Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Fine Spring Day

The weather in our part of North Carolina has been excellent the past few days. Mid 80's in the afternoon with dips near fifty in the evening. And so goes the old saying, "Spring has sprung, the grass is riz! I wonder where those flowers is?"

Most of the time I get excited about the change in seasons. Well, I'm always excited about the seasons to be perfectly honest. But this spring is going to be a bit more of a challenge than most. You see, we added seven baby chickens to our menagerie. 

Normally such small animals wouldn't pose much of an issue for a pet friendly household like ours. Dawn and I have raised ducks, kittens, puppies, rats, snakes, mice, spiders and lizards. Throw in the occasional wild caught squirrel and you get a pretty good idea of what we are used to dealing with. So, we thought it would be nice, since we live in a chicken friendly town, to raise a few hens for eggs and bug control in the yard. Little did we know that my desire for a friendly chicken with good egg laying potential would lead to such turmoil. It seems that the leghorn variety of chicken is easily affected by the promise of spring and they are mischievous as heck. Actually, spring fever seems to have affected every animal in the house!

The weather, like I mentioned, has been gorgeous, so I decided to take the chicks outside for a bit of sunshine and scratching. Normally I wait until Dawn is home to take them out but the warm breeze through the living room window was calling my name this morning. So, like any good chicken dad, I took the flock outside. Unfortunately the flock included Jasper and Sampson as well. They bolted out the door just as it was about to close and shot off into the yard with triumphant crooked tails. They are so funny when they escape. Their eyes go wide, ears are pinned back and they do the craziest sideways hop-skip as they come to a stop and survey the world around them. If it weren't so dangerous for them to be outside I'd let them out every day. But we've lost two cats in the past year to life outside and we aren't interested in suffering an additional loss.

So I located a suitable place for the chicks and set them down. Jasper stood a few yards away, watching me get the chicks settled. I figured he would be the easiest to catch since he normally lets us pick him up when he gets loose. I double checked the chicks then started to walk toward Jasper. The closer I got the more he calmed down and finally began rolling in the yard. But just as I was bending down to pick him up, Sampson came speeding across the yard like a small fuzzy panther and hit Jasper broadside. At first I thought it was a neighbor cat attacking but quickly realized that despite the claws, hissing and teeth, they were actually playing. With my plans to capture Jasper foiled all I could do was stand there and watch them race around the yard much like dogs who have been let out after a day in the house. Dawn wasn't home so I figured I'd let them have their fun for a few hours and round them up before she returned.

I shrugged my shoulders and said a little prayer to the cat gods that they would be OK.  Then I turned back toward the house and noticed something rather startling.  All of the chickens were standing on the ground behind me. They should have been safe inside their cage on the porch. Normally I'd think that such a thing was cute as heck but not in this case. I had at least two predators on the loose and seven prey animals chirping at my feet who are just shy enough to stay about a fingers length out of reach at all times. They are mature enough to barely fly and it turns out that the Leghorn variety is a rather flighty chicken. This would not do. Somehow, as I was taking their cage outside I must have dislodged it from its lower part. Sure enough, the cage was sitting cockeyed on the porch. 

My first instinct was to bend over and start snatching up chicks but I stopped myself. Snatching at baby chickens is as about as effective as trying to give a haircut over the phone. What could I do? I scanned the yard and didn't see any cats. I also didn't see any neighbors who could help me either. So, I took a tentative step toward the house thinking that maybe they would follow me. The moment I lifted my foot, seven little yellow balls of fluff scattered in every direction. After a few moments they settled down and returned to form a tiny flock a few feet away from me.

I needed to capitalize on their natural instincts in order to capture them. What do baby chickens do naturally? They eat, they drink, they play, and they hide. Ah ha! I was on to something. If I could scare them into thinking they were in danger maybe they would run to me instead of across the yard. I thought back to my days in Wisconsin with a high school friend, Ray. You see, Ray had the ability to scare the daylights out of prairie dogs at the zoo. He would cup his hands to his mouth and make a soft whistle that sounded exactly like the far away cry of a hawk overhead. We used to stand by the prairie dog enclosure and laugh like fools each time he sent the lot of them dashing for the first available hole. One by one they would peek their heads out of the holes and check to see the coast was clear. After a few minutes of relaxation Ray would whistle and prairie dog alarm calls would fill the air as fuzzy brown bodies scampered off to safety.

