Sunrise from Lookout Point

When was the last time you sat quietly to watch a day being born?

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that about a year ago, I bought 10 acres of view property sitting on a shelf at the base of some basalt cliffs in Malaga, WA. I’m a view person and its the view that sold me on the land. From the spot where I had my building constructed this summer, I can see all of Malaga and most of East Wenatchee and Wenatchee, including the Columbia River which runs between them. There are grassy, sage-studded hills, small lakes, orchards, snow-covered peaks, and dramatic cliff faces, with a scattering of homes nearby and the more populated Wenatchee area in the distance.

My Bench at Lookout Point
Looking back at my future home from the bench at Lookout Point. See the tiny dog curled up on the right seat?

But a short walk a bit farther to the north, to the point just before my land drops down off a steep hill, takes me to what I’ve begun calling “Lookout Point.” It has a 270° (at least) view that also takes in Mission Ridge and the mouth of Lower Moses Coulee. When I bought a used shed last autumn and found a crude bench in it, the obvious place to put it was at Lookout Point. I fixed it up with a coat of paint and bought new cushions for it. I often sit out there in the evening with a glass of wine to watch the sun set.

The View from Lookout Point
There’s nothing special about the bench; it’s what’s in front of the bench that’s amazing.

I woke up this morning shortly before 5 AM. It was already light out — it gets light very early here in the summer — and rather than turn on the radio and have my coffee at my desk while listening to the news on NPR — as I too often do — I decided to have my coffee out at Lookout Point.

I think it was the sight of the pickers driving into the cherry orchard below me that triggered the idea. Two or three summers ago, when I lived at a friend’s building site in Wenatchee Heights, I used to sit out on his unfinished deck at dawn, watching the pickers getting to work in the orchard across the road. The deck was close enough to the orchard that I could hear the dull clunk of cherries hitting the bottom of the picking buckets as pickers started work.

Anyway, I took my coffee and headed out, leaving the door to my RV open behind me. Penny the Tiny Dog was still asleep on my bed, but I suspected that she’d follow me out if she sensed I was leaving. Sure enough, I was halfway down to the bench when I saw her following on the path behind me. When I sat down, she jumped up onto the seat beside mine, curled up, and went back to sleep.

The sky on the horizon to the northwest was pink; the sun was just touching the tops of distant snow-covered peaks. The valley was still in the shadows.

I sat quietly and listened. I could hear the whine of a sprayer in a nearby orchard. It was a sound you learn to live with here — during the growing season, they start as early as 4 AM and, depending on what they’re spraying and what the weather is like, they could continue all day long. Fortunately, none of the orchards are close enough that the sound becomes a nuisance.

Predawn from Lookout Point
The sun was just kissing the snow-covered peaks when I sat down at the bench.

Golden Basalt
I love the way first light and last light makes the cliffs behind my home glow with a golden light.

Sprayer in Orchard
You can easily see a sprayer from above — the cloud of chemicals is hard to miss. Sometimes, when I’m flying, I’ll see dozens of them at work in orchards all around me.

The sun broke over the horizon at exactly 5:30 AM.

Morning Light
I watched the golden morning light creep down the landscape. Can you see my shadow on the left?

Wenatchee Valley in Shadows
But while I was in full sun, the Wenatchee Valley was still in shadows. The sun wouldn’t hit them for another 30 minutes or so.

Off in the distance, I heard another familiar sound: a spray helicopter. I didn’t see it, but I suspect it was working out to the west, either on Stemilt Hill or Wenatchee Heights. I wondered what the people living in that area thought about helicopters doing extended spray operations near their homes at 5 AM.

Closer, I heard tools clanking where the pickers had gone. Maybe ladders being repositioned? Or bin trailers being hooked up to tractors?

Occasionally, a bird cannon fired. These propane-powered devices emit a sound a bit like a shotgun every few minutes to scare birds off the ripening cherries. Like the sprayers, bird cannons are a seasonal sound that lasts only as long as red cherries are on the trees. By July month-end, the orchards in my area will have been all picked and the bird cannons will be put away until next year.

