew I didn't want anymore roosters when he brought me the chickens. I don't think I even asked about their sex.

So now I have too many roosters again. Soon I will have to kill them, butcher them and stuff them in my freezer. Dammit! I hate killing chickens.


Late yesterday afternoon I came to the realization that I was only delaying the inevitable. I was going to have to kill Elsie and at this point I was only prolonging the agony for both of us.

I pulled a knife from the drawer and drew it through the sharpener. I took Elsie outside and put him/her on my lap while I sat on the back steps. We just sat there for a while in the light of the setting sun. Elsie never took his/her eyes off me. Did the chicken know what was coming?

After a few minutes of quiet contemplation, I drew the knife across Elsie's neck in a quick smooth motion that severed the jugular on the first try. I held him/her upside down by the feet to let the blood drain. His/her wings started flapping and the blood splattered across my arms and face. I set Elsie on the ground but, because of the useless right leg, he/she flopped around by my feet instead of running away like I've heard chickens will do when you kill them. Blood sprayed across my legs and boots. I picked him/her back up by the feet until the flapping stopped - less than a minute after I'd drawn the knife across his/her neck.

In one way, it was the cleanest kill I'd performed so far. But it was by far the messiest. And, of course, I cried. I hate killing chickens.


I didn't butcher Elsie. He/she was still rather small and the thought of the recent infection didn't seem too appetizing. Instead, Elsie would go where other small, unlucky chickens had gone before - the maggot bucket. (For those of you unfamiliar with the maggot bucket, you can find a description in my post from May 20, 2007.)

I laid Elsie on the lowered tailgate of my truck and slowly headed down the driveway towards the edge of the woods behind Frankencoop where I keep the maggot bucket. With the cats trailing behind, it felt like a funeral procession. As we rounded the bend, the other chickens ran towards the truck and joined the parade. The goats gathered at the fence to watch. It was if everyone at Spenardo del Sur had come to pay their last respects to the littlest chicken.

Elsie on a particularly muddy morning last month


Since any good funeral needs a good song, here's the Swedish Chef, Animal and Beaker with their rendition of "Danny Boy."




March 9, 2008

Turned on the TV yesterday morning to watch the news. All the local stations could talk about was the bitter cold and snow. You'd think nothing else happened in Alabama that night. It was so bad that they were shutting down portions of the interstate around Birmingham. But the Alaskan in me was laughing. The "bitter cold" is high twenties with a brisk wind. The snow was only an inch or two in places. Here at Spenardo del Sur, there wasn't even an inch and it was gone before noon.

I saw people on the TV swaddled in winter jackets, hats, scarves and gloves. My concession to the weather yesterday was wearing long sleeves.


My CouchSurfer, Jerry Nelson, left Wednesday morning. That was an incredibly pleasant way to shift gears from my parents' winter visit to my upcoming summer hermitdom.

Jerry, a Vietnam vet and former Baptist minister, is currently riding a bicycle  from Washington DC to Oregon on a mission to raise funds for and awareness of homeless vets. A little over a year ago, he set off on foot from New Mexico to visit the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial Wall on it's 25th anniversary. He ended up spending a few months in DC where he acquired a bicycle.

Somewhere along the way, his personal pilgrimage turned into a greater mission and has been picking up steam every mile of the way. There's a book being written about his trip, he's been booked on Letterman in September and Time Magazine even called the house last week to interview him.

For more information on Jerry's cross-country trek, you can go to his website or read this article.


Jerry arrived last Saturday morning after pitching his tent for the night in the yard of the American Legion post in Roanoke. One of the vets there bought Jerry breakfast and then gave him & his bike a lift to my place 25 miles away.

That afternoon, I took Jerry to see one of the biggest things going on around here on a Saturday - the East Alabama Goat Auction. He got to see goats, a few chickens and rabbits, lots of pickup trucks, ate hamburgers served out of a converted camper and admired the rustic outhouse with separate stalls for "roosters" and "hens." Quite a change from just two weeks before when he shared a church pulpit with former president Jimmy Carter and later was invited to dinner with Jimmy & Roslyn at their Georgia home.


During his stay here, Jerry helped with a lot of chores, including finishing the goat fence. We ate lots of fresh eggs and had many great conversations about war, religion, politics and lots of other less-heavy topics.


I found half a dozen pair of these vintage overalls in the old house on the property (which now serves as my chicken coop). They probably belonged to my grandmother's brother. I don't think my grandmother ever wore a pair of pants in her life.


Wednesday morning, Jerry hitched his trailer to the bike and set off for Huntsville where he's scheduled to speak at another church.

As you can see from the above photos, Jerry definitely doesn't fit the mold of the  marathon cyclist. He doesn't wear any garish, skin-tight, aerodynamic clothing. He doesn't even wear a helmet! (Somewhere, Angela is having a conniption fit.) And if you look closely, he's even smoking a cigarette. He may not be a stereotypical cyclist, but there is little stereotypical about Jerry Nelson. If you happen to see him in your town, buy him a cup of coffee.


Once again, ain't nobody home but us chickens (and goats and cats).



Comments? Questions? Spare change? 

Send it to Jackie at RanchoSpenardo.com


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