Cary Neeper

Writer, Blogger, and Painter -- esteeming life wherever and whatever it might be.

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Exploration of complexity, its indicators, embedded chaos, and value in human organizations.

Forty Years with Birds and Dogs
Care and Respect

The Power of Story--A Whole New Mind Set

March 4, 2014

Tags: Human Self-Image, Domestic Bird Care

Bobbi, Lucy and Ms. Khaki
It sinks in gradually--the power of your daughters' stories, as they approach and cross society's invisible line at 50. Suddenly you realize they see you as an elder citizen, one who needs to consider what to do with all the scrapbooks, the geese and ducks that will probably outlive you, the closets that have accumulated too much forgotten Stuff.

And the dogs are failing. Scooter still enjoys patrolling the yard while the birds are out, but DeeDee can barely manage the back stairs. She still enjoys her biscuit and licking the pan after dinner, so she isn't ready to quit yet. Neither are we, but we have faced that fact that we will not live forever. time to downsize.

Okay, says I, get moving. Research the options for Life Care (link to CCRC guidelines), update the will to include goose care, and Throw Out Stuff You Haven't Used in Twenty Years. Thirty? Forty already?

What fun--the cleaning-out-closets bit. I found some great stuff to give the granddaughters, had lovely moments of discovery with daughter Shawne pouring over old news clippings she didn’t know existed. One day I found Treasure True. I tried on all the shoes in one closet and discovered most of them still fit.
Out went the ones too tight on my big toe. I focused on why I hadn’t worn this sweatshirt of that pair of pants, and came to the conclusion they were not the old friends I thought they were. They had shrunk or something. They were clothes I didn’t much care for, had never worn, ad would not fit into the closets of potential life care retirement homes.

What a relief this new mind set is. We’ve given ourselves five years to make the transition to a less-frantic older age, and I can with glee look forward to the next closet. How much useful stuff will I find to give away to people who might really use it? Then there’s the satisfaction of showing off my garbageing talents to a long-patient husband, hoping for fifty years that I would one day be able to shut my bedroom closet door. It’s so beautiful. He “ooed” and “awed” for at least ten seconds at the cleanly neat look of it.

Now—don’t ask me about the file cabinets and book shelves. Enough is never enough. I feel I must sit out while the small ducks take their morning bath. Hawks can probably spot an ageing dog. And these gorgeous blue sky mornings are not to be missed.

The Hen House Takes On Mark Twain--1. No Other Animal Wantonly Destroys

October 3, 2013

Tags: Human Self-Image, Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Today I’ll begin a series that may not be entirely fair, since the author can’t fight back (at least not directly). The writings I’ll cite were not published until Mark Twain was long dead. His daughter Clara finally allowed DeVoto’s 1939 edition to be published in 1962, says Henry Nash Smith, Editor at Berkeley.

I’ll begin by quoting from Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth: Uncensored Writings, the letter entitled “The Damned Human Race, Section V. The Lowest Animal.” In this ten-page article, Mark Twain (MT) lays out the evidence—thirteen horrendous reasons why humans are inferior to all other animals. MT’s tone is serious, usually, and seriously distraught at times. The satire is nearly gone. Now, fifty years after this writing was resurrected, I’ll review the thirteen faults he finds in Homo sapiens and test them against our modern perspective from the Hen House.

According to MT, given a choice of many calves, an anaconda ate only one, refusing all others, [with] “ disposition to harm them,” but an English earl, with “charming sport...killed seventy-two of those great animals [buffalo]; and ate part of one of them and left the seventy-one to rot.” The excess calves offered to the anaconda were perfectly safe while shut up with him. (more…)

Emergence in Story and in the Hen House Flock

August 7, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care, Book Club Discussion

Emergence in complex systems in defined as a group of things becoming something more than the parts of that group can explain. A complex system can be any group of things that interact in nonlinear (not straight or direct) ways with each other, like an organization of human beings or birds sharing a Hen House.

If the mission for all the employees of an airline is to get the traveler to his destination with the most comfort in the least time possible, but the employees insist on sticking to their job description, what emerges is something not as friendly as intended. In many businesses, producing a reliable product can be forgotten in the name of making a larger profit.

What you do as a group, not what you say, is what you become. The soul of the group emerges, like the Hen House flock of geese, chickens, and ducks. The rules are simple: move over when I come to the feed dish or the pond and let me have a turn. If you don’t give way, I’ll give you a gentle nip with my beak.

Your organization has labored over a mission statement. Finally, it says what you want it to say--more or less. It's a bit idealistic, maybe it's a compromise for everyone who contributed to the big sheets of paper you pinned on the wall, but it's done, and it sounds good. It embodies in words what you would like to see your organization be and do, at least how you'd like it to appear.

A year passes, and the mission statement still sounds good, but does it describe what the organization has become? Or is the Bottom Line, like the Stock Price, used as the measure of that soul? Has your goal been to make the best product possible or provide the best service, as the mission statement says, or has the goal really been to make the most profit possible, so the stock price will go up?

What you do, not what you say will define the organization's soul. It will emerge, based on how individuals in the organization relate, how each person looks at the whole operation as well as each member's part, how much feedback is allowed, how much communication happens, how free each individual is to do his best at fulfilling the mission. It's all in the books. Check out the work of Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science.

The Hen House gang knows where to sleep—turkey and hen on roost, geese below in the Hen House, little duck in the dog igloo, big duck in the nest box. At dusk. Not ten minutes before dusk.

Aging in the Hen House and Elsewhere

July 12, 2013

Tags: Aging, Domestic Bird Care, Writing and Publishing, Book Club Discussion

Gwen and Puddles in her maturity
What has the Hen house been telling me lately? Something about aging, I'm afraid. Should I blog about aging? In this culture? Maybe. But I'll do it anyway.

We're all aging, aren't we? Turkey's knees are thick with rough scales, and she has quit whining for her flock, content to hang out with the geese and chicken. Lucy is still a beautiful fat white goose, but she laid only a few eggs this year. Baby duck Puddles, now one year old, has sprouted lovely dark brown patches in her feathers. She is still laying one egg each day, more than her mother Khaki.

And the miniature Mallards, Kiebler and Ms. Ritz, can no longer fly all the way up to the stock tank for their morning swim. Even so, Ms. Ritz is sitting faithfully on several eggs I neglected to collect. I haven't the heart to take them away. Maybe they'll hatch. She's a good mom, but the Hen House is quite full enough. I don't know what I'm going to do.

What do I do if they don't hatch? She once sat for eight weeks on eggs that didn't make it while we were on travel. That's why I got her Meatball, a broiler, the only chick in the feedstore.

Back to aging. The dogs hips are arthritic, but they don't complain, like the rest of us. We're cutting back and looking for end-of-life options, so we don't leave a huge legacy for our children to cleanup. There are many different options for elder care. Most people wait too long, then move when they have to--when there's no time to make a comfortable choice. Here's a few links to start working on it. NACCRA or a 2010 overview

Our problem is that the Hen House birds could easily outlive us, and most Life Care campuses don't allow geese.

Spring Fire--Evacuating Dogs and Birds

June 25, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

Safe in the hills above Santa Fe
Spring is done. One heavy rain, and now just wind and blue skies. Better stay organized for another possible evacuation.

