A treatise on being gnarly

A parent gave me a card yesterday.  She told me to open it after school, so I did.  It explained that she had found out that I didn’t have a job a couple of weeks ago and that she was really sorry.  She wrote that she hoped I didn’t lose faith in myself as a teacher, because she knows how far her son has come and how much he enjoys coming to school.  She said that she thinks I’m a fantastic teacher, and that her son would say the same thing, although he would probably use the word “gnarly”.

I love my job and I love it when my students appreciate me.  It makes me kind of teary just to think about it.  Being teary is probably not gnarly, but maybe we can make an exception, just once.

I’ve had a hard time processing farm/wilderness  boundaries this week.  Years ago I had little sympathy for farmers who lost a sheep, or two or three to a lone wolf or bear or other predator.  Certainly I understood that loss of life is sad, devastating, horrible.  I always got that part.  The part I had trouble reconciling was my love for the wild spaces and places.  I have a deep appreciation for wolves or bear or eagles or unicorns.  I know that their lives are deeply affected when we destroy their natural habitat and turn it to pasture.  I know that they have babies they need to feed, and that there simply isn’t much food to feed their young’uns when they’re surrounded by said pasture, so I kind of got taking a sheep so they can make babies, and carry on.  I was naive (I grew up in the suburbs, I don’t know if you can blame me) and I liked big (and cuddly) animals.

When I moved here, my opinion hadn’t changed much.  I got that the wild critters still needed to eat, and Jer and I have always envisioned that at least half of our property will stay “wild” (or as wild as it can be with humans and their dog living next door).  The deer were a different story, because they’re trying to take over the universe and they eat my vegetables and my flowers and I want them to stop.  But while I was sad when a hawk got a bunch of our chickens, or a raccoon (maybe) ate our ducks, or a mink got some of our other chickens… I don’t know… I kind of got it.  I was okay (or maybe I just think I was) because we take a lot from our property.  We’ve taken a good chunk of land and told some of the critters to bugger off, and these animals were the penitence we had to pay.  I know it’s not fair for someone else to pay our penitence.  I’m not trying to say that my thought process was logical.  It just was.

But then last week a mink got into our chicken house (the one with our laying hens in it) and killed a bird.  In the middle of the night.  Jer heard it dying and ran out and the mink ran away.  We found the hole where it had dug through, patched it, and went back to bed.  It came back an hour later and dug in through another hole.  Luckily no chickens died the second time.  3 days later it got another bird.  By this point we were down to 3 hens, from the 6 we had a week earlier (1 had been taken away by a flying bird earlier in the week… something I accepted as one of our dues).  We filled more holes, piled rocks around the edges, and felt like shit.  I read something this week that summed up my sentiments…

“The goal of predator proofing is to balance safety with freedom for the chickens and other domestic fowl we care for. We want to provide them with every opportunity to exercise their free will and natural instincts, but because they are here at our whim we are responsible for keeping them out of harm’s way. We also need to safeguard them in a way that respects and protects the wild animals we live among who are entitled to equal consideration.”

-Mary Britton Clouse, Chicken Run Rescue
So that’s how I felt.  I wasn’t doing my job in regards to my chickens, and I wasn’t doing my job in regards to this mink (who is a stinky, stinky, STINKY creature, by the way), because I was telling him that it was okay to kill my chickens and I was letting him do so and eventually he would get fat and die on chicken blood clogging his arteries because I was so recklessly feeding him.  Or her.
Last night the mink came back again.  It killed another 2 of our hens, and tried for our last one, who lost some blood but is still alive.  We’ve moved our chickens, and are re-fortifying their residence.  And I feel rotten, because we didn’t learn our lesson, and because this wild, stinky critter is confusing my belief system.  I don’t hate the mink, I just hate the fact that it stole hours of sleep away from me, and that it doesn’t have enough food on our property to leave the hens I promised to protect alone.
Bad chicken mom.  I had a bad teacher moment today when I told my students that a positive rotation in a Cartesian plane is clockwise.  It’s not.  That’s a negative rotation.  Points to anyone who can tell me why.
Even if sometimes I’m a bad teacher, and sometimes I’m a bad chicken mom (please don’t judge me on the fried chicken incident either), at least my 13 year-old students think I’m gnarly.
And it only costs $2.21 to fill my scooter/moped/putput named Dot up with gas at the new Denman Island gas pump named Wayne.
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7 responses to “A treatise on being gnarly

  1. dear kerri, i love your writing. and your life, even if you are hurting. everything is so vivid. keep telling us about it, oh gnarly one. x

  2. It’s easy to hate that mink smell when I’m looking at a dead chicken, but when I smell it in the forest it’s kind of exciting. Good luck with those boundaries; I’m sure you’ll get it sorted out.

    • I don’t know if I’ll ever get the boundaries sorted out – I feel like they may be the kind of thing that’s constantly fluctuating. I hope I can accept that and adapt as they change. And I don’t know about the mink in the forest smell… this was SO potent I was almost physically sick. I can (kind of, if I try hard) imagine it being exciting in small and diluted amounts. Maybe.

  3. We have also been struggling with attacks in the night and screaming fowl who ended up thinking it was safer outside than in… even though it was the stubborn tree-perchers who were gradually getting picked off by the raccoons.. We were hoping you had come up with the definitive solution! Meanwhile we are nightly seeking out and capturing our hens and forcing them to roost in their (we hope) mink-proof raccoon-proof house. Sigh…

  4. this is exactly what i’ve been dealing with. it seems i’m down to one chicken, the rooster. and i knew half way through it was because i wasn’t doing my job (it took awhile to figure out what was happening) but then the racoons starting coming in the middle of the day, when my chickens are free-ranging. how was i supposed to protect them? it’s upsetting and i think that’s good. i want to feel the loss. the idea of balancing their needs is a very important one to me, freedom for health balanced with security for safety!!

  5. Danni, Rain… I’d heard of your chicken fatalities, and both made me feel better… and sad. To know that we aren’t the only ones who are trying really hard and not being successful in keeping our birds alive gives credit, I suppose, to the wild ones.

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