Chicken Nuggets

At a family gathering yesterday, I mentioned to my first cousin once removed that I was thinking of using this title for my next post. Her little boy (my first cousin twice removed) said solemnly, “I like chicken nuggets” – and there was the perfect intro.

While we enjoy chooks’ eggs and meat, sometimes their actions let us know that there are some nuggets of wisdom to be learnt from them. The following two nuggets don’t come from my own chooks. I’m struggling a bit to think what wisdom they offer, charming as they are. Perhaps, the early bird gets to wake Anne up demanding breakfast or look how much dirt you can move in just one day from here to there.

Nugget One: One of a friend’s hens suddenly had a brood of six chicks in tow. It turned out that the neighbour had acquired some fertilised eggs for her own broody hen. The hens continue to move freely between the two back yards and seem happy to share the raising of the little chickens.

There’s a lot to speculate about this story. How did the adoption of chicks occur? Did the broody hen lose interest? Did she hand over the incubation to the other hen just as they hatched so they imprinted on her?

Nugget Two: One of the contractors who came to my house to clean and check the solar panels on the roof last week said morosely that he used to have hens. “Oh! What happened?” I asked sympathetically. “The neighbour got a rooster,” he replied. His hens had promptly moved next door.

Who wouldn’t fall for this fine fellow?
Photo credit: This Chicken Life, p87. Photo by Ilana Rose

You could draw humorous conclusions from these two stories, but I like to think that they show the simplicity of mate, procreate, and cooperate instincts and, given events in the world today (take your pick) we can learn a lot from not-so-feather-brained birds.

Addendum: To give my chooks some credit, they also flock and cooperate – more than they compete – and they provide two households with eggs. The cooperation which develops between flock and farmer is perhaps the best zoonotic effect.

Chill and warm at Crisp

This morning, after I’d walked to the medical centre for a flu shot, I stopped for a coffee at Crisp. It was excellent strong coffee and came with a jaffa on the side. Perfect.

I found a sunny corner and enjoyed my book, taking my time over the coffee. After a zero degree start to the day, it was nice to bask in the warm sun, the scarf and gloves I’d worn earlier put aside.

My book took me on a journey to the heat and unfamiliarity of the tropics. In the cafe a bossa nova track was playing, piano and double bass, giving an exotic atmosphere to the early winter morning. My shazam app identified the music as chill cafe jazz and bossa nova. I made a new “chill” playlist and contemplated how English words can have different meanings: literal and figurative, both noun and verb, more than one tense simultaneously, numerous connotations, and even opposite meanings. So I was chill in mood, and warm in temperature. Perfect.

Five make a flock

I worried that my two chooks were pining for company, particularly since Betty Blue died. A pair didn’t seem quite right. Egg production was down. Dora’s eggs were thin-shelled, broken, or missing shells altogether. Popcorn went through a couple of broody phases, and we had to buy eggs. Then she began laying her occasional eggs in a nest she made under a fern by the woodpile and, once, behind a tree. Perhaps she was unsettled by Dora’s broken eggs.

My niece was ‘all egged out’ with her three chooks, Betty, Mabel and Vera (BMV), and she and her partner want their lawn back now they have a baby. So BMV have travelled, along with their hen house, from Dunedin to my place.

Now there are five chooks at my back door waiting for treats – or for a chance to sneak inside, perhaps. And more for me to do with ‘poop patrol’ and swabbing the deck. Only Dora and Popcorn get up on the outdoor furniture. The new chooks are far too polite.

They don’t mix very well together yet, but seem to sort things out between them. Dora turns into Godzilla (or her tyrannosaurus rex ancestor) if the new chooks are near food she has her eye on or if she just feels like chasing them for fun. That’s the pecking order, I guess.

For a day or two BMV overnighted in Popcorn’s fern nest, but they sleep in their own house now. Dora and Popcorn don’t go inside the new hen house. Two of the new chooks, however, have decided that laying their eggs in Dora and Popcorn’s nesting box is a good idea. Popcorn told the whole neighbourhood about it at first, but now she happily lays her egg with theirs. That seems to be healthy flock behaviour.

