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May 26, 2007

As the old saying goes: Lose a chicken, gain a kitten.


He doesn't have a name yet. Not because I think I may have to eat him later but because I'm still getting to know him. A name will come to me soon enough. Perhaps something Alaskan-themed.

I also acquired the young mama cat - she's about a year and a half old. Her given name is Betty Lou, but I'm sure I'll end up calling her something else.

Both cats came from one of the Boomhauer Brothers. I brought them home Wednesday. Mama cat immediately bolted for the woods and didn't return for 24 hours. The kitten spent most of that time hiding beneath furniture. He kept me up most of the night with his pitiful wailing.

Mama cat emerged from the woods late yesterday afternoon after her little vision quest and spent an hour or so cautiously eyeing me from across the driveway.

She was hesitant to enter the house at first, preferring to hang out on the lanai (it's just a small porch, but lanai just sounds so much better). But when she heard her baby crying , her maternal instinct kicked in. After the kitten heard his mama call, his crying turned into screaming.

 

Mama thought for sure her baby was in danger. She started growling and, though still wary about entering, darted inside to save him. As soon as the kitten saw her, he became instantly playful - chasing her tail and delivering little love-headbutts. But all mama wanted to do was get out of the house.

She checked every door and window, looking for an escape route. When I opened the door to let her out, she seemed shocked that I wouldn't let the kitten follow her. The kitten was inconsolable. I tried to explain that the little one had to stay inside for a couple days but cats never listen.

Mama wouldn't come inside. I wouldn't let the kitten outside. We finally agreed that the two of them should wail loudly at eachother through the window all night while I toss and turn on the couch. And by no means should they let me sleep any later than 5am.

 

 

I woke this morning to find the air thick with smoke drifting in from Georgia wildfires. We're in the midst of an awful drought.  The entire state of Alabama is on fire alert. Much of Georgia too. Here in Randolph County, we haven't had any real rain in weeks. There's none predicted for the coming week either.

I'm spending about three hours a day just watering the garden. I need to get a sprinkler. Right now, I'm watering everything by hand - either by hose or bucket. Hauling all that water has done wonders for my biceps though.

I wish it would rain simply so I could have a "day off." When it rains around here, there's no reason to be outside. It's nothing like a gentle Alaskan rain.

Alabama rain comes screaming down from the sky and slaps you in the face, like God pelting you with little water balloons. The red clay dirt turns into a something akin to Cook Inlet's mudflats. And then there's all the thunder and lightning. It makes for a good excuse to stay inside for an afternoon.

I may go ahead and cite the increasing smoke as a reason to take a break today. On a clear day, visibility in the back yard is about forty miles. Today, it's down to one mile. This isn't the first time smoke has drifted in from the wildfires, but it's the first time the smell of smoke has been so strong.

 

 

I put Jacob from Copenhagen on a south-bound bus last Monday, but not before getting him to help me pull some old junk out of the woods.

The biggest finds of the day were the cast iron remains of an old plow and some two-man saws.

Ooh...and a nasty nest of fire ants. But  that's par for the course.

 

Jacob also got to see his first raccoon. He caught a glimpse of it near the chicken coop (!) but didn't know what it was. When he described it to me, he mentioned a striped tail. Initially we thought he may have seen a skunk, but looking at photos on the internet confirmed it was a raccoon.

 

I also heard my first bobcat in heat that same evening. There's a sound I won't soon forget.

Tomorrow morning, another first: My first cockfight.

 

 

 

May 20, 2007

There's a reason I haven't named any of my chickens yet.

Last week, I went down to Frankencoop to feed the chickens in the morning -  like I always do. All the chickens were their usual over-excited selves except for one was sitting quietly in a dark corner.

When I went to investigate, I saw that the chicken had blood on its rear. I picked it up and saw what's called a prolapsed cloaca. In layman's terms: the chicken's insides were on the outside. About 2 inches of intestines had turned inside-out and were hanging out the back of the chicken.

I had read about this condition before but had not expected to see it in chickens this young. Sometimes it's caused by straining to lay an egg - but my chickens aren't laying eggs yet.

I took the chicken back up to the house. You have to separate injured chickens from the rest of the flock because the others will peck at the bird, causing further injury or even death. Chickens are more cruel than a playground full of fourth-graders.

A prolapsed cloaca is often fatal, but I figured I'd at least make an effort to save the bird. Part of this effort included putting on latex gloves, lubing up a finger and gently pushing the intestines back inside the bird. Trust me, it's not fun.

Sadly, the chicken died later that day. I was actually holding it when it died. Of course, I cried like the big softie I am.

