Steve was clearing some photos from a memory card today and found this. Different season, much smaller and younger Carlton…same Mister Bill in his orange winter coat.
Start your journey by catching up with the fresh-off-the-camera-and-keyboard Fall 2016 newsletter. Just click on the cover to the left and read on.
It took seventy-four minutes to dig a hole this morning; just over an hour, with shovel and pick, to create a nothing four feet by three feet by four feet deep. I had thought it would take longer, prove harder, given the heat and the dry. But, no. Just seventy-four minutes. Time enough to come to terms with the harsh reality of the past thirty-six hours.
In early July of 2010, Marshmallow and S’more, two Nigerian dwarf goats, wethers both and brothers by all accounts (though the two couldn’t be any more different), were delivered to The Quarry Farm by Anne and Rowan, who brought them north from Cincinnati in Anne’s little Scion xA. Their arrival fortified a growing vision of The Quarry Farm as a safe haven, a home and sanctuary for the unwanted and the unloved, the abused and the forgotten.
Which is not to say that all of the animals now living here were unwanted or abused. Buddy and Lucy and Bill and Beatrice all came from loving families who, through circumstances undesired, were simply unable to keep them any longer or believed them better served on The Quarry Farm. And so, too, it was with the brothers (if not by blood, then certainly in spirit). The family that raised them to that point loved them, and dearly. Sadly, the two large dogs that also lived with the family loved them as well, though in an entirely different and specifically threatening way. Thus the trip north.
Marsh and S’more (The Boys as we came to affectionately call them), when they arrived, joined the Priscillas, sixteen Hubbard Golden Comet hens, and Johnny and Stella, two non-releasable Canada geese; the sum and total of The Quarry Farm’s inhabitants (not including the three dogs and eleven cats). S’more, was, and still is, slim and athletic, given to spontaneous bursts of energy that found him bounding sideways and pronging through the yard. It was clear from the beginning, though, that Marsh had issues. While he’d chase after his brother, bash heads and sport about to the best of his ability, he was prone to a constant mild bloating that, despite our best efforts, made it difficult to keep up. On more than one occasion, a visitor would ask if “she” was pregnant. What he lacked in athleticism, though, he more than made up in personality. Frequently the first to greet guests, Marsh was sweet and gentle, curious and approachable and children thronged to him. He’d greet them, and us, with his head tilted up, encouraging any and everyone to stand nose-to-nose with him.
But while willing and even desirous of the attentions of others, particularly when they offered bits of fruit or carrots or peanuts, Marsh was clearly bound to S’More.
Inseparable from the first, the brothers would play together, eat together sleep together and wander the property together, often pressed up hard against one another, shoulder to shoulder, moving about in a coordinated tandem. Now, I ache for the one without the other.
A little less than three years ago, we found Marsh standing in the yard, straining to urinate, but unable to do so. We called Dr. Ron Baldridge, a local veterinarian, who, over the phone, diagnosed bladder stones. Unlike kidney stones in humans, bladder stones in goats, due to their unique and convoluted physiology, will, untreated, prove fatal. Explaining that goats were outside his purview, Ron recommended contacting Ohio State University’s Veterinary Hospital. There, they surgically removed the stones and, after a week, Marsh returned home. Here, we worked to acidify his diet, providing ammonium chloride in periodic drenches and pouring gallons of apple cider vinegar into water troughs. Even so, ten months later, they reoccurred, necessitating another trip to Columbus and a second surgery. And again eight months later.
Wednesday evening, we found him once more, his belly distended. On Thursday, we drove him to the OSU veterinary facility in Marysville. That evening they called with disastrous news. Early Friday, I brought what was left of him home.
It took seventy-four minutes to dig a hole this morning, and even less time to fill it in. But there are holes and there are holes, absences that no amount of effort can ever fill.
So, then, because there is nothing else to do or say, goodbye, Marshmallow. Goodnight and sweet dreams.
If you have ever had an affinity for writing, someone at sometime has said to you, “Write what you know.” It’s good advice. But what they don’t tell you is that sometimes what you know is what you love and, on occasion, you are so close to what you love that writing about it becomes more than simply difficult. Your love becomes a chasm that words can’t bridge. I’m going to type a word now that, to me, embodies this whole concept.
It’s a little word and they are a common bird, but even so, I have been enamoured and fascinated by crows for decades. By those who study animal intelligence, they are widely considered the most intelligent of birds. They aren’t simply tool users, but meta-tool users, designing tools by which they can get a tool to accomplish a task. They raise their young in multigenerational family groups, teach specific lessons to their young who, in turn, teach their own offspring these self-same lessons, communally avoid areas of known danger and may even use the same insecticide (formic acid deliberately obtained from the crushed bodies of ants) they use to rid themselves of lice and other pests to attain a state of inebriation.
That’s right. Crows may get loopy on ant juice.
And here’s the rub: I live with two of them. Literally live with them. In my house. And have done so for over a year. Their names are Blackie and Jo. Both came to us through Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Education. Blackie first and then Jo. Over that time, a day hasn’t passed that one or the other of the two hasn’t done something noteworthy, engaged in behavior that wasn’t worthy of mention. Even so, getting the concept of them down, the enormity of their impact on my life, has proven overwhelmingly difficult. So, although I’ve tried, and there are literally dozens of drafts on this site that support my claim, I haven’t passed along a single anecdote.
To get to the meat of it, though, I have to seemingly stray away from the subject. Be patient.
Recently, we took in an additional fourteen hens. We acquired them locally from a pair of farmers who found themselves swimming in chickens. As I understand it, they were told by their supplier that their order of 150 chickens couldn’t be mailed, that they would have to drive to the hatchery and pick them up. Which they did, only to receive, a few days later, a shipment by mail of another 150. They were completely unprepared for so many birds, didn’t have the facility to house them all, although it appeared that they had tried. When we picked up our fourteen, the most the farmers were willing to part with, there were easily 200 hens and several roosters housed in a building no more than ten foot by fourteen. The birds had pecked each other raw, stripping the feathers from one another until many were half-plucked. To make a long story short, two of the chickens we took in have died, the (hopefully) last of them either late last night or early this morning. And now we get back to the crows.
Of the two crows that live with us, Jo is my girl. We bonded immediately. She greets me each morning, and I, her. It’s a complex thing involving specific crooning vocalizations. We visit with each other and preen one another. And when I’m outside where she can see me, she caws loudly and sits on the windowsill, watching me as I go about whatever task is at hand. Today, the one she watched me perform was the disposal of the body of the chicken that had died sometime during the night. As I was coming back up to the house, in the window of the room where the crows stay, I saw a small blob of brown bobbing in the window. It was obvious that Jo was in the window waving something around, but it took me a moment to figure out what it was.
As I mentioned earlier, crows are highly intelligent and they need a variety of stimulations to keep themselves occupied. We give them puzzles to solve and simple objects that they find interesting. One of Jo’s favorite toys is one of those tiny little plastic ducks, and by little I mean just a couple of inches long and maybe an inch and a half high, that you find all over the place. I’m sure you’ve seen them: little plastic ducks dressed like firemen or doctors or executives or sports figures. At the very least, you get the picture.
And she was waving it in the window after watching me walk down the path behind our house with my own little, brown, lifeless chicken.
Think of it what you will. Maybe Jo was just showing off one of her favorite toys, trying to entice me back into the room for a little play time (which, by the way, she succeeded in doing). Maybe it was simply coincidence. It’s possible.
But I don’t think so.