Got a call the other day from my friend Charlie in Brooklyn. He said that he was thinking of getting a couple of chickens to keep in his apartment so that he could get really fresh eggs. I got on my high horse and asked, “What do you know about raising chickens?”
“I’m good with birds,” Charlie countered.
“Remember how I taught my parrot to stand on his head for money?”
It was true. I don’t know how he did it, but when he’d pull a dollar bill from his pocket and wave it in the air, Webster – that’s what he named the bird – would invariably hold onto the cage bars and stand on his head. Maybe the fact that Charlie’s an obsessive-compulsive provided the repetition needed to teach his pet such a trick.
I had just cleaned out the coop and warned Charlie that chickens were a lot messier than his little Webster. “Also,” I continued, “hens can be noisy. You ought to hear them scold me when I try to slip an egg out from under them.”
“They don’t crow like roosters,” Charlie said.
“No, but they argue over a spot in the laying box. Your neighbors would never stand for their clucking.”
“I guess you’re right,” my friend said of his shot-down idea.
I felt bad because Charlie is the biggest fan of eggs and chickens I know. I always bring him some on trips to Brooklyn and he invariably raves about how much better my free-range, naturally fed, browns are.
In response to his parrot story, I told him about a trick my favorite chicken, Danielle, does.
Before the advent of COVID-19, to celebrate our 44th wedding anniversary, Alice and I drove down to Key West, and were lucky enough to get a room at The Grand Guest House in Old Town.
It’s a great place if you like to share a breakfast table with fellow tourists. This time during our brief stay we met a couple from Brussels, three people from Germany and an ex prize fighter named Joe from New Jersey.
People seem to be at their best when traveling, and all were good company and had interesting life stories to tell.
John, the Guest House manager, must have overheard us telling our story because when we returned to our room later in the day we found a basket loaded with chips, cheese, crackers, Ferrero Rocher chocolates and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon wine.
There was even a card that read Happy Anniversary! Compliments of the House.
The next day we took an ice bucket and much of what was in the basket to the beach at Fort Zackery. The swimming there is great and it’s another place to meet people from all over the world.
Early this spring, my reigning rooster, Geezbrook, who fathered almost all of this year’s egg-laying rookies, was challenged and defeated by one of his sons.
When I arrived on the scene, the old man was cowering in a corner with his back facing his attacker.
I scooted them out into the yard and they went at it again, Geezbrook seeming to have new heart against his son, who got down like an alligator coming through a fan of feathers.
They both drew blood with the old man losing the fight until I slapped them both several times with my red plastic shovel.
Distracted, they headed for cover in a hedgerow.
When I went back to the coop to gather eggs, I noticed that several of the hens had bald spots on their backs caused, no doubt, by the roosters practicing their dominance.
Luckily, Pee Wee, my favorite chicken, hadn’t suffered any damage or I would have gone after the bullies with hatchet in hand. Instead, I tried to catch them, which was no easy task after they had had a taste of the shovel.
One Brooklyn morning many Decembers past, I heard a scratching behind the wall of my work place in the attic. I glanced out the window and spotted a squirrel emerging from a hole between the rain gutter and the shingles on the roof.
He looked at me with a smug expression as if to say, “I moved in and I’m stayin’.” The intruder jumped to the leafless maple in back of the house and was gone.
I’d heard stories about squirrels destroying houses as they chewed through walls and lead plumbing and electric lines. The thought of a critter storing his acorns under my rafters was too distracting. I shut the computer and descended to the kitchen for coffee.
On the phone an exterminator quoted a painful price to set a Havahart trap that would catch the animal for transport to Prospect Park. “It’s time consuming,” the man explained. “We’re not allowed to kill them.”
When I didn’t jump at his services he offered to sell me a trap for $75, but I thought a bird cage we had in the cellar would serve just as well.
Walter Haskel, my editor, had called the day before to remind me about a deadline on a story. I felt I’d do a better job if I didn’t have that squirrel to think about. Peanut butter for bait worked well for mice, so why not for this guy? In my yard he was a squirrel but in my house he was a big rat.