Trying to look as much like a mother hen as possible I knelt down on the ground and hunched over creating a little space under my arms and chest. The chicks backed up a few feet. Then I let out the "hawk call".

At this point I bet you are thinking that I'm a complete idiot and if you are thinking that then, well, you are entirely correct. The chicks wanted nothing to do with me. I was the source of the sound and goodness forbid if they were going to go near me. Especially with me looking all hunched over and stupid like I was. All I succeeded in doing was to scare them farther away from me. Each time I whistled the little yellow mass of dark eyes and chirps would scamper a few more feet away. After the third try I gave up. We sat there, the flock and I, surveying the situation.

Then like a bolt out of the blue it hit me. I could prop the front door open and scare them back into the house! All I'd have to do is put the cats who were inside safely in a bedroom so no one else could get loose. I stood up, ran in the house and secured the remaining cats in the Zen room.

Back in the yard I resumed my "hawk" position. Hind sight tells me that it was completely unnecessary to crouch down like an idiot and crawl around whistling in my yard. But I was so focused on my earlier success that the thought of changing part of the equation didn't seem appropriate.

"Screeeeeee"  I called and crawled a few feet closer to the tiny flock.  "Chirp chirp chirp" they sounded their normal alarm and scooted ever closer to the house.  After about eight or ten hawk calls the chicks were finally on the doorstep. All I needed to do was convince them to jump up the little step onto the threshold and close the door behind them. As I prepared for my last 'screee' call I heard a voice from the neighbors yard.

"You OK Mike? Ya need some help?"

", uh...just a minute." I crawled closer to the house and let out the last call. Just as I had planned, the chicks jumped onto the threshold and I triumphantly dashed toward the house and shut the front door. They were safely inside.

"Ya know ya got animals pouring out yer house right?" the neighbor said.

"Yeah, two of the cats got loose while I was taking the chicks outside. Then the chicks got out of the cage and I had to scare them back into the house." I walked over to his side of the yard and wiped off my hands and knees.

"Well, I don't know bout the ones who got out with the chicks, but man, ya got cats climbing out yer back win-der an yer rabbits been runnin' round the back yard just playin an hoppin round like he owns the place."

My heart sank. Cold sweat washed over me and goosebumps dotted my body from head to toe.

"You mean....wha....seriously? Where?" I closed the distance between us with a screwed up look on my face. I was frantic. If half of what he said was true then I was totally screwed.

He backed up a few steps and held out his hands as I approached him. "Go round back an look. Ya got cats a'climbin out everywhere!" What the heck was he afraid of I wondered?

He wasn't kidding. Somehow Dora, Stanley, Chloe and Bobcat had managed to pull the screen up just enough to sneak out of the Zen room window. Milton the rabbit must have watched them because he either left out the widow with them or snuck out the front door while I wasn't paying attention. There in the back yard, in various states of play or relaxation were most of our cats and the rabbit.

I wasted no time and started rounding up cats. One by one I managed to pick them up and return them to the house. My neighbor was kind enough to stand and watch me clambering around, under and over my back deck herding cats.

"Ya shouldn't let em out like that if they ain't got leashes Mike." he commented when I finally had the last cat in the house.

"Well obviously I didn't let them out. They opened the screen window and let themselves out. Thanks for noticing it! Dawn would have killed me if she knew they all got loose." I wiped a bit of sweat off my brow and smiled.

"Oh, I called Dawn an told her bout it. Well, not Dawn directly but the office lady who answered the phone took a message. I didn't know what you was doin all crawlin an whistlin' in the yard so I figured you needed help. I called and told her people at school that she might wanna come home an git her animals rounded up cuz you didn' look so good."

