Tag Archives: rooster

December 30– getting near the end

Aw heck, once again it’s been a week since I’ve  had the chance to sit down and update the ol ObserVA.  As  you might expect, the past week has been full of family and holiday cheer, and not a whole lot of obervating.  In fact, all of these photos are from last Tuesday, which in addition to being  a gorgeous, (relatively) warm winter day, was also the day in which my trusty Canon Elph camera crapped out on me 😦

But I digress– let’s go in the wayback machine to last Tuesday, December 24, Xmas eve.  The day started, as so many Tuesdays do, with a tofu delivery run to Charlottesville.  It was a pretty short delivery, as several places were closed, and once I was done, I did a quick hike in the Monticello woods to check out a couple of places where I had previously found oyster mushrooms.  As the photos below show, it was a nice walk on a pleasant early winter day, but as I didn’t find any mushrooms, I didn’t tarry for too long.Image

Nice view of C’ville from the mountains just south of town.Image

I got home with lots of afternoon to spare.  On the radio, I had been listening to a doctor talking about seasonal affective disorder, who claimed that the best way to combat the condition was to soak up as much natural daylight as possible, to take maximum advantage of every bit of every sunny day at this time of year.  Well I had nothing to do for the rest of the afternoon, so I decided to take his advice to heart, and spend the rest of the afternoon outdoors.

As I was turning into the driveway, I encountered Free Willy, the rebel rooster.  About a month ago, we decided to cull our entire flock of chickens, turn them into meat.  As it turned out, about 5 or 6 of them escaped the axe, including of course everyone’s favorite survivor rooster.  In the next couple of weeks (due to insufficient oversight on the part of the chicken team), the hens that avoided the slaughter became food for hungry wildlife.  That is, all but ol’ Reb, the ultimate survivor.  I hear that these days he’s moved into the dairy barn at night, and spends his lonely days at the compost pile.  Long may he live!Image

Although there weren’t any oyster mushrooms around C’ville, a quick walk through the Twin Oaks woods revealed that there were a whole bunch in our forest.  For the first time this fall/winter, I was able to pick a whole plastic bag full of ’em!  Image


lots and lots of pretty oysters!Image

After unloading the tofu truck, I spent a couple of hours gathering up mycelium-infused logs from several spots in the woods (always being careful to leave more logs than I took from any one spot) and gathering them together in a pile in the woods right outside of my house.  I was going to document the process, but this was the exact moment when my trusty camera, my companion for the year, kicked the bucket.  Fortunately, I was able to borrow my son’s camera for the day (which is actually much nicer than mine), but I suppose I’ll have to buy a new one now.  Alas.

So now I’ve got a big ol’ pile of oyster logs just a few steps from my kitchen that I hope will provide me with a steady supply of wild mushrooms for years to come.Image

Here’s one of the logs that I filled with oyster plugs this spring, just bursting with baby mushrooms.  I don’t know if the stump project was successful, but I am optimistic about the logs that I seeded.Image

Once I was done with that, there was still an hour or so of daylight, so I took a bike and went for a ride.  What a gorgeous sky!  What a gorgeous day!Image

Beautiful sky and clouds on a pleasant winter afternoon.Image

I think I’ve probably posted several photos of this sycamore tree in the Twin Oaks courtyard, but I just can’t get over how beautiful it looks all lit up in the late afternoon winter sunshine.Image

reflection of sauna and trees in the pond, turned 180 degrees.  Wooo, artistic!Image

Took a bike for a ride around the half block right around sunset, determined to enjoy every bit of sunshine this afternoon.  Got a very nice series of photos along Old Mountain Road right as the sun was going down and everything was all turning red.Image

Xmas eve sunset.Image

Another leafless tree all lit up with sunset colors.Image

Trespassed on a neighbor’s field in order to find the spot where I could see clear to the southwest horizon, in order to enjoy every possible second of the sunset.Image

Dramatic cloud colors just after the sun went down, as I sped back home on my bike.Image

So those photos were all from last Tuesday, Xmas eve.  Since then, there hasn’t been much change.  A bit of sun, a bit of rain, a bit of frost.  No snow, nothing dramatic.  All around, nature seems to be settling down into winter dormancy, getting ready for a new year.  And I’m feeling a mixture of emotions– satisfaction and a bit of pride that I was able to keep up the journal for the year without getting overly distracted/discouraged/just plain lazy; relieved that I will no longer have the self-imposed pressure of keeping it up; and more than a bit sad that it’s coming to an end.  I suppose I’ll put up one more post to finish out the year, then it’s on to the next project, whatever it may be.  I’ll spare the emotional farewell for now, but just want to finish this post by thanking everyone who’s read along so far.  Look for one more post early in January, once I’ve recovered from tomorrow night’s NYE debauch.


