On Summertime Sadness: Saying Goodbye to the Maine Summer

It turned chilly outside this week. After a very long and very hot summer, you would think I would be thankful. I am, after all, a Texas girl who moved to Maine, in part, to escape the heat. But, today, I feel the melancholy—the melancholy for summer that I feel in Maine more than anywhere I’ve ever lived.

I love all of the seasons in Maine, maybe even mud season because I know what’s coming next. Well, the season after black fly season. Yes, that one. Summer.

Growing up in Texas, we didn’t have seasons like we have here in Maine. It went from long hot summer to like two weeks of fall right into a messy, icy, windy winter. Fall is the best, right? I hated not having fall growing up. In Maine, fall is heavenly, magical, but thinking about fall leads me to a melancholy for summer.

Summer in Maine is like nowhere else. Even though my husband and I work way too much in the summers, the culture here reminds us to take breaks. Swimming is important. Hikes are important. Enjoy the water. Cook out. Watch the fireflies—and the stars. These things are valued here, and this makes summer extra special to me.

The summer is winding down. My oldest son is going back to college. I will begin longer homeschool days with my youngest son soon. And, pretty soon, the beautiful fall will be here.

But, for now, I feel melancholy that summer is passing. Though I enjoyed it, I always feel as if I never enjoy it enough. I want to do more, to take more of Maine in, to spend more time relaxing in the sun, watching the chicky girls eat watermelon, and listening as the hummingbirds zip by to the feeder.

A couple of years ago, at the end of summer, I heard a hummingbird commotion one evening on our back deck. We had two hummingbirds who had been visiting our feeder and our hearts all summer—a male and female we named Mack and Clara. We could tell them apart from the other hummingbirds because Mack was particularly short and stocky, and Clara had an unusual shape to the back of her head. They hung around a lot and seemed to have a nest in a nearby tree.

We loved watching those beautiful birds.

One evening in late August, I heard Mack and Clara making a lot more noise than usual. When I looked out the door, I was mesmerized by the beautiful dance and play Mack and Clara were engaged in. I had never seen them play like that and for so long—and with me so near with the camera.

It turns out that Mack was saying goodbye. It seems the male hummingbird will head south early to find a place for the couple. We never saw Mack again, and, after about another week or so, we never saw Clara again.

I had hoped that Mack and Clara would find us again the next year, but it was not to be. We had more adorable hummingbirds, but they definitely weren’t Mack and Clara.

When I think of those beautiful birds and the summer and how soon both the birds and the summer will be gone, I definitely feel the melancholy. I start to feel regret for the things I have wanted to do all summer but didn’t.

But, in writing this post, I have decided that it’s not too late. We bought a canoe this summer but haven’t taken it out on the water yet. This must be done. I’m also determined to make it to the Blue Hill Fair another year to mark the end of my summer with a James McMurtry concert. But, most of all, I want to take an afternoon nap in the warm air with the wind blowing through the leaves in the trees, making that magical whishy-rustly sound.

And I want to hang out with my husband and boys just a little more, just doing nothing, just visiting. We are always so busy with work, the chickens, the house, the garden, running to activities. For a bit, I want to stop time with my family and just do nothing. Surely, that’s possible in the summer time, right?

These are my goals. I don’t want too many summer regrets this year. What are your goals for the end of summer? How can you avoid summer regrets?

Let’s make a deal to say goodbye to this beautiful Maine summer (or summer wherever you are) with meaningfulness, and share your thoughts on summer in the comments below. I really want to hear them!

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On a Dilemma of Ducks: Not All They’re “Quacked” Up to Be

duck

This week, I have my first guest blogger post. My husband, Ron Sands, agreed to write about our duck ducks for me. I’ve been wanting to devote a post to the ducks for months, but I’ve found myself unable to do the duck ducks justice. The duck ducks are really my husband’s babies. I think you’ll find his talent for duck-duck description quite enjoyable.

 

Ducks. As a matter of fact—ducks unlimited. No, not the wildlife, conservation organization, our fenced backyard. At least, at times, it seems so. We have six Indian Runners. They are the duck coterie, the crew, the collective—the Borg. We named one Seven; she is Seven of Six. She is Seven of Six because she is absolutely loud enough to be two ducks. She is also the smallest, which perhaps explains her emphatic and raucous need for attention.

This might be the point in the narration were the reader stops and asks, “Why in the world do you have six Indian Runner Ducks?” Believe me, I’m asking myself that at this point, too. According to the internet of all things, Indian Runner Ducks are excellent egg layers, compliment a garden well, and their antics are great fun to watch.

Well then, I thought maybe I’d get some eggs. That would be a great perk; I understand duck eggs are large and delicious. Rather than go online, we ordered the cheap ducks from a local Farmer’s Union—straight run only, minimum of six. I am always unrealistic about these things in that I always expect to lose a few birds. But, so far, out of 48 birds, counting chickens, we have lost just two—one was DOA, and the other died at around a year from being egg bound. That’s a 4% death ratio.

