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From a Crab's Perspective

by Ann Ulrich Miller

Posted on March 8, 2008 by Web Dreams


The following article was published in the February issue of the New Mat Top Hat.

A year ago we arrived at our new home in the woods at Jackson Run.

We'd endured five long days caravan-ing across the country in the middle of winter, with everything we owned packed into a U-Haul truck, a utility trailer, and my husband's travel trailer (that we couldn't persuade anybody to buy before we left). He and I and the dog were sandwiched into a sardine can of a car, our Chevy Cavalier, with barely enough room for the concentrator that he'd wired up to the car's electrical system, so he could breathe his oxygen for 2,000 miles.

The trip would not have been possible except for those two angels, my stepsons, who came out to Colorado in mid-January and packed us up to move us East. The high altitude wasn't helping my ill husband, who could do little more than sleep. Getting him to a lower altitude and closer to his relatives and sons was my motivation for being uprooted from the home I'd come to love for nearly three decades.

A lot of people have asked, "But why New Matamoras?" Well, for years I'd been hearing how beautiful Wayne National Forest was, and how it might be nice to return to the old hunting grounds the Miller clan visited each year around Thanksgiving time. When I started scouting for homes for sale on the World Wide Web, the place on Jackson Run popped up on my computer screen. As soon as he heard "Jackson Run," my husband's ears perked up.

Late in September 2006, we headed for Ohio -- he, the dog and I -- sandwiched in the same sardine can of a Chevy -- with the wired-in oxygen concentrator hissing and buzzing away in the back seat. The trunk was filled with a dozen E-tanks (those cylindrical O2 containers that resemble bombs).

We looked at the place on October 1st, and didn't bother to look at any other property. When we returned to Colorado, we immediately put our mountain retreat up for sale, but it was a declining market and we were concerned that time would run out on the contract we d signed for the new home. However, by early December we had hooked a buyer, and by the end of January, I said goodbye to my mountains, my friends, and my job at the environmental newspaper.

The journey in January was grueling. Temperatures plunged to subzero by the time we reached Missouri (that's Mizz-err-yy!), and I was grateful at that point that I had been forced to leave eight of my chickens behind, because I think they would have frozen to death in the back of that truck. As it turned out, the friend I gave my chickens to had the misfortune of her barn catching fire that same weekend... and my chickens were history. Doomed! I don't know which is worse... freezing to death, or turning into fried chicken. It's a good thing I gave all my beautiful plants away, too. I had selfishly stowed a treasured Christmas cactus in the travel trailer, but it did not survive the harsh cold.

My husband's 1986 F-250 truck, which was pulling the travel trailer, died on I-70 outside Indianapolis that last morning. Our caravan was forced to a halt. For two hours we waited in the frigid morning rush-hour for the tow truck. I remember I had to keep revving the Chevy's motor, to keep the oxygen concentrator from going into "Red Alert," which translates into this terrorizing shriek of an alarm that goes off every time the power fails. After two hours, that really got on my nerves.

By noon, the tow company had agreed to haul both truck and travel trailer all of 300 miles to New Matamoras. The kids followed them, and the three of us in the sardine can made it to Marietta right before the title company closed its doors, just in time to sign the new house papers.

Jackson Run was a welcome destination when we finally got here. The woods were gorgeous with the new snow, and I was delighted with our new home and the resident male cardinal, who made his introduction by pecking at my hexagonal bathroom window. It wasn't long before I had my bird feeder unpacked and suspended on the front porch to attract those wintry feathered folks. I knew I was in for an unimaginable spring of birding pleasure. I had lost my million-dollar mountain vista, but in its place were dozens of bird species I was looking forward to getting reacquainted with. When I had left the Midwest in 1978, the thing I regretted most was leaving behind the diversity of Eastern songbirds. In the West you just don't have the birds that you have here.

Fast-forward several months... We were now well into springtime, with summer right around the corner. I was reminded about the thing in my past called "Humidity"! Recollections from childhood of sweltering days and humid, uncomfortable July nights, trying to sleep without air conditioning... Suddenly, I was changing clothes three or four times a day, and doing my Jazzercise early, before the house got unbearable. We were afraid to turn on the AC, because we d heard that electric bills shoot up faster than fireworks as soon as you turn that dial. The heat made those chilly February mornings suddenly desirable memories.