Dora and Popcorn inspect the palatial hen house of the new chooks.

BMV seem to be of an even temperament and stick together, often eating out of the same small bowl at the same time – something Dora and Popcorn never do, although they are usually together as well.

When I lift the lid of Dora and Popcorn’s house, they like to hop in and scratch about in the straw.

We often have surplus eggs now, which go to my sister and her family. With two teenage boys, they use a lot of eggs. When they drove to Dunedin for the older boy’s IRB (Inflatable Rescue Boat) competition before Easter, they kindly brought the chooks back, having taken their trailer to transport the hen house, and three cat carriers for the chooks (who travelled in the car).

This cartoon from the Listener gives some idea of what an IRB competition looks like!

Here are three happy chooks enjoying the sun.

Overall, a good result: a functioning flock, in full production:

Three eggs from three new chooks. The smaller one at the back is Popcorn’s.
Rhubarb muffins made with BMV eggs.

Bring me sunshine

It’s raining at last. It was great to hear the rain bucketing down in the night on the dry garden. This morning there’s a mix of rain and sunshine and the garden looks washed, fresh and sparkling.

The chooks are sheltering on the deck where it is both sunny and dry – but only 10 degrees centigrade. Heat pump and woolly socks are on for us indoors!

Yesterday I was in the garden all day. It was warm but overcast. Then in the evening the sun appeared below the nor’west arch lighting up the trees and make the flowers glow.

I find myself singing Bring me Sunshine today, with its cha-cha rhythm, and playing the Morecambe and Wise version which I have added to a playlist of Make me Smile songs. When I joined Singing for Pleasure at the WEA I started a playlist of the songs we sing. Now I have several more playlists including Childhood Favourites, Drive (for long journeys), Shiver up the Spine, and even Chicken-themed songs. Every day I wake up with a song or two playing in my head.

Today’s song is apt because the sunshine can be figurative: “Bring me sunshine in your smile. Bring me laughter all the while. In this world where we live there should be more happiness, so much joy you can give to each brand new bright tomorrow…”

This couldn’t be exemplified better than by this wee chap whose photos, arriving regularly from my niece, bring a day full of sunshine!

Family

What a complicated thing a family is! I accidentally (almost) stumbled on WikiTree and went down the rabbit hole of genealogy. I’ve never been interested in family research, but I felt honour-bound to correct and complete details about my family on the site. Much of it I knew myself or could ask my mother. However, this was my father’s side of the family and none of his immediate family are still living so there’s no-one to ask. I’ll have to take a very deep breath if I decide to fill it all in, let alone begin on my mother’s side.

Family that’s right in my face is more to my taste. And there’s plenty of that to be going on with. Here’s my mum, the oldest of the clan at 92, holding the youngest aged one month (at the time of the photo). She is now a great-grandmother to this wee chap who was born on her birthday in January.

A baby brings out the best in everyone. Love overwhelms you and touches everyone in the room. On this family occasion we were celebrating two 21st birthdays and a 90th birthday. There were happy tears as births and childhoods were recalled. The 90 year-old and his late wife have always shown enormous love and nurturing to their grandchildren and now the grandchildren are doing the same with the new baby.

And this is me, a happy (fairy) godmother to my 21 year old niece and now a great-aunt! It sounds very grand. Perhaps I will work on that family tree.

Doom deferred

Someone wrote a letter to The Press recently expressing alarm at the absence of moths. They no longer fill the house if you leave a window open and the lights on at night. I waited for responses to flood in – but there was silence. Was it a “yes, we’ve noticed it too and it scares us” silence?

I wrote a blog post, “Inexcusable Ignorance” (Aug 11, 2019) expressing similar alarm about the absence of insects and our ignorance of them. Garden centres still advertise pesticides. I never use them. Famed gardener Monty Don doesn’t use sprays, saying that he lets nature do what it does to balance out life in his garden. I make a point of noticing insects in the garden now.