Across the river, the sound of a motorcycle on route 28 drifted up on a breeze. And then a truck. I can sometimes hear trains on my side of the river, but none seemed to go by.

Birds — I heard them, too. Song birds greeting the day. Robins, magpies, quail.

One of my bees flew over to the bench and poked around. Maybe she thought my purple tank top was some sort of enormous flower that had blossomed overnight. Penny, bothered by the close buzzing, sat up. It wasn’t until she lunged at the bee that it flew away.

Meanwhile, the earth rotated toward the east and the sky got brighter and brighter. A golden light reached out and touched the basalt cliffs behind me. Then it began creeping down from the mountains and cliffs and hillsides, bathing everything it touched with a golden light.

The new day was born.

Bunch Grass in First Light
Bunch grass in first light.

It’s funny, but when some people watch a sunrise or sunset, they look at the sun. But that’s not where the show is. The show is in the opposite direction, where the changing light makes deep shadows and glowing highlights on the things we see every day.

I watched the light shine on everything around me. I especially liked the way it touched the tips of the bunch grass I’d left long around Lookout Point.

The light spread like a carpet over the earth. Shadows filled in with light. The magic of first light faded quickly at Lookout Point. Too quickly. I wished it could last all day.

Dawn in Malaga
A new day is born.

As I sat there with Penny, savoring the last few minutes of the sunrise, I thought back to sunrises I’d experienced years ago. Back when I was in my early 20s, I’d dated a man who liked sunrises as much as I do. I distinctly remember waking up very early one morning and driving through the darkness to Montauk Point out on Long Island in New York. We found a rock to sit on and sat close together, looking out toward the brightness of the eastern horizon while waves crashed gently on the shore. If I think hard enough, I can remember — or at least imagine — the way the sun’s first light felt warm on my skin and the way his body felt comfortably close to mine. Afterward, we lay back on that big, flat rock and I fell asleep in his arms.

I miss moments like that, long gone and likely forgotten by the man I shared them with. Over the years, he grew and changed. Like so many of us, he forgot about the simple beauty of a sunrise and the wonder of a day being born, caught up instead with chasing the almighty dollar and keeping up appearances for people who really don’t matter. His loss — but he probably doesn’t even realize it.

Are you guilty of that, too? Be honest with yourself. I think I was, at least for a while.

I think that moving here has helped me reconnect with the simple things in life — getting back in tune with nature, stopping to look and listen and experience my surroundings. Gone are the days when I spent too much time commuting between two homes and dealing with the noise and crowds of a city I never really wanted to live in. Last night, I enjoyed squash from my garden; this morning, I ate cherries I picked yesterday with yogurt I made the day before. My chickens will soon be laying eggs; I can’t wait to make my special pound cake with those rich fresh eggs and butter. I’ll fill the hummingbird feeder in a while and check my bee hives for capped honey frames. Maybe I’ll head down into town for lunch with some friends.

Life is what you make it and my life is good.

Paddling with Friends

The river is high, the estuary is flooded, and the irises are blooming.

My friend Brian bought a kayak from a friend’s estate a few weeks ago. Knowing that I had some experience paddling in the Wenatchee River and — possibly more importantly — I had a truck to haul the kayaks, he suggested that we go for a paddle. When I heard his daughter was in town for the weekend, I offered her my second kayak (yes, I have two; long story) so she could come with us.

My favorite paddling destination on the Columbia River, labeled.

We put in at Walla Walla Point Park, near the swimming lagoon. I knew from experience that the river’s swift current — it’s currently at a low flood stage — would make it nearly impossible to paddle out the lagoon entrance (A on the satellite image) and upriver past the sheltering arm of land. So I recommended that we launch from just upriver from the park’s little bridge (B). It was a bit of hike from the parking lot, but we each handled our own kayaks and did fine.