It's what happened next that was out of character for me, at least the pre-Alabama me.

I grabbed my knives and a magazine with an article on butchering poultry. This chicken would not die in vain - it would serve as a lesson in butchering.

 

I felt like an absolute monster cutting off the head. Taking pictures of the process didn't make me feel any less ghoulish. Carrying the headless bird around by the feet seemed like part of a voodoo rite.

Then I put the carcass in a pot of hot water for scalding. That made it easer to pull out all the feathers. Then I cut off its feet.

Is this anyway to treat a creature you raised from birth?

By this point, it began to look more like food - resembling something you'd find at the grocery store (albeit smaller).

I scooped out the internal organs and separated them into what I'd eat  (heart, gizzard, liver) and what I wouldn't (intestines, lungs). Yummy ones went in the fridge, icky ones went into a bowl that I had other plans for.

Permit me to digress for a moment:

Some of you have heard me talk about "the maggot bucket" - a disgusting experiment I was actually looking forward to.

The idea is you get a 5-gallon plastic bucket with a lid. You drill small holes along the top of the bucket as well as on the bottom. Then you put an animal carcass in the bucket and suspend it above the ground, like from a tree branch.

The flies come in through the holes and lay their eggs which hatch into maggots which in turn feed on the dead flesh.

When the maggots are ready to turn into flies, they will not do so in the carcass. Instead, they burrow into the ground to pupate. The the maggots instinctually head for the bottom of the bucket where they fall out of the holes you've drilled. They drop to the ground where the chickens are waiting to gobble up these tasty morsels of pure protein.

 

When I placed the inedible chicken guts in a small bowl for disposal, it didn't take the flies long to gather. I realized that I could use it as a tiny version of the maggot bucket. Instead of dumping it out in the woods, I left the bowl on the front porch where I had done the majority of my butchering. The guts were then forgotten during the process of cooking and eating the chicken.

The next morning I discovered some varmint had scampered up onto the front porch and devoured the guts - licking the bowl clean. This made me realize I had to rethink some of the fundamentals of my maggot bucket plan. The last thing I want to do is attract carnivores to my chicken coop. But the ten-year-old tomboy in me really wants to try this out. I'll be giving this some serious thought in the next few weeks and let you know what I come up with.

 

I placed the chicken in a cast iron pan along with some potatoes, onions, oil and spices. I popped the whole thing in the oven to bake and was soon eating the freshest organic chicken I'd ever tasted. As delicious as it was, I still felt like a bit of a ghoul.

I now know I am capable of butchering and eating one of my chickens. It remains to be seen if I can bring myself to actually kill one of them.

 

And that wasn't the only thing that made the day out of the ordinary. I was also contacted that afternoon by the private investigator leading the ongoing search for my old friend, Patrick McDermott (better known these days as Olivia Newton John's missing boyfriend). I'm not sure, but I think he's the same P.I. who's working for one of the television tabloid shows. I just remember seeing his name in some of the articles about Patrick's disappearance.

Frankly, if Patrick is still alive, I hope they never find him. Since I have no info on what happened to Patrick, I agreed to talk to the guy. He said he was establishing a profile on Patrick and wanted to talk to me for background info. We talked on the phone for about 20 minutes.

It's been about 15 years since I've seen Patrick. I doubt I told this guy anything he didn't already know. And if I had any dirt on Patrick, I certainly wouldn't tell this guy - or anybody else.

I told Angela about the encounter that evening. Told her how the investigator asked about what kind of women Patrick dated and other questions about his personal life. Angela said I should've told him that Patrick was a bisexual crossdresser - just to throw him off. Ah...shit like that really makes me miss having her around.

 

My Danish Couchsurfing.com guest also arrived this week. His name is Jacob and he's a cabinetmaker from Copenhagen. As I mentioned earlier, he's working his way west to Texas and then south to Chile. He's been hanging out here at Spenardo del Sur for a few days, helping me water the garden and feed the chickens.

Jacob collecting clover to feed the chickens.

Yesterday, we spent the afternoon sightseeing. Okay, there's not really a lot to see around here, but we did have a good time. I would not be surprised if Jacob is Woodland's very first Danish tourist.

First we went to the East Alabama Goat Auction. It's held twice a month just down the road from my place. Neither one of us had ever been to a goat auction, so this seemed like fun. Besides, I've been wanting to get a goat so it was a good chance for me to see what the current prices are.