During the Cerro Grande Fire in the year 2000, all we had to evacuate were a turtle, a plecostomas and two swordtail fish. They didn't like being evacuated, but at last I convinced them to stay in the largest salad bowl I could find--all but the male swordtail. I couldn't catch him, and time was ticking away. A huge plume of black, orange and white smoke rose overhead.

It broke my heart to leave the male swordtail behind. We spent five anxious days glued to a TV set in a friend's house in Santa Fe, while our aquatic dependents swam around in a cooler on the front porch. The second week we took off for our daughter's home in St. Louis, while a generous pet store housed turtle and company.

Many homes were lost in that fire, but an alert helicopter pilot spotted smoke opposite our canyon and saved our neighborhood. When we arrived home, we found the male swordtail hale and hearty. The female promptly delivered hundreds of offspring.

Dogs and Lost Hens—Time Is Precious

June 4, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Writing and Publishing, Domestic Bird Care

DeeDee and Scooter in their prime
I should explain that the dogs do not reside in the Hen House, but they have a lot to do with it. They have a huge pillow bed and a life-sized artificial bear rug to sleep on under my desk-door-resting-on-file-cabinets and a closet devoted to the two-dog door system husband Don invented to prevent heat loss (into the closet, then outside).

The dogs’ job is to watch and protect the birds while they’re out in the yard. They do their job effectively, except when the hungry hawks that nest next door are on the hunt. They got my old hen Jupiter when the dogs were off terrorizing chipmunks in the woodpile. The hawk must have startled the miniature Mallards, Kiebler and Ms. Ritz. I hunted all over the yard for them. Finally I heard their quizzical quack and found them outside the back fence, waiting for me to let them back in. Some years later the hawk, probably a chicken hawk, got Butterscotch in a heavy rain, when the birds were hunched under an apricot tree. All we found was a small pile of feathers.

The dogs managed to kill a skunk one week, without getting more than a token perfuming. Poor thing. We hadn’t seen a skunk in the yard for several years. In the 80’s they lived under the Hen House, and in the ‘70’s our current dog Poncho was best friends with daughter Indra’s pet skunk Streak. Her story has been told in my weekly online column with the Los Alamos Daily Post. Search "Cary Neeper".
The gophers are also long gone from the yard, after a summer-long pursuit that left a six-inch deep trench in front of the Ponderosas that frame and shelter the Hen House. The one they caught was huge. Until this year, I haven’t had to clip the dogs nails since they were pups.

Now the dogs are aging. They don’t dig for gophers any more, and they are once again invading the yard. I’ll also have to get out the clippers soon. The dogs’ nails are long enough to make them skid and trip on the back stairs—not a good thing, for DeeDee’s arthritis is slowing her down.

So what’s the point of all this? Life is a strange mix of eat and be eaten, live and let live when you’re bonded as youngsters, survive when you can and enjoy the ride. Time is precious.

Jealousy Amongst the Beasts

May 7, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Writing and Publishing, Domestic Bird Care

Lucy, Bobbi and Turkey Two (Little Bear)
This column is about jealousy, which turkeys are not. They simply demand attention and swipe bites of sandwich when they get a chance.

I hate to complain, but it’s only been a few short decades since animal behavior scientists could publish words like affection or empathy in their scientific papers, thanks to Frans deWaal and others on the Discovery Channel and PBS broke the ice.

All good soap operas should deal with jealousy once in a while, instead of relying on poor communications to turn the plot. I’ll deal with it right up front, right now, while Bobbi goose rapidly attains status as the dominant personality in the Hen House. Jealousy is the most prominent driving force of Hen House sociology. I watch it every day, amazed.

Dogs are the most jealous of critters. DeeDee, being the most alert of our two canine family members, can’t stand to watch me murmur sweet nothings to the birds of the Hen House.

There doesn’t need to be any food involved. If I kneel down to talk to young Bobbi goose and scratch the bottom of her neck, I immediately have two wet noses nudging my hand and wet tongues washing my face. DeeDee and Scooter can’t stand to hear me sweet talk the baby goose without getting some for themselves, and a neck massage to go with it.

Baby goose Bobbi also has a jealous streak, and it prevented my making friends with Motley and Lance, the ducks Ms. Ritz raised one spring. When Bobbi scarped the melon rind I held for her, I tried offering it to Motley. The yellow and black hybrid duckling cocked his head and looked at me straight in the eye as if to say, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Still, Bobbi wouldn’t ever stand for my approaching Motley with the leftover Honey Dew rind. With her raspy complaint she’d get between us, and sometimes Lucy would join her, as if to protect their treat from such lowly beings. Lucy acts the same way toward the chickens, so I’m reduced to squatting at the chicken wire barrier between the wet nursery and the dry hen/turkey pen, holding one melon rind in one hand for the chickens while the other hand holds a rind for the geese.

The ducks watch, but not jealously or longingly, not even very interestedly. I think they know it’s a hopeless cause. They even give way to the geese at the ponds. Taking turns, I call it.

But the real reason the melon rinds don’t interest them is probably because their bills aren’t made for scraping out bites of fruit. It took Lucy some time to master the art, and she can scrape out a bit with the tip of her beak or chew up the entire rind with the serrated edges of the back of her beak. No problem. However, it’s taken Bobbi some time to learn the technique, and she still doesn’t get it. Or maybe her beak or jaw muscles are not strong enough yet. She can sure pick apart the little green apples that fall into the pen, so maybe she just isn’t motivated by the taste of Honey Dew melon.

Tragedy Strikes When There Are No Dogs In The Yard

April 30, 2013

Tags: Domestic Bird Care

DeeDee and Scooter--prime bird-sitters
Martha’s incident was one of many that filled our lives as our three daughters grew up and left home to go to college. Soon the childhood dog Poncho died, as tradition would have it, and we found ourselves with a very empty nest.

Our suburb on the canyon is in ponderosa country at 7200 (more…)

Martha’s Belly

April 23, 2013

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Writing and Publishing, Domestic Bird Care

Selective breeding has done a real number on layers and broilers—chickens, that is. The layers I’ve had, poor things, don’t live long after a life laying a two-ounce egg every day or so, even in winter, after they reach six months. Modern chickens are living examples of how rapid evolution can be. At two years of age they sit around one day and fall over dead the next. Or they walk around like they’re carrying a load, and are put to sleep by sympathetic vets who can tell a rampaging cancer from a stuck egg, At least death comes quickly to the kindly birds.

Some vets don’t know much about chickens. I discovered this shocking fact some time back in the 1970’s, when Martha started walking around splay-legged, like a bird with a loaded diaper. I drove her, with her suspiciously balloon-shaped abdomen, to the vet ten miles down the road. The young vet extracted some clear fluid from Martha’s belly and admitted to being somewhat puzzled. I suggested I would be willing to pay for an x-ray, and the deed was done. In the x-ray, to our horror, we spotted a very clear dark object framed by the l-shaped bones of the overloaded chicken.

“How much would it cost to have that removed?” I asked

The answer was also shocking. $100 was real money in the 70’s. Sadly, I took Martha home, but something about that x-ray bothered me. When I deposited the sick chicken in the back yard, she ran off to greet her nest mates, apparently relieved at having escaped major surgery.

I ran for the bookshelf still loaded with text books from my college days and found the basic zoology text. There it was, on page 108, a simple anatomic diagram of a domestic chicken, a familiar dark spot framed nicely by the l-shaped bones of leg and pelvis. It was labeled “gizzard.”