I used a chopstick with twine attached to it to hold the cage door open and a Ford accelerator spring to slam it shut. I placed the cage near the base of the maple and ran the twine to the door of our back pantry.
The advantage of using the exterminator’s trap was that it would catch the squirrel automatically. But it was expensive and I was sure my bird cage would get this rodent without losing too much time.
When my irascibly pregnant wife Alice came home from work and saw my set-up she asked, “Get much writing done today?”
I explained the gravity of the invasion.
“Should’ve hired the exterminator,” Alice said.
Late the next day the squirrel made his way down the tree and jumped to the ground. He approached the cage and when near pressed against the bars to smell the peanut butter. Then he stuck his head through the door and I was about to pull the string, but a stray cat appeared and frightened him off.
The next day Alice arrived home and was getting out of the car with her arms full of Christmas packages when she spotted me idling at the window. “Told you to get the exterminator!” she called. I obliterated her from view by fogging the glass with my breath.
In the morning, I spotted the squirrel slowly creeping down the maple. I ran down and out to the pantry and took hold of the line as he once again poked his head into the cage – but not his whole body. I wasn’t wearing a jacket and soon began to shiver.
Inside the house the phone on the wall rang. It continued to ring as I shook from the cold. Through the glass in the back door the caller I.D. showed that it was my editor Haskel. I was supposed to be working.
The squirrel entered the cage cautiously, his hind legs holding on to the outside of the bars. I waited as he scooped paws full of peanut butter out of a birdseed cup. The more he ate the more his body advanced. I looked in at the phone which was still ringing. “Remove all distractions,” Haskel had said on another pressing assignment.
When I turned back, the squirrel was completely inside so I yanked on the twine and the door snapped shut. I had him! He was circling his cell in a frenzy. To calm him I covered the cage with an old blanket that Alice had draped over an antique chair in the cellar. Soon fat snowflakes began to fall.
After drinking a celebratory eggnog, I went upstairs and flipped on the computer. My heart sank when the screen came up blank. I checked a backup file but it too was empty. The deadline! How could I face Haskel – or Alice?
My wife showed up just before dark and followed me out to the cage in the backyard. When I removed the snow and lifted the blanket to show her my prisoner, she said, “So, now you’re going to let him loose in the park without his acorns – that he’s been gathering all year. How would you like it if somebody separated you from your work?” The squirrel sat there looking pathetic.
“Yeah,” my wife continued. “He’ll be panhandling, getting chased off by other squirrels.”
“After all this work,” I protested. “You want me to turn him loose?”
“It is Christmas Eve,” she said matter-of-factly.
Later that evening as Alice prodded me on, I walked out to my prisoner with some walnuts and water. Then I replaced the cover. I had a restless night thinking of editor Haskel’s advice, my computer problem, and the squirrel panhandling in the park.
On Christmas morning, I awoke to a cranked up rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. Alice was curious to see how the squirrel had fared, so before opening presents I dressed and waded through a snowdrift to the cage.
When I lifted the blanket it was empty. The door was shut tight and there were no breaks in the bars. Two faint snow blown tracks were nearby.
“Well?” my wife called from the window.
“Did you let him loose?” I asked.
“Absolutely not,” she said shaking her head.
That evening, after pushing aside plum pudding, I grabbed my coat and gloves and went outside to shovel the sidewalk. Later, I crawled up to the attic and once again heard rustling behind the wall. That squirrel was back. To add insult, the task of resurrecting my lost work looked impossible.
When I turned on the computer, the mouse seemed curiously warm in my hand. Then the screen lit up and there to my joy and amazement appeared my story! I could hear Alice laboring up the stairs.
“How’s the work going?” she asked as she reached the top step.
“Fine,” I answered suspiciously. There was some chatter behind the wall.
“Well,” Alice said looking towards the noise. “He’s home for Christmas.”
“A good ending,” I imagined editor Haskel saying.
“At least he won’t be panhandling in the park,” Alice murmured while putting her arms around me.”
“I met her embrace and realized, “And neither will I!”
One cold and leafless November morning about 40 years ago, I was deer hunting on Panther Mountain outside of Richfield Springs with my friend Paul O’Connor.
