At the volunteer fire department meeting last night the geriatric squad
(The ones who are willing to drive the fire engine, but are old enough to know better than to go into a house when it’s on fire) was discussing whether the local bears had come out of hibernation yet. This was not idle chat, for the hose and equipment layout on our sole fire engine, old No. 7, was dependent on it.
The rising of the bears signaled the end of chimney fire season (chem-sticks, ladders, CO2 extinguishers and stovepipe plugs) And the beginning of bear deterrent season (1.5″ high pressure nozzle, bear spray, and 12-gauge buckshot/slug mix). Bear season is fairly short, followed by grass fire season (2.5″ variable spray nozzle, shovels, beater bars), and 4th of July parade season (candy).
Those uninitiated with such activities may question why a volunteer fire department should be involved with bears and shotguns.
The answers are:
-When bears come out of hibernation they are hungry and grumpy,
-Many of us have livestock, particularly chickens,
-Water, when pushed through a small nozzle at 200 psi, is an effective bear deterrent. This is doubly effective if combined with bright flashing lights and a siren.
-Engaging in a water fight with a bear is good training (read: stupid and fun) Of course, it takes a while for the fire engine to get to the scene, so everybody has fences to slow the bear down until the fire department gets there.
I could add that good fences make for live chickens during early spring.
The federal government put a 10-foot chain-link fence around the local airport as part of an anti-terrorist security upgrade a couple years ago.
Bears and moose evidently qualify as terrorists, since they’re the only Ones who were deterred by the fence. The fence stopped the moose, but
Bears tend to be a little more single-minded when some fool puts a barricade in its way.
You see, the government, in its infinite wisdom, put the fence far enough away from the runway on the far side that it blocked a bear trail. Bears are, if anything, creatures of habit. Over on Admiralty Island, there are Lines of round pits up above timberline.
The pits are made by the feet of generations of bears stepping in the exact same place on the trail while going from point A to point B. Putting a fence across a bear trail is about as effective as stringing barbed wire across the tracks in front of a freight train. The first couple times, the bears just pushed the fence over and continued on their way.
The government then sunk steel posts four feet into the ground and filled the holes with concrete. The bears then pushed up the chain link and went underneath the fence. The government then buried the bottom of the chain link two feet underground. The bears dug a hole big enough to walk through under the fence.
So the federal government entered into an agreement with the volunteer fire department for bear control.
So what about the poultry in the title?
Well… the reason you fence in your chickens is because they’re too damn dumb to stay away from hungry bears (or dogs, or eagles, or most anything bigger then them and hungry).
As the caretaker of several feathered pea-brains, I can vouch for their intelligence. The combined intelligence of all my birds isn’t enough to light a 5 volt flashlight bulb. We had a hailstorm last week and the dumb birds stood around in the open completely mystified while the hail pelted them.
Psychologists tell us that a lot of violence and fighting is caused by feelings of inferiority. If you’re feeling inferior, get some chickens. After watching how stupid chickens are, all your feelings of inferiority will evaporate. Having trouble figuring out your taxes? Hang out for a while with some animals that can get lost walking around a tree.
Can’t balance your checkbook? Chickens can’t count past one! Can’t figure out what to wear to work? I’ve got a chicken that is trying to hatch a golf ball! Stressed out? Watch a hen after she’s laid an egg. Feel like Starting a fight with somebody? Join the volunteer fire department, it’s
Reprinted by permission of the author.
All rights reserved copyright 2000 Craig Wilson.
Craig Wilson is an environmental scientist living
Story’s From Alaska
Craig H. Wilson
by Craig Wilson
Still commuting by small plane into Juneau every week to work for the state
environmental conservation department. This job lasts until June, then I’ll
probably take another one year position to teach the Alaska Rail Road how to
clean up oil and hazmat spills.