I laughed out loud, then smirked knowingly to myself and gave myself ten brownie points for not calling the young vet with the good news. Martha lived another happy six months before she succumbed to her mysteriously bloated belly.

#10 Encouraging Scenes from the Steady State--Money

April 2, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care, Reviews

Regarding money, the authors of Enough Is Enough point out that in the steady state "...get-rich-quick dreams blink out of existence, replaced by investment in real wealth [like chickens] that earn modest returns...[and] build low-carbon infrastructure, restore ecosystems, improve social conditions, and develop useful technologies [as on Varok in my novel The Webs of Varok]...No one becomes obscenely affluent." This is the end of the series on "encouraging scenes from the steady state."Don't miss the whole story.Dietz and Dan O'Neill Enough Is Enough.

Here's my problem. The Hen House is not a cheap hobby. Although I do hire locals to take care of the birds when we are away, thus boosting the job rate, I drive 50 miles round trip to get their cracked corn and lay pellets, alfalfa and straw for bedding. Some animal feed is grown locally. but who knows where the dogs' food comes from?

We do reuse the feed bags for garbage. And all our kitchen scraps--except onion peels, citrus, and banana peels--disappear at 4 p.m. into the Hen House pen. I carry the scraps down in a large yogurt bucket to chum in the birds from the yard. I suppose I should be making compost out of the scraps, but the birds love to work them over, and I do use their dirty straw as mulch. Maybe that counts.

The point is that we need to do better about how we throw money around—both in earning it and in spending it. On a full Earth, we need to conserve what we can and invest our precious time to produce useful goods and helpful services that enhance life, not abuse it.

#9-Encouraging Scenes From the Steady State--Energy

March 26, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care

March 26, 2013
The steady state requires energy conservation, a rational phasing out of fossil fuels in favor of solar--like using rooftops in LosAngeles to collect it--and wind--where the birds don't swarm--and algae--do they really produce more oil if they are starved?--and hydroelectric generators--like tides and waves? There are a lot of alternatives, especially local solutions too often ignored. We really don't want to subject our great grandchildren to a sudden loss of power. Smart grids would also help that.
Don't miss the whole story.Dietz and Dan O'Neill Enough Is Enough.

The estimate now is something like fifty years of tearing up the U.S. to get at shale oil? Then what? Oh, yes. Then there's the gunk in the ocean. That makes for even more CO2 in the air. How hot can we stand? How much extreme weather? How many coastal cities will remain? We are rational beings, smart enough to do the gradual transition, beginning now.
Maybe we aren't smart enough. I'm using energy to keep my birds warm in the Hen House tonight because the temperature suddenly dropped to ten degrees F. Bringing ducks and geese into the garage, even just overnight, makes an unbelievable mess. I try not to drive too much. I buy groceries once every two weeks, use the hubby to buy ketchup or carrots when he goes downtown to the gym, and I work at home. But I also use a dryer so I won't have to iron shirts. Who knows which is more energy efficient? I fill the ducks' bowls full every morning so they can have fresh water, which they love, and on and on.

The problem and the guilt, however, should not rest with us little guys. Didn't DuPont save millions just by instituting efficiency measures in their operation? Maybe we should lean on the big guys, so the hens don't have to suffer frozen combs or the ducks dirty water. What is really scary is how much water fracking for oil requires.

#8-Encouraging Scenes from a Steady State Economy--Nature

March 19, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care

There will be a "new area of healing" for nature when the economy quits growing, with its ever increasing demand for more space, energy and resources. Now wildlife will benefit, but so will outdoor recreation and the vital services nature provides, like climate regulation and water purification. The healing in this encouraging scenario includes less industrial waste. Not only resources, but the capacity of Earth to absorb wastes is also limited. Don't miss the whole story. Read Dietz and Dan O'Neill's Enough Is Enough.

Maybe I worry too much. It's because I was imprinted with rolling green hills between the towns east of San Francisco Bay and quiet beaches at Lake Tahoe. If you were born after 1960, you were imprinted with solid suburbia around San Francisco Bay and crowded beaches at Lake Tahoe. Imprinting is powerful. What you experience in your early youth is what you believe is normal--the way the world should be. Now the pundits say Earth can't support 7 billion people at a decent standard of living, but everyone born now will believe that is what is normal--that is how the world is supposed to be. They're imprinted with "Too many is okay." What can we do? Too many people are hungry. (more…)

6. The Look of the Steady State--Cities

March 4, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care

In the steady state, which includes a stable population, hence a predictable, perhaps smaller population, the cities are compact with less ecological impact. Their buildings are more efficient, designed with solar exposure--heat and light-saving options trumping artistic considerations. Their location, even their roofs are enhanced with natural areas and gardens or solar panels, in neighborhoods supplying everyday needs from local and regional cooperatives and businesses supplying opportunities for employment. Long distance travel is handy but more efficient. (Metal rails are said to be 1000% more energy-saving than wheels.) Across-town travel could make use of short-term rentals of bikes, small vehicles or streetcars.

The look of cities could be much different, if equity were achieved. At one time, some ecological economists thought a 15% difference in income would be okay in order to provide incentive for doing difficult work. The % difference is now obscenely high. Not only a progressive tax, but huge serendipitous profits or lucky strikes providing popular sports or entertainment could provide a maintenance share for everyone. The impact would reflect in the cities' lack of slums. No one need be homeless or live without the basics. It just takes the will to see it done.

Sharing jobs and work hours would also impact the cities. Given more time for culture and leisure and an income similar to everyone else, arts, amateur sports and creative and educational support centers could flourish. The cities could once again come alive with people everywhere. Shared conveniences and large appliances could also add to community and save huge amounts of energy and resources.

Pie in the sky? Of course, and I take responsibility for those ideas not mentioned in the book Enough Is Enough. Dietz and O'Neill present a case for the steady state that reliably considers the fact that we have to get there from Here--where we are now. It just takes a little more thought--more thought than defensive posturing.

When it's cold, Bobbi Goose may not keep the other birds out of the Hen House--even though she is more equal (bigger) than they are. Even she knows when it's time to back off and let them in.
2FJF5T2BGYFZ (Excuse the interruption.This is to verify for Technorati that I write this blog.)
Don't miss the whole story.Dietz and Dan O'Neill Enough Is Enough.

#5-The Look of Business in the Steady State

February 26, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care, Reviews

Dietz and Dan O'Neill Enough Is Enough, p.200. Don't miss the whole story.
#5 in the authors' "...Encouraging Scenes From a Steady State Economy" is a vision of business in the steady state. Profit is not the only objective, as is seems to be now. In the steady state, businesses will also focus on improving social and environmental conditions. More democratic management, worker ownership, shared working hours could be part of the scene, thus providing more sense of purpose and contentment in holding a job.

In exploring the best development of business as a complex system, simple guiding rules, communication, relationships, and feedback at all levels are recommended by Margaret Wheatley. Giving these practices high priority provides more chance for a business to execute its best intentions while allowing it employees to be creative and explore new ideas.

I hate to be negative, but we need to do something to get current business ethics back on track Practices like death dating and planned obsolescence, shrinking content or packaging, selecting fruit for shipping longevity at the expense of nutrition and taste, selling produce laced with pesticides--all make me sick at heart. We can do better than that. Is the bottom line are only guidepost? We don't do quality anymore? Honesty? Integrity?

