On the Wings of Christmas

Two fields over and across Scotchman’s Lane lies the house of our friend Katherine Long. Less than a half-mile as the hawk flies. (And fly it does. More on that in a minute.) We trekked over to her Mermaid-and-Starfish-festooned place on Sunday for her famous Solstice potluck. Actually, we drove, though we would’ve walked if the snow really had turned from flurries to blurries like it did two years ago on the day of her party.

We had to transport our goodies—two big salads straight from the winter garden (the color of those leaves still really knocks my socks off); a broccoli, cheddar and potato frittata; and one of my all-time favorite Christmas recipes, Mrs. Lenkhe’s Cheese Sables. My friend Martha Holmberg  introduced me to these years ago, and they are almost as flaky as puff pastry and they pretty much melt in your mouth. (These, and the spicy pecans I made and crumbled into the salad would both make great nibbles to serve before your Christmas dinner.)

The spread at Katherine’s was seductive.  She’d made her real Texas chili, which is smoky and spicy with lots of ancho chiles. (She grew up in Hill Country.) My favorite. Friends helped her make dozens and dozens of deviled eggs (Katherine has sixty laying hens), and from there the list went on and on—ham, roast turkey, coq au vin, whole poached salmon, wild-rice and cranberry salad, quiche, carrot soup, house-made cheese (another of Katherine’s talents), sweets of every imaginable form, many from her good friend Rosemary Jackson. Roy and I went back for seconds…and thirds. The amazing thing is that Katherine keeps her party going from noon to 9 pm, and she invites anyone in West Tisbury who wants to come! I am so impressed and also inspired to do a summer potluck myself next year.

Tuesday afternoon I was just about to head out the door to retrieve a cutting board from Katherine’s when a Facebook post from her caught my eye. It was a photo (top of blog) of a young Red-tail hawk, in her yard, with its talons around a hen. The hawk had mauled the hen but wouldn’t let go. Katherine poured a bucket of water over the hawk and still it didn’t budge. I believe that Katherine had to wave a plastic chair at the bird before it finally flew away. But in the process she managed to get a very up-close-and-personal photo. This arresting image stopped me cold because I was still enjoying the warm afterglow of her party—looking at all the photos of friends on Facebook and even enjoying some of the leftovers at home. It reminded me that while we humans gather together snugly inside our warm houses and begin to hibernate (with full larders at our disposal), the birds and the rest of the critters outside are still desperately focused on finding food and preparing for the winter. The birds in particular seem very antsy, and every time I’ve gone outside this week I’ve gotten a birdy-y surprise.

Yesterday I caught Farmer playing with something feathery in the yard. He was just kind of tossing it around—not biting it—and it turned out to be a mostly intact dead robin. Probably it had come to feed at the new feeder Roy just hung (the cardinals are loving it) and had accidentally banged into something.  (Farmer also brought me a dead mouse this week—unfortunately this one was partially decomposed and full of maggots. Luckily I had my gardening gloves on when I reached in to his mouth to retrieve it. Yuck.) This morning our neighborhood flock of wild turkeys (5 adults and 2 juveniles) was hanging around our driveway, not 10 feet from my kitchen window, drinking water out of the puddles. I went out and shooed them away but they chose to trundle through the newly planted blueberry bushes on their way back down to the fence line. Harumph. The other day I caught one standing on top of the chicken coop.

And then, around noontime today, just as Roy was pulling down the driveway, the hawk arrived. Maybe he (or she) flew over from Katherine’s place or maybe this was a different  hawk, but more than likely they’re at least related, as we know there is a pair of adult hawks at nearby Whiting Farm that mate every year and hatch young trouble-makers. Of course, you’re not allowed to shoot a hawk (not that either of us was considering it or would really want to); you just have to be clever about scaring them off. Hence Katherine’s bucket of water. And Roy’s projectiles. He began tossing various objects at our visitor (right), who had alighted on a tree branch right above the chicken coop. The hawk didn’t even flinch at the first few missives, but finally took off—for a taller, but still nearby tree branch. Then Roy and I cornered Perky.

You see, Perky has been free-ranging this week while all the other hens stay in their protected yard, which is adjacent to their coop and covered with bird netting. Perky has been such a bad girl that we actually considered sacrificing her, but when faced with the imminent reality of that today, we quickly scooped her up and put her back in the pen…where, unfortunately, she will do what she does every day—peck at least one of the eggs that the other hens have laid.

Sometimes the damage is minimal (meaning we can still eat the egg, though not sell it or give it away) but it’s always disheartening to see the cracks. When I’m home, I rush out to the nesting boxes several times during the morning to grab the eggs as soon as they’re laid, and Perky is always lurking around waiting to pounce. One of the bigger hens will usually brood over the warm eggs—I like to think she’s protecting them from Perky, but who knows. I do know that Perky actually sat on top of Sugar one day in an attempt to get at her pretty blue egg (a favorite to peck). We have tried various home remedies to get Perky to stop pecking, but it wasn’t until this week when Roy just picked her up and plunked her outside the chicken yard that we got a perfect batch of eggs again. And as it turns out, since Perky doesn’t want to be far from the flock, she mostly just circles around the pen and doesn’t go far. Could be a good daytime solution if it weren’t for the hawks. (Our friend came back twice this afternoon.)

There’s even strange bird activity inside the house: This week our love bird, Ellie, laid two eggs. We’ve had her for two years and she’s never laid an egg. They look awfully big (bigger than a marble) for such a tiny bird, but she is very pleased with herself and sits haphazardly over the eggs all day long, puffing her lollipop-green feathers out proudly.  Thankfully these eggs aren’t fertilized, so we won’t have any baby lovebirds. Whew.

I admit, I still have a curious and not entirely loving attitude towards the birds of the world. I keep writing about them, because I am surrounded by them, and I know there is some meaning in this. (I will probably freak out when a dove flies by some day carrying an olive branch—miracle believer that I am.) Roy loves birds and our dear friend Joannie loves them. (In the photo below, that’s Joannie on the left and Katherine on the right at the Solstice party.) In fact Joannie feeds the pair of swans down at the Mill Pond twice a day. So yesterday I was baking the last of some Christmas cookies and made Joannie a special batch. Libby and I had discovered a tiny swan cookie cutter in our collection a few weeks ago, which immediately made us think of Joannie. So I’m giving Joannie the cookies and the cookie cutter for Christmas. And for right now, I think my favorite kind of bird may be the edible kind—preferably with sugary sprinkles!

P. S. Thanks to Katherine for furnishing me with the photos at top and bottom.

6 thoughts on “On the Wings of Christmas”

  1. Wow. Such an amazing tale of life in a place far far away from wine country. I wish I could have been at the potluck. I’ve always wanted to host that type of get-together. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and the happiest new year ever! Lori

  2. Hey Lori,
    Happy holidays to you and your family — I meant to tell you that your new venture looks so cool. Good luck with it as I think it is a great idea. Best, Susie

  3. I am a hawk NUT–love to watch them–so that story had me mesmerized. Love to read about your life in the wild (from the very very tame suburbs…)

    Merry Christmas!

  4. Hey David, Merry Christmas to you and Pam and the girls–loved the blog about the wedding dress! I bet Sharon’s wedding was wonderful. Yes, I thought Katherine’s hawk picture was too stunning to pass up — these hawks are amazing, though I know very little about them. It is part of the fun of living out here, though–I learn something every day!

  5. Hi Kay — Roy was just asking me yesterday when we were going to see you and I said I thought next week — yay! Hope you and Buck and the kids (and Wally) have a peaceful holiday. Susie and Roy

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