I found the husk (link: life cycle) of a cicada on the trunk of a pseudopanax. The second link on this caption takes you to a Ted Talk by 12 year old NZ entomologist, Olly Hills, who has written a book about cicadas.

Last week I bought a watermelon which had a beautiful pattern on it. The woman at the fruit and vege shop didn’t know what it was, so I looked it up. Turns out it is ring spot virus, previously known as mosaic virus, spread by aphids but not damaging to the fruit. The word “virus” is likely to cause alarm but, if I put my inner amateur scientist to work, it is just another symptom of how things work in nature – and I can admire the artistry of the aphids.

The book I wrote about in my last post still haunts me, but there is plenty to distract me from doom and gloom.

And a sunny spot for ‘comfort’ reading.

Doomed

I was reluctant to start reading Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam which we are to discuss next week at book group. I knew it was going to be difficult to read. Sure enough, I felt on the verge of a panic attack through most of the book – even writing about it now is accelerating my heart rate. It is the purpose of good art, I’ve heard, to make us uncomfortable and to challenge us. This book does both. Rather than warning us, it sets down the inevitability of our doom, hence my anxiety.

To put the timing of reading the book into context, we have just commemorated 10 years since the February 2011 earthquake and two years since the mosque shootings. The book reminded me of the quietness that fell over the city in both cases (apart from sirens and helicopters) as if we were all holding our collective breath, alert to danger. The fearful nights. The practised calm we had to show our students in aftershock after aftershock and in the long hours of lockdown. Alam raises the stakes in this book. At least the characters still have electricity and water in their remote and ironically detailed luxurious holiday home with its frivolously stocked refrigerator – symbolic of denial and unpreparedness – although there is a blackout in the city where they usually live, and we are given glimpses of what that implies in a city of high-rise buildings and grid-locked traffic.

The occasional eye of god narrative comment gives some relief from the fearful intensity of the characters who, with no communication from outside, do not have such oversight, and also gives the reader a clue about authorial intent. It would seem that Alam allowed them electricity and water, so that the characters can reveal themselves without falling apart totally, and we can read ourselves into the situation even as onlookers. After this week’s philosophy class on Ideas and Ideology, I can recognise the tendencies, if not types, of the characters in the book: the hedonist, the profit-maximizer, the one needing control – a ‘plan’, and the self-actualizer. There is also raw emotion: fear, love for children who they are powerless to protect, grief for a life which will either end or never be the same again, and the terrible knowledge of their shortcomings. The character Clay, as his name suggests, appears to represent something both elemental and flawed. No superheroes will come to the rescue here.

Our superheroes, Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield.

The book shows how our deepest fears about the future of humanity are well-founded. We are in the middle of a global pandemic of a sort to which we may have to become accustomed. Which will get us first, our casual disregard for our impact on nature (one consequence of which is the increased possibility of cross-over infection from wild animals to humans) or the illogical drive we seem to have to self-destruct with warfare? Or both? In the book, herds of migrating deer stand aloof and look toward the house with accusing stares. In them I can see Greta Thunberg’s “I told you so” look. The two teenage characters don’t seem to have her knowledge or drive. Both are reliant on their digital devices – although one may have more chance of survival, it seems, due to her reading of (dystopian?) fiction.

I am such a scaredy-cat, I won’t be watching the movie which is being made of this book. I haven’t watched a movie for ages, having to vet them carefully first to make sure they won’t freak me out and give me nightmares. Now, I’ve left Leave the World Behind at the library and have stocked up on comforting crime fiction in which solutions are possible and good prevails, and a book from the endlessly positive and life-affirming Anne Tyler. Is this the ‘head-in-the-sand’ behaviour Greta Thunberg warns us about? A futile effort to leave the world behind?

More palatable reading, despite the titles.

Post-script to this post: After putting myself through the torture of reading the book, I accidentally missed the book group meeting at which it was discussed. The email summing up the discussion came quite quickly and there was no sign of panic or trauma evident in the group’s responses. This puzzles me still, despite having learnt from book group that people can respond to the same book quite differently.