We are way behind some other countries in making official some of the most useful policies to ensure a reasonable future for our grandchildren. One example: I just did a search on EPR--Extended Product (or Producer) Responsibility. Its history on this continent is here. In short, EPR means "...economy-based rules require manufacturers to partially or fully pay for end-of-life management costs, including collection, recycling and final disposal." Details include take-back policies (or product taxes and recycling subsidies), product labeling, and responsibility for environmental damages and clean-up costs. EPR encourages longevity in design and the provision of spare parts and repair--plus the jobs that would go with the restoration of those old-fashioned ideas. Earth provides details and a list of companies and products that engage in the practice.

The application to all this in the Hen House becomes obvious when you look around. The pen is a made from reused chicken wire, posts, and three large acrylic paintings from the set of my musical "Petra and the Jay." The paintings make great shade for part of the pen in summer, and they reduce the snow load in winter.
I must admit, however, that we don't recycle the occupants. Turkey is now 11 years old and Lucy goose is twelve. They eat a lot, and the whole gang goes through one cup of oyster shell every day, not to mention the water the ducks spill out of their bathtubs. At least the ducks provide eggs for a neighbor child who is allergic to chicken eggs.

#4."...Encouraging Scenes From a Steady State Economy"--Community

February 19, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care, Reviews

California poppies. Photo by Shawne Workman
Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill Enough Is Enough, p.200. Don't miss the whole story.

In the 1950s the San Francisco Bay Area was surrounded by fruit orchards and countryside--brown rolling hills in summer dotted with huge oak trees that loomed in grand silhouettes when the hills turned green in winter. Tall eucalyptus lined the streams and roads. You drove through the hills for five miles or more before a collection of small farms signaled the appearance of a collection of shop-lined streets--the next city down the road. Streetcars laced the shops together if you didn't want to walk through town. You knew who owned what shop, which owner liked kids, and that the ice cream parlor was next door to the dress shop, right in the middle of town. There you could get real ice cream sodas, made with thick syrup blasted into the creamy dessert drink with a fizz-fazz spigot.

Such is the vision of Dietz and O'Neill in Enough Is Enough: Building A Sustainable Economy In a World of Finite Resources. We need to transition our economic focus from global to local and quit wasting energy shipping cardboard fruit all over planet Earth. (more…)

Family Time, Steady State Benefit #3

February 12, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care

February 12,2013
"With a shorter work week, family members can spend more quality time...Children receive more attention..." Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill Enough Is Enough, p.200. Don't miss the whole story.

So what has this to do with the Hen House? It's about finding the gift of fresh eggs every morning and the satisfaction of building nests to make the hens happy enough to lay them for you (not hiding them in the wood pile). It's about time to sit on the bench beneath the ponderosas and watch the hens hunt and scratch, soaking up the safe time outside the pen with the dogs on guard. You could call it a prelude to localization, also recommended by steady state pundits. Urban chickens are growing in popularity these days--encouraging.

I can think of too many ways I could use more time: learning to paint, re-learning to play the piano, learning some Spanish, sharing some great books I've found, exploring ideas with friends over coffee, improving my tennis or bridge, playing some sandlot baseball again.

The point is that, with a cap on manufacturing to minimize throughput, the constant obsession with growing every business ceaselessly, with no real need, begins to seem wasteful of both time and resources. Businesses would do well to focus on service and quality, opportunities to provide job sharing, shorter work hours, specialty training and creative hand work to replace robotics, worker training and participation in management. If manufacturers were responsible for their products forever (as they are in some place), they could provide more jobs, like making parts for repairs, repairing the product, and recycling its every component.

Taking this one step further, if land, water, air, and underground resources were considered commons, not private property, the care and management of the land could be assigned to those who wanted to use it or live on it. This shift in responsibility would be a sure cure for boredom for people with shorter work hours. Could be a full-time job for some.

Stabilizing Population

January 28, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care, Reviews

Today we consider #2 in Rob Dietz's engaging scenarios for the steady state in "Enough Is Enough," the no-growth economics text that should be required reading. In #1 we mentioned efficiency, the need to conserve, economize, recycle, consume responsibly. Rob said "We can consume enough to meet [our] needs...without undermining the life-support system of the planet."

The planet doesn't go on forever, but our population growth seems to be doing just that, at a faster and faster rate. Education and consensus and women's rights have stabilized the population in Europe and some other places. It's clear we can do this without being told we have to.

Marq deVilliers in "Our Way Out" puts it this way "Growth has to stop, and this does not imply economic stagnation and distress. Like it or not, population has to be stabilized. Unrestrainable resource depletion has to be terminated." I know this all too well. I love raising chicks so much, when I go into the feed store I will find any excuse to get a few more. Well, no more. Now that I'm preaching steady state ethics, I'd better realize that the Hen House in winter and the pen, even the yard, in summer is only so big. Enough geese, turkey, ducks, chicken, and two dogs is enough.

It's only been fifty years, the pundits say, since we have come to believe that growth is an "unquestionable dogma." The problem is that growth now costs the planet--and us--more than it is worth. Touting growth to supply more jobs so people can buy more stuff so there will be more jobs is a nasty trap, and we need to recognize that, sooner than later. Herman Daly points out that there are only two ways to get to a stable, no-growth economy. 1) Either growth fails and leads to unemployment and suffering or 2) steady state policies succeed, which they can because they are based on the realities of resource limits, not fictitious human behavior and fairy tale technology. We can do the limits to growth.

Downsizing On a Scale Grander Than the Hen House

January 22, 2013

Tags: Sustainability/Steady State Economics, Domestic Bird Care, Reviews

The guantlet was thrown down yesterday. Time to get busy. First, a quote from Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill's ENOUGH IS ENOUGH--Putting aside our "...obsession with economic growth...[we can achieve] prosperity over the long run." Dietz and O'Neill's book

We can do this. It will not be easy, but the sooner we start the easier it will be. The first thing on the authors' list is easy enough 1) "...choose to consume energy and materials responsibly, conserving, economizing, and recycling..." i.e. mindful turning off the lights when you leave a room. There must me a gazillion things like that to do, especially for industry. I think it was DuPont that saved millions. On Varok every drop of water is captured and reused throughout the lodge and in the locale. Read The Archives of Varok.

I have to admit--sometimes, after I've filled the birds' water dishes outside the Hen House, it's easier not to walk up the hill to shut off the hose . I think to myself, "It will only take five minutes to put lay pellets and corn in the birds' dishes--maybe another three minutes to freshen their straw. Okay. Okay. I'll walk up the hill and shut off the water. At 22 seconds per gallon, letting it run for eight minutes would waste 22 gallons. Something to remember. Here in the dry southwest, we get our water from deep wells in an ancient aquifer whose level is dropping at an unsustainable rate. Precious stuff, that ancient water my geese and ducks bathe in--first thing, even before they take a beak-full of breakfast. They do appreciate it. (Maybe my sponge bathing is all I need today. My hair won't get stringy until tomorrow or Wednesday.)

A Review of Pi, Dogs, Geese and Family Values

December 11, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Writing and Publishing, Domestic Bird Care

Cary with DeeDee, Bobbi and Lucy. The chickens are lost in the shadows.
Yesterday we saw the movie "The Life Of Pi"--a thoughtful exploration of religion and meaning and the animal mind--a masterful use of 3-d to express nature's power and human fragility and beauty without going over the top too often. The effects did not steal too much story time, just a little, with lengthy storms. What impressed me most was the director's restraint 1) in leaving the large questions unanswered, and 2) letting the human be a human and the tiger be a tiger.

