We’re at that spot in the season where “Naked Acres” is living up to its name.
I walk the fields this morning, after a far-too-long absence, and tree limbs are bare, their leafy clothing laying in mostly tidy circles around the base of their trunks, rings of fading color that give one the idea of where Christmas tree skirts were first imagined. The woods reveal their secrets, carefully hidden since June busted out all over with shades of green not found in any Crayola box. Now, mid-November, I can see where the land rises and shallows out, where the swampy puddles thick with those fallen, faded leaves and soil sit in reflective stillness, and wash out the deer tracks I was following. My late-August melancholy has moved into a cozy first-snow anticipation (not the dusting we had week before last, but a thick white icing that holds my footprints), and a renewed gratitude for warm socks and waterproof boots that only surfaces this time of year.
All seasons are beautiful, no matter how the weather may inconvenience our ability to experience them comfortably. It’s not about me. It never has been. A woolly gray blanket of sky, a stiff and cleansing north wind, and the soft clacking of chilled-to-the-bone tree branches are gorgeous all by themselves. If I didn’t exist at all, they still would. I take my place in the scheme of things easily, and without disappointment.
As I made my way back from the woods toward the house, I checked on a few things—the old turkey pen, which we plan to repair and transform into next year’s meat chicken house, complete with an open, high-fenced run where they can, well, run in all directions until the chicken wire re-directs them. I tidied up this year’s empty chicken pens, put the detachable corrugated roofing on top of the sturdiest one and bungeed it down hopefully, against those January north winds. The day before Thanksgiving, Patrick moved both pens, with chickens still in them, all the way from the field behind the house, down the hill to one of the egg-layer coops—a Herculean feat that I wish I could have witnessed (I was at work, moving less formidable piles of paper). He made half a dozen of these pens as our meat chicken enterprise grew, so that we could pasture our birds comfortably and safely, moving them and the pens around on 3+ acres of grassy field. The pens are open-bottomed, about 2 1/2’ tall, and wrapped in chicken wire. We cover them with a thick corrugated plastic roof panel that we can remove to replenish their feed and water. When it’s time to relocate the chicks, we remove the roof panels, step inside the pen, and grab hold of the top frame, lifting it just a couple of inches off the ground, and gently nudge the chicks along to their new section of fresh grass. It’s slow and careful work, with much flapping of wings at our feet, and it feels like we’re wearing the clumsiest of wood-and-wire skirts above our ankles, leading the birds in some weird sort of poultry dance. I wonder what we look like…
One of the chicks escaped in spite of Patrick’s slow and careful pace, and I found her this morning, having taken refuge in the branches of the willow tree that died in the summer’s barn fire, and now lay patiently waiting to be turned into sweat wood. She pecked here and there at the ground where the pens used to be, and wondered where all her friends had gone. I followed her to the edge of the thickest cluster of willow branches and gathered her up, crooning that she’d soon be reunited with her pals as I carried her down the driveway hill to the old cinder block coop. They seemed happy to see her, and eager to hear tales of her harrowing survival in the un-penned wilderness.
A pale sun is now making its way across the sky, and I finish up my morning chores of feeding and watering the egg-layers (a Speckled Sussex sneaks out between my feet as the others shove and crowd each other around the feed tray), and raking up sopping wet leaves that have collected by the back door to the mud room. I’ve got a list of indoor projects that I’ll get to after breakfast. But I’ll be taking images of this morning’s walk in the door with me, fully and deeply aware that it’s going to keep getting darker until that quiet moment in late December, when the solstice brings us the gift of incremental light, one frozen day at a time.
I can’t imagine living anywhere else.