reasons to homeschool

Being watched

So I’m sitting with a cup of tea after a long day of busyness without much accomplishment. I watch one more show than I intended on hulu and suddenly it is after one. And I realize I never collected the guinea eggs for the incubator. Nor did I lock up the ducklings.

So I arm myself with a flashlight and the dogs and go out into the night. The sheep are all lying in the glow of the porchlight. They turn their heads to watch me, but so long as I don’t walk toward them, they will stay put. The ducklings chatter as if they are happy to see me which starts a chorus of honking and quacking from the rest of the waterfowl.

The henhouse rewards me with nine guinea eggs and a couple pecks from the hens in the corner. The same four hens who have been hiding behind that board for several days. And I just now realize that they have also had all the eggs every time I go to collect. So I only take the guinea eggs and leave them with a few eggs to brood.

As I leave, Flee starts to pace and his barking changes. It’s deeper. More threatening. And Marley stands in front of the henhouse with his ears focused on the corn field.

A lone coyote starts to yip.

More answer in the distance, but this one sound close. I shine the flashlight across the cornfield and spot it running toward us, but I figure it is actually running for the cover of the tall grasses that divide the field.

Except that when it gets there, it follows the grasses to where they run closest to our property and just stops. All I see are two eyes glowing in the darkness.

Flee goes nuts. A guinea fowl crashes into the run. The ducks and geese are raising a raucous and all the sheep get up. Though they’ve been with us for only a week, they run toward the furiously barking Great Pyrenees. They’re still under quarantine, but their fence runs within a few feet of the pasture and it is in that section closest to Flee that they huddle, moving back and forth with his pacing.

And I get that uneasy feeling of being watched. I am being watched, but I also have to turn around. I have to put the eggs down and collect the ducklings. But that means turning my back toward a coyote I know is watching me. And though it is still a quarter of a mile away and four dogs stand between it and me, I feel as if the only thing holding it there in the grasses is my gaze.

I back toward the garage where I put down the eggs and grab a dog kennel to shoo the ducklings into. When I come out, there’s no sign of the coyote. I’m not sure if it took the moment of darkness to take off or to circle around where it can approach under cover. But the dogs are more relaxed, so I am relaxed.

At least until I have to kneel down to collect the ducklings.

And I know it is going to be another long night.

reasons to homeschool

Restless

It’s late. I’m surfing through hulu, looking for something to watch. I’m feeling anxious. No particular reason, except that, in the end, it’s always the same reason. And I don’t want to go to bed. And I can’t concentrate. So I surf hulu.

The dogs are restless. I don’t pay them much attention. The neighbor just put his cattle on the corn field next to us and the whole herd is walking up along the fenceline.

Then the kettle whistles and the night erupts with the yips of coyotes. I grab the flashlight and run outside. I usually can’t hear them from inside and never this clearly. They have to be close and now that the corn is down, I want to see how close.

I shine the spotlight over the field as the dogs pace agitatedly before me and there they are. Three coyotes lingering behind the herd of cattle. They don’t seem particularly interested in the cattle and the cattle aren’t paying any attention at all to them, but there they are, crouching at the sudden brightness.

Then the pony screams and I run down to the barn to make sure everything is alright. She and the minihorse are restless, walking back and forth in their stalls, but everything appears in order. I wonder if they smell the coyotes, sense danger in the barking of the dogs or if there is some other reason for their anxiety. I talk to them, rub their velvety noses and they seem calmed.

There’s a disturbance in the henhouse and I hear birds fluttering about. That isn’t normal. I can go in the henhouse at night and pick up a bird with nothing more than a small squawk. I run over to see if something has gotten in. As soon as I open the door, Mouse’s show cockerel bolts out the door and into the night. Timmy’s off after it, and I shine the light in the henhouse but see no evidence of a predator.

I’m almost positive I’ve lost the cockerel to pure chicken stupidity, but Timmy has it at the corner of the garden and is holding it for me.

“What is up with these animals tonight?” I think, as I take the bird from between the dog’s paws.

Even I am beginning to feel like there is something watching me and I wonder if there is something out here bigger and closer than the three coyotes across the street.

I stop to shine the light on the cattle. The last time I was near them when coyotes began to howl, their eyes rolled back in panic and they charged back and forth, trying to flee in every direction at once.

But now they’re just standing there, ears pricked forward, leaning toward where the howls last came from. They are concerned, but not panicked.

Because they are both standing right behind Flee who has his nose in the wind.

And I think this puppy is growing into his role better than I ever imagined. He’s nowhere near ready to tangle with a coyote, but the instincts are there. I can see it in the way he stands. And I can see it in the way the cattle trust him.

And as I lock the chicken back up in the henhouse, I know Flee was worth the drive, the money and even giving up the puppy I had wanted before we knew we needed a livestock guardian.

He is exactly what we need.

reasons to homeschool

The attack

Two thirty in the morning and I’m stacking the last of the hay in the barn. The bales on the bottom of the pile were damp, so I left them in the sun to dry, but rain is expected and I have to get it in the barn.

Coyotes howl in the distance. A growl escapes Timmy’s throat, though he doesn’t leave his napping spot outside the door of the barn.

“Yip yip yip!”

A coyote answers from our pasture and the dogs are off. They rocket toward the pasture and I hear them crash through the windbreak. Odd that they didn’t go around. They always go around, but not tonight. On the other side, they break their silence and I hear furious growls, snarls and barks. For a moment, they don’t seem to be moving, but then the barking starts and its moving fast. Across the pasture, across the bean field, down toward the creek.