Tigers are not dogs, nor are dingoes or wolves, though they share genes with domestic dogs. I suspect coyotes' tameness/civilized gene packages may be changing with their urbanization as dogs' did. The many nuances of eye contact tell the tale.

Geese also do eye contact, but it's very hard to read, maybe because their facial muscles don't attractively contract the orange ring that encircles their eyeballs. Or maybe I lose the eye contact in the constant honking they do when faced with a creature who leaves them puzzled.

My geese--Lucy and Bobbi--honk every morning at the three ducks, establishing their dominance over the favored area in the pen. Then everyone quiets down to do their morning washup, using their fluffy heads as very effective washrags--which bring me to the point of this blog--the concept of family. Dogs are family. They've had 50,000 or more years to refine their tameness gene cluster. They understand my emotional outbursts, and I understand theirs.

I don't understand goose Bobbi, as Pi failed to understand the tiger. We meet on a primitive level all right--the level where hunger and safety and dominance are clear, but Bobbi is also family. I am committed to her well being, to her health, her happiness. (I do believe she has such a thing.) Geese hate being handled, so I don't try to pet them, and I restrain them only when I must, to tend to a torn toenail or to put them into a dog crate for a fire evacuation. I provide shelter from the cold, and I will never prepare Bobbi's carcass for Christmas dinner--because she trusts me. She eats corn and Honey Dew melon rind from my hand. In fact, she expects goodies to appear every afternoon at 4, for she follows me to the pen when I come out with the kitchen scrap bucket. She doesn't know I'm a carnivore and never will, for I will never stalk her. She's a creature of schedule, like most animals, but she's puzzled. She hasn't got me figured out. I'm not quite flock. Lucy knows that; she was raised by 4H girls. But Bobbi hasn't learned what family is. Yet.

Two Duck Marriages--Of Sorts

December 3, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Tomorrow is launch day for THE WEBS OF VAROK, and here I am talking about ducks instead of gorgeous, funny aliens. It may not be obvious at first, but as you get into WEBS you'll see that it's all related, the issues I'm talking about here. They just get a little more serious in WEBS because they involve humans--and you know how humans are about such things. For a sneak preview go to or my blog on Goodreads.

So--two duck marriages, sort of: Colin Tudge uses the term in his wonderful book THE BIRD, (Another find in Hamilton Books) so I've decided I can, too. (more…)

Good Mothers--Sharing Among the Birds

October 30, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Fluffy and Fluffy recovered
One spring, when I decided my granddaughter need to experience the miracle of baby chicks, I innocently went back to my Silkie breederfriend, who admitted he had two broody white Silkies he wouldn't mind getting rid of. They were the hens that serially adopted a mixed brood of turkey and chicken chicks and suffered two bear attacks after the Cerro Grande fire in 2000 C.E.

One of the broody white Silkies I adopted had been badly beaten up by other hens--the inevitable fate of the lowest hen on the pecking order. After the fire here in 2000, when a hungry bear demolished the wooden crate nest box and enjoyed a fluffy white chicken dinner, the second beat-up Silkie took over the remaining turkey (now called Little Bear by the granddaughters) and two chickens. No problem. She braved the second attack, when the bear failed to open the sturdy nest box hastily built by Uncle Don. The bear rolled it and broke down two fences in the birds' enclosure, but didn't flinch when this little old lady (me) came running down the hill with a flashlight. Thank goodness the dogs' doors were open. The bear quickly retreated when they came flying out. Mother Fluffy appeared the next morning clucking protectively over her 3 chicks. No problem sharing. Of course, chic

Is there a less in here for us somewhere. Probably not, but do take a look at the Christian Science Monitor article on sharing in the October 1, 2012 issue. There's a lot of good sense in sharing--a start on the path toward a more sane approach to using but not using up our resources--a theme in my novel THE WEBS OF VAROK, about to launch Dec. 4. The excerpts are online at, with giveaway opportunities there and on my blog on Goodreads. Cheers, Cary

Re-populating the Hen House

October 23, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

"You don't happen to have an extra hen or two?" I asked the friend who had taken Dexter the rooster. That poor, beat-up beauty had stimulated the effect that chickens have on some people--I had to have some again, as pets. "Sure," my generous friend said. "People are always asking me to take the hens they can't keep." So I brought two home with me.

Roosters were not allowed in town, but you could keep most other animals 100 feet from the "human dwelling" if they were not "livestock," whatever that meant. Now that I had two dogs to guard them, I could have chickens again. They would be kept safe from the neighborhood raccoons and cats. With Dexter happily boxing it out with his host rooster, I gleefully loaded into a holey cardboard box two "rescue" birds--an old red hen and a striped Araucana, who promptly laid a continuous supply of green eggs. Later I learned that my generous friend had been led astray by his dedication to the breeding of white Silkies. His wife never forgave him for giving away her best layer.

Little Things Mean A Lot, Given Time

October 16, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Complex Systems

Amplification they call it, in some books about complexity. The fact that when a lot of things are connected and act in nonlinear ways, a small change can trigger events that trigger other events until huge changes occur. Marketers would love to know how this works. How did Harry Potter trigger such a following? How does a small virus in a big ocean trigger a disease that changes the world? That's another story yet to be copy edited and set into design. And how did the Hen House come to be the home of 2 chickens, 2 geese, 1 turkey, and 4 ducks--when I didn't want more ducks. They're very messy and a lot of work with their dabbling--eating mud and washing it down, but loving clean water.

It all started with Dexter, a young rooster who needed refuge from a dominant cock who ruled the roost on a small farm twenty miles away. (more…)

Flocking Behavior and Tribalism

October 10, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Complex Systems

Bobbi, Lucy and Little Bear at the stock tank pond.
Watching the Hen House gang on a sunny fall day, the sky bluer than blueberries, the air just cool enough, the birds--all of a different feather--grazing peacefully . . . Oooops!
The newly grown baby duck Puddles came a bit too close to Bobbi goose. A warning nip on a stretched out neck, and Puddles backed off to flock with mom and dad. Then one of the hens decided the ducks must have found something yummy. "Too close, ma-am." The message was clear.

What was striking was the overall structure of the flocking behavior--peaceful togetherness with subtle segregation for those not of the same feather. Ducks swim together. Geese swim together. And they take turns. But I've never seen one of each kind of bird together in the small stock tank pond. Self-organization of a very subtle kind.

Watching all this from the bench overlooking the yard, it made me think of the US Congress--two mind sets that can't swim together in the small pond of today's outdated assumptions. Is this the current expression of human tribalism? The failure to listen? The failure to share the pond? Isn't it time to learn to graze together on the reality of limits and find shared values? It's time to reconsider--just about everything. Time to outgrow our tribalism and share concerns.

Efficiency Wins The Future

October 3, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Complex Systems

In his book Anasazi America, David E. Stuart illustrates the point that energy efficiency in a society trumps power and growth, when it comes to surviving for the long term. The implications for our current addiction to overproduction are ominous.

