Coops and transitions

IMG_9701It’s been a summer of transitions. In June we attended the wedding of one niece, Labor Day weekend will be the Washington celebration of another niece’s wedding. We missed a friend’s wedding due to mom’s unexpected ‘eviction’ and subsequent move from the adult family home where she lived. (The day after I wrote “The Girl in the Turquoise Swimsuit” we were given one hour to have a plan for moving mom that day, in spite of plans to move her the following week). Sadly, we’ve attended memorial/life celebrations of two long time friends dear to our hearts.

A summer of grief and sorrow, joy, stress…and love.

Though the rapid decline of mom, and the need to move her, has been demanding of time and energy, we managed to find time to tear down several coops, leaving behind a collection of old poultry houses. Losing our last chicken and one duck to a raccoon caused us to rethink, regroup, and ultimately, decide to rebuild. (See: ‘The Unexpected’). As with many things in life, before rebuilding, we thought it a good idea to clean up, clean out and eliminate the old.


A temporary house in the new coop, originally built to be a dog house decades ago, was unwanted by it’s intended and always housed ducks!

If you’ve never kept chickens, ducks or other types of poultry; a cow, horse or other livestock, you may not understand the physical and mental work required in putting up a coop or fence, or building a poultry house or barn (or why someone would write about doing so). The goal is always to keep the critters in your care in, and keep the critters that like to eat them out. In the past 35 years I’ve built, with help, five chicken coops, three duck coops, four chicken houses, a smaller ‘nesting’ house, one duck house, converted a dog house into a duck house, and, for Daisy the Jersey cow I once lived with, one barn and fenced in two pastures.


Shiny fencing, fresh paint, a spiffy green metal roof, we thought this little chicken house and coop would be our last. The house is still in good shape but the coop, needing repair, will come down, liberating another space in Nature.

I’ve worked along side, first, my friend Gene, then my Dad, and for the past 25 years, my husband Mike, digging holes and trenches, setting posts, stretching chicken wire, barbed wire, (getting poked and cut in the process), cranking necks to work above our heads to cover coops, weaving wire through all the overlaps. We’ve worked late at night by floodlights (a specialty of Mike’s and my project style) and occasionally in the rain, though we try to avoid that! We’ve hammered, stapled, cut, squared, leveled, installed old windows, roosts, various types of roofing materials, and set many cement blocks, all to make miniature houses of various shapes and sizes for feathered friends.

Old chicken coop and

Never once while building these critter dwellings did I think about when or how we’d be tearing them down. It was always about making them strong and tight to hold up against diggers, climbers, snow, falling trees and tree branches. And over the years they all have needed repairs from diggers and climbers who find the chink in our fortresses, the snow that was heavier than the previous years, and falling trees and tree limbs.

old duck house

With the building of each new coop or house we would take extra precautions, try to build a better coop, make what we thought would be a better house…easier to keep tight, clean, and maintained. Each new coop starts out with shiny silver-gray galvanized chicken wire, pungent and sweet scented reddish-brown cedar posts, yellowish white fir supports, and houses with a fresh coat of paint. As we tear them down, wire, nails, screws and staples are rusted, cedar posts, now gray with age, often rotten, fir supports, many long ago broken, have been repaired with pieces and patches. The houses are faded, some sides green with growth. But all are dry inside. There are sow bugs and ants living in the corners of every coop where two pieces of wood come together. In the houses, where feathered residents kept bugs at a minimum, there are a few spiders and moths.

Tear downs in the past were to move a coop or house to a different site. This time, tearing down was an ending. The woods will reclaim where the large chicken coop stood. If we move faster than the woods, the area enclosed by the smaller coop, yet to be torn down, will become part of the back yard. Tearing down the old duck coop opened new space with possibilities yet to be determined. Nature will decide if we don’t….and that’s okay. With each dismantling of a chicken wire enclosed space, there is a sense of having opened something up, a feeling of liberation. (For Mike it’s liberation from constant repairs of old rusting wire and rotting posts.)

And so it can be with life’s transitions. Death, often written about as liberation, frees the soul from the world, and perhaps from a body that has suffered. Marriage can bring freedom from loneliness. Commitments made at wedding ceremonies bring the freedom of knowing someone will care for, support, share dreams, life challenges, be your partner…and love you. Marriage can mean liberation from the seeking which drives many people’s lives, and inspires artistic endeavors from poems to paintings, movies and songs.

Mom, in her struggles, though freed from her own self-care and a life time of responsibilities, is waiting for liberation.


Mama Black Duck happily moved her young duckling into the spacious new duck house. The awning over the door has removable posts, it can be dropped down and serve as a door if needed at night, but with our new ‘security coop’, we hope that isn’t needed!

The new duck house, built from the recycled, reclaimed and discarded, is made completely from materials salvaged from the old dismantled duck house and miscellaneous materials found in the barn. It is fresh and new.  Hopefully it is the best house we’ve built, in the most secure coop we’ve built. We tried to think like a duck, a weasel, a raccoon, a rat…..

