yesterday and today

Life in the DevonianBefore The Quarry Farm in its current incarnation, with Red Fox Cabin and the gardens and a forest and the sanctuary, there was the quarry farm, pasturage for cattle and two ponies. Before the quarry farm, there was a great forest of hardwoods, oak and hickory and maple, on the very southern edge of the Great Black Swamp. Before the forest on the edge of the swamp, there was a glacier that traveled inexorably south, planing everything before it flat. Before the glacier, there was a vast, shallow, warm sea boiling with life in what we’ve come to call the Devonian Period.

And we live there now, on the floor of a sea that died some four hundred million years ago. Even so, the reality of it remains.

crinoid segmentsThe Quarry Farm isn’t simply The Quarry Farm (though, to be honest, there is little simple about it). It is also literally our home. We built here fifteen years ago and when they excavated our basement, they pulled up all manner of wonderful things; bits and pieces of what once lived here that had turned, over time, into stone. There were round chunks of coral, too big to play softball, but too small for soccer, and flat sheets of dolomite speckled with clam-like brachiopods. Later, as we began to seriously explore Cranberry Run, we found smaller pieces of coral, smoothed by time and weather and water, and tiny stone discs and columns of discs: the individual segments and broken sections from the stalks of crinoids. And all of these things were evidence of what had once been, of an ocean with strange and fantastic animals that struggled for survival before ultimately, for some at least, making their way onto land to begin a whole new aspect of life.

Everything changes. Everything evolves.

Turkey VulturesCurrent scientific theory is that present day birds are what remain of the dinosaurs, that over the course of some fifty million years, dinosaurs shrank in size and developed feathers in greater abundance (while it was once thought that only avian dinos had feathers, discoveries in the mid 1990s indicated that even non-avian species, including velociraptors, were feathered to some degree). So, the blue jay in the yard, the crows in the spare bedroom, the turkey vultures that soar over the quarry, the ducks and geese in the stream…all descended from dinosaurs. And, oh yes, the chickens.

I spend a lot of time with the chickens that live here. There is something comforting about them; the nonchalant way that they roam the property looking for food, their quiet crooning. I enjoy their interactions Smart Girland I am particularly appreciative when one, or more, chooses to spend time with me, to sit beside me or in my lap and simply be. I find them calming and inspirational and a source of nearly endless fascination. As odd as it may sound, they bring me peace. Every now and again, though, they remind of me of where they come from, what they once were.

There is one hen in particular, an eighteen-month old Jersey Giant that, when we call her anything, we simply call her Smart Girl. Smart Girl will leap into the apple trees and throw fruit down. This isn’t some phenomenally new behavior; others have done it. But when she climbs, she always throws down enough apples to distract the other chickens, ducks, geese, goats and any other animal swirling about the base of the tree before throwing something down for her. She plans her actions. And, it’s possible, she hunts. On three different occasions, I’ve seen her run across the yard with a small adult bird in her beak. On a fourth, she was carrying either a small rat or a large mouse. It may be that she’s finding these animals, dead, on the ground or stealing them from a neighbor’s cat, but I can’t preclude the possibility that she is actively pursuing prey. Sometimes now, when I’m watching her as she roams the grounds of the sanctuary, I see her differently, her and the property she’s stalking.

Time travel, as it turns out, isn’t all that difficult. All you have to do is squint.

chicken feet 3

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