I don't mean to subtract from the importance of this idea for our future, but I think a few thoughts from the Hen House might be interesting to consider. 1) Chickens are very efficient nibblers. They can spend all day roaming around the yard, pecking at this and that--it's hard to tell what--and coming home to roost perfectly satisfied, leaving their dish of high-tech lay pellets untouched. (more…)

Change, the Hen House, and the Power of Fear

September 25, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Complex Systems

It can be very subtle--fear. It keeps hens in the pen when they can't see, from their viewpoint, that the door is open. It keeps Lucy (the goose) from trying a new, perfectly good, leafy green vegetable. It keeps intelligent economists from exploring the means of providing basic needs without growth--like "...subsistence, security and participation...". (Quote from Rob Dietz's "Restoring Science as the Basis for Economic Policy in The Daly News, August 12, at
Fear keeps our politicians from exploring ways to achieve long-term prosperity on a healthy planet, rather than touting growth as a cure-all for an overstressed Earth. The reason? Debt and the fear that interest generates. How's that for a one-liner? Dietz puts it this way--we have "...a defense mechanism that allows people to accept faulty premises."
i.e. the faulty premises of classical economics.

We can do it--accept the hard facts, like "Nothing can grow forever." We can use awareness of the workings of complex systems to modify the way we do things in both our institutions and in our daily lives.

First of all we can demand that universities explore and teach ecological economics, how a steady state might work, what can disrupt it, how we can get there from here. Look for the details is some upcoming books--O'Neill and Dietz's ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, Brian Czech's SUPPLY SHOCK and my fictional example in THE WEBS OF VAROK.)

Goats, Skunks, and Gardens

September 18, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Complex Systems

Years ago daughter Indra wanted a goat. It was time for each daughter to have a pet of their own. We had seen baby goats at the State Fair, and she had fallen in love with a miniature variety with huge brown eyes. It seemed not all that different from a big dog. But intriguing somehow, perhaps more needy? We all agreed, a goat would be fine. The garden would suffer, but it already suffered from being too large with too many hills. Maybe the goat would help by mowing the hilly parts. A well-known lady in town had once had a house-broken goat. That would be even more fun--but the current pet rules were too specific. No goats in town. Sorry. So we got Indra a skunk--a wild animal, not domesticated. More on that next week. Therein lies the complexity--emergence and all that. (more…)

First Swim--Time Out From Panic

August 27, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Complex Systems

Puddles and Ms. Khaki
I planned carefully, so Ms. Khaki wouldn't panic while "we" took baby duck Puddles up the hill to the stock tank for his/her first swim. I asked Kiebler and Ms. Ritz to go in a bit early from their morning swim. Then I opened the wide door to the nest box from the outside, set up a miniature ramp to the ground, and ushered Ms. Khaki and baby into the nest so they could see their new exit. They didn't. They didn't rush into the scary world outside.

I waited. No go. Finally I picked up baby Puddles (who needed a bit more handling to accustom him to it, in case of need some day). When I held him outside, Ms. Khaki rapidly followed. They paced around the pen a bit. Mom was obviously distressed at finding herself in the yard with her offspring. Then the urge to graze took over. She dug in the weeds for a few moments, worried again, paced around the pen again. I kept pointing and repeating, "Go swimming. It's okay," trusting to her knowledge of English.

Something told me to keep my distance, and soon Ms. Khaki spotted the path to the stock tank. She took off, Puddles following behind. She had to do it herself. I could see her brain self-organizing around the idea, "It's okay. I've been here many times before. A swim would be nice for us both." If I had tried to lead or usher her there, the worry would have taken over, smashing the comfortable circuits of her own experience.

Ms. Khaki and Puddles enjoyed a brief swim, a few dabbles of mud, then hurried back down the path to the security of the pen--not in through the new ramp to the open nest box. She went to the familiar pen gate. Given enough happy swims, the ducks might learn the new route--or not. Before that happens, Puddles will probably be large enough to join the flock.

The Survivors--Self-Organization At Work

August 13, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Puddles and MomKhaki
For August 21--on vacation
It was a good week for the ducklings, until Sunday, when Mudsy came out of the nest looking like the same fuzz ball she had been all week. Her nestmate bounced out looking like a miniature duck. Something was wrong.

Mudsy sat around all day, took refuge in the tiny nest box near their small pond, got caught behind a brick when thunder scared her, was rescued when Mom got excited, and I put her into the nest box, where she remained to die. Her crop seemed full and she refused to eat, just drank and swam and waddled a bit here and there during the day, then napped away her life.

Mom Ms. Khaki came out of the nest box at dusk to tell me something was very wrong, and I buried Mudsy in the family hillock How could such a perfect little creature be dead? I had such high hopes for her when she survived a full peeling, able to peck only a small hole in her shell at 28 days. Maybe she wasn't as perfect as she looked. Life is one of the most complex miracles in nature; when it works we are awestruck, thanking Creation for such an intricate schedule of self-organizing biochemistry and physics.

Two Ducklings' First Day

August 13, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Day 1 and 2 Ducks Taking To Water
At first I couldn't believe how different the ducklings were from chicks. They seemed too independent, sitting around as if she hadn't gone off to the other side of the pen to greet Mr. Campbell. When mama duck Khaki moved away, their cheeps had a casual low volume, not the desperate ear-splitters that chicks put out--loud and persistent until mama turkey or duck, or whoever was raising them reappeared.

No sooner had they emerged from the nest box into their new world than they jumped into the plant saucer filled with water, took a quick tour underwater around the saucer, and soon learned to jump back out as their mom dipped and preened and flapped her wings. (She was a bit desperate for a bath after setting with such dedication for four weeks.) How could these two damp wiggling heaps be so street smart so soon?

Eventually that first day, they got sleepy and managed to convince Mom to sit down so they could disappear under her wings for a nap. Then one caught a fly, (more…)

Two Ducklings Arrive, With Help

August 7, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

First swim
Ms. Khaki and Mr. Campbell announce the arrival of their first ducklings, Mudsy and Puddles, on Saturday August 4 and early Sunday morning August 5.

Success came after 28 days of careful setting by Ms. Khaki, with two short breaks each day for grabbing a quick bite of mud and a quick dip in the horse trough, during which I managed to sneak a hand into the nest box to mist and turn the eggs. We both experienced one day of panic August 4, when Mudsy's small hole in her (think her, not him) shell failed to grow larger. The duckling was not going to make it out of the shell. Late in the day I decided to peel the egg. Sure enough, the membrane was tough, and drying out fast. I eased the shell off the weak, damp rag inside--and it wiggled! Carefully--oh so carefully, so as not to cause more blood to appear--I freed the damp rag from most of its shell before Ms. Khaki returned to the nest.

The next morning, fearing the worst, I opened the access door to the nest (more…)

Waiting for Ms.Khaki's eggs to hatch out

August 1, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Mama Khaki
So far so good, except I think there are more chicken eggs in the lot. I fixed the fence so Gwendolyn couldn't get in and steal the nest, but chickens are remarkable gymnasts. Five feet mean nothing to their pogo stick legs. Someone should start a chicken polevault event at the next state fair. I still haven't figured out how Gwen gets into Ms. Ritz and Kiebler's pen. She can't get out after she lays her egg in Ms. Ritz's nest.

Another good jumping chicken was Peeky, who sat on twelve eggs, not just eight, for the allotted 4 weeks. (more…)

Conversations with Ms. Khaki

July 25, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Ms. Khaki and Mr. Campbell are expecting August 5. She has a beautiful nest, a perfect circle of straw and eight handsome green eggs in the nest box, where they are safe from everyone but my daily spraying with a fine mist from the outside-pen access door. (The humidity in the southwest has been very low lately, so the inner membrane on the eggs can be too tough for a chick or duckling to break through.)