I let them launch first. They stayed near the launch point, holding onto tree branches until I was in the water with Penny. Then we began paddling up the shoreline toward the estuary (C) at the mouth of the Wenatchee River.

It was difficult at first. I clocked the river’s current at about 5-1/2 miles per hour the other day. But once we got moving, it became easier. And some place near the shoreline had less current, making it an easy paddle.

Bryan's Kayak
Brian bought his kayak from the estate of a friend. It’s really designed for white water.

Brian had trouble, though. His kayak is designed for white water. It’s short and has a completely smooth bottom. Each paddling stroke pushed the kayak’s nose hard in one direction. As a result, he wiggled his way along, having a heck of a time moving in anything resembling a straight line.

Brian’s daughter, Kathleen, did much better. In fact, she kind of surprised me — she’s a quiet girl and I wasn’t sure how outdoorsy she was. Maybe it’s the kayak, though. My two Costco specials are pretty easy to use.

We entered the mouth of the estuary at the southmost point. The satellite image is a pretty good representation of the area, although it might show the water level even higher than what we experienced on Saturday. The last time I’d been in there for a paddle, late last summer, the water level had been much lower and there were fewer channels that I could paddle through. This time there were multiple channels and a pretty decent current.

Penny in the Kayak
After Penny took an unexpected swim, I put her life jacket on and she returned to her favorite position on the boat’s bow.

At one point, Brian’s kayak rammed into mine and poor Penny, who’d been sitting on the bow, fell into the water. She wasn’t wearing her life jacket yet, but she was secured with her leash and I reeled her in. I put her life jacket on more to warm her up than to keep her safe.

More than once, we found side channels to get us out of the main current. Once, the channel met back up with the one we’d been in after a nice, leisurely paddle through a shady area. Another time, the channel dead-ended in tall grasses that were difficult to turn around in. No worries, though. It was a beautiful day — perfect for exploring.

Brian and his Daughter
Brian and his daughter posed for a photo in one of the calmer side channels.

We eventually reached the Wenatchee River confluence. The Wenatchee was running hard. I wanted to cross it to continue padding in the estuary on the other side (D on the satellite image above) and even got a start, but the current was sweeping me out into the Columbia and it looked like it would be a tough crossing. So before the others started off behind me, I returned. We took a different one of the estuary’s channels back downriver, exploring more side channels on the way.

We were nearly back to the south end of the estuary when I began to see irises — thousands of them — coming up through the floodwaters and blooming along the shoreline. The calm water reflected the bright yellow blooms. For a while, everywhere we turned were irises among the trees. I must have taken a dozen photos, trying hard to capture that reflection in the water. I want to return a little later in the year and see if I can snag a few of the bulbs for my garden. I just hope they don’t need to be flooded to grow.

Irises in the Columbia River
There were irises blooming all over the place in the south end of the estuary.

We left the estuary and began paddling back. It was easy, moving along with the current. Instead of pulling out where we’d started, we went around to the mouth of the lagoon (A on the satellite image above). There was some fast water along the way. We passed a man in a beautiful, long sea kayak headed upriver. He told me he was surprised that Penny didn’t jump out to chase the geese.

Once in the lagoon, we paddled to shore, close to the swimming area. I climbed out onto land, feeling pleasantly tired.

It had been a nice day out. I’m hoping to paddle on Friday with another friend; maybe there will be something new to report.

Boating with Friends

Another nice day out on the river.

On Thursday, I took my boat out for the first time this season. It was a girls day out: me, Stephanie, Megan, and Penny the Tiny Dog.

My BoatMy little boat in a photo from 2012. It’s a 1995 SeaRay Sea Rayder F-16. It’s a fun little boat, but it definitely looks faster than it is.

I admit I wasn’t very responsible about winterizing the boat. I was supposed to disconnect the battery and I didn’t. I did, however, remember to put fuel stabilizer in the half-empty fuel tank. Then I parked it in my hangar and pretty much forgot about it.