No longer having a job, I craved something to be responsible for once again. I decided to order baby chicks and start a flock of chickens on Jackson Run. For one thing, we really missed those delicious farm fresh eggs we had back in Colorado. Once you've had a taste of a free-range egg, you turn into a regular "egg snob" and poo-poo those sorry white factory eggs sold in the grocery stores. Not only are they tastier and fresher, but the yolks are a deeper orange in color than mass-produced eggs.

But before I could have chicks, that meant we had to build a chicken house, and when it comes to construction, pounding a nail into a piece of wood is sort of like my husband trying to use the keyboard on my computer. In other words... well, never mind... you get the picture. I once made the mistake of letting my husband get on my computer to surf the Internet, and when I came back into the room, he had clicked on every icon and opened every single dialogue box that beckoned to him. My whole screen had changed and my hard drive was begging for mercy! He has not been allowed near the computer since.

In mid-June, one of the angel stepsons had several days of work off and volunteered to build the chicken house for us. He spent several days, in the hottest part of June, putting up some shed kit we had bought on sale at the lumber yard. I don't know how he ever managed to figure out how to put that blasted thing together, because the manual was about as worthless as a pair of sunglasses on a moonless night. But he was out there every morning, at sun up, working on the chicken house, and he'd work until it got dark. Within five days we had a structure with a roof... and just in time, because the hatchlings arrived the last week in June.

One advantage to having new chicks in the heat of summer is that you don't need to keep a heat lamp running over the brooder except at night. The babies thrived and grew into cute and fluffy pullets. I had specifically ordered and paid for one Araucana rooster. The hatchery must have had a sense of humor, because I found myself with not one, but five cockerels. This usually doesn't become apparent until the birds are several weeks old, and by then I'd started pinning names on them and gotten attached, animal lover that I am. My husband told me five roosters were too many. We'd have to eat four of them. "Eat!" Did he say EAT them? Oh, no way!

Autumn came and I allowed the chickens to free range, but not without trepidation. Since our property is surrounded by woods, I expected predators to come in droves. We d had many predators in Colorado, mostly bobcats, coyotes, hawks and stray dogs. However, nothing came around to bother these chickens. I lock them into their house at night, and most the time they voluntarily go in when it starts getting late. Our dog loves to herd them, and if there's a stray hen who's past "curfew," Ranger's right on her, prodding her with his nose toward the chicken house door.

By Thanksgiving time we had our first eggs from the chickens, with the Araucanas laying in early December. It was also time to deal with the rooster problem. The males had the ladies in a constant state of alarm. The roosters would gang up on the females, and when one hen got "caught," they'd all have to have a turn with her. It became a blood battle, to the point where I was afraid I would have to do battle myself. Our kind neighbor, Fred Miller, was concerned about the problem I had and found another neighbor willing to take the roosters I didn't want.

 Oh, it was a happy day for the ladies when Mr. Valentine arrived with his pickup truck and the cage. I had been deliberating as to which rooster to keep. I loved them all. Sir Charles was so princely with his golden mane of feathers, but he was the roughest on the hens. The Araucana I had "purchased" was a wuss. I finally decided to keep "Model T," the Spotted Sussex. His name is "Model T" because when I first heard him crow, it was a very poor imitation of the old Ford Model T's horn... you know, the "Ah-ooo-ga!" I had to laugh when I heard it. I probably gave that rooster an inferiority complex. Model T is a big rooster, but he's dark red, beautiful and well-mannered, and the ladies respect him. The day after his buddies left, though, his head was hanging low. He probably wondered what had gotten those pals of his... and now, what was he going to do with all these girls to himself? He was one humbled bird.

Now that we've celebrated our first anniversary in our new home, I'm glad to have chickens again, and happy to be contributing to the community by providing several dozen of the eggs each week to Matamoras Hardware. My girls are happy birds, from what I can see. They love getting out in the sunshine and scratching at the ground and dead leaves in the woods. Whenever they see me, they come running to see what "treats" I've brought from the kitchen scraps. Some of them even let me pet them. I only wish there was a better way to keep them off the front porch. They'd come inside if we let them. But, oh well... the world would be a sorry place without animals and woods and birds... which reminds me, spring is coming and bird fever is about to hit Jackson Run! Stay tuned...

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