I've had to pen up Gwendolyn the hen, for she is determined to contribute to the nest and can hop a four foot chicken wire divider. Ms. Khaki moves over without a struggle to let the hen lay, but she stays a bit longer than the duck would like, so she's happy when I remove her friend, who also lays eggs of green. (Good thing they're smaller and a different shade, since Ms. Khaki supplies eggs for a young girl allergic to chicken eggs.)

We don't have many insects here in this dry country, but somehow the red worms find the spilled water under the water dishes, which become an occasional treat for Ms. Khaki. When she hears me doing the morning chores, she comes out of the nest box and heads directly for the chicken wire divider to look me in the eye and ask for some red worms, please. It's a quiet but insistent series of eighth-note quacks. "Okay," I say, and I lift off the water dish to see if any worms have dug themselves into the wet soil. Sure enough, if a few days have gone by, there they are, so I dig some up and toss them to the waiting mother-to-be. (This is her first brood.) She and Mr. Campbell gobble them up, and she comes back to the divider asking for more. I look. "No more today," I say, holding my hands open to confirm the English, and Ms. Khaki turns around, takes another drink of water and heads back to the nest for the day--until she hears me again in the afternoon, when she comes to the fence to ask politely for a snack of her favorite treat, iceberg lettuce. (She was raised on it, but I've convinced her that Honey Dew melon rinds are nearly as good.)

Depression and Treats

July 10, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Little Bear Turkey
How do you restore a hen lost in depression--not eating, not getting enough calcium to lay an egg, not returning to the pen with the others for the afternoon treat? Expensive mealy worms are not working. Maybe melon rind laced with crushed calcium pills or dripped onto fresh corn husks?

No worries. There seems to be relief in routine--finding the surrogate hen mother's socks to peck, up there on the porch, where she's typing out some ideas for a book trailer. For sure there is lots of relief in the daily excursion out of the pen to explore the half acre, scratching for goodies with endless optimism--a lesson for us all. Turkey doesn't do depression; she gets territorial for no good reason, but only with me, never with Don, over which she moons whenever he goes outside.

Turkey's favorite treats, bar none, are the seeds from Honey Dew melon and apple cores. Lucy Goose won't touch fruit, but turkey will try a little. Ms. Kahki the duck was raised on lettuce treats, so nothing else will do. The chickens will do anything, except onion, banana peels and citrus.

No shell--Big Trouble

June 18, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Red and Gwendolyn
"Americia," aka "Red," didn't hop into my lap yesterday. Something was wrong. She sat most of the day in a lovely deep nest in the straw bale. I thought she had gone broody. She hadn't been laying eggs lately, just one, without much of a shell. I added crushed calcium to the treat bucket, but when I picked her up to put her on a more protected nest, I saw half a weak shell fall from her behind. I checked and extracted something else, then looked around in the straw and the nests. The other half shell must be still inside of her--an emergency situation.

Thanks be to those who contribute to!! It was all there and it worked--first a quiet time separate from the other birds, then a soak in warm water. I had to talk her into sitting down into the water, but she trusted my insistent push and seemed to relax when she felt the warmth. I checked her vent and applied a sterile lubricating gel, then gently massaged between her legs for several minutes, several times.

Red survived the night and is doing well today. After her treatment, she settled down on a towel in a box set on its side , and in the morning I found the second half of the shell in the towel. She's going on a diet of calcium, shrimp tails or dried mealy worms, kale and broccoli, and no corn mixed in her lay pellets. I suspect she's been overdosing on the 10% prescribed cracked corn and ignoring the oyster shell the other birds devour every day.

Oops! Dogs Can Taste That Stuff

April 24, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

Will DeeDee defend her dish if I leave it outside?
I have tasted a little dog food. It's pretty bland. But DeeDee and Scooter have always snarfed it down as if they'd never see food again. Once, when I wanted to see if they would self-limit, I kept giving them cups to woof down, until they started heaving at cup number 8. Okay--you can't self-limit. You probably survived on your own for a week or more at age 2-3 months by eating whatever--or whenever a kind person responded to your big eyes and smudgy black and white spots.
Recently, I made the mistake of forgetting to remind the housesitter what the dogs were supposed to eat. Instead she gave them a special treat food with venison in it plus their "cookies"--dessert of three oral care knobules. Now, they won't eat their normal diet fare. Only if I leave it around all day. No matter. They are 12 years old now. They have a touch of arthritis and still do a good job "watching" the birds--turkey, Lucy the goose and all. They can eat or not, as they will, but now I know. Dogs can taste, or maybe it's just smell. Whatever. They can be as finicky as cats, if they get the chance.

Sympathy in Birds?

March 15, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

They crowded around the stock tank as I lifted Toffee out, a patch of feathers missing from her neck. All of them were there--Turkey; Lucy and Bobbi, the geese; DeeDee and Scooter, the dogs; the fours ducks; and the two remaining chickens. They seemed to be responding to my cries of protest. Another hawkattack, probably, and Toffee was too heavy for the predator to carry off the prey. Would she have survived if she hadn't fallen into the stock tank?

I'll never know, but I know sympathy when I get it. The dogs offered it with nudges and licks, and Lucy honked quietly as she watched me lift the old chicken from the water. Gwendolyn and Red, the young chickens, were more interested in the treat bucket that I had set down when I discovered the tragedy. Maybe sympathy goes with a slightly larger brain. (more…)

Birds in the Sun--The Treat Bucket

March 4, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

It's been beautiful lately here in New Mexico. The skies are their usual deep blue, and the sun is warm. Lucy, Bobbi and the gang hang out with the dogs near the south fence, where the sun rides over the yard all day.

Yesterday Lucy goose was asleep on the back porch when I came out to give the birds their afternoon treat of Honey Dew melon rinds. I'm afraid the door rudely bumped her awake, but she followed the treat bucket down to the pen anyway. Khaki and Mr. Campbell led the way, and Kiebler and Ms. Ritz (the little quackers) followed behind Little Bear the turkey and the two hens, Gwendolyn and Americia, whom I call Red. It works, you see--the white bucket full of goodies from the kitchen. It often includes the ducks' favorite, marginally healthy iceberg lettuce, and turkey's favorite, old bread. I highly recommend it as an easy way to get domestic birds back into the pen before dusk, or whenever you, not they, choose. The problem--no wet garbage to make compost, and no lawn that needs mowing in the xeriscaped lot.

A Memorial and A Reminder

February 24, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

The reminder--Chickens are very hard to defend against chicken hawks. Cooper Hawks they are called, and their eyes are bigger than their stomachs. The whole hawk isn't much bigger than a chicken, but chickens are delicious, so hawks kill them anyway, especially when the chickens are enjoying their free range, open to the sky. (more…)

Turkey Is Rude, Every Morning

February 10, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

You'd think turkey would know me by now. I've had her nearly ten years, raised her from a chick--at least I watchd the White Silkie, Ms. Fluff, raise her after the second bear attack. I've been bringing her lay pellets and no more than 10% cracked corn for a long time. I let her raise a couple chicken chicks after she set for four weeks. I bring her apple cores and give her a bite of sandwich when we have lunch on the back porch. So why does she get all huffy and trill at me every morning now. Has she gone wild or something. Or is it my new brown winter hat with the puff ball on top? Maybe she'll recognize me when it gets warmer. Temple Grandin reminds us that what animals see is primarily what they get. Don't miss reading her book "Animals in Translation."