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths (see photo above) was entertaining, with a lot of in-jokes about writers. At one point the detective says to a colleague that he is to shoot her should she ever join a book group. I don’t regret belonging to one, however. Whole worlds have been opened to me by books which I would never have chosen to read otherwise. In Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years, the main character reads romance fiction constantly until her circumstances change and she finds herself living in a small town with a largely unfunded library, its unreplenished stock consisting largely of classic novels.

Harvest season

We’re enjoying the last of the season’s vegetables from my garden.

The autumn raspberries are beginning now, however, and are best eaten straight from the canes. Bees are still all over the raspberry flowers, so there is plenty more fruit to come.

The roses are still producing their second flush of flowers – less enthusiastically than the first, but charming nevertheless. The shasta daisies are all but finished, but the Japanese anemones are at their best.

The days are often warm and calm. The evening sun stretches in through the front door.

I’ve replenished some hanging baskets to add some colour and interest – and to use up scraps of coir lining.

I splashed out on a water feature – the least kitschy one I could find!

Also on my shopping list were new gumboots and a garden hose. I spotted this sign on a door at The Portstone garden centre:

The Grow Festival is on this weekend in the Botanic Gardens. The school gardens are delightful. Each garden had helpful students ready to answer your questions and explain how each part of the garden showed what they had learnt.

Adults had been creative too, with garden designs and accessories.

There were workshops on subjects such as tree pruning, and Ruud Kleinpaste (“the bug man”) gave an impassioned talk about how each part of our environment interacts and how we can help. This reminded me of aspects of the BBC programme featuring Judy Dench and her love of trees.

The nearby cafe was offering seasonal food – barbecued corn with spicy toppings and fresh watermelon.

This is a truly delectable time of year.

Sunrise

The sky was red at sunrise, and I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn…chicken in her preening (apologies to G.M. Hopkins).

More sheer plod than the hurl and gliding of a falcon in the sky, but there is a touch of gold-vermilion here.

Surely, we can sing the praises of chickens too.

My heart in hiding/Stirred for a bird

A refreshing break

It’s hard to believe that I managed to travel overseas for eight weeks with a tiny suitcase. The boot of the car and the back seat were full of all the stuff we “needed” to pack for a week!

Family conspired to give us a break at our favourite holiday spot: Lake Wanaka. It’s a long 5-hour drive, plus an hour for lunch in Geraldine, but it’s an interesting journey through farmland with snow-capped mountains to the west, past beautiful turquoise lakes and over a mountain pass. The long drive also puts distance between home and destination to make the arrival a worthwhile achievement.

We did the usual things: a walk along the lakefront to the spring and marina, pizza at The Cow, the Sunday market, a healthy juice at Soul Food, and lunch at Florence’s.

There were new experiences too. We stayed at a different place which was spacious, with a giant redwood, a stream with trout, and lovely people – some of whom we knew.

There were new discoveries as well, such as a precinct of shops and cafes, including Revology Concept Store (experience it yourself by clicking on the hyperlink) which is all about recycling and up-cycling and repurposing.

On our last day I couldn’t believe my luck when I found a new independent bookshop in front of the Paradiso cinema. It seemed to be a discovery made possible by going about on foot.

We also tried a new cafe/wine bar, Alchemy, choosing carefully so we could see the Thursday yacht race from our table. As it happened, there was no yacht race due to the wind (cowards!), but there were two intrepid wind surfers out and the wonderful lake and mountains to look at. The food was delicious. I had a summer salad with salmon, crisp slices of fresh fennel and fried capers. Frying the capers makes them open up to reveal the flowers inside. As we were leaving we encountered a cheerful group of knitters at the back of the wine bar. They allowed me to take a photo.

The highlight of the holiday was achieving the biking challenges I had set myself. There is a cycling and walking track around the lake front from Glendhu Bay to the Clutha River Mouth. I cycled to the start of the Glendhu Bay track one morning, and to Beacon Point another morning. The fresh air, the concentration needed to keep the bike on the track, and the views were exhilarating.

I felt fully refreshed; glowing with health and positivity!