The days may be getting incrementally longer, but we are headed into deep winter now. I always find the clear, brilliant blue skies of January a sort of consolation for the cold that reaches fingers deep into my lungs and bones. I’ve been on vacation for a week now and have one more week left. I’ve been busy cleaning up my den to make hunkering down feel cozier. 

A brief catch up before launching into chickens and stuff. Life piled up for a couple weeks. My dad died Thanksgiving weekend. It was a surprise, but not really. He was cremated and didn’t want a service or gathering of any sort, so we honored his wishes, difficult as it was. And I found my own way to remember him that could not have been more perfect. 

Then we got a foot of snow. Then it was all washed away a few days later in unprecedented weather—55F and thunderstorms. Southern Minnesota had 16 tornados; first time in recorded history we have had tornados in December. 

Then there was a great big women’s bike race on Zwift. It was 54 miles. I raced with my team and finished 50 out of 130, and my team finished 15th out of 32 teams in our category. Not too shabby. 

And then getting out cards and letters for the fast approaching holidays and meal planning for Solstice. Oof. It’s been nice to breathe a bit and follow my own schedule.

cake
Self-saucing black forest pudding cake

With the oven working again, I got to make the Solstice cake. And it was so worth the wait! We had some coffee flavored oat ice cream on the side (store-bought). I thought the pudding was going to end up on the bottom, but the top turns into pudding, which makes more sense. Served warm, it is a little bit of heaven.

I ordered my garden seeds from two different places and have already received one of the packages. I think the other is due to arrive tomorrow. Looking out at the bones of the garden, I also start wondering what additional perennials might I have room for? Should I finally cave in and get the Chicago Hardy Fig? Am I willing to go to great lengths to protect it in winter so I can have fresh figs? The Juneberry by the northwest corner of the garden is so happy it is suckering all over the place. Should I transplant some of the suckers? And if so, where? I do love Juneberries. Or maybe I should leave it be and move the honeyberry next to it that will be getting crowded if I don’t do something? And dear Walter the crabapple needs to be pruned in March. Must remember. And the hazelnut, someone told me I should coppice ki and it would make ki more productive. But I don’t know how to coppice a tree, and I never get to eat the nuts because squirrels. So do I just prune out the dead branches and some of the crowded ones?

This is what happens when I winter; my body is more constrained, which frees my mind to wander wildly.

We’ve had a couple mild days lately and the chickens have gotten to wander in the frozen garden. The Nuggets are six months old now. They are not quite full size yet, more like 3/4 size. Lucy, the australorp, delighted us with her vocal stylings. She is learning to laugh like our dear Margaret did! When we heard her first attempts we giggled.

It seems I spoke too soon about the Nuggets following along with everything the Dashwoods do. The Dahswoods keep them in line, yes, and have taught them about being chickens and what to expect from the humans, but the Nuggets are now finding some independence. So when James opened the coop door to let all of them out into the run one morning, he was only mildly surprised to see Sia sitting on the lowest roosting bar. Every morning since then, she is sitting on the bar. We are pretty sure she is not roosting there alone. When we close the coop door at night she is in the chicken pile with everyone else. We suspect that she hops up there to be out of the way in the early hours just before the sun comes up, when the chicken pile rumbles awake before we open the coop door.

I have developed a soft spot in my heart for Ethel. She is such a pretty, sweet bird, and on the bottom of the pecking order. She sometimes wanders off alone, I assume to escape the hierarchy for a little while at least. The other day I looked out and she was on the deck, all the other chickens were in the run. I went out and squatted down and talked with her. She walked around, talking back. Then she began eyeing the deck rail, stretching her head and looking at it, measuring, judging the distance. And then she squatted, gathering herself to leap, but was too unsure so stood back up.

chicken
Ethel perching

She walked around more, talking, and looking up at the deck rail. I told her she could jump up there is she wanted to. She gathered herself again and I gave her encouragement, you can do it Ethel! And with one smooth leap, up she went. She was simultaneously surprised and proud of herself. Good job Ethel! I told her, that was really well done. 