The ducks are showing no signs of ill health; four percent of six is roughly a quarter of a percent, which means their mortality, at best, likely will be limited to the loss of a few feathers. And the lottery gave us a 4-2 split that the house did not win. Four of those ducks are never going to lay anything but down. The only perk—males are far quieter than females.

Okay, so they will help control insects in the garden. Yes, well, Indian runners apparently do not have it in their DNA to “go around.” They are tramplers—single-minded, seemingly-oblivious tramplers. They recognize nothing as an obstacle that cannot be waddled, tripped, and flopped over. They do eat insects, however, and Japanese Beetles, for which our garden seems to be a destination resort, are a favorite. But vegetables in their path take a cumbrous and prolonged beating. I am amazed at how long it takes a duck to scramble, waddle, and quack through a bean plant.

Accordingly, I am now adept at catching Japanese Beetles. I’ve caught probably 200 this summer. Those ducks are eating right out of my hand. I guess it beats the beetle-drowning bucket.

baby duck
So, at first, there was nothing cuter in the world than one of our little Indian Runner ducks. But we should have known we were in trouble from the beginning. This little one is complaining on camera.

Well, they’ll be cute and the wife and the kid will enjoy them. That statement was rock-solid for the first month, mainly because the ducks were mostly too small to effectively express their ethnocentric-flavored xenophobia. (Their first swimming pool was a 9 x 6 baking dish.) While it is true, they will reliably show up for food—and eat beetles out of my hand—at any other time, they look at me as if I’m coming to collect the rent. Considering the 4-2 split, they might be on to something.

At the beginning of their second month, we turned them out; we also bought them a kiddie pool. I have since learned, it’s likely no accident the words foul and fowl are homonyms. Duck “tea” is not a pleasant liquid, and six ducks can brew it black, potent, and surprisingly quick. On the upside, it gets the compost pile “cooking,” and our corn is taller this year than it has ever been.

And, now, after three months and a recent pool-side exhibition worthy of a honeymoon hotel at Cabo, one that brought color to my somewhat worldly cheeks, I’m having to explain the farm facts of life to my seven-year-old. Indeed, the ducks are no longer cute.

Which brings me back to that rent. Just how delicious are recycled Japanese Beetles?

On Our Mobile Chicken Coop

This week was a big week for the Sands “Coop”eration. My husband built a mobile chicken coop for our broilers we purchased last month. The babies had been living in the brood box but were big enough to make the move outside, and we needed something sturdy for them to sleep in at night. We do live near the woods after all!

We are learning to be a little more self-sufficient all the time, and since we’re not vegetarians (I have tried and failed several times), we decided to get broilers or “meat birds.” We believe that, if we’re going to eat meat, we should know where it comes from. And, we’re taking it one step further and doing it ourselves.

At least that’s the plan.

It’s not going to be easy to kill our own food, but I’ll write and worry more about that another day. We’ve been watching videos and reading about humane and respectful deaths for chickens, but, for now, I’ll just say that I’ve tried to be very careful not to get too attached to the broilers.

Food; water; how are you doing? In and out.

Unfortunately, these birds are extremely docile and friendly, much more so than our Rhode Island Reds and ISA Browns. Our layers are more mistrustful, and you have to earn their trust. The little broilers just come right up to you, all sweet and curious.

Thanks, universe, for making this even harder. Just what I needed, right?

But we are, of course, of the notion that we want these birds to live a merry life, though it will be a short one, so my husband built them some nice accommodations this week, complete with wheels, so they can move to different parts of the yard and explore new areas.

This week, I share some of his process and the beautiful end results.

framing the coop
Here, my husband is just getting it started. As someone who can’t build a thing, I’m so amazed that this is the beginning of something so substantial.

 

bottom of chicken coop
My husband has framed out the bottom of the coop here. In an effort to be frugal, he used a lot of parts and scraps he had around. The “mobile” part of the coop was built in an axle he created. He used our son’s old bicycle wheels for the “mobile” part of the coop.

 

Entire frame for chicken coop
And it’s looking like a chicken house!

 

Mobile Coop Finished and Red
Here it is finished and in action. My husband very creatively built a slider system to make it easier to get into the coop for cleaning and feeding and watering. He used shower rollers on the roof for the rolling. I’m pretty sure he could have been an engineer.

 

Moving the Coop
And here’s the mobile coop being mobile. Of course, our youngest had to help, and he was a great help. He helped scoop up almost every one of those chickens.

 

Chicken Coop in the Trees
Here are the chickens with their new home. My husband built a large temporary run and even a little gate. The chickens seem to be in heaven out there!

Ultimately, it seems like a beautiful little place to be a little chicken. The chickens run around during the day and sleep in their sturdy little red house at night.

I think we need a sign above the door though, like the one we have over the door of our main chicken coop, but I don’t know what it should say. The grim part of me thinks it should read “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” or “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” I mean, I know what’s coming. I’m a little worried and have a bit of dread.

But I think my husband’s idea is better: “It’s a merry life but a short one.”

I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, my husband just kind of invented his way around in creating this mobile chicken house, but if you’re interested in building your own, here are some resources.