Saturday, March 30, 2013

Chicken Tracks with Yarn

Chicken Tracks (in Lovestick Sock Yarn, colorway "Woody").
Sometimes, my fascination with my hens spills over into other areas of my life. When I garden, I plan a few extra rows of mache greens for the ladies to snack on. Chickens have started springing up in my kitchen decor, on tea towels I've embroidered with vintage hen patterns, and on odd pieces of china and pottery. I found an old chicken feeder that makes a perfect rustic shelf at my potting bench.

And chickens work their way into my knitting as well. I've had some sock yarn in my stash for several years that I've come to think of as "Hen Feathers" as the colorway. I could have sworn that was the name on the skein, but I looked back into my stash records and it's actually a hand-dyed merino in a colorway called "Woody". Well, OK, that fits. But I'm still calling it Hen Feathers.

Anticipating a trip we're taking, I decided to cast on some socks, which are easily portable. Good for the plane, and for the beach. I looked through my magazines and books for a pattern, then through's plethora of patterns. I came across one called "Simple Skyp Socks" from Adrienne Ku. Because the yarn colors are bold and varied, I wanted a simple pattern, and I wanted something that I could knit without having to be too focused. I think beach knitting is kind of like beach reading--you want something relaxing, fun, and not particularly challenging.

I cast on, and immediately loved the pattern and the yarn. It's a sportweight yarn, on size 2 needles, so it's knitting up quickly. But as I looked at it I decided--with all due respect to designer Ku--that I'd rename these socks "Chicken Tracks." The Skyp stitch Ku incorporated reminds me happily of the tracks my hens leave in the snow, or in the garden.

In a solid color, this pattern would be more defined and noticeable. And I may have to try a second pair in a solid colorway, but it works very nicely with a patterned yarn, bringing texture and depth of its own. I like how--like the chicken tracks in my garden--you don't see the Skyp stitch at first glance. It's there between the rows of knit and purl like Thelma's tracks winding their way through the rows of lettuce and cabbage.

I have set aside the socks for the time being. I turned the heel on the first one. At the rate I'm going, I'll have it finished before our trip, and I really want to be able to work on this later, when I can relax a bit. There I'll be, miles from the coop but called to my hens with the ins and outs of my knitting needles.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Up (and Down) to Old Tricks

Pip (right) as a youngster with the two Jaerhons. 
This weekend, the hens were in the small chicken yard, and the gates to the rest of the backyard were closed. The hens tend to clip the newly emerging grass very short, so we try to limit their lawn time when it's growing. But they will sometimes stand at the gate looking pitifully toward the yard. K says that if they had a tin cup to scrape along the fence bars, they would.

Yesterday I happened to look outside to check on them, and saw Pip, the foundling Ameraucana, perched on top of a rail, working up her courage to leap/fly to the top of the trellis. This made me laugh, because it was something that the Norwegian Jaerhons (Fliers Extraordinaire) had perfected and taught Pip.

Pip thinks she's a Jaerhon. She was raised together with the two smaller hens, and they were lighter-bodied and very adept at hopping to the top of the trellis and soaring down to the other side. Pip is what's called a large fowl -- she's a standard sized chicken and though not as big as some heavy-bodied chickens, she's about twice as heavy as the Jaerhons. Not really built aerodynamically like the Norwegian hens.

Still, she would watch them map their escape route, and when she was smaller she was able to follow easily. As she got bigger and heavier, flying wasn't quite as easy for her as it was for them, but she seemed to think she was one of them, and would gamely follow and worked very hard to keep up. She was ungainly, but determined, following along like a sumo wrestler mirroring the moves of two prima ballerinas.

After we moved the two Jaerhons out to the country where they could range a little more freely, Pip seemed to forget about the tricks they'd taught her. She stayed grounded with the rest of her flock for the last year.

Until yesterday, that is. I watched her. If you've ever seen someone working up the momentum and courage to take a big leap, that's what she looked like. She kept bouncing up and down, looking at the top of the trellis as if measuring her required lift. Finally, she gave a big push, lifted into the air just high enough to reach the top of the trellis and use it to push off and land on the other side. As she did, she made big clucking sounds like a kid yelling on his way down from the high dive.

Then she settled her wings, organized her tail feathers, and happily began pecking at the new grass.

Meanwhile, the other five hens stood at the gate, astonished and a bit peeved. If they could put their wings on their hips, they would have. But Pip completely ignored them, enjoying her freedom and thankful that she, unlike those big heavy chickens, was a Jaerhon and Ace flier.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Loss in the Coop

Clover, posing on L's bike.

When L called me at work yesterday, I knew something was wrong. “Mom, Clover died! I went out to gather eggs and she was in the coop.” Poor L. Such a shock to find that little feathered body lying still.

I was surprised. Clover had seemed perfectly fine the day before. I pictured the small, round hen.

When we gave my sister-in-law our hen-who-was-really-a-rooster, Cluck Norris, she had the girls each pick out a bantam hen to take home. They were probably a couple years old. L picked up a little barred-rock Bantam, named Clover; and M chose a silver laced Wyandotte, named Oreo.

Several days later, a mink slipped into my sister-in-law’s coop and killed the small Bantams that remained—easy prey because they didn’t roost high. Had we waited a week, Oreo and Clover would have been among the hens that were killed.             But they were safely ensconced in their new urban coop, country-chickens-turned-city-chickens, oblivious of their narrow escape. That summer, Clover was rocked and rocked on the glider, talked to, carried around, and doted on by L. We have photos of her in bicycle baskets, on pillows, in swings. We laughed because when the rest of the flock would be in another part of the yard, Clover would wander around confused, making woeful braaaahck sounds, wondering where her friends were. Somehow, she was always the hen left behind.

 I’ve written about her often, how she was a brave little hen who didn’t hesitate to spar with big Thelma, drawing her little self up as tall as she could. How our Dalmatian chased poor Clover under the house, where Clover wedged herself into the lattice under the porch until we rescued her. And Clover was one of the little hens who survived the theft of our big hens that cold evening in November.

 She’s had her share of close calls, has Clover. She was the hen who went to the fair, but refused to eat or drink until we relented and brought her home. As soon as she was back in her yard, with her flock, she perked right up.

We knew she was an older hen. She’d wasn't laying much, if at all, and that was OK. We didn’t have her because of her egg production.

Clover was one of L's favorites, and her passing leaves an empty space in the coop. Now, there are six. 

When I arrived home and gave L a hug, she said, “She was the best little hen.”

And she was. RIP Clover.