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Forty Years with Birds and Dogs 

Good Mothers--Sharing Among the Birds

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 ArchivesofVarok.com, with giveaway opportunities there and on my blog on Goodreads. Cheers, Cary

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Re-populating the Hen House

"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.

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Little Things Mean A Lot, Given Time

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.  Read More 

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Flocking Behavior and Tribalism

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.

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Efficiency Wins The Future

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.  Read More 

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Change, the Hen House, and the Power of Fear

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 http://www.steadystate.org.)
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.)

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Goats, Skunks, and Gardens

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.  Read More 

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First Swim--Time Out From Panic

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.

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Two Ducklings' First Day

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,  Read More 

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The Survivors--Self-Organization At Work

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.

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