Letter from Birdland: Chasing birds in a blizzard

Letter from Birdland: Chasing birds in a blizzard

In Birdland, we are hunkered down for the duration of the blizzard. Two days ago, I went to town to stock up on provisions for the coming storm.

That day was sunny and bright — and warmish. I even stopped by my sister's for a visit, and we took her dog on a long walk in the park. I kept my eye on the sky, though, because of the impending storm. We could see the front coming down from the north, a curving line of heavy, dark clouds jutting into our blue sky.

The snow was predicted to start falling here at 8 p.m., but didn't come till almost 12 hours later. We woke the next day a little disappointed that we weren't snowed in — yet. The winds hadn't started, and it was still a balmy 28.

I told Michael I was going to go and let the chickens out while they could still enjoy the weather, but he said, "No! It will start blowing and the temperature will drop, and then how will you get them in?"

My husband had a point, so I just brought them their winter ration and fresh water and left them in the coop. They might get cabin fever, but they'd be warm and dry.

You might remember that we have some rogue chickens that don't like to come in the coop, a cockerel and a pullet hatched last summer from one of the Buff Orpingtons. After their mama suddenly determined they were old enough to be on their own, these two decided to nest in the big cedar tree, rather than try to challenge the pecking order in the coop. I named these the "wild chickens" and worried about their ability to survive in the tree, especially after winter came, but my best efforts to lure them in didn't work.

Suddenly, about two weeks ago, they must have decided on their own that the tree was a little chilly, and I found our big cockerel in the coop with the others. A few days later, the pullet joined him. They had reintegrated themselves into the flock and were there every morning when I opened the coop, so I stopped worrying about them.

Until this morning. Now, two days into this storm, we are snowbound in earnest. We never got the 6 to 8 inches predicted, but it's 15 below and the snow hasn't stopped blowing since yesterday noon. School has been canceled, so the three of us putter around with various projects and amusements. Ellis studies his chess game, texting back and forth with his opponent.

Michael has plowed the driveway twice, and it's already completely drifted shut again. He looks idly out the window.

"Where are the wild chickens?" he asks.

"In the coop," I tell him, without looking up from my knitting.

"Then what is that?" he asks.

I go to the window and look to where he is pointing. A brown lump sits huddled under the big cedar tree. It is my wild cockerel. I realize he has been out in the storm for two days, and without speaking, we both bundle up to go and see if he's still alive.

The wind howled wickedly, and we approached him from behind. I could see him moving, but his tail was down and his head pulled into his neck feathers, like a lady snuggling into her feather boa. I thought he was a little stunned with the cold and would be easy to catch, but somehow he heard us coming, even over the wind, and jumped up and ran. He had enough strength to lead us on a merry chase.

Now, chasing chickens, even under the best circumstances, is difficult. Your only real hope is to corner them. Chickens are fast. Hampered as we were by the snowdrifts and our winter coats, there was no way to catch him.

I stood still for a moment and looked up into the tree. There was the pullet, huddled on a high branch. I called to Michael and pointed. We changed tactics and went inside for tools. Michael got a broomstick, and I got a sheet. The plan was to push her out of the tree and then throw the sheet over her. Only the first part worked, and we ran around and around until she stopped under the low branches of the quince tree. Then she sat down and appeared to just give up.

I can't say that I blame her. Even if she could elude us, the scary, stumbling predators, would she have survived much more of this weather? The gale was steady, and full of ice crystals. Our faces were frozen, and we had only been out for 20 minutes, not two days.

I stood a little way off with my useless sheet. I saw my husband crouching by the quince tree. He crept closer ...closer ... I saw him make a sudden leap in the snow.

To be icily continued ...

Crouch in beauty; leap in peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays tries to keep warm in Birdland near White Heath. You can read more of her writings at http://www.letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com. Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com.

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