Then silence. And I’m alone in the dark. Waiting. Seconds . . . minutes . . . it starts to seem like hours. But then I hear the pounding of paws and the heavy breathing of Timmy and Luke returning to me, tails up, eyes shining. They’re good dogs and they know it.

I praise them, thinking they just took care of any problem there might have been. But truthfully, I’ve never really worried about coyotes on the other side of the windbreak. They’ve always traveled there. Until we put the cattle out there, they had a well worn path leading out of the neighbor’s field, across the northern edge of our pasture, down the hill and down the ditch to where they cross the road.

I worry about my chickens, my rabbit, even my dogs. The coyotes travel so close so often, I know they have to know about every living thing on this property. But so long as the dogs are on patrol, it is not worth the trouble to cross that line of trees for a bit of fresh chicken.

I’ve never worried about the cattle. I know coyotes will hunt deer, especially in winter or when other game is scarce. My little Dexters are shorter than the average white tail deer, but they are much heavier. And, well, they’re cattle. Coyotes wreak havoc on sheep farmers, but I’ve never heard the cattle farmers around here call them anything other than a nuisance.

And I’m not worried about them now. So I go to bed. And oversleep because stacking hay at 2:30 in the morning is not conducive to early rising.

When I finally go out, Candy runs to greet me, but something isn’t right about Tasha. Her front legs take two steps toward me but, for a moment, nothing happens at the hind end. Then her whole back side sways and I think she is going to fall but she takes an uncertain step with a hindleg and limps toward me, fear in her eyes.

Concerned, I step over the electric fence, ignore Candy’s nudges and walk to Tasha. That’s when I see the blood. Her leg is covered in bite marks. Her tail is bitten badly enough the flesh is torn. There are bites to her rump, her shank and her flank . . . all on the right side.

I run to the house. Grab my daughter, soap, water, rubbing alcohol, bleach . . . anything I can think of to clean and disinfect. And she holds Tasha while I scrub and scrub and then I think about rabies.

At the vet, I get antibiotics, a pain killer and a rabies shot for Candy. And I find out there’s nothing I can do for Tasha but watch and wait and hope that whatever attacked her was hungry rather than rabid.

And as I treat her and sit with her and carry hay mixed with hand-pulled fresh grasses, I worry. I worry about the trauma that I can’t see. I worry about a virus that can take six months to travel from her hindquarters to her brain. I worry about a predator driven by disease or by hunger to come onto my land and attack my calves.

And as I sit in the barn looking at the missing boards, I am not certain that they are much safer in here.

reasons to homeschool

Raccoon attack

I walk outside and look at the sky, pleased to not see any stars. Rain is predicted, though even I can see from the radar that it will have dissipated long before it reaches us. But my lilacs, as drought tolerant as they are, are showing signs of heat stress. It’s a beautiful hedge and I don’t want to lose it.

So I am out after dark to gather up the hose and water my lilacs before the heat of tomorrow’s sun sucks the moisture back out of the soil.

As I walk along the hose looking for the end, I hear chattering coming from the windbreak. I stop to shine the flashlight and see two bright green marbles glowing back at me. Eyeshine.

“Raccoons! We have raccoons!”

I yell, and my husband comes running.

“Where?”

“There. This side of the windbreak. It just went into the corn.”

He grabs a broom and a flashlight and is off, running up the hill toward the raccon.

Toward the raccoon that came out of the corn.

Toward the raccoon that is still chattering.

Toward the raccoon that is walking rather nonchalantly toward him.

He freezes and my throat catches. I want to scream for him to leave it. To just come back. That if he can catch it, he doesn’t want to mess with it.

But he just stands there and I just stand there and the raccoon just keeps walking toward him. Everything is in slow motion, except it’s all happening too fast to react. He finally breaks the silence.

“It’s . . . the cat?”

My mind doesn’t quite comprehend.

“He has a mouse.”

And I start laughing so hard I can scarcely breathe. No wonder the dogs weren’t the least bit interested.

reasons to homeschool

Relief

It’s late. Far past when I should have gone to bed. The loss of the guinea is still weighing on my mind. But it isn’t really the guinea. I know that. But I feel like I’m sinking into this downward spiral and I don’t know how to make it stop.

Micah will be 21 months at the end of this month. And everything hurts.

It’s 3:30 in the morning. Sometimes I have to look at the clock to be reminded what is really bothering me. Because Tiggy died at 3:30 in the morning and for months I would lay there, recounting the last hours of his life until 3:30 when I would finally fall asleep. Now it isn’t so conscious, but there are nights when I’m restless and agitated and feel this incredible weight in the center of my chest. And when I finally go to bed on these nights, the clock always says 3:30.

But I need to bring Jake in and let Luke take his shift outside for the rest of the night. When I open the door, I am greeted by a noise I cannot begin to describe. High pitched and raspy, it reminds me of hyenas.  I guess fox as the dogs bolt past me and run down the road at full speed, not even taking time to bark.

And the missing guinea almost runs into me as it comes around the corner of the house, diving for the safety of a lilac bush.

I pick her up. Her helmet is bleeding and a large number of feathers are missing from her back. I realize the sound I heard was her distress call and that my dogs very likely just saved her life.

I just want to hold her. Cradle her to my chest and just feel her breathe. But she is frightened and I don’t want to stress her any more. So I hold her wings firmly as I tuck her under my arm where she can neither see nor move and return her to the henhouse where she can recover from her shock in the midst of her flock.

I return to the house with Luke on high alert. He is on patrol, sniffing in zig zags across the property and doesn’t seem to notice that I let the other two dogs in. He has a job to do and I leave him to it.

And I fall asleep to the sound of Micah breathing and the dogs barking but I am relieved that for tonight, all the animals are safe.