She started looking into the branches of the witch hazel next to the deck rail, and I told her it was a very bad idea to consider jumping into them, they all pointed up, there was no horizontal perch. She questioned me briefly, and then agreed, and carefully turned around so she faced me and the deck instead of the witch hazel. She chattered away, taking tentative steps along the rail, getting her footing, building confidence. Then she fluffed her feathers and sat down, tucking everything in. 

She was done talking. She wanted some quiet resting time. So I left her to herself on the deck rail, going to peek at her through the window now and then to make sure she was ok. She stayed there for about an hour before jump/flapping onto the deck and going back to join everyone else in the run.

And then on Friday James was home and we were having a movie matinee. I looked up and saw three chickens reflected in the glass of some prints on our dining table wall. For me to see their reflections meant all three of the Nuggets were on the deck rail. We paused the movie and slowly walked to the window so we wouldn’t scare them. Ethel must have jumped up onto the rail, showing Sia and Lucy how to do it. So of course they jumped up too. They were all so very proud of themselves. Though I think Ethel regretted it a little bit because she wanted to move along the rail but couldn’t because there was no room to get around Lucy. 

chickens
the three stooges?

The Dashwoods came up onto the deck and saw the three of them on the rail, then turned around and left. There must have been sighs, especially from Elinor, who, since her feathers have grow back from her molt last month, now has “gray hair.” She is a Rhode Island red, a rich red-brown except for some black in her tail. But now she has silver feathers among the red ones on her head. For weeks I thought they were pin feathers, and I kept expecting them to unfurl. But no, they are little silver feathers. She is almost six. I didn’t know chickens could go gray. I am not used to it because they are so different, and I keep thinking she has something on her head. Elinor carries on as usual. No reason to change just because of a few gray feathers. 

Reading

Listening

Watching

  • Matrix Resurrections. Very violent. Completely unnecessary continuation of the story. It had some moments but overall, not so great.
  • Doctor Who. I am not sure what to make of this season. There is generally not much death or violence in Doctor Who but this season there was a lot of both. And I get the feeling it might be the last season…no more Doctor.

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24 thoughts on “Winter

  1. What a tough time, Stef: I’m glad you were able to find a small corner of peace with your personal grieving ritual.
    I guess in some ways you were just trying your best to jump up on that fence with Ethel.

  2. Oh, so sorry about your Dad, Stefanie. As you know I lost my Dad at the beginning of the year. I’m really sad too that he didn’t want a service or gathering of any sort, because my feeling is that these things are for the survivors, and it’s a bit sad when the departed person puts conditions on this. But, good on you all for honouring his wishes. That’s the important thing. While a gathering can be so warming, not honouring his wishes would be completely counterproductive. Anyhow, please accept my best wishes and loving thoughts.

    I enjoyed the rest of your post, and your little story about Ethel but of course I most like hearing about Elinor. I didn’t know chickens can go grey either, but of course Elinor would get about her business with aplomb. She’s Elinor.

    USA has been having some horrendous weather, but I don’t know how much of it you have had. Whatever has happened, I hope you and Bookman are warm and snug.

    1. Thanks WG! I feel the same as, that the gatherings after someone has died are for the living. But I also think it is important to honor someone’s wishes. So I was glad to find a way to remember him that was still meaningful. 🙂

      Ethel is a sweet bird, a bit daft, but sweet. Heh, and of course Elinor continues pretty unflappable 🙂

  3. Offering my condolences; sorry for your loss. I am also sorry that I took me so long to get here, digital travel seems also to be difficult in these times? I want to say, I love your words here “This is what happens when I winter; my body is more constrained, which frees my mind to wander wildly.” I so appreciate your thoughts and all the sharings – you are one of my favorites in that you truly live your values and you are an inspiration. I love to hear about everything – food, cycling, reading, your gardens and your chickens! Wishing you a fresh new year and continued correspondence. Thank you for being a lovely part of my 2021.