About a week ago, I pulled the battery and brought it to Les Schwab. The previous owner, Ron, had bought the battery there years ago. One of the benefits of having a Les Schwab battery is that they’ll test and charge it for you for free. A friend of mine dropped it off there for me and I picked it up a few days later. It took a charge and tested good. On Thursday morning, I reinstalled it, closed the engine lid, and crossed my fingers.

The Boat’s Role in my Divorce Saga

Oddly, my little boat played a role in my divorce trial drama last year.

My wasband apparently believed it was worth more than I’d paid for it. He, or more likely, his mommy, decided to try to trick me into admitting it was worth more by offering me $1,000 for it in court. Because I’d only paid $1,500 for it and had since had a mishap that reduced its value, I accepted the offer.

But when he learned that he’d have to get it from Washington to Arizona and pay for storage until he could do so, he took back the offer and I got to keep it.

The exchange between his lawyer, my lawyer, and me must have made a nice show for the judge. My friends and family certainly laughed about it afterwards

His loss. But then again, I suspect his mommy isn’t the kind of person who likes to have fun outdoors. She’d rather spend her time living life vicariously by reading my tweets and blog posts. Are you enjoying this one?

I towed the boat behind my Jeep to the gas station where I topped off the tank with premium fuel. I always do that for vehicles that have been left sitting too long. Then I crossed the bridge to Wenatchee, drove to the boat ramp behind Pybus Market, and launched it. I got there 30 minutes early so it would be in the water when my friends arrived and, with luck, I’d be able to get it running. I didn’t want my friends to have to wait while I launched it and cranked it and possibly couldn’t start it. I figured that if it wouldn’t start, they wouldn’t have to waste too much of their time.

Stephanie showed up just after I parked the Jeep and was climbing on board. She admitted to a certain fear of water and I handed over my old jet ski vest, which I’d brought along. She climbed aboard and took a seat while I crossed my fingers again and began cranking the engine.

It caught on the second try. I don’t know why I was so worried about it.

I left the engine idle while securely tied to the dock. Being a weekday morning, there weren’t any other boats coming or going. That’s one of the things that amazes me about the Columbia River. It’s a huge river — really a chain of dam-formed lakes — and the water is usually calm and blue and very inviting. Yet there are relatively few boats on it. Even on weekends, the boat ramp parking lot is seldom full.

I let the engine run for 10 minutes, then shut it down. No sense wasting fuel or talking over its sound. I opened the Bimini top and Stephanie and I sat in the shade. The temperature was perfect — in the high 70s, I think — and there was a gentle breeze. Beyond the boat ramp, the river, which was running high with spring thaw in the mountains, rushed by at what I’d later clock at 5-1/2 miles per hour.

In the Boat
Megan took this photo of me and Stephanie with Penny as we headed upriver.

Megan showed up with a big cooler full of food a while later. We loaded it on board. Megan grabbed the bow rope while I started the engine. We cast off. I backed up gingerly, then shifted into forward and steered us out of the little lagoon.

We headed upriver, as I always do, at about 25 miles per hour. It was very cool out on the water and I was glad I’d brought along a long-sleeved shirt. I pointed out a few points of interest along the way, including the swimming lagoon at Walla Walla Point Park, where they also rent kayaks and paddle boards, and the estuary where I’ll be paddling with other friends later today.

Along the RiverAnother one of Megan’s photos. It was a really beautiful day with light wind and few clouds in a clear blue sky.

We headed up the Wenatchee River a bit. The water was high and moving quickly — quite a difference from when I’d been there with my friend Janet the previous summer. I went as far as the second bridge before turning around and heading back out to the Columbia. We continued upriver, past the north end bridge. After a while, the water began to get turbulent from the water release at the Rocky Reach Dam. Because I didn’t want to spook Stephanie — and I know how crazy the water gets closer to the dam — I decided to stop there. I pulled the power back to idle and cut the engine.

Wonderful silence.