Commuting by small plane is fun, but hard on the eardrums. I’ve started
wearing little foam earplugs during the flight. There were some early
tourists flying with me a couple weeks ago. When we hit some turbulence
they started making weird noises, moaning and religious chanting. At first
I thought they were saying either “We’re doing too fine” or “We’re going to
buy”, neither of which made much sense in a little Cessna going through the
wash cycle of a snowstorm at 2,000 feet. Then I hit my head on the ceiling
of the cabin and one of the earplugs fell out. Never try to put an earplug
back in your ear during turbulence. The most likely outcome of the attempt
will be that you will jam the earplug up your nose so far that you’ll have
to use needle-nosed pliers to get it back out.
Anyway, hearing the hapless passengers in the back seat chanting “We’re
going to die!”, and me in the front passenger seat with a piece of orange
foam stuck up my left nostril, and the plane bouncing all over the place
with snowflakes going every possible direction outside the window struck me
as extremely funny. So I started whistling Christmas carols, which is
difficult with only one working nostril.
Most of the time the flights are quite that dramatic. I’ve seen some
beautiful sunsets coloring the mountain peaks pink with alpenglow. Coming
into the Gustavus airport one evening I counted over 30 moose hanging around
just outside the security fence at the airport runway. I’ve also seen
mountain goats on Excursion Ridge way up on the windswept ridges after a
strong storm has uncovered some lichen and mosses.
The wild geese are pairing up again, flying all over the place looking for
nesting sites. A pair of wild swans took up winter quarters in the salt
march at the mouth of the river this year. And last years hatch of chickens
has started laying.
The roosters and cockerels had a rough time this winter. First the rooster
kicked the bucket due to frostbite and a respiratory infection. Then one of
the cockerels got eaten by an owl. The last two cockerels also died,
probably by owls, but also possibly due to other causes. That left me
without any males for this year’s hatch, so a friend in Juneau gave me a
buff cochin cockerel, whom I have nicknamed “Bubba Sam”. At slightly less
than a year old, Bubba is already over 10 lbs. He’s a typical teenager, he
knows he’s supposed to do something with the hens, but he’s a little
confused about the details and his technique needs practice. Unfortunately,
most of the hens have seen better (the old rooster was a complete gentleman,
ever brought the selected hen flowers and candy (bugs)). The black java’s
give him about 5 seconds to get his act together, and if he doesn’t connect
on the first try they basically kick him off and out. It will be
interesting to see what kind of mutt chickens come out of this years
Bear season hasn’t started yet, although there have been a few reports of
bears coming out of their dens further west. We have had a couple grass
fires already though. One woman started burning her garbage in a burn
barrel and then went into her house to take a shower. When she got out we
were housing down the side of her house. The only reason her garage didn’t
go up in flames is that there was so much junk piled up behind it that the
fire sputtered and died out before it could get through all the rusted
Old man Swenson out at 2 mile on Rank Creek Road almost caught the Bear’s
Nest Lodge on fire last weekend. He wasn’t going to call the fire in,
probably because of embarrassment. He planned to burn his front yard so the
grass would come in greener, but ended up burning over two acres of his
neighbors yard. An airplane flying overhead reported the flames. The
flames got to within 15 feet of the lodge, a massive log structure. That
would have made a big bonfire.
All rights Reserved Craig Wilson 2001
No, I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth.
Spring is here, despite the snowstorm we had last Monday. Two inches of Blowing snow. Looked like December outside, even though the thermometer Read 40 degrees. The livestock and wild animals acted suitably perturbed
At the weather reversal. By the following day, we were back to mud season
However. Bob went and lost his Chevy blazer in the mud on Tong Road. Four
Wheel drive doesn’t do you any good if you’ve high-centered on a frost
The heave and all four wheels are in the mud. He was walking for the better part
Of a week before he could get pulled out. We ended up using the Beast from
The fire department to get his blazer out.
The Beast was the original fire engine here, now being rebuilt for tanker
duty. It’s an army surplus truck with an old fuel truck tank and a Coast
Guard surplus dewatering pump tied and duct-taped to the chassis. Six
wheels, all drive wheels. Drop her in low gear and she’ll crawl through
almost anything. In high gear, she just crawls. No ignition key, just a
start button, and a kill switch. No lights either, except for a halogen
flood mounted on the front bumper.