    1. Aw Car, thank you so much for all of your kinds words and kindnesses as a correspondent too! Thank you for telling me about offing birds and helping me get through 2021! Here’s hoping for a brighter 2022!

  4. I am so sorry to hear about your father, Stefanie. I’m glad you were able to remember him in your own way. May you experience healing and peace.

    I love that Ethel taught the chickens to jump on the rail! What an enterprising little gal she is.

    1. Thank you Laila!

      I was kind of surprised it was Ethel since Sia is generally the one who figures something out first and teaches the others. Go Ethel! 🙂

  5. Very sorry your father has gone on. Even more sorry that you could not gather with family to mourn together. I know that makes the loss so much more difficult to internalize and then heal. COVID has played hell with my extended family in that regard. Also, I know you hadn’t got to see him much recently. Must feel sort of unreal. My dad turned 80 earlier in December; mom follows in March; sister#2 has breast cancer (just finishing treatment); sister#3 has long COVID (not improving). I haven’t got to give any of them a hug since before COVID hit. They may live beyond all this; they may not. I’m trying not to dwell on the likelihood of being unable to say goodbye while they are here. I imagine you’ve gone through something similar.

    But I’m glad you’re getting a nesting breather! Ordering seeds! Haven’t done that yet. Mostly because I don’t know how the greenhouse job will affect what I normally do… and there’s the fact that I haven’t got a normal in this place yet. So I’m a bit jealous. I love sorting seed packets in winter and dreaming of the gardens that will come.

    On the hazelnut… coppicing is long term. You cut down the main trunk and allow the strongest side shoots to make essentially more trees around the old center. Obviously, this is starting over in terms of fruiting. Eventually, there will be more nuts, but not for maybe 5-8 years. Or just slightly less long than it took to get from sapling to nuts on the original trunk (“less” because there’s a root system in place already…). So that may be a goal. But it might be better just to cut out the dead wood and water sprouts for now. Of course, you may never get nuts… because squirrels.

    And the Juneberries… I’d move the honeyberry and let the serviceberry bush just do its thing. Serviceberries are dioecious. Some of the saplings are going to be male, some female (unless these are suckers coming off the same plant & then my inclination is to cut most of them down because suckers suck). In any case probably best to keep them all together so the pollinators don’t have to work so hard.

    Ethel sounds like a friend. I’ve had three hens who bothered to learn enough about humans to talk with me. When I say I miss my girls, it’s really Bumpers, Fiona and Charlie that I miss. And yes, one of them, Charlie, lived to be so old she turned grey. She died at an amazing 8 years old. She was also an imperious RI Red. Maybe the grey is something in the breed. Definitely the imperiousness…

    I’m interested to know what you think of Paul Kingsnorth. I have always loved his work, though I’ve not always agreed with his ideas. But his recent antics have made me question everything he’s said so far. I hate it when authors refuse to be consistent… or reveal a consistency that I don’t like. Rude of them, really.

    1. Thank you Elizabeth! It does feel a bit unreal. I hope you get to see and hug all your family soon. I hope we all get to hug lots of people soon. So many hugs need to be given and received!

      Thanks for the information about coppicing! Curiously, my hazelnut doesn’t have a main trunk, it’s always been multi-branching and more like a small thicket than a tree. I started cutting out the dead wood last summer, I think I will finish that and cut back some bits of the thicket to open up the center a little for more light and so it isn’t so crowded. Then see what happens. You’ve been very helpful!

      The Juneberry is suckers coming off one plant, they are popping up 1-2 feet away from the main plant. I think I will cut back some of the suckers and move the honey berry, which is still smallish, because I think it is going to end up getting too crowded even if I cut back all the suckers.