"YOU WHAT?!" I shouted.

"Well it looked ta me like sumthin was wrong." he replied. "You was all crawlin' an makin' noises. I was worried fer ya!"

"NO NO NO NO! Don't ever call Dawn! I got everything under control here. Oh man. Why would you call her? You have no idea what this means. She's going to think I'm an idiot." I grabbed my head and started pacing. I had to call the school. "You got your phone on you?" I shouted. "Hit redial right quick and let me talk to the school. I have to tell them everything is OK." I jumped off the porch and ran to his yard. He backed up, grabbed his phone, hit redial and handed it to me at arms length. I reached the receptionist and gave a quick explanation of the situation and assured her that everything was perfectly fine.

Or so I thought.

Dawn arrived home a few hours later at her normal time. I was sitting on the porch, the chickens were grazing in the yard safely inside their portable pen and the cats were safely inside the house behind locked windows enjoying the air conditioning.

"Hi Princess!" I called as Dawn opened the car door. "How was school?" I put on my best 'welcome-home-everything-is-fine' smile.

"Where are the cats?" She demanded.

"In the house, why?"

"Where is Milton?" She shot back.

"He's in the house too. Why? What's wrong honey?" I quizzed.

"Milton is in the house? Like right now, he's in the house?" The look on her face told me something was amiss.

"Um, yeah, where else would he be?" I tried my best to sound astonished.

"Well if Milton is in the house then we have a strange white rabbit who looks identical to Milton sitting under the rose bushes not five feet away from you Mike." She pointed.

My heart sank. "Uh...oh yeah, he got loose. Um....yeah....loose." I sounded like the Rain Man and looked at Milton and then at my feet. "He likes outside....yeah....rabbits like loose....rabbits like outside."

Dawn just shook her head, swung her bag over her shoulder and walked over to Milton, scooped him up like a baby and walked him into the house. I stayed on the porch and stared at my feet. Dawn returned a few moments later. She walked over to her rocking chair and sat quietly watching the chicks. I was glad for the silence.

A long second or two passed without a word between us. Just as I was about to break the silence I saw the neighbor walking toward our place.

He must have been itching for a beating because he commenced to telling Dawn about the days events. I had to sit there as he retold the story of how I was humped over in the yard making screeching noises at chickens and chasing cats for half an hour around the deck. In true neighbor fashion he was sure to go into full animated descriptions complete with sound effects to describe my afternoon adventure. I smiled and quietly plotted his demise while he and Dawn giggled and laughed together. Then, with mission accomplished, he returned to the perceived safety of his own yard. I squinted after him and was going to plot some sort of revenge when Dawns voice caught my attention.

"You realize that our neighbors and my co-workers think you are a little challenged don't you Mike?"

"Well, what the heck was I supposed to do? I had predator and prey animals in proximity to each other and then the whole damn crew got loose out the Zen room window." I retorted. "Don't forget! You said I should work from home and take care of the animals. So that's what I do. I don't give half a damn if people think I'm crazy. Let 'em. And let 'em be jealous of our lifestyle. People would give their eye teeth to work from home and play with their pets all day." I thought I had successfully defended myself and figured I should quit while I was ahead. I nodded in self approval, set my jaw and stared off into the yard.

Dawn must have noticed that I was embarrassed. She stood up, walked over and sat on my lap. She took my face in her soft loving hands and said, "Mike, you did everything perfect. Don't worry about the neighbors. You are right. They must be jealous because they always have something to say about the things you do." She hugged me into her chest and patted me on the back. "Either that or they think you have a few screws loose!" Then she shrieked as I grabbed her in the ribs and tickled. Our laughter rang down the block and I'm sure our nosy neighbors ran to their windows to see what was happening at the Gonzalez house.

"Spring has sprung, the grass is riz. I wonder what's happening at the Gonzalez's?"


  1. Poor chicks... they must have wondered what the human was trying to do!!

  2. Poor chicks? Thanks for the compassion Karen! :)