Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Terrorist Attacks Resume

Evil Rooster, (formerly known as Elvis), has resumed his terrorist attacks against me. I will be walking by, minding my own business, when he flies at the back of my head, usually tangling his feet in my hair. I can not tell you how mad his needless attacks make me. Dang!

Now I certainly understand how some of Grandma's roosters ended up as chicken and homemade noodles over mashed potatoes. If Evil Roo' was worth it, he too would end up in a stew pot. By the time he was plucked and cut up, there would only be about twelve ounces of meat, and half of that would be his evil little bones.

Junior, Evil's son, has established himself as the alpha rooster these last few weeks. Junior is insufferable as the boss, fiercely attacking the hens and bossing everyone around. He is a real dictator. But, he has never attacked me - yet. He is not quite one year old so time will tell.

This morning, Evil was spoiling for a fight. While everyone else was running, hopping and flying toward me for breakfast, Evil was walking tall, all twelve inches of him, keeping one of his evil little eyes on me. I knew he was going to attack as soon as I turned my back. I picked a seven foot sunflower stalk left over from last fall, and pointed it at "Satan The Tiny". Maintaining his tall stance, he scooted away as fast as his feathery little feet would carry him. I was able to get past him to take care of the horses.

Evil is not dumb. He never attacks Duke, for instance. He always attacks me from the back, and he always goes for my head. I am thankful he is not an eight pound rooster. Evil Roo' should be thankful I am a tolerant woman.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Beautiful Women

Last fall my daughter and I had the spur-of-the-moment chance to go to a Topeka bar to listen to live music. Janiva Magness was performing with her band, billed as a blues singer. I had never heard of her, but I knew the bar owner by reputation. If someone was singing blues at that bar, it was good music.

I seldom frequent bars, and my daughter never goes into bars at all. It was out of our comfort zone so we agreed if it was full of drunk people, full of cigarette smoke, full of jerks, or any combination of those three factors, we would not stay, even if the music was great. We also agreed if the music was bad, we would leave immediately, even though I had purchased tickets.

As it turned out, we stayed until the music was over. No one was overtly drunk. No apparent jerks were in attendance. No smoking allowed. And Janiva Magness was g-o-o-d. Janiva took the stage dressed in high heels, a pencil skirt, and an expensive jacket. At first glance, she did not look much like a blues singer - more like a highly successful professional woman straight from the tenth floor office. She had short dark hair, and was wearing red lipstick. But, Janiva Magness could sing the blues.

After a couple of songs, she took her jacket off. If her singing had not already captured every man's attention in the room, her smooth white arms and attractive cleavage took care of any attention deficit males. Once her jacket was off, she started singing in earnest. Everyone in the room was blown away.

At the first break, she talked a little about the reality of being in her 50s. She held up her arm and showed everyone her sagging upper arms, making light of it, though all women know exactly how NOT funny those sagging upper arms are! It is just a fact of life that can only be remedied by unnatural and intense exercise, starvation, surgery - you know - crazy stuff!

Janiva warned that men need to beware of those arms because they belong to women who have seen everything and will no longer tolerate foolishness. She advised that the next time a cop pulls us over, we need to proudly hold our arms through the car window - she demonstrated - and make sure that cop gets a good, long look - (she shook her arm). Any man with any sense would get the hell out of there.

None of us want to see our arms fall, our throats sag, our faces wrinkle, but I realized something as I watched and listened to Janiva singing the blues. Women in their 50's are beautiful. They are real women. Janiva's arms were not unattractive in any way. Her softly lined face was beautiful. Any man in the room would have passed up every younger woman present to escort Janiva out for a late night drink.

See and hear Janiva here.

The song Janiva sang especially for the troops in Iraq. It brought tears to her eyes and ours.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Twilight - The Romance

I would not be caught dead reading a romance novel, same as I would never touch a National Enquirer - except to toss it into the trash. A former aspiring journalist still has her standards, you know. I am a romantic, but I am particular when it comes to what I invest time in reading.

Of course, there are exceptions.

The Twighlight series. I almost escaped unscathed. I had no idea such a story existed until I ordered Dish TV, with three free months of HBO and Starz. I watched Twilight, the first movie with Bella, the teen with amicably divorced parents, who leaves Arizona for Forks, Washington, where Edward Cullen, the 17 year old vampire lives. Oh, I am swooning now!

It was Robert Pattinson, the young British actor who portrays the tortured vampire, that made the movie so compelling to me. A vampire, the supreme predator, who overcomes his fundamental need for human blood in order to live as nearly a human and moral life as possible. And as a supreme predator, everything about vampires in the Twighlight world, is seductive and alluring to humans - especially 17 year old girls of any age.

Luckily for me, I watched Twilight on television, and then realized the second movie, New Moon, was already in the theaters. I did not have to wait at all for another "fix" of Bella and the Boys. If I thought Edward Cullen was worth swooning over, even at my age, Jacob Black, the Indian boy/shape shifter who completes the love triangle, was to die for. As Bella tells Jake, "You are sort of beautiful."

Yes, I went to see the movie two times - once by myself.