That’s the trouble with motor boats. When you’re moving they make a lot of noise. So what I typically do on a boat outing is drive the boat upriver to a certain point, then cut the engine and drift back.

Megan Selflie
Megan captured this selfie as we drifted downriver. The water was glassy smooth in many places.

Stephanie opened her picnic cooler and produced a bottle of pinot gris and glasses. She pours wine at Kestrel Vintners‘ tasting room in Leavenworth. I couldn’t drink — I’m on call during daylight hours for cherry season — but both Stephanie and Megan had some. Then Megan started pulling food out of her cooler. Soon we were sitting in the drifting boat as it gentle spun its way down the river, eating and talking and enjoying the scenery.

The river was moving pretty quickly — 5-1/2 miles per hour according to a GPS app on my phone — and it took about an hour for us to drift back past the boat launch. Since we weren’t ready to go in and there was still a lot of river between us and the next dam, we kept drifting. Megan and Stephanie took pictures. I lounged in my seat in the shade or on the engine compartment lid out in the sun. I’d worn short shorts with the hope of getting some sun on my legs. I’ve got a great tan on my arms and upper chest — hell, I live in tank tops this time of year — but my legs are terribly white.

South End Bridges
Stephanie’s shot looking back at the south end bridges.

Soon we passed under the south end bridges. Megan wanted to know if we could see my home from the River. I knew that I could see that part of the river from my home so I figured I should be able to see my home from the river. I looked up and spotted it — the building under construction is visible from literally miles away — and gave them landmarks on the top of the cliff and then below it. I’m not sure if they saw it, but they said they did. I know my friend Judy has been monitoring construction from her home right across the river from me.

We got as far as the Billingsley Hydro Park, which is another local boat launch facility on the East Wenatchee side of the river, and I figured we’d gone far enough. It was nearly 1 PM and I had to put the boat away, buy a concrete box (long story), and meet with an HVAC contractor at 3. We stowed the dishes and glasses and napkins and I started the engine. Five minutes later, we were pulling up to the boat launch lagoon and I was easing the boat alongside the dock. Fifteen minutes later, the boat was out of the water and we were snapping on the cover and bungeeing it to the trailer.

It had been a great day out. We all agreed that we needed to do it again soon.

View to a [Chicken] Kill

Not quite as gross as I expected it to be.

One of the things about living in farm country is that there are a lot of farmers around. I’m not just talking about the folks who grow corn or soybeans or even the cherry trees that originally brought me here in 2008. I’m also talking about people who raise cows and chickens for milk and eggs and meat.

I ran into an acquaintance at the local Coastal Farm and Ranch store about a month ago. I was looking for a chicken fencing; he was buying a ton of feed for meat chickens. We chatted about our chickens, ending up with an offer to buy some freshly slaughtered birds the next time they killed. I ran into him and his spouse again a week later and placed my order for two birds — which is about all I can fit in my RV’s tiny freezer. I asked if I could come watch them slaughter the chickens and was told I could. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but I suspected it would be, at the least, very interesting to see.

I was invited to their next slaughter, but had to turn down the invitation because of a scheduling conflict. (I spent that day in Woodinville, wine tasting with a hard cider maker friend. I really need to blog about that excellent day.) But they slaughtered again on Saturday morning and I made it my business to attend.

First came a tour of the facilities. The birds live in a relatively spacious pen beneath a deck. All my non-farming friends talk about “free range” — this is about as free as these birds want to be. They basically do four things: eat, poop, sit, and sleep. They are not interested at all in wandering around, pecking at the ground and doing bird things.

This could be because of selected breeding. Meat chickens are bred to grow quickly. The birds in the pen were 6 to 8 weeks old and ready to slaughter. They were huge — far bigger than my 7 week old laying chickens — and downright lazy. They just sat around in the shade and seemed perfectly happy about it. Melanie, who’d invited me that day, said that if they don’t slaughter them now, they’d likely die of heart attacks within the next few days. She’d already lost two of them that week. These chickens are not bred for longevity.