March 8- the big melt, day one

Freezing again temperatures again in the morning, which made for a pleasant dawn trip to let out the chickens.  Easy to get up early today, since the lack of electricity has led to generally early bedtimes and wake-up times.  As I walked down, I saw that the pond had a thin coating of ice, funny that it should be frozen in March when it spent so much of December-February not frozen over.Image

It was actually quite lovely down at the chicken yard, with the sun rising and nice crusty hard-frozen snow not soaking my boots.Image

It didn’t take long for the temperatures to rise above freezing, and when they did, we experienced some fairly extreme melting and MUD!  As it was my chicken day, I had to make several trips down to the chicken yard, which, this time of year, requires walking past the compost piles.  The melting snow and thawing compost had combined into a foul nasty mess, a moat of disgustingness that I had to cross several times today.  Each time I passed, the air was warmer, the rivers of snowmelt were faster, and the horrible mud was deeper.

Here’s how things looked in the early afternoon– still a lot of snow on the ground, but it’s melting fast!Image


rivers of snowmelt running out of the cow pastures and through the horrid compost.  In a weird way, all the melting snow reminded me of hiking through the Sierra Nevada in California in June many years ago, sheets of cold, clear water running across the landscape, puddles and ponds of snowmelt everywhere you look.  Although much less scenery and more compost around here…Image

A couple weeks ago, we decided to open up the fence around the chicken yard and let them be free range down in their bit of the farm.  The result has been much happier chickens, who generally spend their day picking through the compost and hunting bugs in the brush.  I’ve been feeding them thrown-away produce from our local supermarket dumpster, and they sure do love it.  I’ve been enjoying my time with the chickens much more now that they’ve been let out of their enclosed yard (which was getting pretty muddy, entirely free of grass and vegetation, and pretty disgusting).Image

And, yes, Free Willy, AKA the Rebel Rooster, is still kicking.  He has joined the flock, without apparent resistance  from or conflict with the other roosters.  He’s been roosting in the henhouse with all the other chickens, and seems to be quite happy as part of the flock, no longer the lone rooster.Image

Feb 8– ’rounding the corner

Most years, winter is an ambivalent season in Virginia. It snows, but always melts, and often snows again. It freezes, but the thaw is never far off.  This ain’t the far north, and winter’s icy grip is never all that firm. Some years, winter hardly happens– Juneuary is followed by Februly and Margust. Last year, fall rolled on into spring sometime around the middle of January; we had about 36 hours of proper winter weather. Conversely, I have experienced winters here that stayed warm until the beginning of March, then ended with three solid weeks of snow and sub-freezing temperatures. So one certainly hesitates to read too much into the oscillations of the thermometer, especially when trying to assess the turn of the season.

Last night, we had an overnight rain, and the morning was sparkling clear, sunny and warm.  Was spring in the air? If not exactly that (after all, I am quite aware that we’re still only a week into February, and as I write this, New England is being buried under several feet of snow), then it at least feels like a new phase of winter.  All around, I am noticing the very beginnings of buds beginning to pry apart, revealing intrepid new leaves, the brighter green of freshly grown vegetation.  It’s still winter, no doubt, but today for the first time I’m feeling like we’re beginning to ’round the corner.’

I don’t know what this plant is, but it’s certainly putting on some new growth:Image

All around the community, daffodil plants are beginning to push through the ground, in preparation for the floral displays of March.Image

These daffodils even have flower buds!  When did that happen?  How come I didn’t notice this until today?Image

Azalea buds open, revealing tiny leaves.  Pretty soon, it’s going to be leaves, leaves, leaves everywhere! Image

And finally, for all those following along at home, Free Willy the rebel rooster is alive and well.  I tossed him a handful of grain when I was down feeding the chickens this afternoon, which he seemed to appreciate.  Indeed, a noble beast.Image


Jan 20– still kickin’ it

Jan 20-- still kickin' it

Today, due to my commitments as a musician, it looks unlikely that I am going to get to go outside at all. In the past week, a few people have written asking about the fate of Free Willy the rooster– so I’m posting this photo (taken last Friday 1/18) showing that as of a couple days ago, ol’ Willy is still king of the compost heap! We’re about to hit a stretch of cold weather, so I hope he’s able to pull through… Thanks for all the encouragement from everyone who’s been reading along.

Jan 6– a warm one

I wasn’t able to get out much today, between indexing in the AM and cooking dinner for the community (with the oyster mushrooms that I found last Thursday).  Early this morning, I rode down to let the chickens out of their house, and saw that there was no frost, apparently it hadn’t quite hit freezing last night.  Always a little bit disconcerting in January.  All day today felt a little bit springtimey, makes me wonder if we’re going to have a repeat of last year’s “year without winter.”  I hope we do get some actual snow and ice this winter, but warm sunny days like today are not going to get us there.