After a long climb, we came into an area that was covered with hardwood trees that stood in gentle depressions and on top of small hummocks. The rolling terrain repeated itself over and over in a nondescript fashion so that it was easy to get lost and difficult to determine exactly where we were.
Obviously, for a deer, it was a great place to hide out.
At one point we came upon an old shack that had collapsed under the weight of age and heavy snow.
“This was Honey Joe’s shack,” Paul told me. “He used to make hooch out of honey during prohibition.”
“Booze out of honey?” I asked.
“Yeah, Paul said. “I think they called it metheglin.”
I was fascinated by the thought of a man hiding away deep in the forest making a forbidden brew and I asked a lot of questions for which Paul had no answers.
Over the years, on deer hunts, Honey Joe’s name would come up but no one seemed to know very much about him. Rumor had it that he lived in the Fly Creek Valley near Panther Mountain and that he was a hermit.
Eventually, I got in touch with John Stucin, a farmer, whose family lived not far from where the Micklavzinas lived. That was Honey Joe’s last name, Micklavzina.
Stucin’s memories of the old bootlegger were very clear.
“He was a big man, almost as broad as he was tall. He must have weighed close to 300 pounds. He was friendly and liked to talk a lot, and he always came around in his old pickup when it was time to do chores and the men, he and my father, would get so deep into politics that us kids would wind up having to do the work!”
Stucin remembered that state troopers came around many times looking for Honey Joe’s still, but they never found it. That is all the farmer remembered, but he told me that his mother, Mary, had known Honey Joe very well and might give me more information.
Mary Stucin turned out to be a very clear-minded 92-year-old woman with vivid memories.
She recalled that, in the mid-’20s, when Honey Joe first came to his 140-acre farm in the Fly Creek Valley, “Bees weren’t his only business.” She said he and his wife Antonia used to sell strawberries, plums and apples and that he butchered farm animals as well as deer.
Mary said that he was an intelligent man and that he read a lot. Originally a farmer from Slovenia, near Austria, he was well versed in home remedies for people as well as for animals.
In spite of his weight, he was a lively man with a big round face and pale green/blue eyes. He loved to dance, especially the polka, and according to Mary, “for a man his size he was very light on his feet.”
I learned that his making metheglin out of honey and grain was a lot more casual than the label, bootlegger, would suggest.
“He didn’t charge much for the stuff,” she said. “Maybe a dollar a gallon. But all kinds of high-ranking people, doctors, lawyers etc. would come to buy it because he made good stuff and because of Prohibition.”
Mary said that even the locally famous state trooper, Sergeant Cunningham, who had an office in Cooperstown, used to come to Honey Joe for metheglin.
The rough and tumble Cunningham, who used to put on demonstrations of great horsemanship, couldn’t drive a car and would have one of his men ferry him to the farm to get some home brew.
Honey Joe wasn’t only big, he was strong. At fairs in Cooperstown, Richfield Springs, Oneonta and elsewhere, he’d enter dead-weight-lifting competitions, where he’d frequently walk away with the prize.
Once he and his son, Frank, were bogged down in mud in an old pickup truck. He got out and easily lifted the rear wheel so that Frank could slide a plank under it.
Whether he was cutting timber or shearing sheep, he always kept up with his colony of bees and the harvesting of their produce.
Years later, when his wife Antonia left the farm and headed for Cleveland to open a restaurant, Honey Joe could not bring himself to leave his beloved land.
They parted amicably but the split left the work weary farmer to enter his senior years alone and eventually in poor health.
“We used to worry about him,” Mary Stucin said. Every couple of days I’d send someone over to check.” One day our hired hand found that the old man had passed on in his sleep.
Time tends to bury and distort. While hunting deer, we came upon the ruins of a “bootlegging hermit” and found a husband, a father, a political thinker, a strong competitor, a maker of mead and a light-footed dancer. Not a bad go at life.
When I was 8 years old, the hero in my life was my cousin Chickie, who drove an oil truck and often took me with him on deliveries.
The job led him all over Brooklyn and, being somewhat of a scavenger, he often came home with a bike or a wagon or some other discarded contraption he thought would be useful.
