Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Sleepy girls

The chicks are bringing out my dormant maternal instincts. While slaving over a hot computer, I felt a pang of guilt about leaving them in their tub so long. I scooped them out and carried them into the home office hoping they'd just fall asleep in my lap while I worked. They tried but had trouble getting comfortable (I'm just not fluffy enough). Spying an old knit cap stuffed into the bookshelf, I tucked them inside where they soon fell asleep. Gradually Pearl, Grace, and Bonnie got too warm and wormed their way out of the cap until they were piled on top, leaving Joni tucked inside with just her fuzzy blond head sticking out. They stayed that way for more than an hour, until after Tom returned home from work (and brought me the camera). —SW
City Chicks: Keeping Micro-flocks of Chickens as Garden 
Helpers, Compost Makers, Bio-reyclers, and Local Food Producers Raising Chickens For Dummies


It's the dry season here in southeastern Arizona, which means it's also fire season. Last week alone lightning from some out-of-season thunderstorms sparked blazes Wednesday in lower Carr Canyon, Thursday at the base of the Santa Rita Mountains, and Friday just across the border in New Mexico. The photo shows the plume of smoke from the second fire, officially known as the Melendrez Pass Fire, as it looked from near the San Pedro River on Saturday.

Fire is a vital force in our ecosystems. Debris that might take years to decompose in this arid climate is reduced in minutes to nutrient-rich ash by low-intensity ground fires, and even tree-killing blazes allow light to reach the forest floor and stimulate sun-loving grasses and wildflowers (great for hummingbirds and butterflies). Unfortunately, our fire cycles have been thrown so out of whack for so many decades that any fire has the potential to become catastrophic, burning woodlands and forests right down to sterile mineral soil. To reduce this hazard and protect homes bordering public lands, the Forest Service has been putting substantial resources into thinning operations in some of the more popular canyons, removing debris, flammable brush, and low-hanging branches that fires can climb into the tree canopy ("ladder fuels"). They've even burned some of the debris piles, so it's not like a timber harvest operation that impoverishes the ecosystem by removing biomass along with all its nutrients.

Thunderstorms are a mixed blessing, especially this time of year when they produce more electricity than precipitation. If we're lucky, we won't have any more until the monsoon pattern develops, adding enough moisture to the storms to douse any fires they start.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Bucket o' chickens

So we've got chicks. Now comes the hard part: Getting a coop and run built before they outgrow the house. In the meantime, they're living in a cat-proof tub in the living room:

The chopsticks through the corners of the hardware cloth top lock it down so that our indoor-only kitteh Bart (whose middle name is Evil) doesn't decide to see if dey haz a flavur. So far, he hasn't shown as much interest in them as in the House Finch fledglings that have been hanging out around outside the living room window, but we don't want to take any chances.

For now, the chicklets seem pretty comfy. We're letting them out three or four times a day to bond and exercise. They're so much fun to watch, but they wear out pretty quickly at this age. Here's Joni having a loll while her sisters snuggle:

Tom is new to poultry, despite having been a foster dad to wild things ranging from quail to otters, but pet chickens were a big part of my childhood. There was Herman, who started out as a gaudily dyed Easter chick and grew up to be a ferocious White Leghorn rooster, Jicken (pronounced with a French "j"), a gorgeous Dominique rooster that my mom named for his floppy, beret-like raspberry comb, and Cluck, a very lucky White Leghorn battery hen who came to us in a large box labeled "YEAR'S SUPPLY OF EGGS." I used to love going to the Fort Worth Livestock Show during poultry week to soak up all the incredible diversity among chicken breeds, and we'd like to have some of that diversity in our little flock. Maybe we'll adopt a couple of tribble-like Silkies, a mop-topped Polish, a sleek, satiny Sumatra....

To keep this from morphing into a poultry blog, we'll keep the chicken posts to a minimum here (but hey—at least they're birds). Chickens are really hot right now, though, so we may start a new blog just for our close encounters of the gallinaceous kind.