I think it is a sign of the coming apocalypse that suburban residents think they need to have farm animals on their property. And women are entirely impractical about pets.
Now, coming from an individual who in the past has kept four of the six giant snake species in a Brooklyn apartment this might sound slightly self-serving and hypocritical. In fact, it probably is. But everybody always says a boy needs his hobbies. No one ever says a girl needs her hobbies. QED.
But I maintain that I am a reformed former animal horder. For this reason, I feel that I have the right to pronounce judgement against this misguided practice.
Going through the various animal keeping proclivities of our marriage, it is obvious that eventually we would branch out from indoor menageries and end up in the barnyard. And after the fiasco of the Great Quail Fail of 2017 (as it came to be known) it was inevitable that Camera Girl would want revenge. But my actual problem with the new animal introduction is practical. The winters in New England can be brutally cold and snow filled. It occurs to me that during some prodigious snow fall when the goat enclosure is engulfed by some absurd 50” snow fall that I will be called upon at some god-awful hour to go out and clear a space for the goats to allow them to get at their food and water. And based on my memory of Lovecraft’s description of Shub-Niggurath, (“The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young”), I believe there is a better than even chance that the critters will take advantage of my proximity and vulnerability to stage some kind of satanic attack upon my person.
Alright, I don’t really think it will be satanic. But goats are jerks and they will probably butt me with their stupid horns and that will probably really hurt. So, there’s that. Plus, I’ll have to clean out their pen because let’s face it, men always get stuck with the crappy jobs. So that’s why I hate the goats. But Camera Girl does feed me and stuff so I guess it’s still a good deal. I guess.
But have you ever looked at goats. They’ve got those weird eyes that are really weird and maybe they are satanic. And they’re gonna eat everything they can get their teeth into so they’ll turn their pen into the Plain of Gorgorath where nothing can survive. Plus, I’ll bet the pen will be under constant assault by the local coyote pack and they’ll be howling every night and I’ll probably have to defend the stupid goats as if I actually wanted them to survive. It’ll be like that scene in Whisperer in the Darkness where the old guy is defending his compound from the giant fungus lobsters with his rifle and german shepherds. Except that german shepherds are actually useful and goats aren’t. And I don’t have a rifle. And coyotes aren’t lobsters. But it was in New England.
I feel that the only hope is if biological science makes rapid advances in genetic engineering. If genetically modified goats that only grow to the size of crickets could be commercially available then my problem would be solved. I could set up a pen for them in the kitchen junk drawer and they would be a very small problem to take care of. So that’s what I’m banking on at this point. The goats are supposed to arrive a week from Saturday so there’s still time. I know it’s a long shot but my luck’s got to change some day. Maybe this will be it. So, come on you genetic researchers, stop being so selfish and put aside all this cancer jazz for a minute, and solve a really urgent need, the world’s cricket-sized goat shortage. What color ribbon is still available for the cause?
No this has nothing to do with Dr. Richard Kimble, The One-Armed Man or Tommy Lee Jones’ famous dragnet speech. Although I did paraphrase it when I gave Camera Girl instructions during our manhunt (er… quail-hunt). “Now listen up, Camera Girl, our fugitives have been on the run for a month. Average foot speed over uneven ground, barring injuries, is 4 miles-an-hour. That gives us a radius of 3,000 miles. What I want out of you is a hard-target search of every henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Your fugitive’s name is anonymous semi-domesticated quail. Go get them.” She shook her head derisively and went back to her mystery novel. So, I was on my own.
Two years ago, I received a game camera as a present. I decided to set it up near where the feeder/lure station is located. I left it for a week. When I recovered it, I had some very exciting shots of me on my riding lawnmower. There were also a couple of clear night vision shots depicting some grass moving right underneath the camera location. I’m guessing a field mouse.
Things were looking pretty bleak for the quail project. No sightings for a week or two. And only that stupid lure to provide any quail related phenomena. But then on Wednesday afternoon during a walk around the property with Camera Girl we both heard it. The unmistakable annoying call of the bob white quail. It was on the other side of the property close to a small pond that we heard it. I tend to avoid that area because it’s quite swampy around the pond. A grown man can sink up to his knees in mud pretty easily. But I have decided to set out the camera somewhere near the pond and see what shows up. I’ve captured shots of deer, coyotes, turkey and fishers (or fisher cats as they are called locally) in that area but with any luck I’ll photograph the fugitive quail gang.
