‎"...a little 'trouty', but quite good" ~ Eve Kendall, North By Northwest

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Death of a Chicken

Unlike other chicken eulogies you may have read here, this one is mostly true. (A sentence you don't get to type every day.)

Jewel was the chicken who inspired Sugarplum to tell people about "mama's favorite chicken" - people who may have wished they didn't know that mama had a favorite chicken. This is one of those things you overhear and then set the wastebasket on fire so people's attention is drawn elsewhere.

But it was true.

We did not choose Jewel. She was a stowaway. We had ordered, among other breeds, a black australorp but when it came time to figure out which chick was which, we found it puzzling. I know it sounds chicken-racist, but some of them look very much alike.

So we ended up with a barred rock instead of a black australorp. We like to think Jewel chose to come live with us and perhaps disguised her features to avoid detection. By the time we figured it out, it was too late. The flock had all gotten to know each other. The missing australorp was happy in her new home. All was well.

A couple years ago I went through some extended family nonsense and had to spend most of my time away from home. When I'd pop in to recalibrate, I'd visit the chickens in their yard, where Jewel always came over and waited for me to pet her. There is something weirdly reassuring about a chicken's love when your world is going massively awry. Probably because most of them would just as soon eat you if you stayed still long enough. You expect love and support from your partner, children, dog or cat, but when you also get it from a chicken it feels like the universe has put a sticky note on your head that says something... universey.

Last year when we were on vacation, our chicken-sitters woke up in the middle of the night to a terrible sound of clucking and squawking. They ran to the coop and chased out a raccoon who had broken through the defenses of Fort McChicken. There were no casualties, but Jewel had taken a hit.

Here's how I think it went down: When the raccoon broke into the coop, all the chickens raised the alarm except Jewel, who bravely stood between the raccoon and the other hens. Chickens peck pretty hard and I bet the raccoon is still sporting some chicken scarring. She fended off the attack until reinforcement arrived.

The raccoon cut the wires to the alarm system and surveillance, so it's my word against nobody's.

Jewel survived, but we were not optimistic.

As we nursed her back to health, we noticed that three of the other chickens protected her somewhat fiercely. One chicken, Tulip, did not. Tulip was kind of a jerk. You will here note that Tulip did not get a eulogy when she was eaten by a fox.

In the months that followed, Jewel proved herself to be the kind of fighter that would fend off a raccoon attack and live to tell the tale. Her broken beak healed but carried the mark of bravery. Jewel was a very brave chicken.

Last night, tucked into her nesting box, Jewel passed away quietly in her sleep. I imagine her singing "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" to the other hens as she passed.

She will be missed.

And I don't care who knows it: She was mama's favorite chicken.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Yo Ma-Ma

I took my first cello lesson today.

I envisioned the cello and me running toward each other on the beach, enraptured. There would be rainbows and butterflies and an indisputable soul-connection. It would be love.

You have possibly already figured out it was not like that.

It was my fault we didn't hit it right off. The cello was, of course, completely itself. I was not. I was awkward and stilted.

My teacher kept telling me to relax.

I can't relax, I thought. I want it to love me.

It was even worse once we were alone. I couldn't hold the bow right. I didn't recognize the sound the strings made. I thought I knew this cello I had brought home with me. It felt so right at the stringed instrument rental place. It felt... perfect.

But cellos are different from violins (they don't sound like you're sitting on a cat, for starters). You hold the bow differently (who knew?). Cellos aren't as prissy as violins. They require a bit of weight.

I really need to stop comparing it to my ex. The violin was a long time ago. I was young. It's been over for years.

But I do have a blister from all the pizzicatoing. I didn't know playing cello would demand actual flesh.

I have about 17 pages of music to practice this week. I think that should get us started. A little time together would be a good thing.

I'm sure we can make it work.

I've got the rental for six months.

Monday, January 3, 2011

landing paper airplanes

Years ago I had my tarot cards read at a party. I did it because the friend we were with really really needed to break up with her boyfriend. We figured if she heard it from a mystic authority, she'd listen to reason. So I went first to show her how spiffy fun it was.

I was writing a book at the time (I have been writing a book since the fifth grade), so I asked when it would be finished.

Imagine my surprise at finding there was no novel in my cards. There were, however, lots of little things. She asked if I published pamphlets or small inspirational stories. I had no idea what she was talking about.

It has recently occurred to me that the pamphlets she saw may have been blog posts and articles. These wouldn't happen for at least 10 years, so she must have had excellent distance vision.

While I still hope to get a book finished, I've started to wonder if books are going the way of albums. Yes, people sit down and read a book from beginning to end, but more and more, they are carrying around snippets. They have songs in their iPods and blogposts in their readers.

I imagine literary mix tapes aren't far behind. Perhaps they're already happening and I, having not smashed anyone's heart to smithereens lately, have not been given one.

