Wednesday, June 15, 2011


With Hank busy playing the opera this evening coop construction is on hiatus. I considered forging on without him and once upon a time that's exactly what I would have done. But I increasingly appreciate his role as calm and attentive sous-chef on my projects, whether in the kitchen or elsewhere. Or perhaps it's just my ever-aging body that tells me I'd better take a break. Over the past three days we've framed two of the four walls of the coop and I'm feeling like we're well on our way:

This picture is taken in our nearly-falling-over garage, which has been cleaned out (!!!) and pressed into service as a workshop for the project. I'm not quite ready to divulge all the details of the coop and run construction in part because it's still evolving in my head. But the basic plan is for a 6x6 coop and a 6x12, 8 foot tall attached run. The basic idea is similar to this one, although the, um, aesthetic sensibility will be a little different. In fact, if you want to see a really beautiful coop that would never work in this climate and whose bio-security I question a little (chicken wire turns out not to be appropriate for chicken coops, who knew?), check this out. Love the charred cedar siding.

The coop-building hiatus gave me an opportunity to check in on the vegetable garden this evening. I suspect I'm not alone in secretly enjoying pulling weeds because it's a chore that provides an unparalleled opportunity for contemplation. Tonight I did a lot of weed-pulling. On Monday, Hank and I took a couple hours and attended the funeral service at Powell Hall for Rick Holmes, the SLSO timpanist. I did not know him, but Hank worked with him on several occasions and had come to appreciate Rick's warmth and collegiality. It was clear at the service that Hank's experience was not anomalous. There were many beautiful moments in the service, not least a deeply heartfelt performance of the slow movement of Mahler 4 artfully arranged by Erwin Stein (a Schoenberg student) for small ensemble. I've been hearing strains of that piece ever since. 

Tonight I was thinking about David Robertson's remarks at the service comparing the resonance of the timpani with the effect each of our lives has on the lives of others. He talked about the illusory barrier between present and past tense when we talk about both music and life, how a sound never really ends because of its ongoing effect on those who hear it and how a life, in some sense, never really ends when, as Rick's did, it has such a profound effect on others. I recognized it as a variant of the standard "s/he lives on in all of us" statements we so often hear at end-of-life gatherings, but in this incarnation it spoke to me.

I was already focused on this idea of the effect we have on others. One of Max's early reactions to my decision to raise hens was "oh, boy, here we go again!" When I asked him what he meant he talked about how we were once again doing something a little unconventional that he thought others might emulate once they heard what we were up to. There is a precedent for his observation. Two years ago, frustrated by the lack of sun in my back vegetable garden, I placed two raised beds in our front yard among the fruit trees we've planted, orchard-like, in our tiny front yard. The tomatoes I planted there performed beautifully and so last spring, I decided to expand my beds to create an entire potager in the front yard. This is what it looked like in April of 2010:
two older beds on the left rear, 6 new beds amongst the fruit trees
It wasn't long before people driving by slowed down to see what was going on in our yard. I was relieved to see no apparent scowls of derision. I had a lovely conversation with our octogenarian neighbor, a nun, who likes to stroll down the street wearing one of those hats like an umbrella on her head and a needlepoint crucifix around her neck. The first time she stopped to chat I was concerned she'd be judgmental. But she was very approving and confessed to having coveted the previous year's tomatoes. "Back home, we used to have a truck garden," she told me. "My pa, he had us to lay out the rows with boards to get everything just right. You could line yourself up at the end of a row and look down—perfectly straight!" 

And pretty soon, I started seeing raised beds that looked a lot like mine in other front yards around the neighborhood. I have no way of knowing for sure but I like to think that seeing how nice ours looked might have tipped the scales for some of those folks. I didn't set out to change the landscape of the neighborhood. I was just frustrated with my own microclimate and chose a solution that I thought would work. But I did so in the service of a goal--growing healthful food for my family in a pleasing manner--that I don't mind seeing others pursue.

In my travels on the net researching all things chicken I have encountered Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, who were recently featured in the NY Times and keep their own blog called Root Simple. Kelly recently posted the following:
If Erik and I have a single message to offer, it is that you can't control the world, but you can control your life. There's plenty in this world to be outraged over, or worried about, but those feelings don't get you anywhere. What you have to do is tend your own garden: Your body, mind and soul. Your family. Your kitchen. Your yard. Your neighborhood. See to those things. In making those things better, you do make the world better. At the very least you've improved your own life. Or, perhaps, you might be one of the many pebbles that makes an avalanche.
Although I might quibble with her assertion that "you can control your life," because of the many  variables that closely touch our lives but over which we have very little control...and I also do a fair amount of work to change some of those many larger things in the world over which I am outraged...her general sentiment captures something I feel very strongly.

And tonight, from my little potager, I made the earliest-ever first harvest of tomatoes and pepper along with the radishes, snow peas and arugula we've been enjoying for weeks:
Mammoth Jalapeno, Sun Gold Tomatoes, Easter Egg Radishes
The start of a pretty tasty avalanche, if I do say so myself.

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