It's held in a small building set up like a theater. (For those of you in Anchorage, it's about the size of Cyrano's.)  The "stage" area is fenced in with wire and they bring out the goats one by one while the auctioneer does his thing:

Number109itsanannygoatgimme25doIhear25Igot25doIhear30willsomeone

gimme30thisisanannygoatgimme30forthenannygoatIgot30doIhear35Igot30

canIget35forthisnannygoat30goingonce30goingtwicesoldfor30dollars!

 

There were also people there with chickens and rabbits. Someone was giving away free puppies. There was even a concession stand where you could grab a bite to eat. Almost every vehicle there was a pick-up truck (including mine).

Next, we went into town for lunch at Gedney's where we grabbed a couple burgers and gigantic cups of soda with free refills. Bonus points for the Girl Scout cookies on sale at the counter!

Then it was off to the beach - the same beach that BMac, Dani and unsuccessfully tried to go to a couple weeks ago. This time, being a weekend, the beach was open. Jacob and I spent a couple hours swimming and laying around in the sun. It feels so good to be lazy!

Then it was a quick trip to the grocery store for dinner provisions and back to the house where we lamented the fact we forgot to stop at a liquor store for more beer. Damned dry counties! We drank the few beers we still had and called it a day.

Tomorrow, he leaves for Mobile and then onward from there to New Orleans. Once again, it'll be nobody here but us chickens.

 

 

May 13, 2007

My guest from Denmark did not arrive yet. Instead, he should be here sometime this week. He's having too much fun drifting around the southern states. He's got a long way to go before reaching his final destination of Chile, so you can't blame him for wanting to see everything he can.

Meanwhile, for me, every day seems like the one before it. Sometimes one day feels like a week and a week can feel like one day. It can be difficult to remember if I did something this morning or a couple days ago. There are days where my only social interaction is with the chickens.

Lest you think I am living a monk's life up here on the hill, there is a small group of people I've taken to hanging out with - a bunch of local redneck guys, mostly in their 50s, whom I'll call "The Boomhauer Brothers." Just the good ol' boys, never meanin' no harm...

They're not exactly the crew most of you would expect me to run with. But they're the only people I know who drink, smoke, curse and don't invite me to church. I met them all through the guy I sold the old forge equipment to back in February. He's kinda their ringleader. We hang out at his farm/workshop, drink cheap beer and talk about shit. Nothing deep, mind you. Just shit.

One of the Boomhauer Brothers raises chickens. More specifically, he raises roosters for fighting. Cockfights go on twice a month not more than a couple miles down the road from Spenardo del Sur. I haven't had a chance to go yet, but I have marked it on my summer social calendar.

Early yesterday morning, I went by his place and picked up five more chickens for my flock. They're all extra pullets (girl chickens) he didn't want. He also gave me a big roll of chicken wire.

When I got home, I put the new chickens in the coop. They're younger and smaller than the others and have been shoved to the bottom of the pecking order. Most of the older chickens don't pay them much attention, but a couple seem to go out of their way to bully the new kids.

The new chickens have been keeping to themselves in other parts of the coop. The coop is quite spacious - about the size of a small bachelor apartment. More than enough room to accommodate three or four times the number of birds I have now.

I was worried they might not get enough food or water since the older chickens usually congregate in that area (what used to be Grandma's bathroom). To make sure they got fed, I put some extra food and water in the back.

 

But it wouldn't take long for one of the bully chickens to show up, run the younguns off and claim possession of the food.

 

Chicken relations are a little better today, but it's still a self-segregated coop.

 

I've been busy constructing an outdoor pen next to the coop so I can let the chickens outside during the day. There are too many things in the woods that want to eat my chickens so I don't feel comfortable letting them run free.

I've taken to calling the coop "Frankencoop" due to it's haphazardly scarred  appearance.

You can see where I have ripped down the asphalt siding to replace rotten wood beneath and then nailed up surviving chunks of siding to cover the repair work. I've been sealing the bottom with tin from the old barn roof, surrounding it with asphalt roof shingles and rocks.

The outdoor pen is being built with scrap lumber found around the property (and the roll of chicken wire seen in the lower right corner). A real carpenter would shake their head at the quality of some of the wood I'm using - as well as the quality of my work in general. Fuck it - I'm in a hurry.

I have no building plan. I'm making it up as I go along. I have no idea what it will look like when it' finished. I will be just as surprised as you. Good thing for me this area doesn't have any building codes to speak of.

 

Turns out that those jets I've been seeing ARE military jets after all. I only caught quick glimpses of them as they flew overhead and they didn't look like Air Force to me. But last week, I got a good look at the markings on the underside of the wings and I realized they were Navy planes. Durr...I hadn't even thought of that.

