> jumping into life.


At six-thirty, there was light enough to feed the chickens by, and a salmon stain spreading at the edge of the east. The morning smelled like a day that intended to be warm. Two more of the chickens suffered to let me touch them, and the boldest one nearly knocked the compost container straight out of my hands with her enthusiasm. They all take on the same squatting stance when I pet them - all the ones that will be petted - and I wonder if they think me some sort of giant rooster.

The sun broke over the hills just after seven, and suddenly the world was awash in gilt. The birds made chorus and that beguiling morning-smell increased. You will think me a fool, standing there in my knit hat and steaming breath, but it smelled like summer, like a cool summer morning promising heat to come.

Within minutes, the light became just morning light, pale and lovely, no longer charged with gold. A pair of downy woodpeckers came to investigate the feeder, and doves searched the ground for fallen treasure. The morning smelled of dirt and earth, frost, and chickens. I went back inside.


The sound of an engine outside, stuttering, stalling. Then it passes.

I cannot get warm. I follow the sun from window to window, curled like a cat and wrapped in two of his sweaters.

My body craves protein and fat. Fuck vegetables. Their time will come. Give me beef stew and bacon and eggs and ice cream and chili. I want dairy, meat, and broth, though beans and nuts will do. Potatoes are okay, too.

The engine again outside. So loud. So cold.

Hot chocolate. Cookies. Lasagne. Sleep.


As promised:


The wind is so cold. I close up all the vents in the coop, rig up a door made of foam insulation to cover the screen door currently in place, duct-tape all the seams, throw a tarp over the top for one more meager layer of insulation. The wind takes the tarp right off, sends it snapping at the end of its line, sends the chickens scurrying in terror from the noise. My fingers become clumsy and cannot work the cord to tie it back down, but the cord has been snapped anyway. I cut a new length, hold a flame to the end to sear the frayed edge together. The flame will not stay lit, even with my whole body hunched around it, crouched low, cradling the damn lighter close to my belly. My numb hands can barely operate the child-resistant mechanism. Finally I can keep the flame burning long enough for it to do its job; not until I am back inside do I realize I've burnt my fingers.

At six o'clock, before my frantic ministrations, the thermometer sensor read 26 degrees in the coop. At 20 degrees they start getting frostbite on their combs and toes. I tried to smear Bag Balm on all the ones with large combs, which is supposed to protect them, but the one who looks the most like she might have gotten frostbitten already just would not be caught. After twenty minutes, much squawking, a few wing-punches to the face, and bashing my skull on the corner of the roost, I gave up. She can stick her head under her wing.

Now, at eight-thirty, the roost is at thirty degrees. Outdoors the temperature is 23. Tonight is supposed to be the really last cold night for a while, with a low of 18. I think they'll be warm enough. I hope so.


A raw day. Not cold, particularly--in the high 40s all afternoon--but windy and rainy and in some ways more uncomfortable to be out in than the below-freezing temperatures we had last month.

Maybe only because my expectations have shifted: last month we still had two feet of snow on the ground and I put on the full winter gear to walk down to the mailbox. This last week, however, it's been sunny and in the sixties and I walked around with no long underwear and no hat. At one point I wished I had sandals on. So even this moderate cold comes as a shock. (Don't get your hopes up, remember?) I am loath to dig that long underwear back out. And one does not wear one's down coat in Vermont once the temperatures have breached 40.

I found myself wanting to turn the heat up this evening--to turn it up past where we set it during all that real cold. I put a sweater on instead--I'd shed that habit as well during our extravagant week of warmth--and started a new pot of tea.

Don't trust March.


I'd forgotten that in Vermont, one ought not to trust Google Maps to know which roads are really roads. I've seen more than one sign that says, "If you are following OnStar, MapQuest, or Google directions to get to [town on other side of mountains], don't. It will be very aggravating and very expensive to rescue you."

But I'd forgotten that. So when the road turned to dirt (by which, this being March, I mean mud), I kept going. It'd been dry for a week; how bad could it be? I had good tires and a manual transmission.

Anticlimactically, it wasn't that bad. I only hit a few bronco ruts--the kind where the road takes you for a ride--and it had been dry, so the mud wasn't deep enough to stick in. After a little while, however, I began to think I might have missed my turn. So I found a dryish spot to stop, and pulled out the Gazetteer. I had missed my turn, I discovered, and I also discovered that this was probably due to the fact that my turn consisted of one of those roads that they print with a little dotted line. A class 4 road--and, as it turned out, one that hadn't been plowed all winter.

So I turned around in somebody's muddy driveway, slip-slopped back down the hill, and mapped my way there like I should have done in the first place. Ah! A road over, drawn with a good thick solid line. This proper pass over the mountain had a sign that said, "Snow Tires Required," but it had at least been plowed, and I have snow tires.