We lived in Bensonhurst, in a 12-room Victorian that had been divided into apartments. I occupied the second floor with my dad, while Chickie and his wife and two babies lived on the first floor and my Aunt Edna and Uncle Dave and their sons Leo and Charlie lived on the attic floor.
There was also Mr. Bilideau, the boarder, who was a leftover from the time when my grandmother had rented rooms. There had once been a Mr. Yumtov as well, a man who liked to store smoked whitefish in his dresser. Mr. Bilideau was from Canada. He had a room on the second floor and shared the bath with my father and me.
Just about everyone in the house owned something that Chickie had brought home and thrown on the front porch. “I thought you could use one of these,” he’d always say.
In spite of the partitions, it was difficult for so many people to be housed under one roof without having feuds over hot water and noise and things disappearing from refrigerators. Half the time somebody upstairs wasn’t talking to somebody downstairs. Chickie, with his various street finds, was often instrumental in getting them back on speaking terms.
One year, about a week before Thanksgiving, arguments were running high when Chickie came home with a live turkey in a crate. “It’s a 27-pounder,” he announced to several of us who had gathered on the front porch.
I had never seen a turkey alive and up close like this. “Where’d you get it?” I asked, cautiously poking a finger through the bars. “Did it fall off a truck?”“Never mind,” he said. “There’s enough here for all of us.”
I was placed in charge of watering and feeding the bird, which to me looked like some kind of prehistoric monster. I had to lower the water pan through an opened hatch in the top of the cage.
“Don’t worry,” Chickie reassured me when he saw the concern on my face. “That big bird’ll never get through that little hole.”
I figured they must have put the turkey in the crate when he was small and kept feeding him.
So any hard feelings were put aside and preparations for a Thanksgiving dinner at one table were divided between Aunt Edna and Chickie’s wife Ann.
Aunt Edna would bake the pies – mince, blueberry and apple – while Ann would roast the turkey, make stuffing and gravy and prepare candied sweet potatoes, plum pudding and the rest.
Dad, who was working nights on his taxi, would supply the wine and cider and Mr. Bilideau would buy some fruit – and chestnuts, I hoped.
Meanwhile, Chickie had taken to calling the turkey Sylvester, and would spend time with it out on the porch when he came home from work.
He’d stick a fat calloused index finger through the bars and let the bird peck at it. “You’re gonna be a good turkey,” he’d say affectionately.
I was still afraid of the thing and hadn’t warmed up to it that much, but all the talk about how this bird was going to taste sent uneasy twinges through my wishbone.
Three days before Thanksgiving, Chickie came home with bad news. The butcher around the corner didn’t want to slaughter Sylvester. He tried other butchers and they refused too. It suddenly looked like we weren’t going to have turkey for dinner.
We were all gathered in the kitchen trying to come up with a solution. Chickie had carried the crate into the house and put it on top of the stove. “I hear you just chop off his head,” he was musing.
Uncle Dave mentioned that Mr. Bilideau had grown up on a farm in Canada: Surely he’d know how to butcher the bird. “But what about cleaning it and plucking the feathers?” Aunt Edna protested. “That’s a real mess!”
All this talk about butchering must have been too much for Sylvester, too, because suddenly, impossibly, he was out of his crate, flapping his tremendous wings and scratching at anything in sight with his clawed feet.
Everyone scrambled out of the kitchen. Leo and I ran for the bathroom while the others headed for the hall. The last thing I saw was Chickie struggling to keep Sylvester from becoming airborne. I worried that the bird would take my cousin’s eyes out.
How was he going to squeeze Sylvester back through that small trapdoor? I could hear both of them swearing.
After what seemed like a very long time, Chickie announced that the coast was clear. We all crept into the kitchen and found that Sylvester was back in his box. He didn’t look much worse for wear.
“I was careful not to hurt him,” Chickie said.
Mr. Bilideau came downstairs and entered the kitchen to find out what all the commotion was about. When asked he said, “Yes, I’ll butcher the turkey if you have a sharp hatchet.”
He explained that the way to get the feathers out easily was to scald the freshly killed bird in a vat of boiling water. He would use the tree stump in the back yard for the first part of the operation and a lobster pot from the cellar for the second. The procedure would take place the next day after work. We were going to have turkey after all. Chickie stood there in the kitchen with his hand on the hatch door as Sylvester tried to bite through the bars.
