Last Sunday was the fairest day of winter. I took the opportunity to start cleaning up the hen house. The flock had been given away two years ago, and the coop had been neglected ever since. Weeds, both deep rooted and vining, had taken a foothold. Dead leaves and other plant material measured three to four inches thick. The soil was uneven, up-heaved by the heavy rains from several storms. Although the coop was no longer attractive and needed minor repairs, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
Several hurricanes had passed through, yet the 4-foot by 8-foot coop had remained standing. After each big wind, I had peered out the window, wondering if this one was the one. But I must have done something right when I built it because it never toppled. Perhaps it is stuck in the mud so deep that it won’t ever move. There’s great suction in mud.
A quick inspection revealed most of the shingles had gone the way of the crow, the side door was all but missing in action and sections of the chicken wire were torn and weak.
My first task was to clean up the weeds and uncover the footpath in front of the coop, the one that had been once a well-manicured walkway dressed with crusher dust. After raking off the first few inches of dead plant material, I uncovered the wrought iron gate that had collapsed the winter beforehand. I had forgotten it was there. I propped it up the best I could with bricks and promised to make it sturdier in the weeks to come.
My eight-year-old son came along about that time and asked what I was doing. Then he asked if he could go inside the coop yard. When I next looked at him, he was standing by the door with a guilty expression. Then I spied the door lying on the ground; he had ripped it off its hinges.
“Wow, you’re pretty strong,” I said.
“No, really, it just fell off.”
He felt bad about door, so I made a little joke about him being the strongest boy I knew because he could rip doors off hinges. “I don’t want to mess with you.” I grinned and told him not worry about it; I had to replace the hinges anyway.
He asked if he could help. Not one to turn down an extra set of hands, I gave him the rake, and I began digging out the really deep weeds with the shovel.
After three hours of work, we had the path, the area around the coop, the coop yard and the ‘circle garden’ cleaned of weeds. We had even uncovered chives growing beneath the weeds in the circle herb garden. The pungent smell was unmistakable.
The little fellow was a big help, and I told him so.
“Do I get paid?” he asked.
“I’ll pay you with kisses,” I said.
He paused for a moment then said, “I’d rather have money.”
We gathered up the tools and chatted about what we’d do the next day. He wanted to help get the coop ready for the new laying hens and help clean up the garden. He talked about what he wanted to plant – strawberries, peas and sunflowers (for his chickadees) – and I told him that we’d set up his own space, so he could take care of it.
“Tomorrow,” he said, “we’ll come back out and get the spot cleared for my garden.”
Unfortunately, when we woke the next day – Monday morning – spring had decided to hold off. Everything was covered in a blanket of snow.