For several weeks now i have been hearing the scream of a chicken in the night, whereupon i climb down the loft and rush outside, holding aloft a dim little lantern like the Statue of Liberty to where the dogs are already silently loping through the darkness. Nothing has been discovered until morning, and only then piles of dark feathers scattered over the ground, and one of the goslings with its head eaten away.
Last week it happened again, only this time the dogs were snarling, and there was a terrible din of feed bins crashing, and scratching of claws on a metal roof. I arrived just in time to see something claw its way into the huge oak tree over the milking shed. The light was so dim i saw only the trembling leaves, and heard some small branches snap and fall.
Ethan came out carrying the loaded shotgun and the cell phones (there is a sad deficiency of working flashlights here). The dogs were barking on their hind legs, trying to climb. We looked up into the branches, but the only thing we could see was one of the Australorp chickens somehow sleeping through everything in the low branches.
I spotted glowing eyes and a big fluffy tail near the roots, but it turned out to only be Tabitha and the rest of the cats coming to get in the way of the excitement. We switched off the lights and waited.
The black silhouette of the tree was sharp against the dark, starry sky. It was the dark time, and even the little sliver of moon in the West had long ago sunk out of sight. It was so perfectly quiet that the sounds of the cats licking themselves and scratching on fallen branches were loud.
After a bit we turned the lights back on and i tried climbing the tree to shake the branches. In one of those surreal life moments, i found myself clambering around in an oak tree in the middle of the night with hardly any clothes on trying to rouse an animal with sharp claws that might carry rabies.
I climbed down quickly. The cats had started climbing the tree after me in a “curiosity killed the cat” moment, but I lured them down and into the kitchen with the sound of a can of cat food being opened.
We were talking about going back to bed when i went into the garden and shone the light at a different angle. First all i could see was the chicken, still asleep, but then i saw an eye, almost like a very bright star, shining between the leaves.
We threw some old turnips at it to see if we could get it more in the light and see what it was. It shifted, and suddenly two mean eyes gleamed down at us, and the faint traces of a ringed tail hung down the branch behind. Raccoon.
Ethan stood between the sweet potatoes and pumpkin vines and took aim with the shot gun, while the cats, who had got out of the kitchen, mewed annoyingly around our ankles.
BLAM! The shotgun rang out, and the noise seemed to echo around the dark and silent trees. My ears felt numb as the shot rattled through the branches, but the two eyes still stared down at us, and the chicken was – incredibly – still on its perch asleep. The cats were suddenly gone, not to be seen again until morning.
We crushed the small tomato plants so Ethan could get a better aim while i held up a cell phone flashlight and tried to cover both my ears at the same time. Once again the shotgun fired deafeningly. The chicken was blasted out of the tree by the falling raccoon. I think it finally woke up but we never saw what happened to it afterwards. I ran over and held the dogs away by their scruffs until we could bury the raccoon.
The moral of the story is that chickens are delicious, and i want to eat chicken too. We just harvested 60 birds, so at least there is no more worry about them being pickpocketed away in the night.
The pink celery and Hamburg rooted parsely seeds came from Baker Creek heirloom seeds. The celery has a good flavor and is very pretty. The parsley root is a wonderful vegetable, very fine-flavored and easy to grow.
Perhaps it was clambering about in the oak tree that made this recipe special:
Chicken and Parsley Root With Pesto and Pink Peppercorns
1 Chicken, quartered
A dozen parsley roots, with tops
Several stalks of celery
1 small red onion
3 garlic chives
1 teaspoon pink peppercorns, crushed
1/2 cup lemon or sour orange juice
1/4 cup melted butter
1. Lay the chicken quarters in a baking pan and sprinkle with salt and the crushed peppercorns.
2. Slice the parsley roots, celery and onion into rounds and scatter on top (save the celery leaves)
3. Pour melted butter on top, and bake until chicken is cooked and getting crispy on the skin, about 30 minutes at 350F.
4. Meanwhile, make the pesto by blending the celery leaves, parsley leaves, and lemon juice with a pinch of salt. Pour pesto on top and serve.