Sunday, July 21, 2013

Re-Learning To Be Intrepid

Judy's hens last winter, near their coop.  Photo: John Ewing.


I turned seventy-six the end of May, and for some months–a year or so–I’ve been aware of another aspect of aging besides forgetting names and words (which eventually float back up from the recesses of memory) and having to do various exercises for the sake of my lower back, my balance (standing on one foot), and my knees, circulation, and general health (walking).  What’s new is a tendency to be less brave, less intrepid, more vulnerable, less confident that I can do things I’ve always done without giving it a moment’s thought.

Sometimes it’s traveling.  Or it can be standing on a chair to change a lightbulb (will I fall off?) or simply coping with the nitty gritty problems that come along to plague mortals and test their flexibility and resilience.  The back door gets stuck in the closed position. The hens have discovered a way to get over their flexible string fence but not how to get back.  At first it was only two or three hens doing this and laying their eggs hither and thither in the orchard. 

Then one morning this past week, I found only six hens in the coop instead of thirteen (two were already committed to orchard living).  

The next morning when I went to feed the orchard hens, here came the missing nine.  I’ve stopped chasing them to get them back.  I don’t want to fall on my face.  I do check the fence for holes but no problems there.  I did not want to cope with this.  I took stock.

They haven’t bothered the blueberries, covered by bird netting, though they had laid some eggs under the blueberry bushes, sneaking in under the netting.  They may well help themselves to the figs on the lower branches that touch the ground.  They love figs.  So far no predators (six last year–a raccoon and five possums had come over the outer chainlink fence).  I think Robert’s goats, eating the weeds out behind the orchard have kept the predators off.  One of my chicken workshop participants, Lisa, suggested that goats nearby would do it, and so it has.

So I said to myself, what the hell, and I let down the flexible fence, laid it on the ground for about fifteen feet, so the hens could easily get into and out of the orchard, return to the coop to lay eggs, and if they wanted to roost in the trees, why not?  I’m sure it’s cooler.

They’re laying better than in many weeks and now all the eggs are in the coop nests.  They’re obviously happy, exploring every niche and corner of the orchard, finding bugs, eating grass and weeds, and some do roost in the trees as well as some in the coop.  So I solved that one.

In fact, I begin to see a pattern.  I was talking to my friend Gene about it.  He works with elderly people through Hospice, visiting them in their homes, especially when they live alone.  He says the elderly often find it harder to deal with these little unexpected problems that come up, that are part of living, and they tend to withdraw into themselves.  I didn’t want to do that.

I admitted that these surprise problems bother me, too, more than once.  I had several slow drains, and I know that I can use my plunger and get them unclogged, yet I postponed it from day to day, but it was also depressing me, as the chicken problem had been, too.  I don’t want to get despondent because some things that I did easily before are now harder.  I either have to muster more courage and/or grit and do them myself or ask someone to help.

I finally did solve the hen problem.  It’s a risk, but life for me, and for the hens, is risk.  I can live with their eating a few figs.  If they get eaten by a predator, I’ll have to rethink the situation. All six predators last year were caught in the hav-a-hart, and only one hen was killed.  I went to work and cleared the drains.  

By asking on our local Chatham Chatlist, I found a wonderful handyman named Jim Nitsch to fix the back door locks.  I had to be patient while he finished a big job and use my front door to go to the backyard, but he was cheerful, friendly, inventive, gave me choices depending on how much money I wanted to spend and did everything quickly and for a reasonable price.  

I asked a friend to put in the new lightbulb.  She thought it wise not to stand on chairs to change bulbs if my balance wasn’t perfect. My exercises help, but I sometimes lose my balance, though I haven’t fallen since I started the exercises.

Now I feel better about these dips my mind takes into feeling vulnerable or inadequate.  I simply have to go ahead (the sooner, the better) and do what needs doing.  Then I feel good, and I re-experience my own competence and courage.  Those qualities are still there in me, but I need to use them, not sit around stewing.  The sooner I act, the sooner those vague feelings of inadequacy will pass.  They do pass.

I want to live a long time, and something tells me life is going to get harder for Planet Earth-dwellers, given climate change and some other things already on our horizon.  I do want to live and write as long as I can, so I shall have to be intrepid and tough, canny and inventive, keep my close ties to others, ask help when I need it but challenge myself to solve clogged drains, chicken dilemmas, balance problems, and the ordinary round of life’s interruptions. 

Some of those surprises may well lead to more happiness than I can now imagine.  You never know.


Hens in winter, near coop, bare fig trees in orchard behind them. Photo also by John Ewing.


  1. This blog resonates with me, Judy. I'll be 75 in about 3 weeks, and I find I'm a little more timid about things. For instance, I should be going up on the sun room roof to sweep off the pine needles, but I hesitate even though up until the past year, I've done it myself. Last year, my son did it, but he's working long hours at a difficult job so I hate to ask him. A little over a week ago I had a fall flat on my chest and for a while I thought I'd broken or badly sprained my wrist. Part of the fault - or maybe most of it was from a floppy loose sole on my old tennis shoes. I have at least three pairs of these old shoes that I change often because they get wet from all the rain we've been having, and I don't like putting on wet shoes. So what did I do? I checked my closet to see what tennis shoes I have that I rarely wear. I found one pair. And then I went out a bought some more inexpensive ones on sale. Okay, I spent extra money, but it's better than injuring myself because I hate to spend money on shoes for working in the garden. I'd already tried Good Will.

    A small ladder works better than a chair says the lady who still uses a chair to wash inside windows, etc. :-)

    Now a suggestion for your hens that I used for mine when I let them free range. Let them out in the morning and close them up at night when they go in to roost. Apparently, all yours don't, but if I want to rush mine in, I toss bread crumbs into the coop and they are very eager to go in for that. One raccoon or possum can kill more than one hen in a night especially if they bring along their hungry youngsters.

    As for those lost words, etc. I figure it's just because we have so much information in our brain it's hard to locate it quickly. :-)

  2. We, too, want you to live a long, long time! You have much writing still to do! so, yes, ask for help without shame or hesitation or stubbornness.

  3. Thanks, Gloria, for telling me it resonates. Even the small ladder doesn't feel secure now, but my friend Denise has helped me twice now, change a bulb and check the air conditioning filter.

    Megster, I'm definitely going to persist. I also want to live a long time. Yes, lots of writing still to do. I'm pretty good about asking for help, and I try not to be stubborn! Judy Hogan