The rest of the drive went, if not smoothly, then at least without event. I got to the farm a little late nonetheles, but nobody seemed much to mind. The two topless kids peered at me over their quesadillas, all big eyes and curly hair, while their mother made me a cup of tea. "I'd make you coffee," she said, "but he's the one who makes coffee. I'm afraid I don't know how!" I assured her that tea would be delightful (which it was) and after a few minutes of visiting and tea-sipping, we headed down to the chickens.

Chickens everywhere. Perched on fenceposts and parked cars, scratching in the snow and muddy sod, scurrying out of the way just in time as we drive by. He had separated my chickens--we'd decided to buy fifteen-week-old pullets rather than day-old chicks--so they were in a smaller pen inside the greenhouse where they all roosted for the winter. We'd had three warm days in a row, and with the sides still down, the greenhouse was getting a bit... overpowering. We worked fast: he reached into the pen, snagged a chicken, and handed it to me, and then I stuffed it in a crate. We only had one escapee, a little Silver Spangled Hamburg who we had to finally catch with a net. We got ten birds in one big dog crate, and three each in a cat carrier and a wax box which had previously contained cabbage. Except we put four in the cat carrier and only nine in the crate, or maybe it was ten after all, so that when I got them home and unloaded them it turned out we had one extra.

J noticed this, and then we spent the next forty minutes counting them. Have you ever tried to count chickens? Ours at least are several different kinds, so you can count the black-and-white-ones (six), the plain brown ones (four), the brown-and-black ones (two), the brown-and-gold ones (two), the white one (one), and the little black one (one). See? Sixteen. But the next time you count, there are five brown ones and six black-and-white. Seventeen. Or four brown but only one brown-and-gold. Sixteen. Or five brown and everybody else in line. See? Seventeen! Eventually, we decided we were 90 percent sure that we had five brown instead of four and seventeen altogether instead of sixteen.

When I called the farmer, he insisted that he'd only hatched four brown ones, and we couldn't possibly have five. So maybe we don't. This weekend we're going to clip their wings back before we put them on pasture, and we can count them then as they go out the door.

[pictures forthcoming, I promise!]


Spring spring spring spring.

But I know it's just a trick. All the snow melts away and the birds come out everywhere, and it gets warm for a few days, and my little heart says spring spring spring spring. And then BAM! it's going to go right back to brr brr brr and snow snow snow and mud mud mud. This may only be my third winter, but I know that much. Don't trust March. Don't get your hopes up. Don't let the teapot go cold.


Thaw. The hem of the snowline slides back, revealing the mountains' muscular curves. The fields sigh softly underfoot, and suddenly birdsong fills the morning.

Of course it doesn't last. Probably there is a good foot of snow still between us and real spring. The temperature drops steadily all day, the wind rising. North slopes freeze into a hard and treacherous, beautiful sheen. It'll be sugaring time soon, time for seedlings and chicks.

We walked the snow-crusted edges of our yard, plotting the garden to be. We have yet to see the soil, much less gauge or test it, but we can reckon the play of light and shadow, and our hopes would fill at least half of any glass. Each week we make the trek over the mountain to J's mom's basement, where we gather the trappings of our lives. The essentials we have carried with us for months: long underwear, toothbrushes, pillows, our favorite cooking pots and books. The rest we collect in order of need: first come more cooking pots and pans, the teapot, and books. Some favorite pictures make it into the first load, along with the banjo, the mat for the front door, my favorite red chair. The next round brings some more clothes, the kitchen details (dish rack, utensil tray, potholders), the vacuum. Our station wagon holds a surprisingly large load: the kitchen table and chairs, and our coffee table fit in there too.

Rabi at wockerjabby wrote recently and eloquently about wanting things, about buying them as a result of want, rather than need. The list of things I want for my new home keeps growing: a doormat outside, a full-length mirror, a loveseat, some artwork for the kitchen, curtains, a mudroom bench. Do I need any of these things? No. Our house was functional before our first stuff-gathering trip. We had a small dinner party last night, and while it would have been nice to have had more seating, people have sat on the floor since forever and it's really not so bad. Several of those items would be useful - the bench especially, and the doormat - but they still aren't necessary. Like Rabi, I'm opposed to wanton consumerism on principle; like her, I would have been highly unlikely to buy any of those things new; and like her, the real reason I haven't bought them is that we can't afford them.

I feel torn here. It is important to me that my house be warm and inviting and a pleasant place to be. Right now we're putting out a lot of expense for the farming operation, and spending more on mirrors and curtains doesn't make sense. But if we did have the money, I'd have mirrors and curtains, even though I don't need them (all the windows in question face the forest).

If consumption is the answer to our economic problems, I'm not sure I understand the question. All the solutions that emphasize more lending, more borrowing, and--therefore--more debt seem to be ignoring the first rule of holes: stop digging.