We talked about “free range” and she confirmed what someone else had told me: if given access to a large open area, these chickens would do the same thing they were doing right then: nothing. It would be a waste of space. They’d tried it and had seen for themselves.

I can actually confirm a bit of this. My 7 laying chickens have a 9 x 25 enclosure and they spend most of their time either in their coop or in the shade of some straw bales stacked up outside their yard.

Melanie gave me a quick rundown of the process. Rather than just narrate, why not look at the photos I took and read the captions?

Carrying the Chickens  Carrying the Chickens
Al was in charge of fetching the chickens from the pen. He took one or two at a time. He said he talked softly to them as he caught and carried them, telling him that he was sorry but that they were going to taste good. And before anyone freaks out about him carrying them by their feet, that’s actually how it’s supposed to be done to calm them down.

Chicken in Cone Chicken in Cone
Al placed each chicken head down in what’s commonly known as a killing cone suspended over a large basin of water. After a few minutes, the chicken relaxes enough to let its head through the bottom of the cone.

Slit throat
Next, Dennis stepped up with a very sharp knift, grabbed the chicken’s head, and slit its throat.

Draining Blood
The blood drained from the chickens into the bins of water. Although the chickens died very quickly — this is supposedly the most humane way to do this — they often had muscle spasms that made them jerk around inside the cones. That was probably the worst part of this whole thing — seeing those dead chickens move as the blood drained from them.

Dipping Chickens  Dipping Chickens
When the chickens stopped moving and the blood had sufficiently drained, Al took them, one at a time, to a vat of very hot water to loosen the bird’s feathers. The water had to be an exact temperature: too hot and the skin would split when the feathers were plucked; too cool and the feathers wouldn’t come off. He dunked each bird 3 times, swirling it around in the water before taking it back outside.

Off with their heads!
Back at the butchering table, Dennis used his sharp knife to cut off the chicken’s head.

Into the plucker  Plucking Chickens
Then Dennis dropped the bird into the chicken plucker and turned it on. This machine has a bunch of rubber-covered fingers that pull the feathers off the bird as it bounces around inside. The process takes less than 10 seconds and splashes quite a bit, so I couldn’t get a decent photo of it.

Ready to Butcher
The chickens emerge with only a few feathers left, all ready to be butchered.

Ready to be butchered
Jill and her husband did the butchering, using sharp knifes and cutting boards on a stainless steel restaurant sink. The feet are cut off first.

Getting out the Guts
Next, they open up the chicken’s bottom end, reach inside, and scoop out the innards. (This part is pretty gross.)

Chicken Guts
They saved the hearts and gizzards — for the dogs, I think — but threw away the rest of the guts, including some really excellent livers that my mother-in-law would have killed for. (People outside of the NYC area don’t seem interested in chicken livers.)

Washing Chickens
There was lots of washing with fresh, cold water. Afterwards, the chicken was put into a large plastic container filled with ice water. It stayed there for about 15 minutes before being transferred to another plastic bin of ice water.

Melanie’s job was to pull off any remaining feathers and exterior fat, pat the chickens dry, and then vacuum seal it. From there, it went right into a freezer.

We started work at about 9:30 AM and, when I left at about noon, 25 birds had been slaughtered. Melanie was almost done packaging them. It was a lot of work.

I got to take home one fresh bird and one frozen one from the last slaughter. I cooked up the fresh one on my Traeger grill and it was good — although I have to admit that it wasn’t quite as good as I expected.

Grilled Chicken
Looks yummy, no?

It tasted like chicken.

Would I do this again? I can’t see any reason to. And although I might buy chickens from Melanie and company in the future — mostly to support local farmers — I don’t think I’d stop buying store-bought chickens.

Chickens Again, Part I

Getting started with a new batch of chickens.

Penny with Chicks
Penny suspected trouble when I got into the truck with this little box.

A few weeks ago — just a few days after returning from my 2-month California trip, in fact — I bought 8 chicks. I set them up in my shed, in the stock tank I’d bought last year for my poor man’s hot tub.