Wild Or Alien Or What?

February 2, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Human Self-Image, Aliens

What if there were aliens living in our solar system? Aliens native to our solar system, from some other world we hadn't yet discovered. Would they be after our resources, eager to enslave us, or better yet, eat us? Would they be wild, in our sense of the word ? I don't think so. Not if they are like most wild animals on Earth--those not on the hunt, driven by hunger. When well fed and respected, wild animals (and the wild birds I've known) recognize a friendly gesture--a peanut placed on the porch railing, a soft click and an extended hand to guide them out the door when they find themselves trapped inside the house, a crippled chicken tossed over the fence, just killed by two young hungry, hopeful coyotes. (more…)

What is wild? Thinking of Mr. Peacock

January 26, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Human Self-Image, Aliens

He wasn't very wild. He wanted to be in the pen with the other birds, waited on the hen house roof until I filled the water troughs and put out the lay pellets and corn. So what does wild mean? Number one in my dog-eared American Heritage Dictionary says it means "Occurring, growing, or living in a natural state; not domesticated, cultivated, or tamed." The definition includes a lot of other things, too, like "savage...unruly...extravagant,...storm"...and "arbitrary equivalence..."

Mr. Peacock, though gradually getting used to me, was a bit arbitrary. (more…)

In Memorium--An Allegory

January 19, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Human Self-Image

Mr. Peacock is gone--all but a few scattered feathers left behind on the ice.
He couldn't override the ancient instincts to roost high in the Ponderosa.
He couldn't learn why I locked him in at night.

The raccoon watched and learned where the peacock slept.
The raccoon crept silently up the tall straight tree trunk
And took young Mr. Peacock before he could fly away.

Many search and find more than ancient instincts preach,
While many miss too much in loving the past too well.
Do we dishonor the most precious of gifts?

Why do we rebuild on flood plains and shallow bays
While the oceans rise?

Wild Or Domestic

January 14, 2012

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

What does it mean to be wild, especially for a peacock? For PP (Mr. Peacock) it means leaving the pen at dusk, with its food and water and the company of assorted domestic birds, for the wilds of 14-degree nights high up in a Ponderosa or huddled under the eaves of the hen house. Anything to avoid being shut up in a dog igloo on a nice warm bed of straw. (more…)

Dogs and Christmas

December 30, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

Dogs know it's that time again. When the Christmas tree lights go on and the packages appear, they are eager to be in the living room. They smell everything--the candles, the ornaments, every package--and they know which one is theirs. But this year I made a mistake. (more…)

The Hose of Winter

December 16, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Do it right the first time--like turn the faucet All the way off. Especially if the temperature drops below 14 F. If water dribbles down the hose, even a little bit, you're hosed. (more…)

A Cozy Hen House

December 7, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

It's been cold this week. Really cold. Single digits at night. Cold enough to freeze a hen's comb--but Red, alias Americia, alias my Rhode Island Red, is still laying beautiful brown eggs every day. The reason? A thin 21 x 13 oil-filled, radiant, panel, 400 watt (low power !! heater set on a box out of the straw, boxed in securely with chicken wire, and plugged in up high where no one can peck at the electric cord. (more…)

Dogs Aren't Enough When It Comes to Hawks

November 27, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

My neighbors enjoy the fact that Cooper hawks nest in their back yard, which edges on the steep canyon that houses tall Ponderosa pines and a pleasant drainage stream up Walnut Canyon. Trouble is, there is no way that our dogs can protect a lone chicken from a hungry chicken hawk. (more…)

Bobbi The Baby Goose and Hawks

November 20, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

Bobbie and Mom Lucy, The First Morning
Two years ago, Lucy the goose decided to sit, again. In the wrong place--the Khaki Campbells' nest box. I hated to move them. They were new to the Hen House, and Ms Khaki was laying gorgeous green eggs for the allergic kid down the block. (more…)

Lucy Goose

November 14, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

Lucy and adopted daughter Bobbie last winter
We inherited Lucy the goose in 2002, when my vet, who lives next door, said she would have to put an ad in the paper. She couldn’t keep a goose in the house. (more…)

Animal Care—Geese

November 14, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

It’s not easy to find animal care for two dogs, one turkey, two geese, three chickens, four ducks, multiplying swordtails, and a neighboring peacock who comes and goes—but we lucked out. My vet lives next door, and her son loves both the animals and the money I pay for their care while we’re away. (more…)

DeeDee and Scooter--Part II

October 13, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

Scooter 2002
This picture tells it all--almost. Guess which one is the alpha dog, which the beta? In late 2000, it all came to a head when I bought DeeDee and Scooter a dog food container with two bowls on top, one serving as the lid to the storage chamber. (more…)

How The Hen House Turns 8. DeeDee and Scooter--Part I

October 6, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

DeeDee and Scooter dressed for therapy duty
It's time to talk about DeeDee and Scooter, how they joined the family after the fire in the spring of 2000--the first fire in Los Alamos, (more…)

How the Hen House Turns 7. Strolling Coyote, Poncho and Raccoons

September 29, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

Poncho on adoption day March 1972
One day Strolling Coyote came by--the one who made a habit of moving along the back fence, setting off all the dogs, barking their heads off. Poncho, our young "Santa Fe shepherd," wasn't old enough to know better, (more…)

First Turkey Decides to Live

September 22, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

First Turkey as a poult
A nursing mother coyote got First Turkey in broad daylight. We had made the mistake of leaving the birds out in the yard while we took Poncho to the vet for his rabies shot. (more…)

Turkeys Get It

September 15, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

I've decided turkeys are not really dumb. They've had a bad rap because they're not like chickens. (more…)

Dogs As Bird-Sitters

September 5, 2011

Tags: Dogs, Domestic Bird Care, Animal Consciousness

DeeDee watching birds
When our first chickens arrived in a cardboard box forty years ago, we had already adopted Poncho. As a "Santa Fe Shepherd," his instincts were just about right. (more…)

Dogs Are Required

September 1, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care, Dogs

Dogs are required to keep chickens safe at 7200 feet in a Ponderosa forest, or anywhere else raccoons reside, like Beverly Hill and probably New York City. We've had raccoons smash open a sliding door (too thin), rip the rails off a thicker sliding door frame, and cut a raccoon-sized hope in the unsupported middle of a chicken wire fence--just to get at my lovely hens and commit murder. (more…)

Peeper--Hatching In A Dry Clilmate

August 23, 2011

Tags: Animal Consciousness, Domestic Bird Care

Peeky and Chicks July 1978
For four weeks in 1975, Peeky, a mixed-breed hen, sat in the hen house on twelve eggs, resting on straw in a 12 by12 by 1 inch frame. Over her objections, we made sure she got up each day to eat and poop, and we used the time to turn and spray her eggs. Shell membranes can go dry and tough in a climate with single-digit humidity. (more…)
2013 Nautilus Silver Award YA and 2012 Foreward Finalist Adult Science Fiction

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A Place Beyond Man
Authors Guild Edition 2011

The Oil Patch Project--Mystery team Cary and Don
See Oil & Gas tag above.