In retrospect, I feel that releasing the quail without first acclimating and imprinting them on my property was a mistake. Next year when (or if) I try again I’ll set up a quail house in the back field and allow them to become established and used to finding food there before giving them some freedom. But even though releasing them wasn’t optimal, it has given me a chance to see if quail can fend for themselves around my area. If this group survives the winter even marginally that will make it much more likely that a long-term presence is not an unreasonable expectation. Plus, they are kind of interesting looking little buggers. I’m really hoping I’ll have the chance to see them foraging on their own in the area. And sure, I’ll even enjoy hearing their pathetic wimpy call.
Every henhouse, outhouse and doghouse… Boy that was a fun speech. Too bad Tommy Lee Jones was a friend of Al Gore. That really kind of ruins it.
In New England, the end of summer is akin to how it must have felt to the pyramid-building slaves when their break period was about to end. A wonderful but horribly short respite was giving way to endless unimaginable agony. And this cycle would repeat itself until merciful death interceded. It’s just like that.
Summer is breathtakingly beautiful because of the contrast to what follows. It was less than 40◦F here this morning. On the second day of September. Still summer! And it goes rapidly downhill from here. Sure, we’ll have some warm days. Over eighty sometimes. But it’s just a cruel tease meant to highlight just how bad things will soon be. In the last decade or so New England has unleashed a new and terrifying alternative to winter storms. This is where a freezing rain or snow descends on us in October while the trees are still full of leaves. The trees in this condition hold onto much more snow and ice than normally and therefore huge branches and limbs can break off the trees. And that’s how millions of people end up without power for days or even weeks. So, what you have is houses without heat, some without a stove, some without water, which means without toilets. It’s such a joy. So, installing an emergency generator really isn’t an extreme decision. It’s sort of mandatory if you want to eat and drink and stay warm and go to the bathroom and, you know, live.
So, why am I writing about this? Well mostly to let you people living in other parts of the country know how lucky you are. Sure, they have hurricanes down south and earthquakes in the west and tornadoes in between but those only very infrequently effect you. Here we know as sure as night follows day that we will be wet, miserable and cold for eight months of the year, every year until we die or we have the good sense to get the hell out of this purgatorial region.
And why don’t I leave? Ah, I am bound with the strongest and most adamantine of chains, the grandmother/grandchildren bond. If a woman is possessed of an industrial strength maternal instinct (as, sadly, Camera Girl is) then no power in the ‘Verse short of a strategic thermonuclear strike will pry her away from these rugrats.
So here I am. The rollercoaster is at the top of the lift hill and the slow ratchet up is done. We’re staring down but the bottom has not yet dropped out of our stomachs. Here we go.
End of depressing preamble.
So, I’ve got this cool three-day weekend. Some relatives are coming up. I’m going out to take some seasonal photos and I’m bound to hang out with the grandsons too. Plus, the mystery of the disappearing quail needs to be answered. I’ve put out a game camera and hope to catch some photos of them gamboling around in the woods and thickets. And finally, I’m finishing up the available Cowboy Bebop discs from Netflix. I decided to try out another anime title (Ghost in the Shell 2.0) and it just arrived. All in all, it sounds like I’ll be having a very good time.
A very happy and relaxing Labor Day Holiday to all you good folks out there reading OCF. I’ll have more serious stuff right along soon but today just enjoy a good rest and do something fun.
About 10 minutes down the road from me is a field that is surrounded by corn fields, dairy farms and suburban neighborhoods. This sizable tract of land is covered by a patchwork of hayfields, grain patches, high grass and brush, small stands of trees, puddles and even a streamlet. The owner stocks this area with game birds. It provides hunters with access to pheasant, quail and partridge. Where I live there is an abundance of turkey and duck that move respectively through wood and pond at will. With respect to other bird life, the air is full of hawks and even bald eagle. At night, a particularly annoying Barred Owl often serenades me and Camera Girl at about 1:45 a.m. from a perch seemingly right outside my bedroom window. Only state firearm ordinances and my inherent laziness has saved this avian jerk from reaping the large caliber comeuppance he so richly deserves. During the day the bird song is much more melodious. Finches, robins, sparrows, titmice, jays, catbirds, cardinals and orioles abound. And for viewing interest there are the fascinating hummingbirds. Basically we’re flush with feathered friends.