The next morning when I left for school the bird wasn’t on the porch. He wasn’t in the cellar or out in the garage, either. Chickie’s Nash was gone from the parking place next to the house. Maybe he had come up with a brainstorm on how to get Sylvester butchered and avoid all the mess.
I was glad that Mr. Bilideau had been relieved of the job. With him doing it, I pictured us all sitting around chewing on feathers.
After school I ran home and eagerly waited for Chickie to return with Sylvester. I felt a little guilty about it, but I was kind of looking forward to seeing the bird stripped of his claws and feathers and head. I sat on the stoop as big wet snowflakes floated toward the ground.
Chickie pulled in the driveway right on schedule. He got out of the car with a large brown paper bag and walked up to where I was sitting.
“Is that the turkey?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. I looked in the bag. There was a bald thing with pockmarks all over it.
That Thanksgiving was one of the most festive I can remember. The table was so long we had to set it up in the hall. I noticed that Chickie, sitting at the head, was in especially good spirits.
In my mind, the feast with a golden-brown bird at the center seemed to exude a joyous radiance. Somehow I understood that it was our turkey, Sylvester, that had brought us all together.
Years later, on a cold November day, as we were on our way to make an oil delivery, I asked Chickie if it had really been Sylvester in the bag that afternoon. He chuckled as he shifted the Mack down to a lower gear.
Recently, a friend brought some spruce saplings up to the farm for planting.
Luckily, my son was up for the weekend to lend a hand with the digging. We placed some near the house and then headed for the woods, which are thin on evergreens.
No sooner did I open a hole for the first seedling than I was back to the spring of 1966, in the forest near Rothenberg, Germany, where it looks a lot like the countryside around Richfield Springs. We were medics attached to the Seventh Army and out on maneuvers.
I pitched my pup tent with a guy named Hailey from Niagara Falls. He had already been in Germany for a year and could speak a bit of the language.
It was sunny and warm and after testing our unit’s drinking water I sat in front of our tent, reading Hemingway’s “The Old Man And The Sea”:
“Santiago was sitting in his boat with his palms raw and bleeding from the big fish that had raced the line through them at a cutting speed. He was thinking about the great DiMaggio and how he continued to play ball in spite of a painful spur on his heel.”
Then a cuckoo bird let out a call and I was back in the woods. I had thought the ridiculous sound only came from clocks made in the Black Forest – but here was a live bird in a nearby tree.
There was a dirt road at the edge of the woods and across the road in a field a farmer was plowing with horses. Occasionally the breeze blew his voice in my direction and I could hear that he used different words for giddy-up and whoa.
It must have been around lunchtime because in the distance a woman approached across the furrows with a lunch basket for her man. They greeted each other happily and I could hear their harmony of laughter. Even at the brash age of 22 I saw the beauty in the scene.
Hailey came by and asked me if I wanted to do some reconnaissance, which meant we’d be looking for a beer hall in a nearby village at the end of the dirt road. We would later sneak off to it after Sarge turned in that night.
Now, as we made our way through the woods we came upon some German farmers who were planting trees and we exchanged some pleasant conversation by way of Hailey’s knowledge of Deutsche.
I was already aware that after more than a decade of occupation, American soldiers weren’t exactly welcome guests in Germany. On this maneuver, which included armored tanks and huge trucks with trailers, the Army would have to pay $50 for every sapling we destroyed.
At one point, one of the farmers who was holding a shovel said, “Amerikanisch soldaten arbeit nicht,” which Hailey translated into, “American soldiers don’t work.”
Eager to show the man that he was wrong, I grabbed a shovel and a tree and started digging. Hailey captured the scene with his camera.
Now in my woods, I savor this moment of working alongside my wife and son. She captures the scene with her camera. These trees will be here long after I’m gone.
With the passage of time I’ve grown to be nearly as old as the fisherman Santiago – and hopefully, fruit of the farmers’ efforts will have fared better than the Old Man’s ravaged fish.
By now, those trees planted back in Germany must be 40 feet tall.