The wild geese have been hanging around. There’s a flock of about 70 dusky
Vancouver geese that overwinter around here. They’re Canada geese but
with shorter necks and darker chest plumage. The flock stayed together
until about three weeks ago. Now they’ve all paired off. They buzz my
The bald eagles are also active. Both of the ducks here became an eagle
Breakfast. The first time I didn’t see it. Early in the morning, I heard
The farm geese and ducks raise a racket. I just figured that it was the
Neighbors dog or a moose and went back to sleep. Later in the morning I
Looked out the window and saw the ravens and magpies having a feast. By
By the time I got out to the paddock, all that was left of one of the Khaki
Campbell ducks were the bill and part of the breastbone. I originally
Thought the duck had died of natural causes and had been scavenged by the
Ravens and magpies, but a few mornings later I heard another ruckus in the
Paddock looked out the window in time to see the other duck meet its
Demise. A big cloud of duck feathers drifted downwind. Eagles can pluck a
Duck a lot faster than I could.
The farm geese were suitably impressed by the death and cowered inside the
Coop for the next couple of days. It’s probably unrelated, but the geese also
Started laying eggs at the same time. Goose eggs make good omelets.
The chickens continue to pop out an egg apiece a day. The large buff skips
A day every once in a while, but her eggs are larger also. The two reds
Are they still the mental equivalent of feathered bricks? Like I told a
Neighbor, chickens are good at being chickens, and fortunately for them
It’s a job that doesn’t require much intelligence.
Lupine, Joan’s pony, escaped from his pasture this morning and ended up
Over here. Frank, Joan’s husband, thought that Lupine got spooked by a
Moose. Horses and moose do not get along. In any case, he ended up in our
Yard acting pretty flighty. The last time I saw him like that was when one of
The construction workers out at the park rolled a company pickup truck
Through the fence where Lupine is kept. It takes a while for a horse to
Calm down after dodging a rolling Dodge extended cab 1/2 ton. Carrots help
Several people are getting horses and ponies this spring. The reason Joan
Didn’t come to get Lupine because she was up in Haines, trying to
figure out the logistics of getting a Norwegian Fjord pony from Haines to
Gustavus. She and Sky and someone else went thirds on the pony, which
Was trucked by road from Oregon to Haines. They didn’t truck it further
Because the road ends at Haines. So Joan was trying to get the pony onto
The state ferry is a walk-on. There is no set fare for walk-on horses on
The ferry, so there was some negotiation regarding whether to charge Joan
By bodies (two; Joan and the pony) or by pairs of legs.
Hopefully, the pony doesn’t get seasick, because there have been small craft
And gale warnings out most of the past week. I, for one, would not want to
Be aboard a small ferry vessel when a horse decided to lose its stomach.
The LeConte, the ferry between Haines and Hoonah (the closest ferry stop to
Gustavus, there is no ferry service here), is not known as a comfortable
ride in rough weather. I have been on board when the number of green-faced
Folks outnumbered everyone else to such an extent that I thought I was at a
Convention of Martians. Foul-smelling Martians.
Anyway, once the pony gets to Hoonah, it and an Icelandic pony are getting
Loaded onto a landing craft for the trip across Icy Strait. If the ferry
Was an uncomfortable ride, the thought of two horses in a large?
Flat-bottomed skiff pounding through steep choppy seas makes the ferry ride
Pale in comparison. I think large quantities of animal tranquilizers are in
The Icelandic pony is going to the Browns, who already have two cows, a
Half a dozen sheep, a gaggle of geese, and a flock of ducks. No chickens,
Though. One has to draw the line somewhere, especially if one has ten
A third horse is going to Pat and Dave. They only have chickens at this
The point, and I think the deal is that Dave gets to kill and eat the chickens
In trade for letting Pat get the horse. Strike another blow against
Enough rantings for now. Back to work. Got to build another chicken coop.
Getting more chickens next month from Minnesota. Those poor birds are in For a shock when they get here.
Re-Printed by permission of Craig H. Wilson
All Rights Reserved Copywrite 2021