Chicks in my Shed
My little chickies, huddled together in their nursery.

I’d had chickens before, in Arizona. They’re a lot of fun and you really can’t beat fresh eggs. Because I knew I’d have chickens again, when I moved to Washington, I took along most of my chicken-rearing equipment: feeders, waterers, and heat lamp. That saved me a bunch of money when it came time to get these started. And the stock tank in the shed really beats the cardboard boxes I used to use in my garage to get the chicks started.

The Chicken Yard

Of course, they couldn’t stay in the shed. Eventually, they’d need a chicken coop and a fenced-in yard. Like Wickenburg, this area has coyotes and I’d have to protect the chickens from them. It also has large hawks, eagles — including Bald Eagles — and owls, so a net across the top would be vital. I wanted the chicken yard to be large enough to accommodate all the chickens and, with the real possibility of free-range egg sales, even more chickens in the future. And although I only wanted to build it once, I didn’t want it to be permanent. (I’ve come to realize that I don’t want anything in my life to be permanent because nothing really is. But that’s a philosophical discussion best saved for another blog post.)

I explored many options. “Hog panels” looked good, but the only ones available in the area were very large and very costly. Someone suggested a dog kennel and even sent me to Costco in search of one that seemed like a good deal. But they were out of stock and I was running out of time. I needed the chickens out of the shed before I headed south for a few days on personal business.

Gardening with a Backhoe
Jeff cleared a space for my shed and garden and left a pile of bunchgrass and weeds in the area just north of the garden patch.

Covering Conduit
After he moved my shed and dug a trench, I ran conduit for my temporary electric and water lines to keep them off the driveway and he covered it back up.

Meanwhile, Jeff, the earth-moving guy, was preparing the pad for my future home. He had a honking huge backhoe and an i-beam that he used to scrape the ground. I wanted a garden and I wanted my shed moved to the other side of the driveway. (Originally, I figured I’d sell the shed when my building was done, but I realized it would make a great place to store garden tools so I decided to keep it.) I realized that Jeff could give me a good head start on my garden prep with that i-beam and I set him to work on a small area near where I wanted the shed. He dug out the few sagebrush there and scraped the ground clear of bunchgrass, leaving it piled up in an area north of the garden. He even dragged my shed to its new position — it was built on skids — and got it level for me. And dug a trench so I could run power and water for my RV and shed under the driveway so the cords and hose would not be run over by construction vehicles this summer.

When he left, I looked at my future garden location and the spread-out, uprooted bunchgrass beside it. The chickens wouldn’t mind all that grass. And it would be nice to have them next to the garden so I could let them in to eat bugs. Without even intending to, Jeff had chosen the spot for my chicken yard.

I wound up buying 150 feet of 5-foot tall “horse fence” at the nearby Coastal Farm and Ranch store. I wanted 6-foot fencing so I’d have plenty of room to walk around under the net, but this was on sale for a good price and it’s not as if I’ll be hanging out in there with the chickens. I also bought a few 6-foot T-posts. I already had a T-post driver and a bunch more T-posts that a friend had given me.

But I began realizing that I’d have a problem when I got the roll of fence home. It was too heavy for me to lift. I couldn’t even push it out of the truck bed. Clearly, I’d need help.

Assembling the Fence

Help came in the form of my friend, Mike. He’d come up from California with his helicopter towed behind his motorhome. After dropping off the helicopter at the airport, he rolled down my driveway and greeted me with a big hug.

Fence Under Construction
Some of the T-posts in the ground around the future chicken yard; the roll of fencing was very heavy.

After getting a tour of the place — building pad, “lookout point,” apiary, chicks in shed — we talked about the things I needed to do. I mentioned the chicken yard and the fence, never even thinking about asking him for help. That’s when he offered to help me.

I’m not an idiot. When someone offers to help me with a difficult task, I say yes! We got to work right then and there.

