The warmth of the late summer sun felt good on my arms and back as I harvested what I could from the garden. Our first frost was expected that night, and while I would cover some things to protect them, I couldn’t cover everything. Many of the plants had slowed way down due to cooler nights and shortening daylight anyway. It was easy to know the still prolific tomato plants would be covered, along with some peppers that were still coming along.
I picked the last of the cucumbers, squash, and pumpkins and checked the corn for any last ears. Many of these crops had disappointed in the end, due to so much rain in the spring and very little hot weather. Still, it had been better than least year, so we’re making progress. I only found two more ears of corn, put them in my basket and then later turned around to see one of the chickens pecking at it! I sighed and just gave her both ears.
One great thing about chickens is that very little from the garden goes to waste! They especially love corn and tomatoes, so anything picked that is not good enough for us will still make them happy. Anything they shouldn’t have goes in the compost pile.
As I picked the last of the beans, I felt relief because honestly, I was getting sick of picking beans! We have plenty now in the freezer, which I’ll use for Luke’s food and for soups this winter. Therefore, it felt like it was time for this season to end and garden cleanup to soon begin. The cycle of life in a garden.
I felt a sadness, but what weighed on my heart was not the end of summer and the garden. The previous day we had lost one of our guinea hens, a favorite named Whitey. My husband was at work and I was in the house starting a batch of dog cookies, when I heard the guinea hens outside squawking loudly. I can usually tell when they are seriously upset (they squawk a lot!), and I went outside to check on them.
There were still chickens scattered around the yard, and just 5 or so guineas carrying on. I walked around the yard, looking up and around for any sign of predators, but saw nothing. One or two guinea hens came from the end of the driveway and joined the others in their carrying on. Four were missing, and I felt strongly that something had happened, and they were trying to call the others.
I walked up and down the road and around the yard looking for the other birds or any sign of a scuffle but didn’t find anything. I cut some herbs I needed for my cookies and went back in the house. Still, they carried on, and eventually the chickens all went into hiding. I went back out again, did another check around, but still nothing. Finally, after a little while longer, they quieted, and the chickens were coming back out too. I looked outside and they were on the other side of Luke’s yard. I counted 9 of them (we had 10). I thought perhaps one of the mamas was on her nest, though I still felt worried. I went back in the house and soon heard her calling from the nest so thought I had been right.
Later I went out again and checked that she was on the nest. The rest of the flock were in the brush surrounding her. Once she came off and they were all back in the yard, I counted again, and there were only 9. One was missing. Then I counted specific colors and realized it was one of the white boys (one of our original 6 guineas) that was missing, something I had not picked up on before. Again, I walked all around looking but saw no sign. Hubby did the same when he got home. Because we saw no sign of feathers or a scuffle, we held out hope that Whitey was hiding in a tree somewhere and would come home. When he didn’t show up by bedtime, hope faded.
As I had worked in the garden that evening, many of the chickens joined me. At one point, one started running quickly away, all the way up to the house, and then the guineas started squawking frantically again. I looked up to watch a hawk fly over. It was quite high up, but I watched until it disappeared. That hawk is the suspected culprit.
The next morning, as I got ready to go to one of my bookkeeping jobs, the Dadz took Luke for a walk. They returned as I was about to leave and reported that they had found Whitey’s feathers. Now we knew for sure he was gone, so that last bit of hope let go. The following morning when I walked Luke in that same area, he started to pull me into the woods, and I saw an even bigger pile of feathers and what was left of our sweet bird. While it was tough to see, it felt like needed closure. As it turns out, hubby had seen that, but didn’t tell me, to try to spare me. He forgot to clue in Luke, the dog with the amazing nose, though! In retrospect I should have just taken Luke out when I was looking. I’ll remember that next time. I just didn’t want him to scare the already nervous birds.
When you have a flock of 40 birds, well, now 39, it’s surprising that you still feel each loss, but you do. Maybe I’m too sensitive, and true farmers are tougher. It made me sad to watch our other white male sit on the hill calling, knowing he was looking for his friend. The sadness won’t overwhelm like when we lose a pet who lives inside our home, but I still feel it. We’ve been lucky that it had been over a year since we lost our first birds to predators (those times a fox), but losses are going to happen in other ways as well.
In the end, the frost was very light, and all the plants survived. Now we are headed into a stretch of Indian summer, so won’t have to worry about covering anything again for a bit. Sometimes things live longer than expected, other times lives are cut short for reasons we may not understand. Life on the farm goes on. It’s tough, and I know that free ranging our birds is a decision we made, and not lightly. We strongly feel that the flock, especially the guinea hens, wouldn’t trade that life for extra safety. I also feel that free ranging keeps them healthier; we’ve been lucky not to have lost any to illnesses yet.
When I walk around the yard, or work in the garden, surrounded by birds, I feel like everyone is happiest this way, even now when we’re just a little bit on edge. Watching them in the evening in the yard is so peaceful. Isn’t that what we all crave – freedom? Freedom to be who we are and do what makes us happiest. For the birds that is exploring the yard for bugs and seeds.
The weather turned cool and that evening after covering things in the garden, I went into the house and found Luke and the Dadz on the couch sitting in front of a blissfully warm fire in the wood stove. As I joined them, I felt at least a little of my peace return, even if tinged by a lingering sadness for our loss.
Thanks to our friends The LLB Gang for hosting the Nature Friday blog hop. Please visit them and other blogs through the links below!