The third movie, Eclipse, is due out this summer, and I have already seen some still photos of the final movie, Breaking Dawn, on the internet. I could not wait to find out what happened to the characters. I ordered all four books and read them in two days. I could not put them down. I had to know what happened to Jake and Bella and Edward. But especially Jake.

They are Vampire-Lite tales, for certain, and they appeal especially to young girls. But the young actors are all so beautiful that people of all ages and genders are flocking to the theater to see the story brought to life. I am not the only silly one. A Sargent in the First Infantry Division of the United States Army, just home from a tour in Iraq, is finishing the last book. We are texting one another on a regular basis as he makes his way through the final chapters. No one is going to call him silly, at least not to his face. (The Sargent has seen New Moon twice, too.)

We are counting the days until Eclipse hits the theaters.

PS Taylor Lautner, the actor who portrays Jacob Black is of Potawatomi heritage.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Colorado Extremes

Sunset from my hotel room - there is a snow covered peak hidden in those glowing clouds.

The place I have most often visited in my life has been Colorado. The long trek across the plains of western Kansas and eastern Colorado is a small price to pay for a flatlander's first glimpse of the mountains as the peaks appear on the far horizon. As the miles recede in the rear view mirror, the mighty Rockies slowly rise in their distant and magnificent splendor. It is one of the best things traveling Interstate 70 west, and one of those small personal moments of delight I cherish in my life.

This trip was for business, but Colorado is a treat, no matter what the reason for traveling there. In order to avoid the heavily congested traffic of the Denver area, I left the interstate, taking off across the high plains on two lane highways. In avoiding traffic, I traded away the experience of seeing mountains slowly rise on the horizon, though the high plains also have their emotional impact. All that space and sky! I am accustomed to 360 degrees of sky and the open landscapes of Kansas, but those vistas on the Colorado high plains are enormous and beautiful. The little car I was driving hardly seemed substantial enough for such vast spaces. With the cruise control set at 70, there were moments when I would emerge into spaces so vast that I would check the speedometer because I had the distinct sensation of the car slowing down.

Most of eastern Colorado has been plowed into hundreds of thousands of acres of wheat. Farming such spaces requires enormous equipment. Huge farm compounds are situated every several miles surrounded by windbreaks of double rows of trees - the effort to stop the wind that blasts unimpeded for hundreds of miles. The high plains are not a place for weak human beings - neither the Indians who hunted those vast spaces, nor the current farmers who feed our nation, and many others, with their science and machinery.

I find farmed areas ugly and depressing, yet I am quite happy to go into any supermarket to buy a cheap loaf of bread and a pound of steak. I do not understand it, but I can never see any landscape without imagining the way it must have looked before human beings over-populated and began decimating the natural beauty and balance. Those oceans of grass on the high plains must have been a breath taking sight before there were fences, roads, cell towers, electric transmission lines, imported trees and oil drilling. Even dominated by human activity now, the scenery is still daunting and awesome.

I spent the week in Ft. Collins, Colorado. It is a college town, the location of Colorado State University, the student body once known as the Aggies, a reference to the agricultural focus of the college. Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas has a similar history, and were also once known as Aggies, (hence the little bar district there known as Aggieville.) Agriculture is exactly what has brought humans to our present dominance of the planet, but being known as Aggies is not desirable or cool any longer. It is kind of a wimpy representation, so the Colorado Aggies are now the Rams, and Kansas Aggies are the Wildcats.

Some of the local people in Ft Collins are regretting the urban growth in their beautiful little town. It sits right against the foothills, with at least one snow capped peak visible from some points in town. I sympathize with the local residents. We all hate urbanization and roads and highways and landfills and traffic and congestion and crime and expense ad infinitum.

A bit unsettling perhaps is the large reservoir above the town - literally. The water is at a higher elevation than the town. It is the Horsetooth Reservoir, named for the rock formation shown in this photo - the one that looks like a giant horse tooth. Imagine that.

The Horsetooth

I have posted some photos of the drive along the reservoir. Even though the scenery is dramatic and beautiful, and there are expensive homes with spectacular views strung along the hillsides the length of the lake, it was the little homesteads tucked along the road in the floor of the valley that were attractive and compelling to me. There were many places with little pens of horses everywhere, far more than I would expect people to have simply for their own pleasure. I thought maybe people hired them out for riding along the trails by the lake. They were almost all smaller, sturdier horses then what I am accustomed to seeing in Kansas. I did not take a single photo of any those handsome little horses, though. I guess the mountains bedazzled me.

These are the foothills visible from the hotel.

Ft Collins from the foothills.

The valley road that leads directly to this...

An enormous cottonwood tree! There is one in Kansas larger, but not by much.

Goodbye Rocky Mountain Peaks - until next time.

My hair got in the way of this photo. This is the scenery that I love the very most - wide open spaces with no sign of human interference beyond the fence.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Good and Gentle Heart

You do not need to have been born on a Kansas farm, or any farm anywhere, to consider one little hen about as valuable as a single supermarket egg. Though chickens have sustained human beings with their flesh and their eggs for centuries, humans simply do not place much value on chickens.

