“The chickens are under the deck!” I hollered up the stairs this morning after peeking out the basement door to do a quick head count. I conduct periodic head counts on days when they are free ranging without supervision. While they have no desire to go far from their coop, in the six months we’ve kept them I’ve come home to a large hawk staring at me through our back door while perching on the deck railing and I’ve walked outside to see a red fox within fifteen feet of a chicken dinner. So, my counting routine makes me feel better. Down the stairs, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… all accounted for. Back upstairs to whatever it was I was doing. Repeat at intervals.
The back deck is no more than 25 feet from the girls’ coop. A large patch of green grass is holding it’s own against the winter under the deck’s protection and I knew the girls had been eyeing it for weeks – a little taste of summer amid the freezing January temperatures. While covering this distance would take them only seconds, I never imagined they would summon the courage to walk over the peninsula of icy snow that blocked their path. They had approached the formidable barrier multiple times over the last month, considered it, and walked away in defeat.
Which one of the girls had gotten up the courage to cross the land bridge? Had she called back for the others to follow? The theme song from Ken Burns’ Lewis and Clark rang through my ears as I walked triumphantly upstairs. Almond-sized brains or not, my girls were intrepid explorers.
My sense of pride lasted until my next head count, when I walked outside to find them lined up under the deck, backs to the uneaten grass, happily pecking at a small patch of exposed insulation at the base of the siding along the back of the house. The swelling soundtrack in my head faded as the girls looked up and cocked their heads, tiny bits of blue styrofoam dropping from the ends of their beaks to the ground.
Highway 92 runs south out of Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, roughly following Deer Creek. I drove to Donald Park today to mark the beginning of the new year. It isn’t far outside of town, and boasts perhaps the most delightful signage ever posted by the Dane County Historical Society. It starts by stating simply, “Escaping the ravages of the last glacier, this tranquil valley retains ancient geologic features. Located just southwest of the Johnstown moraine, it is one of Dane County’s most scenic areas.” The Johnstown moraine is an end moraine, or more plainly, the ridge of debris pushed along the front edge of an advancing glacier. This lovely valley just missed being ravaged – stood it’s ground, quite literally, as a sheet of ice came to a halt at it’s feet.
In this political climate, there are more parallels to this geologic stand-off than I wish to recount. The message is not so subtle though, is it? All glaciers grind to a halt. After Donald Trump has returned to the world of reality television, I imagine kindly old ladies from the historical society abandoning their stacks of newspaper clippings and setting out across the region posting signs. “Escaping the ravages of the last administration, this tranquil valley retains the ancient ties of community.” May we all be good to one another in the New Year.
My small family (husband, daughter, and myself), arrived in southwest Wisconsin in the summer of 2016. We left the San Francisco Bay Area, where we had been for many years. While the decision was confounding to many, it made sense to us. We wanted zero time spent commuting – before the move my husband routinely spent three hours of every day getting in and out of San Francisco. We wanted a normal mortgage – not the monsters that come with the Bay Area lifestyle. I wanted to quit my job as an archaeological consultant and grow food – much more than would fit in the four raised beds I had in our backyard in Martinez, California.
We had people in Wisconsin, so it wasn’t as if we made the journey by covered wagon and had to clear a patch of forest before we could unpack our trunks. That said, a fairly intimidating tornado that had us holed up in a convenience mart outside Des Moines, Iowa, on the drive east made it clear that the Midwest did not intend on rolling over and becoming a temperate little lamb to accommodate our delicate sensibilities.
So, my work is becoming seasonal – I have 680 grape vines being shipped from New York in May of this year. I’m inspired here – the winter light is thin and the wind literally howls. This blog is a place to appreciate a region and landscape that is new to me (the cheeses, the glaciers, oh my) and record our time here (these grapes aren’t going to plant themselves). I make a solemn vow to limit the number of photos I post of our five chickens, whom I adore. I just lied – chickens are super photogenic. The name of the blog, Begynne, honors our new beginning in Norwegian, the language of some of the first Europeans to settle the area we now call home.