SOUTH COLUMBIA – World War II veteran Jim Andrecheck, who lives just north of Richfield Springs, recently fell and broke his hip.
He’s almost 99 years old and I thought the injury would end his and his wife Mary’s independent life style.
Up until a year and a half ago, Jim was driving a pickup and tending his own vegetable garden. Miraculously, his hip has mended and the two (Mary will be 100 next week, on Oct. 6) are back in their home again with much assistance from their son Tim, who like his father was in the Air Force, but during the Vietnam era.
Tim’s cousin, Patty Lewis, a retired nurse practitioner, was there to help out at the time I was visiting. Also, Candy, a healthcare worker, stops at the house five days a week.
During recovery at a rehabilitation facility, Jim said the physical therapy he was getting wasn’t aggressive enough.
So, unlike the choice he made some 75 years ago, to stay in the air with his crippled B24 bomber, he bailed out of “recovery” and headed for home, which is why he feigned dissatisfaction and where he really wanted to be.
Obviously, you can’t keep down a survivor of more than 50 bombing missions, missions where many men and air ships were lost.
Andrecheck was a flight engineer but his diminutive size made him a perfect fit for the seat of a ball-turret gunner, so the 22-year-old filled that position as well.
Over Steyr, Austria, the German antiaircraft was very heavy. In a short time six of the seven planes in Jim’s squadron were knocked down. An engine on Jim’s plane was failing and the fuselage was riddled with holes.
The pilot ordered the crew to bail out, but they held fast to the crippled ship as smoke rose from their demolished target. Fortunately, they made it back to the base, skid landing on one nose wheel and one big wheel.
Bullets and flak had made the bomber look like a ravaged bee’s nest.
Not long after the Steyr bombing, Jim’s crew was recommended for a Distinguished Flying Cross, our nation’s highest award for extraordinary aerial achievement, but the paperwork fell through the cracks and despite efforts by several individuals in and out of the military, the deserved medal has not been awarded.
Nine years ago Jim traveled to West Point where he and 50 other men received the French Medal of Honor for participating in the bombing of German-occupied France in preparation for the landing at Normandy.
Andrecheck was looking forward to his 99th birthday on Sept. 26, while getting around with the use of a walker.
With some hard work he optimistically expects to eventually graduate to a cane, but he’s worried about the tremendous medical bills he’s incurred and is hoping that a government whose country he helped to defend will come to his aid.
On Labor Day, Jim and Mary celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary.
I’m hoping Jim recovers enough to once again pick cherries off my trees to take home to Mary who he says, “makes the best cherry pies in the world.”
Last late fall, I was getting ready to box up my chickens and take them to Knight’s auction in West Winfield so that we would be free to spend some time in sunny Florida.
My neighbor, Jim, who lives across the road, surprised me when he offered to keep my birds in his coop for the winter. “Why would you want to do that?” I asked.
“Body heat,” was Jim’s answer. “The more chickens in my coop, the warmer it will be.”
Jim raises Bantams and their diminutive and less heat-producing size would allow plenty of room for the heat of my Golden Comet hens and my big white Leghorn rooster.
Actually, I was concerned that the much larger chickens would abuse his little birds – especially my rooster, who had spurs at least 3 inches long. To ease my mind I went out to the coop that night, got a hold of Geezbrook, the rooster who’s as blind as a bat in the dark, and trimmed about an inch and a half off of those tines of his.
I was surprised when the next day we released the chickens in Jim’s yard and two of his Bantams immediately attacked my high-stepping rooster, who always looks like he’s climbing stairs.
Incredibly, he cowered into a corner, but what was even more surprising is that my hens came to Geezbrook’s defense and fought off the bantam roosters.
After a couple of days the newcomers were accepted and things settled down.
All my chickens made it through the winter and, according to Jim, they produced eggs prolifically.
Now back in my yard, the hens who had come to Geezbrook’s defense started picking feathers from his neck to such a degree that all that was left was a 3-inch length of his bare red skin.
Could it be because he proved to be a “woose” when the bantams attacked him?
I didn’t think so. Maybe it was the hens’ way of flirting with him, but in any case he looked so bad that I had to do something about it.