I’d like to think I learned a few things in the past 35 years, at least about coops, and maybe about life transitions.


The Unexpected

If there were a single theme for the lives of most people, it would be The Unexpected.  So common is this theme, there are many clichés describing it, phrases like “life threw me a curve ball”, or “expect the unexpected”. We may wish for predictability, and certainly there are predictable outcomes to some of our actions and words, even Nature is predictable in many ways, but the unexpected is always just around the corner. With climate change, even the predictability of the seasons and Nature’s cycles of birth and death are shifting and changing in unexpected ways. The Earth itself has behaved more unpredictable in recent years.

A popular quote from Buckminster Fuller is “There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes.”  Our lives are our greatest experiments and the unexpected events, people, challenges, and blessings, that come to us indicate discovery, successes, the ebb and flow of our journey.

So why am I waxing philosophically this morning about the unexpected nature of life events?  During the past weeks, as we ride the tidal wave of changes in mom’s life, with the accompanying emotions and demands on our time and energy, there has been a side-story, a duck story, and a few days ago, it threw us “a curve ball”.

Black Duck and I having a moment together last summer.

Black Duck and I sharing  a moment together last summer.

We returned in June from our two-week wedding trip to discover a raccoon had dug under the pens and killed both our little hen, Millie, and Gray Duck, a pet of 8 years. We felt devastated by such a loss of two sweet birds whose comical ways and personable personalities provided entertainment, diversion and balance in our hectic lives. We were faced with a dilemma, do we call it quits, find a new home for our remaining lone duck, ending decades of poultry pets, or do we begin again? It seemed like a simple choice since we had previously decided to let go of bird raising when the last ones died. Here we were at that crossroad and unsure of our decision.  Black Duck (we are so creative with naming ducks!) was broody, laying unfertilized eggs daily, which gave us options. Get her some fertilized eggs to sit on or find her some buddies to live with. We went for it, found someone with (supposedly) fertile Muscovy eggs, bought 8, and put them under her. Now for the math…2 eggs broke immediately, leaving six for the long incubation period of 35 days. Still not sure of our commitment, we were too preoccupied finding Mom a new place to live, an unexpected change of course in her life, to think much about a setting duck. She was doing her thing and required little attention. But after investing in and building the Taj Mahal of duck pens (as my older brother calls it), we were getting excited about having a little flock of ducklings again. I was counting the days. IMG_5345 35 days came and went. We began to think of plan B, after all, we had this super-coop ready to house someone! I contacted a woman who had ducklings to sell, some a few weeks old, others a few months. Maybe Black Duck would take to the young ones and raise them, or maybe it would be better to get the older ones, already independent, and let her get use to them as they mature. Then the miracle happens, Tuesday evening a tiny duckling appeared under Black Duck. I check the next morning, still just one. Holding them up to the sun, I find two eggs full of liquid (infertile) and toss them. Later in the day she tossed another, leaving a stinky rotten egg smell in the coop. Worried about the little one not being cared for as she continues to sit, I take water to the nest, and a plate of food, cradle the soft little one in my hand and introduce it to water. It drinks, Mama eats and drinks like she is starving. Day two. Still only one duckling. Still two eggs. The hard choice. Remove the eggs, bury them, not knowing for sure, but assuming nothing is alive in them. Then she will get up and care for her one little duckling. I will wait, maybe give her one more day and do the sad deed tonight. (see below for update)IMG_5337This was not expected. None, or some. Not one. One is both joyous and sad. One is not enough, for her or for us. It will be raised as an ‘only duck’! I’ve raised Muscovy ducks for decades and never have I had just  one hatchling. Yet there she/he is, one little yellow and black fuzzy life form, already curious, already in wonder, already wonderful. We can’t bring in older ducklings who would be bigger than this little fuzzy one. Black Duck, in her mother protective mode would likely view them as intruders.

Plans for the fancy new duck house are ditched. Black Duck (for now called Mama Duck, named after our wonderful white Mama Duck), with our help, will move into the new security coop, and in a small older house, raise her single little duckling. We will pray each day it thrives and survives. Mama will nurture it, and raise it as her baby, but it will grow to be either her sister or her mate.

“The best-laid plans of mice and men, and ducks, often go awry.”

Such is the unexpected.

Afternoon update: Checked the last two eggs, they too are full of liquid…rotten, infertile eggs. I grab Black Duck, tuck her under my arm, pick up her duckling, and off we go to the new coop. A spontaneous move made without thought to the consequences. I know full well a setting duck, not wanting to soil her nest, gets up once a day to void, a yellow, stinky, thick liquid. My clothes are now in the washing machine, after a thorough hosing of the left side of my body, clothes and all. Thank goodness it’s 90 degrees out!

Below is our new little one, already wet, already starting to preen and fluff herself…..those instincts kick in immediately!