In America, chickens do not even warrant protection under the laws against inhumane treatment that offer other farm animals a bare minimum of protection against torture and abuse. It is permissible to confine chickens in cages so small that the hens can never stand all the way up, or ever stretch their wings. Their feet never touch the ground. They never see the light of day. It is legal and common to debeak pullets so they can be crowded together even more unnaturally and inhumanely in order to make the most profit from their suffering and their sacrifice. The horrible treatment of chickens is corporate farming abuse at its "best". And no one cares.

Raising my chickens reminds me of my humble grandmother, a farm wife who raised chickens to help feed her family and to bring in a bit of extra egg money. I spent a lot of time with Grandma, "helping" her care for her flock. She showed me how to scoop up the busy little bantam hens and cradle them until they felt secure so I could pet them. The little hens seemed to enjoy it and would rest quietly in my arms. I also ate countless delicious fried chicken dinners at Grandma's table, chickens she raised from peeps.

Chickens were a valuable part of farm life. They were at least important enough to my grandparents that our city dog, caught with a dead chicken in his mouth, whether he killed it or not, was subject to severe censure. But no chicken would have ever been taken to the veterinarian. That would have been ridiculous, and silly, and an unthinkable expense. In those days, a veterinarian likely would not have even wasted his time on a chicken except to diagnose infectious disease that threatened all the chickens in the area. Only crazy people would do such a thing as take a chicken to the vet, because, in the first consideration, there was no need for it. If a chicken was suffering, Grandpa would have chopped its head off, mercifully ending its life.

All that to say....

One of my little white hens was on the ground yesterday morning. I thought she had a broken back or a broken leg judging from the way she was unable to walk. She was defenseless. Those damnable roosters where sexually assaulting her, then viciously pecking her head and eyes -normal behavior for chicken society, but revolting to me. I angrily shooed those roosters away and scooped her up. I placed her in a five gallon bucket. Too squeamish to check her for specific injuries, I had no time left to do anything but place the bucket safely on the back porch and leave for work.

Later, I called my veterinarian's office to ask if he was willing to take a look at the hen after I got off work. If she only had a broken leg and it could be set, I would pay for that. If she was damaged beyond repair, he could euthanize her. I would not be able to chop her head off even though I do have a shiny new ax.

Yes, I felt silly carrying a chicken in a bucket into a veterinarian's office. She is not a show chicken, or a big egg production hen, or an exotic hobby breed. She did not even have a name. None of that mattered to Dr. J. Not only did he not laugh at me (to my face) he gently and knowledgeably examined her legs, wings, and neck for fractures. He checked her for an impacted crop, for being egg bound, and took her temperature. He asked all the questions a vet asks, just as if she was as important as a dog, or a cow, or a horse. He admitted he had very little knowledge of chickens, or birds in general. (Not much call for veterinarian services for backyard hobby chickens in Kansas - everyone has an ax.) But, if I had the time, he was willing to read his vet school notes, and that is what he did.

The poor little hen was alert, but one eye was swollen shut from the brutality of the roosters. She had cuts on both sides of her head and blood on her feathers and face. She was dirty and she looked so terrible in the fluorescent lights of the examining room. A lesser man, a man with a big professional ego, would never have bothered with a dirty, stinky, ill bird about as valuable to society as a pigeon.

When it was clear that the hen was gravely ill, I told Dr. J to go ahead and put her down. No sense taking up more of his valuable time - it was after closing by then. He took pity on the little hen. His suggestion was to intubate her in order to give her fluids. If that revived her, I could take her home. She might pull through and survive whatever had afflicted her so suddenly.

Dr. J and his assistant Sam carefully held and intubated the little hen. I had to pour the fluids into the funnel - three full grown adults to get about a tablespoon of fluid into a chicken that likely does not weigh one full pound! Silly as it was, it touched my heart.

It did seem to revive the hen, just a tiny bit. Dr. J offered to keep her through the night and give her another "feeding" the next day if she was still alive. If there was no improvement, then he would euthanize her. Once decided, he even asked Sam to clean the little hen's wounds. They kept her overnight and fed her again. Unfortunately, her condition did not improve, so the good doctor euthanized her, putting an end to the suffering. I do not know how much he will charge for his services but I will not complain. I will gladly pay it.

It is not that my heart was broken over this nameless little hen - not the way it would be if it was, God forbid, the Dukenator or one of my horses. Rather, it is that I intend to care for these chickens to the best of my ability. It is my attempt to offset the debt for every chicken breast I have eaten that came from a corporate farm chicken. The meat eaten at Grandma's table came from chickens that never suffered at the hands of human beings.

I concern myself over the welfare of these little chickens in return for every production egg I have thoughtlessly eaten that was laid by a hen who lived her entire life without an upper beak - who never got to fly - or hatch a clutch of eggs - or grub insects out of the good earth. I owe these chickens now in my care at least the smallest gesture of human kindess, and the act of valuing of their lives. I acknowledge the chicken's great generosity toward the human species. And luckily for me and the little hen, Dr. J went along with that effort.