Ever since that one did his little top gun stunt over my house, I've been paying closer attention to the jets and when they fly by. I wanted to figure out if they had a regular schedule. I haven't yet recognized a pattern except that they don't seem to fly on weekends and they always head south - I think to the base in Pensacola. Some days there are more than one. Last Tuesday, six flew by within 30 minutes.

 

On a sad note: My dear friend, Rick Harper, passed away last week. He was the friend I stayed with in Hollywood for two weeks in January during my six-week trek from Alaska to Alabama. A more honest man, you will never meet.

He was almost physically incapable of telling a lie. In the almost 20 years I knew Rick, I only know of one lie he ever told. There was once a little old lady who lived nextdoor with an expensive pet bird. The bird often escaped and had to be retrieved from neighboring yards.

One afternoon, Rick went into his backyard and discovered his cat had killed the woman's bird. He took the dead bird back to the woman but lied about where he'd found it and didn't mention the cat at all.

She was heartbroken at the loss of her only companion. Rick was sick with guilt. He felt awful that his cat had killed the bird, but he felt even worse about telling a lie.

He tried to ease his conscience by buying the lady a similar bird. I forget what it cost, but it probably set him back two or three hundred dollars. The lady was moved by this act of neighborly kindness and told just about everybody on the block what a wonderful man Rick was. Of course, this made Rick feel even worse.

Later, at a neighborhood BBQ, the conversation turned to this good deed Rick had done and everyone started gushing about what a great guy he was. I imagine Rick could hear the dead bird's heart beating in the old lady's backyard.

He finally could take no more and blurted out that his cat killed the bird and he'd lied to the old lady and only bought the other damned bird because he felt like shit and he wished that everybody would just shut the hell up already about how fucking great he is!

I cannot begin to tell you how different my life would be had he not been in it. He was a good boss, a tolerable roommate and a great friend.

Mahalo, Uncle Rick.

 

I can't help but think about how it was a year ago today that Marley, the best cat in the history of the universe, died in my arms while we slept. I buried her that afternoon in Sheila's pet cemetery. That evening I had to be onstage at Out North for the play I was in. A glowing review had just come out in that day's paper. They called us "a dream cast." Man, talk about a rollercoaster day.

Of course, it was only the beginning of what was to be a rollercoaster year.

I'm having a hard time believing that was only a year ago - it seems so far away. How could so much change in such a short time? Now I'm 40 pounds thinner, 40 shades darker, wear t-shirts with the sleeves cut off and drive a red pick-up truck down dusty unpaved Alabama roads while  listening to George Jones. Okay, sometimes I listen to Public Enemy or Edith Piaf, but still...

This new life still does not feel real to me.

 

 

 

 

May 5, 2007

Ah...it felt so good to have a couple Alaskans around the homestead. BMac & Dani came bearing alcohol, coffee, beignet mix, a recent copy of New Orleans' weekly paper, stickers, cigarettes, a T-shirt and other assorted goodies.

You have no idea how nice it felt to stay up until 4am, drinking beer around the campfire, talking 'bout shit. A night like home...

We had planned to go to the beach on Tuesday. It was nearly 90 degrees and Alaskans rarely get to swim outside.

First, we had to go to Chambers County to get alcohol. No booze for sale here in Randolph County and we didn't know the status of Clay County (where the beach is). The liquor store was a little out of the way, but the beach wouldn't be the same without frosty adult beverages.

We had a state road map that did us absolutely no good. So many roads that weren't on the map. Roads with no signs. Roads that dead-end in peoples' front yards. Roads that did not go to the beach.

After an afternoon of scenic driving, we finally got to the beach where we were greeted by locked gates and this sign:

 

As we headed back the way we came, we decided to follow signs leading toward the dam responsible for creating the elusive Lake Wedowee.

You can see BMac in the bottom left corner, leaning against the railing

But the dam did not satisfy us. We'd been driving for hours and had yet to even get our feet wet. The sun was on it's way towards the horizon and we were damned well going to find some beach.

We saw a sign pointing to a boat launch and decided that was good enough for us. We drove to the end of the launch, pulled a couple frosty adult beverages out of the cooler and proceeded to enjoy our day at the beach.

Tailgate party!

 

BMac skipping stones

 

Local youth horsing around on a rope swing

 

BMac & Dani left Spenardo del Sur on Wednesday. They headed south towards the Gulf of Mexico, still in search of a real beach.

 

My guest from Copenhagen isn't due until Monday. Until then, ain't nobody here but us chickens.

 

 

Comments? Questions? Spare change? 

Send it to Jackie at RanchoSpenardo.com

 

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