I have a drawer full of single socks that somehow lost their mates somewhere between the trip from the hamper to the laundry room. I accuse my wife Alice of being careless with the cloths. She accuses me of not putting pairs in the hamper.
Anyway, I use the unmatched pairs for sleeping socks in the winter and, because I have restless-foot syndrome, many of the heels have holes in them, rendering them useless even if a mate is found.
Why not cut the toe off of one of these socks and slip it over Geezbrook’s head to protect his neck?
That night I went out to the coop with a toeless sock I had cut with a pair of scissors. Alice went with me because I knew that it wouldn’t be easy to slip the sock over Geezbrook’s head – especially because we would have to turn on the lights so we could see what we were doing.
I snatched him off his perch and held the rooster down as Alice slipped the sock into place while mumbling, “Sounds like a man bites dog situation.”
The procedure was a success – in spite of the rooster screaming bloody murder.
Minutes later, there he was back in the coop with his vulnerable neck protected. He tried to work it off but the elastic on the relatively new sock was holding.
For the next couple of days, Geezbrook was no longer henpecked. I was proud of successfully executing my idea.
Then, Alice walked out to the coop one afternoon, gestured towards Geezbrook and said, “I found the mate to that sock.”
Not that they ever left. They just take a long winter nap while their heartbeat slows from 80 to an incredible five beats per minute and their body temperature drops from 99 to 37 degrees.
Punxsutawney Phil projects a good productive image with his weather predictions but Digger Dan, the name I give to the critter whose been tunneling into my barn every year, is another story.
One morning last spring, I was carrying a bale of hay before the light of sunrise and stepped in a hole that swallowed my leg up to my knee. I dropped the bale and limped out to the wood pile to secure a piece of 4-by-4 to pound into the hole – knowing well that The Digger would soon find another entry into my space.
The battle has been going on for several years. A friend lent me a trap that I set up by an outside hole, but the wary animal never goes near it.
One time I dropped a woodchuck bomb into the hole in the barn floor and covered it with a Frisbee that I held in place with my foot. Surprisingly, the Frisbee blew off the hole with considerable force.
I was puzzled because woodchucks usually have at least two entrances which would vent the pressure created by the bomb. Maybe Digger Dan’s body blocked the tunnel like a cork in a bottle creating enough pressure to blow the Frisbee and my foot off the hole.
Anyway, Digger didn’t perish and I didn’t try a bomb again for fear I’d burn the barn down. Of course, I had my 22 loaded and ready to rid myself of the trouble maker, but this woodchuck is a strategist and always positions himself in hard to shoot places.
One time I was gun-less and rounding a corner of the barn with a bucket of water when I ran right into him. We were both startled and to my surprise the wise guy whistled at me.
It was a harassing whistle that made me angry – the first note of the notorious three-noted wolf call that guys in Brooklyn use when they see a nice-looking girl. It’s not very macho to be whistled at by a woodchuck.
I duplicated the sound on the piano. The note is a “D,” the first letter of two words I’ve been
using to describe the enemy.
For several years an Amish farmer was taking hay off of our place. I often worried that one of his horses would step in a woodchuck hole like I did – and break a leg. So, I put sticks with flags on them to mark where the holes were.
When the farmer saw my markers he laughed and assured me that even when covered with cut hay, the horses could sense where the holes were.
I found this hard to believe but, luckily, on our farm no horse ever broke a leg pulling a hay wagon.
My friend George Gardner who has the same invasion problem sicked his very willing Jack Russell terrier on a woodchuck and the dog followed the varmint into a hole – so far that he got stuck and George had to dig the dog out with a back hoe.
So, the war goes on. Besides filling holes, I’ve plugged some of Digger’s relatives while on their way to my vegetable garden but shots at him are always taken from an awkward position and he just about gives me the razz before heading underground.
Recently, a lucky shot surely creased the hair on Digger’s head. Now, he must be taking me seriously because, lately, he ain’t whistling.
Terry Berkson, who has an MFA in creative writing from Brooklyn College, lives on a farm outside Richfield Springs. His articles have appeared in New York magazine, the New York Daily News Sunday Magazine, Automobile and other publications.