The work went surprisingly well. Within about 2 hours, we had completely fenced in a 9 x 25 foot area beside my future garden, leaving only a 4-foot wide doorway for a gate. Although it wasn’t perfect, it was a lot better than I expected it to look.

Chicken Yard
The nearly finished chicken yard.

Finishing Up. Almost.

The next day, I bought some bird netting at Coastal. Although it was supposedly 14 x 45 feet in size, the 14 foot width could not span the 9 foot width of the chicken yard. (What was that all about?) But with a little creative cutting and attaching, I was able to fit three pieces across to protect the chickens from aerial predators.

The next morning was warm and sunny with hardly any wind. I decided to try out the chickens in their new yard — I really needed to get them settled in before I went on my trip. I dragged the stock tank out of the shed and into the chicken yard. I closed the makeshift gate I’d made behind me. And then I tilted the stock tank so it was laying on its side, thus freeing the chicks.

They were not happy. And Penny, of course, went nuts. She couldn’t get into the chicken yard and she wanted a piece of those chickens. The chickens ran around and Penny ran around the yard. And that’s when the chickens started squeezing through the fence.

What followed was a comedy routine that involved me and Penny chasing 3-week old chicks. Penny was good at catching them and, for some reason, she didn’t kill them. I managed to get them all back in the stock tank. After putting food and water in there, I went back into the RV, hot, sweaty, and dusty.

The chicks would not be much bigger before I headed out on my trip. That meant that if I wanted them in the yard, I’d have to put something around the bottom edge of the fence to prevent them from squeezing through. What? I had some chicken wire, but I’d bought 4-foot width and that was overkill. It looked as if I’d have to head back to Coastal for some more chicken wire.

Reuse, Recycle

I was back out in the yard, contemplating the situation, when my eyes fell upon the 22 bales of straw I had in two piles in my yard. I’d bought the straw the previous autumn to stack around the base of the RV to winterize it. When I moved the RV out for my California trip in February, I’d stacked the straw neatly to get it out of the way.

If I laid the straw around the base of the chicken yard, right up against the fence, would that prevent the chickens from getting out? It certainly seemed as if it would.

8 WD
Although I bought this little flatbed trailer — a Craig’s List deal — primarily to move my bees around in the future, its size and low bed make it perfect for moving my ATV and straw bales.

So I got to work. I’d brought my ATV home, along with the little cargo trailer I’d bought years ago for yard work up at our vacation property in northern Arizona. The cargo trailer’s tires had been replaced and it was all ready for use. But last week I’d also bought a very small flatbed trailer that was larger than the ATV’s yard trailer. With a ball on the front of my ATV for towing the helicopter, I could tow the little flatbed trailer. It would be perfect for moving all that straw.

A formerly wise man used to say that any job is easy if you have the right tools. How true. I had the straw moved and positioned in less than an hour.

I was thrilled. My solution solved more than just the chicken escape problem. It also temporarily solved the problem of what I was going to do with all that straw.

A while later, I tried again to let the chickens out into the yard. This time, they didn’t escape.

Chicken Yard
The chicken yard this morning. I haven’t done a headcount, but I’m pretty sure all eight of my little girls are in there.

Temporary Coop
The temporary chicken coop is nothing more than a stock tank on its side with a piece of scrap plywood as a lean-to wall.

I set up an automatic waterer that I think might be a bit too big for them. Then I set up their chick feeders and waterer. I left the stock tank on its side against the side of the fence as a makeshift shelter for them; later, I leaned a piece of scrap plywood against it to enclose most of it. My list of things to do includes building a chicken coop, but I’m not sure I’ll get to that before my trip. The chicks are still small and should be okay in the stock tank, at least for a few more weeks.

The sun has just risen as I’m tying this. Seeing movement out the window, I took a closer look. The chicks are out in their little yard, scratching around in the early morning light. They’re exploring their big automatic waterer and, with luck, will soon be using their hanging feeder, too.

It looks like I’m on the road to chicken success. More later, after I’ve built their coop.