The only real time I got to spend outside today was my afternoon walk to the chicken yard to collect eggs.  On this short walk, I really listened to and relished the relative silence of the afternoon.  Most of the year, Twin Oaks is filled with an incessant chatter of birdsong; most of the time during the winter, you can hear the rumble of tractors, the whine of chainsaws, the humming of the tofu hut, music being blasted out of one building or another, far-off trucks on the interstate 6 miles away, the overhead sonic smear of jet engines.  Today, in between the lowing of our cows and the distant response of the neighbor’s cows, there were moments of near-total stillness.  All too rare, and good to notice when it happens.

Free Willy the rooster was again at the chicken yard, and this time he seemed determined to get into the enclosure, pacing around the perimeter of the fence as though checking for weaknesses.  There’s a big stepladder in the hay barn near the chicken lot.  Just as an experiment, I set it up next to the fence so that if he really wanted, he could jump up the steps of the ladder, and then jump across into the enclosure.  Curious to see if he goes for it, and if he does, what happens next.  Hopefully I’ll have more time to get out tomorrow.

Jan 5- Lake near Mineral and hawk near chickens…

Every Saturday, I do the Louisa trip, which involves driving around Louisa and Mineral doing everyone’s town chores.  Sometimes on the way back, I take a road out of Mineral that is a bit shorter distance than the highway.  Since it is a slow windy dirt road through the woods, I don’t think I save any time, but it is more scenic.  During the winter when the leaves are down, I can sometimes see a bit of a lake off a ways through the trees.  Last night, I was looking at Google Earth, and zoomed in on this particular lake, which looks kind of like this:


You can see the road I usually drive along the east side of the lake.  This morning, on my way home, I drove around to the grassy area near the dam at the SW corner of the lake.  The view from there looked like this:

IMG_1245 IMG_1246

It’s unusual to see a lake of this size in this part of Virginia that is entirely undeveloped.  Unfortunately, as I was driving in, I saw real estate advertisements for lakefront property, so I don’t know how long it will look so pristine.  I might try to come back at some point this year to do some exploring along the lakeshore.  A sign there says that it is open to fishing with permit, but swimming is not allowed.  But I bet if I went away from the grassy area near the road, I take a little illicit dip once it warms up!

When I got home, I went to feed the chickens a bunch of vegetables that I took from the Food Lion dumpster.  Unsurprisingly, Free Willie was still hanging out outside of the chicken yard:


Suddenly, while I was tossing the veggies into the chicken yard (and some outside of the yard), the ‘happy cluck’ of the feeding chickens turned into ‘alarm distress squawk,’ and they all ran under the henhouse.  I turned and saw across the field a large hawk (or maybe an eagle?) sitting in a tree eyeing the chickens, and I reckon the chickens saw it too.  By the time I got my camera out, it had taken off and was soaring over the treetops:

IMG_1260 IMG_1259

Later on, while Sami was chasing Free Willie through the underbrush, trying to feed him some lettuce, I noticed the severed tail of some mammal on the ground in front of me.  I’m not sure if it was placed there by a person or another animal, or what the tail even originally belonged to.  It looked a bit like a little curled up squirrel or something.  I wonder what the story was there…


This afternoon, I went down to the pond to check it for ice.  We’ve had a couple of cold nights, and days that aren’t getting much above 40 degrees, so I was thinking we might be getting a bit of icy crust.  We are, but not much– hopefully we get some proper cold weather sometime in the first half of January.  By late January, there is too much daylight to get really thick ice that people can walk or skate on.  But as of 1/5, this is all the ice we have:


Jan 4– Free Willy the rooster!

Here’s the story as I understand it.  Some weeks (months?) back, Sapphyre got some roosters from Shana that she slaughtered and ate.  One of the roosters got away, and rather than chase it down and kill it, Sapphyre let it go.  About a month ago, the rooster started showed up in random places around the farm, first at the old chicken yard, then in various cowfields, finally he seems to have made his way down to the winter chicken lot where our flock is spending the season.  He mostly hangs out just outside the fence, kind of odd considering he could go anywhere, but I think he likes the company of the other chickens.  I wonder if he would like to come in, and fear that if he did, the roosters in the yard (who are much larger and quite aggressive) would rip him apart.  I’ve become quite attached to Free Willy, and every time I see him down at the chicken yard, I toss him a handful of grain, or a bit of whatever compost I’m feeding to the chickens.  I reckon that at some point this winter, he’ll be killed either by cold or predators, but for now I say “be free, Willie!”

Willie in the bushes:


Willie hanging out just outside of the fence.  Don’t know if he’s making friends with the other rooster, or taunting him…IMG_1230 IMG_1231

Forever free! (at least until he gets killed by a raccoon or bobcat)IMG_1237