I´m not really hiding out. I am studying, cramming, filling my head with so much useless and irrelevant information I may soon be mistaken for a graduate student.
If you couldn´t tell, I failed my first Driving Theory Exam. Of the 30 questions, I could miss three. Somehow I missed five. They don´t tell you which ones, but I think it had to be the questions with more than three pronouns, and probably the one about xenon headlights.
I spent Monday feeling peevish and angry and sad. But now I decided to use my mentality, face up to reality, suck it up and all that. I bought a half-kilo of assorted shortbread cookies and settled in with my driving manual and the "cuestionario" book. And occasionally I give myself a break and take a sample exam from the list of Golden Trafico Theory Tests of the Past. Just try one, from the list for "todos permisiones" or "Clase B." You´ll get the flavor, see how well you´d do, and you´ll understand why my mind is turning to slush (while my Spanish automotive vocabulary is zooming.)
And perhaps why I am finding so much solace in the chicken yard drama.
Even as Paddy and I are working our buns off, painting the outer walls, hauling a mountain of sheep dung into the huerta, and cramming Tire Tread Depths into our brains, our chickens are slacking off. What once was a steady three eggs per day is now down to one. We suspect one of our hens, after a period of experimental ovoid sculpture, has gone out of the laying business altogether. I think I know who it is. I think it is Gladys.
Of our remaining Poultry Triumvirate, Gladys is the weakest link. She has the smallest, least-red-colored comb, the least hygienic habits, and the worst attitude. She doesn´t mind being held or petted, but unlike Rosie and Blodwyn, she won´t come over and jump into your lap. And when she is, finally, snuggled into your arms, she poops. Straight down the front of your leg.
Because our three chickens have always shared a laying box, it is impossible to tell for sure which of the three was laying the football-shaped, pale-colored eggs...and now, which is not laying at all. I have considered squeezing each of them at mid-morning (when eggs usually are laid) to see which two pop out a lovely brown treat, and which one just poops, but that could be seen as rude, or even bizarre.
And now circumstances have intervened.
After a long search involving the Four Shepherds of Terradillos, Esteban, Justi´s sheep barn, and discursive lectures on ammonia and straw ratios, we finally had two backhoe-bucketloads of vintage sheep doo delivered to the rear yard of The Peaceable. After two long days of shoveling, wheelbarrowing, and raking, I got a nice half-inch deep layer laid down on the huerta... the rear patio where the fruit trees and chickens live. (We´re installing drip irrigation and a big ol´vegetable garden out there in the next year, God willing.) (distributing shit led to the inevitable contemplative parallels to my many years of journalism. I must say all that practice prepared me well for life on the farm.)
It was about then I bought two more hens -- young ones, girls who should begin laying eggs within a few weeks. We call them Muriel and Vera. They are of the same Castilian red breed as the Big Three, but their feathers are deliciously soft. Their combs are still tiny pink sprouts. They are shy.
We put them in the hen pen. Gladys went ballistic.
At the end of the dustup we had two new pullets shivering in the darkest corner of the Hut. Out in the hen run, Gladys strutted and flapped her wings, several clumps of pretty young feathers floating down around her. Suddenly our Chief Slacker had become Pecking Order Enforcement Officer.
So we kicked all three of the Old Girls out into the poo yard, to let the New Girls settle in peace into the official chicken yard and Hut. (When we finally did read the Chickens For DumbAsses instruction book, we learned you can´t just throw new hens in with old...you have to introduce them slowly. Duh.)
And so the Old Girls have, for a week, turned to Cocks of the Walk. They roost on the woodpile, and spend their days shoving the poo around, leaving great bare spots and thick piles. They have, with help from a corps of sparrows and doves, picked through all the tons of dung and winnowed it for larvae, bugs, seeds, and chaff. One of them lays an egg each day in the garage, and the other layer, we suspect, is stashing hers somewhere... someplace where an especially important visitor will discover them in all their rotten-egg glory. (we still get occasional rumblings from Secretary of State Moratinos, who says he intends to visit here someday soon, when the crises let up. Yeah, OK Miguel.)
Oh, and the Girls rediscovered the Chicken TV windowsill overlooking our living room. I´d barricaded the window-well with an old casement and a rake. I´d hoped to preserve a nice pink geranium plant that looked nice there. My delusion lasted about three days. Bad-ass Gladys figured it all out, stormed the window well, flattened the jerry-rigged barricade, and picked the flower plant to shreds with her greedy beak.
Sensible people would just give Bad Old Glad a good whack and stew up her carcass with some greens and carrots. We had a look around for sensible people, but only found sensitive ones, and a lot of nonsense. There´s no one here capable of offing a hen, even the most delinquent kind. And so yesterday, humming a chorus of Kum By Yah, Paddy and I went out to the hen yard and opened wide the gates and welcomed each chicken, regardless of her age or caste, in to feast on cracked corn, carrot-tops, and tomato pips. We held each hen in turn, showed them the nice new nest boxes we´ve installed, and put them all down together in the middle of the run to make friends. They´d been seeing each other through the chicken wire for a week. The book said they ought to be OK by now.
Blodwyn stuffed herself with tomato and headed back out to her Paradise of Poo. Rosie settled in to the newest nest box. Gladys made a run for Muriel.
Muriel´s beak was imperfectly snipped, back at the chicken farm... she still has, intact, her lower peck, an effective underbite. She whirled and faced the Queen Chicken Bitch, and gave her such a peck, right on the ear. Gladys clucked and fluffed and backed away fast, shocked. Muriel stretched her brown body tall and flapped her wings. HA! I thought.
Gladys turned to the gate, pretending nothing had happened. Vera was there, huddled in the Hut door.
So Gladys hustled her inside and gave her a good savage kicking.
Someone´s got to keep order in this place.