By the time I get my novel out there, it will be like "hey! my album just came out on 8-track!" Which is not to say it won't be awesome.

On New Year's Eve I met two long-time Trout readers. One had told me she might be there, but the other popped up quite unexpectedly. It's impossible to accurately describe how surreal that is. The idea of people reading what I post is an amorphous swirl of "well isn't that nice" that doesn't quite seem real. It's like after years of reconciling Santa as a metaphysical concept, he shows up and introduces himself.

Knowing that real people who I can see (and other people can see, too) are reading what I write gave these words a tangible place to land. They are no longer floating out in the ether. They've been caught and held onto long enough for someone to be curious about where they came from.

Which made me wonder if I may eventually wind up on a literary mix tape.

I can think of no greater honor.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Restocking the Belfry

"We'll call the exterminator when I get back," my boss said, many years and thousands of miles ago.

There were bats in the attic of the school where I worked, and someone had expressed concern about methane build-up. I never considered myself a particular fan of bats, but the idea of exterminating them didn't set well with me. So I made sure my boss had really left for her business trip and I called Urban Wildlife Rescue.

"We have some bats and my boss wants to gas them. I have a week to get them out of here. Can you bring a shoe box?"

They arrived, after explaining patiently that it was winter and they'd need to keep the bats in coolers until spring because they were hibernating. The coolers in question were the kinds of things you take to the beach full of beer. My point being, check before you grab a cooler if you hang with wildlife rescue people.

I took them to the attic, which turned into a scene from Scooby Doo when we walked in. Flurries of bats were illumined by thousands of pinpoints of light. The roof, which was a good two+ stories high in the center, looked like a colander. The rescue people informed me that a) there weren't enough coolers in WalMart for the quantity of bats we had and b) we'd have to fix all the holes or they'd come right back.

The wildlife people then scheduled a visit with a sonar thingy to see if they were part of SETI and sending messages from our attic. Or something. Instead, they discovered that we had a nursing colony. My school had the dubious distinction of housing one of the largest bat populations in the metro area. The National Wildlife Federation was called, but not by me. I was busy looking for a new job.

While I had failed to relocate the bats, I had made exterminating them impossible.

Not only that, but since it was a nursing colony, they strongly encouraged us to hold off on the 97 quadrillion dollars worth of historic restoration we had scheduled. Construction crews were halted until the babies left the nest. Or whatever.

My recollection is fuzzy, but this may have been when I moved across the country. It was "unrelated."

This was all many years ago. My boss and I became and remained friends in spite of the bats. Or perhaps because of the bats.

Last week she sent me a message to let me know that the school was finally patching all the holes. The bats, she said, would need new homes. I fully expect UPS to deliver WalMart's entire stock of coolers - marked fragile - to my door.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Trouts Step Out

If I just tell you some of the stuff we do and then shut up before I go and ruin it, my life sounds pretty cool.

Like this:

Today Sugarplum and I flew to Nantucket for breakfast.

Now you have this picture of what kind of person I am. I look good right? You don't need to know that I was wearing my flannel pajamas (the ones with gnomes on them) squinting at my email one minute and shrieking at Sugarplum to get dressed the next.

She, of course, was already dressed. That's the way kids are when they want to grow up to be pilots. They get up and pull themselves together. Then they spend a few hours doing experiments with their 300 Electronic Circuits! kit before breakfast. So when there's an email from a pilot who offers to take them flying, they are ready.

We had an hour to get to the airport, which spawned its own chaos of chicken feeding and dog walking and jacket finding. I got dressed and then walked the dog, which totally threw off the neighbors who have been placing bets on which pair of pajamas I'll have on. I like to think they have at least a passing interest in my pajama selection and take pains to warrant their puzzled stares and drawn blinds.

Sugarplum decided she wanted to be a pilot when she was four. A friend of ours, who we (surprise!) know because he's married to someone in a band, is a commercial pilot and likes encouraging kids to learn to fly. Today was gorgeous and pretty much the whole rest of the world was hung over, so it was a good day to hop on a plane. (Actual paying people get to go first.)

Captain Dave put Sugarplum in the copilot seat, boosted up by someone's flight suit. He buckled her in and showed her what a few of the gauges were for.

Seriously, how cool is that? When I was 8 I learned to write limericks. Eight is soul forming, people.

We had breakfast at the airport because it is Nantucket so even the diner at the airport is awesome. Sugarplum poked her egg yolk and announced "these must be local eggs."

I'm going to give you a minute with that.

We took a cab into town, where Sugarplum shot video of the cobblestone streets to show Studley when we got back. She also took video on the flight home, although we haven't watched any of it yet. The flight was smooth but her camera work requires a solid hit of Dramamine.

Studley will dig the video. And I'll just keep playing the scene in my head.

Today Sugarplum and I flew to Nantucket for breakfast.

(and it was delicious)