Winter Chickens

Recently, I have had a few people -here and there – tell me, “I want to hear more about your chickens!” It has been a while since I posted anything about them.

I think the last time I mentioned them in a post, they were in a sort of adolescent phase; they had not bulked up, yet, and they were not fully grown; a friend in Oregon said, “they look like teenagers!”

The teenage chickens have grown up, and two of them began laying eggs in late September.  By mid-October, however, they had stopped laying due to the decreasing amount of daylight.

But, it’s not like we need them to be producing prodigious quantities of eggs for us.  For starters, if they were merely creatures of production for us, we would have likely not built the coop we built.  There is my penchant for aesthetically pleasing structures.  But, we would have built something less expensive and not something with a swank green-roof over the run area; we certainly would not have sided the building with cedar shakes; I probably would not have designed and built a curved-top solid cedar door either.  Needless to say and by no stretch of one’s imagination, the birds are spoiled.

The chickens could care less about their posh surroundings; as long as they have water, food and shelter from winds, they seem happy.  During the cold snap at the start of the new year (I was conveniently in the tropics – 10.03 degrees latitude, no less), Melissa heated up oatmeal and mix in a few left overs for them to eat.  It is also probably beneficial that we picked birds that would be good in our area; heavier bodied birds with good feathering.  No naked-neck birds in our flock and no overly fancy combs, either.  We just have araucanas, brahmas, a speckled sussex and a Rhode Island red; there might be a silver laced Wyndotte, too.  The brahmas are probably the best suited for cold weather.  They are a larger bird – about seven to nine pounds – with feathers down their legs and even over their feet.  The nieces call them “fluffy feets”.

Winter Bees in Racine

We headed down to Racine, MN, yesterday to visit hounds, people and check the hives.  People were in good shape, the hounds were doing well, but of the four hives in Racine, two were in good shape and two did not make it through the extraordinary cold that the region had while I was in Vietnam.

The weather yesterday was in the mid-30s (single digits celsius) and with the sun out, the bees were out buzzing around.


Ho Chi Minh City

On New Year’s Eve, 2013, I was across from Bến Thành Market in Ho Chi Minh City. (Yes, I am wearing my NPR Planet Money Animal Spirits t-shirt.) Now that I am back in the United States, and I have gotten back into the swing of normal life, saying, I was in Ho Chi Minh City, I was in Vietnam; it seems a bit surreal.  For as long as I can remember, my father spoke of Vietnam, Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), Bien Hoa, and Long Binh.   My father had served in the army during the early 1970s in these areas.  Stories of his time during the war proliferated my childhood.  I was now in Vietnam, I was now in Saigon.  I was now flashing a peace sign to the camera held by my sister – around midnight – while motorbikes zoomed and weaved through traffic behind me – on New Years Eve.  My sister may have said something poignant, like, dude, we’re in fucking Vietnam.  Indeed we were.

In a way, I had been thinking & dreaming of this trip for a very long time.  Not in the literal sense – I had not been thinking or dreaming of having a shaggy beard, nor I had not been dreaming of a wearing a shirt with a squirrel holding a martini on the front while flashing a peace sign at midnight near the city center of Ho Chi Mihn. Instead, I had been wanting to see the region of the world that had had a profound and lasting impact on my father; albeit, it was now forty-plus years since he was in this country.  A lot had happened to the country in the interim, but there was always an ever-present nod, tacit and otherwise, to the war where ever we ventured.

Earlier in the day, or it may have even been the previous day, we visited parts of the Cu Chi tunnels.  These are the tunnels that the Viet Cong (small bit of trivia we learned; the term Charlie for referring to Viet Cong came from use of the NATO phonetic alphabet – Victor Charlie for VC) used during much of the war.  The area we visited had been reconditioned into a tourist attraction.  More surreality.  For a small fee, you can enter this tourist area, watch a VHS copy of a 1968 propaganda video, wander the grounds – seeing bomb craters, maybe drop into one of the tunnel entrances, pass through a widened and heightened tunnel.  And if you wanted, and felt touristy enough, you could, for a nominal fee, let off a few rounds with a Vietnam-war-era weapon.  I picked the venerable United States Machine Gun, Caliber 7.62 mm, M60.  It seemed asinine and crazy to plunk down 400,000 dong (a little under $19) and then you got shoot an automatic weapon.  An older Vietnamese man helped with the weapon.  He looked about my dad’s age.  A thought flashed across my mind, I wonder what side he was on?  