So why would I be looking to add to their numbers? The answer is ticks. Connecticut is the Lyme disease capitol of the Universe. Apparently scenic Lyme Connecticut was so inviting that even the lowly spirochete responsible for this malady heard how great it is there and decided to immigrate. Having been blessed once with the honor of sharing my bloodstream with these delightful one celled creatures I have made it a high priority to pass on a second such honor. To this end I have devoted a certain amount of thought to lowering the local tick population. One thing the long-time inhabitants of the area told me was that chickens eat ticks. That pecking action they’re so famous for allows them to systematically ingest enormous numbers of small creatures including ticks. This seemed to me a great idea. Chickens! I mean, I like chicken. Fried, baked, souped, casseroled. I even like them before they are hatched. Why not bring them in and let them solve my problem. I did some research.
- They need a house. Well, okay, why not. I’ll buy them a house.
- They need to be fed and watered. Hmmm, that’s a lot of doing stuff.
- They get up at 4:30 a.m. every morning. On Saturday? What the hell is wrong with them. They sounded a lot like that jerk the Barred Owl.
- Their house has to be cleaned a lot. Okay, that’s enough.
The cure was worse than the disease.
I returned to my research and looked into what else eats ticks. Other birds eat ticks. Yeah, well we’re flush with birds already and they’re not getting the job done. It turns out that some birds are better at it than others. And even if chickens were too much trouble there are birds sort of like chickens that also eat a lot of ticks. I went through the options and the one with the least maintenance was quail. They’re smaller than pheasants and guinea fowl and peacocks and with just a little help from me they might successfully acclimate to my property and be fruitful and multiply. This all sounded really good. Next step get quail. I went out next day intending to stop by the local quail store and pick up a couple of dozen before heading to the town apothecary and pick up my monthly assortment of leeches. One solid month of following up leads and I found a friendly regional quail guy. Negotiations were negotiated and basically, I acceded to all terms. Which unfortunately meant that the quails would arrive on a day that I was at work (Friday). No need for panic. Camera Girl would carry out the transaction and the quails would become part of Orion’s Cold Fire Enterprises with all the rights and responsibilities that entails (eat ticks). When the appointed hour arrived, I sat at work waiting with bated breath to get the victory message. “Houston, the Eagle has landed.”
The actual call went slightly differently. When Camera Girl called up I could tell there had been a hitch. Quail come packed in a plastic box that basically keeps them in a standing room only enclosure. Apparently packing them cheek to jowl keeps them from getting too stirred up. But it also means they are anxious to spread out. When Camera Girl opened the box door the quail flew out in much the way shaken soda escapes from a bottle, rapidly and straight up. After the mass of panicked birds departed into the stratosphere and she had stopped blinking in amazement Camera Girl noticed that one bird had remained. This was the silver lining that was presented to me at the end of the story. Being a glass half empty kind of guy, I speculated that it probably broke a wing during the melee. But, being a fair and even-tempered individual, I thanked her for her help in the event told her I’d be following this lone bird’s future career with great interest. At that point I wrote off the whole thing as a good learning experience, namely that I’d learned that all birds are jerks.
On Saturday morning during our weekly inspection tour of the south forty, Camera Girl was excited to point out that there were now at least two quail skulking around the perimeter of the property. I should explain that part of the preparations for “Operation Shoot a Bunch of Money into the Sky” was the purchase of what is called a quail field base which consists of a device that provides food and water to quails in your field along with a battery powered electronic quail call that summons the quail to the base. Even though we only knew of one quail remaining in the immediate neighborhood of the base I activated the quail call. Every thirty minutes during daylight hours, this call produces a really goofy sounding bird noise which is supposed to lead the quails home to the base.
Well I guess it works. At least one and possibly several quails are now roaming around my fields and the surrounding woods. As the kids would say I’m mightily chuffed. So, Saturday as I was taking close up shots of caterpillars and plants I was able to get close enough to one quail ambling around in the brush to take his photo that I’ve attached above. The jury is of course still out but it’s entirely possible that maybe not all birds are jerks.