Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I am surrounded by the sweet sounds of home.  Ethan is singing while he slowly makes his way through his math work.  Asa and Julia are sharing a bowl of dry cinnamon cereal, and amidst the clanging of spoons I can hear snippets of conversation about kittens and bike races.  Astrid and Ezra have retreated to the girls' room and have an Owl City CD turned up so loudly that they have to yell over it hear each other while they play.  Juniper is 30 minutes into one of her late afternoon naps on my lap, quietly and deeply breathing, tempting me to join her.  But, since I have been waiting nearly three months to post, I am resisting the temptation.

It's hard to believe that we have been in our house for over two weeks.  We are finally settled comfortably between a forested hill and winding creek, with no other houses within our view.  And we are loving it.  Ethan enjoys it for the simple fact that he can get up from his schoolwork and go outside to relieve himself (as he did just now as I was typing this).

Home.  Finally.

These two weeks have brought us adventure, excitement, life lessons, and even a little heartache.

Moving day was just as it should be, with friends and family helping, hauling, laughing, eating, and playing.  The days that followed have been filled with visits from many friends, first dinners in our new home, trips to the creek, firefly chasing, swimming, planting, crawdad hunting, and so much more.

But last week we faced the reality, more than once, that we aren't in the neighborhood anymore.  Our sweet 9 week old kitten, Calista, went missing.  Monday she was here, playfully pouncing on our bigger cat Lucy, and meowing at the back door with big green eyes, begging to come in.  And the next day she was gone.  The wild land is not a safe place for little ones like her.  After two days of not seeing her around I feared the worst, but kept the kids hoping for the best.  It's been 9 days now since we have seen her, and reality has set in.  She isn't coming back.  And, despite what I told the kids, I don't think she ran away with a group of gypsy kittens passing through in the night to pursue a new life of riches and glamour.  I think she got eaten.

Just two days after Calista disappeared, we had a terrible, sleepless night.

That day, our two bigger dogs, Abby (fox hound) and Pippa (cocker spaniel), had been in a pretty rough fight.  Abby hurt Pippa badly enough that I brought Pippa in to rest and recover.  About 11:30 that night, just as Justin and I were about to fall asleep, we heard one of our two puppies (pyrenees/golden retriever mix, about 11 weeks old) cry out in pain, then whimper desperately.  Fearing that Abby was assaulting them, Justin jumped out of bed, took a few seconds to find his glasses, and ran to the back door.  The pups, Ingrid and Matilda, usually sleep on the back porch all night, right next to Pippa, who keeps watch.  Neither of them were there.  He came back into the room and told me that he couldn't find them.  I got up quickly and went outside.  I called for them.  Faint puppy barking came from somewhere in the woods in response.  Just a few frantic barks.  Then nothing.  Justin shined his flashlight into the darkness of the thick trees and spotted two reflective eyes.  "I think I see their eyes," he said.  "No, I don't think so," I replied, "dogs eyes don't reflect like that.  Cats do."  We looked at each other with concern and alarm.  While our house was being built, the contractors told us that they had seen a bobcat coming in and out of the woods.  Could this bobcat have attacked our pups?
" couldn't have gotten two at once, could it?" I asked.
"I don't think so," he said slowly, "but now that I think about it, I only saw one of the pups when I came out right before dark to check the pool.  I remember because I reached down to pet her and wondered where the other was, since they are always together."
Justin walked toward the woods, baseball bat in hand (even though we have several guns) and called for the puppies again.  Nothing.
He went back in the house for his keys.  He got in his truck and shined his lights into the woods as I called over and over again for Ingrid and Matilda.  He drove all over, covering about 10 of our 30 acres, trying to find them.  Maybe they were out by the chicken coop, teasing the ladies?  No puppies there.  Maybe they were on their way to the creek for a moonlight swim.  No trace of them on the path that direction either.
Images of a tiny helpless black kitten and two little white puppies being dragged off by a ferocious feline flashed into my head.  Everything always seems worse at night, and worse and worse did it seem, the more I thought about it.
Why would the pup have been crying?  Was there another explanation?  Why wouldn't they come when I called?  Why was there only one when Justin went out earlier?  I couldn't come up with any benign reason.  Every thought was filled with glowing cat eyes and razor sharp claws.
I cried, wondering how I was going to tell my children that their precious furry girls had been ripped apart and consumed.  I didn't sleep much that night, and apparently neither did Justin.  Although we never crossed paths, we both spent those wee hours alternating between restless sleep and getting up to check the porches in hopes of finding Ingrid and Matilda snoozing up against the house.  The last time I checked was about 4:30am.  They were still gone, but I finally drifted off to sleep, worried about the morning, when the kids would go outside to feed the girls and realize that they were gone.

I was abruptly awakened by Justin calling my name.  I opened my eyes and just as that sinking feeling began to take over again, I noticed his smile.  "Guess who's back!" he exclaimed.
"REALLY?!?  They're here?"
"Yep.  I went outside, thinking I was looking for carcasses and they came bouncing out of the woods."
"Little brats," I said, "someone needs to teach those two to come when they're called!"
I was so relieved.  I went outside and scratched behind their rotten little ears, and reprimanded them for putting me through that misery.

Justin started getting ready for work and I went to the kitchen to start a happy day breakfast while the girls filled one bucket with water and one with chicken feed to tend to the ladies.

Less than 5 minutes later Julia and Astrid burst through the door with worried and frantic expressions.
"The chickens are gone!!!!  We went out to feed them and the coop door was open and there are no chickens there and there are piles of feathers everywhere leading into the woods!!!"

And they were right.  The ladies were gone.  The little chicks we had hand raised since they were just days old, the ones that we had spent time and sweat building a coop for, the ladies that I had driven out to our land twice every day to give food and water, the sweet pet chickens that had just the day before laid their first proud eggs, were gone.

When I finally went outside to survey the scene I was horrified to see clumps of chest feathers here, piles of tail feathers there, and even a few heads amongst the carnage.  It looked like a horror movie.  I stood solemnly next to the empty coop and called out weakly, "ladies?  ladies?  Is there anyone left?"
I thought I heard a quiet cluck coming from the woods.  I took a step closer.  "Ladies?  Are you there?"
Slowly, cautiously, a little red hen emerged from the brush at the edge of the trees.  She looked around her as she stepped hesitantly toward me.  When she arrived at my feet and I reached down to pet her, I heard another cluck and looked up to see another battered and slightly defeathered victim making her way out of the woods to join us.  I have never in my life been so happy to see chickens!
These two were the only ones who survived that night.  Two of eight.
We received a blessing, though, when a friend told me of a friend of hers who was giving her 5 chickens away!  The next day, we drove out and picked up 5 new ladies, experienced lay-ers, whom we welcomed with an open coop!

Sweet Matilda
Rowdy Ingrid

Asa after a swim

running to the coop to check for eggs

some of the ladies

two eggs in one of the coops

one egg in the other

farm fresh eggs.  and yes, they do taste better!


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