After the tunnels and guns of Cu Chi and the night lights of New Year’s Eve in Saigon, we headed to Can Tho and the Mekong delta region.

Ngô Đồng River & Ha Long Bay

For our time in the north of the country, we used Hanoi as our base.  We stayed at a hotel that catered to westerners; a few of the staff spoke at least some English – basic niceties and such.  While in Hanoi, one of the days, our translator took us on a walking tour of some of the streets and street markets; this was a lot of dodging in and out of motorbike traffic and occasionally venturing into and through buildings – which would lead to street on the opposite side.  We also made a day trip to Ninh Bình had took a rowboat tour of the Ngô Đồng River with its Tam Cốc caves.  This outing was interesting – we saw rice farmers getting bits of the shoreline ready for planting.  There were also fish and crayfish traps here and there along the way.  I could have done without the ever-present hawking of knickknacks from the woman rowing the boat, as well as from other rowers who had boats with no passengers and just things to sell.  Our rower, also, actually asked for a larger monetary tip than what I gave her.  But, people are trying to scrape together a dollar (or đồng) to make a living.

For our last two days in the north, we headed to the coast – Ha Long Bay (sometimes spelled without the space, Halong Bay) – located east of Hanoi, and in or next to the Gulf of Tonkin.

Ha Long Bay is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The bay, which is 1,500, or so, square kilometers (600 square miles) sports some 2,000 islets.  The islets are limestone karst structures – reaching heights of 50 to 100 meters (165 to 330 feet).

The company we went through for most of our travel, lodging, drivers and translators, also set us up with Indochina Junk.  Indochina Junk bills itself as “Halong’s Finest Luxury Cruise”.  And, the cruise was just that – a luxury.

The opulent comforts of our boat, the Red Dragon I, included many-course meals – each course a different theme complete with its own carved fruit center piece (the main course of dinner featured a watermelon carved to resemble our boat).  The waiters also insisted on setting the napkin on your lap, pouring your drink and seemed eager to do everything but shovel food into maw and work your jaw to mash said food.

After sunset, and after our dinner, I gave squid fishing a trying – turn a light on over the water, and just drop a piece of fixed-length line with a lure attached and tied to a bamboo pole into the water.  Our guide immediately hooked a squid about 10 inches long.  It took me a while, but, eventually, I caught one.

The next day, we visited the floating fishing village of Vong Vieng.  It was explained to us that in 1994, when Ha Long Bay was recognized by UNESCO, fishing peasants were still living in the caves in the limestone karsts.  For one reason or another, the caves needed to be vacated, and the Vietnam government setup the float villages.

The main vessel anchored in deeper water and we boarded the tender and headed into the village.  The water was clear and clean – our guide explained that the tour company had essentially put a bounty on trash in the waters in and around the village.  Cleaner water equals a better experience for the tourist.  As tourists were rowed around the fishing village, the rowers would occasionally dip a net into the water to catch floating candy wrappers or a piece of styrofoam.

The villagers have few more amenities now than when they lived in the caves.  They have electricity from generators which allows for television and electric lighting.  With their life on the water, it also allows for them to better farm some of their fish.

During the entire time in the fishing village, I could not help but think of how imbalanced the situation seemed.  Poor fishing peasants who may or not have up to a primary school education (we were told that the government had recently began bring in a grade school teacher to each of the four floating fishing villages in Ha Long Bay) who get to row around and play momentary-hosts to tourists who likely paid many-times the amount a fisherman makes in a month for the short two day, one night cruise.  It felt showy and ostentatious.

Do not get me wrong, I enjoyed the time on Ha Long Bay – it was good food, good company with the other guests, and great scenery.