      Aw, will you be able to have chickens in your current house? I hope so! RI Reds are imperious! And interesting yours went gray too! Perhaps it is their imperiousness that helps them live so long 😉

      I enjoyed the Kingsnorth, though I didn’t always agree with him and he seems to be rather steeped in male authors. He also has a very white male viewpoint even as he writes about de-centering the human. There was still some good food for thought though. The book was published in 2017 and most of the essays are from early 2000s with fewer in the early 2010s. But yeah, given all he says about the importance of stories and how we need new ones, his turn to orthodox Christianity is a bit baffling to me. Very rude inconsistency for sure! 😉

  6. So sorry to hear about your father’s death, Stefanie. It must have been hard to follow his wishes and not have any kind of gathering, but I’m glad you found your own way to honour his memory.

    Sounds as if you have some real characters there in the garden. And I liked your observation about your mind being free to wander as your body is more constrained. I’m having a different experience here in Barbados, where there is no winter – I’m spending more time outdoors, swimming and walking in nature, and I feel more sense of freedom and possibility, which is translating into greater psychological freedom too. As winter was setting in back in Serbia before I left, I was feeling more constricted, both physically and mentally. So it’s interesting to hear about your experience of winter – I can definitely see how that would happen, even if it seems to work differently for me. Or maybe, as a Minnesotan, you’re just more of an expert at doing winter 😉

    1. Thanks Andrew!

      I look forward to seeing how the chicken personalities develop as the reach maturity next summer. They are full of surprises!

      And thank you! Yes, I imagine winter in Barbados is a great contrast from Serbia! Maybe because I grew up in southern California where winter means rainy season and only the occasional mild frost, I like winter here in Minnesota, even when it’s arctic cold. Such a different experience that brings a different outlook on the world. I hope you are enjoying your time in Barbados!

  7. I’m so sorry about your father, I will do the same as he did as I don’t want a service of any sort. My father’s funeral was awful and I swore I wouldn’t do it that way. My mother had a funeral but after it Jack and I went straight to the Pancake Place with the kids as that was her favourite place for lunch – it felt right. Somehow I love it that chickens get grey feathers.

    1. Thanks Katrina! Funerals can definitely range from lovely to weird to downright terrible. My dad hated being the center of attention, which I can completely understand because I’m the same way. Going to the Pancake Place after your mother’s funeral sounds like a wonderful way to remember her. We had popcorn and watched the 1970s nature TV show Wild Kingdom on YouTube for my dad. 🙂

  8. What a sweet story about you checking on Ethel. It reminds me of the WONDERFUL claymation movie for adults titled Mary & Max. The little girl’s only friend is a rooster named Ethel until she randomly writes to a stranger in the U.S., Max.

    I love Brian Evenson’s stories, though some of his collections are more violent than others. He was raised a Mormon and even was a leader in the church for years before he was fired from his teaching position at Brigham Young for his first book, Altmann’s Tongue. Evenson came to my college and did a reading and then I was able to talk to him afterward at a party. He is just the KINDEST man and incredibly smart, too. Recently I listened to Immobility, a book of his that is more from his philosophy side than his horror side.

    I read a book about chickens that reminds me a bit of your writing. It’s called Chicken Scratch, and it’s just a little book. I think you would like it: https://grabthelapels.com/2016/12/14/chripczuk/

    1. Oh I’ve seen that movie GTL! It’s fantastic! Also Chicken Scratch looks delightful.

      That’s cool you’ve met Evenson and he is such a kind man. A strange contrast to his stories, at least in this collection. They are very Black Mirror like (if you’ve ever seen that Netflix show). But they were good, even the really disturbing ones. My husband is reading them now 🙂

        1. Thanks for the tip GTL! I am generally not a horror/scary stuff fan, I get nightmares. I’m ok with Black Mirror kind of horror, but anything more than that is a no go. The husband likes horror though so I will let him know about Fugue State!

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